Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: God's Handmaiden by Gilbert Morris

Okay, it's confession time. Apparently I am not a natural blogger, because I just found this book review in my "draft" area, dated 6-14. Oops! I discovered that I never published the post after I wrote it up. Uh....yeah. Well, anyway, here is my review of God's Handmaiden by Gilbert's just a few (several) weeks late. ;)

After her mother dies, 15 year old Gervase is sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle who are servants at a large English house for the Wingate family. There she takes a position helping her aunt in the kitchen, and eventually moves up to higher positions in the household. After a couple years a situation arises that causes her to want a change in life, so she answers an employment ad that seeks a maid and companion for Miss Florence Nightingale. (Yes, THE Florence Nightingale!) Under Miss Nightingale, Gervase ends up acquiring nursing skills and works right alongside Florence in treating soldiers wounded in the Crimean War. After the war, Gervase's skills are needed when someone from her past needs care, forcing her to face the Wingate family and the life she ran from years before. I could easily go further with a summary because there is so much more that happens, but I'll stop here as I don't want to reveal any more....

Gervase is a very likeable character, and her attachment to her cat, Mr. Bob, endeared her to me even more as it's something I can completely identify with. Human-animal bonds aren't featured enough in most fiction, so I really appreciated Gervase's attachment to Mr. Bob. I was also really drawn to the character of Davis Wingate, I immediately liked him. He was so sweet to Gervase from the moment she arrived at the house, even though she was only a servant. His character seemed so real and was portrayed so excellently that I was actually saddened as he went through difficulties in his life.

Gilbert Morris really has a knack for writing for female characters; the emotions and thoughts that Gervase has are completely genuine. If I didn't know better, I'd say Gervase's character had been written by a female, she is that authentic! Being a female, I can't judge the male characters quite as well, however they too seemed very authentic. (Most of the books I read have female authors, but somehow I always feel that male characters are more authentic when written by a man.) It's not very common to find an author that can write with such authenticity for BOTH genders, but Gilbert Morris definitely has an excellent and impressive handle on both.

I very much enjoyed God's Handmaiden, and I was sorry when I finished it and had to move on to a different book. I completely recommend it; it's truly an excellent story. Check it out, you won't be sorry!

My Rating: 5 stars

If you have a kindle you can download the first chapter of God's Handmaiden for free at Amazon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

After Countess Anna and her wealthy family lose their whole fortune and are forced to flee their home country of Russia, Anna takes a job as a lowly maid at a large English manor. Although she has previously only known a life of luxury, she is not unwilling to work--even in a servant position. Anna knows nothing about housekeeping or the duties of a maid, but by continuously referencing an outdated book of servant etiquette and household tips (much to the amusement and occasional annoyance of the rest of the staff "below stairs"), she is actually able to excel at performing the duties of a maid. But hiding her privileged upbringing which resulted in high-quality manners, graceful movements, and countess-like poise proves to be not quite as easy... 

Since Anna and her family come from Russia (and they are fluent in something like 3 or 4 different languages), there's quite a few non-English words and terms that are used, which honestly makes things rather difficult. A sentence will be rolling along, and suddenly there will be a non-English word (mostly Russian, I guess?) used, and I was left wondering what the word meant, and what was trying to be conveyed. Eventually I got used to this and just sped right over the foreign words, but of course that sometimes ends up leaving certain descriptions and ideas a bit lacking.

Maybe the style is just too high-brow for me, but overall I really felt the book was a bit too "wordy". Many of the sentences and descriptions were so long and complex that by the time I got to the end, I ended up having to skim the whole sentence again to nail down the exact idea being presented. I suppose it's possible part of this was due to the foreign culture and time period...but on the other hand I often read books set in historic England, and I haven't encountered something quite like this before. The wordy-ness is probably just the author's style, and unfortunately it didn't quite "click" with me. 

The description on the back cover really makes this sound like a great story... but somehow the impression I got from the description, and the reality of what the book is actually like, are two quite different things. I imagined the story would be told completely (or at least mostly) from Anna's point of view, but as it turns out the point of view shifts between countless characters. Anna, Rupert (the earl), his mother, his finance, the fiancĂ©'s weird Dr. friend, several different friends of the earl's family, and on top of all that multiple servants as well. I guess it flows fairly well, sometimes just a couple paragraphs from one person's point of view, and sometimes several pages before it switches to someone else. So while this wasn't what I expected, I guess it wasn't really a problem except for the times when I had trouble keeping track of who certain characters were, which happened a few times.

Overall the story wasn't bad, but the wordy writing style just didn't allow me to totally enjoy it. I wanted to see where the story went so I didn't seriously think about not finishing....but let's just say I'm happy to be done and to have moved on to a different book. I really would have liked to see more of the story told from Anna's point of view though, I think that could have improved things quite a bit. Judging by other reviews I've read, it seems I'm in the minority with my less-than-5-star opinion, so I'm not going to recommend for or against A Countess Below Stairs. I'll leave the decision up to you. 

