REVIEW: Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden
Anna O’Brien has the perfect job at the Library of Congress until she stumbles across a baffling mystery of a ship that disappeared at sea. When forces conspire to prevent her from learning the truth, she turns to a dashing congressman for help.
Luke Callahan is one of the most powerful men in congress until his career begins collapsing amidst a political scandal of his own making. When he joins forces with Anna to solve the mystery of the lost ship, he is stunned to find himself falling in love with the down-to-earth librarian. Opposites in all things, Anna and Luke form an unusually powerful force as they unite in a common cause. Despite the attraction, strict rules forbid Anna from any romantic entanglement with a member of congress, and each meeting puts her career in jeopardy.
From the gilded halls of the Capitol where powerful men shape the future of the nation to the scholarly archives of the nation’s finest library, Anna and Luke will begin unraveling a mystery larger and more dangerous than ever imagined.
Dear Ms. Camden,
Kelly’s review of “Against the Tide,” brought your name to my attention and got it on my “must try this author” list. We’re all book lovers here so the chance to read about someone working in the Library of Congress (OMG, imagine!) was too good to pass up.
The initial inclusion of information about the Library of Congress reads a bit awkwardly but this soon smooths out. Conflicts are quickly laid out and all seem realistic rather than manufactured for the plot. Anna’s meticulous personality won’t allow her to let a mistake in the historical archives go uncorrected. It’s doubly important as it’s something that concerns the death of her father while working on survey maps for the Navy. Luke’s fiery temper clashed with the all powerful Speaker of the House and got him demoted to the Fishery committee right as an important tariff bill is coming up for a vote. His first committee meeting and his peremptory way of calling for a map from Anna brings them together and despite Anna’s reluctance to bring attention to herself, she can’t help but verbally smack Luke’s “snap, snap, snap” fingers down.
The Navy soon makes it clear to Anna that they not only don’t want to hear anything she has to say or ask about the sinking of the ship that killed her father, they’ll threaten her very livelihood if she keeps at it. This plus the description of the women who live with Anna at her boardinghouse give a vivid and immediate picture of the precarious position these working women endured then. Any flirtatious behavior or rumors just might be enough to get them fired. They truly had to be “Caesar’s Wife” while working government jobs. A handsome young Congressman seeking her out – even if it’s initially on for work – won’t do Anna any favors.
Luke is charmed by the calm, rational way Anna reels him in and cools his jets. He’s also shrewd enough to realize that her investigative skills among the wealth of data kept at the Library of Congress are just what he needs to amass the information that will prove the Speaker’s bribery guilt and he’s not above lightly throwing his political weight around to get what he wants. If it gives him the pleasure of her company, well that’s an added bonus.
Luke and Anna are the classic opposites attract. He’s got a hot temper he usually manages to keep in check but which bedevils him all the time. She’s precise and introverted. He is charismatic and loves the spotlight while she makes a habit of blending in and not calling attention to herself. She doubts anyone like him could be interested in quiet her while he is sure that she’s just the woman for him. I liked that each one of them thinks of the other from early on and is intrigued yet also realistic.
Luke knows Anna is different but it’s not just that which gets him interested – he rationally reasons that she’s exactly who he needs to settle him down, smooth him out and keep him on track. With her beside him, he’ll go far. Meanwhile, Anna is startled that this larger-than-life extrovert is pursuing her but she doesn’t fall headfirst into the relationship. She never forgets that her job could be on the line much less that she isn’t interested in all that goes with being a politician’s wife. Luke has the perfect – and period – rebuttal – Mrs. McKinley’s bootie knitting.
Through about half of the story, religion is lightly dusted over it – being both a part of who Luke and Anna are but without being preachy at the reader. Luke’s personal background has made him esteem the role of peacemaker above all others. Yet he’s been in Washington long enough to know that sometimes he has to butt heads or subtly machinate behind the scenes to achieve his goals. He longs for a wife and family and – yes, Christians can like sex too – the pleasures of the marriage bed. Anna isn’t above being slightly irritated at Luke’s initial demands on her research time but she finds it hard to resist a man who is as much in love with books and literature as she is.
But then the presence of religion and faith is more liberally ladled on due to issues in Luke’s past and Anna’s present. The issues have been in the book all along so it’s not as if Suddenly! something is conjured up to afford the characters a chance to extol the virtues of forgiveness and Jesus. But one thing I did like is that neither Anna nor Luke are saints. Their heartaches are intense and they both have moments when the tiniest of kernel of vengeance enters their souls. To me, this makes them human and believable as only (in the eyes of believers) Jesus is perfect while the rest of us (ditto) are still striving. Luke’s last minute thought that he wasn’t worthy of having anyone depend on him if he didn’t have the compassion of Jesus seemed like too harsh a judgment on himself and a touch preachy.
The setting and time frame of the story are integral rather than wallpaper. Luke works with older men upon whom the scars and lessons of the Civil War are still vividly felt and remembered. When Anna finds out the truth of what happened to the Culpeper, this has an even greater impact. These men have seen war and they’ve seen the improvement to weapons that guarantee that any future wars will be even worse. But is that enough to justify what Luke asks of Anna and the cost he’s willing to pay?
At this point, I found myself deeply conflicted. Due to the lengths that are gone to in order to hush Anna’s investigation, it’s obvious that Something Terrible Occurred. I ached for Anna and her loss both then and now.
A secondary relationship I enjoyed was between Luke and his young, teenage nephew. Luke’s enthusiastic lessons and life values discussions with Phillip more than hint at the excellent father Luke will be. Anna and her childhood best friend Neville are as interesting to read about. I’ve got to hand it to Neville in the matter-of-fact way he puts Luke on warning about what he will do should Luke hurt Anna. His response to Neville proves his bona fides.
As the page count ticked down, I also worried about how Anna would be able to trust Luke again. There were two big obstacles to their HEA and it wasn’t a simple five minute conversation. Could this romance be pulled off and have me believe it? They are brought together perfectly – through Luke working on a sub-committee trying to fight for peace while Anna works in the capacity of a highly trained employee of the Library of Congress. And as they find different passages of poetry to express their thoughts on the situation and each other.
However just as I thought things were worked out, Luke jumps the gun about something he thinks – and accuses – Anna of having done. True he didn’t blow his temper when he thought she had done it, which showed progress on that front, but that he didn’t trust her sworn word bothered me. My final feelings are somewhat of a mixed bag. More positive than negative and I definitely want to try another book in the future but this one isn’t the overwhelming success I had hoped it would be. B/B-