Reviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" Joy Restored is the first story in The Chronicles of Chanute Crossing, a two book series following the lives and rReviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" Joy Restored is the first story in The Chronicles of Chanute Crossing, a two book series following the lives and romance of Seth Orbin and Kate Davidson. It's difficult to know where to begin this review. I've never particularly enjoyed writing critical reviews. Since becoming a writer myself, I like them even less, and never more so than when an author has personally asked me to review their work. Therefore, it is with some measure of reluctance that I will endeavor to explain why I was only able to award Joy Restored with 2.5 stars, but I feel that I owe it to myself, my readers, and the author to be as honest as possible.
For starters, I'll say that I did like Seth and Kate for as well as I got to know them, but I saw numerous missed opportunities for much richer character development. Seth is extremely good with Kate's kids, and I liked how he immediately put them at ease from the moment they met. Despite having suffered through the tragedy of losing his wife and young son to unfriendly natives while on a missions trip in Ecuador, he is still a man of strong faith who believes in God's innate goodness. I really would have liked to see more details on why he and his wife chose to go on this trip, and exactly how his wife and son died, as well as Seth's feelings following that event. Seth is also described as a good employer, and as someone who gives back to the community and helps those in need, but we never actually see any of these things. I dearly would have loved to see him in action as the benevolent employer or philanthropist. In one scene, there is a fire in Seth's sawmill, which I think would have been far more interesting had Seth run into the plant to save someone's life or simply to make sure everyone got out safely. At least this would have shown him to be heroic and would have made sense. Instead he went into a burning building for no apparent reason and then stood there watching the fire, which seemed extremely foolhardy, and then of course, he got hurt. As for Kate, she's an excellent mother to her three children who has done an admirable job of continuing on with life for the sake of her kids even though her heart aches after losing her husband in a car accident. Her husband was a Vietnam vet who was struggling with what was most likely PTSD although it wasn't named. There was one moment where she considered the possibility that he might have run his car off the road deliberately, but then it was never mentioned again. Kate has a background as an artist, but we never get to see her in action doing what she supposedly excels at. Instead, she moves from being a receptionist to the design department of the greeting card company where she works with little fanfare. Late in the story, and quite out of the blue, Kate mentions starting a support group for military wives who had lost a husband in or immediately following the Vietnam conflict. Again, I thought this situation was ripe for more scenes of her in action. It would have been a great place for her to work through her anger at God, but sadly, we never get to see a meeting at all.
Unfortunately, Joy Restored relies heavily on an inspirational romance trope that's been done to death, that of one main character who has lost their faith (or never had it to begin with) and one who is a strong Christian who is reluctant to get involved with them because of it. Despite it's overuse, I can still enjoy this theme when it's done well, but in this case, I felt, once again, like there were many missed opportunities. Kate was a strong believer in God before her husband's accident, and it's not like she became an atheist because of it. She's merely a woman who is struggling with the idea of a benevolent God allowing terrible things like this to happen. She was trying though, counseling with her priest and seeking answers, and I felt that she desperately wanted to understand and get back to where she was before the accident. This phenomena isn't all that uncommon, so I honestly didn't see why Seth had a problem with it. Having lost his wife under perhaps even more tragic circumstances and admittedly struggling with it for a time, he was in a very unique position to understand what Kate was going through and help her, but instead he spent a fair bit of the story largely ignoring her and sending her mixed messages. He spent a lot of time with Kate's children but not her at first, which didn't make a lot of sense to me. Why would a man want to spend time with a woman's kids if he's not interested in building a relationship with her? Seth would occasionally do something nice for Kate that didn't necessarily involve the kids, but then next thing we know, there's another woman in his life. Right before the fire he says he cares about Kate, but can't be with her because of her crisis of faith, which seemed forced and overblown, especially considering he had no trouble dating Elizabeth for two years when she was even less of a believer than Kate. This seemed very hypocritical to me. Then immediately after the fire, he's tells Kate that he wants to be with her and can see her faith, it's just buried. Seth was all over the board so much, I didn't really know what to think, and with this being the case, it was very difficult to sense any romance building between this couple.
The villains are little more than caricatures and have no real teeth. They appear in the story only briefly and infrequently, merely to create a little conflict. I've always been told as a writer that every good villain has a good backstory, but the two in this story have little to speak of. Their motives are weak and ill-defined. I had no real idea why Elizabeth was obsessed with marrying Seth, nor do I have any idea why Willard suddenly developed a thing for Kate and became stalkerish. I also didn't understand why Seth would even want to go out with a woman like Elizabeth at all, much less date her for two years, plus fancy himself in love with her and seriously considering marriage. Her personality was so far removed from both his first wife and Kate that she didn't seem like his type at all. In any case, he should have put Elizabeth in her place the minute he realized he wasn't in love with her instead of allowing her to keep coming around and tormenting Kate. For her part, Kate should have told Seth about her disastrous date with Willard and that the man wouldn't leave her alone after that. The fact that she didn't seemed to make a bigger deal out of it than it was. I felt that if her relationship with Seth couldn't weather a single dating mistake, during which nothing really happened, then they probably didn't belong together, especially since Seth had spent two years with the wrong woman.
The technical aspects of the writing could have used a lot more polish as well, and this is one area where I couldn't help wondering if the editor was asleep. There were times when a character might be doing one thing and in the next paragraph doing something else entirely. Sometimes the sequencing of thoughts and actions seemed out of order too, and perhaps were even continuity errors. (eg. Seth asks his parents what they think of Kate when she visits him in the hospital. He says it as though they've never met her, but they actually had met her quite some time before when they picked her kids up for an outing.) In a similar vein, a character might be thinking about one thing and then their thought process suddenly takes a flying leap in logic. (eg. Kate is thinking about having heard that Seth is seeing another woman and in the very next sentence she thinks, "Maybe I can get him to help figure out what's wrong with Maggie." Not only did the two things have absolutely nothing to do with one another, but up to that point there had been no inkling whatsoever that Maggie had a problem.) In all these instances, more transition details were sorely needed. Many sentences are written very simplistically with few words and/or basic word choices. In these cases, using more complexity in sentence structure and more engaging words could have really made the narrative sparkle. Sometimes the character's actions and introspections are too far removed from one another. (eg. Kate might think about something Seth did long after the fact when she should have been thinking about it in the moment to make her feelings more powerful and give them more immediacy.) There are also times when she might think about something Seth or someone else did but it didn't actually happen in the narrative. In my opinion, actually writing these scenes out would have made the story more interesting and given it more action instead just passively telling about these events.
I felt the dialog was very rough around the edges too. To begin with, Seth and Kate don't communicate well. In fact, they barely communicate at all when it comes to really important matters like relationship stuff, so the dialog often seemed like nothing more than filler, not really moving the plot forward or developing the characters like it should have. Seth and Kate spend way too much time wondering what the other is thinking and feeling rather than asking, especially Kate, which could be very frustrating to read. Even when this isn't the case, the dialog doesn't particularly embody the natural flow of conversation. There are two reasons for this. The first is that there frequently isn't a natural back and forth exchange, but rather one character asking several questions and/or making several comments right in a row without giving the other person a chance to respond. The other problem I saw was the author way over-uses names in dialog which just about drove me to distraction. Nearly every line was, “Katalina, this” or “Seth, that.” This is something that should be done sparingly as we rarely use people's names in real life, day-to-day conversations.
The one thing I can give Ms. Urbanski credit for are her settings. They are very nicely described, especially “The Top of the World,” Seth's cabin, and the surrounding wooded areas. They sounded absolutely beautiful, and I dearly would have loved to have seen more of these things in the narrative. The only small complaint I have in this regard is that although the exact time of the story isn't specified, it's pretty clear that it's set in the 1970's. Nowhere in the cover blurb does it even hint at this when it really should have. The blurb should set the scene for the story, and the lack of more modern technologies such as cell phones, personal computers, and email almost puts this book in the historical realm. All this notwithstanding, I did enjoy the era. All the toys that the kids play with and the mention of popular music was like a blast from my own past. One other thing that Ms. Urbanski did well was her rendering of Kate's children. They each had their own distinctive little personalities, and were all depicted very age-appropriately.
In conclusion, throughout reading Joy Restored, I felt like I was skim-reading a much longer novel with most of the details removed. It seemed like little more than the skeleton of a story that needed a lot more meat on its bones to be an engaging read. I desperately wanted the author to dig deeper and make me truly feel something, because as is, I sensed very little connection to her characters or story. Many of the situations could have lent themselves well to rip-your-heart-out emotional moments, so I was very frustrated not to feel more. There were just way too many conflicts and disasters for one relatively short novel. Every chapter or two someone was sick, injured, stranded, or being attacked by one of the villains, not to mention the tragedies that both Seth and Kate suffered before meeting. In my opinion, Joy Restored would have been a much better story if Ms. Urbanski had focused on only a couple of these things in a lot more depth, because cramming so many in only served to water the events down and make me feel like she was torturing her poor characters to death. The title seems to indicate that it's mostly about Kate searching for the answers to restore her joy, and in a way it is. However, this part of the story seemed more like a belabored point that then had a magical solution. I truly wanted to like this book, but unfortunately, I am only able to chalk it up to a lackluster read.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews A Long Way to Go is a sweet, heartwarming historical romance in the same vein as Little House on the Prairie or Janette Oke'sReviewed for THC Reviews A Long Way to Go is a sweet, heartwarming historical romance in the same vein as Little House on the Prairie or Janette Oke's pioneer stories. I think fans of these books would probably enjoy this one as well. Being a long-time fan of both, I liked it quite a bit. It is also the ultimate “road trip” story with the bulk of it taking place as the main characters journey to Oregon via wagon train. I always love these types of stories, because I never fail to be amazed at the courage and fortitude of the early pioneers who braved hardships in order to settle this great land of ours. In the author's note at the end, she mentions how she drew on actual journals and first-person accounts of pioneers who traveled the same trail as her protagonists. I wondered all throughout reading the book if this might be the case, because I felt like I was right there on the journey with them. This is an area where Ms. Belfie really excelled in her storytelling, so kudos for that.
