Jade and Max have just about everything. She owns two successful vintage clothing boutiques, he’s a lawyer with a prestigious firm. Together they share an honest, intimate marriage as best friends and lovers. Absent from that marriage is a child. Prayers haven’t solved the problem. Neither have doctors, tests and medicine. Jade secretly believes she is paying the price for the abortion she had as a teenager. All attempts at pregnancy have resulted in miscarriages and heartache. But when Jade learns that Max has a 19-month-old son, conceived at his bachelor party in Vegas, her heartache reaches new levels of pain. Unable to cope with her newfound knowledge, Jade takes to the road, accompanied by her mother and mother-in-law. Each woman is running from her own personal despair, and each wonders if God’s mercy is enough to bring healing.
When Jade drives her mother-in-law June home one night, the last thing she expects to find is her father-in-law half naked with June’s best friend. Jade soon learns that her father-in-law’s adultery is common practice, and that June has been turning the other cheek for nearly a decade. This latest affair, conducted in her own home, is the last straw for June. She moves into the apartment above Jade’s store, her humiliation and tolerance at their limit. She is done paying the price for a secret she dare not reveal.
Jade has little time to ponder her in-laws’ circumstances as she cares for her own mother, Beryl, who is fighting leukemia. An aging hippie, Jade’s mother often left her children to their grandmother’s care as she hitchhiked around the country with friends, indulging in drugs and booze. As mother and daughter grow closer, Beryl’s health grows more fragile. Regrets over bad choices and poor mothering hover over her. The end is near. Will those regrets follow her to the grave, or is it possible to hand them over to God?
All three women are shocked and saddened to hear that Max’s ex-fiancé was killed in a plane crash in her home state of California. Jade expects Max to grieve, but instead he appears more angry than sad. At the woman’s funeral, Max’s secret is revealed. He has a 19-month-old son, conceived a week before he and Jade married. Jade’s world crashes. She can’t have a baby, but her husband has a son with another woman. Can he really expect her to forgive him and raise the boy as her own?
On a cold spring afternoon, three hurting women pile into a pink Cadillac and head for Jade’s childhood home. The Iowa farmhouse will give her space to think, maybe even quell the panic attacks she’s been experiencing. But something else awaits Jade in Iowa --- her first love. And he wants her back. Jade knows that Max still loves her, but something about Dustin draws her in. Heartbroken over Max’s deceit, Jade wonders who really holds her heart.
SOFTLY AND TENDERLY has more layers than baklava: heartache, regrets, secrets, infidelities, fragile faith and frail health. It hooks the reader from the start when June’s husband is caught with his hands in another woman’s cookie jar and just keeps hooking from there. Authors Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck offer up a serving of three-dimensional characters, believable circumstances and punchy dialogue in this intriguing novel. We see the subtle hand of God at work in each character’s life. The end is not a pretty happily-ever-after all tied up in a bow. Instead, the book provides a realistic, happy enough ending with each character having grown spiritually and resolution just around the corner. This is an excellent read from beginning to end.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on January 4, 2011