This story seemed pretty standard to begin with and then PIRATES struck and everything changed. I swear, this series just keeps getting better and betThis story seemed pretty standard to begin with and then PIRATES struck and everything changed. I swear, this series just keeps getting better and better. I'll admit this book had more sex scenes than I'd like, but the tension between the characters and their internal struggles were perfect. Excited to read Cicero's story! He should make a nice change from all the stereotypically macho heroes in Eternity Springs. 4.5*...more
Zach was a bit too arrogant and alpha for my liking, but I loved Savannah's character arc (and her nephew!) and the rest of the story. I'm really starZach was a bit too arrogant and alpha for my liking, but I loved Savannah's character arc (and her nephew!) and the rest of the story. I'm really starting to get attached to this town and this series. Off to request the next book from the library! 4.5*...more
The Hobbit is my grandfather's favourite book of all time, but in spite of my many attempts to read it over the years, I'm not such a big fan. My failThe Hobbit is my grandfather's favourite book of all time, but in spite of my many attempts to read it over the years, I'm not such a big fan. My failed efforts to appreciate Tolkein's writing almost caused me to miss out on watching the films, although my husband thankfully insisted that I watch them last year. I'm glad I finally gave them a shot as the story was amazing, even if I'm not usually a fantasy lover. I'm not about to go out and learn Elvish or even read the original books (that might sound like heresy from someone who runs a book review website, but have you seen the length of my to-read list?), but I did get totally wrapped up in the adventure and wonderful depiction of friendship and bravery in the movies. That's about the only requirement you need in order to enjoy Close to You. This is not a niche novel for die-hard fans. As long as you have a vague understanding of Lord of the Rings, and a love for great romantic stories, you're good to go.
I did not expect to fall head over heels in love with this novel. First and most obviously, I'm not obsessed with all things Tolkein. Second, smarmy businessmen don't usually do it for me in romance novels—I'm far more of a Beta hero kind of girl. While this book sounded like a quirky, fun read, it didn't immediately look like my ideal match, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Close to You far exceeded my expectations! From the moment that Allie called Jackson out for his poor coffee taste and ordered him a flat white (my drink of choice—why hasn't it become more popular in the US? You guys are missing out!) I knew that I was going to like this book. I love contemporary romances, but even I will admit that sometimes the plots feel a little recycled, especially in the Christian market. Kara Isaac's voice is a wonderfully refreshing addition to the genre, and while the trope of the rich guy whose girlfriend ran off with his money/business ideas has been done before, having the heroine dressed as a Hobbit tour guide for most of the novel definitely mixed things up a little.
I will fully admit that Jackson did not impress me to begin with, which fits perfectly given that Allie is equally underwhelmed by him. I probably warmed up to Jackson at exactly the same rate that Allie did, which is definitely the sign of a well-written romance novel. Normally I fall for the hero much earlier than the heroine, and spend chapters wishing she'd change her tune, but Jackson was perfectly flawed enough that he annoyed me for just as long as he did Allie. While Jackson initially appears to be a smug, manipulative man who only cares about his business enterprises, it gradually becomes apparent that he has deeper motivations that explain his somewhat ethically dubious actions. By the end of the book I really hurt for Jackson, and empathised with his desire to help his family, and the regrets about his past that weighed upon him. He ended up being a wonderfully well-rounded hero that I could root for.
Allie has a lot more baggage than Jackson, but in spite of this, I felt like she was a much stronger character than Jackson, at least initially. I admire any woman who can feel confident while wearing Hobbit feet, especially if she can manage a crew of demanding Tolkein fans for three weeks. Allie's job is about as stressful as her relationship baggage, and I was a fan of her as soon as she shot down Jackson's taste in coffee. While she initially amused me, she quickly felt like a close friend, and I genuinely hurt for her as she dealt with the drama surrounding her marriage to Derek and her feelings towards Jackson. The situation with Derek isn't one I've previously come across in a romance novel, but I felt like it was dealt with delicately and realistically. I did get a bit fed up with Allie's martyrish behaviour towards the end of the novel, but that situation worked out believably, and didn't drag on too long.
I had a few ideas about how Jackson and Allie's personal conflicts would resolve themselves, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong on all accounts. As nice as it is when a hero or heroine can solve each other's problems, it's actually even more refreshing when they can figure things out on their own, while still managing to make things work out between them. Neither Allie or Jackson needed the other to rescue them, but their time spent together did help them to come to some great realisations about their own personal issues. The conclusion to the novel had the perfect balance of self-actualization for both of the characters, and a wonderfully swoon-worthy declaration of love.
There are so many others things I loved about this novel—the wisdom that Jackson's uncle bestows upon both of the protagonists, the ridiculous antics of the other members of the tour group, the way that the author gently weaves Tolkein facts throughout the story without overwhelming the reader, Allie's best friend Kat who doesn't shy away from telling Allie exactly how she feels, Jackson's awkward attempts to convince everyone that he's really a giant Tolkein fan, the gently woven but terribly authentic spiritual thread—but I would definitely go over my word limit. I'll admit, I usually go over my word limit, but this time I would really be pushing it. So I'll just tell you that if anything about this book intrigues you in the slightest, you should probably read it. It's an honest, refreshing romance between two incredibly flawed, broken people, and I simply loved it. I hope you do too.
