Review: The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett

Screenshot_2017-06-15-22-48-28-1Take a step back in time with me today as we journey to 1927 Washington state and the beginnings of a majestic Mount Rainier National Park! The Road To Paradise kicks off a new series, “Vintage National Parks”, from author Karen Barnett and Waterbrook Multnomah publishers, featuring historicals set in different parks across America. For the outdoor or travel enthusiast, this is an “armchair” journey not to be missed!

About the Book

An ideal sanctuary and a dream come true–that’s what Margaret Lane feels as she takes in God’s gorgeous handiwork in Mount Rainier National Park.The Road to Paradise It’s 1927 and the National Park Service is in its youth when Margie, an avid naturalist, lands a coveted position alongside the park rangers living and working in the unrivaled splendor of Mount Rainier’s long shadow.
 
But Chief Ranger Ford Brayden is still haunted by his father’s death on the mountain, and the ranger takes his work managing the park and its crowd of visitors seriously. The job of watching over an idealistic senator’s daughter with few practical survival skills seems a waste of resources.
 
When Margie’s former fiancé sets his mind on developing the Paradise Inn and its surroundings into a tourist playground, the plans might put more than the park’s pristine beauty in danger. What will Margie and Ford sacrifice to preserve the splendor and simplicity of the wilderness they both love?
 
Karen Barnett’s vintage national parks novels bring to vivid life President Theodore Roosevelt’s vision for protected lands, when he wrote in Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter: “There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”

Review

This book is a scenic journey in itself that winds through rugged mountain landscapes, subtly treaded witty banter between the lead characters, and deeply carved lessons of faith.

It’s truly an experience reading it, with the setting and era as vividly portrayed as the hearts of Margie and Ford. Karen Barnett expertly expressed the awe, wonder, and respect one should have for Creation as a beautiful testament to God’s design and plan. (I want to vist Mt. Rainier now!!!!) Margie and Ford are an extension of that Creation, serving as examples and instruments of God’s expression; Margie through her reliance on faith and Ford through his discovery of the true source of strength.

Let’s talk about my favorite aspect of the story! I love, love, loved how Margie lived out her faith. And that it was an essential part of who she was, to the extent that she would not entertain a romance with someone who was didn’t share her beliefs and deep convictions.  While she never denied her attraction to Ford, she clearly made the call to witness where she could and let God lead Ford the rest of the way, if it was His will for them to be together like that. She stood her ground, and I was cheering her on! This is an important point of contention in real life, and it comes up sometimes in Christian fiction, but I just really appreciated the way it was handled by Karen in this particular story.

The Road to Paradise has a broad appeal with its moments of action and adrenaline-pumping adventure in the mountains, a sweet romance, an up-close “waltz” with nature, lessons in faith, AND a bit of an underdog-vs.-power-hungry rivalry story. The colorful side characters, including the wildlife, add great dimension and subtle humor. And, the “man-‘o-the-mountains” hero caught off-guard by love is a wonderful bonus! (Who doesn’t love a rugged, stetson-wearing hero?)

 

Sincere thanks to the publisher, Waterbrook Multnomah, and the author for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

 

Review: “Newton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace” by Jody Hedlund

I think it’s safe to say most people are familiar with the hymn “Amazing Grace”. What you may not know, however, is the story of its author, John Newton. He had perilous experiences that led him to a place of redemption and repentance before his time as a pastor and figure of influence in the late 1700s. Exploring this time in his life, Author Jody Hedlund has written Newton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace, a novel adaptation of the early story of John Newton’s life and romance with Polly Catlett. Interestingly, Polly’s influence is not often connected with her husband John (or at least not to my knowledge), yet it is present and important to his legacy. Though the novel is considered an inspired-by-true-life work of fiction, its historical accuracy and detail is astounding and enlightening.

About the Book

newton-and-pollyAmazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found

Now remembered as the author of the world’s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father until the night he hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.

An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?

Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.

Review

As I have noted, Jody Hedlund pays magnificent attention to historical detail with this novel. She has skillfully woven the love story between John and Polly over an accurate timeline, no small feat considering the good length of time their relationship spanned before his moment of repentance and their eventual marriage. Along with this realistic relationship, John Newton endures trials and struggles, some of his own doing, while learning the gift of forgiveness and provision of God even in dire circumstances.

Both Polly and John’s personal growth from beginning to end was engaging and interesting. In particular, their spiritual arc was emphasized. It was easy to empathize with them, understanding their doubt and questions amid cultural norms. Both had misconstrued approaches to God; Polly thinking she could earn His favor, John thinking he could prove himself on his own, not in need of a God who has allowed tragedy to become his family in the path. Both of them are similar in this respect, though their distance from God stems from different reasons, yet both find their way to faith and realizations that they are sinners only redeemed by God’s grace.

What I most appreciate about Jody Hedlund is her straightforwardness and elegance in presenting a story — in this case, she doesn’t shy away from tough subjects like the slave trade and lifestyle of seamen during this era. Instead, she presents reality and frames her characters with a hope for redemption. With this book in particular I recognized an emphasis on living with integrity. It takes the little known story of John Newton’s early life and displays it with a bright light on Polly Catlett’s complimentary encouragement. The result is a story of page-turning drama with a sweet romance made all the better for the fact that it’s true.

 

Thank you to Blogging for Books and Waterbrook Mulnomah publishers for the complimentary review copy. This review reflects my honest opinion.