Sunday, May 25, 2014

Full Steam Ahead book review

Full Steam Ahead Full Steam Ahead

When Nicole Renard returns home to Galveston from an eastern finishing school, she's stunned to find her father in ill health. Though she loves him, he's only ever focused on what she's "not." Not male. Not married. Not able to run their family business, Renard Shipping.

Vowing to secure a suitable marriage partner, Nicole sets out with the Renard family's greatest treasure: a dagger personally gifted to Nicole's father by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Many believe the legend that the dagger is the source of all Renard Shipping's good fortune, though Nicole is sure her father's work ethic and honorable business practices are the keys to their success. Before she can board the steamer to New Orleans, Nicole finds her father's rivals—the Jenkins brothers—on either side of the gangplank, ready to grab her and steal the dagger. Quickly, she decides to instead travel north, to Liberty, Texas, where she can decide what to do next.

Darius Thornton needs a secretary—someone to help him get his notes in order. Ever since the boiler explosion aboard the "Louisiana," Darius has been a man obsessed. He will do anything to stop even one more steamship disaster. The pretty young socialite who applies for the job baffles him with her knowledge of mathematics and steamships. He decides to take a risk and hire her, but he's determined her attractive face and fancy clothes won't distract him from his important research.

The job offer comes at exactly the right time for Nicole. With what Darius is paying her, she'll be able to afford passage to New Orleans in mere weeks. But Mr. Thornton is so reclusive, so distant, so unusual. He can create complex scientific equations but can't remember to comb his hair. And his experiments are growing more and more dangerous. Still, there are undeniable sparks of attraction between them. But Nicole is leaving soon, and if she marries, it must be to a man who can manage a shipping empire. Darius certainly doesn't fit that description. And the Jenkins brothers have not given up on kidnapping Nicole and seizing the Lafitte dagger for themselves.

My Review: 7/10

I'm a fan of Karen Witemeyer, but this one fell just a little short for me.

It was still a page-turner, still captivating, from the very first words to the very last. And I really loved the first half of the book. Nicole was intelligent, strong, and sassy, but with some understandable insecurities of her own. Darius was confident and lovable in his mania. I liked the way he respected her and treated her as his partner, his equal.

But some details didn't add up. Nicole's mother's parting words were to choose the right man for her, not her father's business, yet she talked herself out of Darius being the right choice. I got the impression that her father wasn't as concerned with someone with loads of shipping experience, so much as some brawn to protect the family. So I was a little confused as to why Nicole was so adamant on that point.

Despite references to God and scripture, and despite Nicole praying for God to direct her path and lead her to the right man, she did not turn to God when she realized she'd fallen for Darius. She tried to blaze ahead on her own, which almost ended in disaster. I thought this was an excellent portrait of the way we try to solve our problems without God- thinking that if He didn't respond in the way we wanted, He just must not be listening. In her broken relationship with her father, I would have loved to see Nicole turn to her Heavenly Father for love and acceptance, and through Him, finally believe that she is enough and loved as is. Then, to see her step out in faith, trusting God to have worked everything for her good, without having to see proof of it first. These characters were human and relatable, but sometimes I want ones that inspire me, that make hard choices and encourage me to do the same.

I was also surprised at the amount of time spent fantasizing about or pursuing physical things- looks, touches, kisses, etc. It took up a decent amount of pages and more of the relationship than I was expecting.

I loved the historical aspects and Darius' struggle to face his obsession and turn it over to God. I thought that was really well done. I'd recommend this book to fans of this genre and fans of this author.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Love's Sweet Beginning book review

Love's Sweet Beginning (Sisters at Heart, #3)

Love's Sweet Beginning

It wasn't Cassie Haddon's fault that she had managed to reach the age of twenty-five without possessing any useful skills. Until the war, she had always had servants to wait on her. Since then, she and her widowed mother had moved from place to place, relying on family to care for them. Now she's forced to find work to support them both. What isn't in her plans is falling for Jacob West, a local restaurateur and grocer. She needs a job and he needs help. But what they both need is love.

