Disclaimer: Just Look Up, by Courtney Walsh, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
After tirelessly climbing the ranks of her Chicago-based interior design firm, Lane Kelley is about to land her dream promotion when devastating news about her brother draws her back home to a quaint tourist town full of memories she’d just as soon forget. With her cell phone and laptop always within reach, Lane aims to check on her brother while staying focused on work—something her eclectic family doesn’t understand. Ryan Brooks never expected to settle down in Harbor Pointe, Michigan, but after his final tour of duty, it was the only place that felt like home. Now knee-deep in a renovation project that could boost tourism for the struggling town, he is thrilled to see Lane, the girl he secretly once loved, even if the circumstances of her homecoming aren’t ideal. Their reunion gets off to a rocky start, however, when Ryan can’t find a trace of the girl he once knew in the woman she is today. As he slowly chips away the walls Lane has built, secrets from his past collide with a truth even he is reluctant to believe, putting Ryan at a crossroads that could not only alter his relationship with the Kelly family but jeopardize his future with the girl of his dreams.
I really am not a fan of the “bitter female” protagonist because so often it is completely overdone. It’s hard to get readers to sympathize with someone whom they feel is overreacting and/or being irrational. Luckily, Courtney Walsh manages to avoid most of the pitfalls in Just Look Up, although the longer I read, the sicker I got of Lane’s angst and bitterness (it’s a long book, so by the end Lane continually feeling sorry for herself wears thin). Lane has some legitimate reasons for being so closed-off, though some of them I thought were expressed a little melodramatically by Walsh, and at least her behavior makes sense in light of her past and emotions.
Ryan, unfortunately, falls into every pitfall and cliché of a love interest and of a character with his particular background. My kingdom for a love interest who doesn’t have “muscles rippling under his shirt” that the female protagonist admires and then pretends she doesn’t feel attracted to him. Nothing of Ryan’s story surprised me and he was about as interesting as a paper bag.
I do think Walsh overexaggerated the extent that people rely on their cellphones, although I don’t doubt there are workaholics like Lane in the world and that people are too attached to their screens. I also am upset that there was never a scene in the novel where Lane talks with her family about her work, her stress, and the physical effects it had on her. There’s actually never really a scene where Lane gets her thoughts out, at all, or any sense of resolution or fulfillment besides a short chat with her sister. The Lane the story ends with is virtually the same Lane the story begins with, which seems counterproductive to the point Walsh is making.
Just Look Up starts off well with a character type that is usually annoying, then falls flat when the length of the novel means that Lane’s bitterness starts to grate after 300+ pages with almost no progress. Maybe I’m just not very sympathetic to a character’s seemingly (and actually) irrational thoughts and behavior, especially when it’s dwelt on for the entire book and never truly resolved. I was also not a fan of Ryan, who breaks out of no “male love interest” boxes and whose story is check-box predictable, right down to his rippling muscles. I think a lot of the book is good and/or has potential, but I think a shorter book with a better sense of resolution would have made it better.
Disclaimer: A Love So True, by Melissa Jagears, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Evelyn Wisely loves working at the local orphanage, but her heart can’t ignore the women of Teaville who are also in need. Her boss is willing to help build a shelter for them, but only if she gains the cooperation and financial support of other local businessmen. While David Kingsman plans to stay in Teaville just long enough to get his father’s business back on solid ground, he’s intrigued by Evelyn’s cause and finds himself more invested with each passing day. Will their plans and partnership fall apart when confronted with all that is stacked against them, or can they trust in God’s plan despite it all?
A Love So True is not as immediately gripping or as deep in message as the book that came before it, A Heart Most Certain, but it has a lot of charm, a decent romance, and some good things to say.
The novel continues with the story line of the first book, with Evelyn helping at an orphanage for children of prostitutes and with Lydia and she still determined to help the prostitutes themselves. While that particular message was told much better in A Heart Most Certain, Jagears still does a good job of communicating how we should help those in need. It’s unfortunate that Heart’s message was much more impactful and prominent whereas Love’s message is much weaker and more obscure (honestly, the only thing I can think of after reading it is “Don’t keep secrets”), because even though Jagears is still a good writer, there’s a noticeable drop in quality, at least in my eyes.
