Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Art of Romance by Kaye Dacus

Rating: 3 Stars

Synopsis from Barbour Books: Author Kaye Dacus will ignite your love of romance with book 2 of her Matchmakers series. Dylan Bradley, who once illustrated steamy romances under the name Patrick Callaghan, has moved into his grandparent’s guest house in Nashville.

Caylor Evans, having once written titillating novels under the pen-name Melanie Mason, lives with her grandmother. When their lives collide, due to the machinations of meddling matriarchs, the pasts of Dylan and Caylor threaten to derail their futures. Will they accept each other for who they now are—and once were? Or will they never discover the true art of romance?

Review: I confess that I was a bit wary of reading a novel bearing the title The Art of Romance. It is not necessarily a title that one wants to reveal to one's co-workers, who may not be acquainted with inspirational novels.  In reality, Kaye Dacus's second book in the Matchmakers series is rather light on the actual romance between the two lead characters. Because both Caylor and Dylan harbor "secrets"  from their pasts, much of the novel is spent with them analyzing and fighting their attraction for one another.  Although both characters are instantly drawn to one another, their relationship is slow to develop.  I appreciate that aspect of the plot, since I have never been fond of two characters falling instantly in love.  Both Caylor and Dylan find outlets for their feelings through their respective arts.  Their barriers break down slowly during the course of the novel, and their secrets are eventually revealed, allowing Caylor and Dylan to confront their feelings.  Overall, I found the latter part of the second half of the novel to be the most enjoyable portion of The Art of Romance as Caylor's and Dylan's relationship comes to fruition.

The concept of the Art of Romance is unique and fresh. Dylan is a young man with a less than pristine past, emerging from a relationship with an older woman.  With his shaggy hair and tattoos, Dylan is not the typical clean-cut male lead in most inspirational novels. His character definitely carries more baggage than Caylor's, whose past is only marred by writing general market romance novels. I enjoyed watching Dylan work through his issues and grow into an honest and confident man who finally feels worthy of true and pure love.  The Nashville setting was also a bonus.  After visiting the city several years ago, I was able to picture many of the areas Dylan and Caylor visited throughout the novel.

Dacus infuses the novel with an abundance of details that set the scenes, both significant and insignificant.  The novel reminded me of recent, contemporary Hallmark movies, with an emphasis eating and activities involving food.  I felt that the plethora of descriptions buried the actual plot of the novel and slowed the pace.  I appreciate attention to details; but the presence, and in some cases repetition, of small details were more of a hindrance. I would have enjoyed more progression in the actual plot. However, I applaud Dacus for having the vision to imagine the most minute aspects of a scene and the small idiosyncrasies of her characters.

Although this was only a mediocre read for me personally, The Art of Romance is a well-written and well-thought out novel.  Readers looking for a wholesome contemporary romance with some depth and a multitude of details will enjoy Kaye Dacus's latest novel, and her depiction of "the art of romance."

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kaye Dacus and Barbour Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lark Rise to Candleford Season 2

We just finished watching the second season of Lark Rise to Candleford, and we continue to love it.  The only negative part of finishing season two is that we are getting closer to the end of the series...a sad thought indeed! A friend recently began viewing season one of Lark Rise and has fallen in love with the series as well.  As we mentioned before, it is a show that is virtually unparalleled on television today.  For our discussion of season one, visit Lark Rise to Candleford Season 1

Season two opens with a haunting Christmas special. We found that particular episode to be rather chill-inducing.  In reality, the plot is very mild and there is no violence or danger, just an element of creepiness. To reveal more would uncover the mystery that shrouds the season opener.  In typical Lark Rise fashion, there is a lesson to be learned under the chill bumps.

The majority of the charming cast of characters that won our hearts in Season one return in Season two.  A few new additions add their own charm, humor, intrigue, and even romance to the second season.  One of the most notable "newcomers" to Candleford is James Dowland, a former Lark Rise boy, who returns as a successful hotel owner.  The verbal spars that erupt between Dorcas and James are quite entertaining, and one cannot help but wonder if Dorcas will open her heart.

Meanwhile at the post office, Dorcas, Laura, and Thomas Brown struggle to break in a new maid, Minnie.  We were initially irritated by Minnie's foolishness, but her silly charm soon endeared us to the newest member of the post office family.  Each actor fits so seamlessly into his or her role, Lark Rise and Candleford feel like real communities.  We would truly love to visit and drop by the post office for a penny stamp.

We look forward to watching Season three...Long live Lark Rise!

When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley

Rating: 4 Stars

Synopsis: Miranda Hanford is a widowed mother of six children, living under the strict guidance of her pastor, Mason Chandler. For several years, Miranda has felt trapped by the teachings and lifestyle practices enforced by Mason.  When Mason announces a plan to move his flock to another state, Miranda questions his plans and his authority. Sensing the obstacle that Miranda poses to his carefully laid plans, Mason threatens to unearth past secrets that could destroy Miranda's family.

An unfortunate accident and subsequent recovery leaves Miranda unable to care for her children.  The arrival of Miranda's estranged bother-in-law, Jack Hanford, is both a help and a complication.  As a comparably worldly college professor, Jack questions the family's ultra-conservative lifestyle.  His presence makes waves in Miranda's home and with Mason, but he also opens the doors to truth and freedom.  Can Miranda's body, mind, and soul heal in time to break free of the shackles that have bound her so tightly?

