Parnell Pierce and Brenda Rafferty are engaged to be married in just a few months, but Brenda has been keeping a secret about her past from him. Brenda isn't certain whether Parnell will understand, and every time she tries to tell him, her pride and fear of loosing him get in the way. With the trial of Brenda's former pharmacy competitor in full swing, the tabloid reporters are swarming like flies. When a cruel reporter exposes the truth in the worst possible way, Parnell is understandably upset with Brenda. After having time to think though, he is willing to forgive her, until a mysterious phone call changes his life forever. With Parnell now being the one keeping things from Brenda, will she be able to find the patience and compassion she needs to give Parnell time to come to terms with the bombshells that have been dropped on him?
Abide with Me continues the story of land developer, Parnell Pierce, and pharmacist (not doctor as the cover blurb says), Brenda Rafferty, that began in Abiding Love. In spite of being a Christian myself, I have to say that there were certain aspects of Abiding Love which had bothered me and which I covered in my review of that book. Because of the likability of the hero and his son, a desire to give the author a second chance, and the fact that this is a short book that I needed for a reading challenge in which I am participating, I decided to press on with the series anyway. I went into reading Abide with Me with the suspicion that I still might have issues with it, but trying to be open-minded and hopeful that there would be more character and relationship development. Unfortunately, there was no new depth added to the protagonists, and I ended up liking it even less than Abiding Love in some ways. Abide with Me was marketed under the Heartsong Presents inspirational romance label, but I have a hard time even calling it a romance. In my opinion, it would be more aptly categorized as Christian women's fiction with a small amount of romance in it. The majority of the story is taken up by sermonizing on various issues, and what felt like public service announcements for conservative family values, particularly on the topics of abstinence, pro-life, and adoption. If I want to hear a sermon, I will go to church on Sunday (and still not get "preached" at as much as this book seemed to do) or read a non-fiction Bible-study book. I also prefer not to be inundated with heavy-handed rhetoric on hot-button topics while reading fiction books either. When I pick up a novel to read, especially a romance novel, I have certain expectations of being entertained and actually getting a love story which was not really the case here.
Abide with Me could have easily been written in first person perspective, because nearly the entire book was presented from the heroine's point of view. The hero's viewpoint is virtually non-existent. In fact, I've read first-person books that gave me better insights into the hero's mind than this book did. Having everything be in Brenda's voice made the story seem very self-centered, as though other people's feelings and opinions barely even mattered, especially Parnell's, and I'm sorry to say that Brenda ended up irritating me to no end. She doesn't seem to have learned a thing since the previous book and is merely continuing in her wishy-washy, judgmental ways. Brenda leaves me with the feeling that she thinks her viewpoint is always the right one and anyone who disagrees with her is utterly wrong and has to be the one to change to be fully accepted by her. Once again, she also seems to lack even a minute amount of intuition or compassion for the man she supposedly loves. Brenda's mother and friend seem to understand Parnell better than she does, which I find quite sad. Even though Brenda hurt Parnell by keeping a big secret, which in part, was what caused him to become so distant, it was Parnell who ended up doing most of the groveling at the end with Brenda only saying a couple of trite "I'm sorries." This just did not sit well with me at all.
Even though Brenda had annoyed me at times in Abiding Love, I had been able to find some things to like about her, but in this book, I really couldn't find much of anything about her to which I could relate. She seems to lack any kind of reasonable communication skills in her relationship with Parnell, and just like she did in the last book, she always tends to think the worst of him. When he becomes reticent after the revelation of her secret, she instantly assumes that he is ready to break off their engagement. When his brooding intensifies and he asks to postpone their wedding so he can have time to think, she practically throws her engagement ring back at him and calls it off herself. Then when Parnell tells his young son, Angelo, the truth about why they aren't spending Christmas with Brenda causing Angelo to get extremely upset, she has the gall to act indignantly about it as though he is the one at fault. After a talk with her mom, Brenda finally decides that her relationship with Parnell is worth fighting for, but her idea of fighting is poking around in Parnell's past by running off to visit his elderly, senile grandmother at a nursing home miles away in hopes that she'll somehow remember enough to spill the beans about what's bothering Parnell. Of course, Brenda miraculously gets the information she's seeking, and then starts praying for the ability to forgive Parnell as though it is going to be extremely difficult, when in my opinion, his actions and behavior made perfect sense and there was little or nothing to forgive. Honestly, I don't really know what Parnell sees in Brenda, because all this just served to make me want to jump into the story and smack some sense into her.
