Review: “A Portrait of Emily Price” by Katherine Reay

a-portrait-of-emily-price

Once again, author Katherine Reay has penned a contemporary novel with a complexity of skill not many in the genre can achieve with her newest release, A Portrait of Emily Price. And what a picture its pages holds! I would describe this as a family drama with a whirlwind (though always realistic) romance and a story of finding oneself in the middle of life’s chaos and joy. With a hint of whimsy, the story always stays realistic in a humidity-and-wavy-hairdo, too-much-espresso sort of way. And, in true Reay style, included literary references and nods to classic literature throughout (making this #booknerd very happy!)

About the Book

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . .

a-portrait-of-emily-priceEmily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

Review

I was fortunate to read this one along with some awesome blogger friends and discuss it on Twitter along the way. You can find our discussions and major fangirling by viewing the hashtag #PofEPRAL

Reay’s style is romantic in many ways, from Emily’s observations, place descriptions, to the overall feel of the story. Not rosy and idealistic, by any means, but sweet in its outlook — the storytelling is cleverly as much about what happens “between the lines” as what’s directly told. Like the family history, the nostalgia, the courtship between Emily and Ben, and the food!

The characters are strong in the sense that their personalities are so established you can almost sense their reactions as much as read them. When Ben and Emily finally make it to Italy, you can feel the tension and belonging of home in how the scenes play out. And the supporting characters!!!!!! I loved them all, the brother, sister, parents, friends, aunts and uncles. It was fun to put the big picture together as the story progressed of how they are each integral, whether in a small or big way, to Ben and Emily’s lives. Connected, if you will, to their story, to influence, encourage, and sometimes pass on valuable wisdom.

Another way the characters are firmly established is through setting and culture. For instance, the “accents” of Ben and his family are expressed specifically, conveying notes on inflection so well it made me feel like I was listening to them. And, the descriptions of all of the different places, from the little Italian restaurant in Atlanta to the sunflower fields and Lucio’s library in Italy and everything in between practically, made me feel immersed in the culture. This book is a true example of the power of written words on a page!

The relationship between Emily and Ben is shown just enough – it’s not overly focused on the romance aspect (though there are plenty of those moments that show just how romantic Ben can be <3) but instead tells just enough you see their closeness and camaraderie. I think it’s safe to say the reader falls in love with Ben, too, from the first chapter’s description (as Rissi quotes here):

Random side note: interestingly, eyes go on to play an important means of communication and meaning in the story.

I could go on further about the intricacies of this story and how it pushes you to think deeply about the impact your choices have on those around you; or even its gentle reminder to seize the moment and find happiness in the little moments of everyday life. But I’ll leave you with the important stuff it showcases: truth, joy, and love (of all kinds…. romance, friendship, family/sibling/parent, even love of your work). With a style only Reay can achieve, this story is polished and engrossing with vivid, heartful characters.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and Booklook for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

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Review: “Like Never Before” by Melissa Tagg

Author Melissa Tagg can always be relied upon to deliver a story that is equal parts charming, heartwarming, and real. With her latest release, Like Never Before, she continues the Walker Family series in the same fashion with a few new people to love.

About the Book

Maple Valley became Amelia Bentley’s haven after her heart and her dreams of a family were shattered. But her new life as a newspaper editor is shaken when the small-town paper is in danger of closing. Her one hope: A lead on an intriguing story that just might impress the new publisher…if only she new who he was.

After his biggest campaign success yet, widowed speechwriter Logan Walker now has the chance of a lifetime–a spot on a presidential campaign. But his plans are interrupted when he finds out he’s inherited his hometown newspaper. He travels home intent on selling the paper and spending some much-needed time with his young daughter before making the leap into national politics.

But instead of a quick sale and peaceful break from his hectic career, Logan finds himself helping Amelia chase her story. She’s scrappy, but wounded. He’s dependable, but lost. They may butt heads more than expected, but a series of leads on Maple Valley’s quirky unsolved mystery is just the start of the sparks that fly in the office and in their hearts.

Review

While this story is super sweet & fun (with a very swoon-worthy hero, I might add), it’s not just warm and cozy — it’s an emotional story of two people’s journey toward something new God is working in their lives. The element of faith propels the story to a new depth. I especially enjoyed the bits of wisdom and encouragement offered to Amelia and Logan from the most unexpected people.

Like Never Before by Melissa TaggThis book is just so endearing! I loved so many things about it, let me just list them for you:

  • the town — picturesque and clannish, just what a small town should be
  • the Walker clan — especially catching up with Kate and Colton, Seth and Ava.
  • Logan — particularly his penchant to take care of everyone around him, especially little Charlie
  • Amelia — her obsession with winter and love of history and books
  • the janitor’s closet — No, that’s not a typo. Melissa has a knack for making scenes interesting and unforgettable, especially in such a quirky place
  • the subtle historical mystery — and fun bits of investigative journalism Amelia and Logan participate in concerning said mystery
  • classic movie references –they make this movie lover happy!
  • mostly the reminder that God waits with open arms

Logan and Amelia experience a renewal of faith. I love how real these characters are, with all their flaws and quirks and dreams and failings, they still persevere through the next step, the next choice — even when the destination is fuzzy. It’s a lesson to live in the now. In the happiness of s’mores made with candy bars. In the precious moments shared with the laughter of a child.

