The Delusion by Laura Gallier

Disclaimer: The Delusion, by Laura Gallier, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

By March of Owen Edmonds’s senior year, eleven students at Masonville High School have committed suicide. Amid the media frenzy and chaos, Owen tries to remain levelheaded—until he endures his own near-death experience and wakes to a distressing new reality: the people around him suddenly appear to be shackled and enslaved. Owen frantically seeks a cure for what he thinks are crazed hallucinations, but his delusions become even more sinister. An army of hideous, towering beings, unseen by anyone but Owen, are preying on his girlfriend and classmates, provoking them to self-destruction. Owen eventually arrives at a mind-bending conclusion: he’s not imagining the evil—everyone else is blind to its reality. He must warn and rescue those he loves…but this proves to be no simple mission. Will be h able to convince anyone to believe him before it’s too late?

My rating: 2/5 

I realized something while reading The Delusion. I realized that I really don’t like books that try to get metaphorical about Christian ideas/theology, because a lot of the time the metaphors are wildly inaccurate and/or downright silly.

The Delusion, which is a little bit like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness in its spiritual warfare plot, relies heavily on metaphors as it sets up this world where monstrous gray oozing creatures feed off of people and incite them to do bad things. Besides reminding me of Peretti, the book also reminded me of John Bibee’s Spirit Flyer series, which also has descriptions of people being chained by shackles they can’t see.

I understand the premise of the story, or at least the premise Gallier is going for: there’s more going on in the material world than what we can see. Yet, the way Gallier presents it, with gray monsters and tall golden warriors (angels, I suppose), makes it seem more like some disturbing alternate reality. I’m not going to deny that the supernatural exists, but I find it difficult to believe that it looks anything like what Gallier describes it as.

“But, wait, you’re missing the point,” you might say. “It’s not meant to describe reality. It’s meant to be a metaphor, a way to describe things.” True, and I get that. But I balk at the point Gallier seems to be going for here, which is that evil is caused by possession, not human choice; that people are compelled to do bad things because some gray monster squelched into their body and took over their mind.

Yes, I know it’s a metaphor. Yes, I know Gallier is simply personifying emotion and doesn’t necessarily mean to indicate that humans are forced to do evil by demons, and if it was their choice they wouldn’t do it.

But I think it’s a clumsy metaphor.

Or, I simply don’t like this sort of book and my dislike of the genre is rubbing off on Gallier’s presentation.

In any case, The Delusion is mildly gripping and definitely creepy, which is good for the genre it is. I didn’t like the metaphorical mess that Gallier created, though, and most of the characters were so bland and one-dimensional that I’m struggling to even remember their names. Also, I found some of the scenarios unbelievable, and not the metaphor part, like when Owen gets beaten and then walks away like he had just been punched a couple of times. The Delusion was definitely not my type of book, but I can see it appealing to people who like this sort of supernatural thing.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2xVxlG4

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2003 Newbery Medal: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi, was published in 2002 by Hyperion.

“Asta’s Son” is all he’s ever been called. The lack of a name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in 14th century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less – no home, no family, or possessions. Accused of a crime he did not commit, he may be killed on sight, by anyone. If he wishes to remain alive, he must flee his tiny village. All the boy takes with him is a newly revealed name – Crispin – and his mother’s cross of lead.

Rating: 2/5

I wasn’t all that impressed by Crispin: The Cross of Lead. It has a rich historical background, which lends itself well to the Newbery, but Crispin himself is an annoying protagonist and the plot is incredibly obvious. Bear was also a confusing character, in that the first moment we meet him he seems kind, then devolves into some sort of cruel master the next moment, then turns into a gruff man with a soft heart.

Avi clearly did his research with the setting, depicting the Middle Ages with particular emphasis on the influence of the Church as well as the feudal system and the call for reform. Perhaps that’s why I’m so disappointed at the plot, which seems clumsy and even a little obtuse. It’s a fine fit for the setting, I suppose, but the mechanics themselves are obvious, to the point where fifty pages in I already knew what was going to happen.

