Within my Heart by Tamera Alexander is many things: a historical novel, a romance novel, a romance novel that fits nicely into the subcategory Christian romance. Central to the story is the developing relationship between the the beautiful young widow, Rachel Boyd, and the town physician, Dr. Rand Brookston.
This is the first romance book I’ve ever read, unless you count Gone With the Wind, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Romeo and Juliet. Without the free copy from Bethany House Publishers, I might never have picked it up, though the genre fascinates me. (Bethany House made it clear they wanted honesty in the review, not a whitewash.)
I liked this book enough that I may have to dig up Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and The Flower, the first romance to follow the lovers into the bedroom. Alexander doesn’t do that, and at times I thought the novel would be more realistic if she did. The scene where Rachel finally allows the doctor to see her injured thigh (she’s been kicked by a cow) I thought a bit overwrought. I know the year is 1877, but she is seriously injured, and he’s a doctor, after all. Rachel has two children, so we have to assume she’s had to expose her thighs at some point.
The emphasis in this book is on plot, not character. Danger lurks around every corner: Will Rachel get the loan she needs? Will she lose her ranch to the greedy banker? Will she find the lost cow? Will the cow be able to deliver her calf? Will Rachel’s children be found safe? Will she be able to assist Rand in the surgical procedure Ben needs? Opportunities for disaster, and for heartbreak, abound.
Rachel gradually loses her fear of entering another relationship, but otherwise, her character never changes. And I have to admit, her character is something of a mystery to me. At times she’s strong and determined, at other times weak and hesitant. I’m not sure her motivation for keeping Rand at arm’s length – bad memories of her physician father and fear of loving again – are sufficient to carry the plot.
Alexander is a good writer. The history is flawless, the scenes well-wrought and in places gripping. She’s so good, I think she could write in other genres if she chose.