This collection of novellas takes the reader back to the day when anyone willing to brave the California gold fields could make a fortune in a day, or lose it in a day. Where paupers could become kings in a matter of hours. And where true love was as rare in the land as the women who brought it there.
The Price of Love by Amanda Barratt
The plot twist (which I shall not reveal) that drives this story is so fun! Not to mention the whole setup of a hero and heroine competing for a newspaper job, unbeknownst to one another, and the hero’s being challenged beforehand by his boss to win the heart of the lady in order to gain the position. Of course the heroine’s task is to go west to the bachelor-ridden gold fields to write a story and NOT come back as someone’s “Mrs.,” since that would likely prohibit her from her coveted work as an editor for a major New York paper. I love Amanda’s style, wit, and attention to historical detail. She also has a beautiful way with words. I especially liked one scene in which a “good Christian person” realizes his own good works aren’t good enough, but that he must surrender his life to the Lord. This mischievous novel has a fair amount of the “independent woman pursues social freedom” message prevalent in Christian fiction today, but is tempered by the heroine’s discovery of a love for home and family.
The Best Man in Brookside by Angela Bell
Reminiscent of the Biblical story of Joseph with flavors of Jane Austen, this novella brings together a plot of social revenge with fun historical steampunk elements. Horse enthusiasts will enjoy this story as well. The relationship of the hero and heroine went from enemies in the beginning to forgiven friends at the end of the story. I was a bit surprised, though, when out popped a marriage proposal without either character’s thinking of the other person much in a romantic light, or even inner narrative of their own wishes for a marriage or family of their own. Maybe some of the earlier landscape description or introspection could have been condensed to make room for a few more sentimental thoughts to forward the romantic thread.
Civilizing Clementine by Dianne Christner
This is a coming of age story about a young woman raised in the gold fields adjusting to womanhood with the help of the Last Resort Traveling Etiquette School. Of course, when you try to force a trouser-wearing, bad grammar-spewing, tomboy to become a lady, chaos ensues. Divided into three parts, this novella was unlike any I’ve read before. There are two contestants for the heart of the heroine. While the romance seemed to play second fiddle to the plot, the friendships in this story were endearing.
The Marriage Broker and the Mortician by Anne Greene
This is a curious story about a hero and heroine in two opposite lines of work. Their differences make the reader wonder if they will ever be able to resolve the relationship in a happy conclusion. Also, this was a case of love-at-first-sight for the hero, while the heroine stubbornly refuses to entertain notions of matrimony. The hero’s relentless pursuit drives the story forward to its HEA ending.
The Lye Water Bride by Linda Farmer Harris
Besides introducing us to the fascinating process of measuring gold’s worth using lye water, this story takes us through the mysteries of embezzlement, bank robbery, and attempted murder. This tale also includes a courtship triangle with two men pursuing the heroine—both men are accused of crimes, but only one is innocent. Plot twists and intriguing characters move this story along to a satisfying conclusion.
A Sketch of Gold by Cynthia Hickey
This sweet tale is about a young woman dressed as a boy, trying to keep her identity as a female hidden in dangerous gold-fields full of desperate men. The hero, a newspaper man, is clued in to her secret at their first meeting and decides to work undercover in order to publish her story. Their journey to love is fraught with relationship troubles, outside threats from other men, and a flash flood, but the ending leaves the reader with plenty to smile about.
Love Is a Puzzle by Pam Hillman
This is a sweet, adventuresome novella, full of the splendor—and danger—of the California landscape. I loved the heroine’s tenacity and drive to find her father, even after all hope was lost. Speaks loudly of the strength of a well-nurtured father-daughter relationship. And you’ve gotta love the scene where the father demands to know the hero’s intentions. :) Makes me wonder how many modern young men might handle a situation like that. The hero holds his own with a mile-wide protective streak due to the sorrow he faced in losing loved ones. This of course shows up in his kindness and attentiveness toward the heroine. The proposal scene at the end is absolutely adorable and showcases the hero’s quiet ways—the emotion and subtext will paint the reader with happy smiles. I love reading Pam’s books, firstly because I can trust the content, and secondly, because they all follow characters through unique challenges that culminate in a heartwarming, sigh-worthy conclusion. Her stories are laced with a cozy flavor that will keep readers coming back for more.
The Golden Cross by Jennifer Rogers Spinola
If you’ve ever wanted to read about the struggles of living through the California Gold Rush through the eyes of a young Asian woman, this is the novella for you. Filled with American history and personal struggles of the heroine, this book will give the reader greater insight into the times and dilemmas of the Chinese people who came to the gold fields in America. I loved the focus on Chinese culture, proverbs, and food and how the hero helped the heroine when she needed it most.
Gold Haven Heiress by Jaime Jo Wright
I didn’t know such rich plot and character development could be packed into a novella’s limited word count, but Jaime Jo has accomplished great depth with this story. The characters are multi-dimensional and the plot deliciously unpredictable. My eyes even welled up at the ending—and I don’t often cry with books. One thing I loved is even though I guessed at the final plot twist when it was being set up, the events and character reactions that followed convinced me my guess was wrong, so when things actually did turn out as I had hoped and imagined, I was still shocked. Perfection. This is my first story to read from Jaime Jo. I’m super excited to read more. (For all who are interested, she has another story coming out July 2017 in the same anthology as my debut story. I’m thrilled to be publishing in a novella collection with her!)
*I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.