A Season to Wed // by Cindy Kirk, Rachel Hauck, and Cheryl Wyatt

After really enjoying the happy little novellas from the first Year of Weddings (set by seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn), I thought that I would give the second year a whirl.  These are still set by month, but the titles don’t reflect it the way the first set did.  I’ve actually read the first three seasons at this point, and I’ve overall been disappointed as these stories are really not up to par with the first set.  This first book in particular was quite weak, and there was one story in the second book that I didn’t even bother finishing.  The third book was more at the level of the first year, though, so I will probably still end up finding the autumn book at some point (it isn’t at the library even though the other three are…??)

Anyway, on to this set of three stories –

Love at Mistletoe Inn by Cindy Kirk – 2.5/5 – this was a story that was almost really good, but was executed so clumsily that I couldn’t get into it.  The premise is that Hope eloped with her high school sweetheart, John, the night of their high school prom.  But right after they got married, she panicked and changed her mind.  The guy who married them said that was fine and he just wouldn’t file their paperwork and everyone could go on with life.  Now, ten years later, John is back in town AND Hope has just found out that they are still legally married even though the paperwork never got filed.

First, I wasn’t convinced that they were legit married.  Isn’t the whole point of getting married so that the government can acknowledge your marriage?  If it’s never filed, the government never knows about it??  So maybe they are ‘morally’ married (or something), but I don’t think they would suddenly be able to just sit down and start filing taxes like a married couple.  I don’t know, I’m not a legal expert, but the the whole thing seemed sketch.

Secondly, Hope goes to John to tell him this whole story.  And… they sleep together!?  Like right then?!  This is ‘Christian’ romance, so there is nothing graphic, and in fact it was so NOT graphic and so incredibly random that I had to read the paragraph multiple times to make sure that that was what had actually happened.  Here’s how it goes down – they’re sitting on John’s couch and share a kiss.  John, of course, has always been desperately in love with Hope through all the years.

This was the woman who held his heart.  Whether she wanted it or not, she had it for all eternity.

John had always felt connected to her.  He’d never forgotten the vows they’d made and the promise given.  In this moment, he saw those same sentiments in her expression.

Several hours later, Hope left John’s bed and headed downtown for an appointment she’d made after speaking with the county recorder.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I have edited nothing!  What just happened!?  It was just SO obvious that Kirk didn’t want annulment to be an option, so she had to make them sleep together right away, apparently.  It was just weird and forced and bizarre.  So even though I actually liked the characters and even parts of the story, that whole bit was just so weird that I couldn’t get past it.

A Brush with Love by Rachel Hauck – 2.5/5 – I really enjoyed Hauck’s contribution from the first round of seasonal weddings, but this was a really weak story.  The whole story was way too melodramatic, and it seemed impossible to believe that Ginger would suddenly and completely do a 180* turnabout and now everything is fine.  The story was just weird and cheesy, and not in a relaxing way.

Serving Up a Sweetheart by Cheryl Wyatt – 3/5 – This one wasn’t too bad and I actually enjoyed most of it.  However, the story was really choppy, and the whole hate-to-love thing happened waaaay too fast to be convincing.

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August Minireviews – Part 2

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

I’ve had a lot of meh reading going on, plus a minimal desire for blogging, so this actually the second round of minireviews this month.  Part 1 can be found here.

The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler

//published 1949//

After really enjoying the first few books starring the gritty Californian private investigator Phillip Marlowe, The Little Sister was a bit of a disappointment.  While I was still give it a 3/5 for having a decent mystery, the overall story really lacked the wit and tongue-and-cheek-ness of the earlier books.  Instead, Marlowe is completely disillusioned with…  well, everything, it seems.  It’s a sort of midlife crisis kind of book, and doesn’t really make for uplifting reading.  I struggled to get through it, as it also seemed to lack some of cohesiveness of the earlier books.  It made me give up on these books for a while, but I think I’m about ready to pick up The Long Goodbye and give Chandler another try.

