Monday, September 13, 2021

The Gold in These Hills by Joanne Bischof


The Gold in These Hills

I’ve really enjoyed Joanne’s work in the past and was excited to read this novel.

Let’s begin with the summary:

When mail-order bride Juniper’s husband vanishes, she writes to him—but fears she's waiting for a ghost in a ghost town. A century later, Johnny Sutherland discovers her letters while restoring her abandoned farmhouse. Can her loving words from the distant past change his present?

1902: Upon arriving in Kenworthy, California, mail-order bride Juniper Cohen is met by the pounding of the gold mine, an untamable landscape, and her greatest surprise of all: the kind and charming man who awaits her. But when the mine proves empty of profit, and when Juniper’s husband, John, vanishes, Juniper is left to fend for herself and her young daughter in the dying town that is now her home.

Juniper pens letters to her husband but fears she is waiting on a ghost. Perhaps worse, rumors abound claiming the man she loves could be an outlaw. Fighting for survival, she befriends the few people left in Kenworthy and refuses to leave, resolving to be exactly where her husband left her in case he comes home. Surviving in a ghost town requires trusting the kindness of a few remaining souls, including the one who can unlock the mystery of her husband’s disappearance.

Present day: Trying to escape the heartache of his failed marriage, Johnny Sutherland throws himself into raising his children and restoring a hundred-year-old abandoned farmhouse in what was once known as Kenworthy in the San Jacinto Mountains. While exploring its secrets he uncovers Juniper’s letters and is moved by the handwritten accounts that bear his name—and as a love story from the past touches his own world, Johnny might discover yet that hope and resilience go hand in hand.

And now, my review:

Joanne’s strong prose hooks readers from the first line: It’s paramount that my daughter and I survive the coming winter, yet ghost towns are not for the living. Epic, right? I loved that we’re in first person, my favorite narrative choice.

This split-time novel is unpredictable and inventive, elements I liked.

The historical heroine’s life is a challenge for survival, and she’s raising her daughter alone, suddenly, which raises the stakes.

One of the themes, as the MC (main character) fights with her community to keep her townspeople alive, is that of restoration. Some towns just die. Will hers?

We bounce back and forth between the past and the present. In the past we’re in the heroine’s POV, fighting to carry on. In the present, in a very strong male POV voice, we’re doing a bit of the same while restoring a farmhouse. He’s a contractor, who also must overcome and raise his children. Each MC is sympathetic and likable.

Another theme was that unknowns can paralyze us in place, but there can be treasures in the darkness. We have to go through the challenges to find those riches. The characters have to face the pain of love and loss, the deserts of life. There's a choice to hope, or not. Very relatable.

Unfortunately the story lost me near the end. I ended up skimming. Perhaps it was the season of the pandemic, but life was already heavy enough and I gave up on this story. I felt there was a lot of potential, but it didn’t play out the way I’d hoped.

Still, I wish the author and publisher all the best. I will definitely watch for more novels by this author.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Love and the Silver Lining by Tammy L. Gray

Love and the Silver Lining by Tammy L. Gray

I’m a fan of this author! She weaves together memorable stories that are engaging and keep me longing for reading breaks throughout my day.

Let’s begin with the summary:

This disaster may be just what she needed.

Darcy Malone's dreams of mission work are dashed on the eve of fulfilling them: The Guatemalan school she was going to teach at has closed, and she's already quit her job and given up her apartment. Stuck in her worst-case scenario, Darcy accepts an unexpected offer to move in with Bryson Katsaros's little sister, despite the years of distrust between her and Bryson, the lead singer in her best friend Cameron's band. But as she meets those close to Bryson, Darcy quickly discovers there is more to him than just his bad-boy persona.

Needing to find a purpose for all her sudden free time, Darcy jumps at the chance to care for and train a group of unruly dogs, with the aim of finding each a home before their bereaved owner returns them to animal control. But it's Darcy herself who will encounter a surprising rescue in the form of love, forgiveness, and learning to let go.

And now, my review:

This story is written in first person, present tense, which I love. Our heroine is a little blind. She’s unaware of her best friend’s crush, though readers will see it right away.

I loved this heroine’s gift for training and relating with dogs. She’s very competent. Lots of symbolism ensues with her efforts on behalf of the animals she tends.

One of the themes is how God answers prayer. Sometimes the end of our world turns into a new beginning—a place we belonged all along. For example, she thought her destiny was extreme poverty, but she ends up living in a very nice condo. (see summary above) Again, symbolic of a very generous and compassionate God who may surprise us with abundance even while we’re aiming for the bare minimum.

Our heroine’s goals are religious, but misguided. She thinks she’s doing the right thing, but hasn’t really asked God if it is. Excellent layering. Readers will relate because people are often motivated by what they think they’re supposed to do, or they’re motivated to choose the least glamorous option because others will more likely approve. But sometimes we fail to account for our God-given gifts. Readers will recognize hers.

Something else motivates her: avoidance. But she won’t have a choice in whether or not to face what she’d rather avoid.

Another area where this author excels is her ability to express male POV. We have Bryson and Cameron in this story, and yet they feel like different people. We’re never in their POVs, but we see them, we get them, nonetheless. Very well done.

An additional theme was that of trying to manipulate God into giving us the answer we want through good behavior.

With all of these insightful layers, you’d think the romance would suffer. It does not. Very well done.

The band elements, the music scenes, were so well written. It’s difficult to take readers into a concert, but this author does it very well. Readers are immersed.

By far my favorite novel this year. So enjoyable. I didn’t want it to end, but I couldn’t wait to indulge in reading another chapter whenever I got the chance.

Highly recommended!