Even though I read the blurb, this book still took me by surprise. It was like a cross between 'Touched by an Angel' (old TV show from 80s) and Charles Dickens 'A Christmas Carol' set in the Old West. It was a spicy historical paranormal romance and sweet inspiration romance. And yes, I know that sounds confusing and yet that's what I got when I read this book. I had changing feelings about this book, but for the most part they swung toward gentle pleasure in a heartwarming holiday read. That's the other thing that took me by surprise since I didn't realize it covers the time frame between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So yep, late holiday book review for you. Just think of it as like those people who leave the lights up all year round except in this case its books.
The story opens at the end of a life and begins with the person being offered a second chance to make things right by taking on a difficult, but worthy task. Gabriel Valence grew up hard and learned to be tough and at the end of his life he has no good to balance out the bad that allows him to enter heaven. He never set much store by religion so learning that God and angels exist along with heaven and hell are only some of the surprises in store. He has a chance to make his life count, but its a slim one. He is offered a choice of three lost souls that he'll have one month to save. There is an old disheartened man who lost his wife and daughters to sickness so he wallows in dirt, misery and drink. There is a small homeless boy starving and freezing under the stairs of a brothel waiting for his mother to return for him. And finally, there is a beautiful woman who thinks she's a murderer so is hiding out with her sister pretending they are mother and daughter all the while she won't abide a man in her life ever again. Gabe immediately determines that's the soul he wants to try saving. The angels explain what he has to do to prove that his mission is complete and Gabe realizes it will take a miracle. He is dropped back in time exactly a month before he ends up getting shot with full knowledge of the future events and of Nan Sullivan's past to help him. He is not allowed to alter the future unless it is to do with Nan or anyone he directly wronged before.
Nan is shocked by the appearance of the hard-eyed stranger who blackmails her into marrying him by threatening to reveal that she's a woman wanted for murder to the marshal. He claims to only want to feel what it's like to be around a family and a good woman and he promises he won't touch her until she gives her permission, but Nan doesn't trust him a bit. She is frightened of the idea of having such a creature in her home and around her young sister, but she has no choice.
Gabe has no idea how he is going to gain Nan's trust and acceptance at first especially in light of her horrid past with an abusive father and a near rape experience to overcome. Just words won't work and even his actions are suspect. It will take time- time he doesn't have. But he engages in his task anyway. Soon restoring Nan, caring for her and her sister, and taking care of their future are not just a mission to save his own life in the hereafter. He comes to care and experiences happiness for the first time in his life especially when Nan and Laney really open up and accept him. It's at this point that he notices other situations that he has the power to fix if the angels hadn't set those no-interference with other people's future rules on him. He finds it nigh impossible not to help those others he knows about even if it means forfeiting all he hopes to gain in the end when his month is up. Gabe was never one for rules anyway and doing nothing when others are suffering doesn't set well with him.
The plot on this one was pretty straight forward since its about Gabe finding redemption for his past, but it was also about the lives he will touch differently with this second chance. The pace was gentle. It was about character development, romance and the building of a family. Very heartwarming! I loved the majority of what I was reading, but...
I had one problem. I'm going to say something on a touchy subject, but I can't very well avoid it since it sticks out in the story and isn't obvious in the blurb or categorization of the book. This book has strong inspirational romance elements in it. Everywhere I checked it is touted as being a mainstream historical romance so this is what I thought I was getting. First, I want to make it clear that I am not one who dislikes the mention of religion or any other philosophical thinking in a mainstream romance book so that is not why I had a problem with this. But- and here's the big proviso- that is providing that it can be done in an organic way that blends well and doesn't disrupt the pacing of the story. I find many authors struggle with the balance and it can be tricky. In this case, I felt that this story would have benefited from having several of the religious passages edited out. It felt preachy and unnecessary for the development of the story. It stopped the flow. Not that its wrong to put a strong thematic element into a fiction story, but smooth it in so that it doesn't push aside the story. I picked up the book because I wanted a story.
Aside from that issue, I have only good things to say about this story. It was one of those warm, fuzzy Christmas reads that smoothed out the harshness of reality offering a lovely, neatly 'tied up in a bow' ending. Not that there weren't challenges and crises in the story. Oh there were, I even got that burning feeling of tears at one point when I thought all was lost. But in the end all came to rights and everyone was blissfully happy.
I thought the romance was extremely well developed. Nan was hostile in the beginning and she was so broken by her past that there was no way I would have bought a fast-paced romance and this one was not fast by fictional standards. They were in the other's presence constantly and there were many scenes and references to conversations and activities that demonstrated the developing feelings and passion. Gabe had his work cut out for him. He had some growing to do in his own right because he didn't know much about being around good people or how to be with a lady. He was a coarse, rugged male with no apology, but he demonstrated tender feelings and gentleness too. I cracked up during the love scene when the totally innocent Nan and experienced Gabe finally came together. She is so buttoned up and ladylike that she has no idea how to even reference what goes on in a bedroom and he struggles to keep from shocking her with his very direct language.
"Wait!" She braced the heels of her hands against his shoulders. "We've a situation."
He froze and held her gaze with feverish intensity. "A Situation?"
"I fear that the fit is all wrong."
He stared down at her, and then his white teeth flashed in what she believed he meant to be a grin, but was actually more a grimace. "Nan, just hug my neck and let me worry about the fit. Okay? Everything will be fine."
Nan didn't think so. She had a small passage, and he had a very big friend that she now wished had been kept in the barn.
Loc. 3596 Gabe and Nan
I loved that Gabe fell in love not only with Nan, but Laney, Christopher, Pop and Jasper as well. He found a family to love. Some of those scenes of them all together were just priceless. I loved it when the kids brought the dog home and when they all worked on cookies together. Too cute!
So in the end, I cherished the family feel, holiday scenes and romance set against an Old West Colorado small town for the back drop. I still scratch my head over how to recommend this book so how's this: Those who enjoy a sweet historical romance with splashes of some heat and spice as well as an inspiration romance feel?
My thanks to Penguin Group and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.