Secrets, a review

I hadn’t planned on reading a romance novel this past weekend — I was feeling more of a science fiction vibe — but there are several historicals and modern romances in the stack of stuff I’ve promised to read and review, and Secrets has an interesting premise, so I dove right in.

And am I glad I did. Before this book, I’d never read anything by Kristen Heitzmann, but I certainly will in the future.

Excerpted from the book’s page on the Bethany House website:

The old villa needed what Rese Barrett could do as well as any man on the crew. Trained by the best, she had honed her skills with a passion for quality, an eye for detail, and no room for compromise. Renovation was her joy–taking something old and making it new without changing the heart if it. But this time the inn she restored was hers, and this time she worked alone….

Chef, musician, and spellbinder, Lance talked his way into her plans before she’d even made them and had Rese telling secrets she’d never before revealed.  He spoke of faith as if he could touch it, but how much more was left unsaid?

My daddy is a carpenter, and my brother and I worked for him at various times in our childhood and young adult years, doing anything from cleaning up nails and sawdust on new construction sites to painting the walls of historic homes, so I appreciated the renovation and woodworking aspects of this story. I could well identify with this passage from chapter two:

The whine grew to a pained wail that set her teeth on edge in a way it never had before. It passed with a breathy whiff of new maple, mingling brazenly with musty damp and age. Rese breathed the scent that had filled her lungs more comfortably than the purest air. She let go the trigger on the miter saw and examined the fresh cut on the section of molding, then approved it with her fingertips.

Maple, oak, and cherry had been her companions as long as she could remember. The plane had molded her palm; the chisel had developed her eye and fingers. She knew her way around any power tool on the market, had shot nails, routered trim, sanded and carved and finished every wood worth using. She’d also laid pipe and run wires, though it didn’t compare to working the wood. Nothing did.

Heitzmann, Kristen (2004-09-01). Secrets (The Michelli Family Series Book #1) (pp. 17-18). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.

It was even more interesting that the female lead is the carpenter, and the male lead is the cook, a nice juxtaposition of roles that fits well with the characters’ personalities. I enjoyed a few giggles at his frustration over her lack of reaction to his excellent cooking. There’s also a spritely elderly neighbor, Evvy, who gains amusement by watching the young folks next door work out their differences and solve the mysteries of their pasts even as they bring two old structures back to life.

They were no longer in sight, but she stood at the window drawing the inch of fresh air in with small, pathetic breaths. She still imagined herself a robust, mite-sized dynamo, in spite of the cane, the aches, the time it took to do any small thing. Young at heart was a cliché, and Lord knew, her heart was as old as the rest of her. Youth, however, was a matter of perspective.

It might truly be wasted on the young, as the saying went, who had too little experience to see clearly. Take the angst-ridden pair next door. Without perspective, it was easy to squabble over little things. All that energy, and so little temperance. Evvy chuckled. That was what made them so much fun.

Heitzmann, Kristen (2004-09-01). Secrets (The Michelli Family Series Book #1) (p. 52). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.

I enjoyed this many-layered novel peopled by interesting, believable characters. Lance’s and Evvy’s faith is strong, and they share it with the other characters, but not in a heavy-handed or preachy way. Nearly all the characters change and grow, even the minor ones I didn’t necessarily like. Heitzmann tackles tough topics — abuse, mental illness, organized crime, family relationships, forgiveness, trust, love, faith — but does so without the shallow melodrama I’ve come to expect from novels in this genre.

Another thing I appreciate is her grasp of the subjects she includes in the story. She either researched or had first-hand knowledge of carpentry, construction crews, mental health matters, Italian cooking, and more. I enjoy stories that are enriched by the author’s knowledge of setting, careers, skills, time period; deft handling of those elements helps me trust the author.

One thing I’d change if I could: the proofing. I’m an editor, so one thing that affects my enjoyment of a novel is the smoothness of the text. There were some unclarified pronouns (which “he” or “she” did the author intend?) in a couple places, and sometimes the actions of one character were paired with the dialogue of another, which made for hiccups in reading, pulling me out of the story while I detangled who was talking or what was happening. Some of the errors could have been formatting glitches in the e-book. Those instances are few, however, merely cosmetic flaws in an otherwise well-told tale.

Secrets was published in 2004, and is the first in The Michelli Family Series, followed by Unforgotten (2005),  and Echoes (2007). Read more about the author and her work at her website.

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