Happy February! I am bringing back a monthly feature on my blog that I enjoyed doing a few years ago (how is my blog already almost 10 years old?? Craziness.) where I look at the books I read and reviewed in that time period. A January 2024 in Review post, if you will pardon the pun. Not surprisingly, I read (and loved) a lot of romantic suspense and mysteries but also several middle school titles (which are outside my norm), several historical fiction/romance and contemporary fiction/romance, as well as a couple of time travel novels and a young adult portal fantasy.
All total, in January I read twenty-nine books and reviewed twenty-three. Hopefully those other six reviews will be forthcoming. These are listed in the order I reviewed them, with snippets of my reviews (in case you missed some), and the ones I haven’t reviewed yet will be at the end. It was a great reading month! And February is looking like it will be too!
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CLUMSY STUMBLEFOOT TRIPS THROUGH TIME WITH MAGELLAN by Chris Solaas // Middle School Fiction
Clumsy Stumblefoot Trips Through Time with Magellan by Chris Solaas combines wit, history, and fantasy to deliver an adventure that middle school readers will find both entertaining and educational. I snickered out loud more than once and found Clumsy to be an endearingly likable protagonist, imagining my nephews’ reactions if I read this out loud with them – and they are much younger than the middle school demographic. There are a couple of subplots in addition to the time-travel element that add more layers to the mix, and the way the book ends has me hoping there will be a second book too.
SHADE GROWN by Heather Day Gilbert // Cozy Mystery
Shade Grown is another entertaining visit with the Barks & Bean Cafe crew via the talented pen of author Heather Day Gilbert. Macy and Bo’s plan to spend a relaxing day doing the local home & garden tour turns anything but relaxing when they stumble on a body in the hostas. Which is good news for us since we get to tag along on Macy’s investigation and dig deeper into all the various layers she uncovers. The suspects range from drug dealers to contractors to landscapers/gardeners to talent agents to movie stars and more, so there’s no shortage of possibilities. I still managed to be stunned by the conclusion as well as all the more eager for the next book (which i think is my fave cover of them all) with what’s revealed in the end.
VIGILANTE JUSTICE by Jacquelin Thomas // Romantic Suspense
Vigilante Justice by Jacquelin Thomas is a riveting suspense novel with complex layers and engaging characters. Readers will love meeting Everleigh and her daughter, as well as Declan and his family members, and they will be deeply invested in their safety as men intent on murderous (though misguided) revenge hunt them down. I was captivated by the various dimensions at play – and I was surprised (pleasantly so) by more than one of the twists. If you’re looking for a book with diverse characters who steal your heart, high-stakes suspense that doesn’t get too high-intensity, and a sweet romance, then you need to read Vigilante Justice as soon as possible!
SHADOW IN THE DARK by Antony Barone Kolenc // Middle School Historical Mystery
Shadow in the Dark by Antony Barone Kolenc is an entertaining mystery full of layered characters and a plot that captures the imagination. Readers will be drawn into this compelling story right from the beginning and they will stay invested in the outcome. While the third person narrative is written from the perspective of a young boy, the writing is elevated enough to appeal to adults and accessible enough for upper elementary, tween & teen readers at the same time. The spiritual message is woven naturally through the story, and the historical backdrop of medieval England is well-researched and engagingly drawn. This would be a great resource for homeschoolers as well as a delightful addition to any family’s library.
THE HAUNTED CATHEDRAL by Antony Barone Kolenc // Middle School Historical Mystery
An escaped bandit, an ancient crypt, a secret treasure, and a cathedral plagued by eerie noises and troubling tremors… these elements all comprise different facets of a mystery that Xan must solve in The Haunted Cathedral, even as he tries to find his uncle (who has his own issues to add to Xan’s already full plate). Kolenc continues to craft a compelling story with an engaging writing voice that appeals to all ages, and he gives us characters we can easily embrace as friends. Once again, the spiritual lessons on these pages are intrinsic to the story, and the historical setting gives interesting insight into the medieval era. Another entertaining adventure with Xan and his ever-growing circle of friends.
