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.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen

Book One in the Series: Tales from Ivy Hill

I’ve enjoyed Julie’s books in the past, so I was excited to see this first book of a new series release. 

Let’s begin with the summary:

Welcome to the English village of Ivy Hill, where friendships thrive, romance blossoms, and mysteries await. . .

The lifeblood of the village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. When the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant landlady. Jane has no idea how to manage a business, but with the town's livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must quickly find a way to save the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to overcome her losses and find purpose for the future. As she works with Jane, two men from her past vie for her attention, but Thora has promised herself never to marry again. Will one of them convince her to embrace a second chance at love?

As pressure mounts from the bank, Jane employs new methods, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place, including a mysterious newcomer with secret plans of his own. With the help of friends old and new, can Jane restore life to the inn, and to her empty heart as well?

And now, my review:

I really wanted to love this book.

As I mentioned, I’ve enjoyed Julie’s earlier books. Unfortunately, this one seemed to drag. There were multiple characters, though the author wisely introduced them slowly over many pages. The story lacked a romantic thread (to the point where I read), which would have helped keep me engaged. (This lack was especially disappointing since the book’s summary included a mention of romance.)

One of the themes in the story was that sometimes we can limit other people by labeling them and then never expecting change. People grow and change. We can’t assume: 1) they won’t change or 2) they haven’t changed since we last interacted with them. I liked this theme. We also got to watch the characters begin to evolve (by the point I read), which was the perfect way to prove this theme.

There were a lot of historical facts and terms that were interesting as I read.

But overall, this book has very slow pacing. The MC (main character) (not really a heroine, as she didn’t act heroic from the opening pages) was passive and self-absorbed and so deep in grief she wasn’t an active character. She doesn’t receive the call to action (part of the “hero’s journey”) until about a third of the way into the story and then, when she finally accepts, I’d lost interest. I found I couldn’t sympathize with her or care to keep reading to see how things turned out for her. It was also difficult to picture her. There were a lot of unanswered questions (the “mystery” aspect mentioned in the summary), but since I didn’t care about the characters I didn't keep reading.

It was obvious the author had developed a layered make-believe world and peopled it with varied characters, but while reading the novel I felt I’d missed an earlier book in this first of the new series because of all the characters and unknowns. I felt the book could've begun with the final days of the late husband's life so we cared about the main characters, and then skipped a lot of the preamble to the Call, shaving off about one-quarter of the words for length. Then, we would have sympathized with the MC and understood her plight, especially if she had her own goals in life, her own dreams she was already chasing. This would have meant conflict/tension between what she'd rather do (some other noble cause) and what she was called to do after his death. As it is, we don't have deep enough emotional motivations for her choices, so we don't feel their impact, or relate with the MC.

I made it to about 29 - 30 percent (location 2148 out of an unusually lengthy 7342 for length) before I gave up in favor of the next book on my TBR pile. (I read the e-book version. The book has 448 pages.)

I wish the author the best, and I’m sure I’ll pick up another of her books in the future, hoping for the same strength of writing/pacing/characterization I’ve found in her previous books.