This is a wonderful collection of historical romances, the perfect Christmas gift for anyone who is a true romantic at heart or simply an admirer of t...moreThis is a wonderful collection of historical romances, the perfect Christmas gift for anyone who is a true romantic at heart or simply an admirer of the good old days of wagons and bonnets. From stories of love at first sight to newly married couples overcoming problems together to widowers and spinsters finding a love they never thought they'd experience, there is sure to be more than one story in here to delight an avid inspirational historical romance reader.
Having spent most of December reminiscing with the first season of Little House on the Prairie, I was excited when I remembered that I'd received a review copy of this book from Barbour. And I definitely wasn't disappointed with this collection! While I'm not normally a fan of short stories, each of these were at least 50 pages long and had room for plenty of character development, descriptions of the great plains of the prairie and even some sub-plots. My personal favourites were "The Christmas Necklace" by Maryn Langer, which involved a mystery surrounding a woman who falls from wealth and ends up working as a maid; and "Circle of Blessings" by Deborah Raney, in which a female college student falls for her tutor and has to prove to her father that he's worthy of her affection.
I appreciated the range of different stories in this collection, featuring everything from girls barely out of their teens to older women suffering from past heartbreaks. While one might expect repetition when the setting and time period of each story is limited, I'd like to assure potential readers that this is not the case. There was only one story that I felt was a bit too contrived and predictable, and bizarrely it was the first one, "Take Me Home" by Tracey Bateman! While it was cute, I felt it was veering towards being sickly sweet. This may just be a matter of personal taste, and I'm glad that I continued reading as I was introduced to some wonderful new authors. I was surprised to discover that the final story, "Cold As Ice" by Jill Stengl was linked to "Take Me Home", featuring some of the same characters. In a nice way, these two sandwich the rest of the stories together.
If you're a fan of historical romances or would just like to relax with some short stories during the cold nights before Christmas, I'd definitely recommend putting this book on your wishlist for next winter. 9/10
"Take Me Home" by Tracey Bateman - 7/10 - This was a cute story but predictable to the extent of being sickly sweet. The way in which everyone loved the main character immediately and reformed themselves because of her was rather cheesy. I also felt that the conclusion came too suddenly and all the problems were wrapped up incredibly fast. Admittedly, a fairly enjoyable and sweet story if you suspend disbelief but I felt it was a disappointing start to the collection.
"One Wintry Night" by Pamela Griffin - 9/10 - Slow to start but I ended up loving these characters. Excellent development of both plot and characters, plus brilliant and realistic secondary characters, especially the children. I'd definitely read more from this author. Also, I loved the name of the town, "Leaning Tree, Nebraska".
"An Image of Love" by Joann A. Grote - 9/10 - This one seemed longer than the first two but had much stronger characters and development. I particularly liked the theme of a woman struggling to move on after the death of her fiancee. I couldn't ever imagine replacing my Simon if I were to lose him, so I found Martie's situation to be very believable. This is another author that I'll be looking out for.
"The Christmas Necklace" by Maryn Langer - 10/10 - Definitely my favourite so far! This story only spanned a couple of days but still managed to give the characters depth and create a realistic progression of the relationship between Lucinda and David. There was a lot of suspense, which is often hard to create in a short story, and it was quite hard to put down! I was sad when this story ended and would love to read more about these characters. If I wanted to be picky I could say that some may find the story a bit contrived in places, or melodramatic, but it was the perfect romance for me! I only wish this author had written more novels or stories for me to read.
"A Christmas Gift of Love" by Darlene Mindrup - 8/10 - I found this one more difficult to get into but it picked up eventually. It's a marriage of convenience story, which had the potential to be really sweet and humorous but ended up being rather contrived and unbelievable. The main character spent most of the story wondering what these strange feelings she had were and why she kept feeling so embarrassed around the love interest, and I truly can't believe that anyone could be so clueless not to realise that they were attracted to someone! However, I did appreciate that this story also focused on the physical aspects of love, as well as the emotional. Some Christian romances forgo any comments about physical attraction and seem to pretend that sex doesn't exist, so I appreciated the author acknowledging that physical love is just as important as spiritual and emotional. So while this one loses points for being rather unbelievable in some aspects, it gets them back for showing the realities of love!
"God Jul" by Tracie Peterson - 8/10 - While I rather enjoyed this one, especially the fact that all of the characters were of Swedish descent, the main conflict in the story was simply that the two main characters didn't communicate! The male main character kept trying to tell the female character that he was in love with her but she wouldn't listen. All of their problems could have been resolved if he'd made more of an effort to talk to her! I'm a bit fed up with plots that revolve around communication problems. The recipes were a bit overkill, too.
"Circle of Blessings" by Deborah Raney - 10/10 - While this was rather predictable, to the extent that I spotted the plot twist before it was even hinted at, I did love this. Such a sweet story with very likable characters. I appreciated that the woman was unconventional and the man had made mistakes in the past. All very realistic and endearing. I'll definitely look out for more from this author.
"Christmas Cake" by Janet Spaeth - 8/10 - Cute story about a newly married couple preparing for their first Christmas. The wife wants to make her husband a traditional Christmas cake from a family recipe because it would remind him of his childhood, but various mishaps teach her that they need to make their own family traditions for the holiday period. A very important point that all newly-weds should realise, and I appreciated that this story wasn't about falling in love, but staying in love. However, the wife's paranoia that her husband would suddenly get bored with prairie life was a bit unbelievable.
"Cold As Ice" by Jill Stengl - 8/10 - A spinster with a broken heart learns how to move on and heal with the help of a widowed minister. While this story was about an older couple, I really enjoyed reading about Estelle learning to love again. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that this story linked in with the first one in the collection. My only real problem is that I felt like I never truly got to know the minister, which is important since he's apparently in love with Estelle.(less)
Such a lovely little book, I only wish I could have held the real thing rather than an eBook. This is a wonderful devotional that I know I'd love to o...moreSuch a lovely little book, I only wish I could have held the real thing rather than an eBook. This is a wonderful devotional that I know I'd love to own. There are over thirty reflections under the headings "Attitude", "Responsibility" and "Christian Duty" on subjects such as "A Humble Attitude" and "Responsibility to Fellowship." Each reflection includes a poem from Wanda Brunstetter, a Bible verse, a note from Brunstetter relating the scripture to an example in the Amish lifestyle and a small prayer. This is all completed with absolutely stunning photography that will simply take your breath away; I simply cannot emphasise enough how beautiful these pictures are. Although I'm not a fan of Brunstetter's fictional work, she does have a wealth of knowledge about the Amish and I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Amish or loves reading novels about them or anyone who just wants to simplify their life. This would make the perfect gift or stocking filler as it isn't particularly large or expensive. I only wish I'd known about this when I was making my Christmas list! (less)
Pampered Kim Hartlinger is in for the shock of her life when she arrives at her mission trip in Mexico with several suitcases full of designer clothes...morePampered Kim Hartlinger is in for the shock of her life when she arrives at her mission trip in Mexico with several suitcases full of designer clothes and a karaoke machine. Convinced that she's going to single-handedly convert everyone she meets with the help of her Spanish-English Bible, Kim sees the trip as an easy alternative to getting a summer job. But before she can unpack her Gucci loafers, she's informed that she's forgotten to read a very important email - the one telling her that the trip has changed, and that she'll now be building houses in an isolated village with no running water, let alone a fast-food joint. To make matters worse, the natives don't speak any English and the team is without a translator, so Kim's going to have a hard time bringing the villagers to the Lord. Could God really have a reason for bringing her to this desolated part of Mexico?
