Monday, March 27, 2017

Newton and Polly by Jody Hedlund

Newton and Polly by Jody Hedlund
Due to everything I heard about this one, I was excited to read it.

Let’s begin with the summary:

In the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father—until the night he hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.

An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?

Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.

And now, my review:

John Newton wrote the infamous hymn “Amazing Grace.” Even folks who may not attend church have likely heard this song. So I was interested in reading this fictionalized account of his life. I had heard there was some violence in his life on board a ship at some point, but I wasn’t prepared for all the violence in this novel. I had to skim. In that way, the story kept pushing me out and I also didn’t quite believe there would be that much violence in his life. Was this normal? Was he just that incorrigible? That much of a target? Is this normal for a novel around this time period? I didn’t see other characters being beaten, only the hero of the story.

When we’re in his POV, we can see he doesn’t always make responsible decisions. But he doesn’t come across as unlikable. You just worry for him, as the reader. That builds tension, which keeps you reading. This is good. But all the beatings kept me from reading the entire book, especially when things took a turn for the worse (see summary above).

I enjoyed his interactions with Polly. Though she was naïve, I felt readers could sympathize with her.

If you enjoy adventures and don’t mind reading about several beatings, you may enjoy this story. There was a lot of potential here, unfortunately, the story just wasn’t for me.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Promise of Rayne by Nicole Deese

The Promise of Rayne by Nicole Deese

I really enjoyed A Season to Love by Nicole, so I was thrilled when I won a contest and received this book. 

Let’s begin with the summary:

Rayne Shelby has spent her entire life trying to earn the approval of her high-powered family, with the hope of one day managing her late grandfather’s prestigious Idaho lodge. But when she makes a mistake that puts her future in jeopardy, she faces an impossible choice: defy her family or deny her dream. The only way to fix the mess she’s created is to enlist the help of her neighbor, Levi, the apprentice of her family’s greatest enemy. And if Rayne gets caught crossing the divided property lines, the consequences will be irreparable.

Levi Harding has never forgotten the August night he shared with Rayne when they were teens—or the way she later rejected him. Despite his warring instincts, he can’t ignore her plea for help or the spark that’s ignited between them. But now, as wildfires bear down on their town and family secrets are revealed, their newfound alliance might just go up in smoke.

And now, my review:

I had a hard time getting into this book. Certain key elements seemed to be missing at the story’s outset, which made me feel like I’d missed a Part One somewhere. I even re-read the beginning, and though that helped, the story didn’t hook me. The other (related?) issue was that the narrative focused more on the stakes at the beginning, reiterating them more than once, and not enough on the heroine’s [the point-of-view character (POVC) at the beginning of the story] heart or emotional history/experience. This distance kept me from sympathizing with her. I could see what she could lose if things fell apart, but I didn’t have enough of a bond with her to feel much of her angst about those threats. I couldn’t believe in her dream with her; I never caught the vision.

The heroine came across as weak, which is fine at the beginning of her character arc, but unfortunately this felt contrived. Because of this, I became more frustrated than sympathetic with her.

I couldn’t see where the title fit in, though to be fair, I gave up on this book at the 50 percent mark. There wasn’t enough of a through thread, a reason for her to keep being pushed to the bottom rung without overcoming, to keep me reading. I wanted to see her grow and have some victories. She came across as rather young and made immature choices (like sneaking around—see the book’s summary above) rather than acting like an adult, and to the point I read I didn’t see her growing in this regard.

One of the themes in this story is going after your dreams and persevering. That's a relatable and desirable theme. I liked the romantic elements. The author has a way with writing those. She also includes some strong, original description in the narrative. I connected more with the hero in this story. Perhaps if the heroine had had a mentor figure (An ally in her own family. Her grandmother, perhaps?) we could have seen a different, competent side to the heroine that would have helped me believe in her. Or watch her make tough choices and have victory. She does show strength by persevering, which helped me respect her. But then she made immature choices, which made her less heroic.

I’ll be watching for the next novel from this author because I loved her first book with Waterfall Press. Unfortunately, this one wasn’t for me. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Rescue Me by Susan May Warren

This is the Book Two in Susan May Warren’s Montana Rescue series. (Third book because of the prequel novella: Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful.) I recommend reading the earlier books first.