PS Reading the introduction to this book, the introducer stated that The Little Sister was the only one of his books that Chandler never read again – apparently he disliked it as well, and was writing it during a dark time when his wife was dying, so that all makes sense in a very sad sort of way.

The Whisky Wedding by Elizabeth Ann West

//published 2016//

I got this Pride and Prejudice variation for free, which was really the only good thing about it.  It starts with a decent premise – the Bennets receive word of Lydia’s elopement before Elizabeth and the Gardiners leave on their journey.  However, I was already a little leery of the tale when Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gardiner, and Jane go to London while Elizabeth, Mrs. Gardiner, and all the Gardiner children (??!!) head north on the road to Scotland.  Despite the incredibly impracticality of this, I was willing to let it slide for the setting up of the story… except that was only the first in a long litany of absolutely ridiculous actions, including Darcy and Elizabeth eloping while Elizabeth is drunk, Mrs. Gardiner abandoning Elizabeth in Scotland and returning to London by herself, Elizabeth running off with no one but a footman for company, Jane wandering around London by herself looking for Lydia, and Mr. Bennet shrugging his shoulders because Oh well Lydia is a whore now, nothing we can do about it, guess I’ll just read a book.

In between, conversations were nonsensical, characters didn’t remotely resemble their originals, and no one was particularly likable.  Mr. Bennet was ridiculously uncaring (while lazy and selfish, I never get the impression that Mr. B would willingly just stop looking for his daughter after one day of halfhearted searching).  Mr. Bingley was portrayed as a pathetic, whimpering puppy, which always annoys me – yes, in the original he was swayed by his friend, but the arguments that kept him from returning to Jane were Darcy’s reassurances that (1) Jane didn’t actually care for Bingley and (2) that Jane’s mother would force her into a marriage with Bingley regardless of Jane’s feelings.  Thus, Bingley’s non-return to Jane wasn’t completely due to a weak spirit, but also due a misguided attempt to do what was best for Jane.  But in this version he is a completely pathetic wuss, and Jane is instead won over by the manly spirit of Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Point being, I slogged through this for over half the book and then realized that I was just being bored out of my mind (because yes, on top of everything else, it was SO so boring), so this book ended up as a DNF at 67%, with my only regret being that I waited that long.

Mail-Order Bride by Debbie Macomber

//published 1987//

Something quite strange is the fact that The Whisky Wedding isn’t the only book I’ve read lately that involved a drunk bride!  I was trapped at the doctor’s office once day and finished my current book.  This Macomber book was a freebie I had picked up recently, and since I really enjoy the trope of marriage first and then love, I knew I had to at least give it a try.  Despite the fact that Macomber is incredibly prolific, I actually don’t particularly remember reading any of her books, although I probably have at some point.  This is one of her earliest books, recently released as an ebook for the first time.

Unfortunately, the story just wasn’t that great.  The trope itself was done well – the events leading up to the  marriage are completely believable and I was pretty pleased that the story was actually going to be plausible.  Carolyn’s aunts give her a trip to Alaska to help Carolyn recover from the breakup with her fiancee… except that they’ve actually answered an ad for a bride, placed by Paul who lives in a remote Alaskan village but yearns for companionship and a family.  Of course, Carolyn is upset when she finds out that she’s married to Paul (the drunk thing is actually done in a way that is mostly believable), but it felt like Macomber just cut a big chunk right out of the middle of this book, as we go from Carolyn being angry and trying to escape to Carolyn being desperately in love with Paul and super jealous of his past.  There never felt like there was a time where they were just becoming friends and learning about each other’s pasts.

I really wanted to like this book, but in the end it was just another 3/5 meh read with a decent set-up followed by a pretty sloppy plot.  I’m sure I’ll end up reading another of Macomber’s books one of these days, but Mail-Order Bride didn’t really inspire me to hunt any up.

