Review of Love Finds You in Valentine Nebraska (book)

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Love Finds You in Valentine book cover

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 
Love Finds You in Valentine Nebraska

I have to admit after watching the film version of this book, I approached the book with skepticism, expecting it to possibly be a Mary Sue version of the film, knowing it was written by a Christian author who prided herself on her church going. What I ended up reading was the most truthful love story I’ve ever read in my life! I got the book in the mail yesterday and told myself I’d skim through it, cuz I loved the movie version. I started reading it and couldn’t put it down. I finished it at around 2 a.m. (within 24 hours when I got it). I ended up neglecting everything (except Gail Commandments) to read it.

Which is better? The movie or the book? I don’t know. But if you liked the movie, you’ll like the book. The plot is different in the book and the book gives you more insights into the characters, so it’s a rewarding read because these are characters you want to get to know!

Let me give you some brief quotes from the book:

“The intense dislike she’d harbored all her life against her grandfather Morgan had surfaced today, and it stood between Kennedy and the spiritual growth she wanted.”

The first thing this author does right is create the most likable main characters I’ve ever experienced in any romance.

One thing that made me like Kennedy, was you never heard she was a lawyer, till you were about one-fourth into the book. She didn’t see herself as the rich girl who became a lawyer, but rather a lost soul looking for completeness after the death of both her parents. It just wasn’t a big deal to her so she rarely thought much about it. She was consumed with her family and had her priorities in the right place (except for not being able to forgive her grandfather).

Where most fiction writers lose me is that I don’t respect or like their main characters. This problem seems to get worse with each passing year. The characters in this book want to believe in love, but some in their close circles are determined to keep them lock and key stuck in a rut of mediocrity caused by lack of forgiveness and bitterness. This is a very common problem today and few writers seem willing to explore this. What I usually see or read is a veiled sermon to try and get the reader to adopt a particular mindset or a story about a delusional character thinking way higher of themselves than they ought, rather than a truthful story about authenticity in love and the courage to be real and transparent, while refusing to give up your dreams. I liked these characters immediately because the games were up; they were real, they yearned to be big and they mourned their sins. For some reason, very few authors write a story about characters in mourning for their sins, making it the main theme of the entire book as Irene Brand did! This is why I find Gone With the Wind such a bore, I don’t like the main character Scarlett O’Hara, she should have been mourning her sins from day one! The Thornbirds resonated more with me, because that entire book was about characters struggling against their “sinful” desires, yet wanting to be big, but feeling guilty all the time. Am I the only person in the world who struggles or has struggled with these things? Is that the problem? I don’t know.

KENNEDY: “I don’t have a very good legacy, Derek.”

DEREK (quietly): “That’s true about a lot of us.”

DEREK’s thoughts: Was he building up heartache for himself? . . .Kennedy Blaine, a woman as far out of his reach as the sun and the moon?

PASTOR MORGAN: “But he prevented me from marrying the only woman I’ve ever loved. . . I don’t know what he did to Matti, but. . .she left town. . . I haven’t heard from her since then. . .I’ve never doubted that Gabriel Morgan was responsible for it. . .I’m angry at her, too, for not contacting me. . .he thought I should try to get a prestigious church in a city. I’ve been back in Valentine for a few months. . .”

Pastor Morgan’s love story is not at all in the movie. I thought it added a nice layer to the main love story in the book, helping to reinforce the theme about forbidden love.

Already, what you see here describes true love. I hate romances where the love comes across as shallow and lacking in commitment or depth. I don’t read a romance to get excitement. I read a romance to get inspiration. Maybe that’s the difference between me and the readers who love Gone With the Wind. You might say, don’t knock Gone with the Wind, it won a Putlitzer. It was a great historical novel, but a lousy romance. I couldn’t get into it, because I didn’t like Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler was slightly more likable, but Melanie was likable and though I appreciated her bigness, I enjoyed her more as a symbol of the Old South, than as a character. She was a little too perfect and Scarlett was too imperfect. This is a problem I see in a lot of romantic portrayals, the characters are too perfect or imperfect. Lately, the problems seem to lie more in imperfection.

