Grace A. Johnson
April Mini Reviews
When You Found Me: Princes of Allura Novella Collection– Anna Augustine
When You Found Me is such a sweet, tender, and beautiful collection of novellas inspired by the biblical accounts of Esther, Ruth, and Jael! I was convinced by all the lovely Goodreads reviews by my friends (and friends of my friends; you know how social media works), and I was not disappointed!
Admittedly, the three princes’ of Allura’s stories have their faults. There were several typos and errors, but who am I to judge that? None of the mistakes took away from the stories (despite my sharp editor’s eye), which were short but well-developed for their length.
I never really connected with any of the characters, but I think they were all very solid, nonetheless. What felt missing to me was a bit of worldbuilding, I reckon, since I couldn’t see Allura vividly or feel connected to the goings-on such as the border wars and all. I think that’s where most all “fantasy” fairytale (or, in this case, biblical) retellings fail—too much focus on retelling the story and not enough focus on making the world your own.
My favorite story? Oy, that’s a tough one. I’d say I’m torn between Collin and Sage’s and Benjamin and Aurora’s. Those were the most interesting to me, and I really loved seeing Sage’s story unfold into the story of Jael!
Speaking of...my main qualm was that both Della and Sage were so against marriage. Like, I guess it just breaks my traditional (or chauvinist, call me what you will) heart to not just read about girls who buck against marriage (and authority, but that’s a story for another day) but to see them. As if marriage were not a God-instated union established for our good rather than our detriment. Marriage is something to honor and respect, not eschew (unless you’re going by Paul’s views on singleness, which I support in the right context). Sage did a better job at, I don’t know, not being so forceful, but Della turned me off on Page 1 by being so adamant against marriage. Then, lo and behold, she ups and marries a prince! Like, what happened to your independence, girl?
Ahem. Pardon the rant there. I suppose that’s just been on my heart lately. Aside from all of that, I did enjoy the stories. Of course, my fondness is deeper for the princes than it is for their brides (as always), and I do love how tastefully Augustine wove Collin into the stories as both the Haman figure and a hero in his own right. I love a good redemption story!
I think, with the right amount of polish, the Princes of Allura could shine! Without it, though, they are still lovely novellas of love and redemption, and enjoyable to read!
Love and a Little White Lie – Tammy L. Gray
My love affair with contemporary romance is often a rocky relationship—we’ve been separated off and on for the last five years or so. But, every once and a while, contemporary makes a romantic gesture, and I come running back.
Love and a Little White Lie was one such gesture.
I read Tammy L. Gray’s debut novel, Shattered Rose, a while back. I really appreciated Gray’s boldness in dealing with issues like anorexia, depression, alcohol abuse, and premarital sex—but it wasn’t captivating enough for me to jump at reading more of Gray’s novels. I know better than to judge an author by their debut novel...so once I started seeing so many amazing reviews and recommendations of Love and a Little White Lie, I knew I’d have to read it soon.
Cue my trip to Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, where you’ll often find me purchasing a stack of books that are 75% cheaper than retail and taller than me. I had almost given up hope on finding a $2 must-read one day when something bright blue and gleaming caught my eye.
I literally devoured this thing—couldn’t make myself wait until I’d finished all of my other current reads, didn’t bother sleeping at night—and finished it in two days (I used to finish a novel in three hours...but that was before I started doing anything else with my life, so two days is pretty decent these days.)
The love triangle in this book, quite possibly the most important aspect, was one of the most well-done triangles I’ve ever read! (Up there with El/Ky/Josh from Unblemished.) Cameron and Dillon were both so well-developed and just amazing guys. (Spoiler: can I just say that Cam really disappointed me in the end...and that I was rooting Dillon the entire time? Oh, I can’t say that? Well, never mind, then.)
And January? Y’all, January makes my “Best Heroine Ever” shelf. Like, her character was so real and relatable—even though, y’know, I’m not an atheist or anything. She was truly a kind, selfless person, and that was so refreshing to see—especially when most “Christian” heroines are selfish, vain, whiny, and always trying to be something that they’re not. Her transformation was smooth and realistic, and, guys, I just loved Jan. I really did. Sure, she was a blatant liar—but I’m also not supposed to judge the world. Or worldly book characters.
And Dillon? Ugh, no spoilers, but he was my man the whole time. You da man, Dill.
And that woman’s grandma. I ADORE fictional grandmothers—they are just the funniest, wisest, sweetest, most amazing characters you could ever write! (My poor characters...all of their grandmas are dead. Eh, they weren’t that nice anyway.)
Anyway, to keep this review short (it’s supposed to be mini, you know), I’ll just sum things up by saying this novel is SPECTACULAR! The writing is so smooth and balanced, January’s voice coming through loud and clear! The story is paced so well and kept my attention for every chapter.