Although reading YA fiction when you're no longer a teenager is incredibly popular right now, I've never really seen the appeal. Being nineteen myself, I often cringe at the behaviour of characters who are meant to be the same age as me, and this was my problem with Kim. It took me a while to warm up to her, but by the end of the novel I could appreciate why teenagers would enjoy her story, even if I’m still nowhere close to being a YA fanatic.
Kim makes a bad first impression on most of her mission buddies, with the exception of stereotypical black girl #492, Aleesha. I say this because she really is a walking stereotype. I found her amusing for a few pages, but Kim and Aleesha’s constant banter of “Do all black people do X?” and “Can white girls really do that?” got annoying very quickly. Of course, Aleesha has attitude, is excellent at preaching, a great hairstylist, loves to sing...and her name is Aleesha. Just once, I’d love to see a black YA character called Sarah who wants to be a lawyer. Thankfully Aleesha was replaced as Kim’s sidekick by the adorable Anjelita, who is shunned by the other local kids for having been born with a deformity. Anjelita made this book a lot more enjoyable to read, and it was lovely to witness Kim becoming more responsible by caring for her new friend and finding ways to involve her in restoring the village.
Although she spends most of her time litter-picking with Anjelita, Kim does get a few chances to witness to people. Firstly, she meets typical bad-boy, Geoff, who constantly flirts with Kim and doesn’t seem to care about the mission trip. It turns out that Geoff is only pretending to be a Christian, so Kim decides to show him the truth about God’s love. After a surprisingly short amount of time, Geoff has a complete turnaround in character. While I initially liked this plot-line, Geoff’s transformation was a bit unbelievable, and I felt it gave the wrong image to teenage girls about how easy it is to change a bad-boy into a Christian. Especially as Kim immediately becomes attracted to Geoff after he’s committed his life to Jesus.
I much preferred Kim’s second attempt at evangelism, which comes about after she discovers that her Spanish-English Bible is actually only in Spanish. Kim prays and relents to God about how her Bible is useless, but then feels him calling her to read the Bible to the villagers. Despite her atrocious Spanish, the locals become interested in her story sessions. Unfortunately, Kim has to leave before she can see the true affects of her Bible-readings, but I felt this was a good lesson in sowing seeds of faith but not always seeing how you’ve affected people.
As I said before, I’m clearly not the target audience for this book. I might have appreciated this when I was younger, although I’m not entirely sure how my gothic, teenage self would have reacted to spoilt, designer-clad Kim. I think a lot of girls would get annoyed with Kim initially, but hopefully grow to like her as the novel progresses. To be honest, the perfect audience for Found in Translation is girls like Kim – those who are materialistic and forget to put God first in their lives. I think this book could really speak to these girls and hopefully have a impact on them. And of course, I reckon that this series is going to encourage more young people to go on mission trips – and to remind them that building houses and picking up litter are just as important as preaching the gospel. 7/10(less)
I just couldn't get into this book whatsoever. Tried reading this several months ago and gave the book a good 20% to see if it would pick up at all bu...moreI just couldn't get into this book whatsoever. Tried reading this several months ago and gave the book a good 20% to see if it would pick up at all but it didn't. The style of writing felt very stilted and fake, and reminded me a lot of Wanda Brunstetter - another popular Christian author whose appeal I just don't understand. I thought I'd enjoy this book as Gilbert Morris is a fairly popular author in the historical genre, and this book had an Amish slant on it. The Amish parts didn't ring true and the rest didn't grab me enough to make me keep reading, but mainly the writing just seemed quite poor. I was surprised, considering how many books Morris has authored, but sometimes you do find authors who are immensely popular yet their writing quality isn't as good as those lesser known writers. I'm afraid that I have no urge to continue reading this book and probably won't be picking up anything of Gilbert Morris's in the future. I'm sure that previously existing fans of his work will enjoy this one but it just did not grab my attention. 4/10(less)
Living a life of luxury in a blossoming North Carolina town, Dawsey Wilkes does not suspect that the root of her family’s problems is hidden in the ba...moreLiving a life of luxury in a blossoming North Carolina town, Dawsey Wilkes does not suspect that the root of her family’s problems is hidden in the bandit-ridden backwoods. Dawsey has never questioned whether her father’s mental breakdown was due to anything more than her mother’s death, which left the lonely and heartbroken widower to raise infant Dawsey by himself. But when she comes across thieves in her father’s study, Dawsey is literally ripped from her privileged life. She finds herself deep in the woods of Shuffletown, where one of her captors is a girl who could be her doppelganger. Could Ellie McRae hold the key to her family’s troubles? And will Dawsey make it back to her father before one of Ellie’s brothers wins her heart?
What sounded like a fast-paced, action-filled historical romance about bandits and imprisoned girls didn’t quite meet my expectations. It wasn’t until chapter thirteen that anything actually occurred to bring our hero and heroine together, and I was almost ready to give up. While I was immediately captivated by the story of Dawsey, her mentally unstable father and her guardian aunt, it took me longer to warm up to the McRae family. We’re introduced to the character of Ellie – whose name isn’t on the back-cover of the book, confusingly me immensely as I tried to work out who she was and why she had so much page-time – and her older brothers, Duncan and Hooper – neither of whom interested me, making me wonder why one of them would turn out to be Dawsey’s love-interest. Thankfully, once Dawsey was kidnapped in chapter thirteen the story picked up the pace and was able to keep my interest.
I eventually warmed to the McRae family and they were a very endearing, entertaining bunch of characters. They explained to Dawsey why they were living in the backwoods of North Carolina, and we got a very small history lesson on the suffering that Native Americans experienced during the Civil War. At least, I think that’s what they were talking about. The details were so vague that someone who hasn’t studied this period of US history might not have understood the McRae’s explanation. I prefer my historical romances to actually have some real history in them, rather than just having a general “historical” feel because the characters ride horses, hunt and occasionally reference a war gone by. However, I did enjoy reading about the McRae’s and witnessing Dawsey’s growing relationship with them. Hooper became an interesting character, but he didn’t seem as fleshed out as Dawsey and Ellie. As for Duncan, he had so little page-time that I immediately suspected that he would lose the fight for Dawsey’s affection. Despite this, it was still amusing to see the two brothers fight over our heroine, if a bit redundant.
Ellie got a little romantic subplot of her own, and I have to admit that at times I preferred her story to Dawsey’s. My only complaint about Ellie would be her slightly awkward, unneeded discussions with Dawsey about God and prayer. Every so often, the author would chuck in a scene where Dawsey witnessed to Ellie and it felt very forced, making for uncomfortable reading. I’m not sure why the author decided to add these sections when Dawsey’s faith in God was already apparent and succeeded in classifying the novel as inspirational. Other than this, Ellie and Dawsey were wonderful characters. Even if Hooper and Duncan weren’t entirely convincing, the girls were, suggesting that perhaps the author needs to work on her portrayal of male characters. That said, I would be interested in reading more about Duncan and I would consider continuing this series if further books featured him and Ellie.
