I’d like to give a bit of explanation for my ratings in the reviews I write. I probably should have done this when I started rating reviews…but it seemed self-explanatory. Except my ratings are more nuanced than five stars=a spectacular book. I read a lot. Like, a lot. But just because I loved a book, doesn’t mean you will. And just because something bothered me in a book, doesn’t mean it will bother a single other person on the planet. A review is an opinion, and we all know what they say about opinions.

It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see a one- or two-star rating on a review here. Because if I think the writing is that bad, or I dislike the content that much, I won’t finish reading the book. (It took me years—most of my life—to embrace the freedom of not finishing a book that was a bad choice for me.) Writing is hard work, and I refuse to give a bad review to a book just because I don’t like it a bit. That’s disrespectful to the author and the work that went into creating the book. And, just because I don’t care for the book, doesn’t mean you won’t, either.

So, as a general guideline:
-5 stars means I loved the book. It might have a few issues, but I loved it anyway.
-4 stars means I liked the book, possibly loved parts of it. A solid read.
-3 stars means I thought it was good enough to finish—but there was something I
didn’t really care for (could have been a writing issued, could have been a character
I found annoying). The writing might have been superb—which I’ll mention—but if
the MC is whiny and annoying, that detracts enough that it knocked the rating
down.
-anything with a decimal number means it leaned towards the next number up (So,
the character was annoying, but not that annoying.).

Again, my reviews are my opinions. We don’t all have the same tastes or pet peeves or preferences. That’s what makes us individuals. If you think my 3-star rating is wrong on a book, please tell me why. Maybe your insight into the character I disliked will change my mind. Anything is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sundays are for Writing #73

It’s been a solid writing week this week. I started doing some brief snippets to try to get a feel for the main character for the new story I’ll be starting soon. I also wrote seven book reviews and a post explaining why I rate books like I do (it’s not always only about the writing quality). Nothing prompted that post except a conversation with a friend about why I don’t finish reading every book I pick up. Here’s to more good writing weeks!

Book Review: Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey, by Abigail Wilson

madquerade at middlecrest abbey
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey
AuthorAbigail Wilson
Genre:  Regency, mystery, romance
Rating:  5 out of 5

When the widowed Lord Torrington agreed to spy for the crown, he never planned to impersonate a highwayman, let alone rob the wrong carriage. Stranded on the road with an unconscious young woman, he is forced to propose marriage to protect his identity, as well as his dangerous mission.

Trapped by not only the duty to her country but her limited options, Miss Elizabeth Cantrell and her illegitimate son are whisked away to Middlecrest Abbey by none other than the elder brother of her son’s absent father. She is met by Torrington’s beautiful grown daughters, a vicious murderer, and an urgent hunt for the missing intelligence that could turn the war with France. Afraid of what Lord Torrington might do if he learns of her son’s true identity, Elizabeth must remain one step ahead of her fragile heart, her uncertain future, and the relentless mystery person bent on her new family’s ruin.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! Sometimes, Regency novels are hard for me to read, with all the rules and constrictions that women were subjected to, but Elizabeth is independent-thinking enough to have a mind of her own and enough courage to make her own choices.

Adrian Torrington was also not your typical Regency hero. He’s a bit older with a past he’s not proud of and a determination to change things for the better. I like that he allows Elizabeth to be herself—without compromising either of their values. This is the first thing I’ve read by this author, but I will definitely be reading more!

Abigail Wilson lives in Texas. Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Of Silver and Shadow, by Jennifer Gruenke

of silver and shadow
Image belongs to North Star/Flux.

Title:  Of Silver and Shadow
AuthorJennifer Gruenke
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  5 out of 5

Ren Kolins is a silver wielder—a dangerous thing to be in the kingdom of Erdis, where magic has been outlawed for a century. Ren is just trying to survive, sticking to a life of petty thievery, card games, and pit fighting to get by. But when a wealthy rebel leader discovers her secret, he offers her a fortune to join his revolution. The caveat: she won’t see a single coin until they overthrow the King.

Behind the castle walls, a brutal group of warriors known as the King’s Children is engaged in a competition: the first to find the rebel leader will be made King’s Fang, the right hand of the King of Erdis. And Adley Farre is hunting down the rebels one by one, torturing her way to Ren and the rebel leader, and the coveted King’s Fang title.

But time is running out for all of them, including the youngest Prince of Erdis, who finds himself pulled into the rebellion. Political tensions have reached a boiling point, and Ren and the rebels must take the throne before war breaks out.

I was entranced by this book from the very beginning! Ren’s attitude and brashness is a little much at ties, but I feel that’s a growth opportunity to grow for her, and I did enjoy her sass. Even the secondary characters are vivid and vibrant—like the prince—and the settling felt realistic and almost-visible to me. A fantastic read!

Jennifer Gruenke grew up in California and now lives in Charlotte. Of Silver and Shadow is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of North Star/Flux in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner

the jane austen society
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   The Jane Austen Society
Author:   Natalie Jenner
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

This was such a lovely read! I enjoyed reading each of the characters and their thoughts, and I think Ms. Jenner did her love for Jane Austen credit with this novel. Honestly, this felt almost like an Austen novel, with its village charm and intriguing characters. It’s wonderful to see such a diverse cast of characters—a farmer, a doctor, a movie star, a domestic worker—all brought together by their love of Austen.

Go read this as soon as possible!

Natalie Jenner has been a lawyer, a career coach, and founded an independent bookstore. The Jane Austen Society is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Sister Dear, by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Sister Dear Banner

sister dear
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title:  Sister Dear
AuthorHannah Mary McKinnon
Genre:  Suspense
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Beauty. Wealth. Success.

