In the spirit of catching up on reviews of books that I have read lately but not yet blogged about, I'm going to kill two birds with one stone today and review Courting Trouble, by Deeanne Gist, and the sequel, Deep in the Heart of Trouble.
Whether it's riding bikes, catching snakes, or sliding down banisters, Essie Spreckelmeyer just can't quite make herself into the ideal woman her hometown -- and her mother -- expect her to be. It's going to take an extraordinary man to appreciate her joy and spontaneity -- or so says her doting oilman father.
Sadly such a man doesn't appear to reside in Corsicana, Texas.
It's 1894, the year of Essie's thirtieth birthday, and she decides the Lord has more important things to do than provide her a husband. If she wants one, she needs to catch him herself. So she writes down the names of all the eligible bachelors in her small Texas town, makes a list of their attributes and drawbacks, closes her eyes, twirls her finger, and...picks one.
But convincing the lucky "husband-to-be" will be a bit more of a problem.
Essie Spreckelmeyer is the last woman anyone in Corsicana, Texas, expected to see with a man on her arm. Independent and outspoken, she's known more for riding bicycles in outrageous bloomers than catching a man's eye.
And the last man who seems willing to give her a second glance is Tony Morgan, newly hired at Spreckelmeyer's oil company. The disinherited son of an oil baron, Tony wants most to restore his name and regain his lost fortune -- not lose his heart to this headstrong blonde. She confounds, contradicts, and confuses him. Sometimes he doesn't know if she's driving him toward the aisle or the end of his rope.
That's how life is... deep in the heart of trouble.
I've read and enjoyed a couple of other books by Deeanne Gist: A Bride in the Bargain and A Bride Most Begrudging. With these two most recent reads by Gist, I really can't decide quite how I feel about them. I would say this time the Christian aspect of this Christian Historical Fiction novel is a bit more prominent, but once again, not overbearingly so. I can't quite put my finger on what it was that just quite didn't do it for me with these books compared to Gist's other books I've read.
I tend to think that it is the stories themselves, more than anything. I actually greatly enjoyed Essie Spreckelmeyer as the heroine of both books. With Essie, there is never a dull moment and you never can be quite sure what she will do next. I liked that she wasn't some perfect beauty that could have any man she wanted, but that ultimately she got the only man she wanted, though not without some pitfalls and missteps along the way.
Ultimately, I believe the most bothersome piece of the puzzle for me was the first book itself. I wish that both of these books could have been made into one and that some of the various plot lines had been removed. Clearly, by the end of the first book, I knew I was going to have to read the second so I could learn what would become of Essie. And really, I did enjoy the second book much better than the first, which left a bad taste in my mouth to some degree, though not so much that I didn't want to read the rest of Essie's story, apparently. Her independence and fiery personality really shine in Deep in the Heart of Trouble and add in an exciting climax, and you have a recipe for a much more gripping read.
Gist works in great moments of humor and has an interesting cast of characters for both stories, though I think that Essie really came to life in the second book. I expect that most people will enjoy both stories, but I guess I was just really bothered by the way the first one turned out. Of course, I wasn't bothered enough to give these up altogether, so I suppose that says something.
In the end, I'm not quite sure what this review has said -- perhaps it's just neutral, which is essentially how I felt about the two stories when you look at them together... If you pick up Courting Trouble, you are almost guaranteed to want to follow it with Deep in the Heart of Trouble, simply to find out what happens to Essie. I really can't recommend reading only Deep in the Heart of Trouble, because you do learn some key things about Essie in the first book that are important to the second. However, I'd be more inclined to just send you to Gist's other books first.
My Combined Rating:
(Individually, I'd rate Courting Trouble as a "2-1/2" and Deep in the Heart of Trouble as a "3-1/2".)
If you have reviewed either of these books, please feel free to leave a link to your reviews in the comments section below!