Appalachian Serenade: A Novella (Appalachian Blessings) - Sarah Loudin Thomas Miracle in a Dry Season - Sarah Loudin Thomas Until the Harvest - Sarah Loudin Thomas

Bethany House Publishers kindly sent me a copy of the most recent book in this series, Until the Harvest. Having not been familiar with the series before this book, I had to check out the earlier stories and acquaint myself! 



Book #1 (kind of) -- Appalachian Serenade, a Kindle novella prequel. It's 1945 in West Virginia and Delilah, age 34, has recently become a young widow. She had left town right after her marriage, but now has come back to her roots, living with her sister, brother-in-law, and their teenage daughter, Perla. The sound of childless Delilah's biological clock is near deafening, but she can't imagine she holds much appeal for any man in town at her age. Little does she know, the owner of the merchantile store, Robert (age 50), is most interested in getting to know this pretty and smart woman! But he has secrets of his own that may be deal breakers for Delilah. 


This was a sweet, fast read that gave me a real feel for the community. The townspeople are all trying to get by, still trying to recover from recent losses and wounds from WW2, but the spirit of all these folks, their general tendency to shrug off bad days, smile and say "maybe tomorrow" was so heartwarming. Robert and Delilah were nicely written true-to-life, I thought -- especially Robert, the way he's gentle with Delilah but then comedically exasperated with trying to understand her moods or behaviors. I was excited to really get into the series after finishing this prequel! 


Book #2 -- A Miracle In The Dry Season. It's now 1954. This story focuses on what happened with Perla, Delilah's teenage niece from Appalachian Serenade. Perla seemed to follow a similar path to Delilah's, as far as leaving town only to find herself coming back years later. In Perla's case, however, Perla is coming back as a young unwed mother of a 5 yr old girl. Perla's now in her twenties, the father of her child a mystery all the town gossips love to marinate on. Perla rekindles a friendship with childhood acquaintance Casewell (a minor character only barely mentioned in Appalachian Serenade). Casewell quickly finds himself falling for Perla, wanting to take care of her and her daughter, Sadie. Perla is definitely interested, but fears her past and the gossip it fuels will kill any chance at a successful relationship ...with anyone. Author Sarah Thomas then works elements of the "Woman At The Well" biblical story into Perla's tale. 


The town is going through rough times. There's a severe drought ruining everyone's crops, wiping out back up food supplies for families throughout the community. Some are whispering that the drought is God's way of punishing fornicators, while others argue he's punishing the gossipers obsessing over the fornicators. But Perla has this one quirky thing about her that may help. She can't explain it but whenever she cooks, she never runs out of ingredients. They seem to just replenish themselves! She tries to use this gift to help the townspeople but they cannot let her past go, feeling the food would be tarnished if prepared by a "harlot." Some even label her a witch for her abilities {there were some things in this part of the story that seemed to echo Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter} Casewell is one of the first to step up and call out his neighbors, saying (in so many words) "Excuse me, but y'all call this Christian behavior?! Girl is trying to help you not starve and you're on about what she does on her own time? Noneya business, that's what that is!"


This was my favorite of the series. I liked the light touches of magical realism woven into Perla's story. I also thought this particular story had a personal message about not being so quick to judge someone solely based off of what you hear about their past, because everyone has their own struggles, doing their best to work through them. I liked how the story encourages people to embrace flaws and past mistakes as just part of how those you love were created and how they grew to be the people they are. Also, how it's never too late to forgive or ask for forgiveness. Beautiful story. There's also a good bit of humor in this novel! 


Book #3 -- Until The Harvest. This book takes us up to the year 1975. Perla & Caswell's son Henry is in college but desperately wants to be a professional fiddle player. A family tragedy sidelines his plans. Instead of the original plan, he finds himself having to come home to help out on the family property. Young neighbors Margaret (who is near Henry's age) and her little sister Mayfair come over to help out Henry's family. In the process of helping out on the property, little Mayfair develops a good friendship with Henry, while Margaret is more reserved. There are things about Henry that she's a little judgmental about at first, but she learns to get to know him rather than put all weight into stories about him. Similar to Perla in Thomas' previous book, Miracle In A Dry Season, Mayfair seems to have a special God-given talent. Perla's was the ability to easily create food for the masses out of just a few ingredients, while Mayfair seems to be a healer. She can put hands on someone or simply be near them and heal all wounds, internal and external. But it comes at a cost. Mayfair herself is battling juvenile diabetes, and every time she tries to heal someone, she seems to fall gravely ill. It is through a particularly bad bout when it's feared that Mayfair may lose her life that Henry and Margaret find themselves bonding with each other through their mutual grief. 


While I did like this story, I think it was my least favorite of the series. I didn't connect with this story or its characters as strongly as in the previous novels. There are some themes and morals within this story -- such as learning forgiveness, not jumping to snap judgments or feeding into petty gossip, etc -- that were explored in the previous novel but I was glad to see them reintroduced in a new way here. The one word of caution I might offer to Christian readers is that this book does have some more risque subject matter than the other books in the series. Here, Thomas works in such topics as moonshining, premarital sex, one night stands, unplanned pregnancies into the storylines of certain characters. I was also a little disappointed to see everything SO cleanly wrapped up at the end. It may just be a matter of personal preference, but sometimes I'm a little turned off by everything in a story falling perfectly into place just so.... it just strikes me as unrealistic. I like my life a little rough around the edges :-) Still, as a whole Thomas has put together a heartwarming series set in a lovely country community, with a pace that flows nicely. Bound to appeal to many!