This isn’t my favorite of the Saddle Springs Romance series, but it belongs to a tough crowd. There’s a solid story with growth in both trust and understanding as Garret and Tori come to terms with the fact that they deserve happiness.
Where I called many of the others “inspy lite,” this one pulls strongly on the Bible to inspire the characters to change and grow. With the way the citation followed every biblical verse, and they were numerous, it almost felt like the characters quizzed each other. However, true to the series, this book is not about faithful who had fallen away from God, but rather actively faithful who needed to remember God is active in their lives as well. They already understand God is not causing the tough times but have forgotten He’s there to see you through those times and into a brighter future.
Garret’s past hangs around his neck like a yoke, binding him to a path filled with sorrow, betrayal, and abandonment. He sees a flaw in himself that brings pain to anyone who gets close. Instead of chancing that, he holds himself apart and gives his friends a superficial connection, for their protection, sharing the fun and easy times while hiding his pain. He believes if his friends find out the truth, touch the deeper side of Garret, they will abandon him as everyone else seems to one way or another. Garret’s self-condemnation is understandable, whether or not I agree with him.
Tori feels connected to Garret almost from the start, but he seems oblivious. After five years, she’s about ready to give up on receiving anything in return. That doesn’t mean she’ll abandon him in his time of need, but she needs to figure out her own future…one without him in it.
On some level, maybe it’s instinct that draws them together, sensing how both of their lives were driven by circumstances rather than choice. Their goals are similar, to choose a future rather than drift, but Garret must come to terms with his past, and Tori needs to recognize she is allowed to dream.
Tori caused me the most trouble as a character, and with the heavily traditional message in some scenes, I worried she reflected that theme rather than owning her opinions. She’d never had the chance to pursue her dreams, and by the point of the story, she’s half sure she doesn’t have the right. Circumstances may have made the decisions for her in the past, and I don’t disagree with those choices, but she seems to see love for Garret and love of teaching as a binary equation. To accept or pursue one means the loss of the other. This bugged me in the beginning because, while I’m all for compromise in relationships, a foundation laid in a truth denied is unlikely to last. Not giving anything away, but by the end, it’s clear Tori’s awkward presentation was not author intrusion, but her growth point when Garret’s struggles held the center stage through much of the beginning.
You may have figured out this is not an easy or light read. It digs deep, and more than a few of the events cut a little too close to home for me. Also, while I mentioned the quizzing, all those biblical verses strengthen and focus the characters. Not only that, but as with the other books in the series, there are moments of humor to lighten things up that simultaneously give characters an opportunity to reflect. The presence of a strong community offering support and connection when most needed continues to be a standard as well. Ultimately, though not shying away from the painful moments, whether past, present, or future, this book shows how it’s not too late to act, hope, and/or accept the help of those around you.
The book offered a lot to think about with strong characters facing difficult challenges. While it isn’t my favorite, it still lives up to the expectations I have for the series, and I’m happy to have spent this time with the characters. For those worried the Saddle Springs Romance series is drawing to a close, there is one more book to come, and if I’m not mistaken, at least two spinoff series twinkling in Valerie Comer’s eye.