Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: The Ride of Her Life by Lorna Seilstad

Book Cover and Synopsis:
She's planted firmly on solid ground.
He's ready to sweep her off her feet.

The only man pragmatic Lilly Hart needs in her life is a six-year-old. Widowed for three years, Lilly has decided to leave the home of her intrusive in-laws to stand on her own. However, her in-laws find her new life as a cook at Lake Manawa utterly unsuitable for their grandson. When an argument ensues, a handsome stranger--who designs roller coasters, of all things--intercedes on her behalf. But Lilly is not about to get involved with any man, especially this cocky gentleman. Little does she know she is about to begin the ride of her life. 

My source for book: Personal Library
My Thoughts:
The roller coaster detail is what originally drew me to this novel, especially since it's such a unique thing for the time period. The story covers the entire building process of the coaster and also sees it up and running, but fortunately the plot doesn't get bogged down by anything overly technical.

Though I enjoyed the story, I often had a vague feeling that something was missing. I'm not quite sure what it was, but maybe it had something to do with the fact that the relationship angle just seemed fairly average...there wasn't much that made it pop or stand out. However, I did like the idea that Nick first became friends with Lilly's son, and from that simple friendship his relationship with Lilly herself slowly started grow.

I admit that I grew a bit weary of the "villains" who were out to mess up Lilly's living situation...but in all honestly, there's not many literary villains that I do like. In this case it's Lilly's scheming in-laws that fill the position. Though I didn't care for the storyline that centered around them, I did like how their first few plans were unsuccessful and ultimately in the end they were defeated, in more ways than one. 

As for the cover image...I love the photo and design, but unfortunately I don't feel that it completely fits the story. Lilly, in her stubbornness, constantly refuses to ride the roller coaster(which I found very annoying), and to my eye that isn't necessarily what the cover image conveys. BUT, even with my misgivings...I still can't help but like the look of the cover.

Having now read the entire Lake Manawa trilogy, I think my favorite is probably the second book...though the others certainly have merit and are worth checking out. I'm not sure the characters featured in "The Ride of Her Life" will ultimately stick with me very long, however the early roller coaster details alone makes the book worth looking into, especially for fans of amusement parks and rides.

My Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: A Great Catch by Lorna Seilstad

Book Cover and Synopsis:
It is the beginning of a new century at Lake Manawa Resort in Iowa, but some things never change. When 22-year-old Emily Graham's meddlesome aunts and grandmother take it upon themselves to find her a husband among the resort guests, the spunky suffragist is determined to politely decline each and every suitor. She has neither the time nor the need for a man in her busy life.

Carter Stockton, a recent college graduate and pitcher for the Manawa Owls baseball team, intends to enjoy every minute of the summer at Lake Manawa, Iowa, before he is forced into the straitlaced business world of his father.

When Emily crashes into Carter at a roller skating rink, neither could guess what would come next. Will Carter strike out? Or will Emily cast her vote for a love that might cost her dreams?

My source for book: Local Library
My Thoughts:
Stories that have the heroine under the watch of older female relatives are always a recipe for fun, and this one is certainly no exception. Emily gets all sorts of unwanted advice, grief, and commentary on every aspect of her life from her grandmother and two eccentric aunts. They're all so different but they play off each other really well, ultimately creating some humorously awkward conversations and scenarios.

I thought it was fun how Carter took Emily to such non traditional places for their dates, such as the shooting range and bowling alley. Given the era these were somewhat odd choices, yet very much appropriate in light of Emily's suffrage work and her opinion that "women can do anything men can". Emily's clumsiness is slightly overdone and pops up at the most expected--and sometimes unexpected--times, but I really didn't mind because the resulting situations were just so amusing!

The storyline in general is very unique, especially with the baseball angle thrown into the mix. I was really quite enthralled for a while, but when the age-old "required conflict to drive the characters apart" came along, I lost interest somewhat. I was disappointed that Emily didn't have more trust in Carter.... and as for Carter himself, I thought he gave up too easily after having so doggedly pursued Emily earlier on. I realize these sorts of conflicts are basically required for a story to work, but for some reason the peak of this conflict just didn't sit quite right with me.

Overall, I did enjoy the story (especially the first half), but I was also ready to see the end when it eventually came. For me, it lost a bit of momentum when the conflict arose and it ultimately never quite found its way back. Nevertheless, the story really is a cute one and has a lot of unique elements. (I actually liked it better than the first book in the series!) The Lake Manawa setting is a good one, and it's a great place for a series--as the author has obviously realized. Despite my minor nit-picking, I'm looking forward to reading the final book in the series and seeing what it has to offer.

My Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: Making Waves by Lorna Seilstad

Book Cover and Synopsis:
When spunky Marguerite Westing discovers that her family will summer at Lake Manawa in 1895, she couldn't be more thrilled. It is the perfect way to escape her agonizingly boring suitor, Roger Gordon. It's also where she stumbles upon two new loves: sailing, and sailing instructor Trip Andrews. But this summer of fun turns to turmoil as her father's gambling problems threaten to ruin the family forever. Will free-spirited Marguerite marry Roger to save her father's name and fortune? Or will she follow her heart--even if it means abandoning the family she loves? 

My source for book: Personal Library
My Thoughts:
Making Waves is a lot of fun in most regards, with Marguerite as the spunky heroine. She doesn't let tradition dictate her actions, and she's willing to plot and scheme to work around society's expectations of a lady in order to get what she wants.

I was amused and impressed by the creativity behind Marguerite's scheme to learn the art of sailing. Most captains wouldn't even let a female on board their sailboat in 1895, so obviously teaching one how to sail was completely out of the question. Because of the circumstances I expected that Marguerite would end up disguising herself as a man, but she actually did nothing of the kind. And that's all I'll say because I don't want to spoil it!

