The Captive Maiden

Blurb: Happily Ever After…
Or Happily Nevermore?

Gisela’s childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father’s death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela meets the duke’s son, Valten–the boy she has daydreamed about for years–and learns he is throwing a ball, she vows to attend, even if it’s only for a taste of a life she’ll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten’s eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

I liked The Captive Maiden (Hagenheim #4) by Melanie Dickerson though it was the least imaginative of the retellings so far – or at least the first half was. It was Cinderella, the classic version, barely changed until the midnight escape from the ball which was when the story finally went an entirely different direction. I liked the story (jousting!) but there were several times I thought it stretched believability. The second half was interesting since it was covering new ground – except it got repetitive so the new ground was…not so new very quickly.

Specifically: I thought it was a real stretch to believe the bad guy (or his men) were able to sneak in, get in touch with evil girls, and kidnap Gisela all while soldiers were on guard searching. And then the escape, get caught, escape, get caught, escape… Was it just me or did Valten shorten their hiding every other sentence? They hide in the cave, he said, “We’ll hide 2-3 days.” They wake up, he says, “We’ll hide a couple days.” They eat breakfast, he says, “We’ll leave tonight”. So I can’t say I was surprised when they got caught after essentially *not* hiding. Most especially, the climactic ending made little sense to me. The random blindfold for no reason and then throwing them in a tower was crazy. Why would any sane bad guy leave his captives alone together? And then they escape (again) only to discover two more seconds and they’d have been rescued anyway. Honestly, I felt like the whole tower scenario was written just so there could be a “making out blindfolded” scene. Also, the big reveal at the end was too sudden. Some foreshadowing could easily have been worked in earlier.)

There was a moment during the grand climax that I expected something to happen and was  disappointed when it did not. I felt like there was an opportunity for a more complex resolution to occur and the author opted for the easy way out instead. The romance was sweet and funny but I never quite bought into it.  After 4 books, my feelings about the series have cemented – very cute but simple. I still love the series but they’re categorized as light YA romances in my brain now so I can stop expecting more complexity.

Do you ever have a hard time classifying books? (Does it even matter to you?)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Fairest Beauty

Blurb: A daring rescue.
A difficult choice.

Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother’s jealousy, and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie’s one chance at freedom—but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

Gabe defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl’s inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what.

When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help—but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them—they must also protect their hearts.

I enjoyed The Fairest Beauty (Hagenheim #3) by Melanie Dickerson, though not as much as I liked the first in the Hagenheim series. The cover of the book immediately gives away which fairy tale it is based on, though the Cottage of Seven makes it pretty obvious, too. But I loved the unique spin on the cottage and its inhabitants. 

Sophie and Gabe are both likable character; Sophie a bit too sweet but Gabe was realistic – a bit immature and impulsive but very relatable. He starts the adventure without the best of intentions, mostly wanting to prove himself and get some of the attention he feels his brother monopolizes. But he grows quite a bit throughout the story. I was taken aback at one moment where Sophie lashed back at someone who  bullied her. While it was a perfectly human reaction, and really wasn’t too extreme, it was singular and jarring since she was so sweet the rest of the time.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, it’s fun and heavy on the romantic aspect of the story (even if nothing much happens outside of a few kisses) but it’s very simple YA.

How complex do you like your stories?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Merchant’s Daughter

Blurb: An unthinkable danger.
An unexpected choice.

Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf’s bailiff – a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past.

Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff’s vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf’s future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.

I hate to say it but I really didn’t care for The Merchant’s Daughter (Hagenheim #2) by Melanie Dickerson though I did like the historical setup. I haven’t read many books set in this time period so the feudal system with the village working for their lord was interesting. Sadly, that was about the only thing I liked. It took me a long time to sort out the reason and I think it was mainly because there is a sad dearth of likeable characters in the story. Annabel is miserable; the bailiff is despicable; everyone around her is surly, mean, or depressing (including the hero). She has exactly one friend that I recall and he’s not really someone she can count on. Any likeable characters are so overshadowed I have completely forgotten their existence. The other Hagenheim books feel like sunshine, flowers, forests and meadows – they are airy, breathable, lighter books even during darker moments. This book felt like torch-lit, dank, stone manors – it was dismal.

I also didn’t feel the romance at all and even worse was when (slight spoiler!!) she confessed her love to him first. It may be old-fashioned but I tend to have issues with the woman approaching the man (though in well-done situations it may not bother me). I rolled my eyes through the entire climactic ending, too. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales and this retelling just didn’t come close to cutting it for me. Honestly, if this had been my first Dickerson book, I may never have picked up another. But since I loved The Healer’s Apprentice so much, I ended up jumping from this one straight to the 3rd of the series hoping it would restore my faith in the series.

Do you have any old-fashioned preferences when reading romance?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Healer’s Apprentice

The Healer’s Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson is one of those rare and special books that promises to be amazing the moment you set eyes on them and then follows through in spades!

HA

Blurb:  Two Hearts. One Hope. 

Rose has been appointed as a healer’s apprentice at Hagenheim Castle, a rare opportunity for a woodcutter’s daughter like her. While she often feels uneasy at the sight of blood, Rose is determined to prove herself capable. Failure will mean returning home to marry the aging bachelor her mother has chosen for her—a bloated, disgusting merchant who makes Rose feel ill. 

When Lord Hamlin, the future duke, is injured, it is Rose who must tend to him. As she works to heal his wound, she begins to understand emotions she’s never felt before and wonders if he feels the same. But falling in love is forbidden, as Lord Hamlin is betrothed to a mysterious young woman in hiding. As Rose’s life spins toward confusion, she must take the first steps on a journey to discover her own destiny. 

I enjoy historicals and romantic adventures so, needless to say, this book was right up my alley.  It’s a realistic retelling, loosely based on (or should I say inspired by), a popular fairy tale but I wasn’t aware of that when I started reading and, even after I knew, it took me a good chunk of the book to figure out which story. I really liked that aspect – that it was such a unique take on the tale that I had no idea where it was going to go.

Almost all of the characters are likeable – even one who ends up being a cad was rather likeable on the surface. He reminded me of Willoughby from Sense & Sensibility – someone you pity because they had such potential. The romance was well-developed and it hit my absolute favorite trope when it comes to romance with simmering attraction that is always held back due to various obstacles.

While not a magical fantasy, it touched upon those spots by containing unique spiritual warfare. It’s a tricky subject and I appreciated the effort though I did have some frustrations with the way a few things went. HIDDEN SPOILERS BELOW, highlight to read – For those who have already read the book only: Namely, I do not believe Christians can be demon possessed and I believe the Holy Spirit protects us from such attacks. While Rose was never possessed or attacked outright (as it was more of a fear attack?), I had niggles over that whole situation. As for the big bad guy – whatever he sprinkled on Rose didn’t bother me too much. But I didn’t like that her prayers & the prayers of Frau Geruscha didn’t drive the demons from her room in the first place and then that she was so terrified that she couldn’t even pray later and Hamlin had to save the day. And why was Frau Geruscha telling him what to pray? Didn’t he already know? And why didn’t she just pray herself? The man’s gotta do it?

All in all, a highly recommended read! 🙂  What’s your favorite romantic trope?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.