Oh, side note, the h-word is featured once, and while that might not bother some readers, I prefer not to read cuss words. I do appreciate that Gray didn’t repeat it or portray January’s penchant for cussing as “okay”—rather, even the immoral, atheistic January recognized it as wrong.
Otherwise, it was so clean and beautiful and, yes, I will definitely be reading more of Tammy L. Gray and—who knows—I might even stay with contemporary long-term!
Rules of Murder – Julianna Deering
To be honest, I’m pretty close to speechless after reading this. (Except you know I’m not. I’m rarely ever speechless.) What I am, however, is thoroughly pleased with myself, my powers of discernment, and this book.
(Please note that my “powers of discernment” do not apply to the mystery at hand. What they do apply to is my unwavering belief that I needed to read Rules of Murder.)
You know, I noticed my lovely friend Sophia had recently written a review for...the third book, was it? in this series. Well, Soph has absolutely excellent taste in literature, so I immediately checked out the series. Lo and behold, the first book was available on Kindle Unlimited, so naturally I secured my copy.
And, naturally, I devoured it.
I adore mysteries. The excitement, the uncertainty, the delicious scandals involved (now I sound like a gossip rag). The just not knowing.
I just don’t read a lot of mysteries because (1) I’d rather not read secular fiction (even if it’s Christie); (2) I prefer historical mysteries, and you can’t find very many good ones in the Christian fiction section; and (3) I gotta have romance. Wonder why I prefer Remington Steele to Murder, She Wrote? Romance. (Not to mention young Pierce Brosnan is way hotter than Angela Lansbury. No offense.)
So when I saw all of the Christian, romantic, historical, just plain amazing goodness jam-packed into Rules of Murder, guess what I did?
Y’all, this. is. Perfect. It’s everything you could ever want in a mystery, all tied up nice and neatly in that vintage brown paper packaging. Not to mention tied up with string. Those are a few of my favorite things.
Ahem. Enough singing. Back to the reviewing.
Let’s see, there was Jesus. Like, in the most natural, everyday, beautiful, gentlest kind of ways. Even a preachy, Pentecostal fire kind of girl can appreciate such a tender and subtle yet so very there representation of faith. Drew at the bathtub? Y’all, that was such a lovely moment. Such a lovely moment. (And not because Drew probably looked really good with his hair all wet and mused and his chest bared and everything.) Like, why don’t Christian writers have their Christian characters experience such moments with God? You know, with that total faith and surrender? With those soul-deep prayers?
Speaking of Drew...gosh, it was like Remington Steele met George Bailey met...I don’t know. Poirot? Something like that. He was all jaunty and British and smart and just plain adorable. He is definitely the kind of protagonist I can love and want more of—definitely the kind of guy that’ll keep me reading for however many books he’s got.
Did I mention he was adorable?
And Madeline? Y’all, it seriously doesn’t get any better than a sweet American girl like Madeline. She was intelligent, strong, and feisty (typical American, amiright?) and yet she was also so gentle and caring and beautiful. And she wasn’t even the main character! UGH! I NEED heroines like Madeline in my regular historical romances. This girl was GOLD!
Not to mention she and Drew were the CUTEST!
(Yes, I’m shifting into all-caps here. Pardon the public display of emotion—PDE.)
So, yeah, on that subject, I think a lot of people said that it was kind of insta-love, and maybe for the 1890s or the 2020s it was. But if you know the 30s like I know the 30s (I’m presuming all of my old-TV-show-watching has granting me credible knowledge of the 30s), then you know that IT WAS TOTALLY REALISTIC. Like, the vintage vibes were OFF THE CHARTS.
And honestly? The infamous and dreaded insta-love (get this, I hate it too, guys) is mainly physical. Physical attraction. Physical touch. Physical electric sparks (I HATE electric sparks; they’re by far the dumbest thing you could ever write into your romance...but that’s a rant for another day).
HOWEVER (there’s always a “however” in mysteries), Madi and Drew’s seemingly quick romance was NOT physical. I mean, sure, they held hands and kissed. But it wasn’t their appearances or hormones or electrical-charged kisses that drew them together. It was Drew’s steadfastness and Madi’s caring. Her strength and vitality. His genuine love. Their reactions under pressures and the true colors they showed in such dire situations.
That is what romance is all about. Seeing something deep and abiding in a person and admiring it. Not just admiring it, but wanting to sustain it and keep it alive. Wanting to give your all for another person’s happiness no matter the cost—and not because they’re sexy or they feel good. Because they’re worth the sacrifice, worth your love, worth you waking up every morning and choosing to be there for them because you want to, not because your emotions tell you to. Because that’s how Jesus loves us. Even when His emotions were begging God to let the cup pass, He chose to sacrifice Himself for us. Because He wanted to. Because the life we will have with Him in Heaven is worth paying for.