The only thing that kept me from giving the book a higher rating was that I felt her character's motivations could have been explored a little better. In this area, the author has a tendency to skim over things rather than delving into deeper POV. I would have loved to see more narrative introspection to help me better understand what the characters were feeling and thinking, as well as a little more descriptive narration to better set some scenes. I noticed that the introspection often consists of rhetorical questions that the character asks of themselves or God (eg. Why am I feeling/acting this way?). In this respect, it would have been nice if Ms. Belfie had dug into her character's psyches to actually answer some of these questions instead of merely asking them and then leaving it up to the reader to speculate. Despite this small deficiency though, the characters were extremely likable.
Rachel is one of the main narrators of the story. She is a widow who has been struggling with taking care of her farm and raising her three children. Knowing that she needs help, her pastor brings around a nice man who is staying in the area temporarily while waiting for the wagon train to head west and is willing to work for meals and a place to sleep. She likes David and thinks he's attractive, but she's a little prickly toward him at first. It's a combination of her wariness of strangers and viewing David as being partially responsible for her sister and brother-in-law leaving her to go west. After all she'd been through with losing a husband and a son, I suppose she was entitled to feel that way, because she wouldn't have had any family left other than her three children had she stayed in Missouri. Rachel does warm up to David fairly quickly though, perhaps a little too quickly. She goes from being adamantly against going west, even after finding out her beloved sister is going, to accepting David's marriage proposal and being OK with moving seemingly overnight. She supposedly did it so her children would have a father and because she was afraid of facing another winter with no male help, but there wasn't quite enough substance to her thought processes to fully understand her quick change of heart. This is one place where deeper POV would have been really helpful. The other is that Rachel is unable to tell David she loves him until the very end of the story, even though from all appearances she cares for and respects him deeply. She goes through some kind of guilt process, feeling bad about loving David and enjoying being married to him, because she somehow feels unfaithful to her first husband. Without that all-important deep introspection, this didn't fully make sense to me, but otherwise, Rachel was a likable and admirable heroine. She weathered the grueling journey quite well and without complaint and treated David very well in spite of her guilt.
David was a wonderful hero. Right from the start, it's obvious that he's a sweet, kind-hearted man. He's a hard worker around Rachel's farm, and her kids take to him almost immediately. In spite of having lost his first wife and baby in childbirth years ago and never having experienced fatherhood, he's extremely good at it. He relates to each of Rachel's children at their own level, whether it's holding and playing with baby Helen, fishing with young Josiah, or giving advice to the teenage Lucinda. He's very protective of his new family as well, always looking out for their well-being. David is very patient with Rachel too, giving her the time and space she needs to recover from her losses and adjust to being married to him, while biding his time in hopes that someday she'll come to love him every bit as much as he already loves her. Since the majority of the book is written from the perspective of two female characters, I have to admit to missing the male POV a bit, but what we see of David through the other character's eyes paints a picture of a gentle, loving man who would be impossible not to adore.
The other primary POV character is Rachel's sixteen year old daughter, Lucinda. She gets her own budding romance with Ben, a young man she meets on the trail. Lucinda is a very well brought up young lady who seems to have a lot of self-respect. She also takes a page from her mother's book by being a hard worker and never complaining. Instead, she willing helps out by cooking, cleaning, caring for her younger siblings, or doing whatever needs to be done. Despite her youth, I had no trouble believing she would make a good wife for Ben. Ben was every bit as nice and wonderful as David, and I really enjoyed this sweet secondary romance.
Overall, A Long Way to Go was a very enjoyable read. The other secondary characters who were a part of David and Rachel's group on the wagon train added flavor and interest. Rachel's other two children, were rendered age-appropriately. Little Helen was cute, while Josiah's exuberance was contagious. I thought the story gave a nice taste of what it must have been like for the early settlers as they made their way to a new home. The author even used a few real-life personages who were key players in this westward expansion as background characters. I also liked how the faith message was a gentle, organic part of the story. All in all, A Long Way to Go was a nice, easy read that was well-written. I would definitely recommend it to fans of this type of story.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Love's Long Journey was another wonderful story in the Love Comes Softly series that is so reminiscent of the Little House onReviewed for THC Reviews Love's Long Journey was another wonderful story in the Love Comes Softly series that is so reminiscent of the Little House on the Prairie books. The author really brought to life the stark reality of the hardships on a wagon train and how sometimes people died along the way. There was also the sheer boredom and monotony of doing the same things and eating the same things day after day. Even once Missie and Willie get settled in a temporary home on the frontier, dangers and boredom still factor in, especially during the winter months. In between the wagon trip and getting settled, Missie and Willie experienced a long, difficult separation as she stayed in the closest town, which was several days ride from their ranch, awaiting the birth of their baby, while Willie went on to get things set up for them. And of course, there was the homesickness of being separated from their families who were so far away with very little means of communication. It all makes me really thankful to live in modern times, and also thankful for those courageous souls throughout history who braved the hardships of the frontier to expand our nation.
Much the same as with her mother, Marty's book, this one is told entirely from Missie's POV. She was a brave young woman who obviously loved Willie a lot to want to help him pursue his dream of cattle ranching. Although the journey itself and living in such an isolated area was often difficult and brought disappointments, Missie rarely complained. She just set her mind to doing what needed to be done and eventually she adjusted quite well. Her attitude was admirable, but that's not to say that I always agreed with her decisions to keep certain things from her husband. I understood that she was trying to avoid adding stress on Willie by not telling him at first about being pregnant or about her severe homesickness, but as someone who shares nearly everything with my husband, I felt like she should have trusted that he could handle it. Once she finally fesses up, Missie comes to that same conclusion herself, but later in the story she still keeps a couple of things from him, including an incident where one of the ranch hands menaces her. I really felt like she should have told Willie about that and allowed him to share her burdens a little more. Even though I sometimes didn't agree with Missie, overall, she was still a very relatable heroine with all of her emotional ups and downs. Missie is a keen observer of people and seems to have an intuitive sense about how they might be feeling or what they might need, and was always ready to lend a hand, which is something that I can really identify with.
I do kind of miss having the male perspective in these books, but the reader can get a pretty good feel for Willie through Missie's eyes. He is a kindhearted man toward others, a good husband to Missie, and a loving father to Nathan. He is a hard worker, a great provider for Missie and his child, and very protective of them both, always doing what was in their best interests even if it was difficult. Willie is a bit of a dreamer with his aspirations of starting a cattle ranch, but still pretty practical, and doesn't really take chances. I think what I liked most about him is the way he comforts Missie in times of sorrow and truly wants to share her burdens, and also his quiet faith and optimism.
There are many things to love about this book. The young love that Willie and Missie share and the way they can hardly stand to be apart from one another is so sweet and tender. The faith message is not at all preachy, but instead is a gentle one of relying on God to sustain you through difficult times. There is a full compliment of secondary characters, other pioneers, ranch hands, townspeople in Tettsford Junction, and more, who all give the story the flavor of the Old West and the sense of oneness as a community. Everything just came together to make Love's Long Journey a very enjoyable read, or perhaps I should say re-read, since I'm pretty sure I first read it years ago as a teenager. In any case, it was every bit as good today as it was back then, and I'm really looking forward to continuing the series. I can tell that there is more story for Missie and Willie, and I'm eager to find out what happens next for them....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews A Special Blessing for Sara is a gentle inspirational romance that in some ways is more reminiscent of women's fiction with aReviewed for THC Reviews A Special Blessing for Sara is a gentle inspirational romance that in some ways is more reminiscent of women's fiction with a strong romantic element. The entire story is told from the third-person POV of the heroine with no male perspective at all (this is pretty rare in romance, but oddly enough, the third one like this I've read in a month). There is also equal, if not more, attention given to Sara's career as a counselor, her volunteer work with her church, and her family life as there is to her love life. With the focus of the novel split there was already limited space for relationship development, but then the author has not one but three men vying for Sara's affections at the same time. I've never been much of a fan of love triangles, much less love quadrangles. They usually take too much space away from the main hero and heroine, and don't allow for enough time to really develop their love. Ultimately, I think Sara chose the right man, but that decision came relatively easily without much depth of thought. Because of this, the romantic content was sweet and tender but only partially satisfying. I think the story holds up better when classified as women's fiction, because it's more about Sara's journey through a short period of her life, in a variety of different aspects, spiritual, emotional, family revelations and romantic choices, more so than a single romantic relationship. Overall, when I think of it in this capacity, I can honestly say I enjoyed it.
Sara is a caring, compassionate young woman who is very good at her job as a counselor but is struggling a bit in her personal life. Jeremy, her long-time boyfriend, who she thought was going to marry her, walked out of her life four months earlier after she refused to become intimate with him, and she's having a hard time getting over him. Sara is attracted to her co-worker, Ken, and he seems to be interested in her as well, but there is also Darrel, the handsome new youth pastor at her church. Then out of the blue, Jeremy comes back, wanting to rekindle their relationship. Decisions... decisions! Sara is pretty much the epitome of a sweet heroine who is simply nice to everyone, perhaps a little too nice at times, but her clients seem to love her, as do the youth at her church and basically everyone else too. I can't say that I really understood Sara's attachment to Jeremy and her willingness to start dating him again when he returned. In my opinion, he was very disrespectful of Sara and her feelings, and without making some serious changes in his life, he was clearly the wrong choice. That said, Sara's decision to go out with Ken if he asked her (before Jeremy returned) seemed a bit abrupt, considering it was Darrel who appeared to be showing the most interest in her at that point. It was also a little odd that she welcomed Ken into her home to visit but didn't really want Darrel there. Additionally, even though Sara and Ken had known each other through work for quite a while, I still thought that some of the information they shared about themselves on their first two dates was a little too personal for a couple who was just getting to know one another. Overall though, I liked Sara and two out of three of her men, as well as where the romance ultimately led.
