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!

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