Average Girl Reads

I just read that poet Rod McKuen died this week. When I was going through my poetry obsession in my teens, Rod McKuen was one of the poets that I read repeatedly. So much poetry was difficult for me to understand; it was just a collection of pretty words. I enjoyed the rhythm but didn't really get the overall meaning. McKuen's work seemed more down-to-earth to me. Running across his obituary today makes me want to revisit his work and poetry in general to see if 30-odd years of life experience will bring me more understanding.

Until I put a halt to adding books to my to-be-read list, I didn't realize how often I ran into information about books. Besides the three daily newsletters that notify me about free e-books, I have reading recommendations staring me in the face on Goodreads, on my library's website, and in my Facebook newsfeed. Then, when I'm watching the Today show or CBS Sunday Morning, there is usually at least one or two authors saying something interesting that makes me want to check out their books. There is temptation everywhere I look!

One of the reasons I set this no-add goal was to get out of my rut and read something on my list that wasn't a prairie romance, and I started that last week. I read Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. I've watched a couple of movies based on his novels, so I knew his books were exactly happy. Still, that book took a little longer for me to finish because I knew after 10 pages that there wasn't going to be a happy ending. Hornby is great with words and there were several passages that made me smile, but overall it was a book where the characters didn't really seem any better off by the end of the book. That's a little sad for me, but I'm glad that I pushed myself to read something different. I'm treating myself to another prairie romance before I tackle another tough book :-).

The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting ClubThe Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club by Wanda E. Brunstetter
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads:

Join the club of unlikely quilters who show up for Amish widow Emma Yoder’s quilting classes. A troubled young woman, a struggling couple, a widower, a rough and tough biker, and a preacher’s wife make up the mismatched lot. But as their problems begin to bind them together like the scraps of fabric stitched together in a quilt, they learn to open up and lend a helping hand. Is this what God had in mind to heal hurting hearts and create beauty from fragments?

I wanted to like this book. It is a familiar trope: the misfit group of people who are forced together into a situation and build friendships despite their differences. It is a story setup that I normally enjoy, but in this book it didn't gel. The dialogue didn't feel natural, and the friendships between the characters weren't fleshed out enough. The entire book seemed like a sketch of the book that someone wanted to write instead of the final draft.

I have three other Wanda E. Brunstetter books on my Goodreads list. I had heard that she is one of the leading authors in the Amish fiction genre, but after this I'm not sure if I want to try another of her books.  

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Deeply DevotedDeeply Devoted by Maggie Brendan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads:

When Catharine Olsen leaves Holland for America as a mail-order bride, she brings along some extra baggage: two sisters, her mother's set of Blue Willow china, and a tragic past. When she arrives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, she promptly marries Peter Andersen and dreams of starting life over in this rugged land. Peter is kind and patient with Catharine and accommodating to her sisters. His mother, however, is not. When she begins a campaign to sabotage Peter's marriage, Catharine is distraught, worried that her secret past will be discovered. Will her life end up as nothing but broken pieces? Or will these trials make her stronger?

This book ticked all my boxes. It is a prairie romance with a mail-order bride who is a new arrival from Europe, so there is also a bit of a culture clash. There were real secrets and issues in this book, unlike some books where the whole central conflict could have been resolved with one five-minute conversation. It is spread over a long period time so that the reader can see Peter and Catharine's love grow. The subplot with Clara, Peter's mother, was fleshed out and showed her as a woman with needs and reasons for her bad behavior. All of these aspects added up to a satisfying novel for me.

The one little quirk that bothered me in this novel was the way Catharine's sister Greta talked. I'm not an expert in 19th-century speech patterns or anything, but Greta sounded more modern than the other characters. She would utter phrases like, "Cut it out, Cath!", which sounds more like something one of my daughters would say, not a 19th-century teenager whose first language is not English. 

This is the first book in a three-book series. It doesn't end in a cliffhanger so you can stop with this book, but the author did create plot points that give you a reason to pick up the other books. If you enjoy spending time with the characters in this book, then this is good news. 

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Love on a Dime (Ladies of Summerhill, #1)Love on a Dime by Cara Lynn James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads:

No one in Lilly Westbrook's social set knows she pens fiction under the nom de plume Fannie Cole. Not her family or the wealthy young man about to propose to her. And especially not Jackson Grail, the long-lost beau who just bought her publishing company...and who stirs her heart more than she cares to admit.

It is 1899, and the Westbrooks  are summering in Newport, RI, the playground of the upper class. The Westbrooks are at the outer edge of high society financially, so Lilly's possible marriage to the son of a railroad tycoon would be advantageous to the entire family.  However, Lilly's young man hasn't proposed yet, and her career as a successful author of dime novel romances could jeopardize not only her engagement but also her family's standing in the community.

I enjoyed the characters and the setting of this book, but it suffers from a mild case of what I think of as "Regency disease".  A lot of times when a book is set among the aristocracy, since the characters don't have to work, the book gives us passage after passage of the characters rehashing the same subjects over and over in drawing rooms and ballrooms. At least in a prairie romance, the authors break that up with descriptions of food! In "Love on a Dime", this issue isn't so prominent because there are some scenes in the city where Jackson works and Lilly does some volunteer work. However, I couldn't help thinking that some of Lilly's hand-wringing could be avoided if she would just start telling people that she is the author Fannie Cole.  Every time she listed her reasons for not telling, they sounded more flimsy.  Luckily, the story came to a conclusion just before I was ready to throw the book at a wall.

This is the first book in a series, but it doesn't end in a cliffhanger. From what I can tell, the other two books are set in the same town but with different characters and in different years. This means I don't feel compelled to read them immediately the way I normally do with other series. I do, however, enjoy Cara Lynn James' writing style so I will probably get to them eventually.





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Dakota Dawn (Dakota Series)Dakota Dawn by Lauraine Snelling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads:

Nora Johnson is looking forward to starting a new life in North Dakota, far from her native Norway. She is going to marry Hans and be a prosperous farmer's wife. Carl Detschman is happy with life on his tidy farm. Now he and his wife, Anna, eagerly await the birth of their second child. But Nora's and Carl's dreams are not to be. With God's help, a prodigious plan is realized, one that will alter their lives forever.

I read Lauraine Snelling's later series about five years ago. It was her series set in the fictional town of Blessing, ND, that made me fall in love with historical novels that have Norwegian characters. After reading this book, I feel like it is "Snelling Lite". It isn't bad, but the story isn't quite as developed as her more recent books. After reading this book I discovered it was written for Heartsong, a now-defunct imprint that was similar to Harlequin. Once I learned that, the shortness of the book and the abrupt ending made more sense; all the Harlequin books I've read were short and super-light. Still, it would be a good book to start with if you've never read any of Snelling's books and wanted to get a quick taste of her style.

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