Sweetened with Honey by Valerie Comer

Sweetened with Honey by Valerie ComerSweetened with Honey offers another enjoyable visit to the sustainable living community established by Jo, Claire, and Sierra for the inspirational romance series, A Farm Fresh Romance. This time the story focuses on Sierra who is in many ways the most complicated of the three.

She’s been thrust into an almost antagonist role earlier in the series because how she was raised and her innate beauty have led her to expectations that have been in conflict with the others. That’s not to say she deliberately worked against Claire and Jo. It’s more that she has blind spots that sometimes do.

Now it’s her turn in the spotlight, and she’s off making decisions the way she normally does, which is rarely any better for her than the others. She’s tired of being the single woman in a couples environment, so she ignores her instincts and lets herself be slipped into a relationship by Tyrell, a local beekeeper who shares a love of honey with her. Only trouble is he’s in it for the cash while she’s focused on local, sustainable, and enhancing rather than wealth. Add to that he’s pushy and sees her as arm candy, and it’s clear to everyone he’s not a good match, but Sierra ignores all that so she can be a couple too.

Only she’s half in love with the idea of Gabe, another possibility with more complications than future because he’s still suffering the death of his wife and unborn child in a traffic accident involving Sierra’s father. He’s newly back in town with the plan to cut ties, but when she challenges him to stay for at least six months, he gives in.

That’s a lot more specifics about the story than I usually offer, but much of this is backstory for the book (so mentioned in hints) and is critical for the framework.

While the others focused on faith journeys and overcoming past fears, Sweetened with Honey offers a deeper story in many ways as it looks at what goes on behind the facade of an apparently confident person, and the bad choices good people can make when they feel left by the wayside. That’s not to say there isn’t a strong faith aspect, but belief is not at the root of either Sierra or Gabe’s issues. Instead, there’s the fear of being alone, trying to come back from a horrible loss, and how to hand it when life hands you a rotten apple.

This book, more than any other in the series, is about the push and pull of life. It tackles surviving the crises people face and how those who believe come through it when life kicks them in the teeth.

It’s not my favorite of the series in part for how Sierra lets her insecurities lead her to mistreating Tyrell (though many would say he deserved her treatment and I can’t quite disagree), but it’s very true to Sierra’s nature. Sierra has always been in a position of strength, so it’s not surprising when she makes poor decisions because she’s never been the weak one. Her behavior makes sense based on who she is. Character elements we’ve only seen sideways come into the light once we’re living through her eyes, and they’re not all pretty. But they are very real and therefore relatable.

Gabe has his own demons to wrestle with, more about rediscovering his connections than about the loss of his wife, though that’s definitely a step. After Bethany died, he withdrew emotionally, mentally, and physically. He didn’t consider how others were affected by the accident, nor how his actions would hurt them. Coming back means he is thrust into the reality of his selfishness, and it’s much harder to accept his part in harming others than to run away again as he’d intended.

Both Gabe and Sierra have a lot of growing to do, and Valerie Comer gets to the heart of her characters as she always does, making you see the roots of their weaknesses and how the struggle to overcome that requires actions as much as opening up to the place others hold in their lives.

The book is very true to Sierra, and even true to Gabe who never struggled a moment in his life until the accident ripped it all away. It’s complex, deeper in some ways than the previous ones, and a solid, real world story of faith, life, and love.

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