While I have a lot of criticisms of this book, I’ll admit that it was a pleasant read and kept me entertained. Raider’s Heart doesn’t bring anything particularly new and original to the genre of inspirational historical romance, but readers can rely on Marcia Gruver’s Backwoods Buccaneers series to provide an interesting setting, plenty of conflict, clean romance and a splash of history. 7/10(less)
Mallory Carlisle's life is already a mess when she starts to have the nightmares. She and her husband are drifting further apart as he works longer ho...moreMallory Carlisle's life is already a mess when she starts to have the nightmares. She and her husband are drifting further apart as he works longer hours and makes more business trips, she's racking up credit card debts and her extended family is just as dysfunctional as ever. But when Mallory starts having disturbing dreams that cause her to act weirdly around her loved ones, she begins to wonder whether they're linked to something that she actually experienced. When a news story causes her to have a panic attack at a Bible study meeting, her friends urge her to see a therapist to understand what's really going on in her life. Slowly, Mallory comes to terms with the childhood memories that she'd suppressed, and begins to put her trust in God for healing and release from the hurt she's been carrying. Only through God can she put her life, her marriage and her family back on track.
This was a truly devastating story. I had to put it down at times and read something else as Mallory's story simply broke my heart. While I don't have any first-hand experience in dealing with childhood abuse, I felt that the authors really captured Mallory's hurt and pain. The road to recovery was difficult, but I admired her bravery and enjoyed watching her pull her life back together and come to terms with the changes she needed to make.
I would have to say that I never really warmed to Mallory's husband, Jake. They were suffering from marital difficulties at the start of the book, and having never seen them happy together, it was difficult to like him. Although I could sympathise with the confusion he felt at Mallory pushing him away as she fell deeper into her emotional turmoil, I sometimes felt like he didn't make enough effort. Jake did, thankfully, redeem himself and realise that he had contributed to the family problems, but I wish I'd had more of a chance to read about "changed" Jake to truly witness his transformation of character.
I was impressed with the authors' choice to tackle such a difficult subject. While some may consider Christian Fiction to be full of romance, happy endings and fluffy bunnies, the market can feature some pretty taboo topics. Missy and Susan definitely deserve credit for being brave enough to bring to light the fact that childhood abuse can affect even the most pious of Christians, and for showing how both therapy and God's love can help victims to overcome their hurts. However, I do wish that the authors had stuck with the original issues - abuse, marital problems and credit card debt. They also threw in several other problems, either as events in the novel or in mentions to past experiences, including a childhood death, a miscarriage, a sudden illness, and the death of a grandparent. There was actually one point where I found myself thinking, "Really? Could these characters have any more to deal with?" I'm sure that the authors could write wonderful novels on these other subjects, but in this case they felt hastily thrown together. As a result of featuring so many issues in one novel, some of them were never truly concluded and they sometimes overshadowed the wider issue of Mallory's abuse.
I would like to caution that this is very definitely a Christian novel. While some inspirational books merely feature a few Bible verses and references to praying and attending church, this isn't one of them. Mallory frequently seeks God's guidance, meets up with her pastor's wife and fellow Church members to discuss her difficulties and is counselled by a Christian therapist. I lost count of the number of Bible verses that she mentioned in the diary entries at the end of each chapter. This was a new experience for me as I hadn't previously read a book so focused on a character's spiritual journey, or read about Christian counselling. I felt that this was a realistic novel about a woman reaching out to God for help in her time of need, but it probably isn't one to pass on to non-Christian friends.
Boldly tackling topics that are often hidden away in Christian circles, "Love Me Back to Life" is a heart-breaking tale of God's healing power and love. While I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the many difficulties that Mallory found herself pitted against, I definitely think that Missy Horsfall and Susan Stevens deserve credit for writing such an honest and realistic account of one woman's struggle to overcome childhood abuse. 7/10
Many thanks to Barbour and NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this book.(less)
Edit on 14th March 2011: On second thoughts, I'm bumping this from 8/10 to 9/10. Thinking about this book, I did truly enjoy it and can only really re...moreEdit on 14th March 2011: On second thoughts, I'm bumping this from 8/10 to 9/10. Thinking about this book, I did truly enjoy it and can only really recall a couple of tiny, minor faults about it.
When four young women head off to the ghost-town of Hopesfall, Colorado to turn it into a bustling, prosperous saw-mill, they end up with far more than they bargained for. While Cora plans to wed her fiancee, she knows it's not safe for her friends to be alone in a town full of men. Thus Evie, Lacey and Naomi come to the conclusion that they need to find husbands - fast. But these unconventional women don't want to wait for the right man to come along and make a proposal; they plan to make sure that they get just what they want by hiring husbands! But when their unusual advertisement brings dozens of men to Hopesfall, rather than the letters they had expected, the women realise that they have a lot more on their hands than they'd anticipated. Especially with the mysterious Jake Creed who seems far too protective over the women, especially Evie. Little do they know that Jake ended up in Hopesfall purely by chance, and is actually searching for his brother's murderer. He certainly didn't expect to find himself protecting three headstrong yet vulnerable women who insist that they want to pick spouses out of the rabble of men that they've put to work rebuilding their town. Suddenly he finds himself in a race to find his brother's killer before the man in question marries one of the women that he's sworn to protect. And he definitely doesn't want Evie to get into this man's clutches...although Jake can't quite figure out why he feels so strongly about the stubborn woman he always ends up arguing with!
The protagonists of this novel alone make it wonderful. While I adored the setting and the descriptions of the food, Evie and Jake were what made me thoroughly enjoy this novel. Like most women, Evie is insecure, but she also knows how to hold her own and assess situations. Unlike her best friend, Lacey, she doesn't rush into anything - except an opportunity to argue with Jake. She was a really endearing character and I appreciated the fact that she was self-conscious about her curves. As someone who cannot buy trousers anywhere at the moment because years of genetics have given me a more curvaceous derrière than most current fashion-designers admire, I understood Evie's dilemma! So naturally, I became Jake's number one fan when he told Evie to eat more as she was losing weight. Curvy heroines and the men that love them immediately get my vote in any novel. Jake is also a winner because of his caring attitude. While he initially sets out to find his brother's killer and discover what truly happened to his sibling, his plans change when he realises that the women of Hopesfall need protection. He sets aside his own desires in order to help them set up the town, and underneath his stubborn demeanor he's truly a caring gentleman.
The other women intrigued me as well. Despite her frilly clothes and privileged upbringing, Lacey clearly wants to look after her friends and her heart is always in the right place, even if she finds herself useless in the kitchen. Cora appears to be emotional and vulnerable to begin with, but her fight to convince her fiancee that she still wants him despite his injuries really brings out her true character. And Naomi is still a little mysterious to me. She was very quiet throughout the entire novel, yet seemed to be the more reasonable and sensible one of the group. I look forward to reading more about each of them in the upcoming books in the series. There were several interesting characters in the men who arrived in Hopesfall, yet I can't guess which ones Lacey and Naomi will choose as husbands!
One of my only complaints would have to be that the sections from the point of view of the murderer than Jake was hunting didn't really flow with the rest of the story. They felt a bit awkward and it seemed as if the author was trying too hard to be mysterious. The initial scenes with Braden, Cora's fiancee, also had a few odd moments, but this disappeared after a while. Other than that, there weren't any major letdowns but I would have liked a bit more time with Evie and Jake at the end! It was all over far too soon for me. I guess I'll have to wait for the next book to see how their story pans out.
