This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by RevMelinda. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Best First Book and Inspirational Categories.
Hospitality consultant Andrea Sullivan has one last chance to snag a high-profile client or she'll have to kiss her dreams of promotion good-bye. When she's sent to meet Scottish celebrity chef James MacDonald on the Isle of Skye, she just wants to finish her work as efficiently as possible. Yet her client is not the opportunistic womanizer he portrays himself to be, and her attraction to him soon dredges up memories she'd rather leave buried. For James, renovating the family hotel is a fulfillment of his late father's dreams. When his hired consultant turns out to be beautiful, intelligent, and completely unimpressed by his public persona, he makes it his mission to win her over. He just never expects to fall under her spell.
Soon, both Andrea and James must face the reality that God may have a far different purpose for their lives—and that five days in Skye will forever change their outlook on life and love.
First of all, I want to confess that reviewing books isn’t really my thing, and I tend to avoid it, mainly because I know that each book I read is some author’s Beautiful Progeny that they’ve poured their heart’s blood into, and sent into the world in hope and trembling, and I find the whole process of book-writing something to be admired and respected rather than critiqued. (Heaven knows it’s hard enough for me to write a review and put it out there for untold numbers of critical strangers to read. A whole book?—shudder). So before I begin, let me just say–kudos to you, Ms. Laureano, for your accomplishment and for your bravery!
Also, even though I am a minister by trade, I need to let you know that I don’t read a lot of books in the “inspirational” category. Perhaps because I “do spirituality” for a living I am usually looking for something different in my recreational reading—or perhaps I avoid inspirationals for the same reasons a physician might raise her eyebrows at the adventures of, say, Dr. House!
So reading this book and writing this review was a little bit of a personal challenge for me—and I must say, on balance, it has been a project I enjoyed. Five Days in Skye was a very pleasant and enjoyable read—it’s kind of like a kinder, gentler Harlequin Presents, with better writing, no sex, and a soupcon of Christianity for garnish.
The plot setup is this: Andrea is a “hospitality consultant” whose job is to provide management consulting services for hotels. She is sent to the Isle of Skye (in Scotland) to work with, and secure a high-stakes contract from a celebrity chef (who is frequent tabloid fodder) named James MacDonald, who wants to renovate and reopen a family hotel.
Andrea and James initially “meet cute” in London, as she sits in a bar complaining about her new assignment, not knowing that the good-looking man who draws her into conversation at the bar is James himself. They travel to Skye together to view the property and talk about renovation, marketing, and management—and along the way the two of them banter, fight their mutual attraction, and spend long hours together sightseeing. James convinces Andrea to stay in Skye longer than she had originally planned, and takes Andrea to the picturesque sights and beautiful landscapes of that part of Scotland (as he puts it, trying to help Andrea “fall in love” with Scotland), introduces her to his loving extended family, and prepares fabulous food. Of course, the “five days in Skye” work their magic, and Andrea and James fall in love with one another—gradually revealing to each other and to the reader the Big Secrets and Disappointments of the Past that each one must acknowledge, wrestle with, and ultimately overcome in order to claim their happy ending.
The writing in Five Days in Skye is lovely and accomplished—Ms. Laureano sets a beautiful scene, and she describes her characters and settings with graceful prose and with a warm and easy affection that drew me right into the story. There is much detail here that I appreciated and enjoyed—a vivid sense of place, loving descriptions of food and drink (well, James is a chef after all!), engaging and well-drawn characters and dialogue, caring (and complicated!) family relationships, and the gradual opening of two bruised hearts to one another. Like I said—a very enjoyable read.
My critical observations of the book would be twofold. First, it seems to me that Andrea and James (and to an extent several of the other characters) suffer from “kitchen sink” syndrome—perhaps a “first book” phenomenon?—where the author just heaps personal characteristics and backstory misfortune onto the characters that are just really not necessary to drive the plot, and perhaps venturing into Mary Sue territory.
SPOILERS AHEAD (Highlight text to read):
For example, Andrea isn’t just a gorgeous, brilliant, athletic, successful businesswoman with fabulous shoes, but she’s ALSO an accomplished concert pianist. And her emotional woundedness/hard and brittle exterior stems from her experience with an Awful Ex-Husband—but you see, he wasn’t just Awful. He was High-Profile Tabloid Awful, AND the son of a Senator who is running for President. . . AND the Awful Ex-Husband got Andrea pregnant before marriage. . .AND she had a miscarriage. . . AND she almost died. . . AND now she might never be able to carry a baby to term. The whole miscarriage/infertility trope aside, you had me at Awful Ex-Husband! The rest of it just felt to me like piling on.
My second critique concerns the spiritual/Christian aspects of the novel. Actually, there isn’t much religion or spirituality in the book—just a mention here and there, like a sprig of parsley on a plate of deviled eggs, more decorative than nourishing. At one point, James’s mother tells Andrea that “he’s a good Christian man”; at another point James reflects that he hasn’t been “living a Christian life”. At another point Andrea is encouraged to “give (your sorrow) up to God” and she “rediscovers her faith.” In my experience, you could ask any 10 Christians what it means to “live a Christian life,” and you would get about 35 different responses, LOL.
In the context of this novel, I got the sense that “living a Christian life” is characterized by adherence to specific concrete behaviors—reading the Bible, praying, delaying sex until after marriage, going to church. Of course, all of these behaviors may be laudable expressions of faith as far as they go. But as I saw it in the novel, they were only expressions–they didn’t in and of themselves tell me much about who the characters in the book think God is, or what their relationship with God is about. I think the novel would have been stronger “inspirationally” if I had seen Andrea and James wrestle with some harder spiritual questions—like “Why did God cause/allow this misfortune to happen to me?” or “Where was God in my suffering?” By book’s end, Andrea has had an experience of God’s presence, but I was left wondering, “Who IS this God and why should Andrea care about being in relationship with him/her?”
Those caveats aside, Five Days in Skye is a book of many charms—among them an evocative setting, appealing and well-drawn characters, and a confident, graceful writing style. It’s a pretty “clean” read, with no sex but with a strong sense of sexual attraction and romantic tension. I guess I would characterize the book as “inspirational lite.” It’s a pleasant, enjoyable read.