Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: Fair Play by Deeanne Gist

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Saddled with a man’s name, the captivating Billy Jack Tate makes no apologies for taking on a man’s profession. As a doctor at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, she is one step closer to having her very own medical practice—until Hunter Scott asks her to give it all up to become his wife.
Hunter is one of the elite. A Texas Ranger and World’s Fair guard specifically chosen for his height, physique, character, and skill. Hailed as the toughest man west of any place east, he has no patience for big cities and women who think they belong anywhere but home…

Despite their difference of opinion on the role of women, Hunter and Billy find a growing attraction between them—until Hunter discovers an abandoned baby in the corner of a White City exhibit. He and Billy team up to make sure this foundling isn’t left in the slums of Chicago with only the flea-riddled, garbage-infested streets for a playground. As they fight for the underprivileged children in the Nineteenth Ward, an entire Playground Movement is birthed. But when the Fair comes to an end, one of them will have to give up their dream.

Will Billy exchange her doctor’s shingle for the domesticated role of a southern wife, or will Hunter abandon the wide open spaces of home for a life in the “gray city,” a woman who insists on being the wage earner, and a group of ragamuffins who need more than a playground for breathing space? 

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
Stories involving the pioneering women of the medical field are always a fun ride, and this one is no exception, except that it's actually much better than most! Billy's detailed knowledge about the body and anatomy is, of course, viewed as strange and somewhat improper for the time period, but this creates some rather fun situations. She is very matter-of-fact about medical issues--even sensitive ones--and Hunter often takes advantage of this by making cheeky double-meaning comments that "normal" women would scoff at.

Billy and Hunter are both likeable and well-written characters. The point-of-view rotates back and forth between them, and both are equally enjoyable. I liked how they got to know each other, and then various events--such as finding an abandoned baby at the fair--brought them even closer together. Their ventures into the slums of Chicago were heart-wrenching yet fascinating, and it was encouraging to see how they weren't afraid to lend a helping hand, despite the appalling conditions. When the issue of "building a playground" initially came up, I expected things to get somewhat cheesy, HOWEVER, that was certainly not the case. The ways things progressed was very fascinating, and ultimately it ended up being more about the people and children that it would benefit, rather than about the playground itself.

The only thing I can find to nitpick at is the wedding night scene towards the end of the book. Though the chapter ended early enough and nothing was shown, the lead up just felt a bit too drawn out for my taste. Overall it just seemed awkward, there's no other way I can describe it. Despite the fact that it wasn't inappropriate, I just would've preferred if the chapter had cut off a bit earlier.

Fair Play is the author's second book involving the 1893 World's Fair, however, unlike the prior book (It Happened At The Fair), the fair itself actually doesn't take center stage in this story. Instead, the fair provides temporary jobs and living arrangements--sort of a homebase--for the main characters, while much of their time is actually spent in other parts of Chicago. Now, for those who are wondering: reading the previous book is certainly not required to enjoy this one, and in fact the stories are barely linked at all. They are both stand-alone novels, but they do compliment each other extremely well.

Overall, I really enjoyed Fair Play, and it's certainly a title that would I recommend. I liked seeing how Hunter initially regarded Billy with distrust, but eventually came to trust her medical skills completely, even defending her to those who would slander female doctors. Though some issues didn't wrap up as I imagined they would, I was ultimately happy with the outcome. My recommendation is to pick this one's a winner!!

My Rating: 5 stars

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: Rise and Shine by Sandra D. Bricker

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Shannon Malone thought she'd found her happy ending when she married Edmund Ridgeway, but a diving accident on their honeymoon left her in a coma. Waking up to the news that she's thirty years old would have been daunting enough . . . but she also learns that Edmund has lost his interim battle with cancer and the world has marched on without her. Her gorgeous doctor, Daniel Petros, seems to know everything about her and becomes Shannon's tour guide into a whole new world of madness where reality television has taken over the planet and everyone's life appears to revolve around a tiny screen on their cell phones!

As Shannon struggles to navigate through the changes-both in the world and in her-she also must discern real memories from imagined ones. Did she really ever wear capris pants and entertain in her living room, or was that Laura Petrie from her favorite classic TV show? And where is her beloved dog, Freeway? Oh, wait! That was Jonathan and Jennifer Hart's dog, not hers.

