Tripleheader: Harlequin Love Inspired – B+, C, C-

I’m not much of a category romance reader, so I thought I’d give a few Harlequin lines a try. I found these three Love Inspired titles – including historical, contemporary and suspense – to range from “yawn” to “hmm, that was much better than I expected.” All three are new-to-me authors.

The Promise of Home by Kathryn Springer

  • The Promise of Home by Kathryn SpringerTitle: The Promise of Home
  • Author: Kathryn Springer
  • Series: Mirror Lake, Book 5
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Harlequin (Love Inspired), May 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($3.82 ebook, $5.75 MMPB)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Heat level: Sweet
  • Trope(s): Surprise Parenthood, Plot Moppets, Beta Heroes, Tormented by Guilt
  • Quick blurb: City girl gets custody of neglected niece and nephew, and finds herself relying on a surly backwoods recluse for help.
  • Quick review: Believable and likeable, but with a bit of over-the-top melodrama.
  • Grade: B+

“Sailors and explorers looked to the North Star to help them remain on course. It might not be as flashy or get attention like a shooting star, but it’s the one you can trust to always be there. To help you keep moving in the right direction. A constant.”

The happy couple….

She’s a high-maintenance magazine columnist who’s suddenly dropped into parenthood when her wild-child sister goes into rehab. He’s a reclusive photographer hiding some Very Angsty Secrets.

The romance….

This one had some pretty good relationship building, starting with amusing mutual annoyance, then evolving into mutual trust (aided by the kids) and eventually love. There’s only one smooch at the end, but a few near misses interrupted by the kids and a ginormous slobbery dog.

The setting….

Mirror Lake, Wisconsin, is (painfully evident on the Rainbows & Flowers & Plot Moppets cover) an idyllic, idealized small town, overflowing with Godly People and Good Advice.

However, most of the action in The Promise of Home takes place in the remote back woods, where the heroine and hero are forced to learn to trust each other for the sake of the kids.

The storytelling….

I was surprisingly absorbed by the believable set-up and character-driven plot. While there were some of the expected heart-tugging “oh, those poor babies” moments, the troubled-kids drama was never manipulative or conveniently forgotten. The hero’s Very Angsty Secrets provided a bit of mystery, but the buildup to the rather melodramatic ending seemed like an afterthought.

The faith message:

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” – Psalms 19:1-4

For me, the spiritual themes played out really well in this book. We learn how religious convictions led the hero to become a reclusive photographer, and we see how his quiet, unapologetic faith affects the heroine’s perception of him.

The presentation of some the other residents of Mirror Lake, featured in previous books, was a little too jarringly “Rah! Rah! God is Great!” compared to the understated introspection of the hero, but fortunately their appearances were few and short.

The recommendation….

Great for readers looking for a contemporary inspirational with compelling characters – but I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the series. And I NEVER would have chosen this one based on the cover.

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Identity Crisis by Laura Scott

  • Identity Crisis by Laura ScottTitle: Identity Crisis
  • Author: Laura Scott
  • Series: N/A (sequel coming soon)
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Contemporary, Suspense
  • Publisher:  Harlequin (Love Inspired Suspense), May 2012
  • Source: Amazon, $2.99 ebook ($5.75 MMPB)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Heat level: Sweet
  • Trope(s): Twins, Amnesia, Reunited, Beta Heroes, Big Misunderstanding
  • Quick blurb: Murder and mayhem in Milwaukee
  • Quick review: Amnesia! Twin-switching! Abduction! Crooked cops! Money laundering! Explosions!  Escape on bicycle! And it almost actually kinda sorta works! But not really.
  • Grade: C

Sheer desperation had forced her to break her cardinal rule by borrowing Mallory’s identity. But she shouldn’t have rested until she found a way to warn Mallory. Now it was too late. Dear Lord, forgive me. Please forgive me!

The happy couple….

She’s a trauma nurse who’s forced to assume her twin’s identity when a dying patient divulges some Bad Stuff about some Bad Guys. He’s her loyal ex-fiancée, and her only hope of finding her twin and recovering her memory.

The romance….

One of three reasons I didn’t fully connect with this book. There was no relationship building and very little romantic conflict.

She broke off their engagement because he was “overly protective” and “didn’t have a close relationship with God” – even though she never bothered to ASK WHY he was so overprotective and so superficially faithful.

He gets a Big Reveal of his Tragic Past that immediately clears up the Big Misunderstandings.

The storytelling….

At first, my eyes were rolling freely. She gets amnesia when she trips and hits her head on the sidewalk, and then the hospital immediately sends her out the doors with a prescription for “wait a week and we’ll see.” The hero thinks she’s the Evil Twin faking it to get him even further on the outs with his ex-fiancée.

Fortunately, he realizes pretty quickly that she’s the Love of His Life, and the plot gets much better from there. It’s kind of a wild ride from one side of Milwaukee to the other – but it’s not really a ride because he’s dragging her and her sprained ankle across town on foot, which is a useful ploy to put them in greater danger.

The suspense….

The resolution of the plot is the second reason Identity Crisis didn’t quite work for me. The crooked cop is sufficiently sinister, and the sense of impending doom was enough to keep me reading – but then…. Blah.

