Monday, April 28, 2014

Longing for Home book review

Longing for Home (A Proper Romance, #2)

Longing for Home 

Twenty-six-year-old Katie Macauley has placed all her hope in Hope Springs, a small town in the 1870 Wyoming Territory. But if she wants to return home to Ireland to make amends with her estranged family, she'll need to convince the influential Joseph Archer to hold true to his word and keep her on his payroll as his housekeeper despite her Irish roots. The town is caught in an ongoing feud between the Irish and the "Reds" the frontiersmen who would rather see all the Irish run out of town and the Irish immigrants who are fighting to make a home for themselves in the New World. When Joseph agrees to keep Katie on as his housekeeper, the feud erupts anew, and Katie becomes the reluctant figurehead for the Irish townsfolk. As the violence escalates throughout the town, Katie must choose between the two men who have been vying for her love though only one might be able to restore hope to her heart.

My Review: 6.75/10

*Spoilers ahead!*

My very first thoughts on reading this book were not favorable; the opening chapter that sees Tavish and Ian giving Katie a ride did not impress me. I thought Tavish's thoughts and comments were repetitive and based on nothing. Not to mention the way he kept stating the obvious. Tavish was way too interested, way too soon. I just didn't find it believeable. I was about ready to turn this one in as one I couldn't finish, but for some reason, I pressed on a little longer. I'm glad I did.

While Tavish never gives up on his relentless pursual of Katie, you quickly spend a lot less time in his head, which makes his interactions more charming than shallow.

Ms. Eden does a good job of providing hard choices and real struggles. Romantically, it didn't seem like an easy choice for me, except for the fact that Joseph wouldn't let Katie know of his feelings. But there was plenty to love in them both, from her point of view.

Her ultimate choice between Hope Springs and Ireland was not an easy one either.

And no easy solutions for the problems in Hope Springs were offered either.

And then, we finally get the whole tale of Katie's past. That's not easy either. The way it was built up, I kept expecting the author to have built in a loophole, something that would remove all blame and guilt from Katie's shoulders, where her family was concerned. I expected it, but it never happened, fortunately. Her past was understandable, but she still placed reasonable blame on herself. I was really proud of Ms. Eden for giving her characters real problems, real struggles, real regrets. These things build character in a person, making them interesting, unique, and hopefully full of integrity and strength. She allowed Katie the time to earn the reader's compassion and respect. That is not easily done nor common enough.

I rated this book the way I did because though I enjoyed it (I really loved the Irish infusion, the dialogue, the history, the details, everything. So well done!) and thought so much of the plot and characterization well done, I had a criticism for every compliment.

I didn't understand why Joseph thought he could court Katie after she moved out. How did he think that would go with the Reds? Seems to me it never crossed his mind, which was totally out of character.

And with all the power Joseph held, and he held it all, why did he not demand peace, require civility, fair prices, no violence/harassment, etc as part of terms of lease? If anyone violated it, they would be given a warning and then, if it continued, they'd be evicted. Seems plenty simple to me.

Why were there no lawmen to enforce anything? I understand that it was a territory, but if they could have a church with a pastor, they could have a sheriff or deputy or something and a jail, even if it was only a one room holding cell.

Why did it not occur to Katie herself to ask Granny about staying there, especially as she'd just spent time with her, reflecting on how much help Granny needed?

At the time, I was wondering why there was so little reference to God and why Katie didn't pray and seek out the Bible for answers, and now I'm thinking, this may not have been a Christian based novel. I'm not sure, so I'm going to discount that.