If you're looking for an unconventional historical romance with moments of suspense and comedy, then this spin on the mail-order bride plot is definitely for you. If the protagonists don't win you over, the descriptions of Evie's delicious food definitely will! Look out for the first in the Husbands for Hire series in March 2011. 9/10(less)
GENRE: AMISH PUBLISHER: BARBOUR PUBLISHING PUBLICATION DATE: APRIL 1, 2011 RATING: 4 OUT OF 10
When the chance to work as a carpenter in an Amish communi...moreGENRE: AMISH PUBLISHER: BARBOUR PUBLISHING PUBLICATION DATE: APRIL 1, 2011 RATING: 4 OUT OF 10
When the chance to work as a carpenter in an Amish community in Kentucky arises, Titus Fisher jumps at the opportunity. Always in the shadow of his perfect twin brother, Timothy, and watched like a little child by his mother, Titus feels it’s time to find where he belongs in the world. And since this offer follows his girlfriend Phoebe’s announcement that she still isn’t ready to join the Amish church, Titus feels that perhaps it would do him some good to be away from the ties he has back home in Pennsylvania. Soon he’s settling into the rhythms of life in Kentucky, despite the dilapidated trailer he lives in and his lack of a buggy, and he strikes up a good friendship with the Yoder family, who are employing him to work in their carpentry shop. But it takes him longer to warm up to Suzanne Yoder, an unconventional young woman who prefers being in the outdoors and woodwork to cooking and sewing. But Suzanne looks just like Phoebe, and Titus can’t help but look of Suzanne and remember how Phoebe broke his heart when she went to explore the English world. Will Titus’s memories of Phoebe put a rift between him and Suzanne, or will he learn to let go of the past and discover what God has planned for him in Kentucky?
I will advise that while I tried to start this book with an open mind, I’ve never been a big fan of Wanda Brunstetter. While she’s incredibly popular in the Amish genre, which contains many of my favourite books, I’ve yet to figure out what is so appealing about her books. While many of them contain standard romance plots, I often find her writing stilted and her characters lacking in personality. Despite this, I determined to give her works another try with The Journey, which many of my friends have praised. The plot of this novel, while being fairly predictable, did sound like it had promise, particularly with Suzanne being such an unusual character for an Amish novel.
Unfortunately I found it very difficult to enjoy this book. As with previous Brunstetter novels (On Her Own, Plain and Fancy and Kelly’s Chance, to name those that I’ve read) I found the dialogue very stilted and fake-sounding, as were the internal thoughts of many of the characters. This was particularly jarring as the majority of The Journey is dialogue. I would say that at least 80% of this book was dialogue, and while normally I love conversation-driven novels, there was barely any description at all. Books in the Amish genre really need descriptions of the scenery and day-to-day life to make them seem authentic. Sadly, The Journey was very lacking in this department and could really have been set anywhere, if for the occasionally Pennsylvanian Dutch word and mention of a buggy. The Penn Dutch speech was pretty irritating in that whenever a character said anything in Dietsch, another character would then repeat the same sentence back almost word for word so that the reader would understand what the word meant. This sounded incredibly fake, and happened too often for me not to notice.
The plot jumped around too much for my liking, leaping back and forth between Titus in Kentucky and his family back home in Pennsylvania, and occasionally over to Phoebe in California. It seemed really unnecessary to include Phoebe’s sections as they really didn’t add much to the plot, other than to show that she wasn’t enjoying herself in the English world. The scenes in Pennsylvania were much the same, and seemed to repeat a lot of what had happened to Titus in Kentucky as word of his new life spread to all of her relatives. More often than not, these sections ended up detracting from the plot rather than adding to it.
There were a lot of dramatic events in this book, far too many than is realistic. On several occasions characters are nearly run off the road in their buggies - by a motorbike, a horse and wild dogs - and if these events had been connected I wouldn't have minded, but they weren't! These three events were never given any sort of plausible explanation that linked to the plot, and seemed mainly to function to bring Titus and Suzanne closer together in the aftermath of their experience. The first two events I shrugged off, but I’ll admit that I nearly laughed out loud at the appearance of the feral dogs. There's also a situation surrounding some stolen money which is cleared up far too quickly and easily to be at all believable, and then is never mentioned again by any of the characters. It felt like the author kept trying to insert some sort of mystery into the book but then resolved the situations too fast to actually make the book mysterious. And don't even get me started on all the deaths and tragedies that occurred with this family – is it really possible for one family to suffer so many traumas? Some of them seemed quite unnecessary, and the way that the characters dealt with them seemed rather offensive to anyone who has lost a relative or a child.
I have a few minor complaints about this book which, coupled with my issues with the dialogue, plot-jumping and unrealistic nature of some of the events in this book, ended up taking away from what could have been a fairly enjoyable reading experience. Firstly, The Journey apparently follows on from another series of books as numerous references are made to Zach having being kidnapped as a child. Yet for new readers, this situation isn’t explained very well and left me feeling very confused. There’s nothing in the synopsis to suggest that this series follows another one, so new readers beware of this. I’d also like to caution that while this book is marketed as Christian fiction, the spiritual aspect is very minor. The characters only ever talked to God when they were in dire need of help, but otherwise never mentioned Him, which is particularly unsettling for a novel about the Amish where God is normally central to their community and way of life. There’s a semi-conversion scene towards the end of the novel, which is one of my pet hates in Christian fiction because it is so rarely done in a tactful and satisfying manner.
While I did not enjoy this novel, I have read several glowing reviews of it and would encourage potential readers to read those before making a final decision on whether to read The Journey. As much as I hate to write a critical review, this is my honest opinion and I think it necessary to share my views on a book from one of my favourite genres. I’ve read many wonderful new books from this genre that have released this year, and The Journey just doesn’t measure up to novels from newcomers like Kelly Long, Barbara Cameron or Ruth Reid. On a more positive note, fans of Brunstetter will probably enjoy this book as it’s much the same as her earlier novels, but this also means that readers who dislike her work will probably have the same reaction as I did.
Review title provided courtesy of Barbour Publishing.(less)
Edit on 14th March 2011: On second thoughts, I'm bumping this from 8/10 to 9/10. Thinking about this book, I did truly enjoy it and can only really re...moreEdit on 14th March 2011: On second thoughts, I'm bumping this from 8/10 to 9/10. Thinking about this book, I did truly enjoy it and can only really recall a couple of tiny, minor faults about it.
Heading home to Texas for her sister's wedding, Beth is less than pleased to be sharing her stagecoach with a drunken vagrant. But when they come across another stagecoach that's been involved in an accident, trainee-nurse Beth knows that she needs all the help that she can get. Yet no one is more surprised than she when Alex reveals that he's actually an ex-army doctor. Finally arriving at her hometown, her relatives and neighbours welcome her with open arms, especially when they learn that she's brought a doctor with her. Despite her aspirations to treat the town's residents herself, Beth knows that a female doctor will never be allowed. But Alex is still mentally scarred from the horrors that he's experienced on the battlefield, and insists that Beth help him treat his patients. Her parents are unhappy with this arrangement, until Alex suggests something that even Beth thinks she can agree to - a marriage of convenience. Beth will work alongside Alex, helping to alleviate his fears, and giving her the chance to use her medical skills. Will their marriage remain purely practical, or can it develop into something more? And will Alex's mysterious past ever catch up with him, revealing why he's still having nightmares about the war?