There was something vague involving money laundering, the uber-villain is a vague non-entity until the very end, the hero’s father is vaguely threatened because of some vague connection as fellow college alumni, and the vague disappearance of the unseen Evil Twin (Who’s Really Just Misunderstood) is left hanging for a sequel.

The faith message….

“All the prophets testify about him, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” – Acts 10:43

Reason number three. Ugh.

The heroine jilts her fiancée because he doesn’t love God as much as she does – she’s the Shining Example of Godliness that he has to live up to. His born-again best friend is used as a romantic threat.

I just wanted to hug the poor guy and tell him that he shouldn’t have to preach on street corners to prove he’s worthy enough.

The recommendation….

The middle – the fun suspenseful stuff – was enjoyable. The beginning and end, not so much.

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The Baron’s Governess Bride by Deborah Hale

  • The Baron's Governess Bride by Deborah HalTitle: The Baron’s Governess Bride
  • Author: Deborah Hale
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical
  • Publisher:  Harlequin (Love Inspired Historical), June 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($3.82 ebook, $5.75 MMPB)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Heat level: Sweet
  • Trope(s): Governesses, Widowers, In Disguise, Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful, Plot Moppets, Cinderella
  • Quick blurb: Gorgeous governess uglifies herself to land job with handsome, aristocratic widower.
  • Quick review: Yawn. Completely predictable and unoriginal.
  • Grade: C-

Part of her wished Lord Steadwell could see her like that, making the most of her God-given appearance rather than hiding her light under pinched spectacles and drab clothes.

The happy couple….

She’s a gorgeous governess who dons a mobcap and spectacles to find a new job because she’s tired of being accosted by slimy men. He’s an aristocratic widower with two young daughters.

The romance….

An attempt at a Cinderella story, but the “in disguise at the ball” scene is an uncomfortable plot contrivance to maneuver the staid hero and heroine into acting out of character.

The history….

No glaring anachronisms or inaccuracies, just the usual country estate and London ballroom and a few mentions of Napoleon. This story could easily be lifted out the Regency and plopped into virtually any time period – and I think it has been. Often.

The storytelling….

Again, nothing objectionable, but nothing special. The only conflict centers around the “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful” heroine’s deception in keeping her gorgeousness hidden from her employer, and that’s just not enough to drive the romance-building for me.

The faith message….

“Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” – 1 Peter 3:4

There wasn’t a lot of proselytizing in The Baron’s Governess Bride, but the overall spiritual theme seemed rather heavy-handed and inconsistent, popping up occasionally to remind us that, yeah, this is an inspirational.

The recommendation….

Only for readers looking for a generic “governess + widower” historical.

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A quick ending commentary….

I want to point out how relieved I was that none of these stories – historical or contemporary – focused on virginity. In fact, I don’t think the topic was even mentioned.

I’m not sure if that’s a given in the Love Inspired line, but it’s really great to read contemporary inspirational romance where sexual history is a non-issue.

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3 thoughts on “Tripleheader: Harlequin Love Inspired – B+, C, C-

  1. Des Livres says:

    The Promise of Home was bloody awful – a DNF for me. I am starting to look into inspirational romance as I have a strong spiritual life myself, and have recently experienced some gems, like Borrowed Light by Carla Kelly.

    Can you do a warning when the book is peppered with idiots saying stupid things like “God wouldn’t want you to be this or that” or whatever, “God would want…” “God must want me to meet these people….” how the hell would they know? Has God spoken to them directly? No? Well they can STFU. Maybe it should be called the God as Secret BFF with Nothing Better To Do trope.

    • Kelly says:

      …the God as Secret BFF with Nothing Better To Do trope.

      I almost choked on my Diet Coke. I am SO using that. I would suggest putting it on t-shirts and bumper stickers, but I don’t think a lot of people would get the sarcasm.

      I haven’t been impressed with any of the Harlequin inspies – most of the authors I love are from Bethany House, like Julie Klassen, Deeanne Gist and Siri Mitchell. And I rarely read contemporary inspies because they just seem so sappy and earnest.

      Glad to hear you liked Borrowed Light – I have that one and the two sequels coming up in the TBR queue soon.

      I found a lot of good recommendations on this blog too:

      http://www.edgyinspirationalromance.com/

      • Des Livres says:

        Thank you so much for that. I was reading the Harlequin guides to writers about what they want in each of their lines, and wrote this for their love inspired:

        “Relationships that emphasize emotional intimacy rather than sexual desire.
        Each story should focus on an emotional and satisfying romance, with a sustained conflict.
        Mandatory faith element that is integral to story and shows rather than tells, avoiding didactic, preachy tone or doctrinal language.”

        and I thought that sounded really good. Apparently not.

        Borrowed Light is very mormony, clearly a mormon writing for other mormons, but their commitment to their own spiritual values and living their lives according to them really resonated with me.

        Incidentally when the Pope visited Sydney the government asked everyone not to say anything to offend Catholics, so there was a huge sale in T Shirts saying things like “My Invisible Friend is Bigger Than Your Invisible Friend”.

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