Saturday, February 14, 2015

Gallant Knights and Fair Ladies - An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund (2015, 4 stars)

An Uncertain Choice
Jody Hedlund

* This book officially releases to the public on March 3rd, 2015. I received an advanced reader's copy, free of charge, from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Official Back Cover Synopsis:

Due to her parents' promise at her birth, Lady Rosemarie has been prepared to become a nun on the day she turns eighteen. Then, a month before her birthday, a friend of her father's enters the kingdom and proclaims her parents' will left a second choice. If Rosemarie can marry before the eve of her eighteenth year, she will be exempt from the ancient vow.

Before long, Rosemarie is presented with the three most handsome and brave knights in the land. But when the competition for her heart seemingly results in a knight playing foul, she begins to wonder if the cloister is the best place after all. If only one of the knights the one who appears the most guilty had not already captured her heart.

If you get a chance, hop on over to Jody's BLOG and get to know her better. Would-be writers are fortunate in that she's willing and happy to share tips from her years of experience as a published author!

My Personal Thoughts:

I was very careful while reading An Uncertain Choice to bear in mind the audience for which it is really intended, that is, teenage girls. I was one myself and so it wasn't too far of a stretch to remember that period in my life when my little heart went pitter-pat over the romanticism of knights, kings, queens, and fair ladies. To be honest, my heart still does that every time I think of Ivanhoe.

It's rare, at least it feels rare, to find a Christian historic YA series. At least not one set during the Middle Ages. So I am delighted to find Ms. Hedlund branching out with her writing into other areas of history that are not based on American soil. She's trying something new and I'm pretty sure it's going to pay off. Why? Because I found An Uncertain Choice to be absolutely charming!

The heroine, Lady Rosemarie, has been protected from the influence of romance for the last four years of her life, ever since the death of her parents, because she knows she must go to the church upon her eighteenth birthday. Can you even imagine resigning yourself to celibacy like that? Before you even know what not being celibate means? But an old friend of the family discovers a loophole for her, one he hopes desperately that she will take, and so he brings three of his best and most valiant knights to attempt to win her hand. If she can fall in love and marry before her eighteenth birthday, she is released from the vow her parents made upon her birth.

Now comes the issue of choosing a knight. Sir Bennet, Sir Collin, and Sir Derrick are the noblest of knights, all with strengths and weaknesses. Having no skill or experience with men, Rosemarie finds herself growing fond of all of them, but she can only marry one, and so she must choose, all while in a turmoil over the illness plaguing the people of her land, and the cruelty and torture methods exhibited by her sheriff who neither respects her nor adheres to her wishes.

Rosemarie is a delightful character, fresh and lovely with a strong and steady faith, having already dedicated so much of her young life to the service of God and to the caring of the people in her small kingdom. She truly wants to put the good of her people ahead of herself, and that makes me admire her all the more, especially considering her youth. All the knights have different skills, talents, and personalities that would each endear themselves to a certain type of young woman. But for Rosemarie there really is only one choice, who I will not name, but who I'm sure the readers will guess almost immediately.

And there's where my one minor hint of frustration arises. There was no point in having three knights. The reader could literally guess everything that was going to happen, right down to the dastardly villain who crops up near the end of the story. But I knew who Rosemarie would pick, and I certainly knew which of the knights was the one at the very beginning who rode to the rescue when Rosemarie attempted to stop public torture in her village square. I knew who he was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and so for her to spent 40 or so pages trying to figure out which knight he was, made the going a little bit slow for me because it was obvious.

However, this is not a book necessarily meant for my generation, but for a generation younger, and so I refuse to judge too harshly. This is teen fiction, and as such, it is excellently written. I do, however, wish there had been less talk of public torture and less description of torture devices and their resulting effects. My stomach is a little squeamish, and that almost felt too much for me to handle, particularly near the end. It made me want to shoom into the Doctor's Tardis, go back in time, and beat a few choice torture device inventors over the head with a mace. But that's just me.

An Uncertain Choice is a charming little book set in an era that doesn't get enough attention right now. I love the Middle Ages, sans torture devices, and I absolutely adore knights. So Ms. Hedlund really wrote a delightful winner. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that maybe she'll write a few adult novels in this same era now that she's given it a try in YA fiction! Also, I'm pretty sure that is meant to be a series judging by how the novel ends, so I'm expecting a sequel at some point!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Perfect Valentine's Read! - Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh (2015, 5 stars)

Paper Hearts
Courtney Walsh
Tyndale House Publishers

Official Back Cover Synopsis:

Abigail Pressman never would have guessed that love notes penned on paper hearts by an anonymous couple could challenge her doubts about romance. A business owner in a quaint tourist town, she dreams of expanding. but lately, she's more focused on resisting the matchmaking efforts of the Valentine Volunteers, who gather in her store to continue Loves Park's tradition of stamping mail with the city's romantic postmark.

