Danube in Candlelight by Stephanie Burkhart

Cover_Danube in Candlelight

Danube in Candlelight by Stephanie Burkhart
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full (202 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Morgan Duma has always known she’s different. Her eyes have unusual gold rings around her irises, a trait she’s inherited from her father. She’s faster and stronger than most. Her endurance and stamina allow her to complete tasks in a quick and efficient fashion. Since she was a little girl, she knew there was only one man for her — Adam Varga.

Morgan learned to dance in Adam’s arms. They grew up playing the piano together. Adam’s calm, soothing presence was the perfect compliment to her restless soul. Not only that, he shared her differences down to his feral eyes.

Enter Zoltan Kristos, Hungary’s Minister of Reconstruction. He shares those same golden eyes that Morgan possesses. After Zoltan carries her mother out of a blazing fire, Morgan’s life takes a turn she doesn’t expect. She discovers the reasons for her differences, and questions her very identity. Is Adam strong enough to be the man she needs him to be?

Book three in the Budapest Moon series, and the best one yet!

I really enjoyed seeing the next generation of these families who started out as enemies, but have since become very good friends and all but family.  I strongly recommend that you read the other books to understand all the nuances and intertwined relationships here.  I imagine this book would stand alone, as Ms. Burkhart does weave in some backstory, but it will be so much richer if you are following the series.

Adam and Morgan were fun characters, feeling quite youthful and impetuous… they have both completed their educations and are ready to settle in to the lives they’ve chosen.  But as in any good book, things happen to make that road a bit bumpy.  Morgan has an intense, powerful and unwelcome new suitor and both Adam and Morgan have trust issues.

I loved revisiting everyone, including Emily who was only a few years old the last time we saw her, and the only fully human offspring in this story.  She’s turned out to be a lovely, stable, admirable young woman.  And the staff of both families (who are now joined by marriage) had their moments here as well. It was like visiting an old friend.

While I didn’t always thing Morgan behaved in a manner that was completely understandable–after all, Adam is her best friend who she’s known forever.  Yes, he made an error in judgment, but I think she overreacted just a little. Of course, she’d suddenly gotten quite a lot on her plate, so it may have been a matter of overload or the last straw.

Danube in Candlelight was a bit less dark and gothic, and had a lot more going on.  With the other books, there were times I wanted to set them down and go looking for something more exciting, but this one never made me feel that way.  Definitely the best in the series so far, and if the author keeps improving with each book I’m going to be one very happy reader.  Ms. Burkhart’s strengths are her characterizations and setting as character, as well as well composed prose and clean writing.  Yes, her plots are interesting, but what keeps me hooked is how attached I become to the population in each book.

Danube in Candlelight was filled with an interesting series of events and a fascinating stroll through Hungarian history and, even more, a set up to the next book.  I’m looking forward to reading it.

The Hungarian by Stephanie Burkhart

Cover_TheHungarian

The Hungarian by Stephanie Burkhart
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full (266 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Katherine Archibald is in search of a grand adventure.

A young woman in late Victorian England, she wants to open up a bookstore in London and travel Europe hunting down rare books. Love isn’t on her map.

Enter Matthias Duma. The Hungarian count captures Katherine’s attention like no other man before him with his unusual gold-malachite eyes, his exotic features, and his command of the night sky.

After a night of intrigue during Katherine’s birthday, she discovers the map does include love in the legend, but will the map lead her to Budapest and the dark, brooding Hungarian she’s just met?

Quiet and dark (much like its hero), The Hungarian is a treat to be savored and not sped through.

I’ve read other books by Ms. Burkhart, but this one is different. It’s slower paced, and has a much darker, gothic feel. It started rather abruptly with our protagonists meeting in the heroine’s family library, and I was surprised at how forward both were considered the times and the fact they didn’t know each other. Still, Katherine is a bit atypical for her time being learned (she loves to read and is fascinated by astronomy and astrology) and plans on opening her own business: a bookstore.

