The Nicest Guy in America

Awakening Mercy by Angela Benson
(HeartQuest, $9.99, G), ISBN: 0-8423-1939-5
When I interviewed Angela Benson for TRR in 1998, she had taken a hiatus to work on her doctorate from the University of Georgia and a nonfiction project. Benson also said she was working on an inspirational romance because she wanted to tell of the role faith plays in the lives of African Americans. The author also “wanted to write about characters who lived their faith . . . sometimes by standing strong and enduring and at other times by falling and getting up.”

Awakening Mercy, Angela Benson’s first inspirational romance, is a story of second chances. It is the story of Cecelia “Cece” Williams and Nathaniel Richardson. Both have emerged from broken relationships. Cece and Nate have experienced the pain of a broken heart and unfulfilled expectations. Their faith in God is on a solid foundation. Their faith in members of the opposite sex and in matters of the heart stands on more shaky ground.

Five years before the novel begins, Cece is a college senior at Spelman College in Atlanta. Her boyfriend, Eric, is a student at Howard University. Eric and Cece grew up in the same Alabama town. After Cece graduated, they had planned to get married and she would go to Washington, D.C. as he began law school. However, Eric and his ex-girlfriend reconciled and announced their wedding plans. Cece was left pregnant and alone.

About that same time, Nate’s marriage began to unravel. Eighteen months into their marriage, his wife, Naomi, left him in Chicago to move to Atlanta. She had resumed her relationship with her ex-fiancé. Nate sold his law practice and followed her to Atlanta, never giving up hope that they would reconcile. That dream ended four years later when Naomi remarried.

Cece works full-time as an accountant and part-time as a real estate agent, hoping one day to begin a day care center. She is a single mother raising David, a four-year-old man child. Cece and Nate meet when she is assigned to 150 hours of community service at the social services center where he serves as executive director. She was sentenced for more than 40 parking tickets – and for telling the judge she thought his punishment was “ridiculous.”

As Nate and Cece work together at the center, they internally acknowledge their attraction to one another. Both carry severe relationship burns, so they avoid acting on their feelings and maintain a platonic friendship. As their friendship evolves, Nate declares himself and proposes. But Cece is haunted by guilt over her actions in the past and her inability to forgive Eric and his family for their treatment of her once they learned of her pregnancy.

Angela Benson is a good storyteller. The relationship between Nate and Cece develops realistically. The author has not created plaster saints, but real men and women who grapple with real-life issues. They can call upon an effective support system of family, friends and faith. A sweet secondary romance is an added bonus.

Awakening Mercy is about being able to forgive yourself and others so that you can have space in your whole heart to truly love that special someone.

Awakening Mercy is Angela Benson’s first novel in more than three years. It was worth the wait. Welcome back, Angela.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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