Author: Laura Lee
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Characters: Paul and Ian
Since the loss of his lively, charming wife to cancer six years ago, minister Paul Tobit has been operating on autopilot, performing his religious duties by rote. Everything changes the day he enters the church lobby and encounters a radiant, luminous being lit from behind, breathtakingly beautiful and glowing with life. An angel. For a moment Paul is so moved by his vision that he is tempted to fall on his knees and pray.
Even after he regains his focus and realizes he simply met a flesh-and-blood young man, Paul cannot shake his sense of awe and wonder. He feels an instant and overwhelming attraction for the young man, which puzzles him even as it fills his thoughts and fires his feelings. Paul has no doubt that God has spoken to him through this vision, and Paul must determine what God is calling him to do.
Thus begins a journey that will inspire Paul’s ministry but put him at odds with his church as he is forced to examine his deeply held beliefs and assumptions about himself, his community, and the nature of love.
Paul Tobit is a widowed, middle-aged minister of a mainstream denomination who is still coping with some personal grief issues after his wife dies from cancer. One day a beautiful young stranger shows up at the church, and Paul thinks that he may be an angel. Come to find out, the visitor is twenty-four year old Ian, a troubled alcoholic who is attending an AA meeting.
Eventually Paul and Ian connect, and Paul reaches out to help the young man. Ian goes into an alcohol rehab clinic, and afterward moves in with Paul at the parsonage. When Paul learns that Ian is gay, he has to confront his own prejudice and face the feelings that he is beginning to have for his house guest. A romance ensues, and the couple are then faced with the challenge of keeping their relationship secret lest an unforgiving and judgmental congregation find out the truth and expel them.
The beauty of this story is that it is unconventional in every way. It tackles several controversial themes including intergenerational relationships, homosexuality within religion, and the fluidity of sexual orientation. Initially Paul does not consider himself gay or even bisexual. I was impressed by the manner in which he discovered that love is love, and when this blessing occurs within one’s life, it truly is a gift from God.
There is no easy way to present a story about sexual orientation and religion. It seems no matter how the issue is broached, there will be someone who complains that the prose is “too preachy”. The novel did have a message, and if the reader allows her/himself to simply be swept away by the romance and by the intense emotion, the theme resonates. I was moved to tears throughout the story, and it reminded me of Brokeback Mountain. This is not to say that it is a light or easy read. It is heartbreaking actually, but very poignant.
Ian is my favorite character. He is so flawed and yet so beautiful. He’s cute and charming and self-effacing. I understood how Paul fell in love with him. I think I fell in love with Ian myself. I also understood the agony that Paul endured, trying to reconcile his own personal reality with the only profession he had ever known (and loved).
Of course, the villain in the story is homophobia, and it’s truly ugly. This aspect alone makes the book an emotional challenge.
This is an amazing debut novel—well written and edited, inspiring, uplifting, and thought-provoking. I don’t hesitate to recommend it highly. I would caution mm readers that the theme is quite deep and there are no graphic, intimate scenes. There also is not the typical HEA ending you’d expect to find in a classic romance novel.
Angel is a powerful story, one of the best reads I’ve enjoyed this year.
Reviewed By: Jeff