Chances Are

Daddy Claus

Dear Lady

The Forgiving Hour

Hometown Girl

In His Arms

Kiss Me, Katie

Patterns of Love

Taking Care of the Twins

The Shepherd’s Voice
by Robin Lee Hatcher
(WaterBrook Press, $11.95, G) ISBN 1-57856152-3
I volunteered to review Robin Lee Hatcher’s new inspirational romance because I am curious about the nature of this growing subgenre. I am pretty much unfamiliar with contemporary inspirational romance, having read only one such book: Francine Rivers’ powerful historical, Redeeming Love. But I am not completely without experience with romances with a strong religious motif. After all, I grew up reading and enjoying my mother’s collection of Grace Livingston Hill’s and Gene Stratton Porter’s novels, all of which placed the characters’ religious beliefs at the center of the story.

I admit that as I began reading The Shepherd’s Voice, I was surprised by the immediacy and prevalence of the religious themes. I found it somewhat disconcerting at first to find the characters speaking to God on just about every page, to discover extensive quotations from the Bible, to encounter frequent discourses about the theology of grace. But I make it a practice in my reviewing to try to judge a book on its own terms and not according to my personal predilections. On the basis of these criteria, I must conclude that The Shepherd’s Voice is powerful and moving story of redemption and love.

Gabriel Talmadge is a man who has truly fallen into the depths of despair. Fourteen years earlier, in 1920, he was sent to prison for causing his brother’s death. His own father had provided the testimony that had led to his conviction, although Max’s death had really been an unfortunate accident. Gabe had spent ten years in prison and four years wandering through the depression-ravaged west. Now, like the Prodigal Son, he is making is way back to Ransom, Montana, the town his father controls, hoping against hope that Hudson Talmadge will show mercy towards his only surviving child.

Starving and exhausted, Gabe passes out some fifteen miles from Ransom, to be found by Akira Macauley. Akira runs her family’s sheep ranch. When her shepherd was injured, she prayed for a replacement. She certainly didn’t expect God to send her a lost soul like Gabe. But she hears Jesus’ words, “For I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” Thus, she takes this lost soul in, changing both his life and her own.

Hudson Talmadge is a ruthless and unforgiving man, with no shred of mercy in him. He hates Gabe, whose birth caused his mother’s death and who, he believes, is not truly his son. But if Hudson rejects Gabe, Akira does not. She offers him a job and an opportunity to recover, both physically and spiritually. For the first time since his childhood, Gabe comes to accept that God loves him and has not abandoned him. When town gossips begin to denigrate Akira because she has an ex-con living at her ranch, he sees only two possible courses of action: he can leave or they can get married. Akira has already fallen in love with the man she rescued, so she opts for the second alternative, hoping that Gabe will come to love her as she loves him.

Akira’s and Gabe’s growing happiness is threatened by Hudson’s machinations. He wants Akira’s ranch for his own selfish purposes. He is willing to go to any lengths to achieve his goals and to destroy his hated son. Gabe’s newly found faith is sorely tested.

Hatcher sets her romance against the backdrop of Montana in the depths of the Great Depression. She effectively captures these desperate times and the role which a strong faith could play in helping people cope by encouraging them to “love thy neighbor.” Her secondary characters - both good and bad - are very well drawn. Hatcher has always been a skillful storyteller.

I am led to recommend The Shepherd’s Voice because it kept me turning the pages. I admired Akira for her strong faith; she truly lived the principles of Christianity. I followed Gabe’s spiritual journey with interest and appreciation. I enjoyed watching the two find true love and their happily ever after.

Being largely unfamiliar with contemporary inspirational romances, I cannot judge this book in relation to others in the subgenre. I cannot determine how The Shepherd’s Voice compares in the depth and extent of its religious material with other current books. I do know that, compared with the stories I read in my youth, the faith aspects are much more prominent.

Readers who are uncomfortable with strongly religious themes will probably not enjoy this book. Those who appreciate a well-told story with strong characters, a well rendered setting, and a moving love story, and who accept the transformative power of grace, should find The Shepherd’s Voice a most enjoyable read.

--Jean Mason

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