I also didn’t much like Crispin, especially towards the end of the book where he consistently refuses to listen to the adults around him and goes sneaking off three times in succession. The third time actually had me speaking out loud to my book, which is almost never a good sign (“Stop it, Crispin!”). I really don’t like rash protagonists. I suppose he’s a teenage boy, so of course he would do rash things, but that doesn’t make me like him any better.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead has that historical background that seems to attract Newbery Medals, but I wasn’t impressed with the plot or the main character.  I actually didn’t mind Crispin at first, but once things started getting moving and he started doing really stupid things, I started getting annoyed. I also very quickly figured out the entire plot, due to the limited possibilities and obvious clues. Unlike another one of Avi’s books, I’m not fond of this one.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Asta’s son,” came Aycliffe’s voice, “in the name of Lord Furnival, you’re herewith charged with theft. Give way.”

I was too stunned to move.

“The boy’s a wolf’s head!” the steward shouted. “Slay him if you can.”

From either side, men ran forward.

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

The Tasters Guild by Susannah Appelbaum

The Tasters Guild, by Susannah Appelbaum, was published in 2010 by Knopf. It is the sequel to The Hollow Bettle.

After the perilous adventure of The Hollow Bettle, the dark reign of the Nightshades is over at last, and a new day has arrived in Caux, a land long ruled by poison and deceit. The ancient Prophecy—the coming of a Noble Child to cure the one, true King—has finally begun. But fear still grips the people of Caux, for they live in the shadow of the powerful, poisonous Tasters’ Guild. Sequestered high within its corrupt walls sits Vidal Verjouce, the Guild’s diabolical Director, his dark magic more potent than ever. Eleven-year-old Ivy, famed healer and Noble Child, and her friend and taster Rowan must venture inside the Guild itself if they are to find the door to their sister world, Pimcaux-and fulfill the Prophecy. But a deadly weed-once thought extinct-threatens their journey: scourge bracken, a plant dedicated to domination and destruction, also known, ominously, as Kingmaker. Who else has detected it? And will Ivy’s remarkable gift—her dominion over plants and nature—be enough to thwart it?

Rating: 2/5

The Tasters Guild is a decent follow-up to The Hollow Bettle, with more revelations (including a rather obvious one that at least the characters admit is obvious), some interesting plot mechanics, and a more established sense of danger and threat. Just like the first book, I still started on the fence about whether or not I would actually enjoy the book. I liked the first one enough to read the second, but now that I know what to expect in terms of style and voice, that gave me more opportunity to reflect on other things, such as characterization.

There are some prominent weaknesses of The Tasters Guild. For one, it highlights even more how absurd and rushed the ending of the first book is. There’s a whole lot of handwaving going on and I still don’t buy what happened as a plausible or realistic option. Once I noticed that, I noticed how specifically tailored the chapters in the book are to deflect attention. The beginning of each chapter is always a distraction, either through the use of filler or switching points of view in order to avoid explaining important details. I actually grew quite irritated with the way the chapters are structured. At least twice during the novel, some things happened that needed more explanation, but instead—chapter break, viewpoint switch, convenient hand waving.

I may get the last book just to finish out the trilogy, since I do think there is some promise yet even though I grew quite frustrated with The Tasters Guild. I still like the characters, even if both Rowan and Ivy seem to make the same mistakes over and over, and there were some plot developments that I thought were interesting that I would like to see resolved. I’d have to bear with the irritating chapter structures and the glossed-over worldbuilding and plot mechanics, though, and I’m not sure I’d end the trilogy in a very good mood if that’s the case.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Dumbcane has somehow come upon scourge bracken, and it, beyond anything else, must not be allowed to fall into the hands of Vidal Verjouce, or—”

“Or what?”

“Or all of Caux’s green earth will be reduced to ash. There will be no Prophecy to fulfill, no Doorway to Pimcaux.” Cecil walked over to Dumbcane’s window and upended the dead potted plants to illustrate. “Just blackness and destruction.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2yY7IR1

Wildwood by Collin Meloy

Wildwood, by Collin Meloy, was published in 2011 by Balzer + Bray.

Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows. And then things get really weird. You see, on every map of Portland, Oregon, there is a big splotch of green on the edge of the city labeled “I.W.” This stands from “Impassable Wilderness.” No one’s ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it. And this is where the crows take her brother. So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the mist of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends finds themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Rating: 2/5

Wildwood is a Narnia-esque fantasy novel that plucks unsuspecting children from their world into the midst of a world they knew nothing about. Meloy does this through a mysterious forest on the outskirts of Portland that Portia and her friend Curtis are drawn into when Portia’s brother is abducted by crows. Along the way, they encounter anthropomorphic animals, birds, and humans, as well as the White Witch—I mean, the Governess.

I wasn’t particularly enthralled by Wildwood—in fact, the book bored me. I did manage to finish it, if only because I want to make progress on my Goodreads Reading Challenge, but I didn’t like it much. It’s not that it’s a bad book, it’s just that I’ve read books that use the tropes better. It’s not so similar to Narnia as I made it sound, but it’s hard not to think of Narnia, or Oz, or something similar, while you’re reading this book. Maybe that’s a good thing, but I didn’t consider it to be. It was just a little bit too tame for me and not nearly magical or wondrous enough.

Wildwood really lacked the “wow” factor for me. It interested me enough to be able to finish it without much grumbling, but nothing about it amazed me or wanted me to get the next book to find out more about the magical world revealed in the book. If Meloy was trying to draw on Narnia vibes for this novel, he failed spectacularly. It’s not a bad book, or badly written, but it failed to engage me. Also, I’m not a huge fan of anthropomorphic animals living alongside humans in fantasy, to be honest, Narnia aside, so perhaps that’s why Wildwood fell so flat.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Birds? What birds?”

“The birds that kidnapped my brother. Crows, actually. A whole flock of ‘em. A murder. Did you know that? That a flock of crows is called a murder?”

Curtis’s face had dropped. “What do you mean, birds kidnapped your brother?” he stammered. “Like, birds?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2g8pMkA

The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker

Disclaimer: The Day the Angels Fell, by Shawn Smucker, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened. After his mother’s death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to turn back time. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Samuel begins his search for the Tree of Life–the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Samuel to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift?

My rating: 2/5 

The Day the Angels Fell is a sort of mythological story that seems to have been inspired a great deal by Frank Peretti. It starts out really strangely, so strangely that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to either take it seriously or even remotely enjoy myself. There’s strange, magical fortunetellers (who don’t really seem to fit in the story as anything but a way for the protagonist to hear the name “Tree of Life”), shadow beasts, and a mysterious quest that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the beginning.

The book starts fitting together a little better when the main premise of the plot is told via story. Then, things start making sense, though the whole thing is so far-fetched, even as obviously mythological as it is, that I had trouble swallowing the entire premise. I also spent far too long wondering what in the world the title had to do with anything, and wondering if the cat Icarus held any more importance than simply being the vehicle used to start the whole “quest” in motion.

I liked the jumping-back-and-forth through time that happened at the beginning of each section of the chapter; it was interesting to see OldMan!Samuel reflect on and narrate what happened when he was twelve. I also liked that Samuel much more than twelve-year-old Samuel, though at least boy Samuel was acting his age (precisely why I didn’t like him).

I also had a very hard time buying Smucker’s entire message, which is that “death is a gift.” It just smacked of callousness, and to me the tone and delivery was all wrong. You can’t just encompass people’s suffering into one big box and simply say, “Death is a gift.” I mean, I get that Smucker was also pointing out that the power to bring someone back to life might not be all that great to use, but since people who read this will be thinking in terms of general loss, and don’t usually have Trees of Life popping up in their backyard waiting for them, the message falls a little flat.

The Day the Angels Fell is full of MacGuffins, from Icarus the cat, existing solely to jumpstart Sam’s main motivation, to the fortunetellers, who exist solely to have Sam hear the name “Tree of Life” and introduce the mythical nature of the book. It starts out strangely, gets marginally better once all that strangeness is established in a (albeit hard-to-swallow) mythical story, and ends fairly well, though by that time it was too late for me. I liked the older Sam moments, but the younger one annoyed me. I also didn’t particularly like or agree with what Smucker was apparently trying to say about death, which is really only applicable if one has access to a Tree of Life, but a fairly useless, even callous message if there isn’t such a tree. A miss for me, overall, though I will admit I liked Abra and there were some interesting moments in the story that weren’t so bad.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

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

No Such Person by Caroline B. Cooney

No Such Person, by Caroline B. Cooney, was published in 2015 by Delacorte.

