Time for church!
Writers of Love Inspired books are generally very…general about church and church services. They’re supposed to be: too much detail and you run the risk of portraying a specific denomination instead of general Christianity.
In a surprising twist for our Wintermas romances, Josh is already RTC! He “went forward” in church months ago, and regularly attends the (apparently one) church in Bygones, and “feels guilty” if he doesn’t go every Sunday. And the coffee shop is closed all day on Sunday, which is a great way to make a profit!
On his way to church, he reflects in a nice humble-craggy way about how he has left his “expensive, hand-tailored suits back home in St. Louis,” and settled on “pressed jeans topped with a suede blazer” for church.
Wow, what a man of the people.
He’s greeted in a rather bizarrely and over-the-top enthusiastically way by the “crew-cut greeter” of the church. Me, I would find the excessive use of vigorous handshaking and exclamation-point greetings to be tiresome and fakey, but Josh apparently digs the hell out of it.
Josh immediately runs into Whitney and her parents. His very basic polite handshake is rebuffed by Dear Ole Dad, and I don’t even think we’re meant to see this as Dad being in a bad mood because of his recent knee surgery. Dad’s just
a jerk protective of his 25-year-old daughter.
But Josh wins him over through shared misogyny!
Josh once again extended his hand. “I guess we better get along or the women folk are going to pitch a fit,” he said quietly.
“Yeah, how weird that women want people to behave with basic human decency when they have no discernible reason to do otherwise! Dames, amirite?”
Josh sits with them, and “right next to Whitney,” too!
When they stand to sing, Whitney “slipped her hand through the crook of Josh’s elbow as naturally as if they had stood together to worship a hundred times before.” And maybe I’m just in a more prudish mood today, but I actually think that’s a bit forward. They’re not a couple yet!
More Christian vagueness, as Josh reflects that every Sunday in church, “he’d learned something new and amazing—about the gospel and about himself.”
Except about how to tell the truth, and how to treat women like human beings.
We vaguely skip past the vague church service, and so have no idea what “new and amazing” thing Josh might have learned. And as the POV switches to Whitney yet again, we learn that for all her teary-eyed sympathy for Josh’s Poor-Little-Rich-Boy childhood, her own parents haven’t exactly been paragons of marital bliss.
“It’s also nice to see you and Dad getting along so well>
“Oh, honey. We’ve always gotten along well, even when it may not have looked like it to outsiders—or even to you.”
Yeah, that’s a ringing endorsement of true love.
Mom wink-winks at Whitney over her “friend” Josh, because maybe someday, Whitney too can have a marriage where everyone, even their own kids, thinks they can’t stand each other’s company! A girl can dream, I guess.
Mom invites Josh over, Josh immediately accept, and they tae three cars back. In her own car, this gives Whitney a chance to thank Jesus (though not her mom) for making this happen. She also once again ponders Josh’s “forlorn” childhood, and “how hard it must have been to grow up in a family where there were no special celebrations,” and how he didn’t know what it was like to “be a part of a loving family like hers.”
Yep, a loving family like hers, where she is shocked when her parents treat each other with basic respect. How blessed she was.
I feel like Whitney is super-overcompensating in her own head, but then again, I really don’t think the author understands how all this is coming across.
When he arrives at the house, Josh wonders if Whitney just has a different (nice) persona outside of work, or if she is “up to something,” so his weird and misogynistic suspicions continue apace.
Before and during dinner, we also learn why Whitney is so accepting of Josh’s misogyny—it’s all she knows. When reminded of all his wife does for him while he is recovering, Dad comments that women “think they run the world,” and goes on to regale Josh with multiple stories of Whitney’s clumsy childhood. I think it’s meant to come across as Da-aad, You’re Embarrassing Me In Front Of A Booooyyyyy stuff, but it just reads to me as mean-spirited, given what we know of the Leigh marriage and Dad’s attitude towards women.
At the end of it all, Mom invites Josh to Christmas dinner, and even though he said no to Whitney, he now gives a tentative yes to her mom. And then they negotiate Josh helping Whitney find out who the mysterious benefactor is. She suggests doing some basic research, which Josh hilariously characterizes as “hacking,” but he finally agrees to “help” her, which presumably means he will help her find nothing at all. He actually almost feels a twinge of guilt about the whole thing but, good Christian that he is, he says nothing.
He heads home, and Whitney shoots the breeze with her annoying parents for a few minutes, then decides that if she delivers a power cord to Josh that evening, he will have to answer questions about his past. Because that’s how it always works!
Time for the big Wintermas tree lighting in Failure, Kansas!
Whitney arrives with her bakery-bought cookies, congratulating herself for sticking to her diet and not having any pre-tasting.
“I am on a diet. It started last week.”
“Me too. It started when I was fourteen.”
-Mark and Debbie, GLOW
Whitney finds Coraline to pass off the cookies, and Coraline immediately tries to play smarmy matchmaker between Whitney and Josh, who has arrived to pass out free hot cocoa. Which is slightly creepy when you consider that Coraline is keeping Josh’s secret and wants to keep that secret from Whitney.
But what a prize Josh is! When he sees Whitney…
Josh gritted his teeth. If that nosy reporter was working with Miss Coraline, there was no telling what leading questions she’d feel free to ask before the evening was over.
Gritting his teeth. Always a sign of love and affection from a man.
Josh has brought Matt along, and has the kid do the actual job of handing out the free cocoa:
Matt drew cup after cup of cocoa, adding a squirt of whipped cream as he served them.
Okay, maybe I’ve just got a dirty mind, so I read this sentence to my husband:
Me: “…adding a squirt of whipped cream—”
Me: Okay, so it’s not just me.
Hank: So she couldn’t have said “a dollop of whipped cream”?
Or maybe we both have dirty minds, and it’s just another sign we’re meant for each other. Let me know if you also have dirty minds!
