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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Under a Cloudless Sky by Chris Fabry

Disclaimer: Under a Cloudless Sky, by Chris Fabry, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

1933. In the mining town of Beulah Mountain, West Virginia, two young girls form an unbreakable bond against the lush Appalachian landscape, coal dust and old hymns filling their lungs and hearts. Despite the polarizing forces of their fathers—one a mine owner, one a disgruntled miner—Ruby and Bean thrive under the tender care of Bean’s mama, blissfully unaware of the rising conflict in town and the coming tragedy that will tear them apart forever. 2004. Hollis Beasley is taking his last stand. Neighbors up and down the hollow have sold their land to Coleman Coal and Energy, but Hollis is determined to hold on to his family legacy on Beulah Mountain. In his way is Buddy Coleman, an upstart mining executive who hopes to revitalize the dying town by increasing coal production and opening the Company Store Museum. He’ll pay homage to the past—even the massacre of 1933—while positioning the company for growth at all costs. What surprises them all is how their stories will intersect with a feisty octogenarian living hundreds of miles away. When Ruby Handley Freeman’s grown children threaten her independence, she takes a stand of her own and disappears, beginning a journey to face a decades-old secret that will change everything for her and those she meets.

My rating: 5/5 

Under a Cloudless Sky is a mesmerizing, gripping read, telling the story of Hollis Beasley and his efforts to preserve his land, and the story of Ruby Freeman, who’s faced with struggles from various angles. It’s also the story of Ruby’s daughter, Frances, and Hollis’s granddaughter, Charlotte, and those stories are intermingled with the 1933 story as we learn about young Ruby and her friend Bean in the days leading up to a significant tragedy.

Fabry is a fantastic storyteller, weaving together the various points-of-view and the two different time periods effortlessly. I never felt jarred or bothered by the back-and-forth, and the switching was done effectively, creating just the right amount of tension and curiosity. His characterization is amazing, as well; even the characters that are focused on for only a small amount of time are fleshed out and interesting, with the exception of Buddy Coleman.

I did figure out a majority of the plot before it was revealed in the book, but it was such an exciting moment for me when I did figure it out that it can hardly be considered a negative. I could hardly wait for the characters to confirm what I had discovered.

The voice of the characters was great; the mechanics and the storytelling itself were gripping and artfully delivered; the entire book was difficult to put down. There were a few things here and there that I thought were amiss (the whole kidnapping bit in the middle of the book was odd and seemed to exist solely to flesh out Frances as a character), but overall, Under a Cloudless Sky was a worthwhile, thrilling read that made me excited for more of Fabry’s works.

You can find a Q & A with the author here.

Warnings: Suggestive themes, violence.

Genre: Christian, Realistic, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2FiFG62

Until We Find Home by Cathy Gohlke

Disclaimer: Until We Find Home, by Cathy Gohlke, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

For American Claire Stewart, joining the French Resistance sounded as romantic as the storylines she hopes will one day grace the novels she wants to write. But when she find herself stranded on English shores with five French Jewish children she smuggled across the channel before Nazis stormed Paris, reality feels more akin to fear. With nowhere to go, Claire throws herself on the mercy of an estranged aunt, begging Lady Miranda Langford to take the children into her magnificent estate. Heavily weighted with grief of her own, Miranda reluctantly agrees…if Claire will stay to help. Though desperate to return to France and the man she loves, Claire has few options. But her tumultuous upbringing—spent in the refuge of novels with fictional friends—has ill prepared her for the daily dramas of raising children, or for the way David Campbell, a fellow American boarder, challenges her notions of love. Nor could she foresee how the threat of war will invade their quiet haven, threating all who have come to call Bluebell Wood home, the people who have become her family.

My rating: 3/5 

Until We Find Home has a lot of elements that I really enjoyed: a protagonist that I found interesting, two romances that ran gently underneath the main plot and weren’t too sensual, an interesting setting and conflict, and a good incorporation of Christian elements.