I tend to go through phases with novels, consuming anything and everything in a genre until I get just a little bit burned out and have to move on toI tend to go through phases with novels, consuming anything and everything in a genre until I get just a little bit burned out and have to move on to something new. A few years ago I was consumed with Amish fiction, before getting enamoured with historical romances. In the last couple of years I've turned my attentions to contemporary romances. While a lot of the novels I read are from the general market, I'm always on the look out for something new and refreshing from a Christian perspective. I'm a big fan of Robyn Carr and Kristan Higgins, and have yet to find a Christian author who writes contemporary romances that hit the spot the way these ladies do, but I've not given up hope! Liz Johnson's novel didn't quite meet all my requirements for an Absolutely Perfect Romance, but it was still an excellent story.
“Forced to work together on a project” romances are among of my favourites. There's just something so appealing about stories where the hero and heroine would never otherwise meet each other, especially if they don't exactly hit it off and are still forced to cooperate for some greater good. The Red Door Inn had the added bonus of having a lot of realistic details about the immense amount of work needed to turn a house into a functioning B&B. I'm not one of those girls who gets excited over picking out paint colours—my idea of “decorating” involves chucking a few pillows on the couch and sticking a scented candle on an end table—but I did find the details in this novel really interesting. I now have a lot more respect for people who have the energy to completely redo a property!
Even if I wasn't a contemporary romance junkie, I probably would have picked up The Red Door Inn for the simple fact that it's set on Prince Edward Island. Squee! I am such an L. M. Montgomery fangirl. As a preteen, I frequently reminded people that my middle name is Anne with an E. I have often bemoaned the fact that my hair is boring brown and not red (even now, at twenty-four). I've still hung on to all my Anne of Green Gables VHS tapes, even though I don't actually own a tape player. I have an entire bookshelf devoted to Montgomery's novels, including some interesting early editions that may have definitely seen better days. And the most embarrassing confession? Once, when I was twelve, I pretended to have a boyfriend named Gilbert. Yep. This is definitely my kind of book.
So, let's address the L. M. Montgomery connection. Can you enjoy this book even if you've never read Anne of Green Gables? Absolutely! The tricky part about writing a novel that's influenced by a classic work is the accessibility to readers who aren't familiar with the original. Liz Johnson does a good job of letting the reader know about the connection—references to the fact that Marie herself is a Montgomery fan, brief mentions of quotes from novels or things about the island that remind Marie of the author and her books—but the references are never “in” jokes that newbies wouldn't understand. The reader isn't overloaded with information about the novel's inspiration, nor does this inspiration overshadow the story of Marie and the Red Door Inn. That said, as a self-confessed Montgomery fangirl, there were some parallels to her work that I read into the story. In all honesty, I'm not sure if they were intentional or if I was reading too much into it? Jack—Seth's uncle and the owner of the inn—really reminded me of Matthew Cuthbert, in the way that he takes Marie—practically an orphan like Anne—under his wing and gently guides her into her new life on the island. Caden felt a bit like Diana—a local girl who immediately connects with the protagonist, and is self-conscious about her appearance. Aretha could even be Rachel Lynde, without some of the sourness, in the way that she always knows what everyone was doing and isn't scared to speak her mind. Liz also captured the small-town feel that's reminiscent of Montgomery's novels, but none of these elements felt forced in any way. It was a fantastic homage to the writer.
Aside from the PEI setting, one of the things that initially appealed to me about The Red Door Inn was the amount of baggage that the hero and heroine appeared to be carrying. I'm not big on squeaky clean heroes and heroines—stories are a whole lot more interesting when our protagonists are battling past hurts and figuring out how to love again. Marie's backstory was fantastically written. I don't want to give too much away, but Liz perfectly captured the fear and anxiety that hung over Marie because of the way she'd been abused, and showed just how terrifying it was to open up to someone new, even just a friend like Jack. I'm not going to lie, Marie's story is incredibly sad, and it's easy to get dragged into her struggles and find yourself feeling a bit down, but the whole situation was perfectly depicted. I was so pleased for Marie when she finally began reaching out to Seth. I mentally cheered her on as if she were a real-life friend, not a character in a book.
Seth's story has definitely been done before. Not that this is always a bad thing—I love when authors put a new spin on an old story—but I did find myself getting a bit annoyed at the way he treated Marie. He was hurt and betrayed by his fiance, therefore he assumes all women are out to hurt men, therefore he doesn't trust Marie. Even though she's blatantly suffering from PTSD and actually having full-blown panic attacks right in front of him, he still thinks she's a gold-digger trying to get her hands on Jack's non-existent money? Ugh. His initial hesitance seemed realistic enough, but after a while I got a bit tired of his refusal to trust Marie. It felt like he spent the whole book edging closer to her and then immediately regressing to his previous fearful, skeptical attitude. I also wasn't entirely convinced by the issues they had at the inn—I could see why everything had to go wrong so that Marie would feel that she had to step in and help, but it also felt a bit unbelievable that so many things went wrong, one after the other. Jack's issues with loans and the bank also felt a little bit drawn out. None of these are major issues that I had with the story, just little things that niggled at me while I read.
