Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Gift of Family: Two Heartwarming Christmas Novellas by Linda Ford and Karen Kirst

Back of the book:

These were released on October 1, 2012. Being series stories (which means distribution is similar to that of monthly magazines), they are no longer in print. Unlike magazine serials, they are available perpetually in e-book format.

Merry Christmas, Cowboy by Linda Ford

A wild snowstorm strands Colt Johnson in Eden Valley, where the storekeeper's daughter exudes welcome warmth. She's even offered to give the two orphans in his charge a Christmas to remember. An outcast, Colt doesn't dare hope for more--even though Becca's love would be a Christmas wish come true.

I enjoyed both of these stories very much. As novellas, each was probably only about 35,000-40,000 words, which severely limits the depth or scope in which an author can develop and explore her themes. Linda Ford examines what it means to be an outcast, or to feel like an outsider, in Merry Christmas, Cowboy. She shows God's love and acceptance of outsiders through Becca and her father's unquestioning acceptance of Colt and his two charges

Colt Johnson is a half-breed in a time when people of mixed race, particularly American Indian, are shunned and even persecuted. 

Because the format is so short, Ms. Ford was unable to go into that in much depth. For most of the story until near the end, the reader needs to take for granted that Colt is indeed an outcast, because the author said so, not because the reader has witnessed it in the unveiling story. But that's okay!

It is, after all, a romance, and so Ms. Ford folds her theme into the growing love between Becca and Colt. 

Because Becca's father operates a store in a remote area, Becca's life prospects are limited. To fulfill her mother's dying wish for her, she's on the verge of returning to the East to live. Until Colt shows up at the store around Christmastime with two newly orphaned children. As Christians, Becca and her father show Colt and the full-Indian children nothing but love and acceptance. Things they have never experienced from other white people, who only disdain them. 

The reader experiences Colt and Becca falling in love despite their outer goals and inner turmoils. As well, they become parent figures to the grieving children. Becca is determined to give them all the best Christmas ever. She succeeds, and in the process gets the greatest gift she could ever have. 

Back of the book:
Smoky Mountain Christmas by Karen Kirst

Cole Prescott's Gatlinburg visit will be just long enough to free his wife from their mistake of a marriage. Then he meets the daughter he hadn't known he had. Little Abby needs a father, especially at Christmastime. And all Cole wants is a chance to make a life with Rachel and Abby at last...

Rocky Mountain Christmas by Karen Kirst was every bit as good as Ms. Ford's novella. As a reader,  I actually related to this one more than I did to Ms. Ford's story, however that has nothing to do with the quality of either story, which were both wonderful, but rather my own particular compulsions for reading. Readers latch on more strongly to some authors because of the themes those authors share and explore.

Ms. Kirst's style was more romantic, which I liked. I also related better to Cole's inner turmoils than I did Colt's, and to the things that split him and Rachel apart, as well as to what each one needed to give up, in order to make their marriage work again. 

You can always trust Love Inspired's stable of authors to deliver uplifting, inspiring and romantic Historical Romances.   

Review source: Print copy, purchased at WalMart. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Be Still My Soul: The Cadence of Grace, Book 1 by Joanne Bischof

Book Description:

Night’s chill tickled her skin. Lonnie pressed her hands together and glanced up. He was even more handsome up close. Having grown up the shy, awkward daughter of Joel Sawyer, she’d hardly spoken to any boy, let alone the one who had mothers whispering warnings in their daughter’s ears and fathers loading shotguns.

Pretty Lonnie Sawyer is shy and innocent, used to fading into the background within her family, and among the creeks and hollows of the Appalachian hills. Though her family is poor and her father abusive, she clings to a quiet faith.  But when handsome ladies’ man and bluegrass musician Gideon O’Riley steals a kiss, that one action seals her fate.  

Her father forces her into a hasty marriage with Gideon—a man she barely knows and does not love. Equally frustrated and confused by his new responsibilities, Gideon yearns for a fresh start, forcing  Lonnie on an arduous journey away from her home in Rocky Knob. 

Her distant groom can’t seem to surrender his rage at the injustice of the forced matrimony or give Lonnie any claim in his life.  What will it take for Gideon to give up his past, embrace Lonnie’s God, and discover a hope that can heal their two fractured hearts?

Gideon only ever cared about himself. Now that Lonnie is his wife, will he ever be worthy of her heart?

This 352-page book was published by Multnomah Press in October of 2012. 

My review:

The setting was the first thing that piqued my curiosity. I wasn’t aware of any romances set in Appalachia. In children’s fiction, Cynthia Rylant has brought that area to life. In adult fiction, Frazier’s literary masterpiece, Cold Mountain comes to mind.

