Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers, was published in 1991 by Multnomah.

California’s gold country, 1850. A time when men sold their souls for a bag of gold and women sold their bodies for a place to sleep. Angel expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child, she survives by keeping her hatred alive. And what she hates most are the men who use her, leaving her empty and dead inside. Then she meets Michael Hosea, a man who seeks his Father’s heart in everything. Michael obeys God’s call to marry Angel and to love her unconditionally. Slowly, day by day, he defies Angel’s every bitter expectation, until despite her resistance, her frozen heart begins to thaw. But with her unexpected softening comes overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and fear. And so Angel runs. Back to the darkness, away from her husband’s pursuing love, terrified of the truth she no longer can deny: her final healing must come from the One who loves her even more than Michael does…the One who will never let her go.

Rating: 4/5

I think people have been telling me to read Redeeming Love since college. College, at least, is when I first heard the book mentioned. Recently, a coworker of mine recommended it to me after a conversation I had with her about the Christian fiction I review. Then, as I was browsing the book selection at Goodwill, I saw a copy and decided to give it a try.

And I ended up really enjoying it.

Redeeming Love is one of the better historical romances I’ve read. It’s compelling and tense and Angel is such a complex character, developed well so that your heart breaks for her as she struggles to come to grips with the idea of love and redemption. The introduction of side characters to Michael and Angel’s lives keeps the story flowing and prevents it from being the same back-and-forth between the two for its entirety. The novel is rarely, if ever, over-the-top or contrived and, as I’ll discuss next, not overly hokey.

The Christianity aspect of the novel was done very well, especially in terms of Angel’s struggle and the end of the novel. There were very few parts that I thought were hokey and/or cheesy, mostly consisting of when God was speaking to Michael. That part was the hardest to swallow for me and it’s also very hard to pull off in a narrative. Perhaps I’m just too skeptical, but I found it hard to believe that God would have such a constant, inner dialogue with Michael. I mean, I get it, it’s a book and it’s also supposed to reflect Hosea and Gomer, but still—not only did I struggle to relate to those parts of the novel, but it was distracting and, as I said, a little hokey. What was more effective was Angel’s inner thoughts (the devil?) and the brief snatches of “God thoughts” she did get—not a full-blown conversation, but more snatches, glimpses, strong inclinations that resonate more with my experience.

Redeeming Love made me cry and it made me stay up late on a school night in order to finish reading it. That’s high praise from me, especially from a Christian fiction book. It was character-driven, compelling, heart-breaking and ultimately joyful. The whole book was a celebration of love that redeems and picks people up from the darkest, deepest areas of life and changes them forever. Not everything about it was perfect, but it definitely falls into the category of Christian fiction that I would recommend to others—and possibly even reread myself.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Prostitution, mentions of rape, sexual situations.

Genre: Historical Fiction

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

1930 Newbery Medal: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field, was published in 1929 by Simon & Schuster.

Hitty is a doll of great charm and real character. It is indeed a privilege to be able to publish her memoirs which, besides being full of the most thrilling adventures on land and sea, also reveal a personality which is delightful and forceful. One glance at her portrait will show that she is no ordinary doll. Hitty, or Mehitable, as she was really named, was carved from a piece of white ash by a peddler who was spending the winter in Maine. Phoebe Preble, for whom Hitty was made, was very proud of her doll and took her everywhere, even on a long sailing trip in a whaler. In this way Hitty’s horizon was broadened and she acquired ample material to make her memoirs exciting and instructive.

Rating: 4/5

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years is a charming novel, very much like a more serious The Doll People if the dolls only observed the goings-on around them. While it starts out a little outlandishly with Hitty’s adventures with the Preble family, it very quickly smooths out and becomes much more realistic in terms of Hitty getting from one place/family to another.

This may very well be my favorite Newbery Medal book so far, even surpassing The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle. Hitty’s voice, the adventures she goes through, and the observations she makes all combine to make a delightful book. There are definitely a few spots where the book’s age shows, but not very many, and once the book gets past those spots it’s very easy to immerse yourself into the book once again.

