What Hope Remembers
What Hope Remembers is the final book in Johnnie Alexander’s Misty Willow trilogy that takes place in a small fictional town only a short commute from Columbus, Ohio. The focus of the story is Amy Somers, related to both AJ and Brett whose romances played out in the previous books. I had not read the others in the series and still enjoyed this story.
Former Marine Gabe Kendall returns to Misty Willow after serving several years in prison for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. As a child, he spent many wonderful hours at his aunt and uncle’s horse farm, but when he arrives, he finds the farm in disrepair and his now widowed Aunt Tess struggling to keep it afloat. His return brings back many memories, especially when he encounters Amy Somers with whom he shared a passion for horses and a momentous kiss long ago. A big city girl, Amy has been working as a lobbyist, but when the pressures of her lifestyle led to an anorexic condition, Amy quit her job, sought therapy and reluctantly came back to Misty Willow to complete her recovery and make a new start.
Amy’s coping mechanism during her struggle with food was to create a ‘canopy’ world containing only good memories. The kiss of long ago and her leaving Misty Willow and Gabe behind do not fit into the canopy, and she acts as if their time together meant nothing. This makes it seem to Gabe that everyone remembers him except Amy, the one person whose recollection should be the strongest. After an unsettled childhood, service in Afghanistan, and his prison time, Gabe yearns for a true home and a new purpose so he is grateful when Amy’s cousin offers him work, and the church enfolds him in its community.
When Logan Cassidy, a man from Amy’s lobbyist life in Columbus, appears, she compares the new, less hectic possibilities in Misty Willow against her old life of wheeling and dealing and her previous goal of moving to Washington DC and lobbying in the ‘big leagues’. Logan also brings a proposition. Misty Willow land, including Tess’s farm, is sought after by a buyer prepared to go to great lengths to own the acreage. Amy refuses to work with him, but after several ‘accidents’ at the farm, she and Gabe are convinced that someone is trying to force Tess to sell. They begin to work together to learn the truth.
Amy and Gabe do a long dance around each other as they search for fulfilling life paths which may or may not merge together. With Gabe adjusting to life as an ex-con and Amy’s own issues, their attraction seems doomed. The memory of that long-ago kiss urges them to explore the possibilities the kiss sparked but this remembrance is a point of tension between them, and until the last chapters, neither feels at liberty to bring up what the other has not yet mentioned.
The theme of the novel is mending broken relationships. Amy is working on building an improved bond with her overprotective brother and his wife while Gabe is gaining a new circle of friends from old acquaintances and finding a community after the sterility of prison. It is a book of old life and old values being re-evaluated and challenged within a soft insistence of God’s care and direction. The story unfolds like a lazy, persistent river with rocks underneath that ripple the surface. The inspirational element of the book comes from advice learned through the characters’ experiences shared among themselves rather than through Bible study or church services although faith is an integral part of the author’s flowing river of storytelling.
Two things bothered me while reading this novel. The first is that Ms. Alexander assumes the reader will know in which area of the country Misty Willow lies. From some hints, I assumed a location near Columbus, OH, but mentions of “the city” made me think of New York. The location is vague enough that I had to check previous books to be sure. The second irritation was how long it took Amy to share her memory of the kiss and open the way to divulge the secrets of that long-ago encounter. Even though the author does create a variety of reasons and circumstances to delay communication, I felt there was not reason enough to wait so long. I became a bit frustrated, particularly with Amy for not talking about it sooner.
What drew me on was the multi-level story, watching both Gabe and Amy grow through their experiences and pain, the mystery surrounding the horse farm accidents, and the slow development of a new family dynamic for the Somers family which expands to include Gabe and his father along the way. There’s a lot of deep, quiet emotion in this book, and the author works with some hard issues – struggling with anorexia, greed turned violent, and unfair imprisonment. Through it all are layered the love and respect that comes from family and community. I can recommend What Hope Remembers to those looking for an engaging read that will immerse you in a sweet romance with a touch of faith.