There are plenty of subplots beyond just the romance (and its “hairy” problems), with intrigues including a custody battle and a question of Count Duma’s paternity (as well as a very angry and jealous rival, who believes they are brothers). But even with these, the story meanders a bit. I love the author’s writing ability and her voice, and I’m a big fan of her books, but this one wasn’t quite as gripping as her others have been. Still, she’s managed to create interesting and unique characters, especially those which populate Count Duma’s household and I was invested enough in them to keep reading even when the pace slowed a bit.

Moving between England and Hungary, and highlighting the difference between the countries, was fascinating. The road to our lovers’ happy ever after is not easy and certainly has its bumps, but Katherine, especially is an admirable character and I enjoyed watching her learn, adjust and accept Matthias for who (and what) he was.

The last several chapters of this book are clearly setting up the next, and I look forward to seeing Ms. Burkhart redeem one of the less admirable characters from this book.

If you like paranormal romances with a deeply gothic feel, this one would be a good fit. It’s a little outside the norm of romance and paranormal books and is written by a skilled author who knows how to turn a phrase.

By Starlight by Nancy Lindley-Gauthier

STARLIGHT
By Starlight by Nancy Lindley-Gauthier
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (194 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The night my best friend Gracie disappeared, I had a nightmare.

A monster loomed from the shadows around the campfire. I ran. The thing stretched after me…

I woke gasping, afraid it might somehow be true. Gracie could always make me feel better – but she didn’t respond to my email. Not that night; not ever.

That’s what lead to my summer camp counselor job here near Gracie’s home. Hiking and canoeing fill every moment but I don’t forget why I’m here. I’m going to find Gracie.

The camp-owner, a famous Native seer, isn’t any help. Her herbal healing and Spirit Bear talisman won’t help find Gracie.

There’s the local ranger and my campers, but will they believe me? I’m alone with this. Somehow, every step toward Gracie takes me nearer to something scary. This is a mystery I must solve.

If the police can’t solve the mystery of her friend’s disappearance, what chance does Kitsai have of doing it?

Kitsai intrigued me from the beginning. She wavered between acting much younger than her chronological age and understanding the mystery of what happened to her friend better than any of the adults around her. The mixture of maturity and immaturity kept my attention focused on this character even when I didn’t necessarily like her as an individual. She isn’t the kind of person who is easy to figure out. To me that’s a good thing to experience while getting to know the protagonist. A little uncertainty goes a long way in keeping my attention.

With that being said, Kitsai’s character flaws were too serious for this particular tale. She makes decisions that should have never been an option for someone in her occupation. Her lack of insight into why these choices were so potentially dangerous made it hard for me to believe that no one else noticed what was going on. The plot’s explanation for it was partially satisfying, but I would have preferred to see way more time spent exploring why she was so often left to her own devices and poor judgement.

The mystery itself was gripping and well-paced. As someone who once lived in British Columbia, it was eerie for me to pick up on the similarities between this piece of fiction and the real life missing person cases from that province that still remain unsolved. In no way it is necessary to know anything about those cases in order to enjoy this story, but I do think it will be a fun bonus for readers who are familiar with them.

It was never clear to me why the romantic subplot was included. There were so many other, more pressing matters for the characters involved in it to address that the romance felt out of place. This would have made good fodder for a sequel if the author ever decides to write one, but it wasn’t a good fit for this particular adventure.

Some people like to live without any modern conveniences when they go camping. Others are much more comfortable having at least occasional access to air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and the Internet. Seeing what happens when various characters get much more or less than they were expecting in these areas provided some much-needed levity in otherwise tense scenes. Including this minor conflict was a good idea.

There are paranormal elements in this book, but they don’t show up right away. The overall themes and tropes are much more heavily weighted toward what one generally expects to find in mysteries and young adult novels. This is the sort of thing I strongly prefer to know ahead of time when deciding what to read which is why I’m mentioning it in this review.

I’d recommend By Starlight to fans of the mystery and young adult genres alike.

