Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother's jealousy, and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie's one chance at freedom—but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

Gabe defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl's inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother's future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what.

When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help—but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them—they must also protect their hearts.

My source for book: Personal Library
My Thoughts:
Weaving Christian themes into retellings of fairy tales might not seem like the most natural thing ever, but I actually think it's a really cool idea, and a great way to expose unbelievers to tidbits of the gospel. Upon reading, I do admit that initially the Christian angle seemed a bit out of place to me in the fairy tale style world, but as the story unfolded it began to feel fairly natural when the characters prayed or leaned on their faith.

The book is categorized as Young Adult fiction, but that shouldn't stop older people from giving it a shot. Admittedly, it did seem a bit younger on the scale than some YA novels that I've read...the plot was somewhat simpler than I expected it to be, without many intricacies or extreme twists. The Christian slant results in there being no "magic" in the story world, and while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, I felt that the omission of magic left some parts of the familiar story feeling rather flat, particularly the evil queen.

As for the romance between Sophie and Gabe...while there were parts that were good, overall it was a bit too saccharine for my taste. They barely knew each other before admitting to feelings, which gave me the impression that their "love" was just infatuation as a result of the trauma--fleeing for their lives--that they'd been through together. (That was without a doubt one of the best parts of the story, and it would certainly build a bond of sorts between them, but still...) I hate to sound so logical about it all, but I was just never completely sold on their feelings for each other.

This is the first of Melanie Dickerson's fairy tale retellings that I've read, and I have to admit that after all the positive things I've heard, I was anticipating finding a bit more...something. Honestly, I didn't "dislike" the book, but I was just expecting a bit more. Maybe it's because Snow White isn't really my favorite fairy tale.... Regardless, I do still want to check out some of Melanie's other works. I think the Christian spin on these classic stories is a very promising idea and has the makings of something that could be really awesome.

My Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: Grace for the Char-Baked by Lisa Buffaloe

Book Cover and Synopsis:
With "Char" as a nickname, Charlotte Wilson's cooking skills are more incendiary than culinary. Charlotte is the last person on earth who should run a bake sale. But when her plans of running in a charity marathon are side-lined by a broken foot, her old flame's suggestion becomes a challenge amidst her friends' simmering doubts.

Luke Hammond has spent the last five years studying and preparing to travel overseas as a medical missionary. When his high school sweetheart unexpectedly comes back in his life, Luke wrestles with what he feels God calling him to be and what he wants to do. His reappearance rekindles an attraction that could char Luke and Charlotte's heart or cook up the perfect romance.

My source for book: Personal library
My Thoughts:
The idea of someone with a charred thumb, so to speak, holding a bake sale is quite amusing, so I was rather curious to see what this novella had to offer. It also gave me the chance to try a different author, which is always fun. :)

Charlotte's ineptitude in the kitchen is quite extreme, which gives her friends plenty of near-disaster scenarios to tease her about. Their relentless jokes about her lack of skill got a bit stale (pun intended) for me after a while, making me feel kind of bad for her despite the fact that her tendency for calamity bordered on unbelievable. I liked how Charlotte wouldn't let them stop her from holding the bake sale, no matter what, and how she was determined to prove them all wrong about her lack of kitchen skills. (No-bake recipes can actually be pretty good!)

The writing is decent; though the dialogue at times feels a touch stiff, it's not enough to hinder things. The one thing that struck me as slightly odd is that both Charlotte and Luke expressed a feeling of being called to the mission field, but it never seemed completely genuine to me. I had a hard time imagining either character in a mission field setting... their "call" to the field seemed more like something they "wanted" to want, rather than an actual calling. It wasn't a deal-breaker for me, just something I noticed and found interesting.

Overall, Grace for the Char-Baked is a mostly amusing diversion. Lost love is given a second chance, and the bake sale turns out much differently than Charlotte ever imagined. I wouldn't call it overly realistic, but then again, I don't necessarily want to read complete realism in my down-time. :) While it probably won't be extremely memorable for me in the long run, I did find it fairly entertaining while reading.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

Book Cover and Synopsis:
A girl with the best of intentions.
A heart set on Hollywood.
An empty pocketbook.

That's all it takes for Ellis Eton to find herself working as a telephone operator for a look-alike friend. For Ellis, this job will provide not only acting practice but the funds to get her a start in the movies. She's tired of always being a disappointment to her traditional Boston family, and though she can't deny the way he makes her head spin, she knows she's not good enough for Griffin Phillips, either. It's simple: avoid Griff's attentions, work, and get paid. But in typical Ellis fashion, her simple plan spirals out of control when she overhears a menacing phone call...with her very own Griff as the target.

