Monday, February 25, 2013

Review of "Once Upon a Prince" by Rachel Hauck

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: "Once Upon a Prince" takes readers into a modern fairy tale, complete with royalty, castles, balls, and romance.  Hauck offers the feel-good elements of a fairy tale while layering them with realistic issues.  While their feelings are mutual, the path to love is neither smooth nor direct for the two main characters, Susanna and Nathaniel. Though a happily-ever-after ending is expected, the question that drives the plot is how can such an ending be achieved.  Susanna carries baggage from a past relationship, and Nathaniel faces political pressures.  

"Once Upon a Prince" was a quick and overall pleasing read, but the political details slowed the plot in some areas. The political situation is a major hindrance to a future relationship between Nathaniel and Susanna, and it adds tension to the plot. Nathaniel's character is developed as he struggles to find a balance between duty to his country and the desires of his heart.  The political background became dull for me midway through the novel, but it was balanced by more interesting scenes.

I always enjoy Hauck's southern settings, and Susanna's hometown of St. Simon's Island is no exception. Hauck portrays the charm and tranquility that is synonymous with southern seaside towns.  Nathaniel's home in the kingdom of Brighton is a stark contrast to St. Simon's.  Hauck's descriptions bring the fictional nation to life, from the festive streets of the capital, to the large castle, and the glittering balls. I enjoyed watching Susanna take in the grandeur of Brighton and meet Nathaniel's royal family.  She is just an average girl, like most readers; so her reactions, emotions, and doubts are very relatable.  Some of my favorite scenes of the novel took place in beautiful county of Brighton, but I was also intrigued by the scenes set in St. Simon's. 

"Once Upon a Prince" is built around the classic scenario of an ordinary girl falling in love with a dashing prince.  Rachel Hauck gives the fairy tale a fresh spin with interesting new elements.  I am definitely looking forward to reading the future books in the Royal Wedding series and revisiting some of the characters introduced in this novel.  

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Zondervan.  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.”

Summary from Zondervan:  "Once Upon a Prince," the first novel in the Royal Wedding series by bestselling author Rachel Hauck, treats you to a modern-day fairy tale.

Susanna Truitt never dreamed of a great romance or being treated like a princess---just to marry the man she has loved for twelve years. But life isn’t going according to plan. When her high-school-sweetheart-turned-Marine-officer breaks up instead of proposing, Susanna scrambles to rebuild her life.

The last thing Prince Nathaniel expects to find on his American holiday to St. Simon’s Island is the queen of his heart. A prince has duties, and his family’s tense political situation has chosen his bride for him. When Prince Nathaniel comes to Susanna’s aid under the fabled Lover’s Oak, he is blindsided by love.

Their lives are worlds apart. He’s a royal prince. She’s a ordinary girl. But everything changes when Susanna receives an invitation to Nathaniel’s coronation.

It’s the ultimate choice. His kingdom or her heart? God’s will or their own?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review of "Secretly Smitten" by Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Denise Hunter, and Diann Hunt

Rating: 3 Stars
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Review:  Secretly Smitten is the light-hearted follow-up compilation of short stories to Smitten, and it re-invites readers into the quaint small town life of Smitten, Vermont.   The discovery of new or lost love is the focus of each of the stories; and in these four feel-good novellas, the conflict is resolved rather quickly and easily.  These are stories to be read when you want a happily ever-after escape.  

I have to admit that I found the plots and characterization of the first three stories to be less developed than I   expected.  The mystery of grandma Rose's long-lost love adds depth to the overall story; but as a reader, I felt a detachment to the characters and their emotions at times. Secretly Smitten does conclude on a strong note with Denise Hunter's  final  novella about Clare.  Denise Hunter proves that novellas can be written so that the characters are developed and well-rounded.  As a reader, I felt sympathetic to Clare's feelings and struggles.  Denise Hunter was not only able to pull me into Clare's world, but she also provided a  satisfying resolution to grandma Rose's past as well.

Overall, Secretly Smitten is a light and fluffy read; so if you are ever looking for a brief escape from reality, it just might be the right fit for you.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this novel from BookSneeze, courtesy of Thomas Nelson.   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.”

Summary from Thomas Nelson:  Summer, fall, winter, spring—Smitten, Vermont, is the place for love . . . and mystery!
There’s a secret in Grandma Rose’s attic—a forgotten set of dog tags belonging to her first love. But David Hutchins was killed in action and never returned to Smitten. How did the dog tags end up in the attic?
The mystery intrigues Rose’s three granddaughters—Tess, Clare, and Zoe—and they decide to investigate, though their mother, Anna, warns against meddling. But as the seasons turn and the mystery unravels, the three young women and their mother encounter some intriguing mystery men of their own. Has a sixty-year-old puzzle sparked something new for this close-knit family of women?
Join popular romance novelists—and real-life BFFs—Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, and Denise Hunter for four delightful intertwined tales of mystery and sweet intrigue.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Review of "Love in the Balance" by Regina Jennings

Rating: 3 Stars
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Review: Anyone who read "Sixty Acres and a Bride" will recognize some familiar faces in Regina Jennings' new novel, "Love in the Balance."  While the book was a fairly quick read, I had difficulty connecting to the main characters, Molly in particular.  Throughout much of the novel, Molly is self-centered, haughty, and too focused on status and wealth.  Her decisions ultimately lead her down a path of heartache and scandal, which Jennings uses to soften Molly's character. Towards the end of the novel, Molly is more likable, but her change does not occur soon enough for me to form a connection. 

