Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Julie's Review of A Most Unusual Match by Sara Mitchell

Ridiculously simplified summary: Theodora, an independent young woman, dons a disguise, trying to take revenge on the counterfeiter that ruined her grandfather's life. She despises the Secret Service, as their operatives arrested her innocent grandfather in the first place. Meanwhile, Devlin, a Secret Service agent, tries to take down the same counterfeiter.  He sees right through Thea's disguise...

Content: I never would have guessed from the cover that this is actually a Christian Historical Romance SUSPENSE title. (That's despite the fine print that says "She sought revenge--and found love.") I guess I should learn to trust the words rather than the picture.

The book had more violence than I'd expected, and a lot more excitement. That's not a bad thing (well, the violence was a bit disturbing--not graphic but I found it a touch upsetting).  The first half of the book or so, I couldn't believe this was a Love Inspired Historical, as I'd thought they were all tales of courtship (with maybe a dramatic conflict thrown in at the end). This was something totally different, and I enjoyed it.

The Christian content was present...now that I think about it, the ending (which I felt came out of the blue) may be part of the Christian content. But even so, despite the themes of forgiveness and such, I think Mitchell maybe could have tailored this for the secular market instead, had she chosen to.


Compelling: 8 out of 10.
Almost from the very start, this story caught my attention. Our heroine has a goal and it turns out to be fraught with actual danger. Things really escalate and I'm compelled to read on! The romance is very good, too; there's a lovely scene when our hero and heroine are alone, out in the rain.

Then things get too dangerous and Devlin and Thea have to retreat. That's the point where I start to feel like this becomes more of a standard romance with the typical misunderstandings and such, until the action picks up again.

It keeps the 8 rating because I was so captivated by the first 2/3 or so. The rest certainly wasn't bad by any means, but after so much excitement, I found the pages were no longer flying by.

Characters: 9 out of 10. I really, really liked Devlin and Thea both. Devlin's concern for Thea was touching and he was well-rounded, having twin interests in Secret Service work and horses. He was also really smart and good at reading people (something I'm terrible at). Very interesting to read.

Thea's independence was really fun and this is one of the rare romances where I think I liked the heroine more than the hero. She has interesting nuances, such as getting vertigo when she puts herself in dangerous/stupid situations. She plots and schemes and even lies.

What I liked most is that Thea is not necessarily pretty. And not in the usual "she thinks she's not pretty but everyone else knows she's gorgeous." Also not the "she's not exactly pretty, but with the right makeover and training, she's gorgeous." I have no doubt that she's not unattractive, but even Devlin doesn't obsess over how beautiful she is. Something draws them together, and he realizes she's perfect for him. If I recall correctly, he loves her smile, and I'm sure he finds her attractive...but she's not a model by any means.

Writing/editing: 9 out of 10.  I think I may have seen one error, but I didn't remember it, whatever it was. Mitchell's style is something different--this is one where I wished I would have had it on Kindle, because she used some words outside of my vocabulary. The sentences are not just utilitarian; a large proportion of them struck me as interesting.

Plausibility/believability: 4 out of 5. This is so tough. By the end, I feel like the villain was on the far side of the line between "sane" and "insane" and I'm not quite sure why that happened.

In the other Love Inspired Historicals I've read (only a few, granted) there is often some random danger at the end that seems fairly implausible but is so much fun I don't care. In this one, the danger at the end was too much for me, after all the plausible danger that happened throughout the novel. I also wish our hero and heroine would have had to fight more for their happy ending. Maybe it was God's hand at work? It didn't feel that way to me, but maybe that was the intention.

On the other hand, this is the first historical romance I've read in a while where I felt like the author and I were living in a different world. For instance, it's set in 1897, and Thea has a chaperone. A chaperone who would rather read in her room than go out with Thea, so Thea manages to slip off on her own in the rather liberal Saratoga Springs. But the fact that a chaperone was acknowledged made it feel to me like it was really a different time. That's just one example of many. Devlin's knowledge of horses felt real to me, too. I felt taken away as I hadn't been taken away in quite a while.

Positive: 3 out of 5. Happy ending, of course, but I was surprised by the violence. It worked out all right for most people (except a couple of them), but I didn't come out with that deliriously happy feeling that I get from some romances (and some Disney films!).

Gut reaction: 4 out of 5. I really adored the first half or more of the book, but would have preferred if the tension could have stayed high throughout (instead of the characters retreating to safety). That may be a requirement of the genre, or just a way to show that Thea and Devlin can be content with each other even when their lives aren't in immediate danger. The ending is a big part of one's gut reaction and I would have written the last 20 pages or so differently. Still a fun ride, though.

Bonus points: 5 out of 5.

Recommended for: Fans of suspenseful Christian romance.

Probably not good for: People who can't read anything with any violence; people who hate (clean) romances.

Total Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars

(Disclaimer: I received this book for free from a giveaway.)

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