I think that if it weren't for the historical storyline, I probably would only give this book 3.5*. While the contemporary storyline was a good mixtur...moreI think that if it weren't for the historical storyline, I probably would only give this book 3.5*. While the contemporary storyline was a good mixture of Amish, romance and suspense, the writing and characters weren't as strong as in Olivia's first novel, The Pursuit of Lucy Banning. It does seem as if historical fiction is where she's stronger, at least for now.
That said, there were plenty of elements that I appreciated about this story. This is the second series I've read that's set among the newer Amish settlements in Colorado, and it's definitely interesting to read about how different Amish groups live depending on their regions and farming opportunities. Olivia lives in Colorado, and she was able to evoke the feeling of the small towns and Amish communities in her area.
The city that Annie worked in never felt quite as real, and neither did her job. Mainly, I believe this is because my husband is a computer programmer and the descriptions of Annie's jobs seemed incredibly vague given my knowledge of the subject. But for those who don't deal with software engineering on a regular basis, the descriptions of her work might not be so vague.
As for the romance, it was slow moving, but that's because this is the first book in a series. Given that there are so many Amish romances where an English character's conversion to the faith feels rushed, I appreciated that the book didn't end with everything neatly tidied up. As confident as Annie was about making changes to her life, I think she still has a long way to go and I'm interested in reading more about her. As strange as it might seem for a computer programmer to become interested in the Amish lifestyle, I got the impression that Annie got far more involved in the business world than she intended and no longer enjoyed her job, so the changes she made at the end of the novel made sense.
I also liked the sub-plot about Rufus's sister, Ruth, and I hope that the next novel delves more into the family dynamics and Ruth's attempts to reconcile with her family while still becoming a nurse. I felt like her story was a realistic portrayal of someone who left the faith before baptism for educational reasons, and I appreciated this change from the usual stories about people who leave to "explore the world". Ruth kept much of her faith while studying nursing.
The storyline about the construction company wasn't really resolved, which was a bit disappointing, but I'd be interested to see how that panned out, even if I preferred the other storylines. I had mixed feelings about this sub-plot as I wasn't sure what kind of message it was giving about justice, retaliation and turning the other cheek. I'm intrigued to see where it goes.
Ultimately, I liked the contemporary storyline, but at times the historical plot caught my attention more. I haven't read many stories about Amish settlers in the eighteenth century, so the story of Annie and Rufus's ancestors was fascinating. It really captured just how difficult life was for new settlers, if they made it through the long journey. Jakob's struggle between sticking to his faith and wanting to remarry was very heartfelt, and although the novel focused far more on the contemporary storyline, I still became attached to the historical characters. I hope that Olivia continues their storyline, or at least focuses on some other ancestors, in the next book.
I ended up writing a lot more about this book than planned, so obviously it touched me more than I realised. Ultimately, I didn't enjoy this book as much as The Pursuit of Lucy Banning but it was a compelling and original story. For those who like dual-time narratives of a lighter fare, this would definitely suit. I might not have connected with Annie as much as some Amish heroines, but this novel definitely brings something a little different to the genre. I'll be looking out for the second book in the series later this year. 4*(less)
I truly loved Laurie Alice Eakes's first novel from Revell, "Lady in the Mist", but I'm afraid this one just didn't live up to my expectations. The pl...moreI truly loved Laurie Alice Eakes's first novel from Revell, "Lady in the Mist", but I'm afraid this one just didn't live up to my expectations. The plot definitely intrigued me, but I felt that the action scenes felt rushed and clunky, and I never really connected to Lydia. Charlotte and Honore were interesting characters, but Lydia was very indecisive and I struggled to figure out her motivations, besides vague suggestions at the fear of a man ruling her life. I did genuinely like Christien, but I wished for more insight into how he'd got his job at the Home Office and his mission in London. The details about this were pretty vague, again, but could have had a lot of potential.
It's hard to put my finger on exactly what I didn't like about this book. It was a quick and pleasant read, and at times I really did want to keep reading to figure out the mystery, but there was never any doubt in my mind that Lydia and Christian would get together, despite their personal issues. One of the biggest problems, which cropped up more so towards the end of the novel, was how preachy and forced the spiritual message of the novel felt. I had the same problem with "Lady in the Mist". I'm not sure if this is a remnant from the author previously writing for Heartsong Presents, since I've always found the spiritual messages in those books to be overbearing. Either way, I wished the message could have been better integrated into the story or perhaps even more original. A message about putting our trust in God, while valid, is one that's been done many, many times in Christian fiction, and I wished for something a bit more challenging.
Ultimately, this book wasn't a chore to read. It was fairly entertaining, but I struggled with it because I picked up on so many things I thought could have been improved on. To be honest, this book felt like it needed a thorough edit before it hit the shelves. I hate to say that, but that's the impression I was left with upon finishing the book; cliff-hangers that weren't picked up for several pages, or at all, plus wishy-washy backstories and an overwrought spiritual message all felt like they needed to be tidied up a little.
