I don’t like tearjerkers. I don’t enjoy crying on my lunch break and having to return to work with raccoon eyes. However, I may just have to change my anti-angst stance because this is the second angsty novel in recent months that has worked for me despite my aversion to them.
Twenty-five-year-old Finnea Winslet has spent the last nineteen years of her life with her father in a wild, uncivilized part of Africa. When he succumbs to jungle fever she is forced to return to Boston, to the brother she does not know and the mother who deserted her when she was only six.
American Matthew Hawthorne is suckered into the job of guiding Finnea safely home while they ride the dangerous African railway together. After frightening all of the other passengers into another compartment, Matthew is sitting alone when Finnea bursts in upon him. Despite his most fervent attempt to scare the wits out of her she remains unfazed by his threats and, to his amazement, is unmoved when he reveals a horrible facial scar. For a brief moment, while staring into her wild, green gaze, Matthew is able to forget the reason he escaped Boston and traveled to Africa. When the train derails he is unable to leave Finnea and spends a grueling night fighting to keep her alive until help arrives. When she awakens he is gone, and Finnea believes she’ll never again see Matthew, who, in her eyes, is the most beautiful man she’s ever met.
Months later, Finnea, struggling to please her mother and diligently trying to follow the rigid rules of Boston society, is failing badly at both. At her first formal dinner party Finnea is shocked to meet up with Matthew, who acts blunt and cold towards her. After she painfully embarrasses herself, he becomes the man she met in Africa and kindly saves her from total mortification. Still wanting to please her stuffy and unkind mother, Finnea decides that Matthew will teach her the ways of Boston society. She’s not deterred by the fact that Matthew wants nothing to do with her. He will help her. The scene where he is once again duped into doing something against his wishes for her benefit is priceless and very funny.
But this romance is definitely not a love-and-laughter affair. Both of these characters have tremendous emotional wounds that must be overcome before they can love freely. Matthew, once the happy-go-lucky golden boy of society, is now marred by a facial scar that frightens children and uppity gentlewomen. After the death of his wife and the ensuing scandal, he retreated from life. His beautiful six-year-old daughter Mary can’t bear to look at him and he fears that she does not love him any longer. In typical male fashion he doesn’t have a clue how to remedy the situation. Many readers may be tempted to shake him, but I found this portrayal of a young father painfully believable and very true to life.
Initially, Matthew’s helplessness at his situation makes him strike out angrily at those closest to him, but eventually he bares his soul to Finnea who, most reluctantly, soothes his mental and physical wounds. Finnea is reluctant because, it turns out, she is more emotionally damaged and closed off than Matthew could ever dream of being. To reveal the reason would be to ruin the emotional intensity of the novel, but suffice it to say her reason for creating an immense wall around her heart will reduce most readers to tears.
With all of this damage, darkness, and suffering, Dove’s Way could easily have gone the way of far too many a romance novel and turned into a tiresome, depressing affair – but it doesn’t. Surprisingly, there is much gentle teasing and tender sensuality which keeps the book from sinking under the weight of all of the angst.
My only niggle concerns the initial night the couple spends together after that train wreck. It’s obvious that they share important pieces of themselves during that fateful night because bits of their conversation pop up time and again during the course of the story. I felt cheated and teased, and I really wish that the author had included a blow-by-blow account of that night. Call me greedy, but another fifty pages, in this 300-page book that ended far too soon, would’ve been fine by me!
If you’re searching for a grand romance with a beautifully realized setting and characters who aren’t always paragons of good behavior but instead are realistic people with real problems, skip the mascara, grab the tissues and reach for this book. I don’t think you’ll regret it.