When receiving a new Denise Hunter book for review, this was not what I expected. It has the depth of character, the heart-wrenching back-story, and the difficult journey to a happy ending that I expect, but somehow this particular story managed to make the others I’ve read seem lighter in comparison. Perhaps this is part of it being a stand-alone novel, or the narrow focus on two main characters without the distraction of other characters whose stories you find yourself longing to read in the midst of a series book. Perhaps it is just the nature of this particular novel.
No man’s ever going to love a girl like you. You’re only good for one thing.
She’d only gotten what she deserved. No penance could wash away her sins. Not really. The familiar wave of shame was still there, staining her with guilt. She’d learned to live with it–or thought she had. (p.146)
At it’s heart this is the story of a very damaged, self-sabotaging woman and a reactionary man who saw what he wanted to see and wouldn’t really listen to what he didn’t want to hear. It is the story of how, after learning that their divorce was not finalized, they finally begin to communicate openly and really find each other, through difficult and then harrowing circumstances. And being an Inspirational story, it is also the story of how their marriage moves toward becoming “equally yoked.”
The childlike hope on her face made a fist tighten in his gut. Because, for all her flaws, she still had that vulnerable part of her that sucked him in like a vortex.
Sweetbriar Cottage is perfectly suited for a Fall or Winter read, as the two main characters become trapped in the eponymous cottage and later are forced to trek through snow. Josephine and Noah’s relationship is a complicated one, and the story moves back and forth through time, slowly revealing how they met and their current circumstances evolved.
Josephine’s eyes locked on the cottage hunched on the distant hill. All the anger drained away, replaced by the kind of terror that seeped slowly into the veins. This was really happening. She was with Noah. She was spending the night with Noah. All alone. Just the two of them. (p.43)
Well paced and well written, though a bit eye-rolling when the narration repeatedly mentions Noah’s desire for Josephine as his “greedy, fleshly part.” Overall, though, a worthwhile read with a sweetly melancholy air.
If you enjoy a story of reconciliation, a romance that delves deeper on an emotional level, I highly recommend Sweetbriar Cottage.
Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter | Thomas Nelson, June 2017 | 320 pages, paperback
This review refers to a finished copy received from Thomas Nelson and Zondervan’s Fiction Guild. All opinions expressed are my own.
From the Publisher:
When Noah and Josephine discover their divorce was never actually finalized, their lives are turned upside down.
Following his divorce, Noah gave up his dream job and settled at a remote horse ranch in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia, putting much-needed distance between himself and the former love of his life. But then Noah gets a letter from the IRS claiming he and Josephine are still married. When he confronts Josephine, they discover that she missed the final step in filing the paperwork and they are, in fact, still married.
Josephine is no happier about the news than Noah. Maybe the failed marriage—and botched divorce—was her fault, but her heart was shattered right alongside his, more than he would ever believe. The sooner they put this marriage behind them, the better for both of their sakes.
But when Josephine delivers the final paperwork to his ranch, the two become stranded in his cottage during the worst spring snowstorm in a decade. Being trapped with Josephine is a test of Noah’s endurance. He wrestles with resentment and an unmistakable pull to his wife—still beautiful, still brave, and still more intriguing than any woman he’s ever known.
As they find themselves confronted with each other and their shared past, old wounds surface and tempers flare. But when they are forced out into the storm, they must rely on each other in a way they never have before. Josephine finally opens up about her tragic past, and Noah realizes she’s never been loved unconditionally by anyone—including him. Will Noah accept the challenge to pursue Josephine’s heart? And can she finally find the courage to trust Noah?