Heart of Stone
by Jill Marie Landis (website)
Christian Romance (Zondervan, 2010)
(My post about how to read my book reviews can be found here.)
Synopsis: Finally free to pursue her dreams, Laura Foster is trying hard not to fall in love. She knows that the Reverend Brand McCormick's reputation would be shattered if her former life is discovered. But it's not only Laura's history that threatens to bring Brand down---it's his own. (Heart of Stone is Book One in the Irish Angels Series.)
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, this was pretty Vanilla. For Christian fiction, there was a nice amount of sexual tension, although it's strange to call it that, because it wasn't about sex at all. In fact, because of the nature of the heroine, it was more like love-tension. It was really beautiful and well-done.
Eye-Roll Factor: 10/10
No eye-rolling at all. No stupid heroine moments. No frustrating moments where she should know exactly what to do and does the opposite for dramatic or emotional effect. And the love story was just fantastic. No need for eye-rolling whatsoever. Unlike most romance heroines, there was a lot at stake for Laura Foster, and it made her actions believable and engaging.
The Cosmo Factor: 25/25
The only fictional heroine in my memory that I've ever given a 25/25 was Angel/Mira from Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love. As much as I have enjoyed previous heroines, there is always something missing for me. The real-life roundness of a character is very hard to achieve and still make the heroine likable. But Landis succeeds with Laura/Lovie Foster. Of course, when I first started reading the book, and realized how similar the beginning was to Redeeming Love, I wanted to be annoyed with the book, because I've seen so many people try to tackle the "reformed prostitute" angle with alarming heavy-handedness since Redeeming Love was such a success. But no one, since Francine Rivers, has succeeded in making a broken, flawed, complex woman with a past seem so real that she could as easily be me as anyone else in the world. In my opinion, no one since Rivers has managed to make the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold angle work as a real character that I care about... until Jill Marie Landis. Laura Foster consistently delivers herself to the reader with the kind of understated honesty that can only come from a solid writer who understands how to make even stereotypes come alive and live next door. And this is where she succeeds perhaps the most grandly. So I would raise a glass any day with Laura Foster. I would buy her drinks, and mine. Whatever she wanted. She is the kind of person I want to be lifelong friends with.
The Dining Room to Bedroom Factor: 25/25
I have to admit... when I read that the hero was going to be a reverend, I almost passed on the book. This is my own personal baggage, and I'll admit that. Now, understand, I went to Seminary, so I don't have anything against pastors. But I generally *detest* the way they are portrayed in fiction and specifically in romance novels. But Reverend Brand McCormick is the kind of man that I would not only want in my pulpit, but in my circle of friends. And as a hero, I want to fall in love with him. He is intelligent, his theology is impeccable (and consistent in a very practical way), he is genuine, but tragic in a way. But the most admirable quality about him is his complete and utter ability to capitulate. Now, when I used this to describe a romance hero once, I got a very nasty email about how women don't want their men to be "wishy-washy", so I should explain what I mean. When I say he capitulates, I don't mean he "gives in" or "isn't firm". I mean exactly the opposite. When he commits, he commits completely. He falls in love completely, he is devoted completely, he desires completely. There is no part of himself that he holds back at any time. He is a beautiful (as well as attractive) man to watch. He is the kind of man that you read about and think, "that man is out there somewhere, I just know it", and not because of how "attractive" or "alpha" he is. But because of how good he is, and how completely he loves. That is the kind of man we all need to meet someday.
The Braveheart Factor: 9/10
In general, this is a time period and a place (Reconstruction-Era America) that I know a lot about. I've taken several history classes on the Civil War and on 19th century America and Europe. So I was keeping my eye out for inconsistencies in the world-building. The only things that I found troubling were a few places in the dialogue where the characters seemed to slip out of their time period and/or culture. But in general, the history and the context of the story were excellent. And the detail of the writing was really excellent in its historicity.
The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 10/10
Oh, I'm definitely gonna read Heart of Stone again. No question about it. In fact, there's a good possibility I'll turn around and re-read it tomorrow! Seriously, this is gonna be a keeper. I was so impressed with the way this book was written and the level of depth of the characters... this is going to be on my bookshelf for a long time. And I will eagerly await the release of the next book: Heart of Lies.
The Skim Factor: 7/10
Okay, true confessions time. Generally, I was so caught up in the characters and the narrative that I skimmed quite a bit when Brand & Jesse left the town of Glory. I knew what was going to happen, and I just wasn't interested in seeing how we got there. So I skimmed a good several pages, trying to get to the place where they returned to Glory. I won't give away any of the plot. If you've read the book, you may find it odd that I skimmed here, but there was just too much detail, too many new characters, too much sideline story. I read and skimmed, read and skimmed, until they came back. So I marked it down for that, just because I was skimming because I wasn't engaged. Most people wouldn't be bothered by this. I just felt like it was a little bit of a copout, plot-wise. And I wanted to like that part more than I did. But in general, I couldn't put the book down. And even when I started skimming, I didn't put the book down. I needed to find out what happened.
The Little People Factor: 9/10
The minor characters were very well done in Heart of Stone. Because I knew there would be sequels, I probably paid attention to the minor characters more. I always like getting into a sequel and being able to go back in my mind and remember what that person was like when the narrative wasn't about them. Of course, I don't know what exactly she plans to do with the next book, but I can't imagine she's going to leave Charity behind completely. Or, at least, I hope she doesn't. I know the next two books will be about Laura's other two sisters, but I really hope she picks up somewhere with Charity. I want to read her love story.
Overall Evaluation: 95/100
Heart of Stone was a great read. And this is the highest score I've ever given a Christian fiction book, except Redeeming Love. For all those readers out there who fell in love with Redeeming Love all those years ago and have been waiting for a book to come along that could compare to it, look no further. This is it. This book will have you laughing and crying. It will draw you into its story and suspend your disbelief completely. It will make you want to turn the page, every page, and it will touch your heart. While the story of Heart of Stone is somewhat different, the message is the same: God loves, and forgives. It is a very beautiful and wonderfully written Christian romance novel. I give Jill Marie Landis' Heart of Stone my highest recommendation as a reviewer of inspirational romance.