Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)
Kimberley Woodhouse and Tracie Peterson have banded together to write The Heart of Alaska series, and I must say, their partnership was a great idea. These two authors are better together than either one was alone. Woodhouse brings poignancy, sarcastic humor, and the influence of a strong faith. Peterson brings experience, romance, and a new spiritual depth that I have never seen before. So far they have written two books in the series, the second being fairly new on the market. This new novel, titled Out of the Ashes, is a self-proclaimed reflection of real life occurrences, but more on that later. The opening chapters introduce the readers to a few new characters, brother and sister Collette and Jean-Michel Langelier, and Katherine Demarchis. Jean-Michel is a man wounded both physically and mentally; following the horrific events of combat overseas, and a life-altering battle scar, he returns to his home and is faced with his father’s sudden death. Left alone in the world to care for his younger sister Collette, Jean-Michel feels depressed and abandoned by God. It is enough that God kept he and his true love from being together, he thinks, and now he takes my father away. Jean-Michel hardens his heart against God, even as PTSD causes him to toss and turn through nights haunted with dark dreams. The hand of Providence has just saved Katherine Demarchis from her abusive husband by allowing the drunken wretch to slip on ice to his death. She feels no sorrow at his death, only relief. However, his missing presence is only physical, for she can still hear his voice and feel his abuse. The physical and mental wounds she suffered will only be healed by the Hand of God, but she must choose Him over the dark voices in her head. Katherine’s grandmother, worried for her granddaughter’s sanity, arranges a summer trip to Alaska that she hopes will bring healing and a renewed mind. Furthermore, she secretly beseeches Jean-Michel to join them so that Katherine will be reminded that there are good men in the world. Will Jean-Michel and Katherine allow God to heal their broken lives? Will they choose life because He lives? To answer these questions, read the book! In the foreword both authors speak of how this novel was inspired from personal struggles that each has recently experienced. I believe that these struggles have greatly strengthened the faith of each author, and that they have become better writers and people because of them.
Character Development (3 points)
Tracie Peterson’s strength was always in character development, but when Woodhouse and Peterson work on characters together, the results are even better. This is why character development is this novel’s strength. Each character, whether they be primary or secondary, are well-crafted, believable, and contain a depth never before seen from these authors. Jean-Michel is not a straw-man atheist, and Katherine is not the typical damsel in distress character. Rather, each character, including Collette, is portrayed as a person with strengths, weaknesses, and a common need for a loving Savior. The only flaw to point out here is the use of third person. If the authors had used first person for each character, they would have earned a perfect score in this category. Finally, I enjoyed the characters in this novel more than I thought I would, and think that the authors have done an admirable job in this area.
Creativity & Originality (.5 point)
Lastly, the weakest area of this novel is creativity and originality. While there were some creative and even a few original elements, there was also a healthy dose of predictability. However, as it is hard to write an unpredictable romance plot, I cannot judge them too harshly. There is really no difference in this novel and a Janette Oke work (she was my first favorite author), for she often uses third person as well. Therefore, I applaud Woodhouse and Peterson on their effort to stand out in an overcrowded genre, and think that this series would make an interesting Christian/inspirational TV show in the historical romance category. At the very least, it could be a better version of a When Calls the Heart style show, because the audience could actually get to know the characters. In short, well done ladies, your strengths shine in this book, and I am excited to read the next installment.
Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points