When it came down to it, I thought Katie flipped from being annoyed with Tavish to being super into him, just a little too quickly. If I remember correctly, it really happened when he saved her by dancing in her stead. I thought that was well done, certainly the kind of thing to turn a girl's head. But Katie seemed to flip too easily (and often) in general for me. First Tavish, then Joseph and back and forth and back and forth (though it did seem that her preference for Tavish was always stronger and present, which appeased me). Then it was leaving Hope Springs, then talk of staying for years, then leaving, then staying, then leaving and ultimately staying. Too much, too easily flip flopping. Perhaps this was supposed to be a character flaw of hers. I'm not sure.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book. It was interesting, stuffed with history and authenticity, and a sobering taste of realism. The things I loved and the things I thought could have been better put aside, the book left me wanting more. Will Katie ever learn to read? How will the Reds and Irish find peace? What will happen with Katie's family? What will happen with the new housekeeper? What will happen with the Archer family? What will happen way down the line with Finbarr? These are just a smattering of the things I'm dying to know and the character's I'm invested in. This book will draw you in and hold tight.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

An Untamed Heart book review

An Untamed Heart

An Untamed Heart 

The Long-Awaited Prequel to the RED RIVER OF THE NORTH Series
Twenty-year-old Ingeborg Strand is certain she is destined to be an old maid. She's had several suitors but none she deemed worthy of spending her life with. That is, until she meets a university student from Oslo, and feelings stronger than friendship begin to develop between them. But tragedy strikes, and the future begins to look bleaker than ever.
Grief settles heavily over Ingeborg, and her mother suggests that she leave Norway and start afresh in America, as so many others have done before her. But how will she accomplish that with little money and no one to accompany her?
It isn't long before she meets Roald Bjorklund, a widower who has been planning to go to America for some time, lured by the promise of free land. He's a good man, a hard-working man--and he has a young son who desperately needs a mother. He's clearly interested in Ingeborg, but is he the answer to her prayers? And what about love? This isn't how she's always imagined it.
Ingeborg Strand has a heartrending decision to make...

My Review: 1/10

Full disclosure- I skimmed a lot and didn't finish it.

I realize it's kind of petty to take issue with a book because of something like names, and the author was being authentic to the culture, but she didn't have to choose names like Ingeborg and Gunlaug for the main characters... even Ingeborg's sisters had better names. Lots of heavy G and R sounds which made it hard to chew through.

But I could overlook this if I fell in love with the characters or even found them mildly interesting. But I just didn't understand them. It seemed to me that there were a lot of (immediately) contradicting thoughts and actions from Nils and Ingeborg. One minute she's saying she won't put her brother in the same position she's been put in (matchmaking) and then all of sudden she's forcing them to dance. I had a lot of "what? what just happened?" moments when reading.

Also, several characters (like Nils and Ingeborg) were constantly frustrating me because they dwelled a lot on their problems but were always avoiding confrontation or being passive aggressive. I don't have respect for people or characters who whine about their circumstances and are unwilling to adress the problems head on. Both should have just spoken to their parents and then heard them out. Maybe it was a cultural thing.

The narrative was a little weird and confusing for a while- we'd switch back and forth between mar/Hilde etc. and characters would refer to themselves as if they were speaking about someone else ("did he think her daughter...")

Overall, there was lots of dialogue, but not much being said, lots of actions being described, but nothing really happening.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Caught in the Middle book review

Caught in the Middle (Ladies of Caldwell County, #3)

Caught in the Middle 

The train to Garber, Texas, is supposed to bring life's next victory to Nicholas Lovelace. Instead, it gets held up by robbers who are thwarted by the last person Nick ever expected--Anne Tillerton from back home in Prairie Lea.

Anne’s been hiding away as a buffalo hunter. She’s only in Garber to find their runaway cook, but the woman flees--leaving Anne with her infant son. With Nick the only person Anne knows in Garber, the two form an unlikely team as they try to figure out what to do with the child.

But being in town means acting and dressing for polite society--and it's not going well for Anne. Meanwhile, Nick's work is bringing new pressures, and being seen with a rough-around-the-edges woman isn't helping his reputation. Caught between their own dreams, a deepening relationship, and others' expectations, can the pair find their way to love?

My Review: 9/10

I was so excited when I saw that Regina Jennings had a book coming out this month! I first heard of her just a couple of months ago when reading A Match Made in Texas. Unexpectedly, hers was my favorite short story in the set and I took note of her name, determined to keep an eye out for her work. I had such high hopes for this book and Ms. Jennings did not disappoint.

