Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

  • Title: Somewhere to Call Home
  • Author: Janet Lee Barton
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (1890s US), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Small-Town Girl, Private Detective, Mean Girl, Evil Banker
  • Quick blurb: Miss Mary Sue McGoodytwoshoes in the big city.
  • Quick review: I am restraining myself from unleashing the snark — but only because I couldn’t even finish it.
  • Grade: DNF

I made it to about 40%, and nothing had happened. Zero tension, zero drama, and zero indication of what the actual conflict might be. There was, however, plenty to make fun of.

I’m only going Half-Snark on this because (a) I didn’t finish it; and (b) it’s an inspirational. But all the ingredients of a “This Is Why People Make Fun of Harlequins” are there. Trust me.

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All Roads Lead Home by Christine Johnson

All Roads Lead Home by Christine Johnson

  • Title: All Roads Lead Home
  • Author: Christine Johnson
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (1920s US), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, January 2012
  • Source: Harlequin.com (part of the Holiday Haul of Half-Off Harlequins)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Rich Girl & Poor Boy, Unrequited Love, Big Misunderstandings, Plot Moppets
  • Quick blurb: Auto mechanic must escort the social worker who rejected him on a cross-country drive to an Indian reservation to investigate an orphan’s mysterious birth father.
  • Quick review: Ignore that last one — this is my favorite Harlequin Love Inspired so far.
  • Grade: B+

His lips brushed her forehead and then her temple. The waves of emotion tossed, their tops windblown, and she lifted her face as if struggling for breath, but it wasn’t air she needed. She required something far more nourishing. She needed to know she was loved, and, with the gentlest touch of his lips to hers, he gave her that.

I felt compelled to purchase this because the title and cover were actually unique and relevant to the story. Add in the 1920s road trip setting, along with the Poor Boy/Rich Girl Unrequited Love premise, and I was doomed.

Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed. There was nothing flashy about the writing or the characters; like The Maverick Preacher, it was just a really good story told really well. But the two books are very different in their presentation of the faith messages, and I generally prefer inspirationals where the spirituality is a strong undercurrent and not a battle of Bible verses, so All Roads Lead Home gets the edge with the B+ grade.

The suspenseful stuff went in a direction I wasn’t expecting, with intrigue on an Indian reservation, but I thought the sensitive issues of prejudice, land ownership and education were handled really well. The author never resorted to whitewashing the history or resolving the conflict with “White People to the Rescue!”

The only thing that bugged me were the Big Misunderstandings. This is my least favorite plot trope, because it always makes the inner conflicts feel so forced and contrived. From what we’re told of their backstories, Mariah and Hendrick should be intelligent and mature enough to avoid the predictable fits of jealousy and not-smart decision-making.

An unrelated minor disappointment…. The hero’s younger sister flirts with a resident of the Indian reservation, and I was so hoping their story would continue — but apparently she goes back home and marries a cranky rich white guy. Pfft.

The Maverick Preacher by Victoria Bylin

The Maverick Preacher by Victoria Bylin

  • Title: The Maverick Preacher
  • Author: Victoria Bylin
  • Series/Category: The Women of Swan’s Nest, Book 1 (Love Inspired Historical)
  • Genre(s): Historical (Western), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, January 2009
  • Source: Amazon ($3.79 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Heroine with Big Secret, Beta Hero with Tragic Past, Evil Banker, Soiled Doves
  • Quick blurb: When a troubled preacher shows up at her door, a boardinghouse owner must choose between keeping her secrets and trusting her heart.
  • Quick review: The best Harlequin Love Inspired I’ve read so far.
  • Grade: B

Did he answer as a minister or a man? The minister had words for her. The man wanted to draw her into his arms.

While Maverick Preacher has many of the same basic elements as Lady Outlaw, this book offers more complexity in both characterization and spirituality. The primary faith message is “casting stones,” and — believe it or not — the central theme is the hypocrisy and double-standard of slut-shaming.

