Jilted (Varina Denman) – Review

5 stars

 

Publisher’s description
Lynda Turner has struggled with depression since her husband abandoned her and their young daughter fifteen years ago. Yet unexpected hope awakens when a local ex-convict shows interest. As long-hidden secrets resurface, Lynda must fight for her emotional stability and for a life where the shadow of shame is replaced by the light of love.

Jilted tells of a woman who has lost the joy of living, a man determined to draw her back toward happiness, and a town that must—once and for all—leave the past where it belongs. It is a gentle reminder that all things can work together for good.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Clyde put his fists on his hips and stared at the carvings, but I could tell this time he wasn’t seeing them.  He was frustrated about something, and it wasn’t the Tarron boys’ fishing methods.
“Lyn?”  He cleared his throat, and for some reason, the sound sent a tremor of apprehension through my mind like the rumble of distant thunder.  “I’ve been wanting to ask you out, but every time I start, something always comes up.”
My gaze landed on his hand, where it rested near his belt, and I mentally slapped myself for hugging him at the Dairy Queen.  For giving him the wrong impression.  For making him think anything could ever happen between us.  I frowned at the letters near the boulder, wanting to tell him no but unable to flat out reject him.  “We’re here, aren’t we?”  I shrugged.  “And we went to the windmills the other day.”
“The side of Highway 84 don’t count, and this” -he glanced to the crack where the rattlesnake had disappeared- “this is closer, but it still ain’t right.”
Irritation spread through my core like an angry infection, but close to the surface, a calming balm covered my pain, and I yearned for his baritone voice and strong hands.  Squeezing my eyes shut, I blocked out the names that all seemed to be whispering advice, and I tried to focus on the sound of the breeze through the ravine, the waves slapping against rock, the call of a scissortail flying overhead.  Real sounds.
Without meaning to, I sighed.  A frustrated release of breath, not a dreamy one, and I spoke quickly to cover my error.  “Well, what did you have in mind?”  My eyes snapped open.
“Dinner maybe?  I heard about a new steak house in Lubbock.  Supposed to be pretty good.”
[…]
I heard him take a step, and he paused a few seconds before moving in front of me, turning his back on the crowd of names to look me in the eye.  When he spoke, his voice was deep and rough.  “Will you go out with me, Lyn?”  His eyes were sad and determined at the same time, and it hurt to look into them.  Instead, I peered past his bicep to the wagon train and the lightly scratched H.
He stood motionless, towering over me, and I sensed his sadness changing to fear.
Our eyes locked for a few seconds before mine wandered to a few hairs hanging down the side of his cheek, having pulled loose from the tie at the base of his neck.  The wind nudged them an inch toward his ear, then an inch back, and my gaze followed his jawline down to his chin, covered with stubble.  Clyde almost always had stubble.  I wondered what it would be like to touch his chin and feel the roughness of his face.  What it would feel like to be the one buying him shaving cream at the United.  What would happen if I rubbed my lips against his cheek.  Almost without thinking, I stepped toward him and slipped my hand into his, wrapping my fingers safely around one of his.
For a second it seemed as though he leaned away from me, an automatic reaction to approaching danger, but then his eyebrows lifted slightly and he grinned.
I shook my head, already regretting my actions, but Clyde’s laughter bounced off the walls and echoed through my heart, and I realized I hadn’t heard him laugh like that since before he went to prison.  His voice boomed as if his happiness came from deep inside, and the sound startled me so much, I took a step back and stared.
Wanting to hear more.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My review
I have spent at least two weeks now trying to work out exactly what it is that sets Varina Denman’s Mended Hearts series apart for me.  Yes, the stories captured me; yes, the characters were engaging and won my affection; but I think there was a unique quality to the writing that brought everything together for me – a sensitivity and poignancy in the way she developed her characters’ journeys and portrayed the complex emotions they had to work through.  The women in these stories encounter gentle, but determined love that is like the first ray of sun dispersing the darkness: confronting and uncomfortable at first, but gradually infusing its warmth and light.  I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve encountered another series quite like it.

Jilted is the third novel in this series, and an emotionally satisfying read that finally lays everything to rest for the characters I have grown to love.  If you have read the first two books in the series you will have already met Lynda and Clyde and learned some of their story.

Lynda’s husband, Hoby, left without a word fifteen years ago (and she’s not heard from him since), believing that she had been unfaithful to him.  Thanks to Neil Blaylock, everyone in their church believed it too, and so Lynda left the church and never looked back.  She withdrew into herself and stifled her tears for months until it was replaced by a hatred that eventually gave way to apathy, but depression continues to haunt her, like a spectre crouching in the shadows, waiting to pounce.

As a twenty-one year old, Clyde was charged with statutory rape when his sixteen year old girlfriend became pregnant.  It triggered a series of events that changed everything for his group of friends – including Lynda and Hoby.  Having completed his twenty year sentence, he has come home to Trapp to live a good, quiet life, hoping that people will eventually learn to see beyond his conviction to the person he is now.

They sound like such unlikely – perhaps even unlikeable – protagonists, and yet the sensitivity of Varina’s characterisation and writing (and perhaps my own experience with depression) endeared both of these characters to me and had me savouring their journey towards healing and each other.  And it is an emotional journey, because there will be more loss, more secrets uncovered before Lynda can fully leave the past behind and embrace the future.

Of all the things I admired about this novel, I think the authenticity of Lynda’s character and her emotional journey stands out the most.  As someone who has also suffered from depression, I thought her soul-deep weariness and that strange urge to cling to emotional numbness were extremely well portrayed, and I loved the understanding Clyde showed toward her.

Incidentally, I was both surprised and yet not surprised at the way Neil Blaylock’s story finished up.  It was an intriguing choice for Varina Denman to have made – one I’m sure I wouldn’t have thought of – and yet fitting in so many ways; bringing the story full circle, just like the windmills Lynda watches.

This was a stellar ending to a stellar series, and I can’t wait to see what Varina will come up with next.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Buy from:                           Amazon US icon us-flag-small                               Amazon US icon australian-flag small

Release date:  1 June 2016
Pages:  384
Publisher:  David C. Cook
Author’s website:  https://varinadenman.com/

Previous books in series:
 

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About Fiction Aficionado

Homeschooling mum, word lover, reader extraordinaire, and follower of Christ
Image | This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Contemporary Romance, New Releases, Romance and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Jilted (Varina Denman) – Review

  1. I greatly appreciate your kind words. So encouraging to me. Makes me want to write faster. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday – 2017 Debuts I’m Excited For | Fiction Aficionado

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