‘Love Inspired’ – Part 2

A while back my great-aunt passed away, and somehow my grandpa ended up with two boxes full of books.  Almost all of them are ‘inspirational’ romances published by Harlequin as ‘Love Inspired’.  At one point (not sure if you still can) you could subscribe and have a new book mailed to you every month.  Aunt Darby did just that, and now I’m in possession of somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 or so of these ‘Love Inspired’ titles.  Most of them are pretty cheesy but alright for a one-time fluff read.  I’m sure that I’ll binge through some of them periodically.  They’re perfect to grab out of the crate when I’m just looking for a quick, no-brainer book.  However, most of them will probably end up exiting this house after that one-time read, because they just aren’t worth the shelf space to me.  So if there’s one that sounds especially appealing to you… let me know, and I’ll be quite happy to mail you a gift!  ;-)

Here’s the next round of five for this project – the first five can be found here.

The Pastor Takes a Wife by Anna Schmidt

//published 2010//

This was a pleasant little story where single-mom Megan falls for the new pastor, Jeb.  There was actually a little bit of grit to this story that I liked, but I just wasn’t feeling the chemistry between Megan and Jeb.  I’m always annoyed when a story spends the majority of the time talking about why two people aren’t suited for each other – and then magically, at the end, they are!

Still, overall a nice little tale that was pleasant for a one-off read – 3/5.

A Mother’s Gift by Arlene James and Kathryn Springer

//published 2010//

This is actually two novellas in one volume.  The first, Dreaming of a Family, could have been an alright read, but Dixie was just over-the-top rude to Joel at the beginning.  I found it impossible to believe that an adult woman would say the things she said to a comparative stranger, especially making fun of his physical handicap.  It was just absurd.  2/5.

The second, The Mommy Wish, was better, but Julia of course has this deep, dark secret that if Nick knew about it, it would change his whole perspective of her, and she’s kept herself locked away and never goes out to see people and it’s been years of angst… and then the ‘terrible’ thing just really wasn’t that terrible.  I mean sad, yes, but worth years of agony?  Not remotely.  Still, 3/5 for an otherwise fun story that did have some nice moments.

Triplets Find a Mom by Annie Jones

//published 2012//

This one was so bad that I had to DNF about halfway through.  I just can’t put my finger on what wasn’t working with this story.  It was like chunks of it were missing.  The story wasn’t bad, but the writing was honestly just kind of terrible.  The characters didn’t make a lot of sense, and everyone was just sort of milling around.  The concept was engaging and the setting was nice, but it was just so random and abrupt that I couldn’t get into the story at all.  It was just…  I don’t know.  For instance, Sam is a widower and he has triplet daughters.  Polly meets these girls for literally like 30 seconds.  She sees them the next day, and knows which one is which, despite the fact that they’re identical.  Like, just because Polly herself is a twin didn’t make me buy the concept that she magically can tell these identical girls apart immediately.  Sam has this weird thing about dogs that made zero sense, so when Polly finds a stray, she is determined to find another home for it because she doesn’t want to ‘bother’ the girls…???  It was just stuff like that all the time.  It felt like something was going to happen, and then there is just some weird thing out of nowhere instead.

Close to Home by Carolyn Aarsen

//published 2009//

Probably my favorite out of the batch (although that isn’t saying much).  Jace and Dodie were a good couple, and I appreciated the way that some sensitive topics were handled well.  However, it took waaaaaaaayyyyyyy too long for Dodie to freaking TALK TO JACE.  Like ONE CONVERSATION is all that needs to happen, and it dragged out way too long before that took place.

I was also a little uncomfortable with the concept that Dodie was ‘wasting her life’ because she hadn’t gone to college or pursued a career.  As someone who did go to college but has not pursued a career, and has worked part time random jobs very contentedly my entire life, I felt vaguely insulted.  Guess what, gang?  A career isn’t the only way to find validation and purpose in life!  Anyway – 3/5.

The Marriage Mission by Pam Andrews

//published 2010//

This was actually a really pleasant, nice little story.  I liked Mac and Jenny a lot and thought they made a great couple.  However, I was so bothered by the message of this book.  I kept reading because I thought it would actually get resolved in the end – but it really didn’t.

