Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg

Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg
Bethany House Publishers, 29 April 2014

After playing nomad for five years, Blake Hunziker has finally had enough of adventure. Not sure what reception he'll get from everyone back in Whisper Shore, he's stunned at not only a warm welcome from his hometown but also a job offer. The job is his if he can successfully pull off the annual Christmas Festival. If only he knew the first thing about coordinating events...

If there's one thing Autumn Kingsley knows, it's Whisper Shore. For years, she's been stuck running her family's inn when all she wants is to see the world. Now she has a visit scheduled from a potential investor who could take over the inn, as well as a dream job offer in Paris. But with just two weeks to whip the inn into shape, her chance at escape is a long shot.

The Hunzikers and the Kingsleys may not get along, but Blake knows Autumn's the only one who can help him. She agrees to a trade--she'll help with the Festival and he'll help with inn repairs. But what was meant to be a simple deal quickly becomes much more than that when the guy who's done running away joins forces with the girl who can't wait to leave.

Here to Stay is my first foray into Melissa Tagg's writing. It can be quite hard for me to find contemporary romance fiction that I like, so it's quite exciting when I do.

Autumn and Blake had me hooked from the first page.  This became a 'can't-put-it-down' read for me very quickly.  There was just something about Autumn and Blake that I loved.  They were real, fresh and irresistible, and had fantastic chemistry.  Blake was very appealing - good looking, strong and capable, likes to have fun.  Couple that with the fact he was dealing with a deep emotional pain ... and well, that's a very sexy recipe! Autumn needed his help - but she wasn't a 'needy' character and she happily accepted his help, which is a refreshing change.

The story is compelling, dealing with a tragedy that both Autumn and Blake were associated with a few years prior.  The town of Whisper Shore was delightful and its characters engaging.  We join not only Autumn and Blake in their journey to emotional healing, but the whole town as well.

I also love Melissa Tagg's writing style and voice, and found it witty and entertaining.

My only reservation is that the ending wasn't quite as satisfying as I would have liked.  I think the grand gesture you expect at the end of a romance didn't feel quite as big as it could be.

But besides from that, I happily recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an engaging, heartwarming and put-a-smile-on-your-dial kind of contemporary romance. I look forward to what Melissa Tagg releases next!

Helen is a freelance editor, specialising in fiction. For more information on her editing services, please visit her website.

As a reader, Helen's favourite genre is historical fiction with a strong romantic element.  She also enjoys contemporary romance, chick-lit and YA.  She's not caught up in the spell of fantasy fiction, despite The Faraway Tree series being a strong influence in her childhood.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review: Shaken by Kariss Lynch

Shaken by Kariss Lynch
Realms, February 4, 2014

When her world is shaken, will her foundation survive?
Idealistic and sheltered with a passion to change the world, Kaylan Richards leaves her comfortable life in Alabama to serve in poverty-stricken Haiti. Despite her inexperience and the opposition of a voodoo priest, Kaylan develops a love for the country and the Haitian people. But something deadly is about to strike.

It is the worst earthquake the country has ever seen, and in its aftermath bodies, buildings, and broken lives litter the streets. People she cares about are dead, and Kaylan is caught in the middle of the destruction, questioning a God who said He was good.

Navy SEAL Nick Carmichael never planned to find a girl he loved more than his country. Now she is a world away, trapped in a deadly situation nothing could have prepared her for. Can Nick’s love help Kaylan heal and show her the God who never abandoned her, or will tragedy shake even the most rooted faith?

Another new author I stumbled across while browsing the fiction section. Lynch has given her readers a solid and emotional read, filled with characters you give your hearts to. The book focuses on Kaylan and her journey to Haiti with her childhood best friend to work for six months. Her plans are disrupted with  the arrival of her ex-boyfriend, Navy Seal Nick Carmichael. Nick wants another chance. She wants to give him one but she won't sacrifice Haiti for him. So they write letters. When the earthquake hits, Kaylan's life is in ruins. The only person who understands the pain she is going through is Nick. Can he help her back to a safe place emotionally and spiritually?

I liked Nick, he is a solid character, one who is seen to have made mistakes but wants to change and he's determined to prove he can be trusted again. Lynch does a good job in my opinion of showing PTSD for soldiers. Though I'm sure it can be much for than depicted here. But his experiences help Kaylan when she finally opens up to him and her family.

