Fairy Tale Friday: Flunked by Jen Calonita

Flunked, by Jen Calonita, was published in 2015 by Sourcebooks.

Gilly wouldn’t call herself wicked, exactly…but when you have five little brothers and sisters and live in a run-down boot, you have to get creative to make ends meet. Gilly’s a pretty good thief (if she does say so herself). Until she gets caught. Gilly’s sentenced to three months at Fairy Tale Reform School—where all of the teachers are former (super-scary) villains like the Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen, and Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother. Harsh. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learn there’s more to this school than its heroic mission. There’s a battle brewing and Gilly has to wonder just how good these bad guys are.

I think I would have enjoyed Flunked better if Gilly was not my least favorite protagonist-type. I think Calonita was trying to go for headstrong or spirited, but all I got was bratty, bratty, bratty. Gilly is selfish and, yes, bratty and is all together an annoying protagonist to read. She gets slightly better at the end, but it’s almost too sudden—she suddenly starts spouting things to her parents and teachers that doesn’t follow smoothly from her development, in my opinion.

The writing and plot were okay, but nothing special. The plot was a little obvious, and what was supposed to be the Big Reveal was spoiled, in my opinion, by the way it was handled—it was almost anticlimactic, in a way, rather than surprising. That might have been a writing issue, but I don’t know. It just didn’t really affect me, one way or the other. Nothing in the book did.

I think the idea is good, but perhaps I was spoiled by having read School for Good and Evil before this book, because despite its flaws, School handles the subject of good/bad much better than Flunked does, with less brattiness. Also, Flunked’s depiction (and character complaints) of the royals is incredibly over-the-top, and at one point (probably unintentionally) insults everyone with the name Jackson.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

Pete snorts. “She’ll regret the day she skips a class at FTRS. I’ll tell you that.” Pete gruffly pushes me toward the door, sidestepping the coatrack.

“I’m sorry, guys,” I say to my sniveling siblings. I won’t look at my parents. I try to sound upbeat. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”

Pete snorts. “Doubt that.” He grabs the back of my shirt and I elbow him in the ribs. “Ow!”

Gilly!” Father scolds.

“Like I said, you won’t be leaving FTRS for a while,” Pete seethes. “Which is great news for me, bad for you. You, my little thief, are off to Fairy Tale Reform School.”

Overall Review:

Most of my problems with Flunked likely stem from my strong dislike of the protagonist, who is exactly the sort of bratty, “I know better than the adults in my life,” whippersnapper of a pre-teen who makes me grind my teeth. As far as plot goes, nothing was new or surprising—in fact, it felt pretty anticlimactic for the most part.

You can buy this here: Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School)

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis

Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, was published in 2013 by Atheneum. It is the sequel to Renegade Magic.

With just days to go before her sister Angeline’s long-delayed wedding to Frederick Carlyle, the impetuous Kat Stephenson has resigned herself to good behavior. But Kat’s initiation into the magical Order of the Guardians is fast approaching, and trouble seems to follow her everywhere. First, Kat must contend with the wretched Mrs. Carlyle’s attempts to humiliate her sister; the arrival of the mysterious Marquise de Valmont, who bears suspicious resemblance to Kat’s later mother; and Frederik’s bewitching cousin Jane, who has Charles Stephenson tripping over his feet. But when a menacing boy with powerful magic starts hunting Kat, a dastardly villain tries to kill Angeline, and the guardians face a magical robbery that could spell the end of their Order, propriety becomes the least of Kat’s concerns. Can Kat save her sister’s life, the Order of the Guardians, and England itself before it’s too late?

Despite my dislike of Kat in Kat, Incorrigible and Renegade Magic, I was holding out hope that she would start to mature a little in Stolen Magic. There were signs in Renegade Magic that she was, so despite my overall dislike of that book, I still looked forward to this one. However, I was sorely disappointed, because Kat continues to be the annoying, irresponsible and rash protagonist that she was in the first two books. If you like that about her, then great, you’ll love this book. I, however, do not, so I didn’t.

