Sweet Caroline

Sweet Caroline by Rachel Hauck

Sweet Caroline by Rachel Hauck
Thomas Nelson, 320 pages

When a Southern waitress inherits the Lowcountry cafe where she works, she suddenly has to balance more than just her next food order.

Caroline Sweeney has always done the right thing–the responsible, dependable thing–unlike her mother who abandoned her family. But when her best friend challenges her to accept an exciting job adventure in Barcelona, Spain, Caroline says “yes” to destiny.

Then, without warning, ownership of the run-down cafe where she’s been waitressing falls right into Caroline’s lap. While she’s trying to determine the cafe’s future, handsome Deputy Sherriff J.D. Rand captures Caroline’s heart.

But when her first love, Mitch O’Neal, comes back to town, fresh from the heat of his newly-found fame as a country music singer in Nashville, Caroline must make some hard choices about love and the pursuit of the sweet life.

I had reservations with Rachel Hauck’s other novels because my reaction to her first novel, Lost in Nashvegas was just lukewarm. I liked it, but it didn’t amaze me or blow me away and I haven’t picked it up again since I read it the last time. I read Sweet Caroline with low expectations, just so I won’t be disappointed with this buy.

I’m kind of glad that I didn’t have much expectations, because I was really pleasantly surprised by this novel. Sweet Caroline is quite…well, sweet, for the lack of better words. Everything in this novel is just sweet and charming, from Caroline to the Frogmore Cafe staff to the other secondary characters to the town itself. This is one of the few times I really appreciated the setting of a novel, and it’s in a Southern town again. I love the quirkiness of the town, the Frogmore Cafe and everyone else in the story, as it provided me with a very warm feeling, almost like I was one of the Beaufort residents. It was almost like the book was welcoming me into its arms, inviting me to join them in their different town adventures.

Caroline is definitely a character, one I’d love to be friends with myself. In a way, I think a lot of women in their 20’s could relate to her, because I definitely did. She’s far from perfect, and most of the times, she had no idea where to go or what to do. But when extraordinary opportunities come knocking, she felt overwhelmed, and she didn’t know what to do. Don’t we all have that same reaction? Despite her confusion, Caroline chose the smaller thing over the big thing, and she proved to be faithful with that. My favorite part of the novel is when the staff were preparing for Hurricane Howard, and Caroline planned to feed the people of Beaufort for free, knowing that there wouldn’t be enough power to cook their meals in the next day. Caroline’s generosity is something to emulate, and I think she wouldn’t hesitate to give her staff a personalized grilling toolset if they really, really need it.

Caroline has a big heart, one that learned to forgive as she got to know the God of forgiveness. I loved how she came to know God, how she got to know God and how she learned to believe that God loved her so much. It was something out of the ordinary, yes, and I guess some people won’t believe those things happen anymore…but then who knows? I’ve heard more drastic stories, and if God wanted to get someone’s attention, then I bet He’d go all out on it. It almost felt like the words uttered to Caroline were for me — and maybe they were? I’d like to believe that they were lessons for me, too. For example, I could replace Caroline’s name with mine in this line, and relate to it almost 100%:

“You are so blessed, Caroline…I mean this: God is looking out for you.” (p 195)

Despite its sparse prose, the novel was still well-written, and easy to understand. There were no complicated words or long descriptions, and most of the lines were funny and crazy. I especially loved Caroline’s Head and Heart conversations:

Head: Interesting development.
Heart: For once, I agree with you.
Head: What do you think he’s up to? And, we’ve agreed before.
Heart: Do we risk it?
Head: No. Stay in neutral, heart.
Heart: But he’s changed. Really.
Head: Don’t make me come down there. (p.225)

These conversations were just right for Caroline because for other characters, I don’t think it would work. :P

The romance factor is also very, very juicy. This is a little bit of a spoiler, but I can’t not share this:

As the house lights dim for the second half of the performance to begin, Mitch offers his hand. “May I hold your hand, Caroline?”
Gulp. I nod.
His hand is firm and broad; his fingers lock perfectly with mine. “Mitch,” I say, barely above a whisper. “I’m afraid of falling.”
He presses his lips to my ear. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch you.” (p. 235)

I practically swooned when I read that part! :) Heeee. But if you think it will end up the way it seemed from that part…well, there were still more surprises down the end, and those made the novel stand apart from others. It’s not really just a love story between two people. It’s a love story between a woman and her God, and a story of how a woman found herself through the love of Someone who loves her more.

Sweet Caroline is sweet, from the first page up to the last. I laughed, cried, and felt like I lost a friend when I closed the book. Good thing Rachel Hauck gives us another chance to visit Beaufort with a companion novel for Sweet Caroline, Love Starts with Elle. And it’s good that I have a copy of that. :P

I’m glad I read this novel, and I’m glad I gave Rachel Hauck another try. :) Sweet Caroline is a light, thought-provoking read, and in some instances, the title would make you break out into song, too. :)

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 58 out of 100 for 2010

My copy: paperback, $5.00 from Amazon

Cover image & Blurb: Goodreads

→ Rachel Hauck’s website

CymLowell

Three Wishes

As You Wish by Jackson PearceAs You Wish by Jackson Pearce

Ever since Viola’s boyfriend broke up with her, she has spent her days silently wishing—to have someone love her again and, more importantly, to belong again—until one day she inadvertently summons a young genie out of his world and into her own. He will remain until she makes three wishes.

