Book Review: A Bride of Convenience

A Bride of Convenience
The Bride Ships
#3
by Jody Hedlund

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Bride

In the 1860s, women were shipped from England to Victoria, in what is now Canada, to become wives for the bachelors who lived and worked in the British colonies. Author Jody Hedlund imagines what might have happened to some of the women on those ships in her series The Bride Ships. This is book #3 of that series, though can be read as a standalone. Only a day off the ship, Zoe becomes the guardian of an abandoned infant. While a local pastor named Abe attempts to find the baby’s father, Zoe resolves to care for the baby herself. But single-motherhood is not only difficult, but nearly impossible in this untamed land. Through a misunderstanding, Zoe and Abe marry and then are faced with the difficult decisions that come from a hasty marriage of convenience.

Marriages of convenience have always been something that draw my attention, especially in a Christian setting. The story of Zoe and Abe and how they get to know each other, become friends, and hope for more, was sweet and captivating. If my rating were based only on that, it would have been at least 4 stars, maybe more. However, my lower rating is because of the physical lust that I had to wade through.

I’ll start with the positives, though, because outside of the physical stuff, or if I’d been able to skip over it, I really enjoyed the overall story. I liked both of the main characters as individuals, which seems fairly uncommon in romances I read these days. Abe had some issues being assertive (which I can related to), but found a backbone when it was needed. Zoe was uncertain about her ability to be a “proper” pastor’s wife, but had a lot more actionable compassion than she realized. I was able to predict what happened near the end, but would have been pretty surprised about the way the rest of the story had gone if my prediction had not come true. I would actually like to see more of these two, as long as they can keep their physical desires about each other out of the narrative.

So obviously, the fact that Abe and Zoe are married through most of the book is going to involve some physical desires. And because they’re married, even though they’re still basically strangers, it’s okay, right? Sure, I don’t have a problem with a husband and wife lusting after each other, even if they’ve only just met, or if their marriage was not borne of love for each other. And I really appreciate the fact that they were completely respectful of each other, because, as Zoe herself observes, in the confines of being married, Abe may have felt he had the right to take whatever he wanted. But what did bother me was the near-constant leering. More specifically, it’s the fairly detailed descriptions of the leering that made me uncomfortable as I read. Just because two people are married doesn’t mean I want to hear the details of their love lives, lusts, or desires. Even Abe himself, in the story, finds himself uncomfortable in the presence of his friend and friend’s new bride, as they apparently made out in front of him a lot. Just because they’re married doesn’t mean we all want to watch them enjoying each other.

I’m sure it might seem to some like there’s no way around it, given the story presented, but I think that it could have been toned way down. And because this is a Christian book, which will be expected to be clean and okay for younger people, I wanted to make sure to mention this possible issue for others. To be fair, there’s nothing I would call explicit, but it’s about the closest I can remember reading in a Christian book. From the other reviews, it’s clear that I’m in the minority here, but as another reviewer stated, I would not allow my daughter to read this when she’s a teenager, and would be very uncomfortable listening to an audiobook of this with any members of my family around.

I hate to say this, because I do think the story was well-written. I have a feeling the other books in this series, maybe others by the author too, likely don’t have the same problem (I certainly hope not, at least). But I would have a difficult time recommending this book too widely. If you aren’t bothered by this kind of thing and enjoy Christian romance, certainly give it a try. But be careful where you’re reading it or listening to it, and please make sure to read it before allowing your teenager to read it.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: A Soldier’s Promise

A Soldier’s Promise
Crystal Lake #2
by Laura Scott

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

Soldier

Derek wants nothing more than to be a father to his recently motherless daughter Lexi, but there are some seemingly insurmountable obstacles to that dream. As he tries to outrun some of those obstacles, he’s in a car accident that forces him to stop his flight in Crystal Lake. There, he and his daughter are helped by ER nurse Julie, who has her own burdens to shake off. Will these three find what they’re looking for in each other?

