Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Inspys 2014

Hi everyone! Just wanted to let you know that I'm going to be a judge for this year's Inspys award! I'll be judging the YA category (fun!) You can find the website here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mark of Distinction


Mark of Distinction
Jessica Dotta

London is said to be the glittering jewel of society, a world unto itself—but to Julia Elliston it is a city of shadows. Her life is swiftly dissolving into scandal. And in Victorian society, even a whisper of scandal—substantiated or not—can be the death of a young woman’s reputation.

When Julia discovers that Lord Roy Pierson, her guardian and one of most influential men in England, is the father she has never met, she begrudgingly accepts his protection. But Chance Macy’s power is far-reaching as well.

Thrust into society as the Emerald Heiress, Julia is the toast of London, a celebrated curiosity. But in reality she’s trapped between the clutches of two powerful men. Aided only by a gentleman whose intentions she prays she can trust, Julia must finally take control of her own fate—but outwitting one’s foe rarely goes according to plan.

I still have mixed feelings about this book series. Gothic romances aren't really my thing, but on the other hand, Jessica Dotta's writing style is beautiful- classic, but accessible. (and the covers are gorgeous; even the interior is designed beautifully) I will say I liked this book better than the first in the series. It had less of the romantic mushi-ness that made the first book uncomfortable for me, and I felt it flowed better. That being said, I still found some of it confusing (though this may in part be due to the fact that it has been a while since I read the first book, so I was a little fuzzy on some of the details)

Still, it's difficult not knowing which characters to like and which not to. And I grew to really love Isaac, and found it difficult to keep rooting for Edward when he was barely in the book at all. I guess its "out of sight, out of mind" for me in that respect *looks down in shame*

Also, strangely enough - I NEVER have this problem in books- I felt like the heroine wasn't spunky enough. I know, I know. There are meek and mild girls and we need stories about them. And maybe "spunky" isn't the word I'm looking for. But throughout nearly the whole novel, it seemed like Julia was just riding on the wave of others' actions. It was all about how she reacted to her circumstances. She never did anything. I don't like overbearing heroines, but I do like it when characters stand up for their beliefs...and that never really happened. She just didn't seem to have much backbone (especially in regards to Mr. Macy) And every rare time Julia did do something pro-active, I almost always felt she didn't do the right thing. On the other hand, I am curious how the conclusion to this series is going to go, especially since the end of the book finds our heroine embracing Christianity.

Still, despite the fact that the story can be confusing and I don't always agree with the characters' actions, Jessica Dotta is a talented author, and quite frankly, I'm really hoping this series will wrap up soon and she'll begin writing something a bit more on the Jane Austen side of things than the Bronte side...because when that happens, I have a feeling I'll become one of her biggest fans.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: 7 1/2

Thursday, April 10, 2014

For Such a Time


For Such a Time
Kate Breslin
Bethany House

In 1944, blonde and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin feels abandoned by God when she is saved from a firing squad only to be handed over to a new enemy. Pressed into service by SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, in order to survive and maintain her cover as Aric's secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz. Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths and sympathies, Stella cautiously appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric's compassion gives her hope, and she finds herself battling a growing attraction for this man she knows she should despise as an enemy. Stella pours herself into her efforts to keep even some of the camp's prisoners safe, but she risks the revelation of her true identity with every attempt. When her bravery brings her to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, she has only her faith to lean upon. Perhaps God has placed her there for such a time as this, but how can she save her people when she is unable to save herself?

When I first learned about this story I immediately thought, A retelling of Esther set during the Holocaust? Why hasn’t anyone done this before? It really was a brilliant idea, but though I found the book worth reading, it didn’t always live up to my expectations.

Sometimes it was hard for me to keep all of the characters straight with their German names and titles. The specific Esther storyline sometimes helped things that might have at times felt unbelievable or unrealistic, but at the same time it felt perhaps a bit over-structured and there were points that I felt the strict adherence to the original story hindered rather than added to the overall plot.

Though there were good aspects to the story, the romance did make me uncomfortable sometimes. I understand that it did follow the main plot with Esther and Xerxes, but I still thought there was a bit too much kissing and sensual content for me. That being said, I was surprised for how much sympathy I had for Aric- I thought he was going to be one of those heroes I didn’t care for, but he surprised me. It’s not often that you see a Nazi portrayed in a complex, sympathetic light, but in all honesty, I don’t think it a stretch of imagination that there were at least a few who were uncomfortable and ashamed of the things they were forced to do.

For Such a Time was in many aspects a hard read- as is any book dealing with this tough and disturbing period in world history- but not an overwhelmingly depressing one. I did like this book; I just didn’t care for it as much as I had originally hoped I would. Still, I’m sure anyone fascinated with World War II or the book of Esther will want to try this one out, although due to some of the mature themes I wouldn’t recommend this one to younger readers.

