Tuesday, October 28, 2014

House of Living Stones - Katie Schuermann

Emily Duke has come to Bradbury, Illinois, to seek a fresh start.  Hired by Pastor Fletcher to be the new choir director at Zion Lutheran Church, and teaching classes at the local college, she feels like this small town will be the perfect place to settle in and move on with her life.  However, as seems typical for small towns, there are histories and quarrels and jealousies inherent with the community that Emily unwittingly sets herself into the middle of.  Can she be open about her past? Can  she find a way to actually move on, trust people, and God with her future?

This book had so much potential: small-town gossips and rivalries and broken relationships; a young, single, woman moving to a town home to a young, unmarried, cleric, and a handsome English professor at the college, an eccentric organist at the Lutheran church, and a brilliant piano student with piercings and black eyeliner who agrees to accompany the choir.  The book was full of quirky, interesting characters, and I loved them, but I wanted more.  I wanted to see the friendship between Emily and Rebecca be more; the little that there was was precious, and they could have added so much more to the story.  I loved Ben Schmidt, the lawnmower, and Caroline, the tortured heiress.  Mrs. Scheinberg, the church secretary was well-developed, turning into a character you couldn't be irritated at, even after her rough introduction.  But in the end, the book was just a little too clunky for me to fully enjoy; some of the characters seemed to be there only to serve a means to the end of the plot the author had envisioned, without giving them enough weight to be enjoyed in their own right.  There were several sections that encompassed a single analogy, but ones that didn't fit the book.  Comparing communion to a football game?  Maybe if the pastor is an NFL fan.  An entire scene compared to fishing and boating? Would make sense if the characters involved shared a passion for bass, or trout, or anything related to fish.  But they didn't, and it made those scenes feel like the author was reaching for a tool that wasn't quite right for the job.  Additionally, the title was intriguing and grabbed me immediately, but other than a question in the discussion questions, the author didn't build upon it.  It felt like a title worthy of entering the story to enrich it, but it was left to the reader to ponder it, or leave it behind on the cover.

It looks like this book is to be part of a series, and I liked the characters enough that I'm looking forward to see how the town moves forward.  I hope that the writing will smooth out as the author settles into her characters, and that the writing itself will enhance the story rather than detract from it.

I give this book 3 stars; I loved the cover and loved the characters, but felt that the book didn't reach its potential.

You can find House of Living Stones HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A November Bride - Beth Vogt

In A November Bride, personal chef Sadie McAllister has just been dumped by text. Again.  She grapples with lingering childhood insecurity over the teasing she endured, and wonders if she'll ever find someone who makes her feel beautiful.  Just as she's offered a great job several states away, her long-time friend and serial dater, Erik, asks her out.  On a real date.  Can she trust him?  Will they ruin their friendship?  Or can they build something beautiful out of a lifelong friendship?

I enjoyed Sadie and Erik's story; their friendship and the leap it took to let them move beyond it felt real, and even with the compressed storyline of a novella didn't feel extremely rushed.  As with many of the Year of Weddings novella, I did feel that the wedding itself was forced into a timeslot due to the construct of the series.  While I can appreciate the desire for a short engagement, especially between friends who have known each other so long, going from *just* friends to married in just a month feels incredibly short.  However, I did enjoy the unusual twist to the wedding scene.

I give this novella 3.5 stars; I enjoyed the characters, and their relationship - both as friends and as more.

You can find A November Bride HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.  This is a new author to me, but one whom I intend to look for again!

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

October Bride - Katie Ganshert

Emma's dad has terminal cancer, and when she discovers his Bucket List only has 1 item remaining on it, she will do whatever she can to help him complete it.  Only, the last item is to walk her down the aisle, and she's missing a groom to meet at the other end.  When she confesses her wish to her long-time friend, Jake, he offers to be that man for her - a fake wedding to give her dad what he dreams of.  But can Emma follow through?  Can she fool her dad, and her heart, into a fake wedding?

