Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Myra Johnson - The Sweetest Rain

As the drought of 1930 burns crops to a crisp, Bryony Linwood dreams of cooling winter snows and the life she would have had if Daddy hadn’t been killed in the Great War and Mama hadn’t moved Bryony and her sisters to their grandfather’s struggling tenant farm in tiny Eden, Arkansas. Now Mama’s gone, too, and as times grow tougher, Bryony will do whatever it takes to ensure her family’s survival.
Michael Heath barely survived the war, and twelve years later all he wants to do is forget. A virtual recluse, his one passion is botanical illustration. Lost in the diversity of nature’s beauty, he finds escape from a troubled past and from his wealthy father’s continual pressure to take an interest in the family plantation.
When Bryony accepts employment at the Heath mansion, it’s just a job at first, a means to ward off destitution until the drought ends and Grandpa’s farm is prosperous again. But Bryony’s forced optimism and dogged determination disguise a heart as dry and despairing as the scorched earth . . . until she discovers Michael Heath and his beautiful botanical illustrations. As their relationship deepens, friendship soon blossoms into healing for wounded souls and a love that can’t be denied.

Comment: I had this book to read since 2016. I can't remember why I added it to my TBR but I must have read some positive comments about it at the time. The story turned to be interesting enough but I don't think I'd re-read it.

In this book we meet the Linwood sisters, who are helping their grandfather with the farm, after their parents died. Things are rough, even more so because of the drought that affects everyone in 1930, and it is hard to make ends meet. Bryony is the oldest and she feels the responsibility for her sisters and their grandfather, who is old but still works every day. Bryony knows things are hard and the rent is due so she decides to talk to mr Heath, the owner of the propriety where they are tenants, to see if they can pay later. Mr Heath isn't too keen on that idea but his son Michael, still recovering from the effects of the war, seems to be of a different mind. Nevertheless, Bryony is admitted as a maid to help pay the money owed but that means Michael has more time to see and think of her. With so many problems in the horizon, both personal and related to the hardships caused by the drought, is there any room at all for love?

I have said before I like stories where characters feel down on their luck but with humility and a good heart, they often conquer their hardships and find happiness, etc. I suppose this aspect was one reason for why I likely felt I wanted to read this story but I think the content was a bit too bleak at times, namely because of the way the characters felt about certain things. It also doesn't help I happened to read this at a complicated time in my personal life, after a terrible weekend (not a health nor family related issue). My mood just wasn't great to better appreciate this story...

Nevertheless, the story is valued for its content and tone, of course, my mood doesn't change that, and thinking of this element alone, I felt the overall tone of the book was one too focused on the difficulties, which is acceptable, considering the theme, but I just felt everything was too dire for too long. The characters struggled, had personal issues, faced past problems which weren't solved... I know the idea is to show how Faith in God, perseverance and forgiveness can help one feel better but I don't think the writing accomplished this for me. The elements are there, the scenes are played out, but I didn't feel that obvious connection to the characters to really see this side of things, I could only see the more negative things.

The romance is pretty thin and superficial. I know this is an Inspirational book, but the relationship between the protagonists didn't feel strong enough. I don't think the characters had enough opportunities to change and evolve by knowing one another, much less to convincingly enter into a relationship because the attention was too strong on the problems they all faced. I can understand this and would be happy enough with a slow burn or a closed doors romance to suit the genre and all that, had the writing been convincing in that regard. I don't think it was and there were times I even skipped a few passages.

What kept me reading was the doubt on how redemption would happen to the "villain" of the story and how positive things could happen after so many trials the characters faced. While these aspects were done in a very simple manner, they were also not compelling and whether it happened this way or another, would have made me feel the same. 

I suppose a word one can use for this book is boring, in the sense that the situations don't offer a lot to the reader except bleakness at times, frustration at others. Religious or inspirational subjects aside, I wish the characters had talked more, had thought more about their situation then just to focus on the bad things, I wish their personalities had been more fascinating in the big scheme, for instance Michael is an artist at heart, and the road to live this fully was just a convenient one for the plot...

Everything together made this book an unassuming one. Things are written, actions are played out but there wasn't anything about it or about the characters' interactions that really makes me want to read it again or other things by the author. There's nothing wrong with the way the author writes, but I just wasn't overly thrilled by reading this. But it is an easy story to read, with a satisfying enough ending for those who like redemption and situations where all ends well.
Grade: 5/10

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