First, the protagonist. Claire had just enough flaws to make her interesting, and her slight anxiety over her faults wasn’t drawn out long enough to become annoying. Her development is believable, and by the end I was whole-heartedly cheering her on. Things didn’t go quite so far in certain areas as I was hoping, and I felt that there were definitely some areas where things were resolved too quickly (especially at the end, where something in particular was glossed over, which really needed its own scene or more explanation, I felt), but overall, Claire’s characterization was great.

The two romances were good, too. I’m glad that David didn’t become the typical male protagonist of Christian romance novels. In fact, he wasn’t around too much at all—this is very much a book much more focused on Claire’s (and Miranda’s) development than romance. I do wish he didn’t seem quite so perfect—there’s multiple times when the characters think, “He always knows exactly what to do and say!”—but his role makes sense, at least. Both of the romances in the book revolve around growth, which is nice.

I always enjoy a novel set during the time of World War II, so of course I enjoyed the setting and conflict of this book. I’m torn as to how I feel about Gohlke’s approach to Judaism in the book—it’s respectful and accurate, but Gohlke seemed unwilling to even try to broach some of the more major differences that would undoubtedly have arisen between Jewish and Christian people living in the same household. Beyond that, I loved the inclusion of C. S. Lewis in the book, and Gohlke gets his voice exactly correct.

The things I didn’t like about Until We Find Home are relatively minor, but overall reduced my rating of the novel. I thought the book was slightly too long and dragged in places. I thought much more could have been done with Claire and her mother, and especially her mother and Miranda. In addition, while the setting and conflict were good, I thought the final bit of tension at the end of the novel was almost too much—a little cartoonish and dramatic.

Until We Find Home has many things going for it: good character development, subtle romance, and an interesting setting. The Christian elements are also done well. However, I thought there were too many missed and wasted opportunities, and occasionally the book’s pace was too slow and the action too clunky.

You can find a Q&A with the author here.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2DNa6xC

Holding the Fort by Regina Jennings

Disclaimer: Holding the Fort, by Regina Jennings, 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.

Dance hall singer Louisa Bell has always lived one step from destitution. When she loses her job at the Cat-Eye Saloon, she has nowhere else to go but to her brother, a cavalry soldier stationed in Indian Territory. But he’s run afoul of his commanding officer. Unsure what she can do to help him and desperate for a job, she doesn’t protest when she’s mistaken for a governess at the fort. How hard can teaching really be? Major Daniel Adams has his hands full at Fort Reno, especially raising tow adolescent daughters alone. If this new governess doesn’t work out, his mother-in-law insists she’ll raise the girls herself—far away from the fort. Miss Bell bears little resemblance to Daniel’s notion of a governess—they’re not supposed to be so blamed pretty—but he finds himself turning a blind eye to her unconventional methods. Louisa has never faced so important a performance. Can she keep her act together long enough to help her brother and to secure the respectable future she’s sought for so long?

My rating: 3/5 

Holding the Fort tells the story of a woman pretending to be a governess and the difficulties she has to overcome as a result of her own lack of education. There’s a little more to it than that, but that story is the one I enjoyed the most. In fact, I wish there had been a little bit more bumbling in regards to Louisa’s ability to teach—there is a little bit at the beginning, but then it gets brushed aside in favor of the romantic plot. Jennings excellently portrayed Louisa as someone pretending to be something she’s not—saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, etc.

Louisa herself is a more controversial character for me, as she is the sort who every other character seems to like immediately, or at least very soon after meeting her. I also thought the romance plot would have been better if she and the major hadn’t met prior to her traveling to the fort, and if she hadn’t been the only woman at the fort (which is far more realistic than the alternative, I know). But I enjoyed her journey, even as I predicted most of it, and the romance between her and the major was done well, too.

