Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review: Greetings from the Flipside by Gutteridge & McKay

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Hope Landon has been rewriting other people’s greeting cards since she was six years old. There’s always a funnier caption in there somewhere. She’s ready to chase her creative dreams in New York City with her fiancĂ©—until he leaves Hope at the altar.

That may give her something to write about . . .

Hope disappears for the time that would have been the couple’s month-long honeymoon, and upon returning learns of her own funeral. Everyone concluded Hope must have killed herself after being jilted. Needing a fresh start more than ever, she heads for the Big Apple only to discover it isn’t easy to rent a place when you’ve been declared dead.

Taking shelter at the YMCA, Hope lands a job at an inspirational greeting card company assisting Jake, the guy who shut down his organization’s humor department. She has lost her faith in love; he needs to find something or someone that will make him laugh again.

Fun and faithful, Greetings from the Flipside will keep turning over in your mind.

My source for book: Review Copy via NetGalley
My Thoughts:
Oh my, what a gem of a book! I had a complete blast reading this novel, and even though it was slightly different than I expected, I still loved it! I don't want to give any spoilers, but I think I can safely reveal that a large portion of the story actually takes place in a dream-like state. You might ask, "who cares what happens in a dream?", but I actually found it so entertaining that I didn't care in the least that it wasn't "real." The events themselves for the most part are realistic in nature, but there is just enough quirkiness to give it a dream-like, almost fairy tale feel. I absolutely loved the atmosphere of these portions of the book--rooted in the real world, but slightly funner!

Hope is a very likable character, with a fun sense of humor. I liked how she didn't wallow in self pity after being jilted at the altar, instead going out and seeking her dream of being a professional greeting card writer. Her ironic card greetings won't appeal to everyone, but what I was most tickled by was how humorous Hope herself thought her cards were. The dream world is written in first person from Hope's perspective, and she has a really fun voice that makes the story flow along effortlessly.

All of the other characters are great as well, but I want to specifically mention Jake, as I really enjoyed him. He is rather quiet, but as the story progresses, you really get to know him and sympathize with his past hurts. I liked him in both the dream and real world scenarios. As for Hope's mother... she is pretty humorous, in an over-the-top kind of way. In reality she would be too much, but on paper she is quite amusing.

Greetings From The Flipside has definitely earned a spot on my top fiction list for 2013. It's complete fun, but at the same time it really keeps you thinking. The collaboration between Gutteridge and McKay is perfect. (It makes me want to read their earlier novel, as well!) I've seen this story compared to the movie "While You Were Sleeping", and in many ways I think that's a very fair comparison. Fans of that movie will most likely find quite a few things in this novel to enjoy. I know I did! This is one that I highly, highly recommend!

My Rating: 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher (B&H) for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: Operation Bonnet by Kimberly Stuart

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Twenty-year-old Nellie Monroe has a restless brilliance that makes her a bit of an odd duck. She wants to be a private investigator, even though her tiny hometown offers no hope of clients.
Until she meets Amos Shetler, an Amish dropout carrying a torch for the girl he left behind. So Nellie straps on her bonnet and goes undercover to get the dish.
But though she’s brainy, Nellie is clueless when it comes to real life and real relationships. Soon she’s alienated her best friend, angered her college professor, and botched her case. Operation Bonnet is a comedy of errors, a surprising take on love, and a story of grace.

My source for book: Personal library
My Thoughts:
A few years ago I became tired of the deluge of Amish fiction, and now it takes something with an extremely unique perspective to get me to pick up an Amish-related book. Operation Bonnet certainly fits the bill of "unique", but I didn't realize just how off-the-wall it would be!

Nellie is eccentric, to say the least, and I have to admire the creativity of the mind that dreamed her up! She is just totally off-the-wall, with sarcastic and snarky comments aplenty. I appreciate good sarcasm, but some of hers was too close to crude (unkind, not dirty) for my taste.... still, at other times I was quite humored by her take on things. At 20 years old Nellie is still somewhat immature, causing her to make some less-than-great choices (especially in her detective work), but I do have to say that I really admired how well she handled the difficulties in her personal life of caring for her aging grandmother.

I really, really liked Amos and what he brought to the story. He is funny without even intending to be, with his misuses of pop-culture references and a somewhat stiff (but humorous) way of speaking. The contrast between him and Nellie is great, resulting in some very amusing conversations. But putting the humor aside, I also really appreciated the unique perspective Amos has on things that are commonplace to the English (non-Amish people, like you and me). After one of Nellie's flippant sarcastic remarks, Amos easily replies "Do not be ill-tempered." I was really struck by how common it is for people to be "ill-tempered", sometimes without even realizing it. It certainly made me think about how I might come across to others.

It wasn't until I was a third, or maybe even closer to half-way through, that I really started to get into the story and plot. Nellie's personality was just so loud (and jarring, dare I say?) that it took me a while to become accustomed to her....but once I did, I ended up enjoying the story. The diversity between Nellie and the Amish is huge, and for me it served as a great reminder to try looking at things in my life from a different perspective. Overall I did enjoy the book, and I would certainly recommend it if you're looking for something different from your normal genre.

My Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Charlotte owns a chic Birmingham bridal boutique. Dressing brides for their big day is her gift . . . and her passion. But with her own wedding day approaching, why can't she find the perfect dress...or feel certain she should marry Tim?

