Polite Applause but No Standing Ovation for Turano’s “Playing the Part”

playing the partHave you ever been to a local community theatre and have been entertained but not because the set is magnificent or the acting is worthy of an Oscar? You tell people they did an awesome job but their performance would not hold a candle to successful Hollywood actors?

That’s kind of how I feel about Playing the Part by Jen Turano. The story never got boring but it was all in all a bit too light-hearted for me to feel like it was anything but a fluff novel. In comparison to some other novels I read, it just fell short in many areas. Before I get into why I felt it was “fluffy,” let me give you a quick overview of the plot that was given to me by the publisher.

“After a fan’s interest turns sinister, actress Lucetta Plum asks her friend, widow Abigail Hart, for help. Abigail takes her to a secluded estate, then reveals her own agenda by introducing Lucetta to her eccentric grandson. Bram is clearly interested in her but also mysterious. When danger catches up to Lucetta, will her friends be able to protect her?”

After reading this plot summary, I expected a sinister, danger-filled novel filled with mystery and excitement. There was a bit of danger, particularly towards the end as Lucetta is kidnapped and her mother is threatened, but the amount of hilarity and ridiculousness did a lot to keep the plot from feeling sinister. It made it hard to take the book earnestly, invest in the characters, and immerse myself in story, which is what I want to do when reading a book.

The majority of the book takes place in fictional Ravenwood castle above New York City in 1882 (I did love the unique time period/setting choice) that comes complete with its own fake cemetery and mausoleum to ensure Bram, the owner’s, need for privacy. Bram employs a motley crew of servants, a reformed group of criminals hailing from the Lower East Side. Their antics lends to the slight ridiculousness of the plot, including their frequently shooting cannonballs at anyone who dares approach the castle. Of course, the setting would not be complete without a misfit collection of unwanted animals, including a goat who loves (err hates?) anything in a dress; thus, leading to quite a few marathon runs around the grounds as Lucetta flees dearly for her life. All of this as well as other ragtag characters and suits of armor walking around the castle on their own make this book rather laughable–in other words, an entertaining bit of fluff if you are looking for something to pass time that doesn’t require much thinking or emotional investment. I imagine this is what the author intended when she wrote this book. If not, I would advise perhaps including a little less hilarity and spend more time creating characters immersed in a plot line with more depth. As it is, it’s an entertaining read–much like you’d get entertained at a local community theatre. However, I don’t think it has enough to make it to the New York Time‘s bestseller list or to carry it to Broadway, if I was to continue the theatre comparison.

Please note that I received a copy of this ebook for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Nothing beats a man that comes with chocolate.

Carlson_Your-Hearts-Desire(TR)9781455528141Last week, I was visiting a part of the office we call the “take shelf,” which is a book lovers best dream and worst nightmare. It is an area where all of the extra ARCs and finished books from across all of my publishing house’s imprints go when they are no longer needed. It often results in me lugging home several new books a month, which means that I really need to get a second, matching bookshelf for my living room—like yesterday (hello Target, please get it back in stock)!

During my last sojourn to the take shelf, I picked up Melody Carlon’s sweet little book that comes out on January 5th called Your Heart’s Desire. I actually created some social media graphics for my company’s Center Street Facebook page to promote this title. When I was working on those graphics, I fell in love with the book’s cover. It is so retro and has an interesting clash of red and aqua that somehow works perfectly together. The soda pop shop makes me a little misty-eyed for an innocent, by-gone era that will never return again. I wouldn’t mind having one of those strawberry floats with a handsome, well-dressed man either…

Anyways, before I commence drooling, the story itself is as sweet and perfect as the cover. I felt like I had stepped back in time as I followed Caroline, a WWII widow, as she moved herself and her 10-year-old son across the country to California to begin a new life. In an era where most women were content to stay at home and raise a family (especially as jobs women had filled during the war were taken back over by the returning soldiers), I highly respected Caroline for the guts to leave a stable job to pursue a different, hopefully better life. I am not sure if I would have been brave enough to do so, especially with limited savings. Even though Caroline’s family thought she should get remarried if she wanted more children (since she was getting to be the ripe old age of 32), she found contentment in working and providing for herself and her son. Her dreams did not begin and end with finding a man so some major kudos to her! However, as it frequently happens, God brought her a man when she wasn’t particularly looking for one—one that came with an unlimited supply of chocolates on top of that. Seriously, how can it get any better than that?

I don’t want to give too much away, but you truly should read how this sweet romance between Caroline and her boss at the chocolate factory folds out. It’s one of those stories that I wish had not ended because I would have loved to have stayed longer in the world that Melody Carlson developed in Your Heart’s Desire.

Your Heart’s Desire goes on sale January 5th, 2016, but is also available for pre-order before that date. Get your copy today!

Pre-Release Review of The Longest Ride, Movie Based on Nicholas Sparks’s Book

The Longest Ride

*Please note that I wrote this last week and didn’t have a chance to post until tonight!*

Huh. So, I was just about to start this post by saying something like “It was a pretty cool night in Sara Beth’s world,” which I admit, sounds kind of self-centered and really–using third person?–when I just realized something profound about the title of the movie I just saw–The Longest Ride. Anyhow, I better rewind a bit before I share my totally deep thought that just randomly popped in my head.