I had no idea this was part of a series. It worked just fine on its own. Although, if you'd read the previous books, you'll probably better appreciate updates on and the involvement of previous characters.

The best thing about this book was the abundance of interesting and realistic characters. I always love a hero that is unapologectically (at least for a time) imperfect because that is relatable. Our flaws lead to struggles which develop our character. I cannot admire or believe in characters that are portrayed as perfect. And Ophelia. Oh my. She was deliciously obnoxious. I loved some of the ways she was described, such as: Using her parasol as a walking stick, she made her way to the customary chair and sank into it like a queen on her rival's throne." (page 172)  I was amazed at Anne's calm demeanor when Ophelia constantly spoke about her as if she wasn't there at all and the way Nick let her. I appreciated being able to see his struggles in those moments.

I thought Ms. Jennings captured the human heart so well when Finn is discovered and Anne is left with an immediate and impossible choice. The bond between Anne and Sammy, the change occurs so naturally. Being orphaned, or living like it with unavailable parents was so common back then, so it is a common theme in books placed in this time period. To me, 99% of the the time, they are trite; just a subplot used to characterize the heroine as unfailingly compassionate and sacrificial and feminine so that her love interest is inexplicably drawn to her. But Ms. Jennings work is the exception, not the rule. I loved the line "Anne watched the quiet house as she silently buried her dreams of independence." She did not enter into this with excitement and joy and because of a love for all children. Anne enters into this terrified, but for the love of this one child. And I thought it was even more important that Nick did not fall for her because of her bond or sacrifice for Sammy. How refreshing that a love was built many layers deep, starting out with respect.

Touching on subjects of abuse, especially at this level, and healing can be very tricky. I thought Ms. Jenning did a wonderful job throughout and I particularly loved her description of Nick's handling of her: "Nick smiled. Anne could grouse all she wanted. She was there and she was dressed respectfully. He wouldn't expect much more from her. Incremental change, gradually increasing the grade- that's how trains got from swamp to mountaintop. You couldn't go steep, especially carrying a load as big as the one Anne toted." (page 159) How perfectly put. Nick's determined and steady work on Anne, his patience and perseverance were a perfect blend and seemed very true to his personality. Their's was a beautiful love story to watch unfold.

The scene in Ophelia's dining room was entertaining and not needlessly so. I thought it was an excellent portrayal of a woman with a history of abuse. And I loved Nick's response. I come across a lot of authors who give their characters a history of some kind of pain/suffering and only seem to pull it out when they want to make their character vulnerable so that the lovebirds can bond. Ms. Jennings creates consistent characters that are true to form, even when things become uncomfortable, messy or downright unbearable.

I loved the moment Nicholas realized he was in love with her. Unique. Natural. Simple. Exquisite.

I could go on and on and on about the things I loved in this book- well-time and placed humor, the arguments between Nick and Anne that represented both sides well, the challenges to living out Faith, struggles with prioritizing integrity over prosperity, etc. But this book is so well done, you just have to read it. You'll find yourself constantly taking notes, dog-ear-ing, highlighting and underlining, and returning often reference a concise, well put line or two.

The only criticisms I had were brief and small in comparison: the bridge drama that happens early on- it seemed senseless to me that the man would charge headfirst into certain drowning. I thought, geez, that is the last thing his wife needs right now. And it appeared to be due to pride/ego rather than service. But then he didn't drown and I thought, I must have misunderstood the situation. I'm not sure on that, but I think the points could have been made (family first, love, need of the bridge etc) without it being quite so dire and dramatic.

The other issue I had was just with the plot. When Anne/everyone found out that Sammy's grandparents wanted him, my first thought was, "oh, I guess she's going to have to seek out Tessa afterall." I mean, it didn't matter if grandparents were of closer kin, if the mother put her child in the care of someone else. Her claim was sound. And in the beginning, she remarked that she could easily track wherever Tessa went next, there just wasn't any point. So I thought, she should just get Tessa to write something that is legal and binding. So it was a little mind boggling to me, the desperation and events that followed.

Bottomline, this is a book I will read and reread often and delight in every time. I think I've found a new author to love!