A Worthy Heart is Susan Anne Mason’s follow-up to Irish Meadows. In this continuation of the Courage to Dream series, after the passage of three yearsA Worthy Heart is Susan Anne Mason’s follow-up to Irish Meadows. In this continuation of the Courage to Dream series, after the passage of three years, we look in on the O’Leary family again. We become better acquainted with their extended family, the Montgomerys — namely Maggie and Gabe, Rylan’s brother and sister. And we catch up with Adam O’Leary, the “black sheep” of the O’Leary bunch, whose animosity with Gil was made plain in book one. However, somewhere in that first book, he seemingly vanished. Turns out, he got wrapped up with the wrong crowd and was imprisoned for gambling. Now the Prodigal returns…
In large part, A Worthy Heart is Adam’s redemption story. Mason does a great job of making a formerly roguish character sympathetic. Though he’s returned humbled and repentant, his past is something not easily overcome. At times, it’s heartbreaking to watch Adam’s efforts to rebuild his life from the ground up. Luckily, though he faces many skeptics and doubters, he finds friends, too. As we look into his past, we learn more about the family history and the contributing factors to the rift between Adam and his father James.
Where Irish Meadows featured two main story lines, A Worthy Heart follows three. In addition to Adam, we also follow Maggie and Gabe in their voyage to America. Maggie has fled Ireland in part to escape the unwanted advances of Neill Fitzgerald whom she rejected. She is immediately taken with America and is quick to devise plans for jobs that can help her turn this visit into a permanent stay. But she soon finds a huge and potentially dangerous obstacle in her path.
Similarly, Gabe, a fireman back in Ireland, finds employment at a station in New York. When he meets someone special (I won’t say who, but readers of book one will know her), he is torn between a desire to remain in America, and what he sees as his duty to join the struggle for Irish independence.
Though her book may appear crammed with characters, Mason not only manages to make all the pieces mesh, she finds room to insert more historical detail than she included in Irish Meadows. The result is a compelling further exploration of family dynamics (both past and present), atonement, forgiveness, redemption, trust, and love.
Verdict: 4 of 5 Hearts. A Heartwarming Tale of Second Chances.
No matter how broken things are, no matter how far you may have fallen, you are never beyond God’s loving reach. Susan Anne Mason’s A Worthy Heart is a story of love and redemption that ultimately proves it’s never too late to begin again.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Bethany House for providing me a free copy of this title. 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.”...more
Irish Meadows is Susan Anne Mason’s first historical novel and also her first work published by Bethany House. On her website, Mason describes her worIrish Meadows is Susan Anne Mason’s first historical novel and also her first work published by Bethany House. On her website, Mason describes her work as “romance sprinkled with faith.” That’s an apt description.
Nestled within the framework of this early 20th century family drama are the intersecting stories of four people: Brianna O’Leary, her older sister Colleen, their family’s ward, Gilbert Whelan, and their distant cousin, Rylan Montgomery.
Despite the time in which she lives, Brianna is headstrong, fiercely independent, and driven. Her dreams — going to college and marrying for love — are at odds with the desires of her father who aims to see her well-matched to a man with status.
Gilbert, having just returned to Irish Meadows after three years away at college, is torn between loyalty to his surrogate father, James, and pursuing his dream of starting his own business. Especially as it seems impossible for him to follow his own heart without betraying James.
Colleen initially appears to be vapid, conceited, and coquettish, but as the story progresses, we find out that underneath her seemingly confident exterior lies a delicate pearl of a woman. The scene where she meets Rylan for the first time will have you laughing out loud and watching the pair’s interactions with close interest. Rylan, immediately charming and disarming, is the perfect foil to the “stuffy” Colleen.
As the relationships progress, circumstances appear increasingly insurmountable. The characters are faced with dilemmas and tough choices (and sometimes make the wrong ones) along the way. While some may chafe at perceived moral ambiguities in Mason’s characters, their flaws and missteps are what make them all the more real. These are young adults going through a transformative process of identity and maturation. Each undertakes his/her own personal journey — fraught with struggle and doubt — to realize his/her dreams, requiring not only patience, forgiveness, and humility but personal courage, bolstered by faith and love.
Verdict: 4 of 5 Hearts. A Turn-of-the-Century Romance About Finding the Courage to Dream.
Irish Meadows was a joy and pleasure to read. Susan Anne Mason shows that it takes perseverance and courage to dream. Witnessing Brianna, Colleen, Gil, and Rylan navigate rough waters en route to love and happiness will inspire you to brave your own storm. (And spur you on to reading the next book in the series!)
