by Cathy Marie Hake
Conditional Recommendation: After the death of her mother, bumbling and intelligent Ruth Caldwell travels to California to find her father but instead finds an unexpected inheritance hanging in the balance and a whole cast of characters to go with it.
Genre: Christian Historical Romance
Cathy Marie Hake’s books are hit or miss for me and I was pleasantly surprised to find this book compelling and stayed up late reading it. The characters are interesting and distinct; the plot was well designed as I kept turning pages to discover what happens next; and the main character, Ruth, is charming, completely her own person, and someone I was rooting for as the story unfolded.
If her own two feet don’t end up tripping her, Ruth Caldwell’s mouth is likely to get her into equal trouble. But Ruth has the best of intentions. Truly. It’s just that her attempts to live up to her mother’s expectations of how a lady should act have often yielded…well, less than impressive results. Josh McCain is speechless when he sees Ruth step off the stage in Folsom, California. Sure, it looks like she’s been sleeping in her gown for the past week, but with a crown of riotous curls and those deep green eyes, she’s certainly the most beautiful woman he’s ever met. But attraction is not all that causes sparks between Ruth and Josh. With Ruth’s legitimate claims to an inheritance, the Broken P Ranch’s future is suddenly precarious. And when Ruth’s “accidents”—going beyond even her normal bumbling ways—seem to take a sinister turn, Josh must decide where his loyalties lie.
Ruth Caldwell – Maybe I like her so much because she reminds me of friends I know and love. She’s energetic, speaks her mind, uses her mind, and despite not fitting into what society deems appropriate for young ladies and so many headmistresses at finishing schools saying she’s hopeless, Ruth knows she’s got a brain and two hands and she’s determined to use them. The culture of the day unfortunately relegates women to being decorative and giving them meaningless tasks to fill their time with. This only serves to make Ruth restless and she seeks out helpful, meaningful work, knowing she’s capable and up to the task. When the men try to make her fit into the culture norms for women, Ruth finds a way out of it. The men eventually learn—though I wish this change was more obvious—that she is made by God and all her cultural oddities actually bring life, joy, progress, and fun to life. Ruth is a great example of a woman who is intelligent, bold but kind, caring but daring. She shakes off the patronizing role society and men try to relegate her to, not as an act of defiance or anger, but simply in pursuit of good things she believes God has called her to do and given her the means to do. Things like being aware of politics, business and the world around her—something men discouraged women from in this time period. Ruth is not unlike the Proverbs 31 woman in her desire, ability and willingness to work, contribute, and infuse such light and life into everything she touches…though she doesn’t always know she’s doing it because it’s hard for her to see past the flaws people have always told her she has. I really love Ruth’s character. I’d recommend reading the nonfiction book, Eve in Exile by Rebekah Merkle, to appreciate Ruth’s character even more. That book will give you a whole new way of seeing this book and time period.
Laney McCain – Josh’s younger sister was bored to tears until Ruth arrived and became her companion. Laney is talented in many areas society approves of, but she’s embarrassed that she doesn’t know how to read well or knows how to do things that contribute to the household in a meaningful way. She’s a sheltered young woman trying to grow up and Ruth helps her along. I really enjoyed their relationship, growth and comradery.
Josh McCain – As the main male lead in the book, he predictably butts heads with Ruth because to him, she’s always trying to butt in where she doesn’t belong. He doesn’t believe women should do hard work—a sad product of the time period—and tries to relegate Ruth into more “womanly” pursuits. But Ruth is more productive, imaginative, and energetic than he can relegate and he slowly sees the value she brings to their lives and home, however unconventional. He actually becomes a voice of encouragement to Ruth when she’s hard on herself for not fitting in by telling her of her value before God and how good her deeds and uniqueness are to everyone around her. He himself is an honorable man in his business dealings, hard work, and values.
The plot is really well done and has this subtle, yet highly compelling mystery and suspense to it that I wasn’t expecting. The revelations are satisfying, even if the conclusion is a bit sudden.
Super, super mild. Not the focal point of the book.
Christian Content – There’s quite a bit of Christianity woven throughout this book—characters praying, attending church, speaking of God, sharing Scriptures, etc. To be blunt, Scripture was carelessly handled with several instances of verses being applied out of context to fit the story, doctrine is vague and unclear, and, as is common in Christian fiction, there’s no distinction made between the point of salvation and the Christian life. There are good applications and discussions on Christian topics. The characters do live their Christian lives and God doesn’t enter the story only when there’s trouble. The Christian content is hit or miss, certainly not all bad, but be on your guard. If someone is unsaved, they’re referred to as “not a Christian” or as “not walking with the Lord.” The gospel isn’t mentioned throughout the whole book which I actually prefer to it being there and incorrect, but it’s bungled in the end with these vague phrases: “Give your heart to the Lord” and “God will forgive you if you ask Him to.” That’s it! I’m not even taking those phrases out of context. That’s the extent—two sentences—of an attempt at the gospel in this book. No mention of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross.
Gender Roles – I want to make note of this even though it’s accurate to the time period that proper ladies were to be decorations whose only tasks were easy, meaningless and focused on obeying and serving the men like a servant, without question or thought. Ruth, thankfully, bucks those unbiblical standards for womanhood in ways that are endearing, natural, and logical. Is she a 21st century woman living in 1859? No. But she does portray biblical womanhood in contrast to the culture of the day.
Again, Cathy Marie Hake’s books are hit and miss for doctrine and storytelling. As it is, Letter Perfect is well done and enjoyable on multiple fronts. Give it a go!
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