Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard, was published in 2015 by HarperCollins.

Mare Barrow’s World is divided by blood—those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but a twist of fate leads her to the royal palace itself where, in front of the king and all his nobles, she discovers an ability she didn’t know she had. Except…her blood is Red. To his this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, her actions put into motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince and Mare against her own heart.

Rating: 1/5

I had no clue what this book was about before I started reading it, but it very quickly became apparent to me that Red Queen was very akin to The Selection. I don’t understand what it is with authors wanting their future queens of their fantasy world to compete for the prince. At least Aveyard explains it slightly better than Cass did.

Red Queen, besides its Selection-esque world, relies very heavily on love triangles and the overused, boring “the king of the country is corrupt and abuses a part of the population because they’re different/poor/whatever” plot archetype. Seriously, I am sick of reading books about revolutions and overthrowing the monarchy, especially when it’s combined with love triangles, a clueless protagonist, and hard-to-swallow plot twists. At least the ending twist was good, though I saw it coming a mile away.

Also, the author tried so hard to get us to buy the love triangle of Mare, Cal and Kilorn (or possibly Mare, Cal and Maven, or possibly Mare, Maven and Kilorn), but since Cal is described as both a compassionate ruler and an emotionless monster, and Kilorn is barely in the picture at all and until Mare mentions something about wanting children I wouldn’t have believed they were anything more than friends, it falls way flat. None of the characters were interesting except Maven, and I might have found Mare interesting if she was less clueless and if she wasn’t so obviously a Special Protagonist who all the girls hate and all the boys like.

I actually finished it, which is an accomplishment since I considered stopping multiple times, but I have zero interest in getting the next book. I learned my lesson with The Selection. I’m not going through all that nonsense again.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“What Father is trying to say is htat she represents an opportunity for us,” Cal says, cutting in to explain. Unlike his brother, Cal’s voice is strong and authoritative. It’s the voice of a king. “If the Reds see her, a Silver by blood but Red by nature, raised up with us, they can be placated. It’s like an old fairy tale, a commoner becoming the princess. She’s their champion. They can look to her instead of terrorists.” And then, softer, but more important than anything else: “She’s a distraction.”

But this isn’t a fairy tale, or even a dream. This is a nightmare. I’m being locked away for the rest of my life, forced into being someone else. Into being one of them. A puppet. A show to keep people happy, quiet, and trampled.

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Starglass by Phoebe North

Starglass, by Phoebe North, was published in 2013 by Simon & Schuster.

Terra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a boring job and living with a grieving father who only notices her enough to yell, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she’s got. But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain’s guard murdering an innocent man, Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath the Asherah’s idyllic surface. As she’s drawn into a secret rebellion that aims to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares about most. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the choice of a lifetime—one that will shape the fate of her people.

Rating: 1/5

I really liked Starglass at first; I’m not a fan of science fiction but I do like “soft” SF if it’s written well—and Starglass is. I was intrigued by the concept of a Jewish community on a ship (and luckily North added the information that more than the Asherah were sent out; that tons of cultures and groups and communities sent out their own ships) and although the Judaism is really mangled, it makes sense that it would be—not only does the journals of one of the first travelers hint that the ship was, in the beginning, only surface Judaism, but 500 years with different generations, different commanders, etc. would be enough to distort some aspects of it. Yet…I don’t know. I’m still dissatisfied with its representation.

However, my uneasiness with the representation of Judaism is not the biggest issue with Starglass that I had. My main problem was with the main character herself. Terra is one of the most irritating protagonists with which to be stuck because throughout the book she rarely thinks of anyone besides herself and how she feels. Things just happen around her and she barely does anything about them. The only time she does anything actively, rather than passively, is near the end of the book when she acts on impulse and rage. Then she makes the brilliant decision to abandon everyone to what’s going on in the ship and leave because she wants to be with an alien she dreamed about.

