Susan contacted me about her love of Carla Kelly books, and told me that she loves Kelly's writing so much that she followed the author into writing Mormon inspirationals, even though inspirationals are not Susan's most favoritest type of romance. I thought her review was very thoughtful and interesting, and wanted to share it with you.
I think many people (myself included) are wary of inspirationals for fear of Too Much Preaching to the Reader, and also the possibility of actual Deux working some Ex Machina in the denouement. Reviews for the Rita Reader Challenge in the Inspirational category have made me rethink my own wariness, and Susan's review does as well.
My Loving Vigil Keeping is the third of Kelly’s Mormon/inspirational romances following Borrowed Light ( A | BN | K | S) and Enduring Light ( A | BN | K | S). It is the story of Della Anders, a poor relation of a wealthy and powerful Salt Lake City attorney. She is the daughter of the family black sheep, abandoned by her mother (who never married her father), and raised by her father in mining camps in Colorado until his death in a mine accident. After years of mean and neglectful treatment Della leaves the home of her aunt and uncle to teach primary school in Winter Quarters, Utah, a remote coal mining town, in 1899. She becomes part of the community, which includes many different nationalities, some Mormon, some not. Most of the main characters, including Owen Davis, the hero, are Welsh Mormons. I am not spoiling anything by saying that story is centered on true events, including a disastrous mining accident—the book is dedicated to the people of Winter Quarters.
I am very ambivalent about inspirational romances, because the religion in them is not mine (I am Jewish), and because the higher purpose often comes before the story and so religious devotion is not smoothly assimilated. However, I love Carla Kelly’s writing and have read ALL of her fiction works, including Here’s to the Ladies (a must-read). In her books the characters feel real, the emotional shifts are true—people can be joking one minute and crying the next. The speech patterns seem human—not stilted “romance talk.” Kelly is a historian and you can picture her settings, whether a remote coal mining town, a Wyoming ranch, or a ship in the Napoleonic Wars. I decided to take my chances with her inspirationals and I have not been sorry.
The two main conflicts are quite believable. The miners recognize Della’s last name as that of a wealthy family and treat her as though she is condescending to them by providing charity as a teacher in Winter Quarters. The other conflict is internal for Della: she lost her father to the mines and was poorly treated by the relatives that took her in, so despite her growing attraction to Owen, does not want to live that pain again by losing a husband to the mines.
There are many powerful emotions at work here: loss, abandonment (by death and by lack of responsibility), pride, loneliness, fear. Kelly mixes in lighter moments as well. Much of Della and Owen’s initial relationship is based on good-natured teasing of each other. This mix of light and serious is very typical of Kelly’s writing, and is something I very much like about her work. The story includes a number of true historical figures—not necessarily famous ones—including a Jewish merchant in Salt Lake City, and some of the miners and other townspeople.
A few things bothered me a little. In many ways Della is a typical Kelly heroine—put-upon by her family, striking off on her own, and discovering her own merits and strengths. We have also seen many variations of the awful aunt and remote uncle in other Kelly books. Overall the book seemed like a bit of a Mormon retread of some of Kelly’s Regencies, particularly The Lady’s Companion ( A | BN | K | S | iB), which features a put-upon daughter, an awful aunt, and a Welsh hero. Della was also a little bit MarySue, able to solve problems for many different people—the principal, the doctor—with her cheery approach. Owen, a widower with a young daughter, is also a bit typical for Kelly, strong and hardworking, with a mischievous sense of humor. But I felt like we didn’t get to know Owen as well as we could have, or at least as well as some other Kelly heroes. I would have liked to be more inside his head and find out what drew him to Della.
All that said, I really liked the book. Della has worked hard to make her way, and is really starting to learn about herself. Owen is funny and persuasive, and is ready to move on from his childhood sweetheart. The townspeople come to life, and the hardships of the land become part of the story.
The Mormon religion was fully integrated into the story, and I got a real sense of what Mormon worship was like at that time. I was curious as to how the Welsh miners became Mormon, but there is no explanation of that. Although Della was born Mormon, her father was not much of an active worshipper, and the book does not provide much insight into how she integrated into the church once she joined her aunt and uncle’s household, especially since they were so neglectful.
The ending is very intense. The effects of the mine accident are described in great detail, and you can feel the horror and the awfulness and the overwhelming grief. We know that because this is a romance Owen and Della end up together, so he has to survive, where many men don’t. But why Owen was not killed seemed a little too contrived. It is not that his action was unlikely, but Owen was a very dedicated worker and I wasn’t convinced he would make that particular choice at that point in his day. Owen decided to give up mining as he is heading into the mine for his shift. It just seemed to me based on his dedication to the job and to safety that this man would work his shift and then resign. The timing of his decision felt dictated more by the needs of the story than by where he was emotionally. Maybe because this book is an inspirational there needs to be a miraculous occurrence—in this case a decision by Owen that saved his life.
There are some unanswered questions in My Loving Vigil Keeping; Borrowed Light had a sequel, and I wonder if there is a sequel planned for this book as well. I can overlook the typical (for Kelly) h/h, mostly because of the different setting. If Della had been a little less successful as a fixer, and we knew Owen a little better, I probably would give the book an A. My Loving Vigil Keeping is a B++ for me.