Summer’s List by Anita Higman

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Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Moody Publishers for an honest review.
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summers-listSummer’s List by Anita Higman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Summer has spent so many years of her life taking care of her family’s needs while her own dreams have drifted off. But her gravely ill grandmother wishes for Summer to recapture some of those dreams with an important To Do list. Completing the list may even take seeking the help of Martin, the childhood friend Summer lost but has never forgotten in Summer’s List, a novel by author Anita Higman.

I’ve quite enjoyed a couple of this author’s Middlebury stories. Although I’m known (at least to myself) to not always read the blurbs of books by authors I’ve enjoyed before, I did read the blurb for this novel, and I was intrigued by the idea of Summer’s quest.

Unfortunately, after the beginning, which I really liked, the story fell pretty flat for me. I was waiting for a kind of “ah-ha” moment, for one of the items on Summer’s list to really pop, to add a twist or an angle I wasn’t expecting, but it didn’t happen. The story develops in an “all of a sudden” kind of way at a number of points, much of it based on events from the past. But I found it difficult to care about those events. A lot of them aren’t foreshadowed or given a realistic build-up before they’re mentioned or remembered “all of a sudden.”

Also, although Martin is quirky and noble in some ways, I found him to be a rather weak hero, overall. And I wasn’t expecting so much of the novel not to be about Summer’s quest at all but to be about Martin and his rather bratty brothers. I couldn’t really get into their whole family drama when so much of it revolved around characters I found little reason to root for.

Still, while this book turned out not to be my favorite, I’m sure it won’t be the last that I read by this author.

Unveiling Love: Episode II by Vanessa Riley

regency-books nadine keels

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.
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Four Silver Stars

unveiling-love-2Unveiling Love: A Regency Romance by Vanessa Riley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Two months to woo a wife, find a missing person, and capture a killer was an incredibly short period of time.

Barrington Norton has cases to investigate and a reputation to maintain as a barrister in the English courts—particularly as a barrister of mixed ethnicity. Hence, more than love is at stake in the midst of the ominous trouble brewing between him and Amora, his wife. They’ll have to decide how much (or how little) their marriage matters in the grand scheme in Unveiling Love, a Regency suspense tale by author Vanessa Riley.

Episode II of this story picks up right where Episode I left off, so I was all in as soon as I started reading. I found the second episode to be somewhat darker than the first as it deals with the effects of events as traumatic as war. Although I felt some of Barrington and Amora’s discussion became a bit redundant, I liked to see them digging into the complexities of their marriage, where easy answers and quick fixes may not be available.

There’s a minor aspect of the plot that didn’t quite line up to me, and there are small errors and inconsistencies in the writing. Also, in both episodes, it seems the narrator may be less than impartial about the story’s villains, perhaps calling them names too often. The antagonists begin to seem less authentic that way, like wicked caricatures.

Still, the author’s style is sensitive, evocative, and poetic in its imagery. There’s an aching kind of beauty in even the dark images. And as much as Barrington and Amora frustrate me sometimes, I can’t help but to forgive them because they’re not clueless or just being dramatic. They’re aware of themselves, which keeps them interesting.

I’m looking forward to moving on to Episode III.

First Love: A Treasury of Three Favorites by Beverly Cleary

romance-books-3 nadine keels

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.
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Five Gold Stars

first-loveFirst Love: Jean and Johnny / Fifteen / The Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book/description/blurb.)

Shelley gets to spend her senior year of high school in sunny San Sebastian. Meeting Philip there only adds to her feeling that she may be the luckiest girl in the world.
When Jean unexpectedly catches the attention of a handsome flirt, Johnny, it all seems too good to be true–and it may very well be.
At fifteen, Jane gets asked out by the most popular boy in school and doesn’t quite know how to handle herself.

Yes, I consider these young adult novels by my favorite childhood author to be classics, and I had a marvelous time taking a second spin with them.

5 Stars for The Luckiest Girl
Gee. Gotta love YA Lit from the 50s!

Though I adored the story from the beginning, I didn’t discern in my adolescence, when I first read The Luckiest Girl, how wise and poignant a story this truly is, not only for its portrayal of young romance and the road to maturity but for its lesson on mother/daughter relationships as well.

