Book Review: Love Burning Bright

Love Burning Bright
Cassie Perkins
#6

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with No More Broken Promises.

Cassie and her brothers are sent to camp for a week so their parents can have some time to themselves. At first, Cassie is lonely. Then she meets Ethan, a wild, reckless, older boy who flirts with all the girls and treats her little brother badly. Cassie knows he’s a terrible person, but when he turns his attention to her, she can’t help but be attracted to him.

Cassie has finally moved on from family drama, and now her focus turns to something a little more common to girls her age: a crush on a boy. She seems to have to learn everything the hard way, as here she fells into a trap that might be familiar to some of us—getting into a relationship thinking she can fix the other person. She’s certain God wants her to help Ethan, and maybe he does, but she’s still pretty immature herself and goes about it in the wrong ways. Even as the message being focused on throughout the week is about finding God’s will, including in love, Cassie keeps mis-applying it to herself and making another common mistake of assuming Ethan needs this truth more than she does.

It was nice to see Cassie move beyond her selfish whininess in the past books to a new type of problem. And the story didn’t go the way I assumed it would, so that was nice. I’ve enjoyed this series so much, even with my small complains about Cassie’s selfishness, and hope to be able to recommend them to my daughter when she’s a little older (they’re not easy to find). The next story in the series is the one I remember the most from when I was a teenager, and I’m looking forward to continuing!

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Book Review: The Much-Adored Sandy Shore

The Much-Adored Sandy Shore
Cassie Perkins
#5

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with No More Broken Promises.

Cassie’s mom and step-dad think she’s completely self-centered, so she sets out to prove them wrong by helping a social outcast at her school change her image. What really happens, though, is that Cassie learns to be more grateful for her own blessings.

If I thought Cassie was childish and annoying in the last book, she really hits new heights in this one. She is just downright mean (of course, this is from the perspective of a parent, which is probably different than the perspective of a teenager who might read this book). I can’t even say that plenty of teenagers in her situation wouldn’t act the same way, but it does get a bit difficult to read. Fortunately, this book puts an end to all of that. And here’s where I begin to feel like this series is basically a series of after-school specials for Christian teens (not in a bad way). Parents getting divorced and remarried, a classmate with AIDS, and now the serious topic brought up in this book. I won’t say more, because it’d be a spoiler for the climax. Though I did suspect it earlier in the book, I don’t think as many younger readers would. Then again, these days, teens have seen a lot more than they had in my day, whether in real life or on TV.

The story about Cassie helping Sandy Shore didn’t go the way I expected it to at all, which is a good thing. And Cassie definitely saw her own life in a new light by the end, which explains why the next few books finally get her away from the drama of her home life and into whole new messes. Though it looks like she won’t be at school as much in the rest of the series, I really hope we get a chance to catch up with Sandy Shore before the end.

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Book Review: A Love to Cherish

A Love to Cherish
Glory, Montana #2, The Preacher’s Daughters
by Linda Ford

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

When Reese first sees Victoria, he’s convinced that she’s the missing daughter of a wealthy man from Chicago, where he used to live. But why is the woman living under an assumed name and claiming to be the adopted daughter of the local preacher and his wife? What Reese doesn’t know is that Victoria doesn’t remember anything about her life before 4 years ago when she was the sole survivor of a terrible accident. As Reese tries to untangle the truth, he grows closer to Victoria and begins to wonder if the truth might do more harm than good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this story very much. I did not care for the main male character, starting right from the beginning when Reese makes a big deal (in the narration) about valuing trust so highly, and then he misleads a storekeeper into thinking he was asking questions about Victoria because he was interested in her as a possible suitor. And then he proceeds to hide his suspicions from Victoria, under the guise of protecting her. The fact that this story is a romance, and thus the male and female leads have to end up together, doesn’t excuse the author from such contradictory characterization, or the fact that there’s no real consequence for this deception.

The book is short, maybe novella length, and yet, there is a lot of repetition. The story is shallow, mostly focusing on the difficulties Victoria faces not knowing her past and Reese’s vow to always find the truth, after being spurned by a deceitful woman. What added to the shallow feeling of the story is the author’s way of showing how the characters are feeling. Generally, they either shuddered or shivered if they were worried, nervous, unhappy, scared, maybe even confused. That’s it…shuddering or shivering (which, it can be argued, are practically the same thing anyway) are all they, especially Victoria, seem to be able to do to show those feelings.

I liked the first story in this series, but I don’t think I’ll continue on after reading this one. It felt rushed and hollow. As is common with books that I don’t care for, though, most of the other reviews for it are positive, so please check them out if the story interests you.

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Book Review: A Dream to Cherish

A Dream to Cherish
Cassie Perkins
#4

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with No More Broken Promises.

