Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review of "Sing For Me"

Rating: 5 Stars
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Review: "Sing for Me" was a novel that interested me from the moment that I read the description.  The plot held the promise of depth and uniqueness and delivered both. Karen Halvorsen Schreck builds a poignant tale of love, acceptance, and purpose set in 1930s Chicago.  It reads like a work of literature and ventures into subjects that are thought-provoking and emotionally charged.  Halvorsen Schreck shows the shades of gray between the spectrum of perceived right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable.  Her characters confront prejudices on a few different fronts and learn to depend on their faith to steer them in the right direction. 

Rose Sorensen finds herself crossing boundaries - singing music that her church and family view as sinful and falling in love with an African American man.  Traditionally in Christian fiction, characters who spend their time in smoky bars are either in need of reform or have strayed from the "right" path.  Rose is neither; she remains strong in her faith and finds her purpose in a place as unlikely as a worldly jazz club.  Looking out from the club stage one night, Rose realizes that despite the differences and faults of each person in the crowd, they are all "Children of God," and therefore equal.  Rose conveys an important lesson of acceptance throughout her story. This lesson permeates the plot and gives hope despite the pain and hatred that are also present.

Rose's relationships are especially compelling.  As a sister, I am drawn to the tender relationship Rose shares with her younger sister, Sophy.  Halvorsen Schreck creates a tangible connection between Rose and Sophy, who suffers from cerebral palsy.  Rose's first person point of view gives a clear perspective on her devotion to her disabled sister. There are numerous sweet moments between the sisters, from Sophy resting her head on Rose's lap during church to Rose taking Sophy on outings to the park.  Each nuance of their interactions give the relationship life and depth.  Despite Sophy's inability to communicate verbally, her character is brought to life through Rose; and instead of taking a background role, Sophy becomes and integral part of the story.    

"Sing for Me" traverses new ground with a mixed race relationship during a time in history when prejudice and hatred run rampant.  The budding romance between Rose and Theo, an African American musician, is fraught with challenges from the beginning. I enjoy the subtlety of the romance that gradually builds between the two characters.  Physical connections take a backseat to emotional connections, and sometimes the looks that pass between Rose and Theo convey the strength of their bond even more than conversation.  A mixed race love story set in the 1930s brings a new level of stress to the plot. At times it seems that the story has little hope of ending well.  After all, how can a love endure when the world seems set against it?  That question and the resulting tension kept drawing me in and even now leaves me wanting to know more of Rose's story.  

Beautifully written with skillfully sculpted characters, "Sing for Me" is a novel that I will distinctly remember. It is a story of pain and triumph, love and acceptance, fear and strength.  Karen Halvorsen Schreck engages readers' emotions with lessons that still ring true for the modern reader. 

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from Howard Books 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 Howard Books: When a good church girl starts singing in a jazz club and falls for the music—as well as a handsome African American man—she struggles to reconcile her childhood faith with her newfound passions.

Raised in the Danish Baptist Church, Rose Sorensen knows it’s wrong to sing worldly songs. But Rose still yearns for those she hears on the radio—“Cheek to Cheek,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”—and sings them when no one is around. 

One day, Rose’s cousin takes her to Calliope’s, a jazz club, where she dis­covers an exciting world she never knew existed. Here, blacks and whites mingle, brought together by their shared love of music. And though Rose worries it’s wrong—her parents already have a stable husband in mind for her—she can’t stop thinking about the African American pianist of the Chess Men, Theo Chastain. When Rose returns to the jazz club, she is offered the role of singer for the Chess Men. The job would provide money to care for her sister, Sophy, who has cerebral palsy—but at what cost? 

As Rose gets to know Theo, their fledgling relationship faces prejudices she never imagined. And as she struggles to balance the dream world of Calliope’s with her cold, hard reality, she also wrestles with God’s call for her life. Can she be a jazz singer? Or will her faith suffer because of her worldly ways? 

Set in Depression-era Chicago and rich in historical detail, Sing for Me is a beautiful, evocative story about finding real, unflinching love and embracing—at all costs—your calling.

Review of "Dancing with Fireflies"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: Jade McKinley is a free spirit held captive by heartbreak.  Denise Hunter first introduces readers to Jade in "Barefoot Summer," when her sudden departure from Chapel Springs stirs questions among her family and readers.  "Dancing with Fireflies" chronicles her return home with more scars and secrets than when she left. As Jade puts into motion a plan to find a husband in name only, she is continuously drawn to her childhood friend, Daniel Dawson.  Jade's circumstances as an unemployed, emotionally scarred, pregnant single woman, set the stage for potentially heavy reading, but Hunter keeps the overall plot light with easy conflict resolution.  

The details surrounding Jade's pregnancy are revealed in the first chapters, but remain a secret from the McKinley family even longer than Jade's hidden pregnancy.  There is a gap between the incident leading to Jade's pregnancy and her return home.  During that time, Jade has formulated a plan for her and her unborn child and some of the emotional rawness is lost.  We see Jade as resolved to her recent past and her future, with only the occasional glimpse of pain.  Her acceptance almost seems too easy; but at the same time, I am glad that she didn't dwell on her circumstances.