As you may have noticed, I'm on a historical romance kick right now, especially with novels set in late 1800s USA. Prairie life, homesteading and stagecoaches galore! And Mary Connealy appears to be Queen of these books! I've never read anything by her before but I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for more of her books.
I made the mistake of starting this while studying for my English exam and had to keep tearing myself away. The start of this novel, where Beth is on the stagecoach and comes across the accident, is incredibly fast-paced and sucks you right into the story. Beth's a spunky heroine and takes control of the situation, ordering Alex and the driver around so that she can take care of everyone. Her heart is obviously in the right place, even if she has to beat Alex over the head with his own hat to make him obey her orders!
The chemistry between Alex and Beth is brilliant. While Beth initially finds Alex irritating, they work well together, both as doctor and nurse and as husband and wife. It was lovely to see their relationship developing and I loved Connealy's portrayal of marriage. Not only did this couple have a wonderful equal partnership where they relied on each other, but Connealy made it clear that sex is something to be celebrated between husband and wife. Some books ignore the subject of sex in marriage, or make it seem like a duty, so I'm very grateful to this author for showing that it is something to be both cherished and celebrated! That said, there was nothing graphic or descriptive on the topic of sexuality, just a few sentences here and there hinting that a happily married couple enjoyed spending time together in their bedroom.
While reading the novel I discovered that some of the characters had previously featured in other books - which is excellent as I'd love to read more about Beth's parents! However, I'm more interested in Mandy, the sister whose wedding Beth was heading home for. I really enjoyed the subplot about her in this book, and I'm happy to see that she's the focus of #3 in the Sophie's Daughters series.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I didn't completely love it. While I was initially drawn in by Beth's spunkiness and the quirky and humorous narrative, this petered out after a while. The final conflict was fun to read, but I felt like the focus shifted from Beth to Alex. Of course, I enjoyed reading about Alex too but I found that I preferred the sections of the novel that were from Beth's perspective. I'll definitely be reading more books in this series as I enjoy reading about the McClellan family, but this isn't my absolute favourite historical romance.
If you like your romances to have a quirky narrative and a spunky heroine, this is definitely one to look out for. All three of the books in the Sophie's Daughters series are already on the shelves, so you won't even have to wait to find out what happens next to the McClellan sisters! 9/10(less)
Beth McClellan's little sister, Sally, has grown up a lot since the debut title in the Sophie's Daughters series and is about to have a romantic adven...moreBeth McClellan's little sister, Sally, has grown up a lot since the debut title in the Sophie's Daughters series and is about to have a romantic adventure of her own. After her party is attacked on their journey to visit Mandy, another McClellan sister, Sally finds herself the sole survivor of the brutal ambush. Sally is fortunate enough to be rescued by Logan McKenzie, an artist who lives in the wild mountains of Montana. She's nursed back to health by Logan and his Indian housekeeper, Wise Sister, and finds herself challenged by the idea of a man who makes his living through art, not hard labour. Wary of unconventional men after Mandy's marriage to gold-miner Sidney brought her nothing but trouble, Sally tries to ignore the feelings she has for kind, considerate Logan. But once they find themselves on the run from the men who killed the rest of Sally's travelling party, Sally can't help but see admirable traits in the man who sets out to protect her. Could she really spend the rest of her life with a sensitive man who prefers painting to hunting? Maybe he's the perfect match for a woman who carries a gun and refuses to ride side-saddle...
Mary Connealy is fast becoming one of my favourite historical novelists. Her romances are full of feisty heroines, excellent one-liners and lots of action. While I didn't warm up to Sally as much as I did Beth, this was still a very enjoyable read.
Sally is probably the most unconventional woman you'll find in a romance set in Montana in 1882: she wears trousers, doesn’t ride side-saddle and is a better shot that most of the men in her hometown in Texas. If you thought a female doctor was an unusual character in Doctor in Petticoats, I'm sure you'd admit that a female wrangler is not the norm either. I found Sally to be a bit more stubborn than Beth, but maybe this is because her story wasn’t quite as comic as Beth’s. With Doctor in Petticoats, I found myself drawn into the story by Beth’s sarcasm and wittiness, whereas Sally was quite arrogant and immature in her demands for Logan and Wise Sister to leave her alone and let her make her way to Mandy’s. Of course, this can probably be attributed to her youth, as she is a lot younger than Beth. She became a more endearing character as the plot progressed, and I came to realise that her dismissal of Logan stemmed from her fear of ending up in an unhappy marriage like Mandy. Despite her lack of conventionality, Sally worries and frets over the biggest decision any romantic heroine will make – who shall I marry?
I’ve always been more fond of Beta heroes than Alpha males, and Logan fit the bill quite well. While I wasn’t pleased by how easily nature and his art could detract his attention from Sally (although I’m sometimes tempted to unplug my fiancé’s computer when he’s not paying attention to me!) he was incredibly sensitive to Sally’s needs and didn’t mind her crying when she was in pain or worried about her sister. As Sally herself witnessed, it’s not often that a man can handle a woman becoming incredibly emotional, so that fact alone made me admire Logan. I also found the details about his art incredibly fascinating, particularly as the author suggested that he was dabbling in expressionism, an art movement that I've studied at university. I’ll admit that those who are less knowledgeable when it comes to the art world might not be interested in Logan’s work, but I’m sure most readers will be able to appreciate the descriptions of the scenery that he paints.
Other than Sally’s stubbornness, my only other complaint would have to be that the romance is slow to develop. I was more than halfway through the book before I really felt that Sally and Logan became interested in each other, and while I appreciated the time that the author gave the characters to develop independently, I felt that the romance suddenly escalated at this point and felt a bit rushed. Of course, I was very happy with the outcome, but the development of their relationship did feel like it was compressed into the latter half of the novel, which wasn’t ideal. For this reason, I’d have to say that I preferred the first novel in the series, although this wouldn’t in any way put me off reading the last book, which focuses on Mandy’s story.
During the second instalment in the Sophie’s Daughters series Sally McClellan comes to learn a lot about herself and her thoughts on love and marriage with the help of the sensitive artist who becomes her rescuer. Fans of Mary Connealy and wild west romances won’t be disappointed by this novel, and it’s sure to make your heart pound and put a smile on your face. 8/10(less)
GENRE: ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BARBOUR PUBLISHING PUBLICATION DATE: AUGUST 1, 2011 RATING: 6 OUT OF 10
Nineteen-year-old Katy Yoder is looking forward to cheri...moreGENRE: ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BARBOUR PUBLISHING PUBLICATION DATE: AUGUST 1, 2011 RATING: 6 OUT OF 10
Nineteen-year-old Katy Yoder is looking forward to cherishing friendship and the single life when she moves in to a renovated Dawdi house with her best friends, Lily and Megan. Katy is satisfied with her lot in life, working as a cleaner for various local families, and isn’t quite ready to settle down and get married just yet, unlike many other Mennonite girls her age. Still suffering from the hurt she experienced when her long-term boyfriend, Jake, left to join the English world, Katy would rather not entertain thoughts of dating anyone else until she’s sure that she’s completely over Jake. But her simple little world is soon disrupted when Jake himself returns to the church, not looking any worse for wear from his worldly adventures and keen to help get involved in rebuilding the church hall – a project which Katy is also participating in. No matter what she does, Katy can’t seem to avoid Jake, and his constant presence makes her wonder whether she can ever get over their past relationship. Jake is keen to pick up where they left off before he went to university, but Katy doesn’t want to settle for “damaged goods”, especially after seeing his English ex-girlfriend. Can Katy put aside her judgements of the English world and accept Jake for who he is now, ignoring his past transgressions?