Basically, Mac has been working in foreign missions throughout his adult life.  He has come stateside to a small West Virginia town to accept a year-long post at a local church while he recovers from an improperly-set broken ankle.  There is the possibility that the church will call him to stay on permanently, and there is also a possibility that the mission he’s worked for will call him to another foreign post.  Mac falls for Jenny almost immediately, and the feeling is mutual.  But then it turns into this whole angsty thing about Mac feeling like he can’t ‘impose’ on Jenny by dating her when he isn’t sure if he is going to go back overseas, and Jenny feeling like she isn’t ‘worthy’ to go with Mac if he does go back overseas, yadda yadda yadda.  And what bothered me was that neither of them ever acted like, I don’t know, that if they were a couple they would actually be a team and could work through these things together?!  It was also never explained why Jenny couldn’t go with Mac if he did go overseas.  I feel like basically all the missionaries I know are married, and not all of the spouses went to seminary?  It seemed like Jenny’s compassion, hard-working attitude, and general common sense would make her an excellent missionary’s wife.

In the end, it’s all resolved because Mac decides not to go overseas – which didn’t feel like real resolution to me at all.  Mac never had a conversation with Jenny about whether she would be open to going overseas.  The insistence on the either/or scenario meant that so much of the tension in the book felt entirely contrived.  So 2.5/5 for this one.

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Rumours and Recklessness // by Nicole Clarkson

Every once in a while those free Kindle books actually turn out to be nice…

//published 2015//

In this retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennett falls from a horse and is in a coma the day after the Netherfield Ball.  When Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy stop by, they are just in time to hear Mr. Collins announce his engagement to Elizabeth – even though he hasn’t consulted her on the subject.  Carried away in the moment, Mr. Darcy jumps in and says this is impossible as Elizabeth is engaged to him.  Although it sounds a bit implausible, Clarkson actually pulls off this scenario quite well.  Throughout the rest of the book, we still deal with all the prejudices of our favorite couple, but now they are in a situation where it is to their best interests to work through their differences together.

I really like variations where, instead of arriving at conclusions apart from each other as they did in the original (after the Hunsford proposal), they actually communicate and talk through things together.  Unequal Affections was another similar scenario, and another of my favorite retellings.  I appreciated that in this version Elizabeth still had plenty of sass, but wasn’t obnoxious.  The other characters stay true to form as well.

This is a clean version, which was also nice – no sneaking off for pre-marital snogging.  While there is tension there, it is presented in a way that didn’t make me embarrassed to read it.

Where the story bogged down a bit was a side strand with Darcy’s cousin Anne.  Lady de Bourgh is a bit over-the-top, and combining her with Caroline seemed a bit strange as well.  While it’s not a terrible way to take the story, it felt a little odd.

Still, all in all this was a pleasant surprise, and one that I recommend to anyone else there who, like myself, is strangely addicted to P&P retellings.

The Night Circus // by Erin Morgenstern

Even though I finished The Night Circus two weeks ago, I still am having a lot of feelings, and I doubt that this review will be very comprehensive.  It’s one of those books that is just too magical for reviewing.

//published 2011//

I feel like this book has been on my TBR forever, and when it came in the mail last month, I was quite excited to finally read it!

Recently, I decided to subscribe to receive a monthly book from Mr. B.’s Emporium of Books, because I really do love receiving book boxes, but the truth is that I don’t really read by ‘genre’, and the overwhelming majority of book subscriptions make you choose that way. E.g., I do read a lot of YA, but I don’t usually care for contemporary, angsty YA – I prefer fantasy/sci-fi YA instead.  But subscribing to a YA book box means I end up with contemporary YA, which is alright, but not really something I seek out.  (It’s how I ended up reading that book with the one-armed black skater boy hero a while back.)  All that to say, with Mr. B’s you actually fill out a (lengthy) survey about the books you like (and don’t), and I thought it would be fun to see if they managed to send books I enjoy – and The Night Circus was the first one I received!

This book was… gah, it was just plain magical.  Despite the fact that it involved a lot of ingredients I don’t usually like, I was completely and totally engrossed and did not want to put this book down.  As a general rule, I do not like present-tense narratives and I do not like books that rely on a dated header to tell you where you are in the story (e.g., ‘Associates and Conspirators – London, February 1885’), but this book used both and it only added to the magic.

