I have been eagerly anticipating Becky Wade’s newest book, Stay with Me, for a while now. I just finished it and enjoyed it so much that I immediately read the prequel novella Take a Chance on Me. Which is why I didn’t review the book right away - I was getting lost in the story of Sam’s best friend Eli!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Sam is the male lead character in Stay with Me, and I absolutely adore him! I usually would roll my eyes at a character that runs an organic farm and a keto/paleo farm-to-table restaurant, but Sam was such a dynamic, complex character, he felt believable instead of a trendy stereotype. He is a man with a past, riddled with guilt and regrets, who keeps people at arm’s length. Yet he also tends to be a rescuer, a fixer (aren’t a lot a men?), and so he can’t help attempting to rescue Genevieve, the female lead. Even though he tries really hard not to.
Oh, and did I mention he’s a hunky Australian?
Genevieve, on the surface, seems like the last person who could identify with Sam’s walls and secrets, yet she too wears a facade. She’s a popular, extremely successful Christian author and speaker. Her Bible studies for women have made her an example for others to follow, but she harbors a devastating secret: she’s an opioid addict. (This is revealed right away, so I’m not spoiling anything!)
As Wade often does, a mystery from the past is woven into the tale as well. I couldn’t figure it out until Genevieve did, or at least, I didn’t want to believe my suspicions. Let’s just say secrets are a family sin.
With the subjects of opioid addiction, social media personas, and Christian celebrity culture with a keto/paleo farm-to-table restaurant to boot, this book could have easily been a trendy morality tale. I’ve read those and can’t stand them. Wade, however, crafts layered, believable characters into a story that transcends all those things and gets right down to human nature. The theme of sin thriving in secret is universal, meaning we can all relate to these characters and their struggles while rooting for Sam and Genevieve to fall in love. This is my favorite quote from the book:
“Relationships were painful and messy and beautiful and important. The mess came with the beauty. The pain came with the importance.
That was life. And God was calling him to live it.”
I just finished Karen Witemeyer’s newest release: At Love’s Command. It is book one in her new Hanger’s Horsemen series.
This book opens with a very intense scene. Matthew Hanger is a member of the US Cavalry assigned to confiscate weapons from the Nez Perce tribe at Wounded Knee. Yes - that wounded knee. Even though you know the tragedy soon to unfold, Witemeyer writes it in such a way that you feel you’ve never heard the story before. And in some ways, I don’t think I ever really did until I read this book. After reading the way she described the massacre at Wounded Knee, I went and looked it up myself. I found legitimate sources - The Encyclopedia Britannica and a scholarly book published by a historian who did her dissertation on Wounded Knee. (I’m a nerd like that.) What I discovered is that Witemeyer gave a pretty historically accurate portrayal of the massacre. However, Matt is knocked unconscious and that fact, combined with Witemeyer’s delicate handling of the material, means it isn’t graphic or disturbing. It is, however, still tragic and incredibly sad. This is important because the event is Matthew Hanger’s motivation for the rest of the novel.
Several years later, we find Matt as the leader of what has come to be known as the Hanger’s Horsemen. It’s four men: Matt, Luke (whom everyone calls Preach), Jonas, and Mark. Preach and Jonas were with Matt at Wounded Knee. They formed the Horsemen to try and atone for their sins at Wounded Knee. (Even though we find out that the three of them testified against the US army before congress and refused their medals of honor). Jonas is a black man who was a member of the Buffalo Soldiers, a black cavalry of the US Army sent as “peacekeepers” to the Native Americans. I learned that some of them were, in fact, at Wounded Knee! I don’t know much about the Buffalo Soldiers, but I want to. Therefore, I hope Jonas is the main focus of a future book. There was also something in the novel about his father’s watch and how important it was to him, so I feel that was a set up for a future story maybe
But back to Matt and the Horsemen . . . Hanger’s Horsemen are hired by those who are facing injustice. In other words, they come to the aid of the weak being oppressed by the strong. They fight by a code, one of them being that they will not kill. They will only shoot in defense, and even then only non-fatal wounds. During one job, Mark, their young new recruit, gets shot and severely injured. Matt rushes him to the nearest doctor: Joe Burkett. Turns out, though that it’s Dr. Josephine Burkett - a woman.
