Friday, August 28, 2015

"Irish Meadows" Blog Tour

1911, Long Island, New York
Faced With an Uncertain Future, Sometimes All You Have Left Is the Courage to Dream

Brianna and Colleen O'Leary know their Irish immigrant father expects them to marry well. Recently he's put even more pressure on them, insinuating that the very future of their Long Island horse farm, Irish Meadows, rests in their ability to land prosperous husbands. Both girls, however, have different visions for their futures.
Brianna, a quiet girl with a quick mind, dreams of attending college. Vivacious Colleen, meanwhile, is happy to marry---as long as her father's choice meets her exacting standards of the ideal groom. When former stable hand Gilbert Whelan returns from business school and distant relative Rylan Montgomery visits Long Island during his seminary training, the two men quickly complicate everyone's plans.
As the farm slips ever closer to ruin, James O'Leary grows more desperate. It will take every ounce of courage for both sisters to avoid being pawns in their father's machinations and instead follow their hearts. And even if they do, will they inevitably find their dreams too distant to reach?

Irish Meadows
by Susan Anne Mason 
Historical Romance
Courage to Dream series book 1
Bethany House 
See what other reviewers are saying here:
Susan Anne Mason's debut historical novel, Irish Meadows, won the Fiction from the Heartland contest from the Mid-American Romance Authors Chapter of RWA. A member of ACFW, as well, she lives outside of Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and two children.

Find Susan online: website, Facebook
My Take:
As I started reading Irish Meadows, I was immediately taken back to 1911 on a Long Island, New York, horse farm. The writing is very descriptive and really captures the scenery and atmosphere of this time and place.

As I kept reading, I realized that the only plotlines were going to be ones about the romantic relationships between Gilbert/Brianna and Rylan/Colleen. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I usually prefer for my historical romance to have a few more interesting things going on around the romantic storyline. Even so, I decided to keep reading to the end to see where things went.

Brianna and Gil’s relationship was one that went back-and-forth throughout the story and sometimes seemed contrived, especially at the end. I actually didn’t really like their relationship to begin with anyway. I felt that it was kind of weird that they were in love. I could understand if he had been a farmhand or something (“Farm boy – fetch me that pitcher?” “As you wish.”). But he had been raised as a brother in Brianna’s house. Sure, they weren’t biologically related, but it still seemed odd to me, and I just couldn’t get past it. Plus, I felt as if they spent more time not liking each other than actually liking each other!

The relationship between Rylan and Colleen was definitely the more interesting of the two. A man studying to be a priest having to decide whether or not he should give up his commitment to the church for love is a compelling romantic plotline. Again, this relationship seemed a bit odd since they were distant relations, but I guess if it was distant enough, it would be OK. The book wasn't too clear on that point.

If I had to pick a favorite character, it would be Rylan. I liked his easygoing personality, and I appreciated his struggle.

As for the spiritual aspect, I really had a hard time with how it was portrayed in this novel. God was mentioned quite a bit – praying to Him and turning to Him in times of need – but Jesus was barely discussed. One character even turns to God, but it all happens without any reference of Christ and His sacrifice for sins. I just think it’s dangerous to portray salvation without mentioning the cross and what Christ did for us.

Now, I am not someone who has to have her Christian novels filled with salvation experiences and preaching. I realize that a book can just be a good, clean novel that is enjoyable. But if the book brings up spiritual aspects, I expect them to be based on truth and include Jesus. It is Christian fiction, after all. As an example, at one point this statement is made: “What [Rylan] needed was absolution – to confess his offense to a priest and receive a clergyman’s counsel. It was the only way to make up for his sin and find a way to move forward.” While I do believe that confession is good for the soul, again, where is Christ in this? The only way to “make up” for his sins was to confess to a priest? There is absolutely no way we can make up for our sins. Christ is the only way (Hebrews 9), and I’m actually kind of surprised that Bethany House publishers would allow this in one of their books.

I also thought that there were many portions of the novel that focused on clich├ęs and drama rather than reality. There were many references of “following your heart” and many eye-rolling moments of romance. I understand what the author means when the characters talk about following their hearts. I wouldn’t want my daughter to end up in a loveless marriage. But the Bible says that “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB). I think it is dangerous to portray following your heart as always being the right thing no matter what. There was a lot of talk about God’s will and wanting God’s will for their lives, but there was no clear look at how that might be accomplished. All of the talk about following the heart and doing what a person wanted to do seemed to be in conflict with the talk about God’s will.

I realize that I have pretty much skewered the spiritual portions of this novel, but the more I read Christian fiction, the more I realize how very far away from Christ these novels can get. As I said earlier, not every book has to preach the gospel. But when a book tries to do so and falls short, I feel it should be noted. This novel just seemed to be Christian fluff which doesn’t do anybody any good in the long run.

Now that I have said all of that, I think my favorite part of this novel was the setting. I liked the horse farm atmosphere, and I wished that it had been explored even further. The part of the story focusing on the family possibly losing the farm was interesting and might have been something that could have been elaborated on in order to create even more suspense.

If I had to pick one word to describe this novel, it would be “drama.” I really thought that the story would revolve around more than just the two romances, but it didn’t. If straight romance is what you like, then you might want to give this series a try. I really wanted to like this novel much more than I did.

I will give Irish Meadows … 2 BookWorms.  


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers through Litfuse Publicity. 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."