Friday, September 2, 2016

'My Hope Next Door' by Tammy L Gray


Former bad girl Katie Stone can feel the weight of her reputation settle over her as she drives home for the first time in years. Feeling deeply guilty about her past mistakes, Katie wants to do the right thing for once. But the small town where she grew up is not nearly as forgiving as she’d hoped. Despite it all, she’s determined to help her parents cope with her mother’s recent illness, and Katie finds a surprise ally in the man next door.

Asher Powell never minded being the son of a small-town pastor until a recent breakup leaves him wounded by lifelong members of his church. He remembers his new neighbor as a mean-spirited high school troublemaker, but he senses that her newfound faith and desire for forgiveness are sincere.

Through an unexpected friendship, two people from different worlds find peace, hope, and a second chance they never dreamed was possible.

Genre: contempory, Christian romance

Tough, mean kids used to make my school life very hard, so I wasn't sure I'd be able to sympathise with Katie, based on what I read about her in the blurb. When I went to High School reunions, I was always wary of former bullies from my past who now seem to behave as nice as pie. Can people really change their stripes to that extent? That question prompted me to read this novel after all. In a way, I challenged Gray to convince me that it's possible for someone to have a personality transplant. She didn't do a bad job.

After fleeing in disgrace several years earlier, Katie returns to her judgmental home town to help her father care for her ailing mother. The first person she runs into is her controlling, aggressive former boyfriend Cooper, who clearly holds something over her which may be used as blackmail, but we don't find out what it is yet. Her parents are definitely not the most supportive and kind, and it's not hard to feel sorry for her.

Asher is easy to understand too. He's someone who feels he gave his all to his church community, but was deeply wronged by several others. Resentment is a strong force, especially when you're trying to muster friendly feelings toward people you think should never have believed the worst of you in the first place. The feelings he's dealt with as a pastor's kid make an interesting study too. Asher is sick and tired of being regarded as a stereotype.

The plot cleverly gets us wondering about each of their back stories. Katie and Asher are the only two characters whose points of view we get to see, and they're both deeply hurt by events which happened in their pasts. Yet it takes a while for us to get to the bottom of exactly what happened in each case. That's good writing, when we sympathise for characters without being entirely sure what we're sympathising for. Not to mention it keeps us wondering what the big reveals will turn out to be.

I'm sure anyone who picks up this book because they love romances won't be disappointed. Stripped down, it's the same 'exemplary citizen falls in love with former wild child' theme we've surely all come across before, yet it moves steadily and the dialogue is excellent and fun, so I was willing to roll with it.

Finally, if I lived there, I'd attend Asher's father's church based on his character. Brian Powell comes across as an outstanding pastor. He has some good advice for his son about not setting people on pedastals, and also delivers lines like, 'Either be with her and accept the bad with the good, or get out of her life.' I'm not always a great fan of books which drag us into the characters' church culture, with Sunday morning services, home groups, after church lunches and all, but it works okay with this one. Maybe that's because all this just helps to emphasise the huge differences between Katie's and Asher's backgrounds.

I don't know whether their marriage will be completely smooth sailing, but if they can weather what happens in this book, we would hope they'll make it.

Thanks to Waterfall Press and NetGalley for my review copy.

4 stars

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