THE FIRE OF EDEN by Antony Barone Kolenc // Middle School Historical Mystery
The Fire of Eden by Antony Barone Kolenc entertains us with a missing ruby, strained family dynamics, spiritual lessons, friendship, and suspicious characters including a local legend and a curious beggar. The mystery on these pages will test the wit of Xan and his friends like never before, and readers young and old will enjoy trying to solve it alongside them. Kolenc hones and develops these characters in each new book with added layers and ongoing challenges, keeping readers coming back for more time with their faves. I look forward to hanging out with Xan, Lucy, and Brother Andrew again!
THE MERCHANT’S CURSE by Antony Barone Kolenc // Middle School-YA Historical Mystery
The Merchant’s Curse by Antony Barone Kolenc has it all – adventure, mystery, intrigue, friendship, faith, and even a little romance. The author excels at immersing readers in the heart of the story and creating layered characters that we love to read about, and our time spent in the pages of this book is no exception. Parents, if the mention of a witch and curses in other reviews makes you nervous, please don’t worry. All is not what it seems, a la Scooby Doo. Based on the events in this book, I am also very interested to see what Xan, Christina, William, Father Andrew, Father Phillip, and hopefully Lucy are up to next!
MURDER AT PENWOOD MANOR by Antony Barone Kolenc // Middle School-YA Historical Mystery
Over the course of the five books released so far in The Harwood Mysteries by Antony Barone Kolenc, we have watched Xan grow from a frightened young boy into a young man. He is still just as endearing though as he was when we first met him, and it’s always entertaining to join him on his mystery-solving adventures! Murder at Penwood Manor shows further growth in young Xan as well as his friends, and I enjoyed the various dimensions to the plot – the murder-solving, the relationship developments, the personal growth, and the spiritual lessons (including the perils of envy) that we get to witness. The writing style is, as always, engaging and easy to read, and I look forward to whatever comes next!
A SUMMER ON BELLEVUE AVENUE by Lorri Dudley // Historical Gilded Age Romance
Pack your fanciest duds, your high-society etiquette, and your detective hat for A Summer on Bellevue Avenue! The opening scene will quickly grab your attention, and Lorri Dudley’s stellar writing & compelling characters will keep you invested until the very end. Newport has fascinated me ever since I visited it several years ago, and I enjoyed it as the setting of this book. From the opulent homes to the rocky coast, this Gilded Age resort area is truly a feast for the senses and plays nicely into Dudley’s suspenseful and romantic plot. Speaking of the romances, the kisses deliciously match the tension level of the story, so keep a fan handy! Fabulous characters round out the mix, as well as a sweet message of blooming where you are planted and trusting God. A quick read that’s perfect for your evening to-do list!
DOUBLE TAKE by Lynette Eason // Romantic Suspense ⭐ 5 stars ⭐
Double Take is Lynette Eason at her best, and readers are sure to be captivated by the race to figure out who wants to see Lainie dead and why. Smart plotting, action-packed suspense, well-developed characters, and sweet romance made this a truly enjoyable reading experience for me, and I devoured it in one sitting. Which is a good thing because I could not have put it down if I’d wanted to. The faith threads – including some life lessons applicable to anyone – stayed organic to the characters and never felt preachy or forced, allowing the story to flow smoothly from the adrenaline-pounding prologue to the sweetness of the last chapter and every part in between. In short, I absolutely LOVED this book and I think you will too! Already eager for the next one!
THE SEAMSTRESS OF ACADIE by Laura Frantz // Historical Early American Romance
The Seamstress of Acadie is another beautifully rendered story by Laura Frantz, one that is in turns heartbreaking and heart-lifting but always heartfelt. The faith thread is so tender, pointing us to God’s presence even in the darkest of times while also not ignoring the pain of those times, and a specific scene involving the 23rd Psalm touched me deeply. Readers will fall in love with Sylvie, Will, and Bonami as well as the host of other vividly-drawn characters I haven’t even touched on yet – not the least of which is Sylvie’s brother Bleu whom I hope we see more of in a future book by this author. These beloved new fictional friends will take you through a range of intense emotions, and Frantz’s exquisite storytelling will keep you holding your breath as you eagerly turn the pages one after another to learn of their fates. Grab some chocolate and/or cider and immerse yourself in this gorgeous story post haste!
LOVE ON THE ROPES by Mary Rudder // Contemporary Romance
Love on the Ropes by Mary Rudder combines diverse characters with a heart-tugging plot, sweet-but-swoony romance, and even a few laugh-out-loud moments to deliver a story you won’t want to put down. Even though our life experiences may not relate precisely to those of a Korean hero uncle-turned-single-dad or a pro-wrestling heroine, their characters remain relatable nonetheless. Readers will find themselves very much invested in the journey toward happily-ever-after for not just Mack and Tae but also for the children now in their care. A lovely and entertaining reading experience all around!