The romance is good, although the ending of it is filled with too much contrivance and clichés for me to really love it. I hate that every author seems to think that they need to have one last angst-filled separation between their love interests before they can finally get together. Love’s in particular was noticeably forced—I don’t mean the reason for Evelyn and David’s separation, which I actually quite liked because Jagears subtly poked fun at what the reader was likely thinking was Evelyn’s big secret, but what came after. David, knowing his father’s ways, still decides to go along with what he says. Evelyn, knowing what David has said about his father, still actually thinks she can trust what he says. It was forced tension, incredibly contrived, and annoying. It ruined the book for me, a little.
A Love So True is not as good as its predecessor, but it’s engaging, has some good things to say (even if it’s hard to pull out an overarching theme or message), and is written well. I wish the ending hadn’t been so forced because it spoiled my enjoyment of the entirety, but if I ignore the stupid things the characters did at the end, the romance was good and the characters themselves were well-developed. At least until they were forced to act in certain ways to generate tension.
Disclaimer: The Maggie Bright, by Tracy Groot, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
England, 1940. Clare Childs knew life would change when she unexpectedly inherited the Maggie Bright—a noble fifty-two-foot yacht. In fact, she’s counting on it. But the boat harbors secrets. When a stranger arrives, searching for documents hidden on board, Clare is pulled into a Scotland Yard investigation that could shed light on Hitler’s darkest schemes and prompt America to action. Across the Channel, Hitler’s Blitzkrieg has the entire British Army in retreat with little hope for rescue at the shallow beaches of Dunkirk. With time running out, Churchill recruits civilian watercraft to help. Hitler is attacking from land, air, and sea, and any boat that goes may not return. Yet Clare knows the Maggie Bright must answer the call—piloted by an American who has refused to join the war effort until now and a detective with a very personal motive for exposing the truth. The fate of the war hinges on this rescue. While two men join the desperate fight, a nation prays for a miracle.
My rating: 3/5
The Maggie Bright tells the story of the historic rescue of the British army at Dunkirk. And, when it gets to that point, it’s exactly as nailbiting and tense as you might expect, with bombs falling, planes strafing, and soldiers eager to escape certain death. If you didn’t know much about Dunkirk before, this book will certainly inform you on some of the important aspects, such as the call for civilian craft and the routes the boats took to avoid mines.
However, while the Dunkirk part of the book is good, the lead-up to it is a little strange. There’s a mysterious package, which really serves as a MacGuffin device to get the characters to act, a shadowy figure who wants it, and a whole lot of convenience. Plus, once Dunkirk occurs, all of that investigation and mystery are swept under the rug and never brought up again.
So, the first half of the book I thought was heavily flawed: odd characters, a plot that shapes together slowly, resolves quickly, and then transforms into something completely different, a romance that springs out of nowhere and is completely unnecessary, and a whole lot of talk about a package and the person after it that ultimately ends up not even mattering. The second half is better, though weighed down by that first half—a tense lead-up to the rescue at Dunkirk, the rescue itself, and then the aftermath. If the novel had just been about that without the extraneous bits at the beginning, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot better.
The Maggie Bright starts out poorly, but ends more strongly, with a pretty riveting telling of the rescue at Dunkirk. I think its flaws outweigh its strengths, unfortunately, but at the very least, it’s got me interested in seeing the movie about Dunkirk that comes out later this year.
Disclaimer: Sandpiper Cove, by Irene Hannon, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Hope Harbor police chief and single mom Lexie Graham has zero time for extracurricular activities—including romance. Ex-con Adam Stone isn’t looking for love either—but how ironic is it that the first woman to catch his eye is a police chief? When Lexie enlists Adam’s help to keep a troubled young man from heading down the wrong path, sparks begin to fly. Could it be that God may have a different—and better—future planned for them than either could imagine?
