Here it is! The long-awaited review of my best friend's (not quite so long awaited) novel. A Bride for Keeps was released in October 2013. I won't comment on what sort of friend it makes me that I'm just now reviewing it. You can trust the delay speaks ill only of me and not Melissa's story.
Without further ado... A Bride for Keeps by Melissa Jagears...
From the Cover:
Although Everett Cline can hardly keep up with the demands of his homestead, he won't humiliate himself by looking for a helpmate ever again--not after being jilted by three mail-order brides. When a well-meaning neighbor goes behind his back to bring yet another mail-order bride to town, he has good reason to doubt it will work, especially after getting a glimpse at the woman in question. She's the prettiest woman he's ever seen, and it's just not possible she's there to marry a simple homesteader like him.
Julia Lockwood has never been anything more than a pretty pawn for her father or a business acquisition for her former fiance. Having finally worked up the courage to leave her life in Massachusetts, she's determined to find a place where people will value her for more than her looks. Having run out of all other options, Julia resorts to a mail-order marriage in far-away Kansas.
Everett is skeptical a cultured woman like Julia could be happy in a life on the plains, while Julia, deeply wounded by a past relationship, is skittish at the idea of marriage at all. When, despite their hesitations, they agree to a marriage in name only, neither one is prepared for the feelings that soon arise to complicate their arrangement. Can two people accustomed to keeping their distance let the barricades around their hearts down long enough to fall in love?
I read this book more than once during its journey from Melissa's imagination to the printed page, and I must say it gets better every time. A word on the cover art...Perfect. They look exactly like I pictured them when I first read the manuscript of this novel years ago. Way to go, Bethany House art department!
Who doesn't love a mail-order bride story? Hard-working farmer in a harsh, untamed land that's short on women--pretty or otherwise--places an advertisement for a wife. Beautiful (or not), down on her luck Eastern girl with nowhere else to turn answers the ad and heads west to face whatever adventures life has in store. It spells a page-turner every time. But what will that farmer do if the girl decides the farmer, or his farm, is just not good enough and she backs out? How many times will he try?
That's a story I had never read until A Bride for Keeps.
Melissa Jagears has taken the well-loved frame of the mail-order bride story and turned it on its ear with a jaded hero who has sworn off mail-order brides, and a wounded heroine who wants nothing to do with intimacy of any kind. Mix in Everett's irresistible goodness (that shows through despite his best efforts to hide it)--to say nothing of his good looks--and Julia's beauty and vulnerability, and you have a tale sure to win a place in readers' hearts, and on their keeper shelves.
I loved Everett and Julia. My heart broke for the pain that stood between them and happiness. I constantly rooted for them to overcome it and grasp with both hands the love that was staring them in the face. When they finally do, it's in a scene that may be one of the most beautiful romantic resolutions I've ever read...and that's saying A LOT!
The secondary characters are beautifully done as well. From Dex and Rachel Stanton, whom we met in the novella Love by the Letter, to some of the ladies who jilted Everett before Julia's arrival, the minor characters create a community that not only anchors this story in time and place, but also beckons readers to return for more in future novels.
I, for one, have been dying to return to Salt Flatts since I turned the last page of A Bride for Keeps. Not to worry, we'll soon get our chance. Book 2 in the series is slated for release this fall. I'll do my best to keep updates posted here as they come available.
If you've read the book leave a comment about your favorite character or scene. If you haven't read the book...Read it, already!