A Father's Promise by Marta Perry
(Steeple Hill Bks, $4.50, G) ISBN 0-373-87041-8
****
Every now and again I read a book to review that I really enjoy, only to realize that the elements I enjoyed were not necessarily part of the romance. A Father's Promise is one of those books. I read half of it on my lunch break, furiously turning the pages, and then thought about it until I had time to sit down and finish it.

Leigh Christopher has come to the small sea island of St. Joseph's to visit her sister for the summer while she tries to find a new job. A bad experience has made her turn her back on teaching deaf children and she swears she'll never go back. While on the beach with her niece and nephew one afternoon, they discover a small girl huddling at the base of a palmetto tree. It takes Leigh a moment or two, but then she realizes the girl is deaf. Soon after she discovers this, the girl's father appears, frantic with worry.

Daniel Gregory has been trying to find a reliable caretaker for the daughter who landed on his doorstep three short months before. Four years ago, when his daughter Sarah was a baby, his wife Ashley left him to pursue a singing career and took Sarah with her. When Ashley is killed in a car accident, Daniel reclaims his child. Consumed with guilt at the way he failed his wife and daughter, Daniel is determined to do right now. A bridge under construction will connect St. Joseph's with the wider world, and Daniel has a chance to capitalize on the coming influx of tourists. All he has to do is expand his lodge, but to do that he needs someone to watch Sarah.

When he sees Sarah with Leigh, signing and smiling for the first time, he thinks he has his solution. But Leigh, determined never to teach again, never to let anyone down again, refuses. Daniel, however, is persistent and Sarah truly needs Leigh. So she succumbs, and begins her involvement with both Gregorys.

According to one publisher of inspirational romances, an inspirational should have three plots: the external plot, the romance plot and the "God plot." If plots are the answers to questions, then the three questions this story answers are, "Can Leigh bring Sarah out of her shell? Can Daniel and Leigh overcome their fears to find abiding love? And will Leigh accept the gift of her God-given talent and will Daniel rediscover his faith?"

Of the three, the first is most completely developed and is the one that compelled me to finish the book. Sarah's disability and the impulse to protect her it engenders in the people who love her are contrasted with her own courage and determination. I don't have particular feelings for or against children in romances, and I found the three portrayed here, Sarah and Leigh's niece and nephew, to be charming and realistic.

The romance between Leigh and Daniel is solid. I believed their motivations and their attraction, and I could well imagine their relationship over time. Their happy ending really seemed like a happily-ever-after instead of a happy-right-now.

As for the "God plot," it was the weakest of the three. Leigh's faith is solid, a part of the fabric of her being. There are mentions of Sunday school, an admonition from her sister to "pray about" her troubles, prayers as part of internal monologue. The resolution of Daniel's part in this is rather like the "road to Damascus" with a much dimmer light, and I'm not sure I bought it, mainly because it seemed to me to have been left dangling.

The characters in this book are ordinary and frankly, for me, that was one of its strengths. I like reading about regular people wrestling with the difficulties of ordinary life as much as I like reading about larger than life people wrestling with rather outlandish problems. Part of the feeling of normality was that no one was wholly bad, not even Ashley. Marta Perry avoids the temptation of making her characters black or white, wholly good or wholly bad. Instead she makes them human and I liked them for it.

Though I enjoyed A Father's Promise very much and I am recommending it, allow me a pair of caveats. This is not a book for someone looking for a steamy romance; in an inspirational romance a kiss is the hottest thing that happens. Nor is it a book for someone uncomfortable with faith and a heroine who talks to God. However, if you're not one of those people, go find this book.

--Katy Cooper


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