Bethany House, 2011
I wasn't planning to review this one when I picked it up from the library - it's the second in a series, and I did not review the first one, so I figured I would just "read and enjoy". Once I got into it though (actually only a chapter or two in), I decided this was a book I did need to review on some level. I remember being impressed with the first book in the series - Embers of Love - finding it a slight change from the other Peterson titles I've read in the last year or so. A good change. I'm probably a harder critic of Christian fiction than 'secular' - or maybe just a pickier reader - and I was almost starting to feel like Peterson had sold out and lost the voice that caught me in the beginning. Needless worries! The Striking a Match series is an engrossing story that is actually carrying over with the same set of main characters in both books (so far)! I like! The trilogies she has written before, with the story picking up from another character's point-of-view from novel to novel are interesting, but I get attached to characters and want to follow their story through to the end. So that is a definite perk of this newest series. Plus the characters are fairly real, and the setting is one that offers any number of interesting potential (and adventures).
Since this is the second installment, and I didn't review the first, I won't comment too much on the storyline. You're going to have to take my word on this one, that it's worth picking up and reading from the beginning. I will say, however, that you should be prepared for a heavier read than you might think. Peterson is one of those Christian fiction authors who doesn't shy away from the fact that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and there is always the option of epic failure/mistake in life. It's part of what makes her books more realistic than some others. At the same time, I was not expecting the level of -- realism? exposure? raw human "mistake-hood"? -- that would meet me, early on and throughout Hearts Aglow. I was startled. Surprised. A little amazed that she went there. A little awed that she was able to - it ached my heart to read some of it (and may have turned my stomach a little too), so I can't imagine creating it. And yet - it was somehow right that those ugly elements of humanity were woven into the story. I'm not naive enough to believe the frontiers of history were romantic spreads of barely-tamed wilderness bathed in the warm western light of the setting sun. I know that the History which makes this country so amazing was created by deep cuts and still-healing scars. And I think, maybe-just-maybe, we need to realize this more often. Not in a way that reopens the wounds and revives the hatreds, but in a way that reminds us not to take for granted where we are - where we've come.
I've found myself personally involved with the story of Deborah Vandermark and her family, as well as all the other characters - locals and outsiders alike - who are populating the pages. I've got my favorites I cheer for, and those who I thought were good but now am rooting against. And I am definitely waiting on the third novel to come out later this year, to see what happens next! Care to join me on the ride?
Book provided by my local library.