A Love So True by Melissa Jagears

Disclaimer: A Love So True, by Melissa Jagears, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Evelyn Wisely loves working at the local orphanage, but her heart can’t ignore the women of Teaville who are also in need. Her boss is willing to help build a shelter for them, but only if she gains the cooperation and financial support of other local businessmen. While David Kingsman plans to stay in Teaville just long enough to get his father’s business back on solid ground, he’s intrigued by Evelyn’s cause and finds himself more invested with each passing day. Will their plans and partnership fall apart when confronted with all that is stacked against them, or can they trust in God’s plan despite it all?

A Love So True is not as immediately gripping or as deep in message as the book that came before it, A Heart Most Certain, but it has a lot of charm, a decent romance, and some good things to say.

The novel continues with the story line of the first book, with Evelyn helping at an orphanage for children of prostitutes and with Lydia and she still determined to help the prostitutes themselves. While that particular message was told much better in A Heart Most Certain, Jagears still does a good job of communicating how we should help those in need. It’s unfortunate that Heart’s message was much more impactful and prominent whereas Love’s message is much weaker and more obscure (honestly, the only thing I can think of after reading it is “Don’t keep secrets”), because even though Jagears is still a good writer, there’s a noticeable drop in quality, at least in my eyes.

The romance is good, although the ending of it is filled with too much contrivance and clichés for me to really love it. I hate that every author seems to think that they need to have one last angst-filled separation between their love interests before they can finally get together. Love’s in particular was noticeably forced—I don’t mean the reason for Evelyn and David’s separation, which I actually quite liked because Jagears subtly poked fun at what the reader was likely thinking was Evelyn’s big secret, but what came after. David, knowing his father’s ways, still decides to go along with what he says. Evelyn, knowing what David has said about his father, still actually thinks she can trust what he says. It was forced tension, incredibly contrived, and annoying. It ruined the book for me, a little.

A Love So True is not as good as its predecessor, but it’s engaging, has some good things to say (even if it’s hard to pull out an overarching theme or message), and is written well. I wish the ending hadn’t been so forced because it spoiled my enjoyment of the entirety, but if I ignore the stupid things the characters did at the end, the romance was good and the characters themselves were well-developed. At least until they were forced to act in certain ways to generate tension.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2rJTccU

The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford

The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, was published in 2016 by Henry Holt.

Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault are on a mission: find the three pieces of a strange and arcane engine they believe can stop the endless war raging between their home country of England and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. During the search, however, their ship, the famous privateer the Left-Handed Fate, is taken by the Americans, who have just declared war on England, too. The Fate (and, with it, Lucy and Max) is put under the command of new midshipman Oliver Dexter…who’s only just turned twelve. But Lucy and Max aren’t the only ones trying to assemble the engine; the French are after it, as well as the crew of a mysterious vessel that seems able to appear out of thin air. When Oliver discovers what his prisoners are really up to—and how dangerous the device could be if it falls into the wrong hands—he is faced with a choice: Help Lucy and Max even if it makes him a traitor to his own country? Or follow orders and risk endangering countless lives, including those of the enemies who have somehow become his friends?

Rating: 5/5

Kate Milford has done it again. I loved her book Greenglass House and The Left-Handed Fate is—nearly—as perfect. It’s a well-written, intriguing, fascinating historical fiction with hints (and more than hints) of fantasy woven through it. It gives a great deal of information about the War of 1812 and seamanship in general. Every character is interesting and they interact in ways that are believable in each circumstance they run into.

Apparently this book is a continuation/companion of other books Milford has written about Nagspeake, but it’s not necessary to have read them. I had no trouble at all understanding the world and I have only read Greenglass House before this one. There is enough explained with the characters that nothing seems missing; backstory is given when necessary and when not, small details are given that fill in possible gaps. Milford does a great job of bringing in an audience who may not be familiar with her other books.

I said The Left-Handed Fate was nearly perfect, so now here’s the ways I felt it faltered a bit—not enough to drop its rating, ultimately, but enough for me to comment on.

