About This Book
Wynter Evans is a promising young reporter for a television station in St. Louis, but even a bright future doesn’t take away her pain over the disappearance of her brother nine years ago. So when she stumbles across a photograph of a boy with an eerie resemblance to him, she can’t pass up the chance to track him down. With research for work as her cover, she sets out with one of the station’s photogs for the place where the picture was taken: the town of Sanctuary.
Almost as soon as she arrives, she meets the town’s handsome young mayor, Reuben King, and together they begin to uncover long held secrets that could tear the small town apart and change everything Wynter thought she knew about her life. As the truth of her family’s past hides in the shadows, it’s clear someone will stop at nothing to keep the answers she’s searching for hidden forever—even if the cost is Wynter’s very life.
I had never heard of or read this author before, but there was a “Which New Bethany House Heroine Are You?” quiz posted on Bethany House’s Facebook page the day several new books released, and the result of my quiz was Wynter Evans, this book’s heroine. So I thought, hmm, perhaps this is worth checking out!
This book turned out to be quite a bit different than I what I expected, but was still an enjoyable “Mennonite Suspense” novel that seemed to bridge the gap between a cozy mystery and a gritty romantic suspense. And the Facebook quiz totally pegged me—I could definitely relate to Wynter, the cat-loving, small-town admiring, old-fashioned heroine who’s loyal to her family and dreams of becoming a writer one day!
I’m rather anti-coincidence when it comes to writing, and from the get-go this entire storyline felt a bit too contrived for me. The heroine’s coworker’s mother just happens to visit this middle-of-nowhere town, and happens to catch a candid, unsuspecting photo of a kid who happens to look like her long-lost brother? A heroine who just happens to be working on a story idea about obscure small towns? That’s a lot of “just happens” to test the limits of my willing suspension of disbelief! It would’ve worked much better for me if Wynter herself had discovered Sanctuary and been there doing research on her own for a television story, making connections and meeting people; if she’d snapped a couple quick shots with her phone to help pitch the concept to her manager, and only once she got back to St. Louis realized there was a brother-looking guy in one of the pictures. That would’ve eliminated a lot of “just happens” and also greatly enhanced her motivation for going back to Sanctuary to do more digging, not to mention increased tension from the local who’d thought she was already done and gone from their lives.
I felt this story definitely suffered from being written in only one character’s POV. Once Wynter was attacked and subdued in the climactic encounter with Rae, the story action was done—but nothing was actually tied up and finished! All of the story goals were ultimately achieved by other characters who then came and told Wynter what happened. So instead of being able to witness the most important events in the story as they unfolded in real-time, the book ended with several long conversations about all the things Wynter missed while she’d been unconscious. Technically true to the POV, which I can appreciate, but it definitely left much to be desired in terms of tension and conflict.
And the two things Wynter could have shown us—the discovery that she was illegally adopted and the reunion with her brother—were both almost completely overlooked. Instead of being dealt a severe emotional blow when she finds out the brother she’s spent all this time looking for isn’t even her real brother, that her parents aren’t her parents, that her whole life’s been a lie, Wynter just sweeps the emotions under the rug and keeps going with her search. And when she finally succeeded and was about to be reunited with him . . . the book ended! I definitely felt these two great sources of tension, conflict, and empathy were wasted.
The single-character POV also hindered the story’s pace for me because it forced several scenes to digress into long, confusing conversations where tons of info that Wynter didn’t have still had to be conveyed to the reader. A lot of talking necessarily translates to not a lot of action, which felt very counter-productive in this genre.
Speaking of genre, I really struggled with the romance between Wynter and Reuben. I’ve read countless books where the hero and heroine fall in love in a matter of days and have no problem believing it when it’s done right. But I didn’t find myself believing it here. I didn’t get the sense that Reuben had to sacrifice anything to make their relationship work. It was his town, his farm, his life, and he was adamant from the get-go that any woman he ended up would have to accept all of that, a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that was anything but romantic. So it felt very one-sided when, in the end, Wynter gives up her job and her home to move to Sanctuary to pursue a relationship with him, and he just . . . goes about his daily life exactly as it had been before she came into his life.
Furthermore, Wynter spent far more time in the story with her photographer Zac than she did with Reuben. She and Zac really evolved as a couple over the course of the story—even if it was only as a couple of friends. But he was the guy who was always there for her, who had her back, made her laugh, challenged her, comforted her, not to mention they had all the legitimate face-time in the story. And she, in turn, was there to comfort, challenge and protect him. They were a team, and a good one, and that’s true romance in my book!
Yet, overall, I really liked the set-up of this story. I love small-town stories, and assume by this series’ title that future books will also be set here in Sanctuary. The town itself and the many secondary characters we were introduced to were very life-like and well-written, even those who appeared only in one or two scenes. So perhaps some of my concerns will be addressed in future, and some of what felt like loose or implausible story threads will be rewoven or tied up as the series goes along. I did build up enough affinity with the town and secondary characters (if not quite as much as I would’ve wished with the hero and heroine) to make me want to read more of this series.
Available May 6, 2014 from Bethany House Publishers