During a rescue in Ecuador gone bad, Air Force Major Bruce “Striker” Stanton, a Pararescue Jumper (PJ for short), realizes he only has three regrets in life: “Not having a dog. A house. A wife.” As soon as he gets stateside he immediately rectifies the first two things on the list. The third is going to take a little longer, but he has a candidate in mind: Navy pilot Lieutenant Grace Yates.
As much as Grace likes Bruce, she’s not sure she’s ready. She’s still in mourning for the boyfriend she lost a few years earlier, and she doesn’t want to date someone who’s job involves a lot of risk-taking. Not to mention that they are stationed in different cities when they’re stateside, as well as spending a lot of time overseas. Grace is worried the obstacles are too great, but Bruce persuades her to give them a chance. They start with exchanging letters while on deployment in the Middle East. Soon friendship is budding into something more, and when they get home they start exploring options for a more permanent relationship. Unfortunately, tensions are rising in the Middle East due to a drought, and they must return to the region and put their lives in danger once again.
Bruce is one of the kindest and sweetest heroes I’ve run into in a very long time. His letters to Grace are warm and amusing and very supportive when Grace needs it most. He never questions her job, nor the risks she faces each day, because it’s part of who she is and he understands her need to fly. The danger inherent in his job, as well as the fact that he never spends a lot of time at home, makes him more appreciative of the people in his life. He clearly considers the time he gets to spend with them precious, and he makes the most of it. This is the kind of guy women dream of meeting.
Grace is a good foil for him. While Bruce knows how to live in the moment and accept things as they come, she’s more of a worst-case-scenario thinker. She needs to be to do her job to the best of her ability. Through Bruce she learns to take each day and enjoy it for it’s worth. Readers will be able to identify with Grace’s insecurities and understand her reluctance to jump into a new relationship. The author handles this so smoothly the reader hardly notices her hesitation, because she never pushes Bruce away. Instead she works out her demons while enjoying the friendship, until she’s ready to move further into the relationship.
There is also a delightful secondary relationship between Bruce’s little sister, Jill, a civilian, and Tom, AKA Wolf, a Navy SEAL. Unlike Bruce and Grace who are both in the armed services, these two deal with the issues between civilians and their military spouses such as long separations and lack of communication.
I started reading Henderson’s books after I reviewed The Guardian last year. True Valor has to be the best one yet. I loved the characters, and the story was timely and intriguing. Also the fact that both Grace and Bruce already believe in God and share their faith made their characters fuller, instead of making me uncomfortable with the feeling I was being proselytized, which can happen when one character is trying to bring another character to the faith.
Yet, there is one thing that keeps this book from being a Desert Isle Keeper for me. At first I thought of it as a lack of realistic language. Everything in this book, from politics to air craft carriers, is described in such detail the book comes across as very realistic and grounded in real life. In light of that, to have every single character speak with the vocabulary of a G-rated movie causes a slight stretch of the suspension of disbelief. I fully realize that language restrictions are part and parcel of an inspirational romance, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the omission of the kind of language one might expect from military personnel made the characters less real. Their strongest emotions were always reined in. It made them less human and too perfect, and took from the book that undefinable spark that would have made it a true keeper.
Still, I highly recommend True Valor. If you haven’t yet discovered Henderson’s work, you’re missing out on a truly talented writer with a knack for creating enjoyable characters and strong stories.