I recently signed up to review books for Bethany House Publishers, a well-respected publisher of Christian fiction and other Christian titles, through their blogger review program. I selected what categories of books I was interested in, and they send me an email when they have a title available for review on one of those categories. If I have time and it sounds good, I can tell them, and they’ll mail me a copy. I thought it would be a fun way to discover new books and have fodder for some blog posts! I just finished my first book, a Christian historical novel called Prize of My Heart by Lisa Norato.

I pretty much expected to be reviewing books by as-yet unknown authors, so this was no surprise. The book takes place in the early 1800s in New England, with the War of 1812 still fresh on everyone’s minds. A young man named Brogan Talvis experienced great success as a privateer (called pirate by some) during the war but at the expense of his family. He had married a wealthy older woman and thought his dreams were coming true when she gave birth to a son, but with him away so often she couldn’t find a maternal streak within her to raise their son alone. She gave him away to a rich family before dying in a house fire, leaving Brogan to pursue him. He finds his son, but also manages to fall in love with the daughter of the rich merchant who had been raising him. He also finds out some secrets about his own and his son’s pasts that rattle him to the core, shattering the peace he thought he had found. He is forced to decide between forgiveness and bitterness, love and hate, and choose whether he will move on to have a happy life. I won’t tell you the ending, but if you’re clever you can probably hazard a guess at the plot’s trajectory.

When I saw the cover of the book, I was skeptical that I’d like it.

It looked like a “trashy” romance novel that I’d be embarrassed to be seen reading by the pool. However, I do love a good cheesy Christian romance every now and then, and this one satisfied that urge. Until the plot got going, I found the writing to be a bit stilted in places. This passage is a good example:

Lorena's breath caught. George frightened her with his insistence on a marriage between them. She took insult at his ridiculous arrogance that he could continue to press his suit after she'd explained the deep emotion that accompanies marriage she had not to give him.

I seriously had to read that last sentence three times to parse its meaning. BUT, once things got rolling, I was swept up enough in the plot that I didn’t notice the writing as much.

Norato was a bit heavy-handed throughout as she indicated that everyone had a secret. Several chapters ended with dramatic declarative sentences about his secret or hers. But to her credit, I never did get an inkling of what those secrets might be, so I was genuinely surprised when the past was revealed. I also thought she handled the Christian aspect of the romance deftly. It was not heavy-handed at all, which pleased me. Lorena’s faith seemed genuine, especially in the ways that it inspired concern for Brogan. And there was never an overwrought profession of faith by the male protagonist, just a more realistic, quiet acceptance of Truth. Rather than a dramatic altar scene (literal or figurative), you simply saw characters making changes in their lives based on shifts in their internal beliefs. The ending was a bit pat, but I expect that of books in this genre.

All in all, this was a fun read that kept me interested. I read it in about 3 days, and in between reading sessions I found myself thinking about the characters, which I think is a good thing. I felt happy when it ended and found it to be a believable outcome–no fairy tale ending, no knights in shining armor, just love and faith. I can’t say this was great literature, or that it will have much of an impact on my life, but if you’re in the market for a light, satisfying read, I can recommend Prize of My Heart.

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman