I had not read Vanessa Miller’s work before, and just happened to pick up Forever, her fiftieth book and a significant milestone for any author. Forever also serves as the first installment of her new Let’s Stay Together series. I was pleased to find a smooth read with a story full of a traditional Christian message and a lovely romance.
For real-estate agent Jewel Dawson, life is good. Although she hasn’t attended church in a long while, she depends on her church-going, God-loving, Bible-reading family for support. She and her sisters are planning a surprise trip to Antigua for her parents’ thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. Her boyfriend is a successful sports agent, and he has just proposed marriage in the three-million-dollar house he plans on purchasing for them. Jewel is thrilled with the proposal, but the house’s size and over-the-top garish style make her uneasy. Regarding the ring on her finger, she brushes away her doubts, but they come roaring back the next day when she receives three dozen roses and a pre-nuptial agreement to sign. Clearly Jackson Lewis, soon-to-be ex-fiancé, has already planned his exit strategy and does not expect their marriage to last.
Jackson can’t wait to marry the love of his life, but his own experience with a father who is on his fourth marriage and a celebrity world where no marriage happens without a prenup makes him cautious, even with the woman he loves. Hurt and angry, Jewel returns Jackson’s ring, but given the upcoming anniversary trip, urges him to keep the break-up a secret until after the celebration. Along with the silence, the couple strikes a deal that Jackson will attend dinner with Jewel’s family as he often does, and Jewel will attend a dinner out with Jackson’s father and his wife, a new occasion for Jewel. With the engagement news, Jewel’s family welcomes Jackson as a son, whereas Jackson’s most recent stepmother applauds Jewel for snagging a rich catch. Appalled, Jewel flees the restaurant, more convinced than ever that becoming a part of Jackson’s dysfunctional family is a non-starter. Jackson follows her and asks her to clarify her issue with the prenup. Her reply is succinct. The prenup signals that unlike her, he has no certainty in a forever union, and she cannot marry him. Her heart broken, Jewel leaves, knowing she’ll need time and space to heal. The trip to Antigua awaits, where secrets of the present and past are revealed, and Jewel and Jackson must heal their own broken souls before thinking of a forever together.
The author does not dwell in pools of angst or indulge in long spurts of introspection, but keeps the storyline moving while showing through interactions, dialogue, and short emotional descriptions how the characters are faring. The conflicts between Jewel and Jackson are real and relatable – different upbringings leading to different value systems, past hurts and tragedy that formed them both, and the role that money plays in each of their lives. The story moves smoothly through lively dialogue and action making this book a fast, engaging read while dealing with important subjects. I was never sure if and how this couple would ever get together.
A traditional Christian message, based solidly in the Bible, sits in the center of the plot. A life lived with God’s love ever present, as well as commitment to family and to God’s commandments, does not save us from the trials of this world, but gives us the strength to overcome and thrive. The novel takes several opportunities to present lessons on the consequences of sexually-related activities – pre-marital sex, abortion, and infidelity. Such activities are discussed among the family members in a Christian, moral context.
For all this, the one thing for me that interrupted the reading flow was the scattering of punctuation, spelling, and word use errors throughout the second half of the book. Regrettably, these easily correctable errors diminished my enjoyment in the story. Had this been an ARC, I would probably have been more forgiving, but I read a finished, retail copy of the book, and they really should have been eliminated prior to publication.
Without a doubt, readers of Vanessa Miller will enjoy this book, and I plan to try more of her work in the future. If you’re looking for a story with traditional Christian lessons and an engaging romance, Forever may be a good choice if you are prepared for some editing stumbles along the way.