But Matt eventually runs off to listen to his grandpa’s prayer and sing in his choir. (It becomes clear quite quickly that this whole exercise is basically just a church thing.) And Coraline plays matchmaker and sends over Whitney to “help” Josh.
If he didn’t know better, he’d suspect some kind of devious, feminine conspiracy.
Are there any other kind of conspiracies, right? Those devious females!
But the devise conspiracy is all Coraline, no Whitney. Because despite the Electric Touch of Love from the other day, Whitney bizarrely claims that “I don’t think Josh likes me very much.”
Don’t feel bad, honey. Josh doesn’t like any woman very much.
But Coraline pushes the point, and Whitney heads over to stand near Josh and not do anything and regale him with self-deprecating tales of her lack of cooking talent.
Whitney loved to tell stories, making her perfect for her chosen profession.
Show, don’t tell. Just sayin’.
And speaking of showing, Whitney shows Josh scars from when she hurt herself as a kid due to clumsiness. It’s not nearly as sexy as this scar-comparison scene:
But tearing herself down apparently turns Josh on, because he starts getting mushy on her.
“There’s something about you tonight that I’ve never noticed before. Something very special.”
That’s sweet and all, but kinda hard to buy seeing as how he was gritting his teeth about a half-hour ago at the mere sight of her.
“I may be a lousy cook but I have a mind like a steel trap.” She was chuckling. “Of course, there are times when its jaws snap shut for no reason and I forget to reset it.”
Josh was shaking his head in the wake of the inane analogy.
Wow. See what I mean?
But there’s no more time for Josh to denigrate Whitney in his mind: it’s time for the mayor’s speech and the tree-lighting!
“We must always remember the true reason for Christmas and keep our Savior’s birth as the primary focus of our celebration, in spite of enjoying all the other benefits we share, both here, tonight, and in our homes.”
Heh, looks like another town where the mayor likes to inject his personal beliefs into public events.
But unlike Mayor Dan, Martin Langston seems behind the effort to revitalize his own town (if a bit reluctant in his manner)..
He harrumphed. “And remember, shop in Bygones!”
“Even if seventy percent of you have no current income!”
Josh and Whitney kinda moon over each other, though each thinks the other is not interested. Whitney coos over the tree, and talks about how she grew up there and tree gets better every year (even when seventy percent of the town is out of work, but whatever). And Whitney lets on that she knows Josh is from Missouri (from his Main Street application).
Hmmm…St. Louis, where the holiday cards are from…that’s in Missouri, right?
Sadly, this simple geographic fact rings no bells in Whitney’s head, so entranced is she by this “amazingly wonderful evening with Josh.”
And the amazingly wonderful Josh is savvy to the advantages of having a reporter on his side, and asks her to write a “separate short feature” on his tinkering with the movie theater system and his free screening of It’s A Wonderful Life. This leads into yet more Poor Little Rich Boy stuff, including how Josh’s parents didn’t have him believing in Santa as a kid. Even worse…
“I never heard much about the real Christmas story, either. If my mother had not taken me to Sunday school a few times I might never have heard of Jesus.”
Yeah, Jesus is easy to miss when you grow up in the Midwest of this “Christian nation.”
Whitney observes that this is “terrible,” then invites Josh to spend Christmas with her family since his mom will be on her cruise. Josh immediately turns her down, which seems a bit harsh.
Whitney heads on home and muses on Josh’s “admittedly barren childhood,” in which he “had missed out on so much fun.”
What, just because he didn’t believe in Santa? Look, I believed in Santa, and sure, Santa is fun and all, but plenty of kids don’t believe and have just as much fun. Weirdo.
Whitney, age twenty-five, still lives with her parents, and we learn that her dad recently had knee replacement surgery. We are not told if either or both of her parents worked for the now-defunct aerospace plant, but there is no mention of her father’s medical bills bankrupting the family.
We don’t get to meet Dad, but Mom Betty immediately savvies to Whitney’s little crush on the guy who grits his teeth at the thought of her. They agree to meet with Josh at church and try to convince him to come over for dinner sometime, even if it’s not Christmas. I feel like Betty really wants to get her mid-20s spinster daughter married. She’s almost on the shelf, after all!
Josh debates calling Coraline to “learn what Whitney was up to” (um, doesn’t he already know?), which seems rather creepy and weird, but it doesn’t matter, because Coraline doesn’t answer.
He reflects that once people know who he is, “his comfortable niche in the community would disappear.” What comfortable niche? Being thought of as the standoffish outsider who looks down his nose at everyone and everything and is rude to women? That niche?
Besides, Josh is thinking of selling out after the first of the year (which violates the terms of his own agreement, since getting a grant requires a two-year residency), so what does he care now about his niche?
Josh wanders out into his coffee shop and has a brief interaction with the one and only Bygones resident he has hired for his shop: a teenager named Matt, who has a dead mother and a missionary father who is in Turkey and who lives with his grandparents. And Josh has basically hired the kid because Matt reminds Josh of himself. So we can see Josh’s self-absorption continue apace, and frankly, hiring one teenager for part-time work is not exactly going to help a dying town. Like, AT ALL.
Josh heads out to Main Street to strike up oh-so-casual conversations with his “fellow” grant recipients. He starts with the florist, Lily, and she is immediately really sweet and offers him poinsettias for his coffee shop.
“I’m good on decorations,” Josh assured her, wonder gin where she thought he’d find room for one more unnecessary thing in his already cramped store.
Yeah, Josh, because Lily has no doubt memorized every inch of your stupid coffee shop. And damn, can Josh even go five minutes without thinking something derogatory about a woman?
So it turns out that Whitney’s first “clue,” which Josh is now also tracking, is the set of holiday/congratulatory cards that the mysterious benefactor sent to all five of the store owners who will save this town.
Five, because Josh, in his infinite wisdom, did not send a card to himself.
