From practically the first moment, this book brings on the tension between the main characters, Liz and Mason. At first, we only know something happened between them traumatic enough to make Liz abandon her life and her family to teach English in another country. They both shy away from thinking about it, leaving the reader with only hints brimming with possibilities, none of them good. Once the answer is revealed, it was not as bad as I suspected, but it doesn’t show their younger selves in a good light either. On the other hand, it means the present offers a chance to prove they’ve matured.
Characters are a strength in Valerie Comer’s writing, and Berry on Top is no different. The pain of knowing what happened, and hiding it from everyone, is real. It has consequences and wears on more than just their relationship. I enjoyed seeing them work out the complications of their circumstances while opening to new feelings. Sometimes I became frustrated, in a good way, when others made snap judgements of Liz because they didn’t know the full story. I wanted to defend her but could not.
Nor are the main characters the only ones to play a central part. Mason comes with twins who are as different from each other as they are adorable. Kids are never just part of the background for this author, and this time is true to that pattern with the kids complicating everything for their father and Liz.
One of the fun aspects of reading Valerie Comer’s romances is figuring out how these characters fit into the series and into the author’s shared universe. I recognized Liz early on, though not her exact place until her brother came into the picture. Similarly, there are seemingly random mentions that bring back key moments from the earlier books, gifts for long-term readers.
The question of forgiveness is the main theme, with Mason asking Liz for some at the same time he encourages her to forgive God. This is an inspirational romance and lives up to the faith aspects. Mason is not proud of his past for all it led to having the twins in his life. He connected with God some time ago and wants Liz to share in the strength and comfort he’s found there.
Liz grew up surrounded by faith. She has many biblical passages memorized even, but the words mean nothing to her. She’s closed herself off because God failed to protect her from that time in her past. The story has some black moments as she finds her way back to God and to Mason. Her distrust and anger are too strong to brush aside easily. I appreciated her growth path a lot because she came to accept responsibility for her part in what happened rather than pushing it off on anyone else.
The discussions of faith with various members of Green Acres and others on this journey offer some biblical interpretation I appreciated as much as the characters. When exploring the concept of absolution, especially, the characters’ discussion offered a possible solution for a theological sticking point of mine.
The question of habitual religion versus faith is another good question this book explores. Liz is a good example of this in the beginning, where she holds onto the trappings of her faith but has thrown away her belief in any of it. Her growth path involves, at least in part, relearning the meaning behind the ritual.
Still, faith and forgiveness are not enough. The novel really puts the characters through a wringer with personal, political, theological, and even weather-based disasters getting in the way. There’s no question they suffer for this second chance. And having been through all of that, when they do come together, it’s with faith in God and their love for each other as a shield against the doubts they’d lived with for so long. The book could have been much longer to explore the story. As it is, there are scenes (one in particular) that are offered only in summary when seeing them unfold would have been wonderful. Even with that piece existing only in summary, the book is well worth the time to read it.
I’ve come to expect a strong, Christian romance from Valerie Comer, one that explores the hard questions about faith and gets me thinking. This one is no different in those aspects while offering a new story with different problems. I am satisfied with the read and still pondering its questions almost a week later.