Kaylan is a little confusing as a character. The only thing I was sure of about her was that she wanted to use her dieticians degree to teach people in developing nations about good food choices and how to do that cheaply. When she is in Haiti she has much to learn about cultural differences between the western world and the third world and that it's really not that easy to give them some tips on healthy food and job is done. Thankfully she learns a little more by the end of the book. For the most part though, Kaylan spent more time thinking than doing and her interactions with the Haiti people came across as cliched to me. So she was a little hard for me to like because I felt I didn't get to really know her.

The Haiti earthquake was well done. I don't remember the details of when and the damage etc, but I recall the fall out when on for years. How to rebuild in such a place is heartbreaking. The pain of the people is brought into the story. The repercussions of this earthquake are far reaching and Kaylan, her family and friends refuse to sit by and doing nothing at the story concludes. They have been touched by this tragedy and felt the need to give back - to help with the healing in any way they could.

A lot of questions are flung at God by Kaylan, who understandably asks "Why, God, why?" a lot. I felt her faith was quite shallow at the start of the story though and I didn't see it really grow until right near the end when she finally just tells God how she feels. This act of sharing starts to heal and unburden her.

Overall I enjoyed this book. It made me cry in several places and I was immersed in the story. A recommended read to get a glimpse into a great tragedy and to see that God's love does indeed shine in the darkness.

Jess' favourite genre is contemporary women's fiction and contemporary romance fiction. She also enjoys historical fiction with a focus on romance. She loves books set in country towns or farms with a cowboy featured in either historical or contemporary settings.

She is currently writing her first novel, a contemporary women's fiction/romance set in a small country town.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review: With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden

With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden
Bethany House Publishers, August 5, 2014

In the shadow of the nation's capital, Kate Livingston's respectable life as a government worker is disrupted by an encounter with the insufferable Trevor McDonough, the one man she'd hoped never to see again. A Harvard-trained physician, Trevor never showed the tiniest flicker of interest in Kate, and business is the only reason he has sought her out now.

Despite her misgivings, Kate agrees to Trevor's risky proposal to join him in his work to find a cure for tuberculosis. As Kate begins to unlock the mysteries of Trevor's past, his hidden depths fascinate her. However, a shadowy enemy lies in wait and Trevor's closely guarded secrets are darker than she ever suspected.

As revelations from the past threaten to destroy their careers, their dreams, and even their lives, Trevor and Kate find themselves in a painfully impossible situation. With everything to lose, they must find the strength to trust that hope and love can prevail over all.

A favourite author of mine, I always look forward to Elizabeth Camden's books with joy plus some anxiety. Anxiety doesn't sound good, but I like it for her books. Camden usually does something a little different with her characters in each book and I'm always waiting with baited breath to see if I'm going to like what she's done. What's funny is even though I haven't always liked the characters she presents, I really value her for stepping out onto a limb and pushing herself for more, greater depth and breadth to her characters. I also love the research with her books, I always learn something and this is a real pleasure.

With Every Breath was a fine example of this. Learning about Tuberculosis was really interesting and the backdrop of Washington DC was really lovely. Kate and Trevor have a battle scarred past and Camden uses it to give her readers a strong chemistry and their competitive natures enable both of them to push each others buttons, but to also strive for great things. The challenges of finding a cure for TB is a sad experience, with many fatalities along the way and a cure is still years away. The pain of this eats away at both Trevor and Kate and they are forced to come to terms with the effects of the disease as it invades their lives in unexpected ways.

Trevor is a no nonsense, straight to the point, driven man and Kate is a female version of him. Watching them compete and then learn to work together is a delight. The mystery surrounding the hospital is well done and kept me turning the pages to find out more.

A great, engrossing read.

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this novel for review.  I was in no way obliged to give a positive review.

Jess' favourite genre is contemporary women's fiction and contemporary romance fiction. She also enjoys historical fiction with a focus on romance. She loves books set in country towns or farms with a cowboy featured in either historical or contemporary settings.

She is currently writing her first novel, a contemporary women's fiction/romance set in a small country town.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Book Review: Wildflowers From Winter by Katie Ganshert

Wildflowers From Winter By Katie Ganshert
Waterbrook Press, May 8th, 2012

Like the winter, grief has a season. Life returns with the spring.

A young architect at a prestigious Chicago firm, Bethany Quinn has built a life far removed from her trailer park teen years. Until an interruption from her estranged mother reveals that tragedy has struck in her hometown and a reluctant Bethany is called back to rural Iowa. Determined to pay her respects while avoiding any emotional entanglements, she vows not to stay long. But the unexpected inheritance of farmland and a startling turn of events in Chicago forces Bethany to come up with a new plan.

