Review: The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

hereandnowTHE HERE AND NOW
Ann Brashares
Delacorte Press
Publication Date: April 8, 2014

From the back cover:

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

From Ann Brashares, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, The Here and Now is thrilling, exhilarating, haunting, and heartbreaking—and a must-read novel of the year.

I’ve never read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Okay. There. Admission made. I picked up The Here and Now because–TIME TRAVEL!!! I’ve always been fascinated with the idea and this one sounded not only interesting, but also like a high stakes thriller, which was a definite plus.

WHAT I LIKED:

Ann Brashares has a lyrical writing style that’s very easy to fall into. She keeps you turning the pages and before you know it, you’re halfway through and you suddenly can’t put the book down.

I really liked the character of Prenna. She’s strong and courageous and loyal and not afraid to question the rules her “society” has placed on her. She has a wonderful bond with Ethan that both thrills her and frightens her. She doesn’t want to put him in danger, and yet, when the truth starts unraveling, he’s the only one she can trust. Though their relationship doesn’t really grow, they start out in love and end up in love, the romantic subplot is a sweet and enjoyable addition to the book.

Ann Brashares does a good job of setting up the backstory of the time-traveling, a world full of destruction and blood plagues, a society desperate to find a way to save it before it’s too late. I thought this was a unique approach and Ms. Brashares added plenty of twists and turns that kept me invested in the story.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME:

While I enjoyed the world that Ms. Brashares created, I also found the whole “global warming/climate change/people are destroying the world” message to be a little heavy handed at times. It seemed to much like an agenda, and that detracted from the story for me.

Plus, while I really liked the character of Ethan, there were times when his actions became too far fetched for the story. He was good at everything. Need a ‘spy’ proficient in planting trackers and lasering out window glass? He’s your guy. Need a hacker capable of setting up secure servers? Yep, he’s your guy. Need a scientist capable of figuring everything out at the perfect moment? Well…you guessed it, he’s your guy.

I would have liked to see him have some flaws. Come to think of it, I’d like to have seen both him and Prenna have more weaknesses and face more setbacks. Everything seemed way too easier for them.

FINAL VERDICT:

Ann Brashares’ voice saved this one for me. Despite the flaws in the story, I still found myself racing through the pages to find out what would happen. I’d recommend The Here and Now to anyone who loves science and time-travel and thrillers and doesn’t mind having to suspend disbelief to enjoy a story.

 

 

 

Review: The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt

TCW_leavittTHE CHAPEL WARS
Lindsey Leavitt
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

From the back cover:

Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?

And then there’s Grandpa’s letter. Not only is Holly running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money—fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family’s mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and… Dax. No wait, not Dax.

Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there’s a wedding chapel to save.

I think the best way to describe THE CHAPEL WARS is cute. There is so much cuteness in this book that you’d think it would suffer from it, but somehow it doesn’t. Because beneath the layers of cute there’s a real lesson on grief that will resonate with anyone who’s experienced a great loss in their life.

Holly basically grew up in the wedding chapel, so losing it would be like losing her grandpa all over again. Problem is, no one knew how much financial trouble the business was in, and no one knows how to fix it. Which leaves Holly to step in and save the day.

Although I enjoyed watching Holly go from clueless teenager to budding businesswoman, there were times I wondered why her parents didn’t step in and take a greater role. It made them seem a bit dysfunctional. Maybe that was the point, as the family relationship does grow and evolve throughout the book, but there were times when it felt a bit frustrating.

And then there’s Dax, the boy from the wedding chapel next door, who is sometimes a bit difficult to like. Holly, of course, has no such trouble, falling for him almost instantly. While I realize page count limits come in to play, I would have liked to see a bit more development between them. As it was, I never fully understood what Holly saw in Dax, except for maybe a kindred spirit dealing with grief.

The Vegas wedding chapel setting is full of over-the-top glitz and fake Elvis (because a Vegas chapel would NOT be complete without one…or two!), which, I think, is really where the strength and uniqueness of the book lies. Lindsey Leavitt brings cheesy wedding chapels to life in a big way, and then tempers them with some real and poignant moments that keep the reader turning the pages.