First, there’s a conversation between Liao and Max that is really odd, or maybe teeth-clenching irritating, or simply nonsensical. Basically, Liao believes that weapons have feelings and that they like it better if they’re used for good rather than evil, which makes absolutely no sense but he’s nine, so whatever. Then Max starts thinking about cannons/gunpowder being chemical reactions and then thinks about how people are exactly like that. Yes, people are exactly like cannons. Just chemical reactions. That explains why we have thoughts and emotions. You know, just like cannons. *eyeroll*

Second, the whole Copley thing is very hard to believe. Even harder to believe than a black ship that appears out of nowhere. I mean, the latter is clearly magic. The former is…some combination of magic and science fiction? An artificial intelligence brought to life by a golden elixir? I don’t know—for some reason, I had a hard time accepting that part of the book. I can do ghostly black ships and blue lights appearing out of nowhere. I can’t do a computer that functions on magical juice.

However, those flaws are not serious enough to significantly affect my liking of The Left-Handed Fate. Overall, I thought it was well written, engaging, and a wonderful historical fiction novel.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“I had that piece for years,” Jeton said. “It was brought to me damaged and the repairs were complicated, but they only took as long as they did because I made them take that long. I strung the work out as long as I possibly could, in hopes that your father would answer my letter or turn up. If either he or you had managed to get here before war had been declared, you could have had it, and welcome. I would have lied to the owner, claimed the shop had been robbed—I had the whole story worked out. But you didn’t arrive in time.”

“My father couldn’t come because he was dead,” Max retorted. “It made traveling difficult for him, you understand.”

Jeton’s eyes hardened at the sarcasm. “It was more than a year and a half ago that your father passed, may he rest in peace.”

“I came as soon as I could!” Max said wretchedly. “And then we were attacked twice in the Chesapeake. If not for that, we should have been here before—”

“But you weren’t here, and we are at war, and I will not turn traitor. There are those who might do it, but I am not one of them.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pUH2k5

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was published in 2013 by Arthur A. Levine.

Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in cramped quarters in a rainy corner of Cambridge, England. Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Cello, Elliot is searching for his father. He disappeared a year ago, the same night that Elliot’s uncle was found dead on the side of the road. Official word is that a third-level Purple is responsible, but talk about town is that Elliot’s dad may have murdered his brother and run away with the high-school physics teacher. Elliot refuses to believe this, and is determined to find both his dad and the truth. When Madeleine and Elliot begin to exchange messages across worlds—through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries—the large and small events of their lives start to intertwine. Dangerous Colors are storming across Cello (a second-level gray will tear you to pieces; a first-level Yellow can blind you), while Madeleine is falling for her new friend jack. In Cello, they are searching for the tiny Butterfly Child, while Madeleine fears that her mother may be dangerously ill. Can a corner of white hold a kingdom? Can a stranger from another world help to solve the problems—and unravel the mysterious—in your own? And can Madeleine and Elliot find the missing pieces of themselves before it is too late?

Rating: 4/5

A Corner of White, and by extension Jaclyn Moriarty, reminded me a great deal of Maggie Stiefvater’s works. Moriarty effortlessly blends together both the real world and Cello and makes Cello seem both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time with familiar aspects and fantastical additions. She also spends some time poking fun at worldbuilding and, perhaps, what people expect from fantasy worlds, with a letter from Madeleine asking Elliott everything under the sun about Cello (such as its politics, its stance on certain social issues, etc.). Yet even though Elliot never answers those questions, Cello never feels underdeveloped or weak as a world.

I also give props to Moriarty for making the plot become much more complex than I was expecting in the last few pages of the novel. I love flip-arounds like the one that happened here, and it made me eager to get the next book, as opposed to ambivalent as I felt for much of the book.

