Elle Garvey has it all in her small South Carolina town: a beautiful cottage by the water, loving parents, an abundance of sisters, her own art gallery --- and Jeremiah, a handsome pastor who wants to spend the rest of his life with her. Or does he? When opportunity knocks in the form of a pastoral position at a Texas megachurch, Jeremiah answers and asks Elle to join him. She sells her gallery, rents her house and heads to Texas. The winds of change, however, blow the fiances apart as Jeremiah dives heart and soul into his new church.
Brokenhearted, Elle returns home, only to find that her cottage has been rented to Heath McCord, a good-looking author/lawyer/widower and his four-year-old daughter. But LOVE STARTS WITH ELLE doesn’t just jump into the predictable romance, for at this point there is still more than three-fourths of the book to go. Elle must work through the humiliation of getting “dumped” in a town where everybody knows everybody, and find the faith and courage to pull herself up and truly listen to what God is telling her. Heath has some healing to do as well. Still recovering from his wife’s sudden death, he is struggling with single fatherhood and the loss of the wife he loved for 16 years.
Help comes to Elle in the form of an elderly church member who convinces her to attend sunrise prayer sessions in the old chapel. It is there, amidst the holy silence of the chapel, that Elle learns to open her heart to God. She begins to paint again, a passion she had locked away after reeling from discouraging remarks from a respected professor. And as her faith grows and self-confidence returns, Elle realizes that she is falling for Heath. Of course, just when life is looking a little brighter, hunky pastor Jeremiah re-enters the scene. Disillusioned with his megachurch, he is pursuing other avenues and again wants Elle to pull up her roots and marry him. Elle is both wary and excited, but Heath feels certain that nothing good can come from the pastor’s reappearance.
LOVE STARTS WITH ELLE --- a stand-alone book that also serves as a sequel to SWEET CAROLINE --- first captured me with the title and never let go. The story itself is enough to grasp the reader, but is enhanced even more by the author’s artfully painted images of Elle’s cottage by the water, the restaurant where she gathers with friends, the early morning chapel and life in “the low country.” Characters like her sister Julianne, a singe mother harboring secrets; Mercy Bea, the waitress; Elle’s father; and others colorize the book with vibrant personalities. You find yourself wanting to be friends with Elle’s friends, live in her cottage and spend lazy summer mornings with God in the old, deserted chapel.
Rachel Hauck combines imagery, realistic dialogue, believable romance and a captivating story. And she isn’t afraid to make the pastor quite human, faults and all.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on July 8, 2008