Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: Radio Girl by Carol Brendler (2013)

Radio Girl
Carol Brendler

Official Synopsis

Fourteen-year-old Cece's dream of a career as a radio star gets off to a bumpy, hilarious start in this engaging historical novel marked by mix-ups and misunderstandings that culminate in the panic surrounding the 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds. 

My Take in 3 Parts

The Plot
The synopsis is such a simple sentence for such an non-simple book. Radio Girl is one of those novels that handles so many things, like teen rebellion, infidelity, treatment of women in the 1930s, and the callousness of those in show business. It is complex and engaging, especially for someone like me who actually KNOWS about Orson Welles' broadcast of War of the Worlds and the ensuing chaos that erupted.

What might seem like a teen novel, actually doesn't fall under any specific genre. Radio Girl's plot downfall, if it has one, is that it doesn't fit anywhere, not in children's, not in YA, and not in adult. It merely fits in with those few who are addicted to 1930s fiction and don't mind reading a comedic yet solemn novel from the perspective of a 14-year-old girl who really is a bit snarky and underhanded to get what she wants.

The Characters
It's almost impossible to say that I love Cece Maloney. But I empathize with her, even while not agreeing with her decisions. She rebels against what she views as the harsh rule of her mother, a mother who is simply trying to protect her only child. Cece does a lot of lying to get what she wants, but thankfully, she learns from her choices and a few important relationships that were damaged during the course of the book end up being healed at the end.
As for the rest of the characters, love the sensitivity and protectiveness of Cece's mom, found Cece's 17-year-old aunt with fanatical Catholicism to be fascinating, and enjoyed getting to know some of the staff at the broadcasting station where Cece found a part-time job on Saturdays.

All of the characters felt authentic and true to the era, right down to the snappy dialogue constantly in use by Cece and her friends.

The Writing
Carol Brendler is a comedic genius. While yes, Radio Girl is a serious bit of fiction, it is also crammed to the gills with light-hearted humor that only comes from an equally light-hearted individual. I would give anything, literally anything, for her to write another book in the same era!

My Final Thoughts
I'd already read Radio Girl last year, and was absolutely tickled to unwrap it as a Christmas present this year, giving me an excuse to re-read it! Like I said before, it's a complex little book that doesn't quite fit in any fictional genre, but I love it, every page of it.

If I were to warn readers of anything, it's to not follow in Cece's footsteps by utilizing her type of subterfuge. Fortunately, consequences are a necessary part of life, and she suffers the consequences for her actions without them being too serious, and learning from her mistakes. Plus, any novel that presents the great Orson Welles as a secondary character is bound to be a hit in my book!

Keep in mind, this isn't a Christian book, so you have a little bit of swearing (very little), mild thematic elements, and some adulterous relationships going on, always with negative consequences, to say nothing of Cece's lying. But please, don't let any of these things stop you from giving Radio Girl a try! After all, people aren't perfect, and Carol Brendler does a stupendous job of conveying that truth!

The Late, Great Orson Welles!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review: A Winter Dream by Richard Paul Evans (2012)

A Winter Dream
Richard Paul Evans
Simon & Schuster

Official Synopsis

From wonderful storyteller and author of the bestselling phenomenon The Christmas Box, a new holiday novel based on the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors.

Joe is forced out of the family business by his jealous siblings. Moving on to another company, he soon becomes chief advisor to the CEO. But when the economy turns, Joe’s siblings need his help to save the family business.

Based on the Old Testament story about Joseph and the coat of many colors and including a love story, A Winter Dream can be embraced for its message of forgiveness by believers and nonbelievers alike.

My Thoughts

I've already determined that I like Richard Paul Evans' writing style. He has a fluid and relaxed way of engaging the reader's interest that makes his books so easy to comprehend and digest, perfect for the holiday season.

That being said, his use of the Old Testament story of Joseph in a modern setting just didn't work for me. Other readers have complained that it feels rushed, and I agree with them. Combining the rushed feel with the absurdity of circumstances and it just didn't work. The characters are nice enough, Joe especially. He really is a nice guy, pretty much a guarantee in one of Evans' Christmas stories, at least from what I've noticed so far.

If Joseph's brothers wanted to throw him out of the family, why set him up with a halfway decent job doing what he does best, even if it is halfway around the country? What was up with the character of April being an escapee from a bigamist cult? Joe handled that part of the story surprisingly well considering its absurdity. And how about the ease with which Joe rose up through the ranks of the marketing firm? Nope, none of these elements worked for me. The story felt entirely too slipshod and erratic.

Plus, it's really not a Christmas story. The book, being all of 260 pages, took place over 3 years time. In other words, poor use of planning and timeline. There are a few Christmases within A Winter Dream, but nothing to actually make it a "Christmas story" despite Joe's dream about himself being a Christmas tree and other trees bowing to it. While the concept of dreams worked for Joseph, dreams from God I might add, they didn't work here simply because I never sensed Joe had any semblence of faith. Why in the world would he be blessed with prophetic dreams when he doesn't really have any faith?

