Book Review: A Love to Cherish

A Love to Cherish
Glory, Montana #2, The Preacher’s Daughters
by Linda Ford

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

When Reese first sees Victoria, he’s convinced that she’s the missing daughter of a wealthy man from Chicago, where he used to live. But why is the woman living under an assumed name and claiming to be the adopted daughter of the local preacher and his wife? What Reese doesn’t know is that Victoria doesn’t remember anything about her life before 4 years ago when she was the sole survivor of a terrible accident. As Reese tries to untangle the truth, he grows closer to Victoria and begins to wonder if the truth might do more harm than good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this story very much. I did not care for the main male character, starting right from the beginning when Reese makes a big deal (in the narration) about valuing trust so highly, and then he misleads a storekeeper into thinking he was asking questions about Victoria because he was interested in her as a possible suitor. And then he proceeds to hide his suspicions from Victoria, under the guise of protecting her. The fact that this story is a romance, and thus the male and female leads have to end up together, doesn’t excuse the author from such contradictory characterization, or the fact that there’s no real consequence for this deception.

The book is short, maybe novella length, and yet, there is a lot of repetition. The story is shallow, mostly focusing on the difficulties Victoria faces not knowing her past and Reese’s vow to always find the truth, after being spurned by a deceitful woman. What added to the shallow feeling of the story is the author’s way of showing how the characters are feeling. Generally, they either shuddered or shivered if they were worried, nervous, unhappy, scared, maybe even confused. That’s it…shuddering or shivering (which, it can be argued, are practically the same thing anyway) are all they, especially Victoria, seem to be able to do to show those feelings.

I liked the first story in this series, but I don’t think I’ll continue on after reading this one. It felt rushed and hollow. As is common with books that I don’t care for, though, most of the other reviews for it are positive, so please check them out if the story interests you.

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Book Review: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic romance

My first exposure to Pride and Prejudice was from an episode of Wishbone when I was a teenager, but since then, I’ve not seen or read anything related to it. So overall, I went into the story not knowing a whole lot. Overall, I enjoyed the story, though the language certainly did slow me down at times. While there are some things about life back in those days I almost wish we still did today, I’m really glad that some things are different. Not that a family’s reputation can’t be soured at all by one person in the family, but it’s definitely not nearly as big of a deal these days.

The characters are what stand out to me the most about the story. The plot is a bit slow, especially in the first half, but I really liked getting to know the characters. Mr. Bennett hits the ground running with his snarky jokes in the first chapter. I don’t really understand why so many people love Mr. Darcy from the moment he first appears, but by the end, I certainly saw the strength of his character. Both of the Darcy siblings are so shy and introverted, I really connected with them. And Elizabeth may jump to some unfair conclusions about Mr. Darcy, but I don’t know that I can say I wouldn’t have done the same.

In the end, I think I would have been better off listening to an audiobook, and may do so in the future. I didn’t think it was bad, by any means (I gave it 4 stars, after all), but I wonder if I’d enjoy it more if I wasn’t slowing down so often to stumble over the old-fashioned language.

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Book Review: Dying to Meet You (DNF)

Did Not Finish: Dying to Meet You
by Rich Amooi

My rating: DNF, no rating
Genre: Romantic comedy

By all appearances this book should be a light, fun read, and it has many reviews to that affect. However, I was ready to quit at about 30%, gave it a few more chances, and finally called it at 50%. I’m always a bit uncertain about the modern rom-com genre going into it, and this book had a lot of things I really don’t like, starting with a romance that is much more based on physical attraction than I prefer. Add to that some tropes that make me groan, like the embarrassing “Oops, did I say that out loud?” moments that had already occurred twice by the time I was at 30%. The main character is 10 years older than me, but acts at least 15 years younger than me, making it almost impossible for me to imagine her at the correct age. And what first made me consider quitting on the book was the incredible number of amazing circumstances or rare chances happenings that happen around this woman, including her getting a rare form of an already rare disease, such that the doctor says he’s never heard of before, and the difference in this form? She doesn’t have the debilitating symptoms that would make the plot of this book unable to happen. What a coinkydink!

