If you think my reviews of ONE story are scatterbrained and weird and way too long, just wait til you see what I come up with for this spectacular 4-in-1!
It's no secret that I am not a fan of novellas. I don't like the lack of character development and the lack of feeling and attachment. I don't like the hastily resolved story lines or the wishing for more when it's all said and done.
Let it be known that Smitten is the exception. I adored this book. I was addicted. I was, ahem, smitten.
Given my history with novellas, it may surprise you that I gave this one a fair shot. Well, I have several good reasons. First of all, look at the names on that charming cover. I will read anything with the names Colleen Coble or Denise Hunter on the cover. Those ladies are so talented. I'm sorry to say that I have not read anything by Diann Hunt or Kristen Billerbeck before Smitten, but I thoroughly enjoyed their talent as well.
Secondly, I read it because I had to finish what I had started. Several months ago, I spent the day at Books-A-Million while my mom was at work. I picked up Smitten and went straight to Denise Hunter's story. (I like her, can you tell?). I read it, loved it, and started back at the beginning of book. Sadly, I had to leave and didn't have the money for it that day. I had to borrow it from the church library this week, because I won a copy of the sequel, Secretly Smitten. It was actually really cool, the way I won it. I suggested a title for the third book, over at girlswriteout.blogspot.com and they liked it, but said it was too similar to another title coming out at the same time. Being the kind authors they are, they sent me a complimentary copy of Secretly Smitten anyway. I cannot wait to go back to this darling town!
Thirdly, it was just so much better than most and deserved to be read straight through.
Authors: Colleen Coble, Kristen Billerbeck, Diann Hunt and Denise Hunter
Preview: The proposed closing of the lumber mill comes as unwelcome news for the citizens of Smitten. How will the town survive without its main employer? A close-knit group of women think they've got just the plan to save Smitten. They'll capitalize on its name and turn it into a tourist destination for lovers - complete with sweet shops, a high-end spa, romantic music on the square, and cabins outfitted with fireplaces and hot tubs.
But is this manly town ready for an influx of romantically-minded guests? Country music sensation Sawyer Smitten, the town's hometown hero, wants to help by holding his own wedding there on Valentine's Day. And little Mia's lavender wreaths hang all over town as a reminder that faith can work miracles. Along the way, four women spearheading the town's transformation - energetic Natalie, sophisticated Julia, graceful Shelby and athletic Reese - get in the spirit by reviving their own love lives.
Instead of reviewing each story individually, (and trust me, I could), I decided it would be fun to use the discussion questions provided at the end of the book. Enjoy!
1. Which protagonist (Natalie, Julia, Shelby or Reese) did you relate to and why?
Oh goodness. I related to all of them in one way or another. Natalie and I both have trust issues, and make assumptions about people that can be difficult to move past. Julia and I share a love for New York City and a desire for a true sense of home. Shelby and I both appreciate manners and class. Reese and I are both planners. I think, if I had to choose, I would say that I relate to Reese the most. I have always been considered "one of the guys", although I am not athletic in the slightest. I just tend to gravitate toward guys as friends, because I am not a fan of the drama that comes with girlfriends. I love MINE, but females in general can be sooo annoying. Anyway, I can also relate to her dream of opening a unique place of business, and being afraid and having a hard time trusting God. I can REALLY relate to falling for your best guy friend. It's a shame my life isn't a novel. (Inner voice: God's got a story for you. Just you wait. I know.)
2. After a lack of stability in life, Natalie craved being in one place. What made Smitten special to her? Have you ever felt like that about a place?
I definitely know where Natalie is coming from. I grew up in the same North Carolina town, with the same friends at the same church, until I was eleven. From then on, we have moved every year and a half, and I am now 20. We have lived in several different towns in South Carolina, but we have also lived in Honduras and briefly in California. In my heart, Raleigh is home. It's where I feel the warm fuzzy, safe feeling. I think it has to do with growing up and having my grandparents there when I was younger. I feel closer to them when I'm there. However, the people I love and want to be around are here in South Carolina now. Even still, I get bored here. I want more adventures in the great wide somewhere. I can't wait to see where God takes me in my someday. It's a crazy, mixed up, heart-in-a-million-places life, and it's not easy. It's scary and frustrating and so sad to leave people and places behind that have become so familiar and beloved. I don't think it ever gets any easier. It will always hurt to a degree, but it doesn't always have to be bad. It can be bittersweet, because you know that what lies ahead will be wonderful in its own way. It stings a little less once you have learned that lesson. It took me nine years, but I am excited and ready for the adventure of moving back to an old town in the next few weeks. True, it's one I am familiar with now, and maybe I'd feel differently about a new place, but I am learning. I am learning trust God to guide me until I'm all the way home with Him. Bring on the adventures!