My Review: 2/10 
I appreciated the attempt to show a character struggling to obey scripture. But there were too many glaring problems. The romance itself was the biggest one. Cassie and Jacob were so hot and cold, it was like every other paragraph one of them was storming out, then thinking about marrying them, then crying, then thinking they didn't deserve the other, et cetera. The constant back and forth was giving me whiplash. Then you add in all the secrets, lies, omissions, jealousy, insecurities... ugh.

Then there were the issues with scripture. When Patrick first announces his intentions, he owns that the verse referred to a man's widow. By the end of the book both he and Cassie seem to have forgotten this? Not to mention the fact that she initially rebuffs him by stating the passage refers to Old Testament. Why did she not stand firm on this? Not to mention the fact that the verse states the man's obligation to the woman. She is not required to accept. All of this is irrelevant. Cassie states that she's been told her soul hangs in the balance if she doesn't comply... She should know that there is only one Way to God, to Heaven, for salvation. And if she didn't, then the author should have taught her.

Her struggle to follow the commandment to honor her parents was not flushed out either. Honoring your parents is not simply obeying their every single command. And her duty to obey Christ and His directions come first.

I had other issues with the plot and subplots and the characters and their histories, but these were the most important ones.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Death-Struck Year book review

A Death-Struck Year

A Death-Struck Year

A deadly pandemic, a budding romance, and the heartache of loss make for a stunning coming-of-age teen debut about the struggle to survive during the 1918 flu.

For Cleo Berry, the people dying of the Spanish Influenza in cities like New York and Philadelphia may as well be in another country--that's how far away they feel from the safety of Portland, Oregon. And then cases start being reported in the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode--and into a panic. Headstrong and foolish, seventeen-year-old Cleo is determined to ride out the pandemic in the comfort of her own home, rather than in her quarantined boarding school dorms. But when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can't ignore the call. As Cleo struggles to navigate the world around her, she is surprised by how much she finds herself caring about near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student and war vet. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies begin to pile up, Cleo can't help but wonder: when will her own luck run out?

Riveting and well-researched, A Death-Struck Year is based on the real-life pandemic considered the most devastating in recorded world history. Readers will be captured by the suspenseful storytelling and the lingering questions of: what would I do for a neighbor? At what risk to myself?
An afterword explains the Spanish flu phenomenon, placing it within the historical context of the early 20th century. Source notes are extensive and interesting.

My Review:  5/10 *Spoiler alert!*

Solid, middle of the line effort. I really liked the first few chapters, especially the bantering in Latin. I enjoyed the setup of scenery and characters. For a book that only covered about a month in total and spent about 20-40 pages on any particular day, it moved fast enough. It was engaging, kept my interest, and was easy to finish.

Some major things got in the way for me though:

*The romance. I love a good love story. I have never said this before and I hope to never say it again, but when Edmund was introduced and Cleo reacted, I could feel my eyes rolling and my lips mumbling "oh come on!" of their own accord. It would have gone down better if one of three things happened. 1. Edmund died. 2. In the panic and desperation of the epidemic/war, they had a quickie wedding or one night stand and had to work through the muck of the aftermath. 3. The book followed up with them both years down the road and showed that it amounted to nothing, that the romance that flared between them was sparked by the circumstances. It was special, but incapsulated in that time, never to be fanned to life again.

As it was, none of those things happened. Edmund was a perfect gentleman with no faults and everything going for him. He was immediately taken with her and promptly took up the role of solicitous fiance, making arrangements on her behalf and putting her best interests ahead of his own. The humor about the birth control pamphlet (fascinaing!) had me chuckling to myself, but nothing even came of that, despite being built up so much.

*Cleo herself. It was interesting to read about the spanish flu through the eyes of a 17 year old orphan of priviledge (strange indeed). But then Cleo morphed into a superhero, saving men, women, and children, scaring away burglers with a withering stare and idle threat, digging graves, and rescuing the nearly departed from the mortuary. Cleo's only faults, lying to her family and being reckless with her own health/safety, were not faults so much as "the indirect boast" (Jane Austen) because they were done for the benefit of others. I couldn't relate to her and she got on my nerves. Even when she made stupid, rash decisions that likely would have had serious consequences in real life, everything worked out.