Mind Your Manors by Lucy Lethbridge

(British title: Spit and Polish)

//published 2016//

I think the problem I had with this book was that I was a bit misled by the synopsis, which says, “Lethbridge reveals these old-fashioned and almost-forgotten techniques that made British households sparkle before the use of complicated contraptions and a spray for every surface. A treasury of advice from servants’ memoirs and housekeeping guides…”  Going in, I think I just thought that this would be somewhat of a reference book, when in fact it is more of just a book full of little tidbits that were interesting, but not necessarily for practical application.  (The ‘practical application’ part was basically ‘use vinegar and baking soda!’)

So while I did enjoy this book and find it interesting, it was much shorter and less practical than I anticipated.  I also couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the American edition, which not only changed the title, but even the subtitle from ‘Old-Fashioned Ways to Banish Dirt, Dust and Decay’ to ‘Tried-and-True British Household Cleaning Tips’ because apparently Americans didn’t clean things the same way as British servants, so we need to clarify that these are going to be British tips, not American tips!  Why, publishers, WHY?!

Overall, while this book was a pleasant read, I didn’t feel any need to add it to my personal reference library.

Autumn Brides // by Kathryn Springer, Katie Ganshert, and Beth Vogt

So this is the final season in the first Year of Weddings novellas, and I felt like it ended well.  I really enjoyed all three of these stories.  There is apparently a second Year of Weddings, which do sound quite appealing to me, as they are all supposed to be stories that focus on people who help make weddings happen – so caterers, florists, photographers, wedding planners, etc.  I love stories that work with people in the hospitality industry (random but true), so I definitely do want to get through those one of these days.  I’ve reserved the first couple of collections at the library.

September Bride by Kathryn Springer – 3/5 – This was a cute story with a fun premise, and I really liked the characters.  However, I felt like Jesse went from super-suspicious of Annie and her motives to over-the-top in love really quickly.  And when he pulled some strings to find out more about Annie’s background, he just assumed that she had been unjustly accused and was suddenly on her team, even though just a day before he had been the one who asked about her background to begin with because he thought she was up to something!  So while it was a really fun little story, it still seemed lacking in the ‘logical conclusions’ department.

October Bride by Katie Ganshert – 4/5 – Possibly because it involved the well-loved fake-relationship trope, this was probably my favorite of the three.  Plus, Jake was just a 100% perfect hero for this story.  I loved his relationship with Emma, and really wanted this story to be a full-length novel.  Emma’s family was just so much fun, and the small-town vibe was completely  believable.  I really enjoyed watching their fake relationship spiral out of control.  All in all, I have put some of Ganshert’s other books on the list to see what else she has gotten into.

November Bride by Beth Vogt – 3/5 – This was a really fun and lighthearted little story, even though I did just want to shake some sense into the main couple every once in a while (USE YOUR WORDS!).  Still, they had good chemistry and it was a happy little story without too much angst.

In conclusion, the Year of Wedding novellas have been fun and relaxing.  While they weren’t these mind-blowing stories that left me pondering life’s deeper meaning, they were fluffy and fun and got me through some really slow reading times and introduced me to a few new authors, which I’m sure was the point!  Overall recommended if you like relaxing, clean, happy little romance tales.

 

Summer Brides // by Marybeth Whalen, Beth Wiseman, and Debra Clopton

The third season in A Year of Weddings (Winter and Spring have also been reviewed) was another reasonably enjoyable outing.  While nothing came across as wildly innovative and engaging, they were still pleasant reads on the whole, even if they did kind of make my eyes roll more than usual.  Of course, that could be me because I have been quite discontented with my reading this month.

June Bride by Marybeth Whalen – 2.5/5 – This was my least favorite of the three.  Supposedly, Wynne has just finished a season on a reality show that focuses on people who have just been through a bad breakup and helps them find a new love.  When the story opens, the show has finished and Wynne is engaged to one of the guys she met on the show, Andy.  However, Wynne’s ex shows up almost immediately, and it’s obvious that he and Wynne are going to end up together, so I never had any kind of investment in the Wynne/Andy relationship, and it felt completely absurd that Wynne would have agreed to marry this guy without talking about things like going to church and having children.  I mean seriously.  There was also this other random character whose actions and presence made almost no sense and definitely felt like filler.  Basically I just felt annoyed at everyone the whole time I was reading this story, even if it did have its cute moments.

