Within My Heart is Tamera Alexander's final book in her Timber Ridge Reflections series.
In 1877 Timber Ridge, Colorado, Rachel Boyd is trying her very hardest to keep her late husband's dream of a ranch alive to honor him, and give her two little boys a better life. But running a ranch is difficult for anyone, especially a widow with two small children, piling bills, and a bitter cold that is thinning the herd. Yet Rachel isn't one to give up.
Dr. Rand Brookston only arrived to Timber Ridge a couple of years ago and never met Rachel's husband, Thomas. He admires her from a distance and wishes she didn't seem to dislike him so much. What he doesn't know is that he reminds her of her father, and her opinion of doctors is pretty much set in stone. But there is more to him, and a past that causes him secret shame to this day.
When tragedy strikes and a dear friend of Rachel's needs medical help, Rachel and Rand find themselves together more often - a tentative friendship begins to blossom. But Rachel is reluctant to go farther, and Rand keeps making waves with the town, making unexpected decisions. Will Rachel ever see past her stubbornness? And will Rand ever reveal what makes him unable to turn out the light at night?
Okay - I don't feel like this premise is really oozing the pure historical fiction dream Within My Heart is. But that is the thing, the synopsis itself sounds simple. There isn't a big hook or huge, "What?!" on the back cover description. Instead it hints of the ordinariness of life - life in a small Colorado town in 1877. And that is essentially what Within My Heart is - to the best degree.
Tamera Alexander's prose is immediately lyrical and poetically entrancing. The way she weaves her words creates a vivid Rocky Mountain environment and time period. You can feel the dirt under your feet and smell the fresh air. And when a medical emergency occurs early on, without warning or predictability, it cuts through to your heart with a realness that is extraordinary. She perfectly portrays a human pain that almost everyone can relate to - fear of the loss of a loved one. It is riveting without being in your face PLOT.
Despite my summary making Rachel sound, perhaps, like a headstrong cliche - she is anything but. Rachel is likable and has the a quiet strength that you believe most women had to possess in such rural times - and still do possess. There is a believability to her, and a relatability.
Rand is also immediately compelling and intriguing. The character shine and sparkle under Tamera Alexander's spotlight. Her talent truly sweeps me away (and this is the second time she has done this to me, I had the same experience with her debut novel a few years back, Rekindled).
By 75 pages I was so enamored I was already desperate for the other books in this series (From a Distance and Beyond This Moment) and the two after Rekindled (Revealed and Remembered) and her stand-alone (The Inheritance). They are definitely on my must-list - as Tamera Alexander has now shown me in two complete novels that she is a writer to follow!
There are unexpected twists in Within My Heart and a variety of different directions it can go as it explores the lives of all these townspeople, all of them fascinating in their own right, yet a focus on the simple, yet hard, and sometimes heartbreaking, lives of these two main characters. Within My Heart is rustic, earthy, and grounded with stark, unglamorized details of the period. I was transported to Timber Ridge, almost sure I could meet these people - as they are portrayed so grittily realistic.
And let's be honest - Rand's masculine attractiveness doesn't hurt the novel's progress one little bit. He is very, um, appealing. But what is great about it, to me anyway, is how he is not a romance novel cliche-ridden bad boy (not that I always object to those, lol). Yet it is more his kindness, compassion, and maturity that make him hot - nothing beats a gentleman.
In the same vein of rejecting overplayed cliches, Rachel manages to be strong, opinionated, and capable while still being feminine and believable. Plus, the storyline doesn't revolve, necessarily, around romance but life - truly gripping, absorbing drama involving families, livelihoods, loss, forgiveness, and faith in God.
Within My Heart is filled with lovely, extravagant wordplay and a beautiful use of descriptions. And when it does get around to more straightforward romance it is done very, very well. Mmm-hmm.
In my opinion, Within My Heart is a must-read for anyone that enjoys historical fiction or literary fiction - it has breathtaking visuals, stunning character development, and enveloped me in the time, place, and people. Without sounding too corny, it did actually inspire me - and it just may have elicited a happy-sigh from me as I closed the final pages. I'm sure all you bibliophiles know what I mean when I talk about the happy-sigh.
At the end Tamera Alexander has a sweet and touching personal note - in which she also mentions a new, upcoming three book series. Oh dear. When's it coming out? Whenever it is, I'll be there. How about you?
*I received a copy of Within My Heart from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.