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.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: The Messenger by Siri Mitchell

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Hannah Sunderland felt content in her embrace of the Quaker faith...until her twin brother joined the Colonial cause and ended up in jail. She longs to bring some measure of comfort to him in the squalid prison, but her faith forbids it. The Friends believe that they are not to take sides, not to take up arms. She is not allowed to visit him, even if she were able to secure a pass.

Jeremiah Jones, a Colonial spy, needs access to the jail to help rescue men important to the cause. Upon meeting Hannah, a plan begins to develop. Who would suspect a pious Quaker visiting a loved one?

But Jeremiah is unprepared for Hannah, for her determination to do right, to not lie. How can one be a spy and not lie? Hannah, in turn, is surprised by Jeremiah...for the way he forces her to confront her own beliefs, for the sensitivity and concern that he shows her despite the wounds he still carries.

In a time of war, can two unlikely heroes find the courage to act? 

My Thoughts:
Siri Mitchell has once again proven her incredible talent for bringing the past to life, this time with her newest novel The Messenger. Wartime and spy novels aren't normally my "thing", but I was quickly pulled into the intrigue of Hannah's mission and Jeremiah's struggles of being an informant, a position which simply fell into his hands.

Hannah and Jeremiah's characters are so vivid that they simply jump off the pages and call you to enter the past with them. I very much enjoyed them both, they were well developed and very different from the normal characters you generally find in historical fiction. Hannah's faith caused her to completely refuse to tell a lie, even if it meant her spy status could be revealed. You gotta admire that... of course it frustrated Jeremiah to no end, but it sure was amusing to read and ponder on. 

The Messenger is extremely unique, transporting the reader back to the troubling times of the founding of our nation and the British occupation. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I'm not extremely familiar with the events of this time period, so when the story opened I was a bit lost. It wasn't terribly long before I was able to surmise what was going on, but I wish a brief prologue with some small historical facts had been included to quickly establish the setting and situation for non-history buffs such as myself.

Walnut Street Jail, prominently featured in The Messenger
I also wasn't very familiar with Quakers and their beliefs, but I found it quite interesting to see how they lived and dealt with conflict. I enjoyed seeing Hannah's attitude and position slowly shift on different topics, it was done well and very realistically.

Overall, I'm very glad to have read The Messenger. It's extremely well written and very entertaining, while at the same time it takes your thoughts back to the beginnings of our country and the lengths some people went to, and sacrifices they made, to make America free. Even if historical or spy novels aren't your normal thing, give this one a try. I think you'll be glad you did.

My Rating: 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.
(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.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: Leaving Lancaster by Kate Lloyd

Book synopsis:
More than anything else, thirty-something Holly Fisher longs for family. Growing up in Seattle without a dad or grandparents, she wonders what it would be like to have a heritage, a place of belonging. Holly is furious when her mother, Esther, reveals a long-kept secret: Holly's grandmother and uncles are still alive and begging Esther to return. And Holly is shocked when she learns that the family she's never known lives on a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, farm-as part of an Amish community her mother once abandoned.

Guilt-ridden Esther, terrified to see her mother and siblings, begs Holly to accompany her on a visit to Esther's mother before she dies. But can their journey to a conflicting world heal their emotional wounds and finally bring them home?

My Thoughts:
With Amish settings maintaining a firm hold on the Christian fiction market, I always appreciate when a story has a unique angle or something that makes it stand out from the "typical" Amish story. The synopsis for Leaving Lancaster sounded unique and promising, but unfortunately I was unable to connect with the characters. 

I found both Holly and her mother Esther to be unlikable and rather immature. They constantly bicker back and forth through-out the book, with Holly often rehashing the same things over and over. At one point they are both interested in the same guy, he's close to Esther's age so that would put him about 15 years older than Holly. This entire situation just seemed creepy to me.

Even though Esther had lived in the "English" society for close to 40 years, she often acted like she didn't understand (or even know about) standard "English" ideas and practices. This may have been to show that she never completely lost sight of her Amish upbringing, but to me it made her seem a bit slow and unable to grasp basic ideas, even if she didn't agree with them.

The Amish characters were on par with the Amish in other books I've read, I didn't find anything out of the ordinary or "off" about them. I liked Esther's mother's Mennonite neighbors, especially Zach who is a veterinarian that Holly is sort-of-kind-of interested in. I wish there had been more time spent with him, but his time was very limited as he was only featured a hand full of times, and not for more than a few pages each time.

Unfortunately the story just didn't have the power to make me care or relate to any of the characters. This may be because I'm not a die-hard Amish fan, however it was actually the non-Amish main characters of Holly and Esther who lacked the power to charm me. I did read the entire book, but at this point I'm glad to be moving on to other things. 

My Rating: 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3.
Thanks to the publisher (David C. Cook) for providing me with an e-galley via NetGalley for review.

For those who are interested, here is the book trailer for Leaving Lancaster.