The Fire in Ember
Back in the late 60’s/early 70’s, the Western ruled. Or so I’ve heard. I don’t remember much of that time, but I do remember that just about every rerun on TV from that era had something to do with wagon trains, smoking guns, sheriffs, or ranch owners. Fans of those reruns should love this second book in Mills’ series about the Timmons family.
John Timmons has risen from the ashes to make a life for himself – and his brothers and mother – that would make his late father proud. But on his way to a neighbor’s ranch to buy yet more land he runs into trouble: A young boy is about to be hanged for horse stealing. As a deputy, John feels it is incumbent upon him to stop these men from taking the law into their own hands. As a decent human being, John’s heart can’t help but go out to the child whose days are to end so quickly and violently. He pays the fine for the stolen horse and takes the boy home with him to work off the debt. He is none too pleased with young Bert, who refuses to give his last name or where he’s from, but claims he had not stolen the mare in his possession.
Bert knows nothing good can come of people knowing that her family are a bunch of wanted men – or that she’s a girl. Her heart breaks at deceiving the handsome, chivalrous John, and she wishes he hadn’t brought her home. Her brothers have told her more than once that it is her fault they turned bad and that everything she touches is cursed. She can’t help but feel that she will bring trouble to the wonderful family that has taken her in. Once her deception is discovered, she wants to run – but the family insist she stay. But will they continue to want her around when they know where she comes from – and the guilt and shame she carries from her past?
I liked the Timmons and Bert. There was nothing that especially stood out about them, but they were all decent, caring people who loved the land, the Lord, and each other. John takes awhile to forgive Bert for pulling the boy-girl switcheroo, but once he sees her in a dress he is drawn to her like a moth to a flame. He is cautious, though, and unwilling to get too involved with someone he knows nothing about – especially someone who is so clearly running and hiding from something big. John and Bert’s courtship is nothing exceptional – and is assuredly not romantic – but it is sweet and heartfelt. The two did a lot of talking towards the end, which allowed us to really get to know who they were and how they will work as a couple.
The secondary characters are pretty par for the course, though some stand out. Leah Timmons, mom to John and his brothers, is especially well drawn, portraying the strong, capable frontier woman which the Westerns made famous. She cooks a mean meal, sews, plants, cans – and in a pinch can ride out and shoot with the best of them. She does a a great job of keeping her brood in line. There is a secondary romance involving her – be warned though, that romance apparently started in A Woman Called Sage, so we are seeing only the tail end of it.
The biggest positive to this book is that it brought to mind all the wonderful things I remember about the old Western reruns. The excitement of taming a new, young land. The camaraderie of people living in frontier towns. The horses, the hard riding, the fight of the righteous against the unlawful. Sunday church, followed by a big Sunday dinner. Baths on Saturday. Quilts on the bed and cornbread on the stove. These things may be cliched, but they are all the images of the West many of us grew up with and they felt warm and familiar and wonderful. The sense of nostalgia was so strong I felt like dragging out my Little House books and visiting with the Ingalls family once more. Or at least finding an episode playing on television.
Mills version of the West lands somewhere between Wilder and True Grit. It captures the home spun (like Laura did) very well, but it also captures the roughness and lawlessness of a time when one man and a handful of deputies were responsible for upholding order for long, lonely stretches of land. Here, Bert’s appearance coincides with that of some cattle rustlers. The sheriff and John can’t help feeling they are all tied together, but how? Is Bert really the front woman for a bunch of thieves, or is she just the victim of bad timing? And why is she so anxious about being questioned about her past?
That last question is a good one. Bert’s decision to hold on to her secrets drove me crazy for much of the book. I understand not spilling your guts to strangers, but when it comes time to defend yourself, doesn’t it make sense to share the truth with people who have done nothing but show you kindness? Just call me yellow, cause dang it, I’d sing like a canary. Bert, on the other hand, hangs on for several chapters more than I felt was reasonable. That affected my grade quite a bit.
This is an Inspirational and the religion level here is high in the beginning, then evens out toward the middle and end. Bert is not a Christian at the start of the novel and there is some evangelizing that goes on. I felt there was some judgmenatlism going on with the villain, although I didn’t catch it till the end. Those factors added together made me think this book would probably be a good fit only for those that read within the Christian Inspirational market.
The action and adventure provided by the cattle rustlers and their defeat, the sweet, if low key romance, and the well written, nostalgic image of the West still made this book an above average read. I would recommend to any fans of Inspirational Romance.