Reviewer: Beverly Wallin
This was a well-written book and has potential. I found it to be too slow paced for my preference. It had a lot of unnecessary information which took away from the flow of the story. The Christian star-crossed lovers was great but I needed more excitement to keep me wanting to keep turning the pages.
Reviewer: Laura J. Davis
When I saw the cover of Sarah's Smile by author Dawn Kinzer I was immediately intrigued. When I read the synopsis I knew I was going to have to read this book. I'm so glad I did, because Dawn Kinzer is an author I will be keeping on my radar.
This historical novel was so descriptive in its telling of the town of Riverton, I could clearly imagine it in my mind. The author knows how to drop the reader into the action and she lets you greet the characters in such a way that you can't stop reading. The friendship between Sarah McCall and Rev. Peter Caswell goes back to when they were children. She dreams of one day marrying him, but he marries someone else. From that betrayal of trust the author builds on Sarah's feelings of insecurity and mistrust of men in general. Added to that is her sense of feeling unloved because of her parents who abandoned her when she was a child. These feelings are explored in Sarah as she awaits word on whether or not she has been accepted into the mission field. Peter on the other hand is dealing with his own secrets and failures and while their reveal is a little too late and lacklustre in the telling, the book is still intriguing.
While this book has a strong salvation message, with an emphasis on trusting in God, the author also explored, through secondary characters, the lives of those who reject God, making this a well-rounded book with one central story and others surrounding it. At the same time, her antagonist, who does her utmost to destroy Sarah and Peter's reputation, is met with grace and forgiveness reminding us that everyone makes mistakes and we all need mercy.
Aside from a few editing inconsistencies, I found this book really hard to put down and I am looking forward to more historical fiction from this author.
Reviewer: Jessica Sichel
“Sarah’s Smile” tells several stories: lost love, broken faith, and checkered pasts, to name a few. At the heart of the book are Sarah McCall and Rev. Peter Caswell – the closest of friends years ago, but now estranged and trying to see the way forward. Even the most faithful are not perfect and have much to figure out. “Sarah’s Smile” explores these essences of human nature.
The setting of this book is beautiful. The author, Dawn Kinzer, does a great job of describing the landscape and the buildings used in the story, as well as fitting the characters in with their surroundings. Placed in the American 1900s, it is easy to envision the ladies in their dresses and hats, the minister in his gown, and the houses with their porches. There is a little of the forcedness in a few of the descriptions which are often found in an author’s early writing, but in general, Kinzer crafts the scenes well.
Kinzer uses a wide cast of characters, several of whom have backgrounds of their own and are thus “fleshed out.” Often, the core characters are interwoven and dependent on one another (for example, one character might need another to tell his or her story so that certain questions will be answered, like pieces in a puzzle.) This aids with the flow of the book as well as providing a platform for diversity from character to character, both of which help make the large manuscript able to hold the reader’s attention.
Faith is an essential part of “Sarah’s Smile.” Each core character has a bit of a different faith story to tell, whether it feature seemingly unrequited love in a relationship with God, a person who seems to be brand new to the faith, or perhaps a person who does not seem to focus on faith at all. Particularly with Sarah and Rev. Caswell, the faith of characters as individuals is rather multifaceted. Sarah and Peter both struggle with their vocational callings from God. Both literally cry out to God – though for different reasons. Both seek God’s direction in their lives. As in reality, faith impacts lives in many, often different ways and Kinzer does a good job reflecting that in her main characters. At some points, however, there are disconnects between a character’s ‘usual’ faith and his or her ‘current’ faith. For example, Sarah earnestly seeks God’s will often, but there are occasions where it seems rather obvious that she should be seeking God’s will, but doesn’t. This gives the story a little trouble where continuity is concerned, though it does point to a general theme in the book: people aren’t perfect – even faithful people!
Two areas of improvement with “Sarah’s Smile” are editing and ‘racey-ness.’ Speaking to the latter, the blood gets flowing a little uncomfortably at times, as there is a Harlequin-esque feel with some of the character interactions. Taming these down might allow a better focus on the true themes of the story instead of being almost as distracted as the characters. With regard to the former, a good couple-of-times-over with a quality editor would help resolve some of the typos and continuity issues with the book.
Overall, “Sarah’s Smile” is a solid, enjoyable read. The author is successful in that she answers a lot of the questions posed by the story itself, which helps a reader feel satisfied. Before those answers, though, there were times when I didn’t want to put the book down – always a good problem for a writer to have! Well done, Dawn!
Reviewer: Mary Hosmar
This historical novel, set in the early 1900's gives us a glimpse into, not only small town life, but also the hearts of two best friends. Although Peter Caswell had left Riverton many years prior, leaving Sarah McCall with a broken heart, she had never forgotten him. In order to break with the past, Sarah had applied for a job on the mission field and was just awaiting her marching orders. When Peter returns to town, with a daughter, Sarah’s heartbreak is brought to the fore. She must get out of town. And then there’s Will Reed, her boss. What about Will?
This story is well-written and moved along at a good pace.
The characters come to life as we learn of their innermost thoughts. We also learn that, even though one might have a strong faith and trust in God, life is not always easy, nor is following His will when it seems to conflict with following the heart’s will. The only difficulty I have here is that sometimes the characters seem too perfect. The first action when faced with an obstacle is usually to pray. Now I know that is the correct action to take, but does any one person, let alone two, always do that?
Although the end is predictable, the path to that end has many twists and turns leaving the reader shaking his/her head at the roadblocks one can put in one’s way.
I did find that the author repeated some of the characters’ thoughts and reasonings a little too much. It was almost as if the reader would miss the point if it were not repeated again.
In spite of that is was an enjoyable read with a strong faith and redemption message.
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