It’s amazing that a book about a doll would be so successful and lasting. I mean, The Doll People is good and all, but Hitty has a whole different sort of charm to it. I think one reason is that Hitty’s adventures certainly sound real—if an antique doll had a story to tell, it may very well be quite similar to Hitty’s own (except perhaps the whaling adventure at the beginning, the most hard-to-swallow of them all, as well as the most eyebrow-raising). It also helps that the people in the book, in the stories Hitty relates, are interesting and help keep Hitty’s story interesting. And, as vehicles for which Hitty moves, they’re nicely integrated into the story, and, as I said, make the story more believable.

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years is a promising start to the 1930s Newbery Medals. Along with Caddie Woodlawn, this decade is shaping up to be much more interesting and engaging than the 1920s boring fest of medal winners.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“There, Kate,” said the Captain, suddenly pointing with his whip, “that’s the first mountain-ash tree I’ve seen this fall.”

There, sure enough, at the edge of some woods was a slim, tallish tree loaded down with bunches of orange berries. The tree seemed to bend under their weight and they shone like burnished balls.

“That’s Hitty’s tree,” cried Phoebe, “and it’s magic!”

“Hush, child,” reproved her mother, “you mustn’t say such things.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2uAAU1u

1936 Newbery Medal: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink, was published in 1935 by Macmillan.

Caddie Woodlawn is a real adventurer. She’d rather hunt than sew, plow than bake, and beat her brothers’ dares every chance she gets. Caddie is friends with Indians, who scare most of the neighbors—neighbors who, like her mother and sisters, don’t understand her at all. Caddie is brave, and her story is special—because it’s true, based on the life and memories of Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother, the real Caddie Woodlawn.

Rating: 3/5

If you were to think of a typical Newbery Medal book, you’d probably think of many of the tropes and techniques in Caddie Woodlawn, which seems to me to be the earliest of what I can only call the “Newbery Medal” formula, or perhaps, more simply, the “coming of age” formula.

That’s not to say all Newbery Medals follow along with Caddie Woodlawn—clearly they don’t—but a lot of them do have the same type of formula to them: girl/boy is in the process of growing up, has adventures, learns lessons, does brave things, etc. They’re also fairly episodic in plot, with each chapter (perhaps two) being one particular episode in the protagonist’s life. There’s usually some sort of arc connecting them all together, whether it’s plot or a particular character. All these things are present in Caddie Woodlawn and, though it makes for a disjointed pace, it’s effective at communicating the coming-of-age aspect.

I’ve actually read Caddie Woodlawn before, 15 or more years ago, and the thing I remembered most of the book was the part where Caddie gets her friend to “cross her heart” and the friend freaks out because she doesn’t think she can tell anyone where Caddie is. This event takes place much earlier in the book than I expected—there’s a whole part with the settlers being afraid that they were going to be massacred and one would expect this to be the crowning moment of the book, the place for the protagonist to truly show off her bravery and end the book in a spectacular fashion. However, it happens about halfway through and, to be honest, the rest of the book falls a little flat after that particular escapade.

In fact, it’s after the “cross your heart” and the fear of massacre part where the book starts to feel very episodic and choppy. I mean, I enjoyed it for the most part, but I got a little bit tired of Caddie’s shenanigans towards the end. Brink includes some historical events and things, which are nice, but the book feels a trifle long and gets tiring by the end.

Caddie Woodlawn reminds me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but much more choppy in terms of pace and a little bit less endearing and enduring. It’s definitely a step-up from much of the 1920s Newbery Medals I read, but the clear “coming of age” formula (not old when it was written, but very predictable and tired now) detracts a bit from it, and Caddie’s adventures get tiring, especially after the halfway point when the Big Event happens and the book keeps going on as if that wasn’t the biggest moment in the book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Well, I guess we’re even, Uncle Edmund,” said Caddie, gravely smiling. She held out her small, brown hand.

