Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Bride For Keeps Review

A Bride for Keeps

A Bride for Keeps (A Bride for Keeps #1)

A Tender Tale of Love on the Prairie Perfect for CBA Readers
Although Everett Cline can hardly keep up with the demands of his homestead, he won't humiliate himself by looking for a helpmate ever again--not after being jilted by three mail-order brides. When a well-meaning neighbor goes behind his back to bring yet another mail-order bride to town, he has good reason to doubt it will work, especially after getting a glimpse at the woman in question. She's the prettiest woman he's ever seen, and it's just not possible she's there to marry a simple homesteader like him.

Julia Lockwood has never been anything more than a pretty pawn for her father or a business acquisition for her former fiance. Having finally worked up the courage to leave her life in Massachusetts, she's determined to find a place where people will value her for more than her looks. Having run out of all other options, Julia resorts to a mail-order marriage in far-away Kansas.

Everett is skeptical a cultured woman like Julia could be happy in a life on the plains, while Julia, deeply wounded by a past relationship, is skittish at the idea of marriage at all. When, despite their hesitations, they agree to a marriage in name only, neither one is prepared for the feelings that soon arise to complicate their arrangement. Can two people accustomed to keeping their distance let the barricades around their hearts down long enough to fall in love?

Review: 1/10

Ugh I cannot believe I waited so long for this book. It seemed so promising- a pretty cover and a different spin on a mail order plot line. But the characters really lack depth. Just like the story line.

Julia, the supermodel from 1876, struggles with being so drop dead gorgeous; her beauty is so intense that no one can think about anything else, including herself. She pretty much goes cycles through feelings of shame (crimes committed against her because of her beauty), guilt (because apart from her beauty she's useless), resentment ("i'm more than just a pretty face!"), hopelessness ("I'm nothing but a pretty face!"), and suspicion ("are you thinking about my looks?"). Sound a bit repetitive? Oh you have no idea.

Let's add in a second POV from her intended who spends 80% of his time obsessing about her beauty/pretty face (of the "I have nothing to offer her; she's too beautiful" & "I must have her now" variety.) and 20% of his time obsessing about his previous mail order (+ 1) failures.

The two characters go back and forth so much that I have whiplash.

And the conflicts were as extreme as you can get: *spoilers* being jilted no less than 5 times for pretty weak reasons, rape, attempted rape, 12 miscarriages/still births, and a fall off the roof leading to a mangled leg, fever, and brush with both amputation and death. Just to name a few.

If you secretly harbor a wish that your beauty was so all consuming that it was a constant source of conflict with everyone around you, and you'd like to experience it vicariously through a shallow, vain fictional character, then this is the book for you.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Trouble In Store Review

Trouble in Store

Trouble in Store

Fired from her most recent governess position, Melanie Ross must embrace her last resort: the Arizona mercantile she inherited from her cousin. But Caleb Nelson is positive he inherited the mercantile, and he's not about to let some obstinate woman with newfangled ideas mess up all he's worked for. He's determined to get Melanie married off as soon as possible, and luckily there are plenty of single men in town quite interested in taking her off his hands.
The problem is, Caleb soon realizes he doesn't want her to marry up with any of them. He's drawn to Melanie more every day, and he has to admit some of her ideas for the store unexpectedly offer positive results.

But someone doesn't want the store to succeed, and what used to be just threatening words has escalated into deliberate destruction and lurkers in the night. When a body shows up on the mercantile steps--and the man obviously didn't die from natural causes--things really get dangerous. Can Melanie and Caleb's business--and romance--survive the trouble that's about to come their way?

My Review: 5/10
A month or so after finishing the book, I couldn't remember much about it. I remembered the murder mystery subplot and some outlines of the story, but the characters, romance etc was pretty dim. I think that sums this book up. If you enjoy reading a clean romance with faint Christian themes set a couple of hundred years ago, and you're not particular about originality, then you will enjoy this story as much as every other of its kind.