Jinn is anxious to return home, but Viola is terrified of wishing, afraid she will not wish for the right thing, the thing that will make her truly happy. As the two spend time together, the lines between master and servant begin to blur, and soon Jinn can’t deny that he’s falling for Viola. But it’s only after Viola makes her first wish that she realizes she’s in love with Jinn as well . . . and that if she wishes twice more, he will disappear from her life—and her world—forever.

I was one of those kids who believed in wishing on stars. My earliest memory of making a wish was when my brother told me about the North Star, and I wished that I’d dream about Cinderella that night (I was pretty young then). Years later, my friends and I would wait for the first star to appear so we could make a wish before going home, but as time went by, I found it harder and harder to make a simple wish. I’d end up using my wishes (even birthday wishes) for some beauty pageant greater good, you know, like world peace. It’s a part of growing up I guess, or a fear that I’d wish for the wrong thing and then it would come true. I needed to be sure that if my wish did come true, it would be one I wouldn’t regret.

Sixteen-year-old Viola faces the same problem in Jackson Pearce’s novel, As You Wish. Viola has been feeling invisible ever since her best friend and boyfriend, Lawrence, broke up with her after confessing he was gay. His coming out of the closet catapulted him to popularity, and Viola’s heartbreak pushed her to the sidelines. For the next seven months, she spends most of her days observing the people around her, trying to figure out how they belong to their own groups and wishing that she could simply belong, like they did. Viola’s desperate wish summons a young and handsome genie with no name, bearing (what else?) three wishes. The genie is anxious to return to his home world (he ages in the human world) but the only way for him to go back is for his master to use up her wishes. However, Viola is terrified of making the wrong wish, so she asks for time, much to the genie’s chagrin. Refusing to treat the genie as a slave, Viola gives him a name, Jinn, and forces him to call her by her name instead of Master. And that’s when things get complicated…Click here to read the rest of the review.

Rating:

My copy: Kindle edition

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 42 out of 100 for 2010

→ Jackson Pearce’s website

Waiting on Wednesday: Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers

And it’s time to post another entry about a book that I will be waiting and lusting over until it gets released. “Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. I use the term “lusting” because it may just fit in this week’s WoW pick:

Personal Demons by Lisa DesrochersPersonal Demons by Lisa Desrochers
Release date: September 14, 2010

Frannie Cavanaugh is a good Catholic girl with a bit of a wicked streak. She’s spent years keeping everyone at a distance—even her closest friends—and it seems her senior year will be more of the same…until Luc Cain enrolls in her class. No one knows where he came from, but Frannie can’t seem to stay away from him. What she doesn’t know is that Luc works in Acquisitions—for Hell—and she possesses a unique skill set that has the King of Hell tingling with anticipation. All Luc has to do is get her to sin, and he’s as tempting as they come. Frannie doesn’t stand a chance.

Unfortunately for Luc, Heaven has other plans, and the angel, Gabe, is going to do whatever it takes to make sure that Luc doesn’t get what he came for. And it isn’t long before they find themselves fighting for more than just her soul.

But if Luc fails, there will be Hell to pay…for all of them.

This book sounds absolutely yummy. :) I love the cover, and I love the blurb, and it seems like people who got ARCs for this seemed to like it very, very much, too! It also seems like it will be a series, so I hope it holds up. :)

Lisa Desrochers has previews of this novel on her blog, and fun — Luc and Frannie are narrating! :) But what about Gabe?

Wish list, wish list! I can’t wait for this book to be out. :)

What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

The Dead-Tossed Waves (Carrie Ryan)

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
The Forest of Hands and Teeth #2
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 404
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

Gabry lives a quiet life. As safe a life as is possible in a town trapped between a forest and the ocean, in a world teeming with the dead, who constantly hunger for those still living. She’s content on her side of the Barrier, happy to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. But there are threats the Barrier cannot hold back. Threats like the secrets Gabry’s mother thought she left behind when she escaped from the Sisterhood and the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Like the cult of religious zealots who worship the dead. Like the stranger from the forest who seems to know Gabry. And suddenly, everything is changing. One reckless moment, and half of Gabry’s generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry only knows one thing: she must face the forest of her mother’s past in order to save herself and the one she loves.

