Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: Forever Christmas by Christine Lynxwiler

Cover and Synopsis:
Kristianna Harrington always dreamed of a Christmas wedding. But after two broken engagements, she's content to forget romance and run her Christmas shop in Jingle Bells, Arkansas. She thinks her biggest fear is making it down the aisle as maid of honor in her best friend's Christmas wedding, with at least one ex-fiancé looking on. But when her beloved Jingle Bells is threatened, Kristianna struggles to sort through her jumbled feelings concerning the handsome lawyer hired to change the town name and her childhood sweetheart who has returned just in time to come to her aid. Will her heart discover the truth before both her town and her Christmas spirit is extinguished?

My Thoughts:
Initially I thought this would be just your average "save-the-town" type of book, so I put off reading it for quite a while. BUT, when I finally did get around to reading it, I discovered that my presumptions couldn't have been more wrong. Forever Christmas is so much more than I expected, and "average" can't even begin to describe this lovely story.

As someone who loves all things Christmas, it didn't take long for me to start rooting for the town of Jingle Bells. I mean, come on, re-naming it to Summer Valley? You can't get any less Christmasy than that! As the various year-round Christmas themed stores and street decorations in the town are mentioned, I couldn't help but wish I could visit the charming little town in all its glory!

The characters simply jump off the pages; Kristianna and her friends are just so realistic and full of life. I felt really connected to Kristianna; it was very easy to sympathize with her past romantic failures and her stressful relationship with her parents. Her friends and the various townspeople are fun and quirky, just the way an endearing small town should be. As for Kristianna's romantic interests, she has two of them, and I will admit that for a while I was quite puzzled as to who she would end up with! I was extremely happy with how it turned out, though. ;)

I've read some of Christine Lynxwiler's books in the past, but I had forgotten how very much I enjoy her characters and writing. I'm so glad I picked this one up; I actually think it's my favorite Christmas book that I read this year. This one is not to be missed, and if you're only going to read one Christmas book during the holiday season, THIS is the one you want to read! Highly, highly recommended!

My Rating: 5 stars

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: 31 Kisses by Chautona Havig

Book Cover and Synopsis:
When one plus one equals thirty-one…

It happens every day.
Guy meets grandpa–and girl.
Guy knocks grandpa off ladder
Guy kisses girl to make it “all better.”
Every day.
For a month.
Just your normal, average, all-American romance…

Meet Chessie and Carson. She goes “all out” for Christmas (and every other holiday including Columbus Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Flag Day); he doesn’t own a single thing that could be considered decorative–unless you count the stickers he stuck to his dresser back when he was three.

Neither of them have ever had a serious relationship; both are opposed to frivolous expressions of affection. How on earth did they get tangled up in a “kiss-a-day-during-December” pact?

My Thoughts:
This is a light and fluffy read, with great characters and a fun storyline. Chessie and Carson's first meeting was humorous, and I found it quite amusing how Chessie's grandfather ("Gumpy") immediately started trying to fix them up.

The "Kiss-a-bell" is a cute idea, substituting a plastic bell container full of Hershey's Kisses for the traditional mistletoe. With the huge role that chocolate plays in this book, it's hard indeed to not want some of those chocolates that Chessie and Carson are constantly exchanging! ;)

Chessie's personality often reminded me of Dr. Temperance Brennan from the TV show Bones. No, Chessie is not a scientist, but she has the same blunt way of communicating, and an overly-rational way of looking at things, both of which add up to create many amusing moments. Thankfully Chessie isn't crass like Dr. Brennan, so there's not any objectionable content here. :)

This is a great read for the Christmas season; it's very fun without seeming cheesy or fake. There's just enough conflict to keep a nice balance, but not enough to stress you out or dampen the fun feeling of the story. If you're looking for a fun Christmas tale that won't get you down, look no further, this is the ticket! 

My Rating: 5 stars

Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Advent by Chautona Havig

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Curtis Brighton is the enigma of Delta Advertising. Why is the highest paid, most successful man in the office not getting the promotions that he has earned? Why is his wallet worn out, his briefcase falling apart, and why doesn’t he at least participate in the office “Secret Santa?”

These are questions that plague Lita Cathey. After three years sitting across from him, she knows only his work ethic and strange propensity to disappear from the office in a rush.

As the month counts down, the most unlikely relationship builds until Lita’s heart is so entangled that she has to face her own fears.

My Thoughts:
This is overall a fun and very enjoyable read. Lita is quite pushy in her pursuit of Curtis, which is something you don't see a lot of in Christian fiction, but in this case it makes for a really fun time. Curtis's love for his mother is amazing; he is unbelievably patient with her and is very self-sacrificing in his own desires, to the point that you might think "is this guy for real?", but somehow it completely works and doesn't seem forced at all.

Towards the end I lost a little enthusiasm when an issue from Lita's past suddenly pops up and starts to cause trouble in her relationship with Curtis. I wasn't thrilled how she had so doggedly pursued Curtis when she must've known this particular issue would eventually cause problems. It's just a minor annoyance, it certainly didn't stop me from reading, but in my mind it just didn't quite fit with the rest of the story.

Chautona Havig is a very unique voice in the Christian fiction market; I'm so glad to have discovered her books. Her stories and characters are fresh and original; definitely not cookie-cutter copies of everything else out there! As for this book, Advent, I do recommend it if you're looking for a nice Christmas-time story. It's unique and enjoyable, and I'm glad to have read it. 

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review: Ellie's Song: A Christmas Story (Novella)

Cover and Synopsis:
Ellie Morgan was born with stars in her eyes and dreams of life on the stage as a professional singer. Home from college on a winter break, she sits in a little coffee shop, missing the fast-paced life of Chicago, when in walks Luke Williams.

Luke gave up a Broadway career to move back to his hometown, taking a job as a high school music teacher. Ellie is shocked that he would give up a life of fame and fortune to become a teacher.

As a friendly bet, Ellie volunteers to help Luke out at a children's choir program that he runs. She is soon surprised at how quickly the children find a place in her heart and she begins to see Luke in a new light as she discovers that with the magic of Christmas and the power of music, even miracles can happen.

My Thoughts:
This is a sweet story about a college girl learning the power of serving others and the joy it brings. It's a great story for the Christmas season, and it has all the right ingredients to make a cute Hallmark channel movie: Wealthy girl, attractive guy, and some underprivileged kids with stories that pull at your heart-strings.

It's a quick read (it only took me an hour), and while I couldn't form a strong bond with the characters in that short span of time, I was interested in what happened and seeing how things ended. The writing could use just a touch of editing, but it certainly wasn't anything to stop me from enjoying the story.

If you're looking for a short story to read while you take a coffee break, this would be a good choice. I really think it would make a lovely little Hallmark movie; hopefully someone in the business will stumble upon it and recognize the possibilities!

My Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: At Every Turn by Anne Mateer

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Caught up in a whirlwind of religious fervor when two missionaries speak at her church, Alyce Benson impetuously pledges three thousand dollars to mission work in Africa. She's certain her wealthy father will simply hand her the money. But when he refuses, she must either stand up in front of the congregation and admit failure, or raise the money herself.

Alyce harbors a secret passion for speed and automobiles. It's 1916, and the latest advancements in car engines allow some to post speeds upwards of seventy miles per hour! When she discovers her father's company has sponsored a racing car that will compete in several upcoming events--races in which the driver will be paid and could win as much as five thousand dollars in prize money--she conspires with her father's mechanic, Webster, to secretly train and compete.

But as Alyce comes across needs in her own community, money slips through her fingers faster than she can earn it. And when her friends cast aspersions on Webster's past, she believes she might have trusted the wrong man with her secret. Will Alyce come up with the money in time, or will she have to choose between her promise and the man who holds a piece of her heart?

My Thoughts:
Set in 1916, At Every Turn is a unique historical tale that's written in first person, told solely from Alyce's point of view. I love first person writing, though it's somewhat uncommon in historical fiction.

I wasn't able to completely connect with Alyce...she's likeable enough, but she occasionally seemed just a little bit "too good". Her personality is extremely impulsive, but at the same time she's very determined to meet her goal of raising $3,000 for missions. These two traits come together to put her in some amusing predicaments, which only seem to get worse despite her efforts to rectify things. Her intentions are good, but she has a knack for digging herself a bigger and bigger hole, with no way out!

