Hearts Entwined: A Novella Collection

Disclaimer: Hearts Entwined was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

My rating: 3/5 

Hearts Entwined is a collection of four short stories/novellas by four different authors—hence why there’s no blurb or authors up top like usual. The four stories are all from each author’s “universes,” as it were, and I was familiar with two of the four. For this review, I’m going to tackle each story separately and give a little mini-review of each, starting with the story I liked the most and ending with the one I liked the least.

“Bound and Determined” by Regina Jennings:

To be honest, I think I liked this one and “Tied and True” about equally, but “Bound and Determined” had camels in it, which is wacky and memorable and probably my favorite part of the story. Bradley Willis—the brother of the protagonist of Holding the Fort—has to escort a retired officer, his daughter, and his herd of camels to Texas. I wish the romance had been less love at first sight (I am so sick of that trope in these historical romances), but the addition of the camels was great and I liked that I was familiar with the setting and some of the characters already.

“Tied and True” by Melissa Jagears:

“Tied and True” is part of the Teaville Moral Society series, of which I’ve read two books, so, just like with Jennings’s story, the familiarity of the characters and the setting helped me enjoy the story more (this story actually takes place during A Love So True). I really enjoy the “I love you, but I can’t pursue you” trope, probably because it’s a refreshing trope to read after all the usual, same-old same-old romances (like the one in “Bound and Determined”). It’s a bit too moralizing in places, and Marianne is the wrong type of naively perfect, the kind that makes you turn your head and go, “Would that really have worked out for you?”, but the story is enjoyable and it’s a nice addition to the Teaville series if you’re invested in those.

“The Love Knot” by Karen Witemeyer:

“The Love Knot” was a bit of an odd one. It uses the other overused trope common to these historical romances, the “we broke up a long time ago and now we meet again, reminisce, and then almost immediately get back together” trope. The setting is interesting, and so is the plot device that brings Claire and Pieter back together, but my unfamiliarity with the characters and the series led to lots of confusing moments for me. There’s also a lot of soul-searching and moralizing that could have been done more subtly, in my opinion.

“The Tangled Ties that Bind” by Mary Connealy:

This was my least favorite story, and not just because I think the title is terrible. Connealy is found of writing in sentence fragments, which is one of my biggest writing pet peeves. The plot also was incredibly chaotic—it utilizes the same sort of trope as Witemeyer’s, but the plot ping-pongs between romance and some sort of doctor procedural story, with a whole bunch of girl power preaching thrown in at the end. Connealy is definitely the weakest writer of the four, in my opinion, and it showed in her fragment-laden story and her melodramatic dialogue. 

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2HjRt5Y

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A Love So True by Melissa Jagears

Disclaimer: A Love So True, by Melissa Jagears, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Evelyn Wisely loves working at the local orphanage, but her heart can’t ignore the women of Teaville who are also in need. Her boss is willing to help build a shelter for them, but only if she gains the cooperation and financial support of other local businessmen. While David Kingsman plans to stay in Teaville just long enough to get his father’s business back on solid ground, he’s intrigued by Evelyn’s cause and finds himself more invested with each passing day. Will their plans and partnership fall apart when confronted with all that is stacked against them, or can they trust in God’s plan despite it all?

A Love So True is not as immediately gripping or as deep in message as the book that came before it, A Heart Most Certain, but it has a lot of charm, a decent romance, and some good things to say.

The novel continues with the story line of the first book, with Evelyn helping at an orphanage for children of prostitutes and with Lydia and she still determined to help the prostitutes themselves. While that particular message was told much better in A Heart Most Certain, Jagears still does a good job of communicating how we should help those in need. It’s unfortunate that Heart’s message was much more impactful and prominent whereas Love’s message is much weaker and more obscure (honestly, the only thing I can think of after reading it is “Don’t keep secrets”), because even though Jagears is still a good writer, there’s a noticeable drop in quality, at least in my eyes.

The romance is good, although the ending of it is filled with too much contrivance and clichés for me to really love it. I hate that every author seems to think that they need to have one last angst-filled separation between their love interests before they can finally get together. Love’s in particular was noticeably forced—I don’t mean the reason for Evelyn and David’s separation, which I actually quite liked because Jagears subtly poked fun at what the reader was likely thinking was Evelyn’s big secret, but what came after. David, knowing his father’s ways, still decides to go along with what he says. Evelyn, knowing what David has said about his father, still actually thinks she can trust what he says. It was forced tension, incredibly contrived, and annoying. It ruined the book for me, a little.

A Love So True is not as good as its predecessor, but it’s engaging, has some good things to say (even if it’s hard to pull out an overarching theme or message), and is written well. I wish the ending hadn’t been so forced because it spoiled my enjoyment of the entirety, but if I ignore the stupid things the characters did at the end, the romance was good and the characters themselves were well-developed. At least until they were forced to act in certain ways to generate tension.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2rJTccU

A Heart Most Certain by Melissa Jagears

Disclaimer: A Heart Most Certain, by Melissa Jagears, was provided by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Lydia King knows what it’s like to be in need, so she joins the Teaville Moral Society hoping to help the town’s poor. But with her father’s debts increasing by the day and her mother growing sicker by the week, she wonders how long it will be until she ends up in the poorhouse herself. Her best chance at a financially secure future is to impress the politician courting her, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that his mother is the moral society’s president. Lydia’s first task as a moral society member—to obtain a donation from Nicholas Lowe, the wealthiest man in town—seems easy…until the man flat-out refuses. Despite appearances, Nicholas wants to help others but prefers to do it his own way, keeping his charity private. When Lydia proves persistent, they agree to a bargain, though Nicholas has a few surprises up his sleeve. Neither foresees the harrowing complications that will arise from working together, and when town secrets are brought to light, this unlikely pair must decide where their beliefs—and hearts—truly align.

My rating: 5/5

A Heart Most Certain balances a decent romance with a gripping plot that strikes that fine balance between too preachy and not preachy enough—criticizing what it should criticize, showing flaws and improvements in characters, gently persuading and convicting but not being too heavy-handed either way.

The plot is mainly able to accomplish this because of the characters, who are flawed but manage to a.) be likeable despite their weaknesses and b.) improve on their flaws. Both Lydia and Nicholas are wrong on several occasions, sometimes while they’re both criticizing the other. There is no “pick a side” presented—Jagears smoothly shows how both Lydia and Nicholas are flawed in their thinking, and also shows how they improve by seeing things through each other’s eyes.

Also, while the plot itself gets slightly over-the-top at times, the message itself is delivered quite well and only gets heavy-handed very briefly. Like I said, Jagears is not too preachy, but also not so lax on delivering any message that the book seems meaningless as a result. There’s definitely something to get out of A Heart Most Certain, and the choice Jagears made to depict something that historically has been difficult to swallow was a good one. We don’t necessarily treat prostitutes the same way as we did in 1905, but there’s still something that rings true in this book that might match our attitudes towards certain things today more closely than we might think.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Heart Most Certain and its rich plot, likeable (and flawed) characters, and even the romance, for all its hints of insta-love and “this woman is beautiful therefore I love her” trends. I tend to like it when romances get a little angsty (as long as they don’t get melodramatic), and this one had a pretty good balance to it. But its main appeal comes from the excellent way Jagears presented a difficult topic, making A Heart Most Certain stand out from the rest of its peers.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2bqaVSB