Once again, Burgis completely eliminates potential development and maturation of Kat by throwing the option into Kat’s face and then having Kat refuse it. In addition, other characters point out her flaws and she continues to ignore them and acts in the same way, and it’s very frustrating to read. Throughout all three books, Kat continues to jump to conclusions in the exact same manner, and I just do not like characters who are stuck in their development like that.

I didn’t comment much on it in the past two books, but the attitude of adults towards Kat also does not make any sense to me. Lady Fotherington’s intense hatred of a thirteen-year-old just does not seem plausible, and neither do her attempts at sabotaging said thirteen-year-old. Also implausible was Elissa refusing to tell people that she was pregnant merely because Burgis wanted some further scandal angst to throw at her characters.

Also, this book was really dark for a children’s book. I was actually shocked by how dark it got.

Some positives: I did like the character of Alexander and the hints of what will happen in the future (probably to be confirmed in Courting Magic, a novella sequel to this book). I also really like Angeline and Frederick together, and Charles is another good character that slightly lessened my irritation of Kat.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Domestic violence, gun violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“Oh, Cousin,” Jane Carlyle said. She was wiping her eyes with her handkerchief, which was small and dainty and pink, and perfectly embroidered with the letters JC. “You cannot be any more horrified by the idea than I am, I promise you. When I think of your notoriously murderous tendencies—”

“His what?” growled Charles. It was the first time he’d managed a coherent phrase since her arrival, and his tone was so full of menace that she blinked rapidly and took a step away from him.

Frederick Carlyle only grinned. “Never fear, Stephenson,” he said. “My murderous tendencies, as my cousin likes to call them, began and ended with her favorite doll, and only when she’d aggravated me past bearing by throwing my best pair of Hessian boots into the sea…and purely because she found that I’d been playing cards regularly at Eton, just like every other fellow there. My cousin has a bit of a fixation, you know.”

Overall Review:

I really want to like Stolen Magic, and the Kat, Incorrigible series in general, but I find Kat such a frustrating and annoying protagonist that I end up cheering every time someone yells at her. I do like the secondary characters, though, and this series would probably be a lot of fun for someone who doesn’t mind incorrigible protagonists.

You can buy this here: Stolen Magic (Kat, Incorrigible)

Without A Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

Without a Summer, by Mary Robinette Kowal, was published in 2013 by Tor. It is the sequel to Glamour in Glass.

After a dramatic trip to Belgium, Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The spring is unseasonably cold, and no one wants to be outside. Mr. Ellsworth is concerned about the harvest, since a poor one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of local eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent London family, they take it, and bring Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good, and her marriage prospects—and mood—will be brighter in London. Talk here frequently turns to increased unemployment of coldmongers and riots in nearby villages by Luddites concerned that their way of life is becoming untenable. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, which does not really help Melody’s chances for romance. It doesn’t take long for Jane and Vincent to realize that in addition to arranging a wedding, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of national proportions.

Without a Summer is not quite as good as I thought Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass were, but it is far from bad. I loved, once again, the nods to Jane Austen—specifically, Emma—that Kowal placed in the book, and I especially enjoyed seeing more development from Jane, who makes plenty of foolish mistakes in this book and learns exactly why she made them and how to change that fact.

Melody also had a lot of development from the first book, and Kowal exhibits very well how much she has changed since then. There’s a scene close to the end of the book that shows exactly how much Melody has changed and how that has changed the dynamic between the two sisters, and it was wonderful to see that development brought to fruition in that scene and in the ones after.

Not much development is made in terms of glamour and the technique Jane and Vincent discovered in the last book, which was slightly disappointing. Kowal placed the more glamour-heavy aspects of her world aside to deal with political intrigue, instead. It made for a thrilling court scene at the end, but I missed the aspects of the world that made it so fantastic (meaning “fantasy”, not “awesome,” although it is also that).

