I was about to give up on Christian fiction. This week, I finished a disappointing novel that I'd been meaning to read for months. So I was less than excited to start the book I'd gotten from Bethany House. They want honest reviews, but the good girl in me wants to speak well of things. And I wasn't sure I'd be able to put on my constructive criticism hat.
However, I had requested the book and my cousin Kristen has it too and my "To Be Read" shelf is overwhelmingly full and I really didn't want to look at the work I have to do today (pack--a lot, grade--a lot more, clean) so I picked up Sixty Acres and a Bride by Regina Jennings. It's rare I get to spend my Saturday morning reading in bed and I really didn't mean to read all of it, but now at 11 am, it's done.
I'd forgotten that this is a retelling of the story of Ruth from the Bible. Ruth is a Moabite who marries an Israelite family that's living in Moab. All the men in the family die for unexplained reasons. Naomi, the mother-in-law decides to return to her homeland, and Ruth decides to go with her even though she doesn't have to. Once there, Naomi works within the customs of the time to get Ruth in a place where they can get food. She catches the eye of Boaz, kin of some sort. There's some crazy stuff with Ruth uncovering Boaz's feet which may or may not be euphemism. And there's the passing of a sandel and they live happily ever after. There's more to it than that of course. Read the book of Ruth. It's a good one, but you might want to have notes of some sort handy cause it's light on context.
So in this retelling Rosa is a native Mexican whose married Mack while his family is living and mining in Mexico. Mack and Eli, the father-in-law, have died in a horrific mining accident caused by an earthquake, and Louise, Rosa's mother-in-law, has decided to return to the family homestead in Texas. But there are back taxes due on the homestead because of their long absence, and the gentile society of Lockhart isn't too pleased that a Mexicana is entering their peerage. While Louise's sister and her husband try to help them out the best they can, the only person who really has enough influence to help them out is Weston Granger, Mack's cousin and a rancher who lost his wife a few years back and keeps mostly to himself So where the Bible lacks backstory, Sixty Acres provides in full. Rosa shows the same strength of courage as her biblical predecessor, and we learn more about her first marriage and its impact on her budding, fizzling, rollercoaster relationship with Weston. While Boaz is an upstanding citizen of his day, Jennings adds complication to Weston who while doing the right thing also maintains an unhealthy distance from everyone who loves him. And then it's set in the West, with funny cowhands, a spunky, well-bred sister (Eliza, Weston's younger sister), well-meaning community and a dastardly villan to round out the cast.
But best of all, in the midst of the humor and drama, the story rings true. It has the overtly Christian moments of the genre without devolving into sentimentality. Rosa can't stay in Mexico because she's become a Christian, and her family has rejected her. Weston has been going through the motions of being a Christian gentleman while maintaining that polite distance he uses with everyone with God as well. The normal romance genre obstacles are delicately interwoven with these spiritual obstacles so that neither overshadows the other.
The highest praise I can give the novel is that I couldn't put it down. It didn't make me roll my eyes (okay a little bit with a case of mistaken identity but it's near the end you get through it). And I really cared for all the characters.
*I did receive my copy for free as part of the Bethany House Book Reviewer program. They require a review, but the content is my own opinion.