I'll still read the second book in this series, since I've already requested a review copy, but I just didn't find this book of the same quality of "Lady in the Mist", although I felt like it had the potential to be a lot better than it was. 3*(less)
GENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE PUBLISHER: TYNDALE PUBLICATION DATE: JULY 01, 2012 RATING:4.5 OUT OF 5 – EXCELLENT
PROS: Spiritual themes are fairly well-inte...moreGENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE PUBLISHER: TYNDALE PUBLICATION DATE: JULY 01, 2012 RATING:4.5 OUT OF 5 – EXCELLENT
PROS: Spiritual themes are fairly well-integrated and not overbearing; endearing secondary characters; good insight into two very different cultures in this time period
CONS: Some characters’ motives and actions aren’t entirely convincing
Meg Davenport has spent almost her entire life at an exclusive boarding school in Connecticut, far away from the life she wishes she were spending with her father in New York. Although she has all the comforts a young woman her age could desire, she has never truly known her father’s love. When Meg is faced with the news that the father she barely knew has died suddenly, she can’t help but rush to his side in the hope that in death, she might know him more than she did in life. But her father’s protégée, Ian Maguire, is keen to keep Meg from knowing the truth about her father and his line of business. When Meg uncovers the truth – that her father was a successful and notorious thief – she hopes to follow in his footsteps in order to honour his name, and in the hope that it will bring her closer to him. Ian will do everything in his power to stop Meg from heading down the path that her father so desired her to know nothing of. But even Ian can’t help but admit that Meg’s schooling has helped her to make connections that could be incredibly profitable. If he cannot stop Meg from following in her father’s footsteps, the least he could do is help her, in the hope that his protection will ensure no harm will come to her. But once Meg finds herself in the middle of a web of crime, will it bring her the joy and comfort she truly hopes to find?
Having read some early reviews of Bees in the Butterfly Garden, I was intrigued to find that reviewers were split into two distinct groups: those who absolutely adored the novel, and those who found Meg to be an incredibly unsympathetic character. And when I began reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would find myself entrenched in the second camp. How many of us can really relate to a woman who throws away all the comforts she could ever want in order to pursue a life of crime? I will admit that Meg’s initial motivations weren’t the most convincing, but there were several other factors that allowed me to overlook my initial impressions and made me thoroughly enjoy this book. Following on from my love of Olivia Newport’s debut novel, The Pursuit of Lucy Banning, I can’t help but ponder what it is about the Gilded Age that appeals to me so. The particular rules of social etiquette, the conflict of old and new money and the high moral code of the upper class philanthropists are all factors that were present in both Maureen and Olivia’s novels, and I can guarantee that if you enjoyed one, you’re sure to appreciate the other.
I can’t admit to knowing a lot about this time period, and I know even less about the history of thievery and other such crimes. But I could tell early on that Maureen had done her research, both about girls’ boarding schools and the actions of the thieves involved in the line of work that Meg’s father occupied. As well as the details interwoven into the novel about social etiquette (from Meg’s need for a chaperone when travelling to the rules of mourning) and those on thievery (in particular, the details of ransoming and cracking safes), each chapter Bees in the Butterfly Garden also contained a quote from either the fictional Madame Marisse’s Handbook for Young Ladies or from a book on criminal activity during this time period. These quotes enabled me to understand some of the motivations of Meg and Ian, and also provided ample entertainment. I’m sure it’s not just me who adores novels that include such quotes, and Madame Marisse’s quotes in particular are sure to intrigue and amuse many a reader.
The secondary characters in Bees in the Butterfly Garden were similarly entertaining, particularly the sisterly banter between Claire and Evie, the old school friends that Meg lives with in New York. Evie’s antics provided an interesting contrast to Meg’s entrance to the world of thievery, and Claire and her brother, Nelson, enabled a gentle spiritual thread about grace and mercy to be wound into the book without feeling too overbearing. I never found Claire or Nelson’s beliefs to be forced into the novel in any way, and the way that Meg slowly began to tap into their ideas felt very realistic. Even if you find Meg to be slightly unsympathetic at the start of the novel, the guilt she begins to feel at deceiving her loving and godly friends can’t help but make her endearing.
Although I entirely bought Meg’s gradual change of heart, I can’t say that I felt the same way about Ian’s. His didn’t have the same sort of build-up, and although I understood the backstory about his father’s strong faith, his ultimate decision to change his ways didn’t come across as entirely realistic. There were a few other moments in the story where the underlying motivations of the characters didn’t seem as believable as it could have been – namely, Meg’s decision to leave her refined life behind and become a thief like her father, and Evie’s final prank, which seemed incredibly cruel, even for her. While I truly enjoyed reading about each of these characters, there were times when I just didn’t find their motives to be completely realistic. Thankfully, this didn’t detract too much from my reading experience, but I can see why it would bother some readers.
It wasn’t until I was nearly finished reading Bees in the Butterfly Garden that I realised that the novel was well over four-hundred pages long. I sped through this book far faster than some significantly shorter novels, a sign of how gripping it was and how much I cared about the fates of the characters. Although I had my gripes with the motivations of some of the characters, I truly did want them to succeed and find happiness by the end of the novel. I hope that other readers will be similarly enamoured with the Gilded Age and all the intrigue that it brings.
GENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE PUBLISHER: TYNDALE PUBLICATION DATE: JUNE 01, 2012 RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 – GOOD
PROS: Heroine is a doctor in a period when this...moreGENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE PUBLISHER: TYNDALE PUBLICATION DATE: JUNE 01, 2012 RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 – GOOD
PROS: Heroine is a doctor in a period when this was uncommon; easy and relaxing read; engaging secondary characters and setting
CONS: Took a while to get interested in the story due to slow pace; story often skips large periods of time; romance wasn’t convincing
Despite her fiancé’s disapproval, Doctor Lilly Corbett decides to spend the first six months after graduating from medical school in Boston interning at a rural coal camp in Skip Rock, Kentucky. While her beau, Paul Hamilton, can’t understand why anyone would want to leave the city where he spent most of his life, the part of Kentucky that Lilly grew up in wasn’t all that different from Skip Rock. But no matter how similar an upbringing she had, nothing can prepare her for the reception that awaits her in Skip Rock. The miners believe that a woman in the mines is bad luck, and even the women are reticent to accept her as a trained medical professional. The doctor she was meant to be training with has died just days before she arrived, and to begin with, Lilly can’t wait for her internship to be over. But as she spends more time caring for the people of Skip Rock – setting broken limbs, birthing babies, trekking across rivers for house calls and even stitching up a cow – Lilly becomes accepted as a member of the community, especially when it is revealed that she has relatives there. As she develops a fledging relationship with the mysterious Joe Repp, who bears a striking resemblance to a boy Lilly grew up with, and makes friends with many of the inhabitants of Skip Rock, Lilly can’t help but want to stay in this town and help these people. When she’s offered the chance to remain in Skip Rock after her internship finishes, Lilly has a difficult choice to make – does she do the sensible thing and return to Boston to marry the reliable Paul, or take her chances on Skip Rock and a man with a fake name who is in the town under false pretences?
