Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: Barefoot Summer by Denise Hunter

Chapel Springs, #1
Book Cover and Synopsis:
Madison’s heart has been closed for years. But one summer can change everything.

In the years since her twin brother’s drowning, Madison McKinley has struggled to put it behind her. Despite the support of her close-knit family and her gratifying job as a veterinarian in their riverside town, the loss still haunts her.

To find closure, Madison sets out to fulfill her brother’s dream of winning the town’s annual regatta. But first she has to learn to sail, and fast.

Beckett O’Reilly knows Madison is out of his league, but someone neglected to tell his heart. Now she needs his help—and he’ll give it, because he owes her far more than she’ll ever know.
Madison will do anything—even work with the infamous Beckett O’Reilly—to reach her goal. And as much as she’d like to deny it, the chemistry between them is electrifying. As summer wanes, her feelings for him grow and a fledgling faith takes root in her heart.

But Beckett harbors a secret that will test the limits of their new love. Can their romance survive summer’s challenges? And will achieving her brother’s dream give Madison the peace she desperately seeks?

My source for book: Local library
My Thoughts:
There's a lot of high praise going around for this book, and I have to say it's well deserved. Upon starting the book, I quickly blew through the first 6 chapters in just one sitting! The characters, the setting, and the deeply interlaced storyline have a way of drawing you in, making it hard to put the book down. There's so much twisted up in Madison and Beckett's relationship, and it's very satisfying to see their interactions when they are--reluctantly--thrust together with a common goal.

The writing is so vivid that I almost felt like I was experiencing everything the characters did. From Madison's fear of water in the midst of taking swimming lessons, to Beckett's guilt over his un-confessed youthful misdeed, the depth of the emotion is so intense that it's like you're right there with the characters. When Madison reached her emotional breaking point, her turmoil actually gave me a rather somber feeling, as if I could truly sympathize with her despite the fact that I've never been through anything even remotely similar. In the same vein, Beckett's situation with his alcoholic father also tugged at my heart, leaving me feeling so sorry for him. The emotions and situations are just so striking that you can't help but connect with the characters. 

The length is average for a book of this genre, but yet it actually seemed longer--in a good way--because so much content was covered. I admit that I was able to predict a few of the plot points along the way, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story in the least. If anything, it only proved that I was on the same wave-length as the author, wanting the story to move in the same direction! :)

Overall, I definitely recommend Barefoot Summer. The author has some serious talent on her hands, it's honestly hard to find any fault at all. Though it's just a fraction of the story, I never thought reading about something as mundane as swimming lessons could be so enthralling! :) I also liked Madison's and Beckett's dogs--it's a small detail, but their inclusion made the story that much more real. The bottom line is this: pick this book up, I think you'll be glad you did!

My Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: A March Bride by Rachel Hauck

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Susanna has found her true prince, and their happily ever after is just around the corner. But when Nate asks her to give up something precious to her, Susanna can’t help but wonder if it’s a sign that their love is not meant to be.

Susanna Truitt (Once Upon A Prince) is three weeks from royalty. She’ll soon marry King Nathaniel II of Brighton Kingdom. But when the government insists she renounce her American citizenship before the wedding, coupled with the lack of involvement by family and friends, her heart begins to doubt whether this marriage is God’s plan for her.

Nathaniel would do anything for his bride-to-be. But he knows his position requires that she give up a lot to be with him. Her life will never be her own — right down to her very identity. When she travels home to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, right before the wedding, Nathaniel fears she won’t return. Gathering his courage, he devises a plan to win his bride all over again, and together they seek out a kingdom to treasure above all.

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
Though this novella is fourth in the "Year of Weddings" novella collection, it's actually a continuation of Susanna and Nathaniel's story, from Once Upon a Prince. While you probably could read the novella as a stand-alone, it will certainly have more meaning if you know the full history of the characters beforehand.

Upon starting the novella, I was immediately saddened to see Susanna and Nathaniel at odds with one another, struggling to join their separate lives together and both wondering if the other had changed their mind about marriage. Susanna's behavior in particular felt a bit childish and over-the-top to me...while I can understand her reluctance to give up her American citizenship--I think I might find it hard, as well--I felt it was most certainly the appropriate thing for her to do considering that she was engaged to the king of a foreign nation.

