Monday, November 19, 2012

Palace of Mirrors

Palace of Mirrors
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster

After reading the author’s prequel to this, Just Ella, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this one. However, I was glad I did, because despite its flaws, it was a MUCH more enjoyable read. First off, the plot was really original, and I liked it. Cecilia lives as a simple peasant girl, but she’s always know that that she’s really the princess: to escape the enemies who murdered her parents, a decoy, Desmia, sits on the throne in wait for Cecilia to take it back. But when she feels she’s been discovered, Cecilia and her best friend Harper embark on a journey to the capital city so she can take her rightful place as princess. However, it seems Desmia has a different version of the story…and isn’t eager to leave what she believes is her rightful place.

The plot really threw me for a loop, because one twist was really unexpected! Even so, once everything started to "click" in my mind, I understood what was going on before the book explained it.

I liked the characters of Palace of Mirrors more than those in Just Ella (Ella herself makes an appearance in this book), so of course that right off made me like this book better. I did feel Palace of Mirrors’ ending was little…hard to believe, although I can’t explain why or it will ruin the book for you! Or rather, it wasn't the ending that was hard to believe, but what the girls decided to do was. I could foresee problems arising in the future about it, anyway.

Anyway, this book wasn't amazing or a new favorite of mine, but I enjoyed it.

Rating: 6

Every Perfect Gift



Every Perfect Gift
Dorothy Love
Thomas Nelson

Ethan and Sophie long to share a future together. But the secrets they’re not sharing could tear them apart.
Sophie Caldwell has returned to Hickory Ridge, Tennessee after years away. Despite the heartaches of her childhood, Sophie is determined to make a home, and a name, for herself in the growing town. A gifted writer, she plans to resurrect the local newspaper that so enchanted her as a girl.
Ethan Heyward’s idyllic childhood was shattered by a tragedy he has spent years trying to forget. An accomplished businessman and architect, he has built a majestic resort in the mountains above Hickory Ridge, drawing wealthy tourists from all over the country.
When Sophie interviews Ethan for the paper, he is impressed with her intelligence and astounded by her beauty. She's equally intrigued with him but fears he will reject her if he learns about her shadowed past. Just as she summons the courage to tell him, Ethan’s own past unexpectedly and violently catches up with him, threatening not only his life but their budding romance.
There are some reviews that are just hard to write. Reviews for good books come easily, as I must admit, so do reviews for bad books. But the in-between/nothing-special-but-not-terrible books are perhaps the ones I find the most challenging to write. And Every Perfect Gift was one of those books. Technically, there wasn't anything wrong with it or the author’s actual writing. But it had one deadly flaw for me: I found it boring. The story was very....generic. It seemed like every other Christian Romance out there. The heroine-struggling-to-succeed-in-a-man’s-world, the hero-with-secretive-and-hurting-past is just a too-common occurrence in the genre to really be original. This could have been saved had the rest of the book been amazing, but the characters and the rest of the plot didn't capture my attention really any more than the book’s main premise did. I had to make myself get through the first half of the book, and then it did get my attention and I hoped that I would enjoy the rest. But no, my interest tapered down not long after as the plot settled back into predictability. For that reason, I’m rating Every Perfect Gift a 5 on a scale of 10.

Objectionable Content: There is some (mild) violence, and two or three kisses.

Rating: 5

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Just Ella


Just Ella
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster

So what first attracted me to this book was the fact that it was a retelling of Cinderella that didn’t have magic in it. Good sign, right? Well….yes and no. There were things I liked about this book, but there were more things about it that I disliked.

What I liked: Definitely the no magic. I also liked the fact that it did question the whole love-at-first-sight deal with Ella and the prince- Ella realizes she never loved him, she was just attracted to him. I also liked the "real" hero of the story. He was SO much better than Prince Charming!

What I didn’t like? Well, first off, Ella isn’t the sweet, close-to-perfect heroine of Disney recollections. She’s spunky, and certainly doesn’t treat her stepmother with any respect. Now, I can’t really blame her for that (who can?) but it really made me feel a little sad- not because she was "spunky"- but because she didn’t have the self-sacrificing, turn-the-other-cheek personality that we all know Cinderella to have. She deliberately goes to the ball, not so much because she wants to, but because she just wants to spite her stepmother. Of course, going to the ball causes her a lot of problems down the road, so one can’t say she was really "rewarded" for her disobedience.

Another thing that bothered me was that when Ella is being taught the "official" religion in preparation to be a princess, she and her tutor admit to each other they never were really raised in faith, and though I appreciated that they pointed out that the royals and priests didn’t have "real" faith- it was all self-righteous show- it is implied that taking charge of one’s fate oneself and acting is a better way to spend time than trusting in faith.

Okay, but now we come to the real kicker: the book ends with Ella escaping from the palace and choosing, not to become a princess, but to become a doctor.

