Friday, April 20, 2012

"Loving" Review

Loving by Karen Kingsbury was sent to me as an advance review copy by Zondervan Publishers. It is the fourth and final book in the Bailey Flanigan series. You can read the review of the first three books in this series here on my blog as well: Leaving, Learning, & Loving.
When we last left Bailey Flanigan, she had decided to move to California to be closer to Brandon and to pursue a possible career in acting. But life in the crazy town of Hollywood is not all sunshine and roses, and Bailey has second thoughts about remaining there. Despite her love for and commitment to Brandon Paul, Bailey questions the decisions she made when coming to California.
Meanwhile, Cody Coleman is finishing up his time at Lyle High School as the football coach. He is proud of how far his players have come in the last year, both on and off the field. While he would love to continue coaching these guys at Lyle, he has some decisions to make about his career and about other things in his life, including his relationships.
The time has come for Bailey to choose what she wants do with her life…and who she will spend that life with.
At the end of the previous book in this series, I felt as if I had settled into the series, and I was able to enjoy that novel a little more than the previous ones. I thought that the characters had finally grown up and were able to come to a point where they had some direction about where their lives were going. Bailey and Brandon were together in California. Cody was in Indiana grieving Cheyenne’s death but also celebrating her life. It seemed as if that book was setting up the final book to be a culmination of the various plot lines woven throughout this series.
And while that was ultimately the case, the novel Loving took its sweet time getting there.
In some ways this was OK. No matter who Bailey ends up with, the other guy (either Brandon or Cody – I’m not going to spoil the ending) will need to move on with his life on his own or with someone else. And that will take a bit of doing.
But for Bailey’s side of the story, it just seemed as if we had done this whole thing before…many, many times. Does she want to be with Brandon? Does she still have feelings for Cody? What does she really want to do with her life? (In this novel alone she contemplates going back to Broadway, acting in movies, directing a children’s theater, writing a book, and owning her own children’s theater company…seems like she needs to make up her mind). I just got tired of her going back and forth on so many things. It seemed as if the growth that was achieved in her life up until this point was for naught – that she really hadn’t learned anything, and to me that was disappointing.
I have previously stated in my reviews of books in a series that the story could have been told in fewer volumes. I definitely feel this way about the Bailey Flanigan series. Since I have not read the previous “Baxter Family” books by Karen Kingsbury, then maybe I am not as invested in these novels as much as her die-hard fans are. I still think this story would have been better told in only one or two books rather than four.
Having said all of that, I will say that, since I don't have that Baxter/Flanigan connection from the previous books, I was pretty much satisfied with the decisions all of the characters made at the end, with their careers and with who Bailey decided to say ‘yes’ to. While I didn’t necessarily always enjoy the ride (the characters are just too sappy and unrealistic), the conclusion was fine with me. I'm not sure I really cared who Bailey ended up with.
I would also like to comment on my main ‘take-away’ from this series. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that this author puts forth theologically in her novels (it seems as if her characters frequently put their trust in how they feel about a situation rather than always relying on the truth from God’s Word – I don’t know about you, but there are times when I really don’t need to be trusting my feelings!).

However, I will say that I was truly convinced through these novels that there is something in my spiritual life that I should be doing. Throughout this series, the characters who are parents consistently pray for their children’s future spouses. Now, I have a three-year-old daughter and the thought of her getting married scares the life out of my husband and me! But, we know that it might be here before we know it, and we should be fervently praying for our daughter and for whoever her husband will be, if she marries, even before we know him. I do pray for my daughter, but after reading these novels, I realize that this is one thing that I really need to be praying about more.
If you are a Karen Kingsbury fan, it seemed as if, from little things that were said throughout this novel, that there might be another book in the future that will be more of a grand conclusion for the Baxter family and their friends.
While I felt that Loving was more of the same thing that had already been done in this series, the ultimate conclusion was enough to sort of redeem the repetitiveness. Fans of Karen Kingsbury will adore the wedding at the end of this novel – I enjoyed it, too.
I will give Loving … 2 ½ BookWorms. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zondervan Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Now that this book has been released, I would like to comment further on the ending. I said in my review that I had not read any of Karen Kingsbury's previous novels, so I didn't feel as much of a connection with the characters as someone who had read all of them. I really believe that my enjoyment of the conclusion to this series (Bailey choosing Brandon, and the fact that I didn't really care who she ended up with) was affected by the fact that I didn't have that connection with Bailey and Cody.

If you go to and read the reviews of this novel, there are plenty of ticked-off Karen Kingsbury fans out there. I There are over a hundred one-star ratings. I read a few of them, and the concensus seems to be that the readers feel disappointed and cheated. They have invested 20+ books with the Baxters and (I am guessing) 10 or so books with Bailey and Cody. To have Brandon come out of left field and to have this fairy tale ending did not sit well with die-hard fans.

Like I said, since I was not so invested with the characters, I didn't really care who she ended up with. (I did think that Brandon kind of came off as desperate, though. If Bailey had not chosen Brandon, he would have looked pretty foolish and desperate).

From the reviews, I also gleaned that the fans did not like that the Bailey series lined up so well with Karen Kingsbury's real-life daughter. That seemd kind of odd to me, too. Why would you want to write a fiction series about your only daughter? I am not an author, but that seems like too personal of a thing to do. Let's keep fiction about fiction. If this was meant to be a mini-biography about her daughter, then maybe it should be advertised as such.

So, what did you think? Did you like the ending or not?

I have been told not to base my judgment of Kingsbury's books on this series. If I ever have time, I might be convinced to go back and read some of her earlier stuff. But based on this series, I think I have had enough for the time being.


1 comment:

  1. I've been very disappointed in this series. I felt that this series could have been done in two books, and yes I wasn't happy with who Bailey ended up with. I compare my unhappiness with Bailey's decision of selecting Brandon with the way that the Hunger Games ended. At the end of Mockingjay, I understood how Katniss was able to make the choice that she did, and while I didn't really like it, it was a well developed decision. And Suzanne Collins did a very good job of making the reader understand the difficult choice that Katniss had to make. I didn't feel that way with this series. And I personally think that Karen allowed the events in her daughter's life to influence the outcome of the series. I didn't think that she had truly created a book that allowed the reader to understand Bailey's choice. (off my soapbox now)

    I've loved Karen's books for years. My favorites, and I highly recommend them, are When Joy Came to Stay and Oceans Apart. I have also loved On Every Side. Karen's stand alone novels are amazing. I will read the conclusion to the Baxter's story, Coming Home (I think that's the title) that is due out in August. And then after that I don't know. It'll depend on the book and if I feel like she's gone back to the style of writing that I have come to love.