Monday, April 9, 2012

"Beauty for Ashes" Review

Beauty for Ashes by Dorothy Love was sent to me as an advance review copy by Thomas Nelson Publishers. It is the second book in the Hickory Ridge Series by this author. Be sure to check out my review of Beyond All Measure, the first book in this series.
The year 1876 is a difficult one throughout the South but especially in the small town of Hickory Ridge, Tennessee. The panic of 1873 sent the nation into a depression from which it has not yet recovered.
After the death of her husband in the War between the States years ago, Carrie Daly has settled into her life helping her brother on the farm. She has been ‘courting’ Nate Chastain, the local bookseller, for years, but for some reason she just isn’t quite ready to set a date. Carrie sees the upcoming marriage of her brother as a sign that maybe she should start planning for her own wedding soon, even if she does think the marriage to Nate will be practical rather than for love.
Then Griff Rutledge comes to town and turns Carrie’s world upside down. But Griff is just passing through Hickory Ridge, determined to live a life that is not tied to any one place.
Some of the townsfolk in Hickory Ridge think that a Thoroughbred horse race, similar to the new derby in Louisville, Kentucky, just might be a way to bring some much needed money into the town. With Griff’s unlikely choice to remain in Hickory Ridge to train for the race and with Carrie’s life going in a direction she never saw coming, it will take a leap of faith for them to open their hearts to each other and to what God has planned for them.
Since the first book in this series, Beyond All Measure was a nice read, I was looking forward to returning to Hickory Ridge in Beauty for Ashes. This second offering in the series was also an enjoyable one, but I think I would have liked it even more if I had read it right after the first one. Since it had been almost a year since I read the first one, it took me a long time to remember all of the characters and their stories. It would have been nice to have either a list of characters at the beginning as a refresher or a better explanation of each character as they were introduced in this particular book.
Though I enjoyed the story and scenarios in this book, I was once again confronted with characters that I just didn’t like. This has happened to me quite often lately with the novels I have been reading, and it makes for an interesting conundrum. Should I not like a book because the characters get on my nerves, or is that a sign of good writing? Being able to write characters that are realistic is a good thing, especially since I often complain when characters in novels are ‘too perfect.’ Even though it may be difficult to relate to a character or read about a character that I just don’t like, I still think this is a mark of a talented author, and the book should be given its due.
The character in this novel that created that conundrum for me was Mary, Carrie’s new sister-in-law. She was the most unbearable character I have read in a while. Everything that she did wrong, she somehow managed to turn around until it was someone else’s fault.  She was also the most ungrateful person I have read about in a long time. But, don’t we all know someone like that? Or haven’t we all been that way a little bit ourselves at times?
What I liked most about this story was the lessons that came through in terms of how we see other people. The town’s reaction to Griff, a drifter and an outsider, shows how unfeeling people can so often be towards those who they consider to be ‘unsuitable.’ The reaction of Carrie’s friends toward Griff riled me to no end, and reminded me how callous even ‘good Christian people’ can be. What a great reminder of Christ’s example while he was here on Earth. He fellowshipped with the poor and with those who were seen as objectionable by society, and we need to have the compassion to do the same.
Although the main storyline in this novel has been done again and again in historical fiction (girl is resigned to leading her practical life until the mysterious, dashing stranger rides into town), the subplots and the realistic actions of the characters kept the novel moving and from becoming too bland. There were definitely some storylines left hanging, though, which will hopefully be wrapped up in the next novel.
After a little bit of a muddled start, Beauty for Ashes turned into a pleasant read with a good story and characters that kept me interested.
I will give Beauty for Ashes … 3 ½ BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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