Unless you consider mixing up the wrong shade of paint to be a major point of tension, this isn't a terribly suspenseful story. No major external hurdles appear that prevent Marie and Seth from getting together, but that doesn't mean that their romance isn't satisfying when it does come to its conclusion. Their journey is slow-moving at times, but realistic given the struggles they're working to overcome. This is a beautiful story of two people learning to trust again, and the community that surrounds them and supports them as they grow together. I thoroughly look forward to revisiting The Red Door Inn and seeing the restoration and healing that it brings to future characters.
I discovered Kristan Higgins at the beginning of 2014 and immediately fell in love with her writing. Since then, I’ve been steadily working my way thrI discovered Kristan Higgins at the beginning of 2014 and immediately fell in love with her writing. Since then, I’ve been steadily working my way through her backlist. Earlier this year I realised that I didn’t have many books left to read, and was pleasantly surprised when I heard about If You Only Knew. The only drawback was that the book seemed more like a chick-lit novel than a romance, which is a little bit of a change from Kristan’s usual writing. Early reviews were a bit mixed, but I’m glad I went ahead and read this book. Sure, it’s not a standard romance, but if you like the way that Kristan writes about family relationships, particularly those between siblings, you’re sure to appreciate this book. And let’s not forget her humour. And the dogs! I’m definitely not a dog person and even I find myself becoming attached to the pets in Kristan’s novels.
If You Only Knew focuses on two sisters, and as such, switches between their points of view throughout the book. Personally, I love first person storytelling, but sometimes I feel like I’m in the minority when it comes to this. Sometimes it can be annoying only getting one perspective on a situation, but since this book’s focus is on Jenny and Rachel growing as individuals, and not so much about their romantic entanglements, I think it worked well. I really liked getting inside their heads, and seeing how each sister viewed the other. As can be expected, their views of each other weren’t always correct.
Jenny is pretty much your typical Kristan Higgins heroine. She has a drama-queen mother, a snarky gay employee, an ex-husband who she’s somehow still best friends with (not to mention his new wife!), and she goes on one fantastically awful blind date. I’m not going to lie, I did initially wonder if this book was going to feel formulaic. I love reading about horrendous blind dates (perhaps because I’ve never been on one?), but Jenny felt like she was ticking too many boxes that had already been ticked in other books. Thankfully, she quickly became her own, wonderfully unique character. I really enjoyed reading about her journey away from Manhattan and her ex’s new family, and learning to let go of her past. She is in no way a perfect character, and sometimes she stuck her nose into Rachel’s business too much or at the wrong times, but that made her all the more real.
I also loved Jenny’s relationship with Leo, the superintendent of her building. To begin with, I thought he was a bit too aloof and alpha-male for my liking, but as his story unfolded it became clear why he was acting like that. Honestly, when Leo’s entire back-story was revealed I found myself crying a little. This definitely isn’t your conventional romance, and it isn’t a light, fluffy read either—it has a lot of hidden deepness to it that I really wasn’t expecting. It pleasantly surprised me.
I found myself relating to Rachel more than Jenny, and not just because we share the same name. Like Rachel, I love being a stay-at-home mom, and I derive so much pleasure from it. I understood her issues with not getting along with all the other local moms, the pressure to make sure everything your kids do is enriching, organic and Pinterest-worthy, and the struggle to still be you in the midst of all the stresses of parenting. So I ached and got angry alongside her when she uncovered her husband’s affair. I want to think that I would be like Jenny and immediately see through Adam’s lies, but in reality, my mind might be clouded just like Rachel’s was. Wouldn’t I want it all to just be a big misunderstanding, for the sake of my family? Wouldn’t it be easier to sweep everything under the rug and start over again? I might not have always agreed with everything Rachel did, but I understood her reasoning. I don’t think anyone truly knows what they’d do with a cheating partner until they find themselves in that situation.
In the end, Jenny and Rachel both made decisions that I wasn’t expecting. They grew so much over the course of this book, and I was both surprised and proud of them. Their hardships and friendships helped them to be strong enough to break off relationships that weren’t healthy, and take steps that would allow them to move forward with their lives. If You Only Knew wasn’t the book I was expecting it to be—in fact, it was even better. While it’s quite unlike anything Kristan’s written before, it still contains some of the best elements of her romance novels. I definitely shed a tear or two in the final chapter of this book, and I was sad to say goodbye to the sisters I had become so fond of.