There were humorous moments scattered throughout the novel, which really served it well—I hope Lieutenant Hennessey comes back in future novels because he was a delight, as was Bradley. Those two were really the only fleshed out characters besides the daughters and, of course, Louisa and Daniel—and Hennessey barely. The rest were simply faceless extras.

Holding the Fort is an enjoyable historical romance. It has a few bobbles here and there, especially in regards to Louisa’s portrayal, but overall the pacing was good, the romance was good, and it held my attention throughout. I would have preferred if it hadn’t been quite so much of a “you’re the only woman around and therefore I will fall in love with you” and I think the book would have been more interesting if there hadn’t been a shared moment between Daniel and Louisa before she comes to the fort, but it’s one of the better novels I’ve read from Bethany House.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2Dyq8ue

Death at Thorburn Hall by Julianna Deering

Disclaimer: Death at Thorburn Hall, by Julianna Deering, 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.

Drew Farthering arrives in idyllic Scotland for the 1935 British Open at Muirfield, hoping for a relaxing holiday with his wife, Madeline, and friend Nick. But death meets him once again when Lord Rainsby, their host at Thorburn Hall, is killed in a suspicious riding accident—only days after confiding in Drew his fears that his business partner was embezzling funds. Thorburn Hall is filled with guests, and as Drew continues to dig, he realizes that each appears to have dark motives for wanting Rainsby out of the way. Together with Madeline and Nick, he must sort through shady business dealings, international intrigue, and family tensions to find a killer who always seems to be one step ahead.

My rating: 3/5 

Luckily for me, it is not required to have read any other Drew Farthering mystery before reading Death at Thorburn Hall. It may have helped me get a better grasp of the characters, but I was able to understand enough that reading the previous books wasn’t a prerequisite to understanding this one.

First of all, I’d just like to quickly say how much I enjoy the cover art for this book. I love the vibe and the “old-timey mystery” feel it gives off.

Anyway, back to the important stuff. The mystery of the book wasn’t anything too special—definitely no Agatha Christie—but there’s lot of red herrings and rabbit trails for Drew to explore, and lots of speculation as to the various suspects and motives, which I appreciate in a mystery. However, while I wouldn’t say the killer is obvious, the revelation of the killer left a lot to be desired, and I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at the lack of complexity to the whole thing.

Reading the previous books definitely would have helped me to be able to better understand the characters, especially Nick and Carrie, who seemed to be in the book to further their own personal plotline, rather than contribute anything to the plot of the book. However, as I mentioned above, there’s enough mentioned about each character and each situation for a new reader to get a good grasp of what’s going on. I wish that I had experienced everything from the beginning, but at the same time, the book didn’t thrill me so much that I’m dying to start from the beginning.

Death at Thorburn Hall is a decent mystery, though my Agatha Christie-loving bones wished for a bit more complexity to the whole mystery. The villain isn’t obvious, though the revelation is a bit disappointing, and I wish some of the characters had been more important to the mystery, and contributed more, rather than just there to further their own storylines. Overall, though, Death at Thorburn Hall is not bad at all.

Warnings: Some violence.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction, Mystery

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2AUBYB0

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner

Disclaimer: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, by Bethany Turner, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Note: No back cover summary on this review, as the publisher prefers that reviewers not post it.

My rating: 2/5 

I’ve never experienced a book that started out mildly interesting and then quickly devolved into incredibly annoying quite like The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck. It started out a little bit intriguing and humorous, and then, right around the time Sarah ran into her pastor and fell in insta-love with the “lean, muscular” (of course, because they all are, because apparently that’s the only body type that exists) perfect man, it quickly became frustrating.

I appreciate that Turner is willing to address some things more openly than other Christian novels have done, but the amount of cringing I did while reading this book because of the ridiculous amount of attention spent on attraction and intimacy is more than I’ve ever cringed before. It’s almost the only thing they talk about, oftentimes in cheesy, cringe-worthy ways, and the whole relationship comes across as more of a physical attraction than anything else.