Rating: 7 1/2

I received this book for free from netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Table by the Window


A Table by the Window
Hillary Manton Lodge
Waterbrook Press

The youngest heir to a French-Italian restaurant dynasty, food writer Juliette D’Alisa has spent her life negotiating her skill with words and her restaurant aspirations. When her brother Nico offers her a chance to open a restaurant together, she feels torn—does she really have what it takes? Should she risk leaving her journalism career?
After the death of her grandmother, Juliette discovers an antique photograph of a man who looks strikingly like her brother. As the truth behind the picture reveals romance and dark secrets, Juliette struggles to keep the mystery away from her nosy family until she can uncover the whole story. 
Inspired by her grandmother’s evolving story, Juliette resolves to explore the world of online dating. To her surprise, she finds a kindred spirit in Neil McLaren, a handsome immunologist based in Memphis, Tennessee. With a long-distance relationship simmering, Juliette faces life-shifting decisions. How can she possibly choose between a promising culinary life and Neil, a man a world away in more ways than one? And is it possible her Grandmother’s story can help show the way?

The reason I don't normally like contemporary fiction is because I never agree with the "modern" worldview of the characters, and I can't really say this book was an exception to that, as there were a few differences in our beliefs (this was mostly with dating, and later kissing.) However, it was never horribly offensive, and you know what? Overall, I really, really liked this book. It was modern, but had an almost vintage feel to it- a fact reinforced by the black-and-white cover, perhaps. 

The recipes at the end of each chapter sounded delicious- seriously, the Nutella Mousse recipe was so beautiful I thought I was going to cry. (That's only a slight exaggeration. But it was enough to drool over.) I felt like the characters could be a bit food snobbish sometimes, but given their background, it was understandable.  But the plot was really fun and interesting, if a bit laid back. I loved, loved, loved the French/ Italian heritage of Juliette, and since I'm currently taking French it was fun to try and pick out all the French phrases I knew :)

There could have been a bit more of an overt Christian message; the characters, for the most part acted in a Christian-like, godly way, but other than a few mentions of going to church and praying, I wouldn't say it felt "Christian" unless you compared its fundamental worldview to that of other secular books.

Juliette was really likable, and even more remarkable, so was her love interest, Neil. (What can I say? He made Juliette watch Doctor Who. There's a keeper right there.) Even though the lifestyles of the characters were so different than my own, I still found them relatable (especially Juliette) and I honestly loved nearly every bit of this book- and though the ending was a bit abrupt, I can deal with it knowing that there's a sequel forthcoming. One I am quite sure I'll be reading!

Rating: 9

objectionable content: as I mentioned before, there are several (undescriptive) kisses in the last third of the book.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Caught in the Middle


Caught in the Middle
Regina Jennings
Bethany House

The train to Garber, Texas, is supposed to bring life's next victory to Nicholas Lovelace. Instead, it gets held up by robbers who are thwarted by the last person Nick ever expected--Anne Tillerton from back home in Prairie Lea.

Anne’s been hiding away as a buffalo hunter. She’s only in Garber to find their runaway cook, but the woman flees--leaving Anne with her infant son. With Nick the only person Anne knows in Garber, the two form an unlikely team as they try to figure out what to do with the child.

But being in town means acting and dressing for polite society--and it's not going well for Anne. Meanwhile, Nick's work is bringing new pressures, and being seen with a rough-around-the-edges woman isn't helping his reputation. Caught between their own dreams, a deepening relationship, and others' expectations, can the pair find their way to love?

I'd never read anything by Regina Jennings before, but I thought the cover of this book was quirky and cute, (and I loved the colors) so I decided to give it a try without really paying much attention to the book blurb. Once I started reading, though, I had a feeling this was going to be just one of your run-of-the-mill prairie western romances. The character types, cliches and plot points didn't seem original and I felt like I knew what was going to happen- and this was just in the first five chapters or so.

Which just proves sometimes that you need to give books more of a chance! What surprised me about Caught in the Middle was how deep the author delved into the characters. Though at first glance they might seem a little stereotypical, there were really more facets to them, and the particular Christian theme, while not entirely uncommon, went farther and deeper than I had anticipated- something I really liked quite a bit.

Though I appreciated spunky Anne's disregard for the opinions of others, sometimes I thought she went to far and it could get annoying- it was hard for me to warm up to her. (maybe because she was such a tomboy and I'm such a girly-girl...I don't know ;) However, as the story went on I understood why she did the things she did. And I really liked Nick, but not until after he discovered his backbone- yes, I think what saved this story from mediocrity was the character development.

I didn't realize that this book was part of a series, and though I think I might have appreciated appearances by certain characters more if I had read the other books, Caught in the Middle stood just fine on it's own. Though it's not my favorite- probably just because I'm not a big western gal- I enjoyed it boatloads more than I thought I would, and I'm sure avid readers of Christian romances and historicals will want to try this one out.

Rating: 7 1/2 

objectionable content: If you're familiar with western fiction and the society of saloons, cowboys, and such then you'll probably know what to expect. Aside from a kiss, the book also mentions a character was abused by her husband, and the two main characters are caring for a baby that was abandoned by its unwed mother. There is a scene in a saloon that includes prostitutes (nothing explicit).

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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