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Review: How Dolly Parton Saved My Life, Charlotte Connors

Four women at crucial times in their lives find themselves joining together to form a catering business.  Ellie is a Junior League wife and mother, confused about where her marriage is heading; Daisy is a vivacious, young single mother who has struggled along trying to provide for her clever, nerdy daughter; Cat, the only childless member of the group, has just been dumped by the boyfriend who previously defined her life; and Josephine, a woman looking to do her best at founding a business.  Together, these women form the Jelly Jar sisterhood and aim for success and happiness above all else.

I’ll be honest; this book was a bit of a perfect storm of things I didn’t like.  With that in mind though, it’s worth noting that I have recently liked books with large women’s fiction components (although I’d say this is a very light version of that), Christian characters, and set in the present.  So I can get on all with all the elements of this book, but set up like this it just didn’t work for me.

I can start by expressing disappointment with the characters.  The narration switches around between them and I can tell you that they are so indistinct that I didn’t notice until I realized one didn’t have kids and the others did.  They all sound exactly the same.  I didn’t pay attention to the chapter headings, but I never do, so I guess you could call it my fault, but that doesn’t fix the fact that only Daisy is at all different from the other three women in tone.  In fact she was the only woman who had anything close to an interesting life or personality.

I also didn’t really feel like the story went anywhere.  Jelly Jar stayed at about the same level; nothing was really gained by the end of the book except a friendship that was a little too, well, sweet.  It felt unrealistic.  Each woman had her own problems, but not much really changed by the end of the book.  Even the couple that was in serious relationship trouble merely goes to counseling, and we don’t even read about their decision to do so, we’re just told about it.

Then there was the Christianity, which was too heavy for my tastes.  I won’t go into detail, but I will say that I remember the last Christian fiction book I read, The Red Siren, with a lot more fondness than I’ll remember this one.  I’d happily read more in that series; I would prefer not to read any more in this one.

I hesitated to post this review because it is so negative.  Others have enjoyed this book a lot more than I have.  In the end I decided it was worth getting my voice out there.  If you do enjoy Christian fiction about women’s friendships, you may enjoy How Dolly Parton Saved My Life.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Review: Truly, Madly by Heather Webber

trulymadlyLucy Valentine’s family have been matchmakers for as long as anyone can remember.  Each member of the family sees a colored aura around people, enabling them to match the perfect couples.  Due to a strange accident in Lucy’s youth, she can no longer see these auras, but she can find people’s lost belongings.  That’s no use in the family business, however, and so Lucy is at loose ends when her father leaves her in charge.  She doesn’t stay that way for long with sexy private investigator Sean Donahue upstairs and a murder mystery to solve.  Perhaps Lucy’s talent for finding lost things will come in handy after all.

This was a really cute, light read.  Lucy is a charming character and I definitely wanted success for her.  I could understand how terrified she was to match couples when she didn’t actually have the ability to tell if the romances were going to work, and I thought her efforts to get people to give one another a try were really sweet.  Her own beginning romance was cute, too, but doesn’t wrap up as neatly as most novels would have done.  I suspect it will continue to grow in later books of this series.

The mystery was fairly predictable, but I didn’t expect anything else to be honest!  The groundwork for the solution is well-laid and for once I actually picked up on it, and as a result I was groaning when Lucy willingly threw herself into danger without putting the pieces together.  While this would ordinarily have irritated me, for some reason it didn’t here as I knew the plot had to wrap up and this was the only way it could happen.  Lucy’s talent was intriguing and I was glad she put it to good use.

Truly, Madly certainly isn’t going to make my favorites of the year, but it is definitely a perfect choice for anyone who wants a fun, romantic read.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

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Review: Secrets to Happiness, Sarah Dunn

Holly Frick is convinced she’s still in love with her ex-husband, a year later.  Her career is heading downhill, as is that of her writing partner, after she published a novel that did very poorly. Perhaps what’s worst is that Holly has begun sleeping with a 22-year-old and isn’t sure where she is going in life.  Her friends even act mysteriously, so that Holly is frustrated by their inability to behave the way she believes they should.  She is unhappy, and so are all of the other characters in this charming, short novel about the quest to find that elusive something to brighten up life beyond the mundane.

Sarah Dunn conveys the humanity of her characters to an almost alarmingly perfect degree.  They are all searching for something to make them happy, but they go about this in typical human ways which generally backfire.  For example, Holly’s friend Amanda, easily the most frustrating character in the entire book, is dissatisfied in her marriage and expresses that dissatisfaction by having an affair, even if she doesn’t realize what she’s doing until afterwards.  This seems to me to be such a passive-aggressive way to attempt to sabotage a marriage, and isn’t something I would do, but is in fact something that I have witnessed plenty of men and women engaging in to end a relationship without actually confronting what’s gone wrong.  Frustrating, but true.

Similarly, Holly is her own worst enemy when it comes to happiness, but is simultaneously so wonderful and sweet that it’s impossible not to love her as a character.  She adopts a dog with cancer just because she had already told him she was taking him home, even when she knows it will probably lead to expensive medical bills and the loss of the pet she already loves.  She has an affair with a 22 year old who seems to be in love with her rather than considering men who might be in any way like her ex-husband.  And she is surrounded by characters who equally sabotage themselves because they are innately human and as a result, damaged and confused.

All of this is compounded by Sarah Dunn’s lovely writing and clever wit.  I read this on a plane and I just know the woman sitting next to me was probably wondering why I was smirking so much, but I couldn’t keep a straight face for much of the time.  And the ending had me grinning like a loon because it was very hopeful and sweet.

