Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review of "Greetings from the Flipside"

Rating: 3 Stars
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Review: "Greetings from the Flipside" is definitely unlike any other novel that  I have read in the past few years.  Rene Gutteridge and Cheryl McKay create two intertwined stories with the same characters but one big difference: one of the stories is a dream.  Hope is living her life in a coma, and embarking on new adventures in her mind, including a move to New York City and a new job. Meanwhile, in the real world, she is lying unconscious in a hospital bed, with Jake, a childhood acquaintance by her side. The dreams scenes are often quirky and humorous with enough substance to build characters and a love story.

Gutteridge and McKay flip around traditional romance in favor of the unconventional.  When I discovered that Hope was going to be in a coma for the majority of the novel, I was doubtful that a love story could find a foothold in the plot. Although Hope's dreams merge with reality at the end of the novel, I struggled with the concept that the relationship between Hope and Jake is built on two different planes. The strength of Jake's character and love for Hope is established early in the plot, when he drops everything to sit at the bedside of his childhood crush.  In Hope's temporary reality, Jake wins her heart by exhibiting the same character qualities. I was disappointed that Hope and Jake primarily experienced their love in two different realities, and I would have found more satisfaction from more time at the end dedicated to building their real-life relationship.

 "Greetings from the Flipside" pushes convention to sidelines from start to finish. Gutteridge and McKay give readers a chance to escape from reality and experience a light read with a large dose of wackiness.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from B&H Publishing through Net Galley. 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 B&H Publishing Group: Hope Landon has been rewriting other people’s greeting cards since she was six years old. There’s always a funnier caption in there somewhere. She’s ready to chase her creative dreams in New York City with her fiancĂ©—until he leaves Hope at the altar.That may give her something to write about . . .Hope disappears for the time that would have been the couple’s month-long honeymoon, and upon returning learns of her own funeral. Everyone concluded Hope must have killed herself after being jilted. Needing a fresh start more than ever, she heads for the Big Apple only to discover it isn’t easy to rent a place when you’ve been declared dead.

Taking shelter at the YMCA, Hope lands a job at an inspirational greeting card company assisting Jake, the guy who shut down his organization’s humor department. She has lost her faith in love; he needs to find something or someone that will make him laugh again.

Fun and faithful, Greetings from the Flipside will keep turning over in your mind.

Review of "Dark Halo"

Rating: 4 Stars

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Review:  The final installment of Shannon Dittemore's "Angel Eyes" trilogy is aptly titled "Dark Halo." It is the darkest of the three novels, with the Prince of Darkness himself making appearances with lies and bargains.  At times, the plot is as chilling as the icy blue eyes on the cover.  Dittmore packs spiritual lessons into her story, but her use of action and imagery keeps the book from ever feeling preachy.  Tension is at an all-time high in "Dark Halo" as the angelic army battles the demonic army above Stratus. There are some much needed lulls in the action as mysteries from the previous novels are solved, with some surprising realizations. 

"Dark Halo" chilled me more than "Angel Eyes" and "Broken Wings." It is a culmination of the forces of darkness and light, with fear and temptation showing even more strength.  While darkness is a strong opponent, light and love prove even stronger.  Brielle's struggle with her celestial vision reaches a pinnacle in the final novel. While it allows her to see the beauty of faith and worship, it also reveals to her the disturbing images of suffering.  As is often the case in real-life, the bad often overshadows the good - in our minds and in the media.  Dittemore directly connects the common emotions of fear and temptation to evil.  It is a theme that weaves throughout the trilogy, even more tangibly in "Dark Halo."  The demons that are present throughout the series are formidable and overtly evil.  But the Prince of Darkness hides his evil behind beauty.  Both he and his promises are alluring and disguised to trick the mind. Dittemore saves the earthly manifestation of the Prince of Darkness until the final novel, when Brielle's emotionally and spiritually exhausted.   Although Brielle has seen the beauty of angels and the strength of faith, she finds her defenses weakened to temptations that will destroy her life. The Dark Halo is a weighty reminder of Brielle's encounter with the devil and her struggle to resist his promises. 

Shannon Dittemore compels readers to take the seemingly supernatural events of her "Angel Eyes" novels and compare them to reality. "Dark Halo" concludes the series with a message of promise and the impetus to fight darkness and conquer the barriers that try to hide true beauty.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this novel from 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: One halo brought sight to Brielle. Another offers sweet relief from what she sees.

Brielle can’t help but see the Celestial. Even without the halo, the invisible realm is everywhere she looks. It’s impossibly beautiful—and terrifying, especially now. Because a battle rages above Stratus, Oregon.
The Terrestrial Veil is ripping, and demons walk the streets past unseeing mortals. Dark, sticky fear drips from every face, and nightmares haunt Brielle’s sleep.
Worst of all, Jake is gone. The only boy she’s ever loved has been taken by the demon, Damien. When she receives instructions from the Throne Room leading her to Jake, she unknowingly walks into a diabolical and heartbreaking trap.
Now she’s stranded in a sulfurous desert with the Prince of Darkness himself, and he’s offering her another halo—a mirrored ring that will destroy her Celestial vision. All she has to do is wear it and she’ll see no more of the invisible world. No more fear. No more nightmares. No more demons. It’s a gift. And best of all: it comes with the promise of a future with Jake, something the Throne Room seems to be taking from her.
Will Brielle trade the beauty of the Celestial and the truth of the world around her just to feel ordinary again?

