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.