Book Review: The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow

The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow
by Kim Vogel Sawyer

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical fiction

While the nation struggles to recover during the Great Depression, Addie must leave college just before the end of her junior year and find a job. At the same time, Emmett has just received a degree, but is learning that not many positions are open for a man with his education. Both end up in the small village of Boone’s Hollow–Emmett to look for any work he can get in or near the village where he grew up, and Addie to start a job as a packhorse librarian for a program that aims both to give people jobs during this difficult time and to get books into the hands of poor families in the hills. Though they both have grand plans for their future, both must take whatever work they can find. The people who live in the area, though, hold a lot of prejudices that turn into trouble for both Addie and Emmett. Will bigotry and sabotage ruin both of their chances at making their own way?

There’s a lot to try to put into the synopsis for this book, and I always prefer to keep it to one paragraph, so my blurb above doesn’t do the book justice. And while for some books, having so much going on can lead to a convoluted story, it all worked together so well in this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the plots that threaded together, the characters, and the ending to all of those different storylines.

One of the the things that I loved most about this book was that every victory was hard-fought. Nothing just happened because the author said so, characters and their reactions were real, and the outcomes were believable. I also liked that, though there was a romance sub-plot, everything didn’t hinge around it, and obvious, over-done cliches weren’t forced into the plot in order to make the romance “interesting.” It was exact kind of subtle, sweet, clean romance that I love.

When I first realized that the story was going to be told from so many perspectives (4 total, if I’m remembering correctly), I thought it would start to bother me. But it never did, and the author did a great job of making each character’s narration feel like that person. Yes, some were similar to each other, but I was never confused, and really, it was interesting to get the little extra perspective from a few of the smaller characters (comparatively).

By the end of this book, I was really caught up in the stories. The themes presented throughout culminated in one really touching scene that made my eyes a little misty. The faith portrayed was the perfect balance of being woven throughout the story without being so in-your-face. It’s shown most in both of the main characters’ mothers, as witnessed by their children, and I loved that. “Look for the blessings,” “kill them with kindness,” using love and kindness to drive away hatred, all of these things were infused in the words, and it’s a lesson I learned right along with the characters. In case it’s not obvious, I highly recommend this book to any fans of Christian and/or historical fiction.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Black Midnight

The Black Midnight
by Kathleen Y’Barbo

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical romance, crime

Pinkerton detective Alice Anne, great-granddaughter to Queen Victoria, investigated a series of murders in Austin, Texas in 1884, along with her partner Isaiah Joplin. The perpetrator was never caught, but the pair team up four years later to try to solve a similar series of murder in the Whitechapel district of London. Are the killers the same, and will a culprit be caught for either case?

I think the biggest issue with this book was in the subject matter. Each of the books in the True Colors series focuses on a different true crime from history, with real historical facts melded with fictional characters and situations. The difficulty, though, is in making an interesting, fulfilling story out of a crime that was never solved, as is the case with the real murders this book is set around. While I understand the author’s desire not to make up a conclusion that didn’t really happen, I think I would have preferred fictionalized closure to the “we really don’t know anything,” hemming & hawing mess this book devolved into.

As the detectives investigate, we are constantly presented with theories followed by, “But maybe not.” Over and over, this is all that happens in the case. It made the story feel slow and pointless, and as if the entire investigation was just a wash (which I realize might have been how the real investigators felt back then, but it doesn’t make for interesting fiction). My favorite example of this is said by the queen herself: “‘The truth always has its day,’ Granny said with a shrug. ‘Until it does not.'” What is even the point of making a statement like that?

There were some strange inconsistencies throughout the book too–for example, early in the book it says that Alice Anne (known as Annie for most of the book) was using an American accent, I assume to blend in, since she was keeping her identity a secret. But later in the book, a reporter muses about the oddity of this Pinkerton detective with the British accent. This is one example of a few things that made me stop and look back to see if I’d missed or mis-remembered something.