Uncle Edmund shook it hearty, but he said: “No, Caddie, we’re not even yet. I promised you a silver dollar.”

“You said if I beat you to the end of the lake on the raft, or if I wouldn’t tell Mother. But I didn’t beat you and I am going to tell Mother.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ufC6I5

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

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly, was published in 2009 by Henry Holt.

The summer of 1899 is hot in Calpurnia’s sleepy Texas town, and there aren’t a lot of good ways to stay cool. Her mother has a new wind machine from town, but Callie might just have to resort to stealthily cutting off her hair, one sneaky inch at a time. She also spends a lot of time at the river with her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist. It turns out that every drop of river water is teeming with life—all you have to do is look through a microscope! As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and learns just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Rating: 4/5

For some reason, I wasn’t expecting The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate to be as good or as engaging as I found it to be. It was humorous, interesting, and surprisingly much lighter in tone and material than I expected it to be. I kept expecting something sad or dangerous to happen throughout (perhaps because of its Newbery Honor status) and—spoiler?—nothing did.

I was worried going in that the book was going to be very heavy on Darwinian evolution and I had no interest in reading a book that very clearly pushed an agenda (*cough*ScottWesterfeld*cough*). However, the book focuses mainly on natural selection and general observation and scientific method, and while some mentions of the clash between Genesis and Darwin’s theory are in the book, they’re dealt with much more matter-of-factly and historically, and less politically, which I liked.

What I didn’t like is the whole “girl hates what girls did back then and tries to be more progressive and feels stifled by her unprogressive society” trope. I’m thinking it’s because I’m an adult and so this sort of thing doesn’t really jive with me anymore. I’m past the point where I need to be told that I can be a naturalist if I want to. I’m past the point where I need to be told that it’s fine if I don’t know how to cook (but, seriously, housekeeping skills are dead useful. Where are the books where boys learn how to sew?). At least the grandfather states how he had to learn to knit during the war. That redeemed the trope for me a little.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is surprisingly (at least, for me) light-hearted, which actually made it a little disjointed for me. I kept expecting something bad to happen and kept seeing hints of things cropping up, only to find out that I was completely wrong. However, I still enjoyed the novel, despite the prominent archetype/trope present, which, to give credit where it’s due, is at least historically rooted and it make sense for Kelly to include it. I just wish it wasn’t also combined with “wild child” at the same time. I don’t see why Callie couldn’t have sewed well and also wanted to be a naturalist, but perhaps the uneven balance is necessary for a book aimed at middle-grade readers.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“Anyway, as a thank-you, the great man sent me the bottled beast you see on the shelf next to the armadillo. It is my most prized possession.”

“Excuse me?” I said, looking up from the trilobite.

“The bottled beast you see there on the shelf.”

I looked at the monster in the thick glass carboy, with its freakish eyes and multiple limbs.

“It is a Sepia officinalis he collected near the Cape of Good Hope.”

“Who collected it?”

“We are speaking of Mr. Darwin.”

“We are?” I couldn’t believe it. “He sent you that?”

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

1929 Newbery Medal: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

The Trumpeter of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly, was first published in 1928. I read the 1966 Simon & Schuster republication.

A dramatic tale of 15th century Poland, it tells the story of a courageous young patriot and a mysterious jewel of great value. The beautifully written book, filled with adventure and excitement, gives young readers a vivid picture of Krakow in the early Renaissance.

Rating: 3/5

After a run of dry, plodding 1920s Newbery Medal winners, The Trumpeter of Krakow is like a breath of fresh air. While not as immediately enjoyable and enticing as The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle, Kelly’s novel about Poland in the 15th century is authentic, informative, and full of tension as Joseph and his family evade the villain who is after the treasure their family is guarding.

I’m not sure how much of The Trumpeter of Krakow is based on history; the introduction implies that it’s at least somewhat inspired by a story from the 13th century. Regardless, the story is full of lots of historical elements, such as the exploration of alchemy, the wars between Poland, Russia, and the surrounding countries, the invasions by the Tartars/Tatars, and other bits of medieval history. It explains enough that the reader learns and understands a bit of the time period, but not so much that the reader gets overwhelmed. Kelly also clearly knows Poland and Krakow in particular, and there is lots of details given that make the book more authentic than a simple “this is a story set in Poland” vibe.