Anyway. Um, yeah, that was off-topic. Where was I?
Oh, yes. The mystery. That’s, like, the main part, isn’t it?
Y’all, this was a mystery that would make Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer and the many Carolyn Keenes proud. (Yes, I’m a Nancy Drew fan. Anyone notice that our lovely mystery-solving protagonist’s name is Drew? Coincidence? I think not.)
I mean, I really like to be able to figure things out and have it all settled in my mind...but as calm and organized as that is, sometimes the Queen of Assumptions needs a break from all that assuming. Sometimes it is way more fun to be so thoroughly wrong. Actually, I never could make a firm assessment, so I wasn’t so much wrong as I was not right. (It makes sense to me.)
Everything was so consistent and well-planned and developed and...ugh. I knew there was something off with that guy, but I NEVER would’ve thought him so completely vile. Hence why this is such a great mystery. Like, it makes sense, but you never pieced it together. Enigmatic perfection. All of the red herrings and strange happenings and presumptions and skewed judgments served to make this mystery one of the best I’ve ever read.
Not to mention Drew, Nick, and Madi are just the best detectives ever.
Oh, I haven’t gotten to Nick yet! Well, let me just say that, boy, was he a character! I loved him too, and, yes, I know people are saying that it’s totally unrealistic that Drew would be friends with the son of his butler...but look. The author knew that would be weird, so she fashioned the perfect situation that makes their unlikely friendship make total sense. Every good author does that—mixes things up, but gives you a myriad of good and convincing reasons. Then who can complain?
(The haters, obviously, but I ain’t got time to get all Taylor Swift on all of them.)
Now, I guess it’s time I cut this “mini” review off before it gets really long. So, to sum up all my gushing, Rules of Murder was fabulous. The concept? Splendid. The mystery? Gosh, so good! The characters? Perfection. The romance? Even better! The spiritual content? Let’s just say Jesus would be proud. The writing...which I totally forgot to mention, but you know what? Who cares! Yeah, that was awesome too. Perfectly balanced and well-paced.
Long story short, I will definitely be breaking the bank to finish this series...and get started on a mystery series of my own!
Finders Keepers – Sarah Monzon
After reading Bookishly Ever After, I knew I had to jump at the chance to read more by Sarah Monzon. So I went straight to Finders Keepers, the book that put Monzon on my authors-to-read list in the first place.
Admittedly, it didn’t have the same humor and wit that BEA did—but then, I think BEA can be categorized as chick lit or a rom-com, so that’s probably why. So, yes, that was a little disappointing, since I didn’t really laugh out loud while reading this book.
What I did, however, was fall in love with two different love stories.
To be frank, I hate split-time books. Split-time romances included. I hardly ever read them, because when I do? Cringe. They’re so...undeveloped and uninspired. Like, give me a good reason to continue reading at least one of the stories. Better yet, give me a good reason for why you entwined two stories in one book to begin with!
Anyway, I’ll save that rant for another day, but Finders Keepers does not deserve my anger.
Because it flowed so smoothly and everything was so well-balanced and developed. There was such great pacing and scene arrangement here, and just the way Monzon pulled off this entire novel was stupendous.
That being said, I do have my qualms. Don’t I always?
As good as the overall plot and the technicalities of the story were, I just couldn’t like the characters. I didn’t expect to like Summer or Isabella (hardly ever like the heroines), so it didn’t come as a surprise to me when I just couldn’t connect with them or picture them vividly. But I felt the same way about Trent! (Which is really weird, because he’s my kind of guy.) He got better, and he was never really bad to begin with—none of the characters were. I just...I don’t know if they were lacking something or if I just couldn’t really connect with them.
On the flip side, I really connected with Captain Montoya. Now he was a hero I can admire. Let’s just say I’d been rooting for him the whole time. I honestly would have like more of him and Isabella (spoiler, sorry) at the end, rather than just being left hanging.
Now, where was I?
Oh, yes. Trent. I liked his brokenness and I appreciated how tastefully Monzon handled his character...and when he called Marissa? Woo-wee, I got chills! That was something right there, quite possibly my favorite part of this book! But I won’t spoil anything, so you’ll just have to read that for yourself.
So, yes, I do have mixed feelings about Finders Keepers. I felt a little distant from the characters, but that’s just me personally. But when I walked away from this book? I was definitely thinking five stars! It was a pleasant and inspiring and so well-done experience, and I will without a doubt continue reading this series!