This book is part of Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line. It's an inspirational historical romance, which basically means that the romance is sweet (no sex scenes) and there are some religious elements.
SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING: There are a few things that some might consider spoilers in my post. I think they're fairly minor, though.
This book is set in the Wyoming Territory in 1890. Penny Castlerock's father wants her to marry a man she dislikes, a business partner of his. Her father won't listen when Penny says there's something about the man that disturbs her, so, in order to escape for a little while, Penny visits her grandfather in the country, taking her younger brother with her.
The man they pay to take them to their grandfather is Jonas White, who had hoped to convince Penny's father to give him a loan. Jonas' daughter, Breanna, occasionally has seizures, and Jonas has found a doctor who says he can cure her. However, the doctor expects the full payment right away. Jonas, who, in addition to Breanna, has 7 adopted sons (yes, really), barely has enough to take care of himself and his family. He doesn't have the kind of money the doctor is asking for, and he's discouraged when Penny's father sends him away without hardly even listening to him.
What Penny doesn't at first remember is that Jonas used to work as a bricklayer's apprentice near the finishing school she attended in Philadelphia (a nice coincidence, I know, but just roll with it). She thought he looked handsome but otherwise never paid him much attention. Jonas, for his part, developed a huge crush on Penny but could never even bring himself to talk to her, certain that someone with his background was completely beneath her notice.
During Penny's stay at her grandfather's house, Penny gets to know Jonas and his family more, and she begins to fall in love with all of them. She's used to the finer things in life and at first resists falling for a poor man like Jonas, but, as she adjust to life in the country, it becomes easier to imagine life without the luxuries she's used to. Unfortunately, Penny's father's business partner may not be so willing to give her up.
I hadn't realized that Lacy Williams had another book out, until I read a review of The Homesteader's Sweetheart on The Misadventures of Super Librarian. While I enjoyed Marrying Miss Marshal and could trust that the religious aspects of her newest book would be fairly light, I was a little leery of reading a romance with that many children in it. I'm not usually a fan of romance novel children.
As you can tell, I decided to give the book a shot anyway. I'm glad I did. Although I didn't like The Homesteader's Sweetheart as much as Marrying Miss Marshal, I still enjoyed it a lot.
Just like in Marrying Miss Marshal, the religious aspects in this book were lightly done. The characters went to church, read the bible, etc. All of it felt natural, particularly for the time period, and I didn't feel like I was being preached at.
Williams is fantastic at writing lonely characters who want to be loved but who aren't good at reading people or communicating their feelings. In this book, that character was Jonas. Jonas was used to taking care of himself and his family on his own. He expected Penny to look down on him and his sons and to be afraid of Breanna after she has a seizure, because those were the kinds of responses he'd faced his whole life. He and everyone else in his family had been abandoned at one time or another. From Jonas' and some of the children's perspectives, it seemed too much to expect someone as well-to-do as Penny to accept and love them all. At one point, Jonas thought to himself, “Will I ever be enough for someone to love?” (192), and I went all warm and fuzzy inside for him. I did get a little frustrated with how long it took Jonas to stop making assumptions about Penny and trust her, especially when she did so little to give him a reason to think she might not truly care for him and his family, but I could still understand his reaction.
I liked seeing Penny slowly get used to life in the country and become part of Jonas' family. It wasn't easy for her – she managed to light her grandfather's kitchen on fire the first time she tried to make a meal, and one of Jonas' sons really disliked her in the beginning – but that just made her later successes all that much more fun to read about. I laughed when Penny gave Jonas' boys advice on how to court girls – she was completely unaware of the uncomfortable position she put Jonas in, as his interest in her grew and he tried desperately to hide it. Penny and Jonas' romance was very sweet, and I enjoyed it a lot.
I've already mentioned that all those children made me a little wary about reading the book. Thankfully, they weren't usually annoyingly precious, although they did engage in a little matchmaking near the end. Eight children is a lot, though, and I found that I wasn't even able to remember the names of half of them, much less remember them all as individuals. Maxwell was probably my favorite out of the bunch – he was shy and sweet, with a very adorable crush.
I was not as much of a fan of Breanna, unfortunately. I didn't dislike her, but it did feel a little like her epilepsy was more of a plot device than an actual medical condition. She had one seizure in the whole book, near the beginning, and then nothing, and the end of the book felt like a bit of hand-waving to make the entire seizure problem just go away. I know that it's perfectly plausible for Breanna's epilepsy to be something she'll one day grow out of, but it still felt overly convenient, especially considering how small a presence her seizures had in the book beyond the pressure Jonas was under to earn money for the doctor.
If I could have changed one thing about the book, it would have been the villain, who I felt was so villainish that he was kind of cartoony. While the dangerous elements in Marry Miss Marshal fit, they seemed a little out of place in this book.
While I preferred Marrying Miss Marshal overall, this was still a good book that left me with a smile on my face. It had some weaknesses, but it was a strong book in the areas that counted for me the most. I liked both Jonas and Penny, I enjoyed reading about the progression of their romance, and I would totally read a YA romance that starred Maxwell.
One last thing, and then on to the read-alikes. Danna, the heroine of Marrying Miss Marshal, is mentioned in this book. She's the marshal of Calvin, the town where Penny's mother and father live. I wondered a little about where in the timeline The Homesteader's Sweetheart fell, because Danna is referred to as Danna Carpenter, not Danna O'Grady, which I'm assuming means she hasn't married Chas O'Grady yet. With the way I think the timelines work out, I think that means The Homesteader's Sweetheart must have take place right after Marrying Miss Marshal. Or maybe there's a bit of overlap between the events of the two books? I can't remember if the villain of this book appeared at all in Marrying Miss Marshal, and I can't find my copy of that book right now.
Well, it's not really that important, and if anyone reading this is now worried that you need to read Marrying Miss Marshal before reading The Homesteader's Sweetheart, you shouldn't be. The books stand alone just fine. It was just a little thing that caught my attention and made me wonder.
- The Measure of a Lady (book) by Deanne Gist - I really need to do more inspirational romance reading, to expand my "I have personal experience with this" read-alike suggestion pool. I feel like I must always be suggesting one of Gist's books. Anyway, I think the time period might be a little similar, although the location in this one is San Francisco. The religious aspects are a tad heavier than in Williams' book, but still fairly light. I have written about this book.
- Snowflake Bride (book) by Jillian Hart - I haven't read this one, but it sounds like another one in which characters' class/station plays a big part. The heroine is a maid who has fallen for the boss's son. This is another Love Inspired Historical.
- Courting the Doctor's Daughter (book) by Janet Dean - Another one I haven't read. I added it to this list because it's another Love Inspired Historical that includes an adopted child (along with a couple other kids). It sounds like it also has some medical aspects that might interest those intrigued by the minor epilepsy/epilepsy treatment aspects in Williams' book.