Monday, April 9, 2018

Firefly Cove by Davis Bunn

Firefly Cove by Davis Bunn

I read the first book in the Miramar Bay series last summer and enjoyed it, so I was glad to read book two for review. 

Let’s begin with the summary:

I have this, Lucius thought to himself. I have today.

Since the age of seven, Lucius Quarterfield has known he is dying. Doctors told him he had a “bad ticker” and might not live to see his next birthday. But somehow, the frail yet determined boy managed to hang on and surprise everyone. The bullies who teased him. The family who neglected him. The professionals who offered little hope for a normal life. To their surprise, Lucius not only survived to adulthood, he thrived, turning a small car dealership into a successful chain. But now, at twenty-eight, his time is finally running out. So he’s returning to the one place he ever felt happy, near the only woman he ever truly wanted—the California seaside town of Miramar Bay…
Was it so much to ask, a healthy tomorrow shared with a woman he loved?

Jessica was the only daughter of the only dentist in town. An ardent reader and fan of Jane Austen, she was able to follow in her father’s footsteps, as he desired. But Jessica preferred the simple things in life—a trait that captivated Lucius from the moment he arrived in town on business. Her carefree approach to living and playful, quick wit were a breath of fresh air to a man who devoted all his time to work. They were complete opposites and perfect complements. Soon they were falling head over heels—until Lucius pulled away, to spare her the pain of his inevitable fate. Now, after all this time, he won’t put her through that again. His days are numbered. And whatever happens—with Jessica or anyone sharing his journey—he’s going to make each moment count. Because he knows that everything is about to change . . . he just can’t know exactly how. 

And now, my review:

The setting and a few of the characters overlap from book one to two, but this story stood alone, for the most part. Readers won’t be lost if they do not read Miramar Bay first.

Much of the book’s opening (to about 7%) is backstory, which is rather unengaging as it’s mostly telling. Beyond that, the storytelling and prose are strong throughout. Unfortunately deep POV lacked in some areas, with several cliffhangers where readers expect to see reactions and/or deeper emotional explorations. Those cliffhangers reminded me of a screenplay where the advice to writers is to get in late and get out early, regarding scenes. Readers expect a bit more depth and emotional payout in novels, and I felt these end-of-chapter cliffhangers preempted that because readers are kept at a distance. There were also a couple of POV missteps here and there where the POVC somehow knew a different character’s experience. 

Lucius is a broken man, and it’s easy to sympathize with him and root for him the whole story. The summary above gives more insight into Jessica’s characterization than I recall in the book, but I appreciated her tenacity and willingness to love unconditionally.

The fantasy/sci-fi aspect surprised me and left me wondering what the author was trying to say. But a second chance? That’s a great hook, especially when that possibility is impossible. There’s a taste of hope in tragedy. 

I liked the psychological aspect. And I appreciated the level of research. Though I noticed in Miramar Bay that this author tends to present elements out of order, those instances were still jarring here. (Telling us how someone sounds before they speak or summarizing a scene before he shows us the characters acting out the scene on the page.) 

Whenever the story drifted from the central hook (which was Jessica and Lucius and their transcendent love for each other), the story lagged. I skimmed a bit until we returned to this thread.

Overall, I found this novel’s approach to a second chance interesting, if a bit confusing in terms of biblical doctrine. But no one promised us a biblical tale. 

Readers who are looking for a clean love story that is outside the box will appreciate this novel.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Man He Never Was by James L. Rubart

The Man He Never Was by James L. Rubart

I'm always curious whenever Jim releases a new book.

Let's begin with the summary of his latest, which released today:
Toren Daniels vanished eight months back, and his wife and kids have moved on—with more than a little relief. Toren was a good man but carried a raging temper that often exploded without warning. So when he shows up on their doorstep out of the blue, they’re shocked to see him alive. But more shocked to see he’s changed. Radically.

His anger is gone. He’s oddly patient. Kind. Fun. The man he always wanted to be. Toren has no clue where he’s been but knows he’s been utterly transformed. He focuses on three things: Finding out where he’s been. Finding out how it happened. And winning back his family.

But then shards of his old self start to rise from deep inside—like the man kicked out of the NFL for his fury—and Toren must face the supreme battle of his life.