She’s got it all.

And it all should’ve been mine.

When Eleanor Hardwicke’s beloved father dies, her world is further shattered by a gut-wrenching secret: the man she’s grieving isn’t really her dad. Eleanor was the product of an affair and her biological father is still out there, living blissfully with the family he chose. With her personal life spiraling, a desperate Eleanor seeks him out, leading her to uncover another branch on her family tree—an infuriatingly enviable half sister.

Perfectly perfect Victoria has everything Eleanor could ever dream of. Loving childhood, luxury home, devoted husband. All of it stolen from Eleanor, who plans to take it back. After all, good sisters are supposed to share. And quiet little Eleanor has been waiting far too long for her turn to play.

This wasn’t a good choice for me to read. Despite the excellent writing, I did not like any of the characters. Eleanor was creepy and obsessive and kind of crazy. Her family was awful. She makes horrible choices and doesn’t care about anyone but herself. Self-destructive is her life story, along with feeling sorry for herself. This didn’t end like I expected, which was nice, but it didn’t make up for my dislike of the characters.

Hannah Mary McKinnor was born in the U.K. and now lives in Canada. Sister Dear is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Mira in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: On Ocean Boulevard, by Mary Alice Monroe

on ocean boulevard
Image belongs to Gallery Books.

Title:  On Ocean Boulevard
AuthorMary Alice Monroe
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

It’s been sixteen years since Caretta “Cara” Rutledge has returned home to the beautiful shores of Charleston, South Carolina. Over those years, she has weathered the tides of deaths and births, struggles and joys. And now, as Cara prepares for her second wedding, her life is about to change yet again.

Meanwhile, the rest of the storied Rutledge family is also in flux. Cara’s niece Linnea returns to Sullivan’s Island to begin a new career and an unexpected relationship. Linnea’s parents, having survived bankruptcy, pin their hopes and futures on the construction of a new home on Ocean Boulevard. But as excitement over the house and wedding builds, a devastating illness strikes the family and brings plans to a screeching halt. It is under these trying circumstances that the Rutledge family must come together yet again to discover the enduring strength in love, tradition, and legacy from mother to daughter to granddaughter.

Like the sea turtles that come ashore annually on these windswept islands, three generations of the Rutledge family experience a season of return, rebirth, and growth.

As a former environmental biology major with a love of the ocean, I loved the conservation and environmental aspects of this. And I really wanted to pack up and go live on a barrier island. I cannot imagine how wonderful it would be to wake up to the ocean at sunrise every morning.

I enjoyed Cara’s story the most, but Linnea’s struggles were totally relatable. I couldn’t quite relate to the wealth and privilege of some of the characters, but family expectations? Absolutely. This was a quick, uncomplicated read—and yes, it would be a perfect beach read!

Mary Alice Monroe is a bestselling author and a conservationist. On Ocean Boulevard is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Private Lessons, by Cynthia Salaysay

Private Lessons
Image belongs to Candlewick Press.

Title:   Private Lessons
Author:   Cynthia Salaysay
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3 out of 5

After seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay’s father’s death, only music has helped her channel her grief. Claire likes herself best when she plays his old piano, a welcome escape from the sadness — and her traditional Filipino mother’s prayer groups. In the hopes of earning a college scholarship, Claire auditions for Paul Avon, a prominent piano teacher, who agrees to take Claire as a pupil. Soon Claire loses herself in Paul’s world and his way of digging into a composition’s emotional core. She practices constantly, foregoing a social life, but no matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain Paul’s approval, let alone his affection.

I really loved the premise of this novel. But Claire was a really unlikable character for me. I thought her struggles with her Filipino heritage (and people’s reactions to her appearance) were well-done and vivid, but for the most part, Claire was a selfish, unpleasant person who let life happen to her.

The assault was beyond her control, but in every other part of her life, she just goes along, emotionally distant, without taking ownership of her life and actions. She’s horrible to her best friend. She’s selfish and greedy with her mother—and outright rude and hurtful. She’s oblivious of what everyone else around her wants, focusing instead on her own wants. She lackadaisical towards her music, so it made that—the vast majority of the book—not believable to me.

Claire just made this book not a good fit for me.

Cynthia Salaysay is a registered nurse. Private Lessons is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Her Amish Suitor’s Secret, by Carrie Lighte

LoveInspired_Banner_970x300

her amish suitor's secret
Image belongs to Harlequin/Love Inspired.

Title:  Her Amish Suitor’s Secret
AuthorCarrie Lighte
Genre:  Romance, Christian
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

Sometimes the truth comes at a cost. Can she forgive him when she learns his true identity? Posing as an Amish groundskeeper at Rose Allgyer’s lakeside cabin retreat, Englischer Caleb Miller is determined to clear his brother’s name of theft. But as he’s drawn to Rose’s good nature, the burden of his ruse gets heavier—especially after learning Rose was deceived by her ex-fiancé. Still guarded, will Rose trust Caleb with her heart when she discovers he isn’t who he claims to be?

I do love reading Amish fiction, and this was one I enjoyed a lot. It was interesting watching Caleb try to fit into the Amish community, mistakes and all. I was far more intrigued by the development of Caleb and Rose’s storyline than the mystery of the stolen coins, but there were also several other side intrigues to keep my attention as well. This was a sweet, uncomplicated read, perfect for a stressful day.

Carrie Lighte enjoys traveling to Amish communities across the United States and she hopes to visit a few in Canada soon, too. When she isn’t writing, reading or researching, she likes to hike, kayak and spend time at the beach.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Love Inspired in exchange for an honest review.)