Czech Mate

 

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Czech Mate, Book One of the International Missions Force

By: Felicia Bridges

Rating: 4 out of 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Christian

Read this if you enjoy: The River of Time Series by Lisa Bergen, The Young Women of Faith series by Nancy Rue

When her father finds an assistant professorship in Prague, Nicole Wise and her family follow God’s calling from America to the Czech Republic. Although Nicole is eager to share about Jesus’ love with her new friends, the reemergence of the Communist Party threatens their safety. After her parents are captured, her younger brother Adam and a young Romani man named Jakub must prove the Wise’s innocence.

The debut full-length novel Czech Mate by Felicia Bridges brings Prague to life with careful description, action, and a realistic heroine. Closing many of the chapters is a side story with features drawn from legend that deals with the consequences of pride and rash decisions. Nicole’s bravery inspires action as she works to save her parents and the lost Czech in her school. Her flaws align with a understandable fear of the unknown, and her strengths serve as a role model for any teen. In a similar manner to how a crime drama might lead one to investigate a career in criminal justice, this book has the ability to raise interest in foreign missions. The author’s passion for everyone to hear of God’s love flows throughout, as well as her trust in God’s omnipotence.  I look forward to seeing how both the author grows and the thread of the story continues in the upcoming sequel, Bolivia Knight.

I was able to meet with the author and attend a book launching party! Her blog is here: https://adventuresthatinspireaction.wordpress.com

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Her sequel, BolviaKnight is coming soon and I had the wonderful opportunity to write an endorsement for it: Emotional and tense, Bolivia Knight is an exciting read with unforgettable characters and a packed plot. Bridges weaves another story of courage and high-stakes adventure with snippets of legend in her latest installment to the International Missions Force Series. I loved immersing myself in Peter, Kasey, Hector, and Ranza’s world and would recommend this book to all ages!

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Matched

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Cassia is relived when Xander, her childhood friend, appears onscreen as her assigned spouse, or Match. But another boy named Ky appears onscreen as another Match for her, she questions the foundations of her society

By: Ally Condie

My Rating: 3 of 5

Genre: Dystopian

Riding on the wake of other popular dystopian trilogies, Matched capitalizes on an existing market with a packed plot and improbable love triangle. A few sentences carry weight or are constructed well enough to pause: “Every minute you spend with someone gives them a part of your life and takes part of theirs,” among others. A few themes, like the value of truth or individual choices might have been interesting if further developed, but are mostly overshadowed by the predictable, totalitarian government featured in novels like The Giver. Which comes first when writing a novel, the plot or the characters? In Matched, the characters fade into the breakneck speed of events. Because they hold little substance themselves, it becomes difficult to identify with or care about Cassia, Xander, and Ky.

The book is squeaky clean; a welcome change from authors who add cursing for shock value. However, the way it views anxiety makes me uncomfortable. All citizens carry green pills, or anti-anxiety medication for weekly use if needed. Several times Cassia mentions her refusal to take the pills, that she is strong enough to go without them. Having anxiety does not make a person weak-struggling with something like anxiety or other issues strengthens character instead.

Should you read this? In the same way a grocery store cupcake fulfills your late-night, sweet tooth craving, Matched satisfies a need for romance, action, or just entertainment. But there are likely better books, or better desserts, available to appreciate.

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The White Rose

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After rescuing her friends and escaping certain death, surrogate Violet must decide whom to trust as she flees the city and learns more about Lucien’s rebellion. When a new teacher reveals the true power of the auguries, there may be hope for the lives of the surrogates and a way to end  the slavery and injustice in the Jewel forever in the sequel to Ewing’s The Jewel. 