However, the main flaw of A Corner of White is that its characters, especially Madeleine, Belle and Jack, speak in increasingly unrealistic voices as the novel goes on. The trend in young adult literature nowadays seems to be quirky, philosophical teenagers who snark and talk in ways I’ve never heard teenagers speak and be witty and insightful in every dialogue they have. However, I’ve yet to meet a teenager who actually speaks like Madeleine or Belle or Jack speak in this book—and I hang around them for a living. It’s my problem with a lot of popular young adults books, such as Stiefvater’s (especially her villains) and John Green’s (Paper Towns was the most boring, pseudo-philosophical poetic piece of nonsense I’ve read in a while)—no one actually talks like that. No teenager has wit dripping from every line or has the perfect snarky comeback every time.

That’s the ironic thing about A Corner of White—Madeleine, Belle and Jack, and some of their situations (like the odd, absurd schooling they’re getting. Yay homeschooling, but boo the insane amount of quirkiness) seem more fantastic than Elliot and, to some extent, Cello. Elliot, at least, acts mostly like a normal teenager. I found myself liking Elliot’s story (point of view may be a more apt term) more and more, and liking Madeleine’s story (point of view) less and less.

However, despite the unrealisticness of most of the characters, A Corner of White, due to its truly surprising ending, got me hooked on the rest of the series. I’m not jumping up and down for joy after reading it, but I am looking forward to reading the next book. I just hope Madeleine is a little more realistic this time.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Mentions of drug abuse and infidelity.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“If you could just open the book at any page, Jack, and ask a question.”

“All right.” He flicked through the pages, whistling to himself, then said, “Here’s a good one. What is philematology?”

Now Holly turned to her daughter. “The only way this homeschooling thing is going to work,” she said sternly, “is if you forget that I’m your mother and respect me as a teacher.”

“You’re funny,” said Madeleine. “It’s like you keep surprising me that way.”

Belle took the book from Jack’s hands and flipped it to a different page.

“Who is Samuel Langhorne Clements?” she said. “I mean, who’s he better known as? Not, like, who is he? Cause you could just say Samuel Langhorne Clemens.”

You see.” Holly turned again to Madeleine. “It’s true that this brief interlude of question-asking—it’s true that it might incidentally help me prepare for my quiz show, but its primary purpose is to enliven your young minds.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2rkdGvD

1922 Newbery Medal: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon

The Story of Mankind, by Hendrik Willem van Loon, was published in 1921 by Liveright. I read the updated version that was published in 1972.

Hendrik Willem Van Loon’s renowned classic charms us once against with its warmth, simplicity, and wisdom as it unfolds its tale of the history of man for both adults and children. Reaching back into the beginnings of man and sweeping forward to illuminate all of history, van Loon’s enthusiasm breathes life into the characters and events of other ages.

Rating: 2/5

There’s no surprise that The Story of Mankind won the first Newbery Medal ever awarded. It’s history retold almost as a story, in a fairly simple manner and covering a great deal of time in relatively few pages. However, unlike many Newbery Medal winners, this book does not age well—no wonder, considering its nature as a history book first and foremost.

The original edition of The Story of Mankind stops after World War I, while the updated version tells of history up until the Korean War (actually, I’m not sure how far it goes—my edition was missing about 20 pages or so at the end, so it could also have covered the Vietnam War). While van Loon gets many things correct about history, there are many other things he gets extraordinarily wrong, owing both to the time the book was written and what his voice as the “narrator” of history reveals.

It’s not surprising that someone in the 1920s would get some aspects of previous history wrong, since today we’ve had 90+ extra years to study and get things right, and van Loon got more things right than I expected. But he does get some things wrong, such as the birth of modern science and his hilariously incorrect story of “Joshua, whom the Greeks called Jesus.” Van Loon seems to be highly contemptuous of all religion, for even his story of the beginnings of Islam is brief and told in an irritatingly patronizing tone.

This patronizing tone is present throughout the entire novel, really, but particularly worse in areas where religion or archaic ways of doing things are concerned. He tells of particular moments in history in a pretentious, “those silly, ignorant peasants” tone that is almost unnoticeable at first but starts to build and build as the book progresses. In addition, The Story of Mankind is, in actuality, The Story of Western Mankind, as Eastern thought and culture gets only a handful of pages devoted to it, and no history of China or Japan is given until it relates to a war or a particularly global moment in history. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of van Loon, however, or perhaps it’s only natural that someone who seems as contemptuous of certain cultures and times in history as he is would leave out a few things here and there.

