Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Grace Unplugged by Melody Carlson

Grace Unplugged
Have you seen the movie? I haven’t, but I wanted to check out the book. I enjoy reading about musicians.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Grace Trey is an eighteen-year-old singer as passionate about her Christian faith as she is her phenomenal, God-given musical talent. Both traits come from her father, one-hit wonder Johnny Tray who found Jesus after losing his chart success two decades ago.

When Grace encounters her own music break of a lifetime, the sudden dive into the "real world" puts her deeper beliefs to the test. Pop superstardom is just within reach but appears to require some spiritual compromise. Will Grace reject her faith, or will she own it?

And now, my review:

Knowing my interest in music and songwriting, my friends who’d seen this movie, recommended I check it out. So, I started with the book. I wasn’t surprised to learn Melody Carlson had written the novelization. She’s the perfect choice, given her YA-writing expertise.

I was curious about the inspirational aspect of this story, and I wondered about the main character. It’s been a while since I’ve ready anything YA (young adult). Unfortunately, Grace, the main character, struck me as incredibly selfish, self-absorbed, and hard to like or respect. I couldn’t sympathize, which makes engaging with the story rather difficult. I’m planning to try the movie, as the main character’s flaws didn’t seem to block my friends’ recommendation or enjoyment of the film. I’m curious to hear from someone who has read the book and seen the movie as to their opinion. I know a novelization slows down the tempo of the story, allowing for deeper characterization. Perhaps that element is what didn’t work for this reader.

I know this—I’m glad whenever I find a story that includes Christian musicians. And it’s entirely possible that those who enjoy YA would hang in with this character to watch the arc. I’ll be watching for the DVD.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Year of Weddings Series: A December Bride by Denise Hunter

A Year of Weddings
Zondervan Publishers (HarperCollins) has begun a new novella series, featuring some of our favorite authors. Every month for a year, beginning December, 2013 (the first one already released), they’re releasing a romantic novella. (some of them are pictured above) Here's their tagline: "A year's worth of novellas from twelve inspirational romance authors. Happily ever after guaranteed."

They’re a set of e-books, unavailable in print. If you don’t have an e-reader, you might try reading them on your smart phone via compatible apps. They’re reasonably priced as they’re novella length. 

A December Bride by Denise Hunter
The first one in the series is Denise Hunter’s A December Bride. The best part, if you’re a Denise Hunter fan, is we get to visit the setting of her book Barefoot Summer.

Let’s begin with the summary:

What started as a whim turned into an accidental—and very public—engagement. Can Layla and Seth keep up the façade in Chapel Springs this holiday season—for the sake of her career . . . and his heart?

Under normal circumstances, Seth Murphy—the best friend of Layla O'Reilly's ex-fiancé  —would be the last person she'd marry. But the news of their upcoming (and phony) nuptials convinces a big client that Layla may be high-society enough to work for his agency—a coup that would put her fledgling home-staging business on the map.
Seth has secretly loved Layla for years, even when she was dating his best friend. Maybe she'll never forgive him for the way he hurt her back then, but he has to try. And Layla is willing to keep up their engagement farce until she's landed her client.

For Layla, it's the chance to save her career. But for Seth, it's his last chance to win her heart.

And now, my review:

Sounds yummy, right?

Oh, how I love Denise’s writing! Though this e-book reads fast, due to its length, diehard fans will not be disappointed. Denise’s way with romance is so apparent between the hero and heroine. I highlighted a multitude of delightful passages as I devoured the story.

At first, Seth Murphy isn’t certain he’s making a wise choice, reaching out to Layla. But when she needs him, he can’t help himself. What follows is a season of learning to trust and forgive.

I liked the theme of Layla learning about her value, despite her history. And I loved that this was a reunion romance, where the two main characters were once close, then distanced, and were then forced back together by circumstances. And this hero is lovesick! I loved that! With subtle sarcasm and serious chemistry, this story kept me swiping screens.

As I mentioned, one of the things about it being a novella is the story moves along quickly, getting us to the desired HEA (happily ever after) ending. I love novellas for that, yet I could have spent more time with these two great characters. (*grin*)

Bravo, Zondervan, for beginning this series with Denise’s book. I’m looking forward to reading all the books in this series!