The descriptions in The Night Circus were amazing.  I absolutely loved hearing about the different displays/acts in the circus.  Morgenstern created a definitive sense of place – the circus became its own character in the story, and it was amazing.  The introduction chapters written in second person should have been annoying, but instead were brilliant.  I was drawn into the story immediately by this method, as I stood waiting in line for the circus to open.

Pacing was excellent – just enough back-and-forth in time to keep the story building in a specific direction without feeling the whiplash of jumping around in time.  I fell in love with all the characters, even the ones I didn’t like.  The story unfolded with the precision of a perfectly-executed song.

For a while, I was nervous about the ending, but I shouldn’t have been, as that was perfect, also.

There were a few annoyances.  A character dies and I didn’t want him to, and Morgenstern has an aggravating tendency to drop French words and phrases throughout without bothering to explain them, even when they are an important part of the story.  But these are minor issues with a book that overall captivated me.

I am quite excited to add this book to my collection, and anticipate rereading it again in the (probably near) future.  All in all, a 5/5 read for me, and one of those few books that possesses genuine magic on every page.

NB – several reviews caused me to add this book to my list, and I’m not sure I have them all but among them – Stephanie’s Book Reviews, The Literary Sisters, Tales of the Marvelous, and The Penniless Bookworm.

Miss Billy trilogy // by Eleanor H. Porter

I’ve had Miss Billy’s Decision on my shelf since 2003, picked up in an antique shop simply because it was written by the author of Pollyanna.  However, I have never gotten around to reading it!  With the help of Goodreads, I discovered that this is actually the second book about Miss Billy, so I was able to purchase the first book, Miss Billy, on eBay inexpensively, and a Kindle version of book three (Miss Billy Married), as hard copies of that one were pushing the $30 range. (!)

All in all, this was was a pleasant collection, but nothing amazing, mostly because Billy wasn’t a super engaging heroine, and Porter did not do a particularly good job with story crafting – the characters just sort of mill around, especially in Miss Billy.

//published 1911//

The story opens with Billy’s aunt dying, leaving her alone in the world.  At age 18, it seemed to me like she should have been able to find a companion and live quietly until her majority at 21 (keeping in mind that these books were published in the early 1900’s), but instead Billy writes to a man she’s never met – a good friend of her father’s, for whom she was named.  William, a widower, lives in a rambling house with his bachelor brothers, Cyril and Bertram.  Each of the brothers has an odd quirk.  Cyril is a monk-like man devoted to his music (specifically piano).  William, since the death of his wife and infant son, focuses on collecting things.  Bertram is an artist famous for painting portraits of young women – ‘The Face of a Girl’.

Through a series of events, when the gentlemen receive Billy’s letter, they do not realize that she is female, and have no real idea how old she is.  They reluctantly agree to take in the waif, since she is, after all, named for William, but when Billy arrives in all her feminine glory, they are cast into disarray!  Of course, it turns out that Billy makes all of their lives brighter and better.  William finds an older female cousin to come live with them and be Billy’s companion/chaperone and everyone is getting along famously until William’s sister Kate (married and in her own house) tells Billy that the brothers used to be super happy until Billy moved in and threw off everyone’s groove.  Devastated, Billy takes Aunt Hannah and moves back to her home town.

The reason that the story was strange was because, first off, Kate is a jerk.  Throughout the next two books, she is the center of all mischief and miscommunications as she is incredibly meddlesome.  Kate’s interference with everything got a bit old after a while, especially since she was absolutely never apologetic, even when she wrecked havoc all around.

Secondly, Billy only lives with the brother for a couple of months.  During that time, her characters comes across more as someone who is 11 or 12, not 18.  She bounds through the house, is boisterous and enthusiastic, and doesn’t really do anything useful.  When she leaves with Aunt Hannah, she doesn’t really explain to the brothers that she isn’t planning to come back, and they spend the rest of the book being incredibly mopey and depressed, and years go by and they only see her a handful of times, as Billy takes off for Europe.  The amount of sadness and loneliness they feel seems incredibly disproportionate to the amount of time Billy actually lived with them.

//published 1912//

The second book is all about Billy deciding which brother to marry, of course.  It’s pretty obvious which one she loves, but Kate comes in with her interfering ways and almost ruins everyone’s lives, and then continues to complain, throughout the rest of that book and well into book 3, that Billy chose the wrong brother and that their marriage will never be successful because Billy didn’t take Kate’s advice and marry the brother Kate thought she suited!  I mean, a bit of sisterly advice is one thing, but Kate’s nagging was ridiculous.