There were a couple of things in the story that lacked credibility for me. First was Sara giving out her personal cell phone number to her clients and allowing them to call her anytime they needed assistance, as well as acting in a friendship capacity to a client while actively counseling her. I've known a lot of counselors in my life and this type of behavior would definitely be crossing the counselor/client relationship line and could possibly even get the counselor in trouble with the licensing board. However, I realize that some of this was done to set up a plot twist (which I actually figured out really early in the story), so I suppose I can forgive the use of artistic license. The other thing was that for young 20-somethings, the main characters have interests that, in my opinion, are too “old” for their age group. They listen to oldies or easy-listening type music, only seem to watch old black and white movies, and don't watch anything on TV except the news. Not to say that there might not be a few amongst the younger generation who enjoy these things, but I certainly don't know any who do, at least not on a regular basis. Even a middle-aged, 40-something like myself rarely does these things, so I would have preferred to see the characters act a little closer to their age. Lastly, and this isn't really a credibility issue so much as a critique, I felt the author's word choices were sometimes a bit too formal and stilted, and especially stood out when used in dialog.
In spite of a few small criticisms, I did enjoy A Special Blessing for Sara. Sara's close-knit family is very heartwarming, just the kind of family almost anyone would love to have. The multiple romantic connections that occur for the other single characters in the book was cute, and at least left me with a good feeling about no one really getting left out in the cold. I especially loved the way the people of the church reached out to help those in the community who were without power during the storm, particularly ones who were the most vulnerable, like the elderly. Readers who are averse to religious themes may not care for this one, because the faith message is ever-present throughout the narrative. I found it to be a gentle, organic part of the story and therefore, not off-putting in any way, but others may feel differently. Overall, this was one of those really sweet, super-easy reads that makes you feel like you've wrapped up in a warm blanket with a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter's day. I would recommend it for anyone looking for a simple, uncomplicated story to relax and unwind from the stresses of life.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I have to give author, Shirley Kiger Connolly credit for attempting to tackle the topical issue of single motherhood out of weReviewed for THC Reviews I have to give author, Shirley Kiger Connolly credit for attempting to tackle the topical issue of single motherhood out of wedlock in her new inspirational romance, Say Goodbye to Yesterday. This is a problem that would have been dicey at best in a contemporary, but especially eyebrow raising for a historical. However, because of that historical context, I felt that she left two big questions unanswered. The first would be how Annabelle managed to get pregnant not once, but twice, without being married. In spite of being an orphan, she was a proper lady from a well-off family, and as such, would probably have been chaperoned everywhere she went, making it very difficult to be alone with a man. Not to mention, ladies in that era simply tended to be more cautious about such things as their reputation being ruined. The author never elaborated on how Annabelle even met her girls' father, much less her state of mind the two times she got pregnant. When we meet her in the story, she doesn't even really like the guy, much less love him, and what little we see of him, he's not a nice person. Now, in spite of the lack of details, I'm willing accept that occasionally, even a gently bred lady could make a mistake and find herself pregnant out of wedlock, but then that brings me to my next big question: In those days, when this happened, the woman's family would typically insist upon a shotgun wedding to save the lady's reputation, but in this case, Annabelle's family did the exact opposite, which was to forbid her from ever seeing him again. If more explanation of these things had been given, I probably could have bought into the premise, but as is, I felt like there were a couple of really big holes.
Unfortunately, these weren't the only details that were missing. Throughout most of the story, I couldn't seem to shake the strong sense of wanting to know more, and sometimes felt outright lost. It was like the author kept jumping ahead of herself and then not coming back to fill in the blanks. I just didn't feel like I had the complete picture of what was going on which could be very frustrating at times. I got the sense that she could see what was happening in her mind's eye, but just didn't express it in the written word as clearly as she could have. The editing could have been much better too. As I already mentioned, there were some passages that needed to be bulked up with more details, while there were others that needed to be pared down to make them cleaner, more concise and less repetitive (the characters were doing so much "swinging,” “spinning,” “curving,” and “twisting” I was starting to get dizzy;-)). The characters also had an annoying habit of not finishing their sentences. Additionally, I found several anachronistic words and phrases, such as “invading your space” and a character using the term “viral illness” when at that time, the idea of germs causing illnesses was nothing more than a theory and viruses weren't even discovered until twenty years later.
Even though I was left with a lot of questions about them and thought their characterizations could have been much deeper, I did like Carlton and Annabelle pretty well. Carlton was a career soldier who had earned a great deal of respect and worked his way up through the ranks to teach at West Point. He was very kind and chivalrous, always ready to lend a hand when Annabelle was in trouble. Carlton obviously adored children. He is completely taken with little Geraldine and interacts with her wonderfully right from the start, and he loved his own unborn child enough to go after him when it was clear that the mother didn't want him. Carlton was just an all-around nice guy who certainly didn't deserve what his wife did to him. I have to admire Annabelle on some level for weathering through single motherhood, and the stigma attached to it, fairly well. I could relate to her crisis of faith, but in my opinion, it was overcome too easily. As with other things in the story, I would have loved to know more about this aspect of her life. In my opinion, it would have made her a more real and vibrant character. The only thing about Annabelle that kind of irritated me was that she, in my mind, kept getting unjustifiably annoyed, if not outright angry with Carlton for helping her which I simply didn't get. I thought that Carlton and Annabelle's romance could have used a little more pizazz too. They're apart for large swaths of time, and during the first ¾ or so of the book, when they are together, what passes for romance is merely a strong physical attraction and a few lustful looks here and there. Later in the story, they shared a couple of tender moments which I enjoyed, but then a silly misunderstanding about Carlton's marital status kept them apart longer than necessary to my way of thinking.
That brings me to what, in my opinion, was the very best part of the book, Annabelle's little daughter, Geraldine. I've noticed that it can be difficult for authors to get child characters just right, and I can say without reservation that Ms. Connolly has the knack with getting them to “behave.” Geraldine definitely acts like the six-year-old she is rather than a miniature adult, and her breezy innocence and sunny personality is positively infectious. I really enjoyed reading her scenes.
Overall, I would say that Say Goodbye to Yesterday was a reasonably good read that could have been great. It was kind of like eating a soup that is agreeable to the palate, but there just wasn't quite enough substance to it to it fill me up. All the base ingredients were there to make a good story, but it simply needed more depth and dimension to both the plot and characterizations. More of those things would have made it the hearty and satisfying stew I crave in my reading material. Say Goodbye to Yesterday is the first in a planned series titled, Decisions. Even though it didn't quite wow me, I can't help being a bit curious as to whom the next book will be about. I'm thinking that Annabelle's cousin, Phillip, who already has an admirer, would make a good hero, or perhaps her older daughter, Suzanna, could be aged to make a good heroine. Either way (or if the author's choose to go a completely different direction), I might be open to trying the next book when it comes out.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I'm fairly certain that Come Gentle Spring is another re-read from my teen years. Although I didn't remember the story beforeReviewed for THC Reviews I'm fairly certain that Come Gentle Spring is another re-read from my teen years. Although I didn't remember the story before beginning, there were several moments where I felt a sense of deja vu. It takes place in Colonial America near the settlement of Jamestown close to thirty years after the events of Where Morning Dawns, and is a next generation story following the sons of Maggie and Towaye the hero and heroine of that book. In my opinion, there aren't nearly enough Colonial set romances, so I really appreciated that aspect of the book. It also explores some of the tensions between the white settlers and the Indians during that time period. It appears that the author did her homework when writing the book, as I felt like I had been transported back in time and could see the little cabin and tobacco fields near the banks of the James River. Much like its predecessor, Come Gentle Spring, it is another speculative story, this time concerning a legend which had Mary, Queen of Scots secretly giving birth to a daughter who grew up in a convent in France.
Hayley is the granddaughter of Mary, Queen of Scots through that legendary child, so she has lived the life of royalty, being pampered and well-educated. Her family had in mind to someday usurp the throne of England and make her queen, but when their plotting places her life in danger, she is sent to the New World for her own safety. Upon her arrival in the Virgina Colony, Hayley is so ill as to be virtually incoherent, and ends up in an accidental marriage of convenience with the hero, Philip. She had been rather tired of all the men in her life always calling the shots and her simply having to obey. When she finally wakes up, she is afraid that it is going to be just the same with Philip, but is pleasantly surprised to find that he treats her as an equal partner in their marriage. Much to her embarrassment, Hayley doesn't have any idea how to cook, clean, or do any of the chores associated with frontier life, but she was a quick study. I liked that in spite of her coddled background, she never acted spoiled and was a determined woman who wanted to be “useful” to Philip. I liked Hayley a little better than Maggie from Where Morning Dawns, but much like her mother-in-law had done with Towaye in that story, Hayley also avoids sharing Philip's bed for a long time, even though in this case, they were legally married, and Philip was making his interest pretty clear. This was slightly frustrating, but not quite as bad as in the first book, partly because I didn't feel like it was as big a part of the story and partly because it did make some sense since they were complete strangers to each other at first.