Dark Shadow by Stephanie Burkhart

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Dark Shadow by Stephanie Burkhart
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (85 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Rose

The TPP have developed a new destructive weapon and intend to test it on the Borealis Space Station. Helios Talon, a Rebellion freedom fighter from Pith, is dispatched to the station to discover the extent of the weapon’s development and stop it if necessary. He’s also given a personal mission from his sister, Persephone: keep Vivian Melendez, the owner of Korn, safe from an unknown assassin.

Helios and his cousin, Athena, arrive on the Borealis and discover the TPP are ready to test the weapon. He’s got to act fast, but when Helios meets Vivian, distractions complicate his plan. Can he overcome his challenges and save not only the feisty Vivian, but the station, too?

This little volume, part of a larger series, plunks the reader smack dab in the middle of the action. I had to keep scrolling back to see if I had missed a chapter. But, that’s the price you pay when you pick up a series, especially a series of novellas, and don’t start at the beginning. It reminds me in a way of the old-time serials. However, it does not end with a cliff-hanger, but a nice segue into the next book in the series.

It didn’t take me long to sort things out, however, and even though I would love to read the earlier books to find out more about the over arcing conflict, the book was enjoyable as a read-alone. The characters are well drawn and likeable (I especially like Sally, the spine cat).

I will definitely be downloading the rest of the series to add to my ever growing TBR pile! Good job, Ms. Burkhart.

The Green Rose by Stephanie Burkhart

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The Green Rose by Stephanie Burkhart
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Full (201 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

On the continent of Gaia, evil is brewing. Turncoat wizard, Balthyser, kidnaps the kings of Dahaka and Tapin. He wants the green rose, a source of powerful magic.

Princess Sonia of Tapin is forced to hunt down the rose in exchange for her father’s life. It’s the ultimate betrayal of Gaia’s peace, but she has no choice if she wants to save her father.

Prince Ivánstan of Dahaka accompanies her on the journey. Both face challenges and obstacles that test their strength of character during the hunt for the rose. Dare Sonia put her trust and faith in a man she hardly knows to secure Gaia’s peace or will the continent’s harmony be shattered forever?

Well written and engaging, The Green Rose is a book fans of fantasy and romance should enjoy.

I enjoyed the characters in this story once I had them sorted. We meet several during the battle scene at the start, and a few felt similar, so it took me a moment to remember who was who. I loved that the hero and heroine weren’t enemies or at odds with one another. There are days I get so tired of reading about characters who do nothing but fight until they fall into bed. The conflict here was external and appreciated by me.

Sonia and Ivan have a quest, of course, as no fantasy is complete without one. During this time they learn to trust and like each other, and eventually fall in love. There are rules about them being able to marry, and that does intrude a bit on their happiness, but the story is ultimately about them finding what they need to save their world.

Ms. Burkhart is quite a good writer. I read this book quickly and was completely engaged. I don’t think I put it down for more than a few minutes at a time because, while it may not be nail-bitingly exciting, I cared quite a lot about our characters and wanted to see things through to the end. The author does a wonderful job creating characters we care about and her world building, while not extensive, is well done. Die hard epic fantasy fans may not fully engage here, but those of us who are reading for the story and the people in it will enjoy The Green Rose.

Stephanie Burkhart is fast becoming a “must buy” author for me. I’ve yet to read a story by her that I haven’t enjoyed.

Fortune’s Scion by Ann Gimpel

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Fortune’s Scion by Ann Gimpel
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (154 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Raised by wizards who never missed an opportunity to remind him of his deficiencies, Ned grows up believing his mage skills are seriously lacking. Conscripted at an early age, he fears it’s a back-handed way to ensure he sustains an honorable death in battle.

Battling prejudice, insidious lies and lack of knowledge about his mage powers—which are really quite different from wizard magic—Ned finds ways to keep going. His first mission away from the wizards teaches him he’s stronger and more resourceful than he thought. Against stiff odds, he learns different isn’t necessarily bad and true love has a way of shining through.

