Disclaimer: The Crescent Stone, by Matt Mikalatos, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Madeline Oliver has never wanted for anything, but now she would give everything just to breathe. Jason Wu skates through life on jokes, but when a tragedy leaves him guilt stricken, he promises to tell only the truth, no matter the price. When a mysterious stranger named Hanali appears to Madeline and offers to heal her in exchange for one year of service to his people, Madeline and Jason are swept into a strange land where they don’t know the rules and where their decisions carry consequences that reach farther than they could ever guess.
My rating: 3/5
The Crescent Stone is a decent fantasy novel of the Narnia subtype: two people find themselves entering a mysterious new world, where there’s magic, strange new people, and a battle to fight. Along the way, they discover things aren’t what they seem. The worldbuilding is good in terms of lore; there are all sorts of things in the appendix to help establish that. I wasn’t swept away in wonder, but I found the fantasy world interesting, for the most part.
Less good is the heavy-handed way that Mikalatos incorporates his cultural relevancy. Two of the characters are delivered a sermon about their perceived ignorance, and the fantasy world itself hinges on Mikalatos’s interpretation of the way the real world works. Except, while the magical aspect is fine, taking it and applying it to reality falls flat on its face. See, Mikalatos’s magic system is a zero-sum game: make something big, something else becomes small. But applying that to the real world, which is what he wants the reader to do, makes little sense. Money is not a zero-sum game; me getting $50 does not stop someone else from getting $50. My use of electricity does not prevent someone else from using electricity. There’s truth in some of what he says, but it’s hidden by the exaggerated magical message.
Other things that fell flat for me: the made-up books that Mikalatos includes to inspire the characters and create in them that longing for a fantasy world. The dialogue of those books is laughably cheesy, made even more so when the characters start quoting lines to each other. The heavy-handedness/preachiness is something I’ve already mentioned. Mikalatos sticks to rigid tropes and stereotypes, which is ironic considering the message he’s trying to get across. Towards the end, MacGuffins abound, and the plot points get muddled and confusing.
For a Christian fantasy, The Crescent Stone is pretty good in terms of worldbuilding, something that oftentimes can slip between the cracks in favor of message. But Mikalatos’s message stretches the bounds of reality—it makes sense in a fantasy world, but start applying it to the real one and it falls flat. A much more subtle approach would have gone over much better, with less preaching, absurd scenarios, or unbelievable concepts to clutter up the good message of compassion and equality.
Disclaimer: A Daring Venture, by Elizabeth Camden, 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: 4/5
I really like Elizabeth Camden. She has a knack for making compelling stories with characters that don’t fit the same old outline of the majority of other Christian historical romances. She also tends to have strong stories that aren’t pushed to the side for the romance. This story is about the battle to chlorinate water—a true story—and deliver clean water so that water-borne diseases, such as cholera, aren’t as frequent. The two main characters, Rosalind and Nick, do have a sort of insta-love, which I never really like, but Camden made it super cute and emphasized aspects of it that made me actually like it this time.
I also liked that the romance was void of a lot of tired tropes. That may also have contributed to my liking of it, since it seemed so new in comparison to the past books I’ve read. And I liked that Rosalind and Nick got to shine as characters, rather than as vehicles for romance. The characterization was really good, though Nick’s turn-around in terms of his view of chlorination was abrupt. And I liked all the court intrigue and the drama that revolved around the plot, though some of it was a little too over-the-top, such as pretty much everything that went on with Aunt Margaret.
This book is the second in a series, but luckily it’s not necessary to have read the first (I didn’t). It would have led to much greater insight into two of the characters, as well as Nick’s background, but overall it wasn’t too bad to fill in the blanks with what Camden gave.
A Daring Venture had a compelling plot, a romance that was sweet (and not annoying, so it gets bonus points from me), and solid characterization. A few elements were a miss for me, such as some of the more dramatic moments and Nick’s abrupt change of mind, but overall, I really enjoyed this book.