Kudos to Kowal, who seemed to be taking the plot in one direction (at one point, during a Jane & Vincent Revelation, I thought “Ah ha! This is what is going to happen!”) and then skillfully turned it around before I even noticed. I love it when plots surprise me!

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some small innuendo between Jane and her husband.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

“The weather truly has been wretched.” Mr. Colgrove vied for Melody’s attention. “I was telling Lady Vincent that we had dismissed our coldmongers because they were an unnecessary expense.”

Another gentleman tucked his hands behind his back with a complacent look. “As did we. They demand high wages for the little they do.”

Miss Godwin tilted her head, ostrich feathers waving gracefully above her hair, and pointed her fan at Mr. Colgrove. “If the weather changes, what will you do then?”

“Why, ask Mr. Moyer to cool the room. What is a coldmonger, but a glamourist who can do only one thing? Why retain one when you can hire someone who can do both?”

Overall Review:

Without A Summer is a little disappointing in terms of worldbuilding; I had wished to see more aspects of glamour and more insight into the technique Jane and Vincent developed in Glamour in Glass. However, the character interactions and the political intrigue are very well-done and lend themselves well to the development of Jane & Co., and even though there was less glamour in this novel, it had double the amount of character development to make up for it. I especially loved the tribute to Emma (complete with quotes!).

You can buy this book here: Without a Summer

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner, was published in 2006 by Greenwillow. It is the sequel to The Queen of Attolia.

SPOILERS for The Queen of Attolia.

By scheming and theft, the Thief of Eddis has become King of Attolia. Eugenides wanted the queen, not the crown, but he finds himself trapped in a web of his own making. Attolia’s barons seethe with resentment, the Mede emperor is returning to the attack, and the king is surrounded by the subtle and dangerous intrigue of the Attolian court. When a naïve young guard expresses his contempt for the king in no uncertain terms, he is dragged by Eugenides into the center of the political maelstrom. Like the king, he cannot escape the difficulties he makes for himself. Poor Costis knows he is the victim of the king’s caprice, but he discovers a reluctant sympathy for Eugenides as he watches the newly crowned king struggle against his fate.

Unlike with The Queen of Attolia, I had no problem adjusting to the yet-again different viewpoint because this time I was prepared for it. I also thought it was an excellent strategy on the part of Turner, because now the reader gets to experience Gen’s awesomeness from fresh eyes. We get to see yet again why Gen is The Best and it is just as good a revelation as it was in The Thief and again in The Queen of Attolia. It’s also quite delicious to sit there and smirk at silly Costis for thinking Gen is incompetent, and it’s ultimately heartwarming to see Costis’s gradual change.

This is, so far, my favorite book in the series and it’s all because of all the heartwarming moments between Gen and Irene. It was fabulous to see their relationship after their marriage, and fabulous to see it from an outside point of view. I also like the depiction of an older woman/younger man relationship that is not seen very often in YA. The coolness of the queen in response to Gen’s ridiculousness, while it seems like indifference to those like Costis, instead shows how Irene grounds Gen and serves as his anchor. She responds exactly how she needs to, when she needs to. Also, both Irene and Gen are killer snarkers, and I always love that.

Some of my favorite moments between the two:

–“I love every single one of your ridiculous lies.”

–that dance. With the hairpins.

–“I never took you for a fishwife.”

“Lo, the transforming power of love.”

–“The queen is fine!”

Lest you think my opinion of the book is based solely on my squealing over Gen and Irene (only 90% of it is), some other things I enjoyed were Gen proving himself as king, and even while being incredibly clever and awesome, still making mistakes; and that moment on the balcony with Eugenides the god and Costis’s realization that “The only real thing in the universe had been there on the parapet with the king.” Powerful stuff, that.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Some small violence, war, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade (but a mature MG)

Softly he said, “I thought that being king meant I didn’t have to kill people myself. I see now that was another misconception.”

Teleus and Costis stood like garden statuary.