Tonight was a really neat night (I think that’s a bit less self-centered–hopefully you concur) because I got to attend an advanced screening of a new movie based on Nicholas Sparks’s book, The Longest Ride. Hachette, the publishing house I work for, published The Longest Ride so employees had the chance to see the film a couple of weeks before the general movie theater premiere date. FOX treated us very well–they gave every person tickets to redeem free popcorn and drinks as well as some delicious Baked by Melissa cupcakes. The president of FOX was even there to introduce the film.

Tickets and free food!

Anyways, the movie was just amazing. It was so romantic, beautiful, and such a tearjerker. I’m ashamed to admit that I teared up after having picked on my husband for YEARS for loving The Notebook. The plot of The Longest Ride intertwines two love stories. The first love story actually begins during the movie when Luke, a rodeo cowboy played by Clint Eastwood’s very fine looking son, Scott Eastwood, falls in love with Sophia, a college senior who is shortly to move away from North Carolina in order to pursue a New York City art career. Framing this modern day romance is the one involving 81-year-old Ira, whom Luke and Sophia save from a burning car crash. Ira recounts to Luke and Sophia the story of his love affair with his wife, Ruth, that spanned the decades between 1940 to her death. Pretty much, Ira’s sweet romance with his wife teaches Luke and Sophia that true love is worth fighting for and making sacrifices–something the two young lovers have to realize when their careers pull them in opposite directions.

I will end my review here before spoiling anything, but really–you have to see this movie. If you’re a romantic, bring some tissues. If you’re in a relationship that is experiencing more downs than ups lately, hopefully the movie will help you realize your love is worth hanging on to.

Now, I suppose you want to know about my “ah hah” moment. I feel like hitting myself in the head because it seems so obvious, but I just realized that The Longest Ride title is probably a play on the 8 seconds that Luke has to stay on the bull in order to receive the most points on a bull. Or, perhaps The Longest Ride could refer to riding through life with your love by your side? Or perhaps it could refer to the oooo lala scenes that showcase the ardent desire between two young lovers? Naughty naughty!

Whatever the meaning behind the title, nice work Hachette and Nicholas Sparks. Nice work!Nothing like books on shelves.

The Longest Ride opens in theaters on April 10th. Thanks to FOX for the movie poster image and movie shot in the featured image.

P.S. I haven’t read the book yet (it’s on my shelf!), so I can’t comment upon the similarities and differences between the book and movie adaptation. Head over to Amazon or Barnes and Noble to get your own copy today!

P.P.S. I get nothing from my employer for reviewing/promoting this book/movie. 🙂

Romance, danger, & secrets in Pemberley–I mean Pembrooke Park

the secret of pembrooke parkOkay, so I read The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen about a month ago on a trip and it KILLS me that I didn’t write this blog post sooner because the story was that good. The book was so different from most Christian/inspirational romance books that I’ve read. In fact, I’d say that if it wasn’t for having a curate in the story and the characters occasionally going to church, the book would not scream “Christian romance” at all. Instead, it was more of a mystery book, which the last I checked, there really are not a lot of inspirational/mystery/romance type books out there (if I’m wrong, I’d love it if you’d share some titles with me!).

The book opens up with Abigail Foster’s family on the brink of financial ruin after having made bad bank investments. After selling their home, a distant, mysterious family member offers the Foster family the use of Pembrooke Park for one year. Upon arrival at the Park, Abigail receives a less than warm welcome as the curate’s father holds her at gunpoint, assuming she is one of the many vandals that has come to look for secret treasure. After assuring the man that she has the right to be on the property, Abigail ventures inside the house, only to be immediately stunned. The home looks like the Pembrooke family just stepped out of the house for a moment only to never return. Tea cups and food lay abandoned on tables. A dusty dollhouse looks like it is waiting for the little girl to come back and resume playing. As mysterious and creepy as the house is, it is just as frightening that no one in the neighborhood will tell Abigail what happened to the family. Abigail is determined to solve the property’s mysterious past and hopefully stumble upon the missing treasure so that she can right her family’s lack of fortune. What Abigail didn’t expect is possibly falling in love with Will, the handsome, young curate. However, Abigail’s determination to figure things out may expose secrets within Will’s family that they prefer to be kept hidden. Will romance between the pair blossom or shrivel up as Abigail is determined to solve the Park’s creepy and dangerous past?

If you’re looking for a riveting read, this one definitely fits the bill. I imagine it isn’t coincidental that this book reminds me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, except with a gothic flair and a more laid-back writing style. After all, Pembrooke Park sounds an awful lot like Pemberley! After reading so many romances, it is pretty expected that the heroine will end up falling in love and getting married. That’s a given. However, Klassen’s plot in every other way was unpredictable. When one mystery would get solved, another would pop up. As a reader, I never knew what to expect, which I greatly appreciate. I’ve read where some readers complained about the characters’ behavior not conforming to that which is expected of people in the regency period (ex. men and women never being left alone in the same room). However, do we really know if people in the gentry were always so particular about following these social rules? Perhaps they really did, but I found Abigail’s independence refreshing, even if the author took a little liberty with creating a character that would not have existed during the regency period.

I’d like to thank Bethany House for sending me this novel in exchange for an honest review. I’d love to hear your opinions on the novel if you take my recommendation to read it!

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