Review of Barriers Burned Away; remembering the1871 Chicago Fire

A visit to Chicago not long after the Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871–151 years ago today–touched the heart of the author, Edward Payson Roe, and inspired him to write this novel, published in 1872.

Diorama of 1871 Chicago Fire – Chicago History Museum, Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois

He seems to have asked himself:

How would people respond in a crisis that affected a community regardless of social rank, and how would the tragedy change them and their community, for better or worse?

…and…

How important are some of our typical pursuits—pleasure, popularity, recognition, wealth, and entertainment–compared to a day-by-day inner awareness of our value as a human being, our purpose on this earth, a sense of peace, and a realistic, solid basis of hope and security?

This is quite an extraordinary novel, and I LOVED IT. So much so that I now have this and several other E.P. Roe novels on my Kindle. (And I have given my used hardcover copy to a dear friend who loved the last 19th century novel I gave her!)

It is a detailed book about one of the things in our lives that we don’t necessarily focus on, but which is one of the most important: our spiritual life.

In this story a young man, Dennis, needs to leave his struggling family so he can make money to support them. He leaves his quiet rural area and moves to Chicago, one of the largest cities in the U.S. in 1871, when the story takes place.

Dennis and Christine work together at an art gallery, and have similar interests in art, including creating their own paintings. She and her father (the owner) are from a very wealthy European family, and look down on the newly hired young man with the worn-out clothes. Naturally Dennis is frustrated by that, but his value system isn’t based on popularity and people-pleasing, and he can still be relatively content at work while he earns enough to live on.

He has a heart of gold, and if he finds someone in his neighborhood or place of work that he can help, he pours his heart into it. So even in the unfriendly city he is never without genuine friends that support him. 

Perhaps this is the kind of art on their art gallery walls?
(Frederick Walker, The Old Farm Garden, 1871, public domain, picryl.com)

In time, Christine and the others at work are impressed by Dennis’s kindnesses, and the way Dennis respects himself. They notice he doesn’t compromise his values by mistreating them, regardless of how disrespectfully they treat him.

When Christine pretends to be falling in love with him in order to use him for her own purposes, Dennis calls her on it, scolding her for her rudeness and manipulation. It may be the first time in her life that she hears the truth about herself. She is further frustrated by her artistic limitations, seeming to be unable to paint an authentic expression of love on her canvas. She takes to heart Dennis’s words: “The stream cannot rise higher than its fountain.”

Dennis becomes seriously ill and is away from work for a while. During that time Christine realizes how much she cares for him, but her artistic and social ambitions take precedence over a relationship.

Then… the fire rages through Chicago with complete disregard to social status, providing a crucible for burning up the dross in many lives.

Chicago in Flames, by Currier and Ives, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Where to find the book

The fact that it is so prevalent online attests to its past and present popularity.

You can read it for free, or download it in various formats, at Gutenberg.org, By the Fireplace, and Free Pages. You can buy hardcover and softcover versions (including facsimile reprints) at the usual places, such as Amazon and AbeBooks, for very reasonable prices.

Here is a short blurb about the book on an excellent website about the Chicago Fire, which includes a sample chapter (caution: spoiler).

Next post…

In my next post I will share what I’ve found about the Chicago Fire, the extraordinary talents and interests of author E.P. Roe, and more!

Happy reading!

Review of All In by Lisa Simonds

I have just finished one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, and am absolutely in awe of this new author’s writing talent.

Lisa Simonds has the ability to write in a way that lets us experience all the action, dialogue, thoughts and scenes–without noticing that we’re reading a book.

 

The pace of All In is perfect, and the book is gripping. I stayed up way too late to see what happened next. However, I am sensitive and very picky about which characters I spend my time with, and felt increasingly uncomfortable living Cami’s life along with her.

On the other hand, I admired this woman’s strength, commitment, authenticity and honesty with herself, as well as with others. I was positive that a book of this quality was worth powering through, and the ending was exactly what I was expecting: excellent!

