Book Review: This Time Will Be Different

Too many subplots and the protagonist’s lack of personal development kept this book from reaching its potential.

This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

Another book from one of those blissful trips to Barnes & Noble where my grandmother and great aunt spoil me even though I’m way too old for that.

Cover Description

“Katsuyamas never quit, but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know how to get started. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop...She’s finally found something she might be good at.

Until her mom announces she’s planning to sell the shop—to the McAllisters, the same people who swindled CJ’s family, and many others, out of their property when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II. Suddenly a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, her friends, and their entire Northern California community. And for the first time, CJ is finding the strength to step up and fight.”

Note

This book tackles the relevant and politically sensitive issue of redressing historical wrongs. Do not confuse my review of this book with my view on the issue. To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this book. To reflect my mixed feelings, I will structure this review differently from my previous reviews.

Characters

Things I liked

  • CJ is not a violin-playing math prodigy like 99% of other Asians depicted in books/movies/TV shows. I appreciate the author’s combating the model minority stereotype.
  • The beautiful popular people are decent human beings. The book does not fall into the Mean Girls trap of making villains of the social elite. They make hurtful mistakes, yes, but they are well-rounded characters whose motivations, however misguided, are understandable. I also love the author’s use of the hashtag #winning to describe them.
  • CJ’s family members all react to the situation differently. I love how even though each family member has strong opinions, they still love and support each other.
  • Owen. I can’t help falling for the nerdy history buff.

Things I didn’t like

  • CJ’s growth arc is both erratic and flat. CJ tackles so many internal personal issues it’s exhausting even to list them—letting go of her bitterness toward the #winners, navigating relationships with guys, smoothing the friction in her mother-daughter relationship, discovering her own passions, developing her identity as a Japanese American, and deciding how her family history affects her present. Each issue could be a book by itself. By cramming all of them into one story, the author ensures CJ makes minimal progress in any of them.
  • Lack of long-lasting transformation. CJ went from unenthused and mediocre to passionate and motivated to disillusioned and directionless. Even that arc was lost in the mix of all the other issues pushed in the plot. At the end, she still doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life.
  • CJ comes off as a passive character. Many of her actions/reactions are downright petty. Yes, she is like many teens in that she is caught in a whirlwind of confusion, but by the end of the book, she should have grown more in at least one area.

Plot

Things I liked

  • Focus on the protagonist. Even while addressing a wider issue that applies to many people groups across the country, the author maintained the focus on CJ’s family and their diverse reactions.
  • Finding Similarities. I liked how the author explained the concept of “white savior” by comparing racism to homophobia and by providing the example of a straight ally monopolizing a Pride rally. In that context, it was a great example.
  • SPOILER ALERT: I like who CJ ends up dating.

Things I didn’t like

  • Too many subplots. As I mentioned above, too many things happen at once to develop all of them.
  • Emphasis on CJ’s previous sexual exploits. While the subplot provided minor additional characterization of the mother-daughter relationship, it had minimal impact on the overall plot and was mostly an afterthought.
  • Suguira tried to advocate for too many things at once. Life is complicated, and I agree that different issues intermingle, but this book had so many hot button political feuds raging at once, none of them had any power. Suguira wasn’t telling a story; she was preaching. The book read more like a bunch of shallow slogans marching by at a political protest than a heartfelt conversation about issues that affect real people. I couldn’t care about the issues because I wasn’t given time to process how they affected the characters. I couldn’t care about the characters because the author bogged down the story with messaging rather than developing them into relatable people.
  • Lack of closure. The book focused on CJ’s personal development, so I liked that the author left some loose ends with the larger issues. However, the lack of transformation in CJ meant the ending fell flat. Had CJ developed a defined sense of who she was and what she wanted, the last chapter would have satisfied readers. As written, it lacks closure.

Writing Style

The author’s witty and ironic voice fits with her protagonist and speaks well to modern teens. Her use of hashtags throughout the prose added a touch of pop culture relevance.

Other

The cover. The cover is the reason I bought the book. My grandmother is a gardener, so flowers immediately catch my attention. The cover communicated the genre well and included a nod to the “flower magic” in the book. I love learning about flower symbolism and had already been researching it before I bought this book. The author includes a list at the end to help readers keep track.

