PUBLICATION DATE: OCTOBER 01, 2012
ngrid Larsen has travelled to American from Sweden with the hope of finding employment, after her brother informs her of how well he is doing working for a lumber camp. But her brother fails to meet her at their arranged point, and as Ingrid’s money begins to dwindle, she has to find work without him. Taking a job as a servant for a spoiled Southern woman, she travels to White Rock, Michigan. But this plan soon falls through as well, when Ingrid’s employer begins to abuse her. One of the few people who is actually kind to her during her time of employment is a local widower, Joshua Hunter, who is struggling to raise his five children after the sudden death of his wife. When an inquest into his wife’s death is carried out, the judge considers giving Joshua’s mother-in-law custody of the children, believing that he can’t raise them on his own. Seeing how much Joshua cares for his children, Ingrid can’t allow this to happen, and spontaneously offers to marry him, right there in the makeshift courtroom. Ingrid and Joshua find themselves thrown into a marriage that suits both of their needs, even if they barely know each other. While Joshua still hasn’t recovered from the death of his wife, Ingrid longs for their marriage to be more than one of convenience. Will her dream ever come true?
It’s been several days since I finished reading A Promise to Love, but I’m still as overwhelmed as I was when I came to the final page of the book. This book had me gripped from the start, and the ending was so intense that I’m fairly certain I would have thrown something at anyone who tried to interrupt my reading. Don’t let this book fool you – it is not the standard marriage of convenience story, although it does have many of the typical tropes that you’d expect to find. Ingrid struggles to live up to the memory of Joshua’s first wife, and you can’t help but sympathise with her desire to be loved and her continual rejection. But I could also understand Joshua; could anyone truly fall in love again so shortly after their spouse passed away? Neither character came off as the “bad guy” in this situation, and I imagine readers will be sympathetic to both of their struggles.
Initially I found Ingrid a little too perfect, since she managed to accomplish so much housework every day and won the hearts of Joshua’s children almost immediately. She made me feel a little guilty for how little housework I manage to complete every day, and I had to continually remind myself that Ingrid isn’t also editing a novel and writing a dissertation while balancing laundry and cooking. But I came to realise that Ingrid’s shortcoming is her stubbornness, as shown in the treatment she gives Joshua whenever he manages to offend her. So don’t be put off by Ingrid’s initial perfect housewife image; she’s far from it. And even I could admire her desire to prove her worth to Joshua by making his home a happy place.
Joshua’s first wife, Diantha, is almost an invisible character in the story. Although she dies in the prologue, she remains in the minds of Joshua’s family and friends, with even his neighbours speculating over her death. This brought an element of mystery to the novel, and I was fascinated by its outcome. I don’t want to spoil the mystery for any potential readers, but I will say that I was both surprised and pleased that the author chose to explore the topic of mental illness in a time when so little was known about it. There was also some discussion about what can be best described as a rudimentary version of the Morning After Pill, which I had no idea had existed in this time period.
My only complaint about the way Diantha’s mental illness was treated was that when Joshua acknowledged the difficulties his wife had had, he was finally able to move on and make more of an effort in his marriage to Ingrid because he finally realised that Diantha hadn’t been a good mother. This might well have been true, but I wished there had been more of a focus on the fact that Diantha couldn’t help being a bad mother, given her mental state. As someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, I know that sometimes I get into a state of mind that I hate, and it’s very hard to get out of it. I have strategies to get out of this state, and family members to support me, along with an artificial light device – but Diantha had none of these. I know that the characters only had a very basic understanding of Diantha’s condition, but I wish there had been a bit more sympathy for her.
A lot of the historical aspects explored in this novel were completely new to me. First there was the medical history, with Diantha’s mental health and the abortifacient pills, then there was the Great Michigan Fire of 1871. I’m sure everyone has heard of the Chicago Fire of the same year, but Michigan was a new location for me. I know very little about forest fires, so the descriptions of the lead up to the fire were utterly fascinating. It was clear that Serena had done a lot of research into the topic and she succeeded in producing incredibly realistic descriptions of a forest fire. From the first descriptions of the smoky haze around Ingrid’s home to the last page of the book, I don’t think I put this novel down at all. This is a book that has it all – romance, mystery, history, and now suspense. I was impressed that Serena was able to roll all of these into one novel without making any of the elements feel forced or out of place, but the forest fire seemed to be the perfect way to conclude the book. If there was any doubt that Ingrid and Joshua truly cared for each other, or that Ingrid loved Joshua’s children, it was eradicated from my mind with the conclusion to the novel.