 

I admire–and require–novels that are realistic, and every character and scene in All In was exactly that. The dialogue was natural, nothing in the plot line was cliched or predictable. The transformation that happened in Cami’s heart and life felt completely genuine.

I look forward to Lisa’s next masterpiece!

The ebook is available now, and the print version will be available in August 2019. You can also enjoy the author’s musings at her blog, Leaves of Grace. Here is one post among many that showcases the excellence and depth of her writing.

Book Review of Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

I am excited to have found this excellent writer! Until the Harvest is a masterful illustration of how hearts and lives are transformed through continued offers of friendship, food and forgiveness. It is a story of family, community, relationships and love; the hardships that they cause; and the beauty that only people can bring to our lives.

In the early chapters, I admit that I became impatient with the pace of the action and the simplicity of some characters. But I always looked forward to evenings spent in this community, often reading too far into the night. I appreciated how Sarah Loudin Thomas gradually revealed the nature of each character, and transformation. The subtle ways that the story changed me were a pleasant surprise.

What I loved the most was how the author, through the characters, showed affection even for the antagonists, the ones hardest to tolerate in the story, the ones who seemed to be evil to the core. The faith of a few characters is revealed naturally and subtly in only a few places in the story.   I liked that. It is refreshing to see genuine glimpses of their hearts, without characters being overly verbose, emotional or heavy-handed about their beliefs.

Until the Harvest smaller file 9780764212260

I found the farm setting an especially welcome mental retreat from living a fast-paced urban life filled with so many inconsequential time-wasting activities. Although it created an uncomfortable longing in me for a rural lifestyle I knew I was unlikely to ever live, it allowed me to have a taste of that kind of world. I found the tone of the book to be realistic, yet comforting and safe.

It is a true book. It could happen anywhere. People can be cruel for no apparent reason, selfishly deceitful, and manipulating to the point of ruining people’s lives and relationships. But, as we see in Until the Harvest, the power of friendship toward just those people is miraculous.

[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany House book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]

Book Review of Destiny’s Hands, a novel by Violet Nesdoly

What was it like to be an artist thousands of years ago? What if that artist was a slave? How did people in another land—a land full of other gods and religions—find their way to God, and why?

The stories in the Bible are set in a time and place that I can’t always relate to, which has sometimes kept me from “living” the story as I read it. However, Biblical characters that come to life through a novel give me a kinship with these far away people, and bring the spiritual truths of scripture alive for me.

This book attracted me because it delves into the life and heart of Bezalel, an artist, a creative carver and goldsmith. I read it because I believed that it would give me a new perspective on how others take what is in their heart and shape it into a creative, visible form for the benefit of others. Destiny’s Hands gave me that perspective even more than I expected.

The author demonstrates her own creative talents by imagining Bezalel’s desire to succeed in his craft and his developing faith as he sees the power of God with his very eyes. It was fascinating to see him sort out his beliefs from those of his family, in contrast to those of his co-workers and his community, and to find an authentically personal communion with the living God.

Just the right amount of description and scene put me into the story setting without making me restless to get back to the exciting plot. I loved learning about life in Old Testament Egypt and in the desert, and it felt so real, I was confident that the author had done a lot of research. I liked that the dialogue was easy to read with the natural conversations we would have today, yet there were times where some dialogue bumped me out of that particular world, as I would have a hard time imagining someone from that time using some of our contemporary expressions.

Destiny’s Hands was suspenseful; it kept me turning the pages past my bedtime and I finished it in two days. (I wish I’d rationed myself, to prolong the joy!) It delved into a romantic relationship, showed us the history and customs of that time and place, and made us feel the intense struggles and emotions of the main character. I’ve heard and read so often that a reader needs to empathize with a character, and this writer has skilfully enabled us to feel what he feels, at one place bringing me to tears.

I highly recommend Violet Nesdoly’s Destiny’s Hands. It is a perfect example of why I read fiction. I was inspired by this account of a true story, I was challenged and strengthened in my own faith, and on top of all that, enjoyed being immersed in a different world. I can only hope that the author is hard at work on another book!