* * *

The Unconsecrated make a comeback, but this time they are known as Mudo, and the story is told in the eyes of Gabry, Mary’s daughter. Gabry has lived a safe and sheltered life, behind the barriers of Vista, and she’d like to keep it that way. She lived with her mother at the light house, helping her mom decapitate Mudo whenever some of wash ashore from the incoming tide. She knew her mother was not a local, and she was stranger than what the other people in the village, but she was used to it, being that her mother was from The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Gabry wasn’t one to question anything in her life — as long as she’s safe and her family and friends are, too, she’s okay.

But one night, she tagged along with some of her friends and the boy she likes to go outside of the barrier — and it was the mistake that changed Gabry’s life forever. In an instant, she saw her friends turn into zombies, and the guy she loves, Catcher, runs away into the forest after having been bitten. Gabry manages to run back to the safety of her own home, but not without repercussions of her actions.

The Dead Tossed Waves is a different kind of zombie novel, at least, very different from its prequel. Gabry was very different from Mary — while Mary was headstrong and dreamed big, Gabry was contented with where she was. She was afraid almost half the time. Mary acted with a purpose, while Gabry acted more out of impulse, out of need. Gabry was reactive, doing things because she had to, not because she wanted to, at least up until the last part.

We also see a few characters from the previous novel and even visit Mary’s old village again. There are a lot of new additions in the world of the Unconsecrated/Mudo: a cult, Breakers, and Recruiters, and the Dark City, which I think we’ll see more of in the next book. We get a lot more answers in this book, too, although they weren’t that clear, it’s enough to give an idea why there were fenced villages and why Mary’s village was shut off on its own with the Sisterhood.

This book kept me reading and guessing almost all the time. Just when I thought things were over, it’s not. I hated the part when Gabry comes to realize her feelings but then the guy (I’m not revealing who :P) is suddenly pulled from her grasp. My jaw was hanging open at that time! There was an overall depressing tone in this book’s prequel and this one is a lot better in terms of delivering hope in such a dire situation. It made me root for the protagonists more, and hope that they will come out of this alive and they will all see each other again.

Overall, I liked this book. It has a lot more romance in it as compared to its predecessor, but it wasn’t cheesy or annoying unlike other novels. Gabry wasn’t the best protagonist ever, but she has a lot of room to grow, and I look forward to reading about it in the next book (if there is a next one). :D

Rating:

Enter Stage Right

Eyes Like Stars by Lisa MantchevEyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

Enter Stage Right

All her world’s a stage.
Beatrice Shakespeare Smith is not an actress, yet she lives in a theater.
She is not an orphan, but she has no parents.
She knows every part, but has no lines of her own.
Until now.

Welcome to the Théâtre Illuminata, where the characters of every place ever written can be found behind the curtain. They were born to play their parts, and are bound to the Théâtre by The Book—an ancient and magical tome of scripts. Bertie is not one of them, but they are her family—and she is about to lose them all and the only home she has ever known.

If I were to base it all on first impressions, I would not have wanted to read this book. The cover came off too much like a manga, or a novel based on an anime, and it’s really not something I am too keen on reading. However, I read some good reviews on this book, so that was enough to make me pick it up and read it.

Eyes Like Stars is the story of Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, otherwise known as Bertie, who has lived inside the Theater in her entire life. It’s not an ordinary theater, though. Théâtre Illuminata is where all plays are staged. It is like the mother ship of all the musicals/plays ever written, all bound together in something that the cast members call The Book, which is set on its own podium. The different characters of all the plays in the world are there, from Hamlet, to Peter Pan to Ophelia to the little fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The theater is run by the Theater Manager, the stage is set by the Stage Manager, and there were people who takes care of the wardrobe, props and set as well.

But Bertie isn’t a part of a cast or any of the managers, either. She’s just someone who was left at the theater and grew up there. Having nothing to do, Bertie became the cause of a lot of trouble in the theater, causing her to be asked to leave by the Theater Manager.

Eyes Like Stars is a very interesting read. At first, I had a hard time catching up with all the characters since I don’t read Shakespeare and I’m not too familiar with any other classic plays except for the ones I’ve watched. The language was also almost like classic language, with different accents and ways of speaking that sometimes it was hard to keep track. After some time, I was able to get into the flow of the story, and it was loads of fun. It kind of reminded me of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, where book characters come to life, except this is for theater characters.

The story is quite solid, and the characters had their own quirks based on what their role is. Bertie is a fiesty protagonist, sometimes a bit too impulsive, but she’s a smart and strong girl. I didn’t really feel that much of a connection between her and Ariel though, and somehow, I felt that their ending scene was a bit too contrived. Or maybe that’s just because I like Nate for her better?

I guess one reason why I had a hard time getting into it, as I mentioned earlier, is because I’m not a theater geek. It does make me wonder, though — are the characters of the modern plays/musicals, like Avenue Q there too? Possibly. ;)

Apparently, this is a trilogy, and the next book, Perchance to Dream, will be out soon. I wonder if they’ll be able to fulfill their mission…hm. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the next curtain call. :)

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 16 out of 100 for 2010
* Book # 8 out of 20 fantasy books in 2010

→ Get Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev from Amazon.com
→ Lisa Mantchev’s website