The only reason I’m not giving The Story of Mankind a lower rating is that, as fed-up as I was with his pretentious tone, van Loon does get some aspects of history correct that I wasn’t expecting, such as the emphasis on the Middle Ages as a time of great development rather than being “Dark” (although, according to van Loon, they were still ignorant peasants who weren’t nearly as intelligent as the people who came after them) and the fact that no one during Columbus’s time actually thought the world was flat. But despite van Loon’s accuracy in some areas, he is wildly inaccurate in others, especially in the ones he clearly thinks are beneath him. This condescension of tone made The Story of Mankind, ultimately, an unpleasant read.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2qpquzq

Fairy Tale Friday: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale, was published in 2007 by Bloomsbury.

When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years because of Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despise, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment. As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. With the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors—one welcome, the other decidedly less so—the girls are confronted with both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.

Rating: 5/5

Based off of the little-known Grimm’s fairy tale “Maid Maleen,” Book of a Thousand Days is an engaging, beautiful read of a girl who has to hold herself and her mistress together as they are imprisoned in a tower and then forced into hiding in another country. Dashti is the heart and soul of the book, a female protagonist who is not overtly strong or rebellious against societal conventions, but quietly steadfast and persistent and brave. She’s clever and witty, but not overly outspoken, and she’s basically everything I want in a female protagonist.

Simply put, I devoured this book and its lovely romance. I liked that even though Dashti is the narrator, there are still things the reader will catch onto before she does, such as the nature of Saren’s relationship with Tegus and even, perhaps, the secret of Lord Khasar. I liked that Saren, as annoying as she could get, was at least understandable, in a way, and that she develops, too, and becomes less of an obstacle that Dashti must endure and more of a character.

Book of a Thousand Days is lovely, an adaptation of a fairy tale I’d never heard of (though Hale states she wasn’t particularly true to the original) that is simple, yet engaging all the same. I liked the sweet moments scattered between all the tense and unsure moments; the book has a very good balance of low and high points. This book has redeemed Hale in my eyes a bit after the disappointing sequels to Princess Academy.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Young Adult

My lady removed her hand and started to pace and fret and rub her head. She looked as if she’d like to run away, had there been anywhere to run. My poor lady.

“Say you are me.”

“What?” But why, my lady?”

“You are my maid, Dashti,” she said, and though she still shook like a rabbit, her voice was hard and full of the knowledge that she’s gentry. “It is my right to have my maid speak for me. I don’t’ like to speak to someone directly. What if it isn’t really him? What if he means us harm?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2qBiM6s

1928 Newbery Medal: Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon

Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon, by Dhan Gopal Mukerji, was published in 1927 by Dutton.

The heartwarming and sometimes almost heartbreaking story of the training and care of a carrier pigeon. Writing out of his own experience as a boy in India, Dhan Mukerji tells how Gay-Neck’s master, an eager, highly-sensitive lad, sent his prized pigeon to serve in World War I, and of how, because of exceptional training and his brave heart, Gay-Neck served his new masters heroically.

Rating: 3/5

I found Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon, the most interesting of the early Newbery Medal’s I’ve read so far, barring The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle. That’s not to say it enthralled me, but it was better than the dense and confusing The Dark Frigate and a much better story than any of the myths in Tales from Silver Lands. It was also a very quick read for me, which I’m citing as a positive since I was beginning to fall behind in my reading when I started Gay-Neck.

Much of the interest of Gay-Neck, for me, was not the story of a pigeon and his adventures leading up to and during World War I. It was the description of India and its culture. I always enjoy it when an author so clearly knows a culture different than the one I do, and, since Mukerji grew up in India, he’s even more qualified to describe it and make it approachable for American readers (I say American since the Newbery medal is an American award). And since this was written during a time when lots of people were traveling abroad and the British still occupied India, it’s nice to get a glimpse of the mountains, valleys, and jungles of India through the eyes of an Indian.