*The death toll. While there were occasionally deaths, Cleo saved many more lives than were taken. Of her family and the primary characters, only one died. Doing the math from the historical notes, it seemed that only 1 in 15 died of the spanish flu (at least in Portland... really a 7% mortality rate? That can't be right... ) so I guess the lack of immediate characters succumbing wasn't inaccurate. But still, no one personally connected with her went down, with the exception of Margaret (we only meet her briefly in the beginning) and Kate (whom Cleo only knew for a few weeks and didn't even start to learn anything personal about her until just a few days before she died). Even the patients that were brought in- those who died got a passing line and those who slowly regained health were checked up on throughout the whole book. With the focus on life over death, it gave the impression that the spanish flu actually wasn't that bad. Which brought me to...

*The point. What was the point of the story? It was not a death-struck year, but a flu-ridden month. It seemed to me that Cleo was altered more by her personal tragedy as a child than by the events of either the war or the spanish flu.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Love Comes Calling book review

Love Comes Calling

Love Comes Calling 

Dreaming of becoming an actress, Boston socialite Ellis Eaton captures Griff Phillips' attention. But while filling in for a look-alike friend at the telephone exchange, she overhears a call that threatens Griff's safety. With handsome policeman Jack Flanigan investigating - and her heart in a muddle - will she discover what might be the role of a lifetime? 
My Review: 7.5/10
This book is a full submersion into the roaring twenties- the language, attitudes and history is all there. As a reader, you feel transported back in time, which is why I love historical fiction. I love learning about the way daily life was in any given period of time that is far enough removed from the one I live in. The Author's notes show just how much she prepared for this novel and shows you how much truth was weaved into the fiction- I loved it!

Ellis took some getting used to for me. Initially, though I found her insecurities annoying, I appreciated that Ms. Mitchell was consistent in her characterization and I respected her uniqueness as a heroine. For a while, every time Ellis despaired of not measuring up, I felt more and more irritated... until I met her family. While I didn't understand why they treated her the way they did, I (finally) did understand how Ellis got it into her head that she was a disappointment, a failure, and a constant source of exasperation.

After I warmed to her, I really enjoyed the humor she brought to most situations and appreciated her honesty. I liked that she didn't always have an answer, that she sometimes felt confused, and that not everyone liked her (and that they, in turn, weren't written off as evil or useless for not being TeamEllis). Even when I found her reasoning flawed, I still could see how she got there and I appreciated such an authentic point of view. Reading the Author's note on how ADHD played a role in this was fascinating to me and, while it made total sense, it made me want to go back and read it again with that in mind. So well done.

There were only two things that kept this book from perfection for me.

The first and most important thing: I never bought into Ellis' refusal/avoidance of Griff's affections; it just did not seem natural at all to me. I have never known someone to reject love because they thought they didn't deserve the person. I've seen such insecurities manifest themselves in jealousy, fear of losing the other person, clinginess, trust issues, etc., inevitably destroying the relationship, but I have never seen them stop the relationship -before- it starts. It's human nature to dream of the fairy tale ending (getting more than we deserve) so I just didn't buy it.

Secondly, Jack Feeney was a little (sometimes a lot) too naive/trusting. Bless her, but Ellis did not do a very good job of fishing information from him subtly, so how did he not suspect anything? Or if he did, then why didn't he do anything about it? It seemed to me that someone who was so afraid of crossing those he "owed favors to" wouldn't risk incurring their wrath by overlooking her rather obvious display of memory, interest, and connection. And what was with his somewhat random spilling of his past? I felt like they hardly knew each other and these weren't the things you confided in someone you've only hung out with/talked to a couple of times.

On the whole though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'd recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction, particularly set in the twenties and anyone who is itching for a fresh, strong female lead.