The Trumpeter of Krakow is a little dry in places, in parts due to the language and in parts due to the description, which while giving the novel an authentic feel also tends to slow down the pace, but for the most part the story of Joseph and his family carries throughout the novel, even towards the end when everything seems to have worked out and there are still a few chapters left to go.

It was refreshing to read this book after the problems I had with many of the other 1920s Newberys, so I’m hoping that this is a good sign and the books will continue to improve from here on out. If the Newberys in the 1930s are like The Trumpeter of Krakow, then I can’t complain (although maybe I will anyway; you never know!).

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Cease—cease—cowards all!” [the scholar] shouted in a commanding tone of voice. “What persecution goes on here?”

“The man and the woman and boy are workers in magic, wizards and a witch,” said the leader roughly. “Keep your hands off, for we are admonishing them.”

“Wizards and witches—fiddlesticks!” shouted the newcomer, pulling himself up in the wagon until he stood beside Pan Andrew. “This is but an excuse for some such deed of violence as this city has seen too much of in the past twelve months. To attack an honest man—for to any but a blind man he appears as honest—a weak woman, and a defenseless boy—Cowards all, I say! Disperse, or I will call the king’s guards to disperse you.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2up8pkn

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann David Wyss, was first published in 1812. I read the 1992 Bantam Classic version.

“For many days we had been tempest-tossed…the raging storm increased in fury until on the seventh day all hope was lost.” From these dire opening lines, a delightful story of adventure begins. One family will emerge alive from this terrible storm: the Robinsons—a Swiss pastor, his wife, and four sons, plus two dogs and a shipload of livestock, hens, pigeons, and geese! Inspired by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, this heartwarming tale portrays a family’s struggle to create a new life for themselves on a strange and fantastic tropical island. There each boy must learn to control his own nature—such as Ernest’s bookishness and Fritz’s hot temper—as their adventures lead to amazing discoveries, danger, and tantalizing surprises, including a puzzling message tie to an albatross’s leg. But it is the authenticity of the boys’ behavior, the ingenuity of the family, and the natural wonders of this exotic land that have made The Swiss Family Robinson, first published in 1812-1813, one of the world’s best-loved and most enduring stories of shipwreck and survival.

Rating: 4/5

I owned the Children’s Great Illustrated Classics version of The Swiss Family Robinson and read it many times when I was young. The entire concept of an island paradise where a family has to live off the land and does so successfully (and lives in a tree house!) fascinated me. I knew as I got older that the book I owned was abridged, but I wasn’t sure of how much had actually been cut out. So, I decided to pick it up to read the full thing for the first time—and also I wanted to relive that island paradise fantasy of mine.

Now, reading the original as an adult, I can see how silly that fantasy was—not because it’s wrong to imagine things like that, but because—realist that I am—I had a hard time believing that so much variety in animal and plant life would be on that island. I know there are penguins on Madagascar, so it’s not too much of a long shot to have penguins on an island in the Indian Ocean somewhere, but penguins and ostriches and lions and bears and seals and capybaras and jackals and hyenas and the myriad of other animals that are living on this apparently very large island? That’s a bit of a stretch. And yes, it makes for a great and fascinating tale, fulfilling all the “wild animal tamer” fantasies of many children (who doesn’t want to ride an ostrich?), but as an adult, it’s a bit harder to swallow.

That’s not to say I didn’t like the book. Even if the exact descriptions of planting, killing, skinning, crafting, cooking, etc. were a little wearing after a while, I still enjoyed the basic message and plot behind all the (oftentimes boring) details. Even if the tree house wasn’t as big or as majestic as I remember (thanks, Disney), I still liked the concept of a family surviving and thriving after what could have been a deadly accident.