Highly recommended!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Humbug Christmas by Sandra D. Bricker

Merry Humbug Christmas
Looking for some fun holiday novellas? Check out this two-in-one. This title is on sale for Kindle at $0.99 right now. (see link below)

Let’s begin with the summary:

A Merry Humbug Christmas features two holiday romance novellas from hilarious and heartwarming author Sandra D. Bricker. The perfect gift to yourself or someone else at this most wonderfully stressful time of year.

"Once Upon a Jingle Bell," A Bah! Humbug cruise to the Mexican Riviera is Joss Snow’s answer to this year’s quest to avoid the holidays completely; at least until she’s rebooked on a different kind of cruise altogether. Candy canes, holly wreaths, reindeer and ornaments seem to be stalking her on the 12 Days of Christmas holiday cruise extravaganza. An escape back to land is her only goal . . . until she meets a kindred spirit in rugged Irishman Patrick Brenneman, and then the game is on! Avoid Christmas festivities at all costs . . . except maybe for that one stop under the mistletoe.

"It Came Upon a Midnight Deer," Reese’s guilt over abandoning best friend Joss on their holiday tradition of avoiding all things Christmas is trumped by the joy of her recent engagement. Meeting Damian’s family for the first time on idyllic Sugarloaf Mountain is about as far from that Bah! Humbug cruise as she can get, and Reese can hardly wait to get there. But from the moment they hit that deer in the road just two miles from the cabin, everything seems to go wrong. There are no drummers drumming or pipers piping this particular year! And once she sets her future in-laws’ family cabin ablaze, she’s pretty sure there won’t be even ONE golden ring in her future.

And now, my review:

I liked how Sandie gave us the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song at the opening of every chapter with new, humorous lyrics that foretold the story. Clever! And her character’s antics were so fun. Poor Merry Christmas Snow (Joslyn) doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Every year she signs up for a non-Christmasy cruise, but this year, the cruise line has a surprise for her. A surprise that leads to a great blessing, ironically, at Christmastime. Meanwhile, (from the second novella), Reese, who was named after the peanut butter-chocolate candy, has such trouble on her visit to meet her fiancé’s family at Christmas. Hilarious, klutzy trouble.  

Sandie’s prose and gentle message of hope sneak in amongst her quirky characters and their adventures. I chuckled aloud as I read, truly enjoying myself. The holidays can be a heavy time of year, but these light novellas will brighten them up. They’re the perfect length for the busy Christmas season.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Whispers of Hope -- Ten Weeks of Devotional Prayer by Beth Moore

Whispers of Hope

Today, rather than my usual fiction reviews, I’ve got a non-fiction/devotional for you. 

As always, let’s begin with the summary:

Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing, but how in the world do we do that? In fact, how should we effectively pray to begin with?

Best-selling author Beth Moore addresses these practical and pervasive matters in Whispers of Hope by walking readers through an easy to remember and apply method of prayer, coupled with seventy daily devotionals and followed by prompts to put this prayer method into practice.

Indeed, Whispers of Hope teaches the manifestation process of powerful Word-saturated prayer in response to a daily Bible reading. In turn, you will better understand how devotional reading and prayer are central to a stronger relationship with God.

And now, my review:

I enjoy devotionals, especially if they’re set apart in some way. The pages of this book are soft and the edges aren’t smooth—they’re rough cut and jagged, but soft. I love that! The well-designed cover folds over to use as a bookmark for a while. All of these make the experience more enjoyable.

Let’s talk about content. In the opening pages, Beth gives an outline for a prayer model one can use throughout the book. Then, the end of each chapter offers lined space for personal journal entries. I used my own journal as I may want to share the book later and wouldn’t want to write in it, but it’s a convenient option, if one wishes.

I respect Beth’s approach. That, just like in her teaching style, she doesn’t sugarcoat her devotionals. One of her first devos was on rebellion (the tower of Babel). I appreciate her candor. The Scriptures she included were a thought-provoking launching spot. I didn’t follow her prayer model because I don’t believe in formulaic prayer. I’d rather just commune with God.

