Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter
Published by Thomas Nelson Fiction June 13, 2017
Genre: Christian, Romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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?
Denise Hunter’s most recent release not only answers her readers love of romance but undertakes the challenge of a Christian marrying a non-Christian.
Denise Hunter is a favorite author of mine because she always takes issues head on, refusing to give any quarter to untruth, while still providing loving relationships for her characters. Her latest story is one that I think has much to teach and I, for one, found myself convicted several times while reading. Ms. Hunter begins her book with a predicament – a couple who believe they have been divorced for 18 months suddenly find out that the paperwork was never signed by a judge, meaning they are still married. Both are expectedly upset, but this plot provides excellent material for Ms. Hunter to examine their relationship in detail. Neither Noah Mitchell nor Josephine Dupree have truly moved on from their divorce, given they were so deeply in love. But both were also hurt deeply by the other and have yet to forgive each other or themselves for allowing the hurt to happen. But as always happens when God is working in people’s lives, they find themselves having to face what happened when they are accidentally stranded at Noah’s ranch during a fast set-in snowstorm. Without cell signal and eventually without electricity, they will have to find ways to work out a truce and keep from freezing to death. Given time to talk, they slowly start to ask and answer the questions they didn’t make time for before. As they work through the pain of what happened, they will be further challenged as they set out to find Noah’s runaway horse, becoming stranded miles from shelter when their snowmobile runs out of gas. Learning to work together on their trek home will bring them closer together and give them a chance to take a good look at their past. How they met is told in flashbacks between the present day story: Noah and Josephine met three and a half years ago when Noah came into her new barber shop for a long overdue haircut. Knowing she was new in town didn’t stop Noah from stopping in as it meant he didn’t have to go to further away Ellijay whenever he needed a trim. One look at Josephine and Noah knew he was in trouble; she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He quickly decided to help her with her build out to expand her shop, paying no heed to the advice of his friend and pastor Jack who warns Noah not to lose his heart until he knows her beliefs. Working together quickly leads to dating and within six months they were engaged and married by Christmas. But Josephine carries a secret, one that, without being told, becomes the breaking point for their marriage. Josephine grew up in a small town on the “wrong side of the tracks” in a single-wide trailer with her mom and mean step-dad. After her mom dies when she’s twelve she continues to live with her step dad, Eddie, as she has no other living relatives who will take her in. A drunk and a gambler, Eddie makes a deal one night that if his buddy beats him at poker he can have anything Eddie owns as payment. This deal will spell tragedy for Josephine as she is the item that Eddie’s buddy, Shark will claim as his for whatever purpose he decides. Rather than protecting her Eddie allows Shark to rape Josephine on multiple occasions, telling her no one will really love her and she is only good for one thing: sex. And after “friends” at school start rumors about her promiscuity with a fellow student, Josephine decides to own that label: she will give her body to men, but only when, where and with whom SHE says. Given this upbringing, Josephine has no idea how to handle God-fearing, respectful Noah who loves her enough to wait for sex until after marriage. And her fear of never being loved unconditionally will be realized throughout the months of their marriage in which Josephine pushes Noah to prove his love repeatedly. Needing complete acceptance, she commits the ultimate betrayal – an affair – desperately wanting to know if Noah loves her enough to stay with her anyways. When he turns away and requests divorce, Josephine decides Eddie was right and no one will ever really love her unconditionally. Fast forward to present day – Noah and Josephine are stranded out in the ever-dropping temperatures, miles from anyone’s home or property. As they fight to get home, they will find that forgiveness is waiting and all they had to do was ask. Josephine will find that the love she craves from people can be found only in the One who is capable of unconditional love. Noah will discover that Josephine isn’t the only one who needs to be forgiven, and that his pursuance of a relationship with her was wrong as she was an un-believer when they got together. Ms. Hunter takes all this hurt and pain and points her readers to the true Source of healing, never shying away from making her characters real and raw. I have known several people who have walked a painful road like this and I believe they would say as Ms. Hunter does, that God gives his children rules to follow to keep them from hurt and sorrow. Noah was so enamored by Josephine that he forgot to look to God for leadership in their relationship. He assumed because she talked about going to Sunday School as a child she was a Christian, never imagining that such a “nice” person didn’t have a relationship with God. How much Noah gave himself to endure when he failed to discuss this critical point. I was glad to see Ms. Hunter be very candid in her take on this issue – she leaves her readers in no doubt that what Noah did was wrong and that he was responsible for much of their marriage trouble. Josephine as an unbeliever acted wrongly as well, but the expectations for her were much different than for Noah. Ms. Hunter had her come to realize her deepest needs and turn to the One who could help her be forgiven and changed. How good it was to read a story that not only explored the dangers of “unequally yoked” relationships but also included true forgiveness and re-found love. I was so very pleased to see that Noah and Josephine were able to forgive each other and find deeper, more lasting love because of placing their marriage in God’s hands. I will most certainly be recommending this book to others as I believe the truths included in this story are vitally important and relevant. Very well done, Ms. Hunter! Please keep writing these challenging love stories that include such truths that needs to be learned by so many Christians today.
I received this E-book free of charge from Thomas Nelson Fiction via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I will receive no fiscal compensation from either company for this review.