Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: Leaving Liberty by Virginia Carmichael

Book Cover and Synopsis:
At eighteen, Daisy McConnell left Liberty, Colorado and never looked back. The only bright spot in a childhood of neglect and loneliness was the town librarian, Marie. Now settled as a teacher in sunny Fresno, Daisy does her best to forget everything about Liberty including her drunk father, her MIA mother, and the town she hated with every beat of her heart.

Lane Bennett’s life as a small town cop is pretty close to perfect. He’s got his dog, a pretty date when he needs one, and plenty of time to fish on the weekends. No other place can compare to his hometown and he’s happy to devote his life to keeping the folks of Liberty safe. When Marie passes away, Lane knows one of the best parts about living in Liberty is gone, along with the old Carnegie library. It needs repairs the city can’t afford and the city managers won’t pay the new flood insurance. It’s too bad, but safety comes first.

When Daisy comes home for Marie’s funeral and hears the only safe place she knew as a child is going to close, she refuses to let it happen. She hatches a plan to save the old library, run the summer reading program, and keep Marie’s legacy alive. 

She once vowed never to come home and he’s vowed never to leave. Daisy and Lane discover together that true love happens when you least expect it and you should never say never in Liberty.

My Thoughts:
I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm guilty of judging this book by it's a good way! When I saw the cover of Leaving Liberty, I was immediately intrigued, even without knowing the plot. I just knew it would be my kind of book, and as it turns out, I did end up enjoying it.

I admit that it did take me a while to get fully immersed in the story...initially I was just kind of "so-so" about it, though I can't pinpoint the exact reason. However, by time the half-way mark rolled around, I found myself solidly interested in the outcome of the will-they-or-won't-they relationship between Daisy and Lane. The library also plays a large part in the plot, and it's interesting to see the things Daisy tries in her attempts to keep it from being shut down. I kept trying to predict if she would succeed or not, but I couldn't easily guess the outcome. I really didn't know how things would turn out until I actually got to the end!

I was quite intrigued by the angle the story takes on Daisy and Lane's relationship. They are obviously attracted to each other, but knowing that Daisy is leaving town at the end of Summer, they both try to guard their hearts by ignoring the flying sparks. In all honesty, I generally get annoyed when a couple starts a relationship when they know there is a time limit.... but in this case my opinion was flipped up-side-down, and I was actually rooting for them to start something, despite the time limit! I found it very compelling that the story was able to punch through my preconceived ideas and change my thoughts around in such a way.

Never before have I come across a guy who likens his heart to an old patched pair of pants (Lane), but now that I have, I wish there were more out there like him! ;) Virginia Carmichael definitely has a creative mind to come up with the unique analogies and ideas that are found in the story. This is the first of her works that I've picked up, but I found her writing style to be enjoyable. If small towns, libraries, or will-they-or-won't-they relationships are of interest to you, this book is worth checking out.

My Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review: It Happened At The Fair by Deeanne Gist

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Gambling everything—including the family farm—Cullen McNamara travels to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with his most recent invention. But the noise in the fair’s Machinery Hall makes it impossible to communicate with potential buyers. In an act of desperation, he hires Della Wentworth, a teacher of the deaf, to tutor him in the art of lip-reading.

The young teacher is reluctant to participate, and Cullen has trouble keeping his mind on his lessons while intently watching her lips. Like the newly invented Ferris wheel, he is caught in a whirl between his girl back home, his dreams as an inventor, and his unexpected attraction to his new tutor. Can he keep his feet on the ground, or will he be carried away?

My Thoughts:
The 1893 World's Fair is a captivating setting, with an atmosphere full of energy and wonder. It's quite a fascinating look back at an important event in America's history, and I enjoyed watching Cullen and Della experience the various fair exhibits. There's just so much to see and do, even the exhibitors themselves look upon the fair with awe!

I found Cullen and his hearing difficulties very intriguing, yet sad. I greatly sympathized with him, as I have a relative with similar struggles and I know how hard it can be. The novel gives quite a bit of insight to the issue of lip-reading vs. sign language, which was quite enlightening as I was previously unaware of the debate. Something that really shocked and appalled me was that people associated Cullen's hearing difficulties with a lack of intelligence! This absolutely blew me away, and ultimately drove my sympathy level for him even higher. Cullen handles the issue admirably, but the ignorance of some people in the era is tragic.

The level of affection shown between Cullen and Della is a bit higher than most novels in this genre, yet there's nothing blatantly inappropriate. (Unless you count some stolen kisses in a broom closet!) I would probably classify it as very very slightly "edgy", but I feel that it fits the overall atmosphere of excitement that the fair has. 

I do have to confess that a couple times the descriptions of the actual fairgrounds became a bit overwhelming and I found my attention wavering...however, these times were few and far between, and my enjoyment of the characters far out-weighed these small issues.

