TBR Challenge: RITA-Nominated Inspirationals

I read three again. Because I’m an over-achiever, not because I’m obsessive-compulsive. Shut up.

I chose inspie nominees from the past three years, from three different eras.

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Betrayal by Robin Lee Hatcher

  • Betrayal by Robin Lee HatcherTitle: Betrayal
  • Author: Robin Lee Hatcher
  • Series: Where the Heart Lives, Book 2
  • Published: Zondervan, November 2012
  • Source: Purchased ($1.99 promo on Amazon)
  • Length: 273
  • Tropes: Deep Dark Secrets, Widow, Drifter, Western
  • Quick blurb: A drifter helps a lonely widow in 1899 Wyoming.
  • Quick review: Quietly angsty, but a noticeable lack of tension.
  • Grade: B-

He turned his back to the wall of the barn, leaned against it, and closed his eyes. Then he waited. Waited for the last dregs of the nightmare to fade away. Waited to forget the man he used to be. Waited for the fragile peace he’d found in a Savior to sweep over him, even though he didn’t fully understand that Savior yet. Waited.

He was good at waiting. It was a trait he’d learned in prison. If he hadn’t learned it, the cramped space he’d lived in for so many years would have driven him mad.

I’ve read a few by Hatcher before, including the first book in this series, and I enjoy her understated style and the way she makes the faith messages part of the characters’ everyday lives.  This one was a little too understated — it was good, but not different enough from every other Western inspie to make it worth a re-read. There wasn’t much tension beyond the mostly unseen Evil Ex-Brother-In-Law, and the way that conflict fizzled out left me feeling cheated of a Total Drama Moment.

Betrayal was nominated for Best Inspie of 2012, but lost to one of my top favorite books of all-time DIK forever, Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden.

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Promise to Return by Elizabeth Byler Younts

  • Promise to Return by Elizabeth Byler YountsTitle: Promise to Return
  • Author: Elizabeth Byler Younts
  • Series: The Promise of Sunrise, Book 1
  • Published: Howard Books, October 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 320
  • Tropes: World War II, Amish
  • Quick blurb: A young Amish couple’s faith in God and each other is severely tested during World War II.
  • Quick review: Spiritual conflict and romantic angst to the NTH DEGREE.
  • Grade: C

“The way I see it is that God usually has us on this narrow path where we can only see the step right in front of us. Then sometimes,” he paused and looked away again, “sometimes I feel like He opens a huge door or a field or, I don’t know, opens something that shows me how big His plans are, and suddenly I have all this room to move around. Sometimes it’s way off the path I expect. Do you know what I mean?”

I feel ridiculous whining about being depressed by a book about World War II, but jeepers, there was nothing uplifting about this inspie. The romance is achingly lovely, the spiritual conflict is heartbreaking, and the ending made me weepy. It’s really well-written, it’s completely different from every other inspie I’ve read, and it’s fully deserving of a RITA nomination. But I did not enjoy reading it it — the angsty dreariness was relentless.

Believe it or not, this was the first traditional Amish romance I’ve ever read (not counting the m/m series by Keira Andrews, which is utterly brilliant). Of all the weird shit I read (I work for Riptide, remember), I avoid Amish stories, mostly because I feel like (a) I’m violating some unknown person/character’s much-valued privacy and (b) someone is making money off their faith without their consent. I didn’t feel quite as squicky about this one because the author grew up in an Amish family and I felt she wouldn’t be exploitative.

For whatever reason, Promise was one of only two inspies nominated last year — the winner was the contemporary Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano.

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Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie

  • Hope at Dawn by Stacy HenrieTitle: Hope at Dawn
  • Author: Stacy Henrie
  • Series: Of Love and War, Book 1
  • Published: Forever (Grand Central), June 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384
  • Tropes: World War I, Iowa, Small Town
  • Quick blurb: A young schoolteacher finds herself facing unexpected drama when she falls in love with a German-American farmer in World War I.
  • Quick review: I just bought all the sequels. At full price.
  • Grade: B+

“Perhaps your real question is not how to stand for goodness, but when. Am I right?”

After reading Promise to Return, I was really iffy on another wartime homefront weepfest, but then I realized Hope was SET IN IOWA and I COULDN’T NOT READ IT. I only cried a little.

The basic premise is similar to Promise: the onset of war forces an insular community to interact with the outside world. In this case, the conflict is prejudice and discrimination against German-Americans during World War I — prohibitions on speaking German, “vigilance committees,” extortion to buy war bonds to prove patriotism. The pacing is much  better than Promise, with some high points to balance out the angst.

I’m giving it a B+ instead of an A because despite my love for it, I couldn’t stop thinking that whatever German-Americans were facing in 1918 Iowa, it was nothing compared to the horrors to come.