As a fan of Amish fiction, it was fascinating to read about a Mennonite community and learn about how different – or similar – their way of life is. The mentions of electricity and cars came as a surprise initially, but some similarities remained, such as prayer kapps and the distrust of the internet. But as much as I enjoyed learning about a new way of life, I did struggle to view the Mennonite lifestyle through the eyes of Katy. She had a very narrow-minded perspective of the world, to the extent that any form of dancing was a sin and drinking alcohol immediately brought about drunken and lewd behaviour. As someone from a church which engages in dancing as a form of worship and who appreciates a good Shiraz, naturally I was a bit bemused by Katy’s black and white view on life. It’s particularly interesting to note that I’m nineteen myself, and have been living away from home for two years and am engaged to get married next year – a lot of similarities to Katy. But despite these connections, I still found her outlook on life to be very narrow-minded and judgemental, and her attitude towards her relationship with Jake very immature. I’m not saying this as someone with a wealth of life-experience who can view events in hindsight, but as someone who’s actually at a very similar stage in their life to Katy. To be honest, if I came across someone like her in a class at my university, I wouldn’t be rushing to become friends with her, particularly if she was going to call me a sinner when I attended a dance class or went to the pub.
That said, Katy does redeem herself. It just takes a very long time for this to happen. In a sense, this is a coming-of-age story, where Katy slowly comes to realise that her attitudes are wrong and gently matures throughout the course of the story. I’m not sure whether this book is being marketed for the adult or young adult range, but I definitely think it would be better suited for girls in their mid-teens, perhaps 14 – 16 year olds. If I, at nineteen, struggled with Katy’s immature behaviour, I’m not sure how someone my mum’s age would react. Maybe they’d have more patience, or maybe they’d be even more frustrated! But as Katy’s attitudes were very typical of a teenager – I’m sure I probably shared some of her limited world-views as a fifteen-year-old – this is probably a book that would appeal more to the young adult market. There are a lot of life-lessons to be learnt from this book, about everything from friendships to living to arrangements to relationships with parents to boyfriends to job-hunting. The friendship between Katy and her house-mate Lily is very typical of the ones I remember from high school, and would probably be easily recognised by girls of this age.
The romance between Katy and Jake was all over the place, and one of those ones that could have easily been made more manageable if the two of them sat down together and talked and actually listened to each other. One pet peeve of mine in romance novels is when everything blows up in a relationship because of a Big Misunderstanding that could be cleared up if the characters slowed down long enough to talk it over. I’m afraid this book had a few BMs in it. Naturally, these BMs can be attributed to Katy’s immaturity, but this doesn’t negate how irritating it was for me as a reader. As pleased as I was that Katy eventually got the guts to talk to Jake about his time “in the world” and forgive him for his mistakes, I couldn’t help but wonder if the book would have been more interesting if Jake had truly rebelled in his time at university and Katy had had to come to terms with Jake truly being “damaged goods” in her eyes. As it was, Jake had merely gone to a few parties, drank a few beers and shared a couple of kisses with one girl. Katy spent a lot of the book worrying about whether Jake had still remained pure in his time at university, and I know from personal experience that a lot of nice Christian girls end up marrying guys who did far worse than Jake in their rebellious periods, so I think the book might have been more interesting if Katy had bigger and more serious relationship hurdles to overcome. Alas, the issue of remaining pure until marriage and then marrying someone who never considered the importance of purity in their youth has yet to be covered in any book I’ve read. But back to Katy – naturally, as this series is titled Plain City Bridesmaids, the book ends in a wedding. Despite my misgivings about the BMs scattered throughout their relationship, I am happy that our hero and heroine put aside their preconceived ideas about relationships and accepted each other for who they are. I just with that the book hadn’t suddenly jumped to a wedding, as I felt that Katy and Jake’s relationship was still quite young and immature, and they needed more time to make sure that they can actually remain a couple without blowing up again over a tiny issue, before tying the knot.
If it appears that I’m ripping this book to shreds, I do apologise. The problems that I encountered when reading this book aren’t to do with flaws in the plot or characterisation or even the writing itself, but the simple fact that this book seems to have been written for a younger audience. I’m sure a teenage girl would adore this book and understand Katy’s dilemmas, not finding her as immature and narrow-minded as I did. I would caution more mature readers to be aware of the very teenage feel of this novel, although those who love YA fiction probably wouldn’t have the same frustrations as myself. Despite my misgivings with this book, I will admit that I did mostly enjoy reading it, although I did want to take Katy by the shoulders and shake her several times throughout the story.
Review title provided courtesy of Barbour Publishing.(less)
YA fiction has never been a genre I've particularly enjoyed, but as I'd read the first book in this series and found it fairly entertaining I thought...moreYA fiction has never been a genre I've particularly enjoyed, but as I'd read the first book in this series and found it fairly entertaining I thought I'd give the second one a try. However, I'm really having to force myself to continue reading this book and I'm starting to think it may not be worth it. Obviously, from reviews, other readers have enjoyed this book but it isn't ringing true with me. Kim's black friend seems to have been placed in the book to make it more politically correct and every scene with her in it feels fake and like the author is trying to say "Look at me, I'm not racist! And my rich, white characters aren't racist either! Look how ethnically mixed this book is!" Admittedly, I'm not African-American but I am Anglo-Indian and I cringed at all the sections that seemed to be attempting to break down racial barriers. How to make a book with multiple races in it seem more ground breaking and racially diverse? Don't mention the races. Seriously! The first book had a few bits in it where I could tell the author was trying to be PC but this one just overdid it. I'm not a massive fan of YA fiction anyway so I think I'm going to give this one a miss and leave it to the professional YA reviewers as I'm just not enjoying it and probably won't do it justice for the YA fans. But I can say that as someone from a mixed-race family with various black relatives, I found the comments on racism in this book quite embarrassing and unnecessary. Privileged white Americans will probably appreciate how PC and modern this book makes them feel, reading about a white girl whose best friend is black, but for those of us who are familiar with racism and ethnic diversity, it's a bit of a cringe-fest! 3/10(less)
Having seen first-hand the devastation that her older sister's arranged marriage brought on her family, Faith Westcott is desperate not to let the sam...moreHaving seen first-hand the devastation that her older sister's arranged marriage brought on her family, Faith Westcott is desperate not to let the same thing happen to her or her younger siblings. But her sea-faring father is convinced that the way to keep his daughters safe is to marry them off as soon as possible. Faith strikes a deal with him; if she can raise enough money through her "soap making" business to support her and her two sisters, they don't have to find husbands. Little does her father know that Faith is secretly the infamous lady pirate, The Red Siren, and will soon have enough funds to keep her and her sisters safe for a long time. That is, until her father assigns pirate-hunter Dajon White to be their guardian while he's away at sea. Will Dajon discover her secret before she's able to raise enough money? Or will Faith change her mind about swearing off marriage forever?
