Where We Belong, by Lynn Austin
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House Publishers. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
I really wanted to like this book, but the author  ultimately made it impossible for me to do so. First, there is the matter of the main characters of this book, a pair of wealthy and pampered women of the liberal set who believe that being rich and reasonably attractive and extremely bright and also devoted to community service absolve them from the need to be honest or likable people. It is hard to remember ever reading about two more insufferable Mary Sues in my experience reading literature. Then there are the side characters, some predictably gold-digging suitors related to the woman who narrowly avoided becoming their horrible stepmother, a sheikh obsessed with having a son, a penniless professor who ends up marrying one of the sisters, a young orphan whose abuse at an orphanage leads him to risk an attempted murder rap to try to get back at the man who separated him from his half-brother, and an unlikable thief who ends up being a rape victim–rather predictably so, unfortunately. The end result is a paint-by-numbers novel that ends happily and hopes that the reader overlooks all of the unpleasant business that led to the denouement.
As a novel, this one is nearly 300 pages in the version I read and thankfully it was not too long of a novel. It was, unfortunately, not very pleasant to read. Admittedly, the author is clearly polished and knows how to structure her novel with multiple pov characters, and plenty of action. There is suspense, there is the way that the novel at least is based on reality, even if it reads like a failed pitch for a Lifetime movie. So if this was not a novel I enjoyed reading all that much, it was at least the work of someone who is competent in some aspects of writing, and who clearly is writing for an audience–specifically an audience of women who claim a belief in the Bible, have a high degree of romantic inclination, and who are not particular about godly practice in the service of liberal and humanitarian aims. Unfortunately, I am not this book’s intended audience, even if I can recognize that the novel has a certain amount of excitement and allure in its treatment of the Civil War, the dangers of traveling in the 19th century Middle East, the excitement of reading about liberated female protagonists, and the drama of the Chicago fire of 1871, all of which find their way being used as grist for this novel’s message.
Unfortunately, while this book is not a complete waste of time or a completely incompetent novel, it ultimately has too many strikes against it to make it a novel I enjoyed reading or could recommend to others. Not only does it have two main characters who are very difficult to like because the novelist seems to view them as basically ideal women and overlooks their many lapses in decorum and kindness towards others whom they deem to be greedy or somehow unworthy of their sympathy, as well as an uneven host of supporting characters who range from the fairly likable Soren to the extremely irritating Kate. On top of the cliched characterization–it is especially offensive that I was able to tell from Kate’s original feistiness and difficulty getting along with and trusting others that she had been sexually abused from her introduction as a character–the author also manages to offend the reader by calling the Civil War “The War Between The States,” which is something that would only be done by a neo-Confederate or someone especially idiotic about history. One would hope that someone who makes her living writing historical novels would not be that ignorant about history. At any rate, if this is the best the author has to offer, maybe she should stop writing until she can write about characters a reader is going to care about in a positive way.
 See, for example: