In her bio, author Katie Eagan Schenck says she writes “sweet romance…that warms the heart and gives all the feels,” and her new novel WHEN CARDINALS APPEAR satisfactorily delivers on that promise. The story progresses smoothly through a series of obstacles, internal and external. It consistently explores the protagonist’s major struggles—her rocky relationship with her recently deceased mother, her reservations about returning to her small hometown, and her dilemma regarding current and former boyfriends—providing the reader with clean road-markers for a smooth, consistent emotional journey and largely satisfying denouement. The nicely crafted plot holds few surprises; readers likely will quickly discern the choices that will be made and the ultimately happy ending ahead. But the ride entertains throughout, both in the individual scenes that build neatly like Logo squares and in an overall motif that spices the story throughout: the titular cardinal.
The story takes place in Maryland during the winter months, setting the scene for lovely appearances of the spritely red bird against the white snow, with its cocked head and distinct black markings. In addition to this pleasing visual motif, the cardinal provides a mystical element that raises the novel above its formulaic model. The cardinal’s slightly magical quality is heightened just enough—as delicate as the bird itself—to be completely credible in this otherwise realistically earthbound story. Impressionistic paintings of the locale please, as well. One scene takes place at the National Harbor outside of the town’s borders, described as being, for Maryland tourists, “a mini D.C. without the long drive and expensive parking.” Passages that strain credibility (such as excessive reliance on a promise the protagonist made to her mother as a primary obstacle), a deus ex machina moment two-thirds into the story, the author’s fondness for the “smile that doesn’t quite reach her/his eyes,” and one or two other overused similes weaken the novel somewhat—but these are minor drawbacks. Overall, the message, the familial ties, and the warm love story deliver a pleasing read.
Katie Eagan Schenck’s well-crafted WHEN CARDINALS APPEAR provides a fresh and satisfactory read that delivers on the author’s goal to write a “sweet romance that warms the heart.”
~Anne Welsbacher for IndieReader