Friday, January 29, 2016

Dear Daphne

Before I (unintentionally) took two years off from reviewing books, I had requested a copy of Lock, Stock and Over a Barrel, by Melody Carlson, from the publisher through NetGalley. I, however, didn't read it at the time because, to be completely honest, Carlson is not an author I 'click' with. So imagine my surprise when I finally signed into my NetGalley account and saw that book waiting there. Reluctantly, I downloaded it and read it.

And I found myself, not only liking it but also looking forward to the next book of the series, Dating, Dining and Desperation, because, yes, unbeknownst to me, this is a series, the Dear Daphne series. And, of course, once I finished reading that one, I didn't waste any time buying the third installment, Home, Hearth and Holidays, because, you see, this may not be a 5 star series, but it's addicting. Once you start reading, you just have to know what's going to happen to Daphne.

In true Carlson style, the Dear Daphne series is narrated in a way that feels as if a friend was telling you the story. I like that. What I usually dislike about her books is the way Christianity is portrayed, superficially, and as an afterthought, basically saying that the character did this, said that, felt this way and, oh, by the way, she also prayed. So, when reading a Carlson book, I have to somewhat put my expectations of Christian fiction aside and read them as just contemporary fiction with a sort of Christian vibe, which is sad to me but still manageable.

Daphne Ballinger is a 34 year old woman who moves from New York to Appleton, her hometown, when she inherits her favorite aunt's house, along with everything else in her estate. However, that inheritance comes with strings attached in the form of a few conditions Daphne has one year to comply with or she looses the inheritance to an animal shelter. One condition is that she has to continue writing her aunt's advice column, Dear Daphne. Another condition, and the most implausible and baffling one, is that she has to get married. I know it sounds silly and it is. But, somehow, it works.

Daphne comes off as immature and boy crazy, mainly because she knows she is in a race against time, but it is still irritating. Every time she meets a guy she thinks maybe that's the one, and it doesn't help that every guy seems to fall for her or at least really, really like her. From the beginning, it's pretty obvious who is the guy she will choose (well, it better be Jake!), but she second guesses herself, and the guy, all the time. She also second guesses her own intentions, her talents, and her abilities, which is very frustrating. However, as annoying as Daphne can be, one can also identify with her, and her struggles and insecurities.

The secondary characters —her love interests, her family, and friends— are mostly well written, even though a few of them feel a bit cartoonish, especially the guys interested in Daphne. There's also the addition of a little girl in the middle of the series that sort of confused me at first, and I thought it would hinder the story, but it turned out to be surprisingly sweet and endearing.

Finally, the theology here is good in some parts, terrible in others. For instance, the experience Daphne has in a singles group at church in the first book is very good and enlightening. But what she writes as Dear Daphne in book 2 saying "But you cannot control other people. Not even God can do that!" was terrible and far from true (see Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 21:1; Daniel 4:35). And the mention of karma really bummed me out. When you have such good, biblically sound teachings such as "You reap what you sow" (Galatians 6:7), using the word 'karma' is unnecessary, at least in a Christian fiction book.

Lock, Stock and Over a Barrel —3.5 stars
Dating, Dining and Desperation —3 stars
Home, Hearth and Holidays —4 stars (Here, Daphne was very irritating, but Jake was great. Loved him!)

All in all, I give the series (although I have not read the last book, which is set to come out in April 2016) 3.5 stars out of 5.

Friday, January 8, 2016

New Year, new purpose, new books!

Happy New Year! Yes, I know I'm a little late, but in Puerto Rico we still say "¡Felicidades!" to one another until next week, more or less. We are definitely party people, with our Christmas starting in early November and ending in the middle on January.

Today is my first day at work, after a great Christmas vacation. And this year is my "No Procrastination" year at work, and in my direct sales business. But I have named this year "The Year Of God" for all areas of my life, meaning that my focus will be on God, and His purpose will be my purpose from this year forward. In the past, I have sought God, I have aimed to follow Him faithfully, but I have failed many times because my mind has wandered, because I have let my mind wandered, because no matter how hard we try, as R.C. Sproul would say, we fail miserably in complying with the most precious commandment of loving God above all things with all our strength and minds and hearts. Because, in my case, I like to waste my time on Facebook, and Instagram, and reading the comments sections on polemic articles, and watching mediocre TV or bad movies just to pass the time, when I could be doing something much more productive and edifying.

So in this year of reforming my faith and myself, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I will focus on God, I will seek Him first and everything else will fall into place. Thus, there will be no procrastination at work or in my business. Of course, I know I will need to remind myself this; I will need to read this a few times during the following months. But I pray, I hope God will give the strength and diligence to follow through and I pray He uses me to bless others, inspire others, counsel others. This is His Year, not mine. He will do great things through me, for me. My focus is on Him for this year and the rest of my life... So I think that instead of calling it The Year of God, I will call it The Time of God. Yes. This is His time.

And a little heads up on what's coming next: reviews! "Joshua's Mission", "Lock, Stock and Over a Barrel", "Renovating the Richardsons", and "Dating, Dining and Desperation" are next, just to name a few. Also, I'm reading "Competent to Counsel" and will review it, as well as a new cookbook, so stay tuned!