Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck

Royal Wedding Series #2
Book Cover and Synopsis:
Regina Beswick never dreamed of faraway places. She’s happy with her life as a classic car mechanic and owner of a restoration shop. But an unexpected visitor and the discovery of a fairytale, drawn by her great-grandma, causes Regina to wonder if she might be destined for something more.

Tanner Burkhardt, Minister of Culture for the Grand Duchy of Hessenberg, must convince the strong-willed Southerner, Miss Beswick, that she is his country’s long-lost princess. Failure could destroy his reputation and change his nation forever.

As Regina and Tanner face the challenges before them, neither are prepared for love to invade their hearts and change every thing they believe about themselves.

However, when a royal opponent nearly destroys Regina’s future, she must lean into God and trust He has sovereignly brought her to her true and final destiny.

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
For every little girl who dreamed of being a princess, but then grew up... this story is for you! The circumstances are realistic; it feels like something that could actually happen. No magic or spells required for this real world fairy tale, but that doesn't mean the story won't cast a spell on you!

Though the first part of the story stretched out a bit longer than I hoped, it's actually a large part of what gives the story its realism. Regina's reluctance and disbelief at the revelation of her foreign royal heritage no doubt mirrors what most women would feel in this situation. I loved how she openly admitted to being "scared" or "terrified" of her unknown future. She's strong and determined, but vulnerable in the fact that she hates change.

The sprinkling of politics throughout--a necessary evil in keeping with the realistic approach--was handled well, and though it wasn't my favorite part, I do admit that it was easy to understand without delving into boring matters. The political "villain" really got on my nerves, but hey, that's what a villain is supposed to do, right? Job well done. Now that I know the final outcome, thinking back on his over the top antics--one in particular--is actually rather amusing.

Something that I really liked was the fact that Regina had never been kissed or in a serious relationship. At the age of 29, that's pretty rare, but I thought it was awesome. When she finally did find her "prince", he gently pursued her even before she was certain of how she felt. It was enjoyable to watch the progress of their relationship (especially considering Regina's position as a royal), and the scene where they both admitted to having feelings was sweet and actually rather unique.

Overall, I enjoyed Princess Ever After. It's a great second installment for the "Royal Wedding" series and ties in nicely with the first book, Once Upon A Prince (but reading the first certainly isn't necessary to enjoy the second). The story satisfies the age-old "princess" fantasy while staying firmly rooted in the real magic or spells to be found, except for some Divine intervention--which, you gotta admit, is way cooler than your average storybook magic! 

My Rating: 4 stars

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

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: A Path Toward Love by Cara Lynn James

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Katherine came home to forget her past. The last thing she expected is a hopeful future.

Young widow Katherine Osborne returns to her family’s rustic camp on Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. She’s determined to live a quiet life, but her socialite mother is equally determined to push her into a new marriage while she’s still young.

Andrew Townsend has known Katherine since they were children. An attorney who is successful, but not wealthy, he knows she is socially out of his reach. But he’s curious what changed the free-spirited girl he once knew into this private, somber young woman.

Katherine has kept hidden the details of her unsuccessful marriage. When past sins come to light, she must turn to God for the courage to be honest. But how can she trust the God she feels has let her down? When she confides in Andrew, their relationship takes a dramatic turn into uncharted territory.

Amid impossible obstacles, two young people must learn to trust enough to walk the path that God has cleared for them. A path that leads to healing and restoration. A path toward love.

My source for book: Local Library
My Thoughts:
This is the type of review that's really difficult to write....I never like to "put down" a story or an author's work, but I simply could not connect with this novel in any way. The reasons are varied, and even though the writing itself is decent, I just couldn't find my way to relating with the characters at all.

I never felt close or connected to Katherine, and her motives were always hard for me to understand or sympathize with. She holds a death grip on her citrus grove in Florida, despite the fact that it's losing money, and refuses to sell even when she gets an above-market offer. Katherine goes on and on about how she loves it so much, but the atmosphere at the grove was never able to convince me of how "great" it was or what exactly made it so desirable to her.

The thing that struck me most about the story was the rampant manipulation spread throughout the entire novel. Society parents manipulating their grown (late 20's) children into all sorts of disagreeable situations for "their own good", including (but not limited to) courting someone not of their choosing. Yes, these types of stories are somewhat common in fiction, but the way it all came about just set wrong with me. One example: After an ultimatum from his parents, one man acquiesced into courting a lady he didn't care for simply because he found courting her less disagreeable than going to work at his father's company.

Andrew was a decent character and I could easily see why Katherine was drawn to him, but unfortunately he also fell victim to the widespread manipulation--in this case from his employer, threatening his job if he didn't stay away from Katherine. Despite the fact that Andrew didn't often keep his distance, I still didn't feel that he had much of a back-bone. I wanted him to blow-off and rip through all the manipulation that was going on, as he was aware of most of it, but sadly he didn't seem to have the guts or the will to take charge of the situation.

It grieves me to give such a low rating (2 stars), but I try to be very honest in my ratings, and I simply can't find my way to giving anything higher. :( In closing--hopefully on a slightly more cheerful note--I do want to mention that I wouldn't be opposed to trying more of the author's work.... The writing itself was of a good quality, I just really feel that it was the story, not the style, that didn't sit right with me.

