Friday, March 8, 2013

Romancing Olive by Holly Bush

At 36, Olive Wilkins is considered a spinster. Living in a small town as a librarian, she watches her days go by, doing her part for the community, but never thinking about love. Then one day a letter arrives letting her know that her brother and his wife have been killed and that her niece and nephew have been left orphaned. When Olive makes haste out to the wilds of Ohio to claim them, she discovers that they have been taken in by a farm owner with his own children, Jacob Butler. Jacob’s wife perished while delivering her last child, and though he is careworn and taciturn, he cares for the brood of children as well as he can. With accommodations being slim, Aunt Olive agrees to stay in Jacob’s home while he sleeps out in the barn. But before long, Jacob is privy to the kind way that Olive has with all the children and the way that she keeps the house and farm orderly and homey. Jacob isn’t looking for love, but his proximity to Olive, and his secret glimpses of the woman that she is underneath all the spinster trappings, is enough to move him to thought. As thought precedes action, Olive begins to be distracted by Jacob as well. It’s not an easy road, for Olive is bossy and domineering, and Jacob is afraid to love and lose again. When an old relative of the childrens’ comes to collect them, all are put at risk, leaving Jacob with feelings of protective love that he hadn’t seen coming. Will Olive and Jacob become as one, as their respective children want them to be, or will their different lives and heartaches keep them apart, to the detriment of both? In this new novel, Holly Bush examines both Olive and Jacob with a searching and tender eye, and sheds new light on what it means to love, in all senses of the word.

This is my second book by Holly Bush. The first, Reconstructing Jackson, was a hit for me, so I thought that I might as well try something else by the author, and was given the chance to review this one as well. This is a very different story than the one told in Reconstructing Jackson. A tale of love yes, but love unbidden, and love that cannot be accepted for what it is by either party. A woman of a certain age, which nowadays we would consider young and vital, Olive is much older than Jacob Butler, and though this concerns her, it doesn’t concern him. What does concern him is the fact that he is not open to concede the feelings he has in his heart for Olive, fearing that he cannot bear to lose any more than he already has. A complex set of problems for one couple to overcome, in addition to the raising of children who are traumatized orphans and motherless.

The book greatly combines the varying stories of the difficulties of love and the problems that Olive has with the children in a melange of humbleness that is interspersed with joy. Mary and John, Olive’s niece and nephew, are being raised by Jacob, but there are savage realities about what their home life was like before the death of their parents. John, in turn, has gone mute, and Mary is rebellious and hardened, like a woman who has seen it all and is jaded. Olive, upon discovering the way they had been raised, is full of undeserved guilt that borders on neurosis. But who is to blame? Olive wants her family, and wants to move them back to Philadelphia, but they are too broken to step beyond the farm that Jacob has lovingly housed them in. Though he is not a sentimental man by any means, he protects and loves Olive’s relatives in the same ways that he does his own motherless children.

In the first half of the book, Olive sets out to do right by all the children, in her spinsterish ways, her hair tied tightly in a bun, glasses at the crook of her nose, and frocks buttoned up to her throat. But soon she eases, and sees that she loves the land, and this love for her new family transforms her into a thing of beauty. She begins to wear simple dress, let loose her long and beautiful hair, and relax into the notion that she could have possibly left too much undone by maintaining her schoolmarmish ways. It is here that Jacob takes notice of the struggling flower in his garden, but he repeatedly holds himself away from her, for fear of her reaction, and his as well.

This couple has a way of dealing with each other that sends sparks flying, for Olive is no shrinking violet. She says what she means and is not afraid to offend. In turn, this stokes Jacob’s anger and refusal to believe that she is a helpmeet or that he and she might be good for one another. Situations eventually come to a head when Olive decides to leave Jacob’s home but not the land she has grown to love, and many comical scenes arise when the townspeople and even Olive’s visiting friend Theda get the wrong impression of what is going on between them. It is a tale of love yes, but that’s only what’s on the surface. Underlying themes of catharsis and resolution come clashing between social propriety and conventions and the owning of one’s feelings.

I liked this book even more than I liked her first, and most of this love was due to Olive. I feel like, in a different time and space, we could be friends, and I was very invested in the relationships that she made and the choices that she eventually faced. A brave woman doesn’t go unnoticed by this reader, and Olive was not only brave but fierce. If you are fond of historical romance with taste, this is the book to read. It was both saddening and funny, and left me reaching for more reads from Holly Bush. Recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

19 comments:

Trisha said...

Olive sounds like a strong female character - which is nice in a book like this as the female leads tend to be a bit less than what I would like.

bermudaonion said...

I would never have considered this book if I'd seen it in a bookstore so I'm glad I read your review. Olive sounds fantastic!

Audra said...

This sounds great -- I'm sad now I passed on these -- and yours is the first positive of this one I've seen (I've seen a few lukewarm reviews from folks who adored the first book and didn't click with this one).

Wall-to-wall books said...

Oh this book sounds great! I really think I would like this one!
Thanks for the review, I am going to go check it out.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I love books that allow the reader to see the layers of someone that would otherwise be overlooked. I like the strong female characters!

Ti said...

Sounds totally character driven which is something I adore (as you know).

nomadreader said...

I enjoyed this one too!

Suko said...

This really does sound good, thanks to your exquisite review. Olive seems like the kind of character I like to read about, capable of changing and growing.

Holly said...

Hello Zibilee,

Thanks for the beautiful review. I'm glad you enjoyed Olive's story. She was a very vivid character in my mind's eye when I wrote this book and I'm glad that it seems to have come through in the writing. If anyone is interested, I have one more book out called Train Station Bride and will be publishing another one this spring about an American suffragette who travels to London called Cross the Ocean. Holly

Athira said...

This book sounds fabulous! Olive does sound like a wonderful person. I may not have picked this book on my own but your review has convinced me.

Beth F said...

I love it when I feel as if a character could be a friend. I'll add this to my ever-growing list.

Elizabeth said...

Sounds like you have found an author to watch. Thanks for clueing me in on this one!

softdrink said...

This was a bad day of blog reading for me...so many good books! ;-)
Olive sounds fascinating. Plus she's a librarian! She's obviously a good person. :-D

Brooke said...

Great review, Heather! And like everyone has said, Olive does sound like a fascinating character. I love unbidden love stories so this one sounds perfect!

Cozy in Texas said...

Good review. I learned recently that the word spinster came about because at one time the only work available to an unmarried woman was spinning wool.
Ann

Lisa said...

How great to find an author you like so much. This sounds like a book that would offer a book club a lot to talk about.

Vasilly said...

There's something about spinsters and librarians as main characters that make me want to read books with them! ;-) I love characters that are "fierce and brave". Thus sounds like a great read.

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I wasn't expecting such a glowing review. This book is new to me, and sounds great.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

For a minute I was thinking Olive Kitteridge which I enjoyed. This sounds very good to me as well though. First I've hear of it so thank you.

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