Cassie thought that going back to school with her friends would be great, but life seemed to have moved on without her while she was gone. Her best friend spends a lot of time with a guy she likes, Cassie’s sort-of boyfriend is busy with a new after-school job, and life isn’t much better at home. It seems like Cassie’s whole family is…well, a family, except her. So when a popular, accomplished older girl at school befriends Cassie and gives her an excuse to be away from home more, Cassie jumps at the chance.

At this point in the series, I still really like the overall story, but Cassie is starting to grate on my nerves. I do get that a lot has happened, and that the adults in her life are frankly not doing a lot to help her with the transitions, but every time I hope something has happened to change her perspective, it’s not quite enough to keep her from complaining about everything.

On the other hand, the main story that unfolds in this book is pretty amazing, and the way Cassie handles all of that is a lot better than how she’s handling the changes in her home life. Well, eventually, it is. She definitely takes some time to adjust, but I think it’s pretty safe to say her reactions are realistic. The story really touched me and hit home, because (and this will be a bit of a spoiler if you know who I’m referring to or look it up) Ryan White was from a town not far from where I live. I remember hearing about him when I was in elementary school, though I don’t know if it was because of legislation that passed or if I’m remembering hearing he’d died, since I’d have been 8 at the time. This book probably got some inspiration from his story, and knowing how real it is makes it all the more heartbreaking.

I think what I loved most about the story was the message about having hope in the face possible death for those who have accepted Christ. Though the Christian message has always been a bit light in this series, since Cassie herself is a new Christian who still needs to learn a lot about following God, this book has a great lesson and some wonderful quotes. “On the day of victory, no one is tired…When you win, you’ll forget about all this.”

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Book Review: A Basket of Roses

A Basket of Roses
Cassie Perkins
#3

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, which starts with No More Broken Promises.

Soon after Cassie starts at a new, high-pressure school, her newly divorced mom announces that she’s getting re-married. But Cassie can’t stand her mom’s fiance and certainly doesn’t want to have Nick Harris as a step-brother or to move out of her house to live with her new family. So she sets to work trying to break the couple up, and if she can get her parents back together too, so much the better. But Cassie has a lot to learn about trusting in the God she’s just getting to know.

This book was a small step down from the previous ones in the series. Though Cassie’s childish feelings and actions might have been completely realistic, she got to a point of really making me cringe. Maybe it just went on a little too long. Even as she’s given good advice about praying for God’s will to be done, rather than for what we want to be done, she goes on assuming that it must be God’s will that her mom’s wedding not happen. Her mom is mostly sensitive to the issues her daughter is having, though of course she has her limits too. However, I certainly did wish that her mom wasn’t so caught up in and distracted by the pending nuptials that she didn’t notice what was going on with both of her kids, especially the one that didn’t live at home. Max broke my heart.

The ending to the story was tragic, yet nice in a way too. And one thing I want to mention now that I’m 3 books into the series is the way each book starts—Cassie lists all of the important people in her life with a brief description and a star rating. Both the list and the descriptions about the people listed change from book to book as things change in her life, and it serves as a nice recap of the previous book if one needs a refresher going forward in the series (the first book has this list too, so is more of an intro at that point than a refresher). Though I’m not sure this book was quite as good as the previous ones were in regards to being able to glean some truth from them, Cassie still grew and changed in the book, and it was still a good read.

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Book Review: The Compass

The Compass
The Adventures of Niko Monroe
#2
by Tyler Scott Hess

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Christian fantasy/sci-fi

It’s been a year since Jack’s unexpected adventure in the mind of Niko Monroe some time in the future, with no new rumblings from the map and letters that sucked him in. When new markings appear on the papers, he’s not prepared for what happens next to Niko and his friends, for whom a year has also passed.

Though I enjoyed the book that preceded this one, I had some difficulties with both storylines of book 2. There are basically two different stories being told—that of Jack in present time, hoping to complete a group social studies project in time for Christmas Eve and that of Niko dealing with a future where a specific group of people are heavily persecuted for their beliefs. In the present time, Jack and his friends are 11 years old working on a project where they’re supposed to create a people group complete with culture, language, etc. While it makes some sense for Jack’s glimpses into Niko’s life and the future world to influence his work on this project, it doesn’t influence him in ways that make much of sense to me. In fact, the kids’ discussion of the project doesn’t always make sense to me in general, and they seem to go around in circles a lot. These kids also talk and act far older than 11, and one of them is way too quick to resort to violence in response to even mild joking. Along with some other issues I had, it all led to me feeling really disconnected from this side of the story.

