A Soldier's Promise
Levi Talbot made it home from the Middle East, but his best friend Tomas Lopez didn’t. Before he died, Tommy asked Levi to look out for Tommy’s wife, Val, and their girls, so Levi goes home to Whispering Pines, New Mexico, to fulfill his promise. While I appreciate that Karen Templeton is out there fighting the good fight of ordinary-people stories, this particular story dragged. Add a troubled heroine who didn’t seem ready for a relationship and a hero who is perhaps too ready, and I don’t recommend this particular book.
Levi is a good ol’ boy. We can see this in his references to Val as “sweet cheeks,” or “drunk off her cute little ass,” and in the strange way that back in high school, he “stepped aside” from his own interest in Val because he realized that Tommy was interested in her (shouldn’t that be Val’s choice, and not his?). This is balanced by many good qualities, like when he apologizes for pushing Val to do things before she is ready and how he makes an effort to speak about Tommy when and how Val wants, but I wasn’t completely comfortable with his paternal attitude to Val.
At times, Levi’s courtship of this newly bereaved young mother with abandonment issues came across as taking advantage of her vulnerable state. Val’s got mommy issues (her mom was, for lack of a better term, the town slut). She’s got daddy issues (he abandoned her as a baby.) She’s got widow issues – Tommy’s only been dead seven months. She’s got parenting issues: her younger daughter was born right around when Tommy died, and she also has a five year old. I struggled to see her as someone who was ready for a relationship. To be fair, the characters acknowledged this, but I think Val needed more than just “Oh, wait, everybody else has left me alone but that doesn’t mean Levi will” to be ready for a happy ending.
There really isn’t conflict in this book beyond Val and Levi revealing and reflecting on Val’s emotional history and coming to terms with Tommy’s death. I definitely appreciate a book which addresses more thoroughly the lengthy process of grieving. However, the scenes became repetitive. I needed to see more growth through the book, and to see it manifested in actions, not just in Val stating that she was changing or coming to terms with various problems. She does go to a party at the ranch, but considering what a huge step that was for her, it made me worry that she still had a long way to go to be emotionally healthy.
In terms of writing, the author has some moments of lovely prose, as when Val reflects that “the nights were hard, silent and long and lonely, those thoughts whistling through her head like the wind in a cemetery.” She modifies her third-person narrator voice to reflect Val and Levi, and with Levi, that’s a mixed bag. Some of his writing doesn’t seem plausible for a twenty-something man, as when Tommy had been “sweet on” Val. On the other hand, some of it is bang on. When Levi puts the baby in her “play… cage… thing,” it sounded exactly like a young man with no parenting experience. There were a few spelling and formatting glitches in my e-advance which I hope will be sorted out.
It’s possible that if you enjoy gentle, quiet, slice-of-life books, the strength of the writing and the reflective protagonists will raise this for you. I decided on a C+ because of my discomfort with the Levi/Val relationship, especially in speed and timing, and because conversations became so repetitive to me that if I hadn’t been reading for review, I wouldn’t have bothered to finish it.