Something that I did like was how the story brought back a few supporting characters that I had previously enjoyed in Once Upon A Prince. Avery (Susanna's sister) and her possible relationship with Prince Colin is very intriguing to me, especially considering Avery's young age. And then there's Jonathan (Nathaniel's aide)... I don't know why, but I've always been curious to know more about him. I hope as Hauck's "Royal Weddings" series continues that the stories of these characters will be fleshed out a bit more.

The storyline for A March Bride does allow the author to paint a lovely image of where our true citizenship heaven, not anywhere on earth. That's ultimately what I'm taking away from the story, and I am thankful for the reminder. But overall, I felt the novella was just "okay". Susanna's behavior did not endear her to me, and the story ending was just a bit too saccharine for my taste. I honestly liked the way Susanna and Nathaniel's story originally ended in Once Upon A Prince quite a bit better, which resulted in this novella feeling like a somewhat unnecessary addition to their story.

My Rating: 3 stars

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

Friday, February 14, 2014

Review: Andrew's Key by Amanda Hamm

Stories from Hartford, #1
Book Cover and Synopsis:
Talk around Hartford is that the old Hilson house is haunted. Its new owner, Rebecca Hilson, doesn’t believe that. She’s more concerned with the decades of junk that has accumulated and for which she is now responsible. She doesn’t know what to do with any of it or even how to approach sorting through it all.

Her new neighbor, Andrew Lately, is happy to offer some words of wisdom and the help of his grandson, Charlie, to get her started. Charlie makes it clear right away that he is interested in more than helping Rebecca move boxes. She doesn’t know if she can return those feelings. In fact, recent events have made her question her ability to feel much of anything.

Will Charlie's patience pay off or will it take a real ghost to help Rebecca understand the nature of love?

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
This is a cute story with a romantic angle that feels both sweet and shy. Sorting through boxes in an old (possibly haunted) house isn't the most typical get-to-know-you scenario, but it's actually kind of fun and gives the uncertain relationship between Rebecca and Charlie a laid back feeling. There is also an element of mystery throughout... not enough to be creepy, scary, or overly intense, but just enough to make you think and wonder.

I like how Rebecca is in her twenties--clearly an adult--but is still trying to figure out her life and future plans. It highly amused me (and scarily enough, sort of reminded me of myself) when she came across various situations that a "grownup" would know how to handle, then quickly realized that SHE is a grownup and should be able to handle things on her own. The first person writing style puts you right inside Rebecca's head, and her occasionally matter-of-fact way of thinking is both amusing and engaging.

Charlie is definitely a sweet guy, and I really enjoyed watching him as he spent time around Rebecca. Though he respects Rebecca's wishes of staying in the "friend zone"--for the time being, at least--you can still tell he has feelings for her by the little double-meaning (but not dirty!) comments he makes. I really enjoyed watching their relationship slowly grow. Rebecca's reasoning for taking things slow was very unique, and interesting to watch play out.

The story kept my attention the whole time, never wavering even once, and I was sad when it ended. That's not to say the ending isn't good though, because it is! Rebecca's realization of her inner traits and how they effect her feelings for Charlie is particularly poignant, and made for a great conclusion to the story's build-up. Andrew's Key is definitely some of the author's best work, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing what's in store when the rest of the "Hartford" series releases later this year.

My Rating: 5 stars

Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: More Shabby Than Chic by Heather Hunt

Welcome to Manhattan #2
Book Cover and Synopsis:
Lily Bridgewater has always been just a hair on the wrong side of acceptable. Living in the small, southern town of Manhattan, Georgia, hasn't helped things, either. But Lily, an interior designer and bargain shopper extraordinaire, is bent on improving her lot in life. When the opportunity arises to bid on the renovation of the city's Arts Center, she finds herself in the unenviable position of working with the city's notoriously autocratic mayor, A.C. Anderson.

With his booming voice and relentless work ethic, A.C. is a force to be reckoned with...and a man who has never imagined that a pair of leopard-print T-strap pumps...or the pint-sized woman wearing them with such adorable grace...would bowl him over.

When the two begin to tangle in a series of newspaper editorials, it is clearly more than a battle of the sexes. The question is: Who will survive?