Just like Towaye, Philip was a wonderful hero who embodied a lot of his father's personality while embracing his mother's culture. He's very determined to build his own tobacco plantation that he hopes to grow into a legacy to leave to his children. Right from the start, he was kind to Hayley, taking care of her when others probably would have left her to die. He even gave up his only means of hiring a servant to help build his plantation and married Hayley when he had no intention of taking a wife right then, just so the Jamestown officials would allow him to take her to his mother to nurse her back to health. Philip was a very understanding man in more ways than one. He sensed that she wasn't familiar with menial labor and took it all in stride never expecting too much from her and helping her out until she learned everything. He also completely comprehended Hayley's reluctance to sleep with him and was more than willing to wait until a “great love” blossomed between them. It was a little odd and again frustrating, that when Hayley finally came around, Philip was the one who started being reticent. Thankfully, it didn't take long for his reasons to be revealed and when they were, I think I liked him all the more, because he turned out to be much more observant and intuitive than I would have imagined. My favorite thing about Philip though was how he brushed Hayley's hair every night before bed. It was such a gentle, intimate gesture that I thought spoke volumes about the kindhearted man he was.
One thing I really appreciated about this book is that the author didn't rely on the tired, overused cliché of inspirational romances in which one of the two main characters doesn't know God. In this case, both Philip and Hayley already had a well-established faith when the story opens, so it leans more toward the inspirational message of trusting God through difficult circumstances rather than feeling preachy. There is a continuation of the culture war from the first book though, because in spite of being mixed heritage, Philip has chosen to live the English way, while is brother, Saponi, has chosen the Indian way. In some ways, I felt like the author was giving more of a preference to the English way, due to Saponi's hatred of all things English and the fact that he and other Indian characters were primary antagonists. However, I wasn't quite as bothered by it as I might have been, because the reality of the time was that some Indians did disdain the English and their ways and often attacked settlers, even those who were trying to be at peace with them. Also, Philip ran into some prejudices of his own from the Jamestown residents in the beginning and later from others in the area when he decided to run for a seat in the House of Burgesses. I also enjoyed seeing Maggie and Towaye so many years after the end of their own story, and that they were still completely in love. It helped to solidify their HEA which hadn't been quite as perfect as I would have liked to see when their book ended. Overall, Come Gentle Spring was an easy read that I found to be pretty enjoyable, and a good wrap-up to this duet. I'll be looking forward to trying some of Irene Brand's other works now too....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I'm pretty certain I read Love's Enduring Promise years ago in my teens, but prior to picking it up again, I couldReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I'm pretty certain I read Love's Enduring Promise years ago in my teens, but prior to picking it up again, I couldn't really remember a thing about the story. As a consequence and knowing that this was a continuation of Clark and Marty's relationship, I was kind of expecting an epic love story which isn't quite what this novel is all about. The book opens about two years after the ending of Love Comes Softly. It is still primarily about Clark, Marty, and their growing family, but more like a series of snapshots of their lives together over a span of approximately twelve years. It is also about how the community in which they live and the people within it grow and change as time goes by as well. I didn't find this one to be quite as romantic as the first book of the Love Comes Softly series, probably because it doesn't focus in on the building of one couple's relationship, but I suppose there was enough romance present in the multiple courtships and marriages among secondary characters and the next generation of the Davis family to loosely characterize the story as a historical romance.
Once again, I loved reading about life on the frontier, the sense of warmth and love that comes from family, friends, and community, and how they all share in the joy and sorrow, laughter and tears that life can bring. Most of the story is still told from Marty's point-of-view, but occasionally snippets of other character's perspectives pop up. Then Missie takes over some of the bits near the end, probably as something of a transition to the next book, Love's Long Journey, which will be her story. There are numerous mini sub-plots that highlight all the changes in the community. As more people come to the area, the residents welcome a new teacher, new preachers, and new neighbors. I particularly liked the part about the new preachers, because it highlighted a spiritual position with which I agree, that true spiritual sustenance doesn't come from big words or fancy sermons, but from an ability to sense an earthy oneness with God on a much simpler level. The people also say good-bye as some of their fellow residents move on and others pass on. I was very taken with a sweet side story about a young couple's much longed-for child not being exactly what they were expecting, but he ended up being a remarkable boy who was their pride and joy. There was also one of the many romances that ended in heartbreak, which also tore my heart open a little too, not just because of what the couple experienced but because of other issues which I'll address in a moment. Overall, every little piece of the narrative came together to make me feel like I was a part of this little frontier neighborhood.
I would have to say that Marty is still the main character in this book. She strikes me as a no-nonsense kind of woman who works hard, and would do just about anything for anyone. She can be pretty stubborn and independent at times. She can also be fairly exuberant in her faith, and is eager to share it with others, but I wouldn't characterize it as being particularly overbearing or preachy. Underlying everything is a loving woman who is a great wife and mother. I was rather disappointed that Clark didn't play as much of a role in this book, but what we get to see of him through his interactions with Marty and their family, I could tell that he is the same kind, gentle man with a heart of gold. He is a loving, attentive and protective husband and father, always thinking of others before himself. Clark is just an all-around great guy. Clark and Marty's family grows by leaps and bounds until their little frontier home is just about bursting at the seams, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about their interactions with each of the children and watching some of them grow up and move on to lives of their own.
Overall, Love's Enduring Promise was a gentle book that was a joy to read, but there was one little part involving the secondary romance I mentioned earlier which left me rather troubled. It involved a white young man (a character I had come to care about a great deal) and an Indian girl (who was very sweet in her own right), which raised the issues of racism and prejudice. The couple was obviously very deeply in love and wanted nothing more than to be married, but not a single person in the story supported that desire (except for one short line from his sister who was immediately chastised by their mother for being naïve and having her vision clouded by her own upcoming nuptials). Marty came the closest by agreeing to meet the girl and talk to the boy's mother, but even she wasn't entirely on board with the relationship. What bothered me the most though was when the boy's mother essentially stated that it wasn't God's will for people of different races to be married and have mixed-race babies. I realize that prejudice of this nature was quite common back then, and that no matter what happened the couple would have faced a difficult road. However, they certainly wouldn't have been the first white/Indian pairing of the era, and since the only way to combat prejudice is for someone to stand up and say it's wrong, I couldn't help wondering if things might not have been different for them if well-respected members of the community like the Grahams and Davises had taken that stand instead of being wishy-washy about it. After all, they are supposed to be good Christian people and to me, that seems like the Christian thing to do. Admittedly, the girl's Indian grandfather wasn't any better, but since he had lost many family members in white attacks, I felt like he at least had a good reason for hating them. The main point I'm trying to make with my mini-rant, is that I felt the author opened a can of worms that ultimately went nowhere and then copped out on a very sensitive issue. However, I'm willing to admit that perhaps, I'm applying too much of my modern sensibilities to a historical fiction story that was written over thirty years ago. This was the one and only thing that kept me from giving this book the full five stars. Thankfully, it was a very small part of the overall narrative and otherwise, Love's Enduring Promise was an enjoyable, feel-good story that left me with warm fuzzies all over, and very much looking forward to revisiting Missie's book soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I first read Love Comes Softly when I was only about 15 or 16 years old, and if memory serves, it was my very first romance noReviewed for THC Reviews I first read Love Comes Softly when I was only about 15 or 16 years old, and if memory serves, it was my very first romance novel. It seems I must have picked well, because not only is it an appropriate story for younger readers content-wise, but it has stood up to the test of time. I still enjoyed it every bit as much today as I did 25 years ago, perhaps even more because I'm seeing it through more mature eyes. Love Comes Softly is something of a Little House on the Prairie story aimed at a slightly older audience. Janette Oke captures that same spirit of the pioneers, depicting their day-to-day lives in a way that made me feel like I was there with them. It amazes me how hard-working and courageous these people were. Ms. Oke paints a picture of joys and sorrow, hardships and laughter against the backdrop of the frontier where close-knit communities of people existed who were willing to help each other in any way they could. She also really brings home the harsh reality for people in that time period, especially women, and how few choices they had. Marty would have been in unbelievably dire straits, and could possibly have even died, if Clark, a stranger to her, hadn't proposed a marriage of convenience. Under the circumstances, it couldn't have been an easy thing for him to do either, but he needed her almost as much as she needed him, even though she didn't want to admit it.
The vast majority (probably more than 95%) of the story is told from Marty's third-person point of view. Marty was a great female lead, but she was also a character who had to slowly grow on me. The author did a wonderful job of palpably expressing Marty's grief over the loss of her first husband. Then Clark came along immediately after her husband's funeral with his proposal. After some thought, Marty, being a practical woman, realized that she really had no other choice, but it didn't stop her from stubbornly resenting Clark for it. Although Marty never gave voice to her angry thoughts in Clark's presence, the reader is certainly privy to them. There were times when I felt like she was being ungrateful for this man taking her in and treating her with kindness and respect, and that she was rather selfish in not even considering the fact that he too might still be grieving the loss of his wife. In her defense though, I carefully considered what it would be like to be in her shoes, and decided that she was for the most part simply having a fairly normal human reaction to being placed in such an untenable position. During these times, I wish that a little more background information had been given about Marty so that I could better understand her reluctance to be beholden to a man, her being suspicious about Clark's kindness, and her inability to perform some of the simplest household tasks. I did admire her determination to uphold her end of the bargain (one way in which her stubbornness served her well), her willingness to learn, and that she always tried her best even when it didn't turn out right. Marty's initial ineptness at cooking and doing household chores could be pretty funny at times. As I continued to read, I realized that the story was really all about Marty's journey back to wholeness and being able to open her heart to love again, and I really enjoyed watching her learn, and change, and most of all grow as a person.
