Disclaimer: Sandpiper Cove, by Irene Hannon, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Hope Harbor police chief and single mom Lexie Graham has zero time for extracurricular activities—including romance. Ex-con Adam Stone isn’t looking for love either—but how ironic is it that the first woman to catch his eye is a police chief? When Lexie enlists Adam’s help to keep a troubled young man from heading down the wrong path, sparks begin to fly. Could it be that God may have a different—and better—future planned for them than either could imagine?
My rating: 1/5
Sandpiper Cove is the story of a police chief and an ex-con who help out a teenager who gets in trouble for vandalism and who fall in love with each other along the way. If you imagine any contemporary Christian romance novel, that’s what you get here, complete with love at first sight, electric touches, lots of kissing (and even kissing in grandiose ways like in the movies; just imagine Aragorn kissing Arwen after he’s crowned in Minas Tirith. That’s literally what happens here), romantic angst, and, of course, lengthy descriptions about how beautiful/handsome the main characters are.
Full-disclosure here, I’m going to try and get through this review without getting scathing, but I may not be successful because this book was a nightmare to get through.
First of all, let me just say that I almost stopped reading after the second page when Hannon describes a sigh “like C02 whooshing out of a soft drink can.” Uh, what? Just say he sighed and move on!
Second, Sandpiper Cove revealed a convention of romance in general, and of the Christian romance I’ve been reading in particular, that I utterly despise: the beautiful couple. I know there’s beautiful people out there. I know they meet, fall in love, and get married. But that doesn’t mean every romance I read needs to be between a “drop-dead gorgeous” woman with “full lips” and “stunning eyes” and a man who has “rippling muscles,” “sun-kissed skin” and a “chiseled jaw.” Give me someone who wears sweatpants and maybe has some acne and has scraggly hair and spin me a romance out of that, please, because that also happens and is way more relatable.
Also, Lexie and Adam’s romance was cheesy and cliché to the extreme. It was conventional, it was predictable, it was fake angst drawn out over predictable tension, and the sappiest stuff you can think of. Did you think I was joking about the Aragorn/Arwen kiss above? Because I’m not. There’s literally a scene where Adam goes down the aisle during church and kisses Lexie in front of a crowd of people because why not, it’s romantic.
Oh, and the vandalism sideplot? There’s a whole lot of tension because all the evidence is circumstantial and people’s careers might be in danger and stuff, and then all of a sudden, Lexie and Adam are getting married and the entire vandalism plot is swept under the rug. I get that Hannon is trying to say that all the uncertainty and the career misgivings weren’t important and shouldn’t stop people from moving on with their lives, but after all the time spent on it, you’d think there’d be a little closure. Instead, there’s a lot of handwaving and more of the predictable, boring romance.
I could barely get through Sandpiper Cove and almost stopped reading on multiple occasions. I really don’t understand how people like this sort of boring, predictable romance, with a faux-tense plot that’s swept aside the minute the characters get together and is there only as an obvious means of getting them together. This is why I so much prefer historical romance—at least it’s more interesting than this kind of romantic nonsense.
The Dark Frigate, by Charles Boardman Hawes, was first published in 1923. I read the Little, Brown and Co. edition from 1971.
In seventeenth century England, a terrible accident forces orphaned Philip Marsham to flee London in fear for his life. Bred to the sea, he signs on with the “Rose of Devon,” a dark frigate bound for the quiet shores of Newfoundland. Philip’s bold spirit and knowledge of the sea soon win him his captain’s regard. But when the “Rose of Devon” is seized in midocean by a devious group of men plucked from a floating wreck, Philip is forced to accompany these “gentlemen of fortune” on their murderous expeditions. Like it or not, Philip Marsham is now a pirate–with only the hangman awaiting his return to England. With its bloody battles, brutal buccaneers, and bold, spirited hero, this rousing tale will enthrall young listeners in search of seafaring adventure.
Aside from The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle, I’ve found the early Newbery Medal-winning books to be dry and boring. The Dark Frigate adds “hard to follow” to that list. The vocabulary Hawes uses, while perhaps echoing reality, makes the plot dense and convoluted, with viewpoints switching frequently with no warning and very little of the character connections explained well enough to ward off confusion.
There is much mention of characters “knowing” one thing or another, or doing things that are never explained that apparently the reader is supposed to know about. For example, what was the bundle that Philip tossed overboard? Who was it that Will was signaling? Are the innkeeper and Martin’s brother two separate people, and if so, why was Martin hiding from the innkeeper and how did Nell know his brother? What is the connection between Mother Taylor, Tom Jordan, and Martin? Perhaps Hawes does explain this in the book, or at least infer it, but if so, I found the book so muddy and confusing that any meaning failed to make an appearance to me.
Lloyd Alexander gushes over the book in the introduction, and while The Dark Frigate may have been the perfect book to read in the 1920s, it is now certainly dated, with little in it of substance, besides the promise of pirates, to tempt young readers today. I can see why it would win a Newbery, especially in the award’s early years, but the book has not aged well and there are much better non-Newbery books about pirates out there.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
So Phil waited; and the broad hat that hung on the bulkhead scraped backward and forward as the ship plunged into the trough and rose on the swell; and Captain Candle remained intent on his thoughts; and a sea bird circled over the wake of the ship.
After a long time the master turned about and walked into the cabin and, there espying Philip Marsham, he smiled and said, “I was remiss. I had forgotten you.” He threw aside the cloak that lay on the chair and sat down.
“Sit you down,” he said with a nod. “You are a practiced seaman, no lame, decrepit fellow who serves for underwages. Have you mastered the theory?”
“Why, sir, I am no unacquainted with astrolabe and quadrant, and on scales and tables I have spent much labour.”
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.
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+
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.
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.
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+
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!”
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.
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+
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?”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.