So, yes, the culture part of it interested me. The actual story of Gay-Neck, not so much. I’ve read better animal books before, and let’s face it, I’m more into horses than pigeons. The pages-long descriptions of Gay-Neck flying to avoid the claws of an eagle may be riveting to some, but I found myself skimming a lot of it. There’s also only so many times Gay-Neck can disappear and his owner wonder if he’s dead before all the suspense is drained out of the event entirely.

Gay-Neck is definitely a step up from previous Newbery Medal winners, but despite its lavish and loving descriptions of India and Indian culture, it’s not particularly exciting or enthralling. It’s a good look at how carrier pigeons were used, and, of course, as I’ve already mentioned, its depiction of India is beautiful, but it falls apart a little in terms of mechanics and holding the reader’s interest.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

But this [bird] was coming straight, like an arrow. In another two minutes my doubts were dispelled. It was a hawk making for little Gay-Neck. I looked up and beheld a miraculous sight. His father was tumbling steadily down in order to reach his level, while his mother, bent on the same purpose, was making swift downward curves. Ere the terrible hawk had come within ten yards of the innocent little fellow, both his flanks were covered. Now the three flew downwards at a right angle from the path of their enemy. Undeterred by such a move, the hawk charged.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pq0uFq

The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan

The Kings of Clonmel, by John Flanagan, was published in 2010 by Philomel. It is the sequel to Erak’s Ransom.

When mankind seeks protection from the world’s many dangers, they put their faith in warriors, kings, gods, and even money. In the neighboring kingdom of Clonmel, a mysterious cult has sprung up, promising defense against lawless marauders in exchange for people’s riches. Their sermons are attracting audiences from mils around, but there’s a dark side to this seemingly charitable group, prompting Halt, Will and Horace to investigate. What the trio uncovers could threaten the safety of not only Clonmel, but their homeland of Araluen as well.

Rating: 4/5

The Kings of Clonmel is yet another Part 1 of 2 book, but it’s the best of the Part 1’s, in my opinion. A lot of the intrigue is this book is resolved, but there are still loose threads that will carry over to the next book—which is what makes The Kings of Clonmel a better Part 1 than those that came before it (The Icebound Land and The Sorcerer of the North).

Will continues to grow, but also continues to prove that he is a fully-fledged Ranger who can stand on his own and solve his own problems. Halt is Halt—awesome, but not so awesome that he seems inhuman. He does step in and solve a lot of the other characters’ problems, including Will’s and Horace’s, but it’s much less noticeable and invasive than it seemed at the beginning of the series, especially since Will and Horace can hold their own now. And Flanagan is clearly prepping for what will happen in the next book and the character development that will come about because of it, things that are a little more noticeable if you’ve read the series before. There’s not obvious clues, but there is a little bit of telegraphing, which I think is pretty neat.

The one thing that seems the most out of place or unrealistic in the series, something I noticed most prominently in Erak’s Ransom, is the horses. I’m definitely not an expert on horse training, so I could be way off base, but to me it seemed that the Ranger horses are stretching it a bit in terms of believability. But perhaps horses can actually be trained to react to noises and whatever else the Ranger horses do—it is plausible, but for some reason, in the story I’m not buying it so much.

The Kings of Clonmel is yet another enjoyable, awesome book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. These books are just plain fun to read and it helps that the plot and other details are quite good, as is the world building. This book was the best “Part 1 of 2” in the series, a good sign that Flanagan is continuously improving in his writing—which means better books to come.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“You can swim, I assume?”

“Yes, I can swim,” Colly said. “But I’m not going jumping off some bluff just because you say so!”

“No, no. Of course not. That’d be asking far too much of you. You’ll jump off because if you don’t, I’ll shoot you. It’ll be the same effect, really. If I have to shoot you, you’ll fall off. But I thought I’d give you a chance to survive.” Halt paused, then added, “Oh, and if you decide to run downhill, I’ll also shoot you with an arrow. Uphill and off is really your only chance of survival.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2q0liBH

Fairy Tale Friday: Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Princess of Glass, by Jessica Day George, was published in 2010 by Bloomsbury. It is the sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball.