Considering how many historical romances are released by the CBA every year, you’d think that I’d get bored of this genre, or that authors would run out of original ideas. I’ll admit, every now and then I read a book that seems just a little bit too similar to something I’ve already read, but novels like Skip Rock Shallows prove that authors are not running out of steam when it comes to making their characters unique. Yes, a female doctor has been done before by Mary Connealy, but Doctor in Petticoats and Skip Rock Shallows couldn’t be more different. If Skip Rock Shallows reminded me of anything in particular, it was the writing of Janette Oke. The plot was very slow moving, and not as structured as more recent historical novels, often moving from one episode to another rather than having a particular arc or direction it was heading in. While this isn’t a style of writing that I’m particularly fond of – I prefer more structure to my novels – it did make for an easy, relaxing read. If Oke’s continued popularity has anything to suggest, a lot of readers will be pleased that Skip Rock Shallows contains some of the elements of the older novels in this genre. While I wasn’t aware that Skip Rock Shallows was part of a series until I started reading, I didn’t have any trouble getting to know the characters, and necessary details from other books are summarised without detracting from the current story. I don’t think that you have to read the other Copper Brown novels before starting Skip Rock Shallows, but I’m definitely intrigued to see whether they have the same relaxed pace as this book.
The pacing of the Skip Rock Shallows did make it hard to for me to really become involved in the story to start with. This was an incredibly easy novel to read, but it wasn’t the sort that grabbed my attention within the first few chapters. Initially, it was very easy to put down, and the story didn’t really becoming gripping towards the end of the novel when a mining accident occurred. That said, I did enjoy reading about Lilly’s house calls and the people she met in Skip Rock. All of the secondary characters were engaging and none of them felt like cardboard cut-outs, as can often happen when an author introduces a lot of background characters. I also enjoyed reading about the setting of Skip Rock, and while I found it difficult to imagine the mines, Lilly’s explorations of the wildlife were much more visual. Skip Rock definitely felt real to me by the time I finished this book
Sometimes I found it hard to grasp how Lilly’s character was developing, mainly because the story would skip several weeks or months at a time. While the reader was always told how long had passed since the last chapter, I wasn’t particularly fond of this style of storytelling. It often meant that we were told how friendships had progressed during that time and I sometimes felt that I was missing out on witnessing certain developments. Lucy’s relationship with Joe was similarly treated. They engaged in a couple of conversations – even Lucy and Paul spoke more over the course of the novel, and he spent the majority of it in Boston – and then a few chapters later were declaring their love for each other. (This is a romance novel, so I’m not spoiling the plot. If you don’t know that Lucy and Joe are going to fall for each other from reading the synopsis, you’re probably not too familiar with this genre). I liked Lucy and I liked Joe, but I just wasn’t convinced by the progression of their relationship. There were hints that they’d known each other as children and that meeting again made them fall in love, but I just didn’t buy it. It was far too much “love at first sight” for my liking. I’m afraid the way the romantic aspect of this book was approached was its biggest downfall for me. I wished that Lilly and Joe had spent more time together and really convinced me of their love, but ultimately, I didn’t find their professions of love genuine and this stopped me from really caring about whether they’d get together by the end of the book.
If you’re looking for a book that will grab you from the first page and keep you gripped with suspense and anticipation, Skip Rock Shallows definitely isn’t the one for you. Rather, I’d say this is a good book to read if you know you can’t commit to reading more than a few chapters at the time. It’s easy to put down and later reimmerse yourself in Lilly’s doctoring and explorations of Skip Rock. Lilly’s profession, as well as some of the more unusual characters in the town, were what made this novel really stand out for me, and why I’d recommend it in spite of my personal opinions on the writing style. While I was disappointed in how rushed Lilly and Joe’s relationship was, Skip Rock Shallows is still worth reading for the mining and doctoring details and the secondary characters.
GENRE: HISTORICAL/CHRISTMAS PUBLISHER: WATERBROOK PUBLICATION DATE: OCTOBER 01, 2012 RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 – NEAR PERFECT
PROS: Uplifting without being chees...moreGENRE: HISTORICAL/CHRISTMAS PUBLISHER: WATERBROOK PUBLICATION DATE: OCTOBER 01, 2012 RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 – NEAR PERFECT
PROS: Uplifting without being cheesy or contrived; realistically flawed characters; ending implied hope even if the characters still had issues they needed to work on
Meg Campbell took the first opportunity she had to leave her family home in Stirling, and has spent several years working as a teacher in Edinburgh and caring for her elderly aunt. It takes a lot of guts to force herself to return home for Christmas in 1894, especially knowing that her crippled brother, Alan, will be as embittered as ever. Seeing her parents submitting to Alan’s every whim and fancy, regardless of how it impacts the rest of the family, is too much for her to bear, especially when he turns on Meg, angry that their aunt left her home to Meg and not him. Upset with her brother’s harsh words and her parents’ refusal to take her side, Meg, boards the next train back to Edinburgh. Little does she realise that an unexpected snowdrift will bring her into contact with the one man who might be able to help her family move on from the incident that ruined Alan’s life.
