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