I really liked Webster (one of the main male leads in the story), and the mystery surrounding his past was intriguing. He holds back any and all details of his past life, which frustrates Alyce, but it ultimately deepens the mystery for the reader. When the details of his former life were finally revealed, I was somewhat surprised, but quite happy with the revelations and the way things turned out.

Overall, I liked Anne Mateer's debut novel Wings of a Dream a bit better, but this was definitely a unique read; it's certainly not just your average everyday story! (I think it would actually make an excellent TV-movie.) I'll be keeping my eye on Anne Mateer, and I'm pretty sure I'll be checking out her next book when it's released!

My Rating: 4 stars
(I received this book courtesy of the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, a positive review was not required.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: Wings of a Dream by Anne Mateer

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Rebekah Hendricks dreams of a life far beyond her family's farm in Oklahoma, and when dashing aviator Arthur Samson promised adventure in the big city, she is quick to believe he's the man she's meant to marry. While she waits for the Great War to end and Arthur to return to her so they can pursue all their plans, her mother's sister falls ill. Rebekah seizes the opportunity to travel to Texas to care for Aunt Adabelle, seeing this chance to be closer to Arthur's training camp as God's approval of her plans.

But the Spanish flu epidemic changes everything. Faced with her aunt's death, Arthur's indecisiveness, and four children who have no one else to care for them, Rebeka is torn between the desire to escape the type of life she's always led and the unexpected love that just might change the dream of her heart.

My Thoughts:
Rebekah is young and somewhat naive, and the situation she finds herself thrust into is more than most 19-year-old's would be prepared to handle. Instead of caring for her ill aunt as she originally thought, she finds herself the sole caretaker of a stranger's farm and four young children! It's way more responsibility than excitement and adventure-seeking Rebekah expected, and the last thing she wants is to be stuck on a farm like her parents before her were.

Though it interferes with her life plans and dreams, she admirably shoulders the semi-temporary responsibility. She has some ups and downs, but it's fun and encouraging to see how she grows and matures as the story progresses. With maturity, and a growing love for the children in her care, she comes to the realization that the life she never wanted might just be better than anything she ever dreamed of.

The writing style is first person, told entirely from Rebekah's viewpoint. I always love when books are written in first person, but it's fairly uncommon in historical novels so I particularly appreciated it here. Rebekah has several possible love interests; usually I can immediately spot the characters that will end up together, but this one fooled me.... In a good way, though! :) It turned out exactly as it should, and in the end I was very glad she didn't end up with the one I originally assumed she would.

This is Anne Mateer's debut novel, but it certainly doesn't feel like a debut. It's an excellent offering; I really enjoyed it. If you're a fan of historical fiction, this is one you won't want to miss!

My Rating: 5 stars

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Discovering Hope by Chautona Havig

Book Cover and Synopsis:
What do Brigadoon, saris, epic laser tag games, and Jesus have in common? Hope.

Hope Senior—all-American girl and student at Rockland University. Her family came over on the Fortune, less than a year after the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth.

Jay Brown—a charming blend of Indian heritage and American dreams. He arrived in the United States as a boy, something he hardly remembers.

A chance meeting introduces them, and in time, Hope introduces Jay to Jesus.

Her faith both intrigues & repels him. He respects & admires her Jesus. The stories in the Bible tug at his heart, but he can't accept that without the blood of Jesus, he deserves only hell.

Where Hope fails, can faith move the mountains protecting his heart?

My Thoughts:
This is a cute story with likable characters. Hope is fun and spontaneous--the kind of person everyone likes--and is very easy to become attached to. Jay is genuinely nice, and (much to Hope's surprise!) is quite American acting for someone who was born in India.

It was fun to watch their meeting and the subsequent growth of their friendship. Eventually their relationship changes to something more, and I found it particularly sweet when they started acting different and letting their feelings show, but at the same time they're not quite sure what to make of the subtle change in direction of their relationship.

At times I felt the "preachy" level got up just a tad too high, although considering that Jay's search for truth and understanding is a fairly large part of the plot, I'm not sure it could be helped. Honestly, "preachy" isn't really even the right word....It's not heavy-handed, there's just a fair amount of conversations between Jay and Hope where they discuss Bible verses or various points of her faith.

Overall, this was an enjoyable story, and though it's the first book I've read by Chautona Havig, I'm sure it won't be the last! I'm looking forward to checking out some of her other books in the future.

My Rating: 4 stars

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review: Loving Lily Lavender by DeAnna Kinney

Book Cover and Synopsis:
My Rating: 2 stars
Lily is 23 and on top of the world. Her wedding planning business is thriving, her beautiful Victorian home is organized, just like the rest of her life, and her rose garden is flourishing. She is in no way looking for a man to complicate her manicured life. Her faith is strong, and she couldn’t be happier.

Lucas is 24 and miserable. Having just been thrust into stardom with the release of his first blockbuster film, he’s running from paparazzi and screaming girls all who want a piece of his flesh. In a desperate attempt to get a grip on his fast declining life, he runs away to a small town, hoping to go unnoticed. But Jasper, North Carolina has a few surprises of its own.

On one fateful night, their two, opposite worlds will collide, and they will have to fight against all odds to protect the kind of love that changes a soul forever.

My Thoughts:
Oh boy... where to begin? If you're thinking of reading this book, there's definitely some things you should know beforehand.

The entire story has an over-the-top sugary-sweet feeling, with the two main characters, Lily and Lucas, both seeming rather naive. Their range of emotions is limited; they generally fly high in waves of unbelievable happiness, except for when they are separated, which causes them to fall into near crippling despair. Extraordinary joy, or total despair, that's all they seem capable of feeling, nothing in-between.

This seems to be marketed as Christian fiction, yet there is barely any faith content to be found. Several chapters in, Lily reveals she is a Christian, but sadly it's not at all obvious by her behavior. We never find out exactly what she believes, or why. Much of her faith seems to revolve around remaining a virgin until marriage, yet oddly enough, she is completely willing to engage in frantic make-out sessions that go to the very brink of "no return" before breaking away. To be honest, it creeped me out how very many times she and Lucas bluntly talked about intimacy (or rather, the lack thereof). And then after their marriage, it's mentioned well over 10 separate times when they are intimate or "made love". It's not particularly graphic, but the sheer number of times it's mentioned--often combined with slightly suggestive comments--is simply way more information than necessary.

The writing style has the feel of a young-adult novel, which I have nothing against, but considering the content, I could not recommend it to a child or teen. As I've mentioned, it's not especially graphic, but for my taste there is honestly way too much focus on the subject of sex, something that should not be the main focus in a "Christian" novel.

There are various other things that bothered me, and while I won't get into all of them, one that's high on the list is Lily's tendency to take God's name in vain. ("Oh My God!") She says she's trying to break the habit (only because it offends her work clients), but I didn't feel her efforts were very substantial. Another large issue was Lucas's sudden conversion to faith, which came about by "bargaining" with God for something he wanted. Bargaining is never a good idea, and the whole situation ultimately made it very hard for me to believe he really had changed, especially considering that he was never even presented with the gospel or salvation plan.

I honestly hate to write negative reviews. I know a book takes an extraordinary amount of time to create, and I really admire those who have the courage to put their work "out there" for the entire world to see. Judging by other reviews I've read, my opinion of this one is in the minority, but I felt I had to bring these issues to light for those who may be considering the book. This is exactly the type of detailed review I wish I could have read before picking this one up. 

My Rating: 2 stars

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Review: The Scent of Rain by Kristin Billerbeck

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Daphne Sweeten left Paris—and a job she loved—to marry the man of her dreams in the U.S. But when he stands her up on their wedding day, she's left reeling and senseless. Literally. She's been trained as a perfume creator and now her sense of smell has disappeared along with her fiancĂ©.

She has to figure out why her nose isn't working, fix it, and get back to Paris. Meanwhile, she'll rely on her chemistry skills and just hope her new boss at Gibraltar Products, Jesse, doesn't notice her failing senses. They'll be working together on household fragrances, not posh perfumes. How hard can it be?

