Heart of Stone
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I hate to start my reviews off on a bad note, because after all, if I come right out and say “this book wasn’t very good,” why would readers keep going past the first sentence? But I simply can’t beat around the bush: Heart of Stone by Jill Marie Landis wasn’t a very good book.

The year is 1874. Laura Foster is a respectable widow running a boarding house in the small town of Glory, Texas. Pretty, polite, and well-mannered, Laura is the picture of respectability—or so she would have her neighbors believe. Laura is desperate to put her past behind her, even if that means inventing an entirely new persona complete with a fictional deceased husband.

When she was a young child, Laura (real name: Lovie) and her younger sister were both sold to a brothel by her uncle after their parents died shortly after arriving in America from Ireland. Once she grew to adulthood, Laura was able to find a way out of her life of prostitution through being the best at her “trade” and by carefully saving and investing her money.

Also living in Glory is Brand McCormick, the town’s minister. He was widowed a few years earlier, but feels he is finally ready to settle down again—with Laura. Unfortunately Reverend McCormick has a secret of his own, and soon two strangers arrive in Glory threatening to reveal both Brand’s and Laura’s secrets and keep them apart.

My biggest problem with this book was that none of the characters grow at all, they all stay exactly the same. In some instances, their character development (like that of many of the townspeople) seems to go backwards by the end of the novel.

Laura is nearly crippled by her fear that the truth about her past will come out, and she suffers from subterranean self-esteem. She feels unworthy of love – especially from a minister – since she had been a prostitute, even if she had been forced into that life at an early age. I grew weary of listening to Laura knock herself down over her past, and desperately wanted her to act like the strong, capable and good woman she portrayed herself as.

Heart of Stone is apparently the first in a series, but reading it I would often get confused because characters would reference things that happened years earlier, without properly explaining how the events came to pass. The plot and timing felt muddled because it seemed as if I had dropped into a book series halfway through—which isn’t the case.

Another really big problem was that there were no love scenes. I was very disappointed by this, especially given Brand’s and Laura’s experiences. The love scenes could have been very poignant, with Laura finally able to sleep with a man because she loved him and not for money, and it would have been interesting to see how Brand—a minister—would approach the task of making love. Sex can be very spiritual, as anyone who has read the Song of Solomon can attest. I really think Landis missed an opportunity for some great story telling by not including any love scenes.

All in all I was disappointed by Jill Marie Landis’s Heart of Stone. I might be a hard-hearted reviewer myself, but I don’t think I’ll be reading this one again, nor will I read the subsequent books in the series.

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