Friday, May 31, 2013

Review: A Proper Pursuit by Lynn Austin

Book Cover and Synopsis:
The World's Fair - Chicago, 1893.

It seems a perfect backdrop for what Violet Hayes longs to experience: a little mystery, a little romance.

To be honest, it is more than a little mystery. She schemed her way to Chicago to discover the mother she barely remembered. As for romance well, with the help of her grandmother and three great aunts, that is coming along nicely as well perhaps too well. Each of her relatives including her saintly grandmother seems to have a separate agenda for her.

In the course of a summer, Violet's world will open wide before her eyes. But in the wake of discovery, she must find a way to determine which path and which man will ultimately be the right lifetime choice for her.

My Thoughts:
This novel is jam packed with all sorts of great stuff! Interesting people, engaging circumstances, and an awesome historical setting (Chicago, 1893). The leading lady, Violet, is amusing and has a very vivid personality; she is spunkier than the average 19th century lady, but this is what makes her--and the story--so much fun.

It's quite interesting to wander around historic Chicago with Violet as she goes on various outings. Feeding the poor in the slums of town, marching in a women's suffrage rally, and even having tea with the city's socialites, Violet experiences all this and more, guided by her grandmother and three great aunts who each wish to involve Violet in their personal agendas.

I enjoyed observing Violet's interactions with all four of her prospective suitors. Each man is completely different, and it's interesting and often humorous to see Violet's reactions to them. I particularly enjoyed Violet's relationship with Silas, unconventional though he is. All the evidence points to him being a thief, someone she should have no contact with, yet she finds him oddly compelling and harbors no fear of him. In fact, Silas's "underworld" connections actually come in handy as Violet attempts to search out information on her long-lost mother.

Ferris Wheel at the World's Fair - Chicago 1893
The 1893 World's Fair is quite a wonder, and the author excels at bringing the setting to life in vivid color. Violet has the opportunity to visit the fair several times, and each time a different aspect of it is presented. I was completely charmed by the first Ferris Wheel, and the other various exhibits are also intriguing and give a compelling look at the social issues and "modern" inventions of the late 19th century.

There are so many different layers and aspects to the plot that a review can hardly do it justice while refraining from spoilers; it's truly amazing how much content is covered in the course of the story. Even though there's a fairly large amount of characters, each one is very fleshed out and "real", with lots of depth and detail to their personality. I quite enjoyed the story, and even though the end was satisfying, I still find myself wishing there were a sequel. If you're looking for a great historical read, I would highly recommend this one!

My Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: Shrinking Violet

Here's my review for Shrinking Violet, a YA novel from the secular market.

Book Cover and Synopsis:
High school senior Teresa Adams is so painfully shy that she dreads speaking to anyone in the hallways or getting called on in class. But in the privacy of her bedroom with her iPod in hand, she rocks out—doing mock broadcasts for Miami's hottest FM radio station, which happens to be owned by her stepfather. When a slot opens up at The SLAM, Tere surprises herself by blossoming behind the mike into confident, sassy Sweet T—and to everyone’s shock, she’s a hit! Even Gavin, the only guy in school who she dares to talk to, raves about the mysterious DJ’s awesome taste in music. But when The SLAM announces a songwriting contest—and a prom date with Sweet T is the grand prize—Sweet T’s dream could turn into Tere’s worst nightmare....

My Thoughts:
As someone who's been labeled "shy" countless times, I'm always drawn to stories that feature shy or introverted characters. After reading the back cover of this one, I was anxious to see what the contents held and I quickly snapped it up.

I found Teresa to be a likeable heroine, so it's easy to root for her to succeed. The portrayal of her shyness is well done and the situations it creates for her are very authentic, sometimes painfully so. As for Teresa's family life, it left me feeling somewhat sad and often times shocked. Her mother regularly belittles her, everything from her appearance to her accomplishments. I can't say Teresa was always in the right, but more often than not she did exhibit more maturity than her mother. It's a somber situation, but Teresa does an admirable--though not perfect--job of coping with it.

The radio station setting is unique and quite engaging. It sort of gives you a glimpse of how radio stations work, and what goes on behind the music and voices that fill the airwaves. I really enjoyed the write-a-song contest and the part Teresa plays in it; the climax of the contest is written so vividly that it took no effect at all to "see" the whole scenario play out in my mind. Unfortunately, Teresa's mentor at the station is a sleazy ladies' man who is constantly doing and saying inappropriate things. This was my number one regret with the story, as I found it crude and completely unnecessary.

Despite a few flaws, this is a pretty fun story. Even though I'm older (mid 20's) than the target audience, I still found it enjoyable. Ultimately, I liked the story well enough that I decided to check out the Disney movie adaption, which is titled "Radio Rebel". (The movie is wildly different, but I still found it entertaining.) I would recommend this book for older teens, especially those who have shy tendencies or those who have an interest in radio. 