The only positive thing I can say about Brenda is that her characterization between the first and second books was consistent, but I would have preferred she show some emotional growth and personal change. The other characters remained congruous as well. Parnell is the same kind, gentle man that he was in Abiding Love. Although he was little more than a supporting character in what should have been his own story and I dearly would have loved to see more of him, there were enough little things to show what a sweet, romantic and giving man he is. I liked that he was so committed to using his position to help out in the community, but humbly resists any attention or fanfare for his efforts. Parnell just seems more human and mature in his emotions and the way he views life than Brenda does to me. Angelo is still the same cute little boy, and I can at least commend the author for writing him in an age-appropriate way. As it was in the first book, Brenda's mother continues to be the voice of reason, but in the beginning Brenda stubbornly refuses to listen to her which ends up being to her detriment.
Overall, Abide with Me was, like it's predecessor, incredibly predictable. I figured out what Brenda's secret was very quickly, and to be honest, it didn't seem all that bad to me. I don't know why she was so uptight about telling Parnell. It's something that I would think that she would have had to tell her first husband too, but of course, that little fact is overlooked. I also almost instantaneously figured out what was bothering Parnell after the revelation of Brenda's secret. Additionally, there were a few other elements of the story that I thought were either strange or just plain weak. First, there is a scene where Brenda and her assistant, Rita, are discussing Rita's love life. Rita is lamenting the fact that her boyfriend is pressuring her for sex and seems quite conflicted about it. Then Brenda suddenly made an abrupt and flying leap of logic to conclude that Rita was already sleeping with her boyfriend. In my opinion, that didn't make sense with the conversation up to that point, but of course, it conveniently turned out to be true. Next, there was a bit of courtroom action which I found to be rather laughable. I admittedly have no legal background, but some of the questions that were being asked and the antics of the attorneys just didn't ring true to me. There was also a scene where Angelo disappears and rather than frantically continuing to search for him, Brenda and Parnell strangely just stand there presumably waiting for the police while having their reunion moment. Lastly, I thought that a large number of the conversations between Brenda and Parnell were rather awkward and stilted, reminiscent of two people who are just getting to know one another instead of a couple who is engaged to be married in a mere two months. Sadly, the fact that they really don't know each other is played out loud and clear throughout the whole story. This coupled with Brenda's seeming inability to trust Parnell and their poor communication left me skeptical that these two could actually have a true HEA. In fact, the HEA that existed left something to be desired, with no return of the engagement ring, no acknowledgement that the wedding was still on as planned, and no real declaration of love.
In spite of the content and characters being frustrating to me, I can say that the book was more readable than some others I've tried, even if I did feel like throwing it against the wall several times. I love to read Christmas stories during the month of December and was pleasantly surprised to find that the story was set during the holiday season even though it isn't the main focus nor mentioned in the cover blurb. There were also a couple of mildly edifying spiritual messages that I managed to glean from the story even though I had to dig pretty deep to unearth them from the mounds of ideology that had been heaped on top of them. Abide with Me is the second book in the Abide Duet, the first being Abiding Love which Ms. McManus wrote as Elizabeth Murphy. Even though there were some positive aspects to both books, I can't say that it was enough to overcome the negative ones for me. This author's storytelling style quite simply seems to be based more on personal agenda than any genuine sense of love and romance. After two less than stellar reads in a row by her, I have decided that no matter what name she is writing under, Ms. McManus's works are just not for me, and unless I hear something spectacular, I probably won't be picking up another of her books again.
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