“Where are my guards, Teleus?” He was still speaking softly. Three men dead and he wasn’t even breathing hard, Costis noted.

“WHERE ARE MY GUARDS?” the king shouted.

Overall Review:

The King of Attolia is a wonderful book with so many great moments (such as all the ones between Gen and Irene) that I had to reread them over and over. It’s a long book, but it goes by quickly and Gen’s plots and Costis’s growth will suck you straight through to the end. I adored this book, The End.

You can buy this here: The King of Attolia

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore

Magic Under Glass, by Jaclyn Dolamore, was published in 2010 by Bloomsbury.

Nimira is a music-hall girl used to singing for pennies. So when wealthy young sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to perform with a piano-playing automation, Nimira believes it will be the start of a better life. But when she arrives at Parry’s estate, it is not the glittering world she expects. Instead, unsettling rumors begin to swirl about a madwoman roaming the halls at night, and Nimira suspects that Parry is keeping secrets, even while he proclaims to be falling in love with her. And then there is the automaton itself, a mechanical man so realistically crafted it hardly seems possible that he isn’t alive…or is he? As Nimira begins to rehearse with him, she senses something stirring beneath his handsome features. Is he haunted, as the servants claim, or is there something more to it? What Nimira finds will put the fate of the entire magical world in danger—and ultimately force her to choose between a man she cannot have and a man she does not love.

I was impressed with the world of Magic Under Glass at first, and was looking forward to seeing more of it unfold as the book went on. The summary gave the book a half-Jane Eyre, half-Beauty and the Beast feel, and I was interested to see how Dolamore would deal with those atmospheres in this fantasy world.

But the moment Nimira reached Parry’s house, all of my interest disappeared. All that was left were characters who never grew beyond their two-dimensionality, a plot and romance that were too rapid for me to get any wonder or connection out of them, and an intriguing fantasy world that simply faded into the background. I became bored of the whole thing halfway through.

Also, Parry never got into trouble for doing to Annalie exactly what Smollings did to Erris. Dolamore wanted the reader to feel sorry for Parry, but he was so wishy-washy and indecisive that I was happy when he was out of the picture for good.

Rating: 1/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“Are you trying to talk to me?” I said in a whisper. My voice wouldn’t go any louder if I wished it.

“Mmm.”

“But…you can’t speak?”

“Mmm.” He began to play the tune again, and he kept grunting, sounding urgent.

He was responding to my questions. There really was something intelligent peering out at me from those eyes.

Overall Review:

Magic Under Glass promises so much at first, but that quickly falls away as soon as the main plot picks up, leaving behind boring characters, a too-rapid romance that leans toward unbelievability, and a sad waste of an intriguing fantasy world. The book’s not even as good as its blurb, unfortunately.

You can buy this here: Magic Under Glass

The Mislaid Magician by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

The Mislaid Magician, or Ten Years After, by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, was published in 2006 by Harcourt. It is the sequel to The Grand Tour. 

Ten years after the adventures they shared in Sorcery and Cecelia and The Grand Tour, cousins Kate and Cecy are at it again. To untangle a plot that threatens the very unity of the kingdom, they must learn the secret shared by a night prowler, a mute girl, and a missing magician. On orders from Lord Wellington himself, Cecy and her husband, James, are sent north to investigate. Kate and her husband, Thomas, stay home, minding James and Cecy’s brood as well as their own. Childcare takes on a whole new dimension when all five children begin to cast spells themselves. While Cecy and James are off learning the perils of steam engines and stone circles, the questions in the letters between the two couples multiply: What’s causing the eruptions at Halliwar Tower? Who put the grass snake in the nursery? What has prompted Kate’s sister to make an unannounced visit to the country at the height of the social season? And will the mysterious rescued girl ever speak?