Smitten is absolutely storybook beautiful. It's quaint, yet thriving. It's romantic and family oriented. The sense of community is overwhelming. A little slice of heaven.
3. Natalie believed her sister's report about Carson. Have you ever believed gossip and wished you hadn't?
I am sure that I have believed something negative about a person that was not true, probably many times. I can't think of a particular situation, but I can think of the opposite; a time where I chose not to believe it. Before I met my best friend in the world, I met a mutual friend who had experienced a falling out with her. This girl (who is now one of my dearest friends, and my BFF's as well. God can heal any friendship!) said some very negative, nasty things about the girl who is now my "other half". I am thankful every day that I did not let that opinion keep me from getting to know the real her. You never know until YOU know.
4. When Julia returns to Smitten, long-lost feelings for her brother's best friend, Zak, resurface. Has coming back to a familiar place ever brought back unresolved feelings? Did you have to deal with them the second time? How did you resolve them?
Well, I can absolutely relate to having feelings for your brother's best friend. I had it bad for my brother's best friend for almost five years. Unfortunately, he turned out to be not the best person to have feelings for. But feelings are funny things. I think if I saw him again after these years apart, there might be a little flutter. I'm so glad that I know not to fall into those feelings anymore. I think they would be more of a wistful, "Ah, I remember how nice it felt to like him' way, not a 'I still care' way. Let me tell you, that's a big accomplishment and it makes me proud of myself.
5. Julia loves her friends and her hometown, but going back to New York City feels easier. Have you ever had to make the harder choice to do the right thing? How did you know it was the right decision for you?
Absolutely. I haven't had much (okay, any) choice in our many moves thus far, but I have to choose the harder path all the time, especially when it comes to the relationships that don't go my way. Recently, I have had to learn the hard lesson of letting go and truly forgiving people who have hurt me. It was a tough pill to swallow, but oh so worth it! I feel so free from my bitterness, and I am now in contact with someone I swore I'd never be friends with again. I'm still waiting for God to work in more than one situation, but I know all things are possible! On a different note, I can absolutely understand the lure of New York City! It is the most incredible city in the world, and if I had the opportunity to live there, it would be so hard to walk away! Although, I think I'd feel more at home in the small town, as Julia did, but wow! What a city!
6. Julia has a strong independent streak, but ultimately discovers that counting on others can make life easier and more fulfilling. Have you ever tried to do something alone only to discover the lesson was in submitting to others? What was the outcome?
I can't recall a certain situation where my "independent streak" showed until I had to learn the hard way. I don't have much of a problem relying on people. I tend to go the opposite way - I lean too much on people, and I struggle to gain independence. There are many factors that contribute to this, most of them being out of my control at the moment. I get frustrated with myself so easily because I feel like I can't do anything on my own. I want to be patient and realize that God has me in this season for a purpose, but it's one of the hardest things to get through my head. I want to get on with life.
7. When the girls support Reese in her outfitter's store dreams, they do things they wouldn't otherwise be interested in - such as rollerblading. Do you have friends who expand your world that way? How has it made you a better person?
Absolutely! I think I can say that all of my closest friends have expanded my world. That's the best part of connecting with other human beings - they show you parts of themselves that become parts of yourself. My best friend comes to mind, especially. She and I could not be more opposite. She is so outgoing, I am an introvert, through and through. She is "flashy" and adventurous. I am reserved and cautious. It's not hard to see how knowing her has expanded my world. I wouldn't be who I am today without her. Many other friends come to mind too - Amanda, Alyx, Valerie, and the list goes on.
8. Shelby had some major issues with her dad. Before they could have healing in their relationship, she had to truly forgive him. In fact, he had to forgive himself. Have you ever had a relationship like that? Did you choose to forgive (with God's help) and receive healing, or are you still holding on to the bitterness? What can you do to let it go?