Here’s the summary:

When Deputy Sam Brooks commits to something, nothing can sway him—not just on the job as liaison between the Mercy Falls sheriff’s department and PEAK Rescue, but in his private life. He’s the one who stuck around to take care of his mother after his father’s accidental death. And he’s the one—perhaps the only one—who believes Sierra Rose is the perfect girl for him. Safe, practical, and organized, she’s nothing like her hippie, impulsive, bleeding heart sister, Willow.

Willow, however, has been in love with Sam Brooks for as long as she can remember. But she wants her sister to have a happy ending. Besides, Willow has other things to focus on—namely, nabbing the job as youth pastor for her small-town church. Best thing for her to do is to purge Sam from her heart.

Neither can predict the events that will bring them together in a fight for their lives in the forbidding wilderness of Glacier National Park. Stranded, injured, and with the winter weather closing in, Sam and Willow will have to work together to save a crew of terrified teenagers. As they fight to survive, they might just discover a new hope for love.

And now, my review:

Lots of adventure in this one. Bears. Ice. Storms. Wilderness survival. I was hooked and invested. Susie’s storytelling style kept me returning because even after putting the book down, I could dive right back in. The story reads fast because of all the action.

The story follows two different couples as we watch two romances develop. The relationship between Sam and Willow, and a relationship between Pete and Jess. I liked this because both stories were engaging and offered more mirrors for the book’s overall theme.  
Some of the novel’s themes included: forgiveness, family relationships, trust, and definitely the theme of rescue, as the book’s title implies. Everyone needs rescue, even though to admit it means swallowing one’s pride. The author includes the salvation message in this story of hope. Her female characters are strong and capable, though we do have the heroic and romantic aspect of the heroes rushing in to protect them as the need arises.

Here is another enjoyable book by one of the strongest Christian fiction voices of our time. Loved it!

Highly recommended.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz

A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz

I’ve enjoyed Laura’s novels in the past, so I was grateful for the opportunity to read her latest.

Let’s begin with the summary:

After fleeing Virginia, Temperance Tucker and her family established an inn along the Shawnee River. It's a welcome way station for settlers and frontiersmen traveling through the wild Cumberland region of Kentucke—men like Sion Morgan, a Virginia surveyor who arrives at the inn with his crew looking for an experienced guide. When his guide appears, Sion balks. He certainly didn't expect a woman. But it is not long before he must admit that Tempe's skill in the wilderness rivals his own. Still, the tenuous tie they are forming is put to the test as they encounter danger after danger and must rely on each other.

With her signature sweeping style and ability to bring the distant past to vivid life, Laura Frantz beckons readers to join her in a land of Indian ambushes, conflicting loyalties, and a tentative love that meanders like a cool mountain stream.

And now, my review:

This book seemed to fall into a category by itself. The language, the vocabulary. The heroine’s thoughts are difficult to understand at times. I highlighted several words as I read in hopes my Kindle’s dictionary could help me out. Some terms were simply archaic, which shows strong research on Laura's part. Some weren't even in listed in the dictionary, which led to confusion as I read.

The author keeps many, many secrets. So many that I was lost a few times as I read. The why-not in regards to the romantic relationship was formidable enough that the romance didn’t take shape for me. There were POV missteps in the version I read, which made the reading even more confusing. (Example: though we were in the heroine’s POV, her mother was referred to by her first name in the narrative. That made me feel even more lost as I tried to track the characters.)

The heroine’s call falls far into the story, and by then I’d lost interest off and on. I did keep reading, but I wasn’t drawn in and highly motivated (hooked). The surveyors track in circles, which made the story seem less believable or motivating. Why wouldn’t they progress forward? Why keep circling back again and again for much of the first third of the book? That element felt contrived, rather than believable, in order to bring the hero and heroine together over and over. 

Perhaps introducing the call much earlier would have solved a few issues here—like keeping me hooked, making the story line seem less contrived, allowing the romance to grow as the hero and heroine would have been forced into the same vicinity earlier.

Also, in the hero’s POV, we have deep POV, but we don’t have a clear mission for much of the first third of the story, even to the half. That kept me from rooting for him. He’s too much a mystery, as is his purpose. Because of this, along with the odd POV of the heroine, I found I didn’t care for either of the main characters as much as I’d like to when I’m reading fiction. I couldn’t understand the heroine, both superficially and in a deeper way.

Unfortunately, this story didn’t work for me. But I will be watching for her next novel as I’ve appreciated her work in the past. I wish her and her publisher the best.