I am incredibly torn in my thoughts about The Mislaid Magician. On the one hand, I loved Sorcery and Cecelia so much that I cannot help but like this one, the last in the trilogy. On the other hand, I felt that Sorcery and Cecelia had something that was missing in the next two books, which was a subtle sort of cheekiness and fun. The fun was missing for me, especially in this book, as the plots got more complicated. Sure, there are fun moments, but it’s not underriding the whole novel as with S & C. Frankly, this book was, unfortunately, a little boring.

In The Grand Tour, I mentioned the imbalance that I felt between Kate and Cecelia, and I felt it again in this book. This time, it wasn’t so much of quantity of viewpoints than quality. Kate, I felt, got a little bit pushed to the side as Cecelia was investigating the main bulk of the plot. About the middle of the book is a letter from Kate to Cecelia, where Kate basically says that she has nothing to talk about. That summarizes perfectly how I felt about Kate’s activities throughout the book. Compared to Cecelia and James, she just didn’t have as much to do.

Kate’s lack of involvement with a majority of the plot means that at the end I felt highly dissatisfied with the conclusion. In The Grand Tour, Kate gets a really awesome moment when everyone else has been obstructed by the villain. In this book, she gets another awesome moment, but my problem with this awesome moment is that it means that, for another book, Cecelia does absolutely nothing awesome at all even though she and James had to deal with the main plot line. In fact, in her and James’s part of the plot, it’s James who gets to be awesome, not Cecelia. And I really wish Cecelia got an awesome moment in this book because her awesome moment in Sorcery & Cecelia was very awesome, and I feel that awesome Cecelia was lost after the first book.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

I threw myself at him, and his hat fell off as he gathered me to him. I couldn’t speak at first, and when I could, it was to utter pure idiocy. “You’ve come.”

“Of course I have,” Thomas said gently. “I was almost here when you called me. Shouting down a rain barrel ain’t in it, my darling. You’ve half deafened me.”

“My calling spell worked?”

“Not that it needed to. I was only half a mile away,” said Thomas. “It worked a treat. And you’ve cast a finding spell to match it. If you cast any more spells of that caliber, my head may come clean off.”

Overall Review:

I did enjoy The Mislaid Magician because it is Regency fantasy, after all, but I felt that the book was missing the fun that I loved so much in Sorcery and Cecelia. Also, I was disappointed that once again Cecelia got pushed aside in favor of Kate in terms of awesome moments, because I really wanted Cecelia to show her awesomeness, too.

You can buy this here: The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After

Review Copy: Trial Run

Disclaimer: Trial Run by Thomas Locke was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

Dr. Gabriella Speciale has assembled an international team of elite scientists with one goal in mind—to create and control out-of-body experiences that transcend the limits of time and space. Reese Clawson’s mind-bending experiments aim to explore the boundaries of human consciousness—and annihilate the opposition in the process. When a terrifying discovery and a string of failed tests threaten to dismantle both programs, the key to survival may reside in the mind of a gifted grad student whose unsettling dreams have thrust him into the center of a dangerous battle for control. As the threads of perception and reality become tangled and time itself twists in unexpected directions, one warning remains clear; what you don’t know can kill you.

I have to admit, I couldn’t actually finish Trial Run. I read roughly half of it and then flipped through the rest. I found the novel terribly obtuse and confusing, and when halfway through I still had no idea what was going on I had to stop. I feel as if this book could only be enjoyed by a specific audience, one who either doesn’t care about what isn’t explained or one who understands all the terminology that’s thrown around like confetti.

For my part, I couldn’t understand why Locke could devote two pages describing one character’s gym routine and have only two sentences or paragraphs per chapter explaining ascents, the plot, and what all of it means. A lot of the pleasure I get from novels is knowing how stuff works, and that was completely lacking for me in Trial Run.

In addition, Locke throws way too many characters at you at once in the beginning. I kept getting them confused with each other. He also has unimportant and unnecessary romance for a few of the characters. And for the amount of research he must have done for this book, I wish he had done a tad more on some of the backgrounds of his characters: there is no way Shane made a college gymnastics team if she hadn’t trained in four years. I could barely do a cartwheel without overly stretching my muscles after stopping gymnastics for two months.