After refreshing my memory, the only thing I feel is worth commenting on is Melanie's character. I found her a little abrasive and obnoxious. I realize that she was desperate and kept up a front of confidence and strength in order to protect herself, but I think she could have done so while also employing humility and a willingness to compromise. Perhaps it was just that she rubbed me the wrong way, but this affected how I viewed the romance, which was rather abrupt and not very convincing.

*I was given a free copy in exchange for an honest review.*

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow Review

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow (Avenue of Dreams, #2)

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow 

Charlotte Farrow, maid in the wealthy Banning household on Chicago's opulent Prairie Avenue, has kept her baby boy a secret from her employers for nearly a year. But when the woman who has been caring for her son abruptly returns him, Charlotte must decide whether to come clean and face dismissal or keep her secret while the Bannings decide the child's fate. Can she face the truth of her own past and open her heart to a future of her own? Or will life's tragedies determine the future for her?
This compelling story set against the glittering backdrop of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition captures the tension between the wealthy class and the hardworking servants who made their lives comfortable. Author Olivia Newport expertly portays social classes while creating a story of courage, strength, and tender romance.

My rating: 6/10
I was pleasantly surprised to find Charlotte give her own story as I found her infinitely more interesting than Lucy.

I can't really say that I enjoyed the story itself but that was due to the subject matter.  Ms. Newport did an excellent job with the suspense; I really had no idea who or what Charlotte would choose for most of the book. But it was just too agonizing for me. It wasn't even bittersweet; I remember Charlotte remarking that at least Henry was in the same house now. But I disagreed. I'll bet she got a lot more time (and much better quality) with her son just getting to see him once or twice a week than she did with him living in the Banning house and being exclusively taken care of by someone else. Sarah's actions were appropriately nerve racking. I could barely stand it. I kept waiting for that situation to be rectified, and felt cheated by adjustments being made for such a short time.

I could appreciate and sympathize with Charlotte's situation. And I enjoyed the gentle weaving of the love story in the background. Though I felt the themes of faith could have made the book so much stronger if they had appeared as more than bookends, I liked the parallels to Moses' story, and I loved that Archie questioned her judgment and challenged her to trust in God and wait on Him. How often do we make the same mistakes- trying to fit circumstances into a divine mold so that we don't have to rely solely on faith? I know I've done it plenty of times; I'd almost always rather hear 'no' than 'just wait' in answer to my prayers. But back to the story...

The situation with Charlotte's 'husband' was rather twisted and I didn't really buy into it. But what was worse was Archie's response at the end when she balks at the truth of her situation. "Shhh. Don't." Yes, let's dismiss the ugliness and all the emotions that go with it, just pretend it never happened. Charlotte's subsequent reaction, or lack thereof, was not at all realistic. Any woman would be deeply affect, traumatized even, by such events. And any man claiming to love her would help her heal, however slowly, by listening and slowly working away doubts, fears and trust issues. The whole, "just forget about it because I'm here now" attitude was too much for me to take.

Lucy did nothing but disappoint. Honeymoon or no, you can take a few minutes here and there (over a period of several months) to check up on your closest friend/confidante. Her letter, especially after all that build up, was rather empty. True to form, I say, despite her reputation.

I thought the staff and supporting characters were very well done with the exception of Sarah. You loved to hate her, with her arrogance, selfishness and total lack of empathy until she randomly pulls a 180 at the end, in what I suspect was just a way to tie things together. Or maybe the author couldn't deal with not redeeming her character. Or maybe she was setting things up for the third book. The world may never know.

All in all, this was a decent, middle of the line read. From a historical standpoint, the attention to detail to really flush out the lives of the serving class was interesting and well done. I'll give the third and final book a try, hoping it continues in this upward trend, despite my contempt of the lead character.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning Review

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning (Avenue of Dreams, #1)

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning

Lucy Banning may live on the exclusive Prairie Avenue among Chicago's rich and famous, but her heart lies elsewhere. Expected to marry an up-and-coming banker from a respected family, Lucy fears she will be forced to abandon her charity work--and the classes she is secretly taking at the newly opened University of Chicago. When she meets an unconventional young architect who is working on plans for the upcoming 1893 World's Fair, Lucy imagines a life lived on her own terms. Can she break away from her family's expectations? And will she ever be loved for who she truly is?
Readers will love being swept away into a world of mansions, secrets, and romance as they follow Lucy through the streets of the Windy City during one of the most exciting times in the city's history. From opulent upper-class homes to the well-worn rooms of an orphanage, Olivia Newport breathes life and romance into the pages of history--and everyone is invited.