The history. I love history, and I would have liked for this story to be told with parallel timelines, bouncing back and forth between CJ’s grandfather’s experience and her own. This would have provided unfamiliar readers with the historical context. Experiencing the oppression through CJ’s grandfather’s tale would allow readers to better relate to CJ’s anger.

Conclusion

This book tried to do for Japanese Americans what The Hate You Give did for Black Americans, but too many subplots and CJ’s lack of personal development led to it falling far short of the mark. While I liked many aspects of this book, I’d recommend others first.


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The Guise of Another: Book Review

My grandmother likes to support local authors, so she included his book in the pile she loaned to me.

The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens

My grandmother likes to support local authors. Allen Eskens is a Minnesotan, so she included his book in the pile she loaned to me. Another of Grandma’s favorite authors, William Kent Krueger, wrote a blurb for it, so I thought I’d give it a read.

Description

After plummeting from his Medal of Valor to his punishment in the Frauds unit, Alexander Rupert doesn’t feel like a cop anymore. His fellow detectives spurn him for allegedly taking money from a drug lord, and a grand jury holds the ax over what remains of his career. To top it off, his wife may be having an affair, but Alexander distracts himself with a single question: Who was James Putnam?

The complex identity theft case rekindles his passion for investigation and gives him hope for redeeming himself, but when the truth puts him in the path of a trained assassin, his last hope may be the older brother whose help he’s rejected since his demotion.

Characters

Observant, single-minded, and a tad stubborn, Alexander fits the typical detective profile. While heroic enough to earn the reader’s sympathy, his character flaws engender credibility. The other characters are distinct enough to carry the story but not especially memorable. The villain’s backstory and motives are clear.

Plot

The plot centers the larger case rather than the stolen identity, which is solved quickly. Alexander’s personal problems add pressure as the case builds tension and raises the stakes. The twists at the end weren’t entirely unforeseeable, but I liked them nonetheless. Overall, the pace matches the genre. I finished the book in two days.

I admit, I liked the ending. I found it refreshing, but I could see how some readers would hate it.

Writing Style

Eskens alternated perspectives between the two brothers and the villain, which didn’t seem necessary until the end. He writes with sufficient detail, but at times adds extraneous notes that are unnecessary when writing in close third person point of view.

Eskens is not afraid to kill off characters I thought would play a larger role in the story, which I also liked. No plot armor here, folks.

Miscellaneous

The cover only makes sense once you reach the ending.

Conclusion

The Guise of Another tells the story of a detective pursuing redemption. His flaws hinder him as much as the antagonist does, and the competing motives create intrigue. The mystery’s high stakes keep readers engaged even as Alexander’s personal life dissolves. Overall, a good, quick read for fans of police procedural thrillers.

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Book Review: With the Fire on High

I enjoyed the story, and I recommend reading it—even if it means abiding by the library’s 14-day new-book deadline.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acebedo

This book flashed on the screen while I was checking the library’s hours on their website. Because of the 14-day deadline, I don’t normally check out recent releases, but I just had to read this one.

Cover Description

“Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions, doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen. There, she lets her hands tell her what to cook, listening to her intuition and adding a little something magical every time, turning her food into straight-up goodness.

“Even thought she’s always dreamed of working in a kitchen after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she’s made for her life—and everyone else’s rules, which she refuses to play by—once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.”

Characters

Emoni is a Boricua Phili girl with magic in her fingers. In the kitchen, that magic not only frees her from current troubles, it connects her with her past and launches her toward the future. With grit and determination, she surmounts challenges none of her peers face. While people rarely think of teen mothers as role models, Emoni definitely is.

While others wonder if Emoni’s Puerto Rican heritage “disqualifies” her from being a “real” black girl, or whether she “counts” as Hispanic if she doesn’t speak Spanish well, Emoni is sure of herself. Her confidence in her identity is refreshing in a genre plagued by identity issues.

Emoni knows who she is, but she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. She can’t see past the day-to-day struggles into her dreams for the future.

Michael, the principal love interest, draws the dreamer out of her practical nature. In most YA romantic subplots, the guy is usually too perfect and too persistent to be realistic. This book falls into the same trap, but it is one of the better ones in that regard. Michael’s backstory and the casual nature of their relationship keeps it from getting corny.

Emoni and Michael have great chemistry—another rarity in a genre where good looks is often the only link between love interests. I like that Emoni doesn’t throw herself at him. They develop their relationship at their own pace, on their own terms. More young readers should have role models like them.