Then Charlotte discovers a vintage dress in a battered trunk at an estate sale. It looks brand-new-shimmering with pearls and satin, hand-stitched and timeless in its design. But where did it come from? Who wore it? Who welded the lock shut and tucked the dog tags in that little sachet? Who left it in the basement for a ten-year-old girl? And what about the mysterious man in the purple vest who insists the dress had been "redeemed."

Charlotte's search for the gown's history-and its new bride-begins as a distraction from her sputtering love life. But it takes on a life of its own as she comes to know the women who have worn the dress. Emily from 1912. Mary Grace from 1939. Hillary from 1968. Each with her own story of promise, pain, and destiny. And each with something unique to share. For woven within the threads of the beautiful hundred-year-old gown is the truth about Charlotte's heritage, the power of courage and faith, and the timeless beauty of finding true love.

My source for book: Local Library
My Thoughts:
Charlotte is a mostly likeable character, and her business of finding the perfect dress for every bride who visits her shop is interesting and unique. The descriptions of her shop really brought it to life in my mind; the lavish setting would be a dream come true for any bride! As far as Charlotte's personal relationships go, I have to admit that I didn't much care for Tim, or Charlotte's relationship with him. Simply put, he was too wishy-washy for my taste. I kept wanting Charlotte to let him go and just move on with her life, but Tim always managed to re-appear. Though he wasn't "terrible", he just wasn't my ideal for a leading man.

Charlotte's story is set in the present day, but a good portion of the novel also tells Emily's story, which is set in the early 1900's. Emily's sections of the story were actually my favorite, having a sort of innocent, stand-up-for-what's-right atmosphere about them. It did irk me that it took Emily so long to acknowledge the issues regarding her relationship with Phillip, but I suppose the practice of ignoring problems is actually a very realistic thing, especially in the era where social standing was everything. Nevertheless, Emily's story remains my favorite. It had the best church wedding scene I've ever read, which involved a horse, but I won't spoil it by revealing any more! :)

Wedding dresses, especially timeless ones, have an appeal to women of all ages, and it's interesting to tag along with Charlotte (and the rest of the ladies) as the history of the mysterious dress is slowly revealed. I especially liked how the dress was related to the message of the gospel; the moment at the end when the similarities are spelled out was simply AWESOME! It was a parallel I didn't see coming, and there's just no other word for it besides awesome.

Overall, this is a good, solid read. While it's not my favorite of Rachel Hauck's works--that honor goes to Love Starts With Elle--it's still a nice addition to the women's section of the Christian fiction market. I wasn't overly crazy about any of the leading male characters (with the exception of Daniel, but he didn't have a very large part), but when it comes right down to it, ultimately the story is more about the dress and the women who wore it. I give this one 4 stars: recommended!

My Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: Gunpowder Tea by Margaret Brownley

Book Cover and Synosis:
She's a Pinkerton detective. He's working undercover for Wells Fargo. Neither has a clue about love.

Annie Beckman arrives at Last Chance Ranch in the Arizona Territory holding the classified ad she found. Miss Walker's search for an heiress who is single and willing to remain so gives her the perfect cover. As a detective for the Pinkerton Agency, Annie's latest clandestine task is to discover the identity of the mysterious Phantom, a train robber thought to be hiding out at the ranch.

Ranch hand and undercover Wells Fargo detective Jeremy Taggert is secretly tracking the Phantom too, but Annie suspects he may be the train robber she's after. They're constantly at odds and she even goes so far as to serve him gunpowder tea in an attempt to gain the upper hand.

Danger lurks around every corner and everyone is under suspicion--even Miss Walker It'll be a race to the finish to see which rival detective finds the Phantom first. Nothing--not even romance--can get in their way.

My source for book: Review Copy via NetGalley
My Thoughts:
For some reason novels that involve Pinkertons always pique my interest, especially when the Pinkerton is a female. There's just something mysterious and exciting about the pioneering women of the PI field...

Though I have no desire to be a detective like Annie, I found her motives easy to understand and sympathize with. Her occupation requires a web of deception, and I found it intriguing how she began to question and feel guilty about her deceit as she came to care for the people most affected by her lies. As for Jeremy, he is likeable enough, though perhaps not extremely memorable. His main focus is on the job at hand, along with keeping a watchful eye on Annie, which resulted in less of his personality being revealed than I would've liked. (I liked him, but it just seemed that I didn't get to know him as well as I did Annie.) Though there was both personal and professional tension between Annie and Jeremy, overall it wasn't quite as intense as I thought it could be...though admittedly, things did improve when they started "sort of" working together. :)

One thing that was somewhat disappointing, though it's not a huge issue, is that I was expecting to find a scene in the book that closely resembled what the cover art depicts, but there ended up not being any scene like that at all. There IS one part that leads up to a "tea scene", but unfortunately it cuts off just before the tea is served. The story synopsis makes it sound like the scene is a pivotal point in the plot, and the cover art--which is what originally drew me to the book--makes the scene look like so much fun, that I was just slightly disappointed to not find a detailed scene of Annie serving gunpowder tea to Jeremy.

Gunpowder Tea is the final book in the Brides of Last Chance Ranch trilogy, however it could easily work as a standalone novel. The ending wraps things up nicely, while at the same time opening a door for another possible book or series. (Though I don't think anything is currently planned, a continuation has potential to be quite good!) Despite some nit-picking on my part, overall I do feel that the story is solid. The plot is without a doubt unique, and Margaret Brownley's writing is enjoyable, as always. Though I admit it's not my absolute favorite of Margaret's works, Gunpowder Tea is still worth a look, especially if you're a fan of private detectives, undercover agents, or romance in the old west!

My Rating: 4 stars

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