Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Sixty Acres and a Bride - Regina Jennings


PROS: Unconventional heroine; engaging secondary characters

CONS: Conflict between hero and heroine is fairly weak; awkward pacing, particularly at the start of the novel, which makes it hard to get into the flow of the story

After the tragic death of her husband and father-in-law in a mining accident, Rosa Garner follows her mother-in-law, Louise, to their family home in Texas. Having met and married Mack in Mexico, Rosa isn’t prepared for life in Texas, and the people of Plum Creek aren’t prepared for her foreign clothing or behaviour. But before she can figure out how the locals want her to act, Rosa has to help Louise pay off the taxes on their family home. The task facing the two widows is momentous, and they have little chance of meeting their goal before their home is bought up by their neighbour, who has his sights set on Rosa more so than her home. Their only hope is in Weston Garner, a fellow widower and relative who might just be able to help the women pay their debts. Can Rosa stoop to begging a strange man for help before it’s too late? And can either of them handle the ramifications of the agreement they make?

The biggest compliment that I can give Sixty Acres and a Bride is that it reminded me of Kim Vogel Sawyer’s writing, which makes me hope that Regina has what it takes to someday be as popular as Kim in this genre. Regina’s setting and secondary characters made me feel involved in the story, just as some of Kim’s novels have. But Regina also brings something new to the genre – namely, the character of Rosa, who was a welcome change from the more typical heroines. I honestly struggle to think of a time that I’ve read a Christian romance novel set in this era where the heroine is Mexican. I adored the descriptions of Rosa’s clothes, and if they look anything like the ones pictured on the front cover of this novel then I’m quite envious. However, I can also see why Rosa stuck out so much in Texas, and her initial mishaps were both amusing and touching to read about.

But as with Kim's books, Sixty Acres and a Bride just didn't have that little extra spark that pushed the story up into the "Loved it!" category for me. While my emotions got very riled up at the character of Mr Tillerton and his treatment of Rosa, and the general animosity that met Rosa when she first arrived in Plum Creek (I can’t be the only one who thought of Little House on the Prairie every time the town’s name was mentioned, right?) I also got pretty annoyed with the way that Weston and Rosa could have figured out their difficulties if they’d actually talked to each other! These are two very different sets of emotions to experience when reading a book. The first set is good, and the ability to make a reader get so involved in a story that they start feeling angry on behalf of a character is a talent that I greatly admire. But getting annoyed with the characters because you’re fed up with them continually making a mess of things isn’t so good. I didn’t mind the conflict between Rosa and Weston initially, but after it dragged on I started to get a bit fed up as it could have been resolved so easily. This may be just be a matter of a personal preference, since I’m the kind of person who doesn’t let an issue go undiscussed for more than five minutes. Perhaps those who share Rosa and Weston’s stubbornness will be able to relate to this situation better. 

Aside from the weaknesses in the conflict, my only other issue with Sixty Acres and a Bride was the pacing. It’s hard to describe what bothered me about it, but something just felt a little bit “off” about the pacing and I found it particularly hard to follow the plot at the start of the novel. There were several places where I got confused as to whose thoughts and feelings were being described and I had to backtrack to see whether or not the perspective had changed. After my initial difficulties with this novel I was able to settle into it better and struggled less with the pacing as the story developed, but it was a bit off-putting to begin with. If you’re just about to start this novel, I will say that it’s worth the read, so don’t let any confusions at the beginning of the story put you off. 

As long as it took to get to the conclusion, I was pleased with how everything worked out, and I was sighing with relief when Rosa and Weston finally confronted each other about their feelings. The conclusion was particularly satisfying, and made me hopeful for Regina’s next novel. I’m wondering if she may revisit Molly in the future, as she was a secondary character that I found particularly interesting. Despite her scheming tendencies I did feel quite sorry for her as nothing ever seemed to go her way. And if not Molly, I hope that Regina’s next heroine is just as unconventional as Rosa.

While I do have my personal qualms with the conflict and the pacing of Sixty Acres and a Bride, I’m sure that these are issues that will be smoothed out in subsequent novels. For a debut, Sixty Acres and a Bride definitely shows potential, particularly as Regina brings something new to the genre. As much as I love to read Christian historical fiction, the genre definitely needs to be shook up every now and again, and I hope that Rosa’s story does just that. I also love that the cover of Sixty Acres and a Bride is branching out from some of the more typical covers in this genre. As pretty as some of them are, they do get a little repetitive after a while, and I really felt that this cover reflected Sixty Acres and a Bride as well as Rosa’s character. Hopefully both this novel and its cover are a sign of good things to come from Regina Jennings.

Review title provided by Bethany House.

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