As the drought of 1930 burns crops to a crisp, Bryony Linwood dreams of cooling winter snows and the life she would have had if daddy hadn’t been killed in the Great War and mama hadn’t moved Bryony and her sisters to their grandfather’s struggling tenant farm in tiny Eden, Arkansas. Now Mama’s gone, too, and as times grow tougher, Bryony will do whatever it takes to ensure her family’s survival. Michael Heath barely survived the war, and twelve years later all he wants to do is forget. A virtual recluse, his one passion is botanical illustration. Lost in the diversity of nature’s beauty, he finds escape from a troubled past and from his wealthy father’s continual pressure to take an interest in the family plantation. When Bryony accepts employment at the Heath mansion, it’s just a job at first, a means to ward off destitution until the drought ends and Grandpa’s farm is prosperous again. But Bryony’s forced optimism and dogged determination disguise a heart as dry and despairing as the scorched earth . . . until she discovers Michael Heath and his beautiful botanical illustrations. As their relationship deepens, friendship soon blossoms into healing for wounded souls and a love that can’t be denied.
Such a splendid beginning to what promises to be a fantastic new series! Rich with emotion, The Sweetest Rain (Franciscan Media, Sept 2015) sketches a compelling portrait of the heartbreaking realities associated with World War 1, the Depression, and even Alzheimer’s. The author also delves into the harshness of life experienced in Arkansas around the 1930s – the Thanksgiving Day tornado outbreak of 1926, the floods of 1927, the stock market crash in 1929 (which drastically dropped agriculture and farming prices), the England food riot of 1931, and the division felt between classes and races. Yet, somehow Myra Johnson manages to infuse the tone of the book with hope; while The Sweetest Rain deals with one discouraging topic after another, it never feels heavy or depressing.
How is this possible?
Well, I think it has a lot to do with something Myra says in her author’s note at the back of the book.
“At its core, The Sweetest Rain is a story about families – what holds them together, what drives them apart.”
See, the characters give this book its hope, its light, its joy. Bryony, who digs in and loves fiercely and refuses to let her loved ones lose their purpose. Michael, who struggles to stand up for himself but somehow begins to find the strength to quietly stand up for everyone else. Grandpa, who watches nature take everything (and leave nothing) and still carries himself with a hard-fought dignity and grit. And Larkspur and Rose and Miranda and Jeremiah and Callie and Mrs. Heath and Dancy… yes, even Odette, Alice, and Esther.
The Sweetest Rain sings with characters who became my friends and family as I read, their personalities almost tangible. I am happy to note that this is the first in a series because I am nowhere close to being done with the Linwoods or the Heaths! Hints of future story lines wafted through particular scenes with Bryony’s sisters, but even just these small morsels have me anxious for more.
Myra Johnson writes so engagingly that I was caught up in the setting and the time period without ever feeling that I was reading a history lesson. Actual events from the era, along with insight into what soldiers faced returning home from The Great War, were woven seamlessly into the story. Fiction that entertains and makes you smarter is always a good thing!
Bottom Line: The Sweetest Rain is a refreshing tale of hope, family, determination, and love. The romance captured my heart, and the setting created the perfect storm for Bryony and Michael. I am so looking forward to the rest of this series with much anticipation! Highly recommended for any historical fiction fan!
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)
Myra Johnson’s roots go deep into Texas soil, but she now enjoys living amidst the scenic beauty of North Carolina. Myra’s debut novel, One Imperfect Christmas, was a September 2009 release from Abingdon Press. She has also written six novels for the Heartsong Presents line. Her 2009 release, Autumn Rains, won the 2005 RWA Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript, and she is a two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist. Most recently she has completed a three-book historical romance series, “Till We Meet Again,” for Abingdon Press. The first book in the series, When the Clouds Roll By, won the historical fiction category of the 2014 Christian Retailing’s Best Award. Book 2, Whisper Goodbye, and book 3, Every Tear a Memory, both received 4½-star reviews from Romantic Times. Myra and her husband, Jack, have two married daughters and seven grandchildren.
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