Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter

Dancing with Fireflies

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know I’m a Denise Hunter fan, so I was thrilled to read her latest for review. Join me as we revisit Chapel Springs.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Jade returns home to Chapel Springs after years of protecting her fragile heart. Then along comes Daniel, making her long to dance again.

Creative and complicated, Jade McKinley felt like a weed in a rose garden growing up in Chapel Springs. When she left, she thought she’d never look back. But now, pregnant, alone, and broke, she has no other choice but to return.

The mayor of Chapel Springs, Daniel Dawson, has been an honorary member of the McKinley family for years. While his own home life was almost non-existent, Daniel fit right into the boisterous McKinley family. He’s loved Jade for years, but she’s always seen him as a big brother. Now that she’s back, his feelings are stronger than ever.

As Jade attempts to settle in, nothing feels right. God seems far away; she’s hiding secrets from her family, and she’s strangely attracted to the man who’s always called her “squirt.” Finding her way home may prove more difficult than she imagined.

And now, my review:

I love a lovesick hero! Reminds me of how Jesus loves us. That affection motivates the hero of Dancing with Fireflies as he steps in to help our heroine.

Jade needs a man, or more precisely, a husband. She’s planning for her future, and with her baby on the way, she has to act fast. So, she enlists her dear family friend, Daniel. He’s like a brother to her. But for Daniel, who’s been lovesick for Jade forever, finding her a husband only sounds like torture. He can’t tell her how he feels because he’s afraid of losing her trust.

Once again, Denise brings us a great romance. These two had great sparks, especially after Jade began to see Daniel in a romantic light. You can always count on this author for great chemistry.

Poor Jade’s been through an awful ordeal. I liked how the author dealt with that situation. 
Some authors who “go there” write a story that can traumatize the reader.

The story kept me reading until well into the night. No sagging middle here.

Daniel is a great hero! Giving, honorable, kind, self-sacrificing. He’s supportive of Jade and her needs during pregnancy. How delicious when he finally tells her how he feels. Jade believes herself to be broken. Her growth and healing are relatable for readers, whether they’ve suffered what she has or not.  

I appreciate Denise’s wisdom. Here’s a fellow mother who feels deeply the connection she has with her own children, no doubt, because it translates so well to the page in this story.

Another great Chapel Springs romance from Denise Hunter.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck

Princess Ever After

As an anointed worship leader, Rachel is familiar with the presence of God—His beauty, His glory, the oil. I really liked seeing some of those elements in this story. 

Let’s begin with the summary:

Regina Beswick didn’t know she was born to be a princess.

She’s content to be a small-town girl, running a classic auto restoration shop, unaware that a secret destiny awaits her. One that will leap from the pages of her grandmother’s hand-painted book of fairy tales.

Tanner Burkhardt is the stoic minister of culture for the Grand Duchy of Hessenberg. When he is tasked to retrieve the long-lost princess, he must overcome his fear of failure in order to secure his nation’s future — and his own.

Yet lurking in the political shadows is a fierce opponent with sinister plans to abolish the throne forever.

Overwhelmed with opposition, Regina must decide whether she’s destined to restore old cars or an ancient nation. Together — with a little divine intervention — Regina and Tanner discover the truth of her heritage and the healing power of true love.

And now, my review:

From the very first words of this novel, where we meet the mechanic who is our protagonist, we’re wondering when the princess will arrive on the scene. Then, we’re with our Hessenberg hero, who is both flawed and noble. He’s hiding a secret, a regret. His flaw make him relatable for readers. And his characterization makes him original.

I loved the heroine’s courage. She has princess genes. She’s brave, wise, caring, and has good leadership skills. Before she’s in her kingdom, she’s already holding court. People gather around her, attracted by her grace and fairness and warmth.

The God elements were not of this worldly realm, which I found refreshing. I’ve rarely read an author like Rachel. Generally, if you see supernatural elements, you’re reading a fantasy novel. But with Rachel’s stories, you get both real characters and storylines, as well as supernatural elements—like in the vow scene. Oil!

Rachel’s prose is unforgettable. I highlighted many phrases in my Kindle.

And the romance! Romance readers will love this story.

One of her themes is change and that God sometimes brings odd circumstances into our lives. The outcome will be a blessing, but there are changes required to get there. So, will we, as believers, cooperate with change and trust God? Good questions readers may find themselves asking.

I’ve enjoyed every book in this series, even The March Bride, which isn’t officially of this series, but picks up on the storyline of Once Upon A Prince. I highly recommend the entire Royal Wedding series. You’ll get more than you expect.

Loved this book!

Monday, March 3, 2014

A March Bride by Rachel Hauck

A March Bride by Rachel Hauck

Oh, I loved picking up where the Once Upon a Prince left off. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend starting there, but you wouldn’t have to in order to get caught up rather quickly. Rachel wrote the story in such a way that you could just launch into A March Bride, if you like. 

Let’s begin with the summary:

A Year of Weddings novellas series from Zondervan.  A year’s worth of novellas from twelve inspirational romance authors. Happily ever after guaranteed.
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, Susanna’s 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.

And now, my review:

First, the dedication made me say, “Aww…” right out loud! :)

There is always so much going on in a Rachel Hauck novel. First of all, the romantic notion of fairy tales brings an escape of itself. But you’ll find depth. And though there is a fairy tale element, the stories aren’t without challenges and tension, nor the characters without flaws.

While we’re reading about this princess-in-training, readers will see themselves. Our princess-to-be had most of her ducks in a row until a slew of doubts crept in. How many times have doubts stolen your joy as a believer?

There is also symbolism in giving up what we’ve always known for the kingdom of God. We give up our identity to fully enter His. We take a new name and a new identity.

