Monday, July 2, 2012

A Rose Among Thorns

What happens when you toss together a middle-class ladies’ man and a dirt-poor chambermaid, telling them that a distant mutual cousin has left them in his will? Sprinkle in some spicy love triangles and tantalizing plot turns and you have the recipe for Gilbert Morris’ latest novel The River Rose!

We enter our story in the bitter winter of 1855, Memphis, Tennessee. The elements are harsher than usual this year, but perhaps even harsher are the winds of circumstance howling in the rosy face of widow, Jeanne Bettencourt. And quite a rose she is – delicate, yet determined; painstakingly honest and a diligent worker; penniless, yet somehow supremely confident. “You’re not like the other chambermaids,” she is often told by hotel patrons who are interested in much more than her room-cleaning abilities. And they’re right. Something about her grace and intelligence seems bizarrely out of place with her lowly lot in life.

But Jeanne’s purity of heart and nearly eternal optimism keep her from paying undue attention to her poverty. Despite the hard times, she is content with the Lord as her strength and trusts Him completely to provide for her and her frail, but joyful six-year-old daughter.

So when Jeanne’s breaking-even lifestyle is interrupted with news that she is part heir to a gorgeous steamboat, it’s obvious that the boat is a gift from above. But she still has a choice to make: sell the boat and buy a cracker box house of her own with the money, or live on board and begin making a living with the steamer through freight runs. To Clint Hardin, her buff and charming co-heir, the decision is simple. Why settle for a mediocre life when you have a chance at the extraordinary?

Neither Jeanne nor Clint could guess that God has much greater plans ahead than either of them ever thought possible for their lives. In the process, the unlikely business duo must each face their own past and decide whether or not they will allow it to affect their future.

All in all, The River Rose was a pretty nice read. I'll give this historical romance four shiny steamboats out of five.

Bonus thoughts (comparison to The River Queen):

Though the books in the Water Wheel series are completely unrelated as far as characters and plot (although there is a minor character with the last name of “Bettencourt” in The River Queen … hmmm.), I had fun noticing the little comparisons and contrasts between the books.

For instance, The River Queen is somewhat of a riches to rags story where a spoiled and selfish aristocratic woman must learn how to make a living for herself and her family. The River Rose on the other hand, centers around a hard-working young woman whose every joy in the world is derived from making her daughter happy. Rather than being merely a blessing in disguise for Jeanne, the steamer that she inherits may as well have been dropped out of the sky by angels.

Julienne, in The River Queen, is highly vain and spends most of her time fussing over her hair and dress. Jeanne, though also strikingly beautiful, is modest and humble and prefers to dress simply even when she no longer has to wear raggy clothes. She is very others-focused and has a heart for the less-fortunate, especially since she knows first-hand what it’s like to have barely a penny in her pocket.

Both women are strong and determined, daring to step out and accomplish a task that society says they can’t. Both are strangely annoyed and easily outraged by the man in their life who cares the most for them.

But what I found most intriguing was their differing views of God and each woman’s journey with Him throughout their individual story.

Julienne began with a nonchalant attitude toward her Creator. She had never really needed Him, in her estimation, and therefore was mostly oblivious to His existence. In losing her worldly goods, however, she was plunged into the realization that life was bigger than her own personal happiness, and she began to seek God for the wisdom and provision to survive the uncharted waters of her life.

When we first meet Jeanne in The River Rose, she possesses an almost uncanny faith in God, perfectly embodying what the Apostle Paul meant when he said “rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” Even with the faintest raise in tips or with the appearance of her favorite fruit or tea at the store, Jeanne breathes a silent prayer of thanks to the Father above. Later, she must rediscover her strong relationship with God, having uncovered the jolting truth that she has allowed her gaze to be turned from Him once her life’s circumstances began to blow in a new direction. She must learn that through poverty or prosperous seasons, in sickness or in health, there is never a time when we outgrow our need to love and depend on our God.

I also enjoyed the additional plot twists of this novel. Whereas The River Queen plotted a fairly straight and steady course, The River Rose dug deeper and deeper into its characters, revealing little bits of backstory along the way that keep you reading and wondering what happened that caused Jeanne to be widowed six years before. And before you’re half-way through the book, Gilbert will have you wondering which man in her life Jeanne will end up with after all.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from B&H Publishing Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I
am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.