I would recommend THE CHAPEL WARS to anyone who likes light contemporary YA romance with quirky characters and tons of cute.

 

Review: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

ORS_elordOPEN ROAD SUMMER
Emery Lord
Walker Books
Publication Date: April 15, 2014

From the back cover:

After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own.

Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence.

This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

I picked up OPEN ROAD SUMMER because the premise combined road trips and country music, both of which I love. I didn’t have a whole of expectation for the book. I’d hoped to find a fun story with a cute romance, and OPEN ROAD SUMMER delivered on that score. It also delivers on unique, layered characters and wonderful emotional depth.

Reagan is an extremely flawed heroine, which I found refreshing, even when she wasn’t all that likeable. She’s made mistakes and throughout the book, she makes a whole lot more, but mistakes are a part of growing up (heck, they’re even a part of adulthood!) and so all of Reagan’s faults just make the story that much more real. Matt is the perfect counterpart for her to fall in love with, a boy with hidden depths and vulnerabilities that show through his weathered rock-star armor. The ups and downs of their romance provide a great backdrop to the real gem of OPEN ROAD SUMMER, and that is, the friendship between Reagan and Dee (Lilah).

It’s rare to find a book that centers so much on the relationship between friends and Emery Lord manages to capture Reagan and Dee’s friendship perfectly. They laugh, they cry, they fight like only life-long friends can, and it is through their friendship that readers really see the healing for the hurts in both Reagan and Dee’s pasts.

OPEN ROAD SUMMER is a wonderful debut by Emery Lord. I’m looking forward to see future releases from this bright new talent!

 

Review: Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer

FSA_witemeyerFULL STEAM AHEAD
Karen Witemeyer
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: June 3, 2014

From the back cover:

Nicole Renard returns home to Galveston, Texas, to find her father deathly ill. Though she loves him, Nicole’s father has always focused on what she’s not. Not male. Not married. Not able to run Renard Shipping.

Vowing to find a suitable husband to give her father the heir he desires before it’s too late, Nicole sets out with the Renard family’s greatest treasure as her dowry: the highly coveted Lafitte Dagger. But her father’s rivals come after the dagger, forcing a change in Nicole’s plans.

After a boiler explosion aboard the Louisiana nearly took his life, Darius Thornton has been a man obsessed. He will do anything to stop even one more steamship disaster. Even if it means letting a female secretary into his secluded world.

Nicole is determined not to let her odd employer scare her off with his explosive experiments, yet when respect and mutual attraction grow between them, a new fear arises. How can she acquire an heir for her father when her heart belongs to another? And when her father’s rivals discover her hiding place, will she have to choose between that love and her family’s legacy?

Karen Witemeyer is an author I love to read when stress is getting me down. She has a way of making farcical comedy absolutely charming, endearing and so much fun. Throw in some romance, a little bit of intrigue and jeopardy, and a perfect happy-ever-after, and you’ve got the perfect book to help you forget about life’s troubles for a while.

FULL STEAM AHEAD features hero Darius Thornton, an eccentric scientist driven to find a solution to steamship boiler disasters after having witnessed their devastation first hand, and heroine Nicole Renard, a dagger-wielding mathematics genius desperate to earn her dying father’s favor by finding an heir who can take over the family shipping business. From the moment these two meet, readers are treated to witty banter, romantic sparks, and gentle truths that make for a fast-paced story that is almost impossible to put down.

While I found the intrigue surrounding the Lafitte Dagger to be a little bit far fetched and over-the-top, the power in this book lies in the fact that I honestly don’t care that it’s wholly unbelievable. It’s just too much fun. And somehow Karen Witemeyer manages to beautifully blend all this comedic goodness with heartfelt themes of learning to let go. My favorite part was when she talked about God being the potter and us being His clay. It’s a wonderful moment in the story as well as for the readers.

