Bethany Light is the daughter of a minister who can’t forgive her father for running off with the church secretary. She goes to her own pastor for counsel, never expecting to fall in love with him. To make matters worse, she’s personal training his fiancé in preparation for the big day and somehow ends up in their wedding.
Refusing to make the same mistake her dad made, Bethany tries to focus on fixing her family rather than face her own issues. How could a household that used to have it all together have fallen so far from grace? And how can she keep from following in her father’s footsteps when it feels so right?
Of course, there were elements of the book that I didn’t like. For instance, it took me a long while (until the end of the book, actually) to really like the main character, Bethany. She is a personal trainer, who, despite claiming people being judgmental is a pet peeve of hers, seems to define people by their appearance. For example, she refers to one woman as “Chubby” even though she knows her name. She also spends a lot of time criticizing, her pastor’s fiancee, Brooke.
Which brings me to another issue I have with the book: Brooke is not a likeable character, either. Current love interests that have very few redeeming qualities is a trope I dislike most in stories with love triangles. The sad thing is, Bethany is not the only one who is critical of her: Brooke’s soon to be mother-in-law is critical of her, and even Eric, the pastor she is engaged to, comes across as critical of her. I spent the whole story wondering why Eric was with her, not because I would rather see him with Bethany, but because he never talks all that kindly or highly of her. Perhaps I’m just spoiled by my husband, but I am inclined to think that when a man is in love, he would be eager to go on and on about how wonderful his girl is. The only good thing said about Brooke is that she is “on fire for God”, but even that trait of hers is portrayed in such an obnoxious way that it becomes another negative quality.
As an editor myself, I cannot help but notice typos and grammatical errors, and this book has quite a few. However, I know that even editors are human and don’t always catch every mistake. The errors in this book weren’t so drastic as to take away any enjoyment from my reading, but I noticed them nonetheless.
Despite all this criticism, there are numerous great things about this book. I found it to be candid and real. I appreciated the way Angela Ruth Strong portrayed the feelings of hurt and betrayal through the character of Bethany, but also showed her growth. I am not sure if the other books in this series are about Bethany too, but I rather hope so - I would love to see how she grows further.
**Skip this portion if you don’t like spoilers**
At the beginning of the book, Bethany begins counseling sessions with Eric. Even though the door is left open so the secretary can provide some accountability, I found myself thinking, “this is going to lead to a dangerous place.” Fact of the matter is, though, that kind of thing happens too much. Even when some accountability is present, it is often not enough; a man and woman speaking of private matters (common in counseling sessions) builds some level of emotional intimacy. Too many times, it is gone unchecked, as it is in this story.
Eric invites Bethany to Christmas with his family and Brooke - a move with so much potential trouble that I wanted to slap him. As it so happens, Eric’s father at first thinks Bethany is his son’s fiance, and then later Eric’s mother takes more of a liking to Bethany than Brooke. I couldn’t help but think how unwise it was for Eric to invite Bethany and couldn’t believe he didn’t realize that.
Eric and Bethany spend more time together than they should. It is usually in public or in counseling, but as mentioned before, these interactions are what make the situation treacherous. I felt myself wanting to admonish the characters and warn them about the thin line they were treading.
The majority of the book deals with Bethany’s difficulty in forgiving her father for cheating on her mother. She is convinced she’s not going to get married because she never wants to experience that kind of hurt. She also has feelings of resentment towards Corrine, the woman with whom her father had the affair. However, she never realizes that she herself is capable of the same sins. I love that Ms. Strong wrote it this way; so many of us are hypocritical, but are convinced we are not. In this case, Bethany realizes near the end that she’s in love with Eric and wants to tell him. Since Eric isn’t married, Bethany doesn’t see it as adultery or unfaithfulness. Luckily though, her sister-in-law and mother both counsel her against telling him. In fact, her mother tells her that if she is to tell anyone about it, it should be Brooke. Bethany is determined to tell him anyway, but changes her mind at the last minute. Instead, she confesses to Brooke, and makes the decision to stop hanging out with Eric and to move to another church.
It was such a great ending to this story. I’ve known several young women who have had crushes on pastors who were married or betrothed; these women somehow convinced themselves they were justified and, for whatever reason, didn’t need to leave the church. It was so refreshing to see Bethany flee this situation for the sake of Eric, Brooke, and herself.
I also enjoyed the subplot with Christian and Laurel: Christian’s struggle with pornography and the effect it had on their marriage. I would have liked to see more of that, but perhaps that is in another book in the series. I shall have to read to find out. :)
All in all, I would recommend this book. Just be forewarned that it is not the romanticized tale of a love triangle. Instead it is a very real and at times, uncomfortable, story of temptation and the struggle of making choices in the face of it.