The Year of Weddings series has been a little hit or miss for me, but this one was definitely a hit.  My only problem with it was that I wanted it to be a full novel!  I wanted more of Jake and Emma's story!  While the author managed to not make the story feel overly rushed in so few pages, I really wanted to be able to savor their connection and history, and let it build up to the inevitable ending.  I wanted to get to know the side characters, too - the best friend Lily, the smirky brother Liam - oh and I want their story, too!

As far as novellas go, I give this one 5 stars - It's hard to make a novella compact but satisfying.  I can only hope that the author decides to expand this story though and give us some longer books!

You can find October Bride HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE. (I highly recommend all of her books!)

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Brickmaker's Bride - Judith Miller

Laura Woodfield and her mother are looking to sell her late father's brickyard to someone who will make it a  success and carry on the legacy of her father's work ethic.  Ewan McKay and his Uncle Hugh are looking to buy a brickyard and establish a new life in America.  Ewan has his sisters in Ireland to think of, and his own personal faith and commitment to making fair deals and working honestly, but his uncle has different ideas of success.  Can there be any common ground between such disparate goals?

This book was a mixed bag for me; I liked Laura and her commitment to not giving in to a bad deal.  I liked that she stood her ground against people trying to take advantage of her or her mother.  I liked Ewan and his commitment to helping his sisters and to honesty, even when it angered the people who held the key to getting his sisters to America.  But beyond those two, most of the characters in the book just angered me.  And not the "every book needs an antagonist" kind of way.  Truly annoyed me.  The lying, the dishonest dealings, the using people for political gain, the dissatisfaction with anything less than perfect, the need for social rules and status - it was too much for me.  There were too many characters I didn't like, and they overshadowed the parts I did enjoy.

I give this book 2.5 stars.  Books don't need to be all happy, all the time for me to enjoy, but I don't like feeling so angry at the characters within a book for so much of it.

You can find The Brickmaker's Bride (Refined by Love #1) HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Playing by Heart - Anne Mateer

Lula Bowman, formerly known by friends and family as Fruity Lu for her flightiness, has not only settled down but is pursuing a path to become the first female in Oklahoma with a PhD in mathematics.  She enjoys math and teaching, but she also desperately wants her father's approval for such pursuit, and she wants her family to take her seriously.  But when her brother-in-law dies suddenly, and her sister is left with four kids to raise, her family tells Lula that she is the only one who can put her life aside to come to Jewel's aid.  Can Lula put aside not only her dreams, but her father's?  Can she be taken seriously as a music teacher and, of all things, as a girls' basketball coach when she knows nothing of the new sport?  Can she put aside her own ambitions and listen to God's calling to serve her family?

The decision between one's own responsibilities and a family's needs is never an easy one; and this book did not make light of Lula's choice.  She struggled with her own need to be taken seriously, and delighting her father who had only noticed her when she chose an academic path.  Yet, her compassionate heart couldn't leave her sister stranded and she felt the weight of all Jewel had done for her when her mother died.  Even as she made the decision, however, life didn't suddenly fall into place and get easier.  There were continual choices to make and consequences to either decision.

I found the basketball storyline amusing - it's hard to imagine the start of the sport where girls were not to cross beyond their sections of the court, so as to not cause them "strenuous physical exertion." A time where coaches were not allowed to speak to their team during the game, and where there were 6 girls to a side.  But it was interesting to see Lula throw herself into learning the game, at least the academics of it, and watch her realize that, much like her music, she couldn't truly understand or enjoy it until she let her heart and passion get involved.

There were many strong points to this story - Lula's conflict of career and family, her struggle between academics and passion, and her turmoil over her job's code of conduct, and the direction her heart pulled her.  While definitely a romance, this book had several deeper themes to give the reader things to think about beyond its pages.

I give this book 3.5 stars.
You can find a copy of Playing by Heart HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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