Yes, you totally read that right.

There was feminism in here? You bet, and if you know anything about me, you know that annoys me to death in any book. Now, I do want to say that the "royal" femininity that the palace tried to mold Ella to match wasn’t Biblical, fair, practical, or should be approved by any Christian. Being sheltered from every care in the world, doing nothing but looking pretty and saying polite nothings, and basically being nothing but an ornament is NOT awesome or okay. But really, the whole running-away-from-becoming-a-princess-and-becoming-a-doctor-instead was just a little too unbelievable and worthy of a little eye-rolling. (Okay, so maybe not the running away- I’d have done it to. But the doctor bit was just, "really?")

I alos didn’t care for some of the language in this book. It seemed a little "slangy" and sometimes could be mildly crude. Ella was not really the most refined person in the world.

 Just Ella just wasn’t a fairy tale, and it wasn’t just from lack of magic. It was almost as if the author stuck modern people from today into a fictional setting. Maybe it’s more realistic that way, but it left me feeling disappointed, like having someone dumping a glass of ice-cold water on my face to wake me up. Is this really "today’s" princess? Sigh. I’ll take the original hardworking-but-sweet Grimm’s version any day.

Objectionable Content: there are a few kisses, a man is stabbed, and though there wasn’t any swearing, there were a few words I would consider more crude than otherwise.

Rating: 4

Saturday, November 10, 2012

All Things New

All Things New
Lynn Austin
Bethany House

I always get really excited about Lynn Austin books, so when I got this book for review, I happily skipped to my Christmas list, crossed All Things New off, and thankfully landed on my bed with a thud! and began to read.

All Things New is set during the tumultuous times of the Reconstruction. It focuses on three women: Proper plantation owner’s wife Eugenia, who’s lost everything in the War; her daughter, Josephine, and their freed slave, Lizzie.

This book was not, strictly speaking, a "happy" book. It was set in a time in the aftermath of destruction and strife, and yet there is still a glimmer of hope that not only keeps the characters going, but keeps the reader turning pages, too.

Out of the three women, I probably enjoyed Josephine’s story the most, but the other two women’s stories were interesting as well. I admit that sometimes this book was hard to read, because of the bitterness so many of the characters had and the struggles they had to go through.

Basically, these three characters are struggling with their place: Eugenia and Josephine have grown up in a world where they have been protected and safe and pampered: they’ve never had to face hardship or even make decisions, because the men always decided everything. But now the men are gone and things have turned over and upside down. Jo embraces her new role; Eugenia fights it. And then there’s Lizzie, who struggles to know exactly what it means to be free, and still has a hard time facing her fears about disobeying those who have always been "above" her.

Each woman has a special man in her life, and I loved how each of these men really helped the women grow and adapt: there’s Alexander Chandler, the Yankee who’s come to try to rebuild the South; David Hunter, the doctor who’s always been a comfort to the family; and Otis, Lizzie’s faith-filled husband.

There were other characters who also intrigued me; namely, Harrison Blake, who was such a tortured person, so weighed down by his helplessness and guilt that I hated him and felt sorry for him at the same time. Really, he was probably the character I found the most interesting.

All Things New isn’t my favorite Austin book, but I enjoyed reading it and would recommend to those who enjoy reading about the Civil War, or other books by the author.

Objectionable Content: Several men come back from the war with serious injuries; there are a couple kisses; a man attempts to commit suicide; it is learned that a woman was the victim of rape

Rating: 8

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

At Every Turn

At Every Turn
Anne Mateer
Bethany House

Because I really enjoyed Anne Mateer’s last book, Wings of a Dream, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one.

At Every Turn begins with spunky Alyce Bensen impetuously pledging $3,000 to help with mission work in Africa. She’s certain her wealthy father will agree to give her the money- after all, even if he isn’t a Christian like herself, he never minded giving to her mother’s various charities. But when he astounds her with his firm "no" she decides there’s got be some way for her to earn enough money for the mission. When an outrageous idea comes to her –participating in an auto race- to earn money, she jumps at it with the help of her father’s mechanic, Webster. But as her lies and deception pile on top of each other, she becomes unsure of who to trust or what to do!

Some of this book did seem a teeny bit farfetched, and a few things wrapped into tidy bows a leetle too well, but that didn’t make At Every Turn any less fun to read. My favorite part was probably how Alyce kept raising money and then giving it away- that part made me smile. I also really liked how the book really focused on God- it wasn’t just an "okay, I mentioned God once here so now this is a piece of Christian fiction". God was really important to Alyce, and He was important to the story as well. That was really nice. Though I don’t think I liked this one as much as Wings of a Dream, it was a worthwhile read and I can’t wait for whatever books the author is going to present us with in the future!

Rating: 8

Objectionable content: A man tries to force himself on a woman (he is stopped) and there is a kiss.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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