That brings me to the plot, which was filled with cliché, irritating mechanics. The Koen/Rachel thing was incredibly abrupt and made no sense except as a means to generate tension and show, once again, how selfish Terra is. The bait-and-switch at the end was more aggravating than surprising, especially because there was absolutely no foreshadowing beforehand. Then Terra makes the stupidest decision ever and then the book ends.

I have absolutely zero interest in picking up the sequel. The plot and Terra irritated me too much in Starglass, and the fact that the last 3/4s of the book are sensual scenes of Terra making out with her boyfriend and then moping around, I’m completely not into whatever the sequel will bring, which is apparently more of the same except that now Terra makes out with an alien. No thanks; I think I’ll pass.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

“Um, Rebbe Stone?”  I said, clearing my throat. “I can come back later if you want.”

She waved a hand at me, but her gaze didn’t move from the microscope. “Don’t call me ‘Rebbe’! The council might think they can make me teach you, but they can’t force me to be as formal as all that.

I chewed my lip. “You didn’t request me?”

“Bah,” Mara said. “‘Request.’ They’ve been trying to strong-arm me into retiring for years. They think you’ll be my deathblow. Sit down!”

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Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster.

Nick and Eryn’s mom is getting remarried, and the twelve-year-old twins are skeptical when she tells them their lives won’t change much. Well, yes, she says they will have to move. And they will have a new stepfather, stepbrother, and stepsister. But don’t worry, Mom assures the kids. They won’t ever have to meet their stepsiblings….For Nick and Eryn, this news begins a quest to find out who these other kids are—and why they’re being kept hidden.

Rating: 1/5

I used to love Margaret Peterson Haddix, but I’ve found her most recent novels to be underwhelming. Under Their Skin is a mess from start to finish. It felt rushed and incomplete, and it breaks absolutely no new ground in any genre, let alone science fiction.

My main problem with Under Their Skin was not just the incomprehensibility of the plot, but the whole idea behind it. Recently, there’s been a trend to try and justify the treatment of non-humans as human, which means you get a lot of “but robots are people too!” arguments that tend to fall flat on their faces once you look past the surface. Under Their Skin tries to tackle this idea in the same way and fails spectacularly. I understand if Nick and Eryn are hesitant about destroying something that’s close to them, but don’t say that it’s “vile and cruel and inhuman” to destroy a machine. It’s not. Maybe wasteful, maybe a poor idea considering the circumstances, but certainly not “cruel.”

I think, however, that even if that idea was not present in this novel, I would not have enjoyed it anyway. The whole book feels rushed, as if it was written in a very short amount of time, and it’s hardly high quality middle grade caliber. It wasn’t interesting, it wasn’t exciting. It was odd and stilted and annoying and boring. Under Their Skin makes me not want to pick up anything written by Haddix, which is a shame because I used to quite like her older books.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Science Fiction, Middle Grade

“At least now we’ve seen pictures of Ava and Jackson,” Nick said.

“Yeah…,” Eryn said. She thought for a moment. “But didn’t something about those pictures seem kind of weird?”

“They looked like normal kids to me,” Nick said, finally turning around to look at her.

“That’s the problem,” Eryn said. “Didn’t they look maybe too normal? Like those pictures you see in frames at stories where it’s just some actors or models trying too hard to look like normal people?”

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A Love Transformed by Tracie Peterson

Disclaimer: A Love Transformed, by Tracie Peterson, was provided by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

When her husband, Adolph, dies suddenly, Clara Vesper is stunned. Not grief-stricken, as their marriage had never been a love match, but staggered by what might become of her and her children. For years she designed the sapphire jewelry that made her husband’s company a fortune, but she little money in her own name and soon discovers that she has inherited nothing. Fearing for the welfare of her two small children, she decides to take them to her aunt and uncle’s ranch in Montana, the only place she has ever been happy. But much as changed since she last visited the Montana ranch, both for Clara and for those she was forced to leave behind. And when dangerous secrets from her late husband’s past threaten everyone she loves, Clara must fight to remain where she can fulfill her dreams.