At first I wasn't sure that I was going to like Trip (Marguerite's "sort-of" sailing instructor), but he quickly grew on me. I did think he was sometimes a bit hard on Marguerite, though this can mostly be attributed to some issues in his past. Something that I thought was kind of cool was when Marguerite mentally compared Trip to her "boring" suitor, one of the (many) large contrasts she noticed was the fact that Trip actually prayed and had a relationship with God. Though just a small part of the story, to me this bit was pretty powerful.

Though I overall enjoyed the story, I do admit there were some things that irked me. Mainly, the fact that Marguerite wouldn't get rid of the "boring" suitor that her parents pushed her towards. This seemed to go against her otherwise spunky personality, and in fact her personal maid (who is also her close friend) even commented on this. I really just wanted Marguerite to ditch the guy, but in reality this was the basis for most of the conflict so I do admit that it was essential to the plot.

Despite my dislike of the "boring" suitor, ultimately things turned out well and the ending is one that I think most readers will approve of, much as I did. "Making Waves" is the first in the Lake Manawa trilogy, and I was ultimately entertained enough that I've already started in on the second book in the series. Obviously, I wouldn't hesitate to read another of the author's books! :)

My Rating: 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 stars.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review: Playing by Heart by Anne Mateer

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But when she receives a shocking telephone call from her sister, Jewel, everything she's worked for begins to crumble.

After the sudden death of Jewel's husband, Jewel needs Lula's help. With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister. But the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Neither subject belongs anywhere near the halls of academia, according to Lula!

Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year, determined to do well and prove herself to the town. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys' coach, Chet, to learn the game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She's returning to college as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet.

However, the more time she spends in Dunn, the more Lula realizes God is working on her heart--and her future is beginning to look a lot different than she'd expected.

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
Though I'm not a big sports fan, I found it quite amusing that Lula was appointed coach for the girls basketball team despite the fact that she didn't know anything about the game! It was interesting to see her slowly learn the basics and play "coach" to the girls who knew more about the game than she did.

I really liked both Lula and Chet as the main characters, but the will-they-or-won't-they relationship angle went back and forth a couple more times than I would've preferred. I grew a little weary of them both pushing the other away for various "noble" reasons, all the while failing to communicate on the issue which ultimately made it seem like a complete rejection. I really wanted their communication to be better, and in the end I wasn't entirely convinced they knew each other well enough to make a commitment.

The regulations for female teachers of this era seem much more strict than for the men, and while I found this rather unfair I also suspect that it's likely a very realistic portrayal of the issue. I really liked seeing Lula sort of innocently buck the extreme rules, and the outcome was one that I truly didn't expect.

For those who want a happy ending (and who doesn't, right!?), the story does have one, though it took a detour that I hoped it wouldn't. Regardless of that, what sticks in my mind the most is Lula's shining moment towards the end, which I thought was quite fun and also a nice nod to her efforts to learn the game of basketball. 

Undeniably the story has some very unique plot elements and an overall good message, but honestly it's not my favorite novel from the author. ("Wings of a Dream" holds that honor.) While this one is generally entertaining, it just didn't have a "wow" factor for me. Though it's well written and seems realistic, ultimately I don't think the characters or their story will stay with me very long now that I've reached the end. Still, if the synopsis sounds appealing to you at all, I'd say go for it. It's a very solid "good" story, but just not "great".

My Rating: 3 stars

Thanks to the publisher (Bethany House) for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: Marcus & Lyric by Corinna M. Dominy

Book Cover and Synopsis:
When Marcus Coulter put an ad in the newspaper seeking a roommate, never did he imagine meeting Lyric Bell. Her appearance at his apartment for applicant interviews wasn't the only surprise. She showed up disheveled and looking like she carried a great burden. Before he even knows what he's doing, he offers to let her move in.

Lyric Bell knows that Marcus is a Christian...it said so in his ad. Otherwise, she wouldn't dare go to interview as a roommate with a stranger, but she's desperate. He might be her only saving grace and she needs sanctuary from her very real and present danger.

Even as Marcus takes his perceived responsibility to protect Lyric without question, she keeps a secret hidden, terrified that if he knew, he would send her back to the world she so desperately needed to escape.

My source for book: Personal Library
My Thoughts:
This story tackles the interesting issue of a single Christian guy having a single (and unrelated) female roommate. It's a touchy topic, but the uniqueness of it is actually what drew me to the story as I was curious to see how it would be handled.

The story is told from both Lyric's and Marcus's point of view, switching back and forth between them quite often. This does give you the opportunity to know how both characters are feeling almost simultaneously, but the amount of switches also seemed a bit awkward to me at times. 

I really liked Lyric's name as it's somewhat unique but not overly so. Unfortunately, as for Lyric herself, I had a hard time connecting with her. Her thought patterns are so repetitive that I became rather annoyed with her. Her background is rough, and this causes her to constantly think thoughts along the lines of "I'm not good enough" in regards to her personal relationships. Over and over she has these thoughts, and despite the fact that it's a central part of the story, I still grew weary of the repetitiveness of it.

The writing itself is okay....it doesn't have the feel of coming from a large publishing house, but it is very readable and is not filled with typos (I only saw a few). Some of the dialogue and character actions struck me as slightly unrealistic, but not unbearably so.

I'm hesitant to give a rating of only 2-stars because I know a lot of work goes into writing a story. And ultimately, I really do like the idea of the overall plot... but I honestly think it would be much stronger in a novella form with a tighter pace. If shortened, the repetitiveness of Lyric's thoughts could be largely decreased which would be a major boon. As it is, I did read the entire book.... but I was anxious to reach the end--and very glad when I did--so that I could move on to something else.

My Rating: 2 stars