My rating: 3 stars

For those who are interested, here's a brief content advisory:
There's not much to be worried about here. A few minor innuendos, a couple of d-mn words, and God's name is misused a handful of times. A couple of the side characters are interested in eugenics, which is basically selective breeding for humans, trying to cut out bad bloodlines with the proposed result of more beautiful, flawless, and intelligent people. I'm always a bit uncomfortable when such emphasis is placed on outward's so judgmental, potentially mean, and obviously un-biblical. But anyway, those are the only content issues I can remember that you might want to be aware of beforehand.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Double Shot by Erynn Mangum

I've finished Erynn Mangum's Maya Davis trilogy. I totally loved it, although I'm bummed out that I've finished it... I've already got my mother reading the series; I raved over it so much that she wanted to check it out for herself! ;) Here's my review for the third (and last) book, Double Shot.

Maya's roommate Jen has just gotten married, and that in turn has forced the now roommate-less Maya to move into a smaller apartment for financial reasons. Change is not something that Maya handles well, and changing apartments is about to become the least of her concerns!

Maya is engaged to her long-time best friend Jack; their wedding is 3 months away and counting. It's a short engagement so they're cutting it close to get all the plans settled, and on top of that there's so many details Maya never imagined were involved in planning a wedding! Jack has given the wedding planning reigns to Maya, which is probably for the best considering that he works at a zoo. Uh, yeah, Maya is probably quite a bit more qualified to plan a wedding than a zookeeper...

We've already established that Maya doesn't deal well with change, so when Jack brings up a topic that could affect their effect their entire future and take them away from all they've ever known, Maya is utterly speechless. This could represent the largest and most unwelcome change in her entire life, and she is immediately opposed. While Maya is sure this thing is not God's will for them, Jack is equally sure that it IS God's will. Maya obviously still loves Jack, but is this issue enough to come between them?

Double Shot is a nice conclusion to the Maya Davis series, it wraps up most of the ongoing story lines and leaves just a bit up to your imagination. The story is chock-full of the wonderful Maya sense of humor that was established in the first two books. Several times I couldn't even believe what I was reading, because it was just so humorous! I love when everyday things can be turned into humorous situations and dialogue, it's just so entertaining! I could hardly keep the grin off my face!

I'm so glad I stumbled across the Maya Davis series, but I am sad that I've finished the trilogy. This was the most entertaining series I've read in a really long time, the characters are so full of life they simply jump off the pages and dare you not to like them. Erynn Mangum is definitely an author I'm going to be keeping an eye on, and I'm already planning on tracking down her Miss Match series. To sum things up, my advice is this: Do yourself a favor, buy Cool Beans, Latte Daze, and Double Shot. You'll be glad you did!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Review: Latte Daze by Erynn Mangum

Happy 4th of July, Independence Day to all of those in the USA! Here's my review of Latte Daze, which is the second book in Erynn Mangum's fabulous "Maya Davis" series:
It's official: I want to be friends with Maya Davis!
Four months have passed since we last saw Maya and her friends in Cool Beans (the first book in this series). Since then, she's started dating her best friend Jack, but things between them aren't much different than they've always been...their dates mostly just seem like two friends hanging-out. Jack was the one who confessed "more than friends" feelings, and Maya's still not sure what to think. Obviously she likes Jack, he's been her best friend for years....but more than that? Maya's just not sure... 
Then there's Jen, Maya's long-time roommate. She's dating Maya's ex-boyfriend (aka high school flame) Travis, and things are pretty serious between them. So serious, that when Travis pops the question to Jen, Maya is hardly surprised. But what catches Maya off guard is the intensity that the wedding plans take on. And when Jen's rude and impossible-to-please mother moves in and starts criticizing all of Jen's dream wedding plans, everyone's patience is put to the test.
Although I liked Cool Beans (the first book) just a little bit more, I still really enjoyed Latte Daze. I was kind of bummed to see Jack leave the coffee shop to start a new job since that meant there weren't as many opportunities for Maya/Jack banter. Although his new job at the zoo did end up providing quite a lot of opportunities for good-natured teasing and humorously cheesy jokes, I still missed his presence at the coffee shop. But as Maya is starting to find out: everything and everyone changes, and it's good if you can hold it together and not freak out about it. The best thing you can do is support the ones you love and not hold them back. (Even if it seems everyone around you is changing and growing while you remain stagnant!)
I said this in my review of the first book, and I'm going to say it again: if Maya was a real person I feel like I'd be friends with her! Sometimes I can't even believe how similar her thinking patterns are to mine, it's actually quite funny! :) But back to the review...Maya is still as spunky as ever, and she still has a love for movies, the food network, her dog Calvin, and of course coffee! Like the first book, this one is also loaded with great spiritual truths and applications for life. It's so awesome when you can be entertained and at the same time be learning things of value and not even realize you're learning, because it's all just woven together so nicely. I received (along with Maya) a great lesson on kindness: it's not a lack of action, such as simply keeping your mouth shut instead of mouthing off, but rather kindness is an action, an effort on your part. This is the type of stuff that we can all use reminders on.
If you've already read Cool Beans (the first book), I definitely recommend that you check out Latte Daze as well. And if you haven't already read the first book, Latte Daze does have enough of a recap that I guess you'd be okay to read it on its own... but Cool Beans is really a fun read too, so just make sure you don't miss out on it! These are some of the most lovable and entertaining characters I've run across in a long time, and it's just a pure joy to follow Maya's (or as Jack would say, "Nutkin's") story. This author has found a new fan in me, and I'm anxious to see what happens in the third book, Double Shot!