Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Nothing stays the same forever even when you wish it too. For the family of friends that call Levee Oaks and The Pulpit home, things are about to change and rock their lives to the core. Four years after Crick returned injured from his tour of duty, things have settled down for him and Deacon. Crick and Deacon have married, so have Mikhail and Shane, Jeff and Collin, as well as Lucas and Kimmy. Benny and Drew, and of course, Parry Angel are coming together to form a family, just as Amy and Jon have. Promise House is up and running smoothly just as Shane had always envisioned, providing a place where young men and women could get a second chance at life. Even Martin, brother of Jeff’s former boyfriend, has settled in to become part of this larger extended family and will soon be returning to Levee Oaks to live. With all their lives going along smoothly, of course, something happens to shake them up and provide the impetus for a decision from Benny that will change their lives forever.
When Jon and Amy receive job offers in Washington, DC with a firm that specializes in LGBTQ law suits and gay civil rights, it is impossible to turn the offer down. But that means leaving Deacon and Crick and everyone else who has become their family behind and they are not sure they can do that. Benny also is looking at her future and seeing many changes as well. She will be graduating from college and Drew wants her and Parry Angel to move into the cottage with him so they can start to become a real family of their own. But in order to move forward with her life, she wants to make sure that part of herself will always be with Deacon and Crick. That leads to a momentous decision and a gift, that should Deacon and Crick accept, will change everyones lives forever.
Back in 2010, Amy Lane wrote a book called Keeping Promise Rock that became an almost instant classic and comfort read for so many readers. People embraced the characters of Crick and Deacon, little Benny and Parry Angel, connecting with them deeply and with a heartfelt passion. We clamored for more stories about them and The Pulpit, the horse farm where they lived in Levee Oaks, California and Amy Lane obliged. She then gave us Making Promises (Promises #2) which introduced us to Shane and the heartbreaking Mikhail, causing us to fall in love with a new set of characters while keeping our adoration for all things Crick and Deacon intact and up to date. The third book, Living Promises, brought Jeff Beachum and Collin Waters into our lives. Actually Jeff was there early on as Crick’s physical therapist in Keeping Promise Rock where he became part of the growing circle of people around the foundation couple of the Promise series. Living Promises starts with Jeff comforting a young Collin outside a HIV treatment center and then charts their rough road to a loving relationship. And as always, there to support the couple, were all the people we had come to love from all the previous books, continuing on with their lives and loves. Sometimes funny, sometimes painfully sad but always with their hearts and souls in the right places and full of passion. We were there with them, deeply engaged in their relationships and their future. Now with Forever Promised, Amy Lane brings this series to an end and I am not sure we are ready for that to happen.
Amy Lane has such a way with characterizations that the people she creates for her stories live outside the pages and constraints of her novels. They become alive for her readers. We laugh with them and we cry for them. And sometimes just shake our heads in disbelief over their actions. My beloved grandmother would shake her head and tell me “I can’t believe that Erica did that to (insert name of husband here). She knows better than that!” after watching the soap All My Children. For her, those people in that show were real folks and she talked about them as though they were her neighbors. That’s the way the readers (myself included) have come to feel about the people of Levee Oaks and The Pulpit. We have lived with them through traumatic events, near death experiences, times of great sorrow and times of great joy. How do you let that go?
The answer is not easily but Forever Promised tries hard and mostly succeeds in closing a series we never wanted to see end. Every character we have ever come to love over the course of this series is here, in different stages of their lives. Most have achieved a deeply loving and satisfying relationship, a majority of the couples have gotten married and Parry Angel is old enough to be on a soccer team. A soccer team where one of the funniest passages in this story occurs. Really, I can’t remember laughing so hard that I was gasping for breath. One of the things that make that section so priceless is that I could see it actually happening on a soccer field in anytown, USA. Amy Lane writes stories about real people who live through real things that happen in everyday life. We recognize the milestones in the characters lives because they are ones that happen to us. Her characters bleed and cry and laugh as we do. Lane writes good people trying to be the best they can be in situations both normal and stressful, so how could we not love them? We would in our real lives and the author understands the importance of that connection. Amy Lane writes reality. Whether it is dealing with kids thrown away by society, a woman unable to bear a child and her grief over that fact, or the fragility of the future before us, Amy Lane gets it and makes those truths a part of her writing. Not once did I find myself stoping mid story to think “well, that would never happen” because the emotions and events that occur in Forever Promised and the Promise series ring with authenticity. And never more so than with the issue of surrogacy and pregnancy, which is at the center of the storyline here.
There are so many plot threads to resolve, so many lives and relationships that need a happy ending. Forever Promised delivers that to us, but not without an event so heartbreaking that I had to put the book down for a time to get myself through it. I am still ambivalent about this episode but acknowledge that the reality of Promise House is that not all can find their way out of past pains and anguish, and that despair and sadness is a part of life as well. Without going into details, it will hurt then the author will use that hurt to bring the reader and the story up to another level of authenticity. Our couples find that they are happy and moving forward in ways that the reader will find moving and true. That’s the promise Amy Lane makes to her readers and her characters, and that is the one she delivers in Forever Promised.
Each couple gets their own section in a way and the events that happen are seen from various perspectives. Events from the past are brought up again (another reason to read these books in order), and the characters examine their past lives and how best they can go forward in their current ones. Not all the couples are settled, several are still in transition when the book ends but that is to be expected given the number and diversity of the characters involved and the realistic way Amy Lane writes their lives. I know I was happy to see them all moving forward, happy with each other and mostly together as a family. Just as it should be at Promise Rock.
If my quibbles in a story are that it included a pain I didn’t want to feel, and characters I didn’t want to say goodbye to in a book that ended a series I wanted to continue on forever, well, then, those are hardly quibbles after all. Amy Lane made us several Promises and delivered on all of them. Forever Promised is both a gift and a promise kept. Don’t miss out on this book and the entire journey.
Here are the Promise series in the order they wee written and should be read to understand the characters and the events that occur:
Keeping Promise Rock (Promises #1)
Making Promises (Promises #2)
Living Promiese (Promises #3)
Forever Promised (Promises #4)
Cover art by Paul Richmond shows several of the couples together. But I have to admit that I wanted to see one like the first cover, Keeping Promise Rock. That is the one that sticks in my memory.