Another review from Julie! So I have (or at least had) this uncanny knack of winning prizes in Internet contests, especially when it comes to books. I won a copy of Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul (perhaps better known for her DragonKeeper series).
Oh, and at this moment (December 29, 2012) the book is listed at 99 cents at Christianbook.com!
Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul
Ridiculously simplified summary: A practical office worker and her boss' boss both get magical tickets to a Wizard's Ball. Is God drawing them together?
Content: Heavily Christian, but with a bit of speculative/fairytale content. No sex or violence (in fact, male lead Simon is conservative enough to raise my eyebrows a few times).
I enjoyed the speculative content, but folks who are offended by Harry Potter being a wizard--very few of whom are probably reading this blog--should probably avoid this book. Paul again makes a point of so-called "wizards" not actually being the sorcerers spoken of in the Bible. Some of the more magical characters note that if faeries exist, then they came to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus, and says that some people have deathbed conversions that we don't see. I do believe God can do anything, but some of the items brought over as fact don't feel completely like good theology to me. (And there is a substantial amount of Christian discussion, though I'm not sure how necessary most of it is to the book.)
Compelling: 8 out of 10. The magical parts of the world are really what drew me in. The main characters spend a fair amount of time along the shops of old-fashioned Sage Street, which doesn't seem to always be there. The shops, and their patrons, were fantastical and compelling, all just on the edge of being impossible. A realist could probably see everything as technically being possible in the real world, though magic is by far the most likely option (and as much as stated closer to the end). To me, Sage Street felt like a cross between Disney and Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
Characters: 7 out of 10. Cora and Simon, the leads, are rather ordinary, practical people, and they came to life for me at the beginning as strikingly realistic. Simon seemed charming, and I could totally believe Cora as a character. Cora's relentless planning for Christmas gifts was adorable. When it came down to the nuts and bolts of falling in love and such, I don't know what happened, but I found them somehow a bit less interesting, I guess because they had relatively restrained passion. I don't read contemporary romance, though; I prefer historical, and preferably suspenseful, stories. Simon's sister Sandy was a dear; the shopkeepers in Sage Street were entertaining. None of the other characters stood out for me. Cora's sister was almost unbelievably wicked (I know real people like that do exist, granted, but she surprised me in this story).
Writing/editing: 8 out of 10. I didn't notice any typos or anything of the like. The descriptions of fantastical places were fun and to me, the writing never got in the way of the story. To me, that's a compliment.
Plausibility/believability: 3 out of 5. I got a great sense of Sage Street but a just OK sense of the office. A woman dating her boss' boss...I feel like Cora would have to quit her job, but that was just glossed over. A lot of the Christian talk felt either over-the-top to me, or else shoehorned in, though that's a challenge for romances where both characters are already Christians. And some of the morality surprised me...Simon doesn't watch television, for instance, presumably because of the lax morals. That's not impossible by any means, but I'd say it puts him in the outside 0.01% of 30-somethings.
Positive: 4 out of 5. I enjoyed the beginning especially, and the climactic resolution at the ending was sweet.
Gut reaction: 3 out of 5. A sweet read, though I felt some loose ends were left untied (Cora's sister, for instance). Perhaps intentionally, or perhaps to leave the reader "wanting more."
Bonus points: 5 out of 5.
Recommended for: Fans of Christian romance with a bit of fantasy.
Not a good fit for: Christians who are wary of anything containing the word "wizard"
Total Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars
*I received this book free in a giveaway