Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The story takes place in 1859, on Presque Isle, Michigan. With their steamboat under attack by fresh-water pirates, Emma Chamber and her brother Ryan jump overboard into the frigid waters of Lake Huron, praying for a miracle. Neither of them believe strongly in miracles anymore, ever since their mother died of starvation in Ireland and their father passed away after doing whatever was necessary for them to survive, including theft which then led him to drink. But lighthouse keeper Patrick Garraty spotted the sinking steamboat from his perch and rushes to save whoever he can, meaning Ryan and Emma. Befuddled by the loss of their passage, once again nearly penniless, Ryan must work locally in order to earn enough for their passage on a new ship, work which will take him at least a few months. Emma is left to her own devices, saddened that her brother is once again saddled with her as a burden, that is until Patrick Garraty and the local preacher, Holy Bill, approach her with a proposition. Patrick's wife just recently died and he is in desperate need of someone to watch his two-year-old son, Josiah, while he tends to the care and upkeep of the lighthouse. The only condition is that they must marry. After a moment of panic at the very notion, Emma agrees to Patrick's plan, having already taken a liking to the toddler and thrilled at being able to release her little brother from his responsibility in protecting and providing for her. Now Patrick and Emma must work together to form a new life for themselves and for little Josiah, but their fledgling relationship is tested by local gossips and the rumor mill, raising doubts in Emma's mind about the suitability and faithfulness of her new husband.
This is my third Jody Hedlund book, and the start to a brand new series by her, entitled Beacons of Hope. Ms. Hedlund enjoys writing about lighthouses, particularly those in the Michigan area run by female lighthouse keepers, and so she based Emma and Patrick off two real people, Patrick Garraty and his wife Mary Chambers. The historicity of the novel is fascianting. Even Holy Bill, an eccentric and amusing character, is based off a real individual. I always find that using historic people and places, doing your research as a writer, always enhances historic fiction, and Ms. Hedlund does one of the finest jobs out there when it comes to her research.
As to the characters themselves, I truly appreciated Patrick, both as a husband and as a father. He has a speckled past, full of mistakes and poor choices, but he turned his life around with God's help and refuses to return to his past sins. He is a gentle and loving father, an affectionate husband, and a dedicated lighthouse keeper, determined to keep the lighthouse going every night, even when he's so tired that he can barely stay awake. I struggle more with liking Emma, unfortunately. It's not that she's unlikeable, it's just that she makes errors in judgement. She chooses to befriend the nosiest, most mean-spirited woman in town, spilling her new husband's secrets in earnest to the woman, hoping for advice. Emma creates most of the problems in this book by her foolishness in trusting the wrong people who are obviously the wrong people from the start.
I deeply appreciate Ms. Hedlund's writing. She is skilled in her descriptions and her dialogue, painting very real and vivid pictures most of the time. I just wish, in this book, that Emma and Patrick had talked. A lot of the angst and turmoil could have been avoided with a few simple conversations. Emma constantly jumped to conclusions about Patrick: oh, he couldn't love her, she's plain, he's angry with her, he could never desire her, etc. All while it's obvious that Patrick adores her and is highly attracted to her. She even tries to leave because she assumes something she sees is true, that her opinion of it is right, and that a conversation with Patrick would be pointless. She's sure she's right, and so she runs away without talking to him. That's foolish and reckless. Communication is just as important in fiction as it is in real life, and I just wish that Patrick and Emma had communicated more.
On my rating scale, I would give Love Unexpected 3.5 stars. I'm rounding it up because the flaw is not in her writing, only in some of the character development and design. The book is a quick and simple read, enjoyable in many places, and one that most readers will love.
- I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.
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