On Miss Bates’s fridge, amidst myriad souvenir magnets, adheres a favourite, the image of a red-clad elephant on a silver background. It is Ganesha, the Hindu deity, who dispells “impediments” and is the lover of wisdom and learning. Miss Bates often looks at it as she ponders the curbs and checks that plague a life. Thus it is with the hero and heroine of Rula Sinara’s début romance, The Promise Of Rain. There are obstacles to their HEA; self-imposed barriers are the worst of them. They are soul-blocked, not so much from loving, but allowing another to love them. Our Jackson and Anna are super-smart at what they do, well-educated and competent in so many ways, but utterly foolish about, and closed-off to, love. In this romance, there is all that and: wonderful, sentient beings, the elephants, the beauty of Kenya, engaging writing, a believable moppet, and fleshed-out secondary characters. Miss Bates was deeply moved by Sinara’s romance, by her emotionally fragile, lonely protagonists and their journey to “a marriage of true minds,” with some help along the way by “removers,” human and animal, of obstacles. This début is impressive, indeed.
Sinara’s premise is not one that Miss B. usually enjoys; it is, yes folks, the secret-baby plot. However, Sinara does a very good job of it because the baby, four-year-old Pippa, doesn’t stay secret for long. We meet Dr. Anna Bekker and poppet Pippa in their beloved Busara Research Camp in Kenya’s Serengeti, under the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is an engaging opening: Anna sips her first morning cup of coffee, gazes at the plains’ beauty, when one of her adoptees, Ambosi the three-legged monkey, boinks her lightly on the head with an acorn. Attention-seeker and protector, Ambosi is one of many animals we meet, lovingly rendered and championed by Sinara, in telling Anna’s story. She describes the elephants’ sensitivity and their destruction by poachers. Anna came to Kenya to complete her research, but found a way of life that gave her purpose and satisfaction: protecting the elephants, bringing up her daughter, and forming friendships with the people who help her find and rescue animals-at-risk. The animals are threatened by poachers, drought, and injury. Babies are orphaned, their parents killed by those who trade in ivory.
Anna is protective of, and committed to, her “beloved chaos.” However, she is not the only one who has found sanctuary in Busara. There are Niara, Anna’s best friend, and her son, Haki, Pippa’s BFF; Ahron, head keeper; and Dr. Kamau, the other veterarian and Niara’s love interest. These secondary characters are not cardboard cut-outs; they are likeable. They work out their own romance and urge Anna and our hero, Jackson, onto their own. These two need all the nudging and urging and encouraging they can get.
When the novel opens, Anna and her friends/colleagues are concerned about the drought, “they needed rain – badly.” Sinara skillfully establishes a connection between physical/geographic drought and Anna’s emotional one. Anna is a strong, capable person. Miss Bates loved that. But she is, in turn, sad and frightened of love. Into Busara walks Anna’s greatest love and greatest nemesis, her former best friend, lover, and her daughter’s father, Jackson Harper, no less thirsty for love and connection. The promise of rain is the promise, the possibility, of love; otherwise, lives are as dry as the dust that settles on the Serengeti.
With Jackson’s arrival, Sinara adds two essential elements to a good (romance) novel: a viable conflict and reasons why the hero and heroine are as they are. She accomplishes the latter by establishing pasts that hero and heroine allow to determine and undermine their present, culminating in their emotional reticence and caution. She adroitly renders both characters “in the right” and “the wrong.” When Jackson’s research brings him to Busara (sent by a mutual academic project leader) and he realizes Pippa is his up-to-now-unknown daughter, Anna is clearly in the wrong. When Jackson exerts his authority as auditor to threaten Anna’s work to the benefit of his research (though it is worthy, the immunology and genetic resistance of these animals), he is clearly in the wrong. Miss Bates thought the economic expediency of academic research and ever decreasing grant/funding were believable conflicts in addition to their emotional inhibitions.
