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.*

Review – The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

I have an immoderate love of stories that feature heroine characters who are governesses.  There’s something about a character who balances on the knife edge of taking care of herself (being employed) and of being utterly at the whim of others (her employers, their guests, etc.) that is interesting to me.  Maybe it’s Jane Eyre‘s fault…

Cover image, The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Alone in a gentleman’s bedchamber, rummaging through his clothing—governess Leah Vance risks social ruin. Only by selling political information can she pay for her sister’s care. And the letter she found in Julian DeChambelle’s coat could be valuable—if the ex-sea captain himself had not just walked in.As a navy officer, Julian knew his purpose. As a new earl, he’s plagued by trivialities and marriage-obsessed females. Miss Vance’s independence is intriguing—and useful. In return for relaying false information, he will pay her handsomely. But trusting her, even caring for her? That would be pure folly. Yet when he sees the danger that surrounds her, it may be too late to stop himself….

That’s right!  She’s a governess and (sort of) a traitor to her country.  There were so many things I liked about this book.  The characters are complex and constructed with many shades of gray (especially Leah).  While quite a few of the characters do some pretty awful things, not a one of them is without some redeeming quality and/or some powerful impetus.

My educational background is political science, and my favorite classes were theory classes.  What is right, in the context of all humanity?  What is just?  These questions are huge and unanswerable, but it is the business of every society to grapple with them nonetheless and attempt a best answer.  This book asks these questions indirectly, and I loved it for having the guts to do so.  In addition to these broad social questions, this book examines faith and redemption, trust, love, and imperfection.  Romances that contain social commentary may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoy them.  The Reluctant Earl discusses  social equity relating to the largess of the few and the starvation of the many (it is set during  the winter of 1816, called the year without a summer) and discusses the treatment of the mentally ill and infirm during the Regency Era (in case you were wondering, they weren’t treated well.).

There is a good deal of adventure in this story, as the characters investigate and solve a murder, prevent an overthrow of the government, and thwart a kidnapping.  I really enjoyed the chemistry between Leah and Julian — and especially the  sweet ending — but the development of their romance didn’t exactly flow naturally.  It seemed a little strange that Julian would go from, “OMG, she’s a traitor!!!” to “OMG, I think I love her!!!” without knowing any of the reasons for Leah’s apparently treasonous actions.  I suppose we are to understand that admiration sometimes overrules reason (in these cases).  The ending, though, is so sweet, that I forgave the book for not making a whole lot of sense.  It should be noted that The Reluctant Earl is an inspirational romance in which both main characters meander their way towards faith, helped on by a few helpful (if a bit preachy) secondary characters.

There was one thing about this book that really bugged me.  After the first or second mention of how incredibly cold 1816 was, how there was a famine because of the lack of summer, and how the winter was doubly awful because everyone was cold and hungry, I totally understood: it was cold.  But the author wants to make sure that we really understand.  The phrase “winter of want” appears three times in the book (there is also a “winter of despair and deprivation,” two mentions of a “winter of famine,” a “winter of deprivation” and a “winter of scarcity”;  “famine” is mentioned five times; and “winter” appears 37 times.  Now, I know it’s petty, but after the fourth or fifth reference to winter, I felt pulled out of the story every time it came up.

Bottom line: I enjoyed reading this story and will probably pick up other books by C.J. Chase.  Leah is a lovely character, and it’s worth it to read the book just to follow the adventures of a treasonous (but not really) governess.

The Reluctant Earl was published on February 5, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin Love Inspired Historical.  If you’re interested in finding out more about the book, please click the cover image above.  For more information on C.J. Chase, visit her website here.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin Love Inspired Historical via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*