As much as I love Liz Curtis Higgs, I was cautious about reading A Wreath of Snow. It might seem a little odd coming from someone who mostly reads romance novels that end in happily-ever-afters, but I’ve found a fair few Christmas novellas to be too optimistic and contrived, even for a romantic like myself. So forgive me if I doubted whether Liz could pull off an engaging, realistic story within the space of 224 pages without resorting to clichés or forced situations. This is definitely one of the best Christmas novellas I’ve read.
Haters of perfect characters, rushed romances and neat endings, you may put your pitchforks down. This isn’t a novella about a girl who meets a boy on the train and marries him on Christmas Eve. Nor is it a story about a grumpy brother who reforms himself once he hears God’s Word. The characters in A Wreath of Snow are flawed human beings who won’t be changing their entire personalities overnight, but they do at least admit to some key faults in their life over the course of this short book.
I was slightly worried that the moral of this story might be about putting up with your family’s flaws, even when it hurts you, since Alan initially seemed incapable of changing. Although I know you can’t force someone to change how they behave, I hated the thought of Meg having to put up with her brother’s selfish behaviour every time she visited her parents. Then I began to wonder if this might be the sort of book where Alan went through a miraculous recovery or personality change, just in time for the family to celebrate Christmas together. Thankfully, neither of my fears about this book came true, and I was actually a little surprised at the turn the book did end up taking. Like I said, the ending of A Wreath of Snow isn’t tied up neatly like some novellas, but it did provide more insight into Alan’s character and make him seem more realistic and less like a stock character whose only purpose was to force Meg to get on the train at the start of the story.
I think one of the things I loved most about this book was that, although there was a hint of a future in store for Meg and Gordon, this wasn’t overtly a romance novel. Looking at my highest rated Christmas novellas, they’re mainly stories where romance doesn’t drive the plot. Perhaps that’s because it’s difficult to write a believable love story that takes place over such a short period of time. Liz doesn’t rush her characters into falling in love, but you’ll still be rooting for Meg and Gordon to work together to help Meg’s family.
I know that there are going to be some readers who are disappointed that this book doesn’t have the complex plots and characters of Liz’s full-length books, but I’m trying my best not to judge this book in comparison to Liz’s novels. Writing a novella involves different skills and techniques from writing a full-length novel, mainly because of word count limitations, and the fact that many novellas take place over a short period of time. If you do decide to read A Wreath of Snow, try not to compare it to Here Burns My Candle or any of Liz’s other books. This novella does contain realistically flawed characters, and a wealth of historical research, but if you’re going to compare it to any other book, let it be another Christmas novella.
I don’t often read the author’s notes or reading group questions at the back of novels, but I was glad I did so with A Wreath of Snow as it was fascinating to learn of the inspiration behind this book, and the alternative old Scots use of the word “wreath”. It’s obviously been phased out of our language as I’ve never heard it used this way in Scotland. The reading group questions are very thoughtful and take certain concepts in the novel to a much deeper level.
If you’re looking for a realistic Christmas tale full of relatable characters, but without the contrivance and cheese that often abounds sentimental winter stories, then A Wreath of Snow is definitely the novella for you. This novel has put me in the Christmas mood – although I’m hoping we don’t get quite as much snow this year in Scotland as we did in 1894 – and I hope it will have a similar affect on many other readers.
GENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE PUBLICATION DATE: JUNE 01, 2012 RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 – NEAR PERFECT
PROS: Original twist on a well-worn...moreGENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE PUBLICATION DATE: JUNE 01, 2012 RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 – NEAR PERFECT
PROS: Original twist on a well-worn storyline; confident and quirky heroine; endearing romance between a newly married couple that contains just a pinch of edginess
No one has stepped on Archer land in years – no one, that is, except Meredith Hayes. Having stumbled on to forbidden territory in search of her lunch pail as a child, Meredith met the mysterious Travis Archer when he had to rescue her foot from a bear trap. She’s never forgotten that day, and not just because of the limp she was left with following her accident. Travis remained her idealised hero even after she entered womanhood, and when she overhears a plot to burn the Archers off their property, Meredith knows that she has to warn Travis and his brothers. But her good deed isn’t appreciated by her uncle and aunt, who insist that Meredith marry one of the Archers when the fire forces her to remain overnight on their property. To Meredith, the possibility of being forever united with her hero, Travis, is a dream come true. But does Travis view their union in such a positive light? Or is he merely marrying Meredith out of feelings of duty and responsibility? Meredith is determined to make their marriage one worth fighting for, and to convince Travis that picking the short-straw wasn’t a mistake.
I’ve yet to discover a Karen Witemeyer novel that I’ve not loved, but I approached Short-Straw Bride with a little bit of trepidation. Could Karen really keep up her previous standards? Will she run out of original plots? Thankfully, my fears were unfounded and Short-Straw Bride not only met but far exceeded my expectations. I’d have to say that it rivals Head in the Clouds for its place as my favourite of Karen’s novels. Although I think Karen’s books may a slight formula to them – perhaps in the pacing or the number of action scenes – this really wasn’t evident when I was reading Short-Straw Bride. While I could definitely see some similarities to her earlier works, the plot of the novel was entirely original and Meredith was a refreshing new heroine. The romance between Meredith and Travis reminded me of those written by some of my favourite romance writers – Kelly Long and Mary Connealy in particular – and while it was different from some of Karen’s earlier romances, it definitely took her writing in a positive direction.