The book, however, is not exactly perfect.  I do think there were too many characters; Holly’s previous ex and his fiancee could probably have been cut out without much loss, and overall the book spent too much time away from Holly.  She’s the focus of the narrative, but the various strands of the book don’t pull together as well as they could.  Even though I was enjoying it, I didn’t have a problem putting the book down to watch a movie, as the plot was somewhat slow and didn’t compel me to constantly keep reading.  I loved the characters, but I couldn’t usually understand their motivations and so I only related to them tangentially.

I do think, however, that Secrets to Happiness is a hugely enjoyable book, and would probably appeal most to the women’s fiction crowd.  It’s a light read, but it still left me thinking about the definition of happiness and the many ways in which we prevent ourselves from attaining it.

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Review: Welcome to Temptation, Jennifer Crusie

I love the quote on the back of this book, it’s why I picked it up, so I’m just going to stick it here:

Sophie came to Temptation, Ohio,
to help her sister make a movie.
Now she’s making trouble for the town council,
love with the mayor,
and lemonade for a murderer …
Welcome to Temptation.
Population 2,158.
And falling.

I don’t know why that appeals to me, but it’s catchy somehow!  Sophie is a straight-laced thirtysomething who is happy with the success of her wedding filming business and less than excited to head to Temptation to make a movie with Clea, a former porn star who has connections with her brother.  Amy, Sophie’s sister, is thrilled, and try as she might, Sophie can’t really deny her little brother and sister much of anything because she wants to protect them and help them be successful.  The mayor, Phineas Tucker, is in for it when Sophie and Amy arrive in town.  He’s young, attractive, and rich, which to Sophie sends warning signs every time.  He can’t help his attraction, though, and in the end, neither can she. 

What I really liked about this book is that there is so much more to it than the romance.  The romance becomes comfortable because the other issues are a little stressful, like Phin’s difficult mother, adorable child, and struggle to remain mayor and somehow keep his town happy, as well as Sophie’s trust issues and family hang-ups.  There is a lot of sex, but unusually it actually furthers the plot, reveals a whole lot of Sophie’s problems, and once the first couple of scenes are past we don’t get much more description; they think about it, though.  I guess that’s normal, but this is one of the racier romances I’ve read lately.  

Once Sophie and Phin have a thing going on, the book sort of switches over to a murder mystery and all the small-town rivalries and obsessions are revealed in the search to figure out who did it.  Sophie is victim of a few attacks and that only complicates matters more.  Like I mentioned earlier, I was actually quite into the plot of this one and not just because I wanted to see how the couple got together in the end.  We knew that was going to happen, but we didn’t know who was a murderer.  I even enjoyed the little side story with Rachel and her struggle for her own independence.

Best of all, this book is funny!  I’ve found that my favorite romance authors are those who can pull off banter between the two main characters and leave me smiling, too.

“I love this,” Sophie said, beaming at him.  “I look like hell and you’re chasing me around the kitchen.  This is great.”

“I am not chasing,” Phin said.

Sophie undid the top button on her blouse.

“I’m chasing,” Phin said. – p. 190

It’s just cute! I did have trouble picking an excerpt, though, because there are a lot of expletives in this book. Not used in a derogatory way, but they’re there.  It’s very playful, like the rest of the book, but it’s definitely there.

I’d recommend this absolutely.  I’ll also recommend this even if you’re not looking for a romance.  I think there is enough here to make it a great, fun summer read beyond that.  It’s flirtatious, witty, endearing fun.

This book is available from Amazon and Amazon UK.

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Review: Undead and Unwelcome, MaryJanice Davidson

Betsy Taylor, queen of the vampires, has to bring the body of her dead werewolf friend Antonia back to her pack.  Unfortunately, the pack resides on Cape Cod, a very dangerous place for a vampire queen, especially when that pack not only believes she got one of their own killed, but is determined to forget that they pushed Antonia out in the first place.  With her husband, Sinclair, and adopted baby/half-brother BabyJon in tow, she sets off to confront the werewolves.  Meanwhile, her sister, who happens to be the daughter of the devil, has started to go a little crazy.  How much can Betsy deal with?

This has got to be one of the fluffiest books I have ever read, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.  It’s ridiculous and it knows that it’s ridiculous.  Betsy is not only queen of the vampires, but she’s obsessed with shoes!  And shopping!  Honestly, normally that is not my taste, but the book contains very little mention of those besides other characters teasing Betsy about her obsessions.  In fact, I laughed throughout most of this book.  Between Betsy’s assistant, who uses ridiculous acronyms in his emails to her, her sister’s crazy devil worshipping followers, and people’s reactions after Betsy rises from the dead (apparently vampire queens can do this), I had so much fun.

This was also an interesting test for me.  I hadn’t read any of the other books in the series when I got this one and I didn’t have time or money to buy and read the preceding seven, so I more or less jumped right in.  I was curious to see how well I would get on with the story having little to no knowledge of everything that had come before.  There was a recap in the beginning of the book which quickly filled me in on the background information.  This means I have been a little spoiled for all the preceding books, but perhaps more importantly I now want to read them just because sometimes we all need a laugh.  I think having read all of the preceding books may have helped me feel a little more strongly for the characters – I’d just love to read how Betsy and Sinclair fell in love – but it certainly didn’t hinder my enjoyment.

This is what I’d call urban fantasy lite.  Don’t read it if you’re looking to think and don’t read it if you can’t deal with supernatural beings.  Read it if you’re looking to laugh and have a fun afternoon in a world that has a few more species than our own.  This is an ideal airplane read, especially given its short length, although you might get a few funny looks when you start giggling!  I’ll certainly happily pick up more of this series and save them for when I need a break.

Undead and Unwelcome  is available from Amazon and Amazon UK.

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