Disclaimer: Engraved on the Heart, by Tara Johnson, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Reluctant debutante Keziah Montgomery lives beneath the weighty expectations of her staunch Confederate family, forced to keep her epilepsy secret for fear of a scandal. As the tensions of the Civil War arrive on their doorstep in Savannah, Keziah sees little cause for balls and courting. Despite her discomfort, she cannot imagine an escape from her familial confines—until her old schoolmate Micah shows her a life-changing truth that sets her feet on a new path . . . as a conductor in the Underground Railroad. Dr. Micah Greyson never hesitates to answer the call of duty, no matter how dangerous, until the enchanting Keziah walks back into his life and turns his well-ordered plans upside down. Torn between the life he has always known in Savannah and the fight for abolition, Micah struggles to discern God’s plan amid such turbulent times. Battling an angry fiancé, a war-tattered brother, bounty hunters, and their own personal demons, Keziah and Micah must decide if true love is worth the price . . . and if they are strong enough to survive the unyielding pain of war.
My rating: 2/5
I was interested by the summary of Engraved on the Heart and hoped it would have lots of intrigue, sneaking around, and escapes from danger, as befitting the promise of the setting. I hoped the romance would be imaginative and original, though I didn’t really have too many high hopes in that regard.
I like it when authors introduce elements to the story that make it more unique, and Johnson did that with Keziah’s epilepsy and exploring the stigma associated with the illness. I wish a little bit more time had been spent on it, but at least it was an established part of her character. I liked Keziah in general and her characterization and growth were overall okay. Micah was a typical male love interest, and he didn’t stand out much in any way except for a bit at the end.
Most of the events that happened in regards to the Underground Railroad were pretty plausible. I recently read a book on the topic, and much of what happens in the book fits. My only quibble is that I don’t remember if they were actually calling it “the Underground Railroad” at the time. I also think getting a peek at Lucy’s escape would have been nice, since it seemed way too easy and vague. I also thought the way the plan was communicated to Lucy was dubious and unbelievable.
I won’t harp on the romance, but I’m getting tired of reading the same thing over and over. This romance played out exactly like most of the others in these sorts of books: love at first sight between two amazingly good-looking people, one or both has secret doubts about pursuing a relationship, they refuse to be in a relationship but still end up holding each other/kissing, etc. etc. etc. This romance in particular seemed incredibly similar to the one in the last book I read. It’s clear this sort of thing is being written to please the audience rather than to give something original and exploratory.
Disclaimer: Together Forever, by Jody Hedlund, was provided by Bethany House. It is the sequel to With You Always. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Determined to find her lost younger sister, Marianne Neumann takes a job as a placing agent with the Children’s Aid Society in 1858 New York. She not only hopes to offer children a better life, but prays she’ll be able to discover whether Sophie ended up leaving the city on an orphan train so they can finally be reunited. Andrew Brady, her fellow agent on her first placing-out trip, is a former schoolteacher who has an easy way with the children, frim but tender and friendly. Underneath his charm and handsome looks, though, seems to linger a grief that won’t go away—and a secret from his past that he keeps hidden. As the two team up, placing orphans in the small railroad towns of Illinois, they find themselves growing ever closer…until a shocking tragedy threatens to upend all their work and change on of their live forever.
Together Forever tells the story of Marianne Neumann, the sister of Elise Neumann, the protagonist of With You Always. It picks up the plot thread of the missing sister, Sophie, but very quickly sidelines it for a romantic plot, which is a shame because the missing sister is the most interesting thing in this series, and sidelining it really doesn’t make the characters look good. More on that later on.
Yes, this book is a romance, and boy, does Hedlund really accentuate that. There must be dozens of stolen glances, thoughts about the “delicate” and “elegant” features of Marianne, thoughts about the “strong jaw” and “toned muscles” and “warm skin” of Drew, and multiple looks of desire and/or longing. Hedlund throws in some events to make everything more dramatic, such as Reinhold, Marianne’s old (one-sided) flame, a murder, and some orphan children.