Lily confirms that yes, Whitney was asking questions and yes, she seems to be “on a mission.” That done, Josh heads to the pet store and the hardware store because they “had male proprietors. Their take on Whitney’s questions might be more logical than that of the women involved.”
Nope, he really can’t go five minutes without denigrating women. What a guy. (And there is nothing in Lily and Josh’s brief interaction that could be characterized as Too Girly and Emotional on Lily’s part. She’s just nice.)
Oh, and since it’s early days, I’ll quote Dan Olson from Folding Ideas. Regarding Fifty Shades Freed:
“It’s okay, from a narrative perspective, if Christian is a dick. It’s just that the conflict that arises out of it needs to go somewhere.”
His whole series on the Fifty Shades movies is awesome, btw. Starts here:
So, it’s only been three chapters, and I’m doing this blind, so we’ll see if Josh’s near-constant misogyny will have any dramatic payoff or resolution.
But not yet, because we cut back to Whitney’s perspective, and she’s not doing the readers any favors either, regarding likability. She’s questioning the bookstore owner, Allison, and Allison makes but two mentions of her boyfriend, Sam. But these mere passing references make “set Whitney’s teeth on edge” and roll her eyes (Allison doesn’t notice), because ZOMG romance is just everywhere these days.
This despite the fact that Allison is incredibly useful to Whitney’s cause, since she’s saved the envelope her card came in. Postmarked St. Louis. Yeah, that “logical” manly man Josh sure is great at covering his tracks.
Whitney heads back to the coffee shop, where Josh has retreated to his back room where he does computer repairs as a “hobby.” And it’s been a whole page, so time for Josh to look down on the everyone!
When he had first come to Bygones he had tried to design software on the ground floor. Since it was too hard to concentrate when he had to keep stopping to brew fancy coffee drinks, he had eventually left the workshop area to serve as a diversion and moved his serious business to his second-floor apartment.
Gee, Josh, so sorry that people wanting coffee (yanno, the purpose of your shop, which you decided on) interferes with your serious work. Jerk.
(Oh, and weirdly, it’s here that we learn that the coffee shop sources it’s baked goods…from the bakery two doors down. How does that make financial sense?)
Whitney asks Josh about the card, and, like the true Christian hero he is, he lies without technically lying, just saying, “I’m not very sentimental.” See, then Whitney can just infer he threw it out, so it’s totally being a truthful person, just like Jesus wanted!
This leads to an intensely uncomfortable conversation, where Whitney is all super sympathetic to Josh’s oh-so-sad childhood, what with the massive privileges and decorator-done decorations.
I’m sure she’s meant to be genuine, but it just comes across as laying it on thick, as she gently touches him and murmurs how she is so, so very sorry, as though somebody died or something. Josh isn’t having it, though, and then this happens:
“I was an only child.” [Josh says]
“Oh, dear.” [Whitney responds]
It really is quite the race to the bottom with these two.
Josh goes full-on Ebenezer Scrooge: “I don’t need anything beyond my own company to be content—no matter what day it is.”
This makes Whiney cry a single, romantic tear. Then she quickly takes her leave, and bizarrely offers her hand to shake, but this is all so the official Electric Love at first touch can occur:
The moment their fingers touched, however, he felt a surge of emotion that went straight to his heart and sent warmth flowing through and around him as if an invisible blanket now encompassed them both.
Well, I’ll say this: these two people are both kinda jerks. So I guess they deserve each other.
Whitney heads over to the school to see Coraline, who is the principal and also the logistical coordinator of the grants for Main Street. It all begins well enough, with Coraline giving Whitney a “motherly hug” (she was the principal when Whitney was in school, too, and all the way through school, since the school has all grades, K-12).
But it goes downhill quickly. Coraline dragoons Whitney into providing dozens of cookies for the town tree-lighting ceremony (I guess unlike some other failing towns, Bygones can afford Christmas lights!), but when Whitney says she’ll just order them from the baker since she’s really not into baking…
“Then how are you ever going to snag yourself a decent husband? Don’t you know the way to a man’s heart…”
“Is through his stomach,” Whitney supplied with a soft laugh. “So I’ve heard.”
So we’re two for two now. Out of the two people Whitney has interacted with since the book began, both have said straight up that she is less than perfectly womanly because of her looks and her tastes. Then Whitney tries to laugh it off, and the other person doubles down on the negging.
If there is one thing all these Wintermas romance books prove, it is that small towns SUCCCKKKKK.
Oh, and to add insult to injury, Coraline completely stonewalls Whitney when it comes to paperwork about the grants, or any information at all on Josh or anything else. It’s pretty obvious that Coraline is in on Josh’s stupid little scheme, to the point that she tries to throw Whitney off the track by theorizing that the benefactor is a woman, because “It’s our tendency to nurture.”
Wow, what a great principal she must be, eh? So open-minded.
And so Whitney leaves, with a responsibility but no information. And with sympathy in her heart: all she can think is that “she just hated to see the principal looking so unduly burdened” [with the stress of the tree-lighting].
Yanno, my opinion of Whitney is changing a bit. She seems nice, and everyone just keeps being jerks to her.
The small, sparsely furnished apartment over the coffee shop was not up to Josh’s usual standards.
My opinion of Josh, however, declines by the second. La-di-da, asshat sorry the little apartment isn’t up to your millionaire standards.
Josh reflects on how he has another secret to keep, poor beleaguered guy: he’s fixing up the movie theater next door. The former owner couldn’t handle the switch to digital, so he sold to Josh’s dummy corporation. Good lord, this guy’s sneakiness knows no bounds.
Josh reflects on his Poor Little Rich Boy syndrome: his parents were uber-wealthy, so much so that his father (gasp! choke!) hired professional decorators at Christmastime and hosted lavish parties. And lest you think he was being a nice person about it, he had secret ulterior motives: he was (pearl clutch!) trying to impress business contacts!