There is a part of me that wishes we could have had a little more insight from Clark's point of view. There were only a handful of times in the entire book where we get to see things from his perspective, and they only last for a couple of paragraphs. However, I think that the author meant for the reader to experience Clark through his actions, and the message that actions speak louder than words came across very clearly through his character. Clark was an incredibly kind and gentle man. He only asked for a mutually beneficial marriage in name only, and even offered Marty an out if she chose to take it. He gave her the space she needed to grieve the loss of her husband. He was never mean or demanding like she expected, but instead treated her with respect and patience when she burned dinner or made a mess of her attempts at cleaning. He even ate pancakes every meal for several days without complaint, and helped with some of the cooking and other chores until Marty got her feet under her. Clark was always caring, thoughtful and understanding, especially after he found out that Marty was expecting. He was an amazing father to Missie, and later, to Marty's child as well. Even Marty realized that Clark always did what was right and best for others, even if it hurt him to do it. I think that the best thing about Clark though was how he quietly “lived” his faith in God through example. He never, ever used it to beat Marty over the head. He just accepted her as she was. It would have been impossible not to love a romantic hero like Clark, and slowly but surely his love (as well as God's love) stole into Marty's heart softly and unexpectedly.
There were a couple of other elements in Love Comes Softly that really drew me in. First was the marriage of convenience which I haven't really read much of in romance before, and I guess had never really thought much about either. After reading this book, I am quite curious to try more romances with this theme. The other was simply the underlying Christian message of the story which I found to be utterly inspiring. I've been very reluctant to read inspirational romances lately because of the preachiness I often find in them, but Love Comes Softly was a truly uplifting novel that brought me back to some simple spiritual truths that had somehow gotten lost in the busy hustle and bustle of everyday life. For that reason alone, I am so grateful that I decided to re-read this book. In fact, the one and only small problem I had with the story was the author's use of backwoodsy vernacular that seemed a little extreme even for the frontier. In my opinion, it made the characters seem somewhat unintelligent which they clearly weren't. Overall though, it was a minor issue, and otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the book. Love Comes Softly is the first volume in the series of the same name. I can't recall how many of the books I read as a teen, but since the latter three were published several years later, I know that I never made it past #5. This all makes me very eager to revisit/discover the rest of the series soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Love's Late Spring is a sweet hearth and home type of inspirational romance. Believe it or not, this little 150-page book coveReviewed for THC Reviews Love's Late Spring is a sweet hearth and home type of inspirational romance. Believe it or not, this little 150-page book covers a full two years in the lives of the protagonists, so it moves along at a pretty brisk clip. I really liked the way that the author used the changing seasons to indicate the passage of time. There definitely isn't much in the way of extraneous details, but on the occasions when the author indulges in a paragraph or two of descriptions, her prose has a very lyrical quality. The dialog is quite a bit more formal than I'm used to, but this may be a product of the book's age. It was originally published in 1970 under the title At Your Age, Miss Russell?. There were a few other things besides the dialog which tended to date the story, such as records being played on the stereo and no cell phones to keep in touch, as well as some mild social attitudes toward minorities and a woman's place, but overall, it wasn't too bad for being a forty year old book. I'll admit though that I'm old enough to still remember the 70's, so for someone younger than me, the datedness might be more noticeable and jarring. The religious content of the book was surprisingly low-key and limited to gentle expressions of the character's faith in simple ways such as regular church attendance, prayer and the celebration of Christmas and Easter as the birth and resurrection of Christ. I found it very refreshing to read an inspirational romance that wasn't preachy or trying to push any sort of agenda.
Much like the lack of descriptive details, there isn't a great deal of character introspection, but I still liked Paula and John quite well. Being a big fan of the friends to lovers theme, I enjoyed that the couple had been inseparable childhood friends. It was rather sad though that Paula had fallen in love with John by the time they were in high school, but he was oblivious and instead fell for and married another woman. Paula had carried a torch for him for sixteen years and although she had dated occasionally, had never really been in a serious relationship. The one element I didn't care for was the love triangle at the beginning of the story. Paula had been dating a guy she worked with for a few months, and he was starting to get serious. As he put it though, she always seemed to be waiting for something, and in the end, a nice guy was left out in the cold. Unfortunately, this is one of my least favorite themes in romance, but for some reason, it seems to be a staple conflict trope in inspirational romances. Once Paula broke up with him, I was able to more fully invest myself in her newly discovered relationship with John, although nothing about the past and her unrequited feelings all those years was ever explored between them.
The secondary characters added a homey family feel to the story, and I liked almost all of them. John has two daughters. The younger one, Denise, is very welcoming of Paula in John's life, but the older teenager, Connie, adds to the conflict by resenting having a new stepmother. She acted pretty bratty and immature about John remarrying and having a baby with Paula for almost the entire book. I understood Connie missing her mother, but her childish behavior made it pretty difficult to sympathize. I liked Paula and John's mothers who were neighbors and long-term friends themselves. They were very supportive of John and Paula's marriage, and it was cute that they both thought it was about time that their son and daughter got together. Susie, the cat, helped to give even more hominess to the story and added a bit of depth to the characters. There was also a whole host of other supporting players who bring cohesiveness to the tale.
Love's Late Spring was one of those fairly predictable stories that can be nice to delve into once in a while when you're looking for something light to read. In fact, I think there was only one sad event that I didn't really see coming, and although I was rather disappointed in the author's choice to write it that way, the fast pace made it over and done with and virtually forgotten in a matter of a couple pages. The book probably could have used a dash of something more to season it and give a bit more depth to the plot and characters, but considering it's age and brief length, I thought it was a pretty enjoyable read. I haven't been able to find any good information on Lydia Heermann, but from what I can tell Love's Late Spring (aka At Your Age, Miss Russell?) seems to be her only published work of fiction which is a pity as I would have been interested in reading more from her....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews It's Now or Never was a cute little e-book quickie about a nanny who has fallen for her employer, a theme that I usually like.Reviewed for THC Reviews It's Now or Never was a cute little e-book quickie about a nanny who has fallen for her employer, a theme that I usually like. I thought that Sara's reason for the urgency to reveal her feelings to Logan was a little weak. Even though her contract was about to expire, I couldn't imagine why Logan wouldn't want to keep her on, since she was obviously such a good child-care provider. She mentioned to her friend that she had to teach Logan how to be a father from scratch, and now he'd learned everything he needed to know. I just had a hard time with the idea of him initially being so ignorant as a parent, if his ex-wife was so completely uninvolved in their son's life. However, this bit was a very small part of the story that was really only used to set the stage. I don't usually expect too much from such a short novella, and otherwise, I enjoyed it. I liked the overall theme and the characters, and wouldn't have minded reading a longer book about them to find out how their relationship started and progressed. It's Now or Never was a sweet, tender little romance from The Wild Rose Press' inspirational imprint (White Rose), but since there was no overpowering religious element, I think mainstream readers could enjoy it too. It gave me a nice taste of the author's writing style (which I liked), so I'll be interested in trying something else by Wendy Davy in the future. It's Now or Never is available as a free download from White Rose Publishing. ...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I first read Through a Glass Darkly when I was a teenager, but I didn't really remember much about the plot and thought it migReviewed for THC Reviews I first read Through a Glass Darkly when I was a teenager, but I didn't really remember much about the plot and thought it might be fun to see how I would view it through adult eyes. I have to say that I finished the story with rather mixed feelings. I didn't dislike the book, but neither can I say that I enthusiastically enjoyed it either. In my opinion, it had some issues which may have been a product of the time frame in which it was written (1985), and perhaps these “issues” are why I didn't recall the storyline.
My middle-of-the-road stance on the book itself is also mirrored in my opinions of the hero and heroine. Cole is a Vietnam vet and now the CEO of his own electronics company. He is a self-made man who wants to control his own destiny and doesn't seem to fear or be bothered by much of anything. As a result, he isn't very empathetic toward anyone else who is. He also has a reputation as a playboy. Cole's demeanor reminded me very much of the bodice-ripper style heroes of the 1970's and 1980's. One minute he is being a dominating alpha behaving in what I considered a rather cruel manner, making very direct and biting comments to Sheila and grabbing her arms/shoulders to shake her. Two paragraphs later, he's apologetic and more tender with his words and gestures. He also apparently went on dates with another woman while he was seeing Sheila, which is a huge no-no in my book. Sheila started the story as an outgoing young woman with a zany personality who composes greeting card verses for a living. After a car accident leaves her with intermittent periods of blindness, she becomes a shell of her former self. She too flip-flops back and forth between wanting to be independent while trying to trust God that everything will work out for the best, and simply being scared of life. She also has the one-minute-kind-and-gentle, the next-minute-temperamental thing going on. I think that perhaps the author was trying to use these extremes in personalities to express the character's complexities, as well as Sheila's struggles to come to terms with her disability and Cole's need for God in his life, but it just didn't entirely come across that way to me. Instead, I found their behavior to be frustrating and ended up rolling my eyes more than once at how quickly they could change their attitudes.
I think Sheila's realization that she was in love with Cole came about too quickly. I just didn't feel the build-up of emotions that would make me buy into it. The overall progression of the couple's relationship seemed very odd to me and lacking a smooth, sensible flow. Sheila loves Cole even though she thinks he doesn't love her in return and is only hanging out with her out of a sense of pity and physical desire, yet she continues to see him anyway. One minute Cole almost seems to mock Sheila both on a personal level, as well as her Christian values, and the next he admires her for both. They also tend to bicker quite a bit, which I think might have been intended to show their uncertainties about being with someone who was so different in both personality and religious beliefs. It's all just very choppy though, without any real clarity in their motives or intent, leaving me feeling like I was the one who was blind because I just couldn't “see” what in the world was supposed to be going on between them. I guess the one good thing I can say about their relationship is that Cole did bring the vibrancy back into Sheila's life even though I couldn't quite figure out how he did it.