I think I might have enjoyed this book more, cliché and unoriginal romance (and tropes used) aside, if I had liked the characters more. Yet there’s really nothing that drew me to Marianne or Drew; Reinhold was more interesting, but showed up far too infrequently. The problem with Drew is that he’s the typical love interest in these sorts of books—handsome, clever, capable, with some sort of dark past that comes back to haunt him and throw tension into his relationship. The problem with Marianne is that for someone who’s so devoted to finding her sister, she barely does anything about it throughout the course of the book beyond read a few pages of a logbook. The rest of the time she’s busy flirting with Drew, when she’s not contemplating the fate of the orphans she’s placing. There’s also an absurd scene at the end of the novel that’s so contrived and such a dumb thing to do on the part of the characters (basically, it’s a “let’s pretend this is real and lead people on even though we know it’s wrong” decision) that I grew even more irritated at the romance between the two.
If I can say anything positive about Together Forever, it’s that Hedlund shows both sides of the orphan train. She shows it from the point of view of how many of the orphans who would have been living on the streets otherwise were taken in by families and cared for. But she also shows the side of how well those families will treat those orphans, as well as the idea that it’s basically selling children. I appreciated that she showed both perspectives. To be honest, I didn’t know much about orphan trains, so it was nice to see that part of history explored. The rest of the book, though, I could have done without.
Disclaimer: Before I Saw You, by Amy K. Sorrells, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Folks are dying fast as the ash trees in the southern Indiana town ravaged by the heroin epidemic where Jaycee Givens lives with nothing more than a thread of hope and a quirky neighbor, Sudie, who rescues injured wildlife. After a tragedy leaves her mother in prison, Jaycee is carrying grief and an unplanned pregnancy she conceals because she trusts no one, including the kind and handsome Gabe, who is new to town and to the local diner where she works. Dividing her time between the diner and Sudie’s place, Jaycee nurses her broken heart among a collection of unlikely friends who are the closest thing to family that she has. Eventually, she realizes she can’t hide her pregnancy any longer, not even from the baby’s abusive father, who is furious when he finds out. The choices she must make for the safety of her unborn child threaten to derail any chance she ever had for hope and redemption. Ultimately, Jaycee must decide whether the truest form of love means hanging on or letting go.
My rating: 4/5
I have been very impressed with the quality of books I have received from Tyndale (barring one or two.) Before I Saw You is poignant and relevant, handling difficult topics well and keeping up a tone that steeps it in Christian literature (as opposed to being a romance with references to Christianity). I was most impressed with Sorrells’ portrayal of teen pregnancy, something that tends to be unfortunately almost demonized in the Christian circle due to its connections with premarital sex. Yet, Sorrells makes clear that though Jaycee is well aware of the mistakes she has made, as are those around her, the life of a child is placed in its rightful position as something beautiful to be celebrated. Hand-in-hand with that comes the heartwarming, heartbreaking choices Jaycee has to make. While occasionally delving too far into sentimentality and flowery language, Sorrells beautifully displays both the difficulty and the necessity of Jaycee’s choices.
Some aspects that mar this work do so only slightly. As I mentioned, the language can get too sentimental at times (although that may very well be because I am not fond of sentimentality), as well as overly flowery and preachy in areas. Gabe is much too perfect, though his struggle to come to terms with Jaycee’s pregnancy helps redeem him a little bit (and it helps that the romance is not central to the plot). The idea that Bryan is never punished for his actions is also unsettling, though perhaps true to reality. And I never could quite buy the character of Sudie, who was slightly too eccentric and thus didn’t seem to fit well, at least to me.
Before I Saw You has some flaws, but its handling of sensitive issues and Sorrells’ obvious desire to cover taboo topics is refreshing, and she shows the difficulty, and the beauty, in a situation like Jaycee’s. I was mostly pleased that Sorrells did a portrayal of teen pregnancy that, frankly, I’ve never really seen, and that by itself made this book stand out to me.
Disclaimer: First Impressions, by Debra White Smith, 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.
