Sweetbriar Cottage (Denise Hunter) – Review

Posted as part of TLC Book Tours.

5 stars

~ About the Book ~

When Noah and Josephine Mitchell discover their divorce was never actually finalized, their lives are turned upside down.

Following his divorce, Noah gave up his dream job, settling at a remote horse ranch in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia, putting much-needed distance between himself and the former love of his life. But then Noah gets a letter from the IRS claiming he and Josephine are still married. When he confronts Josephine for the first time in months, they discover that she missed the final step in filing the paperwork and they are, in fact, still married.

Josephine is no happier about the news than Noah. Maybe the failed marriage–and okay, the botched divorce–was her fault, but her heart was shattered right alongside his, more than he would ever believe. The sooner they put this marriage behind them, the better for both of their sakes.

But when Josephine delivers the final paperwork to his ranch, the two become stranded in his cottage during the worst spring snowstorm in a decade. Being trapped with Josephine is a test of Noah’s endurance. He wrestles with resentment and an unmistakable pull to his wife–still beautiful, still brave, and still more intriguing than any woman he’s ever known.

As they find themselves confronted with each other and their shared past, old wounds surface and tempers flare. But when they are forced out into the storm, they must rely on each other in a way they never have before. Josephine finally opens up about her tragic past, and Noah realizes she’s never been loved unconditionally by anyone–including him. Will Noah accept the challenge to pursue Josephine’s heart? And can she finally find the courage to trust Noah?

Genre:  Contemporary Romance
Release date:  13 June 2017
Pages:  320
Publisher:  Thomas Nelson

Amazon US  //  Amazon AU  //  iBooks  //  Goodreads  //  Koorong

~ Excerpt ~

He strode past her into the pounding sleet. When he reached her car he opened the door and got in, probably banging his knee on the steering wheel. One foot remained planted on the ground.
She watched and waited from under the barn’s overhang, but he didn’t even put the keys in the ignition. He just sat there, staring out the front windshield. Even from here she could see the sharp rise and fall of his chest.
The interior light shone on his face, highlighting the sharp angles of his cheekbones and the sleek line of his nose.
She hunched over and darted across the yard, stopping at the open car door. “What are you doing?”
He said nothing as his jaw knotted.
“Aren’t you going to give it a go?” She’d once been good at reading his mind. But that’s when he was looking at her, his emotions naked on his face. Now there was nothing but dead eyes and a blank slate.
“It’s too late,” he said flatly.
She barely heard him over the wind and the ping of ice. “What do you mean?”
“Look at the windshield. There’s a coat of ice on everything.”
He was right, she thought, realization settling over her. There was no way she’d make it up those hills with her balding tires, even if her car magically started. Even the ground beneath her was turning slick.
The wind gusted, driving the pellets into her cheeks. She ducked her head. “I’m sorry. I guess you’ll have to take me in your truck then. It’s four-wheel drive, isn’t it?”
He turned slowly, nailing her with a lethal look. “That won’t do us any good in this ice, Josephine.”
His meaning began sinking in. Good and deep. Oh, no. No way. “Well—well, it’ll have to do.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. We wouldn’t even make it up to the road.”
“Well, I’m not staying here.”
“You don’t have much choice.”
“I’ll—I’ll stay in my car then.”
“It’s thirty-four degrees, Josephine.”
“I don’t care.” She backed away. She wasn’t imposing on him. She knew when she wasn’t wanted. Noah would rather chop off an arm than spend an hour with her, and she wasn’t too crazy about the idea either.
“You’d freeze to death out here.”
She thought of the little house on the hill, the glow of light, the cozy fire burning in the fireplace. Just her and Noah and an avalanche of warm memories. A cold shiver of fear washed over her.
“Get me a blanket. I’ll be just fine.”
He stepped out of the car and shut the door.
When she reached for the keys, he pointed them at the car and pressed a button. The locks clicked into place, and he pocketed the keys.
A red heat fired up inside that somehow made her shiver harder. “Give me my keys!”
But Noah was already halfway to his truck.
She caught up with him as he opened the passenger door.
His face was as hard as a block of ice. “Get in.”
“Give me my keys!”
“Get in, Josephine, or I’ll put you in myself.”
She darted a hand into his coat pocket but before she found the keys, he’d scooped her up into his arms. He took a step, dumped her unceremoniously into the truck, and shut the door beside her.
By the time she sat up and reached for the handle Noah had slid into the driver’s seat, and the locks clicked into place.
[…]
Josephine’s eyes locked on the cottage hunched on the distant hill. All the anger drained away, replaced by the kind of terror that seeped slowly into the veins. This was really happening. She was with Noah. She was spending the night with Noah. All alone. Just the two of them.
She closed her eyes, making the house evaporate for one sweet moment of denial. She drew in a deep breath, and the familiar masculine scent of him, musk and wood, filled her nostrils.
She couldn’t escape this. Couldn’t escape him.