Murder. One of the Allerdon sisters has been charged with a premeditated killing and taken to jail. It doesn’t seem possible—but it’s happening. What was supposed to be a typical summer is anything but for this seemingly ordinary family. Shortly after the Allerdons arrive at their cozy family cottage on the river, Lander meets and is smitten with a handsome young man, and they begin to date. Miranda has a bad feeling about her perfect sister’s new boyfriend. And when the family must suddenly deal with an unimaginable nightmare. Miranda can’t help feeling that the boyfriend has something to do with it. The police say they have solid evidence against Lander. Miranda wants to believe in her sister when she swears she is innocent. But as Miranda digs deeper into the past few weeks of Lander’s life, she wonders why everything keeps pointing to Lander’s guilt.

Rating: 2/5

Caroline B. Cooney was one of my favorite authors of my teenage years, offering the sort of mildly dark and angsty reads that I devoured at the time. I’ve wanted to return to her older books as an adult to see if my perception of them has changed any, but one of her newer books caught my attention instead.

No Such Person is a murder mystery, and a fairly tame one at that despite some of the more intense scenes at the end. Unfortunately, it’s pretty predictable, especially once some more details are revealed throughout the investigation. I started losing interest in the book once it became obvious what exactly had happened and the characters were still floundering around trying to figure it out.

The strongest aspect of the book is probably the setting and the characterization and interaction. Lander doesn’t do much but cry the whole time (I guess that’s not surprising, considering her position), but I liked the riverside interactions and the whole idea of the tranquil river community shocked by murder (a common trope in murder mysteries, but still done well here).

However, since this is a murder mystery, the atmosphere and setting of the book were not enough for me to think particularly highly of it. I liked it, yes, but I found the motive and the “behind the scenes” of the murder to be, if not far-fetched, at least poorly executed and a little random. I love intricate, detailed plots in mysteries, and No Such Person has no such thing. It’s simplified for the audience, perhaps, but I’ve had better murder mysteries in books like Between and even Before I Fall. This one was a little tame in comparison.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Young Adult

She wants to warn her sister again—to cry out, He’s bad news! Stay away from him!

But her sister is so happy.

And their mother, seeing this happiness, also lets it go. Lander’s happiness is worth a lot to her.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2vR43Hy

The Lost Stories by John Flanagan

The Lost Stories, by John Flanagan, was published in 2011 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Emperor of Nihon-Ja.

They were mysterious. Some claim they were merely the stuff of legend—the Rangers with their mottled green-and-gray cloaks and their reputation as defenders of the Kingdom. Reports of their brave battles vary, but we know of at least ten accounts, most of which feature the boy—turned man—named Will and his mentor, Halt. There are reports, as well, of others who fought alongside the Rangers, such as the young warrior Horace, a courageous process named Evanlyn, and a cunning diplomat named Alyss. Yet this crew left very little behind and their existence has never been able to be proved. Until now, that is…Behold the Lost Stories.

Rating: 2/5

I thought that The Lost Stories was a prequel to the Ranger’s Apprentice series, but it’s not. It’s actually a bunch of filler stories, telling stories about what the characters were up to in the time between The Emperor of Nihon-Ja and The Royal Ranger, the next and last book. Some of the stories are prequels, but most of them tell about things like Horace’s wedding, Will’s wedding, and other odds-and-ends.

As a collection of filler stories, The Lost Stories stands out as a filler book, ultimately unnecessary and only important for completionists’ sake. I enjoyed the stories, but their shortness and the switch from one issue to another made everything choppy and disjointed. Plus, I’ve never liked the “talking horses” aspect of Ranger’s Apprentice and there is too much of that going on in multiple stories.

My favorite story is the one with Jenny because it was so strange and hilariously random. There’s another good one, too, where Will decides to use a bigger vocabulary, and then Horace’s wedding is also fairly memorable. The rest, however, are mostly forgettable and I think in one or two of them Flanagan forgets his own worldbuilding (or I’m misremembering details). It’s nice to get a look at some of the early years, but it’s not entirely necessary—especially since Flanagan now has a spin-off series dealing with young Halt.

