“A Reluctant Bride” Book Review

Several years ago, while I was in college, I stopped reading Christian fiction. The more I learned about writing and literature, the less impressed I was with the inspirational market. I felt the books were poorly written and too preachy. I don’t like shoe-horned themes or author agendas shoved in my face even when the author and I share a faith.

Then a few years ago, I gave it another chance after a review of Francine Rivers’ book Redeeming Love* caught my eye. That book was so good it convinced me to give the Christian fiction market another try. And I’m glad I did, or I wouldn’t be writing about the book that’s the subject of today’s post.

  • please note that links in this post marked with an * are affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I’ll receive a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.

Jody Hedlund’s A Reluctant Bride kicks off her new Bride Ships series series with a heartwarming slow-burn romance. This historical fiction novel, set in the Victorian era, follows the story of Mercy Wilkins. Mercy — a compassionate, selfless young woman who grew up in one of the poorest areas of London — follows her sister’s advice to immigrate to Vancouver with a group promising jobs. It’s only after she’s on board the ship that she learns the women sailing with the Columbia Mission Society will be offered jobs only temporarily. This is a bride ship, and those traveling on-board will be expected to marry once they arrive — something Mercy has no intention of ever doing.

As one would expect from this type of story, there’s a man on board this ship with the potential to change Mercy’s mind. Lord Joseph Colville is heir to one of the noble families of England. Since the death of his parents and brother, he’s been delegating his political and social responsibilities to his aunt and focusing on his passion for medicine. He’s the doctor aboard the bride ship and fully intends to continue traveling for a few more years before settling down. But when Mercy becomes his assistant, they both start thinking that maybe marriage wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately, he’s supposed to marry someone from his station and she’s supposed to marry one of the men waiting in British Columbia.

I’ll not spoil anything about the ending for you, since I hope some of you will decide to read this for yourselves. But I will say I loved the characters. The faith elements weave through the story naturally and the plot kept me turning pages eager to see how events played out.

I always appreciate when historical fiction engages with the characters’ time period in a believable fashion. Lord Colville’s choice to work as a doctor and romance a poor working-class girl is an unusual one. However, it’s handled in a way that seems fairly realistic — including the reactions of people around them and Joseph’s and Mercy’s own recognition of the challenges they face. Parts of their romance remind me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,* which is one of my favorite books.

I’d never had the chance to read and promote a book pre-release before, so I was very excited when Jody Hedlund opened up applications to her Reader Room group, and even more excited when I became part of the release crew for A Reluctant Bride. I love her YA medieval romance series,* and I wasn’t surprised to enjoy this book as well.

A Reluctant Bride will be out on June 4th. You can click these links to order it and to learn more about Jody Hedlund’s work. (A note for those  who, like me, enjoy print books: you won’t be disappointed with this one. The cover is absolutely beautiful, the paperback feels amazing, and pictures can’t do it justice.)

"A Reluctant Bride" Book Review | LikeAnAnchor.com

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The Pilot and The Red Rover: James Fenimore Cooper’s love-letters to the sea

I’m going to knock two books off my Classics’s Club List in this post. They’re both written by James Fenimore Cooper (best known for The Last of the Mohicans) and both take place on and near the sea, so grouping them together makes sense. In fact, the library book I read has both in a single volume. The Red Rover (1827) is a re-read for me, but The Pilot (1824) was new.

I really wanted to like these books. They’re the sort of stories that I usually love. But I just wasn’t really liking them and found myself skimming large chunks. It wasn’t until halfway through The Red Rover (which I read second) that I finally figured out why. My favorite books are usually character-driven, but Cooper isn’t really writing to tell his characters’ stories. He’s writing love-letters to the sea and the men who sail her waves.

Scarcely A Favorite With Females

In a preface to the 1849 edition of The Pilot, it says that this book “could scarcely be a favorite with females. The story has little interest for them, nor was it much heeded by the author of the book in the progress of his labors. His aim was to illustrate vessels and the ocean rather than to draw any pictures of sentiment and love.”

At first, I felt compelled to prove him wrong. I like books about vessels and the ocean. And the story’s plot centers around two young American naval officers (Griffin and Barnstable) who risk their real mission in trying to rescue the women they love. There’s also a mysterious Pilot, who has an equally mysterious connection with another woman at the house. It’s a perfect recipe for a romantic adventure.

But Cooper doesn’t take full advantage of the compelling plot he’s crafted. Oh, he keeps with that story line but the characterization starts falling apart. Cooper will spend several chapters describing in loving, minute detail how a ship’s crew navigates away from a particularly dangerous piece of coastline during a storm. But if you’re expecting such care taken with the characters you’re in for a disappointment. Read more

Tall Ships

The Unicorn, Tall Ships Festival
The Unicorn

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Tall Ships Festival. I have loved ships for as long as I can remember. As a child, my mother and sister and I toured a reproduction of the Santa Maria, but since then the closest I’d been to tall ships has been seafaring stories, films, and paintings.

I love a good pirate story, or pretty much anything set on a ship in the 17th or 18th Centuries. Raphael Sabantini’s novels (which I highly recommend). James Fenimore Cooper’s Red Rover. Linda Chaikin’s Buccaneers series. Myriads of teen novels. Errol Flynn films. Pirates of the Caribbean (I suppose the setting more than anything else is why I’ve seen all four).

Though I rarely paint anymore, ships have been a reoccurring motif in my art for some time. Ships in the sky, on the ocean, surrounded by hostas, worked in relief on clay, and sailing through a psychological self-portrait. Strangely, I’ve never written a story with ships. Perhaps that will change now that I’ve been on board a ship.

There were eight ships at the festival, and we toured three: the Denis Sullivan, The Niagara, and The Unicorn. We didn’t leave the dock or see them under sail (that cost a lot more than we were prepared to spend), but it was so cool to be on the deck of a sailing ship and, in The Niagara’s case, below deck. I was surprised how short the space below deck was — I’m only 5′ 6″ and I had to bend over to walk around down there.

The Niagara, Tall Ships Festival
The Niagara

The Niagara  is a training ship used to preserve “the skills of square-rig seamanship.” You can pay to become a trainee on board the ship, learning the art of sailing hands-on for a minimum of three weeks. It costs a little more than I can afford while looking for a car (mine died about a month ago), but part of me wonders if putting up with the authentic/spartan living conditions would be worth it for the chance to go to “sea” (on the Great Lakes).

The Windy, Tall Ships Festival
The Windy

I’m not sure what make tall ships so appealing to me. Perhaps it is the romance of the sea and idea of adventure. Maybe its my obsession with water. Part of it could be the way the ships look, like so many old things they are elegant and beautiful as well as useful. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I had the chance to tour these ships and hope someday I’ll be able to actually sail on one.