As Daphne and Jesse work on a signature scent for their new line, she feels God at work as never before. And the promise of what's possible is as fresh as the scent of rain.

My Thoughts:
I really wanted to like this one. The premise sounded unique, but unfortunately I wasn't able to connect with the story or the characters.

The over-abundance of office politics at Gibraltar was too much for my taste, and I just couldn't bring myself to be excited about the relationship between Daphne and Jesse. I know there was supposed to be an attraction between the two characters, but I had a hard time seeing why. Jesse's constant attempts at convincing Daphne to leave the company in order to further her career got somewhat old, and the fact that it was an attempt on his part to atone for failing his late wife, well, that was just a bit creepy to me.

Daphne as a whole wasn't quite as developed as I would've liked; especially for being a main character. I felt like her abandonment at the altar should've affected her much more than it seemed to. And not having a sense of smell? I think that would be cause for major freaking-out, especially for someone with her position, yet she never seemed much more than neutral about it.

I hate to write such a mediocre review for any book, but I simply couldn't "click" with this book and ultimately the whole thing just fell flat for me. I'm sure there are others who would enjoy it very much, I'm just not one of them. I do have to admit the cover is gorgeous, although I don't feel it fits the story tone very well. If you're looking to try a Kristin Billerbeck novel, I would recommend "Split Ends" instead, which is one of her earlier works.

My Rating: 3 stars

Thanks to the publisher (Thomas Nelson) for providing me with this e-book via NetGalley for review. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Review: The 4th Floor Lounge by Amanda Hamm

I've sort of been MIA from posting lately...truth be told, I was in the middle of a light fantasy series, and while I absolutely loved it, it doesn't really fit into my regular categories of "Christian Fiction" or "Young Adult", so I decided not to feature it here (although I did post reviews at Amazon).
Anyway, now that I've returned from the fantasy world, regular reviews will now resume! :) Here's The 4th Floor Lounge by Amanda Hamm.

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Where does an extreme introvert draw the line between being lonely and being left alone? One quirky college student is looking for the answer in the 4th floor lounge.

Her goals are simple: make one or two good friends and avoid talking to everyone else. Achieving those goals will not be easy for this gorgeous yet socially awkward heroine. She’s constantly approached by guys who are not interested in friendship. And when she finally forms some solid bonds it’s her own romantic feelings that get in the way.

My Thoughts:
Okay, I admit it: I'm an introvert, so obviously I was able to connect with Charlotte, the title character, immediately. And I do mean *immediately*! Many of her actions and thought processes, well, lets just say very familiar! In a way it's nice to know other people have similar thoughts and feelings, but then again, to see some of them down on paper staring back at me was actually a bit sobering...however, it was also extremely entertaining!

The writing style is rather simple in a way, but it has a very comforting quality to it. It's written in first person style, with Charlotte narrating most of the book, so it often has the fun and easy feeling of a friend telling a story about them self. Although extroverts (or "talkers", as Charlotte calls them) may think the whole book is a bit over the top, it really isn't far off the mark; Charlotte's personality is very genuine and her thought processes are completely authentic for someone who struggles with social settings.

Overall, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I first picked this up, but I'm very glad I didn't pass it by. I really enjoyed following Charlotte through college, and watching the ups and downs of her friendships and awkward interactions. Some people might think she's weird, in fact she knows it and acknowledges it, but it's extremely refreshing to see that she doesn't let those opinions change who she is. I really had fun with this book, and the ending was very sweet. I'm looking forward to checking out more of this author's works!

My Rating:
5 stars

For those interested in content:
This isn't really a "Christian" novel, but I was very comfortable reading it. Charlotte and a few other characters are Catholic, but their beliefs aren't really discussed, basically all that's mentioned is people going to church/mass. The content is pretty clean; Charlotte lives in a co-ed dorm so there's a couple of light veiled innuendos (mostly from guys trying to get Charlotte to go out with them), but certainly nothing extreme at all.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review: A Vision of Lucy by Margaret Brownley

Before I get to today's review (it's for the last book in the Rocky Creek trilogy), I just wanted to make a mention that this post is somewhat special.... it's my 50th blog post! Woo-hoo! :) And now, on to the review:

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Trouble follows Lucy wherever she goes. So does a vision of second chances . . . and love.

Lucy Fairbanks dreams of working as a photographer at the Rocky Creek newspaper. Her deepest hope is that her father will see her as an artist, the way he thought of her deceased mother, whose paintings still hang on their walls.

But disaster follows Lucy on every photo assignment: a mess of petticoats and ribbons, an accidental shooting, even a fire.

When Lucy meets David Wolf—a rugged, reclusive man who lives on the outskirts of town—she thinks she can catch the attention of the town with his photograph. She doesn't count on her feelings stirring whenever she's near him.

Two things happen next that forever change the course of Lucy's life. But will these events draw her closer to God or push her further away? And how will David accept this new vision of Lucy?

My Thoughts:
What's not to love about a historical novel involving a woman photographer? I really can't say, because right from the first page I was immediately hooked!! Lucy is a riot of a character, with her non-stop chattering and habit of getting into strange and embarrassing situations.

Being somewhat of a shutterbug myself, I was highly amused to read the plethora of negative opinions held towards early photography; many people thought it a passing fad, while newspapers were declaring photos too trivial to print, saying they would detract from high quality news reporting. What a laugh!! It's these type of comments, paired with excellent characters, that make this book SO much fun!

Each chapter begins with an amusing quote about photography by a "Miss Gertrude Hasslebrink", supposed author of a photography book in 1878. I found these short thoughts and quotes so amusing that I actually tried to find a copy of the book online, only to discover it's fictional and the quotes were purely made up for A Vision of Lucy! LOL. :)

I really enjoyed this book, it had just a great combination of things going on. Lucy's fun personality and penchant for getting into trouble, paired with the extremely intriguing subject of early photography, a case of missing persons, and a man labeled as "wild" who Lucy has taken a liking to... all these things mix together in just the right way to make this book a real gem in the historical genre. Highly recommended!

My Rating: 5 stars

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Review: A Suitor for Jenny by Margaret Brownley

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Jenny Higgins is certain falling in love and finding a husband are matters of the mind. Her heart has other plans.

After their parents died, Jenny felt responsible for seeing that her two younger sisters were well taken-care of. Tipped off by an article naming Rocky Creek the town with the highest number of eligible bachelors, Jenny rolled into this Texas town with a clear objective: find suitable husbands for her two sister and then start fresh somewhere far, far away.

Jenny believe that women who fall in love at first sight often wish they'd taken a second look, so she diligently begins to follow all the rules set forth in her handy manual on how to land a husband.

But while Jenny is interviewing the less-than-promising candidates, her sisters are falling in love the old-fashioned way--with men of their choosing. And the longer Jenny stays, the more her sense of control slips away. The town isn't living up to her expectations, her sisters are rebelling against her practical choices, and soon her own heart starts to betray her, as US Marshall Rhett Armstrong stirs emotions in her that weren't part of her plan.

To relinquish her control to God and calm her restless spirit, she'll need to give her foregone conclusions about marriage, love, and faith.

My Thoughts:
Have you ever thought about posting "Husband Wanted" signs all over town, and then interviewing candidates for the position? No? Well, not only has Jenny thought about it, but she's doing it! Not for herself, of course, but for her two sisters, who she is determined to marry off to eligible men....and she'll stop at nothing to see it happen!

Some of Jenny's tactics in trying to find husbands for her sisters occasionally seemed a bit over-the-top and unrealistic to me, but I did find it quite comical that the male reactions to Jenny's methods were often the extreme opposite of what I expected!

Jenny is the lead character, but the point of view also rotates back and forth between her two sisters, and also Rhett, the town marshal. The rotating perspective allows you to experience the love-story of each sister from their own point of view... so head's up romance fans, this book has 3 simultaneous romance stories going on at once! :)

A Suitor for Jenny is certainly a unique story, and while I did like the first book in the series a bit better, this one was still entertaining. A few familiar faces from the first book pop up here and there, just enough to appease readers of the first, but if you don't have access to the first book there's no reason you can't read this one as a stand-alone. (Although, I do highly recommend reading the first book (A Lady Like Sarah), simply because it's an absolute blast to read!)