The ending is unexpected yet perfect. Not what I would have guessed as the reader, but it’s just one more way this story offers proof that God is never predictable but always in control. I’m ready for the next book already! Bring on book 3, Beckett’s story!

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers and Netgalley for the complimentary copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Visit my review of book 1, From The Start here.

 

Review: Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay

Lizzy and Jane was another excellent book by Katherine Reay! She has the uncanny ability to write deep characters in unique situations, delving into uncommon issues and insightful experiences. I’m sharing this review way later than I had intended. Like, 6 months late. Just because I waited forever to share it doesn’t mean I loved the book any less! It DID make my favorites list for 2014!

Lizzy’s character at first seems closed off and unfeeling, but as you get to know her, she makes her way into your emotions. You begin to identify with her struggles, her pain over the loss of her mother, her prejudices against her sister Jane for her unconcern when their mother died. Lizzy and Jane by Katherine ReayYou understand, though, Jane’s perspective, too.That their personalities are just opposite – but they have more in common than they realize.

Truly, Lizzy experiences many emotions and carries baggage and pain from the time her mother died. She holds it as a grudge against her sister, that she left Lizzy, even as Jane now goes through a horrible battle with cancer.

The literary references included in this book – especially to Austen and “food in classic literature” – are again fabulous and fun, like in her debut, Dear Mr. Knightley.

I liked witnessing Lizzy’s journey and her reaction to her sister’s situation. Lizzy finds purpose in serving others, helping them in some small way through their pain, because she can identify with some of their feelings.

A romance with Nick, a friend of Jane’s, is not exactly central to the story, but happens as Lizzy’s story with Jane unfolds – in the middle of pain, family, and everyday life. That’s why I loved it, and was drawn to how their relationship would conclude in the story. It realistically showed that life is not a fairy tale, but happiness can be found even in the struggles.

Overall, this was an engaging, thought-provoking story. It begs this question of the reader: Are you doing something to make a difference in people’s lives?

Thank you to BookLook Bloggers and Thomas Nelson for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Summary: Lizzy and Jane never saw eye to eye. But when illness brings them together, they discover they may be more like Austen’s famous sisters after all.

Lizzy was only a teenager when her mother died of cancer. Shortly after, Lizzy fled from her home, her family, and her cherished nickname. After working tirelessly to hone her gift of creating magic in the kitchen, Elizabeth has climbed the culinary ladder to become the head chef of her own New York restaurant, Feast. But as her magic begins to elude her, Paul, Feast’s financial backer, brings in someone to share her responsibilities and her kitchen. So Elizabeth flees again.

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her gift, Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone-including herself-when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

As she tends to Jane’s needs, Elizabeth’s powers begin to return to her, along with the family she left behind so long ago. Then Paul tries to entice her back to New York, and she is faced with a hard decision: stay and become Lizzy to her sister’s Jane, or return to New York and the life she worked so hard to create?

Family, a Film, & a French Apple Cake

Sometimes you have a family or culinary experience that’s just so delightful you wish it would last forever. In my case, it was a combination – an evening watching a movie followed by eating a yummy apple cake. It was so great I decided to blog about it 🙂

Last week, I enjoyed watching one of my absolute favorite movies The Ultimate Gift (2006) PosterThe Ultimate Gift (2006) – with my grandmother, aunt, and uncle. If you haven’t seen it, you MUST watch it immediately. It’s one of my go-to movies, the kind I love to watch or listen to any time. It is the perfect family movie with a message for everyone – one “take-away” is that life is a gift meant to be shared with others. Plus it has a great cast (Abigail Breslin, James Garner [one of my personal faves], and Drew Fuller).

So, back to my great evening. After watching this with my family, we devoured ate most of a DELICIOUS French Apple Cake with Almonds (Yes, I am a little biased because I baked it myself, but when my uncle wants seconds, you know it’s good). The recipe came from Hillary Manton Lodge’s fabulous novel A Table by the Window, which is full of recipes squeezed in between the chapters of the story (like Nutella mousse, pasta carbonara with leeks and lemon, pine nut couscous, and mini focaccia to name a few). The story alone was one I loved, but these recipes are a fantastic bonus. This apple cake was very moist and just sweet enough — and easy to make. It was the perfect end to an evening making memories and enjoying a movie with my family. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book, if only for the recipes.

By the way, Hillary is featured in August’s Book Fun Magazine with an interview and recipe for the Provencal Lavender and Honey Pound Cake from the novel.

French Apple Cake with Almonds (recipe by Hillary Lodge)

Here’s a pic of my cake. Doesn’t it make you want a piece?

 

Note: I did receive a free copy of this book from the publishers to review (Thank you!), but this post is just a “fun” one I wanted to share, not encouraged/required by the publishers.

