I'm going to gush about a book that is very hard-to-find and naturally out-of-print. Now might be the time to think about selling one of your kidneys on the black market.
I've read some enjoyable historical romances this year, but nothing that's really moved me. Nothing that has smacked me in the face, put my heart on my sleeve and emotionally invested me to the depths that To Dream Again by Laura Lee Guhrke did. This is a great, great book. My suggestion - even if you have no interest in it by the end of this posting, if you see it in a local used bookstore, buy it for a friend. Really, it's fantastic.
I have a hard time articulating why a book works for me when it's a keeper. I know that sounds a little weird, but I think it might be because all of my "keeper" books emotionally effect me in some way. It's hard to articulate emotions - which is probably why I will never write a romance novel. But let's see if I can muster up a decent explanation.
Mara Elliot is a widow with her back up against the wall. Her husband, James, has gotten himself killed. James was a dreamer. A wanderer with itchy feet who dreamed big then packed his bags when his get-rich-kick schemes fell short. Mara gave him an ultimatum 4 years ago, which is how he ended up in America and how he ended up dying in a mine collapse.
But Mara is resourceful. She has taken the small company that James started in London's East End and made it solvent. Sure she has had to work her fingers to the bone, but for the chance of security and independence Mara thinks her sacrifices have been worth it. But James death ruins everything. The bank calls in a loan.
To save her company she must enter a partnership with Nathaniel Chase, a man who knew James. Like James, Nathaniel is a dreamer and has this bizarre idea to manufacture toy trains. Mara is terrified out of her mind, but to save her company she had to give Nathaniel controlling interest. So they're making toys whether she hates the idea or not.
However something miraculous happens along the way. Nathaniel decides he wants their partnership to work. He decides he wants Mara to trust him. He wants the pretty young widow to live life instead of being afraid of it. He just didn't intend to fall in love with her.
Throughout all of this are Nathaniel's dreams, Mara's fears, a young boy in desperate need of stability and the villain, Nathaniel's older and jealous brother.
Sometimes as a reader you just know when a book is going to work for you. I knew it within the first chapter. I knew it when Mara stands up and tells Nathaniel in no uncertain terms that she will not have her security threatened by another "rainbow-chasing dreamer." I knew it because Guhrke rings more emotion out of her characters than any author has a right too.
I knew it when I read:
She lowered her face into her gloved hands, loving him for being the man that he was, hating him for not being the man she wanted. But most of all, she hated herself for the pain she had caused him and the fear that made her unable to take it away.
I'm sorry, I just about lost it there.
Extremely minor quibble here: I did feel the book was about 50 pages too long. But honestly, who am I to complain? Nathaniel is just about the most perfect Beta hero I've read ever and Mara might be scared, but man she's a woman to admire. A great, great book. Guhrke should be proud of this one.