Review – Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer

So after reading that terrible book, I knew I needed something wholesome and fun to help me redeem my faith in the world.  Very luckily for me, I had Karen Witemeyer’s Stealing the Preacher in my queue, and I started reading it the second I finished that other book.  It did the trick.

Cover image, Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

On his way to interview for a position at a church in the Piney Woods of Texas, Crockett Archer can scarcely believe it when he’s forced off the train by a retired outlaw and presented to the man’s daughter as the minister she requested for her birthday. Worried this unfortunate detour will ruin his chances of finally serving a congregation of his own, Crockett is determined to escape. But when he finally gets away, he’s haunted by the memory of the young woman he left behind–a woman whose dreams now hinge on him.

For months, Joanna Robbins prayed for a preacher. A man to breathe life back into the abandoned church at the heart of her community. A man to assist her in fulfilling a promise to her dying mother. A man to help her discover answers to the questions that have been on her heart for so long. But just when it seems God has answered her prayers, it turns out the person is there against his will and has dreams of his own calling him elsewhere. Is there any way she can convince Crockett to stay in her little backwoods community? And does the attraction between them have any chance of blossoming when Joanna’s outlaw father is dead set against his daughter courting a preacher?

This is the second of Witemeyer’s books that I’ve read, and I enjoyed it just almost as much as I did the other.  Some of that liking may possibly be attributed to the sense of contrast I experienced in reading this book right after a boldly terrible book, but I honestly believe that I’d love this book even if I read it right after one of my favorite books.  At some point, I really must get off my duff and read Witemeyer’s other books.  She really has a way with writing believable, likable characters.

This book was a wee bit preachier than To Win Her Love, but maybe that’s to be expected considering one of the characters is, in fact, a preacher, and another character is the main impetus behind the reestablishment of a church in her neighborhood.  Preaching sort of fits in that context, no?  Anyway, I’m rather religious myself, so I certainly didn’t mind the increase in religious overtones.

Stealing the Preacher touches on the concepts of vocation and calling, trusting (the whims of) a higher power, justice (and injustice), rehabilitation, love, family, loss, community, faith, and the rather tricky problem of pain.  The romance between Crockett (one of the most interesting hero names I’ve ever come across) and Joanna is set against the backdrop of all these themes, and, far from being squeezed out by all these big ideas, the love story is enriched.  The book devotes a considerable amount of page time to the redemption of Joanna’s father, Silas, but I didn’t mind it, even when it felt like a distraction from the central story.  Silas provides Crockett an opportunity to show off his sterling qualities, and Joanna certainly takes note.  I don’t know — it worked for me.

One of the things I enjoy about Christian romances is that they follow a different story arc from standard romances.  Christian romances feature love stories that don’t involve sex as a crutch and, as a rule, steer clear of instalust, so the author has to find ways for the main characters to develop intimacy without being intimate (in our modern sense of the word).  One of the things I loved about To Win Her Love is that the main characters develop their relationship through reading and discussing Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.  How cool is that?  In Stealing the Preacher, Witemeyer allows her characters to fall in love while working together to establish a community church and heal Silas’ spirit.

I sort of veered into spoiler territory… if you want to risk it, just highlight the text to view it.

The conflict that drives this story is twofold: on the one hand, Silas holds out as long as possible before having his conversion experience; on the other, Joanna and Crockett’s relationship (and Crockett’s life) is threatened by a young, attractive succubus and her too-gullible father.  Silas’ incremental conversion story works, even as a plot device, but I was a tad irritated by the other conflict.  In a book set in a community, it irked me that (1) Joanna has no friends her age; (2) the only other woman Joanna’s age who gets any page time is Holly Brewster (the succubus) who gloms on to Crockett as to a life preserver, and, when that doesn’t yield the results she wants, attempts to seduce him and then, when that fails, manipulates her father into assuming that Crockett assaulted Holly; (3) after Holly’s father overreacts to the point of nearly lynching Crockett, his reaction is that it’s actually all Holly’s fault for possessing an impure spirit.  That progression bugs me… Holly’s father’s actions are entirely his fault and responsibility.  Moreover, it’s a little disturbing that the two examples of young, viable (in the marrying sense) femininity shown in this book are so extreme; Joanna’s purity is complete, and Holly’s sordid character is equally complete.  Middle ground is where reality hangs out, but there’s none of that in this book.

The bottom line, though, is that I enjoyed the book, even though the major conflict was troubling.

Stealing the Preacher  was released on June 1, 2013 as a paperback and e-book by Bethany House Publishers.  If you’re interested in learning more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Karen Witemeyer, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Bethany House Publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*