In an attempt to get to know the people of London, Texas—the small town that lawyer Eddi Boswick now class home—she tries out for a local theater group’s production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She’s thrilled to get the role of lively Elizabeth Bennet…until she meets the arrogant—and eligible—rancher playing her leading man. Dave Davidson chose London, Texas, as the perfect place to live under the radar. Here, no one knows his past, and he can live a quiet, peaceful life with his elderly aunt, who also happens to own the local theater. Dave doesn’t even tryout for the play, but suddenly he is thrust into the role of Mr. Darcy and forced to spend the entire summer with Eddi, who clearly despises him. Sparks fly every time Eddi and Dave meet, whether on the stage or off. But when Eddi discovers Dave’s secret, she has to admit there might be more to him than she thought. Maybe even enough to change her mind…and win her heart.
I was excited when I found out this book was a Pride & Prejudice retelling. I figured I would enjoy it even if it turned out like many of the other mediocre romances I’ve read. I did get a bit of a scare when I reached the second chapter and had a “who thought this way of writing was a good idea?” moment when Smith described a tornado as a “beast,” a “devil,” a “demon,” a “gyrating monster,” a “funnel,” a “ghastly specter,” and, my personal favorite, a “capricious adolescent,” all in the span of three pages. Trust me…I almost stopped reading then and there.
However, I shouldered on, and I’m glad I did. Smith manages to keep a lot of the main characterization of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy and transfers them to her modern characters, Eddi and Dave. I don’t think she quite understands Darcy, but at least her presentation was better than the 2005 Kiera Knightley “shy romantic soul” movie interpretation. A lot of the same issues were addressed, at least in terms of their relationship, and in that regard I quite enjoyed it.
My main quibble was simply the shape of the retelling itself, especially how Smith chose to reinterpret some of the elements. It’s difficult to retell a Regency novel in a modern world, so I can say that Smith did a good job trying to find an equal equivalent to things that happen in the book (though none have done it better than “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” in my opinion). I do think she takes it a bit too far, though, especially in terms of Linda, this story’s Lydia. The Lydia of Pride & Prejudice is naïve and silly, but not worldly. I suppose the closest modern interpretation would be a sort of wild party girl, as is portrayed here, but I still think Smith could have done something a little better than what she does with the Lydia plotline. And I get that Christian novels love redemption stories, but redeeming Wickham (or this story’s Wickham, anyway) was too much. I did like the changing of Georgiana to a boy, though, and the way Smith modernized that event.
Some of the other elements were a little all over the place, such as the Chari/Charlotte and and Conner/Mr. Collins plotline, which seemed thrown in purely for the sake of the retelling as opposed to the plot. To be honest, they could have been cut out completely with nothing lost at all. I also was thrown by the early Catharine de Bourge/Davidson’s aunt scene, and I felt the effect was ruined because of it.
Basically, I enjoyed the main plotline of First Impressions, the barebones Pride & Prejudice romance retelling, but I had more serious problems with the writing and the side characters, as well as some of the ways Smith chose to retell and reinterpret the original. I liked it, but if I want a good Pride & Prejudice retelling, this won’t be the book I turn to.
Disclaimer: Joey, by Jennifer Marshall Bleakley, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
With her fledgling horse ranch, Hope Reins, in dire financial trouble, the last thing Kim Tschirret needed was one more problem. But when she met Joey, a former prizewinning jumper who had been abandoned, neglected, and malnourished to the point of blindness, she saw in him the same God-given potential she saw in every abused and abandoned child her ministry was created to serve. So, despite the challenges that would come with caring for a blind and wounded horse, Kim took a leap of faith and brought Joey home to Hope Reins. But as Joey struggled to adapt to his new surroundings, trainers, and pasture-mate, the staff’s confidence began to falter. Could Joey learn to trust again-to connect with the children who needed him so badly? What if they couldn’t take care of Joey? And how much longer could they afford to try?
My rating: 2/5
I was excited to receive and read Joey because, let’s face it, horse books were my favorite type of books growing up, and even today I still get excited to read one. And it seemed intriguing–a blind horse? Horse-centered therapy? Count me in!