This story is about a novella-length, about twice the length of the previous one. And it did have more substance than the previous book, even allowing for a fairly serious storyline to be tied up. Unfortunately, even with the shorter format, there’s a good deal of repetitiveness in the narration, especially involving the main characters’ inner turmoil about their individual situations (as well as their joint situation). I appreciated Derek’s characterization, but felt Julie left a lot to be desired in, regarding having much of a personality.

Most likely because the story is so short, it has the unfortunate common situation where two characters who have only just met develop feelings for each other very quickly. This particular relationship moved to kissing more quickly than I prefer, especially for a Christian read. And so much of the romance we see them develop revolves around them admiring each others’ looks.

I appreciated that Julie wanted to share her faith with Derek, and by extension, with Lexi. I don’t recall it being wrapped up in the story, but it certainly wouldn’t have to be, realistically speaking. I think there was a good foundation there for the future, though (their fictitious future that won’t likely be in any future books, of course). There was one theology point I didn’t agree with, but I won’t mention it here.

As the second book in a series of similar stories, and both being decent, but not stand-out reads, I don’t plan to move on in this series. However, if you are interested in a short, sweet, clean romance, this book can easily be read as a standalone in the series. I thought we might get a bit more of a glimpse of the characters (as a pair) from the first book than we did, since they all work in the same hospital. Please be sure to check out other reviews, as there are plenty who liked it more than I did.

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Book Review: A Lady of Esteem

A Lady of Esteem
Hawthorne House #0.5
by Kristi Ann Hunter

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Lady of Esteem

Though the ward of a man of wealth, Amelia grows up mostly alone. She feels more at home amongst servants, and not just those of her own household, than the aristocracy. This provides for some awkward moments when she catches the eye of a marquis with a bad reputation. As Amelia heads toward the age where she will no longer be anyone’s ward, her circumstances change in a way that leaves her with no idea where her future will take her, or if she’ll be able to see any of her friends anymore.

I got this book for free on Amazon, and at this point, I’m really glad the book and its following series were put on my radar. This book itself is a short read, but gave me a good feel for this writer, who was new to me. I liked the characters and enjoyed the short, sweet story of Amelia finding a home.

Amelia herself is a good example of a Christian woman, keeping to her morals and being a good example for others. The marquis, Anthony, is a recent convert, and while he struggles with knowing that his old reputation will follow him no matter how he acts now, he also has moments of contemplating going back to his old ways. These two complement each other very well.

There was one glaring coincidence that brought the story down for me a little, and a few points where I was just confused about what was going on in the moment. And I have no idea in the end if Amelia turned 21 during the story or not. It was approaching and was something she was really concerned about, and then…nothing really happened involving that.

Overall, I enjoyed this short read set in the Regency period. If you think you might be interested, it’s still free on Amazon as of the time of me writing this review. It also includes the first chapter or so of the first full novel in the series that follows. I have to admit, I got completely hooked with just what I read there. I’m really looking forward to reading the book that follows this one!

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Book Review: The Green Dress

Finished Reading: The Green Dress
by Liz Tolsma

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

Green

Boston, 1886–members of the Robinson family keep falling ill and dying in the same way, with no known cure. When Harriet Peters, who is a close friend of Lizzie Robinson, watches her best friend die, she moves in with the family to care for the youngest members. As the illness claims another life, Harriet enlists the help of a new doctor in town, and he begins to suspect foul play. But how many more have to die before a possible murderer can be caught?

This is my favorite book so far in the True Colors series. It was well-written, the characters were real (and a little scary), and the crime was more interesting and woven into the story better than some of the others in the series (which are stand-alones written by mostly different authors), while also being less gruesome than that of one of the others. I was also a lot more engaged by the romance than I was with most of the others.