When Abigail is unwillingly drafted into the Volunteers, she encounters the hearts, a distraction that couldn't come at a worse time. A hard-to-read doctor has become Abigail's new landlord, and he's threatening to end her lease.

As she fights a growing attraction to this man intent on crushing her dreams, Abigail is inspired to string the hearts in her store, sparking a citywide infatuation with the artsy trend. But when a new batch of hearts arrive, it appears something tragic has happened to the couple. Will uncovering their story confirm Abigail's doubts, or could it rescue her dreams . . . and her heart?

If your interest is already snagged, as mine was, make sure to check out the author's Facebook page! 

My Personal Thoughts:

Well, it happened. I found a contemporary romance that I can genuinely say I love. Do you ever tire of those books about people who have everything together? Their lives are successful, they're confident in everything they do, they meet, fall in love, and everything is perfect. Those types of books always make me feel inferior, and when you feel inferior to a fictional character, that's a bad sign! This is probably why I don't read much in the way of contemporary fiction because I always find the heroine too pushy, living in absolute surety of the universe and her place in it.

Not so for the charming and hesitant Abigail Pressman. Her father left her family when she was still a child, never giving a reason for his abandonment. In an ordinary town that might not be such a huge deal, but it's a very big deal in Loves Park, Colorado where everything revolves around true love and romance. If you've ever seen The 10th Kingdom with Kissing Town, Loves Park feels a lot like that. And for Abigail, still single at 30, the town is torture. It's not that she wants to get married because, frankly, she doesn't trust in marriage and true love. It's just that she feels like everyone in town is looking at her. She is, after all, one of the founding family's last remaining single women. Her business, while enough for her, is not enough for her mother, or for the Valentine Volunteers who are determined to marry her off. None of her wants and needs are taken into account, nor can anyone fix her lack of trust in the male sex. For Abigail, fairy-tale endings seem too good to be true because they are.

I love this. I love the realism of a young woman who is slightly awkward when she talks to men, who isn't even sure if she'd make a good wife or mother, and who is still single at 30. Because that's me. Oh, not the talking to men part, but I am cynical about the emotions that are supposed to swirl when a person is in love. I've never felt them, and so for me, it seems like that feeling is just a big phony. I'm sure it's not, but a part of me still thinks that way.

Paper Hearts is probably the best book I could have read for Valentine's Day this year. Every year my cynicism climbs, leaving me with even more of a clinical eye when I look at men. I am Abigail in many ways minus the bookstore, although believe me I wish I owned a bookstore! Almost everything she feels, I feel. Our past experiences keep us from feeling like we can trust in the opposite sex. Romance is a waste of time and a risk that's not worth the taking. But maybe, just maybe, because Abigail discovered it is a risk worth taking, someday I can take it too. She's an inspiration for me, and so I must sincerely thank Ms. Walsh for creating a character so truly relatable to who I am as a person and to where I'm at in my life's journey.

As for Dr. Jacob Willoughby, I at once both like him and dislike him. He's a man with a high moral standard, yet at the same time he allowed himself to be pushed around by a woman, not the heroine, who is obviously a money-grubbing man-hunter. He didn't stand up for Abigail a time or two, and he didn't stand up for himself until the very end. But I can forgive him because the man has literally been through hell in his personal life and he's scrabbling to make sense of both himself and God. His life is broken and he has to learn to pick up the pieces, hand them to God, and beg for them to be pasted back together. Like Abigail, Jacob is an inspiration because he is not perfect, he has failed at being a hero, and now he's just as tentative about relationships and love as she is. They have to learn to trust together, not apart, and that's what makes Paper Hearts such a beautiful and moving story. Just in time for Valentine's Day.

Plus, and this is a big plus for me, both Abigail and Jacob learn to rely on God. Both of them are Christians, but both of them are broken in different ways. Jacob full of self-loathing and mistrust and Abigail full of complacency and hesitation. It takes a couple of miracles and some serious moving of the heart to get them to lean on God once again, but once they do, their lives blossom. If there's one thing I've learned it's that God wants His children to talk to Him, even when I'm angry, hurt, confused, or maybe even unbelieving. Because at least that way I'm keeping the avenue of communication open. It was incredible to walk with Jacob on his road of forgiveness and reconciliation with his heavenly Father.

To conclude, Paper Hearts is a story for every person who's spent time lonely and unfulfilled. It's fascinating to read a book about a heroine that could almost be me, but I loved every second of it. Ms. Walsh has certainly written a winner in my book, and I'm already counting Paper Hearts towards one of my favorite reads of the year. I hope you'll take the time to give her novel a read, before Valentine's Day if you can manage it. It just might change your outlook, like it did mine.

Make sure to check out the BOOK TRAILER that Tyndale made especially for Paper Hearts!

- I received Paper Hearts from Tyndale House Publishers as a free copy in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

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