So this one was a miss for me.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Book Review: Finding Noel by Richard Paul Evans (2006)

Finding Noel
Richard Paul Evans
Simon and Schuster

Official Synopsis

"There are stories, Christmas stories that are stored away like boxes of garlands and frosted glass ornaments, to be brought out and cherished each year. I've come to believe that my story is a Christmas story. For it has forever changed the way I see Christmas."
The Christmas season is supposed to be full of joy, but not for Mark Smart. Life had dealt him one blow after another until one snowy November night, when he finds a beautiful young woman who will change his life forever. Macy Wood has little memory of her birth parents, and memories she'd rather forget of her adopted home. A Christmas ornament inscribed with the word "Noel" is the only clue to the little sister she only vaguely remembers, a clue that will send her and Mark on a journey to reclaim her past, and her family.

My Thoughts

As you can tell by now, I love Christmas books. They inspire and uplift me spiritually. And I really loved The Mistletoe Promise, another of Richard Paul Evans' works. But Finding Noel just didn't fully click with me. Oh, don't get me wrong, I liked the heroine fine. Macy is a survivor, in and out of foster care, a terrible adoption experience, and she's still a compassionate soul.

I really didn't care much for Mark until the very end and a good portion of the book is written in the 1st person from his perspective. He has some good insights, yes, but overall he seemed whiny and, well, young and foolish. Which he was, but my patience with that type of character minimizes the older I become. Honestly, since the title of the book is really about Macy's life, it should have focused more on her. If it had been solely from her perspective, I probably would have loved it.

After all, the book is called Finding Noel, but that really wasn't the entire focus of the story. And it should have been. Instead it sort of wanders here and there, touching a life, having an experience, falling in love, to the point where the character of Noel felt almost like an after-thought. It just didn't work.

However, the final few chapters of the book are very inspirational and uplifting, which is why I give it four stars. Mark does grow through encountering Macy, just as she grows, and he admits that the season when they looked for Noel taught him perspective, about himself, about others, about resentments he had once held, and about forgiveness he needed to extend. That was an important lesson he needed to learn, and it was a very satisfying moment in the book when he reconciles with his estranged father.

Even though I wasn't 100% sold on Finding Noel, I still recommend it to people who might have experience as a foster child, an adopted child, or perhaps you find yourself struggling to forgive someone who has wronged you in the past and you're holding onto resentment. My not loving this story simply means that it wasn't meant for me. Maybe it's meant for you.

The following quote is by Mark, the last paragraph of the book.
And perhaps, after all the songs and poems and stories of the season, Christmas is really no more than that - humanity's search for the familiar. Every year we bring out the same songs, partake of the same foods and traditions, and share the things that make us feel that there's someplace we belong. And in the end all any of us are looking for is home.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review: Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul (2010)

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball
Donita K. Paul
Waterbrook Multnomah

Official Synopsis

Can mysterious matchmaking booksellers bring two lonely hearts together in time for Christmas?

In a sleepy, snow-covered city, Cora Crowder is busy preparing for the holiday season. Searching for a perfect gift, a fortuitous trip to Warner, Werner, and Wizbotterdad’s (a most unusual bookshop) leads to an unexpected encounter with co-worker Simon Derrick. And the surprise discovery of a ticket for a truly one-of-a-kind Christmas Ball.

Every year, the matchmaking booksellers of the Sage Street bookshop host an enchanting, old-fashioned Christmas Ball for the romantic matches they’ve decided to bring together.

This year, will Simon and Cora discover a perfect chemistry in their opposite personalities and shared faith? Or will the matchmakers’ best laid plans end up ruining everything this holiday?

My Thoughts

Did you read the synopsis? Assuming that you did, let me give you fair warning that the "enchanting, old-fashioned Christmas Ball" is actually termed a "Wizard's Christmas Ball" in the book. Which doesn't bother me a bit. In fact with all the fantasy I enjoy reading, some that involve wizards, I thought it was a fun bit of genius. But not every reader feels the same way about magic and wizards, so just be aware this book has some of both. As for me the addition of the magical street that's only there sometimes along with the the special Christmas Ball with only the vaguest information on how to attend or where to find it really made Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball shine.

It's funny how a decidedly magical book also has a decidedly Christian flavor. The magical elements were so much fun! I loved the old booksellers and the costume sellers who were working so hard at bringing Cora and Simon together. The mysterious element of Sage Street where sometimes it's there and other times, POOF, it's gone. The Wizard's Ball and all of the elements that come together to get Simon and Cora to attend. Even the dress Cora purchased to wear that literally disintegrated off someone else who was not intended to wear it. It was all so magical! Like reading a mellower version of Harry Potter.

And then you have Christian faith. Every character in this book except for Cora's family is a Christian. Cora's family ostracized her for getting uppity when she became a Christian so now she's trying to find her way, make her own traditions, celebrate Christmas the way Christ would have her celebrate it. That's all well and good, but I know many unsaved people who know how to love their families and celebrate Christmas. Being a Christian does not necessarily make one nice, just as not being a Christian doesn't make one underhanded and mean. The typecasting in Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball did bother me, as did the excessive amount of preaching. I don't like too much preaching in my Christian novels anymore because you're literally preaching to the choir, and so this was too much.