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Book Review: Tidewater Bride

Tidewater Bride
by Laura Frantz

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

1634 Virginia is a dangerous place, but the colonists in James Towne are determined to make a life in the New World. Selah Hopewell and her family work as merchants, providing goods for those in and around the town. Though she is well past the marrying age, she has preferred to help her father, rather than take a husband. Alexander Renick is a widow who has strong ties to the nearby Powhatan people, his late wife being a Powhatan princess. He is also the wealthiest tobacco baron in the colony and quite married to his work. As Selah and Xander, separately and together, deal with the treachery of both man and nature, they begin to feel a pull toward each other.

There are some books that are billed as romance and that’s clearly all the story is meant to be about. And then there are some books that are billed as romance, but have so much more depth to the story than just how the two main characters end up together. I much prefer the latter, and fortunately, this is just that type of story. Yes, the romance is there, and it’s sweet and innocent, just how I like it. But it’s not the main focus of the book, and even the main climax of the book doesn’t revolve around it. There’s so much more going on–the tenuous peace between the colonists and the Powhatans, the duplicity of some of the less-than-moral colonists, and the turmoil that both Selah’s and Xander’s families are in at different times during the story. And during all of that, a blooming relationship.

The other side to this, though, is that I’m not sure there was a very solid, clear main plot throughout the book. Even now that I’ve finished the story, the only real main thread I can identify is the question of what, if anything, is the shady Helion Laurent up to? It’s not that the story is lacking in conflict–far from it. But no main conflict rises to the surface until at least halfway through the story (unless I just missed it). This doesn’t mean the story was bad by any means, but it does lend to the narrative feeling a bit slow for a while, I think. Fortunately, the characters and the different things that are going on are interesting enough that “slow” never became “plodding” or “boring.” I really appreciated the way that Selah recognized her shortcomings, not because someone pointed them out to her, but because a timely Bible verse shed light on her inner being, and she repented of those things, providing inspirational character growth.

This was a departure from me, a time and location in history I’ve not read much about, and the description of life in the early Virginia colony was fascinating. In the author’s note, Frantz admitted to a few things she bent timelines on, but I’m definitely ignorant enough that I would never have known the difference. I looked up a few words that I wasn’t certain I was understanding from context, but for the most part, the story was easy to read and really took me back in time. I recommend this book for all fans of Christian historical fiction, whether or not you would specifically seek out the addition of romance.

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

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Book Review: The Silver Shadow

The Silver Shadow
True Colors #11
by Liz Tolsma

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

When a series of attacks on women begin to seem connected, Denver newspaper reporter Polly Blythe and police detective Edwin Price work together to catch the criminal responsible. Both are hindered by bosses whose priorities are skewed, but when Polly catches the madman’s attention, they will have to work extra hard to apprehend the perpetrator while also keeping Polly safe.

At its core, this is the story of 3 individuals who are all haunted by something terrible from their past. Each of them is trying to find a way to deal with that past, none of them is going about it the right way, and not all of them will learn that lesson by the end of the book. Whether this connection between the characters was intentional or not, I couldn’t tell you, because I don’t think the author capitalized on it much at all. It did lead to a lot of repetition, though. I struggled all the way through this book with not feeling connected to the two main characters or to the relationship they were building along the way. The writing seemed kind of shallow and the dialog was often strange, confusing, or stilted.

There was one thing Edwin did part way through the book that appalled me and was just waved away, leaving me feeling very unsettled. Polly is said to be smart and careful, yet constantly goes out alone after dark for one reason or another. Guessing at the identity of the murderer, not even knowing if it would be someone we’d met in the story or not, was something that kept me interested, but that’s probably all that kept me moving through the book quickly. The overall plot and many of the specific events that happened were interesting and could have made for an exciting story, but it just all felt so rushed and shallow. Maybe that’s due to the length of the book, I don’t know.

I’ve had my ups and downs with this series of stand-alone true crime books, but this one is a miss for me. It’s a completely clean romance, though doesn’t have a particularly strong Christian message throughout, if  you’re looking for that. I’ve not read all of the other True Colors books, nor even all of Liz Tolsma’s contributions, but I did really like one of her others, The Green Dress. As for this one, please be sure to check out other reviews for the book if you’re interested, because many others liked it more than I did.