Shannon's three elderly aunts flit through her life in true Sleeping Beauty style with her well-being always a priority. And Edmund's sister Millicent descends like the Evil Queen she is, trying to extract Shannon from any claim on the Ridgeway family fortune. When a tornado moves through town and Shannon is knocked unconscious, will Daniel's kiss awaken her once and for all?

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
I gotta admit, this one is pretty fun--even if you're not a fairy tale buff! The idea of someone waking from a 10 year coma and trying to integrate back into the world is fascinating, offering many unique subplots that aren't often explored in fiction. Being sort of a tech-geek girl myself, I was particularly amused by the changes in technology that Shannon had to get used to. (It's amazing how things change in 10 years!) Her sense of wonder regarding the new technology was pretty fun, and it makes you realize how much we often take for granted.

The interaction between Daniel and Shannon was enjoyable; the transition from doctor/patient to friends was smoothly done, very believable and natural feeling. I also liked the idea that Shannon's tastes and motivations for life changed during her coma time, similar to how an average person's preferences slowly evolve during their life.

There's quite a few classic TV references sprinkled throughout the story, with "The Dick Van Dyke Show" claiming the majority of the references. Since I'm familiar with the series (gotta love TV on DVD!) much of this was rather amusing for me, but for those who aren't familiar with the show I imagine the references might grow slightly stale after while.

The biggest downside is that the ending seemed a bit abrupt; especially when I was hoping for a solid "happily ever after" to go along with the fairy tale theme. Without a doubt it has the promise of a future happily ever after, but some aspects are left slightly open ended, which prods the reader to imagine how certain things will turn out. It's not a deal breaker for me, but when it comes to endings I guess I'm just more of a traditionalist.

Overall, this is a cute modern day take on Sleeping Beauty. It's a loose adaption, of course, but nevertheless it's still a fun ride. I do admit the "villain" seemed a bit too villainous, with no clear reason or motivation behind her wickedness...but, I guess every good story needs a villain so the "good guys" can triumph, right? :) If you're in the mood for something unique and cute, this story is something that I'd certainly recommend. I may even purchase a copy or two as gifts for my friends!

My Rating: 4.5 stars

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Happily Ever After...Or Happily Nevermore?

Gisela's childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father's death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela meets the duke's son, Valten--the boy she has daydreamed about for years--and learns he is throwing a ball, she vows to attend, even if it's only for a taste of a life she'll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten's eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

My source for book: Local Library
My Thoughts:
The first thing that struck me about this story was how early on Gisela and Valten's first meeting was, rather than dragging things out and making the reader wait several chapters to see their first interaction. I really liked this pacing as it got the story off to a quick start, grabbing my attention almost immediately. The interactions between Gisela and Valten have a sweet and simple charm, which ultimately kept me up past my bedtime several times!

There are most definitely Cinderella overtones throughout the story, with portions actually heavily reminding me of the movie "Ever After" (not a bad thing!). The inclusion of faith and belief in God is light--not overbearing at all--and it generally blends seamlessly into the overall story. The faith angle does mean that there is no magical (or fairy godmother) interventions, which admittedly makes the lead-up to the ball feel a bit flat...not bad, just not very fairy-tale like.... in particular, Gisela's procural of an appropriate dress and carriage was just a bit too convenient for my taste.

The tournament scenes weren't my favorite, but the author struck a decent balance and limited them just enough so that my interest never waned. I also have to admit they were described very well; I could clearly picture everything happening, yet it wasn't gory at all.

The Captive Maiden is loosely related to Melanie's prior book, The Fairest Beauty, however in my opinion The Captive Maiden is a much stronger (and more enjoyable) story. I liked that Gisela and Valten's shared interest in horses was what originally brought them together--such a simple thing, but capable of forging a budding relationship. Though I was slightly disappointed that "midnight" never factored into the plot, this was still a fun read that I enjoyed much more than I originally anticipated. If you're a fan of fairy tale retellings, this is one that I would certainly recommend.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: Caught in the Middle by Regina Jennings

Book Cover and Synopsis:
The train to Garber, Texas, is supposed to bring Nicholas Lovelace to the next victory in his life and career. Instead, it gets held up by robbers who are thwarted by the last person Nick ever expected–Anne Tillerton from back home in Prairie Lea.

