I realize this might be wrong of me, but I've been jaded, used, and deceived too many times in the past to trust only the title or the cover art or even the praise of a biased party. (Let's be honest. Your mother is always going to tell you she likes something you've done. She's not to be trusted.) Writing is hard work, and it's not for just anyone with a computer and the ability to type.
So when I heard that Regina Jennings, a woman from my church--someone I knew; someone who had come to our wedding, in fact--had gotten published with Bethany House and signed a three-book deal, I was skeptical. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I just wasn't sure. Then I heard it was Christian historical romance, and I was even more skeptical. It's a hard genre to execute well.
I do, however, have a soft spot in my heart for the CHR genre that harkens back to my high school days spent reading Lori Wick and Francine Rivers and Catherine Palmer. It was my guilty pleasure, and since one should be nothing else if not honest in a book review, it still is my guilty pleasure from time to time. Having just completed book two of George R.R. Martin's thrilling A Song of Fire and Ice series, I figured this was the perfect time for a quick pleasure read.
Sixty Acres and a Bride is the first in Regina's three-book series chronicling the lives of characters in a small Texas town, circa late 1800s. This novel mirrors the Ruth/Naomi story and follows Rosa Garner, a beautiful Hispanic woman, and Louise, her kind but often flighty mother-in-law, as they move from Mexico back to Louise's Texas hometown after the death of their husbands.
As Rosa does her best to acclimate herself to the unfamiliar American culture, the two women also work desperately to keep their ranch from getting repossessed by the government for delinquent tax payments.
And of course--this is a romance, after all--there's the quiet, brooding cowboy named Weston--the Boaz of the story--who, despite his best efforts, finds himself drawn to Rosa.
Jennings has personal experience with cattle and stockyards, and that might have been part of the reason for her choice of setting. But it's also clear that she did her own research on the time period, which I appreciated. Research on the book's topic/setting/time period is a vital part of putting your readers in the story. This is something that cannot be under emphasized to anyone who's considering writing a novel.
The use of Spanish words throughout the text is a clever addition. Rosa is Hispanic, so it makes sense that she would use Spanish words and phrases. (For example, at one point she calls herself a pastora--shepherdess.) My only critique about this is that I wish there had been more.
The characters are likeable but not perfect, which is just what I like to see, since perfect characters are not fun to read about. Rosa and Weston both have flaws: Rosa's being that she wants so hard to fit in but keeps doing things wrong (wearing brightly colored, loose-fitting clothing sans corset, for one thing); Weston's is a secret from his past, which makes him keep himself at a distance from the townspeople...and from another romantic relationship.
As with all Christian romances, it's difficult to write a romantic, sexually charged scene without some cheese. But overall I think these scenes are well done. Jennings plays with romantic tension throughout, and even though I know from the start that the two main characters will end up together, there are enough twists and turns to keep a tight hold on the romantic suspense until the end.
Predictable? Yes. But again, this is a predictable genre, so I won't fault her for that. It's even more so because most readers will be familiar with the biblical story off of which this novel is based.
The question is, did I want to keep going even though I knew where it would lead? The answer is yes.
There's a strong sense of Christianity throughout. The characters pray, both out loud and silently, and there are a few discussions about faith and God, etc. This is to be expected and fit well within the genre standards.
One element that I found distracting were amount of rhetorical questions. I don't mind a well-placed question or two, but I did wish there were fewer overall. Questions like: What would the other woman think? Should she be worried? are better as internal thought in most cases, because rhetorical questions take readers out of the story to consider the question itself when they should be remaining in the story to get inside the character's head. (What will the other woman think? Should I be worried?)
Also, the point of view switches between Weston and Rosa, which is, at times, distracting. The distraction mainly comes when there isn't a section break to note a change of POV, so the reader is forced to jump back and forth between two characters' thoughts in the same scene. It's best to keep the point of view as clear as possible and allow readers a chance to fully embrace the specific character they're reading.
All that to say, despite my initial skepticism, Sixty Acres and a Bride ended up exceeding my expectations as a well-written Christian historical romance; I, for one, am looking forward to her second installment, which will center on Molly Lovelace, a character we meet in book one. Ultimately, if you're not a fan of the genre, this book might not be for you. But if you're looking for an enjoyable, quick read (and you're anything like me), you'll be reading this before bed and find you don't want to put it down.
***Now, you get the chance to win a FREE signed copy!***
--The giveaway will be open until Tuesday, February 7. 9:00 p.m. CST.
Three chances to win:
1. Mandatory: Leave a comment answering this question: What was the last book you read?
2. Follow this blog.
2. Follow this blog.
**Leave a separate comment letting me know you're a follower. (If you already do this, it does count.)
3. "Like" Regina Jennings on Facebook.
**Then, come back and leave me a separate comment. (Again, if you already do this, it does count.)
One winner will be chosen via random.org and announced here on Tuesday night.