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October 23, 2014

Book Review: A Matter of Heart

*I received this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

I recently was given another opportunity to review a book from Bethany House. When I saw A Matter of Heart by Tracie Peterson involved a heroine who had to choose between two men, I had to go with it. Not being too keen on the whole obvious, one hero-one heroine, hmm, wonder if they'll end up together in the end?? stories, as in the last book I reviewed, I was excited for a story that supposedly wouldn't be so blatantly obvious.

To catch you up, Jessica Atherton is a spoiled, early-twenties' woman in the late 1800s looking to mend her ways and become a better person, while all of her friends are getting married and having babies. She must choose between two men: Harrison Gable, a smooth lawyer, and Austin Todd, a former Secret Service agent and current Texas Ranger with a past full of tragedy.

It's not really a hard choice though. It was clear from the very beginning who she would end up with. Harrison was just a distraction, painted as a villain from the start. A couple of chapters in, I really did not want to finish this book. But I did anyway. And while the plot did get more interesting, there were just too many issues overwhelming it.

The little things: 
There are way too many typos. One, maybe two is okay. But five or more? This probably means one of two things: the book was in horrible shape before it reached the editing stage and this is the really good version, or, as Tracie Peterson is a very popular author, there was a rush to get this book out and it didn't get the level of editing it needed. I'm leaning toward the latter.

Sometimes when we're reading about a flashback, the incorrect past tense is used--but I doubt that would bother many other readers. (And some of you may have no idea what I'm even talking about...)

Reading a story told from the point of view of two or three characters is very interesting and often desirable. But, in addition to the points of view of the main two characters, scenes sometimes take place from the limited point of view of minor characters, in scenes that really didn't even need to happen, that made me think, "Wait, what are we here for?" There were already a lot of characters, many of them related in ways I gave up trying to follow, so trying to read through different points of view, while not terribly frequent, was confusing.

It's always hard to introduce your characters to readers in a way that is natural and not forced in the slightest. I get that. But in the beginning, about a chapter in, the main character, Jessica, is sitting at the dinner table with her parents, having a conversation, when all of the sudden a Tyler Atherton is referred to. I mentally reeled and thought maybe there was suddenly another man at the table, then finally figured out that was her father's name--but as far as I could recall we didn't yet know Jessica's last name was Atherton. So that was very confusing, and not the right foot to begin this story on.

At one point, I could be wrong, and I reread it and reread it trying to wrap my brain around it, but I believe while two characters are having a conversation, the wrong name is used in the speaking tag, and/or a character then replies to himself. Confused? Me too. I don't know what happened, but for a minute there, something went wrong.

In short, too much mental reeling from scenes that were slightly hard to follow, to know who's talking, to know how these people are all related, etc.

The big things: 
Often an important scene would begin, and then it would end abruptly and pick up when the event was over--like Jessica becoming seriously ill all of a sudden. Immediately thereafter, we learn she was ill for over a week. And we saw none of it. Similarly, Jessica gains permission from her parents to take an overnight trip with a couple she's friends with and go to a concert, where the distraction-lover will be. It's clearly gearing up for a big event--but it just ends with her leaving for the trip. The story picks up on another day without us getting to see anything about the trip. Christmas finally comes, with big things clear to happen, and we see only a glimpse of the morning, before Christmas even starts. When huge events like that are lead up to and then ended before they begin, it's not only confusing and a lost opportunity to develop the story even more, but it makes you wonder if the author just didn't feel like writing through the rest of those happenings and so just conveniently cut out before things really got started.

Throughout the book, there is a threat going on against one of the minor characters, but it involves Austin, the former Secret Service agent. The threat arises toward the beginning--a man who murdered the minor character's father is back in town to, most likely, murder her and hurt her family too while in the quest for some forged gold certificates and printing plates. But when this man arrives in town very suspiciously and is very quickly discovered to be using a fake name and lying about why he's there, the issue is rather ignored for a couple months. Even though it's an underlying plot in the story, it's never really taken very seriously until months down the road, for some very strange reason. Completely unrealistic and unbelievable.

In the end, Austin goes off to a nearby state to settle the above threat and criminal activity going on. And though he knows he's being watched by the two men in question and that they're capable of murder, he becomes uncharacteristically oblivious to the danger, dropping his guard long enough to be cornered by the men in his own hotel room, alone, without a gun, the recovered gold plates and such strewn out over the bed. He ends up being attacked and shot because of it, which puts him in the hospital for a month. I find it very hard to believe that a man with his experience and seriousness--with a brand-new fiancee waiting for him back home--would be as careless as he was.

There is a further unrealistic, unbelievable occurrence. Austin promises Jessica that he'll be back from the case within a few days. It takes him being gone for two weeks before Jessica even asks anyone if they've heard from him and does anything about it--and that only after she convinces her father to, as he thought she was overreacting. Her friends, the family of the woman being threatened, when asked if they've heard from Austin, basically all say, "Well, no, I haven't," like it's nothing and they hadn't really thought about it. They all knew how dangerous it was, where he was going, and yet somehow they're all oblivious to the fact that no one has heard from him. They send out a telegram to try to check on him, and then, evidently, just sit around and wait. Next thing we know, a month in total has gone by without word from him, when Jessica finally finds him in a hospital. Absolutely, frustratingly unbelievable. Slow communication or not, if you had just gotten engaged and your fiance went off on a case that you knew was very dangerous, would you really sit around and wait on him for weeks before trying to find out what happened? Not a chance. Even if everyone else was somehow in a fog of oblivion, someone as independent and headstrong as Jessica would have gone off to find him on her own.

In short, the reader feels robbed of scenes we should have been privy to, the big things were downplayed as not important, and no fiancee would sit around and twiddle her thumbs for a month while her true love might be lying dead in a hotel room. Just too much unbelievability.

All in all, the book got better as it went on and did get a little suspenseful at times but was still not a book I would recommend or read again. I would give it 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

If you made it all the way through this, wow!
And don't worry--I plan on this being my last book review, as I clearly rock at them...
I promise there are books I like--come back tomorrow, and I'll prove it! ;)

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