July Bride by Beth Wiseman – 3/5 – This story was alright.  Alyssa’s fiancee, Brendan, leaves her at the altar, which is pretty darn embarrassing.  Even more embarrassing is that afterwards he feels really bad and starts trying to win her back, when all she wants to do is move on.  Unfortunately, she starts dating another guy and Wiseman obviously wanted to make the other guy a bad guy, but she was really bad at it, so he just came across as not really making a lot of sense.  Like he thinks about seducing Alyssa, but then completely respects her request to wait until they’re married to have sex?  I wasn’t expecting him to rape her or anything, but it definitely seemed like if you wanted to convince me that he was not a nice guy, he should have been using a lot more peer pressure or something.  It was like she wanted everyone to root for Brenden so she had to make the other guy not nice, but she also didn’t want anything actually distressing to happen in her story, so the bad guy was just kind of … a guy.  The whole story would have made much better sense without  the love triangle – there still could have been plenty of story just with Alyssa and Brenden working out their lives.

August Bride by Debra Clopton – 3.5/5 – My favorite out of the three, even though it’s really not my ‘type’ of romance, as it definitely involved a cowboy, which generally makes me roll my eyes really hard.  But the chemistry between the two main characters was really good, and I loved the involvement of the crazy match-making aunts (who apparently are actually in a whole series of books that Clopton wrote, and right after I read this novella I got the first book in that series for free!).  I also felt like the give and take between the main characters was done really well.  All in all, this would have been a 4/5, except after knowing each other for only three weeks (and a lot of that time spent not convinced that they should be dating at all) they leap directly into being engaged to get married?!  The story would have made WAY more sense if they had decided to start dating each other, and then we had a nice little epilogue set in the future where they get all happily married.  Like I met my husband in April and married him in July of the same year, so I understand the concept of knowing when someone is the right person and not messing about, but my real-life story of three months already seems like a stretch, and I just couldn’t buy a fictional three week relationship that leads directly to getting married.

All in all, another pleasant set of three, but nothing that really captured my fancy.

Spring Brides // by various authors

The next season in the year of weddings was not quite as enjoyable as the first (Winter Brides), but still had two good stories – the third I really didn’t care for at all.  However, I can’t necessarily expect to like all twelve stories, written by twelve different authors, so I wasn’t too fussed about one bum.

March Bride by Rachel Hauck – 3.5/5 – I know that Hauck has written a ‘Royal Weddings’ series because it has actually been on my TBR for a while.  This story is set in that world, and is actually listed as Book 1.5 in the series.  However, even though my guess is that I would have enjoyed this story a lot more if I had read Once Upon a Prince, it still held up well as a standalone.  Hauck did a good job of (re)introducing characters from the earlier story in a way that helped me, a new reader, understand their relationships, but also in a way that I don’t think would have bored someone who had already read the first book.

I really liked the characters in this story, and felt that their development was done well.  I also liked the way that the Christian themes were handled – it didn’t feel heavy-handed at all, yet was still a crucial part of the tale.  A very enjoyable little story, and one that has me quite intrigued to read the actual series.

April Bride by Lenora Worth – 3/5 – this was probably my favorite premise so far from these novellas.  The main characters have been engaged to be married for a while, and have known each other all their lives.  However, Mitchell wanted to completely his tour in the Middle East before their wedding, something that Stella fully supported.  When Mitchell comes back, he’s suffered a major head injury after an explosion that killed several of his mates.

I felt like Worth handled Mitchell’s PTSD really sensitively, but I wish that he had shared more with Stella of what was going on.  In the end, this dropped from 3.5 to a 3 because it got just a little too angsty/there were some issues that could have been resolved with one decent conversation, but it was still an engaging story.

