Love’s Haven // by Catherine Palmer


//published 2005//

Catherine Palmer is one of those authors whose books I sometimes love and sometimes can’t stand.  She writes Christian fiction (although after reading this book I feel like I need to put “Christian” in quotation marks), and many of her stories are really full of likable, engaging characters who are wrestling with some great life lessons.  (For instance, I really loved the ‘Town Called Hope’ trilogy.)

This book is based on one of my favorite tropes – marriage first, love later.  But at one point while reading this, I was writing in my journal and said that I was reading a book that never would have been written if the two main characters had ever taken a basic course in interpersonal communication.  Basically, this entire book was based on two people not actually talking to each other and it was the most aggravating thing ever.  

Right off the bat I wasn’t sure about this book because in the first chapter the main character, Mara, is informed in no-uncertain terms by Brock that she will be marrying him.  In fact, “I’m going to marry you, Mara,” is the very first sentence of the book.  Now, one of the points of the story is that Brock is all about controlling everything in his life, and one of the things he learns is the importance of understanding that other people (and God) need to be able to do their own thing, but the whole situation leading up to when Brock and Mara actually get married had me gritting my teeth.  Brock is basically just a bully.

Mara’s husband died five months earlier in a rock climbing accident.  Brock was the only other person there (he and Mara’s husband were best friends), and Mara blames Brock for her husband’s death.  Mara was pregnant when her husband died, and now she is getting ready to have her baby.  Brock, who is super rich, has decided that the best thing for Mara, and Mara’s baby, is for Mara to marry Brock and let him take care of all her financial needs.

So basically he blackmails her into marrying him by pointing out how her only other option is to go on welfare and spend her entire life struggling, and is that really what she wants for her baby??  And like other than assuaging his guilt for the death of Mara’s husband, Brock isn’t really getting anything out of the deal (it’s not like he’s trying to force her into his bed or something), but he still just comes across as a major bully.  I absolutely never warmed up to Brock at all, even when he started getting “nicer.”

The so-called Christian themes throughout also aggravated me because they really weren’t Biblical at all.  Early in the book, Mara is discussing Brock’s “proposal” with her best friend –

“What about all those Scriptures that say Christians are to take care of widows and orphans?  How much more could I fit that picture?  Surely our church would help me out.”

“For a while…in some areas.  But church is basically a place of worship and teaching.  Our church is big on evangelism, but it’s not a charity service.  That’s the government’s job.  Do you really want to be homeless, Mara?  Do you want to live in a shelter?  Do you want to have supper in a soup kitchen every day?  Do you want your baby to grow up eating groceries bought with food stamps?”

I just.  Wow.  There are so many things wrong with those paragraphs from a Biblical perspective that I barely know where to start.  Suffice to say that the genuine, Biblical churches with which I am familiar – and there are many of them – actually believe all the Scriptures, including the ones that tell us we’re responsible for widows and orphans.  I can’t believe that Palmer would literally have one of characters say that their church would rather let Mara starve, homeless on the streets, than help her out, because they’re busy “evangelizing.”  Evangelizing for what?  Teaching people how they can be more selfish?  Sorry, Palmer, not actually Jesus-like even kind of.

The story  itself was really just quite dreadful, and I barely even skimmed the last half of the book.  The relationship is incredibly hot and cold in a nonsensical way.  Both Brock and Mara storm about like small children and pout when they don’t get their way.  When they get married, Mara moves to Brock’s huge ranch which is supposedly only twenty minutes from town, but she acts like she’s completely isolated and can never leave, and literally just sits around the ranch whining about how bored she is.  Eventually she starts working on a project that her husband was working on before he died, but by that time I just didn’t care any more.

Mara’s supposed best friend was another horrific character.  That paragraph I quoted earlier was pretty typical.  She literally is like “I’m single and getting married sounds really horrible so this is kind of your own fault for getting married to begin with.”  She isn’t remotely supportive or helpful.

I was also genuinely aggravated by the fact that Palmer couldn’t just have Mara and Brock fall in love – it had to be Mara realizing that she has always been attracted to Brock from the time she first met him – back when she was engaged to her first husband.  She realizing that her first marriage lacked “zing” and “magic” and now she has all those things from Brock, so actually isn’t kind of convenient that her husband died because they probably would have just eventually gotten bored of each other.  What.  Even.

Honestly 0/5 for this book.  Unlikable characters, a stupid situation, completely unbiblical statements being posed as Biblical, and just an overall story that aggravated me more with every page I turned.  Dreadful.

A Dangerous Silence

by Catherine Palmer

published 2001


From the back cover:

Successful pediatrician Marah Morgan returns home to help run the family farm after her father suffers a disabling injury.  Marah finds herself reluctant to help a man who has not shown her the love she longs for and who holds the key to a tragedy from her childhood.

When government archaeologists arrive to excavate Indian burial grounds on the Morgan farm, Marah becomes suspicious.  Then a mysterious farmhand arrives, a man who both fascinates and frightens her.  As events build to a deadly climax, Marah must rely on her faith for the strength she needs in a desperate fight for survival.

So Catherine Palmer is a mixed bag for me.  I’ve definitely read some of her books that I really enjoyed (her “Town Called Hope” series was surprisingly pleasant), others are more in the “meh” category.  While A Dangerous Silence had a lot of potential, the ending seemed abrupt and weak, leaving me with a 3/5 vibe for the book as a whole.

Marah is an engaging lead character.  She is intelligent and independent, a successful pediatrician in Saint Louis.  Although she’s a Christian, Marah has one area of her life she’s never really turned over to God – her relationship with her father.  A hard, proud man, Marah has never understood him, or why he was unable to ever show her the affection and love she craved as a child.  More or less forced by circumstances to return to her father’s farm in Kansas to help him while he recovers from a bad fall, Marah is also forced to face emotions and events she has kept buried for years.

To keep the story interesting, the other plot line involves government agent Judd, who is assigned to work at the Morgan farm in order to keep an eye on a man posing as an archaeologist from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Milton Gregory.  Gregory, we learn towards the beginning of the story, is on the hunt for a disease that he will use to exact his revenge on the government (BWAHAHA).

The Marah/Marah’s dad storyline is strong.  Our characters are forced to learn the importance of truth and honesty, and they both learn how to view things from the other’s perspective, all done well, without being overly sweet or dramatic.  Marah’s developing relationship with Judd is also good.  A weak point in this story, however, is that we find that Marah has three sisters who have also left the farm and moved on to lives of their owns, apparently with the same negative feelings towards their father as Marah has at the beginning of the story – and there is never really any resolution there.  Marah finds healing, but there is never a feeling that the entire family has been bonded back together.  This feels especially counter-intuitive because we are never told why Marah is the daughter who has to come back – if she has three sisters, why are none of them helping?

While the whole evil-terrorist-archaeologist story had its moments, overall it felt quite forced, especially when we finally learn Gregory’s backstory/motivation.  That he was busted out for doing back-alley abortions feels really weird for a story written/theoretically set in 2001, when abortions have been legal since 1973.  Has Gregory really been plotting revenge for almost thirty years??  The grand climax with a hostage situation at the farm was exciting, but ended very suddenly with an epilogue that wrapped everything up with a tidy bow, sweeping the odds and ends that felt like they wouldn’t fit under the rug.

I enjoyed this book while I was reading it (when I was able to suspend logic for several chapters at a time), but it’s not one I particularly can recommend or would want to read again.  A solid 3/5.