Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mars...with Venus Rising by Hope Toler Dougherty

This novel is a straight forward Christian romance. It is an easy read with no confusing plot twists nor thought provoking social issues.

Penn is a twenty six year old high school teacher living in Mars, Pennsylvania. (Yes, there really is the town north of Pittsburgh.) She is studying hard to pass the CPA exam with thoughts of getting a career boosting job in the city. That's until John shows up riding his motorcycle.

There are some good themes running through this novel. One is that tragedy does not have to define our life. Penn was severely scarred psychologically by the untimely and tragic death of her parents and brother nearly twenty years ago. She has let that tragedy define her all these years. She would have continued that way except John helps her face her biggest fear when circumstances force her to do so.

Another theme is correcting childhood impressions that might be defining us. Penn reconnects with a childhood friend who helps her work through some wrong perceptions and insecurities from around the time of her family's death.

The characters in this novel did not grab me. Penn had lost her parents and brother nearly twenty years ago and had been raised by two aunts. (They are great-aunts, I think, since Penn's grandfather is brother to the women.) I did not find Penn to be a strong character. She is plagued with fears, many originating in her family's untimely and tragic death. Penn seems to be immature for her age. At one point in the novel she “pouts.” It is not until forced to do so that she actually confronts her major fear. Her aunts, though elderly, seem to be almost childish. They giggle and do little dances. I can see why Penn did not develop into a mature and strong woman. My favorite character was John. He is compassionate and patient beyond expectations.

The development of the plot is straightforward. I was a little disappointed in the initial setting up of the characters and plot. I was a little unsure that Penn was actually a high school teacher until well into the book. I never did find out what she taught. Penn and John do small town things like go to a parade, fireworks, and a professional baseball game. There were some interesting events in the book, such as making a paper bag floor. (I had to look that up and people really do that.)

I appreciated the creative use of language by the author. There is also a strong Christian message. Penn relies on her faith when forced to face her fears.

I recommend this novel to those who are looking for an uncomplicated Christian romance. It would also help to like an emphasis on the ruminations of the characters rather than action. Don't miss the great recipes at the end of the book.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Hope Toler Dougherty has a Master's degree in English and taught at East Carolina University as well as York Technical College. Before writing novels, she published nonfiction articles and topics ranging from gardening to writing apprehensions. She and her husband live in North Carolina. You can find out more at

Pelican Book Group, 344 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

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