Lin Su Simmons has raised her fourteen-year-old son alone, without the input of a partner or family, and she’s content to keep it that way. She’s weatLin Su Simmons has raised her fourteen-year-old son alone, without the input of a partner or family, and she’s content to keep it that way. She’s weathered Charlie’s health problems and struggles in finding work and accommodation, but they’re finally in a place that feels stable. Lin Su has acquired a position as a private nurse for an elderly woman who has ALS, and to her surprise, Winnie’s family is eager to spend extra time with Lin Su and Charlie. Given that their home isn’t in the nicest location, she’s happy for Charlie to spend his days hanging out on the beach in Thunder Point, and he seems to be getting on well with the locals. Maybe a little too well with some of them...
Blake Smiley has finally decided to put down roots, and has purchased a home in Thunder Point. A professional triathlete, the location seems perfect for training, as well as resting between competitions. The neighbours are all incredibly welcoming, including a lanky teenage boy who appears to have learned everything there is to know about Blake and his competition history. Seeing that Charlie is still suffering from the effects of his childhood illness, Blake is keen to help him with some light workouts, but Charlie’s mother is adamant that neither of them needs his help. The more Blake gets to know the Simmons family, the more apparent it becomes that Charlie is struggling under his mother’s rules, and determined to break out of her grip and live life his own way. Can Blake get involved without upsetting their relationship, and somehow gain Lin Su’s trust?
It took a while for Thunder Point to feel like a real town, the kind that I would happily move into and enjoy hanging out with the locals, but it’s finally starting to be just as appealing as Virgin River. I just didn’t connect very well with some of the first characters that were introduced in this series (Sarah and Cooper in particular) but Grace and Troy are possibly my favourite couple so far, which is probably why I enjoyed this book, in spite of its flaws. It was fun to revisit Grace and her mother, Winnie, through the eyes of Lin Su and Charlie.
I felt like this book properly encapsulated the modern family—it doesn’t have to be full of people related by blood, or even those who have known each other for decades. This family included a recently married couple with a baby on the way, a previously estranged mother, an old Russian ice-skating coach, and a nurse and her teenage son. Throw Blake Smiley into the mix, and this makes it a family I’d definitely like to spend time with. None of them are perfect or without flaws, but together they provide a wonderful support network that can weather any storm. This is the feeling I had about the crowd at Jack’s Bar in Virgin River, and while Robyn Carr tried to replicate this atmosphere at Cooper’s in Thunder Point, she’s captured it way more accurately through the people who hang out at Grace’s house. Robyn Carr, if you’re reading this, we want to see more of Grace’s family in future books!
Charlie is by far my favourite character in this book. I adored his friendship with Winnie, and it didn’t feel at all weird that he befriended an elderly woman. Having spent most of his life sick and unable to participate in typical fun childhood activities, he understands Winnie’s failing health and finds activities for her to engage in. It was cute that they were constantly researching things on the internet together and learning about new subjects. People are always complaining about how technology is ruining out lives, but technology ends up connecting Winnie and Charlie and furthering their education. I don’t see anything wrong with that! While I didn’t really connect with Charlie’s desire to train with Blake (not exactly an athlete over here, although I do a lot of walking while babywearing, which definitely counts as a workout!) I enjoyed the sections about his search for his mother’s family, and his struggle to understand why she’d hidden so much of their family history for him. Since a lot of the characters in Robyn Carr’s novels have massive extended families living close by, I appreciated that she featured someone from the opposite end of the spectrum.
I haven’t said anything about the romance yet, and mostly that’s because the romance takes a long time to develop. Personally, I didn’t mind that—I enjoyed reading about Charlie and catching up with Grace’s family. I don’t just read Robyn Carr’s novels for the romance, and I always appreciate the sub-plots, especially when they involve teenagers or my favourite recurring characters. While I appreciated Lin Su’s trust issues and her battle to overcome them, her relationship with Blake just wasn’t all that interesting. He doesn’t really have any hurdles to overcome, and mostly just waits for Lin Su to come to him. Maybe if Blake had had more struggles I would have appreciated their story more, but as it is, their relationship develops very slowly (not always a bad thing) and then blows up in the last few chapters, only to have everything resolved ridiculously fast right at the end. And I mean everything—not just the romance between Blake and Lin Su, but also Lin Su’s past family troubles. Seriously, I love a Happily Ever After like every romance reader, but this was a bit much, especially given how hesitant Lin Su had been about Blake. Personally, I would rather have seen some of those scenes crop up in a future book.
Wildest Dreams isn’t the strongest novel in the Thunder Point series, but it has some fantastic moments, and Charlie is definitely one of my favourite characters. After a rough start I’m thoroughly enjoying this series, and eagerly anticipating where Robyn Carr takes these characters next.
Review title provided by Harlequin MIRA and Little Bird Publicity....more
A couple of years ago I barely ready any contemporary romance novels. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, just that I was pretty swept up in love storiA couple of years ago I barely ready any contemporary romance novels. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, just that I was pretty swept up in love stories of the historical and Amish variety. Maybe contemporary romances felt too close to home, to real to really make for decent escapism. Still, I kept seeing Kristan Higgin’s name cropping up in recommendations from fellow booklovers, and I decided to take the plunge and buy one of her books when it was in a Kindle sale. It felt pretty silly, given that I already had hundreds of unread books demanding my attention, but I’m glad I went for it as I fell head over heels in love with Kristan’s writing. In the two years since I first picked up one of her books, I’ve devoured almost everything in her back catalogue, and become an avid fan of contemporary romance novels as a result. I’m finally caught up and ready to review her latest offering, and hopefully show you why you need to join her fan club.