Unfortunately, I also felt pretty disconnected from the other side of the story too. Niko spends all of his time either in prison (sometimes the prison is plush, but it’s still prison) or on the run. But his counterparts spend a lot of time learning, doing, and acting. Then Niko hears about it after the fact in very vague snippets, as they are always hesitant to give him any real information. So the reader doesn’t really know anything either, until things are revealed near the end, which are too little, too late. It all felt a little too contrived to provide suspense, but mostly I just felt left out. And on that note, I was really hoping that the Maiden would not turn out to be who she ended up turning out to be, because it seems too cliche and I don’t really get it.

I think what I was really missing, though, was the “why.” I mentioned in my review of the first book that the beliefs the persecuted people are following is probably meant to be Christianity, but it’s not stated all that clearly. They reference the “King” a lot, but there weren’t even any references to God in this book, while the previous book had at least a few. In fact, the one thing from the previous book that had seemed to be God intervening turns out to have been an act of man! Essentially, the people in this book are being persecuted for not falling in line with the government more than anything else. They even state themselves that what they most want is just to be left alone, to be free. It’s usually a secondary statement that they would also want to share their beliefs with others. But what beliefs? Because I really don’t know what they believe other than that “the King” will guide their paths, even though it seems more like it’s the Maiden who’s been guiding their paths.

As is the case with so many reviews I write, it’s clear that there are plenty of other people who really enjoyed this book, so please be sure to check out their reviews at the link below if the book is of interest to you.

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Book Review: A Forever Friend

A Forever Friend
Cassie Perkins
#2

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, No More Broken Promises.

The summer before Cassie’s first year of high school isn’t starting out as carefree as most teenagers hope for. Her parents are going through a divorce, her little brother is taken away to live with their dad, and Cassie has a crush on the son of her mom’s new boyfriend, whom Cassie strongly dislikes. To top it off, Cassie has to try to convince her parents to let her try out for a spot at a performing arts school her teacher recommended to her. Through all of this upheaval and difficulty, Cassie learns a little more about God and what it means to let Him be in control of her life.

This book was great in so many ways. A short and easy read, it contained some common tropes of teen books while subverting them at the same time. For example, a love triangle (more like rectangle, really) began to form, but wasn’t super angsty and fortunately didn’t last too long. And the way it began, at least on Cassie’s side, really made sense for her age. I wasn’t completely sure in the first book whether or not Cassie and her family were Christians, but from this book I think they’re more the type who believe in God, but don’t necessarily follow him. I realize what I’m about to say is a spoiler, but I think it’s good to know for anyone who might be considering this series for their teenage kids—Cassie’s real conversion comes in this book, and though it’s maybe a little easy or shallow, it’s also very realistic for her age. I really appreciated Hunt’s way of explaining that becoming a Christian isn’t necessarily about a feeling or about praying the exact right words, but it’s about making a decision to follow Christ (this explanation was given by one of Cassie’s friends).

I think one of the reasons I loved this book is because it reminds me so much of my own teenage years. There’s one scene at a youth group event where the boy Cassie kind of likes sits on the floor next to where she was seated on a footstool. That is almost exactly the same thing that happened when my now-husband first expressed interest in me at a mutual friend’s party. I certainly didn’t have the same struggles as Cassie does in this book when I was a teenager, and I know that today’s teens face vastly different types of challenges. I don’t truly know if the series will be relatable to today’s generation of teens, but I think the lessons are timeless. And for me, at least, the nostalgia factor is high, so I can’t wait to continue the series.

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Book Review: The Widows of Champagne

The Widows of Champagne
by Renee Ryan

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian drama

With the German army on France’s doorstep, the 3 widows who live at Chateau Fouche-Leblanc, a premier champagne house, are not prepared for what the Nazis will bring to their home. Gabrielle, who does most of the running of the vineyard these days, hides some of the most valuable champagne in the hopes of rebuilding the family’s wealth after the war. Her mother Hélène is more interested in fashion than wine, but she will have her own part to play in the coming days. And finally Josephine, Gabrielle’s grandmother, though she struggles to keep her thoughts focused on the present, manages her own quiet resistance to the invading forces.

I’m sad to say that I didn’t love this book like I’d hoped. It was only okay. The characters are all very…not shallow, necessarily, but I’m not sure how to explain it. They are just so separate. So alone. It made the story slow and depressing, which may very well have been the point. But the way these women related to each other, and the way each of their late husbands hung over them like a dark cloud, despite each of them having died no less than 5 years in the past, made me sad, and the story became boring. I also didn’t connect with any of the characters at all.

