Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review: A Thing of Beauty by Lisa Samson

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Former child star Fiona Hume deserted the movie biz a decade ago--right after she left rehab. She landed in Baltimore, bought a dilapidated old mansion downtown, and hatched dreams of restoring it into a masterpiece, complete with a studio for herself. She would disappear from public view and live an artist's life.

That was the plan.

Ten years later, Fiona's huge house is filled with junk purchased at thrift stores, haggled over at yard sales, or picked up from the side of the road. Each piece was destined for an art project . . . but all she's got so far is a piece of twine with some antique buttons threaded down its length.

She's thirty-two years old and still recognizable, but Fiona's money has finally run out. She's gotten pretty desperate, too, and in her desperation she's willing to do almost anything for money. Almost. So it is that she comes to rent out the maid's quarters to a local blacksmith named Josia Yeu.

Josia is everything Fiona isn't: gregarious, peaceful, in control without controlling . . . in short, happy. As the light from the maid's quarters begins to permeate the dank rooms of Fiona's world, something else begins to transform as well--something inside Fiona. Something even she can see is beautiful.

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
Coming from this author and publisher I was expecting this to be a Christian novel, so I was surprised to find it more secular in nature. While there's not really any objectionable scenes, it definitely has a more "worldly" feel and there is also some mild language through-out.

The story itself is fairly interesting, though I wouldn't call it upbeat. It gives a glimpse of the damage that Hollywood and fame can do to a person's emotional state--even years after leaving the business--and at the same time it serves as a great reminder that actors really are just normal people like every one else.

There is a very thin thread of romance in the story, but it's certainly not the main plot point and it's ultimately left slightly open ended... though it's kind of assumed that Fiona will end up with a certain guy. Strangely enough, this guy is completely the opposite of who I thought she would gravitate towards.

Overall, I have to admit that the story didn't give Fiona as much progress in her damaged life as I would've liked--and expected--to see. While she does make some life and attitude changes that result in her frame of mind and social skills improving, I was really hoping for a bit more. One of her difficult family relationships gets a sad "resolution" that I didn't care for, despite how difficult the person was to deal with. I think it all ultimately comes back to the fact that the story was more secular in nature, and I was hoping Fiona would find the solutions to her problems in God instead of just trying to not focus on the difficulties in her life. Alas...the only mention of God was the handful of times when His name was misused.

The story was a diversion from reality and held my attention fairly well, but I can't really say that I would recommend it. Maybe I'm missing the point of it....but regardless, it just wasn't what I expected and it was never able to convince me that the more secular angle was the best way to carry out the plot.

My Rating: 3 stars

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

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Review: Love Gently Falling by Melody Carlson

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Rita is living her dream of working as a hairstylist in Hollywood when her father calls with news that her mother has suffered a terrible stroke. When she gets home to Chicago, she finds her mother is healing but will need a lot of time to recover. Worse, without being able to run their family-owned salon, her mother could lose the business. Determined to help, Rita realizes what the struggling salon really needs is a complete make-over. Rita is determined to get the salon back to its former glory by Valentine's Day, which happens to coincide with the reopening of the nearby skating rink that she loved as a child. She only has her small personal savings and a short amount of time off of work to get the job done. But she also has the help of old friends, including Johnny, a former classmate who now works for Jolly Janitors, the company that cleans the salon. Rita is surprised at how well they connect and how much he is willing to do to help her. Though Rita believes Johnny is only being kind, with romance in the air their friendship may just fall into something more. 

My source for book: Review Copy
My Thoughts:
If cute stories are your thing, then this one will likely tickle your fancy. It leans a bit more towards "sweet" rather than realistic, but not overly so. While there are obstacles and various situations for Rita to overcome, most of the story just has a slightly candy-coated atmosphere; slightly more sweet than actual reality. It's light and generally entertaining, and the semi-short length (15 chapters) makes it a great weekend read.

I liked Rita fairly well, and even though I found it slightly odd that she spent so much of her vacation time at the salon instead of visiting with her recovering mom, at the same time I could also see why she wanted to "fix up" the out-dated salon as a gift of love for her mom. As for Johnny, I liked him as well and I could easily see why Rita was interested in him... although he actually seemed slightly "too good" and "too nice", as if he didn't really have any huge flaws. While this would obviously be great, it's not extremely realistic and it made him seem a bit flat to me--though still "nice".

The ending is a happy one that most romantics will appreciate, though I do have to admit that it seemed rather abrupt. Some things are left a bit open ended, though it's not hard to imagine the likely outcome. Still, I would've liked to see 1 or 2 more chapters to give a bit more closure.

Overall, the story is pretty cute and very clean; it would be appropriate for basically any age person who has an interest in it. The mall setting (where the salon is located) is kind of unique and I liked the fact that many of the business owners were familiar with each other, which gave it something akin to a small town feel. I do have to admit that there was ultimately more about the salon--and less about the Rita/Johnny relationship--than I would've preferred, but overall I still found the story as a whole fairly entertaining.

My Rating: 4 stars

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