Will Ned complete his mission, or leave the world of wizards behind forever?

Ned’s life has been little better than a nightmare. Even though the wizards have treated him terribly, they are the only family he knows. With the war against the Infernals going poorly, Ned is sent on a mission to find some help. His chance of success is slim, but Ned is grateful for the opportunity to get away from the battlefield. Once he has some distance between himself and the wizards, Ned’s first taste of freedom is intoxicating. Belittled and bullied by the wizards for his entire life, Ned now finds himself in an interesting position. Does he complete his mission and return to the wizards who raised him, or slip away and make his own fate?

It is very easy to like Ned. Despite his upbringing, Ned is a kind young man. Unfortunately, the wizards have all but crippled his self-confidence. I have a soft spot for underdogs, so I found it very easy to cheer for Ned. I can’t believe he has stayed with the wizards as long as he has. I certainly wouldn’t blame Ned if he turned his back on them when given the opportunity.

Everything changes when Ned saves Amanda’s life. Even though she is a complete stranger, Ned doesn’t hesitate to put his own life at risk to save her. It is the first indication that Ned is made of stronger stuff than he realizes. As Ned experiences love and kindness for the first time in his life, he starts to see the world differently, making his decision regarding his mission very clear. I must say, it was a pleasure to watch Ned grow into a strong and courageous man.

The world Ned inhabits is interesting and filled with a variety of unique people and creatures. However, I feel that the story needed a lot more detail to fully round out the mythology that Ms. Gimpel crafted. As I read, there were several times when I found myself frustrated when details were sacrificed in favor of a faster pace. I wanted to know more about mages, wizards, and how the Earth got into such a terrible state. Sometimes a bit of explanation was provided concerning these topics, and sometimes they were completely glossed over. Despite this issue, I will say that Ms. Gimpel always provided enough information to keep the plot moving smoothly and avoid confusion.

Overall, I think Fortune’s Scion is a good book. Ned is a great character and I truly enjoyed watching him grow into a fine young man. I recommend Fortune’s Scion to anyone looking for a fast paced fantasy with a touch of romance.

Sunrise Over Brasov by Stephanie Burkhart

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Sunrise Over Brasov by Stephanie Burkhart
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Historical, Paranormal, Suspense
Length: Full (254 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4.5 Stars
Review by Poppy

Rosa Getzi lives a life of intrigue at Poiana Brasov with Clement, a werewolf, and Cassandra, the witch. Her past doesn’t matter to her – until she discovers what it holds.

Prince Michael Sigmaringen joins his sister-in-law, Caroline, and the vampire prince, Darius, in a daring rescue, igniting Rosa’s desire to find her family. However, all is not as it appears. Rickard, Rosa’s friend, escapes with her. Clement will go to any lengths to get Rosa and Rickard back.

At Darius’ fortress, Michael soon discovers Rickard is a new breed of werewolf – one who can control the change, and Clement hopes to exploit Rickard’s abilities.

Michael’s courage, strengths, and convictions will be tested like never before. Can Michael and Rosa find true happiness and the rid the lupine haunting of the Sigmaringens once and for all?

Much different from any historical or paranormal book I’ve read, Sunrise Over Brasov was both exciting and terribly romantic.

It’s not a regency historical … taking place far outside the ballrooms with which I’ve been acquainted. And the story is filled with paranormal beings of all types, from shifters to vampires to witches. Yet, Ms. Burkhart makes it all seamless.

I need to point out that this is the third in a series, and I’ve read none of the others, but was only a teeny bit lost now and then. The author does an admirable job of filling in the backstory without being dull.

The story is heavy on the mystery/suspense part with a curse and mayhem, bad guys blowing things up and chasing our heroine and her friend and more. There is mistrust and sadness (Rosa has been given drugs to erase her memory, and so has forgotten the man who loves her). The author writes her descriptions with a wonderful skill, painting a clear picture with her words. I loved how unusual her story, characters and setting were. This wasn’t the same old werewolf story. I was intrigued by her take on things.

