Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Wedding Chapel - Rachel Hauck

Title:   The Wedding Chapel 
Author:            Rachel Hauck
Publisher:        Zondervan
Market:           Christian
Genre:             Christian Fiction; Christian Romance
Length:            384 pages
Pub. Date:       November 17, 2015

Description (from Amazon):
An old, forgotten chapel holds the key to love and forgiveness.

Retired hall-of-fame football coach Jimmy Westbrook never imagined anything would come of his labor of love—building a wedding chapel for Collette Greer, the woman he fell in love with in 1949. But now a realtor wants the land the chapel sits on, and he sees no reason to hang onto the past.

Photographer Taylor Branson is trying to make a life for herself in New York. Leaving her hometown of Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, she put a lot of things behind her, including her family’s string of failed marriages. When she falls head-over-heels for Jack Gillingham, a top ad man, their whirlwind romance and elopement leave her with doubts. Jack, while genuine in his love for Taylor, can never seem to find the right way to show her he really cares.

When a post-mortem letter from Taylor’s Granny Peg shows up, along with an old photo, she is driven to uncover family secrets and the secret to her own happiness, starting with an assignment to photograph an unknown, obscure wedding chapel back in Heart’s Bend.

Taylor begins a mission to convince Jimmy that the chapel is worth saving—and that forgiveness and healing might happen within the chapel’s walls . . . for both of them.

My Review:

I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy via the publisher at NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I requested this book because I have read and enjoyed several of the author’s books previously.  So when I saw she was releasing a new one, I started stalking NetGalley until it was available.  I went into the reading expecting a sweet romance on the lighter side.  While that’s not what I received, I wasn’t disappointed.

This book has more depth and tackles weightier topics than the others I had read by Hauck.  The narrative travels back and forth between present day and the generation past.  Telling the stories of newlyweds, lost love, family dysfunction, and lies alongside first love, hope, and redemption.  The romance was realistically handled in all relationships. 

The characters were decently developed.  Their actions were a bit more predictable than I like, but I did still feel like I could connect with them and understand their motivations.  The narrative is told from multiple points of view.  So it was a very well-rounded tale.

I was confused at the start of the book and was sometimes startled out of the story by a switch in time and point of view.  However, once I got into it the pacing was great; I had no issues following the flow.  There was a lot of conflict in this book – both internally and between the characters.  The conflict and the processing of it is what moved the story along. 

There were several grammatical errors and issues.  Those grated on my nerves.  However, I’m hoping and assuming they were fixed between the Advanced Reader Copy and the final book printing. 

My other slight gripe was the heavy spiritual content towards the end of the book.  The God content and spirituality was there throughout.  But more as another character and in an incorporated way for most of the book.  However, towards the end it got a bit preachy.  Which, I realize that sometimes in our lives we just need to hear the Word clear and straight.  So it’s only a minor complaint that it didn’t all stay smoothly integrated.

While I don’t think there is any graphic content, there are some trigger topics for sensitive readers:  premarital sex and infidelity being two of the larger ones. 

I think this book appeals to women who like books about complicated relationships but still enjoy a happy ending.  I certainly enjoyed the reading of it.

***This review is also posted on The Christian Manifesto

·       Interweaving of various stories past and present
·       Interesting characters
·       Dealt with delicate topics in an appropriate way
·       Predictable
·       Spiritually heavy handed towards the end
·       Wanted more from the ending

My Rating:      3.5 out of 5 (Good)

Goodnight, Ark - Laura Sassi

Summary from Goodreads:

The padded board book edition of Goodnight, Ark tells the story of Noah and the animals as they try to sleep through the storm that is raging outside. But when the storm gets louder boars, quails, elephants, snakes and a few other furry friends join Noah in bed, creating quite the commotion! Author Laura Sassi brings a new dimension to one of the Bible’s most popular stories, giving a delightful glimpse into the emotional bond between Noah and the animals in his care. With sleek, buoyant verse and eye-catching illustrations by New York Times bestselling illustrator Jane Chapman, this read-aloud bedtime tale is sure to become a favorite of children and parents alike.

I ran across this book in the book section of Sam's.  After flipping through it briefly (while trying to keep Little Boy from grabbing all the books within reach), I decided to see if our library had it.  I like to check out books from there before I make the commitment to buy.  

This one is definitely buy worthy.  Such a cute story.  Little Boy has requested it at nap and bedtime for the last three days.  The prose has a nice rolling, rhyming rhythm.  It is easy and fun to read with all the animal noises.  While he doesn't get the funny surprise towards the end, I chuckle each time.