Oh wow. I guess it was a God thing that I was delayed in posting this. I just recently resolved a few bitterness/unforgiveness issues in my life. Neither are "big" deals in the grand scheme of things, but they meant something to me and were making me think negatively about those people. They were a long time coming, and I am so glad I listened to God's prompting to take the first step. As I mentioned above, I'm waiting for God to move in a few more, but I am thankful for progress!
9. Sometimes life isn't fair. Circumstances can change in an instant. Nick's circumstances changed when his ex-wife died and his daughter, Willow, came to live with him. Despite the challenges, they settled into their new life together and shared a relationship they wouldn't have otherwise. When life hands you challenges, do you fight them or do you try to learn from them and make your life better?
I fight them. Not the best answer, but I'm just being honest. I want so badly to be a go-with-the-flow kind of girl, but it's hard when all I've ever done is resist change and unraveled plans. I can learn though.
10. Shelby gained strength and support from her friends. She also offered that same support back to them. Do you have someone like that in your life? Are you that someone to someone else? Reach out today.
I am blessed to have a few pillars of support in my life. I hope they feel the same about me.
11. The more Shelby and Nick got to know each other, the more they had to work through in their relationship, but difficulties can bring growth in a relationship and make it stronger. Think of the relationships in your life. What has truly made them grow?
Time, perseverance and honesty are what comes to mind. Getting to know someone means taking the time to get to know them. Ask questions, give answers, be more open as you learn that they are trustworthy. No need to rush, but be moving forward unless there's a reason not to. Relationships take perseverance, because sometimes it seems like the hard times are so not worth it. It would be so much easier to walk away when people get annoying or frustrating. But you never know what is on the other side of that misunderstanding or struggle. Be honest with people. Sometimes this can backfire, but not if it's not supposed to. It's better for you, I think, than holding things inside until you explode with "honesty"!
12. It's clear from the beginning of 'All Along' that Reese MacKenzie is a planner, but it doesn't take long for her plan to make Griffen love her go awry. Have you ever been so committed to your own plans that God's will got lost somewhere along the way? How did you come to that realization? What happened as a result?
Um, yes. I don't wanna talk about. Kidding. I am absolutely a planner, and I don't stop to even ask God what He wants! I've lost count of the times I've done this, unfortunately, but I can tell you without a doubt that there is so much more peace when I seek His will instead of using all MY planning in the world. Things go more smoothly. Even when they don't, at least you're not left with a pile of regrets.
13. In what ways did Griffen balance Reese? Who provides balance for you, and in what ways?
Griffen made her chill out a little. My best friend balances my personality when we're together. My friend Amanda, and especially my mom, balance me on a daily basis and keep me from "going over the edge".
14. Reese's faith falters as they approach Sawyer's wedding and the finalization of their plan for Smitten. Why do you think having faith can be so difficult? When was the last time your faith faltered? What got you through that time?
I hate to admit it, but I struggle with true faith a lot. I feel like I can trust when things go well, but I forget it all when the going gets rough. I have belief, but I get so freaked out sometimes that I forget to acknowledge that God's got everything under control. I think the times when I HAVE hung onto real faith, (and I can point those out, so I know it's possible), are when I have stopped in the midst of craziness and actively chosen to give it to God over and over. I also struggle with beating myself up when I don't trust. I doubt and I fall, but it's not about me and what I do or don't do. It's about Him and what He did and will do. If only I'd learn to stop and remember more often.
15. How did the friendship between Natalie, Julia, Shelby and Reese serve as a support system spiritually, emotionally, and physically? Who is your support system and how do you hold each other up?
I love their friendships! They reminded me of myself and my three best friends from my childhood. We have since grown apart, but this makes me nostalgic for that time. Now, my support system, if I had to narrow it down to three (with me being Reese) consists of my mom (Natalie), my friend Amanda (Shelby), my best friend Auburn (Julia).
Natalie - Jen Kuhn - I don't remember if she was described as a redhead, but every group of friends needs one, and I pictured her with a dark auburn. I think this actress captures the gorgeous, sweet mom look. ;)
Julia - Jennifer Lawrence - I think she had the right attitude and basic look. Not to mention, my BFF loves her and would love the idea of "her" character being portrayed by her.
Shelby - Jenn Proske - She reminds of a Shelby I know, and I can see her hosting dinner parties and looking oh so classy with red lipstick and pearls.
Reese - Reese Witherspoon. The obvious choice, but I love her and she fits the character.
And there we go! Up next: Trinity by Ronie Kendig (because Secretly Smitten is at my new house!)