My rating: 1/5
Sandpiper Cove is the story of a police chief and an ex-con who help out a teenager who gets in trouble for vandalism and who fall in love with each other along the way. If you imagine any contemporary Christian romance novel, that’s what you get here, complete with love at first sight, electric touches, lots of kissing (and even kissing in grandiose ways like in the movies; just imagine Aragorn kissing Arwen after he’s crowned in Minas Tirith. That’s literally what happens here), romantic angst, and, of course, lengthy descriptions about how beautiful/handsome the main characters are.
Full-disclosure here, I’m going to try and get through this review without getting scathing, but I may not be successful because this book was a nightmare to get through.
First of all, let me just say that I almost stopped reading after the second page when Hannon describes a sigh “like C02 whooshing out of a soft drink can.” Uh, what? Just say he sighed and move on!
Second, Sandpiper Cove revealed a convention of romance in general, and of the Christian romance I’ve been reading in particular, that I utterly despise: the beautiful couple. I know there’s beautiful people out there. I know they meet, fall in love, and get married. But that doesn’t mean every romance I read needs to be between a “drop-dead gorgeous” woman with “full lips” and “stunning eyes” and a man who has “rippling muscles,” “sun-kissed skin” and a “chiseled jaw.” Give me someone who wears sweatpants and maybe has some acne and has scraggly hair and spin me a romance out of that, please, because that also happens and is way more relatable.
Also, Lexie and Adam’s romance was cheesy and cliché to the extreme. It was conventional, it was predictable, it was fake angst drawn out over predictable tension, and the sappiest stuff you can think of. Did you think I was joking about the Aragorn/Arwen kiss above? Because I’m not. There’s literally a scene where Adam goes down the aisle during church and kisses Lexie in front of a crowd of people because why not, it’s romantic.
Oh, and the vandalism sideplot? There’s a whole lot of tension because all the evidence is circumstantial and people’s careers might be in danger and stuff, and then all of a sudden, Lexie and Adam are getting married and the entire vandalism plot is swept under the rug. I get that Hannon is trying to say that all the uncertainty and the career misgivings weren’t important and shouldn’t stop people from moving on with their lives, but after all the time spent on it, you’d think there’d be a little closure. Instead, there’s a lot of handwaving and more of the predictable, boring romance.
I could barely get through Sandpiper Cove and almost stopped reading on multiple occasions. I really don’t understand how people like this sort of boring, predictable romance, with a faux-tense plot that’s swept aside the minute the characters get together and is there only as an obvious means of getting them together. This is why I so much prefer historical romance—at least it’s more interesting than this kind of romantic nonsense.
Disclaimer: The One True Love of Alice-Ann, by Eva Marie Everson, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Living in rural Georgia in 1941, sixteen-year-old Alice-Ann has her heart set on her brother’s friend Mack; despite their five-year age gap, Alice-Ann knows she can make Mack see her for the woman she’ll become. But when they receive news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Mack decides to enlist, Alice-Ann realizes she must declare her love before he leaves. Though promising to write, Mack leaves without confirmation that her love is returned. But Alice-Ann is determined to wear the wedding dress her maiden aunt never had a chance to wear—having lost her fiancé long ago. As their correspondence continues over the next three years, Mack and Alice-Ann are drawn closer together. But then Mack’s letters ease altogether, leaving Alice-Ann to fear the worst. Dreading the war will leave her with a beautiful dress and no happily ever after, Alice-Ann fills her days with work and caring for her best friend’s war-torn brother, Carlton. As time passes and their friendship develops in something more, Alice-Ann wonders if she’ll ever be prepared to say good-bye to her one true love and embrace the future God has in store with a newfound love. Or will a sudden call from overseas change everything?
My rating: 4/5
I tend to enjoy World War II-era novels, so I was looking forward to reading The One True Love of Alice-Ann. The author, Eva Marie Everson, is also the same person who wrote Five Brides, which I quite enjoyed. And, happily—this book was great.