The White Rose

By: Amy Ewing

My Rating: 2.5 of 5

Genre: Dystopia, Fantasy

The White Rose was a disappointment after the fast-paced plot and delicate world building of The Jewel. The auguries, the mystical power residing in surrogates that enable them to manipulate matter, were allotted a weak and almost laughable explanation. Each character choked out a two page sob story, thrown in during train rides and meal times to evoke sympathy and inspire readers to hate the fictional rules even more (as if murder and slavery wasn’t enough). With realistically balanced emotions and only snippets of backstory, the original version of the cast was relatable, personable, and much more enjoyable to read about. While Violet’s character stayed on course, troublemaker Garnet was drained of personality and teacher Sil molded almost  like a famous elderly Jedi. Ash’s sympathy of Carnelian and frustration with his inescapable reputation did manage to increase his complexity, as a good sequel ought to do with its characters. I still have hope for the trilogy to redeem itself if the story returns to where it best shines-in the Jewel city amongst the glided palaces.

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The Vanishing Season

Door Country, Wisconsin, seems quiet and dull to Chicago native Maggie after moving into a Victorian fixer-upper with her parents. But life takes an exciting turn once she meets Pauline, the lively and charismatic girl from the mansion next door. Mysterious disappearances, an unexpected love, and betrayal all lead to the startling conclusion of The Vanishing Season.

The Vanishing Season

By: Jodi Lynn Anderson

My Rating: 3 of 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Read this if you enjoy: The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder, Fracture by Meghan Miranda, If I Stay by Gayle Foreman

 

I enjoyed this book so much that I read it all in one sitting. While the beginning was a bit mundane, the plot picked up at a tremendous pace with the introduction of conflict. Maggie is an intelligent, practical dreamer who does her best to hide her envy and appear optimistic. Pauline has it all-looks, money, and a boy who has always loved her. But her childlike manner hides discontentment and jealous of her own. The names “Maggie” and “Pauline” may sound outdated, but their characters are written with considerable depth. A love triangle eventually forms, but it to be unique, heartbreaking, and emotional engaging. It’s neither annoying nor cliche to me.

What I didn’t like about the book is often it felt too passive. Until the past few months, I haven’t read as many realistic fictions because sometimes it feels as if nothing actually happens. I should warn that the cover and inside blurb are misleading. With the exception of several pages in which a ghost wants to go toward the light, this is not a ghost story. I am also confused where the subplot about vanishing girls mentioned on the cover went! The whole missing persons idea could have been cut out. It doesn’t majorly affect the main characters, and the author stops writing about it two-thirds of the way through the book with no explanation. Although there are some changes I’d like to make to the book, the suspense and emotional complexity made it worthwhile reading.

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A School For Unusual Girls

 

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The Regency era’s strict rules for proper society allow no place for Miss Georgiana and her uncanny knack for setting things on fire. Sent away to a finishing school in disgrace, Georgiana soon learns her prowess for alchemy and mischief could aid English spies.

A School for Unusual Girls

By: Kathleen Baldwin

My Rating: *

Genre: Historical Fiction

Read this if you enjoy: The Season by Sarah MacLean, The Mary Quinn Mysteries by Y.S. Lee

How did I find this book: Hastily grabbed off a library shelf

 

I didn’t finish this book. What? No, I haven’t gone crazy and I sincerely hope it got better after page 212. I’ve learned the hard way that most books trying to follow in Jane Austen’s footsteps fall spectacularly short of the mark. A School for Unusual Girls is no exception.

This book is confusing. Confusing in a bad way, not in a way that draws a reader in wanting to know what secrets will be revealed. You’ll be left with questions like the following;

  1. If Georgiana is supposed to be so smart, why does she never have an inkling about what’s going on? The every place she attends is called the “Stranje House”.
  2. If the Regency era is know for its decorum and restraining rules, why is everyone okay with men skulking around in the basement talking to female students?
  3. Is her roommate actually a werewolf?
  4. Why does Georgiana fall in love with a man who’s been nothing but rude just because he caught her falling off a balcony once?
  5. My personal favorite: Why does having curly hair make her ugly? Women actually curled their hair during that period before pilling it atop their heads, I believe.

The plot is unevenly paced, and the sentences are often choppy. Georgiana’s constant self-loathing overshadows moments of occasional humor. I think the original idea is interesting enough to expound upon.

*In light of the fact that this review is more scathing than most, I want to clarify that I mean no disrespect to the author or her writing abilities.

