Alright. I admit it now. I’m having trouble finding books that I just can’t put down. The last one I read that gripped me to the point of choosing to read rather than write, work, or even breathe was Kirsten Heitzmann’s The Breath of Dawn about a year ago. I’ve not read one since.
And A Shelter of Hope was not it either. Peterson is a prolific author, with over 50 titles to her name. Her books are full of Christian messages. The last series I read written by her, her Yukon Quest Series, was gripping. I couldn’t put it down, and I read through all three books in little more than a week.
In Tracie Peterson’s A Shelter of Hope, Simone Dumas’s childhood has been fraught with terror, murder, and emotional and physical abuse. In an ultimate act of betrayal, her father sells her, along with his property, to another man. In order to avoid the physical abuse which the man surely intends for Simone, for he intends her to be his “wife,” she hits him over the head with a pitcher and flees.
Convinced she has murdered the man, she steals his horse and gun and flees, leaving the remote mountain settlement she has called home for seventeen years. She takes a job as a Harvey girl working in one of the few respectable establishments in the late 1800s, the Harvey Restaurant chain that sprang up along the railroad. She finds friends and allies in both her boss, Rachel Taylor, and the man who hires the Harvey girls, Jeffrey O’Donnell. Eventually Simone, through her new faith in Christ and the love of her friends, learns to accept her past and to move toward trust, redemption, and ultimately love.
Simone is a heart-wrenching character. Peterson does a fabulous job with her character arc, from an abused child to an emotionally tormented young woman to a new Christian who has to lean on God to learn love and trust. The suspense escalates from the second half of the book towards the end as lawman Zack Matthews, as well as her father, close in on her. Of course, Peterson’s writing style, as always, is easy to read, and the words flow off the page. There are some rather long dialogues about prayer and trusting God, more so than I remember from the other books I have read from her.
As oftentimes happens in some of Peterson’s work, though, she does little with her hero character arcs. Perhaps more is planned for Jeffrey O’Donnell in the second or third book of the series. In this book, his sole purpose for existing seemed to be to help the character reach her story goals. We are told he comes from wealthy stock, that his mother is overbearing and determined he marry well, and that his relationship with Simone would not be accepted by his family. Otherwise, he had no goal of his own. Granted, this story was Simone’s, but I would have liked to have seen more angst from Jeffrey and a life apart from Simone’s, perhaps even goals that clearly conflict with his desire to keep her safe. We do sense that he is breaking protocol and rules in his effort to help her, but there isn’t enough to make the reader fear he could lose everything he has in his choices to help and love her. He too easily chooses to love her, and romance is never easy.
I also liked him at first and found him intriguing, but by the end of the novel, for some reason, I found him annoying and whiny. While I was rooting for Simone’s peace and her happy future, I couldn’t find myself wishing Jeffrey the same. He almost seems too desperate in his effort to love her near the end, and a desperate man is never attractive. At one point, I was even hoping she would convince him she couldn’t be with him ever, and she would move on to someone else, perhaps even the lawman Zach Matthews. I definitely wanted to hear more of his story.
And, alas, the romance just wasn’t there for me. But, I know when I read Peterson, I’m not going to get an “angst driven” romantic ride. That’s not the kind of books she writes, and it doesn’t detract from her as a writer and storyteller. She just doesn’t write gripping romance that shakes you to your gutt. That’s not her style. And that’s alright.
Fans of Peterson will not be disappointed in A Shelter of Hope, neither will readers who enjoy stories of heroines who battle terrible odds and come out sane on the other side.
For me, I’m still on that elusive quest to find a book I can’t put down.
(photo of Neuschwanstein Castle, courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com)