Sunday, June 9, 2019

Review: "Ornamental Graces" by Carolyn Astfalk

Every February, my library does a "blind date with a book," where books are all wrapped in brown paper and some hints about the book are written on the outside. While I've never participated, I've always been curious, so when I was given the opportunity to sign up for a blind tour through JustRead, I decided to do it.

I received Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk, a new-to-me author. This is how the book arrived:

Isn't that adorable?!? The holly should've clued me in, but I was surprised to unwrap the book and find that it was a Christmas book ... except that really it wasn't. I'll explain in the review 😉.

After his duplicitous girlfriend left, Dan Malone spent six months in a tailspin of despair and destruction: emotional, physical, and spiritual. Just when his life seems to be back on track, he meets Emily Kowalski, younger sister of his new best friend.

Emily’s the kind of girl he’d always dreamed of—sweet, smart, and sincere. But he’s made a mess of his life and ruined his chances for earning the love and trust of a woman like her.

Could Dan be the man Emily’s been waiting for? How could he be when every time they get close he pulls away? And will he ever be free from his shady past and the ex-girlfriend who refuses to stay there?

Ornamental Graces is a compelling, character-driven romance. It spans two years as Dan and Emily go from meeting to begrudging friendship to love. Overall, I enjoyed their journey.

When Dan and Emily meet, he's recovering from a horrible breakup, and she's feeling restless and wondering if she'll ever find love. It's definitely not love at first sight, though Emily does feel "something" when she shakes Dan's hand. However, when Dan becomes friends with Emily's brother, the two find themselves thrown together often, and attraction flares.

What ensues is a two-year roller-coaster of "will they or won't they?" (Of course, we know that ultimately they will get together.) I found this to be at turns enjoyable and frustrating. There's a lot of drama here, and some of it does stretch credulity. Sometimes Dan's and Emily's reactions in certain situations don't ring true. But there's also a lot of heart and emotion in the pages of this book, and I really enjoyed reading it.

I definitely would not classify this as a Christmas romance. The cover absolutely screams Christmas, and the book does begin and end during the Christmas season, but the vast majority of the book does not center around the holiday in any way. I say this because I know some people like to save their Christmas reading for the season, and you should know that you could easily read this book at any time of the year! 3-1/2 stars.

Note: This is a Catholic romance, and, as someone who grew up evangelical, I did not understand a lot of the terms used in regard to the practice of faith. I imagine I felt how someone who has no Christian background would feel if they picked up some of my favorite books! The morals portrayed in this book—fidelity, saving sex for marriage, and a value for unborn life—are God-honoring, and I don't think the Catholic nature of this novel should keep any protestant from reading it. I should caution, though, that there are a handful of mild swear words in the novel, as well as fairly extensive drinking. There's also talk of drug use, premarital sex, and abortion. I would rate the book a mild PG-13.

Buy the book.

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.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from JustRead Publicity Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Also, some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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