Saturday, December 29, 2012

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul

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!

Book (or Novella): 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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review - Surrender the Dawn by MaryLu Tyndall

Another review by Julie!

Book: Surrender the Dawn by MaryLu Tyndall

Ridiculously simplified summary: War of 1812, Baltimore. Luke Heaton, captain of a rather sorry sailing ship, spends his spare time gambling and drinking, sure he is a failure and just as sure that God doesn't exist. Until the beautiful Cassandra desperately invests her family's livelihood with Luke, trusting him to attack the British as a privateer and split the spoils with her and his crew. Can the charming town rogue succeed in saving Cassandra and her family from certain poverty? Or will Cassandra be forced to marry another to feed her family?

Content: I don't recall anything that would be considered offensive, though it raises the question about God allowing evil in the world. At the start, Cassandra completely distrusts God, while Luke doesn't even believe God exists. It's an interesting dynamic (usually there's at most one unbeliever in the relationship, and the believer helps lead the unbeliever). Though I think that actually hindered the romance a bit, since the characters were drawn to each other, never mind if they knew God or not, and also the climax was more about them coming to trust God rather than being together. Supernatural visions abound for one character, which seems to be normal for Tyndall.


Compelling: 8 out of 10. Tyndall is good at writing adventure stories, and pretty much knows how to raise the stakes and keep you reading. I thought the hero and heroine's separation for the last large portion of the book actually made the story a bit less compelling. Granted, it's very hard to keep a "proper" woman and man together when the man is a sailor and spends much of the novel on the water, but I'd expected something different. The ending fell flat for me because of this.

Characters: 7 out of 10. Luke was charming, as to be expected (on paper, no-good men trying to go straight, are almost always charming). When we were in his head early on, I felt like almost every page he was fixated on what a failure he was, which was a bit annoying to me. Cassandra was fairly likable, especially in her pigheadedness to do the stupid thing that starts the book along (invest the family savings with the town rogue). Unfortunately, she does several other very stupid things later on that serve as the reason things go wrong, advancing the story. I just wanted to shake her for her numerous bad decisions.

There were some good supporting characters. I felt like some of the bad guys were fairly one-dimensional (for instance, the newspaper man wants Cassandra for no reason I can fathom...a bit like Gaston hunting Belle, it was completely unreasonable to pursue the one woman in town who wants nothing to do with you).

Writing/editing: 8 out of 10. Few typos that I saw. One strange thing is that Cassandra's hair is burgundy throughout most of the book (which is a lovely color for dyed hair, though not one I've personally seen in nature). It made her unusual. But nearer to the end, it's consistently auburn.

Plausibility/believability: 4 out of 5. The actual details about shipboard life felt real and I got at least some sense of historical Baltimore. Francis Scott Key's cameo felt a bit much for me, but I'm sure others loved it.

Positive: 4 out of 5. The characters end the book completely satisfied as to why God evidently doesn't just let bad things happen to us, but providentially causes them. I've never had any trouble believing God takes care of everything in my own life, but I still have some questions as to when bad things happen to other people, and I didn't personally feel satisfied by the explanations here.

Gut reaction: 2 out of 5. Great beginning and good middle, but the climactic end let me down as far as the romance was concerned.

Bonus points: 5 out of 5.

Total Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars

*I received this book free in a giveaway.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: Angel in the Saloon (The Brides of Glory Gulch) by Jeanne Marie Leach

Another review by Julie!

Book: Angel in the Saloon by Jeanne Marie Leach

Ridiculously simplified summary: Amelia, pious young woman, recently orphaned, and blind, comes to an Glory Gulch, an 1880s Old West town, to live with her only relative, her aunt Corrin, keeper of the town's saloon. Her aunt's old flames both take a liking to her….

Content: More violence than I expected, and at least one icky line about bodily functions ("The small chamber pot was not going to be a useful tool in this situation...").

As far as the Christianity, I didn't see anything to object to, but it definitely felt like an indie book for at least a couple reasons. First, the heroine is being wooed by two men roughly twice her age (certainly the right age to date her deceased mother!). That didn't seem like something I'd see in the mainstream market. And at one point the book criticizes Christians who conform to the rules to the point of going too far--something I feel might not be in many mainstream Christian books, for fear of offending. (Never mind that the heroine lives in a saloon!)


Compelling: 6 out of 10. There were some slow points and some portions that were narrated when they could've been handled by a brief scene or a brief sentence. But overall it wasn't difficult to get through. Parts of the story cross the line into melodrama, though for a Western that's perhaps not entirely inappropriate.

Characters: 4 out of 10. Amelia, the blind heroine, was basically perfect in every way except for her inability to see. Perfectly beautiful, perfect at playing the piano, perfectly gentle and kind, superhumanly forgiving, only very rarely becoming angry, and so forth. Other characters call her "Angel." It wasn't much fun to read about her. Her beaus were such good friends to each other that I sometimes had a bit of trouble differentiating between them, though I'm not certain what could have been done differently.

The book starts out from the point of view Amelia's aunt, Corrin, a woman spurned, old maid, now owner of a "decent" saloon. I wish that would've continued. She is a much more interesting character, and I would have honestly preferred the book to be about her. Though she must be in her 40s, I'd consider reading a romance about her if it started where this book leaves off. Or just a regular book about her. Though this is first in the "Brides of Glory Gulch" series, it doesn't appear that Leach has written about her again, unless she's just a recurring character.

Writing/editing: 5 out of 10. Quite a few typos--nothing catastrophic, but occasionally distracting. (As an example, early on, a character--who I don't believe has an odd accent--says "But you haven't told us much abort yourself, Miss Jackson.")

Plausibility/believability: 3 out of 5. I never felt really transported to the Old West, per se; more like a movie Western. (That said, writing a romance with the historical setting as window dressing is a perfectly acceptable option.)

I felt like they said Corrin had the only saloon--did I read that wrong?--but most Old West towns had numerous saloons, as far as I know. Corrin ran hers without vices (no loose women, etc.). I can't imagine why another, more accommodating, saloon wouldn't have sprung up. Interestingly, Corrin's closest friends are two men who evidently don't want anything from her but friendship.

Overall I mostly "bought" Amelia as blind--it was handled fairly well early on--but occasionally portions in her point of view would mention something she couldn't see. At one point Amelia goes to the outhouse because she's feeling a bout of "dysentery" coming on, but seems none the worse for wear after another incident occurs outside the outhouse.

Positive: 4 out of 5. Everyone comes to Jesus, which is nice enough, but one character tells his friend who decided he was ready to commit his life to God, "Come and see me in a couple weeks. We'll talk and pray." which shocked me. A lot can happen in 2 weeks, especially in a world where most the main characters were gravely injured at some point during the novel.

Gut reaction: 2 out of 5. There were some good ideas here. Amelia could've been a great catalyst for other people's lives, but she wasn't the type of person I really want to read about at length, especially when the book started with a character I found much more interesting.

Bonus points: 5 out of 5.

Total Rating: 2.9 out of 5 stars

*I downloaded this book for free from Amazon.