Hearts Awakening by Delia Parr
Series: Hearts Along the River #1
Published by Bethany House
Publish Date: March 1, 2010
Find it here: Goodreads / Amazon / B&N
With no means to support herself, Ellie Kilmer agrees to work as a housekeeper for the young widower who lives on Dillon Island, hopeful she can obtain a proper reference. But Jackson Smith quickly realizes that Ellie’s presence may solve his own problems–both the rearing of his young boys and the scandal that surrounds his first marriage. When a marriage of convenience is offered, Ellie is initially humiliated. Though she is past the age most women marry, she has more pride than to agree to his outlandish suggestion. Yet what options does she have? To marry would mean a home and stability. So despite the rumors circling Jackson and his first wife, Ellie accepts this unlikely proposal… (from Goodreads)
My Thoughts: Sometimes I just need a good comfort read. While I was browsing Amazon a few days ago, I found Hearts Awakening by Delia Parr – since it had a great cover and the story seemed to be exactly what I was looking for, I immediately one-clicked and downloaded it to my Kindle. I LOVE this decision.
Hearts Awakening begins in August 1840 – Ellie Kilmer has just agreed to take a job working for Jackson Smith, the widower with two very young boys that lives on Dillon Island, across the river from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Ellie has been hired to come into the house and clean up a bit (a lot, actually – the house is a huge mess), cook, and help Jackson take care of his two young sons. Right away, Ellie is met with some resistance from the boys – she expected this – and from the extremely modern-for-that-time stove that Jackson has. Ellie gets to work immediately, however, deep cleaning the house, taking care of the children, and doing her best not to burn every single thing that she cooks in the very unfamiliar stove.
Ellie does not expect to be employed on a permanent basis – she expects to work temporarily. BUT! It is important to her to do an excellent job so she can earn a positive recommendation for whatever job she takes next in hopes that that job will be permanent. See, Ellie is a spinster – she is past the age of marrying during those times – and she does not wish to burden her cousins any longer by living with them. (Besides, they have some unsavory living and business practices from which she would like to separate herself.) Ellie hopes that Jackson will find her work satisfactory enough to provide a positive reference at the end of their agreed-upon time of her employment, and then she will be on her merry ole’ job-seeking way. There ends up being a hitch in the plan, though, when Jackson asks Ellie to stay on permanently…as his wife. But his reasons for doing so AND the way he asks are just, well, not what Ellie hopes for in a marriage. (Jackson gets so excited about and caught up in his idea that he forgets to use tact and gentleness when he talks to Ellie about it.)
SO! After Ellie gasps and makes faces and says her piece, she stomps off – completely offended! But then she thinks about it for a while…Jackson Smith makes some great points in his “business proposition” (aka marriage of convenience proposal). While it isn’t what Ellie desires in her heart for a marriage based on love, it is stability and a family, and she has grown to love those boys over time. Equally or maybe more importantly, it seems like Jackson’s family needs her as much as she needs them. Maybe Ellie really is in exactly the place she needs to be but she does not realize it? Perhaps she can learn to accept that this is what is right for her? Perhaps Ellie has been placed here for greater needs than her own – maybe she and this family were meant to find each other…
Ellie decides to take a leap of faith and stay. She goes back to Jackson to accept his offer. Ellie has to bite her tongue often during the early stages of their marriage, but these times become fewer and fewer as she realizes that she just might be falling for this guy AND that Jackson just might be falling for her as well.
I absolutely adored Ellie Kilmer as a character. Bless her heart, she hears herself called a spinster by others so often (I just hate that word) that it serves to remind her over and over that she is ALONE in life. But there is a reason she ended up unmarried at her age, and it is a good one. It is unfortunate that she found herself living with her relatives because she was so unhappy with them – I think this is why she jumped at the chance to take the job with Jackson Smith out on Dillon Island. When she arrived at her new job, Ellie really had no idea what to expect nor what she was getting into – the young children were in denial that their mother was truly gone and believed that Ellie had come to take her place. She had to work hard to get them to open up to her. And then there was the stove that I mentioned earlier – while it provided plenty of laughs for me, I think it tortured poor Ellie but it showed her resolve and her determination, and it proved that she was a hard-working woman that would not give up when things were tough for her. Through something that seems as simple as a stove (but was difficult for Ellie), Ellie was able to overcome a big obstacle and find a strength: making desserts. Even when she would batter and bruise and destroy the rest of the meals, she found that she could win her way into the hearts of Jackson and the young boys little-by-little by making the delicious apple desserts they loved from the apples harvested from the trees on the island.
Jackson Smith was a great character – I think there is a little more for us to discover in him (vs Ellie) throughout the story, or perhaps he goes through a greater character development than even Ellie. When we meet him, he has been through it and back again, and it is obvious by the way he interacts with Ellie (perhaps because she is a woman?). As a result of the events that have taken place before the book begins, he has built walls that seem impenetrable and it is clear that he has some trust issues. This just is not going to work for Ellie, you see, because if she is going to be responsible for taking care of his home and his children, and basically managing his life, she wants him to open up to her. They have to be on the same page! SO! there is a bit of a battle of wills between the two of them here and there, and I must admit that I enjoyed reading it. While Jackson spends a portion of the story thinking of Ellie as “plain” and even calling her that to her face (oh yes, he does!), it isn’t long before their battle of wills begins to seem as much that as the behavior of two people with the makings of a crush. Since Jackson has a bit of a complicated romantic past – a history that Ellie seems a little bit oblivious to, actually – this prevents him from opening his heart fully to Ellie as quickly and easily as he probably could have.
There is scandal that surrounded Jackson’s previous wife – BIG scandal. She had some bad behavior and when she died, there were some questions that were left unanswered. All of this – her behavior, her death – has clouded and colored Jackson’s social reputation in a huge way, which is quite unfortunate. It is something that he initially doesn’t really want Ellie to know, even after they agree to marry, but it is inevitable that she find out. And when she does, bit-by-bit: Oh the drama! Over and over! Town gossip can be so awful! But as this couple grew to trust one another more as a team, as co-parents (remember, this marriage is convenient), and then later as friends, and even later as more-than-friends – the way they work together to overcome the gossip and the scandal and everything thrown at them is really wonderful. PLUS it does wonders for Jackson in terms of breaking down his walls and allowing him to open up to love again.
All along the way, there are hills and valleys, bumps and mistakes – these are all a part of life. It was just endearing to me, I think, to watch these two iron everything out. I watched a strong woman and a strong man fight to make their marriage-of-convenience work, but for different reasons. And it was interesting to me that while they both were strong in different ways, they each taught the other one strength and purpose and the value of being vulnerable.
Hearts Awakening has a great secondary cast – there is one other family living on the island that is pretty fantastic and of course the townspeople that gossip and spread rumors are all fun to read, even though they aren’t necessarily positive characters. The cast is fun all around; everyone played their part. I loved the time setting as the culture of the 1800’s is very present in the book. I think I enjoyed the actual setting as much as anything, probably, because it was so easy to visualize – particularly the fictional Dillon Island.
In glancing online to learn more about this series, it appears that the Hearts Along the River Series is a companion series, which is exciting. I recommend Hearts Awakening by Delia Parr to people that enjoy historical fiction with romance, inspirational fiction, a great setting, and comfort reads. In fact, this book was free for my Kindle (it is free for NOOK too) so if you think it is something you’d be interested in reading at some point, GO AHEAD AND GRAB IT.
Great Secondary Cast
is currently available for purchase.
Do you ever feel like you need a comfort read?