Echo of Hope
Set in rural Tennessee at the close of the War of 1812, this touching romance features engaging characters and an unusual setting. Reardon Valley is home to a community of faith figuring in other novels by this author, and though,I’ve not ready of any of those earlier books, Echo of Hope stands well on its own. The families of Reardon Valley are Baptists who emigrated there shortly after the Revolutionary War. Heroine Hope Underwood is the daughter of one of these families fortunate enough to grow up in this idyllic setting.
When the story opens, Hope and her friends meet the men of the town who are returning from the war, a bittersweet moment for war widow Hope. The reader learns early on that Hope’s marriage was unhappy and that Joel Underwood, her husband’s n’er-do-well younger brother, has set his sights on the young woman who lives with and cares for her elderly in-laws.
As her friends reunite with their loved ones, Hope is shocked to recognize Michael Flanagan, the long lost love she never expected to see again, among the returned men. The son of a barnburner and general con artist, Michael has spent much of his life living under the cloud of his father’s reputation – especially since he was forced to leave Reardon Valley under a similar cloud ten years earlier when townfolk suspected Michael set the fire that destroyed the gristmill owned by Hope’s father.
The author does a good job of getting inside the heads of both Hope and Michael and in showing the inner conflicts each one faces as a result of Michael’s return. Effective flashbacks show the depth of Hope and Michael’s love for one another as teens growing up in Reardon Valley, and it’s apparent that both desire to rekindle their earlier love.
The major conflict in this story is not one between the hero and heroine, but instead with the issues they have to face together with their families and the people of the Valley. Hope’s family still believes Michael was guilty of arson, and he must prove himself to all those unwilling to accept his presence. In addition, Hope and Michael both harbor grudges against people in their lives. Much is made of the need for forgiveness and reconciliation in this book, and no one is above the need to forgive and be forgiven.
One weak point of this story for me involved the author’s use of dialect in an attempt to have the characters speak in a “folksy” way I took to be an attempt to evoke the Tennessee valley setting. Used in moderation, this could have been effective, but the dialogue was peppered with dropped “g’s” and country expressions that to the modern ear almost sound stereotypical. Even worse, this style of speech is not consistently applied. Attempts to alter spelling of words to fit a character with a heavy German accent were also occasionally jarring – the respelling of words to recreate an accent or a dialect doesn’t work for me in most cases, and this was no exception.
However, I greatly enjoyed Echo of Hope. The author’s theme is conveyed effectively, without being preachy. She also did a beautiful job of showing the romantic tension between the hero and heroine. Each glance, sigh, and longing embrace was powerful; Crawford built more tension into her story than authors of some of the “hotter” novels I’ve read. While those who don’t like stories with a religious background may not care for this book, others may find it a well-written and poignant story. As for me, after having read this one, I’m certainly curious to see more from this author.