Though Alice-Ann’s angst over who she really loves is not quite convincing enough—I knew long before she did whom she didn’t truly love—making a lot of the last third of the book a little tedious to read as she agonizes, I thought the overall message behind that was good and well-expressed. And even though the outcome is, perhaps, a little predictable, the focus is much more on Alice-Ann’s discovery of her feelings and the realizations she makes rather than on a “who is she going to pick?” love-triangle-esque romantic plot.
The biggest negative I had about the book is Alice-Ann is the type of protagonist who doesn’t think she’s beautiful and envies all the beautiful women around her. There are certainly people who think that, but it’s a little hard to read. I suppose it fits Alice-Ann as a sixteen-year-old, though, and her thoughts on this do die down a little as she grows up and realizes what’s most important. At least Everson didn’t play the “she doesn’t know she’s beautiful” card, which would have been irritating.
I really enjoyed The One True Love of Alice-Ann, which is full of charm, has a good romantic plot, and despite its predictability is still an engaging read because of Alice-Ann’s journey as she learns more about love as opposed to infatuation. The message behind the novel, “You can’t choose who you love but you can choose who you marry” is a good one to emphasize and overall was developed very nicely throughout the book. I would read more books by Everson.
Disclaimer: Maybe It’s You, by Candace Calvert, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Nurse Sloane Ferrell escaped her risky past—new name, zip code, job, and a fresh start. She’s finally safe, if she avoids a paper trail and doesn’t let people get too close. Like the hospital’s too-smooth marketing man with his relentless campaign to plaster one “lucky” employee’s face on freeway billboards. Micah Prescott’s goal is to improve the Hope hospital image, but his role as a volunteer crisis responder is closer to his heart. The selfless work helps fill a void in his life left by family tragedy. So does a tentative new relationship with the compassionate, beautiful, and elusive Sloane Ferrell. Then a string of brutal crimes makes headlines, summons responders…and exposes disturbing details of Sloane’s past. Can hope spring from crisis?
My rating: 3/5
Apparently there are two books previous to Maybe It’s You, but they’re not necessary to read beforehand—which is good because I didn’t. I’m assuming, based on what I know about the first two books and what was revealed in this one, that Sloane appears as a minor character in them, but I don’t know for sure. And Calvert does enough in terms of character development that any previous development given isn’t necessary to Sloane’s growth and development in this book.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Maybe It’s You—possibly some cheesy book version of a soap opera, or something written specifically for fans of Grey’s Anatomy or something—but the plot pleasantly surprised me. There was intrigue, criminal behavior, and a much more dark and traumatic backstory than I was expecting. It’s also well-written and compelling, which is good because even though the book as a whole is not something I would usually pick up or read, I found it interesting and wanted to finish it.
However, because the book is not the sort of thing I would usually pick up or read, I can’t really gush about it or anything. Like I said, it was mildly intriguing, well-written, and more interesting than I thought it would be. Sloane had good character development and even Micah gets some backstory to make him more interesting than the usual male romantic interest. The message aspect of it was good and there was a good emphasis on things like letting go of the past, moving on from past hurt, and forgiving others.
But Maybe It’s You is pretty forgettable, at least for me. There’s nothing in it to make me want to spread the word about it, although perhaps it might lead me to keep an eye on the author if Calvert ever writes anything except medical dramas. It was good, but not great. It was interesting, but not that sort of mesmerizing interest that makes you put the book down and go “Oh, that was good. I want to think about this a lot.” I suppose the highest praise I have for the book is that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be and it’s better than I gave it credit for.
Warnings: Sexual abuse, prostitution, alcohol abuse, violence, death.
Disclaimer: The Sisters of Sugarcreek, by Cathy Liggett, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Lydia Gruber, a young Amish widow, faces an uncertain future. Without support or skills, how will she survive? With the loss of her beloved aunt, Jessica Holtz inherits Rose’s Knit One Quilt Too Cottage. Though determined to keep the sop open, she doesn’t know the first thing about knitting and quilting and begins to see her aunt’s dream slip through her fingers. Liz Cannon lost not only her dear friend Rose but her partner in the Secret Stitches Society—dedicated to delivering anonymous gifts of hope to troubled folks. She and Jessica decided to keep the society going, choosing Lydia for their first mission. The three women form an unlikely friendship in the aftermath of tragedy. As they walk together though triumph and heartbreak—through grief and new chances at love—they begin to discover that with friends by your side, a stitch of hope can be found anywhere.