I loved FULL STEAM AHEAD and recommend it to anyone who enjoys romantic comedy with a great historical twist. I can’t wait to see what Karen Witemeyer will bring to her readers next!

Review: Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg

HTS_melissataggHERE TO STAY (WHERE LOVE BEGINS #2)
Melissa Tagg
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

From the back cover:

Blake Hunziker has played nomad for five years and landed in his fair share of trouble too. But now he’s finally returning to his hometown–the Lake Michigan tourist town of Whisper Shore. Counting on a not-so-warm welcome, he’s surprised at not only a positive reception but also a job offer. Determined to settle down and prove himself responsible, he agrees to the catch that comes with the job offer–coordinating the annual Christmas festival–even though he has no idea how he’ll pull it off.

Autumn Kingsley, inn owner and experienced organizer of the Christmas festival, has always dreamed of traveling the world. Now she has a job opportunity in Paris and a surprise potential investor coming to town who just might take on her family’s inn and finally leave her free to go. The only problem is that she has just two weeks to whip the inn into shape.

Their families have a long history of not getting along, but when Blake comes to Autumn for help with the festival, she actually agrees…in exchange for his help with the repairs to her inn. They may have struck a simple deal, but complications are quick to pile on when the guy who’s had enough of running away and the woman who can’t wait to leave join forces.

MADE TO LAST was one of my favorite inspirational fiction reads from last year, so I was very excited to get the chance to review Melissa Tagg’s sophomore novel, HERE TO STAY.

HERE TO STAY picks up Blake’s story where MADE TO LAST ended–with Blake deciding it was time to stop running. He returns home to Whisper Shore, hoping to find a purpose for his restless heart. Instead, he finds forgiveness and a second chance. Autumn Kinglsey has been trying to get out of Whisper Shore for years, and now, with a job offer in Paris, she finally has the chance to fulfill her dreams. But sometimes, dreams have a way of changing, and you find that what you once wanted is no longer appealing.

Melissa Tagg writes a warm, heartfelt, funny story reminiscent of classic romantic comedies. Not only is her style super engaging and easy to read, but her characters ooze charm and her inspiring words of hope tug at the heartstrings. I loved the entire sentiment of this book–that sometimes, God opens doors you weren’t expecting or sends you in a different direction altogether. Sometimes you’re so focused on the end goal, you miss all the little opportunities in between and fail to appreciate all you have right in front of you.

I adored every page of this book from the small town charm that’s brought to life with Ms. Tagg’s words, to the witty banter, the humorous mishaps, and the poignant moments, this entire book is a delight to read. I did not want it to end! In fact, I loved HERE TO STAY even more than I loved MADE TO LAST.

Melissa Tagg is now one of my must-read authors. I can’t wait to see what she writes next! Highly recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

Review: A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander

ABSR_alexanderA BEAUTY SO RARE (BELMONT MANSION #2)
Tamera Alexander
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: March 25, 2014

From the back cover:

Plain, practical Eleanor Braddock knows she will never marry, but with a dying soldier’s last whisper, she believes her life can still have meaning and determines to find his widow. Impoverished and struggling to care for her ailing father, Eleanor arrives at Belmont Mansion, home of her aunt, Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America–and possibly the most demanding, as well. Adelicia insists on finding her niece a husband, but a simple act of kindness leads Eleanor down a far different path–building a home for destitute widows and fatherless children from the Civil War. While Eleanor knows her own heart, she also knows her aunt will never approve of this endeavor.

Archduke Marcus Gottfried has come to Nashville from Austria in search of a life he determines, instead of one determined for him. Hiding his royal heritage, Marcus longs to combine his passion for nature with his expertise in architecture, but his plans to incorporate natural beauty into the design of the widows’ and children’s home run contrary to Eleanor’s wishes. As work on the home draws them closer together, Marcus and Eleanor find common ground–and a love neither of them expects. But Marcus is not the man Adelicia has chosen for Eleanor, and even if he were, someone who knows his secrets is about to reveal them all.