The book gets a little preachy at times, but that’s common in a lot of 19th century literature. For the most part, Wyss devotes his time to describing how the family survives with a few interludes from the father about thankfulness and providence—not a bad thing to emphasize, just delivered a little clumsily.

The Swiss Family Robinson wasn’t as thrilling and imaginatively fantastic as I remember it being, but it still hits all the “shipwrecked on a deserted island” boxes—and then some! The emphasis on the technicalities of how the Robinson’s survived is, perhaps, a bit much at times, and it’s hard to believe that any island could be as varied in flora and fauna as the one the Robinson’s are on, but there’s still wonder and fascination to be had when reading it. However, even after reading the original, I think the Children’s Illustrated Classic edition will still be the one that has the biggest stamp on my mind and memory—it was just that fascinating to me.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“Stop, stop, my boy!” cried I. “All will be done in good time. Tomorrow and the day after will bring work of their own. And tell me, did you see no traces of our shipmates?”

“Not a sign of them, either on land or sea, living or dead,” he replied.

“But the sucking pig,” said Jack, “where did you get it?”

“It was one of several,” said Fritz, “which I found on the shore; most curious animals they are. They hopped rather than walked, and every now and then would squat down on their legs and rub their snouts with their forepaws. Had not I been afraid of losing them all, I would have tried to catch one alive, they seemed so tame.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2rI2vtD

1927 Newbery Medal: Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James

Smoky the Cowhorse, by Will James, was published in 1926 by Buccaneer Books.

Smoky knows only one way of life: freedom. Living on the open range, he is free to go where he wants and to do what he wants. And he knows what he has to do to survive. He can beat any enemy, whether it be a rattlesnake or a hungry wolf. He is as much a part of the Wild West as it is of him, and Smoky can’t imagine anything else. But then he comes across a new enemy, one that walks on two legs and makes funny sounds. Smoky can’t beat this enemy the way he has all the others. But does he really want to? Or could giving up some of his freedom mean getting something in return that’s even more valuable?

Rating: 3/5

Smoky the Cowhorse reminded me a great deal of Black Beauty, although it comes nowhere close to Black Beauty’s lasting power and “classicness” and, of course, the point of view is not the horse but rather either various cowboys or an omniscient narrator. The novel is about the horse named Smoky and his adventures on the range in the Old West. The things you might expect to happen do: Smoky grows up, gets into trouble occasionally, narrowly escapes the claws of predators a few times, and enjoys his freedom until the cowboys come calling.

Then, you have the requisite training period, then the bonding between the horse and the human, then the times they go out together and rope cattle, and then, of course, since happy times can’t last forever, something terrible happens and for the rest of the book you’re rooting for the horse and his human to find each other again.

It’s a good horse book in terms of hitting all the notes that you might expect in a horse book, but the downside is that the vernacular of the book itself is not easily read, especially 90 years later. It’s written as if someone from that time period and from that area was telling the story, so a lot of the terminology is unfamiliar, since it deals with herding and roping and things like that, and it’s in the accent and dialect of, presumably, a cowboy, which means there’s a lot of “figgering” and verb/subject disagreement and other things to make a grammar teacher frustrated. It makes the book seem more authentic, but at the same time I can see it being very distracting and make it hard for a reader to get into the book.

Overall, I enjoyed Smoky more than some of the other 1920s Newbery Medal books I’ve read, but to be honest, I doubt I’d pick it up again. I’d rather read Black Beauty, which tells a similar story in a better and much more memorable way.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

Smoky’s mammy took the lead, and after the rest of the bunch was thru parleying with the strange horses they joined in with her and the colt and all strung out for the foothills. The next day they all was up in high country again and everything of the day before was forgotten, forgotten, all excepting with Smoky and the other little colts. They still remembered some, on account that it had all been mighty new to ‘em, and besides, the sting of the fresh brand was there on their left thigh to remind.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2st7D4J

A Love So True by Melissa Jagears

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

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

The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford

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

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

Rating: 5/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

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

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

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

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

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

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