Author: Sarah Jae Foster
Publisher: River Valley Publishing
Complementary Copy Received:
So…after a very long pause (life has been kind of busy lately), it’s great to be back with a book review from an author to keep on your radar, Sarah Jae Foster. I was introduced to Ms. Foster last fall when I had the pleasure of reviewing her debut novel, Broken Identity. Since the release of Broken Identity, Ms. Foster has produced a trilogy series (The Lincoln County series) and a standalone novel, The Heart of a Soiled Dove. (See the author’s Amazon page for more details.)
The Lincoln County series is my first foray into the world of Western literature (Historical Western literature), so this was a change for me. It took a little bit of a mental shift for me to fully enter into this world of rigid gender roles, social customs and expectations. This is also my third exposure to novellas. And, I learned something about my reading preferences: I’m not a fan of novellas.
It took the greater part of book one (Three Hearts, One Town), to become fully immersed into Cameron’s world and story. Not because the story is poorly written, or the characters lack interest, or the storyline is boring. To the contrary, the Lincoln County series is well written, enough interpersonal conflict is present to keep the reader engaged, and there’s plenty of content and drama to keep interest. What I discovered in this process is that I like words. 🙂 I like words that help expand and develop each character and storyline. With novellas, there are fewer words. As a result, there’s less meat-on-the-bone. Less background to dig through. Less detail to mull over and chew on. The character/story development is abrupt, and often seems rushed. This is NOT a criticism of the Lincoln County series or the author, just a recognition on my part of a style of writing that I’m not typically used to. I offer mad props to authors who chose to pursue this format because every word matters.
What I like about Sarah Jae Foster is her willingness to spread her creative wings by exploring genres. Broken Identity falls into the world of Contemporary Edgy Inspy, the Lincoln County series plants the reader fully into Western territory offering (what I imagine to be) the quintessential Western-style triad: 19 year-old bachelorette Cameron Engel, a much older rough-and-tumble bounty hunter, Jake Collins, and twenty-something kind-hearted, college-educated preacher, Andrew Jackson.
My short synopsis: Cameron, naïve, young, and recently emancipated by her mother’s passing, finds herself on her own for the first time in life. A move to a new town, in a new state, causes Cameron to collide with a myriad of new experiences. As Cameron attempts to make sense of her new surroundings and freedoms of adulthood, Jake and Andrew begin to rub against one another as they vie for Cameron’s affection. As Cameron attempts to establish an identity, find her place in the community, and make sense of her emotions as they pertain to life, social customs, and relationships, she learns that actions, both past and present, have consequences.
Although Cameron is kind-hearted and adventurous, she is also impulsive which leads to some heartache and internal struggle. Cameron’s development from “daughter” to “adult” is an abrupt and rough transition marked with uncertainty, frustration, and rebellion. It takes time for her to come to terms with her circumstances, her place in life, and the sense of loss she carries over childhood experiences. Her maturity is far from polished by the close of book two (A Challenge of the Heart). While she becomes a stronger person, she continues to struggle with duty, expectations, restraint, faith, and her new role as wife. It is for all these reasons that I like the overall progression of Cameron’s character: she’s “in process.”
What I like about Ms. Foster’s writing, is the way she deals with each character’s flaws. Blemishes are left uncovered and imperfections are noted. They are not squeaky clean. They wrestle with issues life throws at them. They struggle through insecurities. They make mistakes. And it is in the midst of their lowest moments that they encounter Hope, encounter Love, encounter Grace … and are left to decide for themselves how to respond to God’s invitation to something new and better. Their lives are far from perfect and far from easy living. But this is what makes the characters of the Lincoln County series interesting: the intersections of life and faith; the walls erected from pains of the past; the conscious decisions that lead to new growth or tighter shackles.
And just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, BAM! New circumstances and characters are introduced that throw things off-balance, cause turmoil, and leave HUGE, HUGE cliffhangers at the end of book two! (I literally yelled “NO!!!” at the close of book two as I scowled at how cruel a trick it is to leave precious, precious readers hanging in suspense as to whether all the characters survive an intense climax that involves a train robbery, a shoot-out, and a kidnapping.)
About the Author
At the age of 12, Sarah Jae Foster found a series by Janette Oke, the well-known and beloved Love Comes Softly series. For the next several years, Sarah Jae unintentionally committed herself to reading historical works written by Christian authors. Having consumed everything possible within the inspirational market, Sarah Jae had to move on to other works and has fallen for fiction from all types of authors.
In keeping with a balance, Sarah Jae has a desire to portray a raw brand of inspirational stories. While she believes there is a purpose for guidelines of inspirational works, she also believes in portraying the reality of life, as it is today. Sarah Jae is a Christian, a wife, and a mother, wholeheartedly yet imperfectly, loving God since she was a child. She wants to share stories about characters with faith who mess up big time due to the seductions in society. In doing so, she’s willing to take a risk and be on the cutting edge of writing for the inspirational market, sharing what’s in her heart and in the world today.
About the Lincoln County Series:
Book 1: Three Hearts, One Town. Forced to leave home and all she’s ever known at nineteen, Cameron Engel heads for Lincoln County, Kansas, ready to explore life like never before. But she quickly realizes her inexperienced nature is no match for this rough and dangerous new town. She needs confidence and bravery to survive — and she’s determined to acquire both, even if it means making choices that in the end could destroy her.
Gunslinger Jake Collins has that fearlessness and courage Cameron wants to possess, but she soon finds herself wanting Jake, a man she’s been warned against.
Andrew Jackson is the town’s preacher. He offers Cameron a way of living and loving — she’s never known…until now.
Two very different men, and for better or for worse, two very different loves.
Torn by indecision, Cameron seeks to receive acceptance from the only one who can provide it. God. But has she gone too far by giving her heart in all the wrong ways?
After coming into the knowledge of God’s true and unconditional love, she faces the toughest choice she’s ever had to make. Jake or Andrew.
(I received a complimentary copy of the Lincoln County series in exchange for an honest review.)