Plot

Emoni isn’t sure what she wants to do after graduation. Much of the plot is her discovering what she wants. Rather than hooking the reader with constant tension and heart-pounding drama, this book champions the everyday struggles of being a young mother, and I applaud the author for that. So often we overlook how much goes into just keeping a roof over your child’s head.

Not a thriller, but perfect for curling up on the couch.

Writing Style

Poetic

I love reading books written by poets. Acevedo has a beautiful way of expressing herself. This is one of my favorite passages:

“Although my food still doesn’t give me any memories, it has always been looking back; it’s infused with the people I come from. But it’s also a way for me to look forward: to watch the recipes that from my roots transform, grow, and feed the hungriest places inside of me.”

Italics

The author chose not to italicize the Spanish words throughout the English text. This is a common trend among Latino authors, especially Junot Díaz. These authors consider italicizing othering. By writing both Spanish and English words in plain text, the author asserts both languages are a part of the same person, both equal and integral to their identity.

Personally, I prefer italics. I think maintaining plain text flattens the prose, limits characterization, and hinders readers who are first learning to read in a second language. Italics provide needed clarity between false-cognates and help the reader’s narrating mental voice pronounce words correctly. I could devote an entire blog post to this topic, but let me end with this:

While I prefer italics, I understand the author’s justification for not using them, and I respect her choice. My reasons for preferring italics are linguistic rather than socio-political, but I understand that we live in a divided world plagued by racism and xenophobia. If the author feels plain text combats othering, I support her, even as I dream of a world that celebrates differences rather than ostracizing them.

Miscellaneous

Love the cover.

Conclusion

While it lacks the thrills and dramatic tension of other books, With the Fire on High is a beautiful read. Emoni’s hard work and determination make her a great a role model. I enjoyed the story, and I recommend reading it—even if it means abiding by the library’s 14-day new-book deadline.


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Book Review: Accused

I didn’t realize this was part of a series, but it reads well as a standalone.

Accused by Lisa Scottoline

Another book from the Library of Grandma. I didn’t realize this was part of a series, but it reads well as a standalone.

Description

Mary DiNunzio hasn’t gotten used to thinking of herself as partner at Rosato & Associates. Doubts and insecurities still plague her, amplified further when her boyfriend wants to take the next step in their relationship. Still reeling from all these changes, she encounters her most unusual case yet, brought to her by a thirteen-year-old genius from one of the area’s wealthiest families. The client, Allegra, has two obsessions: beekeeping and her older sister’s murder. She believes the man the police jailed is innocent, and hires Mary to find the real killer. Content with the closure they received six years ago, Allegra’s powerful family opposes re-opening the case, but Rosato & DiNunzio can never resist an underdog. Was justice served all those years ago? Mary will risk everything to find out.

Characters

Lawyers are often depicted as stiff and self-assured, but Mary is refreshingly insecure and friendly. I admit I lost patience with her, but she comes around in the end. Her boyfriend, Anthony, is disgustingly perfect and unrealistic. The rest of the characters, however, represent a realistic array of personalities and backgrounds. I especially loved the scene where the Tony’s get into mischief. The book is worth reading for that scene alone.

Plot

A typical mystery, the plot weaves through false starts and dead ends at a pace fast enough to maintain tension, but not too fast for the reader to follow. Mary encounters many obstacles—legal, personal, professional—which she overcomes or cannot overcome like any human.

Writing Style

Scottoline writes in great detail, sometimes a little too much, but I liked that many of the seemingly irrelevant passages proved critical to solving the case.

Conclusion

With many red herrings and both personal and professional obstacles, Accused creates an intriguing mystery. Far from the stoic lawyer often portrayed, Mary is personable, and her family heartwarming. A great read for people interested in legal mystery crossed with women’s fiction.

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Book Review: The Hanover Square Affair

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know my obsession with historical fiction, especially Ruta Sepetys’ work. This is my first foray into historical mystery, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

Another author recommended this book in her monthly newsletter, so I thought I’d check it out. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know my obsession with historical fiction, especially Ruta Sepetys’ work. This is my first foray into historical mystery, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

Description

London, 1816. Cavalry Captain Gabriel Lacey returns from the Napoleonic Wars in forced retirement, but his troubles with his commanding officer follow him home from the peninsula. Burned out, fighting melancholia, and struggling to adjust to civilian life, his interest sparks at the case of a missing girl. Investigating her disappearance brings him into a dangerous world of murder and corruption. To solve the mystery, Lacey will need to draw upon his friendships at every level of the social hierarchy—from celebrity gentlemen to a street girl of Covent Garden.