Review: When Sparrows Fall is a story of fear and loss, secrets, freedom, love, and faith.  Moseley tackles the heavy subject of cult-like religious practices with gracefulness and splashes of humor.  While the novel conveys the unyielding framework and psychological shackles of religious extremists, it remains enjoyably introspective and engaging.  Moseley introduces well-crafted characters, including a cast of charming children, whose antics lighten the mood. The message of When Sparrows Fall is uplifting and thought-provoking and will be a wonderful novel for reading groups as well as individuals.  I highly recommend When Sparrows Fall and look forward to other books by Meg Moseley.

When Sparrows Fall is available for purchase at the following locations:
Christian Book Distributors, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Multnomah/ WaterBrook Press through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Beyond All Measure by Dorothy Love

Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis: In the post-Civil War town of Hickory Ridge, Tennessee, battle scars are still raw and festering prejudice threatens love and friendship. Ada Wentworth, a young Bostonian woman, moves to Hickory Ridge to become a lady’s companion to the feisty Lillian Willis.  Nursing a broken heart and healing from devastating losses, Ada strives to reclaim her life among the hills of Tennessee and achieve her dream of becoming a successful milliner. 

As she settles into life in Hickory Ridge, Ada is troubled by the activities of the Klan and the mistreatment of African Americans.  She soon discovers that her Northern heritage and perspectives are not entirely welcome in this quaint Southern town, and her Yankee blood may place her in danger.  But love also resides in Hickory Ridge, and Ada forms unexpected bonds with her fellow townspeople, Lillian, and Lillian’s nephew, Wyatt.  Can Ada and the town of Hickory Ridge overcome their past losses and embrace a future defined by faith and love?

Review: Beyond All Measure is a pleasant and fairly quick read. The historical setting and imagery reminded me somewhat of Tamera Alexander’s novels.  I enjoyed the overall plot of the novel as well as the introduction to secondary characters who will likely play more dominant roles in upcoming novels.  At times, I felt that the plot skimmed the surface of certain topics and events.  The novel would have been enhanced by a deeper examination of the problems faced by the main characters and the town as a whole.

Ada’s relationship with Wyatt is one of the primary focuses of Beyond All Measure. She struggles throughout the novel with her fear of opening her heart and finding the faith to embrace the future.  The ultimate resolution is rather swift at the end of the novel, though the epilogue does provide some closure.  Fortunately, readers have the prospect of seeing Ada and Wyatt again in the next novel.

Dorothy Love makes a definitive impression in the realm of Christian fiction with Beyond All Measure.  The first novel in the Hickory Ridge Romance series sets the tone for what readers can expect from Love’s future novels.  Beyond All Measure is set in a tumultuous time in the South, and it touches on some of the serious issues, such as racism, that defined the region for years.  If future novels delve deeper into the triumphs and flaws of Hickory Ridge, the Hickory Ridge Romance series promises to be an inspiring series.

I  received a complimentary copy of this book from BookSneeze (Thomas Nelson Publishers) through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fairer than Morning by Rosslyn Elliott

Rating: 4 Stars

Rosslyn Elliott makes her debut in the Christian fiction marketplace with the poignant and non-formulaic novel, Fairer than Morning.  As the first installment in The Saddler's Legacy Series, Fairer than Morning introduces readers to Will Hanby and Ann Miller, two real-life figures who helped to shape American history through their faith and courage.

Set in the early 19th century, the plot of Fairer than Morning spans from Ohio to Pittsburgh. Ann Miller is a young woman with a poetic soul who searching for true love.  By all appearances, Eli Bowen, a handsome and charming suitor from Ann's hometown is her perfect match.  When she accompanies her father on a business trip to Pittsburgh, Ann meets a mistreated saddler's apprentice, Will Hanby. Will's plight stirs Ann's soul, and the connection that she initially forms with Will changes her life in unexpected ways.  Introduced to the harsh realities of human cruelty, Ann witnesses hatred, heartache, forgiveness, and courage that shape both her present and her future.

Will Hanby suffers unspeakable cruelties from his master, Jacob Good.  His spirit and his body have been broken, battered, and bruised. Ann Miller and her family bring welcome rays of light and love into Will's life and awaken his desires for freedom.  Will's quest for freedom is arduous and dangerous, but the priceless treasures of faith, forgiveness, and love ease his painful burdens and shape him into a compassionate and courageous man.

Fairer than Morning is a touching and inspiring novel, which has been appropriately compared to the works of Charles Dickens.  The plights of abused apprentices and slaves are topics that are not generally covered in fiction novels.  Unfortunately, such harsh realities are part of American history; but Fairer than Morning is proof that one can find inspiration in the most heartbreaking circumstances.

I instantly felt sympathy and compassion for Will Hanby and the secondary characters in the novel who suffer through similar trials.  Will's journey to freedom is full of danger, suspense, and sadness, and readers will be moved by his growth and the development of his impressive character. I found Ann's character a bit more difficult to connect with, but enjoyed witnessing her progression into a strong and courageous young woman.

Elliott blends historical fact with fiction to create a well-developed plot with detailed imagery.  At times, the pace of the novel slowed, perhaps because of the abundance of details. Ultimately, the book felt longer than its 383 pages, but I feel that it is a commendable novel, which I will recommend to other readers. Fairer than Morning is a compelling beginning to a series that promises to be inspiring.

I  received a complimentary copy of this book from BookSneeze (Thomas Nelson Publishers) through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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