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 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: 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: The Orchard House

The Orchard House
by Heidi Chiavaroli

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

After a difficult childhood, Taylor is adopted by her best friend’s parents. But sisterhood is not all it’s cracked up to be, and Taylor ends up leaving home at 21 with the determination to never see her family again. However, when informed 18 years later that her adopted mother is going through treatment for cancer, she returns home. But what starts as a brief visit turns into something more as old wounds are re-opened and this make-shift family struggles to make sense of present struggles. That’s when Taylor and her sister stumble across a story that captivates them and helps distract from real life. In the 1860s, the death of a soldier sparked a friendship between the soldier’s sister, Johanna, and Little Women author Louisa May Alcott. This friendship, and the life and marriage of Johanna, were hidden away for 150 years, to be discovered by Taylor and Victoria just when the story could most affect their lives.

I spent the first half of this book uncertain about a lot of it. Two different storylines had to be established–both the past and the present–and the present one covered several years in a few chapters. Even when the story slowed down and started unfolding in the present day, I struggled to get into it. Taylor’s adolescence had turned her into a confused, broken woman, and she essentially second-guessed her decisions, thoughts, emotions, and reactions every step of the way. And I questioned often what the past storyline had to do with the present one. It was a slow build, to be sure. It did pick up in the second half, but for a while, all I could think about was how terrible each of the characters seemed to be, in one way or the other.

The main thing that I really liked about the story was the way the Christian message was presented. While some reviewers found it “too religious,” I spent at least half the book wondering how on earth this had been labeled as Christian. But the slow build I mentioned earlier can also be applied to the way the main characters learned to first believe in and then trust in Someone bigger than themselves. Though in the end, I felt the “conversions” and overall Christian message were a little light, I still liked the way they shaped up.

There were some things in the book that confused me, and I re-read some passages more than once trying to understand. As an example, Louisa was said to have 2 sisters, but over the course of time 3 were mentioned–Anna, Nan, and Amy. However, Anna and Nan were the same person, and while the author did seem to realize we needed that explanation (I certainly did), it didn’t come until after the sister was referred to by both names at least once. There are other things that confused me too, but fortunately there was less of this in the second half too.

I think that people who love Louisa May Alcott’s books, or at least have read one or more of them, might enjoy this book. Though Louisa herself is only a small part of the story, her books and lasting effect on future fans are prevalent themes. I’ll admit to having a different view of a particular aspect of Little Women than the author (or at least than the main character), but as fiction, it’s certainly open to interpretation. If you’re looking for a light Christian read, this is not it. It’s full of drama and covers some dark topics such as abandonment, abuse (both physical and emotional), and betrayal. If you like time-split novels and stories about finding “home” or families trying to piece themselves back together, you might enjoy this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: A Christmas Star

A Christmas Star
Cape Light #9
by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christmas drama, romance

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with Cape Light.

Jack Sawyer, recent hermit after the loss of his wife 2 years past, awkwardly takes in a single mother and her young daughter when their car breaks down near his house in the country. Before long, he’s as much in need of Julie’s help as she is of his. At the same time, Sam & Jessica Morgan lose their beloved house to a devastating fire. Their marriage is tested in this difficult time, as rebuilding won’t be as easy as they hope.

Of the books in the Cape Light series I’ve read, this was my favorite. The story of Jack and Julie was much more interesting to me than the saga of Sam and Jessica Morgan’s tragedy. I don’t think that’s necessarily because I didn’t like the plot arc about the fire, but because I really liked the arc with Jack and Julie. Even moreso, I liked the arc with Jack and Julie’s daughter, Kate.

What I found most endearing was that this was not just the development of a relationship between a widower and a single mom, but also the development of a relationship between a father whose son has been estranged for two years and a little girl who steals the not-so-old man’s heart. Jack could get a second chance at being both a husband and a father, and it’s very sweet. The culmination of that storyline made the entire book worth it.

As for Sam and Jessica, they almost killed my interest in the series in the first book. Fortunately, we’re past most of the drama I disliked with them, but I will say some of their annoying quirks reared their heads again. Still, I found the difficulties they go through in this book sadly all too realistic. And while the end of their story might bother some, I think it makes sense within the context of this series.

After reading the first 4 books in the series and averaging 3.5 stars, I decided not to continue with it (which becomes a series of Christmas novels after the first 4 non-holiday books). But I already owned this one, so figured I’d give it a try. I’m glad I did, as I liked it more than the first 4. I’m not sure if I’ll read more or not, though. Maybe I’ll go back to book #5 if I have time left in the holiday season after I’ve read all of the Christmas-themed books I have planned. We’ll see.

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Book Review: A New Leaf

A New Leaf
Cape Light
#4
by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

It’s near the end of winter in Cape Light and a time for new beginnings for many of its residents. This includes the newest resident, Dr. Matthew Harding, who has just moved to town with his teenage daughter, hoping to start a new life three years after his wife’s death. Molly Willoughby is toying with the idea of starting a new business, Sophie Potter has to figure out how to move on after her ailing husband is gone, and a controversy from many years past shakes things up for Tucker Tulley.

One of the best things about this book is that the story moved away from the Warwick family, after 3 books about them in some capacity. They were in the background, which was fine, but the main storyline in this book involved Dr. Harding and Molly Willoughby. Overall, it was a decent read. Parts of it were better than others, and some characters were better than others.

The romance thread in this story didn’t draw me in like it probably should have. I liked how both grew as individuals and how they had a hand in helping each other see what they needed to work on. But even by the end, I didn’t feel much chemistry between them. They seemed more like really good friends. And there was an obstacle in there that seemed completely pointless.

On another story front, I was appalled by Fran Tulley’s actions in the book, even if she did feel bad about it later. And Tucker began to wear on me after a while too, since most of his own thoughts were about how uncertain he was of his feelings and actions at pretty much every step of the way.

In the end, the book was decent, but I didn’t love it enough to continue this series that has been mostly just okay so far. It feels like a good stopping point anyway, though, because all of the books after this are Christmas-themed, and the final page of this book provided a nice wrap-up to the first 4 books. I don’t know if that was intentional or not–maybe the series wasn’t originally meant to continue? However, I do have a copy of book #9, and with Christmas coming up and feeling like I have a good enough introduction to the series and the town, I do still plan to read that book, most likely my final go at the Cape Light series.

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