Anything for You is the fifth book in the Blue Heron series, and while you can probably read it as a standalone, I recommend starting at the beginning of the series as you’ll be more invested in the events surrounding the secondary characters who crop up in this volume. The way that previous characters reappear and progress with their lives reminds me a bit of Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series, which is another favourite of mine. The Blue Heron series is a lot more humorous than Virgin River, and you will probably find yourself attempting to hide your giggles if you read this book in public.
That’s not to say that Anything for You doesn’t have its serious moments. How could it not, when Jessica’s life revolves around caring for her mentally disabled brother, Davey? I know a lot of readers were eager for Kristan to get around to telling Connor’s story, but I was actually more intrigued by Jessica. She’s popped up in the background of a lot of scenes throughout this series, particularly as a waitress in Connor’s bar, and perhaps the fact that we know so little about her is what has intrigued me. Up until this book, we’ve mostly just been told that she dated Levi (now married to Faith) in high school, and that she slept with a lot of guys, earning the nickname “Jessica Does”. I know that Kristan has been criticised for the way that some of her characters casually slut-shame Jessica for her past behaviour, so I was wondering how she was going to turn Jessica from a character who was often made fun of, into a likable heroine. In the end, I was incredibly impressed with the way that Jessica’s storyline was handled, particularly in how it showed the ramifications of Jessica’s behaviour as a teenager and how she struggled to shake off the “Jessica Does” reputation, even once she moved to a nicer part of town and got a respectable job. I really felt for Jessica and understood her desire to prove herself to the town that had previously looked down on her.
Unlike some of the other Blue Heron novels, where backstory is peppered throughout the novel as flashbacks, the first quarter or so of Anything for You details Connor and Jessica growing up together and the encounters that brought them to the failed proposal mentioned in the back cover blurb. To begin with I was a bit concerned that the author was just info-dumping to save time, but it actually really helped to get a glimpse into the very different upbringings our protagonists had. While Connor grew up in a relatively wealthy family, Jessica spent her entire childhood living in a trailer with her alcoholic parents, and was forced to grow up fast when her younger brother was born with foetal alcohol syndrome. From a young age, she did anything she could to help her brother—working full-time jobs as a teenager in order to pay for his medications, and cozying up to influential boys at her school in order to secure protection for Davey from bullies. Jessica never felt like she was worth very much, aside from in her role as Davey’s caregiver. I definitely got a sense of the hopelessness Jessica had felt, as well as her determination to seek out a better life for her and her brother. Her backstory convincingly set the scene for her behaviour towards Connor.
Connor and Jessica’s romance isn’t entirely conventional, since they’re already dating at the start of the novel. It isn’t a story about them overcoming difficulties to get together, but overcoming them to stay together. And maybe some of these difficulties aren’t really there at all, just perceived issues in the minds of two very stubborn characters who have been on their own for two long. There were times when I got fed up with Jessica pushing Connor away, but I got it. After being let down by her parents multiple times, it made sense that she didn’t want to let someone else into the little bubble she had built around Davey and herself. I enjoyed seeing Connor attempt to get to know Davey and understand the way his mind worked, rather than waiting for Jessica to mediate between them and keep things “safe”. Kristan did a good job of depicting Davey’s mental challenges and Jessica’s struggle to manage them on her own.
My only real issue with Anything for You was the character of Marcy, who begins working beside Jessica at the Blue Heron vineyard at the start of the book. I imagine she was inserted into the story to inject some comic relief, and reveal some of Jessica’s insecurities about her employment situation, but she felt too over-the-top. Kristan is usually great at writing larger than life characters with humorous quirks, but Marcy seemed too ridiculous to be believable, especially as I could never figure out her motivations for coming to Blue Heron and attempting to screw up Jessica’s job. I was quite glad that she appeared to be written out of the series at the end of the book.
Unlike some readers who have been hung up on Connor O’Rourke since he was first introduced in the Blue Heron series, it was the heroine of Anything for You that caused me to truly fall in love with it. Jessica is an incredibly real, flawed character with a ton of baggage to work through, a far cry from some of the squeaky-clean, perfect heroines I see in other romance novels. I love that Kristan took a character with a less than ideal reputation and turned her into something far more than the horrible “Jessica Does” nickname. Brave, Kristan! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.
