Book Review: A Gilded Lady

A Gilded Lady
Hope & Glory #2
by Elizabeth Camden

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, The Spice King.

Caroline Delacroix’s job isn’t an easy one, as secretary to a difficult first lady, but it’s an important one. Being at Ida McKinley’s beck and call is the least Caroline can do if it means she might be able to secure a presidential pardon for her twin brother. Luke is in prison in Cuba, charged with treason, and Caroline will do anything she can to help him. Unfortunately, this puts her at odds with the newly appointed head of security for the president, Nathaniel Trask. Though he’s taken by Caroline’s wit and beauty, he can’t trust the sister of a traitor to the country.

I liked both of the main characters in this book, and I really liked reading the fictionalized history of President and Mrs. McKinley at this time of his presidency. It was interesting to go along on their cross-country train tour. I also enjoyed the continuation of the story of Luke in prison in Cuba that began in the first book in this series. The story overall was good, but I didn’t find it as engaging as the first book in the series. I also had some issues along the way that brought the rating down for me.

The first thing that bothered me was that certain events in this story didn’t seem to match up well with the previous book. There’s some overlap in time, though it’s a bit difficult to follow, because time passes in jumps now and then in this book. Still, there’s a scene in the previous book that involves both MCs in this book, and the timing of how things are discovered in this book just don’t mesh with that scene. I kept trying to figure out how the two stories lined up, timing-wise, and it was distracting. I also noticed some inconsistencies in Luke’s behavior later in the book that I can’t explain without spoiling things.

The dialog continues to be fairly modern in this series, but I’m not personally bothered by it. After reading the first book, I thought the story of Luke that began there would encompass the entire series, the third then focusing on him, but just from the synopsis of the third book, one can see that’s not the case. My initial desire to read this entire trilogy is a little diminished by the way his story arc played out in this book, but I still want to read his story. This book may have been a little bit of a let-down to me after how much I loved the first one, but I have a feeling most of it is personal preference and that other fans of Christian or historical romance will still enjoy it.

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Book Review: The Glory of Love

The Glory of Love
Cassie Perkins
#9

by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 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 returns home near the end of a long summer to find her family has become enthralled with her step-brother Nick’s new friend, a giant of a man named Dustin. Cassie doesn’t appreciate being thrown together with him just because Nick and Andrea, Cassie’s best friend, happen to be dating. Even as Cassie finds herself liking him more and more, he’s about to ship off to be in the army for 2 years, so she does everything she can to guard her heart.

Here at the final book in the series, I find that my reaction to it is related at least as much to how it calls back to the rest of the series as it is to this story itself. For example, Cassie immediately dislikes Dustin, mostly just because everyone else likes him. That’s been a rather tired recurring theme for her throughout the series, as she dislikes almost everyone new, and not always for the same reason. Overall, though, she’s clearly just not very accepting of change. She also has shown this amazing ability to turn the head of a lot of guys in the series, often just by being “different” from everyone else around. And finally, despite the lesson she should have learned from the previous book where she “fell in love,” she again convinces herself that she can date a non-believer and change him.

Also like some of the other books in the series, I had a feeling I knew where this story was going to go. Fortunately, it didn’t quite follow my predictions completely (which also happened with some of the other books too), and the story came out interesting in the end. I think I would have liked something a little more final for the last book in the series, but Cassie is still a teenager at this point, so a satisfactory wrap-up to this particular story would be difficult to swallow anyway. And since these were written in the early 90s, I don’t have much reason to hope for a follow-up. The series overall averaged about 4.5 stars for me, and I’m so glad I read through the whole thing again recently. I will be recommending the series to my daughter (currently 11) and do think it’s worth looking into for other Christian girls in the middle school to early high school range.

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Book Review: Hangman’s Curse

Hangman’s Curse
Veritas Project
#1

by Frank Peretti

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian thriller

The Springfields are a family of investigators—Dad, Mom, and twin siblings Elijah and Elisha—for the Veritas Project, which seeks to find the truth behind strange mysteries and crimes when others are unable or unwilling to see past the surface. They’re sent to a high school in Washington where kids are falling mysteriously ill with symptoms of fear and paranoia. As the family begins to assimilate into the school, they’re shocked to discover how certain students are treated, both by other students and by the faculty. Can they discover who—or what—has the school’s most popular kids seeing a ghost?

This book and its sequel, both of which I read several times back when they were new, are a large part of why Peretti has been my favorite author since high school. This is the first time in at least 10 years that I’ve read it, and it did not disappoint. The core issue in this book hit me a lot harder this time, maybe partly because I’m older now, but also because I read Peretti’s semi-autobiographical book The Wounded Spirit last year for the first time, which describes heavy bullying in his adolescence, and that really put this book into a new perspective for me. While it certainly does not excuse the kids who have been bullied and then retaliated, it sheds a light on the incredible injustice that can be prevalent in schools.