From almost the very beginning of the story, I suspected who the mastermind was and turned out to be correct. In fact, it took me a while into the story before I realized the author was attempting to throw us off the trail, make us suspect others. At least, I think that’s what she was trying to do. However, because the book is based on a real story, I think it might have been a bit better to make the criminal plain, at least a little, and add some excitement there. Though this being a Christian story, that might have made it too dark.

My biggest gripe isn’t even all that big. The title of the book was a bit of a stretch, in my opinion. I think the green dress should have been involved a little more for it to make the title seem less like it was forced, just so this book could be in the series. I did like the payoff (and suspected that to be the case as well), but still think it could have been more woven into the story.

The book is not terribly pushy in the Christianity department. Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, there is discussion about death and what is really required of us humans to be able to go to Heaven. There is also a theme in the later parts of the book regarding God’s will, and how we can pray for healing, but sometimes God’s will is for someone not to be healed in this life. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I would recommend this book for fans of Christian romance, especially the historical variety.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Healing Her Heart

Healing Her Heart
Crystal Lake #1
by Laura Scott

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian romance

Healing

ER nurse Larissa and a doctor she works with, Gabe, unite in their concern for a woman who Larissa suspects is being abused by her husband. They also bond over their shared running hobby and a minor calamity that befalls Larissa. Though Gabe is determined to never date a colleague, will Larissa change his mind?

This novelette is a quick, sweet romance. There wasn’t a lot of depth, but that’s expected in a story this short. Even still, both characters had a backstory that came into play in the story in some way. There were a few things that were a little odd due to the shallowness, like a character in Larissa’s past that was apparently important enough to mention, but not to explain. And an action scene that was a little confusing, possibly because the author was trying to keep it short.

The Christianity in the story revolves around the theme of forgiveness, which leads to an apparent assertion that the reason to forgive those who have wronged you is because you have God’s love and they don’t. For one thing, to assume that anyone who you might be in a position to offer forgiveness to isn’t a Christian is bad logic. Then there’s the theological question about whether God loves those who have not turned to him for salvation, which I won’t debate right now, but I’ll just say the statement was odd.

This is the first in a series of novellas (from what I can see, the rest of the books are generally at least twice the length of this one). It’s currently free on Amazon, as is the 2nd book. There’s not truly a lot of substance here, but if you’re looking for a quick, clean romance, I would recommend this.

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Book Review: Daughter of Cana

Daughter of Cana
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Daughter

At a wedding in Cana, Tasmin oversees the week-long feast, with the help of her twin brother Thomas. But Thomas becomes more interested in what a guest from Nazareth has to say than helping his sister. Then that guest appears to turn water into wine, though Tasmin isn’t convinced. And neither is the guest’s brother Jude. After the wedding, Thomas goes with the Nazarene to Capernaum, and both Tasmin and Jude follow, each determined to retrieve their wayward brothers. But it turns out the task is not so easy, and Tasmin’s and Jude’s lives are upset as they try to balance their own lives with still making their brothers see sense–and hope to prove that the Nazarene is not who he claims to be.

This was an interesting take on the ministry of Jesus (referred to by his Hebrew name, Yeshua, in this book) from the perspective of one of his half-brothers, who did not believe he was the Christ during his ministry on earth, and the perspective of a sister to one of the apostles. As Jesus himself put it, no man is a prophet in his own hometown, and that principle applies in some way to both of the main characters (in their view of Yeshua). Most of Jesus’s works are seen from a distance, and I expected that to become tedious, but I appreciated the way the miracles were told by those benefited by the miracles or even bystanders.

I was a little concerned early on, as it seemed Yeshua was being portrayed as lazy and even slightly belligerent to his parents, slacking off while his brothers did all the work, even before his ministry started. I came to see that as the perspective of a frustrated, even jealous, brother, though. There was also one point where Jude talked to his brother in private, and I mentally winced in anticipation of the words the author might choose to put in Jesus’s mouth. Fiction or not, that strikes me as an unwise thing to do. However, his dialog was still right out of scripture. Granted, he obviously said those things to a larger crowd in the Bible, but there is evidence Jesus repeated some parts of his sermons anyway. It was a good decision on the author’s part, I feel.