And the illustrations by Jane Chapman - amazing!  They add to the fun and feel of the book as a whole.  Sometime we just flip through and look at the pictures, naming the animals while I admire the artistry.  

If you have a little one, I highly recommend this read.

Swift Summaries

This Is What Happy Looks Like
Jennifer E. Smith            YA

Synopsis from Goodreads:
When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?

THIS!  This is what YA romance should be like.  No sex.  No grit.  Not chock full of foul language (Actually, there was none). Instead, a sweet, fun story of first loves.  I couldn’t help but like Ellie and Graham from their first email exchange.  They are funny and sarcastic and just cute.  I enjoyed the story that developed and was excited to know there was a novella sequel.  Which I promptly read.

Happy Again (This Is What Happy Looks Like #1.5)
Jennifer E. Smith            YA

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Ellie O'Neill and Graham Larkin fell hard for each other when a misspelled email address unexpectedly brought them together. Now, over a year has passed since they said goodbye with the promise to stay in touch, and their daily emails have dwindled to nothing. Ellie is a freshman in college and has told herself to move on, and Graham has kept himself busy starring in more movies, as well as a few tabloid columns. But fate brought these two together once before—and it isn't done with them yet.

While I didn’t love this one as much as the original, I did feel there was better character development.  I liked checking in on Ellie and Graham while I felt the reconnection scenario was a bit far-fetched.  A fun follow-up.

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates             Non-Fiction; Social Commentary

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? 
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.

I’m going to be honest.  I didn’t make it far in this book.  Not because it wasn’t interesting or because I didn’t desire to read it.  The reason is simple:  I have two little ones who aren’t affording me much sleep these days.  My brain is fried.  And this is definitely a book you need your brain sharp and engaged for. 
So I gave it a shot.  And now it’s back on my To Read List.  My hope is that I can try it again in the new year.  I think it’s relevant and important.

Help, Thanks, Wow
Anne Lamott                   Non-Fiction; Self-Help; Spirituality

Synopsis from Goodreads:
New York Times-bestselling author Anne Lamott writes about the three simple prayers essential to coming through tough times, difficult days and the hardships of daily life.
It is these three prayers – asking for assistance from a higher power, appreciating what we have that is good, and feeling awe at the world around us – that can get us through the day and can show us the way forward. In Help, Thanks, Wow, Lamott recounts how she came to these insights, explains what they mean to her and how they have helped, and explores how others have embraced these same ideas.
Completely irreverent with some good nuggets tucked in.  I think I would have enjoyed this book infinitely more had I read it as opposed to reading it.  The author reads on the audio, and I found her voice rather grating. 
I do like the overarching theme that the only prayers we need are “Help!,” “Thanks!,” and “Wow.”
God, I need help with something.  Be it a health issue or a job issue; relational or world encompassing.
Thanks, God!  For all of those things that we should be appreciative of in our lives as well as His grace and forgiveness.
And then “Wow!”  For those moments when we are bowled over by the majesty He has created and sustained. 
Help.  Thanks.  Wow.  Good foundation for your personal communion with God.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Fruitcake Murders - Ace Collins

Title:               The Fruitcake Murders
Author:            Ace Collins
Publisher:        Abingdon Press
Market:           General
Genre:             Fiction, Mystery
Length:            320 pages
Pub. Date:       October 6, 2015

Description (from Amazon):

As Christmas 1946 draws near, thirty-something marine officer-turned-homicide detective Lane Walker has his hands full. Three men with seemingly no relationship to each other have been murdered, including the powerful District Attorney. The only connection between the crimes? The weapons: twenty-year-old unopened fruitcake tins manufactured by a company that is no longer in business.

While some foods may be to die for, fruitcake isn't one of them! This heaping helping of murder will be no easy task for Walker, and he certainly doesn't need the determined and feisty Betsy Clayton, the political reporter for The Chicago Herald, getting in the way.

Employing witty dialogue and historical accuracy, The Fruitcake Murders offers equal parts murder, mystery, and mayhem in a perplexing whodunit set in the days just after World War II.

My Review:

I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy via the publisher at NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I picked this book as I was in the mood for a good mystery.  And, hello, the author’s name is “Ace Collins;” how cool is that?  Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed in the actuality of the novel.

The first turn-off was all of the issues with the text.  Several of the time stamps were off or out of order or didn’t jive with the content of that section.  There were many contradictions and inconsistency as well as poor grammar, misplaced words and missing quotation marks.   As a former English teacher (as well as having a penchant for details), all of those things strongly affect my overall reading experience even if the story itself is exceptional.

