I was excited to win this novel in a giveaway through the author’s newsletter, and despite the various other obligations I had going on at the time a few weeks ago, I picked it up and began reading, because it looked like it could be a quick read. And it was! I found myself staying up way too late to read over half of the book in one sitting and finished it in the span of just a few days.
Once I’d begun, it was easy to keep turning the pages. The impact of Violet’s past trauma on her present was very believable, and when she had a chance encounter with the man from her past who had been involved in that trauma, the pace of the story didn’t slow down. Violet is a likeable character, and I sympathized with her struggles.
The fact that her ex-boyfriend had become a priest in the years since she’d last seen him threw in more challenging layers of drama. The chance to read another modern fiction book with a priest as a main character was something I appreciated as somebody writing novels starring a priest myself. Seeing priests in fictional stories can make them more 'real' to us as human beings with real lives and feelings (for other ways to make priests more real to you - talk to them! Invite them over for meals! Include them in your own life!). Seeing that this book is the first in a series gives me hopes for further development of Tristan, so we can see why he made the choices he did and what will happen to him. In The Love We Vow, he came across as not taking his priestly vows too seriously, and perhaps he entered into the seminary in an attempt to escape and ignore and maybe even try to make amends for his past mistakes with Violet. Our priests today are bombarded with difficulties and secular noise, so I found myself disappointed when he left the priesthood, but not completely surprised.
I loved the minor character of Tristan’s father. The man stood by his marriage vows even though it was not easy as his wife struggled with alcoholism that impacted their relationship. His talk with Tristan near the end of the book was one of my favorite scenes – his words and example of sticking with your commitments seemed to challenge his son to excellence, and if Tristan grows more as a strong young man, hopefully he will rise to that challenge in the subsequent books, whether he returns to the priesthood or not. The title of the series being Vows for Life has me optimistic for him or for another character to fill the role of a selfless priest devoted to his calling.
Violet’s current boyfriend, Jude, seemed to be all that is good, until his big secret came out just over the halfway point of the novel. Even so, his likeableness had been established in my mind already, so I still found myself rooting for him.
I’ll end this review by asking that people please pray for our priests – we need more of them, and we need to support them and pray for their steadfastness. And pray also for our seminarians, that they discern God’s call for their lives. While seminary formation in recent years has been strong and serious, these young men still need our prayers to help them through. Discernment of either marriage or the priesthood needs to be presented to young people as permanent vows that require a decision made in advance and with full understanding of the commitment. This book is a timely reminder of that.