As far as the plot goes, it was interesting to see the way each of these women, again, individually, did what they could or what they had to in order to keep the rest of the family safe. But I often felt like I was missing something, because so much seemed to happen “off screen” and was hinted at in the narration. Josephine, in particular, seemed to be involved in various things, but we only hear about her writing these things down. On the other hand, I could have been misunderstanding a lot of that, because every section from her POV was a little confusing. This was definitely intentional, because she was suffering from early dementia. I think the author did well in showing that, but maybe she should have gone back to Josephine less often.

The book is listed as Christian, and it does have some Christian tones to it. However, I would have liked to see more resolution for the two women who didn’t really believe God cared about them at the beginning of the story. It seems like mentions of God and faith were just thrown in to be able to publish it as Christian. It is a basically clean read, though, with only allusions to a physical relationship with two of the characters that was more out of necessity than desire (at least for one of them). I can already tell from other reviews I’m seeing about this book that I’ll likely be in the minority of thinking the book is only okay. It’s more pure drama than I generally prefer, but I will say I was really interested in the details about champagne and wine making and, though less involved, the information about France’s capitulation and later liberation. I do think fans of historical drama and complex family dynamics will like this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and HARLEQUIN – Romance (U.S. & Canada) for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: July 27, 2021

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Book Review: No More Broken Promises

No More Broken Promises
Cassie Perkins
#1

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian drama

When Cassie wins the lead role in her school’s musical showcase, she keeps it a secret from her parents so she can surprise them when they see how well she sings. Unfortunately, they’re a bit distracted by the rift that seems to have formed between them that Cassie sees as starting with a tragedy that affected her dad’s job. While she’s stepping out of her comfort zone and trying new things at school, her family is falling apart at home.

I read this book, and at least some of the series following it, some time around middle school. Some of the plots and characters had stuck with me enough that I took great pains to track down the series recently so I could read through it again. And so far, I’m really glad I did. The book was simple enough, but had a lot of heart and emotion. It starts with a bang, with the tragedy that had Cassie’s dad working a whole lot extra, and already I was hooked. That tragedy, and the way the kids and teachers reacted to it, all felt very realistic. And I felt the same way with the family drama that ensues and the way it affected Cassie and her younger brother.

Speaking of Cassie’s younger brother, he’s incredibly endearing. His and Cassie’s relationship, her feeling protective of him and trying to explain what she doesn’t fully understand herself, was the heart of the story, in my opinion. Meanwhile, their parents really annoyed me. I am not saying whatsoever that their situation was unrealistic or uncommon, but really that just makes me sad for so many real kids in the world. There was one character that I felt was a bit too wise beyond his years; that part was a little unrealistic, but that didn’t detract much from the book as a whole. There were some incredibly insightful and poignant points made by a few of the characters, and honestly, I think the book could be quite instructive for teens or young adults who are considering marriage (soon or someday). Overall, I really enjoyed reading it and have high hopes for continuing the series.

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Book Review: Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred

Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #8
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian suspense

While enjoying a ride in his Uncle Rex’s small aircraft, a near-miss in the air leads to injury for both Jay Cooper and his uncle. Uncle Rex is knocked unconscious, and a head injury leaves Jay without sight. The plane is still flying, but with no pilot and a dwindling supply of fuel, how long will it stay aloft? And will they be able to land safely?

Like book #4 in the series (Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea), this book involved no archaeology or supernatural elements—this one didn’t even have any kind of mystery—and was simply a race against time to save one of the Cooper kids from catastrophe. This book was also quite suspenseful, as Jay had to learn not to rely on what he felt and instead rely on what he was being told by those who were more knowledgeable than he, and more importantly, had more information. While typing that last sentence, I literally just realized the parallel to our lives in that situation. Sometimes sensations Jay felt made him think the plane was turning a lot more than it was, and he couldn’t see to verify those feelings. Various other people at different times were outside of the aircraft, could see more clearly what it was doing, and relayed that information to Jay. He had to trust them to be correct, in order to help save his own life, rather than rely on instincts and feelings. What a parallel to how we live our lives paying attention to our own instincts and feelings, when we are much better off relying on God, who knows infinitely more than we do and knows what’s best for our lives (and the lives of those around us)! And indeed, the biblical theme of trusting God, even to the point of submitting to Him if He chooses not to save one’s life, is strong in the story.

I really liked how immersive the story is, in regards to those flying the planes, the air traffic controllers, and other related things. In a way, it seems like Jay does very little, other than follow instructions from others, but I think his mental struggle and what he does from inside the plane while unable to see were still a good part of the story. I might have liked something a little more closely related to the overall theme of the series as the final book, but it was a good book on its own. I’m really glad I listened to the audiobooks read by Peretti himself for the 2nd half of the series—he certainly adds drama and excitement in his reading. This book, and the overall series, are good for the age group (pre-teen through teens).

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