|I donít believe that of the hundreds of books that I have reviewed for TRR I have ever reviewed an inspirational romance, but there is, after all, a first time for everything.† I havenít read that many either, or at least not ones that have been published recently.† I have read Francine Rivers classic, Redeeming Love, which Heart of Stone resembles to a certain degree.† Both books are set in 19th century America.† Both are stories of women who were forced into prostitution at an early age and their struggles to escape their horrendous pasts.† Both heroines find love in the person of a good Christian man.† Both finally accept Godís forgiveness and achieve healing.
But despite such superficial similarities, Heart of Stone is markedly different from Rivers story. It simply lacks the angst of the earlier book. Landisí heroine, Laura Foster, is much stronger than Riversí Angel.† By the time the story begins, Laura has already put her past behind her and has established herself as a respectable woman.† If she is not proud of the way she won her independence and her fortune, if she fears that someday her past will catch up with her, if she believes that she is unlovable and unmarriageable, she nonetheless has already saved herself.† To be honest, for this reader at least, this fact makes Laura a much more attractive heroine.
Laura, then known as Lovie, was eleven when her Irish immigrant parents died and left her and her three younger sisters to the not so tender mercies of her aunt and uncle.† Desperately poor themselves, they could not care for the children.† The younger two were sent to an orphanage, but the uncle sold the older two to a New Orleans brothel. Lovie never saw Megan again.† Landis implies rather than shows the horrors that the young child experienced, but the implication is enough to earn Heart of Stone a PG rating.
Lovie had the strength of character and the determination to escape the life she had been forced into, but her only means had been her body and her skills.† When she had amassed enough money she had established herself as a prosperous widow and built an elegant boarding house in the Texas town of Glory.† She has achieved outward respectability and acceptance, but inwardly she feels unworthy.† So when the local minister begins to pay attention to her and to imply that he is interested in courtship, she does all she can to discourage him.
The Reverend Brand McCormick is the most respected man in town.† A widower with two young children, it is not surprising that his attention turns to the lovely ďWidowĒ Foster.† Laura, with her sordid past, cannot imagine how anyone could find her attractive and she knows she cannot aspire to be the ministerís wife.† But when Brandís own checkered past catches up with him Ė in the person of his illegitimate, half-breed son Ė Lauraís kind heart and compassion lead her to try to help.† Then, a man from her former life threatens her own secrets.† How can there be a happy ending?
The answer to this question Ė† and the reason I find myself unable to recommend Heart of Stone - is that there really canít, at least in this readerís opinion.† Yes, Brandís congregation might be able to forgive his transgressions since they were far in the past.† But I found it simply anachronistic to imagine that the townspeople of Glory would be able to overlook Lauraís sins.† Sorry, but this was simply highly unlikely in 1874.† I can suspend my disbelief only so far.
There is another problem with Heart of Stone as an ďinspirationalĒ romance and that is the fact that faith plays such a limited role in the story.† Referring back to Redeeming Love, the sine qua non of such tales:† it is Angelís acceptance of Godís love that allows her reject her previous life and to move on.† And yes, it is Lauraís realization that God has forgiven her sins that allows her to accept Brandís love and to imagine a future together, but this aspect of the story seems very underdeveloped.† I could offer some theological reasons why this all didnít work for me, but I think Iíll spare you a discussion of sin and grace and forgiveness.
Jill Marie Landis has written over twenty traditional romances, many of which I have read and enjoyed. Heart of Stone is her first foray into inspirationals.† Her story telling skill is quite evident in this latest book as is her ability to create interesting and attractive characters. Had I not found the outcome so improbable, perhaps my reaction her latest would not be so conflicted.† Still, I was taken enough by Lauraís story that I may well look for the forthcoming books that will chronicle the tales of her sisters.