Monday, May 31, 2010

Review: The Heart's Journey Home by Jen Stephens

The Heart's Journey Home by Jen Stephens (Book 1 of the Harvest Bay Series)
ISBN: 9780979748554
Genre: Contemporary Christian Fiction/Romance
Pages: 381
Date Published: February 2010
Publisher: Sheaf House
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Back of the book blurb:
Three years after Kate Sterling's heart was shattered by the unexpected death of her husband, she packs up what is left of her life and moves back to Harvest Bay, Ohio, with her young daughter. She soon discovers that her sleepy hometown has changed--and that she has been given a second chance at love. But is God leading her to a love linked to the past...or to one who will walk with her into the future?
I'm not a single mom and I've never been widowed, but there were several aspects of main character Kate's story that really resonated with me. The first has to do with her move back home. As a woman preparing to move my family back to my small hometown after ten years away, I could absolutely relate with Kate's uncertainty and realization that people from her childhood had changed in the time that she'd been away. It was lovely to see her not just reconnect with old friends but make new ones as well. I think I also saw some similarities between my hometown and Harvest Bay--not particularly in the details, but mainly in the small town-feel where everyone knows everyone else.

A second aspect of Kate's story that I connected with was her struggle with her faith and making her way back to trusting in God's plans for her. Her struggle mainly had to do with her faith being shaken by the death of her husband--she wondered why God let her husband die, and wondered how she could rely on Him or trust His promises again. I haven't had my faith shaken by such a heart-wrenching event, but I have had moments of doubt and periods of distance from God caused by other weaknesses within myself. But I can definitely relate to Kate's wish to find her way back, to feel a "God high" again--it's something I've dealt with in the not-so-distant past.

Another great thing about this book is that the secondary characters were well-developed and gave the story wonderful warmth and feeling. I want friends like Kate's! And her love interests were men of strong character who were both worthy of her affection. I also appreciated that Kate's motivation in leading the single parent group at her church was not just to hold a bible study, but to provide real help and moral support for single parents in their day-to-day struggles as well as bringing them closer to God. I feel like that kind of motivation and passion is more likely to be successful than being motivated by a feeling of obligation.

Themes that I picked up on in this novel that were simply but beautifully developed included following God's will (not just by Kate but by others in the story as well), second chances (at love, life, and faith), finding love in unexpected places, adapting to and appreciating change, and finding hope in life even when it seems impossible. When I finished this book I thought it would be a wonderful one to recommend especially to single moms and women who have lost loved ones, as the themes are so uplifting for people in those situations. But it's also wonderful for anyone who enjoys romantic storylines and is looking for a good book about truly finding their way home to God's arms.

The Heart's Journey Home is the first book in Ms. Stephens's Harvest Bay series. I really enjoyed it--I read it at what seemed to be just the right time in my life--and am looking forward to going back to Harvest Bay to see how God continues to work there in her upcoming book The Heart's Lullaby.

CONTEST! At the front of the book, Ms. Stephens highlighted the lives of two real people, Cassie Ground and Dan Olien, and made them minor characters in the book. She plans to do the same thing in her second book, and is currently accepting nominations for the person/people who've made a profound difference in your life. The last day to get your nominations in is Father's Day. Click here for more details (at her blog).

Source: Joan at Sheaf House sent me a copy of this book for review. Thank you Joan!

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