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The Heart of a Vicar by Sarah M. Eden

I adored this latest installment in the Jonquil Family series. There are so many ways in which, as a fan of these characters, the book was just perfect, but at the same time the book left me asking big questions.

The main character, Harold Jonquil or often affectionately (and sometimes not so affectionately) called “Holy Harry” starts the novel as a well-meaning, but emotionally paralyzed Vicar. His heart is in the right place but his head is constantly evaluating every action he makes and comparing it to what he thinks a Vicar really ought to be. Obviously, he is ever coming up lacking. The heroine comes along and challenges him to do better, delivering a harsh evaluation of his situation that makes his doubts worse. In fact, he doubts he should even be a Vicar anymore. As Harold overcomes his doubts, he grows into both the man and Vicar that the heroine admires and loves. Their happily ever after is both rewarding and sweet.

There are so many things that Eden does well in this novel. First, I loved Harold from page one–a particular strength of this author is the depth of her characterization. Second, she does the impossibly difficult job of managing an enormous cast. This is something that I love about her work. It should be acknowledged that this is hard to do in a novel, extremely hard to do and she manages the complexities of a large cast excellently throughout the novel. Third, I love how she doesn’t give her characters automatically easy solutions. They have to make hard choices that have consequences and they have questions that they don’t have easy answers too.  Lastly, I love so much how Eden lingers over her character’s moments of deep joy in this novel and how she allows her characters moments of pure fun.

The only thing that I really felt the novel lacked oddly enough was a deeper spirituality from the main character. Though, I think this critique stems from my expectations as a reader than from the fault of the author. I can’t know really if Eden was afraid that she’d come off preachy. I feel that she tried very very hard not to be. It might be she was self-conscious over the fact that she was writing in a different religious tradition. All I know is that for the most part, family stood in the role of God for most of the book. Harold’s relationship with God is very quiet and mostly experienced in quiet moments and in the context of his family relationships. I found this odd considering his vocation, does he ever stop wondering what his brothers think of him and ask what is God’s will? If the author allows him to ask that question does the novel cease to be a romance? Does it cease to be a family drama? Does it fundamentally change the message of the book? Sometimes a reader’s expectations are not fair. How should we value spirituality we experience communally and via relationships? Mormons and Americans value spiritual individuality so very much that I think it can be hard to validate a spirituality that looks different than that. Is that what I am doing as a reader? So, all I can say is that I am left with deep thoughts, which I think, should be taken as a compliment to the writer.

Thanks to the folks at Covenant for a review copy. Please, enter the giveaway hosted by the publisher below.

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