My rating: 2/5
The Sisters of Sugarcreek is good in places, with interesting characters, realistic conflicts, and slightly-too-heavy-handed messages poking their heads out from plodding scenes, predictable romance, and a particularly annoying writing style. It dwells too long on angst and romance and not long enough on the deeper parts of the novel, such as Lydia’s uncertainty. To be honest, if Lydia had been the only main character, and thus the only viewpoint character, in the book, I might have enjoyed it a lot better.
Lydia’s story was, to me, the most interesting, but it often was set aside for Jessica’s boring and predictable romantic angst—I am heartily sick of the “best friend from high school was The One but she hasn’t seen him in years and now he’s back and she doesn’t know what to do because she still likes him but she doesn’t want to tell him so they dance around the subject forever while she keeps thinking about how perfect he is” trope—and Liz’s less interesting side plot. Also, I definitely think the secret behind Lydia’s husband was dealt with too quickly and brushed aside almost immediately. Or perhaps, since Lydia was my favorite, I just wanted more time spent with her and less time with the more unoriginal characters of Jessica and Liz and their plots.
Also, I don’t know why any editor would let an author get away with this, but seriously, Cathy Liggett—dependent clauses are called “dependent” for a reason. Sisters of Sugarcreek was littered with sentence fragments used for description purposes and/or emphasis, but all it accomplished was break up the writing and make it choppy and disjointed. All it emphasized was that Liggett needs a copy of The Elements of Style, or maybe stop relaying on the breaking up of sentences to do her emphasizing for her.
Overall, The Sisters of Sugarcreek is good only for Lydia’s sadly underdeveloped storyline, which communicates so much about uncertainty and growing out of that into confidence. However, Jessica and Liz cut into Lydia’s story with generic, predictable plots of their own, with love interests too perfect for me to take seriously (especially Derek; Daniel at least wobbles at the end for a decent “not perfect” finish) and slightly melodramatic conversations and problems. Add to that the author’s propensity for using fragments for descriptive purposes, and for most of the book I was looking forward for it to be over.
Disclaimer: The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. Carr, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Their victory over the dark forces during the feast of Bas-solas should have guaranteed safety for the continent. Instead, Willet and the rest of the Vigil discover they’ve been outsmarted by those seeking to unleash the evil that inhabits the Darkwater. One of the Vigil has gone missing, and new attacks have struck at the six kingdoms’ ability to defend themselves. Worse, a deadly new threat has emerged—assassins hunting the Vigil, men and women who cannot be seen until it’s too late. To thwart the perilous new risk, the church makes the drastic decision to safeguard the Vigil by taking the surviving members into protective custody. But there are secrets only the vigil can unearth, and so Pellin makes the heat-wrenching choice to oppose the church in a race to turn back the evil that threatens an entire continent.
While I remembered very little from The Shock of Night, I only found The Shattered Vigil hard to understand at the beginning. Then, Carr gave enough reminders and my memory of the first book came back just enough that I was able to cross that initial divide of “Oh my goodness I don’t really remember anything that happened; who are these people again?” and go back to familiar territory.
The Shattered Vigil is an improvement over the first book, in my opinion. I found the plot more interesting, the confusing parts less prominent, and the pace quicker. And although it was a little jarring to keep switching from 1st to 3rd person, I also liked the character switches as well, especially those involving Toria Deel and Bronwyn. Carr has definitely seemed to settle into his stride here, getting the shaky and weak bits over with the first book. Perhaps some of my praise here comes from the pure refreshment of a decently written fantasy as opposed to the normal historical romance that I receive from Bethany House, but I’m also not a frequent reader of adult fantasy so I don’t know enough to compare.
I also really enjoyed both of the ending twists—the one I guessed right as it was unveiling itself before my eyes and the other was a pretty delightful way to end the book, even if it did make it a cliffhanger. But Carr manages to wrap up enough of the loose ends of the plot that the book doesn’t feel as if it stopped in the middle of the act. It’s not a stand-alone, but it’s more of a stand-alone than a book that only shows the first part of a two-part plot.