A BEAN TO DIE FOR by Tara Lush // Cozy Mystery
I continue to be delighted by Tara Lush’s characters in the Coffee Lover’s Mystery series, including in the latest book A Bean to Die For. Lana’s interactions with her dad are always hysterical, and they particularly struck me as such in this one. Red herrings and legit clues make for an ever-increasing suspect list as Lana – and readers – try to narrow down the culprit(s) in time. The author’s writing voice is witty and engaging, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the setting. Another entertaining visit to Devil’s Beach and this cast of fun characters! I chuckled often in this book – the perfect way to end a long week.
WINDOW OF TIME by Erin Howard // Time Travel Royal Romance
Imagine a version of the United States where the country is divided into sectors that each operate as respective monarchies, where faith is outlawed, and where technology is limited. This is the world that Mia Miller falls into in Window of Time – through the very special stained glass window that has presided over all the books in this series so far. Erin R. Howard crafted an intriguing dystopia and compelling characters that captured my interest and kept me invested in the plot, though I do wish the time travel loose threads had been tied up just a bit more. The romance (which we all know is my favorite part) is swoony and sweet and felt almost like a fairy tale (also a win in my book). You can read this as a standalone just fine, but I highly recommend reading all four books because each one is enjoyable and well-written – including Window of Time!
A CRUST TO DIE FOR by T.C. LoTempio // Cozy Mystery
What do you get when you combine real estate agents, truck drivers, beauty queens, food critics, professional chefs, investigative reporters, interior designers, college professors, restaurant owners, a pizza contest, a murder investigation and a small town in Georgia? A delightfully entertaining read, for starters! As with its predecessor, I enjoyed A Crust to Die For in large part due to the strong protagonist, her fun commentary via the first person narrative, and her relationships with BFF Hilary and swoony Detective Bartell. Tiffany is such a great cozy mystery heroine – she’s smart, talented, savvy, witty, friendly, and good at making connections that others might not. The mystery she finds herself investigating in this book has several layers of deception and secrets, making it just as delicious to solve as the pizza contest Tiffany is spearheading. I enjoyed T.C. LoTempio’s writing voice once more and look forward to more on-the-page visits to Branson, Georgia. Another fun read in this series!
THE DIVINE PROVERB OF STREUSEL by Sara Brunsvold // Contemporary Fiction ⭐ 5 stars ⭐
Life is messy, and The Divine Proverb of Streusel acknowledges this fact with profound grace and thoughtful insight. It’s a compelling story that never drifts into the cliché and is brave enough not to tie everything up with a perfect red bow. Oh don’t get me wrong – there IS resolution and it’s beautifully rendered, but we all know that some wounds cut especially deep and true healing takes time. There is great pain to be worked through on these pages, but there is also great joy to be found, great stories to tell, and great love to embrace. I fell in love with the characters – main and supporting – and I devoured every word as quickly as possible while also trying to savor them at the same time. I was captivated by the warmth that exuded from the author’s insightful and poetic writing voice, and any book she writes from now on will automatically go to the top of my TBR list.
DEADLY TO THE CORE by Joyce Tremel // Cozy Mystery
I have long been a fan of Joyce Tremel’s Brewing Trouble cozy mysteries so when I learned she was writing a new series about a cider house, I could not get to a copy fast enough. Deadly to the Core reminded me at once of everything I love about Joyce Tremel’s writing voice and the engaging characters she creates. Kate is a compelling heroine in more ways than one and her personality is winsome and relatable. I enjoyed getting to know all the fantastic characters of Orchardville – even the victim. The story flows seamlessly from start to finish, and all the different layers to the mystery feel fresh and crisp. (Yes, now I’m hungry for apples after reading this book haha!) I cannot wait to see where this series goes from here, and I had a delightful time with this first visit!
