Ice Like Fire

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Review: I loved the first book, Snow Like Ashes, and I was psyched to read this sequel, albeit a little wary of middle book syndrome. Turns out, my suspicions were correct; this book exhibits all the symptoms of middle book syndrome: slow plot, poor character development, a focus on romance rather than politics and battle, and a slew of plot conveniences.

This sequel tracks Meira and Theron as they visit other Rythms and Seasons on a sort of political tour, but Meira and Theron are motivated by different causes and this divide threatens to split the couple. As she struggles to draw Theron to her cause, Meira also struggles to keep her powers under control and find a solution that could save not just Winter but her whole world.

In spite of the slow plot, though, I found myself speeding through the novel. Sara Raasch is a great world-builder, and that, at least, was not lost in this sequel.

Part of what slowed the plot down is the alternating perspectives. This technique is used far too often and is often an encumbrance and annoyance, splitting the plot in two and drawing it out longer. In this book, Raasch alternates chapter perspectives between Meira and Mather. While I enjoyed the Meira chapters (lots of world-building there), Mather’s chapters were often slow and more angsty, and they saw little action until the end of the novel. Moreover, the fact that Mather is voiced but Theron is not irks me (#Theira4ever).

The main characters didn’t seem to grow much aside from dealing with their growth in the first book. Raasch did, however, introduce a few side characters who seem to have the spunk and fierceness to quell our thirst for strong characters for the duration of the novel (Feige and Ceridwen come to mind).

This book also took some liberties with the magic part of the world, inventing new rules for the magic as we went and leaving several questions unanswered (why could Meira make it snow in Summer?). While the majority of the plot’s reliance on magic made sense and fit with the previous series, I was confused about some of the additions. Why exactly could the Decay infect other people? If Angra died, wouldn’t the Decay then infect the entire population rather than a select few? Perhaps I missed these details by reading quickly, but I wish Raasch would stick with clear boundaries for the magic and let the plot play out within that world rather than continuing to change the rules.

Recommendation: If you enjoyed the first book in the series, I recommend continuing with it; I have hopes that the last book (Frost Like Night) will make it all worth it. Those who enjoy angsty YA plots where love triangles triumph burden the plot (guilty pleasure, perhaps) might want to start this series just for the second book. I still stand by my opinion that Raasch is an excellent world-builder, so perhaps the book will appeal to you solely for that reason. There is a brothel scene (which the main characters find distasteful) and some violence (beheading, cutting, etc.), so this book is probably best for ages 14+.

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Esther–A novel that will be queen of Christian fiction this year

This eBook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Review: Confession–I’ve never read a book about a character of the Bible. But this book has me interested in reading more.

The story of Esther is one many Christians know by heart. The virgin Jewish girl is captured for King Xerxes to either become his wife or become his concubine. She manages to win his heart and secure her place on the throne while keeping her Jewish heritage a secret. Her cousin, the king’s accountant, reveals to her that Xerxes’ adviser, Haman, has convinced Xerxes to sign an edict to kill and plunder from all Jews–men, women, and children alike. Esther must choose to either speak up for her people at the risk of her own life or remain quiet and allow her people to be slaughtered.

Not only did Rebecca Kanner do the research for this novel; she also managed to bring the characters to life.

To become queen to a man like Xerxes, I believe Esther must have been one of the most intelligent, independent women in the Bible. She had to fight other concubines for the throne, earn the king’s favor enough to also earn his ear, and be wise enough to turn the king against one of the men he favored most–all as a woman who took the place of Queen Vashti, who was dethroned because she “disobeyed” her husband.

Kanner paints Esther not only as the cunning woman I believe she was, but also as someone who could march beside a target without flinching from the arrows. Someone who could keep moving forward in the face of tragedy. Someone who could watch men be tortured. Kanner’s Esther has a ferocity which rivals her beauty–a trait I believe puts this interpretation above all others.

Though I’ve known this tale since early elementary school (thanks, VeggieTales), the plot felt new to me. Kanner added suspense not only through Esther’s fiery personality, but also in her strained relationship with her husband, her attraction to one of the king’s most loyal soldiers, and her conflicts with other girls in the harem.