May Bride by Meg Moseley – 2/5 – mostly, I didn’t like the main dude for this story, Gray.  I felt like he was really pushy and overbearing.  Ellie definitely had some issues she needed to work through with her mom, but it really seemed like Gray assumed way too quickly that his demands on Ellie’s time should take precedence.  The scene where I was basically over this story was when Gray wants Ellie to come with him horseback riding in two days, and she says that she already has plans to take her mom somewhere.  Gray somehow manages to turn the fact that Ellie is being a kind and responsible daughter into this  being another situation where Ellie’s mom is manipulating her.  Later, he kind of apologizes, but it’s this big ‘turning point’ of their relationship, with Ellie realizing how she needs to ‘stand up’ to her mom, etc., that left me honestly a bit livid.  If it Ellie’s mom is taking up too much of Ellie’s time, she needs to start with not agreeing to do stuff to begin with, not cancelling on plans where her mom is dependent on her help.  Gray’s character throughout was just so unreasonable, and it really felt like Ellie was just trading one annoying, overbearing, bossy person in her life for another.

Ellie’s mom was such a caricature anyway that it didn’t really matter.  Despite the fact that these are supposedly Christian fiction, Moseley managed to make Ellie’s mom the most annoying, hypocritical, ridiculous person, and that was quite frustrating.  To top it off, one of the supposed big ‘character flaws’ was that Ellie’s mom doesn’t drive in Atlanta, where Ellie lives, so Ellie always has to go visit her.  Gray continually acted like this was just completely ridiculous, but as someone whose mom doesn’t drive in our big city (and it’s no where as big or confusing as Atlanta), I never could agree with Gray’s opinion, especially since he grew up in Atlanta and has been driving there his whole life.  Complicated city driving isn’t for everyone, and I would personally prefer someone who is terrified and confused to not attempt it!

Anyway, all that to say I really just skimmed through the last half of this story as it continued to get more and more ridiculous and melodramatic.  2/5 for the story and 0/5 chance of Ellie’s future happiness.

Winter Brides // by various authors

//published 2014//

This is a collection of three novellas, each by a different author, and each for a different winter month.  There are actually twelve novellas altogether for a year of weddings.  In this first collection, I enjoyed each of the stories, although they didn’t particularly inspire me to seek out more of any of the authors’ writing.  (Although I have already read a lot of Denise Hunter’s books.)

December Bride by Denise Hunter – 3.5/5 – this was a really fun fake romance trope story, with characters who were relatable, pleasant, and had good chemistry.  The situation was plausible, and I liked how they both had their doubts, but it didn’t descend into nothing but internal angst.  The story is set in Chapel Springs, where several of Hunter’s other books take place, but was a completely individual story.

January Bride by Deborah Raney – 4/5 – this was my favorite out of the three, about an author who ends up writing letters to a fellow she has never met.  The whole story was just adorable fluff.  I loved the misconceptions they had about each other and how that played into their comfort with sharing letters.  I would have enjoyed having more of their letters and less of the drama of the fellow getting over his guilt about falling in love again (his first wife died several years earlier), but all in all a really fun little story.

February Bride by Betsy St. Amant – 3/5 – while this wasn’t a bad story by any means – and I actually really liked the characters – sooo much of this story was just listing to the protagonist internally bemoan how she just isn’t good enough to marry this guy and how their marriage would be doomed to failure if she even tried.  I think this story would have worked better at a longer length, where those internal monologues could have been broken up more with a bit of actual things happening.  Like, she had valid points and important issues she needed to work through, but because so much time was spent on those, the whole story kind of dragged a bit.

All in all, a fun collection of stories, and I’m looking forward to checking out Spring Brides next!

A Tapestry of Lives // by Jean Sims

//published 2014, 2015//

This is a Pride & Prejudice retelling published in three volumes, and the three volume bit is probably my biggest beef with this story, as it was obviously only done in order to milk more money out of the story, as it could easily have been condensed to two volumes, or one long story… anyway.