Review of "The Governess of Highland Hall"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: In a story reminiscent of "Upstairs, Downstairs," "Downton Abbey," and even "Jane Eyre," Carrie Turansky introduces readers to Highland Hall and its residents.  "The Governess of Highland Hall" has an appealing British air with plenty of drama on the vast and beautiful estate.  Julia Foster arrives from serving as a missionary in India to work as a governess on William Ramsey's newly inherited estate.  A world away from India, Julia confronts new challenges from her pupils, the household staff, and the stirrings of her heart. Despite finding herself in a brand new environment, Julia seems overly confident of her opinions. Sir William even consults with Julia over estate problems and they work together to find a solution for economizing the estate's expenditures.  Although their partnership is good for developing their relationship, it seems a bit unrealistic that Julia would be so knowledgeable and self-assured.  I could relate to the head housekeeper's annoyance with Julia at times, but not her vindictiveness.  

There are two romances that cross societal boundaries in "The Governess of Highland Hall."  The main focus is the relationship between Julia and Sir William.  Sir William transitions from a distant father and broken-hearted man to a more open and accessible family and estate leader.  Much of the change is driven by Julia's presence, but both characters keep their feelings suppressed, constrained by their class differences.  There is a touch of "Jane Eyre" in the situation, without the heaviness and mystery.  Casting convention aside in favor of true love is an appealing recipe for romance, and adds romantic drama.  Sir William's sister, Sarah, also embarks on an upstairs, downstairs relationship with the estate's gardener.  I most enjoyed Sarah's story, and her gentle demeanor and quiet strength pulled on my heartstrings.  I would have loved to read more about her background and disability, especially since I found myself anticipating her scenes.    

Carrie Turansky delivers drama and romance in "The Governess of Highland Hall."  Highland Hall is a grand estate with intriguing residents that will take readers on a trip to the English countryside.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah. 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 WaterBrook Multnomah: Worlds lie between the marketplaces of India and the halls of a magnificent country estate like Highland Hall. Will Julia be able to find her place when a governess is neither upstairs family nor downstairs help? 
Missionary Julia Foster loves working alongside her parents, ministering and caring for young girls in India. But when the family must return to England due to illness, she readily accepts the burden for her parents’ financial support. Taking on a job at Highland Hall as governess, she quickly finds that teaching her four privileged, ill-mannered charges at a grand estate is more challenging than expected, and she isn’t sure what to make of the estate’s preoccupied master, Sir William Ramsey.

Widowed and left to care for his two young children and his deceased cousin Randolph’s two teenage girls, William is consumed with saving the estate from the financial ruin. The last thing he needs is any distraction coming from the kindhearted-yet-determined governess who seems to be quietly transforming his household with her persuasive personality, vibrant prayer life, and strong faith.

While both are tending past wounds and guarding fragile secrets, Julia and William are determined to do what it takes to save their families—common ground that proves fertile for unexpected feelings. But will William choose Julia’s steadfast heart and faith over the wealth and power he needs to secure Highland Hall’s future?

Review of "All for a Story"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: Allison Pittman consistently delivers novels rooted firmly in faith and history.  I am always excited to delve into her stories and experience the past.  "All for a Story" reads like a 1920's movie, with flappers, speakeasies, dancing, and dialogue that seems completely authentic to the time period.  Pittman also introduces readers to another product of the 1920s - the Anti-Flirt Society. The incorporation of less well-known pieces of history is one of the reasons that I love Allison Pittman's novels. She is an expert in blending historical facts into the body of a meaningful plot. Pittman delves deeper than the flappers of the Roaring Twenties to give readers a new perspective on the era.

From speakeasies to anti-flirt meetings, Monica Brisbaine will go almost anywhere for a story for her Monkey Business newspaper column. The Monkey Business columns are clever additions to the plot with turns of phrase that seem like they could be straight from the 1920s. They show Monica as a woman who is well-versed in worldly ways, a cynical character with rough edges behind a polished veneer.  Her flirtatious, flapper facade hides her true emotions.  The layers begin to peel away when she meets her new boss, Max Moore, a man who is much more innocent than she. He challenges Monica's newspaper column and her entire way of life.

Max is a sweet hero, striving to live an honest and clean life and quietly showing his love for Monica. Unfortunately, Monica is not accustomed to being treated like a lady, and the road to her heart is a challenging journey.  It is frustrating to watch Monica continue to keep Max at a distance, and she never seems to fully open up to him. As a result, the love story aspect of the plot feels a little unfinished.  When the novel concludes, Monica seems to finally begin to open her heart to both Max and the readers.  I have never had difficulty connecting with Pittman's characters in the past, but Monica is a challenge. Although her character softens throughout the plot, her wall never completely comes down, leaving me feeling detached. Regardless of my lack of connection, Monica's flapper persona is solidly constructed and a stark contrast to Max's more staid personality.

"All for a Story" is a well-written novel with fascinating history. I always recommend Allison Pittman's novels to other readers, and this one is no exception.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers through Netgalley. 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 House Publishers: Monica Brisbaine loves being a modern girl in the Roaring Twenties. Her job writing a gossip column allows her access to all the local speakeasys in Washington, D.C., where she can dance the night away—and find fodder for her next article. But when the owner of the Capitol Chatter newspaper passes away, Monica wonders what will happen to her job, and the lifestyle she loves.

Max Moore may hold the title of editor-in-chief for evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson’s paper, The Bridal Call, but Aimee calls all the shots. So when Max learns that his great-uncle has passed away, leaving him all his earthly possessions, Max resigns and heads to D.C. Determined to take over the Capitol Chatter, infuse it with his values, and turn it into a respectable paper, Max is soon bumping up against the equally determined Monica Brisbane.

Under Max’s direction, Monica embarks on her most challenging assignment yet: infiltrating and reporting on the Anti-Flirt Society. Though reluctant at first, as Monica meets and mingles with the young women of the club, she begins to question the innocence of her flirtatious lifestyle. And when romance begins to blossom between Max and Monica, she must choose where her loyalties lie: with the young women of the society or the alluring pull of the speakeasy and its inhabitants.


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