I love marriage of convenience stories, and you’d think that considering their prevalence in the historical romance genre that authors would eventually run out of ways to twist this plot into something new. While Meredith and Travis’s arrangement – borne out of Meredith spending the night with a man while unchaperoned – is one I’ve come across before in this genre, I loved the spin that Karen put on this story. The concept of the four brothers living on a ranch and barely having any contact with women made Meredith’s presence all the more interesting, especially as all the brothers were jumping at the chance to marry her. The brothers definitely made the story more interesting, especially in the early days of Meredith and Travis’s marriage when neither of them knew how to treat each other. Short-Straw Bride had more to it than just the romance between the hero and heroine. Meredith, an outsider, had a thing or two to teach Travis about the image he was projecting of the Archer brothers and their land, and it was particularly touching to see him breaking down the walls – both physical and emotional – he’d put up to protect his family from the outside world. Each of the brothers had their own personality and I enjoyed seeing how Meredith’s presence on the ranch helped them to understand their own strengths and get the courage to pursue friendships and work arrangements outside the bounds of their property.
The romance was still a big element in Short-Straw Bride, so there’s no need to worry that secondary characters might encroach on what is an incredibly touching and romantic love story. While I wasn’t always entirely convinced by Meredith’s childhood adoration of Travis and the idea that Travis fell for Meredith as soon as she reappeared on the ranch, their relationship was built on so much more than these initial moments. I enjoyed witnessing them coming from the awkward early days of their marriage into a relationship based on trust and commitment. Meredith’s worries about whether Travis was rejecting her by not sleeping in the same room once they were married were very real and heart-felt, and I could completely understand her pain over this aspect of their relationship. Likewise, Travis being torn over whether he should be a gentleman and court his new wife or pursue the more physical aspects of their relationship was very well presented. A lot of marriage of convenience stories skip over the transition from a chaste romance to a couple engaging in their “marital privileges”, so it was a nice change to see Karen exploring this aspect of a couple’s relationship. The awkwardness over how to discuss such things with your new husband and trying to seek womanly advice on a ranch full of men also created some amusing moments, which made the romance a well-rounded mixture of humour, emotion and a little bit of edginess. The conclusion to the novel and the romance was very satisfying, and while some readers may find themselves blushing a little, I’m sure plenty of married readers will be pleased to see Meredith and Travis endorsing those aspects of marriage that God intended married couples to enjoy.
Even if I did speed through Short-Straw Bride at a record-breaking pace, I think I’d still struggle to find any faults with it on a slower, second read – which may happen, as this book is definitely worth reading again. It pushed all the right buttons, from the twist on a well-worn plot to the engaging secondary characters to the touching and realistic romance. While Short-Straw Bride is quite different from Karen’s previous novels, it contains many of the trademark elements that readers are familiar with, particularly Meredith, the confident and slightly quirky heroine. Short-Straw Bride will satisfy many historical romance readers, and I imagine that those who have yet to discover Karen Witemeyer will be hunting down her backlist as soon as they turn the final page in this endearing love story.
GENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE PUBLICATION DATE: JUNE 01, 2012 RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 – EXCELLENT
PROS: Plot is entirely original and u...moreGENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE PUBLICATION DATE: JUNE 01, 2012 RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 – EXCELLENT
PROS: Plot is entirely original and unlike anything already present in the genre; perfect blend of romance and mystery
CONS: Spiritual sections felt disjointed and didn’t add much to the story
When Ellie Moore finds herself alone and jobless in Chicago after spending her whole life working for the theatre, she has no idea where to look for work. All she has is a trunk full of costumes and her skill at putting together an outfit. When she overhears two men discussing their need for a new female operative for their detective agency, Ellie can’t help but wonder whether her knowledge of costumes and disguises might be able to help her gain such a position. After much convincing and a new persona as the elderly Aunt Livinia, Ellie makes her way to the small town of Pickford, Arizona, where she is to meet an experienced detective who is to play the part of her niece, and help her catch the thieves who are stealing silver from the nearby mines. But along the way, Ellie receives news that her partner is unable to make it to Pickford. Desperate for work, Ellie decides to continue on to Arizona and solve this mystery on her own. But as endearing as Livinia is, she isn’t able to make the right people talk. Ellie really needs someone to play the part of Jessie, the attractive and flirtatious niece of Livinia. She couldn’t play both parts...could she? With all the effort of keeping track of her two personas, Ellie finds herself becoming more confused about who she really is, especially when Jessie catches the eye of handsome mine-owner, Steven Pierce. Between balancing the two characters of Livinia and Jessie and attempting to catch the silver thieves, Ellie may just have forgotten to guard her heart against potential suitors...
The common thread that I’ve spotted in reviews of this book is that it is a lot of fun to read, and I completely agree with that sentiment. The premise of Ellie switching between two different personas in order to solve a crime not only made for an original and compelling story, but also a very entertaining one. It was the premise of the novel that drew me to Love in Disguise in the first place and it definitely lived up to my expectations. While there’s a mystery running through the entire book and a sweet, if slow to develop, romance between Ellie and Steven, it was Ellie’s character-switching that kept me reading. Could she really keep her ruse up? Would she ever forget which character she was playing? Would anyone figure out that neither Livinia nor Jessie existed? Not only did this situation create a fair amount of suspense, it was also pretty amusing to read about Ellie’s attempts to play two entirely different characters. I found myself grinning and giggling at several points throughout the story, and it was very sad to say goodbye to these characters – not just Ellie, but also Livinia and Jessie, who almost seemed as real as Ellie.
Unlike some historical novels that contain a hint of mystery, I didn’t solve the mystery before the protagonist. But I wasn’t at all disappointed at this. Ultimately, I just wanted Ellie to catch the thieves and prove that she could be a good detective; I didn’t really mind who ended up being cast in the role of the bad guys! But although the mystery wasn’t always at the forefront of my mind while I was reading this novel, I did appreciate the climatic ending. It was nice to see Ellie using the wits that she had developed over the course of the story, and a couple of hints that had been dropped earlier in the novel finally made sense and aided the characters as they apprehended the thieves. Fans of romantic suspense and mysteries may be disappointed that Ellie’s attempts to catch the thieves aren’t as developed as they would be in a pure mystery novel, but I felt that Love in Disguise had the perfect blend of history, mystery and romance to keep fans of all three genres entertained.