Characters

Lacey exemplifies the flawed protagonist. He holds grudges for eternity, but losers his temper in a flash, and he doesn’t hesitate to break boundaries—and bones—to get the information he needs. However, his backstory earns the reader’s sympathy, and his stubborn sense of honor toward women represents a characteristic much desired but little portrayed in modern media. He is such a deep character, I can see how the author built a sixteen-book series from him.

The other characters each possess distinct and vibrant personalities, each with their own motivations that drive their behavior, especially their mistakes. Unlike many books, Gardner does not reduce her minor characters to comic relief. Rather, she offers a realistic slice of humanity, including both the beauty and hideous nature of real people.

Plot

I have been binge reading fast-paced sci-fi and fantasy lately, so this represented a brake-screeching slow down for me. Objectively, I think the pace is slower than the average contemporary tale, but readers of historical fiction will find themselves at home.

The story navigates misdirection and twists to reveal the depths of political intrigue and underworld corruption that rivals that barbarity Lacey witnessed on the battlefield. The threat to the missing girl and Lacey’s gradually revealed backstory provided enough drama to maintain my interest throughout and moved the plot along well.

Writing Style

Gardners rich descriptions and vivid setting made me feel like I was watching a movie with a billion-dollar set and costumes budget without slowing the pace. She masterfully used the weather to set the mood for the grim tale, and each character’s interaction with Lacey brought out a distinct part of his personality and backstory.

Miscellaneous

  • Usually when I read a mystery, I try to guess the ending, but this author didn’t offer enough clues for that. This is my first historical mystery, so I am unsure if this is genre-typical. I was reading for relaxation, not to stimulate my brain, so I didn’t mind that the book read more like a story gradually unveiled than a who-done-it. I enjoyed it, but readers accustomed to contemporary mysteries may need to adjust their expectations.
  • A warning to sensitive readers, this book ventures into the darker aspects of human nature. The truly horrible things occur “off-the-page,” but the story touches on some awful themes.
  • A woman in a pretty dress is standard for historical fiction covers, but it was irrelevant to the book’s content.

Conclusion

With a vividly descripted setting, rich cast of characters, and flawed-but-sympathetic protagonist, Gardner creates the perfect environment to pull readers through the mystery of the missing girl. She effortlessly captures the depth and breadth of human motivations and flaws while building intrigue and tension that lasts throughout the story. Highly recommend for readers of historical fiction who enjoy some mystery and aren’t afraid to venture into the darker side of 1816 London.

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Book Review: Wonder

During what are already some of the toughest years of human development, Auggie faces the additional challenge of being labelled “different” because of a craniofacial abnormality.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Another author recommended I read this charming middle grade book, and I was pleased the library had it available right away.

Description

After years of home schooling, August will attend fifth grade at a private school. All he wants is to be accepted for the Star Wars-loving Xbox champion he is, but he was born with a facial abnormality he describes as “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them?

Characters

Smart, funny, and just the right amount of quirky, “Auggie” stole my heart from the first page. He takes everything in stride and is quick to forgive, as children often are. Adults could learn a few things from him.

The story follows Auggie’s journey through the fifth grade, but it rotates perspectives to include his family members, friends, and even his sister’s boyfriend. Auggie’s situation affects all of them in different ways, and each character presents an honest account of their experiences.

I love that the author didn’t overdramatize everything. Even the “villains” behave like normal human beings you’d expect to meet on the street. As I read, I kept thinking, “Yep, I’ve met parents like that.” This book isn’t a soap opera; nor is it a portal to another dimension. It’s a mirror, and I saw myself reflected in every character, even when they didn’t respond as they should.

Plot

Auggie faces all the typical middle-school trials: making new friends, misunderstanding said friends, dealing with bullies . . . even a trip away from home. These trials, however, are exacerbated by his situation, which brings out the best, and worst, in his classmates.

Writing Style

Palacio writes with a clean, simple style in short chapters appropriate for a middle grade audience. Each perspective character is unique, and she makes some additional stylistic choices (like not capitalizing) to add further distinction. The book was partially inspired by a song, so the author sprinkled song lyrics and quotations throughout the prose.