My rating: 1/5

A Love Transformed starts with an interesting premise and the hope that the story will be different than the usual “woman returns home after long absence” archetype. That hope, however, is quickly dashed, as nothing in the book is surprising or inventive. It plays out exactly how you think it might play out, with the woman quickly reuniting with her lost love (with a few predictable setbacks at the beginning), then scrambling to figure a way out of the dangerous secrets that followed her from her former life, then conquering them and riding off with her lost love into the sunset. Yawn.

I thought it would have been much more interesting if Peterson had decided to make Curtis leave for the war rather than conveniently (in terms of the plot) get injured just as Clara returns. That’s literally the only thing Curtis’s injury was used for, as a vehicle to get him to remain behind and angst about how he might not be a “complete man” or whatever, and it was so disappointing to see such an overused trope. The romantic aspect of it wasn’t even that great, either. It was too predictable.

Add the contrived plot involving Otto and the annoying mother to the predictable and boring romance, and A Love Transformed was a struggle to finish. I’m starting to wonder if some of the authors I read are simply not aware of how unoriginal their concepts/plots are, or if this sort of thing legitimately sells and that’s why they keep writing it. Either way, I’m not a fan. Give me something with substance in place of a story told a thousand times already in the same way.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

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Honor Redeemed by Christine Johnson

Disclaimer: Honor Redeemed, by Christine Johnson, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

Two years ago, Prosperity Jones waved farewell to her beloved David as the army sent him to faraway Key West. Now with her parents gone, she has but one prospect for the future: make the dangerous journey from Nantucket to Key West to reunite with David and secure a happier life. But when Prosperity arrives penniless in the South, she is dismayed to find David has not been eagerly awaiting their reunion. In fact, he is married to someone else. Scrambling to survive and nursing a broken heart, Prosperity gains the friendship—and the affection—of a kind doctor. Could he be the answer to her loneliness? Or will her life be upended by circumstance yet again?

My rating: 1/5

Honor Redeemed is meant to be a heartwarming, romantic story about two people overcoming obstacles to be together, but mostly it just made me angry. When I read the blurb, I was hoping that Johnson would do something new with the “love interest marries another” trope, but to my annoyance, everything that occurred in this book was unoriginal, obvious, and boring.

I’m also angry for the sake of poor Aileen, who was described as some sort of vicious harpy harlot who stole away the main character’s love interest for her own benefit and who was really the ultimate victim in this novel. I hoped that Johnson would describe an “it’s been two years, long distant relationships are tough, and David moved on which actually happens in real life” scenario, where Aileen and David actually love each other and Prosperity learns to move on from a broken heart. Instead, we get she-devil Aileen (poor thing), sanctimonious David, and too-virtuous Prosperity for a truly nauseating plot. Of course David is so disgusted by his wife (even though we’re told over and over how “honorable” he is for doing it even though he clearly despises Aileen) that he never consummates the marriage, so of course he and Prosperity can still be considered chaste before they are married. The hoops Johnson is jumping through are a little ridiculous, in my opinion.

So, yes, Honor Redeemed was clearly not my cup of tea. It’s never good to get angry at a book, and I was constantly angry at the portrayal of the characters, the plot, and the general “this is a romance so there’s a lot of sighing of names and heart flutterings” atmosphere. I really, really wish authors could be more original, but Honor Redeemed was about as unoriginal and annoying as a book can get.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

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The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau

The Prophet of Yonwood, by Jeanne DuPrau, was published in 2006 by Random House. It is the prequel to The City of Ember.