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

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Publication date: May 1, 2021

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Book Review: The Spice King

The Spice King
Hope & Glory #1
by Elizabeth Camden

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

When Annabelle Larking is tasked with getting access to the plant collection of the Delacroix spice company, she is rebuffed by the man in charge, Gray Delacroix. Success in this endeavor is the only way that Annabelle can assure a long-term position at the Smithsonian, though, which is crucial to her own future, as well as the future of her family back in Kansas. She won’t give up easily. But neither will Gray, who is determined to keep his secrets under lock and key. He has his own family to worry about–a brother who seems to only want to float through life doing nothing productive and a sister who knows how to spend money. Enemies are everywhere, but Gray is ready to trust someone. He’s just not sure if Annabelle is that person.

This is my favorite kind of romance book–one that’s not just about the romance. There’s so much more going on than the synopsis shows. It seemed at first that Annabelle would be more of the focal point of the story, but really it was Gray. His family, his empire, his desire to stop traveling and settle down, and the way that so much of that gets thwarted, I really got caught up in his story. But that doesn’t leave Annabelle on the sidelines. She’s in Washington with her blind sister, helping her navigate the streets and life, and I loved how that side of the story went too.

This is the first book of 3 in the series, and it sets up what appears to be a plot running through all three when a scandal in Gray’s family is exposed. While that could have been a downfall for the story, this grand plot that isn’t very connected to or even resolved in this book, that’s not the case at all. It works, and rather than leaving me disappointed at the lack of resolution, it made me look forward to seeing it all play out.

While at times, the dialog was a bit too modern, it didn’t bother me much. My biggest issue is with a small spot of theology that could imply that one must work to earn salvation. However, I couldn’t quite tell if that was the message there, or if it was more that the person in question was working toward the surrender needed in order to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus, but hadn’t taken the final step yet. It was brief and vaguely expressed. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that as I continue this series, because I do not endorse a works-based salvation. With that in mind, I do recommend this book for all fans of Christian or historical romance.

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Book Review: The Purple Nightgown

The Purple Nightgown
by A.D. Lawrence

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

Stella Burke, heir to a clothing company and accompanying fortune left when her father died, suffers from near-daily debilitating migraines. When the latest suggested treatment doesn’t work, she comes across a book called Fasting for the Cure of Disease by Linda Burfield Hazzard and then discovers that the doctor has a health spa not too far away. Desperate for anything to ease her pain, she insists that her family chauffeur take her to the spa. Henry is more than just her chauffeur, a close friend and confidante who has been part of her life since they were both kids. He doesn’t trust the doctor’s methods and definitely doesn’t easily agree to take Stella to the spa. When the spa turns into a prison and Hazzard’s methods prove even worse than Henry imagined, can Stella find a way to escape, or will she die alone as one of Hazzard’s walking skeletons?

A solid entry to the True Colors series, which focuses on different true crimes from history, with real historical facts melded with fictional characters and situations. I liked it more than most of the others I’ve read in the series, mostly due to the fact that the crime part of the story was more a focal point than the romance. Though the two main characters’ thoughts about how they feel about each other was brought up at a couple of random or wildly irrelevant times, it was not overly pervasive. Stella’s struggles at the spa, with the treatment, with her uncertainty about whether or not she should stay, and then with her futile attempts to escape, were a well-written driving force.

Adding to that is a sub-plot with Henry and his dream to start a children’s home, which gave the story somewhere to go to avoid a slow, plodding narrative of Stella wasting away. It also allowed a light in the darkness of Stella’s story. I really liked the culmination of all of that at the end of the story. I also appreciated that we weren’t expected to just accept that these two people liked each other simply because we were told they did. They fit together well, had a history, and even had flaws that the other had to be willing to accept.

If I hadn’t known that this woman and her spa were historical fact, I would have had a difficult time believing anyone would go to her for treatments. But I think the author did a good job trying to imagine a scenario in which someone of sound mind would be desperate enough to place themselves in such danger for the hope of relief–not that the victims expected such danger when they checked into the spa. It had a few dark moments as Stella saw things she wasn’t meant to see, the truth about what was going on at the spa; they didn’t bother me, but it seems good to mention it for those who prefer to avoid dead bodies and other things related to that in their reading (it’s a small amount, really).