Overall, though, the second book was probably my favorite.  It had the most story and the characters were better developed.

//published 1914//

In book three, Billy starts her married life and is quite happy, until she starts listening to other people/books/articles/etc.  This  book followed a pattern that got old after a while, wherein Billy latches onto some quirky bit of advice and then follows it obsessively.  E.g., she reads an article that says that young wives need to let their husbands basically ‘do their own thing’ and wives should continue to follow their own personal interests as well.  This advice made perfect sense, but Billy takes it to extremes by acting completely indifferent towards her husband (all while internally sighing at how much she misses him) and kind of blowing him off all the time, leaving him confused by a wife who no longer seems interested in spending time with him.  Of course, they always resolve things and are happy again – until the next time someone gives Billy some advice.

Then the baby is born, and the book took a decided turn for the worse.  I genuinely wanted to shake Billy, who became obsessed with the baby, completely ignoring her husband.  Constantly reading books on child-rearing, she insists on doing everything by the book and on the clock, with the baby receiving specifically allotted amounts of time for napping, playing, etc.  It was fine at first, but this dragged on for SO long.  What I really couldn’t believe was that Aunt Hannah didn’t step in and give Billy the talking-to she really needed.

In the end, I still wasn’t completely convinced that Billy had grasped the concept of balance.  While everything seemed to be going well when the story ended, I could definitely see Billy reading some other article and becoming just as annoying as ever.

These were perfectly fine and enjoyable books, with some delightful bits here and there.  But I just never really liked Billy all that well – she never felt like a very real person – and her tendency to obsess over one thing and really agonize over it got old for me.  A 3/5 for this little series, but it probably isn’t one I’ll reread.

Lodestars Anthology: New Zealand

Last year, I subscribed to a readers’ quarterly called Slightly Foxedwhich I love.  It’s just so delightful to read about books people love, not necessarily books that are ‘in’ or best sellers.  It’s a very friendly publication, and when they include an advertisement for another publication, Lodestars AnthologyI decided to give it a try.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I knew it was a travelers’ magazine of sorts, with lots of pictures.  But when I received my first issue, I was blown away by the amazing quality of this publication.  It’s half an inch thick, printed on matte (rather than glossy) paper, and it loaded with fantastic photography and artwork, plus tons of well-written and engaging articles.

Each issue focuses on a different country, and this – Issue 8 – stars New Zealand, which happens to be a place I’ve always dreamed of visiting.  And after reading LA, I want to go even more.  The publication does a really fantastic job of exploring all sorts of different aspects of the country – outdoor pursuits, out-of-the-way curiosities, restaurants, and town cultures.  I thoroughly enjoyed every page, and still find myself flipping through it.  It’s like a colorful reference book.

My biggest disappointment is that I can no longer purchase the first two issues, which are now out of stock – England and Scotland.

All in all, I’m quite looking forward to my next issue, and highly recommend checking out this delightful publication.

NB all pictures from LA’s website.

October Minireviews // Part 2

In an attempt to get you all caught up on all the reading I’ve done this month, I’m cramming all of my reviews into minireviews…

Thirty Days to Thirty by Courtney Psak

//published 2015//

This was a freebie Kindle book that sounded fun.  Jill, aged 29, is confident that her life is going the right direction.  On the verge of becoming a partner in the law firm where she’s been working, and confident that her live-in boyfriend is going to propose any minute, Jill considers her life ‘together.’  Unfortunately, instead of getting promoted, she gets fired.  And when she comes home early, she finds out that her boyfriend is actually having an affair.  So Jill moves back home to the small town where she grew up, back into her old bedroom at her parents’ house.  There, she comes across a list she wrote in high school of 30 items she wanted to have done by the time she was 30 years old – and she has only done a couple of them.  With the help of her long-time best friend and high school boyfriend, Jill starts getting things done on her list, and of course discovers who she truly is and true happiness along the way.