THE LILY OF LUDGATE HILL by Mimi Matthews // Historical Victorian Romance ⭐ 5 stars ⭐
The Lily of Ludgate Hill is yet another prime example of Mimi Matthews’ unparalleled ability to immerse readers into the Victorian era while entertaining them with a story that engages all the senses. Lady Anne and Felix’s second chance romance is deliciously passionate (while remaining chaste) and their individual characters are masterfully layered. Add in an endearing parrot-kitten, some compelling subplots, and the power of friendship, and you have a treat you won’t want to put down. The hints we get about Stella’s upcoming story are icing on the proverbial cake, and I cannot wait for book four!
THE LOVE PENALTY by Carolyn Miller // Contemporary Romance
The Love Penalty by Carolyn Miller is more than just a wonderful contemporary romance – though it’s certainly that. It’s also a beautiful story of redemption, of introducing a broken heart to the Heart Healer. I loved Sylvie and Ryan together and as individually layered characters, and I absolutely adored Ryan’s parents. The storyline quickly drew me in and kept me turning the pages, delighting in visits with familiar characters and enjoying the plot revolving around the current protagonists. I appreciated the clear presentation of the gospel and that Ryan wasn’t a ‘perfect’ Christian in contrast to Sylvie’s lostness. The flaws/sins in both characters spoke to me, and I am always a fan when grace takes the spotlight! A sweet love story that points to the true Source of love.
THE FOXHOLE VICTORY TOUR by Amy Lynn Green // Historical WW2 Fiction
The Foxhole Victory Tour by Amy Lynn Green is a compelling and smartly-written novel that brings to life a little known aspect of WW2 history and highlights the humanity of war – the sorrows, the fears, the injustices, yes, but also the moments where joy and faith and love win out over the rest. I was fascinated by the history and captivated by the characters, and I wasn’t ready for it to be finished when I turned the last page. I would gladly spend more time with these characters, should the author be so inclined to revisit them in a future story! A dash of romance and notes of faith both fit well with the natural flow of the story and add further dimensions for readers to embrace in the main characters. Sign up for this USO tour post haste – you won’t be sorry!
COLD THREAT by Nancy Mehl // Suspense
Wow. Wow. Wow wow WOW. That basically sums up my reaction to the reveal of the serial killer’s identity. Gobsmacked once again, as I always am at some point in Mehl’s suspense novels. Cold Threat is another stellar suspense offering by author Nancy Mehl, with layered characters and several surprising twists. River and Tony make such a good pair, in life and in work, and I enjoyed watching their friendship deepen as they worked with Tony’s dad to solve a haunting cold case. The faith thread is touching and relatable, and it fits easily with the character development without distracting from the plot. The series arc of the obsessed serial killer after River is definitely still in play even though it isn’t the main focus of this book, and I look forward to watching how that all ends up in the final novel.
ONCE A QUEEN by Sarah Arthur // Young Adult Portal Fantasy
Once a Queen by Sarah Arthur is a wonderful start to a series I didn’t know I’d been craving. Fantasy and fairy tales combine to remind readers of such beloved characters as Aslan, the kings and queens at Cair Paravel and even Mary Lennox – while still being very much its own novel – and this enchanted tale sparks the ‘what if’ imagination of young and old alike. The story within a story – Eva’s favorite childhood series – came so alive under the author’s pen that I truly thought it was real and I was fascinated with the subplot involving the author (whom I also believed was an actual person). Wonderfully quotable sentences, a richly crafted setting, moving themes, and vivid characters make this a book that you’ll want to read quickly and then read again to savor. A story that reaches a conclusion but isn’t over just yet … I can’t wait for book two!
PROTECTING THE MOUNTAIN MAN’S TREASURE by Misty M. Beller // Historical Western Romance
If you love western romance with vivid settings, a dose of danger, layered characters in forced proximity (with a marriage-of-convenience vibe) and a solid faith thread, then you need look no further than Misty M. Beller’s latest, Protecting the Mountain Man’s Treasure! The brothers of Sapphire Ranch are quickly adding more women to their clan, including Two Stones’ bride whom we met in the novella just ahead of this book, and I’m loving the subtle (and not so subtle) changes we see in them. Watching Angela and Jude fall in love – despite the unconventional start to their relationship – is sweet and fun and oh-so-swoony! But watching Angela find her Heavenly Father is even better. The suspense thread easily ensures that readers will stay on the edge of their seats and be invested in the outcome, and I’m even more eager than I already was for book four after the way this one ends!
january 2024 reads I haven’t had time to review yet
What about you? What were some great reads you read in January 2024? Which books in this post have you read?