And now, my review:

Jim's uses a bit of the sci-fi genre as a backdrop for exploring our spiritual lives. I spent a lot of the book asking, what is Jim trying to say?

The setup that the MC disappeared makes for a great story opening where he reappears in the lives of his loved ones. The emotions are palpable, though at times confusing as we try to make sense of the story world.

Once again, the author makes readers think, or perhaps rethink is the better wording. He explores dying to one's self and what that truly means. There are a few villains in this story, and they are formidable. I could relate with the hero's battles, and I believe readers will see themselves in the story to some degree. And the resolution will leave readers pondering. The final message is strong and clarifying.

The opening confused me. He's free, but he continues to battle his demons. The many questions I had at the beginning kept me reading, and the book read fast.

The main character regrets bullying his family. He himself was bullied as a child. The cycle continues. I think readers will find this believable and possibly relatable. I liked Quinn. He was a good ally. And the portrayal of his friendship with the MC was well-written.

Overall, I recommend this novel. It's "outside the box" as are Jim's other novels. And it'll get you thinking.

Note: There are several instances of "man" language in this novel, grouping both genders into male nouns, which isn't preferred.
I'm looking forward to book two and hoping since it's about a woman we'll see that less. I also noticed a lot of references to "black" as evil. I think we have to be careful of using black to equal evil. There's a subtle underlying message we should avoid, just like with the "man/men" language I mentioned above.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano

Let’s begin with the summary:

Denver chef Rachel Bishop has accomplished everything she’s dreamed and some things she never dared hope, like winning a James Beard Award and heading up her own fine-dining restaurant. But when a targeted smear campaign causes her to be pushed out of the business by her partners, she vows to do whatever it takes to get her life back . . . even if that means joining forces with the man who inadvertently set the disaster in motion.

Essayist Alex Kanin never imagined his pointed editorial would go viral. Ironically, his attempt to highlight the pitfalls of online criticism has the opposite effect: it revives his own flagging career by destroying that of a perfect stranger. Plagued by guilt-fueled writer’s block, Alex vows to do whatever he can to repair the damage. He just doesn’t expect his interest in the beautiful chef to turn personal.

Alex agrees to help rebuild Rachel’s tarnished image by offering his connections and his home to host an exclusive pop-up dinner party targeted to Denver’s most influential citizens: the Saturday Night Supper Club. As they work together to make the project a success, Rachel begins to realize Alex is not the unfeeling opportunist she once thought he was, and that perhaps there’s life—and love—outside the pressure-cooker of her chosen career. But can she give up her lifelong goals without losing her identity as well?

And now, my review:

We are immersed in the restaurateur/foodie world while we read this novel. Lots of jargon I’d never heard, but it was obvious the author knew her story world and her heroine’s field. That said, sometimes the narrative was difficult to follow because of the exclusive language.

The main character was hard to like. (Can’t call her a heroine since she wasn’t heroic toward others often enough, especially from the beginning.) She didn’t act noble until we were well into the story, so I found myself reluctant to root for her. I did like how she went after her dreams and worked very, very hard. That’s true to life and respectable.

The main male character’s climbing world was well-researched too. I liked him sooner because he seemed more noble. Though he’d have to swallow his pride, he was determined to obey what he felt God directed. This element kept me reading, especially when I found secular components later.

Some aspects of this story were so vivid, so representative of our times—the essayist with strong opinions, the snowball effect of social media, the power of the same to upend a person’s current life. The precariousness of stability in the social media age.

Though I often found strong prose, at times I felt the author focused scenes on lesser elements, which made my interest lag. Part of my disinterest was due to the cold protagonist.

I did like the obvious feminist leaning of the protagonist’s worldview. She works in a male-dominated field, yet she is competent, successful, visionary. She doesn’t bash men, which makes her heroic, even though she took flack for that stance. The fact that her love interest believes in equality as well only makes him more noble and likable.

There were some elements that made me double-check the publisher’s name: the reference to certain male body parts, one-night stands, and the mention of of main characters participating in eastern religion practices, etc.

The chemistry and banter between the romantic pair was lots of fun!

I would have liked to see the male character explore psychology in more areas of his life, like his parents’ decisions, for example. That choice may have been a missed opportunity, or it may have been intentional, given word count restrictions.

