Dr. Drew Anderson and his wife, Hannah, decide to leave their home in Ohio and travel west after Drew’s brother, Thomas, robs the local bank and all the townsfolk turn against them. William Colter is a twenty-nine year old cattle rancher from Texas, who travels west after his father dies and his older brother, Reuben, kicks him off the family ranch. Luckily Will inherited half the stock, so he takes his share of the cattle and cash, and moves west to buy his own ranch. All have to learn to trust God as they travel and build new lives in 1860's Prescott, Arizona.
My main issue with A Dream Unfolding is that it took too long to develop any relationship between the two sub-plots. It’s a historical romance, so you can see what’s got to happen, but the plotting seemed rather disjointed and the relationship between Drew and Hannah wasn’t really believable. It took half the book for Will to even meet his future wife, then the whole falling in love happened very quickly (too quickly), but then there was another slow-down before the obligatory Happy Ever After. Enjoyable enough, but not outstanding.
Seventeen-year-old Julia Colter is forced to leave her home in the dead of night after she is raped by her older brother, Reuben, as punishment for not marrying the rancher he has selected for her (yes, this story is not for the faint-hearted, and no, it is not an easy read). Julia travels to Arizona with her neighbour, Adam Larson, posing as his sister. Adam has been offered a job in Arizona, working as a horse trainer for Julia’s older brother, Will.
This story centres around Julia’s emotional and spiritual healing from Reuben’s attack, and her growing relationship with Adam. She has feelings for him, but doesn’t believe he could ever love her. Julia also has difficulty getting close to Will, because he looks just like Reuben, which reminds her of the abuse she suffered. Despite the difficult situation, this was a solid story of growing trust and forgiveness.
What I didn’t like about A Heart Renewed was the amount of time that was taken up with the sub-plot about Thomas Anderson (Drew’s brother). This wasn’t at all relevant to the Julia/Adam plot, but just felt like it was setting up the next book in the series, which it was. While it was interesting enough (and, in fairness, was consistent with the ‘heart renewed’ theme), the story of Thomas detracted too much from the main plot.
Caroline Larson want an adventure, so decides to join her brother, Adam, and best friend, Julia Colter, in their new lives in Prescott, Arizona. She arrives safely despite an eventful journey, but finds her plan to live with Julia is foiled: Julia is about to marry Adam, and they will live together on the Colter ranch, where Adam works. Caroline doesn’t let this get her down for long. She gets a job working in the general store and spends her free time with Thomas Anderson, an express rider, despite the general disapproval of the Colter family.
An error of judgement leaves Caroline in an unfortunate predicament, desperately needing Thomas to return from his week-long express journey. But Thomas, in his eagerness to return, makes a foolish attempt to ride through a blizzard, with predictable consequences that separate the couple.
A Life Restored was enjoyable for the most part, but there was one irritating glitch. In A Heart Renewed , Julia was afraid of Will because he reminded her so much of Reuben. Yet when Reuben appears, neither Will nor Ben (their long-serving farmhand) recognises him. This didn't ring true, and it also signposted the ‘big reveal’ in A Hope Revealed (maybe we readers weren’t supposed to pick up the Reuben connection, but I thought it was a pretty poorly-disguised secret).
Since her husband disappeared two years ago, Mary Colter has supported herself and her two children as a laundress, and tried to escape marriage to men who will no doubt treat her as badly as her husband did. When she receives a small inheritance, she uses it to travel to Prescott, to the home of her brother-in-law, in the hope that he will take her in and she will finally be able to escape Reuben’s influence. But Mary finds, to her horror, that she might have brought more danger to Prescott.
Overall, this was probably my least favourite story of the four, because several of the characters behaved out of character. I found it inconsistent that Julia managed to forgive Reuben (in the second book), yet she was absolutely hateful towards Reuben’s wife, Mary, when she appeared in . This suggests to me that she had not really forgiven Reuben either (not that I blame her – it was the inconsistent behaviour that annoyed me). Eddie hates his father and wishes he were dead, yet when he gets his wish, he declares that he hates Warren for killing Reuben. I know Eddie’s only supposed to be a child, but that still seems out of character. I also found Will rather annoying in the final book, particularly in regard to Reuben.
OverallThe first three books had quite a number of typos and grammatical errors, although most were obvious (e.g. 'in tact' rather than 'intact') and didn't confuse or detract from the story. What was more annoying was the amount of unnecessary back story, particularly in the later books. Pages and pages are spent repeating the personal histories of characters we have already been introduced to. This is especially tedious when all the books of a series have been combined in one volume, as is the case here. The fourth book had noticeably fewer errors and includes a thanks to the editors – it’s just a pity they didn’t get hired until this point.
Conflict is the essence of good fiction, and this series has conflict in large doses. Unfortunately, the doses are just too large, and become larger than life to the point of melodrama, especially in the final book. The stories were much darker than most Christian fiction, and I really didn't enjoy that aspect, as I felt it unnecessary. If I wanted to read about greed and the depravity of human nature, I’d be reading non-fiction.
I also found the rape scenes unnecessarily detailed (yes, scenes, not just scene). There were plenty of hints of ‘marital intimacy’ throughout this collection, but they were just hints of activity occurring behind closed doors, as is normal for Christian fiction. So why detail the rape scenes? Yes, I know this is fiction. Yes, I know there are rape and abuse scenes in the Bible. Yes, I know bad things happen to good people. But am I the only person who finds it distasteful that the only time there is graphic sex in a Christian novel is when it’s a rape scene?
On the positive side, the series is impeccably researched, and the author has managed to include a lot of historical detail without it seeming like an 'information dump'. All the stories have a strong Christian message of hope and forgiveness, and manage to portray this without descending into preachiness.
Thanks to Bookrooster for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Karen Baney at her website.