I love it when an author takes a previously unlikable character and gives them the chance to redeem themselves and turn to their life around, especialI love it when an author takes a previously unlikable character and gives them the chance to redeem themselves and turn to their life around, especially when they devote an entire book to this journey! Tessa was definitely an annoying character in the previous Beacons of Hope novel, manipulating her family members and situations to get what she wanted. She wasn't your stereotypical villain, just a misunderstood teenage girl searching for love in all the wrong places. Tessa's actions might have been a bit outlandish at times (trying to trick her older sister's beau into marrying her, in particular) but what teenage girl hasn't felt the same as Tessa—overlooked, unloved, out of place? Tessa did make me want to bang my head against a wall in frustration in Hearts Made Whole, but I was also intrigued by her, and hoped that the third book in the series might be devoted to her.
After all that hoping and waiting, did this book live up to my expectations? Mostly! I absolutely loved the first two books in the Beacons of Hope series and wasn't sure if Jody could keep up her fantastic streak. Often in a series, there is one book that doesn't quite live up to the others. It's not a sign of a bad writer, just that the reader likes one character more than another, or one situation appeals to them more. From the start of this novel, Tessa's situation intrigued me. Even if I didn't know her backstory (and I think you could probably read this book as a standalone), the strange situation she finds herself in makes for an interesting opening. She's a teacher in a town that's basically a dictatorship run by the mining superintendent, who is desperate to get rid of her. The lighthouse link felt a bit shaky at times, but does become more present as the story develops.
I'll admit straight off that I'm not really a fan of love triangles. I always have to fight the urge to roll my eyes when two men are in love with the same woman. Maybe it's just because no one's ever fought for my affections, but it always feels a bit unrealistic. In this case, it didn't feel quite so unbelievable—Alex does genuinely have feelings for Tessa, while Michael is pushed into the situation by his children and the desire to find a mother for them. Tessa is basically the first single woman he's met since the death of his wife, so it's not like there are a lot of options out there. I appreciated that Tessa struck up friendships with both men, so it wasn't a case of them both pining for her from a distance and just being infatuated with her beauty, or anything annoying like that. They both like her, just in different ways. If the thought of a love-triangle puts you off, I'd recommend giving this book a shot anyway. This isn't Twilight with lighthouses, trust me.
The details about the mining industry and the corruption in the town were really interesting. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating—I love how Jody Hedlund finds the gritty and previously overlooked parts of history and brings them to life and makes you realise just how interesting they really are. I know a bit about mining as I went to school in a former mining town in Scotland, but Undaunted Hope really highlighted how bleak and dangerous the mining life was. I hurt for Tessa as she attempted to help break families out of the cycle of poverty and death associated with the mining life. There is a lot of sadness in this book. Jody doesn't shy away from the real struggles of the miners.
From the beginning of the novel, Tessa is worried about the townsfolk discovering the reputation that she made for herself back home, and she makes a lot of fuss about her actions not being misconstrued, especially when she spends time with Michael and Alex. I was initially concerned about this story thread, as one of my pet peeves in Christian Fiction is the infatuation with how others perceive our actions. Sometimes it doesn't matter how well you act, someone somewhere will find fault with what you do, or misinterpret something they see or overhear! Thankfully, it turned out that this was the lesson Tessa had to learn, as well as letting go of her fear of what others thought and just focusing on doing what she knew was right. I think Jody managed to get a good balance between the historical ideals of respectability and presenting a valuable lesson having freedom from fear and anxiety. This is a hard line to tread in historical fiction, especially with a character who has a “reputation” linked to (perceived) sexual sin. I've always found that Jody writes about sexuality from a historical viewpoint very well, and this book is no exception to that rule.
Although I'm not a a big fan of love-triangles, this didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying Tessa's story arc and cheering her on as she fought for the rights of the miners in Undaunted Hope. There is a lot of bleakness in this book, but there's plenty of encouragement too. I've really enjoyed this series and was pleasantly surprised to see that a fourth book is due to release in the summer, featuring a character who was briefly introduced at the end of this book. Here's hoping it's just as good as its predecessors!
With her brother fighting in France, Grace Mabry is determined to do her part for the Great War effort, even though her constant efforts to display heWith her brother fighting in France, Grace Mabry is determined to do her part for the Great War effort, even though her constant efforts to display her patriotism are met by disapproval from her father—most recently in particular, sneaking into a masquerade ball to hand out white feathers to upper class conscientous objectors. Since baling hay seems safer and less scandalous than any of Grace's other suggestions on how she could support their country, Grace and her maid are soon sent to a Kent to bale hay for the Women's Forage Corps. There Grace is introduced to a group of hardworking women—who are understandably sceptical of Grace's farm skills—as well as the mysterious masked Lord Roxwood, on whose property they are based.
Lord Roxwood has little interest in the WFC volunteers who are working on his land, until one of them lets a litter of pigs ruin his rose garden and and stumbles upon him on one of the rare occasions that he's unmasked. Recently blinded and significantly scarred as the result of an accident, Jack is struggling to come to terms with his new appearance, especially given his fiancee's less than appreciative reaction to it. Grace Mabry quickly becomes a welcome distraction from the responsibilites of his future and his work for the government, but he can't help but shake the feeling that Grace's presence in his life is more than coincidental. Have they met before? How did she come to work for the WFC on his property? And does she have ties to his accident?
