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Book Review: Sarah’s Smile by Dawn Kinzer

by Sandra Ardoin @SandraArdoin


Let me put out this disclosure in the beginning: It’s always fun to be able to introduce a newly-published author whose book I fully enjoyed, especially when that author is a friend and fellow hostess on the Seriously Write blog. However, you’re getting my honest opinion of the story.

Last Friday, Dawn Kinzer released her 1902-era historical romance Sarah’s Smile. It’s her debut novel and the first book in The Daughters of Riverton series. And, historical romance fans, you won’t want to miss reading it!

After her mother left her to be raised by her grandparents, Sarah McCall grew up knowing what it was like to be tormented for her parents’ mistakes. Throughout her childhood, her best friend, Peter Caswell, defended her at every turn, but Peter also deserted her to marry  spoiled rich girl, Lily, after college. Now, as Sarah awaits word from the Mission Board to say that she soon will be leaving to serve in Africa, Peter has returned to Riverton to pastor her church, a widower with four-year-old Mary and a terrible secret.

The early morning hours that day had been spent on his knees praying for God’s help in starting over in the small town. His wounds needed healing—even more than his little girl’s. Sarah appearing only several hours later, like an angel coming to the rescue, felt like an answer to prayer. He’d missed her smile—the way he could talk to her about anything—the way she understood him and knew what he wanted to say when words didn’t come. She’d never let him down.

[…] He wanted to create a life for himself and Mary in Riverton, and if possible, also with Sarah.

An inner voice continually taunted him with the memory of the horrible night Lily died, reminding him that he didn’t deserve any woman’s love, especially Sarah’s.

Despite the book quote above and three different points of view, this is Sarah’s story. Lost love and a background of abandonment make her a sympathetic character, but I’ll admit that, until the last third of the book, I had a bit of a tough time liking Peter. He seemed a bit too self-focused. Yet, whenever he did something I didn’t care for or hurt Sarah, the author provided insight that made his decision reasonable. My only real concern came with the revelation of his secret.

Peopled by realistic and well-rounded, early Edwardian characters with hurts, foibles, and redeemable traits, this story revolves around the themes of trust, disappointment, forgiveness, and the consequences of poor choices. The writing is first class, and I liked that Ms. Kinzer gave the antagonist a real, but inexcusable, reason for the actions she took. As I read, I kept thinking I would love to see her redeemed in a future book. Guess what? I checked the author’s website, then confirmed it with her. She’s in the process of creating that story! And be on the lookout for Hope’s Design coming out next month.

Fun fact: Riverton, Wisconsin, is based on the author’s hometown.

This book is set in the early 1900s. What is your favorite historical era to read about?

As an author of heartwarming historical and contemporary romance, Sandra Ardoin engages readers with page-turning stories of love and faith. Rarely out of reach of a book, she's also an armchair sports enthusiast, country music listener, and seldom says no to eating out.

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