Have you seen The Ultimate Gift? What did you think? What’s your family’s favorite movie?

I’d love to hear your comments – they don’t even have to stay on topic! 😉

Review: “When I Fall In Love” by Susan May Warren + Giveaway Info

When visiting Susan May Warren’s Christiansen family, it’s like visiting your aunt & uncle – you know there will be a warm welcome and the familiar strength of family love, but you never know the fun you’ll have or the life lessons you’ll learn until the day is over. That’s how the latest in the Christiansen Family series is, When I Fall In Love. (Here’s my gushing thoughts on the previous two: Take A Chance On Me and It Had To Be You)

When I Fall In Love ~ Review

My copy in front of my TBR shelf.

Grace Christiansen, homebody and local restaurant manager, wants something more from life in Deep Haven, but she’s a little reluctant to risk any major changes. When her family surprises her with a culinary trip to Hawaii, she faces her fear of failure and sets out to realize her dreams and God’s plans for her life may be more – and better – than even she could imagine. When she teams up with Blue Ox player Max Sharpe for a cooking competition, he starts to show her that adventure can be found in everyday life. Max has his own problems and reasons for keeping his distance from Grace, but a vacation in paradise may prove to change his attitude toward finding a future with a family.

Watching Grace and Max’s relationship develop through this story is quite the ride. We see them each experience trials and struggles with self-worth, the fun and possibility of pursuing dreams, and the fulfillment Christ gives when we let Him direct our steps. The message of grace and Christ’s love is beautifully woven through this story.

It’s hard for an author to establish a large, loving family on the page without making them sound too “perfect”, but Susan does a fantastic job depicting realistic characters. I love how the Christiansens are such a model family. Though not without their flaws, each one loves and supports their siblings or children through joys and struggles.

There’s a small side plot with one of Grace’s siblings, Casper (the fun treasure-hunter one), and it takes place back in Deep Haven while Grace is in Hawaii. The occasional perspective from the woods and lakes of Minnesota was an interesting contrast with the beaches of Hawaii. I’m anxious to see where Casper’s (and brother Owen’s) stories go in the next book in the Christiansen Family series, Always On My Mind (releasing 2015).

You can learn more about author Susan May Warren at her website here, on Twitter, or Facebook. Also, check out the GIVEAWAY she’s having right now for a KitchenAid mixer!!

(For another fabulous blog post Q&A with Susan May Warren AND info about books 4 & 5 in the Christiansen Family series, head over to Suzanne Woods Fisher’s blog.)

Note: Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Book Review: “Take A Chance On Me” by Susan May Warren (Empty Shelf #5)

My latest read, Take A Chance On Me by Susan May Warren, is an alluring story of second chances intertwining the bonds of family, friendship, and love. It’s the first novel in the recent Christiansen Family series, set in the quaint small town of Deep Haven in northern Minnesota.

Take A Chance On Me by Susan May Warren
Summary from Goodreads:

Darek Christiansen is almost a dream bachelor—oldest son in the large Christiansen clan, heir to their historic Evergreen Lake Resort, and doting father. But he’s also wounded and angry since the tragic death of his wife, Felicity. No woman in Deep Haven dares come near. 

New assistant county attorney Ivy Madison simply doesn’t know any better when she bids on Darek at the charity auction. Nor does she know that when she crafted a plea bargain three years ago to keep Jensen Atwood out of jail and in Deep Haven fulfilling community service, she was releasing the man responsible for Felicity’s death. All Ivy knows is that the Christiansens feel like the family she’s always longed for. And once she gets past Darek’s tough exterior, she finds a man she could spend the rest of her life with. Which scares her almost as much as Darek learning of her involvement in his wife’s case. 

Caught between new love and old grudges, Darek must decide if he can set aside the past for a future with Ivy—a future more and more at risk as an approaching wildfire threatens to wipe out the Christiansen resort and Deep Haven itself.

My review:

Take A Chance On Me follows the story of widower father Darek Christiansen as he searches for forgiveness and resolution after a tragic accident that killed his wife. Newcomer Ivy Morgan, having always wished for the closeness of family and small-town living, has no idea the emotional baggage Darek Christiansen is carrying when she “buys” him at a charity auction and is drawn in by his caring family. As her friendship with Darek begins to develop into romance, Ivy must consider the provision of God and possibility of grace. When the lines blur between her personal life and professional life as county attorney, she faces difficult choices which could potentially hurt those she has become close to.

Susan’s characters are realistic and have great depth.  In addition to Darek and Ivy, secondary lead characters Claire and Jensen, once close friends with Darek and Felicity, also play prominent roles in the story. Each character experiences, in some form, the importance of taking chances – whether it be risking your heart in love, learning the value of forgiveness and second chances, or experiencing the grace of God and the chance He takes on each person by offering the gift of salvation.

Overall, I really enjoyed Take A Chance On Me by Susan May Warren. She successfully wove elements of faith, grace, and love with drama and romance. I look forward to reading the next one in this series and seeing more of the Christiansen family with their hearts for God and love for each other.