Summary: Still mourning the violent death of her late husband Thomas, Rachel Boyd struggles to support herself and her two sons on the Colorado cattle ranch that had been his dream. Managing becomes more difficult, however, as harsh winters claim livestock, outstanding debts continue to grow, and Rachel’s youngest son Kurt becomes both distant and unmanageable. Meanwhile, Rachel finds herself increasingly involved with the town’s doctor, Rand Brookston, as the two struggle to help a mutual friend who is facing a serious illness.
Review: Within My Heart is the third installment in Tamera Alexander’s Timber Ridge series, which focuses on a 19th-century frontier town in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Largely inhabited by Italian laborers and disillusioned Southerners who emigrated West following the Civil War, Timber Ridge is a collection of ranches, small-town businesses, and a fancy new resort most locals can only gawk at. Though characters from previous books have cameos in this third novel, readers need not be familiar with the other stories. Alexander’s work has been repeatedly recognized by the Christy Awards for Christian fiction, and Within My Heart received a nomination for the historical romance category.
Within My Heart is, primarily, the love story of Mrs. Rachel Boyd and Dr. Rand Brookston. However, Rachel and Rand are not the only substantial characters, nor is their plot the only one key to the novel. It fact, the storyline involving Ben and Lyda Mullins – the town’s shopkeepers – is even more poignant, and made this reader cry.
The plot moves at a reasonable pace, and while it is relatively predictable, it is not at all boring. Just one chapter and one character stand out as being unnecessary to the work and lessen the overall appeal of the book. The chapter – which appears early – shows Rachel discovering Dr. Brookston treating patients in a brothel. The character is the overly flirtatious school teacher who has her eye on Rand. Alexander might have been trying to create tension in the novel’s romantic plot, but these additions cheapened the work rather than strengthening it.
There is a clear Christian message in the book: Scripture passages occasionally appear while characters ponder questions of faith, God’s will for their lives, and the nature of heaven. However, the novel is not preachy. No specific theology is endorsed, and while characters do encourage each other to live in faith, they do not deliver lengthy sermons to one another. Religion seems more a part of the cultural and spiritual life of the town than something the author is trying push on the readers. However, as the author’s note reveals, Alexander does view her writing as a ministry and hopes her work inspires and strengthens the faith of her fans.