(Huh, it’s almost as though this family has a history of using money to get what they want, while keeping those actual true motivations a secret…)
But Josh is still close with his mom (Dear Ole Dad is dead now), because she was, of course, the poor lil wifey who wanted to decorate their mansion all on her ownsome.
(Oh, but it also turns out that Josh is keeping the whole revitalizing Bygones thing a secret from Mom, too. Go figure.)
And all this even though this whole project is because of Mom, because “she was the one with nostalgic memories of the town.”
He calls Mom to chat, but the upshot is that she is awesome and taking a Caribbean cruise with friends for Christmas.
But it’s okay, because Josh really doesn’t need any more positive feedback: he provides enough all on his own:
There were times when Josh felt like one of those comic book superhero characters, with a mild-mannered facade hiding extraordinary powers.
Cut to Whitney getting the cookies at the bakery, the one featured in the second book of this series.
And my opinion takes a dip again, as she “couldn’t repress a grin” at seeing the baker’s assistant, “macho” Brian (hero of that book) behind the counter of a bakery, wearing an apron.
So maybe Coraline and Whitney are better company than I had thought.
Whitney, Brian, and Melissa (heroine of the second book, now Brian’s fiancee), bullshit for a bit about who the benefactor is, then Whitney decides to head next door to the florist shop so she can
check in with all the characters from the other books in the series get the opinions of all the SOS benefactees.
And finally, here at the end of Chapter Two, we get our first reference to God!
Her memories of Christmas are and incredibly vague “an overall sense of well-being, of love,” just to contrast with Josh’s. And this leads right to thoughts of little baby Jesus and God’s gift, etc., etc.
And that might just be the latest mention of God in any book we’ve read here!
So first of all, a little more information on the setup for the series. The big business of Bygones, Kansas, was Randall Manufacturing. It employed (get this) SEVENTY PERCENT of the town.
So, right away, this seems like a similar story to Christmas Town, which also featured a longtime business (possibly) leaving town.
Then we get this, from Love in Bloom, the first book in the series:
Tate couldn’t help wondering if Robert Randall truly realized what he’d done to this community when he’d shuttered his aerospace manufacturing plant.
Okay, that kinda changes everything for me.
Seventy percent of the town worked in aerospace manufacturing??? I do not blame one single person for picking up and leaving town. Wouldn’t an aerospace manufacturing plant tend to imply highly skilled workers? Engineers and so forth? This is so not the case of an old business that has kept the town afloat for generations, and the families don’t know any different and will be completely lost without the business. Wouldn’t it be more like, “Oh, the plant is closing. Huh, what an ass that Robert Randall is. Guess I’ll move my family to Florida, with the money I’ve been able to save because Kansas has a super-low COL, and get another aerospace manufacturing job!”
But no, the entire town has apparently just been sitting back, waiting to die (When the bank branch had closed, the whole town had known it was in real trouble. (Also from Love in Bloom.), until this mysterious benefactor figured out that opening five small businesses on Main Street, none of which could be owned and run by a Bygones native, would save the entire burg.
So, there’s the background. On to our actual book!
The interesting thing right off the bat about Whitney and Josh is that they are kinda already into each other as the story begins. Whitney goes to Josh’s coffee shop and they exchange a bot of flirtatious banter and Whitney internally marvels at how awesome Josh’s coffee shop is, and how awesome all the new Main Street businesses are, because “each one had filled a need and become an integral part of Bygones in a mere five or six months.”
Yeah, what any dying Midwest town desperately needs is a pet store.
Oh, and “Josh’s computers were state-of-the-art, with game-playing capabilities far beyond anything she had ever seen.”
Yeah, what this dying town of aerospace manufacturers desperately needs is the capability to play PUBG with the highest possible resolution.
(I really want to play some PUBG right now.)
Anyway, Josh fixes Whitney a drink and they sit and chat and we’re already pretty romantical, since Josh’s teasing “made her tremble like dry autumn leaves in a gale.”
Damn, girl, slow down.
Whitney wants to ask Josh some reporter-type questions, but he wants to ask her a question first, and she says sure.
“Why do you wear those glasses instead of contacts?”
“Those clunky glasses. The heavy frames.”
Well, that didn’t take long. Now I hate Josh.
This book was written in 2013, and is it really asking so much that this tired old trope be retired?
And I am not raging on this because I wear clunky glasses and my husband wears clunky glasses and so do my father and brother and…
Okay, Josh, here’s the thing: people wear glasses TO SEE BETTER. That’s kinda their whole purpose. Oh, I’ll let Whitney tell you:
“That’s a silly question. I need them to read.”
“To read? Or as a mask to hide behind?”
Wow, I hate him so much and it’s page 14.
YES, asshole, TO READ. Not as a mask, but TO READ. Not everyone with bad vision can use contacts, and not everyone with bad vision wants to use contacts. I’m gonna blow your mind right now, but I like my glasses. I’ve had them since I was five, and I NEED THEM TO SEE. My husband is LEGALLY BLIND without his glasses. What, exactly, is your malfunction? I mean, seriously, are you stuck in second grade?
He then pays her a nice condescending backhanded compliment by saying that she has beautiful eyes, but, poor lil him, he has to “really work” to see them because THE GLASSES, SO HUGE.
At this point, if I was Whitney, I’d already be going to find a nice home espresso machine. But no, she sticks with this complete ass, and starts whining to him about all the love stories that have been happening in town, all centered on these new businesses. Weird, huh? Basically, at this point the “flirting” turns into an interview, and the POV switches from Whitney to Josh.
Josh could tell his casual repartee had rattled the cute reporter. Well, too bad.
She had been sticking her nose into his business from the moment he’d arrived in Bygones. If she had been old and ugly, or even just a little slow-witted, he’d have been fine. Unfortunately, she was none of those things.
