16 January 2014

Review: Her Good Name by Ruth Axtell

Thought-provoking Historical Romance

Espy Estrada is the oldest of the town drunk’s eleven children. She left school early to get a job in the cannery to support her family. She and her next-oldest sister shoulder a lot of the burden of raising their younger siblings, as well as working alternating shifts so there is always someone home to look after the babies.

Warren Brentwood has had every advantage money can bring: an education, and a job in the family firm. But he find’s he’s boss in name only: his father still wants to make all the decisions, including who he should be seen with socially. Espy and Warren are thrown together when the pastor asks them to participate in a project to entice young people back into church, and they both find themselves looking forward to the meetings for more than the project …

I liked both Espy and Warren as characters. I often find the male lead character in a romance is less well-developed than the female, so it was good to meet a hero with a mind of his own, who faced his own set of internal and external conflicts rather than merely providing a foil for the heroine. That’s not to say Espy was weak; quite the opposite. Her background has given her a strong personality and the ability to weather the storms of life. Well, most of them.

Her Good Name is a Christian novel, and I thought the faith elements were particularly well done. At the beginning, it seemed that Espy and Warren attended church more out of habit than personal faith (especially with Warren, as church attendance was clearly an expectation in his social circle). But both characters grew spiritually as the novel progressed, in a way that felt natural for their characters.

Every now and again I read a book which is more than the sum of its parts. Her Good Name was one such book. While it was set in Maine in the 1890’s, there were several themes that resonated today: the tendency for people to not believe the victim, especially if she is poor and female. The difficulty of reaching out to minister to people from the ‘other’ side of the tracks (I suspect many contemporary mission efforts fail for much the same reasons). And the attitude to women in the workplace that still persists with some people (as though there was ever a time when women didn’t work). This novel made me think about some of these deeper issues without resorting to sermonizing. Well done.

You can find out more about Ruth Axtell (who is also published as Ruth Axtell Morren) at her website.

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