Matt and Josephine have each vowed to use their lives in service of others, realizing that it most likely means never marrying. But almost as soon as they meet, their hearts begin to long for more. They manage to keep their walls up, knowing they will part ways as soon as Mark is on the mend. However, Josephine ends up needing the services of the Horsemen, and that forces her and Matthew to wrestle with their feelings for one another.
Naturally, I don’t want to give anything else away! The rest of the novel is as action packed as you would expect a western to be. The romance is also well done, with two well rounded, complex characters. Matt believes himself to be unworthy of any woman’s love, least of all Josephine’s, because of the things he has seen and done. The theme of atonement is a big one in the story as Matt wrestles with the realization all Christians face: we can never fully atone for our sins on our own. And Josephine must face her prejudices towards men whom she judges for “living by the sword.”
I love that for the first time a Witemeyer novel features the male lead on the cover. And not just because it’s a swoon-worthy picture! Matthew Hanger is the true main character of this story, and he might just be my favorite hero that Witemeyer has created. Strong, yet tender; masculine yet supportive of Josephine’s ambitions; a man of few words, yet full of conviction. What woman wouldn’t fall for this guy? However, he isn’t perfect. He wrestles with demons from his past (what we would now call PTSD), and confesses that hatred motivated him to join the army in the first place. It’s overall a beautiful story of a man’s redemption. Not because of a woman’s love but because of God’s love.
For my final review of best young adult series, I am actually not technically reviewing a series but an author. However, she does have two YA series that I am going to focus on: Fairy Tale Romance and A Medieval Fairy Tale series.
Both of these series have one thing in common: they are all fairy tale retellings. However, Dickerson re-tells them as historical romances instead of attempting to retain the fantasy elements of the stories. So instead of witches, there are abusive stepmothers. Instead of evil fairies like Maleficent, there is spiritual warfare. Instead of curses, there are plots of rebellion and political intrigue. Through it all, Dickerson’s heroines learn to put their trust in God alone.
Yes, these are faith based stories. One thing that makes these stand out in my opinion is how important the word of God is in these tales. One of the books, The Merchant’s Daughter, made me so thankful that we have Bibles translated into English and other common languages instead of having to know Latin. It also made me thankful that priests are no longer cautioning young women not to read the Bible for themselves. To think that my spiritual leaders would tell me I am sinning simply by hungering for God’s word! Characters throughout the books also rely on verses they have memorized to help them through difficulties. Some reviewers on Amazon complain about this, calling it “preachy.” However, to me, Dickerson always does it in such a natural way, the same way I remind myself of God’s truths continually. All Christians should, so this should never seem strange to us! And what an example for young women who read these!
The romances in all of these books are also swoon-worthy. I could honestly go on and on about every single one. And the male leads are not all cut from the same cloth, either. Sometimes they are traditionally handsome, but other times they aren’t. Some of the male leads are charming, while others are reserved or even gruff at first. There are two books in which the male leads are “the beast” with scars or deformities that people have judged them by.
The Fairy Tale Romance series follows a particular family in Hagenheim, Germany. The Merchant’s Daughter will seem out of place, until its characters in England intersect with the characters in Germany. The Medieval Fairy Tale series, instead of being straight fairy tale retellings are fairy tale mashups. For instance, the first book in the series, The Huntress of Thornbeck forest is a mash-up of Robin Hood and Swan Lake. Both series are equally fantastic!
Though you can read the series out of order and not be confused for the most part, I recommend reading them in order to fully enjoy the relationships between all the characters. It can be difficult to figure out what order to read, so here is a handy list:
The Fairy Tale Romance Series
I am a former English teacher turned homeschool mom of three who writes Christian romance novels on the side. You know, in my huge amount of spare time.