What about running back to the familiar? Yeah, I’ve never done that either. ;) To have her happily ever after, Susannah (whose name means Lily, by the way) must choose to be all in. 

Sound familiar?

I loved this novella.

Highly recommended. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

A January Bride by Deborah Raney

A January Bride

Let's begin with the summary:

What will happen when novelist Madeleine Houser’s “pen pal” friendship with a lonely widower takes an unexpected turn?

Who can work in a house that's overrun by contractors and carpenters? Not Madeleine Houser, a successful novelist who gladly accepts the help of her octogenarian friend, Ginny, to arrange for a temporary office in the charming bed and breakfast owned by Ginny's friend, Arthur. Maddie's never met the innkeeper - but a friendship grows between them as Maddie and Arthur leave messages for each other each day. To Maddie's alternate delight and chagrin, she seems to be falling for the inn's owner - a man who's likely many years her senior - and who she's never even met.

And now, my review:

Our heroine is a writer who desperately needs a quiet place to work. Our hero owns a B&B, which rarely has visitors since his wife’s death.

As a writer, I could relate with the longing to get away from the usual places for writing. So there was a sort of romance in the fact that this heroine got to visit a quiet B&B where she could write.

I liked that the heroine used a picture of the hero as her inspiration, without knowing it was him. I also enjoyed the "pen pal" aspect.

I respect this author and her work in the CBA marketplace. However, this story didn't work for me. As a reader, I sometimes find misunderstandings irritating, especially if one simple step could clear up the mess. That happened in this story and carried on for most of the tale. The hero didn’t take that simple step until two-thirds of the way through. Seemed common sense to me, which didn't help me respect him.

One element I expect from seasoned writers is that I’ll feel what the characters feel along with them—a difficult writing task. That wasn’t the case here. The heroine “acted” as if she cared for her mother, but never grieved the fact Mom didn’t recognize her. So, we didn’t feel (believe) either aspect. The heroine seemed too self-absorbed for readers to respect her or sympathize with her, in my opinion.

The few romantic elements felt contrived in this story. As I mentioned, a misunderstanding kept the hero and heroine apart and once it seemed they might possibly get together for even a page (screen in this e-book) or two, their interactions were muddled with confusion and loads of “skimmable” introspection. 

Overall the characters lacked layers, which meant readers might have a difficult time caring what happens to them and sympathizing with them. All the clich├ęs were also jarring for this reader.  The author heroine explained (author intrusion) how conflict works in her writing, but then the conflict in the story felt contrived. There were POV issues, overused words, and telling instances. Besides the passionless romance, my main issues with the story were related to believability (in regards to character motivation, etc.). I believe in this series, but this book didn’t work for me. Still, I wish the author well.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review of Smitten Book Club

Smitten Book Club
Ahh... a chance to revisit Smitten, Vermont. And this time, we get to focus on books. Yes!

Let's begin with the summary:

"Consider that your beau is like a coveted novel whose compelling first lines you've just begun to read." —A Gentlewoman's Guide to Love and Courtship

At a rummage sale, Heather, a member of the Fireside Book Club, discovers a turn-of-the-century romantic advice book written by a once-famous Smitten, Vermont, resident. 

When she shares the precious volume with her friends in the club, they find clues about a hidden treasure rumored to be buried in their tiny town.

As Heather, Abby, Lia, and Molly take turns reading the book, each projects onto it her own literary tastes. Heather sees it as a mystery. Abby discovers delicious dashes of Jane Austen. Lia sees in it the idealism of a bygone day. And Molly just wishes they'd made the book into a movie.

One by one, each of the women finds romantic love--often in spite of the historic book's advice. And in searching for the legendary gold, the friends discover the best kind of treasure. The kind that brings hope and healing to each of their hearts.

And now, my review:

I’ve enjoyed this series from the first book. The fictional setting of Smitten, Vermont is a fun place, peopled with relatable characters. I was glad to read this collection for review as this is the last book including author Diann Hunt, who went to heaven last November. She is missed.

Let me begin with the first story, Love by the Book by Colleen Coble.  This novella, as the first in the compilation, had to set up the collection’s characters (somewhat) and overall threads. I liked that we learned about Molly and her financial needs and how the friends were all determined to help her search for the lost gold. But all the character intros and names took away from the focus on romance, and I found the story hard to follow. She ties in the guidebook, which I enjoyed reading excerpts from throughout. It was a quaint thread.

The second story, Shelved Under Romance by Kristin Billerbeck was a favorite, both of this compilation and of books I’ve read recently. I loved this story! The chemistry and characters. The librarian hiding behind dowdy clothes. The hang-gliding scene was delicious. Loved. It. I could especially sense the genuine friendship these authors shared in real life coming through in these four characters. Very enjoyable.

The third story was A New Chapter, by Diann Hunt. I read this one with a heavy heart, grieving with the rest of the writing community the loss of a tender-hearted, God-glorifying woman who left us such a legacy of how to face trials in this life. I know this is a bittersweet project for the dear group of authors who were Diann’s closest friends. My favorite aspect was seeing her heroine’s name: Elliana. Such a beautiful name meaning “God has answered my prayers.”

The fourth story in this book-themed compilation was appropriately titled Happily Ever After and was written by Denise Hunter. I’m a long-time fan of Denise’s fiction. I’ve read most of her books, and this heroine’s voice was so different—quirky. Loved that! Denise did something else fun here. She referenced the movie You’ve Got Mail a lot. Phrases like: “Why had he stopped by? She couldn’t remember.” And how Molly Moore is an alliteration, like Kathleen Kelly. Or “he would never.” The one where I laughed aloud was “my shop’s just around the corner.” Like an inside joke for readers, these phrases endear us to her.

It was such a pleasure revisiting Smitten, Vermont with these authors. So glad we could do it one more time. 

Highly recommended.