[A quick note before my review: This is my first Melanie Dickerson read. I’ve seen mentions of her books from fellow bookstagrammers. This is the 11th in a series that are all allowed to be read as stand-alone. Melanie Dickerson writes wholesome romance or what is considered “sweet-romance” for those looking for a clean read. I didn’t know what to expect going in blind.]
(3/5⭐️) “A dandelion suddenly looked like a puff of smoke with a burned charcoal center. A forest looked like a group of soldiers in the dark, marching straight and tall. A cluster of wildflowers on a distant hill became a mass of color and texture that she contemplated how to duplicate with a brush and paint.”
Frederick is a the son of a peasant farmer while Adela is the youngest daughter of a duke. Frederick is determined to make a better life for himself through his craft as a woodcarver, carving the doors to Hagenheim’s chapel. Adela just wants to be normal. She’s a painter with a desire for creativity. She’s tired of being trailed by her father’s guards, and long to find her own adventure. When she begins to sneak into the marketplace under the guise of a peasant, she develops feelings for Frederick. He seems to be the only one who understands her artistic inclinations. But falling in love isn’t simple for them. Frederick is a peasant while Adela is expected to marry within her station. When outside forces interfere with their budding relationship, they must fight against all odds if their love is to endure.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I picked it up because of the pretty cover and premise, and because I was looking for a simple romance. That’s exactly what this was: a simple romance. There were no layers beyond that. Overall, there were things I liked and things I didn’t like. I enjoyed Frederick and Adela’s romance, and the forces that came in between them. It was the suspense that drove the plot forward and kept me reading. The romance was sweet and innocent. I can see there being a whole market for this kind of book, especially a religious/Christian based market because of the abundance of bible references.
What I didn’t like was the lack of overall character growth. Lack of layers. Lack of world building. Lack of complexity. The story is entirely plot driven; it’s not one that sticks with you for long or leaves you thinking about it after finishing it. Neither Adela or Frederick went through any kind of internal conflict driven personal growth/change/development. Aside from the love they gained for each other, neither came away fundamentally different at the end of the story. The only conflict were the forces keeping them apart.
The world building was simple. While this was marketed to be a “Cinderella in reverse” story, I felt that was a big stretch. Yes, the roles are reversed where Frederick is the peasant and Adela, the duke’s daughter. But that’s where the similarities stop until the last few chapters. At the very end, Frederick must race to get to the ball in time before Adela agrees to marry someone else. This is the only “Cinderella-esk” aspect. The bishop plays the fairy godmother role of getting him prepared in time, dressed far above his means. Still, there was a definite stretch for marketing in such a bold statement.
The writing was really basic. I hate saying this, but it was. I can usually find a few pretty lines to quote in a book review. This one I struggled to find one snippet of text to put into this review. Melanie Dickerson must have written this in a very mechanical churn-and-burn approach. She resorted to repetitive sensation descriptions for budding love. If I had a penny for every time a character had a racing heart or fluttering stomach, I’d have a jar of change. I would have appreciated more creativity here. There were also a few strings left untied. For example, Frederick mentions multiple times that he wishes he could see Adela’s art and talent. Not once did Adela show him her artistic abilities, any of the work she created. She didn’t show the reader, either. She talks about how much she loves art and painting, but we don’t get a single scene where she’s “creating” anything. So we’re being told, but not shown any of the abilities that make her unique as a character. That was a disappointment because this was the thing we, as readers, need to connect with her.
The Bible stories referenced, with the frequent mentions of God, felt overdone. I’m a religious person, so I didn’t mind it too much. However, I felt that if mentioned this often, the stories should have tied into the main story better, either as a metaphors or analogy to something happening in the book. I was a turned-off and I could see it being such for other readers too. But I think women of the religious community looking for a wholesome romance might appreciate it. I’m thinking of my mom specifically here...
Overall, I enjoyed the read. It was simple, and I was entertained enough to keep going. This was my first Melanie Dickerson book, so I didn’t exactly have any expectations going in. Rather, I went in with an open mind. There were a few redeeming qualities to the book, such as the creative plot in bringing Adela and Frederick together. That was ultimately the only thing that kept me going. If you like simple, comfortable romance based reads, you will probably enjoy this one.
Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson Publishers for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.