Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review: Scattered Petals by Amanda Cabot

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Longing for adventure, Priscilla Morton leaves Boston and heads for Texas, never dreaming that the adventure she seeks will leave her badly injured and her parents dead. Priscilla is determined to rebuild her life and make a home for herself in the beautiful Hill Country. But the bandits who took her parents' lives also destroyed her hope for the future.

Ranch foreman Zachary Webster knows what the future holds for him, and it's not a woman like Priscilla. She deserves a cultured East Coast gentleman, not a cowboy who's haunted by memories of his mistakes. The best thing he can do is leave her alone.

When necessity draws them together, Priscilla and Zach begin to forge a life that, like the scattered petals of her childhood, is filled with promise. But then the past intrudes, threatening their very existence.

My Thoughts:
There's something about arranged or "convenient" marriages that makes for a great story. Without fail, it's always fun to watch the aftermath of these situations as two people slowly fall in love with each other, in the midst of their marriage. In this case Priscilla's trauma adds a unique twist to the typical situation, as she can't stand the thought of a man's touch--not even something as little as holding hands--for fear of the horrific memories it evokes.

Generally I don't pick up books that involve a woman being assaulted, simply because I prefer to read lighter fare... In this case I had previously purchased the whole Texas Dreams series based solely on the synopsis of the first book, so I didn't really know what I had here until I started reading. Though I was initially hesitant, I quickly found myself caught up in Priscilla's drama, wondering how she would manage to pick up the shattered pieces of her life.

The story touches on--and in many cases actually revolves around--some pretty tough issues, but it's handled very tactfully. The author presents the raw matters with realism, yet keeps certain details vague enough to prevent the content from being too edgy.

If there's one thing I didn't care for, it would have to be Jean-Michael and the small sections of story written from his perspective. Admittedly, I never have much sympathy or affection for villains, but I can't help feeling that his character was a bit one dimensional. His thoughts alternated between revenge and pride over his (supposedly) high intellect, and that was pretty much the extent of his character.

Despite a semi-annoying villain, ultimately I'm glad to have read this novel. Priscilla's story is a difficult one, but it's very intriguing to watch as she slowly heals and pieces together a new life. Zach is very kind in his consideration for Priscilla, and even though it makes things difficult, he is always mindful of her fear of men. They both have deep wounds from the past, but together they slowly help each other heal, without even realizing it. It's these two characters and their slow-but-steady relationship that made this my favorite book in the Texas Dreams trilogy. Recommended!

My Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Review: Paper Roses by Amanda Cabot

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Her future stretched out like the clear blue Texas sky. But a storm is coming.

Leaving the past behind in Philadelphia, mail-order bride Sarah Dobbs arrives in San Antonio ready to greet her groom--a man she has never met but whose letters, her paper roses, have won her heart from afar. But there is a problem--Austin Canfield is dead, and Sarah cannot go back East.

As Sarah tries to reconcile herself to a future that is drastically changed, Austin's brother Clay wants nothing more than to shake the Texas dust from his boots, but first he must find his brother's killer. And then there's Sarah. 

Something is blooming out in the vast Texas landscape that neither Clay nor Sarah is ready to admit, and the promise of redemption blows like a gentle breeze through the prairie grasses.

My Thoughts:
This is a comfy historical read with some unique plot ideas and creative situations. I was immediately intrigued by the story, watching as Sarah is thrown into an unimaginable situation. Being a mail order bride would be hard enough, but arriving at your destination and finding that your groom-to-be is dead...I can't even imagine being in Sarah's shoes!

Sarah is likeable enough, but I admit that I had a difficult time liking Clay, as his revengeful attitude simply isn't the type of thing that draws me to a character. Eventually he did start to grow on me, especially after he was able to let go of his anger... but I still felt he was just "okay"; I couldn't get overly excited about him. I did find his medical career interesting, but unfortunately there wasn't much time spent exploring that aspect of his character.

The writing overall is good, but there's one thing that struck me as slightly odd. Towards the end Clay reveals a secret to Sarah, a connection between them that existed even before they first met. It's difficult to discuss without spoilers, but suffice it to say that I expected Sarah to be excited about the news, yet instead she was very calm--almost indifferent--despite the fact that it should've been a surprising revelation. I had been anticipating this scene, but I ended up being disappointed as Sarah's reaction seemed slightly out of character and ultimately made the scene fall a bit flat.

Despite my nit-picking, the story did keep me entertained while reading. It has some unique plot lines that I found rather interesting... but looking back on the story as a whole, I don't feel that it really "stands out" in the crowded historical genre. That's not to say it's not good--the story is solid--but it just didn't "wow" me. (I do actually feel that it would be a great candidate for a Hallmark movie, though!) Paper Roses is an adequate beginning to the Texas Dreams trilogy, and having already read the latter books, I can positively say the trilogy gets even stronger as it continues.

My Rating: 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: Speak Now by Chautona Havig

Book Title and Synopsis:
They met at a wedding and his children stole her heart. What started as a polite dance at the reception initiated a whirlwind romance. He admires her heart–not to mention her beauty. She feels more comfortable with him than anyone she’s ever met.

Their chemistry–so intense that they can’t risk affection. Their temptation threshold is simply too narrow to risk.

Cara has a unique talent for making anyone feel at ease. Jonathan prefers to listen rather than speak.

But some things must be spoken–never assumed.

My Thoughts:
Speak Now explores the subject of temptation within a relationship, as noted in the Author's Note at the beginning of the book. The attraction between Cara and Jonathan is so powerful that they scarcely touch at all; it's even too risky for them to hold hands. It's a difficult and fairly uncommon topic for a Christian novel to tackle, but I was impressed by how tactfully it was handled. The characters sort of dance around the issue, both with their actions and words, which works to keep things level and mild despite the intense attraction between them. The dialogue is kept vague when needed; what is left unsaid is sometimes just as significant as the actual spoken words.

Cara and Jonathan connect on a level that is nearly unheard of, almost to the point of reading each others thoughts. Their "wordless" conversations are charming, although a few times this made it a bit difficult for me to follow the dialogue. For the most part I enjoyed watching their interactions as they spent time together and worked to build a relationship, despite not knowing if a future together was feasible or not. The conversations often have a flirty vibe, more so than I would expect in a new relationship, but it's still fun. However, I do confess to being a bit weirded out when one of them would just stare at the other for minutes on end...I felt like it was a visual undressing. I understand it goes along with the intense attraction plot, but it still just kind of creeped me out a bit.

The main thing that I'm hesitant about came in the latter part of the story, when Cara and Jonathan's relationship starts to move quickly towards permanent commitment, despite the fact that they've only known each other for a few months. Yes, sometimes a short amount of time is all it takes, but in this case Cara and Jonathan's rush to be married stems from the difficulty of their "no-touching" policy, and their desire to be able to touch without the fear of things sinfully going too far. Even though they seemed to really connect and understand each other, I couldn't help but wonder what might happen later on in their marriage, after the intense attraction between them tones down.

Overall, I found this book to be very unique; I can't remember ever reading anything quite like it. I do prefer to see characters get to know each other for a longer period before tying the knot, but the nature of the story simply didn't allow for that....and ultimately, those circumstances are what made the story unique. It's not the way I'd want my personal life to go, however I really did enjoy the unique angle and spin on the typical romance story.

My Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to the author for providing me with an ebook review copy.