Monday, February 17, 2014

A January Bride by Deborah Raney

A January Bride

Let's begin with the summary:

What will happen when novelist Madeleine Houser’s “pen pal” friendship with a lonely widower takes an unexpected turn?

Who can work in a house that's overrun by contractors and carpenters? Not Madeleine Houser, a successful novelist who gladly accepts the help of her octogenarian friend, Ginny, to arrange for a temporary office in the charming bed and breakfast owned by Ginny's friend, Arthur. Maddie's never met the innkeeper - but a friendship grows between them as Maddie and Arthur leave messages for each other each day. To Maddie's alternate delight and chagrin, she seems to be falling for the inn's owner - a man who's likely many years her senior - and who she's never even met.

And now, my review:

Our heroine is a writer who desperately needs a quiet place to work. Our hero owns a B&B, which rarely has visitors since his wife’s death.

As a writer, I could relate with the longing to get away from the usual places for writing. So there was a sort of romance in the fact that this heroine got to visit a quiet B&B where she could write.

I liked that the heroine used a picture of the hero as her inspiration, without knowing it was him. I also enjoyed the "pen pal" aspect.

I respect this author and her work in the CBA marketplace. However, this story didn't work for me. As a reader, I sometimes find misunderstandings irritating, especially if one simple step could clear up the mess. That happened in this story and carried on for most of the tale. The hero didn’t take that simple step until two-thirds of the way through. Seemed common sense to me, which didn't help me respect him.

One element I expect from seasoned writers is that I’ll feel what the characters feel along with them—a difficult writing task. That wasn’t the case here. The heroine “acted” as if she cared for her mother, but never grieved the fact Mom didn’t recognize her. So, we didn’t feel (believe) either aspect. The heroine seemed too self-absorbed for readers to respect her or sympathize with her, in my opinion.

The few romantic elements felt contrived in this story. As I mentioned, a misunderstanding kept the hero and heroine apart and once it seemed they might possibly get together for even a page (screen in this e-book) or two, their interactions were muddled with confusion and loads of “skimmable” introspection. 

Overall the characters lacked layers, which meant readers might have a difficult time caring what happens to them and sympathizing with them. All the clich├ęs were also jarring for this reader.  The author heroine explained (author intrusion) how conflict works in her writing, but then the conflict in the story felt contrived. There were POV issues, overused words, and telling instances. Besides the passionless romance, my main issues with the story were related to believability (in regards to character motivation, etc.). I believe in this series, but this book didn’t work for me. Still, I wish the author well.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review of Smitten Book Club

Smitten Book Club
Ahh... a chance to revisit Smitten, Vermont. And this time, we get to focus on books. Yes!

Let's begin with the summary:

"Consider that your beau is like a coveted novel whose compelling first lines you've just begun to read." —A Gentlewoman's Guide to Love and Courtship

At a rummage sale, Heather, a member of the Fireside Book Club, discovers a turn-of-the-century romantic advice book written by a once-famous Smitten, Vermont, resident. 

When she shares the precious volume with her friends in the club, they find clues about a hidden treasure rumored to be buried in their tiny town.

As Heather, Abby, Lia, and Molly take turns reading the book, each projects onto it her own literary tastes. Heather sees it as a mystery. Abby discovers delicious dashes of Jane Austen. Lia sees in it the idealism of a bygone day. And Molly just wishes they'd made the book into a movie.

One by one, each of the women finds romantic love--often in spite of the historic book's advice. And in searching for the legendary gold, the friends discover the best kind of treasure. The kind that brings hope and healing to each of their hearts.

And now, my review:

I’ve enjoyed this series from the first book. The fictional setting of Smitten, Vermont is a fun place, peopled with relatable characters. I was glad to read this collection for review as this is the last book including author Diann Hunt, who went to heaven last November. She is missed.

Let me begin with the first story, Love by the Book by Colleen Coble.  This novella, as the first in the compilation, had to set up the collection’s characters (somewhat) and overall threads. I liked that we learned about Molly and her financial needs and how the friends were all determined to help her search for the lost gold. But all the character intros and names took away from the focus on romance, and I found the story hard to follow. She ties in the guidebook, which I enjoyed reading excerpts from throughout. It was a quaint thread.

The second story, Shelved Under Romance by Kristin Billerbeck was a favorite, both of this compilation and of books I’ve read recently. I loved this story! The chemistry and characters. The librarian hiding behind dowdy clothes. The hang-gliding scene was delicious. Loved. It. I could especially sense the genuine friendship these authors shared in real life coming through in these four characters. Very enjoyable.

The third story was A New Chapter, by Diann Hunt. I read this one with a heavy heart, grieving with the rest of the writing community the loss of a tender-hearted, God-glorifying woman who left us such a legacy of how to face trials in this life. I know this is a bittersweet project for the dear group of authors who were Diann’s closest friends. My favorite aspect was seeing her heroine’s name: Elliana. Such a beautiful name meaning “God has answered my prayers.”

The fourth story in this book-themed compilation was appropriately titled Happily Ever After and was written by Denise Hunter. I’m a long-time fan of Denise’s fiction. I’ve read most of her books, and this heroine’s voice was so different—quirky. Loved that! Denise did something else fun here. She referenced the movie You’ve Got Mail a lot. Phrases like: “Why had he stopped by? She couldn’t remember.” And how Molly Moore is an alliteration, like Kathleen Kelly. Or “he would never.” The one where I laughed aloud was “my shop’s just around the corner.” Like an inside joke for readers, these phrases endear us to her.

It was such a pleasure revisiting Smitten, Vermont with these authors. So glad we could do it one more time. 

Highly recommended.