Before I announce the results of my review challenge last month, I am very excited to launch another challenge!
"Collecting Smiles" by Melody Burris caught my heart in ways I didn't imagine. It sometimes takes me so long to read the books I get because life gets in the way, I forget why I was attracted to them in the first place.
For the first 30 or so pages, I thought this book was going to be a fun little foray into college dating, a stage I missed altogether. I'm not exactly a romance novel aficionado, but I thought at least the story would be clean. After all, most of the story takes place on the campus of BYU.
Now, I'd heard stories and rumors about the rush to get married at Brigham Young University. Some students, I'd heard, are more interested in finding a mate than earning a degree, which seems sort of criminal to me, given the price of education. But this book isn't truly about dating. It's got dating stuff in there, but it's more about childlessness and the way a young woman can feel when she believes no guy is going to want to marry a sterile woman.
See why it grabbed me and wrapped its way around my heart? This is the way I felt for many lonely moons.
Today's book is a little longer than the first adoption fiction story I reviewed, at 127 pages, and this book also is free, so no financial commitment required to participate in this fun little contest. Author Melody Burris is very fortunate to have several great reviews on Amazon, where the book is not free. Unfortunately, there also are a couple of discouraging reviews by readers who were upset because in their view, the book is pushing the LDS or Mormon religion. "Collecting Smiles" didn't seem to be preaching or pushing religion to me at all. It's a story about sophomores attending BYU.
So, if the mention of LDS buzzwords bothers you, don't bother with this book. I guess this would be a good time to disclose my books also have LDS buzzwords because I'm LDS. I'm not a missionary; I didn't even grow up actively participating in church. But God is a very serious part of my life, and I can't imagine trying to survive the bumps, hiccups and tragedies without Him, so He's in all my books. I don't preach. I just tell stories. Just like here on my blog. So again, if the mention of LDS or Mormon buzzwords bothers you, don't bother with my books either.
Hopefully, in this age of what hopefully is the beginning of seeds of true tolerance, most readers won't be offended by any story just because main characters have beliefs or faith. Perhaps it's time for a remake of "Oh, God"... But only if they can do it as well as George Burns and John Denver, or George Burns and Louanne Sirota in "Oh God, Book II". (Trivia: Did you know some churches, supposedly even my own, counseled their members NOT to watch "Oh, God" when it was first released?!? Holy frijole!)
Okay, so now that I've gone off track enough to totally lose the whole point of this blog post, how about I get back to reviewing "Collecting Smiles"?
There are passages in this book that made me feel, for the first time ever in my life of reading fiction, that someone else in the world understood how it feels to not be able to have a child, to feel unworthy of marriage, especially in a church where family is the number one priority, because of an inability to give birth.
The Sunday school classes and Relief Society classes (women's classes) where child-raising routinely is a featured topic... oh, man, I can't even tell you how many of those classes I've endured and even ditched. And Mother's Day?!? Forget it.
I don't know the book's author's circumstances (she apparently hasn't written any other books), but somehow, she knows enough to totally nail that whole childlessness thing. I'd have been in tears if it wasn't for the fact I felt as if I was reading pages from my own journal. Just none of my journals take place in a BYU setting...
College sophomore Megan encounters the ultimate rejection because she can't have children... I cried, and yet, deep down inside, because of my own experiences, a flame was burning the phrase my mom used to say back into my soul: "Better fish will come along." It happened for me in real life! I hoped it would happen for Megan, too.
One thing about this story that bugged me is the typos. If I wasn't so over-committed as it is, I'd print out another copy of the book, proofread and mark it (because that's what I have done in real life for most of my career, just not for world-famous authors, unfortunately), and send it to Melody Burris in the hope she might polish up her little gem and perhaps even one day write a sequel, which many of her Amazon reviews request. I'd proof that one for her, too, if she did write it, even if it means staying off my bike for a weekend. Hope that shows you how much I enjoyed reading her book, mistakes and all.
The only other thing that bothered me about this story was the sudden absence of the title flavor in the final couple of chapters. In my opinion, and maybe because I've spent too many years dotting teas and crossing eyes (yes I intended to write it that way), I felt the ending was rushed because at least one more smile count was not included. (I could see about four places the smile counts would have fit in beautifully and added to the story as well.) The ending almost felt rushed because of that simple omission or oversight. Potential final paragraphs were dancing in my head as I read the last few pages, just knowing smile collecting was going to make a grand return at the end, but it never did. That was sort of a letdown, given the importance the game played in the first two-thirds of the book.
Now it's your turn, Dear Reader. I will award a free autographed paperback copy of "Heart Strings" on May 24, 2016, to a random reviewer of this book on Smashwords here. I will announce the winner here on my blog, assuming anyone participates, and I'll have another challenge then with a completely different genre of book. (Pat, I hope that piques your curiosity!)
I am not receiving any compensation for doing this, and I have no connection to the author. I just want to try to make a total stranger's day and help readers find good, clean fiction about a topic that envelopes my life.
And now, for the results of the "Are You My Sister?" contest: No reviews were submitted to Smashwords, so last month's challenge prize will be added to this challenge. I'll give away TWO autographed copies of "Heart Strings" on May 24, 2016. Your chances of winning just doubled!