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.