Truth be told, Miss Bates always starts a new-to-her inspy author with trepidation, afraid of the niggling criticisms directed at the sub-genre. Evangelical Christianity is a foreign land to Miss B’s smells-and-bells faith, heavy on the ritual, light on the scripture. And Becky Wade’s Her One and Only ran true to type: the characters are evangelical Christians, alcohol-consumption is demonized, and characters pray, are transformed, surrender to God, but don’t participate in ritual. And yet, Wade’s fourth Texas-set Porter Family series novel also runs atypically. Miss Bates was surprised by and pleased with it. For one, heroine Dru Porter is a bodyguard, set the task of protecting football player Grayson Fowler from a stalker. Dru packs heat, chops hulky men with karate expertise, drives a motorcycle, and brings grit and discipline from her days as a marine. She’s direct, funny, feminist, and faithful. Her large Porter family of older brothers, loving parents, nieces and nephews aren’t cutesy-sweet. They’re funny, fun, faithful yes, but possess a casual irreverence that puts them above your holier-than-thou inspy clan. And hallelujah to that …
Hero Gray is larger-than-life and yet believable and likeable. He’s charming, funny, handsome, and huge. Gray teases Dru and Dru gives back as good as she gets. Though he ruefully taunts her for being a tiny lady taking care of a huge, muscle-bound football player, he respects her and acknowledges her ability to do her job. Miss Bates liked Gray for his protectiveness because it comes from a place of care and fear for a person he loves, not doubt in Dru’s ability to be a competent bodyguard. Dru and Gray delightfully banter their way to liking and friendship as they spend a lot of time together, though Dru rightly steps back from bodyguard duties when she realizes how she feels about Gray and they start to date.
Miss Bates must say the dating is real nice. Most rom couples have to endure the author’s insistence on artificial impediments in an attempt to provide conflict, but Wade doesn’t indulge in this authorly “bad faith”. She writes dates and attraction really well. Dru’s and especially Gray’s impediments to love are emotional rather than contrived conflict. As a competitive baby sister, Dru proved her toughness and worth even though she realized her older parents and much-older bros never expected her to. Her toughness stands as a block to love, but her battle isn’t half as difficult as Gray’s. She sowed wild oats, but her strong faith has brought her to a new life. Her wild days are over and she’s clear about what she wants: her family, cabin in the woods, to do a good job, and a committed relationship.
Gray has the more difficult emotional challenge. No matter how reckless her youth, Dru has and had a loving, supportive faith-filled family. Gray is all-manner of messed-up, even while being most likeable. The product of an abusive step-father and alcoholic mother, Gray’s feelings for Dru unearth long-buried emotional wounds: fear of the loss of love, an inability to trust, fear of rejection and abandonment. Gray hides his feelings of unworthiness behind a womanizing, hard-drinking, partying front. Dru’s time with him, however, allows her to discover better things about him: his work ethic, care, charitable work, loyalty, sheer decency.
Gray must learn to trust his heart to steer him right. Like most inspy romance narratives, neither hero nor heroine can open themselves to love unless they open themselves to God. Though also typical of the sub-genre, Gray’s conversion story isn’t clichéd. It’s organic to his character and weaves well with his falling in love with Dru. The reason has to do with Wade’s faith portrayal: she retains her characters’ individuality, their idiosyncrasies and even flaws, still showing how they’ve surrendered to God. Wade cleverly makes the two great, joyous forces of human existence, a connection to God and to another person, be part and parcel of each other.
Another of Wade’s strengths is her writing. It’s smooth, dialogue is natural and funny, and metaphoric use, fresh and engaging. Miss Bates loved this phrase describing Gray’s resistance to his feelings for Dru: “He focused on the road before him, doors slamming shut inside him.” Miss Bates also loved how love was described as “taking over” Gray and Dru, as inspy fiction also often portrays finding faith: ” … the unspoken sea of desire and emotion between them rose a little higher and a little higher and a little higher every single day.” Miss Bates loved this image of Dru and Gray and the rising waters of their love. In sum, Becky Wade’s romance surprised and delighted Miss Bates in many ways. With her reading partner, Miss Austen, she says Her One and Only is indicative of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Becky Wade’s Her One and Only is published by Bethany House, Baker Publishing Group. It was released on May 3rd and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Bethany House via Netgalley.