Dee Henderson is a familiar name to Christian fiction aficionados, with her bestselling "Uncommon Heroes" and "O'Malley" series dominating the sales charts. Perhaps with this in mind, Steeple Hill has brought back some of her older romance titles, including the enjoyable GOD'S GIFT. Here, Henderson manages to spin a sweet romance with an intriguing storyline that sidesteps the drippy sentimentality so often found in Christian fiction.
Henderson knows how to hook her readers by creating believable characters who lead interesting lives, and GOD'S GIFT has both ingredients. Thirty-five-year-old James Graham is back in Chicago fresh off six years in the mission field, but not by choice. A bug bite in Africa has left him with a severe, arthritis-like condition that comes and goes, leaving his joints stiff and swollen, and James finds he is unable to continue building clinics for impoverished communities until his body recovers.
The women in Henderson's novels usually have strong personalities and surprising careers, and those in GOD'S GIFT is no exception. Almost immediately, we meet James's mother, Mary, who raises Samoyeds, and the gorgeous Rachel Ashcroft, who owns a brokerage company and is working on her first book. Rachel fuels her intense workaholic lifestyle with grief over the loss of her fiancé, with whom she shared ownership of the company. She and her friends, Dave and Lace, have a comfortable, loyal "Three Musketeers" sort of friendship that will be the envy of every reader. The witty repartee and generous giving between the trio provide some enjoyable, often humorous moments throughout the book.
Soon, the threesome expands its circle to include James, who muses: "He'd never experienced anything like it, a camaraderie coupled with loyalty that went so deep as to be nearly unbreakable." A gentle goodness permeates the novel. There are no bad guys with evil intentions, just the battles fought with physical limitations, depression, disappointment, and grief. Few readers will not be able to relate to at least one of the challenges faced by the characters, and be absorbed by how Henderson plots the way they will meet them with faith and courage.
There are a few quirks to Henderson's prose --- she insists on calling women "ladies" or referring to Rae as "the lady" to the point that it becomes irksome, and repetition occasionally creeps in. Mostly, however, the story still clips along at a steady pace. The romance that is sparked between the couples is telegraphed from the very first pages, but in Henderson's capable hands, the knowledge of who will end up with whom doesn't lessen the reader's interest in pursuing the story.
And, the story is a good one. James's temporary stay in Chicago lengthens as he continues to relapse into chronic pain, and soon he despairs of ever returning to Africa --- or living a normal life. "God, I am so angry at this pain! Why, God? Why me? Why show me a future I would love to have and then cripple me so I can't have it?"
However, James is forced to rethink his situation in a surprising twist toward the end of the book, which exemplifies what true love is and what it sometimes will cost. Henderson's characters believe the bad things that happen to them are all part of God's bigger plan for their lives, and James and Rae will come to this realization through heartache, many tears, and the sacrifice of their dreams.
Henderson has matured as a writer since penning GOD'S GIFT, but fans of her "Uncommon Heroes" and "O'Malley" series will find this earlier book an enjoyable read, full of Henderson's trademark characters and well-integrated faith themes.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011