“California Romance” by Colleen L. Reece

This Three-in-One Collection features two families from opposite sides of the country who become inextricably linked through unusual and sometimes dangerous circumstances.

Sarah Anderson lives for the day that her brother will send for her and save her from her life of drudgery caring for her step-family.  When her mother dies and her stepfather decides to marry her off to a gambler, she must trust God to get her to her brother safely. Among the things she brings with her is a photograph of her brother and his young, good-looking rancher-boss.  Matt Sterling finds Seth Anderson involved in a brawl and he can’t help but admire the plucky young man..and the picture of the younger sister he carries in his belongings.  Long before they meet, God uses the photographs to soften the hearts of this cynical bachelor and distrustful girl.

After running away from a lazy, abusive step-father to make a life for himself and his younger sister, Seth Anderson finds peace on the Diamond S Ranch working for Matt Sterling.  When Matt falls for his sister and marries her, Seth figures life couldn’t be better.  His peace is rocked when Matt’s wild-at-heart younger sister Dori, is sent back from finishing school and he is put in charge of keeping her in line.  Now, if he could just keep his wayward heart in line and survive Dori’s ardent suitor, maybe he could finally find peace.

The only bright spot in Ellianna Stoddard’s young life is the fading memory of a loving stepmother and stepsister.  Now that her father has remarried yet again, she and her little brother find themselves unwanted and sent to live with their now-wealthy stepsister and her rancher husband.  Receiving a warm welcome and a new family begins to heal the hurt of her father’s neglect and the shame of being his daughter.  Now, years later, she meets a handsome preacher who has left his fancy church in Sans Francisco to serve in her “cow town” community.  Will she be able to put aside her feelings of unworthiness and become his wife, or will she be tempted by the opportunity to pursue fame and fortune in an effort to find worth on her own?

Each of these characters must find God’s peace (and His will) when faced with difficult circumstances and decisions.  I appreciate how the author weaves God’s work and plan into the story in a way that echos real-life situations.  Scripture passages sustain her characters through trying, sometimes terrifying, times and God’s work can clearly be seen in their lives as they submit to His will–even when they don’t understand it.

While the plots were interesting and the characters’ spiritual journeys stirring, the writing style tended to be a bit confusing. Long descriptions that didn’t hold my attention made for several skipped paragraphs.  Also, the author jumped back and forth in the timeline (especially in the first book) confusing the reader more than informing them.  I think she also spent too much time in the past, which slowed the plots (which were really quite intriguing) down.  Combined with a narrative feel to the story-telling this made for a book that was a slow, sometimes slogging, read.

I’d give this book a three out of five star rating: it did have good plots and characters.  If you have lots of time, and enjoy a slowly unfolding story, this book will certainly deliver.

Thanks to NetGalley (https://www.netgalley.com/) and to Barbour Books Publishing Inc. for providing me with an advance copy of this book to read and review.

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