Anne’s been working as a buffalo hunter and hiding from polite society. She’s only coming to town to talk their runaway cook into returning. Instead, the woman flees–and leaves Anne with her infant son. With Nick the only person she knows in town who can help, the two form an unlikely team as they try to figure out what to do with the child.

Both soon find themselves stuck in complicated situations. To care for the child, Anne’s forced into polite society–and it’s not going well. Meanwhile, Nick is being pressured on all sides of his business, and being seen with Anne isn’t helping his reputation. Still he can’t quite seem to forget her and must make a choice between the leading of his heart and his plans for the future.

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
The story of an orphaned child bringing two people together has of course been done before, but nevertheless "Caught in the Middle" is still a nice take on the scenario, and Anne's manly profession of being a buffalo hunter definitely puts a different twist on things. Though her rough exterior occasionally made it a bit hard for me to identify with her, I did enjoy seeing the small events that worked to slowly crumble her defenses, bringing her to a point where I was able to warm up to the more feminine side of her character.

As for Nick, I had to smile when Anne so aptly labeled him as a "dandy". It's a very fine description of him, but when the hard times came knocking he ultimately proved that he was made of more than the label alone suggests. (If only we could all have the backbone that he showed, difficult as it was.) Nick's professional connections had him working with some unpleasant people, but I must admit that I was quite humored by the staircase situation outside his second story office building, and how he conveniently used it to avoid having to interact with certain people!

Though this book is technically third in a series, the story stands up well on its own, and reading the first two books certainly isn't required. I was able to follow along just fine, though I did occasionally get the feeling that certain characters were there just to make a short appearance to further the story from a previous book. In any case, it wasn't really even distracting, it was just something that I noticed.

Overall, this is a decent historical novel with the added benefit of some surprising twists that caught me off guard several times. The characters often don't have it easy, but it's encouraging to watch them grow as they face their trials and come out on the other side better for the experience. Though I'm somewhat doubtful that the storyline will stick with me very long, I did enjoy it while reading it.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: Wildwood Creek by Lisa Wingate

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Allie Kirkland has never been one to take wild risks. But when she’s offered a costuming assistant’s job on a docudrama in the hills near Moses Lake, she jumps at the chance. She’s always dreamed of following in her director-father’s footsteps, and the reenactment of the legendary frontier settlement of Wildwood is a first step. The family expectations will have to wait.

But in 1861, the real Wildwood held dangerous realities. Town founder Harland Delevan held helpless residents, including young Irish schoolteacher Bonnie Rose, in an iron grip. Mysterious disappearances led to myths and legends still retold in the folk songs of Chinquapin Peaks. Eventually, the entire site was found abandoned.

When strange connections surface between Allie and the teacher who disappeared over a century ago, everyone in Wildwood, including Allie’s handsome neighbor on the film set, Blake Fulton, seems to be hiding secrets, and Allie doesn’t know who she can trust. If she can’t find the answers in time, history may repeat itself . . . with the most unthinkable results.

My source for book: Local Library
My Thoughts:
I admit that I'm generally drawn towards more "fluffy" fiction, which Wildwood Creek is not, but I actually did enjoy it for the most part. The idea of recreating a 19th century town is really cool, especially when you throw 21st century people into the setting and watch them freak out without modern clothes or technology. At the same time you get an inside look at a reality tv show, and how they aren't quite as "real" as you might think. Talk about mixing the old with the new, but it actually works quite well!

The author has some very good insights into human behavior, which transfers well to the characters. Allie's quotes from her late grandma are charming and surprisingly helpful for many situations; some of them were even applicable to my own life! I was also really touched when Blake saw through Wren's bratty little-kid exterior, instead seeing a little girl who just wanted a friend. If only we could have that kind of insight in real life! :)

As for the ending, I have to say that it seemed a bit rushed to me. The last few chapters really throw a lot at you! I was surprised, and somewhat disappointed, by the reveal of a villain in the form of a person I had actually been really curious about. I'd been wanting to know more about this person, and I sure got it--just not in the way I had hoped for! In hindsight it actually does make sense, but the twist just really caught me off guard, coming very much out of the blue.

Overall, I'm glad I read the story. The entire plot and setting is very unique, giving you a lot to think and ponder on. I enjoy both historical and contemporary stories, so this being a mix of the two was enjoyable. While I'm not sure the characters themselves will be very memorable for me in the long run, I do think the overall premise will probably stick with me for quite a while. 

My Rating: 4 stars