So here’s the thing: the reason Josh is so intimidated by Whitney is not just because she is young and hot, but because he’s scared of her questions.
And he’s scared of her questions because…he’s the mysterious benefactor!
Yep, the mysterious benefactor of Main Street has been revealed on page 18. And it’s one of the businesspeople. So, technically, new businesses were only given to five new businesses, because the sixth is a business run by a millionaire who doesn’t need it. And who, incidentally, so far seems to be the only employee of that business.
Yeah, it’s kinda weird to reveal the big twist in Chapter 1. I’ll be interested to see how this is handled. This has the potential to be interesting…but also to make the heroine look stupid, what with the readers knowing the big secret before she does.
And so the interview continues apace, with Whitney asking very basic questions about Josh’s coffee shop. And despite the basicness of the questions, Josh acts all suspicious and evasive, and vague enough to actually say things like, “I thought I’d try [to serve coffee] with my computers.” He even very obviously dodges the question of his college major. And when Whitney asks him if it was “hard to learn how to make the different drinks,” Josh responds that he merely “got a book and watched a tutorial on the internet.”
So wait, Whitney just assumes that Josh knew nothing about working in a coffee shop before opening one? And Josh confirms that yes, he knew absolutely nothing about it. Yep, that’s just the kind of business we’re looking for to revitalize Main Street, Failingtown, Kansas!
The silly interview finally ends, and Josh reflects that he “could have told [Whitney] that she owed him a lot more than she knew,” but, super nice guy that he is, “he had not launched this recovery program for the accolades it might bring him.”
Maybe not, but he sure does like to think about it, doesn’t he?
Meanwhile, as she wanders off, Whitney thinks about how she can never get a straight answer out of Josh, to the point that she actually wonders if “Smith” is his real name. But as it happens, the school principal, one Coraline Connolly, heads up the process of distributing the grants, and apparently is too “savvy” to fall for a fake name.
But not savvy enough not to hire a coffee shop owner who didn’t know how to make hot drinks until YouTube taught him.
At least Whitney knows Josh is hiding something. So we’ll see where this goes.
Oh, and in all of Chapter 1, not a single mention of God or Jesus. Weird.
Well, I busted through the last bit of The Edge of Darkness (though Michael Murphy deserves no better!) and am actually on schedule for this year’s War on Wintermas romance read…
The cover is just too cutesy, with the couple with the dopey grins standing in front of the world’s most decorated storefront, as well as a chair that nobody would sit in at this time of year.
In keeping with my entire history of Wintermas reads, I am tackling this blind, chapter by chapter. So we’ll have fun discovering it together, and I have no idea how good the book might be.
In keeping with recent history (as in, last Wintermas), this is the final book of a Love Inspired miniseries. Last year, we had the world’s most horrible will, and a group of cousins who had to come back to their crappy small town for a year to get money and land.
This year’s series involves a failing small town in Kansas. The local Big Business that kept the town afloat closed down permanently, and people were left in the cold (har, it’s Christmas). Many who can have up and left.
But then, some anonymous benefactor bought up a whole block of Main Street and then paid for a bunch of businesspeople to set up their small businesses in those buildings. Which actually sounds kinda cool until you realize two things:
- So even if some smart and savvy businesspeople set up their awesome businesses in this town, on this one block, the businesses will be kinda useless if nobody in town has any money to spend at these businesses, which seems likely since it sounds like the whole town is dying. (For the record, the businesses set up in the books of this series are, in order: a flower shop, a bakery, a hardware store, a bookstore, a pet store, and (in this book) a coffee shop.)
- Speaking of the whole town dying, the really bizarre part of this benefactor and their system is that only out-of-towners are permitted to apply to be in the buildings. Locals don’t get a shot. So it’s all about convincing people to move to this little shithole town and open a business, because there is absolutely no way that the resident of Bygones (yes, really), Kansas would ever feel resentful of this situation.
Now, at this point, I’ve only read the first chapter of this book, and the first chapter of the
first second book of this series, so I could get a better handle on this deal than I had on Grandpa Asshat’s will last year. (I’ve got both the first and second books of the series from the library, for reference.) So the interesting part is that while I haven’t really seen my first point be a thing yet, my second point is. Like really a lot. This isn’t even subtext, it is actual text. In fact, it kinda looks like the entire central conflict of the first second book is that the heroine moves to town and opens a bakery, and the hero is resentful because he wanted to open a business, but couldn’t because he’s not allowed in on this deal because he’s a local.
So yeah, it is super weird and, just like last year, I don’t envy the author her task here, because not only is she writing her own story, she’s tying up the loose ends of the whole series; specifically, who is this mysterious benefactor?
Our heroine is the person who is supposed to figure this out: Whitney Leigh. She’s a reporter for the Bygones Gazette. So, to be clear, she works for a local newspaper in a failing small town. But she kinda acts Too Cool For School about it: she spends most of Chapter One internally whining about having to write fluff pieces about all the romance in the air as all these businesspeople on Main Street keep falling in love. And what she really wants is to find out who the benefactor is. She seems to see herself as an intrepid journalist who will break the biggest story of the century, and I’m mildly annoyed by her attitude…but then again, this is the big secret that the book needs to reveal, and it’s just a Chapter One exposition-dump, so I’ll give it a pass for now.
(Also, she’s very much on the side of the townsfolk and kinda pissed (being a local herself) that locals don’t get to be a part of the Save Our Streets (SOS, get it?) initiative. So points for her in that regard.)
The opening chapter features Whitney heading to the Cozy Cup Cafe, a SOS business run by our hero, Josh Smith. (Bizarrely, he’s Josh Smith in the book, but Josh Barton on the back cover). Josh is perfect wish-fulfillment material so far: handsome and sweet, he runs this awesome coffee shop that miraculously appeals to both older locals who chill all day and gossip, and teens who hang in his “internet cafe.” (This series is from 2013.)
