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.

Advertisements

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.

 

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!

The Girl from Summer Hill // by Jude Deveraux

//published 2016//

I initially added this book to the list as a contemporary Pride & Prejudice retelling, albeit a loose one.  Basic concept – Casey ends up playing Elizabeth in a local theater production of P&P, except her relationship with the guy playing Darcy is a lot like the one the original characters had.  I really liked the way that the chapter titles were listed as though they were part of a play (Act One, Scene Two), and reflected the fictional/P&P names of the characters (“Elizabeth Doesn’t Tempt Darcy”), even though their actual names weren’t anything like Elizabeth or Darcy.  I also appreciated that the characters were no unaware of how ridiculous it was that their lives were somewhat paralleling the original P&P story.

Actually, there were a lot of things to like about this book to start.  The characters were funny and friendly, the conversations pleasant, and there was a decent concept underneath of it all.  But in the end, I was just so frustrated with the incredibly choppiness of the story and the way the author kind of acted like we should already know a lot about these people.  For instance, Casey is staying in a house that was loaned to her by Kit, who is also directing the play – but we’re given no information about Kit or his relationship with Casey, which meant I was really confused when Kit immediately was interested in an older lady; at first I assumed that Kit must be close to Casey’s age, but it turns out that he’s a lot older than her – more of an uncle/father figure.

There was also this extremely weird thing where a bunch of the characters were half-siblings because their biological father was actually a sperm donor … but there is no explanation as to how all of these siblings actually found/met each other, and Casey’s relationship with her father is really ambiguous – like, are they friends?  It just made no sense and was never really explained.

I wondered for a while if some of these characters were in other of Deveraux’s books, because she has written a lot, but I couldn’t find any information supporting that; supposedly this book is the first in a new series.

There were a lot of random things that nagged at me.  It felt like who parts of this book had just been chopped out with no attempt to smooth the rough edges.  Consequently, everyone falling in love with everyone felt very sudden and kind of strange – especially when we jumped straight into snogging/sex.

And hello??  They get caught in the rain on the back of the estate and have to take shelter in this old shed where Darcy’s mum used to hang out when she was little and the blankets and pillows are still there from when it was her secret hideout literally 20 years or more ago – and that’s where they shag!?  All I could think was GROSS.  There is no way that those cushions weren’t full of all sorts of unsavory insects and rodents.  ICK.  This book was full of completely impractical stuff like that; there was absolutely no attempt to make any of this remotely realistic or believable.

Still, I was still fairly confident that this book was going to get a 3/5 for a decent effort (albeit with a lot of eye rolling) until it completely went off the rails at the end.  This is a BIG SPOILER (I mean, sort of… it’s not like we don’t know who the villain is from the very beginning, and since we all know the basic concept of P&P it’s not really a big surprise when “Wickham” absconds with “Lydia”…) but yeah so the Wickham character convinces Lydia to run away with him.  Lydia has told everyone she is 18, but it turns out that she’s actually only 15, just like Book Lydia, so it’s a big deal that he has run away with a minor, but instead of chasing after him, they come up with this convoluted plot to lure him back by presenting the upcoming play as a contest of acting ability between Wickham and Darcy.  (???!!!??!?!)  Despite the fact that Wickham has been portrayed as complete cad who will do whatever he can to satisfy his own selfish whims and has been known to accost/sexually harass/rape women in the past, no one seems overly concerned that he’s disappeared with a fifteen-year-old girl.  I mean, they’re upset, but I don’t think that “luring him back” is really the kind of option that law enforcement would agree to (or at least I hope not!  Good grief!).

So yes, the most ridiculous part is – it worked!  He just comes back with Lydia in tow!  And goes right to the theater to start acting in the play!  AND THEN instead of arresting him immediately, they convince the police that they should let the play go on because it’s for charity!?  Not only that – Lydia still plays her part!  No one bothers to, I don’t know, find out if she’s been raped?!  What!?

And then we get this write-up of the play, praising how “realistic” everyone was, etc., and it’s supposed to be this big thing where everyone acted so passionately… except then it concludes with the way the play will be running multiple times and people should go see it… and to myself I’m thinking… Except Wickham is gone and the play isn’t going to be that great because it will completely lack the emotional charge of that opening night…???

So yes, a 2/5 in the end.  The whole thing with Wickham taking off with a young girl really bothered me (she didn’t actually get raped, by the way; she convinced Wickham that she was on her period, which apparently was enough to keep him away….  surrre it would be), especially when nobody acted like it was a big deal and that obviously Lydia was fine and would be able to do the play just like regular.  Combined with the overall choppiness, the lack of character background/connections, and the complete disconnect from any kind of reality, this book didn’t leave me with any desire to seek out more of Deveraux’s works.

#17 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Companion’s Secret // by Linda Thompson

//published 2015//

This Pride & Prejudice variation started with a lot of excitement, but ended up being just really bland.

Thompson ruthlessly kills off Elizabeth’s entire family (except for Jane, who visiting the Gardiners) in a terrible carriage accident in the first chapter.  Immediately, the heir to Longbourn shows up, except in this variation it isn’t the Mr. Collins we know, but that Mr. Collins’s father, who is a pretty terrible person.  The reader is not surprised to learn that he probably had a hand in creating the carriage accident.  He’s super creepy and everyone hates him, including his own son who doesn’t really like any of his dad’s plans but since his dad has always beaten him up when he disagrees, he pretty just goes along with everything.

Anyway, Mr. C Sr. wants Mr. C Jr. to marry Elizabeth.  Since she isn’t really into that idea, Sr. decides that Jr. will have to compromise her.  Elizabeth overhears them talking and discovers that she is supposed to receive an inheritance from her great aunt when she reaches her majority the following spring, which is what this is all about.  She also hears about the whole planned compromise thing, and then listens as Sr. laughs evilly whilst plotting her ultimate demise after he gets his hands on the inheritance.  Fearing for her life, she flees Longbourn in disguise, aided by the servants who all love her.  She coincidentally meets up with the Darcys at an inn, and what with one thing and another is hired as Georgiana’s companion.

While I didn’t dislike this variation, there was just no character development.  Elizabeth is absolutely perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Darcy is also perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Georgiana is quietly perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Guess who else is perfect?  Jane, Mr. Bingley, the Gardiners, all of the servants at Longbourn, Darcy’s entire family except for Lady Catherine, a random dressmaker in Lambton, and even Elizabeth’s horse.  Since all the good guys were already perfect, there wasn’t really any room for them to learn or grow.  The bad guys were all super bad (in this version, Collins Sr., Wickham, Miss Bingley, and Lady Catherine), so they didn’t really learn or grow either – they just got punished.

Thompson did a decent job making things seem plausible, even hiring Elizabeth at a random inn.  She stretches credulity but I still could get behind it.  I mean, who wouldn’t hire an angel if they stumbled across them?  And that’s basically Elizabeth’s character in this book.

The last 20% of the book was completely superfluous.  All of the main storylines are resolved, and Darcy and Elizabeth get married.  Except then all of the sudden we have this weird last bit where Lady Catherine shows up and causes trouble, but it felt really awkward, like this part was literally there just to make the story longer.  There were also some minor editing issues; the main one that aggravated me was that the author couldn’t seem to decide whether Bingley’s aunt in Yorkshire was named Agnes or Agatha.

All in all, a 3/5 for a story that wasn’t terrible, just very, very bland.