Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Review: The Blessed by Ann Gabhart

The Blessed

By Ann Gabhart

Revell, a division of Baker

c. 2011

ISBN 9780800734541

Historical Romance

From the publisher:

“Let the child go, Lacey. Right now! We’ve come into this community to leave things of the world behind and do as they say” said Preacher Palmer. “But she needs me.” She spoke barely above a whisper. “She needs discipline. And so do you...” he said.

It is a time of spiritual revival in the mid-1840s when the Shakers worship services received many spiritual messages from Mother Ann and other Shaker leaders. Harmony Hill was a place offering a different way of life from the world. This village was a place where the people were dedicated to community, hard work, practicing their worship, and engaging in long hours of worship each week.

My review:
The Blessed adds to the author’s collection of novels dealing heavily with a Shaker theme. This is the first novel I’ve read by Gabhart, and the first that features Shaker characters.

I appreciated the author’s brief history of the society before reading the book. The Blessed takes place in the mid nineteenth century in a small rural community at the home of the local Baptist preacher and his ailing wife. As a teenager, Lacey Bishop was sent to be the hired girl for Miss Mona. During this time, a newborn baby is left on the preacher’s doorstep, taken in and raised by Miss Mona and Lacey. When Miss Mona passes on, Lacey is forced into a marriage of convenience on her part, but not the pastor’s, in order to maintain propriety and stay in the preacher’s house and continue to care for the growing child. After a visit from two gentlemen from the nearby Shaker community who come proselytizing, the pastor leaves his church and moves his household to join with the Shakers. Once there, Lacey is oddly attracted to a young man, Brother Isaac. But Isaac is another refugee from the outside world, who has been in mourning and rejected after the death of his wife, a prominent judge’s daughter. Isaac was befriended by a Shaker brother who’d come to town on business, and decided to accompany the brother to his home, where he eventually meets Lacey.

The style of writing is introspective, mournful, dour, yet ribboned with snatches of joy and hope as Lacey attempts to keep memories of her happy childhood alive for her young charge. Brother Amos, the man who befriends Isaac, is a delight. But in all honesty, Isaac’s story of guilt and widowhood was a tough start to the book, and I was confused about the preacher’s household setup. The marriage of convenience took place so early in the book that I wondered what would happen to free Lacey even while she met her true love interest. Life in the Shaker community reminded me a lot of other nonfiction books I’ve read about closed societies. People are people no matter how they worship or how they live, and this early Shaker society held little attraction for me.

Gabhart’s fans will surely enjoy this story as an addition to the collection. I'm not sure the story exactly fits in the “romance” category, category, however, so if you expect any sparks to fly or relationship ups and downs between the protagonists throughout the book, you won’t find that with The Blessed.

“Available July 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

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