Some reviewers criticized the book, stating that Derek didn’t seem like a real cowboy or that has past crimes seemed unrealistic. Like he was too sugar-coated. Like they wanted him portrayed more realistically. Is this cuz today’s readers are jaded? I thought he was very believable, as a man who grew up from what appeared a very poor background (living on the streets) and was a fighter and overcame monumental difficulties. He ends up being adopted by a great Christian family, who inspire him to follow their examples. In the book he’s portrayed as a responsible, level headed, smart ranch manager whose only goal in life is to make up for his past life of crime and to honor his new family. He unexpectedly falls for Kennedy, after living a life avoiding women. He doesn’t feel worthy of any woman. His whole life is to atone for his past sins. This struggle with unworthiness is something I can relate to, because of being raised by a narcissist mother and a father who abandoned me as a little girl. He doesn’t go to church for some of the book (where the book differs from the movie), but nobody at church criticizes him for it and all the great folks who know him, think the world of him.

Kennedy’s friend: “Give plenty of thought and prayer to what should be done with the ranch.”

Kennedy’s thoughts: “She could not fall in love with Derek. He’d made it plain that he never expected to marry, and neither of them would consider any other kind of relationship.”

One of the characters talks about how she was extorted into betraying her true love: “Part of the bargain was that Tony wasn’t to know why I left. Mr. Morgan also gave me a check for twenty thousand dollars with the stipulation that I wouldn’t contact Tony or come back to Valentine.”

I can really relate to this. My love for Brent has been interfered with by my own family and others who have bad motives or are just sorry people with a grudge. A lot of this will carry over into my novel Silver Skies.

Kennedy turns down a marriage proposal: “You are a fine man, but marrying you won’t give me the sacrificial, fulfilling love I observed between my mother and father. I won’t settle for anything less. . .She wished she could be as convinced that Derek might someday think about sharing her future. But even if he didn’t, she wouldn’t marry Steve.”

Like I said, this novel portrays true love. The author’s goal was not to excite you, but to inspire you. Because the characters are so deep and true, their love story teaches you how to love. Reading this book will inspire people to only settle for true love, which is the theme of my current work in progress. I will be referring to this book a lot as I work on my Silver Skies series.

Kennedy tells Derek: “Even if they didn’t reach the goldfields, they died trying to live their dream rather than just accepting the status quo. . .”

Kennedy wants to help Derek overcome his past: “She wished she could remove the pain from his eyes, but she knew there was nothing she could do.”

Okay, this is important. Yes, Derek had a criminal past, but look how it went: “He’d tried to get out of the gang then, but Lazaro had threatened to harm his parents if he quit, so Derek continued with the gang rather than have his parents pay for his crimes.” This guy is like a missionary in his heart. He is totally OTHERS oriented, even willing to sacrifice his own heart to honor those he respects. You are rooting for this guy. You LIKE this guy. He is described as handsome and muscular, but that makes you admire him even more, because he’s TOTALLY UNAWARE OF HOW ATTRACTIVE HE IS.

DEREK (always believing that if Kennedy really knew his past, she’d lose interest): “If she knew about his past she probably wouldn’t have any trouble forgetting him, but he wouldn’t decide whether to tell her until after he’d met Lazaro (the guy who wants to harm her).” He’s trying to protect Kennedy, that’s his main motive for distancing himself from her. It’s his love for her, that keeps him from her. This is SO ATTRACTIVE. Humble, down-to-earth, giving. You LIKE THIS GUY.

The biggest problem I see with love stories is that the lovers are not interesting or likable. You get the combination of a humble, down-to-earth rich girl and a handsome down-to-earth fighter who’s overcome tremendous odds to be a responsible, mature ranch manager and you got two very likable main characters. You WANT these two to get together!

KENNEDY (knowing why Derek won’t come to her): “If anything, she loved him even more for his ideals. If the tables were turned and she had nothing to offer him, she wouldn’t have married him, either.”

