Married for Christmas by Noelle Adams

MarriedForChristmasWhy I read it:  After seeing Kati D’s glowing review over at Dear Author, I thought I’d give this one a go. It was only 99c from Amazon so I thought it was pretty low risk.  Plus:  Sexy pastor FTW!

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  After years of dreaming, Jessica is finally getting married, but the marriage isn’t exactly what she thought.

Daniel is her best friend, and she’s known him all her life, but he’s never gotten over losing his wife two years ago. His dream is to become the pastor of the church in their hometown, but the small-town congregation keeps balking over calling an unmarried minister. Since Daniel needs a wife and Jessica wants a husband and family, she proposes an arrangement that benefits both of them.

They can get married. They can build a life together. They can celebrate Christmas as a couple. It’s fine that he doesn’t love her. And it’s fine that she’s not exactly suited to be a small-town pastor’s wife. And it’s fine that she’s more attracted to her sexy, brooding husband every day.

Jessica can be practical about this marriage. She knows what she’s getting into, after all…

This book includes fully-developed sex scenes between a husband and wife.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I liked the idea of a modern day marriage of convenience and here, the reasons for it make sense.  I don’t go to church these days but I didn’t have any trouble buying that a small community would want a married man as its pastor rather than a young single one.  Jessica is largely a loner and even though she has feelings for Daniel, she doesn’t think he could ever return them, especially given how much he loved his first wife, Lila.  They are however, good friends and Jessica thinks this will be her only chance for marriage, family and children.  Her mother is in a nursing home and her condition is deteriorating – it was never specified but it seemed like some kind of Altzheimer’s/dementia-related illness.  Jessica has no other family.  Even though she is often happy to spend time alone or with her Samoyed dog, Bear, she still wants to have a family and connection and, as Daniel needs a wife to win his dream job, it seems like a good idea.

It isn’t an inspirational novel. The main characters are Christians and Daniel is a pastor but it isn’t preachy.  God and church and religion are mentioned often because that is integral to these characters but I never felt there was a “message” being rammed down my throat.  That said (and this is ALL on me) I did, at times, feel somewhat uncomfortable – a little suffocated and weighed down by duty and obligation – which is more about my own memories of church than anything else.  I said to a friend recently that if my relationship with God were a Facebook status, it would say “it’s complicated”.  So, there were parts of the book which touched on a few of those complicated spots and made me feel a little… sticky.  I’m not criticising the book for that – but it does inform my experience of it.

On the other hand, it was really nice to see a depiction of a pastor like Daniel.  He drinks alcohol when he’s not in company of those who are teetotal or alcholics, he swears occasionally (usually in private), he enjoys sex, he’s not perfect and he doesn’t have all the answers.  (Possibly it’s easier to see a pastor in fiction enjoying sex.  When I was in my last church, there was a case of TMI from the pulpit about sex on the kitchen cabinets one day, but I digress…). He came across as refreshingly normal. (whatever normal means).

The story is told solely from Jessica’s third person POV so I felt the lack of Daniel’s motivations and inner thoughts.  Jessica makes assumptions about what Daniel is thinking and feeling – some of which are obviously correct but I would have liked to have understood better how Daniel felt about his first wife, Lila and how he felt about Jessica.  The short declaration near the end of the book wasn’t quite enough for me.

I thought it was an interesting study about marriage too – Jessica and Daniel agreed to all the usual marriage trappings – respect, fidelity*, (passionate) sex, friendship, co-habitation, etc, but they agreed they didn’t love each other (at least that way).  It made me wonder a bit – if you have all of the other stuff is it really any different?  That is too heavy a topic for the end of the year but I suppose I think that all of those things tend to be evidence of love and it was kind of jarring to think of them without it. *mild spoiler*  But perhaps, it was that the couple actually did love each other (in that way) but would not admit to it that caused my disconnect.

*I say fidelity because that is a “usual” trapping but I know that many couples have “monogamish” or open relationships – provided they’re mutually agreed upon, I say, whatever floats your boat.

I found the writing style to be kind of stark. A lot of shortish, declarative sentences with not much emotion in them.  Or, when there was emotion, it wasn’t always well expounded. There were also some editing errors – missing words and grammar/typographical errors as well as one glaring continuity error later in the book (a character was in hospital and was to have been there for some time, but the next day was somewhere else entirely).

What else? On the other hand, there were some very entertaining passages and when the emotion did appear on the page, it tended to grab me, even if I would have liked, in particular, Daniel’s motivations to have been less opaque.

Daniel said a lot of things which rang true – stuff about wanting to be connected and having to take a risk and be willing to step out and make connections in order to do so rather than wait for them to magically appear, for example.  I also could relate well to Daniel’s fear of losing what he had been given (ie God “taking it away”) and being afraid to love because of it.  Some of the things in the book struck uncomfortably close to home in fact.  I’m not sure I’m the best person to rate the book frankly.  I feel like my reaction was very personal and I’m not sure how much value it will be to others.

There were things I liked:

His eyes were still warm, but they weren’t as teasing anymore. “And my wife has a remarkable mind. And a remarkable heart. And she takes my breath away every time she finds the courage to take a risk and tell me the truth.”

things I didn’t and things which made me uncomfortable in some ways, but I do love a marriage of convenience story and this is one of the few which pulled it off in a contemporary setting in an entirely believable way for me.  I didn’t like it as much as Kati did but I did like it.

Grade: B-



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