While Tasmin and Jude spent most of the book with little in the way of their own story, and even of their own personalities, they grew enough later in the book that I still felt some connection to them. The best thing about the book, for me, was that it gave me the ability to feel like I was there, back in Jesus’s day, hearing him speak, seeing him myself, even if from a distance much of the time. There were Hebrew words and phrases sprinkled here and there, and the meaning wasn’t always clear to me. I didn’t quite see the reason for most of that, but that’s a small down-side to an otherwise lovely book. I would recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Time Benders: The Machine

Time Benders: The Machine
Time Benders #1
by J.B. Yanni

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: YA science fiction, Christian

Time Benders

When the four Fitzgerald children are orphaned, their aunt sends them off to boarding school. There, the four siblings grow closer than they had ever been before, as they rely on each other in their grieving and new, sudden situation. As the kids settle into life at the school, eldest sibling Ken begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding their aunt taking custody of the kids and excluding them from the will reading. Meanwhile, his brother Joe, a math and science whiz, finds a fascinating math problem, coupled with a machine. When he discovers that the calculation might just be the secret to time travel, the kids have to decide whether or not they should go back and prevent their parents’ death, and how they would even do that.

I have to say that this book was really not for me. There were two main areas that brought the story down the most for me, and sadly one of them was the plot itself. The other area was the writing style. I’ll explain a little:

Time travel plots can be difficult to do well, and since they always require suspension of disbelief, for some people, it doesn’t pay to be too picky about what you’re expecting from one. However, the assumptions the kids make in this book about how time travel would work for them and anyone who didn’t come along one the trip make no logical sense to me. And even when they see evidence that it doesn’t work that way, I don’t see them re-thinking their ideas. Also, they decide to go back and change a major point in history (won’t say what it is due to spoilers), because they feel that it will stop the beginning of a long progression of events that led to their parents death. And yet, they say more than once that they’re sure changing this major point won’t affect their friends’ families and lives. Even after saying that this event will potentially change another event in history, which affected millions of lives. It just makes no sense to me. And it’s not because they’re kids, since they’re generally shown to be smart (the oldest, who isn’t even one of the professed brains in the family, is going to Harvard). Oh, and I almost forgot that as the kids debate whether they even should go back to stop their parents’ deaths or not, their arguments actually make it seem like they’re against doing it…even as they decide to do it.

The writing itself seemed like it needed some more work. From the very beginning the dialog just felt stilted, and I realized that the kids don’t use contractions as much as an average person in America would. A lot of the story is told in a way that feels very zoomed out, rather than up close to the action. Conversations are told to the reader, rather than shown. For example, “she told him she wanted to go to the store, and he said he thought that was a good idea,” rather than seeing the actual conversations taking place. Coupled with these zoomed-out conversations having little to no explanation of what anyone was doing while talking, they felt shallow. A lot of the time, the story felt more like an outline (though granted, a really detailed outline) than a final draft.

I found the question of whether or not there was something sinister in the way Aunt Alicia handled the estate and kids she was charged with after her sister’s death more interesting than the time travel part of the story, which is sad, because it kind of fizzled out. The rest of the plot involved everyday life for the kids–they had classes, holidays away from school, got boyfriends/girlfriends, at least one lost a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. I think far too much of that was shown, considering how little it affected the plot, but it probably wouldn’t have bothered me too much without the other issues I’ve mentioned, or if it would have at least served to show the kids’ personalities more. But there wasn’t much there.