Having once been cursed to dance every night with her sisters, Princess Poppy has vowed never again to put on a pair of dancing slippers. Which is why she’s reluctant to participate in the royal exchange program that her father and some of their neighbor kings have cooked up. Life in far-off Breton isn’t so bad, not when there’s money to be own playing cards and a handsome prince promising friendship…and maybe something more. But when a hapless servant named Eleanora enters the picture and sets her sights on the prince, too, which girl will win his heart? And who is behind the magnificent gowns and slippers that the penniless Eleanora has been wearing to the balls? Only Princess Poppy can see through the magic that holds the rest of the kingdom in its spell. And having fought against one curse before, she’s just the girl to take on another!

Rating: 2/5

Princess of Glass is a fairly unique take on Cinderella, following the bare bones of the tale but branching off and fitting it into the larger picture of George’s fantasy world. I’m not a huge fan of the Cinderella fairy tale aside from the 2015 live-action remake, but George does a good job of changing the tale up so it’s not so straightforward and predictable.

Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing I liked about the book. George seems to be hit-and-miss with me; I enjoyed Princess of the Midnight Ball and most of the Castle Glower books, but had problems with Dragon Slippers and now this book. I don’t think it’s the world or the plot in and of itself that made me dislike Princess of Glass; it’s the way George delivers it. Maybe it’s a writing style issue, maybe not. I’m not sure. I just know that the more of the book I read, the more I wanted it to be over.

Perhaps the melodrama that happens when Eleanora becomes “Lady Ellen” and enchants everyone is what started my dislike; Christian is fighting it and yet not fighting it and thinking melodramatic things and seems to be the only person under the spell who realizes something isn’t quite right. Then there’s the thoroughly unconvincing romance between Roger and Eleanora, and the slightly less unconvincing but still not very well-developed romance between Christian and Poppy, combined with a villain whose motives are confusing until a character conveniently infodumps her backstory near the end of the book.

Maybe the best way to describe how I felt about Princess of Glass is “sloppy.” George had a good idea regarding the retelling of Cinderella and then sloppily executed it. There’s too much infodumping, too much melodrama, and too much convenience. It almost makes me want to not read another Jessica Day George book. Princess of Glass did absolutely nothing to make me appreciate “Cinderella” more and only contributed to the many reasons why I would prefer reading a retelling of any other fairy tale.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Young Adult

“You are a strenge gel, Princessss Puppy,” the duchess said. “He-ere you are, with ev-er-y young man in Breton to dence with you, and you well not dence.”

“Ah,” Poppy said after deciphering this. “No. I don’t den—dance.”

“Wuh-hy not?” The duchess raised one overplucked eyebrow.

“Because my mother and sisters and I were cursed to dance for the pleasure of an evil king,” Poppy thought. She reached up and straightened her knitted silk choker. “I do not care for dancing,” she said finally.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2q8XkWq

The Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot

Disclaimer: The Maggie Bright, by Tracy Groot, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

England, 1940. Clare Childs knew life would change when she unexpectedly inherited the Maggie Bright—a noble fifty-two-foot yacht. In fact, she’s counting on it. But the boat harbors secrets. When a stranger arrives, searching for documents hidden on board, Clare is pulled into a Scotland Yard investigation that could shed light on Hitler’s darkest schemes and prompt America to action. Across the Channel, Hitler’s Blitzkrieg has the entire British Army in retreat with little hope for rescue at the shallow beaches of Dunkirk. With time running out, Churchill recruits civilian watercraft to help. Hitler is attacking from land, air, and sea, and any boat that goes may not return. Yet Clare knows the Maggie Bright must answer the call—piloted by an American who has refused to join the war effort until now and a detective with a very personal motive for exposing the truth. The fate of the war hinges on this rescue. While two men join the desperate fight, a nation prays for a miracle.