But since I’ve also spent this post in exposition-dump, I’ll leave their conversation till next time.
Happy War on Wintermas!
I think the important thing to remember as we conclude The Edge of Darkness is that it was clearly intended to be the fourth book in a five-book series. So the book wraps up a subplot by killing off nonbeliever Paul, kills mini-boss Talon, and sets the stage for the big RTC romantic reveal of the series, by having Murphy dump Isis because of her lack of belief, giving him a (probably false) alternative in the form of one Summer Van Doren, and having Isis convert so that she will finally be worthy of Murphy’s particular brand of RTC love.
Sadly (or not so sadly), there will presumably never be a fifth and final book to the Babylon Rising series, since it’s been twelve years since The Edge of Darkness was released and also Tim LaHaye is With Jesus now. So we just gotta roll with what we have.
Murphy wakes up in a Catholic hospital in Burgas, Bulgaria. There is not one person in the whole hospital who can understand him since he only speaks English, and I have to digress here and say that somewhat surprises me. I mean even if nobody there spoke any English, I’m a bit surprised that archaeologist Murphy doesn’t understand a little Russian or German. And maybe that’s just because I’m used to most humanities professors in the States speaking more than one language, and certainly most Europeans do, especially if they’re doctors or nurses, but oh well. Murph is just a dumb American.
Oh, and by the way, Murph, if you had bothered to bring Isis with you on this little adventure, even if you’re no longer dating, you would not have to wait an entire damn day to find out what’s going on. Because that’s how long it takes Levi to get there. When he finally arrives, Levi explains that Murphy made it to the surface in the sub, and a fishing vessel found him unconscious and brought him here.
And lest you think Levi wasn’t doing anything about the “very large” Black Sea…
…he had “alerted the Bulgarian Navy and they had begun a search for you.” Yeah, because I guess the Navy didn’t have anything better to do than search the entire Black Sea for a dumb, lost American.
Murphy wryly observes that this has been “Some vacation.”
Um, except it was never a vacation, Murphy. You were here to explore the cave for…whatever…and to get the plates. Yanno, the ones with the secrets to unlimited clean power forever? THOSE plates? Hey, did you tell your students that you were ditching them in the middle of the semester to go on vacation? And does Dean Fallworth know about that?
Also, and this has nothing to do with anything, but I find it kinda amusing that Murphy is in a Catholic hospital staffed with nuns, and they saved his life, but the hospital is “old” and his room has no TV. Like, I know how RTCs feel about Catholics, and it just seems like a weird little nod to, “oh, but the Catholics are actually okay at this medical stuff.”
Then again, maybe they’re not so okay with it, because it turns out that Murphy has been unconscious for three weeks. (Yes, THREE WEEKS have passed.) Also, he’ll have to have physical therapy and can’t go anywhere for a whole month while he has it.
Okay, I know not all injuries are the same and not all people are the same and everything is different and all, but…
Murphy has a head injury, several broken ribs, and a broken leg. Some years ago, I suffered a head injury that knocked me unconscious, as well as multiple broken bones. Yes, I had to do physical therapy, but I was released from my initial hospital stay in UNDER 72 HOURS.
Murphy’s a bug wuss.
Murphy and Levi commiserate about how the plates STILL need to be found, but they’ll get around to it at some point, I guess, no rush.
Then we cut to The Seven. Farewell, The Seven! I’ll miss how you Stop At Nothing!
One more fun international jaunt for our international group of supervillains, and for this final trip, it’s Versailles. Ganesh Shesha says that the Taj Mahal can’t compare to Versailles, which…really? Why,
Phillips Shesha? Want me to bring race into this? Because I will, if you make me.
John Bartholomew has big plans for a day of plotting world domination: they will “meander through the chateau grounds and…every now and then we will stop and conduct a little business.”
Well, I take it back. Apparently they’ll stop at plenty of things.
Phillips also gets in one last dig at Sir William Merton’s weight. Perhaps sensing that this is the last time he’ll get to do this, he makes a point of saying Merton is not just fat, but “grossly overweight.”
So they wander around, blathering on about oil and how “environmentalists in the United States are so paranoid about drilling in Alaska and other places.”
See, environmentalists? You’re just playing right into the Evil Future Antichrist’s hands, with your wanting to save the planet!
Then they start talking about “the Boy, who is now a man,” who “will come in all his glory in just a few short days.”
Damn, a few days? Why are you puttering around Versailles, then, guys? Shouldn’t you be getting ready to roll???
I guess not, because they continue rambling on and on about destroying Israel and also the “narrow-minded, judgmental” Christians. But just as they’re planning to stop and head out for a meal, they get a call…that Talon is dead.
Remember, three weeks have now passed. So perhaps The Seven’s worldwide network isn’t as all-knowing as you might hope and expect.
Jacob Werner is PISSED, and has “fire burning in her eyes,” but John Bartholomew is more sanguine. In fact, he’s had a person waiting in the wings to take down Murphy if Talon failed…and in fact, this person has been ready to kill Talon, if necessary, to get to Murphy. Now, since Bartholomew says he found “someone,” an “individual,” I had hope for half a second that he was referring to a woman, perhaps even Summer Van Doren. Alas, this is all just Bartholomew being weird, because it’s a man.
And we end our time with The Seven with them planning to “put forth the marking system” soon.
Finally, back to Murphy one last time, as Phillips sets the stage for the romantic triangle that would never appear in the never-written fifth book. One month has passed and Murphy is done with his physical therapy, and actually spares a thought for the Bulgarian professionals who helped him:
With his Irish temper and his struggle with weakness, he hadn’t been the perfect patient.
