Heat Factor: There’s a fire but it’s not figurative.
Character Chemistry: They’re well-matched personalities
Plot: Woman is suddenly widowed shortly after marrying the wrong man for the wrong reasons and blames herself for it. After reuniting with her brother at his business in the wild, heathen San Francisco settlement, she starts to fall for his best friend. Meanwhile, mysteries ensue.
Overall: Like my teen years, this one’s got some issues.
If you doubted that we read it all at TSR, doubt no longer–because we do. This week, I’m reaching way back to my college theology class to tackle a Christian romance!
Look, if you adhere to a religion, some romance novels might not be for you–and that’s okay. But luckily, writers are getting really creative about who they feature and how they write, and although we tend to be naturally drawn to more secular romance niches, I decided try something a little more niche this week.
When Olivia Livingston’s parents pass away and leave her with debts, she marries someone for all the wrong reasons and finds herself in a wagon bound for San Francisco with someone she’s struggling to tolerate, let alone love. When she’s suddenly widowed, she becomes aware of her supposed failings as a wife and partner and vows not to go down that road again. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as you might imagine), when she ends up safe with her brother again she finds that his best friend is impossible to ignore and slowly falls in love with him. At the same time, Joseph, the best friend, is struggling to solve some human trafficking crimes that are somehow linked to a mysterious member of the town council, and his double life causes Olivia to doubt his trustworthiness.
Throughout the novel, as the characters sort out their personal issues and strive to serve their community, they find themselves constantly turning to their faith to determine how to move forward.
I’m going to unpack this in two ways: first, the plot and the romance, and second, the faith-based considerations.
First, the plot is fairly engaging. The characters seem to have a fairly natural camaraderie, and there’s some interesting historical details that were charming. While I wouldn’t describe Olivia and Joseph’s relationship as steamy, it’s sweet and it’s well-matched. They clearly want the same things, and they truly do want to step into a life together in a thoughtful, faith-based way. It’s not too stressful or forced. It’s generally a nice, chaste, sweet romance novel.
The second aspect is more murky here. While I do commend the author on her ability to pull appropriate biblical verses to support the plot without distracting from it, and while an effort is clearly made to suggest the main characters are accepting of those who aren’t like them, on a fundamental level the spiritual nature of this book is about the righteous, clean, holiness of the Christians and the dirty, dangerous, tactless, disgusting “other”. For example, at one point, yes–Olivia goes out of her way to become friends with an ex-Madame who is crying in their restaurant and she invites the Madame to their bible study. But the author makes a point of saying that this woman has already been saved and she sought them out on purpose. So it’s not like Olivia is really reaching out to people who aren’t like her (a flimsy use of “love thy neighbor as thyself” here) –she’s still firmly entrenched in own sense of Christian superiority. So the very wonderful biblical verses chosen to express the acceptance of the ex-Madame are made trite by the very nature of that relationship. That bothered me greatly.
The descriptions of virtually all other characters are sweeping and flat; those who aren’t Christian are all grouped together as being filthy, untrustworthy, and dangerous. From what I remember about the Gold Rush, yes–I’m sure that’s probably a fairly accurate simplification of the time and place. But the way it was used in this story really cheapened the interactions between the main characters and everyone else for me. And maybe I’m expecting too much detail from a book this size, but to me those nuances are vitally important.
So despite the plot being fairly engaging and the characters relatable and lovely, I’m not sure I’m comfortable recommending this one–the values claimed just don’t seem to match the exposed values. But–that doesn’t mean I’d write off Christian romance novels altogether. I’ll keep looking! If you have a recommendation for a Christian (or any) romance novel you’d like us to review, please submit via our contact page.
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