Conclusion

During what are already some of the toughest years of human development, Auggie faces the additional challenge of being labelled “different.” This heartwarming story relates the trials he overcomes as well as the effect he has on others. Auggie may be an ordinary kid on the inside, but the impact he has on his family, classmates, and the school staff make him a true wonder. A quick, charming read, I would recommend Wonder for all ages.

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Book Review: By Wingéd Chair

By Wingéd Chair by Kendra Merritt

I’m a huge supporter of my local library, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take advantage of a free trial of Kindle Unlimited when The Big River throws one my way. This book was part of my mad binge-reading during that trial.

Description

Seventeen-year-old Merry has one goal—become a licensed mage—but her tendency to mouth off to anyone who underestimates her because of her wheelchair hasn’t made her boarding school mistresses more willing to write her the necessary letter of recommendation. Instead of heading to the University, she takes the train home to face her father—until a group of corrupt peacemakers and their shape-shifting allies attack. As the daughter of Woodshire’s premier expert in the memory-stealing creatures, she can defend herself. The outlaw mage who “comes to her rescue,” however, drags her into a resistance movement she didn’t know lay in her own backyard. When the creatures decide to take the memories of those she cares about most, she must decide whether returning their memories is worth giving up her chance to earn respect as a mage.

Character

Merry represents a fantastic blend of strength and insecurity. At the outset, she hides her emotional pain behind her sharp tongue and masked expression, but as her confidence grows, she displays her friendly side more often. She never lets anything hold her back, though the author doesn’t shy away from portraying the challenges she faces as a paraplegic. Likewise, the other characters have their own struggles and motivations, especially the leading male, rounding out the cast of misfit outlaws.

Toward the end, the author reveals the villains’ true motivations, which make them seem both more human and more realistic. However, these details were added so quickly, they feel like an afterthought. That said, the process by which the creatures become “good” and “bad” fascinated me. I love the idea that all their small decisions culminate in their final nature.

Plot

The plot, a retelling of Robin Hood, follows Merry as she befriends the outlaws and helps them work against the tyrannical duke and the creatures he is using to steal memories from the populace. The story progresses at a solid pace, with a balance between action and character development. There weren’t any surprising twists, but I enjoyed the journey.

Writing Style

Merritt writes with a good balance between description and action. She evokes the characters’ emotions without wallowing for too long. I felt Merry was a little blind and self-absorbed, but at her age, I was equally introspective. The love-story subplot was appropriate for a young adult audience. I found it refreshing compared to the hypersexualized stories that have flooded the genre in recent years.

Miscellaneous

The author’s Christian allegory was very well done. She successfully wove religious themes into the fantasy world, highlighting the relevance to each character’s development. Though evident immediately, the Christian themes didn’t come across as preachy, and weren’t as obvious as, say, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. This book may hold special appeal to Christians, but readers of any belief system—or lack thereof—could enjoy it.

Conclusion

One part Robin Hood, one part Christian allegory, By Wingéd Chair is a delightful fairytale which portrays resilience in the face of suffering. Merry’s personal journey encourages readers to draw strength from their weaknesses, and the well-rounded cast of outlaws provides ample support for the broader theme. I enjoyed this story, and I look forward to reading more.

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Book Review: One Little Lie

One Little Lie by Colleen Coble

I had overdosed on Kristin Hannah and was looking for a change when I encountered this in the library’s eBook database. I remembered liking another book by this author, though I can’t recall the title now, so I gave it a read.

Description

Upon her father’s retirement, Jane Hardy is promoted to chief of police in Pelican Harbor, Alabama, triggering resentment in one of her deputies. While battling his hostility, she juggles two murder cases and a vigilante, but when FBI arrest her father, he becomes a prime suspect.

Reid Bechtol is famous for his documentaries, especially one he did on cults. His latest involves Jane’s career as a small-town police chief, but his interest is more than professional. His documentaries are personal, and his past intertwines with Jane’s in more ways than she knows.

Characters

I appreciate when authors give tough female characters—police officers, swords women, jedi knights, etc.—depth of emotion. I hate female characters that act like men with boobs, but Coble goes way too far with Jane. In Reid’s perspective, he often comments about how tough she is, but the evidence on the page argues to the contrary. Jane is hyperemotional to an embarrassing degree. Her storyline reads too close to a soap opera for my tastes—lots of emotional drama, but reactive and overblown instead of mature and developed.