One thing that I think could trip some people up about this book is that the very premise of the series isn’t realistic. The fact that it’s the president of the United States who establishes this investigative group specifically with a Judeo-Christian perspective, as well as the teenagers of the family being investigators themselves, it’s not believable in this day and age. However, like with others of Peretti’s books, I think it’s perfectly okay to not think of it as meant to be completely realistic, and think of it more as a “what if” scenario. And in that way, it’s very insightful. I also question the likelihood of a high school teacher at that time actually teaching kids that there is no right or wrong…seems pretty foolish, since at a school, they’d most likely want kids to believe that the rules are right and that breaking the rules is wrong. Otherwise, they’re inviting anarchy. In today’s society (only 20 years later), though, I would buy this a lot more.

One last thing I should mention is definitely a spoiler, so highlight the black text at your own risk. If you have an issue with spiders, you may need to be careful reading this book. My own phobia is pretty bad, but I was able to push through. I don’t know if that’s an indication of how much I like the book or how un-intrusive the issue was, but it’s there. I do love this book, though I don’t know how well I’ll be able to watch the movie. I own it and have definitely watched it more than once in the past. I’m not sure if that means my phobia has grown over time or if the movie just isn’t too bad. There is one sequel to this book (man, do I wish Peretti had written more of these), and I remember liking it even more than this one, so I’m pretty excited about it. I highly recommend this book to all fans of Christian thrillers, whether you’re a teenager or adult.

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Book Review: The Road Home

The Road Home
Echo Company
#5

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for a previous book in the series, ‘Tis the Season.

The fifth and final book in the Echo Company series takes us back to the base hospital where Lieutenant Rebecca Phillips is serving out her tour. Before long, most of the people she knew in-country have gone home one way or another, and then…it’s her turn. The prospect of returning to normal life is more daunting than the idea of staying in Vietnam for another year, but Rebecca does what she has to do. Arriving in the United States, being back home with her family, none of that is really what it should be—she’s just too messed up. And she’s not sure that will ever change.

The overall idea that war destroys more than the actual soldiers is strongly presented in this book. Granted, Rebecca did more than just stay on her base and deal with the casualties that came in as other nurses would have done. The tragic encounter that left her injured in book #3 was certainly closer to the experiences of a soldier than those of a nurse. However, that only made her more broken. The book makes it clear that seeing everything she did in the hospital was enough to make “normal life” very difficult.

I struggled a little with having the constant perspective of someone who never tells the full truth (almost never). I’m not saying it feels unrealistic though. Apparently even before the war, Rebecca tended to tell half-truths, at least to her parents. Their relationship has been strained since before she left—that’s a lot of why she left. However, from a fiction POV standpoint, for me, at least, it got a little frustrating to know she was holding back so very much, and I don’t mean just the stuff that it makes a lot of sense for her to not want to tell them.

It was also a little frustrating to see her get good advice from wise and kind people and basically just ignore it. Again, it might be completely realistic for real-life people suffering from such high levels of PTSD to act this way, but it did start to make me wonder what the point of the book was. If it was just to show us the depressing side of life after war, it wasn’t going to turn out to be my favorite at all. Things did end on a somewhat lighter note, though, and I do wish I could see some kind of follow-up for these characters. On the other hand, the realistic follow-up might not be something I’d want to see.

In the first part of the book, I found myself hanging on to everything written about Michael, the main character during most of the rest of the series. Apparently his change in personality in the last book didn’t bother me enough to make me dislike him. I’m still surprised that I picked up the first book in this series when I was a teenager, because it’s really not my norm. I didn’t read them all back then, I think just 1 and 2, but I’m really glad I went through it all now. Here, at the end of the series, I think I would still recommend it for readers who might be interested. There is some language and in the last book a decent amount of sexual references (nothing remotely graphic).

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July in Review

I read 10 books last month, most of which were shorter than average for me. Most of my reading was pushing to finish a couple of older series I started during a gifted Kindle Unlimited subscription (I didn’t quite make it, but only have 1 book left in both of those series). Then after a month of pushing to read a lot of shorter books, and subsequently reviewing a lot of books quickly, I think I got a little burned out and took off an entire week off near the end of the month. I’m back to it now, though, and excited about books I’ve got coming up!