The Lost Stories also serves almost as a set-up for Flanagan’s Brotherband series, which again marks the book as a filler or a bridge rather than as a cohesive, entertaining unit by itself. Of all of the Ranger’s Apprentice books, I suppose the collection of stories is the best candidate to be the worst book. I’ve never understood the desire of authors to “fill in the gaps,” although I suppose in this case, Flanagan was just trying to extend his ending since The Royal Ranger came afterward. The Lost Stories is a good addition if you like Ranger’s Apprentice, but it doesn’t go beyond mild charm and memorability.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“I’m trying to track down a man called Foldar,” Gilan said. “You may have heard of him.”

Now Philip’s face darkened, anger replacing the former nervousness. “Foldar?” he said. “I’ve never know a man so evil. In my opinion, he was worse than Morgarath himself.”

Gilan looked up quickly. “You knew him?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2wmP7zW

The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin

The Blackhope Enigma, by Teresa Flavin, was published in 2011 by Candlewick Press.

For centuries, Blackhope Tower has remained an enigma. Rumors abound that skeletons have been known to mysteriously appear in the middle of a labyrinth found in the most famous of its rooms—The Mariner’s Chamber. When fourteen-year-old Sunni Forrest visits the tower and watches as her stepbrother, Dean, disappears, seemingly into the painting itself, she goes in search of him—and finds herself drawn into the heart of the Blackhope Enigma.

Rating: 2/5

I very nearly stopped reading The Blackhope Enigma about a third of the way through it. The writing is amateurish (needless descriptions and explanations, melodramatic villain lines, clunky action and lots of telling rather than showing), the characters are forgettable (also, don’t ask how many times I pronounced Sunni’s name as SOON-EE rather than SON-EE because of the spelling), and the whole thing hinges on a premise that is barely explained and not incorporated well.

However, the story does pick up a little and gets slightly more interesting once the characters make their way into the inner-inner painting (there’s the surface painting, then the inner painting where things are alive, and then apparently an inner-inner painting). Of course, then the book adds another melodramatic villain character and the obligatory mysterious handsome sorcerer, so it doesn’t really get any better in quality. But it became interesting enough for me to read it all the way through, though it never passed beyond merely bearable.

I like the idea that Flavin is trying to get across, but unfortunately, she executed it poorly. I think the concept of an enchanted painting is a good one and if Flavin was a better writer the book as a whole would have been a much better success. But Sunni, Dean and Blaise never become more than stock characters, stumbling around a world that is a good idea conceptually but poorly designed and implemented. I never get any sense of real danger from the villains or the world and the ending is clunky and contrived. The Blackhope Enigma is certainly an enigma—I still don’t know how I managed to finish reading the entire thing.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade

“All you knew was that we had disappeared—not how we got in.”

“Well, let’s just say we looked at it from a new angle and got a result.”

“But I asked Mr. Bell about Corvo and the painting after Sunni and Dean had disappeared, and he didn’t tell my anything. Why would he do that?”

“Knowing Lorimer, it was so you wouldn’t get too curious and follow the others into the painting,” Angus said. “He was trying to protect you.”

“From what?” asked Blaise.

“From never getting out again.”

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

Stolen Magic by Gail Carson Levine

Stolen Magic, by Gail Carson Levine, was published in 2015 by Harper. It is the sequel to A Tale of Two Castles.

Elodie, the dragon Masteress Meenore, and the ogre County Jonty Um are all on their way to Elodie’s home island of Lahnt. Just five weeks before, Elodie left for the town of Two Castles with nothing but a single copper in her purse, and now she is returning a professional dragon detective’s assistant and friend to a count! Elodie has barely set foot on Lahnt before she learns that it is in terrible danger. The Replica, a statue that keeps a deadly volcano from erupting, has been stolen from its mountain home. If the Replica isn’t found in three days, a mountain will be destroyed and its inhabitants will be killed. And when Elodie is left without her companions, she has to use her wits to try to unravel a tangled web of lies and save her island home.

Rating: 2/5

I didn’t think Stolen Magic was half as good as A Tale of Two Castles. It has that “tacked-on sequel due to popular demand” feel to it, where the author tries to recapture the essence of the first novel and fails. The plot tries to be a decent mystery but there are so many characters introduced all at once that it’s hard to follow and the world seems small and cramped compared to the first novel. There’s also way too many logical leaps done at the very beginning, with Elodie immediately jumping to “The Replica’s been stolen!” even though there’s really no believable way she could have reached that conclusion as quickly as she did. In addition, the entire book pretty much takes place in one area, and most of the time the characters are simply talking at a table.

