|Author Carolyn Steele|
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When Tessa Darrow discovers her father burning his Civil War uniform, she has no idea how his secret will devastate their family and drive them from their home in North Carolina. The family journeys along the Oregon Trail, but tragedy strikes, leaving Tessa and her father to build a new life in Soda Springs, Idaho.
If you're familiar with Carolyn's writing, especially her first book, Willow Springs, you know she can't help but create interesting characters. Soda Springs is no different. She writes real life. You will gasp in many places. Heartwarming and heart wrenching, each chapter has a hook, meaning, you're hooked, so don't even try to put down the book. Get comfortable.
Soda Springs does not disappoint. I was hooked from the very first chapter due to Carolyn Steele's beautiful word tapestry. That's what gets me--the charm, descriptions, colloquy, and images conjured while reading beautiful words.The book transported me to another time and place. That's what I love about historical fiction, my favorite genre to read. And this one also has some romance as well.
Carolyn Steele weaves in real life people from Soda Springs to interact with her fictional characters which makes me want to do more research about the era and the location--1860s Idaho. It also hails back to the South during the end of the Civil War, recapturing the turmoil of that time period, and the effects war can have on those who fought and lived through it.
As mentioned, the book begins with an angst-ridden bonfire which precipitates the Henry Darrow family's flight from North Carolina.
Here's an excerpt from the book:
Following the wagon master's bellow, Tessa climbed into the back of the wagon to sit beside Bethany. Bawls from the oxen and mules mingled with the shouts of anxious men and cracks from whips to start the procession of wagons and herds that would eventually lead to Oregon.
"I'm not scairt," Bethany whispered.
Tessa felt a lurch as the wagon fell into line. "No reason you should be," Tessa said, but she pulled her sister closer. Watching the town grow smaller against the pinking dawn on the horizon, she felt the embrace of anxiety tightening around her heart.
"Are you scairt?" Bethany asked, clutching Tessa's arm between her tiny hands.
"Naw," Tessa lied.
The heroine of the story, Tessa Darrow, leaves a life of luxury for the dusty Oregon Trail. Later, after sickness and many other trials, she takes on surmounting responsibilities in the burgeoning Idaho territory in post-Civil War days.
Here's another book excerpt:
Sitting on the side of the wagon, she watched the shadows from its hickory bows flickering in the firelight. Like ribs of a giant whale, Tessa thought. And there, in the belly of the decrepit beast lay her father--eating only what Tessa could guide into his mouth. With each swallow, Tessa would pray the food would stay down long enough to nourish him.
Once ensconced in the town of Soda Springs, I was introduced, along with the Darrows, to a faction of Latter-day Saints I'd never heard of--the Morrisites. True story. There was a war between the followers of Brigham Young and the followers of Joseph Morris, a wannabe prophet. After a few deaths and injuries on both sides, the Morrisites escaped to the Idaho Territory and beyond. This book is about those who settled near Soda Springs. This true story, and some of its historic characters, are beautifully woven into the fictional plot lines. The book is not a religious one, though mention is made of the LDS religion and the Morrisite dissenters. You'll have to read about it. I had no idea!
The tale takes us from North Carolina to Idaho, beginning when Tessa Darrow is nearly fourteen. We watch her grow into a lovely, young lady, and eventually a young woman, fit to be married--but to whom? She has three marriage proposals in all; one she would sooner forget. Which suitor does she choose? No spoilers here. You'll have to read through the twists and turns and, truth be told, the nail biting (mine), to find out. And while you're reading, enjoy the descriptions of the area surrounding Soda Springs, such as Grays Lake and Sulphur Springs. There's even an eventful trip in the story to Great Salt Lake City.
|Original Soda Springs Settlement Site, now covered by the Alexander Reservoir|
Tessa's breath caught in her chest, and she fairly tingled with excitement. "Oh, my. Have you ever--?" The valley spread before them in a haze of green, gold, and purple, set against a majestic blue mountain rising in the distance. A crystalline lake stretching northward glittered in the afternoon sun. Great flocks of cranes, geese, swans, and smaller birds rose in swells--circling, dipping, and darting in an avian ballet. A dozen deer grazed fifty yards downhill to their right; two, with their ears keen, kept watch on the intruders while the rest munched on chokecherries and wheatgrass.
"This must be the valley that the Pierssons told me about," William whispered.
"Grays Hole," Mrs. Holt said, her voice filled with reverence. "Jens spoke of it often. He used to trap beaver, muskrat, fox--you name it--up here." As if on cue, a red fox popped its head up from behind a boulder, cocked it quizzically at the group, and then scampered off into the brush.
"Grays Hole? Well, that's a perfectly hideous name. That's a lake in the distance, not a hole." Straightening her back, Tessa folded her arms and assumed her most officious demeanor. "We shall rename it Grays Lake."
William folded his arms as well and, smiling, gave a curt nod. "Thus it shall be."