His struggle with weakness? GAWD, but this man is annoying. Yeah, dude: right or wrong or somewhere in between, most people get frustrated when they’re injured and need help and can even snap at the people who are there to help them, either out of love or out of professional responsibility.
But once again, a common, even banal observation is presented as something specific to Michael Murphy’s oh-so-interesting personality. Hey, I wonder if that’ll happen again in this, the final chapter?
He unlocked the door [of his house] and stepped in. The floor was piled high with bills, letters, and magazines. Too bad someone couldn’t have taken care of all the bills too. The postman had shoved two months’ worth of mail through the mail slot. That should be fun to go through. I wonder how many late charges I’ll have?
Gee, if only he had access to a phone or the internet. In Bulgaria. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Murphy thinks any country not THE U S OF A would not have working phones or internet.)
Anyway, Murphy dumps his shit all over the house, because I guess the maid will take care of it or something. And then…he calls the Parchments of Freedom Foundation and, like a stalker, asks about Isis’s schedule!
It’s very important to remember here that although we, the readers, know that Isis is not RTC, Murphy does not know this. As far as he knows, absolutely nothing has changed since he dumped Isis for Very Important Christian Reasons. And we have no indication of what has changed for Murphy other than an internal comment that he “had thought [about contacting Isis] all the time while he was recuperating.” But what was he thinking about this? Has he changed his mind and started agreeing with Isis’s idea that they can keep trying to have a relationship and let the religion thing take care of itself over time? Did he get some sort of hint from God that Isis is now RTC and Permitted? I dunno, and frankly, it seems Phillips doesn’t know, either.
Whatever the reason, Murphy jets off to Washington, D.C., to surprise Isis. No, he has not told her he’s coming.
When the taxi drives him past the Lincoln Memorial, Murphy looks at it and thinks, “What a great man of character.”
Heh, and also a person of very complex religious beliefs that really don’t align with RTC-ism, Murph!
Murphy then picks up two dozen roses for Isis, because nothing says, “I’m controlling and don’t care about your feelings” like showing up at your ex’s workplace unexpectedly in the middle of the day with flowers and an offer to Try Again!
But hilariously, and THIS IS HOW THE BOOK ENDS, Murphy shows up at the Foundation and tracks down the tour Isis is supposed to be giving (WHY is their best linguist scheduled to give a random tour in the middle of the day?), but Isis…is not there after all!
Nope, she’s been sent off to Jordan to…yanno, do what her job is, which is to translate some shit.
And so Murphy’s ending moment for the entire series is this: because he missed a surprise encounter with Isis that she knew absolutely nothing about, he is understandably disappointed, but irrationally extrapolates the whole situation to mean that “Maybe we’re just not meant to be.”
Yes, because if you make an elaborate plan to surprise an ex with an offer to try again, don’t tell her you’re coming to her place of business in the middle of a random workday, and it turns out she’s not at the building at that precise moment because Work and ALSO YOU DIDN’T TELL HER YOU WERE COMING, it means you are not to meant to be.
This is such a wonderfully fitting end to Michael Murphy’s story. And the wonderful part is, I doubt LaHaye and Phillips even knew it. This was clearly meant to be a setup for the next book, in which the love triangle would be resolved and Murphy would discover Isis’s newfound RTC-ness and they would be Raptured/die happily ever after, but instead, the series ends with Murphy being a self-absorbed prick with no understanding of other people’s feelings or lives, or even that other people have feelings or lives.
It is so fitting and it makes me so happy.
It’s a good ending to this series, and a good start to this year’s War on Wintermas.
Murphy has, against all odds or reason, managed to find the backpack holding the brass plates from Noah’s Ark. To give credit where it’s due, at least it took Murphy ten hours and a nap to get to them, because given what we know of Our Murph, I seriously would have guessed it would have taken him thirty minutes, tops.
But OH NO Talon has found Murphy. See, Talon (and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear this) has stolen one of the subs from Istanbul. Yanno, those subs that the Mossad knew about and directed to, the subs that Murphy went and looked at and then fell asleep next to, the subs that both Murphy and the Mossad KNOW that Talon knows about because Murphy SAW HIM EXAMINING THE SUBS.
Yeah, Talon stole a sub. What a shocking twist for this book’s climax.
What is perhaps a more shocking turn of events is that Talon decides that the best use of his stolen submarine is to have a submarine fight with Murphy’s submarine. And by that I don’t mean a logical submarine fight involving torpedoes. No, I mean a fight wherein Talon bashes his submarine into Murphy’s submarine.
It makes so much sense!
Except for the facts that these are both research submarines, not remotely intended for physical altercations of any kind. I’m not even sure there can be a “winner” in a melee submarine fight. I mean, not to put too fine a point to it, wouldn’t it be kinda like smashing two intricate Play-Doh figures together? They’ll BOTH get effed up, right?
Well, I guess not, because Talon rams Murphy’s sub, and Murphy is flung across the cabin, breaking three ribs, with one of them puncturing his lung. He also sustains a head wound.
Talon, in the meantime, was putting the Carson submarine in reverse.
What, like a car? Isn’t your submarine broken now, Talon? These aren’t Monster Trucks, you know.
But I guess it’s fine, because Talon just backs up and rams Murphy’s sub a second time, this time breaking Murphy’s leg (I think), and causing a leak in the sub. I would think this would cause a leak in both subs, but it’s pretty clear based on this that I am no expert. Though probably Phillips isn’t an expert, either.
Talon then pulls a Bond Villain and heads off to retrieve the backpack and leave Murphy to die.
And, finally remembering that he is in a Christian novel, Murphy prays.
Meanwhile, Yosef Rozen meets up with Levi Abrams, but not before having a downright Michael Murphy-ish epiphany:
Standing around in airports was not one of the things he liked to do.
Yes, because so many people enjoy standing around in airports purely for fun. Jewish or not, Yosef, looks like you’ll fit in around here just fine.