Since I read primarily for romance, I was a bit frustrated by how it took backseat frequently to the storyline itself. I was really invested in Rosa and Michael, and wanted to see more of them together. Still, ultimately, their story made my heart happy and that’s all I can ask.

Now I need to go back and read the first books … I want to see how everything began!

Rebirth: Scrolls of Eternity Book One by J. Morgan

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Rebirth: Scrolls of Eternity Book One by J. Morgan
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Short Story (80 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Patrick Hughes’ idea of field trips didn’t include armed robbers and Egyptian gods, but that’s just what he got. Accidently assuming the mantle of Horus, the Egyptian God of War, he is about to take Superhero 101 for extra credit. With the help of his substitute history teacher, who just so happens to be Anubis God of the Dead, Patrick takes a crash course in what it takes to be a hero. Too bad time is running out. Sutekh the God of Chaos has his eye on taking over the world. Unless he gets the hang of being a superhero and quick, getting an F will be the least of Patrick’s worries. Will Patrick’s first test at being a superhero be his last, or will he become the hero he was born to be?

Anubis and Horus are sure that Patrick can be a hero. Unfortunately, Patrick doesn’t share their confidence.

I immediately sympathized with Patrick. He’s a typical kid trying to survive adolescence and all its awkward glory. Before being endowed with superpowers, his biggest concerns were keeping his best friend, Galen, out of trouble, and trying to get Rose to notice him. As I watched Patrick stumble through his life, it was easy for me to remember that time in my life. While not everyone will share Patrick’s obsession for all things science fiction, I imagine other readers, young and old, will be able to relate to Patrick’s struggle feel comfortable in his own skin.

Unfortunately, Patrick’s life becomes much more complicated when he’s chosen to be a superhero. His childhood is brought to an abrupt end as he finds himself facing Sutekh, who has had years to formulate his plan to take over the world. Patrick only has days to learn how to use his new powers. The physical and mental exhaustion from training with Anubis as well as the strain of keeping secrets from his family give a realistic feel to the fantastic events of the tale. Consequently, I was able to fully immerse myself in this thoroughly enjoyable story.

I do wish some of the other characters had been a bit more developed. Patrick’s life is full of eccentric friends and family that have a lot of potential, especially his best friend Galen. I have a feeling Mr. Morgan has only scratched the surface where that particular character is concerned. I hope to learn more about Galen and the other secondary characters in the future.

Rebirth has a very satisfying conclusion, but Mr. Morgan leaves the door open for other adventures. I enjoyed reading about Patrick and his first exploit so much that I’m already wondering what Patrick will face next. Will his next challenge be other Egyptian gods, creatures from other mythologies, or something else entirely?

Reading Rebirth was a pleasure. It is a fun, fast paced tale sure to delight readers who enjoy superheroes and the classic struggle of good versus evil. I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment in this exciting series.

Out of the Darkness by Anne Patrick

DARKNESS
Out of the Darkness by Anne Patrick
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (140 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

FBI profiler Alex Michaels’ life was shattered when a sadistic serial killer murdered her twin sister and left Alex with a career ending injury. Hoping to put the past behind her, she sets off across country with a truck driver she barely knows.

Royce McIntire knows Alex is on the run from something or someone, but he doesn’t care. He’s fallen in love with her and is finally getting his life back on track and wants to win back custody of his son.

The killer is hot on Alex’s trail though, determined to find the one victim who got away. As more bodies turn up dead Alex has no choice but to tell Royce who she really is. Will the love that has blossomed between them be strong enough to sustain them, or will the killer get to Alex before they even have a chance to find out?

Alex’s job was her life. What will she live for now that her career is over?

In just a few minutes, Alex lost everything that she cared about. Determined to leave her past and the pain of her losses behind her, Alex cuts ties with everyone she knows and takes off with Royce, a complete stranger. At first, Alex manages to find some semblance of happiness. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that Alex can’t hide forever, and the killer will never let her go.

