About the book(s):
Author: Tracie Peterson
Publisher: Bethany House
Publication Date(s): 2010-2011
Number of Books: Three
Novel Titles: Embers of Love; Hearts Aglow; Hope Rekindled
Genre: Christian, Historical Drama
Synopsis: the series tells the stories – both the triumphs and sorrows of a two-generational logging family living in 1800’s Texas on the cusp and unrest of a prejudicial “war.”
My thoughts: Up until a couple of weeks ago, it had been far too long since last I posted my thoughts on whatever book I may have been reading so I figured it was time to add to my “book archives” – such as they are. (Over the next couple of weeks, I shall endeavor to have more such posts - as of now, that "goal" seems possible.) Since I began reading this series far too long ago to make a compelling review on the in-depth bits and pieces of each novel, I figured it was fine to post about the entire series since it revolves around the same family as opposed to different characters. Forgive me if my ramblings and compacting of three books become too confusing.
From the opening pages of series, we are pulled into the Vandermark family’s story but yet, we aren't. Most of the time, the settings have a "homey" familiar feel, as if we were being invited into their home. Each novel builds on the other in a way that is not unpleasant. It opens with daughter Deborah at her best friend, Lizzie’s wedding in Philadelphia. The two become the best of friends during Deborah’s absence from home, attending school on the East Coast. In an unexpected change-of-heart, Lizzie decides she cannot go through with marriage to a man she does not love, and so Deborah whisks her away to Texas to live with her family. A household that consists of Deborah’s older brothers G.W. and Rob who have taken over the family business, as well as their mother, uncle and family friend and cook, Sissy. Right away I loved the set-up of these novels, told and re-told or not. Yes, it is easy to tell where some of the sub-plots are going but then that is half the fun and why I read Christian fiction in the first place. It isn’t because I want to be intellectually challenged; it is for easy, “pleasure” reading that still can often capture a spark that inspires its reader.
There are four “love stories” over the course of the three novels and two year span, and I was charmed by each one. One starts out as an easy-going friendship another is a love that has only grown stronger over many years and the final two grow out of instant “sparks” of attraction. Hearts Aglow opens up more character development as we get into the head of Deborah’s brother Rob. His story is an interesting one. He finds himself challenged about not just his belief in God but in what He may be calling Rob to. Deborah, of course is the “main” story holding all of the vignettes of smaller plots together, and if one likes opinionated, ahead-of-their-tine heroines, she is one of those. She is torn between putting her schooling to be of use by helping her family and being drawn to a profession in the medical field. When she meets the town doctor, she is only more drawn to the profession – as she is to the handsome Dr. Clayton. Everyone has a back-story begging to be told, and Christopher’s is among those. I really didn’t like the petty addition of newcomer Jake Wrythe who re-appears on the Vanermark homestead late in Hearts Aglow. The publisher wants us to believe that he rattles Deborah’s faith in her feelings for Christopher and that is simply not true. Yes, Jake had an interest in the pretty Deborah but those feelings are never hinted at being returned. As for Christopher’s story there are a lot of superfluous material and clichéd coincidences to make his past in the story sometimes bothersome. Instead I found myself annoyed at the second “interruption” in his and Deborah’s life in the opening pages of Hope Rekindled. Added to that is the tension Peterson created between the doctor and Deborah. I don’t have anything against some hardship entering a couple’s life but that doesn’t mean I have to like it - in this case, it seems too... manufactured. The one real flaw I did pick up on throughout this series is the lack of chemistry between these two. It isn't until the second half of book three that they really have some sparks, something the author never fully explored in my mind.
This series is more than just happiness and romances. Also entering into the equation is a “sinister” plot fueled by the man Lizzie spurned – a wealthy man wishing to exact revenge on her and the Vandermark’s who provided her a refuge, Stuart is not a man who likes to be made a fool of or taken advantage of. He seems to make it his business to ruin the family and anyone close to them. Another former friend of the girls’ from the east also plays an important role in the latter titles, and then there is the prejudicial attitude that people had against blacks. Full of memorable characters and a faith in God that is not off-putting should non-Christians read this, it is a strong series, sans the unfortunate way the series "fizzled" out in the latter half of book three and the somewhat disappointing conclusion that never reached its full potential. It just wasn't as compelling as some of Peterson's past writing. When it comes right down to it, the 3-book saga is charming but probably not Peterson’s best.