How do I write a review of this book? I am uncertain. I do not recommend this book to romance novel readers. This book offers no excitement, no angst, not even lust.
I do however, recommend it for people who have a heart for love.
I started reading this book looking for romance. At 50% I realized there is no romance. This is a beautifully written story of a woman's journey to courage and self-discovery. Griffin is just along for the ride. If you approach it as you would a romance novel, you will be disappointed.
The only problem that I had was this book is realistic. So realistic that it offers no fantasy or escape.
I enjoy Jo Goodman's writing with great relish. She has such a way with words. Her style is rather wordy but I revel in them. I read every word 3 times before I let them pass. There is nothing explicit but her writing fully engages my imagination. A touch, a look, a smile, one step toward or away from each other. I see Griffin and Olivia, I mean, really see them, their hesitation, their reservation, their plunge of faith.
The story is extremely character-driven. Griffin and Olivia are two fantastic fictional characters with presence. I would not exactly call Griffin a tortured hero, even though under another writer's hand, he would definitely be painted as one married to an unfaithful wife throughout the book, an unknown son, no respectable income etc.. He suffered at fate's hand but took things in stride. Never a trace of anger and such a rock for Olivia. Olivia, with her tragic history sexual abuse and molestation in childhood and attempted rapes in adulthood, abandonment from father and brother, needed no hero. She was self-contained, self-sufficient in the spiritual sense, and so so dignified. My mental pictures for both are blurry at best, especially Griffin. At least the readers are told Olivia has green eyes and red hair. Other than a scar on the face, I cannot picture Griffin. But their personalities are so well drawn-out. A mental picture is really just "nice to have", not a must.
I can totally imagine that this book would be very boring for most readers. The romance is not romantic. Intimate scenes are mild. Griffin is not a sex-crazed animal who wanted to jump Olivia whenever she was near. He handled sex with Olivia as he would a china doll, because that is what Olivia is. He is also not overly possessive or protective. He lets Olivia be, but stands firmly always behind her. This journey must be made by Olivia alone, and it was done properly so.
The beauty of the book is that it is intense with an unwavering focus on the relationship between Griffin and Olivia. It is written with such artistry, full of hints and metaphorical excellence. Masterful use of language and a high demand on reader imagination. The chemistry is controlled but can be smelled a mile away. I don't know how Jo Goodman did it. This is "show us not tell us" at its best. A lot of the romance writers can definitely take a lesson here.
I am a voracious reader. I read extremely fast and have little patience with annoying characters and poorly-executed plots. I could read up to 3 to 4 full-length (more than 100000 words per book) romance novels on a free day. And I am severely challeged by this book. I cannot read more than 25% a day, because I need the time to savor the writing, to interprete, to imagine and to relish in Griffin and Oliva's journey toward peace.
After I got to the part where Olivia's past ordeal was disclosed, I had an urge to hold her hands, to tell her how much I respect her courage and grace, and how outraged I am at the suffering inflicted upon her. It pains me to see that she quietly endures the ugliness and possibly considers her past a humongous stain and herself soiled goods. I wanted to tell her that yes what was done to her is horrifying beyond my wildest imagination and yes it is dirty and evil of the offenders. But I see only pureness in her. Her silent triumph, her graceful purity kept the evil at bay. No wonder Griffin fell in love.
This book simmers. It asks for patience. I have always known that I am more drawn to the darker and deeper emotions of the human psyche. I love my fluffy romance stories, gallant knights on the white horses, tortured possessive heros in breeches. But it is stories like that of Griffin and Olivia, that truly truly resonates with me.