The Kansas community of Fairland anticipates the arrival of their new minister and in recent months, late in 1882, postmistress Grace Cristler has communicated with Reverend Dille via letters, answering his questions about the little town, and developing affection for the man who pens thoughtful missives.
Theophil Garrison grew up under the loving influence of his saintly grandmother, but was roped into his cousins’ train-robbing plan. When they fail and are apprehended, Theo fled the scene, evading jail time. Now an angry cousin is out to avenge Theo’s duplicity, and he’s on the run. He encounters a fatally ill traveler–a minister. Seeing a way to keep hidden, Theo trades identities with the man, dons his fine black suit, carries a Bible, and prays that he’ll be accepted as Rufus Dille.
Once in Fairland, if Theo’s true identity is uncovered, what will be left of the world he has built for himself, Grace, and those in the town who have come to love and accept him?
Before we even talk about the story I have to ask..where the gravy is Cooperville, Missouri!?! The book gives me enough to go on that it is right in my neck of the woods. An hour stage ride from Springfield and somewhere south of Stockton. (Straight from the book in a round about way.) Not on Google nor on any map I can find. The Mother person, who is so deep into genealogy that I feel like I grew up in the Sheppard Room at the Springfield Greene County Library and/or cemeteries, would know if it had ever been a town right? Wrong! I’m totally OK with a fictitious town but it did send me on a slight goose chase for a bit. And since I’m wound up in the geography of Cooperville I need to delve into another roundabout the book brought me. Theo is traveling on horseback from Cooperville to his birthplace in Birds Nest, Iowa (I didn’t go hunting for that one, I’m only partly somewhat familiar with a small area of Iowa that I used to visit friends in) to escape his cousin. He stopped in Stockton (I used to drive there like 3 days a week) and had passed Warrensburg (yup, know that one too…don’t drink the water!). He is trying to decide where to go and what to do for supplies on the road at this point. And he talks about going ‘westerly’ to Marshall. I had to stop, second guess myself by grabbing a map, and prove myself right. Unless he was on the St. Louis side of the state (and based on dropped locations he isn’t) Marshall would be east for him, not west. OK, I’ve digressed enough for one little slip up in geography. Let’s move on shall we?
While I honestly and truly enjoyed this book I do have to nitpick for a moment. And explain why it’s only a 4 star review on Goodreads and Amazon. And no, it’s not over geography! The pace was a little slow. I found myself wanting to tell Theo and Grace just to spit it out already. Stop wallowing in your mess and find a way. Stop hiding from what is really going on and deal with it. Stop but for the love of gravy hurry up. I know, a bit of a multi sided conundrum. We all knew what ‘needed’ to happen. We didn’t know where it would eventually lead but we knew it had to happen. But both of them stayed mired in their own thoughts, their own fears, their own bubble and not reaching out with the details. Both characters were beyond blessed with the influence of Mrs. Kirby. Aunt Bess was an amazing resource of faith, hope, love, and guidance for Grace and Theo. But even with her, they stumbled over truly sharing their turmoil. The truth is, like most people, I ruminate over my own insecurities and fears before actually dealing with them. I recognize that in these characters and I want to tell them to buck up when I won’t tell myself that. My only other real issue was over describing. That is a huge pet peeve of mine in books and in life. Probably, something I do myself if I was more self aware. Telling me you ate amazing stew is perfect, please don’t go back and describe the meat and potatoes and carrots floating in a flavorful broth. Too much. Moving on.
I loved this book. I loved the characters and how very well developed they were as people. I loved how faith was so interwoven into the story and didn’t feel ‘forced’ like I find in other Christian books. I loved watching each character shine in their own truth from Aunt Bess who was solid in her faith and understanding of herself, even when it hurt. Uncle Philemon who knew what he thought was right and then really put his faith on the line to figure out if it was his desire or God’s. Theo, poor sideways Theo. Raised by a loving Granny who taught him about Christ and love and the Bible but then sent to live with the antithesis of this after her passing. Now on the run from his cousins, who have promised retribution over what they believe he cost them in life, he finds a way to come into his own as a person, man, and Christian. Watching him grow and blossom, through his own fears and even wayward choices during this revelation made my heart feel good. Can’t forget Grace. Sweet, loving, somewhat backward Grace. With the attention of Aunt Bess, the love of Uncle Philemon and a little faith in herself she truly grows from a Christian woman to a woman of Christ. Trust me, there is totally a difference. Lastly, I can’t leave out Earl. Part of me feels like I should have started with Earl. A man on a mission…vengeance. In his determination to extract the revenge he promised his cousin Theo before heading off to prison, Earl finds himself on a trek of discovery. I truly believe that had he not had the experiences he had, the sidetracks and derails of his journey, then he would never have had the opportunity to become the man he was capable of being. I think Earl is the perfect example of the idea that everyone you meet is for a reason. A reason to learn, to grow, to discover yourself and your place in the world. Not one of us would have become who we are today without the people (both positive and negative) we have crossed paths with. Earl is a shining example of this.
Kim Vogel Sawyer is an author I want to read more of. This book, despite my occasional frustration that may or may not have ended in me yelling at the characters, touched my heart and fed my soul. I am so grateful that Blogging for Books provided me the opportunity to read this book free for review. Without that opportunity I wouldn’t be able to share it with you. And yes, it was free. But all thoughts opinions and star ratings are my own.
About Kim Vogel Sawyer
Award-winning, bestselling author Kim Vogel Sawyer wears many hats. As a wife, mother, grandmother, song-singer, cat-petter, and active participant in her church’s music and women’s ministries, her life is happily full. But her passion lies in penning stories that share the hope we can all possess when we place our lives in God’s capable hands. She and her retired military hubby live on the beautiful plains of Kansas, the setting for many of Kim’s books. In her free time, she enjoys quilting, traveling with “The Hubs,” and spoiling her quiverful of granddarlings..
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