The Preacher's Daughter by Cheryl St. John definitely fits the bill for readers looking for sweet. This is a nice story with internal conflict. No dastardly villains, just characters trying to heal from their respective pasts. This is a sequel of sorts to The Doctor's Wife (which I still haven't read - yeah, yeah, I know) - so those of you who have read that story will understand just what kind of past the hero, Benjamin Chaney, has to overcome.
The story opens with Lorabeth Holdridge, a girl desperate for a life. Her father is the town preacher in Newton, Kansas and has raised Lorabeth to be pious, dutiful, and hardworking. Yes he cared for her and nurtured her, but the girl has no life. She has dreams, even though she is extremely sheltered. This is a girl who has never had candy (I'd be begging for death myself), made any true friends, been allowed to socialize, and dang she spends her weekends at church. But Lorabeth has concocted a plan, and her father miraculously relents. She's going to work full-time for the Chaney family. Dr. Caleb Chaney has a busy practice, and his wife Ellie is ready to give birth to child #5.
Ellie's brother Benjamin has just set up a practice as a veterinarian, and he takes one look at Lorabeth and realizes he's in trouble. She's so pretty, so nice, and way too good for the likes of him. But he has this selfish desire to "protect" her and that means spending time together, getting to know her, and eventually falling in love with her against his better judgment.
Ben had the Childhood From Hell (see: The Doctor's Wife). Mama was a drunk and a whore - which means Ellie, Ben and younger brother Flynn all had different Daddies and were neglected. Ben saw things adults shouldn't see, let alone children, and let's just say it stunts him emotionally. Even coming to live with Caleb and Ellie later on, he's still unsure. He doesn't know how to be a man, or even what that entails. To him "being a man" isn't desirable, and to a certain extent he equates it to evil. He is trapped by his past, even though his sister has begged him to "let it go." He can't - until he meets Lorabeth.
What I like here is that Lorabeth is innocent without being too-stupid-to-live. She's been very sheltered. She has simple dreams and takes immense joy in having new experiences. Reading the newspaper, buying a new dress, trying jellybeans for the first time; it's this innocence that Ben is attracted to. But just because she has a wide-eyed innocence about her doesn't mean Lorabeth isn't strong. There are also many moments where she is the smartest character in the room. She has a quiet conviction about her, thanks in part to her faith. How this will work for readers is anyone's guess. For a long time Lorabeth smacks of "too good to be true," but then the closing chapters show up. Lorabeth was certainly sheltered, but she knows her own mind. And to think Ben was concerned with her protection from the big, bad world. Silly man.
Ben fits the mold of the tortured hero, and St. John has a way of giving her characters horrific baggage while keeping the story gore-free. The truly awful things tend to happen off-stage, and the actual page count is used to deal with the aftermath.
I think enjoyment of The Preacher's Wife is going to hinge on how well the reader likes gentle stories - because that's what we have here. Out of this author's previous work (which I'm still reading through), I'd compare this one to Sweet Annie. Two sheltered heroines who fall in love with two worldly heroes. And while Ben is certainly worldly, in many ways he is just as innocent as Lorabeth. That whole arrested development thing thanks to a horrific childhood. On a final note, I might also suggest that readers who are fed up with
Final Grade = B.