My source for book: Personal Library
My Thoughts:
This second installment of the "Welcome to Manhattan" series focuses on Lily Bridgewater (the self proclaimed "bargain fashionista"), and on A.C. Anderson, Mayor of Manhattan...Georgia, not New York! I really liked the nicknames these two had for each other, with Lily often playfully calling A.C. by his title of "Mayor", just to annoy him. And in turn, A.C.'s nickname of "Sugar" for Lily was also something that I found charming just because it was so typical and right-on-the-money for his robust personality.

I have to admit that after reading the first couple chapters, I actually contemplated not going any further, simply because A.C. rubbed me so completely the wrong way. Thankfully I pressed on, soon surprised to find myself really enjoying the story. Though A.C. continued to occasionally spout off his "male chauvinism" (as Lily described it), he slowly but surely began to grow on me, starting when the fun family dynamics between him and his siblings were on full display. And after the heart-breaking scene about 3/4 through the story with A.C. and his dog, I was completely won over.

For a myriad of reasons, a few of the town's people look down on Lily and often try to accuse her of things. Something that really stood out to me was how A.C. readily defended Lily from her false accusers, even going so far as to say some rather surprising things in retaliation, especially considering his position as Mayor. Those people were horribly judgmental of Lily, and it felt so liberating to see A.C. put them in their place!

The blooming relationship between Lily and A.C. was certainly enough to hold my attention, but as an added bonus, the relationships going on between the supporting characters turned out to be equally as interesting. I deeply wanted more time with these supporting characters, so I was quite pleased to discover that two of them will soon be getting their own book. As of now the release date is unknown, but I am eagerly awaiting the chance to re-connect with the characters

More Shabby Than Chic is the second book in the "Welcome to Manhattan" series, and after reading the first and second back-to-back, I must say that I'm quite impressed with the high quality of the stories and characters, which is indeed rare with kindle-only books such as this. As was the case with the first book, this one also reads more like something from a larger publisher. And to top everything off, the cover design captures the story admirably, even down to the wardrobe of the couple on the front. :)

My Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: Aging With Gracie by Heather Hunt

Welcome to Manhattan #1
Book Cover and Synopsis:
Nerdy Emma Grace Woodhouse has struggled with her weight and her mother’s meddling for years. When she is assigned to manage her father’s corporation’s latest acquisition in Manhattan, she is ecstatic that she will finally have a chance to prove herself. Unfortunately, Grace’s joy takes a sudden downward spiral when she discovers that the assignment is the overhaul of a retirement home in Manhattan…Manhattan, Georgia, of all places.

Grace resigns herself to tackling the overwhelming task of turning the retirement home into a welcoming and safe place for its elderly residents...a task made even more difficult by the destructive presence of a vindictive pair of former workers. Armed with a newfound sense of God's grace, the friendship of a pair of feisty elderly residents, and a blossoming relationship with handsome general contractor, Jackson Ellis, Grace discovers that God's plans for her life are not necessarily the ones she would have imagined…they are so much more amazing!

My source for book: Personal Library
My Thoughts:
This is a fun one! Right from the beginning the interactions between Grace and Jack were entertaining, with a fun flirty vibe woven in amid their frustrations with each other. I really liked the speed of their relationship; they let a friendship blossom before proceeding any further, even though it was fairly obvious to both that things could and would turn more serious. Jack's habit of calling Grace by the nickname of "Gracie"--despite her protests--was cute, and always brought me a smile.

The seniors at the retirement home added some nice dynamics to the story, and I enjoyed seeing Grace mature in her attitude towards them as she discovered their worth as people, despite her original reservations and a less than graceful first impression. Mixing a younger person with a group of seniors is often a sure-fire plot for a great story, and that certainly holds true here.

The one thing that put a slight damper on my enjoyment was towards the end, when the "required" conflict popped up to push Grace and Jack apart. Grace's reaction to it seemed a bit over the top, and it frustrated me that she wouldn't let Jack explain his side of the situation. Things went unresolved a bit too long for my taste, and then when the issue was cleared up, it seemed just a bit too easy.... especially after the way Grace had been acting about it.

Overall, I did very much enjoy the story, despite my nitpicking of the events near the end. The characters were quite likeable, and the dialogue and writing was good. Honestly, the book reads more like a novel from a larger publisher, rather than the kindle-only novel that it is. In my opinion, Aging With Gracie is a rare find, a jewel in the flooded market of kindle novels!

My Rating: 4.5 stars