As Grace and Jack's relationship draws them closer together, the harder it will be for them to trust each other when Jack's suspicions are brought to light. Can they ever trust each other again?
I adored Kate Breslin's debut novel and have been tentatively awaiting Not By Sight. Isn't that the way with a second novel—you're excited to read it, but worried that it might be overshadowed by its predecessor? Stumbling across the synopsis for Not By Sight a couple of months ago, I was pleased to learn that Kate wasn't sticking to the WWII setting from her first novel. As much as I loved For Such a Time, I'm glad that the focus of this novel is entirely different, forcing me to concentrate on the story at hand rather than comparing the two books. If you're looking for another For Such a Time, you'll probably be disappointed. If you're interested in a WWI novel with a focus away from the trenches, a fiesty but niave suffragette, and a bit of espionage, you're in for a treat!
If you read my review of The Hourglass Factory, you'll know that I love reading about the suffragette movement. While this book doesn't delve too deep into the movement itself, it fuels a lot of Grace's ideology. Grace is far from your model feminist, and at times her beliefs are heartfelt but incredibly flawed. To begin with, I felt frustrated by Grace's attempts to help her fellow WFC workers. She had an answer to all of their problems, but often this answer was just a pat on the back and an encouragement that, when the suffrage movement had won, women would be free to do anything they wished. But as the story developed, I realised that there was a reason why Grace's behaviour was like that of an incredibly naive fairy godmother. She's supposed to be young and idealistic. At times, her open-mindedness and optimistim are beneficial to others—like Jack, who is scared that no woman can look at him after his accident, and appreciates Grace's unusual outlook on life. At others times, Grace offers help but doesn't have enough understanding to truly follow through with her aid. I appreciated this flawed side of her. She has a lot to learn—especially about those who haven't come from such a fortunate background as hers. If Grace irritates you to begin with, please stick with her—her journey does make her a lot more likable.
Another reviewer likened Grace and Jack's relationship to that of Beauty and the Beast, and I quite liked this comparison. A large part of their relationship revolves around Grace driving Jack all over the English countryside and describing to him the scenes that they witness. This seems gimmicky, but given Jack's blindness and Grace's desire to be a novelist, it makes sense, and there are some really sweet scenes between them. Jack challenges Grace's creativity, and she confronts some of his misconceptions about his appearance and how others perceive him. They rile each other up a lot, but seem to make a good match. I enjoyed the way in which their relationship developed, as well as the beautiful descriptions of the countryside surrounding Kent. Given that Jack is technically engaged to another woman at the start of the novel, I felt a little uneasy about the idea of him falling for Grace, but most of their relationship is very innocent, and the author approaches this issue very well.
While there are many things I like about Britain, I would never call myself patriotic. As such, I was a little wary about this aspect of Grace's character. There are some wartime romances that have rubbed me the wrong way because of their in-your-face patriotism and blind support of the war, which often skims over the darker, grimier aspects of warfare. Not By Sight, thankfully, was not one of these novels. While Grace initially exerts blind patroitism and commitment to Britain's part in the war, her time in the WFC slowly causes her to reconsider her attitude. Witnessing men who, like her brother, have fought in France and returned with broken bodies and spirits, Grace realises that war is about more than inspiring words and a hearty spirit—and that she may have misjudged the men whom she handed her white feathers to. The message of this novel is neither pro- or anti-war, simply truthful about the damage and loss of life that occurs in any war.
The espionage mentioned on the back cover of this book intrigued me, but it was often overshadowed by the romance between Grace and Jack. The details about Jack's job as a spy definitely became more prominent towards the end of the novel, but by then I already had my suspicions about a secondary character, and they turned out to be right (although I hadn't been sure about their motivations). If you're thinking of reading this book because of the espionage storyline, I wouldn't particularly recommend it. The details about this part of the war are interesting, but they don't take up a lot of the book, and several of the events at the end of the novel felt very contrived and rushed. I'm not sure if this is because I was reading an ARC, but I felt that too many things came together in too short a period of time. Given the wartime setting, the Happily Ever After was a little bit too perfect.
Ultimately, I did really enjoy Not By Sight. The romance was endearing, the subject of the WFC was intriguing, and I appreciated the friendships that Grace formed and the character growth she experienced. My biggest issue is probably the speed at which events occurred towards the end of the novel, which caused several of them to feel contrived or a little too perfect. I'm not too disappointed, but it keeps this novel from finding a place among my favourites. I do appreciate that Kate Breslin chose to explore some lesser known aspects of Britain's war efforts, and that she chose such a wonderfully flawed heroine to explore them with. Not By Sight is certainly a unique novel, and I hope other readers enjoy its beauty as much as I did.
