December 22, 2014

Love Unexpected

by Jody Hedlund

This review is the first of many you'll see as I am now a reviewer at Booktalk

This is my third book to read and review by Hedlund. All three were sent to me by Bethany House in exchange for my honest review. I enjoyed Captured by Love and A Noble Groom so much that I jumped on another opportunity to read and review another Hedlund novel. I love her writing style and her genre of historical fiction.

This book was even better than her two previous novels I read.  I love lighthouses so I was intrigued by the lighthouse on the cover. I learned more about the life of a light keeper and the toil the job can take on a person and his or her family in this book. Hedlund’s writing is so well researched and planned out that not a single chapter from this book felt out of place or extra.  It was also a perfect blend of history and fiction with more than enough romantic scenes to keep my helpless romantic side thrilled.

The writing in Love Unexpected is amazing. One of Hedlund’s greatest strengths as a writer is her descriptions whether it is of characters or scenery. In her books you really feel like you know the character or are with them on location. One of my favorite descriptions was “the shoreline like an outdoor cathedral” in the scene where they get married on the beach. I also loved following the interactions between Emma and Patrick as they grew closer. Both their inner-voice and their dialogue were so strong and real. You could really feel that Patrick was the strong silent type and that he had trouble communicating his feelings with Emma and you could feel her nervousness as she realized she was falling in love with her husband.

Patrick and Emma are such wonderful lead characters. They each have their own struggles that stem from their backgrounds, but even though they both suffered loss as children the way they grew up was vastly different. I found myself so enthralled in their lives as they got to know each other that I couldn’t stop turning pages to see how they would eventually fall in love. I also completely fell in love with the child, Josiah, even during his strong-willed temper tantrums I wished I could play with him and hug him.

I felt the structure and pace of this book was nearly perfect. I was hooked by chapter three and it kept my attention to the very last page without leaving me bored in the middle. I was intrigued by the clues we got throughout the story about Patrick’s past but didn’t guess any of the clues correctly. The ending didn’t surprise me – I knew they would end up “happily ever after” but I loved the journey.

The inner turmoil Patrick lives with from his troubled past is astounding but since it led him to a relationship with the Lord he uses it to guide his prayers rather than ruin his present. He daily strives to be a better man than he was. Emma has her own troubled past from the death of her mother, but unfortunately it caused her to draw away from God. Patrick’s prayer life begins to draw her back as she sees his faith.

Aside from great descriptions I would say that historical research is Hedlund’s other greatest strength. The amount of time and energy she puts into writing historically based and accurate novels makes her a great writer. The fact that at least three of the main characters were based loosely on real-life people from that time leads to a truly believable story unique to the time and place.

The romantic tension in this book is perfect. From the first kiss at the arranged marriage to the final consummation of the vows there were so many great moments. I love how they continually fall in love and learn to trust each other. But I also appreciated his patience while waiting for her to be ready and how he continued to invite her to visit him in the lighthouse even before they kissed a second time. The scenes where he would wrap his fingers in her hair were intense and I could read the chapter with their first real kiss over and over again!

The spiritual elements of Patrick’s life are woven so seamlessly into the book that it isn’t preachy but is just simply the way he lives his life. No one who knows him has any concern about the man of God he is or how he treats others. You constantly read about Patrick’s prayers – especially overnight when he is alone in the lighthouse. His ability to both give and receive forgiveness is nothing short of God inspired. Even when he realizes that Emma isn’t as close to God as he is he doesn’t pressure her but simply gives her a gift of a cross and tells her of the hope she can have in God. His entire life is a testament to the second chance that being a sinner saved by grace gave him and he never downplays it but instead is always giving credit to God for his new life.

The only questionable content that appears in this book is from Patrick’s past. Prostitution, piracy, and fighting are mentioned. The town also speculates murder as the cause of his wife’s accidental death. However, nothing is mentioned inappropriately and is only mentioned long enough to set a scene not to be dwelt on for chapter after chapter.

Since this book was based on real life people and a real life setting it was very original and like nothing I’ve ever read before. The love story aspect of the book was predictable in that we knew they would end up “happily ever after” but enough conflict entered their lives throughout the book that you weren’t exactly sure when or where it would happen and there were enough plot twists disguising Patrick’s past that until the very end you didn’t know the whole truth.

This book appeals to anyone who loves historical fiction with a good dose of romance but would probably not appeal to a non-Christian with as much as prayer and new life in Christ are mentioned. Yet the book could be a good opportunity to witness to friends. Youth could read the book too, but I would want to read it before a teenager to discuss the mentions of prostitution.

I’m glad I had a day off to read this book because if I had started it in an evening I would have had to stay up late to finish it and as it was I loved this book so much I’ve already read it twice and it was just as good the second time! Hedlund’s writing really transforms you into another time and place and makes you feel as if you were in the story. Reading as the characters overcame tough situations and persevered to make a loving marriage will warm your heart. I can’t wait to read book two in the series!

Bethany House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.