Bailey remains devoted to Molly despite her choices and the pain that they cause.  He commits himself to finding a way to provide Molly with the lifestyle she desires, while she remains fickle in her commitment to Bailey. I often wondered why Bailey allowed Molly to string him along, and why he was so drawn to her. Unfortunately, my irritation with the characters hindered my enjoyment of the novel and kept me from engaging fully.

Jennings throws in a few unexpected twists to veer the plot off of the path of predictability. The novel progresses steadily, and there are plenty of reasons to question whether the love between Molly and Bailey will ever come to fruition.  Jennings gives life to the Texas setting, this time focusing on town life more than ranch life. "Love in the Balance" didn't strike the perfect balance for me, but Jennings is a talented author; so it may prove to be perfectly in balance for other readers.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this novel from NetGalley, courtesy of Bethany House. 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.”

Summary from Bethany House: Handsome Cowboy or Debonair Tycoon. How's a Girl to Choose?
Molly Lovelace dreams of a life without cares in Lockhart, Texas. She also dreams of handsome wrangler Bailey Garner, her ardent but inconsistent beau. The problem is, with Bailey's poor prospects, she just can't fit the two dreams together. 
Then mysterious stranger Edward Pierrepont sweeps into town--and her life--and for the first time Molly wonders if she's met the man who can give her everything. But he won't be in Lockhart long and while it certainly seems like he talks about their glorious future together, she can't quite get Bailey out of her mind. 
What's a girl to do with all these decisions when love is in the balance?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review of "All for a Song" by Allison Pittman

Rating: 5 Stars
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Review: "All for a Song" is a melodic new release, reminding me of the many reasons Allison Pittman is one of my favorite authors. Like most of the her other novels, "All for a Song" is filled with depth, faith, and discovery. I've learned from Pittman's previous novels that her plots are not completely predictable and rarely do her stories have fairy tale endings. Their realism and pain always linger with a poignancy unique to Pittman's work.

The novel opens on the eve of Dorothy Lynn's 107th birthday.  Throughout the novel, we see Dorothy's life as a young woman of 19 and as an old woman of 107.  The dual perspective is unique and provides a complete story. By the end of the novel, Dorothy Lynn's life and faith have come full circle. Building parts of the plot around the life of a woman over 100 is a fresh concept. The chapters focusing on Dorothy Lynn's present day life are just as enjoyable as those portraying the adventures of her youth. Her recollections often build anticipation about the upcoming events in the life of 19-year-old Dorothy Lynn.  Both stories, past and present, grasped my attention and created an unforgettable tale.

"All for a Song" is lyrical novel with resonating chords of hope, grace, and direction. Pittman sets her scenes on vastly different stages: St. Louis, Los Angeles, and a small town in the 1920s and an retirement home in 2010.  Her depiction of the 1920s takes center stage, shining through Pittman's use of clear descriptions and imagery.  She captures the temptations that defined the roaring 20s, but also introduces readers to the movements of faith that grew during the same era. I loved the historical detail and the scenes of Los Angeles and St. Louis in the glamour of an earlier era.  I often wish that I could transport myself back to an earlier time period, and the pages of a book like "All for a Song" allows me to do just that.

Whenever I pick-up a Allison Pittman novel, I know that I am about to begin a journey that transcends a printed page.  "All for a Song" is no exception, and I will keep it on my bookshelf alongside her other novels.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Tyndale House Publishers.  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.”

Summary from Tyndale: Dorothy Lynn Dunbar has everything she ever wanted: her family, her church, her community, and plans to marry the young pastor who took over her late father’s pulpit. Time spent in the woods, lifting her heart and voice in worship accompanied by her brother’s old guitar, makes her life complete . . . and yet she longs for something more.

Spending a few days in St. Louis with her sister’s family, Dorothy Lynn discovers a whole new way of life—movies, music, dancing; daring fashions and fancy cars. And a dynamic charismatic evangelist . . . who just happens to be a woman. When Dorothy Lynn is offered a chance to join Aimee Semple McPherson’s crusade team, she finds herself confronted with temptations she never dreamed of. Can Dorothy Lynn embrace all the Roaring Twenties has to offer without losing herself in the process?