As I said earlier, this isn’t your standard marriage of convenience story. The romance is subtle, akin to Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly. Ingrid and Joshua’s love for each takes a while to grow, and it matures amidst a novel full of mystery, history and suspense. This is a novel that I can’t recommend enough. It has all the elements that make a great historical romance, along with some others that are completely unexpected. This may be the first novel I’ve read from Serena B. Miller, but I’m certain that it won’t be the last.
ngrid Larsen finds herself in the woods of Michigan in 1871 after emigrating from Sweden. She and her twin brother, Hans, have plans to make a great life for themselves in America. But Ingrid has not been able to locate her brother, who is in one of the many lumber camps throughout the state, and she is currently employed by a harsh taskmaster.
Joshua Hunter faced many battles during his time in the Union army, but nothing prepared him for the loss of his beloved wife. With five young children to raise and many in the town questioning his wife’s mysterious death, Joshua does not know where to turn.
When Ingrid and Joshua impulsively decide to get married, they think that many of their problems will be solved. But their challenges are only beginning.
Will Ingrid be strong enough to fight for her new family, and will Joshua ever feel more for his new wife than just gratitude? Ingrid and Joshua will both have to rely on their faith in God and their promise to each other to find their way to love.
Marriage of convenience or mail-order bride novels seem to be favorites among historical fiction authors, but they are also some of my favorite stories to read. A Promise to Love started as a marriage of convenience story but turned into so much more.
I especially liked how the plot partially incorporated Joshua’s late wife, Diantha. Many marriage of convenience books barely mention the first wife or if they do, they portray her as a saint. I thought it was genuine that Joshua’s first wife would have a major role to play in his new relationship with Ingrid. The investigation into her death also added dimension to the plot. It was interesting that Diantha was portrayed as a less-than-perfect wife and mother which stood in stark contrast to Ingrid’s instant love for the children and excellent work ethic. I appreciated how Joshua and Ingrid handled the things that came to light about Diantha, but I wish they had been a bit more compassionate when thinking about her.
This novel was a bit gritty at times and difficult to read because of its straightforwardness and because of its emotion. Although, this made the characters and the situations seem very realistic. Ingrid’s Swedish ‘accent’ was hard to read and follow at times, but I soon got used to it and it lent to the credibility of the novel. While Ingrid’s way of speaking was convincing, I kind of wondered why all of these people who were from Michigan spoke in what read like Southern accents. Maybe most of the people had migrated from the South after the war or maybe the accent was supposed to be more ‘country’ than Southern, but it just felt a little out of place.
I thought this novel was engaging and, aside from the accents, I thought the characters were written very well. I really felt the emotions of the main characters, and the secondary characters came alive (the evil characters were really evil) without overshadowing the two primary characters. However, I thought that some of the sentence structure was awkward. Occasionally I would have to read a rather long sentence two or three times to get its meaning. I also thought that the scene changes (from Joshua’s thoughts to Ingrid’s thoughts) were frequent and sometimes abrupt. I am hoping some of this was due to the electronic copy that I had – there was nothing to note scene breaks – and not to the style in which the book was written.
The romance between Joshua and Ingrid was fairly typical for a marriage of convenience story, but it was still interesting to read. I thought that Ingrid fell in love a bit too quickly but that Joshua’s side of things was more true-to-life. Even though I thought Ingrid’s infatuation was not quite convincing at first and that she was trying too hard to earn Joshua’s love, I loved the moment in the book when she gave all of her work over to God. That was really a touching moment.
The spiritual side of this book kind of went back and forth a lot. Sometimes it would come across really clearly, and other times it would be really vague. But I guess this once again contributed to the realism that was portrayed in this book. When the main characters were struggling, then their faith did not shine through. But when they turned to God and relied on His strength, then His love shone brightly.
The ending of this novel was very exciting and almost completely satisfying. I would have liked a little bit more detail on where Joshua and Ingrid went from there – maybe even an additional chapter showing us what happened rather than an epilogue telling a bunch of facts about what would happen.
In this novel, there was a lot going on. It seemed to have more meat to it than the typical historical romance and marriage of convenience story. The events and the characters – both their strengths and weaknesses – all contributed to a realistic story that was knitted together with faith, hope, and love.