The romantic element to Love on Disguise wasn’t as central as I thought it would be, considering that the word “love” is in the title, but the slow progression of Ellie and Steven’s relationship seemed appropriate for their situations. Steven was preoccupied with protecting the interests of his mine and Ellie was too wrapped up in being both Livinia and Jessie to consider the possibility of her connection with Steven turning into something more serious. I found Ellie’s reaction when she realised that Steven was falling for Jessie to be very realistic. Her dilemma over whether she was leading Steven on and whether it was fair to continue spending time with him was very heart-felt. Did he really love her, underneath her disguise? Or would he be disappointed once she took off her wig and revealed how different she was from Jessie? Even if Ellie’s situation in this book was entirely fanciful, the “Does he really like me for who I am inside?” issue is one that any woman can relate to.
I came very close to giving this novel full marks: I loved the concept, the characters, the suspense and the romance. But what holds me back from giving Love in Disguise five stars is the spiritual aspect of the novel. While I liked Ellie’s commentary on her church experiences and her reception of the pastor’s sermons, some of the other scenes that were intended the show the development of Ellie’s relationship with Jesus just didn’t flow with the rest of the novel. The one where she devoted her life to Jesus seemed to almost come out of nowhere, and I wished there had been more development on Ellie’s spiritual life. She seemed to have almost no concept of faith at the start of the book, and while there was a smattering of comments on her growing relationship with God over the course of the book, it wasn’t enough to convince me that Ellie had suddenly come to a complete understanding of God’s love for her by the end of the novel. The spiritual sections of the novel were so brief that they could easily have been removed entirely from the novel and not changed the flow of the story. While I do think that the spiritual elements of Love in Disguise could have worked if they had been better integrated into the main storyline, I couldn’t help but wonder if by choosing to write a salvation plot into the story, Carol had missed out on the great possibility for exploring the struggles that a Christian detective faces in having to lie and deceive others as part of their work. That is a story that I’d definitely like to read.
Although I wasn’t entirely convinced by the spiritual aspects of Love in Disguise, I didn’t find fault with any other aspect of the novel. From start to finish, this book had me hooked and I hated having to put it down for any reason. Not only does Love in Disguise contain the perfect blend of character development, mystery and romance, it’s also entirely original and unlike anything I’ve come across in this genre. And although I appreciated the originality of Love in Disguise, I can’t help but hope that Carol gets the chance to write another novel about a female detective. If she does, you can be certain that I’ll be one of the first to get my hands on it.
I was initially rather sceptical of the premise of a story based around an Amish woman and a circus owner but this book turned out...moreRATING: 8 OUT OF 10
I was initially rather sceptical of the premise of a story based around an Amish woman and a circus owner but this book turned out to be very compelling and enlightening with regards to life in 1920s Florida. The circus details were fascinating, particularly to someone whose only knowledge of circuses comes from Enid Blyton books, as was the information about the new Amish settlements that formed in Sarasota in this period.
All the members of Hannah's family were very engaging and I can't wait to read Pleasant's story and see her get her happy ending. There were a few details that made Hannah's community different from those I've read about in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky, although this may also be because some small changes have been made to the Amish way of life since 1920.
One thing that made this novel stand out from other historical or Amish romances was that the story didn't end with Hannah and Levi deciding to get married, but followed them past their wedding day to several months afterwards. I won't give anything away, but I will say that Hannah and Levi have some personal issues to overcome regarding concerns over infertility and starting a new family in a second marriage. Initially I was unsure as to whether I enjoyed reading a romance that continued after the couple have been happily married, but Hannah and Levi's struggles were genuine and I really felt for them as they tried to overcome them together. I had a big smile on my face when I finished this book!
I've read one of Anna Schmidt's Love Inspired Historical novels before, Seaside Cinderella (Love Inspired Historical), and I think I prefer this one because the characters seemed more fleshed out and all had very distinct personalities, even secondary characters such as Lily and Gunther. Her writing has definitely developed with time and I'll be looking out for more of her books in the future. (less)
GENRE: HISTORICAL PUBLISHER: REVELL PUBLICATION DATE: MAY 01, 2012 RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 – NEAR PERFECT
PROS: Unusual setting and time period that really com...moreGENRE: HISTORICAL PUBLISHER: REVELL PUBLICATION DATE: MAY 01, 2012 RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 – NEAR PERFECT
PROS: Unusual setting and time period that really come to life on the pages; good portrayal of the struggles women faced in society at this time; heroine has aims other than finding a husband
CONS: Readers may have to look up some details on the time period if they aren’t so familiar with it
Lucy Banning was born into a privileged family and has never had a need gone unmet in her entire life. But while she may live on the prosperous Prairie Avenue in Chicago, she has a heart for those who are not so fortunate. Much to her mother and fiancé’s chagrin, she spends the time that should be spent planning her wedding helping at a local orphanage. Her family would be even more upset if they knew that she was attending Art History classes at university, but this is one secret that she’s determined to keep. Lucy will not allow herself to be restrained into the position that society and her family demands that she mould to, and she becomes all the more restless as talk of her upcoming marriage to family friend, Daniel, begins to dominate her life. She cannot bear the thought of a life spent with Daniel, no matter how much she cares for him as a friend. But breaking off her engagement and living the life she wants to lead – helping the needy, furthering the cause of women and attending university – is not as easy as she thought it would be. Lucy faces many unexpected challenges as she makes the necessary changes to her life, including an unlikely friendship with a housemaid and the possibility of a blossoming relationship with a young architect who is definitely not of her class. Can she risk all that she has for those that understand the desires of her heart?