The only issues keeping this from an A grade were the rather predictable and lackluster Evil Banker Villain, some repetition in the internal monologing, and the author’s confusing and contradictory choice of relating the hero to the Apostle Paul, whose writings are the gospel of Bible-thumping misogynists.

ALSO: The dude on the cover reminds me of an actor, but I cannot think of who, and it’s driving me crazy.

Lady Outlaw by Stacy Henrie

Lady Outlaw by Stacy Henrie (Harlequin)

  • Title: Lady Outlaw
  • Author: Stacy Henrie
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (Western), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, September 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Cowgirl in Peril, Beta Hero with Tragic Past, Evil Banker, Bad Guys in Salooons
  • Quick blurb: Desperate rancheress rethinks her dangerous ways of acquiring money when she hires an ex-bounty hunter with a tragic past as her new cowhand.
  • Quick review: Good — but recommended only for dedicated inspie readers.
  • Grade: B-

“Is that what this is about? Making sacrifices?” He leaned forward. “A sacrifice is only worth something if it’s right. Sacrificing your integrity, your happiness, your freedom — that won’t bring you anything but misery. I know, because I tried.”

A strong-but-vulnerable heroine, an honorable beta hero with a believable tragic past, and a great set-up for the spot-on faith messages. But compared to my last read, Henrie’s storytelling and voice sagged. This was her debut novel, and I’d be willing to try her second.

The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

  • Title: The Reluctant Earl
  • Author: C.J. Chase
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency), Inspirational, Suspense
  • Publisher: Harlequin, February 2013
  • Source: NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Governess in Peril, Unexpected Title, Espionage & Intrigue. Big Misunderstandings
  • Quick blurb: Desperate governess who sells her high-placed employer’s secrets and a newly-titled nobleman are drawn into an anti-royalty rebellion
  • Quick review: Way too many sub-plots to be a coherent story, but the romance and faith messages worked for me.
  • Grade: B-

The power of her loneliness and longing flared through her, melting the strength from her bones.

And then he withdrew. Only inches, yet far enough to let the rush of common sense and regret return.

The suspense-y stuff came close to being a mess, but the relationship-building and chemistry, sustained by a strong authorial voice, made this a worthwhile read.

The Rake’s Redemption by Regina Scott

The Rake's Redemption by Regina Scott

  • Title: The Rake’s Redemption
  • Author: Regina Scott
  • Series/Category: Everard Legacy, Book 3 (Love Inspired Historical)
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency), Inspirational, Suspense
  • Publisher: Harlequin, November 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Annoyingly Perky Heroine, Angsty Emo Hero, Insta-Love, Mistorical, Purple Prose
  • Quick blurb: Marquess’s daughter decides a dueling poet is the perfect man to acquire her father’s title.
  • Quick review: This wasn’t working for me as a historical, as a suspense, as an inspirational OR as a romance.
  • Grade: DNF

It started with the Regency heroine asking an uknown man to dance at a ball. Then we get this:

…she’d wondered whether she’d finally found the suitor she’d been praying for — someone who could help her protect the family name, as her father’s only living child.

And then, during an actual prayer, it got worse.

“Show me the man You mean to help me gain approval to carry on the title of Marquess of Widmore!”

So, yeah. It was like that.

One-Quote Review: The Seduction of Elliot McBride by Jennifer Ashley

  • The Seduction of Elliot McBride by Jennifer AshleyTitle: The Seduction of Elliot McBride
  • Author: Jennifer Ashley
  • Series: Highland Pleasures, Book 5
  • Genre(s): Historical (Victorian)
  • Publisher: Berkley, December 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Trope(s): Angsty Hero, Perfectly Perfect Heroine, Reunited, Baby Epilogue
  • Quick blurb: Jilted bride is the perfect remedy for a tormented ex-soldier’s PTSD.
  • Quick review: A whole lot of angst, but none of the emotional intensity I expect from this author.
  • Grade: C

“You were light and life. You are heat, and I’m so damn cold.”