Overall, I actually really enjoyed this story.  Volume One begins with Elizabeth at home just after her trip to Hunsford.  In this story, when Elizabeth goes to her father and asks him to not let Lydia go to Brighton, her father initially blows her off, like he does in the original, but then begins to wonder if she has a point.  He goes to find Elizabeth in the garden, and they discuss not only Lydia, but also Mr. Darcy’s letter, which Elizabeth lets him read.  This sets the groundwork for a few changes around the Bennett homestead.  Next, when the Gardiners postpone their trip to the Lakes, it’s because Mrs. Gardiner is pregnant, so Elizabeth goes to London to help around the house.  There, she runs back into Mr. Darcy again, and their relationship begins to develop from that point forward.

I really enjoyed the characterizations in this version.  No one was wildly evil or ridiculously perfect.  While people like Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley were pretty obnoxious, it still felt within the realm of plausibility.  Both Darcy and Elizabeth were well-drawn characters who changed and grew throughout the story.  I also really appreciated how Sims made some of the other characters more sympathetic – while Mrs. Bennett is no less obnoxious (most of the time), there is some definite understanding of her genuine and not-unreasonable terror as to what might happen to her and her daughters should Mr. Bennett die unexpectedly.  I especially liked how it is Darcy who really comes to realize this, because it makes his patience with his future mother-in-law feel more natural, and adds to Darcy’s depth as he begins to realize how casually he has accepted a lot of ‘the way things are’ type of things without really thinking about them.

The overall helplessness/dependence of women at the time is touched on throughout the story in a way that felt organic to the story rather than polemic, and also fit with the overall thoughts of the times – at this point, women like Elizabeth are really just interested in being viewed as fully intelligent human beings who are capable of making decisions about their own futures, not running the government and owning businesses.  I also liked how while some of the men in the story take evil advantage over the women in their lives, many of them, like Darcy, have been taught the importance of protecting/shielding/providing for their women, and believe that the decisions they are making are for the best for them – and, in truth, there were a lot of women, like Mrs. Bennett, who could really use some taking care of!

The ‘tapestry’ bit of the story involves Sims going off onto long and tangled tangents telling the backstories of basically all of the characters – Lady Catherine, Mr. Bennett, the Gardiners, the Earl of Matlock, you name it.  I had mixed feelings about these stories.  Overall I liked them and felt like they did add to the main thrust of the tale, but sometimes they weren’t woven in very well, and it was a little unclear when the narrative was shifting from the past to the present.  Sims also has a habit of telling about a few days from, say, Elizabeth’s perspective, and then switching and telling us what someone else, like Darcy, was doing during the same time period, but again it isn’t always clear when the overlap is occurring and when the story is actually progressing beyond that time frame, so at times it got a little confusing.  But on the whole I felt like these backstories and multiple layers for the same time periods really did add a lot of depth to the story and its characters.

Volume One is from just after Hunsford through Darcy’s more successful proposal; Volume Two spans their engagement; and Volume Three follows the early days of wedding bliss.  The third volume was definitely the weakest.  Too many stories had already been mostly concluded in Volume Two, so Volume Three felt a lot clunkier and was less interesting.  It was also the volume with the most villainy, with a couple of evil viscounts wrecking havoc (completely separate from each other) in a way that didn’t really fit into the rest of the story.  The ending involved a very long and drawn out bit with Mrs. Bennett dying that meant that this whole big long story kind of ended on a downer note.  I’m also never a fan of really long epilogues that try to fill in lots of details about the rest of everyone’s lives, so that bit was also pretty boring to me.  Overall, I felt like the story could have ended about a quarter of the way through Volume Three and been much better.

There were other things that annoyed me, and a few threads that never really seemed to go anywhere (e.g. Mrs. Hill’s illegitimate son), but on the whole this was a well-written and engaging P&P variation that I quite enjoyed, and may even read again sometime.  4/5 and recommended if you actually enjoy crazy P&P retellings.  ;-)