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.