Ms. Bischof’s descriptions of Appalachia are breathtakingly real. While I’ve never been there, she did complete justice to my literary imagination’s view of it, with its moist, misty, mountain forest terrain. Virtually all of her descriptions, whether they be of food, people, you name it, are almost like a Vermeer painting in their precision and detail. This was the book’s value for me. This was the one area where the book actually felt romantic to me, and lived up to its Inspirational Historical Romance label.  

Now for what I had trouble with as a reader: whenever I think of Appalachia, I think such things as poverty, illiteracy, moonshine, brutality, and incest. All but incest are present in this novel.  It was earthy, it was brutal, it was real.

That was an eye-opener for me.  I’ve been critical of historical romance at times because an author’s depictions of a place or an era, or character actions, are far more fantasy than fact. Not so with this book. It was so real that it was frequently unpleasant for me, despite the exquisite writing.

The story began with a shotgun wedding that shouldn’t have had to happen. Poor weak Lonnie is saddled with selfish, stupid, and terribly unlikeable Gideon. Gideon, who remains unlikeable almost to the end. Yet as a reader, I also felt sorry at times for Gideon, who never asked to be saddled with Lonnie.

This setup was Ms. Bishof’s opportunity to fully render her themes. Sometimes marriages do get off on the wrong foot. Frequently, both husband and wife are immature, selfish, and in need of character growth, redemption and forgiveness.   

Throughout the book, Gideon continues to make foolish mistakes, and God sends him thoroughly to the woodshed, so to speak, for his actions. I didn’t enjoy this aspect of the story. Certainly some of it was necessary, in order for God to set Gideon on the right path. But I began to feel that poor Gideon was presented as  far too much of a whipping boy, and Lonnie too much of a saint. Had the book been 50 pages shorter, and if Gideon had wised up more quickly, I would’ve enjoyed it more. I wearied of reading about his endless coming up against a set of cardboard villains, and his continuing stupid choices.
Ms. Bishof is as good at showing emotional nuance as she is at description, and so most of her characters were so real, you’d swear they are living, breathing people. Because she is so good at this, it surprised me that her villains were cardboard, although she’s not alone in this. Cardboard villains, unfortunately, tend to be a staple of romance.

Despite the book’s drawbacks for me—and they are drawbacks only due to my personal taste, and not the book’s actual quality—I would rate the book highly, even if I wasn’t overly in love with it. For some readers, Be Still My Heart will go on their keeper shelves.

I received this e-book free of charge through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are totally my own.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Mistaken Bride by Renee Ryan: Irish Brides Series: Inspy Historical Romance Book Review

Mistaken Bride by Renee Ryan
Book Two of Irish Brides Series

(This book was released in May 2012. Being a series title, it is no longer available in print. It is still widely available in e-book format.)

Back of the Book

When William Black's mail-order bride fails to appear at the Boston docks, he's relieved when beautiful, vibrant Bridget Murphy steps in. However, she has a surprise in store. She will be a temporary nanny to his young twins...but she will not marry without love.

Faith Glen, Massachusetts, is worlds away from the poverty Bridget knew in Ireland. And William Black couldn't be more different from her faithless ex-fiancé. Yet that integrity Bridget so admires binds William to a promise that could keep them apart forever. In this new land of opportunity, does she dare to wish for a happy ending?

The Murphy sisters, who left their home in Ireland in search of a better life in America, have now arrived in Hope Springs, Massachusetts. In Book One, The Wedding Journey by Cheryl St. John, Maeve, the doctor’s assistant, married Flynn, shipboard doctor.

Book Two is Bridget’s story. The moment she steps off the ship, she meets town millionaire and owner of a chocolate factory, William Black. He has sent for a mail-order bride who was on the ship that the Murphy sisters were on.* 

*Now if you are wondering why someone who is a millionaire, and as handsome and good as William Black, needs to stoop to sending for a mail-order bride, suspend your disbelief. Despite the disconnect, it’s a captivating story anyway. I am a new fan of Renee Ryan’s, and have since bought almost every book she’s written.

When William’s mail-order bride fails to appear at the Boston docks, and indeed, is shown to be the woman who died on board the ship, he makes a connection with Bridget Murphy, who agrees to be temporary nanny to his twins.

She will be the children’s nanny, but she will not enter into a marriage of convenience with him, though he at first suggests it. She will not marry him or anyone unless they are in love. Having been rejected by a fiancĂ©, she is understandably reluctant to enter into a loveless marriage. William has also suffered as a result of being bound to someone he couldn’t trust, notably his deceased wife.

Over a period of two weeks, love blossoms between William and Bridget. She completes their family, bringing his shy twins out of their shells and indeed, bringing William out of his workaholic, overly controlled way of being. 

When it seems that nothing stands in the way of them marrying, the unthinkable happens. A man of his word, William must keep his word, despite every inclination not to. I found the last couple of chapters to be especially devastating and powerful. But there is a solution, and the story ends as it should.  
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