CASTLES IN THE CLOUDS
Meet Larkspur Linwood, a young woman who has a passion for teaching, but yearning for more than life as a small-town Arkansas schoolmarm. Young and impressionable, Lark joins a college professor who is staring a school in Kenya. White picturing herself bring the light of knowledge to hundreds of African children eager to learn, the menial tasks she is assigned at the school aren't so different from life on the farm where she grew up. Worse, her fragile heart is broken. When Lark's fantasies come crashing down, she returns to the US, recruited by Professor Anson Schafer and put to work in the founding of schools and relief efforts for those struggling through the Depression. As they work side by side, Lark begins to realize that the deepest satisfaction comes not so much from what you do, or where you do it, but from the attitude of your heart.
Book Two of the Flowers of Eden series is just as scrumptious as Book One! Johnson creates such memorable characters that I easily slipped back into life with the Linwood family even though it's been a year since we last met up (The Sweetest Rain, c2015.) I was quickly immersed in rural Arkansas, circa 1932, eager to catch up with Bryony, Lark and Rose. However, I think Castles in the Clouds would read fine as a standalone novel so do not despair if you missed the first book. There is some carry over with setting and characters but each book focuses on one of the sisters, so you do get a complete story.
It's hard to be the girl building castles in the clouds during the Great Depression. Lark's an interesting mix of naivete and determination. She doesn't always understand the full consequences of her actions but she works her way through every obstacle -- even the self-made ones. Talk about resilient! And while her family doesn't always understand her, they do support her. The Linwoods are a scrappy little family with big hearts and deep faith. There's something a wee bit Waltonish about them. I keep picturing Grandpa Walton in the role of Grandpa Linwood. :-)
Anson and Lark's love story is fraught with complications that seem insurmountable at times. Both ignore instant attraction in favour of professional courtesy. At least, that's what they tell themselves -- mostly they are both just running scared. But as their lives intertwine emotions become charged and a happily ever after seems inevitable...until it doesn't. Gotta love an author who keeps a reader on her toes.
I love the challenges and contrasts this time period brings to the story. The historically accurate portrayal doesn't always make it palatable and the realism blindsided me in places. There are big issues that don't get wrapped up in a neat little bow like racism and poverty and the drought. But all that makes for an emotionally gripping read...the exact kind I like to savor.
If you would like an opportunity to win a copy of Castles in the Clouds please leave a comment below or email me at kavluvstoreadATyahooDOTca. If you post a comment and add your email address, please use AT and DOT instead of @ and . in the address to protect yourself from spammers. If you enter the draw via email please remember to put the title in the subject line so that it's easy for me to spot your entry. Draw will be held and winner announced on Sunday September 18 2016. Offer open to international readers. Good luck!