My rating: 3/5

The Maggie Bright tells the story of the historic rescue of the British army at Dunkirk. And, when it gets to that point, it’s exactly as nailbiting and tense as you might expect, with bombs falling, planes strafing, and soldiers eager to escape certain death. If you didn’t know much about Dunkirk before, this book will certainly inform you on some of the important aspects, such as the call for civilian craft and the routes the boats took to avoid mines.

However, while the Dunkirk part of the book is good, the lead-up to it is a little strange. There’s a mysterious package, which really serves as a MacGuffin device to get the characters to act, a shadowy figure who wants it, and a whole lot of convenience. Plus, once Dunkirk occurs, all of that investigation and mystery are swept under the rug and never brought up again.

So, the first half of the book I thought was heavily flawed: odd characters, a plot that shapes together slowly, resolves quickly, and then transforms into something completely different, a romance that springs out of nowhere and is completely unnecessary, and a whole lot of talk about a package and the person after it that ultimately ends up not even mattering. The second half is better, though weighed down by that first half—a tense lead-up to the rescue at Dunkirk, the rescue itself, and then the aftermath. If the novel had just been about that without the extraneous bits at the beginning, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot better.

The Maggie Bright starts out poorly, but ends more strongly, with a pretty riveting telling of the rescue at Dunkirk. I think its flaws outweigh its strengths, unfortunately, but at the very least, it’s got me interested in seeing the movie about Dunkirk that comes out later this year.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2qKraNh

The Healing Spell by Kimberly Griffiths Little

The Healing Spell, by Kimberly Griffiths Little, was published in 2010 by Scholastic.

Eleven-year-old Livie is keeping a secret, and it’s crushing her. She knows she is responsible for her mother’s coma, but she can’t tell anyone. And it’s up to her to find a way to wake her mamma before anyone uncovers the truth of what really happened. Added to the list of Livie’s problems are being stuck in the middle of three sisters, trying to hide a forbidden pet alligator, and possibly disappointing her daddy, whom she loves more than anyone else. Livie feels like an outsider and prefers the solitude of the wild bayou to her ever-crowded home. But she can’t run away from her troubles, and as she struggles to find her place within her family, Livie learns a lot about the powers of faith and redemption. Is her heat big enough to heal her mamma and bring her family back together?

Rating: 4/5

The Healing Spell is a charming, heartwarming story about a young girl who both longs for and dreads her mother waking up from a coma and the lessons she learns about love, her family, and herself along the way. It’s got a nice balance of “this is what this means” and “this might be what this means but I’m not going to say it straight out” and it never crosses the line into triteness.

While the plot, and especially its ending, is predictable, it’s not so predictable that you don’t enjoy the journey along the way. Books like this one tend to make me cry, and while The Healing Spell didn’t quite get there, Livie’s moments of sadness and loneliness are well-executed and never seem over-the-top or melodramatic. Similarly, her moments of learning and realization are also well-done and, as I mentioned above, the message is delivered in a good balance of subtle, but not so subtle as to be nearly invisible.

The book itself is a beautiful example of faith amidst sorrow and hope amidst despair. I know some people would probably hate this book for its ending, but I think the ending was appropriate; it fit the situation and what the author was trying to say. It wasn’t preachy, but there was definitely a message there to be delivered. The Healing Spell is a lovely book and I’m glad I picked it up.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic

“And you got yourself a baby gator!”

I nodded. “Isn’t he beautiful?”

Jeannie leaned over to touch the top of his head. “I think he likes you.”

I held him up and looked him in the eye. He opened his mouth and showed off his tiny pearly teeth. “I think I’ll call you T-Baby.” The tiny gator was staring up at me as if I was his mamma. It was the funniest thing.

“What are you gonna do with him? You aren’t taking him home, are you?”

I shrugged. “No, just keeping my eye on him.”

“My daddy would tan my hide if he saw me with a baby alligator.”

“My daddy, too,” I admitted, but a longing rose in my heart. I wanted that baby gator to be mine.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pW7olF