Book Review: The Homestead Brides Collection

Title:   The Homestead Brides Collection

Authors:         Various

Publisher:      Barbour Publishing, Inc, 2015, 464 pages (paperback)

Copy Source:  NetGalley

I find collections of short stories by a group of authors to be a bit more challenging to review than those by one. Since there are nine short stories and nine authors in The Homestead Brides Collection, I’ll give a brief idea of what each story is about (hampered by the effort not to spoil a short story) and a very brief summary of my opinion of each, followed up with my overall take on the collection as a whole (I’ll give you a hint: I really liked it.).

“Homestead on the Range” by Mary Connealy     3.5/5 stars

A doctor, still grieving his wife’s death, moves his family to a claim in Nebraska. He meets a widow and they both feel attracted for the first time since their spouses died. Until he sees her children.

It takes a family crisis to bring these two together, and it is a small twist that I really enjoyed.

“Priceless Pearl” by Darlene Franklin                    3/5 stars

America Barton and her family stake a claim in 1893 Oklahoma during the Cherokee Strip Land Rush. Without the help of their neighbor, Rick Eady, they won’t survive. In exchange for his help, America teaches Rick to read.

I loved Rick and America’s “meet cute” and their romance is very sweet, but the story felt a bit long and it did not hold my interest throughout.

“Proving Up” by Carla Olson Gade                                     3.5/5 stars

Nils Svensson is ready to prove up his tree claim, in accordance with the Timber Culture Act of 1873, and wants to buy the abandoned claim that neighbors his property. Once he proves up, he will send for his wife to join him again. But his plans are thwarted by the pretty widow, Elsa Lindstrom, who has filed for the claim.

In a group of stories about homesteaders, what makes this one stand out are the inclusion of information about the various Acts that influenced it, the misunderstandings and surprises, both sad and sweet. My being descended from Scandinavian homesteaders is very likely one of the reasons I enjoyed this so much.

“Prairie Promises” by Ruth Logan Herne                           3.5/5 stars

Jack O’Donell is on a mission to “rescue” his widowed mother from the Nebraska plains in 1880. What he doesn’t count on is the very pretty, very pregnant young widow that has joined forces with his mother to keep both of their claims going.

Another sweet romance, and one where you hope/know that it will work out, but enjoy the journey.

“This Land is Our Land” by Pam Hillman              4/5 stars

“Lasso” McCall meets Mollie Jameson, her six young siblings and her grandfather during a snowstorm in 1884. He helps them to shelter, but they need to make it to Lincoln, Nebraska in time to claim their homestead. The youngest goes missing, the grandfather’s mind wanders, the storm is not letting up, and what kind of name is Lasso anyway?

One of my clear favorites in this collection of well-written stories. I would have held the name Lasso against it, however, if it had not been a nickname.

“Flaming Starr” by DiAnn Mills                               3.5/5 stars

Starr Matthews, an unhappily soiled dove, wins a Texas homestead in a card game. But when she arrives at her new home, a widower with three children disputes her claim. And then the dangerous man she won it from reappears.

This put me in mind of the story of Gomer and Hosea, but only superficially. It was an enjoyable story with the most tension of the group and it came the closest to conveying a sense of true danger.

“A Palace on the Plains” by Erica Vetsch                3/5 stars

When Julia Farrington arrives in Denman, Nebraska in 1873, she does not receive a warm welcome. Her employer’s brother, a widower with two sons, thinks it is a waste of money to have her sew a fancy trousseau. He also thinks she brought too much with her, and it all has to fit in his soddy.

I did not expect to like this story, as the first (probably intentional) impression of Julia is that she is rich and spoiled. This is not the case, and it turns into another sweet romance, complete with a snowstorm.

“Waiting on a Promise” by Becca Whitham           4/5 stars

Marta Vogel is tired of waiting for Karl Reinhardt to send for her and suspects he is hiding something. She buys her own ticket and sets out for the Oklahoma Territory, where she receives a puzzling welcome from Karl. He insists that she leave, but will not explain the dangerous situation she has walked into.

Though none of the stories felt incomplete, this is the one that feels most like a short and complete novel. Easily one of my favorites, it includes romantic rivals, a clever villain and his thugs, a plucky heroine, and even a bit of courtroom drama.

“The Bogus Bride of Creed Creek” by Kathleen Y’Barbo             3/5 stars

A pregnant Cora Duncan arrives to claim the Circle M Ranch as the wife of Israel McBride, deceased. She gets right to work improving the place, determined her child won’t live in a soddy. Then Israel McBride shows up, quite alive, unaware of the current Mrs. McBride and engaged to another woman.

This is the one story I felt could have benefited from a longer form, which would have allowed time to add dimension to the secondary characters and more fully formed back-stories. It might also have made Cora and Iz more sympathetic characters.

This collection delivers on its promise of “nine pioneering couples risk all for love and land.”  With all nine stories set in the American frontier of the 1880’s, there are certain commonalities. Snowstorms, soddies, hard work, land disputes, fighting the elements and fighting attraction are each characteristics of more than one story.  But common to all are faith in God that is strengthened, renewed, or begun and couples coming together out of love or necessity or both.

I would gladly read more by any of the authors included in this collection.  Of them, Mary Connealy is the only one that I was already familiar with, having read and enjoyed her full length novel Tried & True, and she is the reason I requested an ebook from the publisher through NetGalley (which they provided for free, in exchange for my honest review).  I enjoyed this collection enough that I immediately looked to see if Barbour was offering any further collections, regardless of author names, and requested those as well.  Lucky for me, they have put out quite a few of these collections, some of which my library offers as ebooks, so there are many more stories to enjoy, and more authors to discover.

This is a strong collection of Christian Romance that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys Historical Fiction and sweet, clean romance set in a rugged and unforgiving frontier.