One more tip for readers—don’t read this book while dieting, hungry, or fasting. 😉

The romance really worked here. The secular elements were jarring. The heroine sometimes struck me as juvenile and unlikable, and I would have liked to see a stronger character arc for her. Well-developed story world and immersion into the foodie scene made the book stand out.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren

Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren

I love these characters! In this story, (Montana Rescue series, book four), we get to see the PEAK team travel, putting their resources to use away from the usual Montana setting. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Billionaire Ian Shaw can have everything he wants—except a happy ending. Or at least that's what it feels like with his fortune recently liquidated, his niece, Esme, still missing, and the woman he loves refusing to speak to him. In fact, he doubts she would date him even if they were stranded on a deserted island.

Despite her love for Ian, Sierra Rose knows he has no room in his life for her as long as the mystery of his missing niece goes unsolved. The only problem is, Sierra has solved it, but a promise to Esme to keep her whereabouts secret has made it impossible to be around Ian.

When the PEAK chopper is damaged, and Sierra lacks the funds to repair it, Ian offers a fundraising junket for large donors on his yacht in the Caribbean. But the three-day excursion turns into a nightmare when a rogue wave cripples the yacht and sends the passengers overboard. Shaken up and soaked to the bone, Ian finally has a chance to test his theory when he and Sierra do indeed find themselves washed up on a strange, empty shore.

It will take guts and gumption for the PEAK team to rescue the duo. But it will take a miracle to rescue Ian and Sierra's relationship.

And now, my review:

From this series's prequel (which is a Kindle FREEBIE), entitled If Ever I Would Leave You, I’ve been hoping we would get back to Ian and Sierra's story. This book takes us there. Please, if you haven't yet, read this free prequel. Then, you'll have the background for Troubled Waters, and really, for the rest of the series.

We also get to follow Jess and Pete’s story, which is another reason I love this series—the threads of secondary characters keep us hooked. It’s also a good reason to read these novels in order, which I highly recommend doing. Here’s the list:

Montana Rescue series, titles and release dates:

Prequel: If Ever I Would Leave You (9/15/16)
Book One: Wild Montana Skies (10/18/16)
Book Two: Rescue Me (1/31/17)
Book Three: A Matter of Trust (7/2017)
Book Four: Troubled Waters (1/2/18)

[Note: These links are for the Kindle versions. You’ll find my reviews of these books on this blog (Net’s Book Notes).]

Now, back to my thoughts. 
There are so many good things to like about this book! I loved the dynamic between brothers Pete and Sam. I loved the characterization, overall, but especially Susie’s male POVs. (points of view) At difficult points, we see their brokenness, in believable ways. So well done. Though the novel’s level of peril got to me a little bit (because there is a lot of it here), I enjoyed the ride. And oh, the romance! Every couple we focused on had their own romance going, which was so much fun.

Ian is a once-wealthy man who has trusted in his wealth and his own ability to control life, he thinks, to get him through. That’s why the loss of his niece eats him up, I think. (see the prequel) He tried his best to control her future, and his efforts didn’t work. Readers may relate with trying to control their lives out of a sense of fear. Ian has skid marks from past relationships, feeling abandoned, and he’s got a fatal flaw (this control issue) that needs to go. But his persistence and drive make him respectable, and I rooted for his success. He’s also broken, especially as his journey gets rough, and I felt for him.

Sierra sees herself as second rate. She’s interpreted her life’s events as evidence for that belief. She’s stronger than she thinks and her adventures in this story, including her romance with Ian, will unravel her lie. I loved rooting for her and watching her bravely take on the challenges in her path.

I loved that Susie included herself in this story, incognito! (Read the book to find her.) And I loved the escape of sailing and revisiting summer weather this January while I read. Jesus is present in this story in a way I don’t recall in Susie’s earlier books, and I loved that!

One of the novel’s themes was how life is not easy. Trusting God is hard and even when you do, bad things happen. But how we respond to those times is what counts. That’s a relatable theme. Susie encourages readers to choose faith, another theme.

Troubles hit these characters over and over on their way to the book’s conclusion. I held my breath and cheered and cried. Every emotion. I laughed aloud a few times and delighted in this journey.

Looking back at my highlighted in the Kindle ARC version, I think I’m going to want to read this one again. So much to enjoy!  

I loved this novel and highly recommend it.