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.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Wedding Shop by Rachel Hauck

The Wedding Shop by Rachel Hauck

I really enjoy reading Rachel’s books. She has her own distinctive voice in Christian fiction. I love how she includes the supernatural and how she tells a story. 

Let’s begin with the summary:

From New York Times bestselling author of The Wedding Dress comes The Wedding Shop.

Two women separated by decades. Both set out to help others find their dreams when their own have crumbled.

It's the early 1930s, but Cora Scott is a career woman who inherited her great aunt's wedding shop in Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, where brides come from as far away as Birmingham to experience her famed bridal treatment. Meanwhile, Cora is counting down the days until her own true love returns from the river to make her his bride. But days turn into months and months to years. All the while, Birch Good continues to woo Cora and try to show her that while he is solid and dependable, he can sweep her off her feet.

More than eighty years later, former Air Force Captain Haley Morgan has returned home to Heart's Bend after finishing her commitment to military service. After the devastating death of her best friend, Tammy, and discovering the truth about the man she loved, Haley is searching for her place in life. 

When Haley decides to reopen the romantic but abandoned wedding shop where she and Tammy played and dreamed as children, she begins a journey of courage, mystery, and love.

As Cora’s and Haley's stories intertwine through time in the shadow of the beloved wedding shop, they both discover the power of their own dreams and the magic of everyday love. 

And now, my review:

I love how Rachel includes names of friends. The Saglimbeni brothers are in this one! (They serve on her worship team.) Those finds are fun for readers who know her. She also mentions a song by Laura Hackett Park, a fellow worship leader in the International House of Prayer movement. That was fun to see. I enjoy Laura's worship music.

I liked that we follow both Cora’s and Haley’s stories in this novel. Both have a romance brewing in their own time setting. I liked how the modern-day hero echoed the historical one. As always, Rachel’s prose is strong and so is her pacing.

One of the themes is faith—how to chase it down and rekindle it. Another theme is forgiveness and how we humans have a hard time accepting forgiveness, or love, when we feel ashamed or unlovable. 

I liked the references to the earlier books in this series, The Wedding Dress and The Wedding Chapel. I recommend reading them first so you’ll catch the references here. It’s not necessary that you read them ahead, but it would help. 

I loved how she threw in the spiritual side, even had a character pray in the Spirit. Loved that. And her sense of humor! I laughed aloud a couple of times.

This is another great novel from Rachel. High recommended!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Do You Know What I Know by Becky Melby

Do You Know What I Know by Becky Melby

I enjoy Becky’s books, so I was excited to pick this one up over the holidays for $0.99 on Kindle.

Let’s begin with the summary:

When a phone call from the obstetrician’s office goes to the wrong person . . . Elizabeth Schmidt can’t figure out why her husband doesn’t seem excited about the news she’s sure he heard. Is he unhappy? Or is James cheating on her? Pastor Jay Davidson is in shock. Bethany Schmidt, the woman he’s in love with, is pregnant. Should he walk away, or is God asking him to play the part of Joseph in real life and not just in the church Christmas program? Bethany can’t figure out why Jay is acting so weird. Has he figured out one of the two secrets she’s keeping until after Christmas? Can a ponytailed itinerant carpenter with a pet chicken help unravel the confusion?

And now, my review:

What a fun novella! Becky spins strong romantic full of romance.

I had a little trouble with this one. First, I was confused in the opening “screens” because of the various characters. I had to reread to solve the confusion. Second, though there were plenty of modern references (like a cell phone streaming current Christmas music from one’s pocket during their holiday prep) the premise of this book was a misunderstanding based on an outdated way of notifying a family of a pregnancy. The miscommunication was based on a phone call from an OB’s office. The caller was vague and would probably have broken HIPAA laws.The author addressed this but I didn't feel like it was dealt with believably.

The fact that the characters could have cleared up the misunderstanding in a conversation was a bit annoying. I read the author letter, and she said that she usually doesn’t build stories on misunderstandings that could be cleared up in one conversation, but this time that was at the center of the story. Made things a little frustrating as I waited to see the story get worked out.

But, I was hooked and read straight through to the end. So, that’s a win for any author. (grin)

Overall, this is a fun Christmas read.