Jackson is a researcher, dealing in statistics and samples and looking at everything through a microscope. Expressing feelings is difficult for him. When he confronts what he feels for Anna, his frustration produces this great line, “You make me stupid!” Anna is about the field, the lived experience of the animals and their habitat. Then, there’s Pippa and Busara … and a no man’s land of love and yearning and an inability to express them, ask for them, seek them … between Jackson and Anna: “Two different people. Two different sides of the world. One child caught in the middle.” When Jackson arrives in Kenya, he thinks of Anna thus, “How many hours of sleep had he lost to anticipation?” but never voices it. When she sees him again after five years, she says to him, ” ‘You’re here for one reason only. To make your career better, at the expense of mine. To take away everything that matters to me,” but thinks, ” … what she really longed for was to feel his arms wrapped around her in forgiveness.” Add the professional combat they’re engaged in, the anger, hurt, and betrayal, and you have beautifully fraught conflicts based on personality and held values.
Jackson and Anna have issues and a history. The first third of the novel establishes them. This borders on the repetitive, but the vibrancy of the Kenyan setting, the secondary characters, a beautiful description of a Masai wedding, the humour and pathos of the animals make up for it. Jackson’s issues, stemming from the first nine years of his life with drug-addicted parents, are difficulty letting go of control and admitting his feelings (even though his adoptive parents are loving, sensible, and supportive.) They are everything a child could want in parents. Anna and Jackson grew up together, went to school together, to university, and were each others support and bulwark. On the night Anna’s parents declared their intent to divorce, Anna turned to Jackson, her best friend. Jackson, ever protective of Anna and half in love with her, gave her that comfort. Pippa is the result of that love and care and need. They took comfort from each other, but never believed that they loved each other, or were worthy of each others love.
Anna has issues stemming from her emotionally distant father, who only married her mother, and told her so, because she was pregnant. Anna’s mother, in turn, has mental health issues. Anna refused Jackson’s proposal after they made love, vowing to herself never to be a burden to anyone, never to marry from necessity instead of love. Jackson, in turn, thought Anna’s refusal was a result of his fundamental unworthiness, still the kid with the messed up parents. When Jackson arrives at Busara, this emotional baggage must be overcome. When the conflicts, emotional and professional, move to the US, the reiteration of their issues and past reads scripted; basic motivators have already entrenched character, but here they are again. Frankly, the American setting lacks Kenya’s vibrancy. It’s more mundane, less interesting. This is, Miss B. thinks, signs of the neophyte writer. However, even when the narrative lags, care and love for polished writing are evident.
Because romance is about irrepressible optimism; because into every life a little drought must come … the rain will fall. For the HEA, the wonderful title’s promise comes with promises, an outpouring of repressed emotion and avowals of love and togetherness, masterfully steered by Sinara.
Miss Bates was moved by Sinara’s characters and their emotional plight. Their sadness and need for love were heart-rending. Jackson and Anna are sympathetic and yet, they’re also frustrating in how they’ve entrenched their lives. Not since Miss B. sobbed over Donna Alward’s How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart has she been this sniffy and tissue-wielding. She thought she’d be bothered by the sexlessness of the narrative, Promise part of Harlequin’s relatively new “Heartwarming” line, but Sinara handles it so well. It’s as if passion is spent and the emotional storm has yet to be … as readers, we await, along with Jackson and Anna, for the “promise of rain.”
In Sinara’s narrative, we find the best of what romance offers: its anti-determinist stance, or as Anna admits, “She’d let herself believe in possibilities.” Jackson and Anna take a leap of faith by transcending their past and their childhood, by rescinding their anger and feelings of betrayal and declaring, “I dwell in possibility,” (as the poet said 😉 ). Romance readers respond, “Amen to that.” In Sinara’s The Promise of Rain, “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Rula Sinara’s The Promise of Rain is published by Harlequin “Heartwarming” and has been available at various venues since January 1st.
Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, made available via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
What romances have you read about two starved-for-love-but-unwilling-to-let-love-in types? Share your titles and why you enjoyed them in the comments, please.