Here are the books I read in July:

A Love to Cherish by Linda Ford (2 / 5)
The Much-Adored Sandy Shore by Angela Hunt (4 / 5)
‘Tis the Season by Ellen Emerson White (4 / 5)
Love Burning Bright by Angela Hunt (5 / 5)
The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket (4 / 5)
Stand Down by Ellen Emerson White (4 / 5)
The Chance of a Lifetime by Angela Hunt (5 / 5)
Murder at the Manor by Catherine Coles (3 / 5)
The Cryptographer’s Dilemma by Johnnie Alexander (4 / 5)
Star Light, Star Bright by Angela Hunt (4 / 5)

This list includes 1 ARC and 4 re-reads. My favorite book from July was less one book and more the overall enjoyment I had reading through the Cassie Perkins series by Angela Hunt, which I originally read as a teenager. I continued 3 series and finished (or caught up on) 1 series*. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

*This includes 1 series that I did not reach the end of but decided not to continue reading, after being 2 books into the series.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: The Chance of a Lifetime

The Chance of a Lifetime
Cassie Perkins
#8

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 auditions for and wins a spot on a national singing tour for the election campaign of a man running for president of the United States. At first, it doesn’t matter to her what his position is on any policies because of the amazing opportunity and the exposure she’ll get as a singer. Besides, she’s too young to vote, so it doesn’t really matter whether or not she agrees with him…does it?

Very shortly after going with Andrea to New York City for Andrea’s chance as a fashion model, Cassie is off on another adventure, this time by herself. And for a while, it’s nothing but lights and music and fun. Not that it’s not hard work to memorize the songs and routines in the small time frame she and the other 7 singers are given, and I really liked the descriptions we’re given about how the rehearsals and shows go. I’m sure it could have gotten repetitive, since a lot of what happened was the same from day to day, or it could have just been skipped over and left a really short book. But Hunt made it interesting and focused more on things that did change from day to day, mostly things that happened with the singers, or meager encounters with the man they were promoting.

Then a medical situation forces Cassie to stop singing, and even to stop talking, and all that’s left to do is to listen. And she doesn’t like what she hears. As a teenager whose parents aren’t really Christians, Cassie has to wrestle mostly alone with the moral implications of endorsing a man whose stance on certain political issues go against the faith she’s still somewhat new to. I really like the way it all plays out, and I think it can give anyone who reads it encouragement to make the right choice when faced with a difficult decision like this ourselves. This book is a solid addition to the series in which I’m sad to only have one book left to read.

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Book Review: Star Light, Star Bright

Star Light, Star Bright
Cassie Perkins
#7

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.

When Cassie’s best friend Andrea wins a modeling contest and gets to go to New York City for a week, she invites Cassie to go with her. But fame and fortune affects Andrea in ways Cassie never expected. Will their friendship survive Andrea’s overnight success?

Cassie finally gets to show that she can be responsible in this story, as she’s expected to keep Andrea out of trouble when the two teenagers go to New York. Of course, there wouldn’t be a story if things didn’t go wrong in some way, so while what happens is unexpected to Cassie, it’s a bit expected by at least adult readers. Readers of the demographic this story is meant for may not expect it as much, but it’s hard to say in this day and age. I think what I question the most, though, is how on earth Andrea and Cassie are even best friends. Andrea has always been a less-than-faithful friend, ignoring Cassie for long periods of time if she’s interested in a guy or just annoyed with Cassie in some way. Suddenly at the beginning of this book, though, the two are thick as thieves again. Well, okay.

When I think about this series from when I read it as a teenager, this story was the one I remembered most. Though it was maybe a little less enthralling as an overall story than some of the others, I still liked it and am looking forward to the rest of the series.

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Book Review: Murder at the Manor

Murder at the Manor
Tommy & Evelyn Christie #1
by Catherine Coles

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Tommy and Evelyn Christie are spending the weekend at Tommy’s family home, a large estate belonging to his uncle, the Earl of Northmoor. Evelyn, who is not initially from such high-society, is mostly expecting to just grin and bear it. But when the Earl dies and murder is suspected, it’s clear the weekend will be anything but boring. Tommy and Evelyn, who both worked for the police in some capacity in the past, can’t help but perform their own investigation into the plethora of family, acquaintances, and staff who were at the estate for the weekend.

The first in a series of cozy mysteries, I had some ups and downs with this book. The mystery was a little light, not that I knew for sure who had done it, but more that the motive behind it was mundane and easily suspected. The setting was interesting, though the dialog didn’t always feel true to the time period. I didn’t care for the way that pretty much every character except for the 2 MCs and most of the staff is hiding some kind of deplorable secret. Just about every married person is having an affair or had one in the past. Maybe this is completely normal for the setting, I don’t know, but I didn’t care for it.

The weirdest thing, to me, is that the investigating, in particular the interviews the MCs would perform with suspects, felt like something right out of a mystery video game. I’ve played a lot of Nancy Drew games in the past, and it seemed a lot like that. It just didn’t feel natural.