Eleven-year-old Nickie sees so many possibilities for her trip to Yonwood, North Carolina. Her family has just inherited an old mansion from her great-grandfather, and Nickie hopes it will become her new home. She is ready to get away from the city, where impending war has bred an environment of fear and anxiety. Perhaps Yonwood will be the place where Nickie can do a little good in the world—and maybe even fall in love. But Yonwood is not exactly the haven Nickie had imaged. A local woman has received a terrifying vision of fire and destruction, and her tormented mumblings sound like they might be instructions for avoiding the coming disaster. As the people of Yonwood scramble to make sense of the woman’s mysterious utterances, Nickie explores the oddities she finds around town—her great-grandfather’s peculiar journals and papers, a reclusive neighbor who studies the heavens, a strange boy who is fascinated with snakes—all while keeping an eye out for ways to help the world. Is this vision her chance? Or is it already too late to avoid a devastating war?

Rating: 1/5

I have to confess something—I didn’t actually finish The Prophet of Yonwood (I got about halfway through before I had to stop). I don’t usually post reviews of books that I don’t finish, and the not-finishing-books-thing happens rarely in any case. Yet I thought I should post a review, anyway, since this book is part of a series that I’ve reviewed here on the blog.

The reason I didn’t finish The Prophet of Yonwood was because I found it incredibly boring and dull. It lacks the beauty of The City of Ember and doesn’t have sequel-interest like The People of Sparks. The worldbuilding was confusing and of the type I dislike: expositional, with random bits of information thrown out at you. I found myself asking over and over, “What’s that? Who’s that? How did that happen?” and not in a curious, I-want-to-know-more way, but in an “I’m really confused and this doesn’t make any sense” way.

I also found The Prophet of Yonwood an extremely unnecessary book. I never cared in The City of Ember or in The People of Sparks about how the world got that way. And The Prophet of Yonwood, with brand-new characters, expositional storytelling, and a tendency to take its dear sweet time getting anywhere important and instead going on for a few chapters about a boy and his two pet snakes, tries to make me care—and I don’t.

Also, there’s some weird science fiction/supernatural stuff going on and I’m not a fan. Sorry, DuPrau, but The Prophet of Yonwood made me not want to pick up the last book at all.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Anti-organized religion.

Genre: Dystopian, Middle Grade, Realistic

At first he thought he was imagining it, it was so faint. A light seemed to be growing behind the curtained and shuttered windows on the ground floor. IT was a bluish light, like moonlight. It gleamed very faintly around the edges of the windows, in the gaps between the shades and the frames, until a narrow, pale-bluish rectangle appeared around all the ground-floor windows. What was it? Did Hoyt have twenty televisions that went on all at once? Was he doing some weird sort of experiment? Whatever it was, it gave Grover an eerie feeling.

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The Silver Bowl by Diane Stanley

The Silver Bowl, by Diane Stanley, was published in 2011 by HarperCollins.

Unwanted at home, Molly goes to work for the king of Westria as a humble scullery maid. She arrives at the castle with no education, no manners, and a very disturbing secret: She sees visions, and those visions always come true. One day, while she’s working in the king’s great hall, young Prince Alaric passes by. Molly finds him unbearably handsome—but also unbearably rude. But what does it really matter? She’ll probably never see him again. In time Molly is promoted to polishing silver and is given a priceless royal treasure to work on: the king’s great ceremonial hand basin. But there’s something odd about it. The silver warms to her touch, a voice commands her to watch and listen, and then the visions appear. They tell the story of a dreaded curse that has stalked the royal family for years. There have already been deaths; soon there will be more. As tragedy after tragedy strikes the royal family, Molly can’t help but wonder: Will the beautiful Alaric be next? Together with her friends Tobias and Winifred, Molly must protect the prince and destroy the curse. Could a less likely champion be found to save the kingdom of Westria?

Rating: 1/5

I try to read books as continuously and as smoothly as possible and unfortunately, my reading of The Silver Bowl was broken up by me heading to a school retreat for a couple of days. Then further readings were marred by my tiredness from said retreat. However, while I think that break in reading did slightly negatively affect my overall thoughts about the book, I honestly don’t think it was by very much.