Tamera Alexander is a powerhouse when it comes to writing inspirational historical fiction. Her attention to historical details, her vivid descriptions, and her heartfelt style of storytelling all cement her as one of my favorite authors. However, I do have to admit that when I received this one in the mail from Bethany House Publishers, my first thought was that it was a massive book I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through!

Eleanor Braddock is a heroine you can’t help but admire. She’s desperate for a purpose in her life, with a capital “P”–and marriage will never be it. She loves her father and wants to care for him, but when his condition deteriorates too much, she must make the difficult decision to put him in an asylum. Still reeling from the after effects of the civil war, Eleanor decides to take her passion for cooking and turn it into a business by opening a cafe, but her Aunt will not hear of it and refuses to invest in Eleanor’s idea. She must learn that sometimes the plans we have for ourselves are not the plans God has for us.

Archduke Marcus Gottfried is hiding from both his past and his future. His love of nature and architecture lead him to Nashville and there, he begins to make a life for himself. One that is not supposed to include Eleanor, but the woman gets under his skin in a way no one else has, and soon he finds himself falling for her. But if he is to have a future with Eleanor, he must reconcile the hurts from his past.

Although I found the first half of the book to be slow moving, once the plans for the widow’s and children’s home really start taking off, so does the story, and at that point, I couldn’t put it down. I loved the way Tamera Alexander pens the difficult, heart-wrenching relationship Eleanor had with her father, as well as the friendships Eleanor cultivates with the widows around town. I also felt Ms. Alexander did an amazing job with the romance between Marcus and Eleanor. Their love story is delicate and graceful and full of beautiful layers.

I’m happy to recommend A BEAUTY SO RARE to those of you who love richly detailed historical novels with heart, hope and faith.

 

Review: What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer

WOWL_sawyerWHAT ONCE WAS LOST
Kim Vogel Sawyer
WaterBrook Press
Publication Date: September 17, 2013

From the back cover:

A woman meant to serve, a child in the dark, a man standing apart—can these three souls embrace a God with new plans for them?

On a small Kansas farm, Christina Willems lovingly shepherds a group of poor and displaced individuals who count on her leadership and have come to see the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor as their home. But when a fire breaks out in the kitchen leaving the house inhabitable, she must scramble to find shelter for all in her care, scattering her dear “family.”

With no other options, Christina is forced to approach Levi Jonnson, a reclusive mill owner, to take in a young blind boy named Tommy Kilgore. Levi agrees with reluctance but finds himself surprised by the bond that quickly grows between him and Tommy. As obstacles to repairing the farm pile up against Christina, she begins to question her leadership ability and wonders if she can fulfill the mission to which she’s dedicated her life. And when an old adversary challenges Christina, will she find an unlikely ally—or more—in the aloof Levi? Can Levi reconcile with the rejection that led to his hermit-like existence and open his heart and life to something more, especially a relationship with a loving God?

I have long been a fan of Kim Vogel Sawyer for her ability to bring historical detail to life in her books. In WHAT ONCE WAS LOST, she writes about the prairies of Kansas and how one woman not only changes the lives of those she cares for but has her life changed in return.

Christina Willems inherited the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor after her father’s death and she takes her role as caretaker for her down-on-their-luck charges very seriously. When she loses the ability to house them, she must re-locate them, and although this is a painful process for her, she soon realizes that good can come out of bad.

This is especially true in the case of Tommy Kilgore, a young blind boy whom she has trouble placing. She finally convinces reclusive Levi Jonnson to temporarily shelter the boy, and though the two have a rocky start, Tommy begins to grow on Levi. And it is through this bond, that Christina and Levi’s relationship blossoms. As the two grow closer, they learn to let go of the past and embrace the future God has in store for them.

Though I found the book a little slower paced then some of Kim Vogel Sawyer’s other books, and therefore a little tougher to get through, ultimately I discovered that WHAT ONCE WAS LOST is a beautifully written story of overcoming obstacles and adversity through faith.