One of the most interesting traits of this book is that it actually had sex scenes. I expected Kanner to do as most Christian authors do and leave off at the bedroom door, but she went a little further. She wasn’t graphic or obscene; she simply wrote what she thought may have happened between the king and the woman he made his wife. And really, why shouldn’t Christian fiction have simple sex scenes? Too often Christian fiction authors shy away from the subject. I understand if they’re uncomfortable with writing it, but God created sex to be a good thing, under the right circumstances. Heck, Song of Songs is about sex, and it’s in the Bible! But I digress. Don’t worry about the book being too scandalous; if it were a movie, it’d be PG-13.

The reason why I withhold half a star from my rating is because–despite the plot holding my attention–certain sections felt too long. The walk Esther is forced on at the novel’s start drew on a little too long for my liking, as did the part where Esther decides to train in self-defense. Moreover, the ending felt too happy. Perhaps Kanner was just trying to show that God rewards those who serve Him? Or perhaps I am used to novels that end on more of a low note.

Recommendation: I’d recommend this book for those ages 18 and up who are interested in Biblical adaptations or even just interested in historical fiction with a strong female lead.

Unleashing My Opinion on “Capturing Jasmina”

This eBook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Rating: 1/5 stars

Review: Capturing Jasmina by Kimberly Rae is a young adult Christian novel about an Indian girl’s struggle to escape human trafficking and rejoin her family. I requested this book in the hope that it would be eye-opening to a world I know little about. I wanted to learn more about India’s culture and get a better understand human trafficking. In short, wanted a book that would make me cry.

That’s not what I got.

Right off the bat the novel rubbed me the wrong way in its speaker. Jasmina consistently crossed out words in favor of other words, as one would in writing a letter with pen, but rather than make her voice more realistic, the technique had the opposite effect.

I also felt like the author didn’t address Indian culture as well as she should’ve. One of the most interesting things for me about Christian literature is hearing how other cultures respond to missionaries. This book over-simplified it by speaking very little about Indian (specifically Hindu) culture in the first place, so it felt like Jasmina was less a young Hindu girl and more a figure conjured my Christian missionaries in their search to convert.

Don’t get me wrong here; I support missionary work. I’ve been on a few mission trips myself. But I know that we Christians tend to imagine other cultures as desperate to hear about our God, and while this is sometimes true, other cultures are not without their own beliefs. We cannot allow ourselves to be deluded into seeing natives as evil and missionaries as good. There are also natives who are good and missionaries who are evil–just look in a world history textbook.

And yet Rae seems to encourage that misguided viewpoint, particularly when Jasmina meets missionary women:

“There were people in the world who wanted to do good instead of evil. There were people who cared about something more than money and power. Who would not use others for their own gain.

Impossible. My mind said not to believe a word. To harden up again and hold tight to hate. But my heart—oh, my heart wanted to think there was hope.”

I know this is Christian literature, but I expect to see more understanding of other people and more understanding of ourselves. Everyone sins, but that is difficult to see in this book, where the natives sin but the missionaries are depicted as faultless. I am sure this was not Rae’s intent, but it feels that way nonetheless.

While the treatment of other cultures was my main quarrel with this book, I’m also thought the overall quality of plot and characterization was poor. I read this with the desire to learn more, but I feel like I knew more about Indian culture and human trafficking than the author. None of the characters felt real to me, so I struggle to sympathize with their struggles.

Jasmina’s main motivation, for example, was to find her family. But her family–with the exception of her mother–didn’t treat her well at all. And she didn’t speak of longing to return to her mother’s comfort, but of wanting to return her brother to safety and learn if her father knew what he had done when he sold her.

There were a lot of loose ends in the story, as well. Like why would Jasmina’s father sell his son, as well? What happened to her family? How could she write letters to her brother if she didn’t know where he was and if he couldn’t even read?

I see that this book is part of a series, but these loose ends don’t interest me enough to prompt further reading.

Since there was little to no graphic material in spite of the dark subject matter, I think it’s appropriate for middle schoolers and up, if you really must read it.

For someone interested in learning more about Indian culture, I recommend Michelle Moran’s Rebel Queen instead.