Unleashing the Snark: A Light in the Window by Julie Lessman

I guess it’s not really “full snark.” It’s more like half-snark with vitriolic overtones of CAPSLOCK OF RAGE.

  • A Light in the Window by Julie LessmanTitle: A Light in the Window: An Irish Christmas Love Story
  • Author: Julie Lessman
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspirational
  • Publisher: Ten Talents Press, November 2012
  • Source: Purchased (99¢ promo)
  • Length: 407 pages
  • Trope(s): DON’T EVEN ASK .
  • Quick blurb: DON’T MAKE ME GO THERE.
  • Quick review: WHAT PART OF “CAPSLOCK OF RAGE” ARE YOU NOT UNDERSTANDING?
  • Grade: DNF

He flinched. “I have faith,” he said, a bristle of hurt in his voice.

“Yes, of course you do,” she said quickly, gaze gentle as she tapped a finger to her head. “Up here.” She slowly slid a hand to her heart, taking great pains to soften her words. “But based on what I know of a man of your ilk, I worry that it doesn’t live here.” She studied the confusion in his face and tried again. “I believe that in your mind, your faith is deep—doctrine, precepts, catechism—but when it comes to living it?” Her smile was sad as she curled her hand over her chest. “I suspect it may be heart shallow.”

Yes, it’s THAT BAD. If this were a movie (God help us, and I mean that literally), the tagline would be “She has a License to Judge — and she know how to use it.”

The only thing “inspirational” about this book is my overwhelming desire to tell the Saint Mary Sue “heroine” to TAKE HER UNBEARABLE SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS and STUFF IT SOMEWHERE UNSPEAKABLE and go somewhere FAR, FAR AWAY.

That smarmy smile on the cover model’s face? It’s THAT for the ENTIRE BOOK. It’s being HIT OVER THE HEAD with SANCTIMONIOUS PREACHING in every. freaking. chapter. I skimmed ahead in hopes of the “heroine” finding herself in need of enlightenment and redemption, but of course not. She’s PIOUS. She’s VIRTUOUS. And she makes sure everyone around her knows it.

I DETEST (and that’s putting it mildly) the “You’re Not Worthy of Love Until You’re as Godly as Me” inspie trope, and this book is built on PILES AND PILES of that HOLIER-THAN-THOU HYPOCRISY. It’s ironic — and not in a good way — to find such a pharisaic message glorified and rewarded in a Christmas novel.

More Audiobook Adventures

I am now wishlisting books by narrator. I am officially addicted.

Highly recommended….

That would be “highly recommended” as in “read this NOW, dammit, your life is meaningless without this book.”

The Book Thief by Marcus ZusakThe Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Narrated by Allan Corduner

I avoided this for years because it’s told from Death’s point of view. I was a dumbass. It’s stunning. From start to finish. I can’t even begin to count how many times I nearly drove off the road trying to bookmark a “holy SHIT, that was good” passage.

It’s one of those books that uses language in an entirely unique way. I kept thinking the title should be “The Word Thief” instead, because Zusak somehow manages to turn seemingly simple words and phrases into characters in their own right. Just read the prologue in the sample, you’ll see what I mean.

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One-Quote Reviews: Four Harlequin Love-Inspired Historicals

Falling for the Teacher by Dorothy Clark

  • Falling for the Teacher by Dorothy ClarkTitle: Falling for the Teacher
  • Author: Dorothy Clark
  • Series: Pinewood Weddings
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical (1841 Upstate New York)
  • Publisher: Harlequin, September 2013
  • Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Tragic Past, Small Town, Extreme Self-Doubt
  • Quick blurb: Schoolteacher returns home to care for her ailing grandparents and finds the brother of her rapist managing the family business.
  • Quick review: Really annoyed with the heroine in the beginning, but chemistry and character development turned this into an unexpectedly emotional read.
  • Grade: B

He rose and looked down into her eyes. “Sadie….”

“Yes?”

Her name was a gruff plea from his constricted throat – her answer a barely heard whisper. Time was lost in his need to comfort her, to protect her, to love her forever. He sucked in a breath, fighting his heart with every bit of strength he possessed and hating himself for winning the battle. “I’ll see you safe to the house.”

I struggled with Sadie’s overwrought, baseless accusations in the first third of the book, but as Cole slowly wins her over, we get the backstory details we need to root for their HEA.

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Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

  • Title: Against the Tide
  • Author: Elizabeth Camden
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspiration
  • Publisher: Bethany House, October 2012
  • Source: Publisher
  • Length: 362 pages
  • Trope(s): Enigmatic Loner Hero, Tough but Nearly Desperate Heroine, Villain With a Fatal Weakness, Kidnapping, Addiction
  • Quick blurb: Naval translator gets drawn into a former opium smuggler’s quest for redemption.
  • Quick review: Another one for the “Written JUST FOR ME” category.
  • Grade: A-

I’m always on the hunt for new and different in romance, and when it comes in the form of an inspirational historical suspense story centering on the opium trade in late 19th-century Boston – with a gorgeous cover as a bonus – I am helpless to resist.

I’ve read Against the Tide three times now, and I’ve been sitting on this review for months because I’m both enthralled and a bit conflicted. The characters are complex and memorable, and the setting and suspense had me in a full-on book trance even on the second and third reads. Only one element in the narrative bothered me enough to add a minus instead of a plus to the letter grade, but it’s one that’s central to the story.

Read the full review at Dear Author »

One-Quote Review: Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell

  • Unrivaled by Siri MitchellTitle: Unrivaled
  • Author: Siri Mitchell
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical (1910 U.S.)
  • Publisher: Bethany House, March 2013
  • Source: NetGalley ($9.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Family Drama, Reluctant Debutante, Reluctant Heir
  • Quick blurb:  St. Louis debutante tries desperately to save her ailing father’s beloved candy company, but struggles with her feelings for their rival’s son.
  • Quick review: Fun historical premise and setting, memorable characters and complex conflicts — but not my favorite by Mitchell
  • Grade: B

“I’ve always thought a meringue is a thing like hope, buoyed as they they are plenty of hot air. A bit pretentious at the start, don’t you think?” He settled his hands on his chest. “But that let that hope wait, let that resolve harden for a while…. Leave the oven door closed, and something wonderful happens. You just have to be willing to wait for it.”

I’d recommend this book for the historical world-building alone. Mitchell combines the early 1900s time period with the drama of rival family businesses to create a unique atmosphere that’s light-hearted and restless and constantly evolving — just like her main characters.

The one thing this book was lacking was a cohesive faith message. I love the low-key and understated spirituality in all of Mitchell’s books, but concentrating all of it in one secondary character — especially one who talks in circles — made it seem like an afterthought instead of an integral part of the story.

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.