My Review: 3/10

If your only criteria for historical fiction is that it's light, clean and set at least a hundred years ago, then you'll probably enjoy this.

I didn't hate it, but I didn't really enjoy it either. For some reason it seems that authors of these types of books think that the only woman worth writing about is one that "breaks the mold" and is super progressive for her time, which is really ironic, I think, since they're usually branded Christian as well. Apparently, for it to be considered Christian, it needs to be fairly chaste and mention God, prayer and church at least once. Oy.

Putting those two major issues aside, I didn't really like the main characters. I felt like the author thought that making Lucy crave more for her life was depth enough and didn't bother to develop her character.

I did glean that she didn't see much of a problem with taking the easy way by lying to get what she wanted and cheating on her fiance (because seriously entertaining growing a relationship with another man while you are engaged is cheating. Tell me if your fiance did this to you, you wouldn't feel betrayed). Who cares if she aided a maid in need and volunteers at an orphanage? You could argue that the latter was only a cover anyway. This is not someone I would admire, respect or want to be friends with.

Moving on from Lucy, we have Charlotte the maid, who was interesting in her role as a supporting character, but that's about all I have to say about her. We also have Daniel, the fiance, who is supposed to be a love turned psycho. The author goes back and forth between making Daniel and Lucy's history one of an arranged marriage versus one of first love. She couldn't make up her mind, so I couldn't either. It was confusing and I wasn't sure if I was supposed to hate him or feel pity for him. Not that you can't feel both, but it really seemed like the reader was supposed to choose.

Then there's Will. I immediately had a problem with him from the line about knowing she wouldn't marry her fiance because of how she was looking at him. Cocky. Arrogant. Slimy. UGH. We know that he likes art and doesn't have a problem with women pursuing education (but he didn't grow up with a priviliged, entitled life, so why would he think he's better than Lucy?) and that he likes orphans. We actually don't see much of their relationship unfold or blossom; he is primarily set up as the anti-Daniel, which means he must be all that is good, just and benevolent.

The only character I really liked was Aunt Violet. I don't like the idea of her lying to aid to Lucy- if my siblings tried to pull this with one of my kids, there would be Hell to pay- but she had spunk and strength.

The historical aspect was okay. There was a little too much listing clothing and food- not worked in interestingly, just listed.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Our home story: the beginning

So we have been house hunting on and off for years and after a third attempt at vigorous searching (we have officially exceeded our move out goal of September 1st) for about 6 months, I've discovered a startling truth. Home hunting is like trying to find the elusive soul mate.

In fact, our house hunting pattern strongly resembles my dating history: I started out with high standards, which yielded no results. Then I let them slip a little in an effort to put myself out there. I mean, maybe The One was right in front of my face and I was just missing it. Maybe I would grow to love him. Nope. I just put myself in very uncomfortable situations that were doomed to fail. I cannot count the number of times where God saved me from myself. Then in complete and utter frustration and hopelessness, I swore off them all. And lo and behold The One crossed my path. Now if you go back and subsitute all the masculine pronouns, you'll have our house hunting history. It's been quite the journey.

Bringing you up to speed, I was sick to death of house hunting. I don't think my standards are crazy high, but I know what I want: a 1500 square foot, 3 bedroom, two story home with a nice basement and lots of potential. Preferably in North Hills school district. If it happens to be an older home with all the antique charms, a grand staircase, more than one bathroom and a large yard, so much the better. We found two that we really liked but this was early on and we wanted to make sure we didn't make a move without God. In the meantime, both were snatched right out from under us, one just about a week after being listed. I've kept checking the dozens of daily listings our realtor sends us, but none of them felt right. And I just felt drained and like I must have misunderstood God's intentions for us. So I reconciled myself to the fact that buying a house this summer did not appear to be in the plans for us and it may not happen for some time. That being the case, we weren't interested in moving to another (wayyyy more expensive) apartment, so I needed to embrace the idea that we would be staying in our current place for the time being.

