Monday, September 7, 2009

Samburu Hills by Jennifer Mueller

TITLE: Samburu Hills
AUTHOR: Jennifer Mueller
PUBLISHER: Red Rose Publishing
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 24k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $2.99

As a gamekeeper’s daughter, Celeste Reed has little hope for a future outside of servitude, so when an arrangement of marriage comes from the ninth son of the Marquardt estate, she goes along with it willingly, even though it means relocating to Kenya. Her husband is nothing she had hoped for, and Africa intimidating, but rallying her strong nature and resourcefulness, she makes the most of it…even when she is widowed with a baby only a year later…

When there are so many romances out there, finding something unusual in a blurb almost always makes me pause. Though this short novella is a reprint, I hadn’t seen it when it first came out and so was struck by the promise of an African setting. There just aren’t that many out there, and even fewer that are historical. According to the author’s bio, she actually resided in Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer, and that immediate knowledge of the country shines through in her work. The setting is vivid and lush, with enough details to make it come to life, but not so many to bog it down.

Unfortunately, that’s the best part about this story. The author’s voice tends to be a tad terse, with most of the novella told in very short scenes and short letters to England that seem to skim over any emotional depth. It left me rather detached from the events of the story, and while I appreciated intellectually that the heroine was a smart, practical, resourceful woman, I wasn’t captivated by her trials and tribulations. In fact, the first two-thirds of the book reminds me of a travelogue rather than a fictional narrative. I actually wondered if it was a romance at all, since the hero doesn’t even get introduced until halfway through. Because he enters the story so late in the game, I’m left wishing I’d had more time to get to know him. He’s charming for the brief amount of time he’s given, but this is clearly Celeste’s story. The role he plays is more in conjunction with how he helps her evolve, rather than as a fully realized character in his own right.

Like I mentioned, Celeste is a strong heroine, who makes the most of a bad situation without ever seeming less than feminine. But I would debate that this is a romance of boy meets girl. This is a love story between a woman and her environment. I don’t think this author’s voice is really my thing (unless this novella isn’t illustrative of her normal style), but I do respect her obvious love for her setting. Readers in search of something off the beaten path might be interested in checking this out.


7/10 – Clean and efficient, though outside of the setting, not very inspiring


6/10 – I liked him a lot, I just wished there was more


7/10 – Practical and intelligent, though the distance in the prose made it hard for me to appreciate her on an emotional level

Entertainment value

6/10 – Though I enjoyed the interesting and well realized locale, I never really engaged with the heroine, who comprises far too much of the story on her own.

World building

8/10 – The setting is vivid and lush, the story’s single best asset



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