A Match Made in Texas
In Dry Gulch, Texas, 1893, a young woman with a tender heart that longs to help those in need takes it upon herself to meddle in the affairs of three acquaintances who are in dire straits. Wanting to stay anonymous, she relies on unusual methods to hire men and women of good character who she thinks can solve the problems facing her “targets.” How was she to know that her meddling would turn into a cupid’s arrow? And what will she do when her friends turn the tables on her with a matchmaking scheme of their own?Four novellas in one volume
My Review: 7/10
I think Novellas in this genre have a decent shot at being, well, decent. A lot of the things that I complain about when reading historical christian romances (such as: stereotypical characters, way too predictable plots, and drawing out the obvious in attempt to create tension and suspense thereby making the ending sweeter just to name a few) don't really have the time to develop in a novella. If they do dip into any of these areas, it's easily forgiven due to consideration for length.
When I heard that this was being published and that Karen Witemeyer was one of the authors, I was very eager to get my hands on it. I don't know if I didn't read the plot synopsis very thoroughly or if it's not mentioned, but imagine my surprise when the opening line tells of an Archer's story. !!!! Yay! I thought to myself, cozied up in a blanket with a warm mug of cocoa and snow gently falling outside my window, "it's like Christmas again." Short straw bride was possibly the first book of this kind that I really fell in love with, because of how different it was. I might have loved Stealing the Preacher even more. My only disappointment with this story is that I believe it's the last of the Archer tales (unless Ms. Witemeyer does something unheard of and writes more stories about them, focusing on their married life. I vote for this!) and I would have preferred a full blown novel to a novella. It's like getting a fun size candy bar instead of a King size.
Surprisingly, I liked the second story even better. I've only read one other book in this genre featuring a blind woman and it was just awful. This one was very well done and interesting. A couple of parts were a tad melodramatic and cliche (but it's a novella! there wasn't time to flush these things out!) for my taste, but it was different. I didn't feel like I was reading a story I've read a thousand times before, even though I knew where it was going. Reading about how a woman in that time period might approach blindness was very interesting to me. I also liked how Clayton viewed his scars as if they were lit up with fire, yet everyone else noticed them, but were more struck by his good looks. Isn't that the truth? Our perception of ourselves is rather distorted and we often let our insecurities get the best of us. Anyway, I was very pleasantly surprised by this author. I'm going to have to look up some of her other books now.
The third story I was not particularly taken with. This is probably because extreme drama (fires, kidnappings, dirty dealings, really any kind of danger that directly and aggressively threatens a character's life/wellbeing) comes off as very cheesy to me. Rarely do I read a book with one of those events and think to myself, wow. Unless it's a sarcastic 'wow.' On the opposite end of the spectrum, I'm very impressed when daily activities and turmoils are portrayed very honestly and accurately (like Lawana Blackwell's Gresham series for example). Anyway, this story was set up to be more exciting with an unwanted aggressive suitor, potential insanity, frequent threat of being shot, trespassers with ill intent and fire. All of which rubbed me the wrong way. I did learn something though- I had not previously known that you could burn tea. I guess it makes sense since you can also scorch coffee. I just never thought about it before. It's amazing to me, the conveniences of modern life that we never even think twice about, which is one of my favorite things about reading historical fiction- being transported to another time and learning something new.
I almost did not read the last story by Ms. Connealy. I had attempted to read a book of hers before- one of the Kincaid Bride series- and it just was not my taste at all. But I felt it wouldn't be fair to ignore her in this review, nor mention something about how her style isn't my taste, without even giving it a try. So I resolved to take a few tentative steps into the story. My first thoughts were that the language didn't fit the period. But before I knew it, I was really into the story. What sets Ms. Connealy apart is that she allows her characters to have flaws and she allows them to be wrong. Some of the characters development happened too rapidly, but in a short story, an authors options are limited. I wonder how she would approach these themes in a full length novel. I also liked Hannah's resolve to marry a man of faith and how she acknowledged that the really only left one man in town. Her reasons for putting romance on the back burner (and Mark's giving her space) were genuinely good reasons. I actually liked the super fast pace. I feel like a lot of historical romances really drag out major changes and decisions, so the abruptness was refreshing, and also, probably accurate for the time. Life did happen in the blink of an eye. People, family members, did get sick, did die, did marry etc at a much faster pace, usually, than today. A couple other tidbits- I liked that Mark blushed and how their families blindsided them into a shotgun wedding.
There were a couple of things that, though they did not stop me from devouring the story, did take some of the glossiness off.
1. Hannah and Mark's character lines blur a little. They use the exact same phrases (someone moving like a locomotive, and "poor Marcus," "that poor girl," "his poor lip" etc) that sometimes made me feel like I was in the head of one person and not two.
2. Along the same lines, Hannah immediately realizes that Marcus is probably shy, as he acknowledges it to himself. And then, at the end of the story, she seems to have forgotten that and states that she thought he didn't like her and just went out of his way to avoid her. Maybe I misunderstood, but these thoughts didn't seem to match up.
3. Chapter 11- the declarations of love and feelings- was just not my taste. It was too over dramatic for me. I do believe that there are many different degrees of love and that feelings, once sparked and acknowledged can consume like a wildfire. So I'm not saying this would never happen, just that it's not the kind of love story that makes me smile stupidly all day, unless I get to see that story play out for a long while to come (like in Short Straw Bride for example).
4. And this is super minor, but I love historical romances because I like being transported, wholly, back to those times. It bugs me when it's half baked (characters having modern concerns, conversations, goals, opinions etc- like modern people plucked into a different century) and so any anachronisms stick out to me like a sore thumb. The biggest one to me was the conversation about kids at the end of the story. While it's true that not every family was a big one, people did not have control over the number of kids they had like they do today. Maybe the conversation was meant to be more cute than serious, but I just couldn't see it taking place.
I think this is the longest review I've ever written, but considering there were four seperate stories in one, it's not too crazy. All in all, this was a sweet collection of novellas, with my favorite being An Unforseen Match by Regina Jennings.