To add to the ridiculous amount of time spent on talking about sex (not explicitly, of course, but way more than I’m used to a Christian novel addressing it—again, props to Turner, but perhaps a more less in-your-face approach would have been better), we have the perfect pastor and perfect man Ben, of the “lean and muscular” build, who is flawless, always says the right things, and is about as interesting as my left shoe. Then we have the melodramatic plot, complete with “who’s the father of my baby?” drama, that ends with Ben being completely unconcerned that the church he’s pastoring is going under, leaving its congregation to find new places of worship, an event that’s literally almost shrugged off by the characters, when in real life something like that would be slightly more devastating, or at least difficult to adjust to.

Did I mention that all Ben and Sarah talk about are how much they want to get married so they can get around to having babies? And you might be thinking I’m exaggerating, and I am, a little, but they literally spend pages talking about it.

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck has insta-love (my least favorite), the typical Christian-fiction love interest (lean, muscular, perfect, always says the right things), dialogue and conversation topics that would have been refreshing if they hadn’t been so prevalent and blunt (Christian fiction tends to avoid intimate language; Turner has way too much), and a plot that’s melodramatic and cliché. If Turner had been more original in her characters and in her plot, I think the book would have been vastly improved.

Warnings: Sex is mentioned a lot. Nothing explicit or necessarily in poor taste, though.

Genre: Christian, Realistic

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

Why I Believe by Chip Ingram

Disclaimer: Why I Believe: Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity, by Chip Ingram, was provided by Baker Books. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Responding to the perception that Christians are prejudiced, anti-intellectual, and bigoted has become a greater challenge than ever before. The result is often intimidation, withdrawal, and even doubts among God’s people about what we really believe. Chip Ingram wants to change that. In Why I Believe, he gives compelling answers to questions about

  • the resurrection of Christ

  • the evidence of an afterlife

  • the accuracy and intellectual feasibility of the Bible

  • the debate between creation and evolution

  • the historicity of Jesus

  • and more

His solid, biblical, logical answers will satisfy the honest doubts that every believer experiences, and will provide thoughtful arguments for those who are struggling with their faith, are curious about Christianity, or who honestly want to follow Jesus without checking their brains at the door.

My rating: 2/5 

I struggled for a long time as to what rating to give this book.

Finally, I decided to rate it how I normally rate books, which is roughly 40% related to the content of the book and 60% related to how I feel about the book while reading it.

Why I Believe’s content is great, for the most part. Ingram discusses basic reasons for the historicity of Jesus, the resurrection, and the reliability of the Bible, while also briefly touching on the creation/evolution debate. It’s incredibly condensed, which I feel is a pity, because he only dedicates a few paragraphs to each point, whereas whole books can be, and have been, written about each of those points. As a result, it seems a little rushed. Ingram is hitting the highlights, but there’s not a lot of meat to the book.

I do wonder if this book adds anything to the apologetics table. It rehashes common apologetic arguments, arguments that have whole books dedicated to them as I mentioned above, and contributes nothing new or foundational. Ingram does make the book a little more personal, but it’s less of a “let me tell you my story” and more of an “I’m going to give you these points and then also give you a sermon.” As an intellectual, rational person, those parts of the books didn’t appeal to me. The juxtaposition between “here’s the evidence” and “here’s the sermon” was jarring, as well.

Why I Believe may appeal to people who want a more personal, sermon-y feel to a basic apologetics book, but it treads no new ground and condenses everything so much that it’s shockingly shallow in depth. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone interested in apologetics. I’d go with classics such as The Case for Christ or Mere Christianity instead, which deal with the subject much better.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian

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

The Delusion by Laura Gallier

Disclaimer: The Delusion, by Laura Gallier, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

By March of Owen Edmonds’s senior year, eleven students at Masonville High School have committed suicide. Amid the media frenzy and chaos, Owen tries to remain levelheaded—until he endures his own near-death experience and wakes to a distressing new reality: the people around him suddenly appear to be shackled and enslaved. Owen frantically seeks a cure for what he thinks are crazed hallucinations, but his delusions become even more sinister. An army of hideous, towering beings, unseen by anyone but Owen, are preying on his girlfriend and classmates, provoking them to self-destruction. Owen eventually arrives at a mind-bending conclusion: he’s not imagining the evil—everyone else is blind to its reality. He must warn and rescue those he loves…but this proves to be no simple mission. Will be h able to convince anyone to believe him before it’s too late?