Hope. Who couldn’t use more hope in their lives? Folks who've done Beth's studies will appreciate her style here. If you're looking for a good devotional, check this one out!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A review of A Light in the Window by Julie Lessman

A Light in the Window

Don’t you love reading Christmas books during the holiday season? I do! Recently, I finished A Light in the Window by Julie Lessman. 

Let’s begin with the summary:

One Woman. Two Men.
One stirs her pulse and the other her faith.
But who will win her heart?

Marceline Murphy is a gentle beauty with a well-founded aversion to rogues. But when two of Boston's most notorious pursue her, she encounters a tug-of-war of the heart she isn’t expecting. Sam O’Rourke is the childhood hero she’s pined for, the brother of her best friend and a member of the large, boisterous family to which she longs to be a part. So when his best friend Patrick O’Connor joins in pursuit of her affections, the choice seems all too clear. Sam is from a family of faith and Patrick is not, two rogues whose wild ways clash head-on with Marcy’s—both in her faith and in her heart.

While overseeing the Christmas play fundraiser for the St. Mary’s parish soup kitchen—A Light in the Window—Marcy not only wrestles with her attraction to both men, but with her concern for their spiritual welfare. The play is based on the Irish custom of placing a candle in the window on Christmas Eve to welcome the Holy Family, and for Marcy, its message becomes deeply personal. Her grandmother Mima cautions her to guard her heart for the type of man who will respond to the "light in the window," meaning the message of Christ in her heart. But when disaster strikes during the play, Marcy is destined to discover the truth of the play’s message first-hand when it becomes clear that although two men have professed their undying love, only one has truly responded to “the light in the window.”

And now, my review:

I’ll never forget when I read Julie Lessman’s first inspirational title, A Passion Most Pure. Hers is a different voice in Christian fiction. She has a fluent prose style and her understanding of the human heart and relationships is apparent in every one of her stories. She’s also well known as the “queen of romantic tension.” (My phrase. Read on to see what I mean.)

After her first series, Julie wrote the Daughters of Boston series. Two of her key characters were Marceline and Patrick O’Connor. But, because they were the parents of the generation at the center of her series, we didn’t get to know their previous romantic history. Until now. That’s one of the reasons I had to read this book, that and it’s a Christmas title. And because I found it for $0.99 on Kindle! (Check link below to see if it’s still on sale. Of course, it’s available in print form as well as this is a full-length title.)

Her husband created the book trailer, which also won me over. Such a great job! Check it out here:

I enjoyed this story. Julie’s style is unlike anyone else's in Christian fiction circles. She unashamedly writes strong romantic tension. She even teaches workshops on this aspect and has written the book on it as well. (Writers, check out Romance-ology 101: Writing Romance for the Inspirational and Sweet Markets). Though I enjoyed the story, the writer in me had a couple issues: there is head-hopping (POV missteps). We switched into omniscient point of view often, as if we were watching a movie. But the advantage of books is that we’re in one person’s POV, digging deep and finding a satisfying experience. Or we should be. She still manages a satisfying romance, though, and most readers (non-writerly ones) may not even notice. The other issue was over-writing. The paperback weighs in at 407 pages, and the Kindle version had something like 6740 locations/length. Some scenes dragged because of all the repetition (circular scene constructs/conversations, etc.) I confess I did skip some screens as I read on my Kindle because of this issue. I highlighted repeated phrases as well because the editor in me cannot help herself. 

But overall, this book is a gift to Julie’s fans, to readers of her books, especially the Daughters of Boston series as we get to watch Marcy’s romantic journey. She has to choose between the dream she carried as a youth and the best option for the future. Sometimes what we thought we wanted, we don’t. Sometimes our dreams are hazy apparitions without substance when we get close. 

One of the best aspects of this book is unlike her other series work, you don’t have to read the earlier titles to “get” this one. You’ll be able to follow everything because all this book’s characters are first introduced here. 

I recommend this novel for its heart and romance. And if you haven’t tried Julie’s work, this is a great place to start.