One of the reasons that I read historical romance is to be transported to a different time and place and to read about characters who are different from me. Jane Goodgerís books always take me out of the 21st century and into the past. Gifts from the Sea is set in Truro, on Cape Cod, but this Truro is not the quaint vacation destination of
today. Rather, it is a harsh place where its inhabitants earn a hard scrabble living from the sea, either as fishermen or wreckers.
Rachel Best walks along the bluffs above the beach every day, looking out to the sea, searching its changeable waves for the husband who disappeared months earlier when the townspeople had been rescuing a foundering bark in the treacherous seas off the town. It had been a clear, calm night when the Merry Maid had run aground. Like all the Truro folks, Richard had lots of experience salvaging ships and saving those on board. He was an excellent swimmer and an experienced boater. There was no way he could have drowned. So Rachel continues to refuse to accept that the man who had been her childhood friend and the father of her child could have died.
As she looks seaward, Rachel spies a whaleboat drifting towards the beach with a man on board. Could it be Richard? Racing for help, she watches as the boat is brought to shore. But the man lying unconscious in its bottom, stinking of whale oil and whiskey, is not Richard. He is Jared Mitchell, captain of the whaler, The Huntress. Rachel
takes the very ill man to the home she shares with her parents where Jared can be restored to health - and perhaps reward those who have saved his life.
Jared had been returning to his home port of New Bedford after a four year whaling expedition. The shipís hold was loaded with whale oil, but the captainís soul is empty. Drunk and unable to face his home and the sad memories it holds, he had set himself adrift in the boat, obviously seeking and expecting death only to be miraculously saved. He is not particularly grateful, yet he finds himself being led back to life, first by five-year old Isabel, Rachelís daughter and then by his attraction for her mother.
Jared is a tortured hero, a man who has been at sea for twenty-four of his thirty-two years, a man who blames himself for the loss of those he loved best. In the bleak beauty of a wintry Cape Cod and in the presence of a kind and lively woman, he begins to rediscover his humanity and his belief in life and the future.
Rachel is attracted to this stranger, so different from the taciturn men of Truro, so different from her remote and distant husband. Yet their growing love is threatened by the past, by the unfinished business that kept Rachel looking for Richardís return. Only when the truth about the events of that night in July are revealed, can she let go of the past and find her happy ending with Jared.
Rachelís and Jaredís romance is a touching demonstration of the healing power of love. Both have been sorely wounded and their path to love is not smooth. There are perfectly understandable fears, uncertainties and misunderstandings. Goodger gives us real people with real flaws who find real love.
Almost as enjoyable as the romance is the authorís skilled recreation of Truro and its people in the 1850s. The town and its lighthouse were located on the shipping route into Boston at a particularly dangerous spot. All too often ships were driven onto its shoals and sandbars. Hence, the town folk had a dual role. On the one hand, they patrolled
the beaches regularly to war unwary ships away from danger; on the other, when a ship did wreck, they rescued both the crew and the passengers and any goods that could be saved. From the former, they hoped for reward. With the latter, they arranged for its return to its owners - for a price.
Gifts from the Sea is a very good historical romance that meets my criteria of taking me to a different time and place and immersing me in a distant world peopled by interesting characters. It also has a lovely romance. I recommend it highly.