So, yes, Trial Run was a complete miss for me. I didn’t understand it, none of the characters appealed to me, I found the romance annoying and unnecessary, and what Locke chose to describe or not to describe drove me a little crazy. There was no depth or importance to the novel that I found at all.

My rating: 1/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic

You can buy this here: Trial Run

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater, was published in 2012 by Scholastic.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them—until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her. His name is Gansey, and he’s a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

I was a bit hesitant before beginning The Raven Boys, mainly because the blurb sounds exactly like what I hate reading in YA novels. But I have read much praise about Stiefvater and the Raven Cycle, so I decided to go ahead and read the book anyway. And I’m glad I did, because I really enjoyed the book.

At the beginning, I thought The Raven Boys was a tad overwritten in places and the plot started out in the direction I feared from the summary. But then something happened: even though Gansey is supposed to be Blue’s “true love,” she starts by going out with Adam, instead. In fact, at the end of the book, she still can only barely tolerate Gansey. The fact that this YA novel has a much slower approach to the romance than most YA novels with true love in it immediately elevated it in my standards.

Urban fantasy is still not my favorite sub-genre of fantasy, mainly because I always find it a bit too strange for my tastes, but Stiefvater does urban fantasy well and I enjoyed diving into urban fantasy with her. I found the plot strange and confusing, but Stiefvater worldbuilds very well and so despite its strangeness, the world didn’t seem implausible to me. I preferred the characters and their interactions over the plot, in any case, so perhaps that’s why.

Also, the book ends on a cliffhanger, which is a bit irritating, but it was a really good cliffhanger, in a cheeky sort of way. It has an “I couldn’t resist” feel to it, and instead of being annoyed, I found myself laughing instead. I also went out and got the second book right away.

Oh, and I especially loved a passage in the middle where Blue discusses how she feels when she looks at the stars: “She recognized the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, that strange happiness that was sometimes so big that it felt like sadness. It was the way she felt when she looked at the stars.”

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Swearing, psychics, violence.

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

“You said you were working for a living. I thought it’d be rude to not take that into account. I’m sorry you’re insulted. I see where you’re coming from, but I feel it’s a little unfair that you’re not doing the same for me.”

“I feel you’re being condescending,” Blue said.

In the background, she caught a glimpse of Soldier Boy making a plane of his hand. It was crashing and weaving toward the table surface while Smudgy Boy gulped laughter down. The elegant boy held his palm over his face in exaggerated horror, fingers spread just enough that she could see his wince.

“Dear God,” remarked Cell Phone Boy. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“‘Sorry,’” she recommended.

“I said that already.”
Blue considered. “Then, ‘bye.’”

Overall Review:

At first, I thought The Raven Boys was overwritten and doomed to head into dreaded “true love” territory akin to Hush, Hush or Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Then, Stiefvater completely did what I was not expecting, and I instantly got so immersed in the book that I laughed at a cliffhanger because it fit so well with the characters’ personalities and then I went out and got the second book. I don’t normally like contemporary/urban fantasy, but I like this.

You can buy this here: The Raven Boys

Review Copy: ‘Til We Meet Again

Disclaimer: ‘Til We Meet Again by Ray & Betty Whipps (and Craig Borlase) was provided by Tyndale in exchange for an honest review.

Ray and Betty Whipps both served in Europe during World War II: Ray as an infantryman under General Patton in the trenches of Normandy, Paris, and Belgium; and Betty as a field nurse in Cherbourg, France. They met when Betty tended to Ray after he was injured during a fiery exchange between US and German troops in the Hürtgen Forest. As Betty nursed Ray back to health, the two bonded over their shared faith and soon fell in love. Before he was released from the hospital, Ray proposed, and they vowed to marry after the war. However, soon after Ray returned to his unit, he was captured by German forces and held captive in Stalag VII-A, Germany’s largest, most notorious prisoner-of-war camp. It was there that Ray’s faith was put to the ultimate test as he endured the most horrific weeks of his life—weeks marked by brutality, malnutrition, backbreaking labor, and near-constant death. The only thing that kept him alive was the dream of someday reuniting with Betty. Told in first person from Ray’s perspective, with personal wartime letters from Betty interspersed throughout, ‘Til We Meet Again is an epic love story of faith, hope, and resilience, set against the backdrop of one of the most extraordinary eras in world history.

