- Title: Heart of Stone
- Author: Jill Marie Landis (author website here)
- Published: March, 2010
- Pages: 312 pages (trade paperback)
- Genre: Historical Romance
- Standalone or series: The first her new Irish Angel series. The next one, Heart of Lies, doesn’t have a release date just yet that I could find.
- Why I read it: The publisher contacted me, and I remembered seeing it on KB’s future releases post so I thought I’d give it a try!
- Source: Publisher – one copy for me and one copy for YOU to win!
She had the darkest of pasts. And he had everything to lose by loving her. Laura Foster, free from the bondage of an unspeakable childhood, has struggled to make a new life for herself. Now the owner of an elegant boardinghouse in Glory, Texas, she is known as a wealthy, respectable widow. But Laura never forgets that she is always just one step ahead of her past. When Reverend Brand McCormick comes calling, Laura does all she can to discourage him as a suitor. She knows that if her past were discovered, Brand’s reputation would be ruined. But it’s not only Laura’s past that threatens to bring Brand down—it’s also his own. When a stranger in town threatens to reveal too many secrets, Laura is faced with a heartbreaking choice: Should she leave Glory forever and save Brand’s future? Or is it worth risking his name—and her heart—by telling him the truth?
Before I even cracked the cover I did a little research because I had a feeling Heart of Stone was more of an “inspirational” or “Christian” romance novel and I had never read one before. I just wanted to make sure I had the right expectations going into the reading, because no one likes to pick up a glass of pop thinking its a Diet Coke and really it’s root beer. You know what I mean? I was interested to find the answer right on Ms. Landis’ website where she shared, “In recent years, as market demands turned to tales of vampires, erotica, and hotter, sexier historical romances, I turned to writing Inspirational Western Romances… I truly feel like I’m back in the saddle again, working on stories that are a joy to write. The two books I’ve just completed…are very much like my early Western, Americana historical romances. These new books are chock full of memorable characters, the emotion my readers have come to expect, page turning plots, and the requisite happy ending. They are also books that can be savored and shared by mothers, grandmothers and teens alike.”
After finishing Heart of Stone I agree wholeheartedly! I’m so glad to dip my toes in this new-to-me sub genre, it was indeed a nice break from some of my more usual, lusty and action packed, reading affairs. Heart of Stone was sweet, but still serious; heart-warming with a side of heart-wrenching angst; Christian, but not preachy.
The best part for me was the heroine, Laura Foster, previously known as Lovie Lamonte. She was complex, intriguing, a bookworm (!), and goes through such character growth, I loved being in her head.
Sailing away from the Potato Famine didn’t stop her parents from passing away as soon as Lovie and her three younger sisters settled in the poor district of New Orleans. Her horrible uncle immediately sold 11 year-old Lovie and one of her sisters into prostitution where they were separated on their first night. The story opens about 20 years later, Lovie made enough money to escape that life and is now living a as respectable widow Foster but has never stopped searching for her sisters. She has an unshakably sad view of herself – although she has built a new life for herself she sees it all as false and hasn’t forgiven herself or truly moved on from her past that was, of course, in no way her fault.
Told from both her and Brand’s point of view we get an idea from the very beginning of how rigidly Laura holds herself apart from people, and how she thinks of herself. On page 31 Brand starts to make his interest in her known:
The answer to Brand’s question [to call on her] was simple: his intent might be innocent, but she was not. He was a preacher, she was a whore. If he knew attending Sunday services was simply a part of her new persona and had nothing to do with faith, he wouldn’t be asking at all.
Laura is so harsh on herself, but as we learn more about Brand’s empathy, forgiving nature, that he’s also made big mistakes, and his views on faith we start to see that her assumption of him could be very wrong.
Another thing I love is when the characters really show us, really explain what attracts them to the other. Especially in a situation like Brand’s and Laura’s where the book starts with them already knowing each other and him already attracted to her. On pg 73 he’s thinking about what draws him to her,
Granted, Laura was lovely, but there was something more, something haunting about her. He’d noticed the first Sunday she walked into church. Since then he’d found there was so much more to her than her lovely countenance. There was a wistful sadness about her despite her strength…Her isolation made him want to introduce her to another way of life – a life full of love, laughter, and family.
He doesn’t want to “save” her in any sense, but love her, and bring her the joy he knows she’s missing.
I felt the “inspirational/Christian” part was more a background theme due to Brand’s position as Reverend, and Laura coming to forgive herself and find peace from her past life. The characters did not sleep together at all, there was a teensy bit of kissing, and a little lustful thinking, but it was implied that the rest was all being saved for after they got married. At some points I felt it was a little overt, Brand kept saying it was God’s plan and that He brought them together and when Laura runs away to spare Brand’s reputation she just happens to meet someone who recommends she read the Bible and later she finds a copy and thinks it’s a “sign.” The only other thing that didn’t 100% work for me was that I wasn’t really sold that an entire town (minus one family) would be totally accepting of Laura’s past and even Brand’s secret that comes to light.
I’m very pleased with my first foray into this sub-genre, but the strong and interesting Heroine and detailed setting in post Civil War Texas were my favorite parts and will have me coming back for more Jill Marie Landis!