Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Behind the Scenes - Jen Turano

In the free novella, At Your Request, we were introduced to group of young women known as Wallflowers in New York society.  Women who, for one reason or another, have not been taken in by high society, and while they attend the social events, they are not expected to mingle or converse, but rather are banished to their own isolated section.  However, Miss Permilia Griswold has found a way to use her Wallflower status to her advantage, and collects information from unsuspecting society guests to use in her column published under the pseudonym Miss Quill.  While snooping around a wealthy hostess's house, however, she overhears a conversation that puts a gentleman in danger, as well as herself for having heard it.  Now, she must convince Mr. Asher Rutherford that she is telling the truth and keep both him and herself safe.

I love Ms. Turano's books; her characters are so fun and quirky, and unusual for the time periods they're set in.  I love how she develops friendships between groups of women, sometimes in unusual circumstances, such as this one.  Wallflowers are not supposed to have friends at all, and they certainly are not supposed to converse with one another, yet beginning with Wilhelmina in the novella, and continuing with Permilia and Miss Gertrude Cadwalader, as well as a small appearance by Miss Temperance Flowerdew, the author has again created a group of women who are brave and smart, and fun.  I greatly enjoyed Permilia's interactions with Asher, and the snippets of Gertrude's life that will surely prove to be an interesting novel later in the series.  If I had a wish for this book, it would have been to add in Wilhelmina from the novella, and to get to know Temperance a bit more - assuming she'll be the main character later on.

As much as I loved the main characters and their interactions in this book, the overall plot fell a bit short for me this time.  Without giving too much away, the dangerous situation seemed contrived, and overdone, and made the book seem sillier than others by this author.   It was a detraction from the character development for me, and I was left disappointed.  However, I still enjoyed the writing, and I am definitely looking forward to future installments in this series.

I give this book 4 stars, mostly based on the strength of the characters themselves, and the hope for this to be the beginning of a great series.

You can find Behind the Scenes HERE.
The free novella is available HERE or HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.
Or, you can connect with her on Facebook HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, Bethany House, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Home - Ginny Yttrup

Melanie Vander has an approaching deadline for her sixteenth book, but she can't seem to find the same sort of escape in her characters this time.  Rather, her characters seem to be pulling her in a direction she doesn't want to go, forcing her to examine not only their lives and backstory, but her own.  Meanwhile, her husband, Craig, is trying to keep his business and family financials above water, while watching his wife run away yet again, and Melanie's friend and neighbor, Jill, is facing her own rising issues.  Where can these folks find safety?  What does it take to find one's way home?

I have read a lot of books where the main character is writing a story, and the "story" turns out to be the book the main character is a part of.  This book sort of did that, but with the twist of the main character (and author?) using her main character to work through emotions and grief that she'd been unable to process in real life in real time.  The other characters in the book, however, who surround Melanie in her real-life are suffering their own emotional crises, and as she works through her character's problems, she is able to begin coming out of her hole to help them.  As she says in a phone call to her friend, Jill, "New is good, I think.  Let's do new."  There was a good balance of Melanie understanding her own problems through Chloe, but then working them out in her real-life relationships.

I loved how this book worked its characters through their problems; even though the easy thing was to run away, to ignore the things that kept coming to the surface, each character was eventually able to confront the hard things in their lives.  Nothing was glossed over, sometimes the only solution to the problem was not a fun one, and I appreciated that.  Usually, there's a conveniently timed rich uncle, or promotion, or romance waiting in the wings, but these characters faced everything in their own way, eventually together, and together, they made real-life choices with real-feel consequences.  My only complaint might be that I want to see where they all go from here!

I give this book 3.5 stars.  It's never easy to be vulnerable in fiction, and a lot of readers probably want their fiction to turn out like a fairy tale, but there's not a lot of truth or growth in that.  Sometimes, we need to see that faith holds true even when the world around us does not.

You can find Home HERE.
You can find the author HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Love Story - Karen Kingsbury

If you've read any of the Redemption series, Sunrise series, Firstborn series, Bailey Flanigan series, or the Above the Line series, you're familiar with the Baxter family and the other characters that fill out their lives.  This book is described as being the Love Story of John and Elizabeth Baxter, the heads of the Baxter clan, as told through John's memories as a class project for his grandson Cole.  However, their story is only a piece of this novel, and readers will catch up with several characters from throughout the Baxter Family Series, including Cody and Andi, Bailey and Brandon, and Ashley and Landon.  As Ashley listens to her parents' story, that was far from perfect, she is forced to revisit the past that led to Cole, and how her story led her back to Landon.  Bailey and Brandon are about to have a baby, and Bailey is keeping in touch with Andi as Cody and Andi try to figure out how to move forward with their lives.  This novel will dip you back into the Baxter family as if you'd never left them.