Reid’s character is better. He is calm, protective, but also respectful of Jane’s authority. Aside from the budding romance with Jane, his major conflict is deciding how to reveal the truth to his son Will. This is where the author fails.

To begin, Will is way too perfect for a teenager. Coble tries to circumnavigate this by remarking how mature he is compared to other teens, but it still rings hollow. There was so much potential for father-son conflict, but instead, Will accepts his father’s errors after a few calm heart-to-hearts.

Reid’s ex rears her ugly head early on, but the book would have been better without her. I understand wanting to add more conflict for Reid, but the author could have done that by having some actual drama with Will.

Plot

The characters’ backstories were so obvious I was insulted the author waited until the second third to state them openly. On the flip side, the villain was impossible to guess. Usually in a murder mystery, I like to think “I can’t believe I didn’t see that!” In this story, there were zero clues. I felt cheated.

Writing Style

The prose itself is clunky. Reading felt like driving over a rocky mountain road in a Prius (Yes, I’ve done that. It’s not fun). The author should have fired her line editor. This may not bother most readers, but for me, reading this book felt like resisting the urge to right an askew painting, and I’m not even an editor.

Miscellaneous

I didn’t know this book was Christian fiction before I checked it out, but it’s low on the preach-o-meter. The sugary-sweet tone that drives me nuts in Christian fiction is limited. Yes, the characters reflect on and practice their faith, but it feels like real people interpreting their circumstances in light of their beliefs. There are no lengthy sermons or moralizing.

If anything, the author should have developed the characters’ religious beliefs more. Religious reflections are dropped into the storyline like breadcrumbs, but they aren’t integrated enough with the narrative. Contrasting Jane and Reid’s beliefs would have added cohesion.

Reid is Christian, but Jane rejected God after her experience in the cult. A close friend (who, like Reid’s ex, isn’t relevant and whose subplot goes unresolved) tries to teach her the difference between the cult and authentic Christianity, but that should have been Reid’s role. Furthermore, their beliefs only affect the personal side of the story, but the author should have contrasted their different interpretations of human behavior.

For example, Reid could have responded to the adulterer with shock and disgust, while lingering cult trauma would reinforce Jane’s skepticism. Contrasting their beliefs would have made their perspectives more distinct and added a fresh take on the crime.

Conclusion

The book’s genre is Christian Romantic Suspense, of which I am not a regular reader, so take my criticisms with a sprinkle of salt. That said, I enjoy well-written books in almost any genre. The premise of a former cult member-turned-police chief intrigued me, and the plot was sufficiently complex. There were many good elements, but none reached their potential.

The female lead was too emotional, the male leads too perfect, the secondary characters irrelevant, and even the police K9 came across as a pet. The backstories were too obvious and the crime impossible for readers to solve on their own. For a book whose cover sports praise from Lisa Wingate, it disappointed.

This is a first-in-series, so I can’t harp on the unresolved subplots, but I won’t read the next book. Had I paid for it, I would have been upset. As is, I’m glad I checked the eBook out from the library so that I didn’t have to waste gas returning a physical copy.

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Book Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely

In this retelling of The Beaty & the Beast, tough-but-vulnerable Harper and arrogant-but-defeated Rhen must join forces to save the kingdom—and perhaps fall in love.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kremmerer

I almost didn’t read this because I was looking for a different book, but I’m glad I did.

Book Description

Harper is determined to help her brother earn money to pay off their mother’s cancer debts, but Jake always underestimates her because of her Cerebral Palsy. She’s relegated to lookout duty, but when she spots someone being kidnapped, she can’t help intervening. She doesn’t realize this kidnapper is heading to another world until he accidentally takes her instead.

Thrust into a fairytale land full of magic and suffering, Harper meets Prince Rhen and learns of his curse. Upon the season’s end, he transforms into a terrifying monster and attacks his own people. After his rampage, time resets, and he must relive his eighteenth year again—until a woman falls in love with him.

Apparently, that woman is supposed to be Harper.

She doubts she could fall for someone so arrogant, but when a neighboring kingdom sends an army over the mountains, Rhen and Harper have bigger things to worry about than breaking a curse.

Characters

Though the book falls into the young adult category, readers of any age can relate to Harper’s desire to prove herself. She is simultaneously tough and vulnerable, determined and doubt-riddled, assured and confused. In other words, she’s human.