Overall, the book was a quick read, but not a very satisfying one for me. The ending was muddled and felt very rushed, after a climax that I don’t even get the purpose of. I think a majority of what I disliked about the book was due to the unsolved crime it was based around, but like with a previous True Colors book I read, perhaps this was simply a bad choice for the subject of a fictional romance book. I found it difficult to care about the relationship, and especially the culmination of the romantic storyline, because the rest of the book was so confusing and underwhelming.

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

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Book Review: Forsaking All Others

Forsaking All Others
Western Vows #1
by Kari Trumbo

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Escaping the Santee Sioux Reservation in Nebraska in 1881, Rose and Pete travel to Kansas to start a new life. Life outside of the reservation is different, and as Rose quickly learns, so is Pete. Unable to agree about who to trust and how to move forward, their friendship is put to the test. Pete has always been there for Rose in the past, and she doesn’t understand what has changed. All she knows is that she can’t go back to the reservation.

Sadly, I had a very difficult time finding much of value in this short story. As a male romantic lead, Pete has some serious issues. And while that alone isn’t a problem, for me to care about the relationship between these two, he really needs to have some kind of redeeming qualities. He doesn’t–at least, not in my opinion. He’s stubborn and hot-headed, treats Rose like dirt, and essentially feels that the simple fact that he loves her and has helped her a lot in the past should be all that matters. Even when he has a change in attitude, all Rose has seen from him since they left the reservation is his sulky, jealous attitude, so frankly…the romantic climax just fell flat for me.

Morgan is probably the character with the most depth, but he’s treated badly–both by the characters and by the author. I feel like a decent attempt was made with Rose, but the relationship stuff she had to deal with just made her seem weak and cliche. Overall, I think the story suffered a lot from being so short. The heart and attitude changes that Pete went through, had they been fleshed out far more, and had he really been given the chance to show Rose that he’d changed, would have made the story so much better.

The writing style was easy to follow, but the dialog was way too modern at times. And in the second half of the novel, the editing seemed to just fall apart. I noticed a lot of grammatical errors, and that really detracted from the story.

The story is the beginning of a series, the books of which (all stand-alones, from the looks of it) get longer as the series goes. This one is Kindle-only, and looks like it came out after the rest of the series. The title doesn’t really fit the book, in my opinion, which may have just been an attempt to keep it in the theme of “wedding vows” that the series has going for it. And this is yet another time where I feel like I read a different book from everyone else, because most of the other reviews are 4-5 stars. Please be sure to check some of them out if the book interests you. As for me, I don’t plan to continue this series.

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Book Review: Don’t Keep Silent

Don’t Keep Silent
Uncommon Justice
#3
by Elizabeth Goddard

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Romance, suspense, Christian

Don't

Investigative reporter Rae Burke’s sister-in-law has a secretive and troubled past, so when she disappears, Rae knows it won’t be easy to track her down. However, with the help of former DEA agent Liam McKade, with whom Rae once had a relationship, Rae refuses to give up. Though they are both professionals, it still won’t be easy to put their past behind them, especially since Rae once ruined Liam’s career and almost got him killed. Can they battle bad guys, nature, and their own issues to find Zoey?

This was yet another time when I can’t help but wonder if I read a different book than everyone else. Maybe I’m just far more particular. But while I liked the setting and appreciated some of the characters, overall I had a lot of trouble with this story, especially in the plot and writing style.

I don’t know how to explain it, exactly, but many times, it felt like the author had an outline of things she wanted to have happen in a scene and just sort of threw them together. One paragraph would have 2-3 different, unrelated topics in it, lacking any kind of transition. Conversations didn’t make sense half the time, either because the characters sometimes seemed like they were not having the same conversation as each other, or because the dialog was stilted in general.

