Sunday, January 03, 2016

Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh, these Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner, The Family Way by Rhys Bowen and For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Happy 2016, fellow Bibliophiles! I have four reviews to share with you to start the new year off right.
All were Christmas books gifted to me by my family via Barnes and Noble gift cards or Amazon cards.

 First up is Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh, which was not properly identified as a religious romance genre novel. It was listed in Book Page as a romantic novel. But I feel strongly that people should know what they're getting themselves into when they pick up a work of fiction, and if it is a genre novel, which presents a story in a specific category, people should know. Especially when it comes to volatile subjects such as religion and politics.
The main characters in Paper Hearts, Abigail Pressman and Dr Jacob Willoughby both have had their hearts broken, and both have a somewhat fraught relationship with the Almighty as a result. So there's a lot of praying, discussion of prayer, talk of God and His forgiveness and why God allows good people to die or be in pain. That said, there is never a specific reference to any one Christian church, unless you count the characters going to the Presbyterian church for chairs for a concert. God is spoken of in more of a personal relationship way, and there are no Bible quotes, which was a relief for me as a reader. Because of my love of books, the fact that Abigail owns a bookstore is certainly a plus, though it seems that her actual interests lie more along the lines of furniture restoration and creating a community center for classes of all types for the locals. Here's the blurb:
Abigail Pressman would never have guessed that love notes penned on paper hearts by an anonymous couple could restore her belief in love. As a business owner in a quaint town at the base of the Rockies, she’s poured everything into dreams of expansion . . . and 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 paper 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 to expand his practice.
As she fights a growing attraction to this handsome man 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 reaches the Volunteers, it appears something tragic has happened to the couple. Will uncovering their story confirm Abigail’s doubts about love, or could it rescue her dreams . . . and her heart? 
Though I found the characters fairly well drawn, I wasn't at all thrilled with the way the female characters in particular seemed to be focused on the idea that only having a man in your life can make you whole, and having a husband and children is the only way to true happiness for women. The women in the book who don't have it are broken, withdrawn creatures who aren't living a full life.  The feminist in me feels her gorge rise at such blatant sexism, and the idea that you are "hiding from love" and full life if you're a single woman and a business owner is repugnant to me. There are women who are perfectly happy being alone, or only having casual relationships. There are women who don't want to be mothers or parents, for good reason, and they shouldn't be seen as "less than" happy if they choose that route for their lives. Only the old, mean woman in this novel gets a pass on being paired up, and that is only because she's a widow and a rich, forceful woman. Still, the idea that you can change your dream and that good can come from tragedy was well placed in this plot, which moved along briskly with the somewhat redundant and overeager prose. I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to anyone who likes religious romances.

The Family Way by Rhys Bowen is the 12th Molly Murphy mystery novel, and the 8th or 9th that I've read. Molly is finally married to Captain Sullivan of the NYPD in the summer of 1905, and now that she's pregnant, her husband Daniel has weaseled a promise from her that she'll stop being a detective and solving crimes because it is dangerous to her and doubly so in her condition. Here's the blurb:
Molly Murphy—now Molly Sullivan—is a year into her marriage, expecting her first child, and confined to the life of a housewife. She's restless and irritable in the enforced idleness of pregnancy and the heat of a New York summer in 1905. So when a trip to the post office brings a letter addressed to her old detective agency asking her to locate a missing Irish serving maid, Molly figures it couldn't hurt to at least ask around, despite her promise to Daniel to give up her old career as a detective. On the same day, Molly learns that five babies have been kidnapped in the past month.
Refusing to let Molly help with the kidnapping investigation, Daniel sends her away to spend the summer with his mother. But even in the quiet, leafy suburbs, Molly's own pending motherhood makes her unable to ignore these missing children. What she uncovers will lead her on a terrifying journey through all levels of society, putting her life—and that of her baby—in danger.
The Family Way, the latest entry in Rhys Bowen's bestselling Molly Murphy series, will delight fans and win over newcomers with its elegantly plotted mystery, atmospheric historical detail, and vivid characters.
Of course, being Irish and feisty, Molly can't help herself when she receives a letter from Ireland from some parents who wonder why their daughter, who immigrated to America, seems to have disappeared. Add to that the mystery of the stolen children that her husband, who treats her pretty poorly, and is egotistical and mistrustful and generally a jerk, refuses to allow her to help him solve, and you've got quite a stew of a mystery. SPOILER ALERT Usually Bowen makes her tracks pretty easy to follow in her books, so you generally know who the perp is by around halfway through the book, if not before. This time was no different, and I was aware that the nuns were selling babies long before we got to Molly going undercover at the convent, (which was really stupid of her, considering she wasn't just putting her own life in danger, she was putting the life of her unborn baby in serious danger of being sold off). But, with the help of her friends Sid and Gus, who continue to be a delight as characters in these novels, everything turns out alright and Daniel the hubby is none the wiser. I am looking forward to seeing how Molly manages to continue her covert detection with a baby to take care of, but knowing her, she's going to continue to put herself in danger and solve crime no matter who else she puts in danger. I'd give this book a B-, and recommend it to anyone who loves Irish characters and turn of the 20th century stories.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund was something of an impulse buy, from a list of new science fiction/romance/YA hybrids from an FB post. I had read Ascendant, one of Peterfreund's other YA titles, and I didn't review it here, so I don't recall whether or not I liked it. This novel, however, was a winner, a page-turner with charming characters and some fascinating ideas on science, class and love bridging the gap. Here's the blurb:
Fans of Divergent will love Diana Peterfreund’s take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion set in a post-apocalyptic world.
 In the dystopian future of For Darkness Shows the Stars, a genetic experiment has devastated humanity. In the aftermath, a new class system placed anti-technology Luddites in absolute power over vast estates—and any survivors living there.
 Elliot North is a dutiful Luddite and a dutiful daughter who runs her father’s estate. When the boy she loved, Kai, a servant, asked her to run away with him four years ago, she refused, although it broke her heart.
 Now Kai is back. And while Elliot longs for a second chance with her first love, she knows it could mean betraying everything she’s been raised to believe is right.

