I have read a few collections of love stories based in Texas before, but none of them hold a candle to the work in The Kissing Tree by Karen Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, Amanda Dykes, and Nicole Deese. While those other anthologies had a connection with each other because of the time period or place, The Kissing Tree is a truly unified piece that stretches across generations through the love for and longevity of a magnificent oak tree.
Jenning’s story – Broken Limbs, Mended Hearts – is a lesson in forgiveness and trust. Bethany House could not have picked a better author to voice the charm and innocence of romance in 1868. Although Bella Eden struck me as a little modern at times, she still possessed equal parts southern belle and pioneer woman, which are traits that I adore and respect very much. Of the four stories in this book, this one is a tie for my favorite because of the characters. Jennings created larger than life characters with fantastic obstacles, making it difficult to choose whose side to take. Even when the stakes are high, Jennings writes with a levity that assures you that true love will conquer all.
Witemeyer’s story – Inn for a Surprise – took me a while to get into. For reasons that I can’t explain, it took me a few chapters to take a shine to Phoebe and Barnabas. Maybe it was the obvious tension between the two characters that kept me from relaxing into the story. At any rate, when we start seeing the softer side of Phoebe and Barnabas finally drops his perfect façade, I really enjoyed the interaction between the two and how a competition made way to teamwork. Witemeyer’s description of the Kissing Tree Inn’s conception is a joy to read and provides a lovely backstory and backdrop for the stories that follow. And as a side note, I especially appreciated that the cover artist clearly took notes from this adorable story when designing the cover art.
Amanda Dykes’ story – From Roots to Sky – is my other favorite in this book. There is something about a relationship that grows between two people without them even realizing what has happened. I loved how a connection forged by love for Hannah’s brother (who is Luke’s best friend) defies tragedy and distance, and manifests itself beautifully. Like any good love story entangled in secrets, Dykes keeps us in suspense over why Luke can’t just tell Hannah why he really came to Oak Springs. Of the four stories, this one felt the most complete and could be fleshed out into a lovely movie that I would gladly watch.
Nicole Deese’s story – Heartwood – is the only one that doesn’t paint the heroine as an oddball spinster. There is no timestamp on this one, but I’m guessing that the story takes place in present day. So I guess it makes sense that even if Abby were 40 and single (I’m assuming she is not), there would be no stigma over being unmarried and childless. Again, Bethany House could not have picked a better author to voice the practical and modern story between two old lovers being reunited by conflict. In more ways than one, this story wraps up the other three very nicely as everything comes full circle. Intended or not, there are parallels between the first story and this one, and the symmetry of it is quite lovely.
I give kudos to the authors and editors for the amazing job of tying these stories together. It gave me a little thrill every time I realized the connections between each story. The Kissing Tree really is a fantastic book comprised of four exceptional romance novellas.