As the mystery unfolded, I tried to get involved. The plot itself was decent for most of the story, but the revelations at the end were convoluted and nothing you wouldn’t expect from the set-up. There were some incredible coincidences that I think the author tried to give good reason for, but they fell flat for me, most likely due to how complicated things got. It didn’t help that I felt like I was missing half the story. I know this is book 3 in a series, and I do wish I’d read the first 2 before diving into this one, but I’m pretty sure that the parts related to Rae & Liam’s history weren’t in a previous book. I would have liked more explanation there.

The author’s attempts at suspense fell flat, usually because information seemed to be given sorely out of order. Rae convinces Zoey’s mom that she’s able to help, so Zoey’s mom opens up to her…but then only after being pressed for more info does she mention that the primary suspect has recently been announced dead?! This is just one example of strange or contradictory situations I noted throughout the book.

The book is billed as Christian, but it’s barely that. The main characters give silent, single-sentence prayers every once in a while, pleading with God for other characters to be all right, but that’s about the extent of it. I have no idea what either of them believe, or if they actually trust the God they’re seeking help from.

I really don’t like writing reviews like this, and I certainly wish I’d enjoyed the book more. Based on other reviews, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re interested in this type of book, you should still check it out. Though I’d strongly recommend starting with book 1, as there are things about Liam’s family that are mentioned in this book with no context, and the other two books are about his brothers.

Thank you to NetGalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Loving a Rebel

Loving a Rebel: The Preacher’s Daughters
Glory, Montana #1
by Linda Ford

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Rebel

To avoid succumbing to a winter storm, Flora Kinsley and Kade Thomas are forced to spend two whole days alone together in Kade’s small dwelling. The year is 1884, and Flora’s dad is a strict preacher, who she knows will not take kindly to the circumstances. With her honor and reputation at stake, will Flora’s rebel heart be forced into a marriage she does not want, or will Kade be able to convince either of the two stubborn Kinsleys into an amicable arrangement?

This is a short, clean romance that hits the nail on the head in regards to a person of Flora’s personality–simply that forcing her to do something will only lead to rebellion and hardship. I’ve always appreciated a well-done story about two characters who are thrust into a relationship or marriage and have to learn how to make it work. That isn’t quite how this story plays out, but it was still a good read.

From early in the book, as Flora and Kade spend their two days together, it is clear that they are both completely different in the taking-risks department. Yet, they begin to learn from each other and minds and hearts are eventually changed. I really appreciated the depth we delve into the reasons behind why both of these characters are how they are, which I wouldn’t have expected in such a short space. One thing that bothered me, though, is just how stubborn everyone in this book is. No one is willing to bend when it seems like they have no reason to be so firm. The preacher annoyed me in particular, given the way he acted toward Kade even way past the point when he had any reason to treat him that way.

There is one particular character who seemed a bit over-the-top, which I think is because I sensed his inclusion as a simple plot-driver more than I normally would. In the end, though, I was a little amused by him, which is pretty strange, given how he acted in the book. There’s a large part of me that would like to hear more about him in the future–perhaps a change in perspective, maybe even a conversion.

There are points in the book that felt way too modern to me, given the time period. Overall, though, I enjoyed the story. It is the beginning of a series, which I do intend to continue at this point. I recommend this book to fans of Christian historical romances, and have high hopes for the rest of the series.

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Book Review: North and South

North and South
by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Classic, romance

I’ve seen the BBC mini-series of this book several times in the past. I even watched it once with my husband, who appreciated the way that both sides of the labor dispute are presented–both the good and the bad of unions. While I’ve had moderate success in enjoyment of classics in my recent reading, I decided it was time to read the book that inspired a mini-series I love. I’m so glad I did.

One of the things that was great about reading the book is that, as is usually the case with books that are made into movies, mini-series, TV shows, etc., the characters were able to have more depth. We get to read about their thought processes, the reasons behind their actions, which are more difficult to put across on screen. In the case of Thornton, it gave me a lot more insight into his feelings for Margaret. I really appreciated the way he treated her on her dad’s behalf, considering that he saw her as far too good for him and his dirty northern town. And sadly, she didn’t do anything to dispel that feeling.