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The Game of Love and Death

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Flora, an African American singer and aspiring pilot, and Henry, a white boy adopted into a privileged home, would have rarely crossed paths in America during the 1930’s. But Love and Death have other plans. Henry and Flora’s lives are unknowingly thrown into a game of devastating obstacles and difficult decisions with the highest stakes imaginable.

The Game of Love and Death
By: Martha Brockenbrough
My Rating: 4.5 of 5
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Read this if you enjoy: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, the 1930s
How did I find this book: The cover really stood out to me

First of all, do you see how I only have one book listed under “Read this if you enjoy”? This book is so  refreshingly original that I can’t think of many books like it.  In my opinion, fantasy should fall into two categories: either set in its own unique world, or set believably into the one we know. The Game of Love and Death seamlessly blends historical accuracy and the elements of fantasy brought by having Death and Love personified. They are powerful entities with their own distinct and very human personalities. Death takes on a more melancholy role than Zusack’s sarcastic version, and Love is a driven optimist who still sees hope in humanity.The premise of the novel drives the plot with suspense, and each chapter contains a new, richly described setting. Flora is strong and self-reliant in the face of loss and racial prejudice.

The book also touches on an existential crisis we all come to at some point in our lives.  At the end of chapter 41, Flora realizes,  “Someday, everyone you love will die. Everything you love will crumble to ruin. This the price of life. This is the price of love. ” But as a Christian, I know that death is not end. All those trust in Jesus for their salvation will be reunited in Heaven one day. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

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Shatter Me

 

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A post-apocalyptic regime called the Reestablishment seizes Juliette, a girl with a lethal touch, from an asylum to use for their own purposes. With the help of her long-lost friend Adam, she plans to escape her newest prison and confront her terrifying powers and dark past.

Shatter Me (The Juliette Chronicles)
By: Tahereh Mafi
My Rating: 4 of 5
Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopia
Read this if you enjoy: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo , The Host by Stephenie Meyer
How did I find this book: library spelunking

What struck me most about this book is the unique writing style of the author. Mafi’s prose flows almost like poetry, with brief sentences full of imagery and internal thoughts. Juliette’s emotional struggle with her deadly physical touch is tangible version of the internal conflict we all face between our sin natures and what we know is right.
Admittedly, I like the character of Warner, a young leader of the Reestablishment. I tend to like characters such as Sherlock Homes, Erik from the Phantom of the Opera, Loki, etc., because their psychotic/sociopathic tendencies (yes, I know) make these famous characters complex, unpredictable, and intriguing. However, Adam is rather bland for a main character. He starts out strong, but as the book and series progresses, his character is never fully developed.
The same is true for the dystopian setting called the Reestablishment. While not as central to the plot in the first book, it’s disappointingly unoriginal and uninteresting. Although it never crosses the line, there is some PDA involved that I usually skim through.   The book feels like an X-Men movie, which is not necessarily a negative thing. Juliette is very similar to Rogue, Castle is like Charles Xavier, and so on, but the novel is decidedly its own.

Okay, so should I read this?
If you like the X-Men movies and dystopian novels mentioned above.

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5 Reasons to Convince You YA Books Are Not All the Same

First misconception about YA:  It’s all the same

Girl has powers! Love triangle! Save the world!  The authors are just ripping each other off, nothing’s original, the list goes on and on. I’m hesitant at times to mention that I like YA fiction out of fear of being bombarded or looking like I haven’t got a brain that could appreciate anything else. Here are five reasons  explaining why I think YA can appear to be this way.

1. Nobody is familiar with every book. Most people who aren’t into this genre probably only know a lot about The Hunger Games, Divergent, and John Green, two of which are very similar.

2. Everyone, especially young people,  see the world we live in and wish we could change it for the better.  We hear stories on the news and image how things might be when we’re older. We can feel so helpless in the scheme of things, so characters (sometimes with the aid of supernatural powers) who can save their world are inspirational in their own way.

