Friday, June 13, 2014

Karen Witemeyer's "Full Steam Ahead" - humor, adventure, and heart

Cover Art
The only child of a shipping magnate whose health is failing, Nicole Renard promises her father to seek out a husband in New Orleans who will serve as a guardian for both the Renard business and family heirloom, a Jean Lafitte dagger.  When her father's ruthless business rival forces her on a detour that leaves her stranded and fundless, she determines to pay her own way to New Orleans.  Hired by an eccentric, young scientist on a crusade to make the boilers of steam ships safe, Nicole transcribes his nearly indecipherable notes, corrects mathematical errors, and in general assists him with his research to earn enough money to pay for a ticket.  Darius is shocked to discover the woman - and a very attractive young woman, at that - is the perfect secretary for him, but he knows that she is hiding something from him.  As their attraction grows, all he wants to do is protect her, but will her stubbornness override the tug on her heart?

Part of the fun of historical novels is learning something new, and given the rising popularity of Steampunk, I thought it a great choice on the author's part to focus on steam for her subject matter.  It was interesting to learn about the troubles regulating steam boilers - that there were so many variables and factors contributing to the explosions that it was impossible to narrow down to one or two easy fixes, which I'm sure contributed to the invention of safer alternatives.  I knew that originally steam travel was quite dangerous, and eventually it became much less so, but it never occurred to me the complexity of finding the solution to safety.  (And thus, I suppose, Steampunk gadgets [run by steam] would actually have been little time bombs, waiting to blow up in their owners' pockets . . .)

Witemeyer does an excellent job creating fun characters and excitement.  This story feels particularly adventurous, with legends of old pirates, secluded experiments, grand explosions, and complex plans to dodge wicked pursuers.  I especially liked Darius, who, though initially somewhat cranky, proves both an amusing and sympathetic character, a strong hero, and a man worthy of admiration.  Nicole is a cute and spunky heroine, and it is easy to connect with her insecurities - does not every girl want to be loved? Especially by the most important men in her life - father and husband?  I was a bit surprised by the amount of romantic tension between Darius and Nicole (more than is generally found in the author's books). 

Driven by guilt after his failure to save a child's life in a boiler explosion, Darius sets God aside to punish and just maybe redeem himself through finding a way to save many lives.  Thus he pushes himself to learn all he can about boilers and what regulations could make them safe, but what he truly needs is to accept God's forgiveness and forgive himself.  The feeling of guilt is a powerful thing, whether deserved or not, and it can eat away at a person's soul.  However, Jesus came to set the captives free - and that includes those held captive by guilt! 

Witemeyer writes another winner!  A lovely balance of humor, adventure, and heart - 5 out of 5 stars!

Thank you Bethany House for providing a free copy for an honest review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my  own. 

"Love on the Mend," an e-novella sequel starring Jacob Sadler, is now available!

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