A lonely wedding chapel built as a tribute to lost love just might hold the long-awaited secret to hope and reconciliation. For sixty years, the wedding chapel has stood silent and empty. Retired football hall-of-famer Jimmy “Coach” Westbrook built the chapel by hand, stone by stone, for his beautiful and beloved Collette Greer, whom he lost so many years ago. The chapel is a sanctuary for his memories, a monument to true love, and a testament to his survival of the deepest pain and loss. Photographer Taylor Branson left her hometown of Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, to make a new life for herself in New York. She had lots to run away from, not least of all a family history of broken promises and broken dreams. Love catches Taylor off guard when she falls for Jack Forester, a successful advertising executive, and their whirlwind romance leads to an elopement—then to second guesses. Jack, in spite of his very real love for Taylor, is battling his own demons and struggles to show her his true self and the depths of his love for her.Taking a photography assignment in Heart’s Bend, Taylor is thrown back into a past of family secrets buried deep beneath the sands of time. When Taylor and Coach’s journeys collide, they each rediscover the heartbeat of their own dreams as they learn that the love they long to hold is well worth the wait.
Though this is the second in Rachel Hauck's "Wedding" series (The third, The Wedding Shop, set to be released this autumn), The Wedding Chapel is not a direct sequel to The Wedding Dress. In fact, I didn't recall coming across any recurring characters from The Wedding Dress here, so this one can easily be read as a stand-alone.
The Wedding Chapel opens in the year 1949 with the introduction of teen Jimmy Westbrook living the small-town life in Heart's Bend, Tennessee. He's hanging with his buddy Clem one day when Clem shows Jimmy a picture of his two cousins from England. Clem's never met them in person but was told the girls were orphaned after World War II and have now made plans to come to Heart's Bend to live with their next-of-kin. The girls are around the same age as Jimmy & Clem and Jimmy is immediately taken with the looks of one of the sisters. Upon their arrival, Jimmy learns the beauty's name is Collette and over time a friendship develops between them, a friendship tainted by the romantic interest Collette's jealous sister, Peg, has in Jimmy. When Collette & Jimmy start to fall for each other, it begins to create a rift between Collette and Peg, but Collette's in love and believes everything will eventually sort itself out. Little does she know just how deep Peg's devious roots run!
Jimmy begins to build a chapel for his love for them to marry in, but the construction as well as the relationship is interrupted with the arrival of the Korean War. Jimmy is drafted. When he comes back, he's surprised to find Collette has up and moved to New York with virtually no explanation. But the truth to this one is a tangled story that takes decades to unravel.
Fast-forward to present time, Collette is now an established soap opera actress in her 80s. The show she's worked on for sixty-five years is coming to a close and the network wants a run of final-season promo shots with the cast. The photographer hired to do the photography? None other than Taylor, Collette's -- grand-niece, is it? the granddaughter of Collette's sister, Peg. The two are virtually strangers, having only spoken a couple times in decades. The family drama gets even more convoluted when Collette gets tied up in a ad-campaign headed by Taylor's ad exec husband, Jack Forester, who has messed up familial ties of his own in Heart's Bend.
Taylor also gets extra work shooting pictures of Jimmy's chapel built for Collette, though she doesn't have any clue of her own ties to the building, only doing the work as a paid gig for an architectural magazine. Jimmy also wants to use the pictures because he feels it's time to make peace with the past and finally sell the chapel since after 65 years it would seem that Collette's probably not coming back... So you can see how everyone's going to end up coming together to finally hash out age-old grievances and hurts.
I ended up not loving this one quite as much as The Wedding Dress -- I just thought the storyline in the first book was just a tad more interesting -- but still really enjoyed this one! There's still a bit of historical fiction here for those who liked that about the first book, but it's not the main focus here. The Wedding Chapel focuses more on the intricacies of relationships (both familial and romantic), making peace with emotional wounds that might never get the resolution you want but will probably heal in their own way and in their own time. It also looks at what true love should mean, as opposed to just heated infatuation or obsession, and what one should be willing to do or sacrifice for those they truly care about. Sweet stuff! There was a tinge of sadness to it for me though. Just the idea of Jimmy and Collette being separated for SO many years without a word. The why of this is explained in the end, but there's still a sense of the tragic to it, so much wasted time! But that idea plays well into the theme of letting go of what's passed and embracing what you have right now in the moment. But dang, it took me back to the first time I watched that Mel Gibson Forever Young movie -- gave me the same happy-sad feelings at the end! Speaking of the ending of this book, it's kind of funny that Collette is an established soap opera actress because those little twists and reveals at the end -- talk about soap endings!
But yes, still having a good time with this series and look forward to the next installment :-)
FTC DISCLAIMER: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.