Putting aside the awkward smile of the cover model, the absurdity of Faith being able to hide her pirating from her entire family, and the fact that the hero is called Dajon - which I swear, I read every single time as "Dijon", like the mustard - I actually ended up loving this book. When I read the blurb and looked at the cheesy cover, I thought that, at best, it would be a bit of fun escapism. But when I started reading, I was hooked and dreaded having to put it down. I'm a massive fan of romance novels, historicals in particular, and although the plot is a bit outlandish this book does have all the great components for a romance novel. And, to be honest, a lot of romances are a bit unbelievable, so why complain about female pirates?
Faith is your typical head-strong, stubborn heroine who thinks that she knows everything about the world and doesn't need a man to hold her back. She's feisty, and while I could never be as confident and brash as she is with her friends and family, I could admire her desire to protect her family and ended up really connecting with her. She's surrounded by a cast of wonderful secondary characters, from her strict father to her younger sisters - one rebellious, one pious - to the servants that try to keep an eye out for the Westcott girls. I'll admit that, after reading a few reviews of this book, I had to admit that the characters were a bit caricatured in places, but I really didn't notice this while I was reading the book, so it didn't spoil my enjoyment at all. I was particularly enraptured by the relationship that Faith had with her sisters, especially the rebellious Hope, who features in the next book in the series. This is a family you can really relate to and have an instant connection with, making you want to sit down and devour all three books in one sitting.
Despite his bizarre and rather distracting name, Dajon is a hero that all women will fall for. He has a troubled past, and is determined not to get involved with women in case he ends up hurting them. He's smarting from issues with a father he can never impress, and hopes that his career will eventually get him the attention he desires. But he also manages to reign Faith in and help her through the difficulties in her life, particularly her relationship with God. Faith and Dajon have great chemistry, the sizzling kind that isn't often found in Christian novels. Nothing inappropriate happens, obviously, but I do appreciate it when authors show the attraction between a couple.
My only real complaint - aside from the cover and Dajon's name - would be about the spiritual aspect of this book. While I enjoy hearing about a character's struggles in their Christian life alongside the regular plot of a novel, I like it to be more subtle and integrated. Here, sometimes it came across as really preachy, and I felt that in places it completely took away from the main plot. In a way, it almost felt like Grace had to get her relationship with God perfect before she was allowed to have a relationship with Dajon, which really isn't how it works in real life. We're all human, we're never perfect when it comes to spiritual matters, and God would never deny us happiness just because we struggle. I wouldn't say that this completely spoiled the book for me, as I loved the rest of it, but the heavy-handed approach to spiritual matters does make me drop a star from it's rating. However, I will say that I loved the section where some sort of spiritual presence protects Hope - very cool, not something you typically read about in romance novels!
While there were a few things that I disliked about this book, I did love reading it and can't wait to get on to the rest in the series. This novel has a wonderful blend of romance, historical detail, adventure and mystery, and is packed full of characters that you won't want to say goodbye to. M. L. Tyndall is definitely an author to look out for. 9/10(less)
GENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BARBOUR PUBLISHING PUBLICATION DATE: SEPTEMBER 1, 2011 RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS – VERY GOOD
PROS: Introduces reader...moreGENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BARBOUR PUBLISHING PUBLICATION DATE: SEPTEMBER 1, 2011 RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS – VERY GOOD
PROS: Introduces readers to established authors and newcomers to the genre; perfect length of stories to read during the busy holiday season
CONS: Not ideal to read one story immediately after the other as the log cabin setting can get a bit repetitive
This endearing collection from Barbour follows on from the success of the previous year’s A Prairie Christmas Collection. Compiling short stories from popular and established authors in the historical genre as well as several newcomers, A Log Cabin Christmas features nine stories set in log cabins at varying locations and periods of American history. Ranging from typical homes built out of logs to log schools and stores and even a log church, the authors of A Log Cabin Christmas show readers how romance can blossom in every setting. Characters dream of living in log cabins, build homes from scratch and learn to overcome difficulties in this shared setting, across different locations and time periods at Christmastime in historical America.
As it is impossible to share my in-depth thoughts on all the stories in this collection I’ve picked out my ultimate favourites to share. While I didn’t have one outright favourite story in this collection, there were several that really stood out to me.
The Courting Quilt by Jane Kirkpatrick was one of these purely because it featured the most unique protagonists in the entire collection. Mary’s hair is prematurely white and as a result everyone believes her to be an elderly woman, and Richard was just as unusual with his different coloured eyes. This was more than just a straight-forward romance, featuring some humour in the fact that nearly all of the women in the story fell for Richard without him realising it. This was not a story that I forgot in a hurry and I’ll definitely be looking out for more from this author, who already has several novels under her belt.
A Log Cabin Christmas also introduced me to a newer, less-established author who I’m certain will soon become more popular in the inspirational market: Liz Tolsma. I adored Under His Wings, the story of a young woman, Adie, who lives with her father at a logging camp and finds herself having to rely on one of the other loggers for protection when her father is killed in an accident. This was a slow moving romance as Adie took a while to respond to Noah’s offers of help. This touching tale will appeal to fans of marriage of convenience stories.
My love of all things German may have biased me towards A Grand Country Christmas by Debra Ullrick, but even those who aren’t so familiar with the language and the customs will enjoy this sweet tale of orphaned Awnya being taken in by Amadeus and his family just in time for Christmas. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, especially as the protagonists had a lot of chemistry between them which made their quickly blossoming relationship seem all the more realistic. The sizzle in their romance reminded me a bit of Vickie McDonough or Mary Connealy and made a much appreciated addition to this otherwise incredibly chaste collection. Readers who appreciate stories featuring characters from other ethnicities will likely also appreciate the Mexican-infused The Dogrot Christmas by Michelle Ule which, despite having a very different type of romance from that in A Grand Country Christmas, reminded in my mind long after I finished reading it.
I must also mention Margaret Brownley’s short story, which is the first in this collection. I was introduced to her work earlier this year and was pleased to discover that I enjoyed her shorter works just as much as her full-length novels. Snow Angels contained all of my favourite components in a romance, from being snowbound in a cabin to the addition of cute children to spur on the relationship between the hero and heroine.
There were no real duds in this collection, and I’ve refrained from going into detail about some other excellent additions to this collection purely due to the constraints of writing a review that isn’t so long that you’ll feel like you’re reading my university dissertation. So I must briefly mentioned Kelly Eileen Hake’s Christmas Traps and Trimmings, which stood out because of the details about Mina’s English upbringing and the disaster that brought her and Sam together, but isn’t a favourite simply because ended a bit too abruptly to make me truly love it. Christmas Service by Erica Vetsch is also worth reading for the message it gives about ways in which to serve God that many young women are likely in need of hearing, but this same message ended up making the heroine difficult to sympathise with.
I did find Wanda Brunstetter’s The Christmas Secret and Liz Johnson’s A Star in the Night to be the weakest stories in the collection, for very different reasons. I’ve never been a fan of Wanda’s style of writing and this was still the case in The Christmas Secret, but I will admit that the plot was quite original and kept my interest. A Star in the Night was a sweet, gently blossoming romance but lacked any chemistry between the characters, especially as the author continually reminded the reader that the protagonists never spent time alone indoors together, which even in a historical setting felt a bit forced. I still enjoyed reading both of these stories despite their flaws, and it wouldn’t stop me from recommending this collection.