I’m not bitter about paying full price for this, and I’m definitely not giving up on the series, but Juliana was boring, Elliot wasn’t much different from every other scarred hero, and the HEA came *thatclose* to being a Magical Orgasm Cure.

One-Quote Review: Bewitching the Duke by Christie Kelley

  • Bewitching the Duke by Christie KelleyTitle: Bewitching the Duke
  • Author: Christie Kelley
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Kensington, December 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($1.99 ebook promo, regular $5.99)
  • Length: 290 pages
  • Trope(s): Fiesty/Sassy/Saucy/Etc. Heroine, Angsty Grumpy Duke, Tragic Past, Big Misunderstanding(s), I Hate You Except When We Kiss
  • Quick blurb: Duke tries to evict local healer/midwife because of painful memories and unwanted erections.
  • Quick review: The title and blurbed worried me, and it just didn’t measure up to the fun of her previous books.
  • Grade: DNF

Dammit! This little hoyden had disturbed his thought process.

I struggled to reach my 33% decision point, and there just wasn’t anything different about this Regency to keep me reading. The dialogue was repetitive, the plot had yet to move forward in any meaningful way, and I never connected with either of the main characters.

Also: Important secondary characters are twins named Mia and Tia. That’s not a good way to encourage me to keep reading or, god forbid, buy their sequels.

However, I can recommend nearly all of Kelley’s backlist — her Spinster Club series has the smart heroines and swoony heroes and chemistry and romance and just-unpredictable-enough plots that Bewitching is lacking.

Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

Last week I had to make a phone call that I knew was inevitable, but one I desperately wanted to avoid.

Jackie (199?-2013)

Jackie (199?-2013)

Jackie was a mutt from the shelter. Dog Snobs might call her a “mixed breed,” but she was A Mutt. A bit of pointer, lab, some kind of terrier, maybe cocker spaniel, who the hell knows. No clue how old she was either, but we brought her home from the shelter in June 1998. I’d never had a dog before, and we didn’t have kids yet, so she was my first pet and my first baby.

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Final Resort by Dana Mentink

  • Final Resort by Dana MentinkTitle: Final Resort
  • Author: Dana Mentink
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Suspense (Treasure Hunters mini-series)
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Inspirational, Suspense
  • Publisher: Harlequin, February 2013
  • Source: NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Trope(s): TSTL Heroine, Con-Artist Relative, Friends-to-Lovers
  • Quick blurb: Uncle’s kidnapping leads ski resort owner into searching for famous missing jewel.
  • Quick review: I was hoping for some Smooching in the Snow. My favorite character was the dog.
  • Grade: DNF

I made it to about 40%. I didn’t even get to the Sinister Ski Gondola part.

The heroine’s predominant character trait is her insistence on shrugging off the oh-so-amusing antics of her con-man uncle (aka the scoundrel, rascal, trickster, showman, etc.) despite his DECADES of being a slimy and manipulative THIEF.

“Ava, I know I messed up. Your mother left this place to us, and I took advantage. I blew it. Took money out figuring I could make it back and then some, but I never did.”

She hated the tone of defeat in her uncle’s voice. “You meant no harm. I know that.”

::headdesk::

That was Chapter One, and it just went downhill from there. (That’s my one attempt at skiing humor. Pathetic, I know.)

It’s OK that Uncle Paul destroyed her parents’ marriage, stole her inheritance, and made enemies of ALL their family, friends and neighbors by defrauding them of THEIR money, because he’s just so “jovial” and “charming.”  And, of course, he’s *~*family*~*, which means he gets a pass for everything.

GAH. Ava is almost as TSTL as Heidi the Goat Girl and her clueless future mother-in-law. I felt ZERO compassion for Ava or her Idiot Uncle, and I saw ZERO potential for respecting Ava as a character by the end of the book. I just wanted to smack some sense into her.

ALSO: The ski resort was on “Whisper Mountain.” Every time it was mentioned, I had visions of the Mountain of the Whispering Winds from Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. This book could have used a Winter Warlock.