Redeeming Love was the Unapologetic Romance Readers' theme read for May 2017, to fill our reading challenge category of "An inspirational romance." I was kind of dreading this category, because I immediately key "inspiration" with "preachy" when it comes to romances, and preachy is definitely not something that I'm looking for. So, while I was compiling my list of books to read for the challenge, Redeeming Love was on it because other readers had noted it was inspirational without being preachy. So, being as I already had it on my list, I was pretty happy when it was our theme read pick!
The main character here is Angel/Sara/Amanda/Mara/half a dozen other names. Born Sara, she's mostly known as Angel for most of the book after her mother dies and her drunken uncle inadvertently sells her into prostitution, thinking that he's actually letting a wealthy man adopt her. Years later, Angel has escaped to Pair-a-Dice, a gold-mining settlement in California, but she's still a prostitute, having fallen back into the profession after losing all the money she'd saved up to start a new life. Enter Michael, a farmer who sells supplies to Pair-a-Dice and, when he sees Angel out for a walk, realizes that God means for him to marry her. Except Angel doesn't want to marry Michael.
This book is apparently based on a Biblical story, but I'm not religious so I have no familiarity with it. But the story is the Book of Hosea, which also serves as Michael's last name during the story. In rescuing Angel from prostitution, Michael actually relates the story, which basically relates how most of the book will play out: with Angel running away from him, both physically and emotionally. While this got a bit repetitive and sometimes a little annoying, it made complete sense in regards to Angel's character. She really believes that she's worthless and can't be happy, and that she doesn't deserve Michael and that he's essentially crazy for taking her. There's frustration and back-sliding and a lot of emotional turmoil over the things that she feels that she can't really offer him, despite his desperation to show her the way and get her to love life, him, and God.
While I was a bit leery of this book initially, following the discovery that it was actually re-released several years after its initial release in a more "Christianized" version, which is the version I got, I was relieved to find that it really wasn't that preachy. God's voice comes through to Michael and eventually Angel very much like a conscience would, and there aren't any blatant miracles. It's not a book that aimed at converting anyone, it doesn't seem, which is good, because that was the last thing I was looking for. Its nature means that there aren't a lot of steamy scenes--everything is very fade-to-black in the physical intimacy category--and there isn't a lot of swearing, either, but neither of those things are necessary for a good book, so it didn't bother me at all.
That said, there were a couple of things that did bother me about this book. The first thing was Paul. Paul is Michael's brother-in-law, whose wife died on the journey west. Paul hates Angel and is downright horrible to her and anyone who supports her throughout the entire book, and yet he gets a happy ending and everyone is suddenly hunky-dory with him at the conclusion of the book. Not cool. I suppose this is supposed to tie into forgiving those who trespass against you or whatever the saying is, but I wanted more of a sense of justice in this case. Second, there's a part of the book where Angel is supposedly driven away by God because she's started to "worship" Michael instead of God. What? So she's not supposed to be thankful that Michael helped her and is supposed to just jump straight to God? There's supposed to be some level here that God gives things as a gift and doesn't punish minor transgressions, but Angel is punished in this way for just being the way she is. And finally...I'm not sure that I actually liked Angel and Michael getting together in the end. It seemed like Angel had really grown from her relationship with Michael, but she ultimately left and found her new sense of purpose. Her running away from this to make sure that she and Michael can be together felt hollow, and it seemed like a bittersweet ending might have actually liked better here.
Overall, the writing was good; the characterization was certainly excellent, and there was also a few really good female friendships here, which are rare to see in books and especially in romance novels. I did feel a bit "distanced" from the characters, but as another Unapologetic Romance Reader suggested, this might have been because this was supposed to be a parable and so it wasn't supposed to have the same immediate connection as some more "immersive" books. I liked it in general, though, and felt it was a strong pick for this category.
3 stars out of 5.