Shadow Boxing
by Karen Wiesner, contemporary (2009)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-60504-354-8

Having had a pretty good experience with Karen Wiesner's previous inspirational romance offering, Baby, Baby, I was looking forward to reading Shadow Boxing. This is a contemporary romance focusing on internal problems facing an already married couple - an quaintly old-school premise, really, when you compare this one to the thousands of erotic paranormal romances flooding the market at the moment.

This is an inspirational romance, but forget those horrible rumors you hear about inspirational romances being a bastion of very conservative values delivered with the subtlety of an ax through the brain. For example, in here, our heroine Justine Samuels holds a career - she's a successful lawyer in a pretty big firm - and she is not taken to task for "neglecting the children and the husband" like you may imagine. The problem here is that she and her husband Joshua (also a successful lawyer) married young, and that was only because their youthful indiscretion resulted in Justine getting pregnant.

When the story opens, their eighteenth anniversary is approaching, but Justine feels that they haven't had a "real" marriage for a long time. They married only because they were afraid and their Christian upbringing didn't allow them to consider other alternatives in dealing with her pregnancy. In fact, they lied to Justine's dying father at that time, saying that they were getting married due to true love and that Justine was not pregnant, none at all. You can bet that Justine can never forget this and feels endless guilt over her duplicity. Now that their daughter Vashti is about to go to college and there is a chance that Justine will get a promotion that necessitates a move to another state, Justine begins to wonder. Now that they can't use "We are doing this for the sake of our daughter!" as an excuse to stay married, what will happen next?

Poor Justine and Joshua. They really do care for each other, but their insecurities, snowballed over the years due to lack of communication, lead them to believe the worst about their marriage. For example, Justine feels frustrated that she is always the one who has to take the initiative in starting any act of intimacy in the marriage bed, for example, while Joshua believes that Justine is keeping a big part of herself closed to him and he has no idea how to reach that part of her. Their insecurities only cause them to withdraw from the other person even more. Sometimes it doesn't take a dramatic event like, say, adultery or miscarriage, to cause a marriage to fall apart - it's those small little things that were unsaid for so long that did the job too well. In Shadow Boxing, Ms Wiesner does a very good job in demonstrating this.

What I like about this story is how the author manages to show me that Joshua, Justine, and their religious circle of friends are nice and normal people. Joshua and Justine have human flaws and they too have to learn in order to grow. This is not one of those "We are Christians, we are perfect and definitely better than you, and we won't let you forget it!" kind of books that the inspirational romance genre has been - fairly or not - stereotyped to be. The story is also cleanly written and very easy to digest in a single sitting.

It's not that this story is all sunshine and joy, though. It soon becomes clear that the "villain" in this story is Justine herself - it is her inability for forgive herself over the lie to her father that is causing her to think and behave in ways that are destroying her marriage. Joshua is a nice guy, he certainly doesn't deserve many of the accusations Justine throws at his face throughout the story, and I'm amazed at how patient he is with her. Frankly, I don't think I'd blame him if he just walks away from Justine in disgust at any point in the story. Still, Justin experiences the appropriate epiphany and all is well in the end. I personally am not sure about the ending. I'm glad they're happy, but I don't think [spoiler starts] they should be having another baby when they have only begun working on repairing their marriage. A baby isn't a magic cure for a broken marriage! [spoiler ends]

All things considered, though, Shadow Boxing is a well-written and often heartbreaking read.

Rating: 85

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