There was a particular Chekov’s gun-style “prop” that I really expected to come into play more near the end of the book. I’m not sure that’s a fault of the author’s, as the prop definitely had its uses, but I still expected something in the way of even a minor twist involving it. However, overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s not too pushy in its inclusion of Christianity. Stella has to realize that she’s not very good at being still and letting God be in control, but she really doesn’t even come to the place where she “sits still” and turns to him until she’s literally forced to not move for a while. It’s a shallow theme of God’s will being best, but it’s there. I think anyone who enjoys clean romance, especially historical romance, and especially those who like crime or darker content in novels, will like this book.

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

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Book Review: Jo & Laurie

Jo & Laurie
by Margaret Stohl & Melissa de la Cruz

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Romantic retelling, YA historical fiction

If you’ve ever read Little Women and wondered what could have been between Jo and Laurie, if the author had allowed it, this book might be for you (or even if you haven’t). It’s a bit meta and can be difficult to fully understand, but the authors are not so much rewriting the second half of Little Women as they are imagining that the book that we know was itself written by another fictional Jo March (and it was, within the context of the book), and that the second half (originally published as a sequel novel titled Good Wives) was more of a departure from her real life than the first half was.

I’d say the primary audience for this book is those who really wish Jo and Laurie had ended up together. However, I think there’s still a place for the rest of us to read it, out of curiosity if nothing else. Or for die-hard fans of Little Women who want to revisit that world in a way. (Though those seem to be the strongest opponents to this retelling.) As for myself, I only really read this book to see if it’s something I’m okay with my 10-year-old daughter reading. We read the Great Illustrated Classic version of Little Women together just over a year ago, and the little romantic that she is, she was quite unhappy that Jo and Laurie both married other people. I’ve since read the original book, and personally have no problems with the way the whole thing worked out.

My rating on this book, however, is wholly unrelated to the re-imagining of fictional-author Jo’s life and love, but based on the book itself. I think the authors did a pretty good job with the historical fiction feel to the book, and even with making it feel similar to the source material (though understand I’ve only read it once, so I’m not exactly an expert). However, to me, it seemed repetitive and a bit slow through most of it. Jo rehashed her confusion about how she felt about Laurie so many times. And for being a feminist and bucking against the way women are treated in her time, Jo doesn’t have the slightest problem seeing a woman she doesn’t care for only as a pair of bosoms. That really bugged me.

In the end, I did like the culmination of the romance, which itself was fairly unromantic most of the time (though even that is true to who Jo is). I think that Laurie himself reflects the reaction a lot of readers would have, especially those that I mentioned above, who read Little Women and really wished Jo and Laurie had married each other. The book is listed as young adult, though I do think it’s good for readers of all ages.

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Book Review: The Orchard House

The Orchard House
by Heidi Chiavaroli

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama

After a difficult childhood, Taylor is adopted by her best friend’s parents. But sisterhood is not all it’s cracked up to be, and Taylor ends up leaving home at 21 with the determination to never see her family again. However, when informed 18 years later that her adopted mother is going through treatment for cancer, she returns home. But what starts as a brief visit turns into something more as old wounds are re-opened and this make-shift family struggles to make sense of present struggles. That’s when Taylor and her sister stumble across a story that captivates them and helps distract from real life. In the 1860s, the death of a soldier sparked a friendship between the soldier’s sister, Johanna, and Little Women author Louisa May Alcott. This friendship, and the life and marriage of Johanna, were hidden away for 150 years, to be discovered by Taylor and Victoria just when the story could most affect their lives.

I spent the first half of this book uncertain about a lot of it. Two different storylines had to be established–both the past and the present–and the present one covered several years in a few chapters. Even when the story slowed down and started unfolding in the present day, I struggled to get into it. Taylor’s adolescence had turned her into a confused, broken woman, and she essentially second-guessed her decisions, thoughts, emotions, and reactions every step of the way. And I questioned often what the past storyline had to do with the present one. It was a slow build, to be sure. It did pick up in the second half, but for a while, all I could think about was how terrible each of the characters seemed to be, in one way or the other.

The main thing that I really liked about the story was the way the Christian message was presented. While some reviewers found it “too religious,” I spent at least half the book wondering how on earth this had been labeled as Christian. But the slow build I mentioned earlier can also be applied to the way the main characters learned to first believe in and then trust in Someone bigger than themselves. Though in the end, I felt the “conversions” and overall Christian message were a little light, I still liked the way they shaped up.

There were some things in the book that confused me, and I re-read some passages more than once trying to understand. As an example, Louisa was said to have 2 sisters, but over the course of time 3 were mentioned–Anna, Nan, and Amy. However, Anna and Nan were the same person, and while the author did seem to realize we needed that explanation (I certainly did), it didn’t come until after the sister was referred to by both names at least once. There are other things that confused me too, but fortunately there was less of this in the second half too.

I think that people who love Louisa May Alcott’s books, or at least have read one or more of them, might enjoy this book. Though Louisa herself is only a small part of the story, her books and lasting effect on future fans are prevalent themes. I’ll admit to having a different view of a particular aspect of Little Women than the author (or at least than the main character), but as fiction, it’s certainly open to interpretation. If you’re looking for a light Christian read, this is not it. It’s full of drama and covers some dark topics such as abandonment, abuse (both physical and emotional), and betrayal. If you like time-split novels and stories about finding “home” or families trying to piece themselves back together, you might enjoy this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: When Twilight Breaks

When Twilight Breaks
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

Americans living in Germany in the late 1930s had front-row seats as the country sped toward war. Evelyn Brand is a foreign war correspondent living in Munich, her hands tied as a woman in a man’s world. Or maybe there’s more than just her gender causing her boss to edit her stories to death. Peter Lang is a graduate student working on his dissertation and teaching American students how to speak the German language more fluently. He sees the benefits of the current German regime, as he values the order it brings to a country once chaotic and destitute. But he soon learns the price that this order demands.

I really wanted to give this book 5 stars while I was reading it. For the story alone, it’s worth 5–the characters are engaging, the romance well-done, and the suspense is pulse-pounding. I sped through the book compared to my normal speed, wanting to see what the outcome would be. And the ending did not disappoint, wrapping up all storylines satisfactorily. But I had a few issues while reading it, and I felt they were worth a point detraction and that others should know about some of them.

The book made me a little uncomfortable or caused me to blush a few times in the second half with descriptions of physical or visual contact between the main characters. Nothing graphic by normal standards, really just skirting the line of what I am okay with in a Christian book, but I think there are some who would prefer to be aware of this in advance. The romance was overall well done and while certainly a big part of the story, not so in-your-face like most with the tag of romance. I liked it, but it was just a little descriptive here and there.

There were a few issues with perspective–in a book like this that has established the alternating perspectives between two characters, only changing when there is a scene or chapter break, a couple of times the perspective changed from one to the other mid-scene, which was jarring. Also, characters were speaking German, while we were reading it in English, yet the author continually sprinkled German phrases into the dialog. They were never more than I could understand from my years of German in high school and a little in college (except a few times that were also basically translated for us), but they were unnecessary given the context. Maybe they were just supposed to remind us that the characters were speaking German without having to constantly state it in the narration, but I personally would have preferred the simple reminder now and then.

Back to the positives, because I so loved the characters and story, I found Peter’s starting viewpoint about the Nazi regime enlightening, as it shows how it’s possible for intelligent, moral people to be pulled in by a bad ideology. His history, both personal and as it relates to Germany, as well as his position in the country at this time, allow him to see the positives…at least for a while. I also loved some of the side characters, the way the Americans’ lives overlapped with the Germans’, and the fact that the bad guys weren’t only the Germans.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Even with the few issues that I noted, I kept coming back to it in the last half, unable to put it down more than necessary. I’d previously read the Sunrise at Normandy trilogy by Sarah Sundin and loved it, so I’d say Sundin is effectively on my instant-read list. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction from this time period in the Christian romance genre.

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

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