My Rating: 4 stars

Friday, September 7, 2012

Review: A Lady Like Sarah by Margaret Brownley

Book Cover and Synopsis:
She's an outlaw.
He's a preacher.
Both are in need of a miracle.

Sarah Prescott has never known a respectable life. Just a hardscrabble childhood and brothers who taught her to shoot first and ask questions later.

Justin Wells left Boston in disgrace, heading out alone on the dusty trail to Texas. But when the once-respected clergyman encounters a feisty redhead in handcuffs with a dying U.S. Marshall at her side, their journey takes a dramatic turn.

His high-society expectations and Sarah's outlaw habits clash from the start. With a price on her head and towing an orphaned baby rescued from the brink of starvation, Justin and Sarah make the difficult journey toward Rocky Creek. There, justice will be meted out. Perhaps--they hope--with a healthy portion of grace.

My Thoughts:
Let me start out by saying that the romance level in this book is higher than many others in the genre, not as far as inappropriate content (there's none), but just quantity of scenes. You can simply feel the tension and longing the two lead characters have; their feelings are alive in such a way that the characters themselves simply jump off the pages.

Often times when historical novels have a female lead intended to be feisty or wild, generally I find their "eccentric" behavior to be somewhat forced and over-the-top, BUT, that is definitely not the case here. Sarah is certainly colorful (especially for the time period), but in a good way; her unusual ways are charming and seem very natural considering her history and childhood. I found many of her sayings and quotes quite amusing, and I loved how she wasn't stiff and all about propriety, as the time period generally demanded women to be.

Justin is also very likable and easy to sympathize with. You might think a story with a preacher as one of the lead characters might be boring, but it's certainly not. He's simply a regular person, just like you and I, trying to do what God would have him do, even when it's unbearably hard.

This is the first book by Margaret Brownley that I've have the pleasure of reading, and I have to say that I really, really enjoyed it. Bravo!! I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store as the Rocky Creek series continues!

My Rating: 5 stars

Reviews for the rest of the Rocky Creek series will be coming later this month, stay tuned! :)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Review: Sandwich, With A Side of Romance by Krista Phillips

Book Cover and Synopsis:
She moved to Sandwich, Illinois, in search of a new life, but ended up in a giant pickle. 

Sandwich represents hope for twenty-year-old Maddie Buckner and Kyle, the eleven-year-old brother Maddie wants to spring out of foster care. Then she loses her new job after less than a day. It's all Reuben-the-Jerk's fault, and she's determined to make him right the wrong. He does so, reluctantly, by giving her a job at his restaurant, The Sandwich Emporium. Then crazy things start happening at the restaurant, and Kyle's foster parents apply to adopt him. To stop it all, Maddie must learn the art of humbling herself and accepting the help God has arranged, risking her heart to Reuben in the process. And she'd rather eat a million corned-beef on rye sandwiches than do that.

My Thoughts:
Okay, who can honestly say they aren't intrigued by the title of this book?! It just screams that there is fun to be had, and I simply couldn't resist checking it out.

The back-and-forth bantering dialogue between Maddie and Reuben is perpetual and while amusing, it's often extremely snarky, due in part to the unfortunate circumstances of how they met. Reuben has a temper that often blows up, causing Maddie to privately think of him as "Reuben-the-jerk", a nickname that is often deserved. Many of the things Maddie says to Reuben in the course of their bantering are simply astonishing, I would never have the guts to talk to my boss that way... but then again, I've never had to work for "Reuben-the-jerk!" It's all very interesting and humorous to read, but I admit to initially having trouble imagining a relationship working out for them in the presence of all their snarky comments.

Maddie's hard past displays itself in her often sarcastic comments, but occasionally I felt her sarcasm was a bit forced, like she was trying just a bit too hard to be "funny". A few times her thought processes concerned me, as she seemed a bit irreverent towards God... now granted, she acknowledges this and says it's a deal she has with God to keep things "real", but it still bothered me somewhat.

This is Krista Phillips debut novel, and ultimately while I'm not sure it will be extremely memorable for me in the long run, it was a good diversion and definitely had a unique plot. The small issues I had certainly wouldn't stop me from picking up another one of her books in the future.

My Rating: 3.5, rounded up to 4 stars
Thanks to the publisher (Abingdon Press) for providing me with an e-arc via NetGalley for review.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Review: The Wedding Cake Girl by Anne Pfeffer

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Seventeen year old Alexandra spends so much time helping others realize their dreams that she never has time for her own. An expert ocean diver and reluctant maker of wedding cakes, she longs to leave roses and frosting behind to study oceanography. Alex’s mother won’t have it—needy and dependent, Mom can’t run the family wedding cake business on her own.

No matter what Alex does, things only get worse for her. When she risks her life to save a tourist while scuba diving and becomes the local hero, Mom's angry with Alex for going diving at all. Mom also discourages Alex's new friendship with the insanely wealthy Jeremy, a fun boy with a secret. Then, Alex's best friend, Zack, a hunky island guy, starts to take an interest in her as well. The problem is, he's dating another girl.

As Alex struggles to learn where she stands between her two difficult and confusing Prince Charmings, it occurs to her that maybe what she really needs is a Prince Charming for Mom. If she doesn't do something, she will make cakes all her life and die in her "Sue's Wedding Cakery" apron with a spatula in her hand.

Featuring a colorful island setting, dangerous underwater diving adventures, a family of billionaires, and lots and lots of buttercream, this is Alex's journey toward not only finding love, but learning how to step forward and take control of her own life, a rite of passage that faces all young readers.

My Thoughts:
This book starts out as a light and fun story with a unique island setting, and the characters are immediately likeable and easy to sympathize with. Alex's diving hobby is a fun diversion; the underwater scenes are written so vividly that it's easy to imagine yourself in the situations. Of course there are a couple slightly unrealistic (but fun!) plot points, but overall I initially found the story to be quite enjoyable and a nice change of pace. I was all set to give a rating of 4 or 5 stars, until....

Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through the tone of the story changes, with sex becoming a larger issue than what I care to read about. During make-out sessions Alex's boyfriend lightly pressures her, and while she resists, she does consider giving in. Closer to the end, one of the main characters admits to being gay, which was unexpected and in my opinion seemed forced... it was as if the story was mostly written and then someone had a last minute idea to throw this in for controversy. These were both very disappointing happenings in a book that I originally thought would be a fun, mostly innocent "trip" to an island...

Honestly, in the beginning I really did enjoy the story; the diving scenes were exciting and fun, and the wedding cake business was interesting as well. However, when the tone changed and the above mentioned topics became front and center, my interest waned and I just wanted to be done so I could move on to other things. I wish the story had played out differently, because it had potential and was on a good fun streak until things suddenly got muddied by what I consider unnecessary themes.

For those wanting more info on possible content concerns:
Obviously there are the issues mentioned above, but of top of that, God's name is misused a dozen or so times, and minor profanities such as h*ll, *ss, etc, are each used a few times. A couple innuendos are present, and one time Alex visits a friend's house and discovers he has a girl in his room; nothing graphic is really seen, it's more just implied and then later referenced a couple times.

My Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: Hatteras Girl by Alice J. Wiser

Book Cover and Synopsis:
There are two things twenty-nine-year-old Jackie Donovan asks God for: an honest, wonderful man to marry, and to own a bed-and-breakfast in the Outer Banks region. In the meantime, Jackie works for Lighthouse Views magazine, writing articles about other local business owners, and intrepidly goes on the blind dates set up by her well-meaning but oh-so-clueless relatives.

There's one specific property Jackie dreams of purchasing: the Bailey Place, a fabulous old home where Jackie spent many happy childhood afternoons, a place that has now fallen into disrepair because of its outrageous price tag. When Jackie meets handsome Davis Erickson, who holds the key to the Bailey Place, Jackie is sure God has answered both her prayers. But as Jackie learns some disturbing details about Davis's past, she begins to question her own motivation. Will she risk her long-held dreams to find out the truth?