I was hoping for just a kind of happy little chick lit sort of vibe, but this book was just too ridiculous and poorly written to deliver even that.  The whole thing is first person present tense, so that was already quite aggravating, and the further into the book I got, the worse the story was.  Jill doesn’t read as 29-year-old at all, as she was just so immature and ridiculous at times.  There were really stupid scenes, like her walking in on her parents “doing it” and then I had to go through like an entire chapter of her being “so grossed out” – like yes, that’s extremely uncomfortable, but you’re an adult now, so I really feel like you should be able to move on – like how exactly do you think you arrived in the world….???

But the worst part was that one of things on Jill’s list was something along the lines of “learn to live without a boyfriend” or something like that – and it’s the one thing she never does!  She realizes how she was depending on her old boyfriend so much that she never really was herself, but she launches straight into a relationship with her old high school boyfriend.  So even though I liked that guy just fine, I was never able to really get behind their romance because at the end of the day Jill still just felt like she “needed” a man to live her life.  So 2/5 for being boring, pointless, and having an overall rather negative life message.

Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation by Harlow Giles Unger

//published 2010//

When I read a children’s biography of Patrick Henry a while back, I was really inspired to learn more about this particular founding father.  And while Lion of Liberty was interesting and had some more information about Henry, I overall felt more like I was reading a condensed history of the American Revolution/founding of Constitution, with a side focus on Henry rather than the other way around.  There is only one brief chapter on the first 24 years of Henry’s life, and throughout the rest of the book we are only given pieces of Henry’s personal life in very brief (and sometimes weirdly snide) asides.  Rather than making Henry more personable and accessible, Unger gives us a picture of a man’s accomplishments rather than the man himself.

In a weird way, I realized about halfway through the book that it just didn’t feel like Unger really liked Henry.  I felt rather like he was rolling his eyes at many of Henry’s dramatic speeches, and some of his comments about Henry’s personal life came across as downright uncomfortable.  E.g. – “…from then on, whenever Henry returned home he made certain that if his wife was not already pregnant from his last visit, she most certainly would be by the time he left.”   ???

Still, there was enough of Henry in this book to remind me why he was one of my childhood favorites.  His passion not just for freedom from Britain, but from big government in general, his love for everyday people and preserving their independence, his emphasis on the critical importance of strengthening small, localized governments – these are all themes that still resonate with me today.  I especially loved Henry’s passion for the Bill of Rights, and his strong stance against the Constitution without them.  Even more interesting is to see how so much of what Henry predicted has happened – in events that lead to the Civil War, and again today, with an ever-closing noose of interference and heavy taxation from a centralized government ever-distanced from the people it claims to serve.

For Lion, 3/5.  A decent read for the political overview of Henry, but I would still like to get a hold of a biography that focuses more on him as a person and less on him as a founding father, and preferably without the snide remarks about how much Henry liked his wife.

Indian Paint by Glenn Blach 

//published 1942//

In my effort to read/reread all the books I physically  own (and there are a lot), Indian Paint was next on the draw.  One of the Famous Horse Story series, this was a simple yet engaging tale of a young American Indian boy and the colt he has chosen for his own.  This wasn’t really a book that bowled me over with its intricate plotting, but I was surprised at how interested I became in the fate of Little Falcon and Shadow, especially since the fates seemed quite determined to keep them apart.  While there were points that were a bit overly dramatic, the story held together well and came to a satisfactory conclusion.  I have several of Balch’s books still on the shelf and am looking forward to tackling them at some point as well.

The Girl on the Train by Paul Hawkins

//published 2015//

So this is one of those books that I had heard SO much about that I actually braced myself for disappointment.  In the end, I was close to a 4/5, as it was a compulsively readable book that drew me in almost immediately.  I appreciated the fact that while Rachel wasn’t a reliable narrator, she was still likable.  I felt like the book was paced quite well.  Frequently, books that rely on date/time headings to let the reader know where we are quite annoy me, but it worked well in this instance, and I liked the way that we got the backstory from one narrator and the present story with another.  The ending came together well, leaving me overall satisfied.  While I didn’t find this to be an instantaneous classic that I would want to read again and again, I can still see why it has been a popular thriller since it was published.

I have read reviews of this book on multiple blogs that I follow (with a variety of views from “THIS WAS AMAZING!” to “eh”), including Reading, Writing & Riesling; The Literary Sisters; Rose Reads Novels; Chrissi Reads; Cleopatra Loves BooksBibliobeth; and probably others I’ve missed!