I read Henrie’s debut during the Summer of Harlequin, but didn’t realize it was the same author. Hope is the only current RITA inspie nominee I’ve read so far, but I just bought Huckleberry Summer despite the ridiculously dopey title and cover because it’s about a big slobbery dog and the hero is an environmental protester who chains himself to trees. I had to move the ARC of For Such a Time by Kate Breslin to the DNR-DNR and WTF-UGH-BLAH-ICK-STFU shelves because apparently I did not read the blurb closely before requesting.

Author Binge: Teri Wilson

An impulse download from the library, and now I’m waiting very impatiently waiting for February because I neeeed the one with the ballet dancer.

These are all loosely related, but work as stand-alones. If you’re not an inspie reader, be prepared for some brief on-page praying and a few earnest Bible verse conversations.

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Sleigh Bell Sweethearts

  • Sleigh Bell Sweethearts by Teri WilsonTitle: Sleigh Bell Sweethearts
  • Published: May 2012
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Tropes: Small Town, Wacky Inheritance, Dreams Deferred, Mr. Grinch, Tragic Past, Dogs
  • Quick blurb: Newly-licensed pilot is grounded by an unexpected inheritance.
  • Quick review: A whole lot of funny business and some seriously sweet smooching.
  • Grade: A

“Are they always so quiet? I feel as if I’m looking at a dream…something that’s not quite real.”

He took a sidelong look at Zoey and felt a wholly unexpected flicker of connection with her. “They typically don’t make much noise. I think they like the cold. They seem happy to run and play most of the time.”

Then she opened her mouth, and the moment was gone. “You mean play reindeer games?”

This was my squee-fest on Twitter:

Sleigh Bell Sweethearts by Teri Wilson

Palmer the Reindeer also has an expensive public display of affection with the wooden Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn.

I loved the Christmas Eve Full Schmaltz Ending with every cell of my cheesy, sappy heart. There may or may not have been an unexpected Santa suit involved.

And in case you were wondering, people will pay $300 an hour to rent a reindeer. And both genders have antlers, but boy reindeer lose theirs after rutting season, so antlered reindeer at Christmas are female. Girl power!

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Alaskan Hero

  • Alaskan Hero by Teri WilsonTitle: Alaskan Hero
  • Published: May 2013
  • Source: Public library (and then purchased)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Tropes: Small Town, Just Passing Through, Danger Zone, Grumpy Gus, Dogs
  • Quick blurb: Coffee shop owner makes world-renowned rescue trainer rethink his nomadic lifestyle.
  • Quick review: Falling in love over dog training  = here, take all my money.
  • Grade: A-

Her Bible was still new enough that the spine cracked when she opened it. She hadn’t really expected to find anything inside that would speak to her situation, but the book itself — the heaviness of it — was always a comfort.

She hadn’t been quite sure what she was looking for. Something along the lines of “Blessed is she who kisses a handsome man by mistake” would have been nice.

And this was me on Twitter a few days earlier:

Alaskan Hero by Teri Wilson

There’s a really, really good Total Drama Moment. And then more smooching.

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Alaskan Hearts

  • Alaskan Hearts by Teri WilsonTitle: Alaskan Hearts
  • Published: May 2012
  • Source: Scribd
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Tropes: Small Town, City Girl, Grumpy Gus, Tragic Past, Dogs
  • Quick blurb: City-girl journalist and her Pomeranian-in-a-purse take on a bearded Alaskan sled-dog racer.
  • Quick review: Just the right amount of humor, angst and smooching, with a great backstory about dog sledding.
  • Grade: B

He cupped her face, tipped her chin toward his and paused. In that sweet moment of anticipation, he gave her one last lingering look. “I’m going to kiss you now. Doesn’t that sound better than learning to shoot?”

She nodded wordlessly.

And he lowered his lips toward hers.

This one is quite a bit heavier on the Bible verses, but it’s also a bit heavier on the angst — the hero has a Tragic Past that had me cringing and nearly in tears. Because, you know, dogs.

Speaking of dogs….!

When Clementine bent to scoop the unruly dog into her arms, she caught a glimpse of a pair of mismatched eyes peering out at her from ice-covered shrubbery nearby. One blue, one brown, she recognized them instantly as sled dog eyes. She’d never seen any other kind of dog with two different-colored eyes before.

Have I mentioned that *I* have a husky mix with blue/brown eyes? I may have posted a few pics on Twitter….

Pokey and the bunny she loves a little too much

Pokey and the bunny she loves a little too much

I love it when authors write books JUST FOR ME.

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 CamdenTitle: 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 »