My Thoughts:
Okay, I admit, this was a really enjoyable read! Hatteras Girl is a very relaxing story; the comfortable writing style makes it almost effortless to get wrapped up in Jackie's life and her dream of owning the Bailey House B&B. I was floored by the price tag of her dream location, but you gotta admire how Jackie didn't let that deter her from pursuing her dream.

Jackie's friendly bantering relationship with Buck at the local grille is fun to watch, and her budding relationship with Davis, the owner of the Bailey House, is very interesting to see unfold. (Be careful in making judgments, because Jackie just might not end up with who you initially guess! *wink, wink*) The quirky friends and relatives that round out the cast of characters in Jackie's life are realistic, with past pains and sorrows, but yet they have enough eccentric traits to keep things mostly light and amusing. (I couldn't help being amused by her aunt's continual song-writing habit!)

The beachy/hometown setting is strangely familiar and comfortable, which makes it very enjoyable to follow Jackie around town as she goes about her daily business of holding down a job, dealing with friends and family, and continually pursuing her dream of one day owning the Bailey House B&B. If you're looking for a relaxing change of pace from your day-to-day life, Hatteras Girl might be just the ticket you've been looking for!  

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: Love in Disguise by Carol Cox

Book Cover and Synopsis:
When costume-maker Ellie Moore suddenly finds herself out of a job in the middle of a bleak Chicago winter, she uses her knowledge of theatrical disguise to secure a position as an undercover operative with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Her assignment: find the culprit behind the theft of silver shipped from the mines near Pickford, Arizona. 

Disguised as Lavinia Stewart, a middle-aged widow, Ellie begins her investigation. Soon she finds she must also pose as the dazzling young Jessie Monroe, whose vivacious personality encourages people to talk. 

Mine owner Steven Pierce is about to lose his business after the theft of several bullion shipments--until hope arrives in the unlikely form of Lavinia Stewart, who offers to invest in Steven's mine. In his wildest dreams, Steven never expected to be rescued by an inquisitive gray-haired widow . . . or to fall head over heels for Lavinia's captivating niece, Jessie. 

But then the thieves come after both Lavinia and Jessie. Ellie isn't safe no matter which character she plays! Will she be forced to reveal her true identity before the criminals are caught? What will Steven do when he discovers the woman he loves doesn't exist?

My Thoughts:
For some reason I find Pinkerton Detectives to be a mysterious and intriguing subject in fiction, so I gladly picked up this book. I was quickly amused watching Ellie weasel her way into the Pinkerton job, with no qualifications except her unique ability to disguise herself!

Ellie's scheme of splitting herself into two "characters" for the benefit of her investigation was very unique and definitely an amusing idea. I rather feel like I've seen something similar in a sitcom or movie somewhere...I think the idea may be a bit better suited to film, but it was still an interesting read. I expected a bit more humor with Ellie trying to keep others from finding out her game, but the story actually ended up having more of a serious tone, without venturing much into humor. Although, I will say I found it amusing watching Ellie try to hide her attraction for a certain man. When the entire town (and the man in question) think you are an elderly lady, it's not good to appear interested in a man half your age! :)

Overall, I have to say I wasn't able to connect with the characters quite as much as I would've liked, and I'm not really sure what the reason is. I did "like" the story, I just didn't "love" it. For sure, it's definitely well written and researched, and the storyline is very unique; it's certainly not just the typical historical tale! If you're looking for something a little outside the box, this would be a good choice.

My Rating: 3.5 stars
(I received this book courtesy of the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, a positive review was not required.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade

I know you all love a great book, and I've really got a treat for you today! If you haven't already read devoured My Stubborn Heart, the debut novel by Becky Wade, then you are really missing out. It's quite great, and highly entertaining. Check out my review, then go pick up the book! I think you'll be glad you did. :)

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Kate Donovan is burned out on work, worn down by her dating relationships, and in need of an adventure. When her grandmother asks Kate to accompany her to Redbud, Pennsylvania, to restore the grand old house she grew up in, Kate jumps at the chance, takes a leave of absence from her job as a social worker, and the two of them set off. 

Upon her arrival in Redbud, Kate meets Matt Jarreau, the man her grandmother has hired to renovate the house. From the first moment she meets Matt, Kate can't help but be attracted to him--he's got a combination of good looks and charisma that draw and tug at her. But she knows there's zero chance of a romance between them. Matt's in love with his dead wife, and even if he weren't, Kate realizes that she's way too ordinary for him. For Matt Jarreau is no ordinary guy. Kate discovers that he was once a great NHL hockey player who left the sport when his wife--an honest-to-goodness former Miss America--was diagnosed with brain cancer. Matt's been hiding from people, from God, and from his past ever since. Yet Kate is absolutely determined to befriend him, to try to reach him, to help him in some small way.

No, Kate's not looking for love. She knows better than that by now. But when the stilted, uncomfortable interactions between Kate and Matt slowly shift into something more, is God finally answering the longing of her heart? Or will Kate be required to give up more than she ever dreamed? 

My Thoughts:
Oh my, what a great read! I loved how Kate so quickly and firmly made up her mind to befriend Matt; his withdrawn personality didn't matter to her at all. I wish I could be like her in that way! Even when Matt gave little or no response to Kate's small talk and friendly gestures, her stubborn streak didn't allow her to give up, it pushed her even to the point of embarrassing herself in her attempts to befriend him. This was amusing and very encouraging to see.

Since Kate is helping her Grandmother restore the old family home, several older characters are also a large part of the story. They're her Grandmother's quirky friends, but Kate quickly develops rapport with them as well. I couldn't help but be extremely entertained by Kate's scheming with one of the older men to get a certain older lady to go on a date with him....this whole storyline was very original, clever, and amusingly eccentric.

Now, about the humor....because YES, this book is quite humorous! I honestly didn't expect it, but I was presently surprised and very much amused by it. Everyday situations are portrayed very humorously, and things that most people don't talk about (or even think to talk about) are presented in such a way that several times I had trouble not laughing out loud! Many other times I'm sure I must've had a huge stupid grin on my face, because the situations and comments just kept striking me as giggle-worthy!

Overall, this is an exceptionally great debut novel for the Christian market from Becky Wade; I must say I'm very, very impressed. I don't want to say any more for risk of revealing spoilers, but let's just say I really enjoyed this one, and I'm sorry to have reached the end. Now I'm anxiously awaiting news of her next book.... if it's anything like My Stubborn Heart, then it's quite likely I'll be all over it! :)

My Rating: 5 stars
(I received this book courtesy of the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, a positive review was not required.)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Well, I've reached the end of the Hunger Games.... it's taken me a few days to write the review, but I finally have it done! FYI, if you're not interested in this series, fear not, I'll be back next week with a review on My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade, which is a new Christian Fiction novel. :) So anyway, without further ado, here's my review for the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy.

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans--except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay--no matter what the personal cost.

My Thoughts:
The final book in the Hunger Games trilogy....I have somewhat mixed feelings about Mockingjay, but it's hard to know where to begin. Katniss's celebrity status is more dominating than ever, with the whole nation looking to her as the symbol of the rebel movement. Most of her family and friends escaped the bombings in District 12, but the Capitol has captured Peeta, and not knowing his fate has left Katniss with a heavy heart. Her old friend Gale is often at her side, but recent events have changed them both, and their relationship just isn't the same as it used to be. To those around Katniss, it's clear where her heart lies, whether she knows it herself or not.

The rebellion leaders' concern for Katniss's safety results in much of her time being spent underground (literally!), which not only adds to her gloomy mindset, but also causes the pacing of the story to be slower than the previous two books, especially during the first half. Several times I just wanted to light a fire under someone to get things moving a bit quicker!

Unfortunately, Peeta's captivity in the Capitol causes him to not be present for a large portion of the book, and I have to say that I really, really missed him. Of all the characters, he has the softest heart and has always managed to bring just a hint of lightness and gentleness to the savage situations encountered in the past. His absence was deeply felt, and when he finally did make an appearance, I was somewhat shocked, disappointed, and very much saddened by what had become of him. :(

Overall, I have to say I'm a bit disappointed with Mockingjay. It doesn't have the same spirit that was present in the first two books, and with Peeta's long-running absence, well, there was really no one left to bring a spark of humor, irony, or anything, to dull the horribleness of the events in their world.