This was disappointing to us on a number of levels. The girls are at the age where they are very possessive of their things and space and having them and their bunkbeds crammed into a 12x6 room is just NOT working out. I work from home and my work space happens to be shared living space. There is no where to really escape the noise. We have a family of Bhutanese refugees living above us. Or maybe multiple families. There is around 9-14 of them. Suffice it to say we are feeling squished in like sardines, which made the idea of staying here for the forseeable future a rather difficult pill to swallow. But I have learned a lot over these past few years and God has been working with me on trust, contentment and faithfulness, so I saw it as an opportunity to embrace the ways I've changed and lean fully on Him.

A day or two later, I got another emailed listing among many others. I quickly looked it over and OH MY GOSH it was beautiful. The house was big, it was in exactly the area I wanted. Three floors with a big basement, SEVEN deco fireplaces and all the charms of a century old home. And the price was right! I couldn't contain my excitement and immediately contacted our realtor telling her we wanted to see it right away. It was pretty much all I could think or talk about. I couldn't forsee any surprises unless there was a problem with the foundation or something else extreme and not easily evident in pictures. The next day I was so excited and anxious and nervous that my heart was racing and I felt like I was going to throw up. I'm getting jittery just writing about it.

We showed up fifteen minutes early, which if you know me, should tell you this was big. We scouted the backyard (private, fairly enclosed, a front AND back porch, a mini vineyard!) and waited for our realtor. She came and we toured the home. Yes it wasn't perfect. TONS of hideous wallpaper, cracks in some of the walls, water damage, a kitchen from the 30s. But all I could see was beauty. This home was everything I wanted. I was dancing. Our realtor called the seller's agent and talked. Apparently there were already two other offers made that day! This had us rethinking ours. The house was listed a decent amount under market value and once it was fixed up, it would be worth so much more. We spent the night signing paperwork with our realtor and going over the next steps, but I felt pretty discouraged. I was definitely afraid to get my hopes up. Our offer wasn't that impressive comparatively; surely they would pick someone else.

The next day, we got an email from their realtor letting us know that the owner was going to keep it open until Tuesday night so that "everyone would have an opportunity to bring their best offer to the table." Yikes. We spoke with our realtor again and a mortgage rep and submitted an improved offer, one that was better for the seller, but that we were still comfortable with. We left it at that, feeling pretty good. We've done our best, and I think we've got a decent shot.

Now it is Tuesday afternoon. I wasn't going to write anything at all, in case we don't get it. But then I realized that more important than whether or not we get this house is the testimony to how God has changed my heart. 3 years ago, I was covetous and irresponsible in determination to catch up. I was emotional and buying a home had become an idol. I've gone through so much since then. This time around, we've treaded lightly and careful and really done our research, praying every step of the way.

Buying a home is a really big investment. One that, as we've seen, does not always pay off. So settling for something that can only be a "starter home" is just reckless. Especially when we consider the fact that we might like to move around a bit or live abroad. I have never prayed over one issue so much as I have over this. And not just to get what I want. But to want what God wants for me. To trust Him, to be patient, to be content whereever I am, and to not let me take a single step without Him. Just as often as I've prayed to God asking Him to bless us with a particular home, I've asked Him to remove it as an option if it's not in His will for us. I've also asked Him to move quickly. He never disappoints.

I'm writing this now, because the point isn't actually whether or not we get this house;  I've seen what He can do. I fully trust Him for my good more than I trust myself.  If this falls through then I will embrace it, practice contentment and refocus my sight on the eternal because I know that He can and will provide abundantly, when the time is right. And if we do get this house, I hope that I never forget the lessons I've learned or lose the things I've gained: stronger faith in my Father who works all things for good, for His glory. His kingdom come.