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Ornamental Graces Paperback – October 8, 2016
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About the Author
Carolyn Astfalk lives in Hershey, Pennsylvania where the scent on the morning breeze carries either chocolate or manure depending on wind direction and atmospheric conditions. A Pittsburgh native, Carolyn carries her Yinzer card with pride, having interned at Pittsburgh’s iconic TV and radio stations KDKA and WDVE. She is a graduate of Duquesne University, where she majored in Latin and Broadcast Journalism. A cradle Catholic, Carolyn was raised mainly at church basement rummage sales and other parish-sponsored events. She worked her way up to “pup girl” at weekly Bingo and even served as a parish organist for several years. Having reached the apex of parish ministry, she moved to the state capital to advance her churchy career. Carolyn served as communications director and registered lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference for a decade, advocating for religious liberty; prolife, pro-family issues, Catholic education, and healthcare, among others. Since then, she has been a stay-at-home mom to her four children. Most days she can be found changing diapers, wiping up spills, folding laundry, and tapping furiously on her laptop. Carolyn is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, Pennwriters, the Pennsylvania Public Relations Society, and 10 Minute Novelists. She blogs at My Scribbler’s Heart.
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Top Customer Reviews
(Though reviews are inherently subjective, I prefer to provide some organization to my opinions through the use of a personal rubric. The following notes may contain spoilers.)
Plot and Setting: 4 -- Plot is engaging. Has unique elements and no major holes, but a few shaky bits and/or a slight lack of focus. Setting is clear and believable. Timeline may be a bit hard to follow. It's a slow-paced romance, but the conflicts, roadblocks, and times of growth make it seem more real than a more typical 'insta-romance' plot. The way Kristen comes back over and over, always at the worst times, does start to feel repetitive. The main setting (Pittsburgh) is clearly stated, though travel locations (somewhere in France and presumably Baltimore) are less clear. References to holidays, months, or seasons as time passes are generally clear, though there is some confusion in timing through the first summer/fall.
Characters: 4 -- Main characters are relatable, realistic, interesting, and dynamic. Some minor characters have depth, while others may be slightly stereotyped or simplified. Definite strong points in the relationships between characters. Dan and Emily both felt very real. Emily starts with a lot of ideals and expectations, and definitely grows in grace and wisdom as each of those falls apart on her. Dan slowly works through his feelings of guilt and his poor self-esteem, and comes out stronger and more confident. Robert, Elizabeth, and their children are mostly steady background characters, but their ups and downs as they seek a 6th child, and as they try to help both Emily and Dan, lends realism and depth. Grandma is a wonderful character, too.
Mechanics and Writing: 3.5 -- A handful of typos, punctuation issues, or word errors. (<10/100 pgs) Some of the errors are mildly confusing. Good use of POV. Generally skillful writing. Errors include: compound word confusion, mild punctuation issues, mild typos (card for car once, Dan's sister Trish called 'Tish' once). A few flashbacks that weren't separated from the main story well enough, which was confusing. Also occasionally confusing: the overall format, where paragraphs are not indented or separated by spaces. It's readable, except when the previous paragraph fills the whole line, and it's unclear that a new paragraph has started. The chapter titles in French and English were slightly off-putting.
POV is all Dan and Emily.
Redeeming Value: 4.5 -- Partially focused uplifting themes or lessons. Drugs, alcohol, violence, etc, are not glorified, though there is some shaky ground. No explicit sex scenes. Clear moral guidelines for behavior. An overall theme of grace. Many issues, mainly from Dan's past, require forgiveness and grace (from Dan himself as much or more as from Emily). He also learns in the process that keeping his issues secret is the worst choice, even if there are sometimes consequences to honesty, too. Alcohol consumption is presented as normal, though drunkenness is largely relegated to the bad times in Dan's past, along with drug use, overeating, and sleeping with his ex. Dan and Emily are clearly physically attracted, but pointedly choose to wait for marriage.
Personal Enjoyment: 4 -- I liked it a lot. Highly enjoyable and very entertaining, with perhaps an issue or two that tempered my pleasure. I’d enjoy reading it again.
This charming tale is as delightful as it is humorous (I laughed out loud several times). But with that said, it's also a story rich with soul-stirring moments and inspiring growth. Astfalk knows how to invite a reader into her carefully crafted story world. She builds believable and likable characters right from the start--both main and secondary. Many times while reading I got lost in the true-to-life family dynamics--brothers, sisters, and children galore. I found myself wanting to climb through the pages and pull up a chair at the dining room table or join the Two Truths and a Lie game (i loved that scene!), or pinch a few adorable chubby cheeks on their way to bed. Also, I want Grandma to come live with me.
The themes of God's timing (a big one), forgiveness, and the value of deep, long-lasting relationships unfold over several seasons (and over a few unpredictable turns in the road too). As the book progresses and tensions increase, so does our love and affection for these characters.
Astfalk's writing voice is genuine and endearing. I'll absolutely read her again.
The story, itself, is good. My problem is two-fold. First and foremost, I've already passed TWO places where the book could have ended very well. But instead, the author just keeps plowing through. The point I've reached now has the H and h freely professing their love for one another, so ... why can't we wrap up? Why is there still 39% left in the story? It's just dragging along now, no longer interesting or compelling me to keep reading.
My second problem is the H. Dan is trying to get his life back on track after a devastating breakup with a horrible excuse for a woman. Why can't he just be honest with Emily? Instead he runs hot and cold and won't explain his actions. Emily assumes he doesn't like her, isn't interested in her, and why wouldn't she? I'm not sure I'd have given him a second chance after the kiss cam stupidity.
Ms. Astfalk is a good writer, but I hope she'll go back and cut a LOT of this book at some point. Far too long to support the story.