In the end, the long-awaited change did come to Panem, but not as much or in the way that I'd hoped. At this point our heroes are so beaten down, broken, and abused, both mentally and physically, that they barely resemble the people we originally met in The Hunger Games, which I find very sad. Now, despite my mixed feelings on the book, I will admit that Mockingjay is absolutely essential reading if you've already read the first two books, there's just no denying that fact. However, now that I've read it, I'm going to try to remember our heroes the way they were before...before the atrocities they both witnessed, and committed, left them as little more than empty shells, ghosts of their former selves.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Note: As I mentioned in my previous Hunger Games reviews, the inclusion of the series on my blog isn't necessarily an endorsement or reading recommendation. I realize the nature of the plot is touchy, so please use your own discretion when deciding if The Hunger Games is appropriate for you or your children.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I may not have mentioned this in my review for the first Hunger Games book, but I really wavered when deciding if I wanted to include this series on my blog or not. While the books are riveting, the whole plot is obviously quite disturbing... but due to the wild popularity of the series, I finally decided I might as well include it here since it's already everywhere else. Anyway, here's my take on the 2nd book in the trilogy:

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol-- a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she's afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

My Thoughts: 
Catching Fire does not disappoint! I was unsure where the story would be able to go with the Games finished and Katniss back in safe territory, but I was happy to discover that the plot moved briskly along with the same sense of urgency that was present in the first book. The Capitol City's grip on Katniss and Peeta is stronger than its ever been before. They've become celebrities, and President Snow, leader of Panem, seeks to control their actions (thereby controlling the public perception of them) by threatening their friends and family if they don't comply.

Ever since the Games ended, Katniss has been feeling strain on her relationships with Peeta and Gale. Things with Gale haven't been the same since her return from the Games, and Peeta has been distant since he discovered her romantic actions in the arena were simply strategical. Katniss cares for them both but is confused about her feelings, feeling pulled between both guys. One thing she knows for sure, is that she doesn't want a relationship that will lead to marriage and ultimately bringing kids into the twisted society of her world. I really felt for Katniss in her situation, both guys are so nice, and the history she has with each is undeniable. Like Katniss, I simply couldn't choose a side; I ended up wavered back and forth about the guys right along with Katniss! I eventually did choose the guy that I think she should ultimately end up with, however with the uncertainty of the future in their world, I wonder if they will actually survive to see a somewhat happy (is that even possible in their world!?) ending.

At about the half-way point I came across the biggest twist I-never-saw-coming (I'm talking HUGE!), leaving me speechless and completely unsure of what to expect. There's not much more I can say while keeping things spoiler-free, but let's just say there seems no end to what these characters have to endure. Yes, the twist was amazing and completely unexpected, but I really felt sorry for all the people it effected. 

The characters and their bonds are a huge part of this series, they just pull you in, feeling like you've known them for years. Katniss almost always has some kind of a threat hanging over her head, whether on herself or those she loves, but somehow she always manages to persevere. And Peeta, oh Peeta, I feel so sorry for him at times. He has such a sweet and gentle side, and his devotion to Katniss is unwavering, even when she doesn't return his affection. Their future is so often unsure, I just hated the thought of either one being harmed. The constant threat on their lives, and even their district, brings such a sense of urgency to the story that it's really hard to break away from reading. 

At this point I'm two-third's of the way finished with the series, and things are just as fresh as ever. Yes, the plot is undeniably disturbing, and the actions of the Capitol and those in charge are despicable, but the light in the darkness is Katniss and her friends. They're forced to do some horrible things, but they don't lose sight of the fact that it's wrong. They long for a change in their country's structure, impossible though it may seem. At this point change is certainly in the air, but how much change can actually occur in such a warped society remains to be seen.

My Rating: 5 stars 

Note: As I mentioned in my review for the first book, my rating of 5 stars is based on my enjoyment of the story and isn't necessarily an endorsement or recommendation. I realize the nature of the plot is touchy, so please use your own discretion when deciding if The Hunger Games is appropriate for you or your children.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger matter what you think: good, bad, or undecided, there's certainly no denying that it's everywhere, and it's here to stay for the foreseeable future. I have some relatives who've been raving about it for months, so I finally decided to check it out. Of course I know my little review probably isn't actually necessary (there's already over 8,000 reviews on Amazon alone!), but I decided to go ahead and write it anyway. After all, it's categorized as YA fiction, which is part of what I try to cover. :) 

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

My Thoughts:
The Hunger Games...what can I say? I'm somewhat hesitant to admit to enjoying this book...but honestly, I found it quite interesting and very intriguing. The subject matter is abominable when you think about it, yet for a generation that's been raised on reality shows where it's common-place to eliminate a player each week, The Hunger Games definitely has a familiar feel. The main difference here is that the players are reluctant children, and failure means death instead of simply being "voted out".

Katniss is likeable and easy to sympathize with; she's been through tougher times than most of us will ever know, but she's a fighter and is full of determination. Family is extremely important to her, in fact she breaks the law nearly every day just to feed her mother and sister. (It's actually her love for her sister that brings Katniss into the Hunger Games, she basically sacrifices herself to take her sister's place.) Katniss doesn't believe the structure and actions of her government are correct, and she knows the whole ideal of the Hunger Games is warped.... however, the Capitol City has zero tolerance for rebellion or protests of any kind, so Katniss keeps her beliefs to herself, knowing she would be killed for speaking them out loud.

Peeta, who is the other tribute (or player) in the Games from Katniss's district, is also very interesting to watch. There's much more to him than you might think at first glance. He has the ability to evoke such a wide range of emotions from me...a couple times his actions confused me, giving me pause to ponder his intentions, but other times I felt sadness and sympathy for him, and still other times he had me smiling in silent laughter. He's an excellent character, and I really enjoyed how he and Katniss played off each-other.

For those wondering about the gore and violence factor, obviously just from reading the synopsis you can tell this is not a "warm and fuzzy" book...but in my opinion, considering the extreme subject matter, it's handled fairly well. There is violence and gore, but I wouldn't call it gratuitous or drawn-out; it was actually milder than I expected. The entire story is told from Katniss's perspective; she has limited contact with most of the players (many she doesn't even know their names), and thankfully she isn't present every time a player is eliminated.

I can definitely see why The Hunger Games has everyone's attention. It's extremely intriguing and you just can't help but want/need to know what will happen next. I hesitate to associate the word "entertaining" with it, but honestly, it really is. It's a picture of a warped futuristic version of Survivor, in a society where life has no value and the government has complete and total reign over the people. Katniss knows things aren't right, and I'm really looking forward to seeing if she's somehow able to bring change to her world over the course of the next two books.

My Rating: 5 stars

Note: In this case, my rating of 5 stars is based on my enjoyment of the story and isn't necessarily an endorsement or recommendation. I realize the nature of the plot is touchy, so please use your own discretion when deciding if The Hunger Games is appropriate for you or your children.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: Starring Me by Krista McGee

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Kara McKormick is told she's auditioning to star in a new teen variety show. But it's what she isn't told that could change her life.

The feisty New Yorker moves to sunny Orlando to participate in a month-long audition, where she'll live with nine other contestants and an eccentric housemother. Kara knows that the show already has a big-time celebrity lined up for the co-host, but she doesn't know who it is.

Chad Beacon quickly rose to fame after winning America's Next Star, but he doesn't want his entire career to be about singing. There is so much more he wants to do-like act. The new variety show sounds like the perfect next step for him, but his parents want him to have a co-star who shares his faith since they'll be spending so much time together.

Acting is high on Kara's priority list. But a relationship with God? Not so much. In fact, she's tried to stay away from anything religious. But God is after Kara's heart and He's put people in her life who are showing her there's far more to Christianity than rules and judgment.

Just when it seems that Kara's going to have to give up her acting dream, God reveals that she may have a starring role after all-in a story so big only He could write it.

My Thoughts:
I always get a huge kick out of novels that involve showbiz or celebrities, and what do you know, this one has both! Starring Me is a fun and lighthearted story that shows what it's like for a spunky teen girl trying to break into showbiz; and on the flip side, it also shows the difficulty that celebrity status can bring.