I have a terrible confession to make: I requested this book purely based on the front cover, and I was determined to read The Pursuit of Lucy Banning even before I knew what the novel was about. And after having now devoured this novel, it seems rather amusing that it was Lucy’s gorgeous dress that drew me to the cover, when she spends a lot of the novel wearing simple clothing as she doesn’t want to stand out at the orphanage where she works, or in her classes at the university.
By the time I got around to starting this book, I’d actually forgotten what it was about, and could only remember the pretty cover. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was far more than your standard historical romance novel. While The Pursuit of Lucy Banning is set in nineteenth century America – an incredibly popular time period and setting for Christian historical romances – it’s set at the very end of the century, amidst the growth of the metropolis and of industry. The streetcar has been invented, and there is talk of some crazy contraption called a Ferris Wheel. While I know a fair amount about the history of Britain in this period, my knowledge of American history at this time is much more basic, so I did have to look up the Gilded Age and the World’s Fair, the latter of which is the focal point of this novel. Don’t let this put you off – a brief glance at Wikipedia was enough to make the details in this novel fall into place for me. And there are a lot of details; Olivia has evidently spent a lot of time researching all of the build up to the World’s Fair. The city of Chicago really comes to life in this novel, and I could really picture the busyness of the streets full of carriages and streetcars. The Pursuit of Lucy Banning shows that there is far more to late nineteenth century America than all the novels about homesteading and prairie life would have you believe. If Little House on the Prairie really isn’t your thing, then perhaps The Pursuit of Lucy Banning is the sort of novel you should be checking out. I never thought I would be so captivated by a novel set in a city and surrounded by so much industry and technological development, but something about Chicago in this period was both exciting and romantic.
While the title suggests that this book revolves entirely around Lucy, this isn’t exactly the case. The majority of the novel does focus on Lucy’s struggles with the role which society and her family expects her to fulfil, she’s also joined by the wonderful character of Charlotte, a maid in the Banning household. Having read Julie Klassen’s The Maid of Fairbourne Hall last month, as well as studying a fair amount about Victorian domestic servants at university, I was thrilled to discover that Olivia had chosen to explore both sides of the Banning household. The world of service is literally that; an entirely different world. I loved the interplay between Lucy and Charlotte as they become confidants. Despite their differences in class, Lucy and Charlotte were both visual representations of the restrictions placed upon women in this time period by an intrinsically male-dominated society.
Daniel, Lucy’s fiancé, represented this masculine, controlling society. While I was initially sceptical about the almost villainous turns that his character took, I couldn’t help but care for Lucy and fear for the control that Daniel exerted over her life. It took me a while to understand that he wasn’t being a brainless menace, as some villains are, but simply taking advantage of the control that any man had over a woman in this period. This image was powerful but also understated. I have to say that it was the development of Daniel’s character that could have really influenced my impression of this novel. I’m not keen on characters who seem to be overtly villainous with no redeeming qualities, but Daniel wasn’t like this. His controlling character developed slowly, and the turn that it took at the end of the novel really endeared me to this book. Olivia didn’t slip into stereotyping, and also managed to teach some contemporary lessons about mental health.
Along with the society commentary about women and mystery surrounding Daniel, there’s also an element of romance in this novel, although it isn’t the focal point. Much as Lucy’s aims in life aren’t centred around falling in love, this novel doesn’t focus primarily on her love life. Despite this, I did enjoy the way that Lucy’s relationship with Will developed. She didn’t swoon or spend hours pining over him, but they clearly cared deeply for each other. Perhaps some romance readers will be disappointed that Lucy isn’t more enamoured with Will, but I found their relationship to be very realistic. It was nice to read about such a simple relationship that was complicated by external events, rather than misunderstandings or confused emotions.
Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to read a wonderful book and then discover that the author has an entire backlist that I can dip into. With The Pursuit of Lucy Banning this isn’t the case, and I’m very impressed that this is only her debut novel. Exploring a time period and setting that is entirely new to me, The Pursuit of Lucy Banning had just the right blend of historical detail, mystery and romance to keep me gripped. The more I think about his book, the more I realise that I really can’t find any major flaws with it. I genuinely didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did, and I’m sure that other readers will be similarly pleased by this original debut novel.
I really liked the premise behind this story. The blend of the Amish and Western genres worked really well, and the suspense of trying to escape the o...moreI really liked the premise behind this story. The blend of the Amish and Western genres worked really well, and the suspense of trying to escape the outlaws and return the children to their families in Pennsylvania definitely kept the tension up throughout the novel. I really liked Charlotte's character, and the romance had some really sweet points.
But there were a few things that niggled at me and stopped me from completely enjoying the story: -- The premise behind Cody and Cheyenne being named felt contrived, as it did when Charlotte and Zeph had to take on fake names. It kind of felt like the author just wanted to prove that he knew a lot about US History. -- On that note, there were several instances of info-dumping, especially regarding the type of guns different characters were using. If you're into guns, it probably won't bother you, but I'm British--the only time I've seen a gun is in a museum! The details went right over my head. -- Zeph was romantic, but at times it felt over-the-top and a bit unbelievable. -- I don't want to spoil too much about the ending, but I felt the villain repented too easily. I never understood what his motivation was for all the killing either, so his character felt a bit unrealistic.
