Chamomile Winter is the sequel to Terracotta Summer, a Mormon inspirational novel I reviewed last year. But it’s not so much a sequel as the second half of the story; neither book is really complete on its own. That said, this one is a slight improvement over its predecessor. Although I still don’t think either book would appeal to non-Mormon readers, the characterization is stronger in this book, and the writing is smoother as well.
The ending of Terracotta Summer left several characters adrift. Ruth, a young woman who is investigating the church, is in America. She is getting serious about a young man, but she has issues from her past that must be resolved. Her feelings about religion are very tied up in her feelings about her brother, who is a member of the church and abused her when she was young. Ruth decides that she must go back to England and confront him, so she can forgive him and get on with her life.
Ken is still serving a welfare mission, but has been moved from Scotland to Southport, England (which also happens to be where Ruth’s brother lives). Ken pines for a girl in Scotland as he struggles to get along with his companion, Max. Max had a rough home life and seems determined to skate through his mission while doing as little actual work as possible.
Patrick, who became a part of the IRA in the first book, struggles to break ties with them. He has moved to Ireland to be with his family, and he’s on probation after committing a really stupid crime. Though he’d like to escape the IRA’s tentacles, they find him and threaten to harm his family if he won’t aid their cause. He has a sister who is very concerned about him, and a young woman who likes him despite his flaws. Still, he feels trapped into the IRA forever, and he can’t think of a way to get out.
Like Terracotta Summer, this book’s appeal is limited to Mormons. The terminology just isn’t going to make much sense to others. There are a few somewhat explanatory scenes with Ken and Max teaching a family who are investigating the church, but overall the book will likely raise more questions than it answers for non-members.
On the positive side, characterization seems much stronger in this book. These are relatively short books, and it’s hard to get to know the characters just by reading the first one. This time around they seemed a little more real and a little more interesting. Ruth, who came off as somewhat hostile in Terracotta Summer has mellowed here and become more likable. Ken, who spent a lot of the first book mooning about women, seems more serious about life.
What also helps is that Bradshaw is willing to give these characters flaws. Often religious characters are portrayed as perfect, but Bradshaw shows us a lackadaisical missionary and the abusive brother – who happens to hold a respected office in the church. Both these characters redeem themselves somewhat in the end, becoming better people than they seemed to be.
The main drawback here (aside from the books’ limited appeal) is the ending, which seems very rushed. Every plot thread is tied up in the neatest of neat bows. Characters propose or get married, and solve all their problems. There is even an odd (and unbelievable) natural disaster that conveniently helps rid the cast of one of those “loose ends.” It almost seems as if Bradshaw got tired of writing and ended the whole thing as quickly as she could. Real life is simply not that neat.
But even with those reservations, I’d probably recommend it to those who read the first book. Chamomile Winter is the better of the two, and it does have his moments. If you are (a) Mormon and (b) want to know how this story ends, you may find this worth your time.