However, I rated this book low for a reason, though it didn’t have anything to do with the horses. In fact, the horses were the best part of the book, though admittedly it did confuse me a bit when the first part of the book focused more on Speckles than on Joey. But I enjoyed reading about the training and the innovative ways the trainers helped Joey overcome his blindness. The interaction of the horses and the children was sweet; Bleakley definitely shows how an animal-centered therapy works, as well as its effectiveness overall.
So, it wasn’t the horses that I had a problem. It was the rest of the book–the humans, basically, and the overly preachy and sentimental tone. I had an incredibly difficult time telling the three main characters apart (Kim, Sarah, and Lauren), as their voices all sounded the same. I soon learned to differentiate by various traits always brought up–Lauren and her knee, Sarah and her inner monologues about her inadequacies. However, what also confused me was the voice of the characters. I initially thought Sarah was a teenager until she brought up a husband, which really threw me for a loop. Her voice just sounded like something more akin to a teenager’s than an adult’s to me. There was also a random romance thrown in with her that came out of nowhere; I understand that this is more nonfiction, but at least hint that she’s getting into a relationship with the vet before suddenly mentioning them holding hands when they rarely appear “on page” with each other and exchange conversation. Lauren also sounded younger, but she mentions a husband and kids earlier on so it was easier to adjust.
I also didn’t much like the sentimental, preachy tone of the book, and this is definitely more reflective of my personality than of anything really wrong with the book itself. I hate preachiness, especially extended preachiness that sounds scripted, and I’m not fond of sentimentality. If a grief scene stretches for longer than a paragraph, I already think it’s overdone. I recognize the sadness of the book, and what losing horses means to the people who work at Hope Reins, but I’d prefer not to linger on one particular scene for pages at a time.
I really didn’t like the tone or the confusing characters who blended into one another, but the book is focused on the horses, and the horses really do shine. This is a great advertisement for Hope Reins, if nothing else.
Disclaimer: Things I Never Told You, by Beth K. Vogt, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
It’s been ten years since Payton Thatcher’s twin sister died in an accident, forcing the entire family to cope in whatever ways they could. Now a lone twin, Payton reinvents herself as a partner in a successful part-planning business and is doing just fine—as long as she manages to hold her memories and her family at arm’s length. But with the announcement of her middle sister Jillian’s engagement, Payton’s party-planning skills are called into action. Which means working alongside Johann, her opinionated oldest sister, who always seems ready for a fight. They can only hope a wedding might be just the occasion to heal the resentment and jealousy that divides them…until a frightening diagnosis threatens Jillian’s plans for the future. As old wounds reopen and the family faces the possibility of yet another tragedy, the Thatchers must decide if they will pull together or be driven apart for good.
Maybe I’ve read too many young adult suspense novels, but when I read the summary of Things I Never Told You, I expected something much darker than what I actually got. The title, so reminiscent of popular YA titles, didn’t help. In fact, since I went into the book expecting deep, dark secrets to be revealed, the actual revelation of the “things I never told” seemed cheapened. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
The story is told from multiple points of view: Payton, the focus character, in first person, and Jillian and Zach in third person. I got used to the switching from first to third after a while, but initially it was really jarring. I also wondered why Vogt even bothered with first person if she wanted to use multiple viewpoints; the first person didn’t contribute much to Payton’s character and it seems pointless to utilize if you’re just going to switch to third when you want to convey other characters’ thoughts. The point of first person is that you don’tget the other character’s thoughts.
The story mainly focuses on Payton and the “things she’s never told” regarding the death of her sister (which, contrary to my thoughts, aren’t dark at all, merely the sort of thing you might expect after a traumatic event), though focus is also spent on her relationship with her family, especially her sisters, and her sister’s battle with breast cancer. The characters are all right—perhaps too pointedly flawed, or maybe too pointedly focused on their own inadequacies. If reading this book was supposed to make me feel as if I could relate to the characters and overcome similar thoughts, then Vogt didn’t really succeed. Eventually, all I wanted was for the self-pity and self-deprecation to stop.