My Rating: 2 stars

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: The Whispering Sentinel by Ruth Kyser

Book Cover and Synopsis:
It's said ‘you can’t go home again’, but after a cancelled wedding and the death of her father, Sandy Martin makes the decision to do just that when she returns to her hometown of Bradford Mills. She buys her grandmother’s old house, and in the process of remodeling the house with an old friend, Tom Brannigan, Sandy discovers her house has a story to tell. While she continues an internal struggle to find the faith and relationship with God she'd had in the past, she begins a journey to find not only her history, but that of another.

My source for book: Personal Library
My Thoughts:
This is a cute story that turns into something more than you would initially expect. I always enjoy stories that involve remodels of old homes, but this one has an angle that's not often explored. I don't want to give too much away, but I think I can safely say that in the process of the remodel Sandy unearths the secret history of her old home, and it takes her on a journey she never could've imagined.

The storyline itself was good; definitely engaging enough to hold my attention and to make me curious to see how everything turned out. It was interesting to see the relationship develop between Sandy and her contractor, Tom, especially in light of their single failed date 8 years prior. I do admit that the writing style was a bit too wordy for my taste and some of the dialogue occasionally seemed a bit unnatural, but neither of these issues were enough to stop me from reading as I was quite curious to see how the story would unfold and ultimately end.

Overall I do feel the book would be stronger if it was tightened up and shortened a bit; it seemed slightly too long for the amount of story that was covered. But, if you're looking to relax with a novel that's not overly-fast-paced, this just might be the ticket you're looking for! I can easily see this being turned into a Hallmark-style movie... and you know what, sometimes that's just the type of story I'm in the mood for.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: A New Dance by Lucy McConnell

Book Cover and Synopsis:
For most people, letting go of a "what if" can be difficult - for Kiley Roberts it's almost impossible. As her final semester of college begins, a past relationship prevents her from fully opening her heart to Brandon, her almost fiance. When TJ unexpectedly drops back into her life as an assigned dance partner, Kiley's sure that it's a sign. Only she's not sure if it means she should put their past behind her or try for a future with the man with the broken heart.

My source for book: Personal Library
My Thoughts:
Though the synopsis for this one made me really curious, I have to admit that from the very beginning I had a hard time buying the intensity of Kiley and TJ's feelings for each other. To me it didn't seem very plausible that when they saw each other for the first time in five years, they both just wanted to touch and hold the other, despite the fact that things had previously ended badly for them. They are basically consumed with each other, and to me it was more of an obsessive type of feeling, rather than being romantic.

Though Kiley and TJ are both Christians, there are elements of the story that have a more secular vibe. The college setting gives the story a more worldly feel, with mentions of parties and drinking. Kiley and TJ don't participate in these things, however Kiley's roommate does, and she sometimes doesn't come home at night.

Something that bothered me about Kiley was how she knew her boyfriend, Brandon, didn't share her faith and convictions, but she continued in her relationship with him regardless. I never saw any kind of connection between them at all, so I couldn't see why she continued to stay with him, especially when he pushed for intimacy with her. She made some bad decisions that nearly crossed the line. Ultimately, in the end I was disappointed that Kiley didn't take initiative to improve her seemed to me that the only reason she got her happy ending was because of a somewhat nasty twist of fate that worked in her favor, rather than anything she actually did herself to improve her scenario.

Overall, the writing style and dialogue were decent, I think it was just the story and the characters that I couldn't click with. The cover with the dancers on it is what initially pulled me in, and I really did like the dancing element, though it wasn't as large of a part as I imagined it would be. I certainly won't shy away from the author's future work, but for me this story was just "OK."

My Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Review: Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.

After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.

As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters.

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
This novel has a very unique format as almost the entire book is made up of letters, but it's actually often easy to forget that fact... Samantha's letters are so detailed and lengthy that the book often just feels like a first-person perspective novel, rather than a series of letters. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about the letter style, but I actually ended up really enjoying the uniqueness.

Even though Sam is in her early 20's, the overall story has a lovely coming of age feel. As Sam seeks and learns how to let down her carefully constructed emotional barriers, she learns about different aspects of life, all the while detailing her successes and failures in her letters. It's very enthralling, and even though some tough subjects are touched upon, the overall feeling is generally light with a hopeful outlook for the future.

I have to admit that I LOVED Alex, and the way Samantha met him was really fun. Even though he's a famous author, he is very down-to-earth, practically cringing at the attention his work brings him. He is somewhat mysterious and very intriguing, and I found myself eagerly anticipating each time Samantha would mention him in her letters.

There are many references to classic literature, most of which I'm ashamed to say I've never read. However, the unfamiliar references really didn't dull my enjoyment of the story; for the most part the references were either explained, or were self explanatory within the context. So if you're like me and haven't read many classic titles, don't let that stop you, it won't hinder the story. However, I do admit to having an urge to finally pick up Pride & Prejudice so I can see what all the fuss is about! :)

Ultimately, the bottom line is that I completely and 100% recommend this novel. Though it's Katherine Reay's debut novel, you certainly wouldn't know by reading it. I'll be keeping my eye on her, because I can hardly wait to see what she comes up with next. Without a doubt Dear Mr. Knightley is one of the best new books from 2013 that I've read.

My Rating: 5 stars!!!!

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