Anyway, he greets Levi as he gets off his plane, and Yosef is all, “I’ve been in Istanbul for five years, it’d be much cooler if I was home,” and Levi’s all, “Tell me about it, I’be been chillin’ in North Carolina doing karate with a self-important college professor who thinks I’m going to Hell.”
Nah, actually all Levi says about Murphy is that he “had experience with mini-subs when he was in the armed services of the United States.” Which is pretty funny, since this series has stated outright on several occasions that Murphy was Army, not Navy, and his service primarily involved Operation Desert Storm. So where he got training in mini-subs is anyone’s guess.
But they realize that Murphy has been gone too long and not radioed back, and also that one of the mini-subs was stolen and that “it has to be” Talon…
…but sadly there is absolutely nothing these trained Mossad agents can do, because…
“The Black Sea is very large.”
“I know, Yosef…I know!”
This reminds me of when Trump informed us that water is wet and hurricanes are not good.
Back in his sub, Murphy sees that Talon is about to get the plates. So he manages to turn on his sub and head towards him. Talon initially flees, but then thinks better of it and turns back around to try to ram Murphy again.
How is Talon’s sub still intact after ramming another sub twice now?
I guess it doesn’t matter, because Talon accidentally kills himself.
Yep, it’s just that anti-climactic. Talon maneuvers his sub to get a better shot at Murphy (HOW?) and he just bashes himself into a sunken ship. Specifically, the “crane arm” of the ship, which pierces his window.
Does this little exploration sub not have a proximity alarm, or is that just in Star Trek?
Ah well, so I guess it’s kinda Talon’s own hubris that dooms him, like if he hadn’t turned around to finish off Murphy, he’d be fine. And Murphy sees some poetic justice in how Talon dies (though strangulation and drowning aren’t really the same thing).
And to be honest, I’m kinda impressed with how Murphy takes this whole turn of events. Perhaps it’s not very Christian of him, but he gets closer to the drowning Talon (stuck in his own submarine seat with the seatbelt stuck) and even shines the sub’s light on him so he can see him drown in living color.
Sweet Laura’s justice has finally arrived.
Not that I’m not sympathetic, Murphy, but that’s a really weird way of putting that.
And so the grievously injured Murphy has to leave behind the plates (though he certainly knows exactly where they are now), because he has to jet his damaged sub to the surface.
Oh, and pray. He prays again. Because we don’t have much longer to go in this very Christian novel where a man just watched another man drown, trapped and alone.
So I made a mistake in the last installment: apparently the subs that Murphy saw were just some subs that the friendly Mossad agent mentioned that just happened to be at that dock. But they’re not the sub the Mossad actually procured for Murphy. That sub is waiting for him in Varna.
Okay, so if it’s at Varna, and Varna is the best jumping-off point for this expedition, why did the Mossad put Murphy up in a hotel in Istanbul? Why not just get him to Varna ASAP? And why did Murphy waste his time with walks and naps when he could have been getting to Varna?
Another mystery for the ages. But hey, if that had happened, Murphy wouldn’t have seen Talon, and gotten to beat the snot out of the Moar Arabs.
So, despite his fears that Talon will steal one of the subs he was clearly casing, Murphy just charters a short flight to Varna, and gets a crash course in mini-subs and metal detectors.
Then Murphy just sets out, all alone, with a few whole hours of training, and spends TEN HOURS (and five pages) searching the ocean for the backpack with the plates. He sees some cool fish and some sunken ships and even some sharks, and I am making it more exciting in writing it than it is to read about it. Oh, and he takes another nap, too.
And then he finds the backpack. But gasp, choke, cliffhanger…Talon might be hanging around!
Chapter 61, and Murphy actually spares a thought, for a grand total of about a minute, for Isis.
Murphy let out a long sigh. He missed her.
Aw, poor baby. Hey, YOU dumped HER, remember?
Since time is apparently not at all of the essence, Murphy takes a walk away from his hotel, down around the Bazaar. Then he has a relaxing dinner and takes a taxi down to the pier to check out his very own minisub.
And since the world exists to smooth the way for everything Murphy does, the cab driver not only offers to wait, but, when Murphy refuses, advises the dumb American that this is not the place for Americans to wander around alone, and then gives Murphy his personal cell phone number so he can call him, anytime of day or night, for a ride.
Murphy wanders over to look at the subs, remembering with perfect clarity a magazine article he read, about this very type of mini submarine and how they can go 1,000 feet deep and sustain one man for 16 days with its life support. I mean, you’d die of thirst first, but whatevs.
Bizarrely, Murphy chooses this exact moment to sit down on some nearby crates and have a nap of an hour and a half. Seriously, he does this.
And he probably would have slept there all night like a bum, except that Talon and two henchmen show up.
I mean, is Talon ever NOT three steps ahead of Murphy?
They check out the subs but don’t seem to do anything to them, then head off to some dark warehouse (natch). Murphy follows them, master of stealth.
And speaking of the bad guys always being way ahead of our Murph, they knew they were being followed the whole time, because before he knows it, he is “surrounded by warehouse walls on two sides and Arabs in front and back. Talon had disappeared.”
Oh, and we’re back to this again. MOAR ARABS are attacking Murphy!
So Murphy charges one of the Arabs, ducks his knife (of course), and smashes the poor Arab’s nose.
For a moment [the Arab] tottered and then toppled backward like a giant tree that had been chopped down.
And so, almost four entire books in, we actually have a bit of Indiana Jones-ish humor. Big man fall down.
Before Murphy could shout “Timber!” the second Arab had closed the distance.
Yes, Murphy is just smug enough to yell “Timber!”, I think. He seems to have immediately forgotten how easily he was ambushed….ten seconds ago.
So of course, being Murphy, he tackles the second Moar Arab to the ground and knocks him out.
Then he calls for his personal taxi.
Yep, a true Action Hero.