‘Til We Meet Again is exactly what it describes itself as: a memoir of love and war (but mostly war). The story of Ray and Betty is told simply, yet elegantly, and is still gripping and suspenseful even when the reader knows the outcomes of certain battles of World War II. The portrait of war as described by Ray is neither glamorous nor horrendous; there’s a sense of duty and pride running throughout the book that shows more prominently than the awfulness of war or the initial shine of excitement.

Much of the “inner look” at WWII were things I had no idea occurred, such as the souvenirs taken from wounded or captured Germans. It makes sense that this happened, but I never thought about it before. I had to laugh when Ray proposes to Betty with a ring he got from a dying German and then thinks, “I’ll wait to tell her where I got that.” The book was a fascinating read if only for the inner look at the military and some of the more famous battles of WWII. I didn’t know that one branch of the army could draft you out from under the nose of another, and some of the things Ray saw and described you would only hear about from the mouth of a veteran. Textbooks tend to cover things in a more general way. They wouldn’t tell you about the day Ray experienced friendly fire from P-47s, or the frustration at having to follow your superior’s bad commands, or what it’s like to sneak up to a house to see if there are any German snipers waiting to shoot you as soon as they see you move.

Books like ‘Til We Meet Again keep our veterans’ words alive long after they are gone and remind us again and again of the gratitude we should feel to those who fought and suffered to protect our freedoms. A book I highly recommend as a look into one of the most devastating periods of human history from the perspective of a man who is only trying to do his duty and follow God in the midst of war.

My rating: 5/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: ‘Til We Meet Again: A Memoir of Love and War

Review Copy: Hope Harbor

Disclaimer: Hope Harbor by Irene Hannon was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

Tracy Campbell never wanted to leave Hope Harbor, Oregon, or the idyllic three-generation cranberry farm where she grew up. But life—and love—altered her plans. Now she’s home again—with a foundering farm to run…a tragic secret…and a wounded heart. Romance is not on her agenda. Nor is it on Michael Hunter’s. The visitor from Chicago has daunting secrets and devastating regrets of his own. But when Tracy recruits him to help with a project that is close to her heart, winds of change begin to sweep through Hope Harbor, bringing healing, hope, and love to countless lives—including their own.

Hope Harbor is nothing new or original or anything beyond merely average. Yet it does tell some touching tales, even with the tired-out “I’m scarred by former romance and so don’t want current romance” aspect. It’s a decently good book, and while it didn’t blow me away or keep me on the edge of my seat, it did tell a nice story—and communicated some messages that I appreciated.

Hannon emphasizes listening with love, which I think is a needed message today. Too many people speak without listening first; too many people never take the time to get to the actual root of the problem: why did the person act this way? Why do they believe that? And best of all, Hannon emphasizes listening without compromising, being able to listen and support someone while still disagreeing with and/or disapproving of their actions. The book is aptly named: it’s brimming with hope and grace, done in a way that encourages and helps all the parties involved.

And yes, the writing is nothing spectacular, and the romance and the plot are formulaic and obvious, but Hope Harbor does have some bright spots to it, even when it goes slightly into sappiness. And Hannon managed to keep the novel from being boring, too, with her viewpoint-switching (which was subtle, not jarring) and progression of plot, which is always a plus. Although, I do wish that Anna hadn’t done nearly all her contemplation while she was doing the dishes. There’s only so many times I can read about her scrubbing pans clean while thinking about her life/son/state of mind.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: Hope Harbor: A Novel