The Silver Bowl is an interesting book. There are two different tones throughout, which are odd and jarring to read: there’s the “adventure time” tone, which is a little more informal, and then there’s the “let’s get down to the plot” tone, which becomes much more formal, especially near the end. I also found it jarring how Molly narrates without any trace of dialect unless it’s the word “something,” in which case it becomes “summat.” Why just that one word? Why include it at all when Molly has no other equivalent verbal dialect?

I also found the part towards the end where Molly goes into the bowl rather out of place and cheesy. All of a sudden, she’s striding around thinking of weak spots and analyzing enemies like she’s a video game character. It’s especially strange since up until that point she portrays no interest or skill in fighting.

The rest of the book I don’t really remember. As I said, my reading of it was broken up and the last half of it I read while tired and drifting, so my impression of it didn’t stick (or the book wasn’t particularly memorable). Mostly I found The Silver Bowl odd, uneven in tone, and jarring in way too many places.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Soon I felt the tingling beneath my fingers. The silver began to grow warm. How long before the voice would start telling me to listen, to pay attention, to—?

“Listen!” it said. “Pay attention! There is not much time.”

As before, the pattern began to grow misty and melt before my eyes until gradually an image was revealed. It was blurry at first, as when you look at the world with tears in your eyes. But quickly it settled and sharpened.

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All Summer Long by Melody Carson

Disclaimer: All Summer Long, by Melody Carlson, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

Tia D’Amico is thrilled to move to San Francisco to help her aunt transform an old luxury yacht into an upscale floating restaurant. What’s not to love? Sunset dinner cruises, posh wedding receptions—the possibilities are endless and far more appetizing than staying in a monotonous job in her Podunk hometown. Besides, some of her best memories are tied to San Francisco—especially the memory of Leo Parker, her crush from a long-ago sailing camp. When Leo Parker himself turns out to be the yacht’s captain, Tia is floating on air. But will it all come crashing down around her when she discovers his heart belongs to someone else?

All Summer Long is melodramatic and ridiculous and doesn’t even have a good plot or setting to offset all the eyerolling. I sound harsh from the get-go, I know, but I’m a little tired of trying to sugarcoat bad writing. The book starts off by Tia feeling offended that Leo never told her he was engaged when there was no particular reason for him to do so because it’s none of her business and if she expects him to spill his entire life story in a twenty-minute car ride then that’s her problem. Then the book goes into Tia feeling alternately sorry for herself, offended again, and then angry for whatever reasons, and then sorry for herself again, etc., etc., etc. ad nauseum. Then we have Natalie, the typical, unoriginal “glamorous” girlfriend/fiancé who is a walking cliché, and some other random people who aren’t memorable at all.

I suppose one positive is that at least Tia thinks for a little bit about how she doesn’t want to be “that girl”—you know, the girl the guy dates right after he breaks up with his fiancé—because she is, irrevocably, “that girl.” It bothered me to no end that Leo and Tia start dating about ten minutes (seriously) after he and Natalie officially break up. I’m glad that Carlson addressed that issue, but it was so glanced over that it felt more dissatisfying than anything else.

Also, the Christian books I review tend to fall into either “preachy Christian novel” camps or “so little Christianity that it barely deserves the label” camp. All Summer Long is the latter, with a few mentions of church and prayer for ill family being all that encompasses the Christian aspect of the novel. There was some prime spots for some Christianity to slip in, but instead Carlson chose to accentuate character feelings (over and over), which is a pity because I think this novel could have had a lot to say about the nature of self-doubt, troublesome relationships, and discernment. As it stands, it says very little, and very badly.