Kara is extremely lively; at her age of 17 she can be a bit over-the-top at times, but her enthusiasm brings a ton of life to the story. She's genuinely nice and isn't vicious or mean-spirited in her quest to win the part of TV co-host - unlike the other girls vying for the part! It's really cool to see all the events that happened in the past that brought Kara to her current situation; all her Christian friends keep telling her that God is pursuing her, and although she's curious, Kara's just not sure what to think about the whole faith issue yet.

Chad is a decent guy, and he hasn't let his pop-star fame go to his fact, his fame has gotten to be too much, and he's looking to scale back from pop-star to a simple TV host. At 17 he's still obedient to his parents' wishes, even if he's not sure they're entirely right. His parents are older and at times seemed a bit stiff to me, but I think this stems from their overprotective attitude. They are insistent that Chad's new TV co-star be a Christian girl of their choosing, nothing else is an option. I kind of doubt a network would let a teenage actor and his parents have so much control, however for the sake of the story it was a unique twist and brought the pieces and situations together in a fun way.

Starring Me is somewhat of a sequel to Krista McGee's previous book First Date, although it's able to stand alone as well. I happened to read Starring Me first, and while I didn't have any trouble jumping into the story, it was obvious the first book would've contained the back-story for several characters. (Be aware that Starring Me ends up giving away much of the plot for First Date, so if you have any interest in First Date at all, I would definitely recommend reading it first.)

My Rating: 4 stars
Thanks to the publisher (Thomas Nelson) for providing me with an e-arc via NetGalley for review.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: Spare Change by Aubrey Mace

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Twenty-three and single, Riley thinks resolutions should be fun, not hard. Just before midnight, she vows to make the easiest resolution ever: save her pennies and at the end of the year, buy something nice for herself. Easy! ...Or is it?

Working at a cancer treatment center can change one's perspective, and before long Riley decides to donate her extra money to cancer research rather than reward herself. At first her resolution is her own secret, but all too soon the nurses figure out her plan, and then things really begin to get out of hand!

As people through the hospital, and then the town, begin to get involved, Riley finds herself the head of a fund-raising campaign. She also finds herself face-to-face with Paul, the grouchy but cute bank teller. But can she overcome the memory of a failed relationship - and can he do the same? And who is the secret admirer who keeps leaving pennies and notes for her to find?

My Thoughts:
Spare Change is a cute story with a likeable heroine, Riley. The story is told entirely from Riley's point of view, which gets you inside her head to see her thoughts and ideas, many of which are rather amusing. Her "voice" is entertaining and very easy to read.

I liked how most of the story centered around doing something to help others. Collecting pennies may not seem like much, but when lots of people get involved it's surprising how much a few pennies can add up to. Of course Riley's personal life is also a big part of the story, but I just really appreciated the selfless attitude that the entire penny idea conveyed.

At 200 pages, Spare Change is a fairly quick read. It's light and fun, and while I'm not sure it will stick with me extremely long, I did enjoy the story. This is a book that I feel would make a great Hallmark movie, it has all the right ingredients! Anyway, if you're looking for something fun and light, this would be a good choice!

My Rating: 4 stars

Please note that Spare Change is not a Christian novel, however it was written by an LDS author and the story content is quite clean. (I only remember one innuendo and one mild instance of language, cr*p.) It's mentioned that Riley goes to church, but her beliefs and faith are not explored.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: The Cubicle Next Door by Siri Mitchell

Book Cover and Synopsis:
What if God has more planned for your life than you do?
Jackie Harrison is a civilian who loves her job at the U.S. Air Force Academy. That is, until she is forced to divide her office into cubicles and share the space with a new history instructor, Lt. Col. Joseph Gallagher. A charmer in a flight suit, Joe wants to explore both Colorado and a growing relationship with his new cubicle mate. The office was bad enough, but Jackie’s beside herself when Joe shows up in her home and church, even turning her grandmother’s weekly bridge game into poker night! 

Jackie goes online to vent, but she eventually finds herself admitting her conflicted feelings about this office neighbor who drives her crazy and makes her heart flutter. But when her blog—The Cubicle Next Door—is featured on TV, everyone begins to read it, including Joe. Will he figure out the anonymous confessions and frustrations are written about him? And how will Jackie ever express her heart offline? 

My Thoughts:
Jackie has vowed to never get married or fall in love, so desperate is her fear of repeating her mother's mistakes. At 31 Jackie has never had a boyfriend, never dated, never been kissed. She lives a secluded life... or at least she used to, but ever since Joe entered the picture she finds herself constantly getting sucked into his plans and outings, simply because she doesn't have a valid reason to say "no".

I loved how Joe came into Jackie's life and sort of acted like they were already in the middle of a friendship; from day one he was dragging her out to lunch and asking favors like they were old pals. He constantly involves Jackie in situations that pull her out of her comfort zone, things that she would normally avoid at all costs... but despite her reservations and much to her surprise, she always ends up enjoying herself. (Example: when Joe signs her up to play a dead woman in a casket race!)

Jackie is on the serious side and isn't afraid to make her many opinions known, but Joe isn't intimidated and banters right back with her on all sorts of amusing and crazy topics. Her anonymous online blog adds a unique twist to things, and helps to show a different and softer side than the all-serious attitude she displays to the world. When Joe becomes a fan of the blog and starts talking to Jackie daily about it, speculating on the "anonymous" blogger's identity and actions, well, I just couldn't help but be amused! Such fun!

Siri Mitchell has a style in her contemporary books that I just love, it never gets old. Honestly, I just had a blast with this book, and I'm sad to have reached the end, but it was great while it lasted. :) I definitely recommend picking up The Cubicle Next Door, and while you're at it, do yourself a favor and check out Siri Mitchell's Kissing Adrien and Moon Over Tokyo as well. They're all keepers! 

My Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: Ever by Gail Carson Levine

Here's a review I recently dug up from my "archives"... I posted it on amazon in 2009, way back before I started this blog. This summer I'm hoping to do some reviews for YA novels along with my normal Christian Fiction reviews, so I thought it would be appropriate to go ahead and post this, even though it's a couple years old. 

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Falling in love is easy . . .

. . . for Kezi, a beautiful mortal, dancer, and rug weaver, and for Olus, Akkan god of the winds. Their love brings Kezi the strength to fight her fate, and it gives Olus the strength to confront his fears. Together—and apart—they encounter spiders with webs of iron, the cruel lord of the land of the dead, the mysterious god of destiny, and the tests of the Akkan gods. If they succeed, they will be together; but if they fail, Olus will have to endure the ultimate loss, and Kezi will have to make the supreme sacrifice. 

My Thoughts:
The storyline in a nutshell: Because of an oath her father makes, Kezi is to die as a sacrifice. Olus (the god of the winds) has watched Kezi from afar and has come to care about her. When Olus learns of Kezi's ill fate he comes up with a plan to make Kezi immortal as he is, so they can be together for eternity.

It was an interesting and quick read, I finished it in three days. There is some of that trademark Gail Carson Levine charm, yet it's nowhere near as charming as Ella Enchanted or The Two Princesses of Bamarre. The idea of there being many gods isn't really my cup of tea, and I was uncomfortable with the idea of Admat who is supposed to be the all-knowing ever-present god...yet he is quick to anger, slow to forgive, uncaring and completely impersonal.....and his existence is heavily questioned. Kezi's people are ruled by omens and the fear of upsetting Admat; they look for flares in alter flames as signs of whether or not their prayers will be answered, and then interpret the 'signs' however they see fit. (Keep in mind this "Admat" is completely unlike the God of the Bible, yet there are one or two similarities that make you wonder about the message this book is sending.... All of this left me with a vague impression of a possible "hidden agenda" and the notion that it might be trying to lead people astray.)

Aside from that I did find Ever to be a mildly entertaining read, although I think it's a rather forgettable story. My mind didn't wander, yet I wasn't completely enthralled either. For fans of Gail Carson Levine, I'd say go for it, as you'll most likely enjoy this, just not as much as her other books. For anyone else, I'd recommend that you enter the world of Gail Carson Levine by reading Ella Enchanted or The Two Princesses of Bamarre first. 

My Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Someone Else's Fairytale by E. M. Tippetts

Every once in a while I enjoy checking out a YA novel or two, just for a fun change of pace. So when I came across Someone Else's Fairytale while browsing the Amazon Kindle Lending Library I decided to give it a try, and I'm so glad I did because I was quite pleasantly surprised with it! 

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Jason Vanderholt is Hollywood's hottest actor.

Chloe Winters is a college student who hasn't bothered to see most of his movies.

When they meet by chance, he is smitten and Chloe becomes the woman every other woman in America is dying to be, but it just isn't her fairytale. 

My Thoughts:
What a fun story! I think we all find celebrities intriguing and even peculiar at times, so the premise for this book instantly grabbed me. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed! Chloe is a very likeable character, and Jason was immediately interesting as well; he's a big-time actor yet acts like an everyday guy. Jason's fame and popularity don't impress Chloe at all, in fact on more than one occasion she defines his life as "weird".

I think many of us have a false idea of what celebrities lives (like Jason's) are really like; it's not all glitz and glamor, and they're mostly just regular people like everyone else. This story gives a realistic-feeling look of what's it's like to have zero privacy, with people literally watching your every move. 

Chloe really seems to have her head on fairly straight, and while she does make a few mistakes she genuinely tries to do what's right, even when it's difficult. At one point Chloe calls herself a Christian while saying she sometimes goes to church on Easter and Christmas, but unfortunately she never again expresses interest in spiritual things. Though this is a mainstream YA novel, Chloe is still a virgin at the age of 21 and wants to wait until marriage. (Sadly this has been the demise of all her past relationships.) She admits that wanting to wait isn't "normal", but I was happy to see she had a desire for abstinence and a firm standing on the issue.

For those concerned about content, here's some of the topics you may want to be aware of:
Chloe's was born out of wedlock during her mother's long-running affair with a married man; this is frequently discussed as it's something that bothers Chloe. A couple mild make-out scenes are shown. Old accusations (including rape) from Jason's wild past are brought up. Chloe's roommate frequently stays the night with her boyfriend (nothing is seen). Jason's teenage niece rebels against her parents by dating an older guy, among other things. Chloe was the victim of a criminal attack at the age of 11, and the ramifications of it are still disrupting her life.

Though this is not a Christian book, I didn't find the content or language to be graphic or offensive. It does touch on common worldly issues, but I felt it was done tactfully and without dwelling on the topics overly long. I actually found the overall story to be very charming and a great escape; it really does have a fairy-tale feel. I very much enjoyed it, and I'll definitely be keeping my eye on this author! 

My Rating: 5 stars

My general age recommendation would be for 16 and up...but keep in mind if this were a movie, I'm 100% positive it would only hold a PG rating.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Moon Over Tokyo by Siri Mitchell

Siri Mitchell happens to be one of my favorite authors, so when I found a copy of Moon Over Tokyo at a secondhand shop I couldn't resist "rescuing" it and giving it a new home. It's a book I've been wanting to read for quite a while now, so I was actually rather thrilled to run across it.

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Though Stars and Stripes reporter Allie O’Connor has lived in Japan for two years, she still feels like a foreigner. As her best friend prepares to move away, she prays for a new friend. Just a friend.

Soon after this prayer she runs into Eric Larsen at church, an old classmate from high school. Eric has recently been assigned to the U.S. embassy and lives in Allie’s district in Tokyo. In school they had been polar opposites. He had been captain of the debate team; she had edited the literary magazine. He drank espresso, while she preferred green tea. He is definitely not the friend she was looking for. And he is. Here she is.

Will Allie accept this unexpected answer to her prayer? And will she be brave enough to really see the person she once chose to overlook?

My Thoughts:
I've never given much thought to Japan before, but this novel manages to paint a vivid picture of the foreign culture as seen through the eyes of Allie, a reporter for the Stars and Stripes newspaper. Even after two years of living in the Tokyo metropolis Allie still feels like an outsider; not knowing the language limits her understanding of the culture and keeps her isolated in a small world that consists only of her co-workers and a few people from her church.

After Allie sends up a desperate prayer for a friend, her biggest enemy from high school suddenly shows up in Tokyo. Eric is everything she doesn't want in a friend, and yet there he is... an English speaking person with a good grasp of the Japanese language and culture, offering to open up Japan for her to explore and discover.

I really liked how much time Allie and Eric spent together, and the amount of bantering dialogue between them. Often times in books the characters will have a sudden attraction that seems completely out of the blue, but that is definitely not the case here. We get to see their relationship grow and progress from rivals, to friends, to possibly more.

While Japan isn't high on my list of places to go, I did enjoy reading about it from Allie's perspective. I will admit that I found her personal life much more interesting than the touristy places she visited... but thanks to her travels in and out of Tokyo I now have something to picture in my mind when I hear about Japan, rather than just a shape on a map! :)

I thought it was very cool how the whole story sort of revolves around Allie's prayer at the beginning for a friend. A simple thing for most people, but to Allie a friend who she could communicate (in English!) with and spend time with was everything, and it was just so cool to see how God answered her prayer. Eric wasn't anything like what she wanted, but was exactly what she needed. The book is fictional of course, but nevertheless it's still a great example of how God is always at work in our lives. 

My Rating: 5 stars

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: By The Light of the Silvery Moon by Tricia Goyer

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Amelia Gladstone’s mind is filled with promise as she gazes at the marvelous new ship, ready for its maiden voyage. The Titanic holds the promise of a reunited family. . .and of possible love waiting on American shores. Nothing could mar Amelia’s joy, until she sees a ragged stowaway being escorted down the gangplank.
Down-and-out after squandering his fortune, Quentin Walpole thought his voyage to America ended on the Southampton pier. Then a sweet lady—his angel of mercy named Amelia—secured his passage with a spare ticket. Now he’s headed to America, eager for a second chance.
But once the voyage begins, the past confronts Quentin when he discovers that his wealthy railroad tycoon father and older brother Damien are also on board. As Amelia tries to bring about reconciliation between father and son, she suddenly finds herself the center of both brothers’ attention with a choice to make: Who can she trust with her heart?
Then the fateful night arrives, and one brother faces a greater choice.
Will Amelia’s fate ultimately be one of love or loss?

My Thoughts:
Amelia is a likeable character and is easy to cheer for; when she and her aunt board the Titanic in search of a fresh start in America it's easy to hope things turn out well for them. The story immediately starts out interesting when Amelia's soft heart causes her to spontaneously give a spare ticket for passage on the Titanic to a homeless man, Quentin. He is estranged from his brother and millionaire father, who coincidentally are also on board the Titanic. This situation of course causes a bit of drama, but it keeps things interesting! I enjoyed watching Amelia and Quentin get to know one another over the course of their voyage.

With almost the entire book taking place on board the Titanic the number of places and settings the characters can visit is rather limited, however it was handled very well. Amelia is a second class passenger, yet we also get some looks into first class and a couple glimpses into third class as well. The general feeling of awe over the design of the ship is continually felt, from first class down to third, and even in the actions and comments of the stewards and maids.

Unfortunately, the looming tragedy didn't allow the story to be completely enjoyable for me. It's definitely well written and well researched, but the entire time I had the question "when is it going to happen?" lingering in the back of my mind. I did enjoy the stories of Amelia and her acquaintances, but at the same time I felt sad knowing the fate that awaited them. They all felt completely safe on the "unsinkable" Titanic; crew members and passengers alike often praised the opulence and design of the ship. I imagine these types of comments actually were very common... yet I couldn't help but feel sad every time someone expressed their trust in the doomed vessel.

From what I know of the Titanic, everything seemed very realistic and I actually learned some things, too. It's hard to imagine living through such an event, but with the aid of fictional characters this book does give a glimpse of what it must have been like. It's hard to use words conveying enjoyment of a book that covers such an event, but if you have any interest in Titanic, I definitely would recommend this book. It's not particularly graphic, but I think it gives a good picture of the events as seen through the eyes of Amelia and her friends.

My Rating: 4 stars
Thanks to the publisher (Barbour Books) for providing me with an e-galley via NetGalley for review.