Alex is obviously a tough woman. Not only did she survive the death of her sister, but also a career ending injury. When she quits her job and sets off across the country, some might assume she is simply running away. I don’t see it that way. I see a woman who needs some time and space to evaluate her priorities, her faith, and salvage her sanity. One of the things I like most about Alex is her rare ability to be direct and honest without being rude. Her straight-forward manner made me chuckle several times as I read, especially when Alex met Royce’s former mother-in-law.

Despite the odd way Alex and Royce met, their relationship felt very natural. There were a few awkward moments in the beginning that stemmed from Alex’s trust issues. However, it wasn’t long before their common faith in God, and Royce’s patience and gentle manner won her over. When Alex and Royce are together, it just seems right. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched them inch their way to a happy ending.

Alex is definitely the focus of this book, and as much as I liked getting to know her, I do wish some of the secondary characters had been more rounded. A few characters, like Royce’s son and Alex’s coworkers, had potential, but they never really grew beyond being types. Consequently, they didn’t seem as real to me as Alex.

Ms. Patrick did an excellent job building suspense around the serial killer stalking Alex. The sections of the story that focused on the killer gave me goose bumps, but weren’t overly graphic. I was on the edge of my seat wondering how close the murderer was to Alex and when he would make his final move.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Out of the Darkness. It is a chilling, fast paced suspense laced with romance. Anyone looking for a quick and entertaining read should definitely give Out of the Darkness a try.

Hotline Girl by K. Dawn Byrd

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Hotline Girl by K. Dawn Byrd
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational, YA
Length: Short Story (85 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Hollyhock

When the school counselor asks Abby to work a counseling chat line, she begs her to choose someone else. When Race, Abby’s three-year crush, begins using the chat line to talk about his girlfriend problems, can Abby be impartial when she really wants to tell him to dump her?

Race notices Abby after she has a complete make-over. He begins to spend more time with her and feels like a cheater because he likes the hotline girl too. How can he like two girls at once?

Abby is thrilled when Race begins spending time with her, but she’s crushed when he tells the hotline girl that he likes her and wants to take her out. Is he a player? Will he even want to be with her when he finds out that she is the hotline girl and knows all his deepest secrets?

What can you do when the guy you’ve been crushing on forever doesn’t notice you’re alive? How about a dazzling makeover? And if that’s not enough to catch his eye, how about helping him solve all his problems through your school’s peer-counseling hotline? That’s the intriguing premise of Hotline Girl, a short, fun, inspirational read from K. Dawn Byrd.

Abby is the sweet heroine at the center of Hotline Girl. She’s smart and funny but tends to keep to herself, content to watch high school from the sidelines. Once she decides to do something about her crush, though, she ditches her baggy clothes and nerdy glasses and joins the fun, quickly changing from geek to chic. Race, on the other hand, is already part of the in crowd. In fact, he’s dating the most popular girl in school just so he can keep up with that crowd, even though the girl represents everything his faith says is wrong. Confused, he reaches out to the school’s hotline to figure out what he should do. Through their anonymous conversations, Abby and Race quickly find common ground, and I liked how their interaction reinforces their faith and helps them grow as characters.

Although I enjoyed Abby and Race’s story, I think deeper characterizations could have made it even better. Race, especially, seemed inconsistent to me. His actions mostly show him to be a strong, centered young man who’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes, yet he’s dating a girl who makes him miserable just to fit in. I think more characterization to show why it was so important to him to be popular could have reconciled those two different sides of him. The story also felt a bit repetitive at times as the point of view switched between hero and heroine, going over the same scenes from each character’s perspective.

Overall, though, I liked how Abby’s story represents the idea that girls of faith shouldn’t settle for anything less than a special guy who shares their beliefs. I would recommend Hotline Girl to any teenager who’s struggling to balance a desire to be popular with the need to stay true to herself and her beliefs.