Aside from the dichotomy of the characters, there were a couple of other paradoxes in this book. The first was a rift between the trite notion that Christians are supposed to be “perfect,” trusting God always with a cheerful heart in spite of their trials and burdens, and the reality of fear and just plain being human. Since in real life perfect people don't exist, I think I'm much more receptive to those characters who tend to struggle a bit in their faith, and could relate to Sheila better when she was in this mode. The other odd thing in this book was that the author at least on an internal level acknowledged the existence of sexual desire which is more than many Christian authors do and which I could fully appreciate, but every time Cole said something with a double meaning or got the remotest bit passionate, Sheila almost literally freaked out. Again, I think the author was trying to express Sheila's desire to avoid temptation, but in my opinion, it came off as a complete over-reaction.
The thing I liked most about the book is that it avoided becoming preachy like many inspirational romances can be. Although Sheila had friends who voiced some displeasure over her seeing Cole, presumably because he wasn't a Christian, they never became too overt or forceful about it. Sheila herself even had some concerns initially, but ultimately, she didn't try to “change” Cole. That's not to say that she was shy about expressing her faith, but it was done in such a way that it didn't seem at all like she was trying to shove it down his throat or give him an ultimatum. On the contrary, I thought she was generally pretty accepting of him as he was, and she had another good friend who was also a non-Christian which made her appear more open-minded in general. I very much appreciated that no one tried to browbeat Cole with their beliefs, and he came to God completely of his own free will and in his own time because of their quiet show of faith.
Even though I thought Through a Glass Darkly could have been better, it wasn't a bad book. If anything, I came away from my re-read with a rather ambiguous feeling, acknowledging that it had both its good points and not-so-good points. Considering that this was Sara Mitchell's first published romance, it was a pretty decent first effort. To the best of my recollection, it is the only book by her that I have ever read, and although I may not re-read it again, I am open to trying some of her other works. In fact, I believe I have one of her more recent novels written for the Love Inspired line on my TBR, and maybe after having had more than a couple of decades to season her writing, it will be a smoother ride than this one was....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Where Morning Dawns is another inspirational romance that I first read in my teens and decided to revisit as an adult. I had fReviewed for THC Reviews Where Morning Dawns is another inspirational romance that I first read in my teens and decided to revisit as an adult. I had forgotten that it is a speculative account of what might have happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke which was a fascinating element. Not many romances take place in colonial America, especially this early, so the setting alone was quite unique and made for an interesting reading experience. The author seems to have researched her time period well, giving the story an authentic feel. In fact, sometimes, it was a little too authentic for my modern sensibilities. Maggie initially thinks of Towaye as a heathen savage and her Christian mission seems to involve replacing the Indian culture with English culture which she thought to be a “better way.” While I'll grant that some English/Christian ways were better (eg. Not killing an innocent person for revenge even if he was from an enemy tribe), there are other things that I think were better the Indian way (eg. Sharing the work and the food so that no one goes hungry). Thankfully, Maggie later had a couple of moments where she managed to engage the Indian culture rather than disparage it, which would be a more modern approach to mission work, but there were still times when I felt like the Indians were more willing to learn from her and accepting of certain aspects of “her way” than she was of theirs. In spite of some ups and downs though, the author managed to write a story that I generally liked in spite of itself.
The entire story is told from Maggie's third-person perspective, but in spite of that, I still had a little trouble understanding her at times. She was attracted to Towaye right from the start and seemed to trust him until he had to save her life, and then she became wary of him. Granted he was telling her that because he had protected her, she now belonged to him, and he wouldn't facilitate a return to her people, but for a long time, she essentially thought of herself as his prisoner which seemed a little extreme considering that he treated her so well. She even had what I would characterize as a TSTL moment where she nearly died in an attempt to escape him. After that, she did warm back up to him, allowed him to embrace and kiss her, shared a house with him, basically did everything with him that a wife would do except share his bed. Now I did understand that she was technically betrothed to another which was a binding oath and I admired her for sticking to her morals and beliefs, but I couldn't help feeling like she was tormenting the poor man. I'm not saying that she should have slept with him, but she wouldn't really so much as give him an ounce of hope that they might have a future together. Even after she realized she was falling in love with him and he had declared his love for her, she still stubbornly kept asking to be taken to the English settlement. She also didn't have a clue whether her fiancée would ever come back or if he still lived, nor did she love him like she did Towaye. I felt like she should have at least told Towaye she cared, and that if her betrothed didn't return by a certain time, she would consider accepting him as her husband. This finally happened, but not until I'd nearly lost patience with her. Then, even though they got their HEA, I still felt a slight bit of hesitation and perhaps some small regret on Maggie's part for what she was giving up. Maggie did frustrate me at times, but I don't mean to make her sound all bad. She had courage and strength of character, not only to travel to a new land but to stand up for what was right when necessary. I also admired her for putting aside her obsession with going back to her people, at least temporarily, to care for Towaye when he fell ill. She was also very good at teaching the children, and ended up being a good missionary in spite of feeling like she wasn't or that she couldn't do it without her fiancée. Maggie certainly had her moments where she made me want to shake some sense into her, but there were other times where I could relate to how difficult this type of change might be for her.
Even though there isn't a single scene from Towaye's point of view, I thought that Irene Brand managed to draw him fairly well through Maggie's eyes. Towaye fell for Maggie right away, and I loved how he always called her “my Maggie” even in the beginning. He was an incredibly considerate man who cared enough to make many cultural concessions in order to keep Maggie as happy and comfortable as possible. Everything he did, from taking care of her sore feet, to doing chores that would be considered “woman's work” in his tribe, to making sure she had as much of her English culture as he could provide were very romantic. Towaye also had the patience of Job to wait for Maggie as long as he did. The way he always asked, “Someday, my Maggie?” every time she denied him the one thing he wanted most, was a little sad but also very sweet. Even he had his limits though and eventually became angry and hopeless at her seeming inability to accept him. Towaye made lots of small changes throughout the entire book to both his beliefs and his lifestyle, and all of them weighed together, I felt were probably more than Maggie's compromises. That's not to say he was perfect though. As I mentioned earlier, he wouldn't allow Maggie to go to the English camp, partly because of his belief that she belonged to him, a life for a life, but I think the bigger reason was simply that he was afraid of loosing her. He also had one big slip-up when he decided to seek vengeance on an enemy, but even that generally turned out OK. Overall, Towaye was a really lovable hero which is why I had a hard time with Maggie putting him off for so long.
The Christian theme of this story was pretty overt, but I didn't really feel like I was being preached at like with some inspirational novels. I think this was because the tone hearkened back to a time when the message of Christ was more simple and straightforward without all the complicated rhetoric that often seems to accompany it nowadays. I think this made it much easier to appreciate even if the “culture war” going on between Maggie and the Algonquians made me a little uncomfortable at times. I would also say that Ms. Brand tied up the story in a perhaps, too-neat little bow, providing Maggie with everything she needed to avoid even the slightest pang of guilt over her choice. It might have been nice if Maggie had been challenged a little more in her thinking, but I guess since this is an inspirational romance, most readers would have balked if it had ended any other way. Overall, Where Morning Dawns was a pretty enjoyable re-read in spite of its flaws. It is the first in an untitled duet. The hero of the sequel, Come Gentle Spring, is I believe, related to Maggie in some way as they share a last name (perhaps her and Towaye's son, although I'm not certain). I can't recall if I ever read it or any of Irene Brand's other works, but I do look forward to trying them out now....more
THC Reviews "2.5 stars"Abide with Me continues the story of land developer, Parnell Pierce and pharmacist (not doctor as the cover blurb says), BrendaTHC Reviews "2.5 stars"Abide with Me continues the story of land developer, Parnell Pierce and pharmacist (not doctor as the cover blurb says), Brenda Rafferty that began in Abiding Love. In spite of being a Christian myself, I have to say that there were certain aspects of Abiding Love which had bothered me and which I covered in my review of that book. Because of the likability of the hero and his son, a desire to give the author a second chance, and the fact that this is a short book that I needed for a reading challenge in which I am participating, I decided to press on with the series anyway. I went into reading Abide with Me with the suspicion that I still might have issues with it, but trying to be open-minded and hopeful that there would be more character and relationship development. Unfortunately, there was no new depth added to the protagonists, and I ended up liking it even less than Abiding Love in some ways. Abide with Me was marketed under the Heartsong Presents inspirational romance label, but I have a hard time even calling it a romance. In my opinion, it would be more aptly categorized as Christian women's fiction with a small amount of romance in it. The majority of the story is taken up by sermonizing on various issues, and what felt like public service announcements for conservative family values, particularly on the topics of abstinence, pro-life, and adoption. If I want to hear a sermon, I will go to church on Sunday (and still not get “preached” at as much as this book seemed to do) or read a non-fiction Bible-study book. I also prefer not to be inundated with heavy-handed rhetoric on hot-button topics while reading fiction books either. When I pick up a novel to read, especially a romance novel, I have certain expectations of being entertained and actually getting a love story which was not really the case here.
Abide with Me could have easily been written in first person perspective, because nearly the entire book was presented from the heroine's point of view. The hero's viewpoint is virtually non-existent. In fact, I've read first-person books that gave me better insights into the hero's mind than this book did. Having everything be in Brenda's voice made the story seem very self-centered, as though other people's feelings and opinions barely even mattered, especially Parnell's, and I'm sorry to say that Brenda ended up irritating me to no end. She doesn't seem to have learned a thing since the previous book and is merely continuing in her wishy-washy, judgmental ways. Brenda leaves me with the feeling that she thinks her viewpoint is always the right one and anyone who disagrees with her is utterly wrong and has to be the one to change to be fully accepted by her. Once again, she also seems to lack even a minute amount of intuition or compassion for the man she supposedly loves. Brenda's mother and friend seem to understand Parnell better than she does, which I find quite sad. Even though Brenda hurt Parnell by keeping a big secret, which in part, was what caused him to become so distant, it was Parnell who ended up doing most of the groveling at the end with Brenda only say a couple of trite “I'm sorries.” This just did not sit well with me at all.