A Log Cabin Christmas is a collection to be savoured over a matter of weeks, not hours, and the length of the stories makes it easy to pick up and put down again during the busy holiday period. Historical romance readers will be pleased to see stories many popular authors in the genre featured, and to discover some new writers who will hopefully come to be just as admired.
Review title provided by Barbour Publishing.
1. Snow Angels by Margaret Brownley I thoroughly enjoyed this story, but then again, the "snowbound with a handsome stranger" theme is a favourite of mine. From the sweetness of A Very Special Delivery by Linda Goodnight to the raciness of 80s romance, Montana Man by Barbara Delinsky, I simply cannot resist this sort of storyline. The children who were also stuck in the cabin made this story even more enjoyable, and it was endearing seeing the two main characters connecting with them. My only complaint would be that the two characters were completely oblivious to their attraction to each other and their internal thoughts on this just took it a bit too far. Why not just admit that you find the other person appealing? After one too many thoughts along the lines of "Wait, why I am thinking of her like that?" I feel compelled to drop the rating to 9/10.
2. The Christmas Secret by Wanda E. Brunstetter The premise of this story - bride-to-be finding a letter that reveals a family secret that means she cannot get married - was definitely appealing, despite my trepidation at reading something written by Wanda E. Brunstetter. Despite how popular her books are, I always leave them disappointed and just do not enjoy her style of writing. Thankfully, the shortness of this story forced me to dwell more on the plot than Wanda's writing techniques and I found myself quite enjoying this. While I did spot her trademark of filler-sections which involve conversations that barely, if at all, actually move the plot along, I was still able to enjoy this story. I'm not a massive fan of plots where everything can be cleared up with a simple conversation, but this was a pleasant way to pass the time. 7/10
3. Christmas Traps and Trimmings by Kelly Eileen Hake I loved the introduction to this story, where Mina and her guardian trick the lawyer into thinking that she's getting married and needs money for her trousseau. It was such an original start to the story and it was interesting having the novella start in England. I'm not sure if this story was shorter than the others but it definitely felt like it was, so when we got to the end of the novella I was expecting another chapter and was surprised that it ended so abruptly. Mina and Sam went from hating each other to falling in love just because of the avalanche and the letter. I just felt like this novella needed a bit more to it, maybe another chapter or so. Still, the combination of Mina's English ancestry and the avalanche made for an interesting read, as always with Kelly Eileen Hake's stories. 8/10
4. A Star in the Night by Liz Johnson I was intrigued by the premise of this story of a Southern woman caring for a wounded Union soldier during the Civil War. I studied the US Civil War for the entirety of my final year of high school, but in all honesty, I think this is the first romance I've read set during that war. I enjoyed reading about the slow-blossoming relationship between Cora and Jed, and it was nice to see how they gently fell for each other rather than being pushed into the situation by a sudden event. But still, it was just a nice story. I didn't really get any sense of how deep their love for each other and there was no feeling of passion or even chemistry between them. The story got a bit holier-than-thou at one point, when after Jed and Cora share their first kiss they make sure they never spend any time alone together inside the cabin, and Jed only enters the cabin when Cora's father is there. Yet it's okay for them to be alone together in the woods? Temptation doesn't only exist behind closed doors! Anyway, the author's need to mention that they didn't spend any time alone together seemed really forced and unnecessary, even for the time period. They'd spent plenty of time alone together before the kiss and I don't thin that one kiss meant that they would suddenly jump on each other and be unable to control their desires if they were alone in the cabin. There were several other similar comments throughout the story and it just left a bad taste in my mouth, so to speak. Even coming from a Christian, some bits of this story were a bit preachy and holier-than-thou. Some things could easily have been left unmentioned regarding the couple's over-the-top propriety. This combined with the fact that the story was cute but nothing really special docks the rating a bit. 7/10
5. The Courting Quilt by Jane Kirkpatrick It took me a while to get into this story and I'm not sure if this is because it was slow moving initially or because I kept getting interrupted when I started reading it. But despite this, I really enjoyed it once I got to know the characters. Mary is such a unique character, and very well developed considering that this was a short novella. The secondary characters were equally colourful and definitely made this story stand out from the others in the collection. And I loved the mix up over the quilt "test"! I didn't feel like I got to know Richard as well as I did Mary, but maybe this was just because was so well developed. 9/10
6. Under His Wings by Liz Tolsma I love marriage of convenience stories and I enjoyed seeing how Adie and Noah drew closer together thanks to being in such close proximity all the time as Noah tried to protect Adie from Drew. This story also didn't shy away from some of the dangers of an unmarried woman being around men who of ill-repute who had been away from any other women for a long time, which while being very unpleasant is entirely representative of some situations that women find themselves in. I really enjoyed reading about Adie working with Cookie making the meals for the men at the camp and Noah trying to figure out what made Adie tick and their growing chemistry, but their romance just seemed a little too short, maybe because there were several chapters before the two characters properly got together. And the ending was entirely too convenient to be really believable, and everything happened so fast - the husband being found and brought back to the cabin, the bad guy being got rid of in a very convenient and vague manner, and the contents of Adie's letter solving all their problems. Maybe if the last few pages had been spread over a whole chapter it would have seemed more realistic, but perhaps the author met her word count. Either way, this dropped from a 10/10 to a 9/10 at the end.
7. The Dogtrot Christmas by Michelle Ule I enjoyed the blend of Mexican and American culture in this story, as I feel that so many Christian novels are written about white Christians. It was nice to see this author embracing the fact that you can be a Christian no matter what your culture or ancestry is. But I did feel that there wasn't much romance to this story. The protagonists didn't spend a lot of time together and didn't even consider each other as love interests until near the end of the story. More focus was placed on Luis coming to know Christ than there was on him getting to know Molly! While I don't have any problem with stories focusing on a character's spiritual journey, this story was marketed as a romance so this was a bit of a disappointment. As interesting as the cultural aspects of this story were, it was severely lacking in romance. 8/10
8. A Grand Country Christmas by Debra Ullrick I really enjoyed this story, mainly because it contained two of my favourite components: a snowbound couple and German characters. I spent two months in Germany in my last year of high school and actually started out studying a joint degree with German, so I love novels peppered with German phrases (one of the reasons I love Amish fiction so much), plus the Germans have the best Christmas food! Stollen and lebkuchen! The romance in this story was lovely, and it was refreshing to see chemistry between the characters that was akin to Mary Connealy or Kelly Long. There was also a little bit of mystery in this story, but I felt that it was pushed to the side a little because of the romance and the word constraints of being a novella, so that makes me drop my rating a bit as it made the ending seem a bit sudden. I also felt that Awnya didn't totally deal with the issues with her new daughter, that situation seemed to be wrapped up a little too fast. 9/10
9. Christmas Service by Erica Vetsch This story provided a lot of food for thought, even today. I often feel that the more obvious ministries are seen as the more important ones, and the people who put out the chairs on a Sunday morning or wind microphone cables after the service don't provide as much to the church as the minister or pastor. Beth believes she's been "called" to be a pastor's wife because her mother and her grandmother were married to pastors and this seems to be the most noble calling. Blacksmith Todd makes her rethink her preconceptions and realise that maybe God has another plan for her life, not the one she had always expected. There's a lot to be said about service and what it really means to serve in this book which I appreciated, even if found Beth to be quite annoying and self-centred. 8/10