As a young teen, Angela Warren was forced into prostitution by her mother and step-father, who needed money to buy drugs, and they eventually sold her to a pimp. As she was trying to escape her pimp one night by taking refuge inside the first open door she could find, she accidentally ended up inside a church. There the words of a handsome, young visiting preacher changed her life and led her to start a new life in a different state. However, Angela's sordid past catches up with her when the church she attends hires a new pastor, and it's none other than Hosea Stevens, the man she met years ago. She tries to avoid him while hoping against hope that he doesn't recognize her. But when he begins to pursue her romantically, she can't allow herself to entertain the idea of a relationship with him, much less marriage. She believes her past will only taint him if she does, so when she begins to have genuine feelings for him, she runs away instead. When Hosea finds her, will Angela finally change her mind and allow him into her life?
I've had Hosea's Bride on my TBR list for quite some time. It came to my attention, because it has a similar theme as Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love, which I read many years ago and recall thoroughly enjoying. For that reason, I had high hopes for this book and was looking forward to giving it a try, but it ended up being something of a let-down. It's a sweet story, but I felt like it was lacking in substance and the characterizations were rather weak. The first romances I ever read way back in my teens were inspirationals. Over the years, I moved away from them as I discovered more exciting romantic books, but I still like to occasionally revisit the genre. However, I have a hit and miss relationship with it. There are some books that I've really enjoyed and consider to be keepers, while others just don't quite make the cut. One of the biggest issues I've had with inspirationals is the way in which the faith message is presented. I've read ones that were far more irritatingly preachy than this one, but I have a feeling the only reason it wasn't is because both characters are already Christians. It does, however, contain a number of pithy platitudes that just don't work well for me, as well as leaving the reader with the impression that, if you simply pray hard enough, everything will work out perfectly. My life's experience is far different than this, so that type of message simply doesn't resonate with me. If you're the type of reader who believes that God orchestrates every tiny little thing in our lives and will magically give us all the answers if we pray fervently for them, then you'll probably find this book to be the cat's meow. But for me it fell a little short.
Angela was forced into prostitution by her mother and step-father at a very young age to pay for their drug habit, and was later sold to a pimp. As she was trying to escape her pimp and was looking for a place to hide, she opened a door and accidentally ended up in a church. It was there, on that very night, that she found God and completely turned her life around, because of the words of a handsome young visiting preacher. After that, she moved from the city to a smaller town, where she's reinvented herself. She now has a successful career as a researcher and is very active in her church. She thought she'd left her old life far behind, but then one day, a new minister comes to take over the church, and he's none other than the same one who was there that night when she got saved. Now Angela fears he may recognize her. Although she longs for a husband and family of her own, she doesn't believe she's worthy of those things because of her past. Not to mention, she harbors some distrust of men in general because of how she was used and abused by them. So when she starts having feelings for Hosea, she decides to run away, thinking that her past will only taint him if she allows herself to get closer.
Angela is a kind, compassionate young woman, who is always looking out for others, whether it's a teenage girl in need, the elderly in a local nursing home, her best friend, or the church, and she's happy to lend a helping hand wherever it's needed. Overall, Angela is a pretty good heroine, but where I took issue with her characterization is that the author chooses to hold back all the information about her life as a prostitute that would have made me empathize with her and relate to her more, not revealing any of this until the final pages of the book. In some ways, I could understand her feelings of unworthiness, but because I never got a good sense of how the past was affecting her in the present, I felt like her sense of shame over it was belabored, especially since she'd been forced to do it and had no real control over any of it. Most of the story is merely spent with her either being terrified that Hosea is going to figure out who she is, or her repeatedly thinking how she can't be with him when her feelings for him begin to surface. She never even considers the idea of simply telling him the truth and letting him decide for himself whether he wants to be with her. Then after her running away and praying and soul-searching for a month, yet not really finding the answers she was looking for, all her fears and doubts magically disappear with just one conversation and a brief prayer, which was a little too much to be believable.
Hosea gave up a million-dollar career in baseball to become a minister. He's a very sweet, kind hero, who is pretty gentle with his entire flock, including Angela. Even though she looks different after all these years, he knows from the moment he sees her that she's the former prostitute he prayed with on that night long ago. As he begins to have feelings for her, he isn't certain at first if he should pursue those feelings, but after praying, it doesn't take long to get an affirmative answer. But every time he tries to draw a little closer to Angela, she seems uncomfortable. Then after her best friend's wedding, she skips town and no one seems to know where she is. I love a good beta hero, and for that reason, I liked Hosea. But I also like heroes in pursuit who are proactive about expressing their feelings. Sometimes, I felt like he was being a bit too passive, merely praying for Angela without backing it up with actions. At the very end, after she's been gone for a month, he finally - and rather inexplicably - gets the idea to search through church records to see if he can find a clue as to where she might have gone. Then, in another one of those magical occurrences, he simply knows when he hears the name of a mountain retreat that that's where she is and finally goes after her. Overall, Hosea was a pretty good hero, but there was one little thing he did at the very end that tweaked me a little. When he finds Angela and declares his feelings and his desire to marry her, she of course objects on the grounds that a minister can't marry an ex-prostitute. His response is to prepare to leave while telling her he has no problem marrying an ex-prostitute, but he can't marry someone who doesn't believe in God's redemptive power. I reluctantly admit that it served to give her a wake-up call, but I thought the harshness of it was a little out of character for him and that he could have been more tactful in his delivery.
In addition to the issues I had with the characterizations, I also had some trouble with the way in which the romance develops. I know that inspirationals have a reputation for being squeaky clean, but I felt like this one took it to a whole new level. I had a hard time feeling any building emotion between Hosea and Angela, because I felt like it was being more told to me than shown. They end up at the point where they're in love with one another and Hosea is sure he wants to marry Angela, yet they've spent very little time alone together, never been on a proper date, and haven't even kissed. In fact, they don't kiss at all until the final page of the main story (minus the epilogue), and then that kiss somehow magically wipes away all of Angela's fears with regards to men, which again was a little hard to believe.
Overall, I guess the bottom line is that true fans of inspirationals who enjoy this type of storytelling will probably eat it up. I, on the other hand, was pretty skeptical of the fantastical nature of some of the elements of the story. It all just left me with a rather unsatisfied feeling in the end. On the up side, the writing itself was pretty good. The author uses some good descriptions and is very good at blocking her scenes. The only small issue I had is that much of the dialogue seemed a bit formal for a contemporary story. There's lots of uses of formal titles like Mr., Mrs., Miss, Pastor, etc. If this was written in the 1970s of something, this might make sense, but it was written in 2004, and over the past few decades forms of address have become more informal in most settings. More contractions in her dialogue would have helped, too, as well as cutting down on the use of peoples' names in dialogue. Otherwise, Hosea's Bride is a very readable book and I found some enjoyment in parts of it. However, it simply didn't satisfy the part of me that wanted a deeper exploration of a young woman who'd been though something very traumatic and was trying to put her life back together to find genuine happiness.
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