Also, just the whole tone of the book was a bit over the top for me.  I think the author was going for a “classic Dick Tracy movie” type feel with the swapping between first and last name usage, trying on the 1940’s vernacular, etc.  But it just didn’t work.  And the continued reference to how good looking, gorgeous, and handsome everyone was drove me a bit batty.  Even with some of the content and the date/time tags, it was hard to remember the historical setting of the book.

That being said, I think the mystery itself has good bones.  While I was pretty certain “whodunit” by the end, I was waffling between a few different possibilities for most of the book. 

The characters were definitely very character-y.  They were entertaining but hard to get attached to.  And the love triangle was flat ridiculous. 

The start of the story had me fairly lost.  However, I think that’s pretty typical of mystery books. That’s what helps make them mysterious.  So I was okay with it.  Especially as the book kept me guessing through most of it.  I changed my thoughts on the murderer a couple of times throughout the course of reading.  That always makes it more enjoyable. 

I don’t recall any spiritual or supernatural elements.  If they were there, I missed them.  As far as questionable content, there are murders.  But I think any reader would expect that from the title.  I really can’t think of any particular triggers this book might contain for a more sensitive or conservative reader.  Even the descriptions of the murder scenes were pretty tame.

Readers who enjoy easy to read mysteries would like this story as well.  There were actually a few different mysteries to be solved throughout.  However, I don’t know that I’ll be rushing out to buy the next thing Ace Collins writes.  Maybe, though. 

***This review is also posted on The Christian Manifesto and my Goodreads account.***

·       Good mystery elements
·       Kept me guessing
·       Easy to read

·       Grammatical errors
·       Inconsistencies and contradictions
·       Annoying character interactions

My Rating:  2.5 out of 5  (I feel like it was poor from a grammatical and consistency standpoint.  But as the mystery itself was good, I’ll give it a 2.5 for average)

Quick Lit Reviews - October

I’m Not Leaving by Carl Wilkens

This was our book club book for October.  Yes, an odd pick for a book club.  However, one of our members saw him when he came to speak at her school.  When she shared a bit of what he had to say with us (and as we’ve read many a book dealing with the Holocaust genocide), several of us were interested in reading his book. 

And the verdict was it was interesting. It was confusing at times to keep different names and distinctions straight.  Also mind-boggling was to realize this genocide happened in such a short time frame. 

It made for interesting discussion on what we would each do in a similar situation.

3 out of 5 (liked it)

 The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman

I have been hearing about this book from different sources for at least three years. While I’m thrilled to have finally read it, I’m bummed that we never chose it as a book club book.  Such good fodder for discussion between its pages.

The prologue gripped me right away.  Then I was a bit bogged down with the character building in the first several chapters.  Then the story got rolling again, and I was completely engrossed until the end. 

This is the story of Tom and Isabel and the baby who washed up under their lighthouse.  What a tale it was.  Some parts I saw coming.  But I expected something completely from the end than what Stedman delivered.  I’m okay with that (Again, would be a great discussion.). 

Definitely a recommended read.  My only caution would be the strong trigger topics of miscarriage and child loss. 

4 out of 5 (loved it)

Bringing in Finn:  An Extraordinary Surrogacy Story by Sarah Connell

Definitely extraordinary.  While I did not love the writing style and some of the spirituality was a bit out there for me, it was definitely an interesting read. 

As someone who dealt with infertility, the stories of others who have walked through the same always intrigue me.  Although we never got to the point of IVF or surrogacy.  The idea of a grandmother carrying and delivering her grandchild is amazing to me.  It is awe-inspiring all the crazy things our bodies are capable of. 

2 out of 5 (just okay)

The Fruitcake Murders by Ace Collins

Stay tuned for a post with a full review I wrote for The Christian Manifesto (

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

I started this.  The introduction bogged me down, and I gave it up in the first chapter.  I’ll try it again later when my infant and toddler aren’t limiting my sleep to a handful of hours, if that.

Toilet Training in Less than a Day by Nathan H. Azrin and Richard M. Foxx

I have a 26 month old.  I want him to be potty trained so I’ll just have one in diapers instead of two.  This book came highly recommended from a mother of three boys.  It was a quick read for certain.   The process is nicely detailed out.  

However, I don’t think little boy is ready quite yet.  We need to work on the obeying directions and knowing before he starts going parts.  Maybe after the new year when he’s closer to 2.5.  And I’ll visit this book again too.

I’ll decide how many stars out of 5 after I put it to the test.  J