This is the fourth Murray Pura novel I've read, and I can definitely pick up on some trademark story elements. He definitely likes to explore the issue of pacifism a lot, especially the idea that it's not always viable. The info-dumping about guns/planes/ships/etc is something he does a lot as well. He definitely comes up with some unique premises for his novels, and I appreciate the fact that his heroines are strong and unconventional. Although some elements of this story didn't feel entirely realistic, I still really enjoyed it. This was a compelling read and I'd definitely recommend it to those who like Amish or Western romances and are looking for something a little different. 3.5*(less)
GENRE: HISTORICAL/ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE PUBLICATION DATE: MARCH 01, 2012 RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 – EXCELLENT
PROS: Isn’t scared to give gritty det...moreGENRE: HISTORICAL/ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE PUBLICATION DATE: MARCH 01, 2012 RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 – EXCELLENT
PROS: Isn’t scared to give gritty details about this period of history; heavily researched; gentle and not overbearing romance and spiritual details; realistic protagonists
CONS: Ending is rather abrupt and left me wanting more
Quaker Hannah Sunderland has strictly followed her faith’s decision to avoid taking sides or arms in the Revolutionary War, even when it means that her family are forced from their home when it is commandeered by the army. But when news reaches her that her twin brother, who joined to Colonial cause, is in prison, she cannot ignore his needs. Her desire to help her brother brings her into contact with Colonial spy, Jeremiah Jones, a war veteran who lost his arm in the Seven Years War. They couldn’t be more dissimilar in their beliefs and lifestyles, but the common ground of needing access to the local prison – for personal and political reasons – binds them together. Hannah soon finds herself acting as a spy and attempting to stage an escape from the prison, but must keep her actions secret so that she doesn’t upset her fellow Quakers. But no one can ignore the amount of time she is spending with Jeremiah, and even Hannah cannot claim that theirs is only a business arrangement. As Hannah becomes more involved in the Colonial cause and is made aware of the dire conditions that the soldiers are living in, she cannot help but think that those of her faith have made a mistake in choosing to ignore the needs of these men. Can she reconcile her Quaker faith with her desire to help her brother and his fellow soldiers?
Recently I heard that popular Amish fiction author Suzanne Woods Fisher would be writing a historical series about the Quakers of Nantucket. In light of this discovery, and the recent release a romantic novella collection from Barbour, entitled Quakers of New Garden, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the Quakers would soon to be joining the quaint tales of Amish, Mennonites and Shakers (although the latter aren’t particularly quaint, in my opinion) that have become so popular in the last few years. Siri Mitchell’s novel does not join the ranks of these stories. The best way to describe The Messenger is to say that it’s a gritty historical novel; it does not shy away from the uncomfortable details of life in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War, and doesn’t attempt to gloss over any unsavoury details that wouldn’t usually appear in a Christian historical romance. There’s nothing inappropriate or particularly graphic, but if you prefer your historical novels to present the brighter side of life, then perhaps a novel about a Quaker woman breaking soldiers out of the squalor and filth of a war prison isn’t the novel for you.
The history in this book felt incredibly real, and I wasn’t surprised to read in the author’s note at the end of the novel that many of the events in The Messenger were based on true stories. I’ve always preferred my historical novels to been enriched by their historical detail, rather than peppered with a few brief references to historical-sounding items or clothing, but I’m also the first to admit that it’s hard to get the right blend of story-telling and history into a novel. On the one hand, if you focus too much on the plot, you risk ending up with a story which could honestly be set in any time period if it weren’t for a few references to chamber pots and a war gone by; on the other hand, you could alienate readers by overpowering your story with unnecessary details and retelling of contemporary events that mean absolutely nothing to the non-historian. Siri does it just right, intertwining the essential historical details with Hannah’s spiritual struggles and her budding relationship with Jeremiah. The story and its historical period naturally can’t be separated, but the details never come across as a history lesson either.
Prior to reading The Messenger, I read a review from a friend who mentioned that the book didn’t have quite enough romance to satisfy them. Everyone has different levels of romance that they hope for in a novel, and for me, it often depends on who the characters are and what seems appropriate for their stage in life or the period they live in. I really didn’t know what to expect from a Quaker and a crippled war veteran who runs a pub, although I can assure you that I probably couldn’t have come up with a more unlikely couple if I’d tried. Ultimately, I thought that this novel had just the right amount of romance in it. Considering how reserved and standoffish Hannah could be, and Jeremiah’s insecurities about his ability to appeal to a woman in spite of his missing arm, the gentle growth of their relationship seemed entirely appropriate. This isn’t a novel full of passion and swooning, but there were some really touching scenes that showed how the characters had grown to care for each other without the need for any physical declarations of their love for each other. The development of Hannah’s faith was similarly displayed, never overtly preaching at the reader and gently intertwining her questions about her beliefs with the plot of the novel in a way that seemed entirely relevant.
I recently read an online interview with Siri in which she stated that she likes to take a specific time period or historical event that people claim they’d never want to read a about, and write a compelling novel to convince them otherwise. Honestly, I never would have imagined a novel about a Quaker spy during the Revolutionary War, but she pulls it off. I can’t wait to see what Siri comes up with next. Ultimately, my only slight disappointment with The Messenger was in the ending. The book really sped up towards the conclusion, which made the open ending seem all the more abrupt. I turned the page expecting another chapter or at least an epilogue and felt a bit frustrated that the ending really was so open. It was optimistic, and not in an unrealistic manner considering all that the protagonists had been through, but ultimately it was up to the reader to decide where Hannah and Jeremiah’s relationship would go and what was going to happen to them next. While part of me wants to commend Siri for bravely giving her readers such an open ending, another part of me was just a little bit frustrated that the conclusion was so inconclusive.
Coming into the genre of Christian fiction a bit late in the day, I’ve sort of dived head first into the plethora of historical and Amish romance novels, grabbing wildly and often missing out on some of the genre’s best authors. When I finished this novel I found myself wondering how I could have been reading Christian historical fiction for two years and not yet discovered Siri Mitchell. The Messenger is an example of all that is good about this genre, and makes me proud to say that I endorse Christian novels. Believable characters, realistic spiritual journeys, heavily researched historical detail and a gentle and understated romance make The Messenger a novel I highly recommend to historical fiction fans.