Jade and Daniel are both likable characters who engage different emotional responses. Jade captures my sympathy and makes me long for her happy ending. Daniel's acceptance of Jade's pregnancy and his unwavering support of her and the unborn child called to mind a modern-day version of Ray Singleton from "The Magic of Ordinary Days."  It is easy to respect Daniel for his unfailing devotion and self-restraint when Jade seems too emotionally battered to accept his declaration of love.  As Jade's attraction to Daniel grows, physical interactions between them progress from the typical kiss to scenes that are too steamy for my preference. Hunter does not allow the characters to cross the lines of morality, but they definitely step close to the border. One scene in particular surprises me with the detailed description of a kiss between Jade and Daniel.   It is one that the plot can do without even though it ultimately conveys a lesson in resisting temptation. 

"Dancing with Fireflies" is another solid romance from Denise Hunter.  It is my favorite of the two Chapel Spring romances so far.  It is always enjoyable to see characters from a previous novel in a series reappear as secondary characters in future novels. I will especially look forward to seeing Jade, Daniel, and their children in the next Chapel Springs Romance.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from Thomas Nelson 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 Thomas Nelson: 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 always saw 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.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review of "A Heart's Rebellion"

Rating: 3 Stars
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Review: English gardens, ballrooms, waltzes, ladies, gentlemen, and cads can all be found within the pages of Ruth Axtell's newest Regency Romance "A Heart's Rebellion."  Axtell creates a dimensional Regency England environment abounding with historical detail.  Jessamine Barry is nursing a broken heart and navigating her way through society in search of healing and love.  Lancelot Marfleet is an unlikely hero - a scientific vicar with a love of botany.  As Jessamine's path continues to cross Lancelot's and their mutual attraction builds, Jessamine fights it resolutely.  There is enough romance among the characters, and the unrealized romance between the two leads will keep readers engaged until the end. 

Though the plot is rich in detail, there are slow points in the plot at times.  Some of the descriptions become repetitive and dull, specifically the discussions about plants and their scientific names.  I found myself skimming some sections to get to passages of more interest.  The plot lags between balls and social outings, which are the primary events in the novel.  It is probably representative of life for members of the ton and young ladies in the era seeking a place in society.  The change of scenery to Jessamine's hometown of Alston Green is a refreshing departure from London at the novel's conclusion.  

Anyone who read "Moonlight Masquerade" will enjoy revisiting Celine and Rees, who play active roles in "A Heart's Rebellion."  In comparison to the former novel, "A Heart's Rebellion" is a much more subdued novel, but Ruth Axtell captures the essence of Regency England. 

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from Revell. 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 Revell: In a world governed by unspoken rules, one young woman is about to break them all . . . 

Dutiful Jessamine Barry is tired of waiting patiently for a man to decide her future. So even though Lancelot Marfleet, second son of an aristocrat, is taking an interest in her during the London season, she refuses to consider him as a suitor. Instead, she's ready to take fashionable society by storm--and finds a rakish young man all too willing to help her do it. 

Can Jessamine trust her heart to lead her to a love that proves true through thick and thin? Or will her rash actions close the door on the life she really desires?

Lose yourself in Ruth Axtell's sumptuous story of discovering one's true self and finding true love.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Review of "Love Comes Calling"

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: Siri Mitchell takes readers on a fun 1920s adventure in "Love Comes Calling." It doesn't take long to discover that Ellis Eton is not your average heroine; she's vibrant, wacky, and trying to find her purpose in life.  With Ellis at the helm, any event can turn into a mishap or take on a life of its own in her imagination.  I appreciate Mitchell's divergence from the typical female lead character.  Ellis has enough energy to jump out of the pages, but sometimes her scattered ways and lack of focus leave me feeling scattered too.  Thanks to Ellis, some conversations take on a "Who's on first quality," which are comedic. 

Despite the humor, there are underlying issues of self-discovery, self-worth, and the corruption of the Prohibition-era.  Ellis really doesn't know her purpose in life and seems to use her penchant for acting as a front, which makes it more challenging to connect with her initially.  Mitchell exposes the less fun side of the 1920s - the speakeasies, police corruption, and debauchery that also defines the era.  As Ellis is exposed to the harsh realities of life, her true personality begins to show, making her less like a character and more like a real person.    

There are plenty of laughable moments in "Love Comes Calling."  The plot reminds me of fun movie from the 1930s and 1940s.  Ellis's relationship with Griffin is as unique as she is. Mitchell makes it easy to picture their interactions - his perusal and her efforts to avoid being "pinned."  Add in the complication that Ellis has another potential beau while playing the part of her friend, a telephone operator, and you are connected to a good read!

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from Bethany House 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 Bethany House: 
A girl with the best of intentions. 
A heart set on Hollywood. 
An empty pocketbook.

That's all it takes for Ellis Eton to find herself working as a telephone operator for a look-alike friend. For Ellis, this job will provide not only acting practice but the funds to get her a start in the movies. She's tired of always being a disappointment to her traditional Boston family, and though she can't deny the way he makes her head spin, she knows she's not good enough for Griffin Phillips, either. It's simple: avoid Griff's attentions, work, and get paid. But in typical Ellis fashion, her simple plan spirals out of control when she overhears a menacing phone call...with her very own Griff as the target.

With an endearing heroine as her lead, Siri Mitchell takes readers on a madcap tale of love and discovering one's true desires!


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