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Bethany House Publishers for providing me a free copy of this title. 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.”...more
Where to start? I was intrigued at the idea of reading a historical novel set in the medieval Scottish highOriginally published on my blog, Read Love.
Where to start? I was intrigued at the idea of reading a historical novel set in the medieval Scottish highlands. I began with high hopes. In the early going, the novel had promise -- reading was gentle and easy, and there was a fairytale-like quality to the book. The setting and characters seemed almost enchanted. To her credit, Taylor created a village nestled into the highlands seemingly hidden from the world and all its evils. Its inhabitants were different, but kind and warm. This felt like a good place to live and, for the reader, a good place to visit.
We get a glimpse of Serena as a baby in a prelude to the story. This creates mystery and narrative tension. However, the manner in which her villainous father returns to the story is a little disappointing. Despite this shortcoming in the narrative, Serena is a sympathetic heroine and we want her to be happy. Her mother and the other secondary characters who love her are all well-drawn and endearing.
Serena is at the center of a love triangle. I quickly decided that I favored one suitor over the other, and Serena's heart chooses fairly quickly as well. However, this brings to mind another flaw in the novel -- one of the suitors vanishes from the book near the end. It's hard to believe that a man would promise marriage and so readily disappear without trying to win his desired bride.
I liked the hero, Gavin, very much. He is compassionate, chivalrous, and kind to the village of "misfits". I had emotional investment in the outcome of the novel for him. I was sorry to see that he was not given enough opportunity to be heroic. Usually the hero rescues the damsel-in-distress and saves the day, right? Not so here. He was rendered impotent by the choices the author made.
While I enjoyed the novel, it never blossomed into the book I had hoped it would be. The fairytale-like quality remained, but in a different sense. To some degree the book always felt like a tale rather than events happening to real people. There was never enough sense of immediacy or depth of emotion. One could find parallels between Highland Sanctuary and The Scarlet Letter. Each novel has a character who is judged by a "religious" and supposedly "pious" authority/culture. However, while the latter is thick with psychological and emotional tension, the former has little. Highland Sanctuary suffers for being a little too neat. Real life is messy, and the happenings of this book, messy as they were, could have been depicted with more depth and nuance.
All of the quibbles mentioned above don't hurt the overall reading experience much. For some time, this was en route to being a four-star book. As I said, it started off nicely and I hoped it would continue to build interest. It did for a time. The plot built slowly and at a certain point began to pick up speed and scope like a tumbling stone. In the end, though, the novel's end was its demise. The author, while not having made anything more than casual Christian references to God, prayer, and faith, suddenly presented a sermonette in the form of a letter from one of the characters. There was a comparison made connecting a sacrifice (which I felt was empty and unnecessary) to Christ's crucifixion. The connection felt heavy-handed, and the letter unauthentic and disconnected from the character's voice.
To sum up, what started with charm and grace lost its sparkle and hiccuped a bit coming to a close. Overall, though, the book was entertaining. Though it is part of a series, Highland Sanctuary stands alone and can easily be enjoyed without having read the first book in the series, Highland Blessings. The messages of this tale have merit: Love conquers all, home is where your loved ones are, and true sanctuary is only found in Christ. In short, while the ideas are good, the execution could have been improved.
This summer, everywhere I turned, people were raving about Anna and the French Kiss. Publishers had begun to makOrginally posted on my blog, Read Love
This summer, everywhere I turned, people were raving about Anna and the French Kiss. Publishers had begun to make reference to the novel to sell other books. So when the paperback printing appeared in stores this month, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Having finally experienced the novel myself, I'm not sure I found a satisfying answer to the question. I didn't hate the book -- the reading was okay. I just never seemed to connect to the characters. The book never took flight.
From the start, Anna and I had a rocky relationship. She seemed a little whiny and occasionally flighty, but I was willing to cut her a break. She was dealing with a major change, after all. Eventually, though, I couldn't ignore the fact that Anna just has too many moments where she acts really stupidly. Also, I found it hard to accept that she's a movie buff, an aspiring critic, and has her own movie review website, yet doesn't know that Paris is "the film appreciation capital of the world." Finally, I was skeptical that she wouldn't have known her family motto was in French. How can this fact never have been mentioned during her lifetime, considering that she has an embroidered pillow with the Oliphant clan crest and motto? But I tried to ignore these annoyances and read on with optimism.
