Just Before Dawn by Jessica Marie Holt

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Just Before Dawn: A Short Story by Jessica Marie Holt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Jesse and Grace’s happy marriage shifted when tragedy struck, and positive news might not bring an easy fix for the couple in Just Before Dawn by author Jessica Marie Holt.

This makes the sixth work of short fiction I’ve enjoyed by this author so far. While I found this one labeled as a short story, I’d say it’s a novelette at least.

And it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, given that I didn’t read the blurb beforehand. Although Grace graces the book cover of the edition I got, the story comes from Jesse’s point of view, and it takes a real, pretty nuanced look at depression without being too dismal a read. It has a smidgen of humor and some sweet moments, but it isn’t sugary, and I must say I even found it slightly disturbing at times, which works in favor of the plot.

Now, there’s one character I never fully made heads or tails of, and I think some rushed development in a key area didn’t serve that character well. Also, a few punctuation errors were a bit distracting here and there, particularly some extra quotation marks popping up in the wrong spots.

Nevertheless, this was a satisfying read overall, and it’ll be nice to see what happens in the sequel. (I won’t be reading that blurb beforehand either.)

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The Unsung Legacies Series

 

The Teacher & the Astronaut by Bokerah Brumley

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Teacher & the Astronaut: The McNair Short Story Series #2 by Bokerah Brumley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

It’s 2049, and Michael McNair has got his sights set on heading off to Mars next year. Penelope McAuliffe has her sights set on an open teaching position at an elementary school, but she won’t make it to her job interview on the flat tire her car just picked up. A chance meeting on the side of I-45 might do more than change Penelope and Michael’s day in The Teacher & the Astronaut by author Bokerah Brumley.

I read this second of the McNair short stories after reading the sci-fi tale that comes before it. I can’t say there’s anything too sci-fi or futuristic about this second story, apart from mentions of Michael’s upcoming mission to Mars with his mother.

Still, after reading the first story, it was nice to get some more background on Michael and Penelope. It’s a rather simple read that incorporates a little romance, a little family, and themes of faith and having peace in the midst of uncertainty.

And while, for a couple of reasons, I wouldn’t say the silhouettes on the book cover really reflect the characters, I’ve loved the cover’s color scheme ever since I grabbed a copy of this story more than a year ago.

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Here’s my review of the first McNair short story, Circular Horizon.

 

Romance on the River by Mary Ellis

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Romance on the River by Mary Ellis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Emily, a young Quaker woman, has a lot to handle while running her family’s farm on her own, not to mention her duty as the mistress of a safe house along the Underground Railroad. It may or may not be too soon for Emily to anticipate a marriage proposal from a young farmer nearby, but besides that, war in her country and news regarding her farm may plunge her into a future she isn’t ready for in Romance on the River by author Mary Ellis.

Now, despite the title, I wouldn’t call this short read a romance. The focus of this prequel isn’t centered on Emily’s relationship with the farmer she loves but rather on Emily’s overall situation as an orphan who’s suddenly had the weight of so much responsibility placed on her shoulders while war has broken out in the country.

Even though the circumstances are dire (even more dire than the characters could know, as the Civil War has only just begun), the read makes a little room for comedy, and there’s sass in Emily’s sense of humor. And I appreciate her conviction that no matter how “well” some masters treat the enslaved people in their charge, the institution of slavery itself is still “an abomination.”

This prequel isn’t a short story so much as its a prelude to a story. There’s no resolve to this layered and intriguing setup—a setup for the novel that follows. I’m not ashamed to say that if I’d first come across the cover of the novel, The Quaker and the Rebel, I would have skipped right over it, as there’s nothing about a man in a Confederate soldier uniform that attracts me, particularly if the image is made to look romantic.

But now being familiar with who Emily is (and hearing that the hero in the following story isn’t what he seems), I might check the novel out sometime.

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The Civil War Heroines Series

 

Romance IS a Real Matter in Fiction

In my experience, I’ve noticed that when the topic of realistic fiction comes up, romance is often dismissed as something other than real.

Of course, plenty of folks read romance books to escape, to get that guaranteed Happily Ever After ending, and plenty of authors write sweep-me-away, fairy-tale-like tales with stunning heroines and well-muscled heroes falling into each other’s arms to take readers to a blissful place for sighing and swooning.

“Sweep me away…”

I’m not here to discount fairy tales or to pretend that bliss doesn’t matter.

Rather, I mean to knock any notion that all romance and love stories in fiction are meant to be fairy tales and that romance itself isn’t a critical, deep, and very real aspect of life to read and to write about.

Romantic love is a fundamental, far-reaching, universal part of the human experience that involves all manner of implications and that has been impacting countless lives for eons. It would take lifetimes upon lifetimes to describe all the ways that romantic love has and continues to play major roles in people’s lives all over the world—for better, for worse, and for more.

And when it comes to Christian Fiction especially, it sounds strange to me when fellow ChristFic fans say things like, “No, not romance books. Let’s talk about books that deal with real issues.”

Christians and readers of Christian books: doesn’t the Bible itself take very little time before addressing a foundational, distinct kind of relationship between two people, right in the Bible’s first few pages?

“And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone” and “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (from Genesis 2:18 and 24, KJV.) In addition to all the many other chapters and verses in the Bible that involve that distinct kind of relationship (including metaphorical references concerning Christ’s relationship with the church), isn’t there an entire biblical book dedicated solely to the topic of romantic love, called the Song of Solomon?

Doesn’t that give some indication that romantic love must be something real and important, and further, that it’s real and important enough to have a valued place in Christian writing?

I figure that the age-old universality and significance of romantic love isn’t anything most people aren’t familiar with, whether by experience or other basic knowledge. Why, then, is romance often referred to or brushed aside as an issue that is somehow less real than other true-to-life issues in fiction?

Well, I guess fairy tales do play a big part in that, stories where realism simply isn’t the goal. And sure, there’s no telling how many romance stories out there have cookie-cutter characters and fluffy storylines that aren’t the most believable.

Again, I’m not discounting fairy tales or fluff. If fluff is what you enjoy, then by all means, be free to swoon away in your place of bliss! 🙂

Even so, not all romance writers are out to write fairy tales. There’s a whole lot of romantic fiction—from heart-wrenching love stories to layered romantic comedies—that reflect real life, that play out in realistic ways, and that delve into the nuances and complexities of romantic love, often tackling all kinds of other deep, vital, true-to-life topics along the way.

Romantic stories that tackle some real tough stuff.

Naturally, it’s more than okay if you prefer to read realistic fiction that involves little to no romance. Everybody has their preferences, and romantic stories don’t have to be your thing. Still, it wouldn’t be fair or accurate to then say or imply that all romance novels and love stories are about stuff that isn’t real.

Romantic stories can be more than basic and carefree “happily ever after” tales.

Romantic love is critical. Romantic love is profound. Romantic love is mysterious, multifaceted, powerful, and timeless. It’s one of the realest aspects of human life, more than worthy to be read and written about. More than worthy to be regarded as a real and important matter in fiction.