Charlotte Dolinsky had a difficult childhood, but her relationship with her brother has provided some security over the years. She was skeptical whenCharlotte Dolinsky had a difficult childhood, but her relationship with her brother has provided some security over the years. She was skeptical when he wrote to tell her that he had fallen in love with an Amish woman, but her life is turned truly upside down when she receives word that her brother has unexpectly passed away. When her letters to her brother's girlfriend provide little in the way of answers, Charlotte sets off for Lancaster County determined to uncover the truth about her brother's death. Having done some research about the Amish and picked up some suitable second-hand clothing, she's convinced that she can fit into the community and do some digging without anyone discovering who she really is. Charlotte hasn't been in Lancaster more than a day before she learns that there's more to being Amish than putting on a bonnet and not using electricty. And, against all efforts to the contrary, she's finding that she actually likes her brother's girlfriend, Hannah. The more time she spends with Hannah's family, the more she understands why Ethan felt comfortable here. In fact, she's starting to think that it might not be so crazy to open her own heart up to God, especially when she begins seeing signs that remind of her Ethan and provide her with an overwhelming sense of peace. But this peace might not last so long if Hannah and her family uncover Charlotte's true identity. Even if the Amish are known for their spirit of forgiveness, will they understand why Charlotte chose to deceive them?
Back in 2011 a friend leant me Beth Wiseman's debut novel, Plain Perfect, and I fell in love. I sped through Beth's novels as quickly as I could, fitting them in around university deadlines and reviewing commitments. Perhaps it's because I read so many of them in quick succession, but it feels like it's been ages since Beth released a new Amish novel. A quick look at GoodReads informed me that it's actually only been two years, but it felt like forever! As much as I enjoy Beth's contemporary novels, I've missed her Amish ones. I love the way that she depicts her characters dealing with real life issues, devoid of romanticism or over-simplification. Her characters might ride in buggies and use propane refrigerators, but sometimes I can relate to them even more than characters in contemporary novels.
Have I built this book up too much? Are you going to be disappointed after all this hype? I hope not! Honestly, I was a little worried that I wouldn't enjoy this book as much as I did the Daughters of the Promise series. Several of those books are among my favourite Amish novels, and sadly it's often the case that an author's later books don't contain the same originality. Thankfully, this wasn't the case with Her Brother's Keeper. Beth didn't try to replicate her first series of books, and I'm grateful for that. I'm glad she chose to write about a different community, with an entirely new premise.
How believable is it that an English girl can trick her way into an Amish community? Well, as this book proves, it's not very realistic at all. I had my doubts about how Beth could pull this plot off, and I was glad to discover that a large part of the story focused on Charlotte discovering that she wasn't going to have an easy time of fooling Hannah's family into believeing that she was really Amish. From the moment she stepped into their home, the lies began trickling off her tongue. It was humorous and fascinating to watch Hannah attempt to assimilate herself into the family, and make excuses for the things she didn't understand. Some of the lies were a little more ridiculous than others, but I'll put their acceptance down to the Amish's naturally trusting nature.
As long-time fans of Beth will know, she doesn't shy away from sensitive subject matter. We learn early on that Charlotte and Ethan both experienced emotional abuse at the hands of their parents and foster carers, abuse that may have contributed to Ethan's mental health problems. There are even some difficult and poignant discussions about whether suicide is viewed as a sin, and if someone will go to Heaven if their mental health problems led to their death. While Beth doesn't offer any specific theological answers to the questions that are posed, I appreciated the sensitive way in which the characters discussed these issues, and the conclusions they eventually came to.
I really enjoyed watching Hannah and Charlotte's friendship develop, and witnessing them navigate the obstacles placed in the way of their relationship.Much like Charlotte, Hannah has trust issues, particularly when it comes to disclosing details of her relationship with Ethan, and her doubts and worries about why their relationship ended the way it did. Both girls were beautifully honest and flawed, and it was encouraging to have two protaginists so realistically portrayed. Bonnet or not, I'm sure most readers will be able to relate to one of the girls, or maybe even both of them.
I'm torn when it comes to the spiritual aspect of the novel. While I loved the idea of God speaking to Charlotte through an image in the clouds, the development of Charlotte's faith seemed rather sudden given that she didn't seem to have much of a spiritual background (aside from her friendship with Ryan). I kind of wished the development of Charlotte's faith had been more gradual, with more doubts. It seemed like it took a massive jump when she saw the picture in the sky, and I'm not sure how realistic this is for someone who previously had so little faith and refused to trust anyone.
While there is some romance in Her Brother's Keeper, it doesn't take centre stage, and I was thankful for this. As much as I love a good romance novel, I appreciated the opportunity to read about the relationship between Charlotte and her brother, and then Charlotte and Hannah. There are so many important relationships that aren't romantic, and the depiction of Charlotte and Hannah's budding friendship was particularly touching, especially as they helped each other overcome their personal burdens.
Honestly, I could probably think of even more things I loved about this book. Contrary to what the synopsis might suggest, this novel is not a contrived comedy of errors about an English woman pretending to be Amish. It's a touching, heart-breaking story of two women who loved a man in very different ways, and are struggling to come to terms with his untimely death. I highly recommend Her Brother's Keeper to readers who prefer their Amish fiction to be challenging yet encouraging, full of flawed characters, and completely unputdownable. ...more