I also found that I’d misremembered Philip as some kind of macho guy, likely because my memory of the leaning boy on the book cover of the paperback I read left me with that impression of him, but he’s a much more interesting character the way Cleary wrote him. Hartley is, well, Hartley–good ol’ Hartley!–and Shelley’s wonderful reflections on life and love at the end of the novel put honest-to-goodness tears in my no-longer-adolescent eyes. I even laughed more this time around!

5 Stars for Jean and Johnny
Ah! Young people listening to records and tuning in to their favorite television and radio “programs,” drive-in restaurants with carhops serving Cokes, folks with telephone numbers like “Toyon 1-4343,” and teenaged boys saying things like, “Gosh, that would be swell!” and meaning it.

Such fun to return to this old-fashioned, cozy, slightly heartbreaking, relatable, sweet story, since I understand it better this time and have a greater appreciation for Jean’s gradual maturation through the novel. She grows in a much more satisfying way than I remembered. Plus, I don’t know if I realized it years ago, but there’s actually an Asian girl in this book, incorporated into the minor cast of students just like the rest of ’em, but with a clearly different name and a distinct look to her in one of the illustrations.

And, speaking of the illustrations–the darling illustrations! My reading time probably doubled just taking extra moments to study and enjoy all of the fitting and amusing details in the pictures. Wonderful!

4 Stars for Fifteen
Oh, it seems that, compared to Jean and Shelley, Jane here in Fifteen is flimsier, more internally whiny. And this may be the flattest, perhaps the most juvenile, of Cleary’s YA romances. Could be because it’s the first, or at least was the first published.

Still, I found the novel to be charming on the whole, and it got better as Jane finally began to “learn her lesson,” as these young heroines of Cleary’s inevitably must. Gee, such an experience rereading books like this as an adult!

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These are the paperback editions I read years ago. At the time, I was unaware that there’s another First Love novel by Cleary, Sister of the Bride. Knowing now that the book exists, I’ll have to check it out sometime. 🙂

the-luckiest-girl jean-and-johnny fifteen

Unveiling Love: Episode I by Vanessa Riley

regency-books nadine keels

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.
_______________________

Five Gold Stars

unveiling-love-1Unveiling Love: Episode I by Vanessa Riley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

“Thank you. I like the light.”
“You have to do more than just like it. You have to seek it, fight for it to be in your life.”

As a barrister, Barrington Norton is serious about fighting for life, truth, and justice in court. But his wife, Amora, doubts that he may be as serious about working with her to save their tenuous union. Yet, her inability to fully recall a nightmarish incident in her past could undermine any efforts toward their marriage in Unveiling Love, a Regency suspense tale by author Vanessa Riley.

Yes, for the second time in recent history, this bookworm who doesn’t do serialized novels is reading a serialized novel. I do have the complete story, though, so perhaps the only difference here is my taking the opportunity to review it by episodes.

I think it can be easy for a contemporary writer to rely on the interesting manners, frills, and glamorous motifs of England’s Regency period and leave out the kind of deeper, human exploration that makes novels like Jane Austen’s so great. Hence, while a story may have Austen-like qualities on the “outside,” it can fall flat beneath its English frills.

Thus far, Unveiling Love is no such flat or flimsy story. I’m not comparing it to Austen’s work, as Barrington and Amora’s tale comes from a whole different kind of outlook and whatnot. And I did notice minor errors and inconsistencies in the writing.

But I also noticed the story’s layering, and the author’s poetic style that shines or pierces in places. I noticed the nuances in characters’ development and interaction. It annoyed me when Barrington and Amora would jump to drastic conclusions in their heads, but it wouldn’t make them suddenly jump out of character with melodramatic tantrums, as might have been the case in a flimsier story. No, the balance and tension between their thoughts and actions make them all the more believable.

Plus, of course (absolutely of course), I’m thrilled to be reading Regency romantic suspense with main characters of color. I don’t run into this kind of book every day. And this tale of passion, doubt, faith, and intrigue has me most curious to see if this husband and wife are indeed going to seek and fight for light.