Having Cerebral Palsy causes Harper to walk with a limp, but I love that this book isn’t about Harper’s disability. CP is a part of her, but it doesn’t define her character, and rather than focus on Harper fighting discrimination as so many books featuring characters with disabilities do, Kremmerer focuses the story on everything Harper can do, and how she wins the respect of everyone who meets her.

The other characters are similarly well rounded, including the leading man, Rhen. Kremmerer depicts her characters not as “good guys” and “bad guys,” but as deeply flawed humans doing the best they can. Each character harbors regrets about past decisions and agonizes over future ones. Readers may not agree with those decisions, but we can understand them.

Plot

The plot follows a fun twist on the Beauty & the Beast. Rather than focusing on the love story, the invading army gives Rhen and Harper a common goal. Kremmerer does an excellent job escalating both the personal and societal stakes over the course of the plot, forcing the characters to make impossible decisions.

Writing Style

Kremmerer’s prose is just the right mix of description and action. It reads smoothly, with few stylistic obstacles to prevent readers from immersing themselves in the world. She lingers over romantic scenes while driving up the pace during climactic ones, excellent pacing.

Miscellaneous

I wish this were a standalone novel instead of a series. The author needed to leave some loose ends to draw readers forward, but I don’t like where the tale is headed. I’d rather pretend those loose ends were tied up and enjoy the happily ever after in my head.

That said, I feel obligated to admit that I have already downloaded the sequel from the library’s e-book database.

Conclusion

In this refreshing and beautiful retelling of The Beaty & the Beast, tough-but-vulnerable Harper and arrogant-but-defeated Rhen must join forces to save the kingdom—and perhaps fall in love. With deeply human characters and a thrilling plot full of political intrigue and high stakes, A Curse So Dark and Lonely is sure to please even fair-weather fans of fairy tales. I loved this book so much I read it in a weekend. Highly recommend.


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A Curse So Dark and Lonely

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I haven’t written a review on this, but with a nerdy princess and lots of magic/action/romance… let’s just say I loved it. Trust Me.


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Book Review: Magic Hour

Child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates’s career is in ruins after a scandal draws national attention. Even during the worst of the media firestorm, she never thinks to seek support from her estranged sister, Ellie. When Ellie contacts her, it’s not to offer support, but to ask for her help.

Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah

During my training to become a speech-language pathologist, my classes discussed the concept of a “critical age” for language acquisition, so this book piqued my interest. The cases Hannah mentions throughout the plot are ones I learned about in graduate school.

Description

Child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates’s career is in ruins after a scandal draws national attention. Even during the worst of the media firestorm, she never thinks to seek support from her estranged sister, Ellie. When Ellie contacts her, it’s not to offer support, but to ask for her help. Ellie serves as a police chief in their hometown, near the Olympic National Forest. A six-year-old girl has emerged from the forest. Speechless from trauma, she offers no clues to her identity or her past. With her confidence shaken from months of media mayhem, Julia must find the strength to free the girl from unimaginable fear and isolation.

Characters

Julia dedicated her entire life to her career, so when her career went sideways, she had nothing left. I like how Hannah balanced Julia’s genuine desire to help the girl with the temptation to use her for professional redemption. The characters each had personal stakes in the girl’s progress, not all of them altruistic. My only criticism is that I struggled to believe that Ellie really was that blind, but I suppose even thirty-nine-year-olds miss what’s right in front of them.

Plot

The plot moves at a decent pace. The tension slows around the 2/3 mark, but it quickly rises again. Ellie’s subplot wrapped up too quickly at the end. I would’ve preferred it if she caught onto things sooner so that she could transform more gradually.

I disliked the main plot’s ending as well. To avoid spoiling anything, I’ll just say a character changes their mind when I don’t think they would, at least not so quickly.

Writing Style

Hannah’s prose is beautiful as always. She has hundreds of different ways to say, “it was raining again,” which I suppose is necessary when you live in the Pacific Northwest.

Miscellaneous

I was impressed by how much research the author did. Her description of Alice’s language development was close to on point. Her description of Alice’s articulation was less accurate, but not everyone would notice that.

Conclusion

 Kristin Hannah often writes about middle-aged women hitting their mid-life crises. While Magic Hour follows many of her common themes, the premise of a girl emerging from the woods after years of isolation sparks interest into an otherwise common theme. The characters’ personal stakes and emotions keep the tension high, and the ending, while rushed and overly convenient, is satisfying.


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Magic Hour

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