I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of Karen Kingsbury's highly anticipated new book, Longing. This aptly titled novel is book number three in the Bailey Flanigan series, and one that I have been itching to get my hands on since I stayed up all night to finish the previous installment. Let's just say that I stayed up way too late finishing this one as well. Kingsbury has a way of writing characters that wrap you around their fingers, making you care deeply about their fictional lives. After reading every single book in the Baxter series I have an investment in the love story between Bailey Flannigan and Cody Coleman, and Longing finally took a definitive step towards the future of their angst filled relationship. To say that it is a step I am conflicted about would be a gross understatement.
Longing picks up where Learning (book number two in the series) left off. Bailey Flanigan is living her dream as a dancer on Broadway, performing in Hairspray seven days a week. She is also dating Brandon Paul, a famous movie star and new Christian who has pursued her relentlessly since they met. Meanwhile, Cody Coleman is excelling in his football coaching career and dating Cheyenne, a beautiful girl whose needs make him feel important and useful. As Bailey and Brandon's relationship grows, Cody and Cheyenne face devastating news, and both Bailey and Cody realize that closure is necessary in order to move beyond their broken past and towards the future God has planned for them.
I have a hard time criticizing Kingsbury's books because I love her messages and the scriptural truth she weaves into her novels. At times I did feel as though I had read this book before. The direction that Bailey and Brandon's relationship is taking reminds me heavily of Dayne and Katy's journey in the Baxter series. Also, Kingsbury's writing style has gotten a little bit preachy, and not even about the spiritual elements of the book. It was as if I was being force fed the plot, line by line, often discovering a character development or new storyline in a heavy handed way. This was most evident with the author's Forever in Fiction character, whose biography spilled out in the same way an obituary might be read. It was uncreative and uninspiring. Still, Longing hooked me from the start and I'm so desperate to know how Bailey's story ends that I can forgive a few literary misgivings.
I'm still trying to process the journey that Karen Kingsbury took me on in this novel. I have to be truthful in saying that I have been "Team Cody" since day number one. I believe this was the intention of the author, as Kingsbury writes Cody and Bailey's complicated relationship in a special way. It seems that she has always been rooting for them, choosing a difficult path for their relationship, but believing that their future ultimately lies with each other. She has brought Bailey and Cody together and torn them apart in many different ways, but their love has always been honest and real, it was never in question. Until now.
Because this is an advanced review and the book does not officially release until November 22nd, I don't feel like I can fully explore the direction in which Kingsbury takes Longing. I do not want to ruin the story, or even reveal any of the little surprises that pepper the book from beginning to end. I do feel the need to point out that I was ultimately a little disappointed in this novel. I'm afraid Team Cody might not even be in the game anymore. Maybe my heart broke a little, even though all the characters seemed to reach resolutions they were happy with. I just wasn't happy with them, not yet anyway. But Brandon's character has won over Bailey, he's won over Karen Kingsbury, and maybe by the end of this series he will win over me.
Of course, there is still one more book until Bailey, Cody and Brandon's story is ultimately complete. The final installment, Loving, is due out early next year. It goes without saying that I will be counting the days.
Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.