Even though Brenda had annoyed me at times in Abiding Love, I had been able to find some things to like about her, but in this book, I really couldn't find much of anything about her to which I could relate. She seems to lack any kind of reasonable communication skills in her relationship with Parnell, and just like she did in the last book, she always tends to think the worst of him. When he becomes reticent after the revelation of her secret, she instantly assumes that he is ready to break off their engagement. When his brooding intensifies and he asks to postpone their wedding so he can have time to think, she practically throws her engagement ring back at him and calls it off herself. Then when Parnell tells his young son, Angelo, the truth about why they aren't spending Christmas with Brenda causing Angelo to get extremely upset, she has the gall to act indignantly about it as though he is the one at fault. After a talk with her mom, Brenda finally decides that her relationship with Parnell is worth fighting for, but her idea of fighting is poking around in Parnell's past by running off to visit his elderly, senile grandmother at a nursing home miles away in hopes that she'll somehow remember enough to spill the beans about what's bothering Parnell. Of course, Brenda miraculously gets the information she's seeking, and then starts praying for the ability to forgive Parnell as though it is going to be extremely difficult, when in my opinion, his actions and behavior made perfect sense and there was little or nothing to forgive. Honestly, I don't really know what Parnell sees in Brenda, because all this just served to make me want to jump into the story and smack some sense into her.
The only positive thing I can say about Brenda is that her characterization between the first and second books was consistent, but I would have preferred she show some emotional growth and personal change. The other characters remained congruous as well. Parnell is the same kind, gentle man that he was in Abiding Love. Although he was little more than a supporting character in what should have been his own story and I dearly would have loved to see more of him, there were enough little things to show what a sweet, romantic and giving man he is. I liked that he was so committed to using his position to help out in the community, but humbly resists any attention or fanfare for his efforts. Parnell just seems more human and mature in his emotions and the way he views life than Brenda does to me. Angelo is still the same cute little boy, and I can at least commend the author for writing him in an age-appropriate way. As it was in the first book, Brenda's mother continues to be the voice of reason, but in the beginning Brenda stubbornly refuses to listen to her which ends up being to her detriment.
Overall, Abide with Me was, like it's predecessor, incredibly predictable. I figured out what Brenda's secret was very quickly, and to be honest, it didn't seem all that bad to me. I don't know why she was so uptight about telling Parnell. It's something that I would think that she would have had to tell her first husband too, but of course, that little fact is overlooked. I also almost instantaneously figured out what was bothering Parnell after the revelation of Brenda's secret. Additionally, there were a few other elements of the story that I thought were either strange or just plain weak. First, there is a scene where Brenda and her assistant, Rita, are discussing Rita's love life. Rita is lamenting the fact that her boyfriend is pressuring her for sex and seems quite conflicted about it. Then Brenda suddenly made an abrupt and flying leap of logic to conclude that Rita was already sleeping with her boyfriend. In my opinion, that didn't make sense with the conversation up to that point, but of course, it conveniently turned out to be true. Next, there was a bit of courtroom action which I found to be rather laughable. I admittedly have no legal background, but some of the questions that were being asked and the antics of the attorneys just didn't ring true to me. There was also a scene where Angelo disappears and rather than frantically continuing to search for him, Brenda and Parnell strangely just stand there presumably waiting for the police while having their reunion moment. Lastly, I thought that a large number of the conversations between Brenda and Parnell were rather awkward and stilted, reminiscent of two people who are just getting to know one another instead of a couple who is engaged to be married in a mere two months. Sadly, the fact that they really don't know each other is played out loud and clear throughout the whole story. This coupled with Brenda's seeming inability to trust Parnell and their poor communication left me skeptical that these two could actually have a true HEA. In fact, the HEA that existed left something to be desired, with no return of the engagement ring, no acknowledgement that the wedding was still on as planned, and no real declaration of love.
In spite of the content and characters being frustrating to me, I can say that the book was more readable than some others I've tried, even if I did feel like throwing it against the wall several times. I love to read Christmas stories during the month of December and was pleasantly surprised to find that the story was set during the holiday season even though it isn't the main focus nor mentioned in the cover blurb. There were also a couple of mildly edifying spiritual messages that I managed to glean from the story even though I had to dig pretty deep to unearth them from the mounds of ideology that had been heaped on top of them. Abide with Me is the second book in the Abide Duet, the first being Abiding Love which Ms. McManus wrote as Elizabeth Murphy. Even though there were some positive aspects to both books, I can't say that it was enough to overcome the negative ones for me. This author's storytelling style quite simply seems to be based more on personal agenda than any genuine sense of love and romance. After two less than stellar reads in a row by her, I have decided that no matter what name she is writing under, Ms. McManus's works are just not for me, and unless I hear something spectacular, I probably won't be picking up another of her books again....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Years ago, I belonged to the Heartsong Presents inspirational book club, and I still have dozens of these little books that arReviewed for THC Reviews Years ago, I belonged to the Heartsong Presents inspirational book club, and I still have dozens of these little books that are no longer than a Harlequin languishing on my shelves unread. Thanks to participating in reading challenges, I finally decided that it was time to dive in and clear a few off the TBR pile, but the one I chose to begin with left me with mixed feelings. In spite of being raised in and still a practicing member of the Christian faith, I felt that Abiding Love was, at times, a bit too heavy-handed on the religious aspects. I've never been comfortable with pulpit-pounding preachers, and when it comes to the Christian literature I read, I prefer a more subtle approach to the message of God's love. Those stories always seem to speak to me in a much deeper and more profound way than one that hits me over the head with doctrine. Maybe it's just this book, or perhaps the Christian fiction market has changed in the nearly fifteen years since it was written, but I recently read another inspirational romance that was pretty light on the religious element. Whichever the case may be, I found that Abiding Love had a fairly heavy dose of Christian values in it, and while I agreed with parts of it on some level, I thought that it could have been presented in a gentler way. I also never really felt like the inspirational message it was trying to convey was ever entirely clear. I think that it was attempting to say that we should trust God even in the midst of tragic circumstances, but ultimately, in my opinion, any deeper meaning was overshadowed by all the ideology. Additionally, I thought that a large part of the spiritual aspect was too magical and over-simplified. In my experience, faith is rarely such an easy thing.
I did like almost everything about the hero of the story, Parnell, except perhaps his name. Unlike some romance readers, I'm not overly prone to criticizing an author's choice of names for her characters, but to me the name Parnell just sounded to old for a handsome thirty-something man. Name issues aside, I did find him to be a very relatable character. His anger at God over the deaths of his wife and parents in a tragic car accident seemed very natural to me, and something that many people have gone through in life. I definitely thought that Parnell would have been a richer and more interesting character if he had remained the man who was having a crisis of faith, which is how I perceived him at the beginning of the book, rather than becoming a man who apparently had no faith at all in spite of being a minister's son. Otherwise, he is much like the tortured heroes I've enjoyed in other romances. Parnell is a thoughtful and caring man who is a very devoted father to his son, Angelo, and I also liked that as a real estate developer, he was working on building more affordable homes for people in the community who have lower incomes.
I had a much harder time warming up to Brenda, because she just seemed too wishy-washy, contradictory, and judgmental to me. In spite of her obvious attraction to Parnell, Brenda is constantly reminding herself that she shouldn't become involved with him because of his lack of faith in God. Not only did this become tedious, but I was starting to feel like Brenda had very little compassion and understanding for Parnell's feelings in spite of having lost her own husband under nearly identical circumstances. Then Brenda's parents gave her some sage advice about not judging him to harshly, and she almost lightened up, at least for a bit. In a similar incident, Brenda seemed rather uncomfortable with the inter-faith center because it wasn't like a “regular church.” Then her sister explained everything to her, and she was suddenly OK with it. At times, Brenda was stubbornly set in her ways, and other times fickly changing her mind at the drop of a hat. It was almost like she didn't know her own mind, and I have a hard time respecting people like that. Then there is the issue of her husband's death and any ensuing grief that I don't feel was given the weight that it deserved. On the one hand she seemed completely at peace about it, even before leaving the cemetery immediately following his funeral, but on the other hand her lack of a dating life during her three years of widowhood and the strong reaction she has to a man who resembles her dead husband, seem to indicate otherwise. The thing that bugged me the most about Brenda though, is how quick she is to think the worst of Parnell when her pharmacy is vandalized and someone starts harassing her over the phone. It just didn't ring true that she could think such terrible things about Parnell after spending so much time with him and presumably getting to know him pretty well. She was also overly quick to trust the wrong man just because he supposedly shared her faith and looked like her first husband. Admittedly, she had an ongoing back-and-forth internal dialog about both men, but I found it to be mostly annoying.
In spite of my frustrations with Brenda there were a few things that I liked about her. She was kind and caring toward her customers, and a sweet, motherly figure toward Angelo. I admired her determination to finish pharmacy school and open the store that she and her husband had always dreamed about. I also liked the simple fact that she was a pharmacist and not just any pharmacist, but one who had been trained in compounding. It would have been unique enough just to have a main character in that profession but the added bonus of her owning a compounding pharmacy seemed to be before its time since this book was written fourteen years ago and even today compounding pharmacies are not all that common. The odd thing though, is that the cover blurb gives her the title of doctor and while a pharmacist does have to earn a doctor of pharmacy degree, I don't think I've ever heard one referred to as doctor nor was Brenda at any point within the story.
