Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dawn of Spies

Dawn of Spies (Crusoe #1) by Andrew Lane (Adaptive Books, 2017, 320pp.) 

In this reimagining of Daniel Defoe’s 18th century classic of shipwreck and survival, Robinson “Robin” Crusoe, a merchant’s son, and Friday, the daughter of a pirate king, are finally rescued from a desert island after three long years as living as castaways. Shortly after they arrive in London, the writer Daniel Defoe offers to buy the rights to their amazing story. In normal circumstances, this close-knit pair of friends would be reluctant to open up to a stranger--however, circumstances have rendered them penniless, and they see no other choice but to agree to a meeting. Imagine their surprise when Defoe later reveals himself to be a spy for the government. He thinks their unique experiences will make them perfect spies, and wants to recruit them for service under King Charles II. Their first mission is to protect the king’s daughter, the Countess of Lichfield, from kidnapping by enemies of the Crown. Of course, despite the valiant efforts of Robin, Friday, and other members of the king’s spy ring, the Countess is kidnapped by masked men, and carried away in a hot air balloon. Things get even more tense when its discovered that she’s been taken by the Circle of Thirteen, an organization dedicated to taking down the entire empire at any cost.

Having already cut his teeth on the “reinvented classic” genre with his Young Sherlock Holmes series, Andrew Lane--for the most part--executes his premise well. I especially like what he did with the role of Friday. In the classical text, Friday is Crusoe’s male servant who swears subservience to the Englishman after the latter saves him from cannibals. In Lane’s work, Friday is Crusoe’s friend and equal, a strong and capable young black woman who is more than capable of holding her own. Although the fast-paced nature of the tale leaves little room for character development (which would have, in my opinion, made it a much better novel), its interesting premise and swashbuckling action sequences make this a good choice for fans of action/adventure. Recommended for Ages 13-15.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review: A Charmed Life: A Christian Fiction Trilogy (for All Readers), by Jenny B. Jones

A Charmed Life (The Charmed Life #1-3) by Jenny B. Jones (Thomas Nelson, 2012, 976pp.)

A Charmed Life is an omnibus edition of Jenny B. Jones’s Christian fiction trilogy of the same name. This lovely series documents the hilarious, heartfelt misadventures of privileged New Yorker Bella Kirkwood, a child of divorce who finds herself living on a farm after her mother remarries and moves them to Truman, Oklahoma. To Bella, moving away from New York is a fate worse than death. Where are the fashion boutiques? What about a Starbucks? Not to mention she now has to hitch a ride to school with her obnoxious stepbrother, Budge, who drives an out-dated hearse. But when she ends up on the Truman High School newspaper, she surprises the heck out of everyone with her tenacity, her drive, and above all, her awesome investigative journalism skills. Over the course of the series, she becomes quite the sleuth. Not only does she investigate a malevolent brotherhood of football players and save a prom queen from an exploding tiara, she also joins the circus as a part-time clown so she can solve the murder of a sweet-tempered bearded lady.

I really can’t say enough about this series, for both teens and parents. First off, it’s a clean read, meaning there’s no swearing or other mature content (though Bella does have a boyfriend, so there is a lot of kissing). Second, it boasts a well-developed supporting cast. And third, but importantly, it has a heroine who experiences tremendous personal growth throughout the series. Not only must she face issues left over from her parents’ divorce (in addition to adjusting to a new stepfamily), she must also come to terms with God’s plan for her—a plan that she did not agree to, thank you very much! For those of you who aren’t usually fans of Christian fiction? You should still add this to your reading list. While religion is an important part of the characters’ lives, it’s certainly not the main point of the story. What the story is about, though? It’s about an awesome, spunky teenager fighting her way through life’s sticky situations, and being the best person she can possibly be. This series is recommended for older teens, ages 16-18, though if you’ve got younger teens who don’t mind kissing and romance, it’s a good choice for them as well. Also, check out the excellent audiobook version, read by Brooke Helman.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


What Light by Jay Asher (Razorbill, 2016, 272pp.)

Sierra is always bummed to leave her friends behind when she and her parents leave for a month every year to tend their out-of-state farm in California. On her latest stay, she meets a cute boy named Caleb. Caleb is charming and gentle, a selfless young man who buys up discounted Christmas trees and delivers them to families in need. In any other scenario, Sierra knows the two would be a perfect pair—but alas, the couple already have two strikes against them! First, Sierra doesn’t believe in long-distance relationships. Second, Caleb once attacked his sister with a knife, an attack that locals still gossip about. Although Sierra accepts Caleb’s explanation that he was acting under extreme duress at the time, and that his sister has since forgiven him, all the townspeople, including her parents, still look upon him with suspicion. As Sierra passionately defends their budding relationship, she risks alienating both friends and family. Will their love survive, or will it prove to be simply a fruitless season fling?

I have to admit, I really expected more from the author who wrote Thirteen Reasons Why. That novel, which explores the reasons why a teenage girl killed herself, contains a romantic subplot that’s thwarted before it really can even begin, all because one of the potential lovers has already committed suicide. The insurmountable reasons that keep What Light’s two lovebirds apart? An endless line of naysayers spouting simple-minded prejudice. Also, Sierra’s personal wariness of long-distance relationships—but that’s easily overcome once she realizes her feelings for Caleb. VERDICT: In this season’s banquet of literary morsels, consider this a sweet but sugary snack. Hand to those looking for a simple, seasonal romance, while those looking for a meatier story should look elsewhere. With no drug use, swearing, or sexual content present, I’d recommend this for romance lovers, Ages 13-15.