Handsome farmhand Evan Price has taken care of the Quinn farm for years. So when Bethany is left the land, he must fight her decisions to realize his dreams. But even as he disagrees with Bethany’s vision, Evan feels drawn to her and the pain she keeps so carefully locked away.

For Bethany, making peace with her past and the God of her childhood doesn’t seem like the path to freedom. Is letting go the only way to new life, love and a peace she’s not even sure exists?

Bethany Quin is more than a little angry about returning home to Peaks, Iowa and mostly terrified about the past being in her face again. She has a lot of anger and resentment stored up for certain people in the town and a truck load of guilt surrounding her childhood best friend. As Bethany is forced to work through the pain of her childhood and face up to the things she ran from, she does in deed find that after the winter comes the spring.

Another new author for me to read. Katie Ganshert is a treasure of a find. She has written a well paced, character driven, heartfelt novel full of lovely prose mixed amongst some great scenes of character interaction. It's clear she is not afraid to write about conflict both internal and when the characters interact.

I loved the depths probed in this book and found the issues of lost hope, shattered expectations and new life brought to life with beautiful writing and honest prose. Bethany is at times really mean and I didn't always like her actions, but I always wanted her to overcome the issues in her way. I loved how Evan Price wasn't afraid to stand up to Bethany and call it like it was. Both are well rounded characters, strong and all too human.

I really liked the issues of faith presented in this story too. It was presented differently in genuine faith as compared to shallow or "fake" faith that only traps people, rather than setting them free. It's the first novel I've read that tackles the faith issues from that perspective.

So a great read and I will be reading more from this great author.

Jess' favourite genre is contemporary women's fiction and contemporary romance fiction. She also enjoys historical fiction with a focus on romance. She loves books set in country towns or farms with a cowboy featured in either historical or contemporary settings.

She is currently writing her first novel, a contemporary women's fiction/romance set in a small country town.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Beware, Dissastisfied Reader Ahead

Something has been bothering me lately about books - Christian and Non-Christian alike. I am finding myself increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of the books being published. We at the Book Review Sisters halved our number of book reviews last year for a couple of reasons:

  • We no longer had the time to read as much as we'd like
  • We no longer had anything "new" to say about the books we were reading.

By that I mean, we felt we were saying the same thing over and over again. So any book review we've posted last year and this year so far, have been ones we truly enjoyed and had something meaningful to say about it.

So, what exactly am I dissatisfied about?

There's one way to answer this:  I have stopped reading books by a once favourite author of mine because their work and has drifted into mediocrity.

And that is the crux of my problem - mediocre books.

Books are being published with little care to continuity in the story - it's like someone along the line is thinking it's okay to have glaring plot holes, we'll just hope the reader doesn't notice. Books with paragraph after paragraph of telling - I'm skipping pages in desperate search of something interesting happening.

Books published with inconsistent characters, who behave in random ways with no plausible motive or explanation. Books with contrived plots thrown together with hurried endings. There's nothing worse than getting all the way through a novel and being served with a dissatisfying or unbelievable ending.

Really, it's all quite insulting.  As readers, we're looking for quality entertainment - the chance to escape our own realities, live vicariously through dynamic and engaging characters, experience new and exciting places.  What exactly has happened? Since when have readers - who pay with both their money and their time - lost their worth in the eyes of the publishing industry?

Several of my "must read" authors have recently moved away from once a year book releases, to two-three a year publications. This makes me nervous.  I've already seen a significant quality decline in one author who has made that move, and I anticipate the same will happen to the others.

I'm finding this lapse in story and writing quality across the board - self-published, traditionally published, Christian and non Christian.

As a reader, I am deeply saddened by the increasing number of sub par quality of books being produced. I long to read books that are enjoyable, well structured with engaging characters, and most of all, well written. I want to believe that the author and their team around them really care about bringing out the best in themselves by the time a book is ready for publication. Lately, it's been few and far between that have impressed me with a decent standard of both story and writing technique.  As a result, I gravitate towards those authors who show me book after book that they truly care about producing the best that is in them and pushing themselves to be better writers.  I'm finding myself ever more reluctant to try new authors because of how frequently I am disappointed.

 I am wondering if anyone else is finding this or is it just me?

Jess' favourite genre is contemporary women's fiction and contemporary romance fiction. She also enjoys historical fiction with a focus on romance. She loves books set in country towns or farms with a cowboy featured in either historical or contemporary settings.

She is currently writing her first novel, a contemporary women's fiction/romance set in a small country town.