Even for an inspirational romance, I would have to say that Abiding Love is pretty light on the actual romance. Brenda just spent so much time worrying about religious differences and then wrongly suspecting Parnell of terrorizing her, that there wasn't much time left for real relationship building. Then Parnell's easy forgiveness of Brenda for doubting him and a declaration of love came a little to quickly to be believable. There were a few very touching moments involving "family" outings and their mutual friendship with the elderly Mrs. Donnegan, but ultimately not enough to convince me that they could have a happy future together. There is a follow-up book though, so maybe the author left some of the deeper relationship stuff for that one. I can hope at least.:-)
There were a few other bothersome things about the story. One is a passage where Parnell sees Brenda leave the store with a man and thinks there might be trouble brewing but doesn't try to follow them, and when Brenda comes running back a few hours later obviously frightened to death with her dress torn, he comforts her but doesn't even ask if she is hurt. I found this to be very strange and extremely out of character for such a nice guy. The wording in some places is a bit clunky and unnatural, and there was a plot discrepancy where Brenda is wearing jeans and a t-shirt during an outing with Parnell and Angelo, but later is wearing a sundress. Although I enjoy a little light mystery in my romances, I'm not always the most adept at solving them, but still the mystery in this book was so predictable, I could have identified the bad guy from a mile away. On the upside, I did like the concept of the inter-faith center where people from a variety of denominations and faiths shared the same building for their worship services. I really think that things like this can help to promote religious harmony in a community. Somehow, in spite of the story's preachiness and predictably, the author did manage to keep me reading and didn't entirely bore me which is a plus too. Although I had some issues with this book, I will likely read the sequel, Abide with Me, (which the author wrote as Una McManus), because I still need it for my reading challenge, already have it on my TBR shelf, and hate to leave things unfinished, and I liked Parnell and Angelo enough to give it a try. I'll hopefully just be more prepared in my knowledge of the author's writing style....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I received an ARC copy of A Bride in the Bargain from the LibraryThing early reviewers program. It contains a plotReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I received an ARC copy of A Bride in the Bargain from the LibraryThing early reviewers program. It contains a plot device I usually enjoy, that of the mail-order bride, except with the twist that the bride doesn't know that she's bound for the altar. Once she finds out, of course she's none too happy about it, leaving her groom in the lurch, with seemingly no viable way to save half of his land grant that he has poured hard work into for more than a decade. A Bride in the Bargain sounded like a really fascinating story, and based on the synopsis, I thought I would thoroughly enjoy it. While there were some things that I did like about it, there were several other things that I did not.
For the second time in a row now, I've read a story that has multiple plot lines, none of which were explored quite to my satisfaction. The primary plot which I outlined above was my favorite and the most interesting, but there were at least three other secondary plots as well. First, Anna is adamantly against marriage, because she feels that she was responsible for the deaths of her entire family (father, mother, and younger brother), and doesn't believe that she is capable of handling the responsibilities of a wife without causing bad things to happen to anyone she loves. I've read similar story lines in which a hero or heroine has survivor's guilt, but in this case there were a lot of things about it that seemed rather forced. Anna claims that before her father left to fight in the Civil War, they were a happy family, but the mere act of her father enlisting and going away seemed to cause the family to disintegrate. Mom fell into some sort of clinical depression; Anna and her brother started fighting with each other (even physically); somewhere along the line Dad started sending nasty letters telling Anna that she and her brother's arguing brought the rebel bullets closer to him and that God would protect him if they would just get along (this part of the story made me extremely angry); then little brother runs off to join the war too after a particularly bad fight with Anna, which leads to Mom saying some horrible things to her as well. I realize that a husband and father going off to war can be exceedingly stressful, but there are plenty of families who manage without falling to pieces like this. I just had a hard time believing that they were a strong, happy family to begin with. On the contrary, they seemed pretty dysfunctional to me. The other thing that bothered me about this part of the story is that Anna was obviously quite wounded by all of these things, but then later has an instant epiphany after the town doctor counsels her for just a few minutes. This was something that was not believable to me at all. I know it's rather cliché and an often overused plot, but I think this whole story line would have been better is Anna had simply been afraid to love Joe because of loosing everyone she had ever loved. Instead the plot itself was overly convoluted and the denouement over-simplified, in my opinion.
Another plotline involved Joe needing to convince Anna that he wanted to marry her, because he had fallen in love with her and not just because he wanted to save his land. I think this part could have been very romantic, but it seemed to me that the author made Joe into one of those clueless alphas who barely has a romantic bone in his body. Strangely, he did a decent job of being somewhat romantic while Anna was staying at his house as a cook for the logging camp, and I even liked their picnic on the huge tree stump. Later though, that all changed for me. I guess he managed a few gestures during the actual courting phase that some readers may find romantic (Anna certainly did), but they didn't do a whole lot for me, at least not as written. Another thing that bothered me about Joe was his intense love of the land. I understand how the land gets into the blood of the men who work it especially back in the days when so much of the country was undeveloped, but Joe just seemed to love it almost to the exclusion of anyone or anything else. Even near the end of the book when Joe has to make a choice between Anna and the land, he still briefly waffles. I appreciated Joe's hardworking nature and ambition that made it possible for him to build a successful logging outfit from the ground up, and I can understand how it would be a difficult choice to leave all that. Still, I really prefer my heroes to be so utterly in love with the heroine that she, without a doubt, always comes first and absolutely nothing will ever stand in the way of their love. I think the final plot twist in the book, which then twisted on itself again, was intended to show Joe's commitment to Anna, but if Joe had been made into a more romantic hero in the first place, I don't think that part would have even been necessary. A man can certainly wear his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his woman without jeopardizing his manhood (I've seen it done numerous times in other novels), but from what I could tell that didn't seem to be something Joe was capable of.
For the most part, I liked the characters in the story, but I felt that the characterizations were pretty uneven. I've already discussed Joe quite a bit, and although he could have his more tender, gentle moments, they just weren't frequent enough or long enough to suit me. It's not that I disliked him, but he probably would be the type of guy who would drive me batty in real life. I admired Anna as a strong young woman who had lived through the deaths of her family members with dignity and had managed to eke out a meager living for herself. Most of the time she seemed like a very gentle, kind person, but her occasional spates of temper, especially in the flashback with her brother, made her seem rather shrewish. What in other heroines I have found to be an endearing spitfire quality, I think came off rather badly in Anna, because she was always arguing with someone she loved instead of defending herself against a villain or bucking the system like most spitfire heroines would be doing. In fact, almost all the characters had some temper issues. Joe sent some of Anna's seashells sailing across the room and then foolishly chopped down a tree in the dark in a fit of anger, the lumberjacks often smacked each other around and brutishly threatened to “talk with their hands,” and Joe's best friend, Red, kicked a hole in the side of the barn when he got upset. Even Red was contradictory, because he initially was encouraging Joe to woo Anna in every way he could think of, but then when it seemed that Joe would have to give up everything for her, Red did an about face and essentially said she wasn't worth it. All in all, I think I would have enjoyed these characters quite a bit if I had just been able to get a better lock on their personalities. As it was written, I felt like they were all over the place, and I was being constantly jerked back and forth between liking them and not being very certain about their motives.
A Bride in the Bargain had several plot cliches that I'm not particularly fond of too. Joe ended up keeping a secret from Anna, but I thought his reasons for it were pretty weak. Of course, when the secret comes out, it leads to “the big misunderstanding” and then a lack of communication about their feelings for one another only compounds it all. Another thing that I thought the author could have done a much better job with is the descriptive details. I truly felt that this story had a lot of potential and in spite of my other issues with it, could have been great if there had just been more richness in the details. The first thing that comes to mind is that I would have liked to know more about what the lead characters were feeling for each other. Instead their feelings seemed rather stunted at times, and in my opinion, the author was doing more telling than showing. Also, I found their dialog was sometimes stilted, with them seeming to say only what was necessary, rather than their words having the more poetic quality of many other romances I've read. Finally, even though the setting was the beautiful, majestic forests of Washington Territory against the gorgeous backdrop of Mt. Ranier, I just couldn't seem to picture all of it in my mind's eye, because there simply wasn't enough detail. I have read other books that were set in the same area of Washington, and the depictions were so vivid, I felt like I was in the heart of the forest and could almost smell the pine. Sadly, this was not so with A Bride in the Bargain. I will definitely give Ms. Gist credit for the one thing I thought she did describe fairly well, and that was how a lumberjack went about his work of felling trees. I found this to be pretty interesting and different, since I haven't really read any other lumberjack heroes. I also thought that for an inspirational romance, there was a surprising amount of sexual tension (which of course was only consummated off canvas), but with the story lacking that all-important emotional connection, I certainly wouldn't go so far as to call it sensual. Additionally, in my opinion, the religious content was fairly low-key and non-preachy, so except for readers who are seriously averse to any religious depictions at all, I would say that almost anyone, including those who aren't typically readers of inspirationals, could potentially enjoy this story.
I realize I've spent a large part of my review criticizing this book, and I always dislike it when I have to do that. I go into reading every book with a desire to not just like it, but to come away from reading it, thinking that it was fabulous. Unfortunately, A Bride in the Bargain fell short of that mark. I can say that it moved along at a fairly quick pace and kept me reading. Even though I had several frustrations with the book, I was never bored with it, which is always a positive. I also liked that the author interjected a bit of the real history of Seattle into the story, as well as a couple of real personages as characters. I'm sure there are many romance readers who will find A Bride in the Bargain to be a worthwhile read, and in spite of my criticisms, I actually did too. It's simply that I thought it could have been so much more than just worthwhile. Ultimately, I think that seeing so much potential in the story, but not having it live up to that potential, is what made me so frustrated with it. Since this was my first read by Deeanne Gist, I can't say if the issues I had with the book are inherent in her writing style or if it was a peculiarity of this particular book, but as I have another of her books on my TBR pile, I will likely be giving her another chance to wow me in the future....more