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
Ellis has a problem of not being able to focus on any one thing for very long, with her thoughts jumping around from one thing to another, often taking hairpin turns. According to the author's note, Ellis was deliberately written with ADHD tendencies. It's quite obvious, and the first person style of writing really showcases the jumpy pattern of her thoughts. In theory, this sounds like the type of character that I would find charming, but unfortunately I never could completely connect with Ellis... I don't know if it's a result of her ADHD or not, but she struck me as being rather immature and a bit wishy-washy. In the process of trying to solve her "mystery", she rehashes many of the same clues and circumstances over and over, making the story bog down a bit in some areas.

There were elements of the story that I truly did like, such as Ellis switching places with Janie, trying to blend in and not be caught. The details of the central telephone switchboard and the girls who worked there were also very intriguing to me. The setting mostly succeeds in bringing the time period alive, with peeks into speakeasies and a look at the rampant corruption inside the police force and political scene.

I generally liked Griff and what he brought to the story. The relationship between him and Ellis was enjoyable, and I especially liked that Griff didn't try to conform Ellis to society's standard of "normal", unlike her parents and siblings. I wish Griff could have been featured a bit more, but sadly Jack the policeman was given close to an equal amount of page time. While Jack's position on the police force offers an interesting inside look, mostly I found myself a bit annoyed every time he came around...though I admit his attempt at redemption towards the end was a nice touch.

I'm a big fan of much of Siri's work, but this one unfortunately isn't at the top of my list. It's "OK", but it's honestly not something that I'll recommend very often. As I said, there are elements that I enjoyed, but overall it just doesn't seem up to the normal standard. If you're a die-hard Siri fan, go ahead and give it a try... but, if you're new to Siri's books, I would recommend first starting with something like "She Walks in Beauty", or even one of her contemporary releases, such as "The Cubicle Next Door" or "Kissing Adrien".

My Rating: 3 stars

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

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review: Dancing With Fireflies by Denise Hunter

Chapel Springs, #2
Book Cover and Synopsis:
Jade returns home to Chapel Springs after years of protecting her fragile heart. Then along comes Daniel, making her long to dance again.

Creative and complicated, Jade McKinley felt like a weed in a rose garden growing up in Chapel Springs. When she left, she thought she’d never look back. But now, pregnant, alone, and broke, she has no other choice but to return.

The mayor of Chapel Springs, Daniel Dawson, has been an honorary member of the McKinley family for years. While his own home life was almost non-existent, Daniel fit right into the boisterous McKinley family. He’s loved Jade for years, but she always saw him as a big brother. Now that she’s back, his feelings are stronger than ever.

As Jade attempts to settle in, nothing feels right. God seems far away, she’s hiding secrets from her family, and she’s strangely attracted to the man who’s always called her “squirt." Finding her way home may prove more difficult than she imagined.

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
Stepping back into Chapel Springs and seeing all the familiar faces (from Barefoot Summer) is both exciting and comfortable; the small town atmosphere is exactly the same, it's just the viewing angle--this time seeing things alternately from Jade's and Daniel's perspective--that's changed.

Though stories involving pregnancy don't normally interest me, I was extremely drawn to Jade's situation. It's heartbreaking, yet exceptionally enthralling due to the difficult circumstances and her stubborn effort to be independent in the midst of it all. I really admired that despite being scared to death, Jade never once considered giving up her baby. Despite its traumatic conception, she was determined to love the child, but at the same time feared she might not be able to.

I really liked Daniel, he is sweet and caring but feels very realistic. He has a way of phrasing things that makes for some very humorous moments! The relationship between him and Jade was simply delightful, it couldn't have been written any better. I loved how he almost unintentionally--and with such natural ease--worked his way further into Jade's life, becoming her confidant and helper, steadily growing their relationship without Jade even realizing what was happening. Things end up coming together in a very unique and interesting way that I never would have imagined.

Honestly, I just can't say enough good things about Dancing With Fireflies. The story is so very intriguing and enjoyable, hard-to-put-down, and kept me up past 2am a couple of times! It successfully tackles a very difficult subject with grace and tact; never once did I feel uncomfortable with how things were handled. I'm already thinking about re-reading it, that's how much I loved the story and relationship development between Jade and Daniel! Though it's still early in the year, I am confident this will end up being one of the best releases from the Christian market in 2014.

My Rating: 5 stars!!!

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