Melissa Jagears excels at telling a mail-order bride story with an unexpected take. A Bride at Last is the third book in her Unexpected Brides series, which begins with the prequel novella “Love by the Letter.” While each of the books in the series can be read as a stand-alone, I suggest reading them in publication order for maximum enjoyment as characters do reoccur in each.
“Love by the Letter” (free e-book, Amazon’s US site) is the story of what happens after Dex Stanton, about to leave on a wagon train west to Kansas, writes for a mail order bride. When his letter leads to humiliation, he turns to the one person he’s been hiding his learning disability from for years, Rachel Oliver. She’s the smartest woman in town, and he is hoping that two weeks of lessons will enable him to write a better letter and try for a mail order bride again. This novella is a sweetly satisfying, albeit slightly rushed (which actually fits the story, in a way), story of two people very busy hiding their attraction to each other.
A Bride for Keeps picks up eighteen years later in Kansas and centers around Everett Cline, who had been the beau of Rachel’s sister in “Love by the Letter.” Like Dex, Everett knows the value of having a wife as a helpmate on a homestead, but he has sworn off mail-order brides after three failed attempts. He is tired of being a joke, and the laughingstock of younger men like Axel, a wannabe-lothario. And all of his insecurities from those failures are brought to the fore when a well meaning Rachel surprises him with Julia Lockwood, mail order bride #4. What follows is the story of how two very different people struggle to overcome the wounds of their past and make a life together. A wonderful debut novel that is a firm favorite.
In A Bride in Store (book 2) another six years have passed when Eliza Cantrell arrives in Salt Flatts, Kansas in 1881. Having been raised in a general store, she agreed to be Axel’s mail-order bride and help him run his Men’s Emporium. Her intended, however, is nowhere to be found, and the man who doctors her wound from a train robbery turns out to be Will Stanton, Rachel and Dex’s oldest son and Axel’s business partner. Will and Eliza are at odds over the running of the Men’s Emporium, where Will fights to maintain control over the store and over his attraction to his friend’s bride-to-be. This is a story with a few twists and turns, and two people who must overcome obstacles (including Axel’s return) in the pursuit of love and their dreams.
Book 3, A Bride at Last, is Silas Jonesy’s turn. In the first book, Silas was the cautionary tale, having been left after seven months of marriage to his mail-order bride. Unable to remarry or ever have a family, his fate was one that Everett Cline feared. In the second, Silas was a bitter loner who had rejected his faith and was recovering from being the town drunk with the help of his friend, Will Stanton. Now, ten years after his wife abandoned him, she writes to ask for money. Leaving his homestead, Silas travels Missouri to ask for her forgiveness only to find his wife dead and her son Anthony in the care of a former mail-order bride turned schoolteacher, Kate Dawson.
When Anthony runs away, rather than be sent by a judge to live with Silas or the gambler he had known as his “pa,” Kate and Silas must overcome their differences and work to trust each other. And just when things are looking up, more sins of the past will come to haunt them.
A Bride at Last, like all of the Unexpected Brides books, is a love story but also much more. In each novel, the author brings elements to the storyline that may personally affect the reader. Whether it is a sudden death, a heart wrenching medical condition, domestic violence or alcoholism. Along with this, there is also the spiritual journey of the main characters and scenes so wonderfully written that they will touch your heart. This is not the same old Christian Romance. Faith is not just shoehorned in, it is integral to the characters and the story, never feeling preachy.
One of the things I noticed and truly appreciated while rereading this series (the release of A Bride at Last was the perfect excuse for a reread) was the focus on the male protagonist’s point of view. I particularly enjoyed reading a bit of their thinking process, and found that this rather endeared each of them to me as a reader.
Oh, and the epilogues are wonderful! Though this time, that poor woman…
4/5 stars for this latest book, though I toy with giving the series in its entirety a 5/5. This is a favorite series of mine, and I highly recommend it.
I received a finished paperback copy from Bethany House (and an ebook from NetGalley, but when I saw it offered by the Bethany House Blogger Review Program I became greedy and requested the print version) in exchange for an honest review. I struggled in writing this review, not in regards to honesty, but in describing the books and not simply gushing about how good they are. I count Melissa Jagears among my favorite authors and may be a bit biased by my enjoyment of her prior books and feeling like she is “my” discovery, as I found and read her debut novel just after it was published, but that does not detract from the quality of writing or story.
A Bride at Last by Melissa Jagears | Bethany House, July 7, 2015 | paperback, 361 pgs | Review copy