My rating: 2/5 

I realized something while reading The Delusion. I realized that I really don’t like books that try to get metaphorical about Christian ideas/theology, because a lot of the time the metaphors are wildly inaccurate and/or downright silly.

The Delusion, which is a little bit like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness in its spiritual warfare plot, relies heavily on metaphors as it sets up this world where monstrous gray oozing creatures feed off of people and incite them to do bad things. Besides reminding me of Peretti, the book also reminded me of John Bibee’s Spirit Flyer series, which also has descriptions of people being chained by shackles they can’t see.

I understand the premise of the story, or at least the premise Gallier is going for: there’s more going on in the material world than what we can see. Yet, the way Gallier presents it, with gray monsters and tall golden warriors (angels, I suppose), makes it seem more like some disturbing alternate reality. I’m not going to deny that the supernatural exists, but I find it difficult to believe that it looks anything like what Gallier describes it as.

“But, wait, you’re missing the point,” you might say. “It’s not meant to describe reality. It’s meant to be a metaphor, a way to describe things.” True, and I get that. But I balk at the point Gallier seems to be going for here, which is that evil is caused by possession, not human choice; that people are compelled to do bad things because some gray monster squelched into their body and took over their mind.

Yes, I know it’s a metaphor. Yes, I know Gallier is simply personifying emotion and doesn’t necessarily mean to indicate that humans are forced to do evil by demons, and if it was their choice they wouldn’t do it.

But I think it’s a clumsy metaphor.

Or, I simply don’t like this sort of book and my dislike of the genre is rubbing off on Gallier’s presentation.

In any case, The Delusion is mildly gripping and definitely creepy, which is good for the genre it is. I didn’t like the metaphorical mess that Gallier created, though, and most of the characters were so bland and one-dimensional that I’m struggling to even remember their names. Also, I found some of the scenarios unbelievable, and not the metaphor part, like when Owen gets beaten and then walks away like he had just been punched a couple of times. The Delusion was definitely not my type of book, but I can see it appealing to people who like this sort of supernatural thing.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2xVxlG4

The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker

Disclaimer: The Day the Angels Fell, by Shawn Smucker, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened. After his mother’s death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to turn back time. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Samuel begins his search for the Tree of Life–the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Samuel to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift?

My rating: 2/5 

The Day the Angels Fell is a sort of mythological story that seems to have been inspired a great deal by Frank Peretti. It starts out really strangely, so strangely that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to either take it seriously or even remotely enjoy myself. There’s strange, magical fortunetellers (who don’t really seem to fit in the story as anything but a way for the protagonist to hear the name “Tree of Life”), shadow beasts, and a mysterious quest that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the beginning.

The book starts fitting together a little better when the main premise of the plot is told via story. Then, things start making sense, though the whole thing is so far-fetched, even as obviously mythological as it is, that I had trouble swallowing the entire premise. I also spent far too long wondering what in the world the title had to do with anything, and wondering if the cat Icarus held any more importance than simply being the vehicle used to start the whole “quest” in motion.

I liked the jumping-back-and-forth through time that happened at the beginning of each section of the chapter; it was interesting to see OldMan!Samuel reflect on and narrate what happened when he was twelve. I also liked that Samuel much more than twelve-year-old Samuel, though at least boy Samuel was acting his age (precisely why I didn’t like him).