Even Levine seemed to realize how inactive the plot was, and so interspersed the mystery aspect with snapshots of Jonty Um, andeventually Meenore, helping the inhabitants of Lahnt escape to safety. But those are so obviously placed there to increase the pace that it makes the book seem sloppily put together. It also makes it so that the reader knows some things before the characters, which I never like because that sort of anticipation as the reader waits for the characters to catch up is rarely done well. It tends to become more irritation than anticipation.

Stolen Magic is, in a way, aptly named, because it steals the magic found in the first book right out of existence and turns it into a trudge of a mystery that’s only slightly interesting. All the “bee” characters introduced all at once made things hard to follow, there was too much talking across tables and too many back-and-forth accusations, and the whole thing felt rushed and poorly done. Sequels written years after the first book are rarely done well, because they often tend to reek of fan service and poorly-conceived thinking and plotting. And, unfortunately, it looks like even Gail Carson Levine, as divine as some of her books are, is not immune to this sort of blunder.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Might the thief escape in your absence, Madam, now that the blizzard has ended?”

“He wouldn’t get far on foot in this snow. If he wanted a horse, he’d have to come here.”

“He or she wouldn’t get far. If he or she wanted…Lodie, can you forgo sleep tonight?”

She nodded. She’d done so before for IT.

“High Brunka, can you show Lodie in secret where the Replica had been kept?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2t1XQqV

With You Always by Jody Hedlund

Disclaimer: With You Always, by Jody Hedlund, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

One of the many immigrants struggling to survive in 1850s New York, Elise Neumann knows she must take action to care for her younger sisters. She finds a glimmer of hope when the New York Children’s Aid Society starts sending skilled workers to burgeoning towns out west. But the promise of the society’s orphan trains is not all that it seems. Born into elite New York society, Thornton Quincy possesses everything except the ability to step out from his brother’s shadow. When their ailing father puts forth a unique challenge to determine who will inherit his railroad-building empire, Thornton finally sees his chance. The conditions to win? Be the first to build a sustainable community along the Illinoi Central Railroad and find a suitable wife. Thrown together against all odds, Elise and Thornton couldn’t be from more different worlds. The spark that ignites between them is undeniable, but how can they let it grow when that means forfeiting everything they’ve been working toward?

My rating: 2/5

I started out enjoying With You Always but the more I read the more disgruntled I became. But, positives first: I really enjoyed the setting, because the Western Expansion has always been one of my favorite time periods. Hedlund did a good job of highlighting how difficult it was for immigrants to find jobs, as well as the economic and social issues of that time. I wish it hadn’t been delivered in quite so preachy of a tone, or in such a moral avatar as Elise Neumann (reinforcing the image that women are icons of virtue and need to bring morality into the virtueless lives of men, who are forgiven what they do since they didn’t have a woman to guide them), but there you have it. I also liked the minor characters, who I found more interesting than Elise and Thornton.

However, With You Always centers on a romance that I didn’t like (too unoriginal) between two characters that I didn’t really connect to (Elise is bland with odd moments of choreographed outbursts, Thornton is the typical love interest and the strange, unrealistic competition between him and his brother does nothing to improve his flatness as a character) and thus, the further in I got, the less I was able to enjoy what I did like. I know I’m particular about my romance “type” and that the sort of stuff in With You Always is gobbled up by many other people and so authors keep using it, but I wish they would branch out a little and incorporate some new elements into tired, overused romantic plots.

The other thing I didn’t like about the book was the unresolved ending. It actually made me mad that so much happened at the end and the book ended with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders and an “Oh well, the two main characters are together now,” with absolutely nothing discovered about the fate of some of the side characters. I get that this is a series and that Hedlund is probably trying to have some fodder for the next books, but it felt cheap and made me less willing to read future books, not more willing to find out what happens.

With You Always has a great setting and several interesting minor characters, but the main characters and the romance are bland and boring, and the unresolved plot threads left me more angry than curious.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2sX9LRU