By Jody Hedlund
Beacons of Hope, #1
Bethany House, 2014
1859 - Presque Isle, Michigan
What is the secret that could shipwreck both of their lives?
All Emma Chambers ever wanted was a home, but when her steamboat sinks just outside Presque Isle, she's left destitute and with no place to stay.
An unlikely solution arises when the lighthouse keeper arrives in town. He's just lost his wife and is having a difficult time caring for his child. So a traveling preacher gets the idea that the keeper and Emma might be the answer to each other's dilemma. After a hasty marriage, she finds herself heading to the lighthouse with this handsome but quiet stranger. Nothing in her aimless life, though, has prepared her for parenting a rambunctious toddler, as well as managing a household.
Emma soon suspects Patrick may be hiding something from her, and then she hears a disturbing rumor about the circumstances surrounding his late wife's death. It seems as if her wish for a home and family of her own could end up leading her once more into turbulent waters.
Love Unexpected begins Jody Hedlund's Beacons of Hope series with a touching and poignant story set on Presque Isle, Michigan, in 1859. I've read enough of Jody's stories to know that she excels at historical detail, characterization, captivating storylines, and romance - and Love Unexpected is no exception. Freshwater pirates on the Great Lakes...the allure of a remote lighthouse...a man, woman and child in need of each other...tender romance...this story has it all.
The humanness of Emma and Patrick is portrayed beautifully and they are so easy to connect with. I felt for Emma, as an Irish immigrant longing for home and family, and loved her sweetness and the courage with which she embraced her new life. It was delightfully refreshing to see a heroine who struggled with cooking, housekeeping, and a child's tantrums in scenes that often had me smiling. Jody has a gift for writing strong, appealing male leads, and Patrick captured my heart from the very beginning. Encumbered by guilt and self-condemnation, he has a tenderness, vulnerability, and longing for spiritual freedom that drew me to him.
Plots that revolve around misunderstanding and a lack of openness often frustrate me, but it worked well in Love Unexpected. I loved how the remote setting of the Presque Isle Lighthouse allowed Jody to focus on the interaction between Patrick, Emma and Josiah, which I thought was one of the story's strengths. The "marriage of convenience" is one of my favorite storylines, and it was so much fun watching their initial attraction grow into something much deeper. Patrick and Emma enter marriage with a lot of personal baggage, which many of us can relate to, and it is inspiring to see them strive to make their marriage everything that God intended marriage to be.
A lot of romances end with a wedding, but Love Unexpected begins with the uniting of Emma and Patrick in a marriage that solves their respective needs for home and someone to care for Josiah while Patrick tends the lighthouse and fishes in order to provide for his family. Another strength is that we get to see the natural growth of romantic feelings and desire within their marriage, and this is something that Jody always handles extremely well, in a realistic and touching way.
One of my favorite secondary characters is the travelling preacher, Holy Bill, who has a major impact on the life and marriage of Patrick and Emma. Spiritual themes of trust, forgiveness, and accepting God's grace shine through Love Unexpected - and while Patrick and Emma found love in each other, they also found a "love unexpected" through God's grace. Holy Bill's words to Patrick touched me: "God's not just in the business of saving us from our sins. He's also in the business of forgiving those sins and putting them as far as the east is from the west."
Most of all, I loved the message that God can take our wreckage and turn it into something beautiful. From the time I first heard the old gospel song, The Lighthouse, I've been drawn to lighthouses and the symbolism that Jesus shines the light of rescue into the physical wreckage of our lives. Jody's words that I came across in an interview sum it up well: "No matter where we’ve wandered, no matter what we’ve faced, he’s there as steady and constant as a lighthouse, bringing us safely into his harbor where we can find rest."
Love Unexpected is a beautiful story that thoroughly entertains, but also inspires with its message of grace and redemption. Highly recommended.
I also look forward to the story of Emma's brother, Ryan, in the next novel, Hearts Made Whole.
Jody Hedlund is the bestselling author of seven novels, including Captured by Love, A Noble Groom, winner of the 2014 Carol Award for Historical Fiction, and he Preacher's Bride, winner of the 2011 Award of Excellence. She received a bachelor's degree from Taylor University and a master's from the University of Wisconsin, both in social work. She lives in Midland, Michigan, with her husband and five busy children.
Find Jody online at jodyhedlund.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.
Thank you to Jody Hedlund and Bethany House for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.