I also had a very hard time buying Smucker’s entire message, which is that “death is a gift.” It just smacked of callousness, and to me the tone and delivery was all wrong. You can’t just encompass people’s suffering into one big box and simply say, “Death is a gift.” I mean, I get that Smucker was also pointing out that the power to bring someone back to life might not be all that great to use, but since people who read this will be thinking in terms of general loss, and don’t usually have Trees of Life popping up in their backyard waiting for them, the message falls a little flat.

The Day the Angels Fell is full of MacGuffins, from Icarus the cat, existing solely to jumpstart Sam’s main motivation, to the fortunetellers, who exist solely to have Sam hear the name “Tree of Life” and introduce the mythical nature of the book. It starts out strangely, gets marginally better once all that strangeness is established in a (albeit hard-to-swallow) mythical story, and ends fairly well, though by that time it was too late for me. I liked the older Sam moments, but the younger one annoyed me. I also didn’t particularly like or agree with what Smucker was apparently trying to say about death, which is really only applicable if one has access to a Tree of Life, but a fairly useless, even callous message if there isn’t such a tree. A miss for me, overall, though I will admit I liked Abra and there were some interesting moments in the story that weren’t so bad.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

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

The Promise of Dawn by Lauraine Snelling

Disclaimer: The Promise of Dawn, by Lauraine Snelling, 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.

Opportunities are scarce in Norway, so when Rune and Signe Carlson receive a letter from Rune’s uncle, Einar Strand, offering to loan them money for passage to America, Rune accepts. Signe is reluctant to leave her home, especially a she is pregnant with her fourth child, but Einar promises to give them land of their own, something they could never afford in Norway. But life in Minnesota is more difficult than Signe imagined. Uncle Einar and Aunt Gerd are hard, demanding people, and Signe and her family soon find themselves worked nearly to the bone to pay off their debt. Afraid they will never have the life they dreamed of, she begins to lose her trust in God. When the dangers of the North Woods strike close to home, will she find the strength she needs to lead her family into the promise of a new dawn?

My rating: 4/5 

The Promise of Dawn is an interesting read. It’s not like a lot of the other historical fiction I’ve read that deals with the same sort of scenario and it’s not at all like the other Snelling book I reviewed, Streams of Mercy. There’s very little plot and the book is basically about all the work that Rune and Signe do once they get to America. There are pages devoted to day after day of Signe cleaning the house and cooking, the boys taking care of the animals, and Rune cutting down trees, with scenes that show how their work is made even harder by the demands of Einar and Gerd. I don’t know why a book like that would be so engaging, but I found it much more interesting than I would have thought if I had just heard a description of it.

The book is really a close-up look at perseverance and how hard people worked back in those days, especially when their livelihood and their life depended on it. Crops and animals were both food and money in those days, so having little or none was devastating. I suppose my love for Laura Ingalls Wilder and the pioneering in those books are why I enjoyed The Promise of Dawn so much.

The lack of a big plot line isn’t bad for a book that, at its heart, is simply about work and perseverance. However, there were some things that I ended up being dissatisfied with, such as the lack of explanation as to why Einar was so mean and the continuous questions and dropped hints that implied we were going to get an explanation but which never happened. There’s only so many times a character can wonder “What happened?” before you start to think you’ll get the answer eventually. However, Snelling never explains, which I found disappointing. It’s just chocked up to Einar being a mean person (with occasional glimmers of hope), which isn’t particularly good character development.

I enjoyed The Promise of Dawn for the look at Western expansion, pioneering life it gave us. The continuous work described in the book may be tiring for some readers, especially since it encompasses nearly all of the book with very little plot to break it up, but I found it interesting. My only complaint is that Einar, in particular, was underdeveloped as a character. If Snelling meant to connect his behavior with something revealed at the end of the novel, she needed to do a better job of making it clear. If she didn’t, then he’s an especially weak character. However, the other characters were great and the book reminded me, once again, of the hard, work-filled days of the settlers as they fought to survive in the wilderness. 

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2vR01vT