This is only the second book by Deeanne Gist that I've read, and it's made me realize that I need to check out more of her works to see what I've previously missed. She weaves an entertaining story, filled with characters whose plights you don't soon forget. I very much enjoyed It Happened At The Fair, and I feel confident any lover of historical fiction would also enjoy it!

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Thanks to the publisher (Howard Books) for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer

Book Cover and Synopsis:
On his way to interview for a position at a church in the Piney Woods of Texas, Crockett Archer can scarcely believe it when he's forced off the train by a retired outlaw and presented to the man's daughter as the minister she requested for her birthday. Worried this unfortunate detour will ruin his chances of finally serving a congregation of his own, Crockett is determined to escape. But when he finally gets away, he's haunted by the memory of the young woman he left behind--a woman whose dreams now hinge on him.

For months, Joanna Robbins prayed for a preacher. A man to breathe life back into the abandoned church at the heart of her community. A man to assist her in fulfilling a promise to her dying mother. A man to help her discover answers to the questions that have been on her heart for so long. But just when it seems God has answered her prayers, it turns out the parson is there against his will and has dreams of his own calling him elsewhere. Is there any way she can convince Crockett to stay in her little backwoods community? And does the attraction between them have any chance of blossoming when Joanna's outlaw father is dead set against his daughter courting a preacher?

My Thoughts:
From the very first page, my attention was hooked! Seriously, when a book starts out with a preacher being kidnapped as a birthday present for a young lady, you just know there's lots of fun in store! :)

I found the characters to be very likeable, so much so that I wish they could have another book. Crockett is quite charming and often seems close to the perfect man, yet his character also feels very "real" and human. He's probably my favorite portrayal of a preacher that I've come across. Joanna is also likeable, her strong faith is an inspiration and something we should all strive to match. I enjoyed watching her struggle to come to terms with her feelings for Crockett, especially considering that her father is dead set against preachers of any kind!

Something I liked was the pacing of the relationship between Joanna and Crockett. It's slow and steady, but the story moves along in such a way that they admit to their feelings well before the last page. I love when an author breaks out of the common "last page love confession" mold and gives the reader a real look at the couple together, instead of leaving it up to the imagination.

Though I didn't care for Holly, the young lady who tries to win Crockett's attention away from Joanna, I have to applaud how well she was written. Every time Holly came around and started up with her sly games and catty remarks, I just wanted to scream at her, but at the same time I also kept marveling at how expertly she was portrayed. So while I did dislike her, it was sort of a love-to-hate kind of thing....she was just so well written that she easily evoked real emotion from me as I sympathized with Joanna and Crockett for having to put up with her! :)

Karen Witemeyer has a writing style that I just love... With plots that are completely original and slightly eccentric, her books are a breath of fresh air in the crowded historical genre. I've enjoyed all of her previous books, but I have to admit, I think Stealing the Preacher is my new favorite. If you're a fan of historical novels, this is one you simply can't miss!

My Rating: 5 stars

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: Tomorrow's Garden by Amanda Cabot

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Harriet Kirk is certain that becoming Ladreville's schoolteacher is just what she needs—a chance to put the past behind her and give her younger siblings a brighter tomorrow. What she didn't count on was the presence of handsome former Texas Ranger Lawrence Wood—or the way he slowly but surely claims her fragile heart. But can Harriet and Lawrence ever truly put the past behind them in order to find happiness?

My Thoughts:
In this third (and last) book in the Texas Dreams trilogy, familiar faces return, but there are also new characters to get acquainted with. We are introduced to Harriet Kirk, a young woman desperate to escape to a place where no one knows her. So when the opportunity arises, she jumps at the chance to move to Ladreville, Texas, dragging her orphaned brothers and sisters along with her.

I must admit that I felt Harriet and Lawrence took a liking to each other a bit too quickly. Initially it just felt a bit forced, as if the only reason they liked each other was because they were the two main characters and were "supposed" to like each other. However, as the story progressed and they developed a friendship, I was then able to see the attraction. They gradually form a unique relationship, each having personality quirks shaped by events of the past.

Something I really liked was the small bits of story revolving around Harriet's sister, Ruth. Initially she was painfully shy, afraid to talk or interact with strangers... but when forced into a new situation, she managed to form a tentative friendship with the town's minister. I very much understand the difficulty of being shy, so her character, feelings, and actions really connected with me. Ruth's part in the story isn't large--she is just a supporting character--but nevertheless, I really enjoyed the sections written from her view point.

Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable read. My only regret is that Ruth didn't have a larger role...however, I can't deny that Harriet and Lawrence were likeable characters, so the story did flow along well. Never before have I read a novel where the hero so vehemently disliked the heroine's choice of clothing, and I have to admit I found that whole situation rather humorous! :) Though Tomorrow's Garden is the last book in the Texas Dreams series, it would also work fine as a stand-alone novel if you don't have access to the first two.

My Rating: 4 stars