My rating: 1/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

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The Inheritance by Michael Phillips

Disclaimer: The Inheritance, by Michael Phillips, was provided by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

The death of clan patriarch Macgregor Tulloch has thrown the tiny Shetland Islands community of Whales Reef into turmoil. Everyone assumed Tulloch’s heir to be his much-loved grandnephew David. But when no will is discovered, David’s calculating cousin Hardy submits his own claim to the inheritance, an estate that controls most of the island’s land. And Hardy knows a North Sea oil investor who will pay dearly for that control. While the competing claims are investigated, the courts have frozen the estate’s assets, leaving many of the locals in dire financial straits. The future of the island—and its traditional way of life—hangs in the balance. Meanwhile, Loni Ford enjoys a rising career in a large investment firm in Washington, D. C. Yet, in spite of outward success, she is privately plagued by questions of identity. Orphaned as a young child, she was raised by her grandparents, and while she loves them dearly, she feels completely detached from her roots. That is, until a mysterious letter arrives from a Scottish solicitor…

I was so intrigued by the blurb of The Inheritance that I was excited when I received it in the mail. At last, I thought. A book that promises to be different from the run-of-the-mill Christian historical fiction novels. An inheritance up for grabs? An unknown heiress? An old country town? I was ready to dive in and see what the book held in store for me.

I was hoping for something like The Lost Heiress. What I got was a dense, incomprehensible story that meandered to and fro between David’s walks around the island and Loni’s continual refusal to acknowledge the past. I was lost by the second chapter, where some boy and some man sit and look at a dead bird and wax philosophical about it.

I hung on for a little bit, hoping that Loni would get her letter and things would pick up. But, eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stopped reading about 1/3 of the way through. Loni still hadn’t gotten her letter. Skimming ahead, I noticed she doesn’t even get into until about 3/4s of the way through the book, at which point I felt so immensely cheated by the blurb and the book as a whole that my decision to put it down unfinished solidified.

So, yes, I didn’t finish The Inheritance. It badly needed an editor to cut out all those chapters of incomprehensible material, and I am displeased that what made me so excited about the book in the first place, the concept of a “lost heiress” and a woman going to a tiny island without knowing the customs, etc. and having to earn the respect of the people she must take care of, wasn’t even present. The Inheritance simply didn’t deliver.

My rating: 1/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

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A Sweet Misfortune by Maggie Brendan

Disclaimer: A Sweet Misfortune, by Maggie Brendan, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

Rachel Matthews isn’t one to rely on others to take care of her. Homeless and alone, she still wants to make her own way and her own money to buy back the family ranch—even if she’s forced into the life of a dance hall girl. Horrified by her circumstances, Rachel’s brother, who is away mining for gold, send a friend to rescue her. Cattle baron John McIntyre is focused on acquiring as much land as possible in Montana and has little time to deal with a dance hall gal. Rachel isn’t sure she can take one more day in John’s home—especially once she discovers that he’s the one who holds ransom the key to the family’s future. Sparks fly between this spunky, independent heroine and the ruggedly handsome hero as they navigate the snarled terrain of pride, greed, faith, and love in Maggie Brendan’s delightful series set in the Old West.

I really wanted to like A Sweet Misfortune. It’s set in the Old West! It’s a historical romance! It’s got cowboys and dresses and horses! But…I couldn’t get past my growing feeling that nothing that was occurring was important. I really don’t like it when books feel completely meaningless.

I didn’t find the romance particularly appealing, since I hate love triangles/squares and I found it more annoying than romantic that Rachel has four men trying to win her over. I also found the main romantic plot to be a little rushed and Rachel goes a little too quickly from “No, I’m not interested” to “I love him.” Unless the former was supposed to be her in denial, in which case Rachel—and the author—did her job too well—she was very convincingly not interested up until the random moment when she was.

To be honest, I simply skimmed the book when there was about 50 pages left. At that point, I was so bored that it was either skim the rest or stop reading entirely. I like Old West and I like historical romance, but A Sweet Misfortune is bland and boring and completely unimportant.

My rating: 1/5

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: A Sweet Misfortune