That is the crux of this story, though, as both sides–the northerners and the southerners–tend to make assumptions about the other, sometimes only due to a cultural difference. Other times due to a shortcoming on someone’s behalf, or simply a bad day.

Unfortunately, I disliked Margaret more by the end of the book than I expected to. While some of the misconceptions are unfounded, she really was quite haughty and seemed even heartless at times, at least in regard to Thornton. As has been the case in the past when I read a book that I have already watched a screen version of, I can’t really say for sure if Higgins would have become such a favorite character of mine as he did, if I hadn’t first seen the mini-series, but I still really liked him in the book. One of my biggest frustrations was that Mr. Hale’s reason for leaving the church is never really expounded upon. I found myself wanting to be able to have my own opinion about how good or bad of a decision it was to uproot his family, but I suppose Gaskell didn’t think it was an important aspect to the story.

I do get why some don’t care for the story. Some compare it to Pride and Prejudice in both positive and negative ways, though I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment. While I do sometimes want to sit both Thornton and Margaret down and tell them to stop being stupid and proud, I still quite enjoyed the book and recommend it for any who enjoys romance from this period, and for fans of the mini-series.

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Book Review: What You Wish For

What You Wish For
by Katherine Center

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Women’s fiction, romance

Wish

Sam Casey, librarian at a private elementary school, is one of many left to pick up the pieces when the school’s beloved principal and founder dies unexpectedly over the summer. But when she hears that Max’s replacement will be none other than an old crush that she remembers being an awful lot like Max, she’s partially excited for him to come, but mostly terrified that her old crush, which is really more like a full-blown obsession, for Duncan Carpenter will rear its ugly head and destroy the nice life she’s made in Galveston. So it’s kind of a blessing when Duncan turns out to have drastically changed since she saw him. A blessing that becomes a curse when he starts changing everything she loves about the school–everything Max built and stood for.

There was a lot about this book that I wasn’t able to connect with, like the hidden pasts of both of the MCs and Sam’s life-altering obsession with Duncan. However, I think it’s saying something that, even still, I enjoyed the overall story. The burdens and joys the characters went through felt real. Things didn’t fall into place easily–they were really worked for.

I strongly suspected Duncan’s secret based on the way he was acting; in fact, I’d imagine most would. But that didn’t make it any less heart-breaking when it was revealed. Sam’s secret seemed to pale in comparison to his, but I don’t think that’s really fair to her. However, considering the way she spoke and acted throughout the book, she greatly annoyed me near the end. I think that part may have been a bit overdone, but at the same time, I can’t say a real person wouldn’t have acted just like that. Trauma can affect people in a lot of ways.

Like with the previous book of this author’s that I read, Things You Save in a Fire, I liked the slow burn to the romance and the fact that it wasn’t so in-your-face as it so often is in these types of books. It was maybe a little bit anticlimactic at the end, but it didn’t leave me disappointed. For those who want to know about how clean a book is before reading–it’s light on language (but with a couple of f-words), and there is more physical interaction and description than I prefer, but not enough to make me too uncomfortable. (Not even to the detail of what I remember from Things You Save in a Fire.)

The overall theme in this book, as many others have mentioned, is the idea of choosing joy. While that theme didn’t really come up until the second half or so of the book, it is heavily focused on in that latter half (not in a bad way). Of course that is always easier said than done, as Sam herself makes clear. I have found that following and trusting God, the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), is the only way I’ve ever had true and lasting peace and joy. I appreciated the message here, though as a Christian, I found it a bit empty. This did not factor into my rating, though, and I do recommend this book for anyone looking for a sweet, goofy, mostly uplifting romance (I only say “mostly” because there is definitely some darkness along the way).

Thank you so much to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review!

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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 relate 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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