*** Warning: Spoilers ahead, proceed with caution *** (I don't like spoilers, but I can't explain why I didn't love the book without mentioning specifics.)
Despite my continued attempts to give her the benefit of the doubt, Anna's behavior and decisions made it difficult for me to fully embrace her. I thought her reaction to the Bridgette/Toph situation was a little over the top. First, I thought her feelings for St. Clair should have overshadowed her crush on Toph. Second, I thought the manner in which she found out about Toph and Bridgette would make her realize that Toph isn't exactly a prize catch. He seems like a real slimeball. And he wasn't even a very talented musician according to Anna. So, seeing him in a different light, I felt she should react differently. Not only is Anna's reaction a touch overdramatic, it is hypocritical. It takes her nearly six months to see the parallel between Bridgette and herself -- each pursues and dates a guy knowing that a friend has feelings for him, and each hides the relationship from said friend. Once again, Anna doesn't seem very bright: she doesn't see signs that seem obvious to the reader, constantly makes incorrect assumptions, and her insecurities are bothersome. For instance, because she assumes everyone hates her, she stops talking to her friends. Seemingly motivated by spite and the desire to make St. Clair jealous, Anna starts dating Dave, a total jerk. And when Dave comes to her room drunk and invites her upstairs to his room, she agrees to go? I think this moment was the beginning of the end for Anna and me. I could never care enough about her to have any emotional investment in the outcome of her relationship with Etienne St. Clair.
Just as I struggled to relate to Anna, I had a tumultuous relationship with the narrative. There were simply not enough compelling story elements outside of the romantic plot line to sustain my interest. Unlike Twilight, for example, here there is no overprotective father, no Volturi, no convincing love triangle (the Toph thing never felt genuine). Anna and St. Clair's only real obstacle to romantic happiness is themselves. They sabotage their relationship with their hesitancy, insecurity, dishonesty, and most of all, with their inability to communicate. And this is where another of my gripes with the novel lies: The author's hands are visibly pulling the strings. Both Anna and St. Clair have a drunken revelation. Stephanie Perkins gets each of her protagonists drunk so they can say the difficult words or ask the hard questions. I don't know if this is the author's attempt to add narrative tension, but I don't like it. I thought there was too much drinking in the novel. You would think that after the first drunken episode with St. Clair, Anna would have been wise enough to refuse to go out drinking when her friends suggested it. Too often, though, Anna is unable to stand up for herself. Frequently, against her own better judgment, she goes along with the wishes and whims of others -- especially when a boy is involved. Furthermore, if the double-drunken episode wasn't enough, the author has both Anna and St. Clair throw punches and land in detention one after the other. This is just another contrived way to get the two characters alone together so that they'll be forced to actually communicate.
Sometimes when reading a novel, I'll mark pages that I think are important or interesting, or I'll flag a quote that I want to read again. When I read Markus Zusak's Underdogs, I ended up with countless little flags in various colors. It was really pretty. With Anna and the French Kiss, however, I marked only a couple things. And they were not positive ones. They were phrases that stood out to me in a bad way. The most glaring was this: "My eyes look like I've mistaken cranberry juice for Visine, and my lips are swollen like wasp stings." Cranberry juice? Really? This sentence feels like a forced attempt to say something ordinary in an original way. It strikes me as something that would come from an inexperienced writer during a creative writing workshop. And it feels overwrought (though I guess that's Anna, who tends to be melodramatic).
In all fairness, I did like the novel in places. I enjoyed reading Bridgette's emails to Anna with her extravagant use of big words from the OED. I missed this when Anna stopped communicating with Bridgette. Parts of the book were very well done. I particularly liked the Thanksgiving section and the Christmas break section. It was during these moments that Anna and St. Clair began to talk and develop a legitimate and realistic relationship. They were connecting and forging bonds of trust and a relationship based on real conversation and shared feelings; they were becoming best friends. Too often with YA fiction, the romance seems to magically appear. That's not the case with Anna and the French Kiss. Perkins handled the romantic build-up very well. That's why it was so frustrating and disappointing to see Anna and St. Clair take steps backward and sabotage themselves upon returning to school after Christmas break. But there's the rub. We return once more to the problem of insufficient narrative tension or interest outside of the romantic storyline. If our young lovers had communicated their feelings honestly, and if they had gotten out of their own way sooner, the novel would have ended pretty quickly: Boy dumps girl he doesn't really like for girl he does like. The end....more