About Allison Pittman: Award-winning author Allison Pittman left a seventeen-year teaching career in 2005 to follow the Lord's calling into the world of Christian fiction, and God continues to bless her step of faith. Her novels For Time and Eternity and Forsaking All Others were both finalists for the Christy Award for excellence in Christian fiction, and her novel Stealing Home won the American Christian Fiction Writers' Carol Award. She heads up a successful, thriving writers group in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives with her husband, Mike, their three sons, and the canine star of the family—Stella.

Tyndale Author Q & A:

1. What was your inspiration for this book, All for a Song?

There were so many different pieces that came together with this book; it’s hard to name just one. First, I was introduced to, and then became fascinated with Aimee Semple McPherson, and while I wasn’t ready to take on her story, I knew I wanted to create my own characters to somehow come into her sphere. She was a woman who embraced both ministry and fame, and I wanted to create a character who had that same opportunity. With that, I am so inspired by the decade of the 1920’s—such sweeping social changes, shifts in moral centering, an explosion of choices and opportunities for women. It was a time to test one’s faith—to go against the new norms in pursuit of righteousness. Such a challenge!

2. Tell me about your main character Dorothy Lynn. Was her character based upon anyone in particular?

The young Dorothy Lynn, no, not really—not beyond any other singer/songwriter out there. She’s a young woman with a message and a voice, so maybe she’s a mash-up of every musician I know. The older Dorothy Lynn, Miss Lynnie, is somewhat based on the mother of a friend of mine. His mother went to be with the Lord while I was in the final stages of writing this novel, and at her funeral, I learned that she had a stroke years before her passing, during which she had a glimpse of Heaven, and had spent her intervening years longing to return. I remember going home from that celebration of her life and re-writing just about every Breath of Angels scene, incorporating that into Dorothy Lynn’s story. It was exactly what the story 
needed, and brought about a depth I couldn’t have imagined in the initial draft.

3. What lessons or truths will your readers find in the pages of this novel?

I hope that they learn that it’s good to take a chance, to take hold of opportunities that come your way, even if it doesn’t always make sense to do so. Yes, there are times that require periods of prayer and reflection and guidance-seeking, but then there are times when you have to hop on the next train and trust that God has the details well in hand. Along with that, I’d want them to know that while there is breath, there is opportunity for grace and forgiveness, but we might need to humble ourselves. There’s a theme of a longing for home, no matter how enticing the alternative seems. 

4. Although this novel is set in the 1920s, how does Dorothy Lynn’s story still resonate today?

The world today wants nothing more than to entice young women to exploit themselves in some way, and the enemy wants nothing more than to make us think that we are beyond redemption. We all make stupid, thoughtless, reckless decisions; we all get ourselves into such unbelievably embarrassing messes; we all disappoint our loved ones. The world tells you to move on; God tells you to go back. 

5. As a writer, what did you particularly enjoy about crafting this story?

Oh, my goodness. As a historical writer, I loved the time period—that sort of new, innocent fumbling with innovations of the time. One of my favorite scenes was when the 107-year-old Dorothy Lynn experiences her first iPad. (By the way, I had to make her that old in order to make all the history “fit.” I spent every day for a month watching the Willard Scott segment on the Today show making sure that her age would be believable. Wouldn’t you know? Every week there’s somebody that tops the 105th birthday!)

6. What is your hope for this story? How would you like it to impact readers?

I would love it if this book would prompt a reader to reach out to somebody they feel they have lost. Reconciliation is hard—whether you’re the perpetrator or the victim of whatever “wrong” that happened. But life is short, even if you’re going to get more than a century of living, at some time that final day will come. Close those gaps in your life. Offer and ask for forgiveness. Leave a legacy of grace.

7. How has this novel helped you to grow as a storyteller?

My tendency (a very purposeful one) is to leave my stories with a bit of an “unfinished” edge. I like my characters to leave the page on the cusp of fulfillment, so that my readers can have the pleasure of imagining those final, satisfying moments. A good friend (and, coincidentally a fan) of mine said, “I love your books. I hate your endings. I’m just going to have to accept that this is what an Allison Pittman story does.” So—how fun was this to write the most definitive ending, ever! To open a story on the last day of a character’s life—so totally new for me. 

8. What is the best advice or encouragement that you have received?

It goes back to a conversation I had with James Scott Bell back when I’d written approximately 7 chapters of what would become my first novel, Ten Thousand Charms. The whole conversation is chronicled in Chapter 16 of his fabulous book The Art of War for Writers. (I’m the “young woman” – which I was, at the time, sort of…) Anyway, I was frustrated and discouraged, and he explained to me that this writing thing was like a pyramid. At its base, you have everybody who ever thinks they maybe might want to try to start writing a book someday. At the top is Max Lucado. The rest of us are somewhere in-between. “Your job…is to keep moving up the pyramid. Each level presents its own challenges, so concentrate on the ones right in front of you.” I love and welcome every new challenge.


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