Beyond All Dreams
About This Book
Anna O’Brien leads a predictable and quiet life as a map librarian at the illustrious Library of Congress until she stumbles across the baffling mystery of a ship disappeared at sea. Thwarted in her attempts to uncover information, her determination outweighs here shyness and she turns to a dashing congressman for help.
Luke Callahan was one of the nation’s most powerful congressmen before his promising career was shadowed in scandal. Eager to share in a new cause and intrigued by the winsome librarian, he joins forces with Anna to solve the mystery of the lost ship. Opposites in every way, Anna and Luke are unexpectedly drawn to each other despite the strict rules forbidding Anna from any romantic entanglements with members of Congress.
From the gilded halls of the Capitol where powerful men shape the future of the nation, to the scholarly archives of the nation’s finest library, Anna and Luke are soon embroiled in secrets much bigger and more perilous than they ever imagined. Is bringing the truth to light worth risking all they’ve ever dreamed for their futures?
I have read and loved several previous books from Elizabeth Camden, and as such was expecting this one to be as historically detailed and unique as its predecessors, with a great romance and an intriguing mystery. And for the most part this book delivered, though the ending didn’t quite measure up for me.
But the story had more than enough excitement and energy to overcome its ending, particularly in the characters of Anna and Luke. Their chemistry was electric and really leapt off the page from their very first meeting. Anna has an unusual affliction with her voice that I found very intriguing, and Luke was particularly empathetic as an optimistic, energetic politician who slowly gets dragged into corruption and compromise (think Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). Some of the secondary characters felt a little stereotypical and underdeveloped, but for the most part the whole cast really brought the story to life.
Luke isn’t a perfect hero, however, with his very short temper that leads to a lot of conflict both in his past and in the present story. He definitely gets himself into trouble and struggles with his inner demons, but Camden uses him to powerfully illustrate the book’s theme verse of “Blessed are the peacemakers.” In his political life, Luke clings to his vision of the lion laying down with the lamb, and I loved the way Camden plumbed deeper to personify this theme in Luke himself, how he learns the fight for inner peace is just as important as the battle he wages on the assembly room floor.
Luke’s violent tendencies can make for some questionable content for some readers. He has a family history of violence and abuse and is prone to his own wild outbursts (including a couple scenes in which he punches and kicks walls), though he is always contrite afterward. Anna’s past abuse is described in rather painful detail, but it is very much necessary and central to the story. Luke’s sister has a lewd reputation that, while never explicitly described, is mentioned in context with her illegitimate son. The truth behind the missing ship, once it’s revealed, is a rather dastardly story.
One of the things I love most about Camden’s novels is the wonderfully detailed and delightfully original settings. Who needs a cowboy in Texas when you can have a congressman in Washington? (Not that I don’t love western romances, too, but there do seem to be an awful lot of them these days!) Her stories are absolutely grounded in their real-life settings and never fail to transport me to another time and place. She even incorporates real historical figures in this story, including President William McKinley and then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt.
As expected, the writing pulled me right into the story from the very first page. There were a few grammatical and spelling errors throughout, but I can’t hold that against the book as I was reading an unproofed advance copy. But what I did mind was that, toward the end of the book, the writing felt a bit more “telling” instead of showing. Still, the pace of the story was magnetic and I literally couldn’t put the book down . . . until about the 80% mark, when the mystery of the missing ship was finally revealed. After that, the story turned in a different direction which, though it still held my interest, didn’t feel quite in the tune with the story I’d been reading up to that point. And the epilogue, while very sweet, was almost completely telling. As a result, the overall ending of the book felt a bit like being dropped off the precipice of one story into a different one altogether.
Beyond All Dreams is an inspirational tribute to the power of truth, the preservation of knowledge, and the beauty of the written word. It is also a spellbinding mystery set in the halls of power in our nation’s capital during the final, warmongering years of the 19th Century. Camden delights with riveting detail, seamlessly blending fact and fiction to craft a suspenseful romance I could not put down. This is a great story for historical fiction fans of all ages, though parents should read it first in order to be prepared for questions from younger readers about the book’s more mature themes. But overall, I highly recommend this book. It’s going on my “Keeper” shelf and I can’t wait to read it again soon!
Available January 6, 2015 from Bethany House Publishers