27 December 2011

Review: Tomorrow's Sun by Becky Melby

Emily Foster is a woman on a mission – to renovate and profitably sell the 1840’s property she has just purchased in Rochester, Wisconsin, population 1100. She has fond memories of one summer spent in the old house, the summer nineteen years ago when she found God and had her first kiss. But Emily is not going to let sentimentality (or her own disabilities) stand in the way of her goal, but the house has mysteries hidden in a bundle of 160-year-old letters, a hidden cellar and an old quilt.

As Emily begins to renovate the house, she hires handsome handyman Jake to help, and he slowly begins to knock down her walls, both literally and figuratively. They discover a hidden cellar and suggestions that the house was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses used by slaves seeking their freedom by escaping to Canada in the 1850’s. Meanwhile, Jake has problems of his own, in the form of help and interference from his 12-year-old twin nephew and niece. Their mother has died and he suspects their stepfather is threatening and mistreating them. He wants to gain custody, but can’t unless he can prove they are being abused - which they deny.

Tomorrow's Sun is a story told in two parts, in two separate time periods. The main story is the present, the secondary story flashes back to the 1850’s, to Hannah Shaw, her secret beau Liam, and their secret lives as conductors on the Underground Railroad in a town where many people are pro-slavery, and a time when it is an offence to assist an escaped slave. (The title, Tomorrow's Sun, comes from an old Negro spiritual song quoted in the book). Their story is almost more interesting than Emily’s, as it is told in a combination of letters found in the present, and excerpts from the past.

I enjoyed Tomorrow's Sun, but I found that Emily was a hard character to get to know, because of her unexplained resolution not to form friendships in her new home, and her determination to see it as a temporary stop on her way to achieving her goals. We see that she is a driven person; what we do not see (at least initially) is what is driving her and why. This, to me, was the main weakness in the plot, as it made it hard to relate to Emily and therefore made her difficult for me to like. It is not that she was unlikeable; it was more than she felt unknowable. For most of the book, the other characters (Jake, Adam, Hannah, Liam) were more knowable, and therefore I was more engaged in their stories. But I did like the way the author wove the theme of slavery, both physical and emotional, into the story, and the way Emily eventually rediscovered her faith in God as she thawed emotionally.

Tomorrow's Sun is the first book in Becky Melby’s Lost Sanctuary series, with the second stand-alone book, Yesterday's Stardust (Lost Sanctuary), due to be published on 1 June 2012.

Thanks to Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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