As part of Cole's project, he hears the tale of the man who prayed for John and Elizabeth that one day "God [would] give [them] a marriage and family so beautiful all the world [would] want to know [their] secret."  The early Baxter books conveyed that family so well that I think most readers probably wanted to be a Baxter; I know I wanted to come home to that cozy house and enjoy the family picnics and camaraderie.  The Baxter past hasn't been an easy one, and while I do feel that some of the trials get glossed over in these books, if you look, the story of grace and redemption is still there.  Several of the main characters in this installment are forced to confront their previous mistakes, and learn from them to live more godly lives, and to begin a legacy that will live on in the faith of future generations.

While this book lacked some of the depth and faith searching of the early series, it was a good step forward for the Baxter family, with a good review of their past.  It did a good job reminding readers of the characters' connections, without rehashing too much of the previous series.  A reader new to the family might be drawn in enough to go back and live with them throughout the earlier series.

I give this book 3 stars; I enjoyed checking in with a favorite fictional family, but I felt that it both tried to cover too many stories at once, and yet didn't catch up with enough of the family to feel like coming home.  I also felt that it was a little light on how the consequences of past choices affected the characters' lives; everything always seems to work out perfectly for the Baxter families, and while I know it's fiction, it would be nice to see that there are always ramifications to mistakes, even where there is grace and forgiveness.

You can find Love Story HERE.
You can find the author, Karen Kingsbury, HERE.
There have been articles for awhile now that they're making the Baxter Family into a TV Series.

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Too Pretty - by Andrea Grigg

In a world where women are judged harshly on their looks, frequently coming up short to the unrealistic standards, falling too close to the dream brings its own set of problems.  Ellie Paxton has spent her life fending off unwanted advances, being passed over for jobs, and fighting jealousy from women on all sides.  Now, having lost her job through no fault of her own, and having been badgered by her aunt yet again, Ellie decides to pick up and move to the city with her cousin Chloe.  Not only does she want a fresh start career-wise, she decided to take a 6-month break from men, to find who she is and who God wants her to be.  Even as her resources dwindle, and she meets a handsome yet elusive man, Ellie holds tight to her promise, and learns that God loves her and has His own plans for her.

While the premise may be a tricky one for some readers to accept, the author does a good job of creating a world in which a stunning young woman struggles to be accepted, and to accept herself.  Thankfully, she also has some realistic friends who help keep her from drifting too far, and who seem happy to lend her a hand whenever she needs it.  Between her quirky friends, her bumpy past, and her charitable heart, Ellie was just the right mix to be a lovable character.  Her 6-month commitment to herself and God was not easy, did not come with promises of success, yet she stuck to it, and she learned to listen to that still, small voice, and to see herself through God's eyes.

My favorite parts about this story was that nobody was perfect.  Nobody.  Everybody had a backstory, or a flaw, or made bad choices.  But they learned from them.  They didn't preach it, they lived it.  There were mistakes, but there were also apologies.  There were broken relationships, but there was also forgiveness.  There was pain, but there was also grace.

I give this book 4 stars.
You can find the author HERE.
You can also find her on Facebook HERE.
You can find Too Pretty HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tapestry of Secrets - Sarah Loudin Thomas

A Tapestry of Secrets is both the conclusion and the prequel to the Appalachian Blessings series.  Blending together Perla's story in the present, and her look back into the past, as she attempts to convey her life's story and lessons to her daughter and granddaughter, this book fills in the questions raised by Perla's mysterious appearance in Wise, West Virginia, so many years ago.  Who is Sadie's father? What makes a family?  How do we convey the lessons we've learned to the people we love, while allowing them to learn their own lessons?

Ella has come home for several reasons, to escape her former fiancee, and to assist her grandmother as she recovers from a stroke.  As she spends more time at home, she is forced to examine why she's there, and what she wants her life to be.  There's a section in the book where she "thought about how Jesus told His followers again and again that He would be back.  But they didn't understand.  [She] sympathized with them.  She might have a knack for understanding people, yet she knew how easy it was to miss hearing God's voice when blinded by the world."  Therein lies the truth and depth of this novel; Ella has to be able to search for God by herself, without allowing all of her fears and reservations and ties to this world to deafen her to His voice.