I did like how Vogt handled the Thatcher’s lack of faith, and I liked that she didn’t create any sort of conversion scene that are usually so cheesy and overdone. I did think she dropped the ball in terms of Jillian, though. Jillian, I felt, needed the comfort that Payton received from thinking about God just as much, if not more, than Payton. She spends the whole book focusing on happy, positive thoughts that I thought for sure Vogt would connect it to the joy of Christianity. Unfortunately, that never happens, and instead Jillian’s happiness is tied to material things. A missed opportunity, and one that may have proved more powerful than Payton’s story.
Though I expected a dark, thriller-like reveal to the story, and the reveal of what Payton was actually hiding seem cheap in comparison, I did like a few aspects of Things I Never Told You. The family dynamic was interesting, and though I felt there were lots of missed opportunities, the way the book ended was realistic. The take on breast cancer was respectful, but just as shocking and sad as it would be in real life. However, the viewpoint was jarring and poorly executed, the title is too reminiscent of YA novels (and thus juvenile for an adult book), the characters spent too long wallowing in their own perceived flaws, and a beautiful opportunity for Jillian to see where true joy lies is completely set aside in favor of furthering a romantic plotline. It’s an average take on sorrow, buried secrets, and guilt, but is nowhere close to memorable or inspiring.
Disclaimer: A Most Noble Heir, by Susan Anne Mason, 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.
When stable hand Nolan Price learns from his dying mother that he is actually the son of the Earl of Stainsby, his plans for a future with kitchen maid Hannah Burnham are shattered. Once he is officially acknowledged as the earl’s heir, Nolan will be forbidden to marry beneath his station. Unwilling to give up the girl he loves, he devises a plan to elope—believing once their marriage is sanctioned by God that Lord Stainsby will be forced to accept their union. However, as Nolan struggles to learn the ways of the aristocracy, he finds himself caught between his dreams for tomorrow ad his father’s demanding expectations. Forces work to keep the couple apart at every turn, and a solution to remain together seems farther and farther away. With Nolan’s new life pulling him irrevocably away from Hannah, it seems only a miracle will bring them back together.
My rating: 2/5
A Most Noble Heir (titles like these need to disappear. Overused and unoriginal) is an interesting historical romance. It doesn’t do a whole lot to improve on old tropes, but at least the premise is interesting. Plus, it’s refreshing to read a book where the romantic interests marry at the beginning of the book. Even though Nolan and Hannah go over a lot of familiar ground in terms of romantic tropes, the way it’s framed makes it appear as if it’s fresh and new. I would have preferred actually fresh and new, but it was a pleasanter romance to read since they got married early on. I just wish there had been a bit less convenience in terms of Hannah’s station and slightly more tension (Nolan always thinks about the class divide between them and how it will affect their social standing, but it is never voiced nor noticed by anyone else, making his worries seem pointless. Plus, Iris showing up means that the point is moot—not that anyone actually seemed to care).
I really enjoyed the development of Nolan’s relationship with his father, though I wish it had been less jerky in terms of pace. Since we never actually see Nolan’s “aristocracy lessons,” the only glimpses of him with his father we get are when they are fighting, so the reader has to fill in the gaps for himself. However, I really enjoyed the scenes from Edward’s point of view (Nolan is a bit of a bland character), and they did a much better job of showing the development of the father-son relationship than Nolan’s did.
Nolan is a bland, forgettable character (and hardly noble, as the title suggests), but Hannah is secretly my kindred spirit. Her struggles in the novel, especially the ones revealed closer to the end of the book in regard to her own perception of herself, are similar to things I have felt in the past, and having those addressed in the book helped me just as they helped Hannah. She’s a bland character, too, when I look past the parts in the book that really connected me to her (the only non-bland characters are Edward and Iris, and Iris goes too far in the other direction), but she’s definitely a character I’ll remember.