I found this book when I saw the author was putting out the 2nd in the series, and wanted to see if it would be a good series to get into. Even though the first book ends on a huge cliffhanger, I don’t think it hooked me enough to put money into reading the next one. There may be an audience out there for this book, and it might just be the teenage audience that it’s meant for, though I personally wouldn’t recommend it to the YA group either. The book is in at least 1 Christian category on Amazon, and I could see where some of that was trying to come out. It might be brought out more in the next installment, but I can only speculate. I applaud the author for the work she’s put into this book, truly, but I think it needs quite a bit more work to be the great book it could be.

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Book Review: Deep State Stealth

Deep State Stealth
Nanostealth
#4
by Vikki Kestell

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian sci-fi thriller

Nano 4

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series–Stealthy Steps, Stealth Power, and Stealth Retribution.

Now that Gemma (make that Jayda) and Zander are both super-powered and married, they’re all set to save the president’s life (again). Tasked with rooting out the conspiracy that did not end with the death of the vice president, Jayda will go undercover in the NSA. Will she and Zander be able to root out the corruption and get out of the espionage business?

I struggled with this book quite a bit early on. I almost gave up on it after the first few chapters. But I stuck with it, and when the storyline about the conspiracy involving the president got going, the story picked up. In the end, though, this was the weakest book in the series, in my opinion.

This book has the odd distinction of being a bit too religious for me, and yet having some things that made me uncomfortable, especially in a Christian book. I’m not against Christianity in a book by any means. But in a book of this type, it’s much better off being spread out, rather than shoved at the reader all at once, which is how the beginning of the book felt. But even while that was happening, there were discussions of and references to the newlyweds’ “nap times” that were just too much for me–both near the beginning, and later in the book too (nothing graphic, but uncomfortable). And throughout the book, there was a lot of “bleeped” cussing. I know that Christian authors have to decide how to handle real-world language in their books, and Kestell’s approach isn’t a bad one, but there was a lot of it. And my mind does fill in the missing words, so I got a point where I was irritated by the amount of cuss words the book was putting into my head.

I don’t mean to imply that the book was bad, though. It provided more resolution to the rest of the series than I expected. There was a reveal later in the book that I thought was going to turn out to be anti-climactic, but was pretty interesting. And going into this book, I was really worried about the way the 2 clouds of nanomites behaved at the end of the previous book–almost like a form of sibling rivalry, and I was happy to see that that was largely downplayed in this book. Like with the previous book, the main plot was engaging, and I really liked the way Jayda and Zander utilized the nanomites.

One more thing–like with the previous book, this one is written in mixed perspectives. Most of it is 1st-person from Jayda’s point of view, with some 3rd-person if the author wanted to show things happening with other characters. For as strange as it was in the previous book, it was even more strange in this one, as more than once, Jayda herself was referenced in one of the 3rd-person sections, and it took me out of the story, since she’s the character whose eyes we view most of the story through. The writing style in general really isn’t for me.

Looking back at the series as a whole, it has its pros and cons. The story itself was good–I really liked the premise, especially the initial accidental invisibility, and Gemma learning to work with the mites. The author’s style and insertion of religion detracted from the series overall, but I think many other Christians wouldn’t be so bothered by the things that bothered me. Be sure to check out other reviews if you’re interested, as there are many positive ones for this series.

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Book Review: The Sea Before Us

The Sea Before Us
Sunrise at Normandy #1
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Sea Before

Wyatt Paxton is a lieutenant in the US Navy. Dorothy Fairfax is a first officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Both of these divisions of the US and UK military are working closely together to plan the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, which is when Wyatt and Dorothy meet. Dorothy’s job is to piece together thousands of holiday pictures of the beaches of France so that Wyatt can make informed decisions for the invasion. Though Wyatt is drawn to Dorothy, she has her eyes set on another man…who has his eyes set on several other women. Both have to find a way to keep romantic entanglements, as well as other family drama, from distracting them from the ultimate goal–winning the war.