I read that this novel was actually written first, but took the author years and a complete rewrite to publish.  While it stands alone as a well-written book, it doesn't have the flavor of the other two to wrap it into the series; there are no carryover characters, apart from family, and it doesn't touch as much on the supernatural gifts that the other novels center on.  There is an allusion or two to Perla's gift with food, but it is easily overlooked.  Several times, Ella's "knack" for understanding her grandmother without words is key to their communication, yet it's never the focus.  It almost feels that this book could be read first or last, as its timeline fits in both places, and there's a slightly disjointed feel with its focus.

I still really enjoyed this book, and I give it 4 stars.  I am looking forward to the author's next release that she's already previewing on her website.

You can find A Tapestry of Secrets HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book, via NetGalley, from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

To Have and to Hold - Three Autumn Love Stories

This collection of wedding novellas includes:
Love Takes the Cake, by Betsy St. Amant
The Perfect Arrangement, by Katie Ganshert
Love in the Details, by Becky Wade

Three authors join together in this autumn-themed collection of short, romantic wedding stories.  In Love Takes the Cake, Charlotte finds herself baking for a wedding involving the worst Bridezilla she's encountered, but also giving her the chance to interact with her mysterious weekly patron.  Is he available or isn't he?  Should she even be wondering, because he doesn't look safe, and "safe" is what she wants, isn't it? Amelia finds herself literally running into a handsome man in The Perfect Arrangement, and somehow that invites him into her life more than she intended.  What will happen if he finds out just how intertwined their lives are?  In Love in the Details, Holly is coordinating a wedding where her ex-boyfriend, her high school sweetheart, is the best man.  Having broken up with him years ago, under false pretenses, what kind of interactions can she expect?  Should she let her heart get more involved?

This collection involved some of my favorite romance authors, and I jumped at the chance to review it.  I probably shouldn't have jumped quite so quickly, as it turned out I had already read two of the three novellas!  I guess I'm consistent in my author choices.  Despite the slight disappointment of 2/3 of the book not being new, I enjoyed the book anyway.

Novellas are a difficult genre for me to enjoy; either there isn't enough time to develop the characters well, or the characters are well done and the story feels too short.  These three stories, however, manage to create well-rounded characters, and feel complete within their limited space.  Of course, it doesn't mean I wouldn't love to read longer novels with these characters!  In particular, I would love to see Will and Charlotte take on life together, and to see how their difficult backgrounds play out in their life as a family.  I really loved Nate and Amelia's e-mail exchanges, and would enjoy reading more of their movie-banter references.  Also - who was the mystery man for real?!  Holly and Josh's story served pretty well as a stand-alone, but how would their lives change going forward?

I give this collection 5 stars; short, easy to read, yet complete, this is a great book for some light, fun reading.

You can find the authors:
Besty St. Amant HERE
Katie Ganshert HERE
Becky Wade HERE

All three authors have active social media presences, and I recommend you follow them!

You can find To Have and to Hold HERE.

I received this e-book, via NetGalley, from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

The Domino Effect

"Esther unfolded the paper and read silently, 'Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?'"

Esther Larsen is a brilliant mathematician; she fought her way into college at 14, and graduated with dual degrees at 17.  For the past nine years, she has turned her amazing gifts into a job as a top risk analyst for one of the country's largest banks.  In her own time, she gathers data and analyzes the implications.  Now, she begins to fear what those implications mean for the country, and the global economy as a whole.  Does she risk speaking up?  Will anyone believe her?  Like her biblical namesake, has she been brought here for "such a time as this"?

Books with brilliant heroines are an immediate draw for me.  Esther is above and beyond even the typical gifted character, if there is such a thing.  The world of banking and investments and economies is completely over my head, and yet, this book is so well written, and the characters so well drawn, that it didn't matter.  I felt their tension, and their fear (perhaps a bit too much, sometimes!), and I was completely engaged in their journey, even though I didn't understand even a fraction of what they were afraid of.  I actually had to put the book aside for a short time, to let my own fears generated by the book subside!  But the author draws his characters together so well, and they come to care for each other in such honest ways, that I had to come back to them to find out how they fared.

I give this book 4 stars - if you're interested in the banking world, I'm sure you'll love it even more, but even if you don't know what an algorithm is, you'll still find plenty in this story to enjoy. I have read several of Davis Bunn's books in the past, and have found them all equally engaging.

You can find The Domino Effect HERE.
You can connect with the author on Facebook HERE.
You can also connect with him on Twitter HERE.

I received a copy of this book form Bethany House Publishers, in exchange for my honest review.