A Hearth in Candlewood (by Delia Parr)

Over the past several years since I was given my Kindle, I have regularly downloaded free books that looked interesting. Some are classics, some are the first in the series, some are on special offer for a few days. When I’m travelling I often scroll through my collection. The most recent one I decided to read was ‘A Hearth in Candlewick’ by Delia Parr. I downloaded this back in 2012, and it’s apparently the first in a trilogy of books set in the 1840s in small town USA.

Emma Garrett is the main character in this book. Widowed relatively young, with adult children living elsewhere, she runs a guesthouse. Her mother-in-law does most of the cooking, and they employ two young girls to help out with domestic chores, but Emma does a great deal of work herself, including taking bookings and dealing with tradesmen. She’s a strong, independent woman and I found her a tad daunting at times, but also very likeable.

We meet Emma late at night in the first chapter, after she hears a knock at the door. It’s a good way of introducing her: she’s tired, and there’s really no room to spare; nevertheless she goes to answer the door… and nobody is there. We watch her as the walks through the house, and the brief descriptions of the insides, and the kitchen in particular, set the scene of a clean, well-run hostel.

When Emma finally discovers who is outside, on a very wet night, we learn a lot about her generous, sometimes impulsive character as she takes in yet another stray person needing shelter...

Rather than having any clear plot, the book is a series of vignettes, as the weeks go by. We meet several of the guests, some of them regular visitors to Emma’s guesthouse. The contrast between the idle rich and the deserving poor is demonstrated without any preaching, and Emma’s generous character shines through, alongside some frustrations and almost continual exhaustion.

It’s a character-based book, focussing on different relationships: an elderly woman whose sons keep quarreling; a retired minister who has nowhere else to live; the young girls who work for Emma; local shopkeepers, and a lawyer, and many more. I found it an engaging read, on the whole, but not particularly gripping. The pace was just right for a few days away: I could pick it up to read for twenty minutes or so at bedtime, but had no problem putting it down.

The writing is good, the people interesting though not particularly memorable. There’s a clear Christian thread running through, but it’s not preachy. The settings felt authentic to me, and the conversations believable. It’s perhaps a bit slow-moving in places, and the ending doesn’t resolve everything although it does have a conclusion. I wasn’t all that interested in the unresolved threads, so am not planning to get hold of the next in the series, but I was glad I read this one.

Recommended in a low-key way to anyone who likes well-written historical American Christian fiction for women. Available in book form as well as on the Kindle (and no longer free for the Kindle).

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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