~ Review ~

I haven’t read all of Denise Hunter’s novels, but of those I have read, I would have to say Sweetbriar Cottage is by far the best—the most mature, even—not just because of the strength of the characterization and the story, but because of the way in which it explores what it means to love and be loved unconditionally. I haven’t always been 100% convinced by the conflict between Hunter’s characters in the past, but the tension between Noah and Josephine in this story was palpable and barely leashed—and so very understandable—and seeing the way these characters worked through that tension was incredibly satisfying.

The majority of this story takes place in the present, when Noah and Josephine become stranded at Sweetbriar Cottage during a snowstorm, but during the novel we also get a few glimpses into the beginning of Noah and Josephine’s relationship three-and-a-half years earlier, and further back at some defining moments in Josephine’s adolescence. I loved the glimpses into Noah and Josephine’s developing relationship—which provided a welcome break from the tension of their current circumstances—but I especially loved the restrained way in which Noah wooed Josephine, something which I appreciated all the more as my understanding of Josephine’s past grew. Nevertheless, it was possible to see where the cracks would appear in their relationship, primarily in the inequality of their faith and in the past Josephine hadn’t fully revealed to Noah.

Josephine’s past isn’t pretty—in fact, it’s downright heartbreaking—and while it doesn’t excuse her behaviour, it does cast it in a different light. These flashbacks were handled very tactfully and non-graphically in the story, but Josie is definitely not your clean-cut Christian fiction heroine of yore—and she knows it and feels her unworthiness deeply, despite all outward appearances. Noah had a superficial knowledge of Josephine’s past before and during their marriage, but he only uncovers the full truth over the course of her enforced stay at Sweetbriar Cottage, and the battle begins to wage within him between his own pain and anger, and his compassion for the broken woman he’s never really stopped loving.

If the tension between Noah and Josephine isn’t enough to keep your eyes riveted to the page, their circumstances in the last third of the novel most certainly will be! Wow! I know a happy-ever-after is generally a given in romance novels, but I love it when a story has you seriously worried they might not get there. But most of all I loved the way in which both of these characters grew as they worked through their complex emotions. Not only did it paint a beautiful picture of unconditional love, but it reminded me that we can still choose how to respond, even when we are wronged.

Sweetbriar Cottage is Denise Hunter at her best!

I received a copy of this book through TLC Book Tours. This has not influenced the content of my review, which is my honest and unbiased opinion.

~ About the Author ~

Denise HunterDenise Hunter is the internationally published bestselling author of more than 25 books, including “The Convenient Groom” and “A December Bride” which have been made into Hallmark movies. She has appeared on the The 700 club and won awards such as The Holt Medallion Award, The Carol Award, The Reader’s Choice Award, The Foreword Book of the Year Award, and is a RITA finalist.

Denise writes heartwarming, small-town love stories. Her readers enjoy the experience of falling in love vicariously through her characters and can expect a happily-ever-after sigh as they close the pages of her books.

In 1996, inspired by the death of her grandfather, Denise began her first book, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she’s been writing ever since. Her husband says he inspires all her romantic stories, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too!

When Denise isn’t orchestrating love lives on the written page, she enjoys traveling with her family, drinking coffee, and playing drums. Denise makes her home in Indiana where she and her husband will soon be facing an empty nest.

Connect with Denise:  Website  //  Facebook  //  Twitter

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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, Christian Romance, Contemporary Romance, New Releases, Romance and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Sweetbriar Cottage (Denise Hunter) – Review

  1. Pingback: Denise Hunter, author of SWEETBRIAR COTTAGE, on tour July/August 2017 | TLC Book Tours

  2. I love a good, satisfying, happy ending!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

    Liked by 1 person

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