The Shattered Vigil, to me, was better than The Shock of Night, and I really enjoyed it reading it. It did have its dull moments, and there were times when I was a little confused, but those moments were few and far between to the overall interest and appeal of the book. I’m quite looking forward to the next book, especially after the ending of this one.
Disclaimer: Larger-Than-Life Lara, by Dandi Daley Mackall, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
‘This isn’t about me. The story, I mean. So already you got a reason to hang it up. At least htat’s what Mrs. Smith, my teachers, says.’ But the story is about ten-year-old Laney Grafton and the new girl in her class—Lara Phelps—whom everyone bullies from the minute she shows up. But instead of acting the way a bullied kid normally acts, this new girl returns kindness for a meanness that intensifies—until nobody remains unchanged, not even the reader.
My rating: 4/5
Dandi Daley Mackall wrote some of my favorite book series growing up: Winnie the Horse Gentler and Horsefeathers, back in the day when stories about horses composed 80% of my reading. Seeing another book of hers pop up on the Tyndale Blog Network intrigued me, even if this book is technically a republication (Larger-Than-Life Lara was originally published 10 years ago, in 2006).
Larger-Than-Life Lara is a short, but wholesome, book. Laney is a wonderful protagonist, and the hints at her home life never reveal too much or hide too little. Her voice is funny and the crafting of the story is smart—as a teacher, I found myself reading and thinking, “This is a perfect book to read to help explain story elements.”
It’s also a perfect book to discuss with a younger audience. Lara’s actions, Laney’s feelings, and the entire attitudes and behaviors of the class, are rich for discussion. The story is poignant, sweet, and heartbreaking in turns, and it’s just as much about Laney as it is about Lara and her effect on the fourth-grade class.
My favorite aspect of the book, though, is that Larger-Than-Life Lara communicates so much of the Christian message without even mentioning God once. Lara’s actions are beautifully Christ-like, with her capacity to forgive, her willingness to take fault when she herself did nothing, and the transforming effect her actions have on her classmates. There’s so much there for young readers to think and talk about. Larger-Than-Life Lara was a joy to read, and it’s nice to see that even if the works I read by Mackall as a child have worn old over the years, there are still some of her works that delight me.
Warnings: Alcohol abuse, hints at a bad home life, bullying.
Disclaimer: Another Day, Another Dali, by Sandra Orchard, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
When FBI Special Agent Serena Jones takes on the case of a forged Dali painting as a favor to her grandmother, she assumes it will be a typical investigation. Hopefully collaring the thief will also mean finally measuring up in her grandmother’s eyes. But the deeper she delves into the forgery and the suspects surrounding it, the less typical it becomes. The Dali isn’t the only painting that’s fallen prey to the forgery-replacing thief, raising the possibility of a sophisticated theft ring—one with links to dirty cops, an spring young artist, and the unsolved murder of Serena’s grandfather. To make matters worse, someone connected to the forgeries seems to be determined to stop Serena’s investigation—no matter the cost.
I think overall I had a better time with Another Day, Another Dali than with the previous book, A Fool & His Monet.Serena was more competent in this book, although at times she did have some really stupid moments (that she was later yelled at for doing, so at least it was acknowledged that it was stupid). The plot was complicated enough that the mystery didn’t feel swept aside for the humor, although it was a little too complicated at times—occasionally I would forget who was who and what they did and how they connected to each other.
The humor was all right, for the most part, but at times it felt distinctly out of place. Orchard still has some work to do to get the balance of suspense and humor just right, without making her protagonist seem ill-suited for her job in the process.
There were a few areas, too, where things fell a little flat—there were a few lines of poorly written dialogue and I was continuously confused about how Aunt Martha could do half the things she did, and why she kept showing up at all. But, overall, I did enjoy Another Day, Another Dali, and Serena is growing on me, even if at times she’s a little stupid and a little too “comic relief character.”