She ends up giving ALL for Derek, only concerned about his happiness, not because of what he can do for her, but because of WHO HE IS. She even jokes that because she’s the rich girl moaning for this nobody cowhand, people will think she’s crazy. She doesn’t care. True love. Can’t give away more, or I’ll ruin the book for you. But you like this girl, too. Very likable. She realizes something in his past is haunting him, but his past didn’t matter to her. A big person. “But it would be cruel to talk about her emotions when it was painful to him. Whatever his problems, she wouldn’t add to them.”

Derek praying to God: “No matter how this turns out, I’m going to serve You with my whole heart and life.” As a Jesus Christ follower, I want to read about this guy.

KENNEDY talking to her lawyer: “If I can’t have Derek I don’t want anyone else, and I won’t marry someone I don’t love just to have children to inherit my estate.”

I’d like to see more true love stories with big people as the leads. I’m determined that my Silver Skies will continue what Irene Brand has done so well in her love story here. Today’s romance writers seem to think that true love is boring. Not when it’s written like this. TEN STARS!

Derek’s main objection to marrying Kennedy is her riches (now this is a refreshing turn): “He would marry Kennedy if she was as poor as a church mouse, however poor that was supposed to be, but would other people believe he wasn’t after her money?”

Kennedy’s conclusions about Derek as a lover: “I love him enough that I want him to be happy regardless of my own feelings.”

How he feels when he realizes that Kennedy wants to marry him: “Throughout his life Derek had struggled with a feeling of inferiority, but never as much as he felt it now.”

TEN STARS! The best love story I’ve ever read. . .ugh, except, I hope my Silver Skies novels, when I finish them will equal this or be better. Love Find You in Valentine Nebraska had a mystery that kept you going and the sexual tension between the characters sizzled from beginning to end. The light kisses, when they happened, were so meaningful, because the characters were so true and committed. One reviewer said that not enough attention was paid to scene descriptions and that Valentine, Nebraska was not described adequately. I totally disagree. I think the author struck the right balance. She made the scenes meaningful by tying them into the themes and what was happening in the characters’ hearts. The scene descriptions made you feel like you were there in a meaningful way. This novel is great in every way! An exciting, meaningful love story. The stories with the passionate embraces, ripping bodies, and lusts and rape are a bore compared to the layers and meaning in a story about a love that lasts (kept apart by mediocrity and evil) and that OVERCOMEs.

Though Silver Skies will be an epic fantasy, it is first and foremost a romance. Reading this book has reminded me what makes my Silver Skies work. I have to keep my book a romance from beginning to end. Love Finds You in Valentine shows me how it’s done.

The problem with an epic fantasy (like Lord of the Rings) is depicting a deep, sensitive romance within the epic setting is a challenge. While you create your story world, you don’t want the setting to overwhelm the romance. It’s a tough balancing act. Of course Lord of the Rings is not a romance, like my Silver Skies is. But unlike Love Finds You in Valentine, Silver Skies combines a sensitive, deep romance with an epic story background with world changing events. The trick will be to find the right balance, so that the setting does not overwhelm the main love story. I like how Irene handles setting in Love Finds You in Valentine. The setting must be tied deeply to the theme for my Silver Skies to work as a romance. I’ll make sure it does. This is where voice comes in. Gotta keep up the strong voice. I like the down-home, earthy feel of this romance. I have a lot of this in my novel in progress. I lost it in the cruddy ending I wrote for Silver Skies in 2008. I’m going to fix it! I didn’t have character arcs in Silver Skies. The characters experienced no meaningful growth. THAT, I am determined to fix.

There were unfinished character arcs in what I wrote from 1993 to 1996, but having forgotten my writing skills, the ending I tacked on (2004 forwards) was a disaster. I violated my voice, my character arcs (there WERE NONE), my theme and just about all I did right from 1993 to 1996 as I worked on Silver Skies.

Even writers who are aware of character arcs don’t get it right, because the arcs seem forced or artificial and not organically evolving from the story events. Good writing is hard, but when you get it right, lives are transformed.

Written by: Gail Chord Schuler (Gabrielle Chana pen name)
Love Finds You in Valentine Nebraska
Date written: 2/28/2019
10.0 / 10 stars