3. Authors want to write a main character you can identify with. Whether or not their idea of their target readers is correct is something you can decide. If you agree with three or more of following, you might a be a YA main character!
A girl
15-18 years of age
Brownish hair
Often pessimistic
Thinks of themselves as average looking
Hard time making new friends
Crush on a guy outta her league
One or more of her parents is absent
Sarcastic, surly, or sassy

4. There is not an infinite number of good plots and storylines after all, even less so in a specific genre.

5. Authors look at what’s doing well and may incorporate popular elements into their novels, because they understandably want to sell their work and buy more coffee. I read an article by Simon and Schuster describing how publishers highly recommend putting at least a few trending themes in their books.

Hope that helped! Keep reading and be your awesome self!

The Heir

 

Eighteen year old Eadlyn has been preparing her whole life to become the next Queen of Illea, but she is completely unprepared for having her very own Selection. Thirty-five suitors try their luck at wooing the future ruler on a reality TV series, attempting to draw the nation’s attention from political unrest.

The Heir (The Selection Series)
By: Kiera Cass
My Rating: 2 of 5
Genre: Romance, Dystopian
Read this if you enjoy: The Selection Series, Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
How did I find this book: The series was recommended to me by a friend

1. This will not give away anything from any previous books.
2. I’m sorry if you are a big Selectioner fan, and just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it.

Why did I give only two stars to a book from such a famous series? I was impatient and actually purchased The Heir instead of requesting it at the library, something I haven’t done in a year. The fact that I regret spending $12 on a book plays into the low rating I gave the book. You could buy three jars of Nutella for the same amount. Or a better book.
A moment of brutal honesty: Eadlyn is haughty, narcissist, spoiled, and unlikeable for most of the book. “I’m Eadlyn, and no one in the world is as powerful as me,” is her daily mantra. I didn’t feel like her flaws made her more realistic in any way or made sense with her situation. She is a princess with a loving family, luxurious castle, and an exciting future, not to mention thirty-five men falling at her feet.  As a reader, I couldn’t identify with her as a character. If the author had made her more likeable despite her tenedices or given a reason as to why she is so mean, I would have been able to tolerate her.
Brutal honesty over! What I did really like about this book was the depiction of real-life challenges all rulers have to face. Some books have done it better than others, but stories about leaders often contain challenging moral dilemmas, high-stakes situations, and political intrigue. I am also surprised how well-developed the large cast of male characters is.

Okay, so should I read this?
Only if you cried while reading the Selection series. The original trilogy is worth reading depending on your taste.

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Fallen Star Series

 

Gemma Lucas lives a lonely life, having only recently experienced emotions, until she partners with a mysterious boy named Alex for a school project. After a dangerous encounter on a field trip, she is drawn into a world of magic, visions, and a startling prophecy about her own future.

Fallen Star Series (The Fallen Star, The Underworld, The Vision, The Promise)
By: Jessica Sorensen
My Rating: 3.5 of 5
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance, Fiction!?!? (ibooks catagorized each book of the series into a different genre *sigh*)
Read this if you enjoy: Hush, Hush by Sarah Fitzpatrick, Everneath by Brodi Ashton, or Free/Inexpensive things
How did I find this book: browsing for free ebooks

This past week, I’ve been rereading the Fallen Star series until I can get fresh books from the library. I downloaded or purchased them for under $5 on my iPad about a year and a half ago. Because the best part is the unveiling of the mysteries, I haven’t been quite as hooked as I was the first time around.
Protagonist Gemma is a bit surly,  and the other main characters are okay. Her changing relationships with those around her keep the plot moving.  I think the cast of characters could be expanded after hanging out with the same few people for four whole books. As the series progresses, thankfully the settings become more original and defined. The first book took place in a typical house, a typical school, another typical house, and a grocery store. Sounds exciting for a “Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance, Fiction”, right?
Without giving too much away, another downside to the books is the lack of people using their  magical powers  in exciting ways for a fantasy. We’ve become accustom to strong, skilled, independent female leads from bestselling YA, so Gemma falls a little flat at times.  That said, I did appreciate the lack of cursing or any content that could be inappropriate. If it were ever made into a movie, I’m sure it would be rating PG.

Okay, so should I read this?
It’s worth downloading if you don’t have any other books left to read at home.

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