Book: Surrender the Dawn by MaryLu Tyndall
Ridiculously simplified summary: War of 1812, Baltimore. Luke Heaton, captain of a rather sorry sailing ship, spends his spare time gambling and drinking, sure he is a failure and just as sure that God doesn't exist. Until the beautiful Cassandra desperately invests her family's livelihood with Luke, trusting him to attack the British as a privateer and split the spoils with her and his crew. Can the charming town rogue succeed in saving Cassandra and her family from certain poverty? Or will Cassandra be forced to marry another to feed her family?
Content: I don't recall anything that would be considered offensive, though it raises the question about God allowing evil in the world. At the start, Cassandra completely distrusts God, while Luke doesn't even believe God exists. It's an interesting dynamic (usually there's at most one unbeliever in the relationship, and the believer helps lead the unbeliever). Though I think that actually hindered the romance a bit, since the characters were drawn to each other, never mind if they knew God or not, and also the climax was more about them coming to trust God rather than being together. Supernatural visions abound for one character, which seems to be normal for Tyndall.
Compelling: 8 out of 10. Tyndall is good at writing adventure stories, and pretty much knows how to raise the stakes and keep you reading. I thought the hero and heroine's separation for the last large portion of the book actually made the story a bit less compelling. Granted, it's very hard to keep a "proper" woman and man together when the man is a sailor and spends much of the novel on the water, but I'd expected something different. The ending fell flat for me because of this.
Characters: 7 out of 10. Luke was charming, as to be expected (on paper, no-good men trying to go straight, are almost always charming). When we were in his head early on, I felt like almost every page he was fixated on what a failure he was, which was a bit annoying to me. Cassandra was fairly likable, especially in her pigheadedness to do the stupid thing that starts the book along (invest the family savings with the town rogue). Unfortunately, she does several other very stupid things later on that serve as the reason things go wrong, advancing the story. I just wanted to shake her for her numerous bad decisions.
There were some good supporting characters. I felt like some of the bad guys were fairly one-dimensional (for instance, the newspaper man wants Cassandra for no reason I can fathom...a bit like Gaston hunting Belle, it was completely unreasonable to pursue the one woman in town who wants nothing to do with you).
Writing/editing: 8 out of 10. Few typos that I saw. One strange thing is that Cassandra's hair is burgundy throughout most of the book (which is a lovely color for dyed hair, though not one I've personally seen in nature). It made her unusual. But nearer to the end, it's consistently auburn.
Plausibility/believability: 4 out of 5. The actual details about shipboard life felt real and I got at least some sense of historical Baltimore. Francis Scott Key's cameo felt a bit much for me, but I'm sure others loved it.
Positive: 4 out of 5. The characters end the book completely satisfied as to why God evidently doesn't just let bad things happen to us, but providentially causes them. I've never had any trouble believing God takes care of everything in my own life, but I still have some questions as to when bad things happen to other people, and I didn't personally feel satisfied by the explanations here.
Gut reaction: 2 out of 5. Great beginning and good middle, but the climactic end let me down as far as the romance was concerned.
Bonus points: 5 out of 5.
Total Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars
*I received this book free in a giveaway.