Overall, it was mostly an okay book, nothing to stand out in either direction. It’s fairly short, which I’m sure contributes to it feeling somewhat shallow, but it’s really not bad either. Just not my overall preference for a story. I thought it might be a new series for me to get into, with the 4th book being released a few months ago, but I will most likely pass on this series. However, I think plenty of fans of cozy mysteries and fiction from this time in history (1920s England) are likely to enjoy the book, so if that describes you, consider looking it up.

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Book Review: The Cryptographer’s Dilemma

The Cryptographer’s Dilemma
Heroines of WWII series
by Johnnie Alexander

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Eloise Marshall has a head for numbers, so when the navy recruits her as a cryptographer, she shines in her new role. So much so that the FBI enlists her to help with two potentially coded messages that appear to be innocuous letters about doll collecting. Her reluctant partner is Phillip Clayton, who was recently rejected by the Air Force due to being color blind. As the pair travel across the country trying to find the identity of a potential traitor, can they keep their relationship professional for the sake of their country?

I liked this story a lot while I was reading it, even though a lot of it is pretty unlikely. Then Eloise starts making some pretty reckless decisions for reasons that weren’t too bright, always either to avoid being left behind when she could see her part in the investigation being over or simply because she didn’t trust the FBI to help Phillip. These things aren’t necessarily against her character, but then again, her character is a bit contradictory in itself. On the one hand, she proves herself to be a risk taker (and to have quite a bit of gall in an early interaction between Phillip and his uncle, which I really liked), but at the same time quickly regrets leaving her world of numbers to enter into one of danger. This is not meant to be a complaint about the book, though, as it never left me feeling like it was bad characterization; it shows that she has some depth to her, really. But she still made me smack my head a few times.

As for Phillip…well, he’s a bit contradictory too. He’s shaken up by his part as an FBI agent in some German saboteurs being executed, while counting the minutes until he can join a military branch that won’t mind his color-blindedness, so he can go overseas and essentially execute people personally. However, even with him, I can imagine that he just hasn’t thought of it that way, because he’s too busy feeling guilty that he hasn’t joined his fellow countrymen in the fight, especially when so many people who see a healthy young man not in uniform treat him like a coward. I would fully expect the weight of what he’s joined up to do to not hit him full force until he gets over there.

Overall, the story moved at a good pace. Don’t expect much of a mystery, though, in regards to them finding the identity of the traitor. I would call it pretty light on the suspense, too. The romance isn’t too in-your-face, which I was glad for, though for some, it may be too subtle. And there was one whole element, a sort of side-villain, that wasn’t fleshed out at all and felt incredibly contrived as a way to add some danger for the main characters near the end. These are a few small gripes, though, in an overall good story, which I would recommend for fans of historical Christian romance, especially in the WWII era.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: August 1, 2021

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Book Review: Stand Down

Stand Down
Echo Company
#4

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, ‘Tis the Season.

Michael and his squad are mostly going about business as usual, with the exception that Michael’s a little distracted thinking about the female lieutenant that they’d found wandering injured in the jungle. They also have a few new people in their squad, including a new squad commander. But Michael really liked the old squad commander. Then they get the word. Stand down. That means heading to the rear and out of combat. For Michael, that means the hoped-for chance to see the lieutenant again.

I was glad to go back to Michael and his squad, and for the first half of the book, I was really enjoying it. The most stoic character in the books became my new favorite in an amazing scene between him and Michael. We finally learn something about Michael’s ex, and boy is she a piece of work. And we get a glimpse of who Michael really is when he joins in with some hazing of a new guy in their squad. But even there, he recognizes that he’s acting that way because he’s upset and feels at least a little bad about it.

Then they get out of the jungle and onto a much safer base for their stand down, and things changed for me a little bit. It’s not like I can only enjoy the story when the characters are in peril—I did like reading about Rebecca’s time in the hospital during the previous book, despite being thrown because she was unexpectedly the MC of the book. My issue comes with the way Michael acts during this time. He gets pushy in a way that makes me feel really bad for Rebecca, and even worse, we find out that apparently happy, relaxed Michael is kind of a jerk and bully. I think if I’d read about him before he was drafted, I might not have liked the books as much. Still, I did like the way the author showed that after 2 months (or so) of combat, Michael already had the beginnings of some serious PTSD. It’s so real and so heart-wrenching to know that going home some day won’t necessarily be all safe and happy for him.

Overall, the story had some really good moments and was a good read. I’m not as sad as I thought I’d be that the main part of the series has come to an end, though, because I don’t know that I could have handled Michael after this. There is one book left that is about Rebecca and seems to have originally been published as a stand-alone. It’ll definitely be the first time I’ve ever read that (I read at least the first couple of books in this series when I was a teenager), so I’m looking forward to seeing if it stands up to the incredible hype.

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