Overall, I'm combining my rating, which would be a 3, with my mother's rating, which would be a 5. Mom read this book and absolutely loved it. She'd never read anything like it before, found it unique and utterly enchanting, and I think wants to own it. Really, it comes down to a matter of taste. I think Ms. Paul could have done slightly more with the magical element of the story and less with the Christian preaching, and my mom thought it perfect the way it was written. Two different opinions, neither of them wrong. What I will say is that you won't find a more unique Christmas book out there. It is enthralling and engaging, and if you enjoy fantasy and magic and don't mind being overdosed on Christian preaching, then you're pretty much guaranteed to love it!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Happy December!

I hope everyone is having a blessed holiday season! And I equally hope you're enjoying the Christmas book reviews that I've been posting. I'm going to be busy for the next several days, so I may or may not get a new review posted until the beginning of next week. Just a head's up. Have fun decorating, baking, caroling, wrapping, worshiping, and all of the other amazing things we do during the Christmas season! See you all next week!

Book Review: Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson (2010)

Christmas at Harrington's
Melody Carlson

Official Synopsis

Christmas is approaching, and Lena Markham finds herself penniless, friendless, and nearly hopeless. She is trying to restart her life after false accusations landed her in prison, but job opportunities are practically nonexistent. When a secondhand red coat unexpectedly lands her a job as Mrs. Santa at a department store, Lena finally thinks her luck is changing. But can she keep her past a secret? This tender story about fresh starts will charm readers as all of Melody Carlson's Christmas offerings do. Full of redemption and true holiday spirit, Christmas at Harrington's will be readers' newest Christmas tradition.

My Thoughts

I actually had high hopes for this novel simply because the cover was so pretty, so it was a bit of a letdown that I didn't love it. I think it felt toooooo predictable. Most of these stories are naturally predictable, you expect that, but Christmas at Harrington's was just too much. A wonderful gal with an abusive father who happened to be a pastor and then she marries another pastor who turns out to be a skeeze, she ends up in jail, released before Christmas, heads to this small town where a kindly person has lined up a job for her and she ends up playing Mrs. Santa Claus. It was all just entirely too unbelievable for me to get fully involved in the story.

One the plus side, a scene where I was sincerely about to role my eyes turned out all right in the end. When Lena reads as Mrs. Santa at storytime at the small library in town, she chooses the story of baby Jesus' birth. Not politically correct at all, but the end of the chapter made it seem there wouldn't be any repercussions. I worked in a library. I know when you share anything religious, there can be repercussions. The next chapter had her defending her storybook choice and being verbally attacked by some of the parents. Now that is realism in a library setting. That was the one moment where the story felt real.

Don't get me wrong. I liked Lena fine. This one isn't a romance, so that was nice, and I loved the three little girls in the story: Beth, Cassidy, and Jemima. The characters themselves were quite nice and loveable, but I just never fully bought the story. Oh well, maybe next time.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book Review: The Christmas Lamp by Lori Copeland (2009)

The Christmas Lamp
Lori Copeland

Official Synopsis

Christmas trees, twinkling lights, skating in the park, and holiday displays are the hallmark elements for celebrating Jesus' birth for the sentimental residents of Nativity, Missouri. Will fiscal responsibility replace Christmas their traditions when times are tough?Though their priorities and methods clash, Roni Elliot and Jake Brisco want the same thing---the town to prosper. As the two get to know each other better, each begins to gain a new perspective on what the real wealth of Nativity---and the season---might be.

My Thoughts

This plot had a lot of potential, but it sort of fizzled out about halfway through. The actual Christmas lamp felt a bit like an after-thought, and to be honest, I'm not sure which lamp was actually the Christmas lamp because the story involves 3 lamps. It is supposedly a romance, but I'm at a loss as to how the relationship between Roni and Jake moved from purely platonic to romantic because the sparks just weren't there. I do like some chemistry with my romances, and theirs was sadly lacking.

The plot apart from Roni and Jake's story made slightly more sense. A small town that's reluctant to change its traditions finds that it has to in order to survive. Who puts a Christmas tree in the middle of an intersection? That's a tradition? Um, no, that's crazy, and begging for a lawsuit. So the town realizes that it's not so much the way the they celebrate Christmas that matters, just that they do celebrate it. The town adapts, and in so doing, they save themselves. Tradition is all well and good, but not when it clings to the archaic and outmoded ways that will actually drag you down rather than lift you up.

To be honest, The Christmas Lamp was bland for me. It has some good Christmas messages, but it also flounders a bit with the plot and some loose threads are tied up way too soon, and sometimes even off-scene which I never like. The most I can really say is that it was an easy read and did have quite a bit of Christmas spirit, just not the pizzazz or sparkle of what I was expecting. I won't be reading it again.