A Most Noble Heir does strive to reinvent old tropes, and ends up doing it somewhat, but there’s still too much reliance on cliché, predictable romantic tropes. The characters are bland and boring, except for Edward and moments from Hannah, and many of the concerns that drive the tension of the plot seem flimsy and weak when compared with what Mason has shown us. It’s an intriguing premise, but it falls on its face one too many times.
Disclaimer: Keturah, by Lisa T. Bergren, 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.
In 1772 England, Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson and her sisters find themselves the heiresses of their father’s estates and know they have one option: Go to the West Indies to save what is left of their heritage. Although it flies against all the conventions, they’re determined to make their own way in the world. But once they arrive in the Caribbean, conventions are the least of their concerns. On the infamous island of Nevis, the sisters discover the legacy of the legendary sugar barons has vastly declined—and that’s just the start of what their eyes are opened to in this harsh and unfamiliar world. Keturah never intends to put herself at the mercy of a man again, but every man on the island seems to be trying to win her hand and, with it, the ownership of her plantation. She could desperately use an ally, but even an unexpected reunion with a childhood friends leaves her questioning his motives. To keep her family together and save the plantation that is her last change at providing for them, can Keturah ever surrender her stubbornness and guarded heart to God and find the healing and love awaiting her?
I’m going to spend most of this review talking about the historical aspect of Keturah and my thoughts on Bergren’s presentation, and less time talking about what I normally talk about (plot, romance, and characterization). To me, the historical setting was the most interesting part of the book.
Keturah is unique in that it’s one of the first historical fiction I’ve read in a while where the main character is involved, in some way, in plantations and slavery. Commonly, historical fiction (especially of the YA and middle grade variety that I read) set in the South during the Civil War or before all have main characters that eschew slavery, even those that live in the South. It’s almost as if authors believe that they are condoning slavery if their main characters own slaves, so instead they have their protagonists be vehemently against it. There’s nothing wrong about that, obviously, but it stretches the bonds of historical setting a little bit to have a Southern protagonist be so opposed to slavery (obviously there were people in the South who opposed slavery, but since the majority supported it, it makes logical, historical sense that the average person would also support it).
Bergren, however, does not shy away from the topic at all. Keturah keeps slaves and buys slaves, and though she treats them well enough, they’re still slaves. Keturah herself has some unpleasant moments where she clearly views herself as superior, especially in regards to Mitilda, the housekeeper of her father’s estate (there’s other factors influencing her behavior and thoughts towards Mitilda, but it’s still a little shocking how quickly her mind turns to race and class in that moment). Yet, she’s disturbed at the sight of a slave market and is quick to want justice when her slaves are terrorized by the neighbors. She’s abhorred at the violence towards and ill treatment of slaves, yet owns slaves herself.
There’s clearly a difference between Keturah and her neighbors, as she neither harms her slaves nor, in general, views them as “other.” She hires a free black man (who himself owns slaves—something that’s historically accurate) as her overseer, despite the island’s censure of the act. Her actions are clearly true to history (Frederick Douglass was taught to read by the wife of the person who bought him; there were slave owners who were kind to their slaves), and I was fascinated by Bergren’s decision to frame it this way.
It did bother me, however, that despite the strength of Keturah’s Christianity, especially towards the end, there was never a moment when Keturah even thought about the idea of freeing her slaves. Obviously, in terms of setting, that wouldn’t have worked very well. Yet all she does is think about how she should be nicer to Mitilda. I’m not going to argue the fact that Christians owned slaves, and excused it with (terrible) interpretations of Scripture, but it galled me that Bergren would try and show that being a good Christian (or being a good person) means simply that you’re nice to slaves that you own, with no thoughts about freedom, equality, or equity.
The historical setting of Keturah is fascinating, and might be incredibly divisive due to the main character’s ties with slavery. As for the rest of it, the pacing dragged a lot in places (they were at sea way too long), the romance was average, and Keturah was a mediocre protagonist. The merits of discussion for this book, though, are golden.
Warnings: Some violence, death, slavery, leering, very subtle hints at domestic abuse and possibly rape.