Long before her father’s unexpected death, Caroline Tyler had taken on most of the responsibilities required for operating the Windmill Point Lighthouse. While other young women—including her own sister Tessa—might prefer looking after a home and tending to children, Caroline has grown to love the lighthouse where she grew up. She can’t imagine living anywhere else, or doing any other kind of job—until the lighthouse inspector arrives to inform her that she is no longer allowed to remain at the lighthouse and that a man—a veteran returning from the Civil War—is going to replace her. Allowing her and her siblings to stay in the lighthouse after her father’s death was apparently a polite courtesy, and now Caroline is faced with only a week to find somewhere new for them to live, and a new job. But if she isn’t allowed to work in a lighthouse—an occupation she is trained to do—who else will offer her employment? Will she be forced to marry simply to put a roof over the heads of her siblings?
Although Ryan Chambers applied for a job as a lighthouse keeper, he didn’t expect to be given the position. Not only is his hand crippled from the Battle of Gettysburg, but his knowledge of lighthouses is limited to what he has learned from his sister, whose husband is also a keeper. In fact, he isn’t sure if he’s the right man for this job at all. The only way he can numb the pain of the lingering shrapnel damage and rid the nightmares of war from his mind is to take opium pills and drink whisky—both of which put him into such a stupor that he might not awaken in time to attend to the lamp in the lighthouse. He longs for a second chance, and an opportunity to earn money to make amends for some of his mistakes during the war, but he isn’t sure if this is the right place for him.
Ryan doesn’t expect the previous keeper to still be residing at Windmill Point when he arrives, and he’s confused as to why he’s been offered the job when Caroline seems entirely capable—especially considering that she has four siblings to support, one of whom is ill and bedridden. He and Caroline strike a deal, where her family can remain at the Point while she teaches him all there is to know about tending the light. Although Caroline talks of moving her family and finding a new job, Ryan can see how much she loves the lighthouse. Surely this is the job she was born to do? But when strange accidents begin occurring around the Point, Ryan wonders if some of the locals don’t agree with Caroline continuing to operate the lighthouse. Who is trying to scare Caroline away, and why? Can Ryan convince Caroline to stay, or will the threats—and Ryan’s nightmares—scare her away?
I read the first Beacons of Hope novel at the start of this year and absolutely fell in love with it. While Hearts Made Whole made its way on to my wishlist, I did worry that it might not live up to its predecessor. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded. While the two novels did have a similar premise—a man and woman thrown together under unexpected circumstances—Ryan and Caroline didn’t rush into their relationship or marry in haste. As much as I love a good marriage of convenience story, I enjoyed how Ryan and Caroline’s relationship developed, how they got to know each other while operating the lighthouse and spending time with Caroline’s family.
That said, this is not your sweet, fluffy romance where the characters always have a chaperone and never touch each other. There is chemistry between these two right from the start, and it’s clear that they’re almost instantly attracted to each other.
I love the way that Jody Hedlund writes about passion and romance. I can’t think a lot of authors who write for the Christian market who portray relationships the way Jody does. Ryan and Caroline are attracted to each other, and embrace this attraction early on in their relationship, but they aren’t overcome with passion. There’s discussion of consent and respecting each other, and when they find themselves locked in a cellar together they continue this attitude of respect and self-control. I’m tired of reading books where characters (particularly male ones) can’t control themselves when they’re alone with someone of the opposite sex. Ryan is falling in love with Caroline and very attracted to her, but he’s a true gentleman, not an animal, and he knows how to control his desires and respect a woman. What more could you ask for in a romantic hero?
I was a little cautious about Ryan’s character initially. Tortured heroes often go one of two ways in romance novels—they need the heroine to “fix” them, or they’re not allowed to fall in love with the heroine until they’ve overcome all of their problems. Either way, they have to be perfect before they can live happily ever after. This wasn’t the case for Ryan. To put it short, when he meets Caroline he’s a crippled opium addict who has a drinking problem and is haunted by his past mistakes during the war. Surprisingly (even to me) Caroline doesn’t judge him, push him away or try to make him leave the lighthouse when she discovers the ways he manages his pain. She tries to help him, but she does so incredibly gently, and not once does she push Ryan to give up his crutches. She waits until he’s ready, and supports him fully. I was incredibly touched by the way Ryan’s addictions were dealt with. Obviously this would be an entirely different situation if Ryan’s addictions were harming anyone but himself (especially if he were a danger to Caroline’s younger siblings), but given the circumstances, this situation was dealt with carefully and without judgement.
The depiction of Ryan’s struggle to give up his pain medication and learn what he could achieve without it was incredibly sympathetic.
Although Ryan has to fight his demons and make amends for his past mistakes, he still isn’t entirely perfect at the end of the novel. He can’t get back the fingers that he lost in the war, and he will always have to be careful around alcohol because of his addiction—and Caroline understands this and embraces this as part of their relationship.
There’s another fantastic relationship in this novel: that of Caroline and her lighthouse. Obviously, lighthouse keeping isn’t for everyone (in fact, her sister Tessa abhors it), but Caroline has clearly fallen in love with the occupation. That she should be forbidden from doing what she loves because she is female is infuriating, and I appreciated the way that Jody worked this angle into the story. Caroline’s fight to do the work she loves and support her family is one that many women in this period faced, and I understood how tempted she was to marry for convenience in order to protect her younger siblings. How many other women entered loveless—and possibly abusive—marriages because they had no male family members to support them? I also appreciated Caroline’s friend Esther, who used her husband’s political position to lobby for women’s rights, and other causes that were close to her heart.
Hearts Made Whole contained several elements that made it the perfect romance for me—a relationship full of passion (and plenty of consent and respect!), a perfectly imperfect hero, and a small victory for women’s rights.
I haven’t even had time to talk about the suspense, or the tumultuous relationship between Caroline and her sister—so you’ll probably just have to read this book for yourself! In short, Jody Hedlund is quickly becoming one of my favourite historical romance authors, and I hope that Tessa’s story is the next one in the Beacons of Hope series.