Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"All Things Hidden" Review

Gwyn Hillerman loves helping her father in his medical clinic, and she absolutely adores living in the beautiful frontier of Alaska. When President Roosevelt starts a program as part of his New Deal to move hundreds of families into the Matanuska Valley, Gwyn is uncertain. She doesn’t want the idyllic world that she and her father have lived in for all these years to be shattered. Gwyn’s father, however, is excited to see Alaska settled, and soon Gwyn is able to join in his excitement and to anticipate the arrival of new settlers to their valley.

For Dr. Jeremiah Vaughan, moving to Alaska is a necessity. Running from a snowball effect of troubles in his native Chicago, Jeremiah jumps at the chance to work with his mentor, Dr. Hillerman, as the new settlers arrive in Alaska. Jeremiah is determined to keep his past a secret and to stay far away from any semblance of romance as possible. But he was not prepared to meet Gwyn Hillerman.

As the settlers arrive and everyone prepares for the coming winter in Alaska, more and more things that were meant to be kept hidden come to the surface. Will these hidden things destroy the relationships that have been forged in this new settlement, or will it be an opportunity for grace, forgiveness, and, ultimately, hope?

When I first started reading this novel, I was completely captivated by the setting and by the situations in which the characters found themselves. I had no previous knowledge of the history behind this novel – the settlement of this valley in Alaska during the Depression – and I was fascinated by it. The history, real people, and fictional characters were weaved into the storyline very well.  I was able to enjoy the history and the setting and to learn something while being entertained, which is what historical fiction is all about.

While the balance between fact and fiction was done well, it still felt as if the story lacked…something. The plot was strong enough to carry the historical component, but it didn’t quite have that extra oomph to make it an incredible novel. The story is told from many different perspectives, which did give it more depth, but the characters sometimes seemed to be caricatured to the point that I didn’t always believe them. Telling the story from standpoint of the various characters gave a view into their motivations, but even so, those motivations didn’t always ring true. I felt that the book spent a lot of time in the characters heads rather than moving the plot along with action and events. Jeremiah and Gwyn admittedly don’t spend much time together at all, and yet each claims to be falling in love with the other. I was able to understand their attraction, but their courtship seemed to take place in their heads rather than by actually talking to and spending time with the other person.

When various events and situations did pop up in this novel, they were interesting and were believable for this time and place. It was especially interesting to see the different issues and things that came into play due to the rapid pace of trying to get the people settled in this new territory before winter.

Another thing that kept the plot moving was the part of the story involving a criminal who is currently hiding out in the Alaskan settlement. While his motivations were not always clear to me, his presence and actions at least added an additional element to the plot. I wouldn’t call this added component suspenseful, necessarily, since the reader knows who the perpetrator is the entire time, but his actions more than any other characters’ did the most to keep the story moving overall.

I have frequently noted in the past that I like for Christian fiction to actually be Christian fiction. I expect novels with the label of Christian to actually mention Christ in a positive way. I understand that not everyone agrees with this. I can appreciate and enjoy a novel that does not mention God or the Bible yet is still clean and is an interesting read, but I enjoy a Christian novel even more when Christ is presented in a clear way.

In this novel, the presentation of God, Jesus, and the Bible was very clear. However, I think the best Christian novels do this in a way that is clear but that is also natural and very well-balanced. All Things Hidden had the clear part going for it, but I thought it bordered on being a little preachy. It’s hard to explain the difference, but when it’s there – the natural and the well-balanced – you just know it.

Overall, All Things Hidden was a well-researched, interesting, and easy-to-read book that just lacked that extra something to make it really great. I can see – and would be interested in – some sequels coming in the future.

I will give All Things Hidden … 3.5 BookWorms.

All Things Hidden
by Tracie Peterson & Kimberley Woodhouse
Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: January 7, 2014

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


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