My Rating: 4 stars

Cautionary Content:
One instance of sh*t, and lesser crude words (h*ll, d*mn, etc) are mildly sprinkled through-out. God's name is misused several times per chapter. Teresa doesn't know who her father is, and her mother admits she doesn't either, saying she was "young and stupid". Teresa's mentor at the radio station is a sleazy ladies' man, and often makes inappropriate comments. It's briefly mentioned that one of the minor characters is gay. Teresa is wrongly called (several times) a "lesbo" by her archenemy at school. There are several (4 or 5, maybe?) crude comments/thoughts about female and male anatomy.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: If The Shoe Fits by Sandra D. Bricker

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Meet Julianne Bartlett, a brilliant young attorney set out to start her own law firm with her best friend-and virtually constant companion-Will Hanes. Julianne has been waiting her whole life for Prince Charming to gallop in on his white steed. Will rode up on his 10-speed bike while they were still in grade school, but who meets the perfect guy right in the middle of a cul-de-sac?

On the way to her new office, Julianne screeches to a halt after a mysterious Prince Charming loses his toolbox and work boot in a busy intersection. He's gorgeous . . . and he's a caring dog-rescuer too! How far she will go to grab the attention of the prince who begins to look less and less charming all the time?

My Thoughts:
For some reason I just wasn't able to completely click with this story. At times it's cute, but at other times it feels like it's trying too hard to be cute, resulting in an almost saccharine quality. Granted, it is billed as a "contemporary fairytale", but even keeping this in mind I still found some of the plot points a bit cliche and over-the-top.

As an attorney Julianne is a go-getter, always pushing for the best deal for her clients. But in her personal life she is dreadfully naive, to the point that it becomes rather irksome. While I could overlook her naive outlook on life, her "relationship" with Paul is what troubled me most.... Paul is not a Christian and has no interest in God, which Julianne fully well knows, yet she still doggedly pursues him, trying to force a relationship. She just doesn't know when to quit, and ultimately she ends up sinking very low and going absurd lengths to secure a date with Paul, all for the sole purpose of using him as arm-candy to show off to her co-workers and peers.

I liked Will a bit better than Julianne as he has a firmer grasp on reality than she does. Will has loved Julianne for 20 years, and as he watches her go out with other guys it's easy to sympathize with his feelings... but at the same time I just wanted to light a fire under him to push him into action!! Twenty years is waaay too long to let a profession of love go unsaid, and he just continued to procrastinate, despite having multiple opportunities to express his feelings.

The story did keep me fairly entertained while reading, but having finished it several days ago, I'm already finding it somewhat forgettable. I feel like the story idea had promise, but Julianne's character simply wasn't able to engage me; her behavior often left me unsettled, despite the fact that it was probably done for comedy sake. Ultimately, this story just wasn't my cup of tea, but the writing itself was good, so I would still be interesting in checking out some of Sandra Bricker's other works in the future.

My Rating: 3 stars

Thanks to the publisher (River North) for providing me with an e-arc for review via NetGalley.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review: An Unlikely Suitor by Nancy Moser

Book Cover and Synopsis:
New York dressmaker Lucy Scarpelli befriends socialite Rowena Langdon as she's designing her summer wardrobe. Grateful for Lucy's skill in creating fashions that hide her physical injury, Rowena invites Lucy to the family mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, encouraging the unusual friendship.

One day Lucy encounters an intriguing man on the Cliff Walk, and love begins to blossom. Yet Lucy resists, for what Newport man would want to marry an Italian dressmaker working to support her family?

Rowena faces an arranged marriage to a wealthy heir she doesn't love, but dare a crippled girl hope for anything better?

And Lucy's teenage sister, Sofia, falls for a man well above her social class-but is he willing to give up everything to marry a woman below his station?

As the lives of three young women-and their unlikely suitors-become entangled in a web of secrets and sacrifice, will the season end with any of them finding true happiness?

My Thoughts:
This book was a real conundrum for me. Initially I was quite intrigued by the story and most of the characters...I liked Lucy and enjoyed seeing her provide for her mother and sister, scoring them jobs at a high-class dress shop and finding better living accommodations. Lucy's idea to help Rowena, a client at the dress shop, hide her physical limitations through specially made dresses was really a neat idea and quite interesting to read about. Though they're limited to secretive conversations held in whispers in the back of the dress shop (due to the extreme differences in their social standing), Lucy and Rowena form a quiet friendship that I found rather charming... until about the half-way point in the story, when the whole setting of the book suddenly changes.

For various reasons most of the characters end up leaving New York to spend a few weeks in Newport. This not only changes the setting, but also the personal dynamics between the characters. Rowena tries to pull Lucy further into her high-class world, but in my opinion this just accentuated even more the differences between their social classes, resulting in awkward and strange situations that simply didn't match the tone or feeling of the first half of the story.

I generally don't like to give 3 star or lower ratings, but in this case I just can't help it. Ideally the Newport setting should've been the best part of the book, as it's where the main characters meet their romantic matches, but oddly I found it rather bland. Towards the end there is a twist involving one of the girls' suitors, which no doubt was meant to be "shocking", but several chapters prior I had started to get an inkling of what was coming... when it turned out my hunch was right, ultimately I found that I didn't really care how the situation would be resolved. The character in question behaved in questionable ways, yet everyone seemed to just brush it off as if it were a matter of little consequence, which I found troubling and somewhat strange.

I don't want to steer anyone away from "An Unlikely Suitor", yet at the same time I can't really recommend it either. As I said previously, it started out well, but various factors combined to drag the story down and into the realm of unbelievability. I do intend to give the author another try at some point, so hopefully my next venture into her work will resonate with me a bit more.

My Rating: 3 stars