Thursday, January 8, 2015

Book Review: "A Hope Undaunted" (Julie Lessman)

Historical fiction, when well-written, can transport you into a whole other world, another era, until you think that if you look up from the book, you'll see a horse-drawn carriage clattering by along cobblestoned streets.

Author Julie Lessman's A Hope Undaunted is a novel that does its best to transport the reader in a similarly positive fashion, but falls unfortunately flat on a number of points.




Summary

A Hope Undaunted is book one of Lessman's "Winds of Change" series, and it's really an historical Christian romance, to be precise about its genre and place on a bookstore shelf. Set in late 1920's and early 1930's New York City, with prohibition and women's rights movements cropping up around every corner, it follows protagonist Katie O'Connor, who is as passionate about becoming an attorney to advocate for women's rights as was Elizabeth Cady Stanton herself.

Katie is at first abrasive, opinionated, and determined to get her own way, which, for her, means making a precise list of where she wants to be in five years and then taking whatever steps are necessary to achieve her goals. She's practically engaged to a young man of status and wealth, well on her way to her dream of going to college to become a lawyer.

Then her stubbornness and penchant for flouting authority lands her as a volunteer at the Boston Children's Aid Society. There, she's forced to work with her own worst nightmare: a man with whom she grew up, who treated her terribly and whom she treated terribly in return, who now seems determined to make her time as a volunteer with his organization as miserable as possible.

When it dawns on her, working alongside her former nemesis and his likable colleagues, that she's attracted to him, and maybe even falling in love with him, she comes to a crisis point where she has to make a choice: the carefully planned life she's always thought she wanted, or the unknown spontaneity of a life to which she's becoming increasingly more attracted.

Strengths

Lessman's novel is peopled with fascinating characters, from Katie herself to her nemesis Luke McGee to Luke's unexpected colleagues and long-time friends, Parker and Betty, to the various members of Katie's wildly chaotic family, since she has three or four sisters and two brothers, many of whom are married with children of their own.

The historical touches --- attire, commentary about women working, the women's rights movement, Katie's encounter with a woman who heard several influential women's rights activists give presentations --- are well-written and an integral part of the story, organic and not unnaturally inserted.

Critique

My critiques for the novel have to do with three key points.

First, the story is told from the perspectives of several different characters in addition to the two main romantic interests. Because Katie is from such a large family, several of her family members feature prominently in the novel --- perhaps too prominently for their respective story lines to be called subplots. Further, I had some question about why the other family members' story lines pertained to the main plot, except to complicate my ability to follow the focal romance.

Second, the Christian elements of the novel get preachy. They are periodic enough just to be annoyances rather than outright distractions, but it's rarely a good idea for an author to write out, word by word, a prayer that takes half a page (several paragraphs). I found myself skipping to the bottom of the prayer without reading it; prayers written out too often sound awkward and ridiculous rather than heartfelt.

Third, the novel could have benefited from another thorough edit and proofread. In the author's haste to avoid repetitive gestures for her characters, for instance, some of the resulting gestures come across as awkward and overly wordy:

"With a gentle brace of her shoulders, he dipped her back in his arms, tingling her throat with the caress of his mouth." (135)

"A frown shadowed his face as his gaze lashed to Luke and back." (347)

Conclusion

Nevertheless, if you're looking for a sweet, feel-good Christian romance with the traditional (hard-won) happily-ever-after (HEA) ending, look no further than this offering.

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Title: A Hope Undaunted
Author: Julie Lessman
Series: Winds of Change
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3415-2
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1yleRbT

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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