One thing I've learned in recent months...if I'm not a little scared inside, then I'm probably not where God wants me to be.
I used to say I love romance novels but I've found it hard to read them in the last year. Some of the tropes and language made me roll my eyes and almost give up on the genre altogether. In truth, I like nothing more than a sweeping, epic love story but the romances I read weren't doing much for me. (although I read some winners for the INSPYs but in order to refrain from influencing the judges I won't say anything about them!)
I do however, love Tamera Alexander's books I've read and was looking forward to reading her newest book, Within My Heart. I felt a little bit nervous, wondering if I'd enjoy it in the same way, or if I was done with romance altogether.
I'm so happy to say that I'm not done with romance altogether. In fact, if all romance novels were like this one, I'd probably read little else. Yes, it was that good. Let me tell you why.
Within My Heart is the third book in Alexander's Timber Ridge Reflections, but it can be read as a standalone. I had been introduced to both the hero and heroine in the other books and was very eager for their story as they both intrigued me. Rachel Boyd is a young widow and a fierce woman. Having lost the love of her life at a young age, she's determined to raise her two sons on the ranch that was her husband's dream. Times are tough, her cattle are dying in the bitter cold weather and she's behind on payments. But she has the goodwill of the town on her side.
Rand Brookston is a the town's single young doctor. He has tremendous compassion for his patients and a desire to open a clinic that will better serve them. He doesn't have the funds for it, his patients pay in meat and discarded garments, but he's daring and bold and willing to do what he can to save them.
What brings Rachel and Rand together is the care of Ben Mullins, the owner of the general store who has suffered a heart attack. With his health on the severe decline, Rand is determined to do everything he can to extend the time Ben has with his wife, Lyda. Rachel is also committed to his care, since he's a surrogate father to her sons. Taking care of Ben forges a friendship between these Rand and Rachel.
First of all, I absolutely loved both Rachel and Rand. Their relationship doesn't develop quickly, but slowly throughout the book. In this sense, it's incredibly believable and feels so real. As they fall in love with each other, we as readers fall in love with them.
And they are characters of incredible depth. Both are battling huge fears in their lives and in some ways just fighting to stay afloat. Rachel has her hands absolutely full and I couldn't help but admire her as she worked to make the right decisions, to let go of the past, to take brave steps to move forward. And Rand was incredibly patient as well and admirably willing to recognize his faults when Rachel pointed them out.
One of the things I most admire about this book as a romance is that the love between Rand and Rachel makes them both better people. No they aren't dependent on each other for life, or angsty and desperate, but they genuinely bring out the best in each other. Rachel helps Rand recognize his arrogance and face his fears. Rand supports Rachel in recognizing what her dreams are and always always always treats her as an equal partner in work. I love this so much.
And the writing! The writing is so precise and perceptive. Such as this when Rachel watches the sunset:
"A longing took hold deep inside, one both fresh and ancient, familiar yet unfathomable."
"In the moment Rand's arms came around her, she knew it didn't matter whether death came suddenly, without warning, or whether it came slowly, giving you time to memorize the sound of its footsteps and the hollow cadence of its march. Whichever way death came, and however much she believed that the grave held no lasting victory, the same terrible rending tore deep down inside, severing what was from what would never be again."
Within My Heart is about so much more than two people falling in love. It's about celebrating life, about living it to its fullest, about stepping out in faith even when fear holds you in its grip, it's about saying goodbye to the people you love. It's beautiful, gorgeously written, layered, and utterly and completely delightful.
A good book asks you to join in on the journey of the characters. I gave my heart and soul to Rachel and Rand's journey, and I was not disappointed. In fact, as embarrassing as it is to say, I cried a few tears of joy at the end. It is a beautiful heartfelt story and the very best kind.
Things You Might Want to Know: Christian fiction. And while the faith is subtle and natural it is absolutely present
Source of Book: Received from publisher for review
Publisher: Bethany House (Baker)