 For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking YA romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.
Though we're supposed to be reminded of Austen's Persuasion, I was more reminded of old social science fiction novels of the past, like Zenna Henderson's works or Marta Randalls. And I loved that the Luddites, though sometimes cruel and abusive overlords, felt compelled to take care of the "Reduced" members of society, who are basically mute, low-intelligence laborers who are treated like slaves. What is interesting about them is that, several generations on, they're having children, called Children of the Reduced, or CORs by the Luddites and "Posts" (as in Post Reduction) by themselves, who are as smart and vocal and resourceful (if not more so) than the Luddites. Once Malakai (Kai) returns and sparks fly between him and Elliot (though they both think the worst of the other for most of the novel), readers know it is only a matter of time until the two of them uncover one anothers secrets and things start to get radical. Peterfreund's prose is stellar, and her plot, though intricate, shines with clarity. I just can't bring myself to write spoilers for this one, because the journey of discovery with these characters is too good to reveal in advance. A well deserved A, and a recommendation to anyone who loves SFR and well-written YA novels.

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner is another YA distopian SFR hybrid, but it's totally different than Darkness Shows the Stars. It's more like an episode of Doctor Who (especially the Space Titanic episode) than Downton Abbey (like Darkness). Here's the blurb:
It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.
Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they're worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.
Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other's arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder-would they be better off staying here forever?
Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won't be the same people who landed on it.
The first in a sweeping science fiction trilogy, These Broken Stars is a timeless love story about hope and survival in the face of unthinkable odds.
Lilac, as the daughter of a rich and very ruthless man, has spent her life pushing men away, because she knows that her father will have anyone who approaches his child killed, unless they are somehow useful to him or his business empire. He's basically the evil emperor and Lilac is the princess in the gilded cage. Meanwhile Tarver, who is being hailed as a war hero and is only on the luxury liner for publicity for the military, loathes being treated as if he is somehow different than his fellow officers. When he sees a beautiful redhead, however, he doesn't recognize her and the inevitable sparks fly between them. I was reminded of Titanic, the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. She's the beautiful girl trying to escape her rigidly organized glamorous life, and he's the poor grunt soldier who falls for a woman so far above him in station that he can't even contemplate dating her. Yet when the ship explodes, they are the only two to make it out with an escape pod that only she is able to fix. Once on the planet, they save each other numerous times, of course, and then they discover the extent of her father's treacherous reach. The final few chapters of this novel are so gripping, you won't be able to put the book down. These two author's write fine, lucid prose that glides along their huge plot with ease. Though I found Lilac to be a huge pill for much of the novel, I still enjoyed her banter with Tarver, and I'm sincerely looking forward to reading the next two novels in the series. An A goes to Broken Stars, with a recommendation for anyone who loves Titanic or the more romantic Doctor Who episodes with David Tennant. 

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