What I liked about this book is that it was not just about the romance. Wyatt and Dorothy both had a lot of other things going on in their lives, and that’s besides the looming invasion. In fact, the romance plot line is what detracted the most, or at least a particular aspect of it, as I’ll explain a bit further below. Overall, though, the book was engaging, enjoyable to read, and clearly well-researched.

The book begins by showing an incident in Wyatt’s past that haunts him throughout the book. It was especially interesting to me, because I’ve already read book #3 in this series and knew of the event, and now got to see it happen. Wyatt himself was a great character–great guy with a lot of depth, and I had an easy time imagining his Texas drawl, because his dialog was well-written. Feeling guilty about his part in the incident that happened before he joined the Navy, Wyatt sees himself as a prodigal son, leaning on God to get him through this tough time, and sharing his faith with Dorothy.

Dorothy had a lot more going on in her story, but I liked her less. She was a good daughter, and not necessarily mean to Wyatt (for the most part). But frankly, it took her way too long to see Eaton, her crush, for what he really was. There were times I was sure she was on the turning point, but she just kept pushing Wyatt aside in her mind and crushing on Eaton. And why was she so set on this? Because of what I felt was the weakest part of the book–her mother once told her that she regretted marrying her father, because he was boring, and she needed excitement. Her mother said that Dorothy was just like her, and warned her to marry someone exciting like Eaton. Why she wrote Wyatt off as “boring” so very quickly, I’m not sure, but she stuck by that assessment for far too long.

Other than a further contrivance later in the book, the rest of it was great. The book follows Wyatt into the invasion, from his position on a naval ship, and though a lot of the terminology was lost on me, I was caught up in it. There were several scenes in the last quarter of the book that made me so happy. In the end, I definitely recommend this book to all who enjoy Christian romance and Christian historical novels.

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Book Review: Storm

Storm
Swipe
#3
by Evan Angler

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

Storm

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, Swipe and Sneak.

Unwitting leaders of a revolution for those who refused to pledge loyalty to the future global leader, Logan and the rest of the Dust are being pulled in multiple directions. While Logan, Peck, Erin, and Hailey head west to try to save Erin’s life and stop an epidemic, the rest of the Dust have a mission in the capital city of Beacon–continue to protest the leader’s minions while searching for their lost friend. Then Logan’s sister Lily brings him a new mission, as a brewing storm is about to be unleashed.

The continuing saga of Logan and the Dust ramps up in this book. The Dust continue to gain new members and allies, both Markless and Marked. The ending feels like a huge leap off the side of a cliff, but overall, the book was engaging.

In the first book, I really disliked both Tyler and Eddie. I know they’re kids, so of course their immaturity would be expected. But it’s taken to such an extreme, it just bugs me. I like both of them so much more in this book, even though they’re still goofy and immature. It’s like it has a purpose now.

There were a few oddball things that happened in the book, like horses showing up out of nowhere when two of the characters were traveling via the River, or a teenager being walked to the scene of his parents’ death, even to the point of them showing him their dead bodies. I just don’t know why the sheriff would do that.

By the end of this book, I had come to realize that Evan Angler is a pen name, considering that it turns out he’s actually a character in the book. I truly don’t understand why the author chose this plot device, though, as so far, it doesn’t add much to the book. I think that perhaps this could have been more fully utilized by having a narrator that was more connected to the reader throughout the series. I’ll be curious to see if this is expanded on in the next book though.

This story has really come into its own by this book. It’s uncommon, at least in my experience, for Christian end-times fiction to come in from this angle, as there’s very little in the way of Christianity even still now. One character did express his faith a bit more in this book and then left on some kind of pilgrimage, which I’m sure will come into play more in the next book. It did become clear in this book that the rapture had happened in the past though, which I’d been curious about. I’m not too optimistic about the next book, given reviews I’ve read, but I’m going in with an open mind, because I’ve disagreed with reviews plenty of times before. At this point, I’d still recommend this book to those who enjoy end-times fiction and YA books.

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