River Rest by Susan Page Davis (review)

River-Rest-orchard-final_davis_teatinpressUnable to depend on her father to heal the crumbling family, Judith is afraid to trust the mysterious neighbor, Ben, who lives with his own grief.
In rural Maine in 1918, Judith Chadbourne gives up her teaching job after her mother’s death to help her father with her five siblings. But when her father sinks into deep depression and her brother Joel is drafted, the household chores and farm work may overwhelm her. Neighbor Ben Thayer offers to buy their farm, shocking Judith and angering her father. An outsider from New York, Ben seems rich and mysterious, but his heart aches from his own loss. Judith accidentally breaks the antique crystal Christmas ornament her mother loved. The splintering star echoes her family’s shattering. Ben’s efforts to help make Judith suspicious, but when Joel falls critically ill at the army camp, Ben’s aid brings the beginnings of trust. After the armistice, and the community and family start to recover from the strain of the war, but Judith learns independence is lonely. When Ben is injured, she is the only one who can help him. Can love take her beyond the frozen Maine winter?  (from the author’s website)

Lately I’ve been fascinated by the idea of using family history as a basis for fiction stories, so when I read about this novel my interest was peaked (okay, so “increased” might be more accurate, as I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Susan Page Davis).  River Run is a great example of how this can be done.  In it, the author has used the diary of a great-aunt and historic events as the basis of  a well crafted story that feels very real.

Part of what gives this such an authentic feel is the descriptions of early 1900’s farm life, as the Chadbourne’s harvest apples and complete various other chores.  Another aspect is the pacing and plot development, both of which help this story feel a bit like a non-fiction narrative at times.  In particular, this is felt in the evolution of Ben Thayer from an older friend of Judith’s brother and a neighbor that she is both curious about and frightened by to a possible love interest.

This isn’t the typical plucky heroine storyline often found in the romance genre.  Rather, it is a story of a reserved young woman dealing with grief and the responsibilities of keeping her family and family farm together as, with her father giving in to his grief and her brother drafted into the army, they fall more and more on her shoulders.  More on the plucky side is her 18 year old sister.  As much as Judith tries to guide her with the moral teachings of their mother, this is 1918 and great change is sweeping over the world as the end of World War I approaches – and this is shown through the younger sister’s attitudes and disregard for the more traditional societal expectations that Judith feels bound by.

An interesting, ultimately heart-warming and satisfying story.  A quick read for those who enjoy historical fiction based on real people and true events.  Personally, as I consider trying my hand at writing again, I think this is a solid candidate for a “mentor text.”

My thanks to the author, who provided an ebook copy of River Rest for my honest review.


River Rest by Susan Page Davis | Tea Tin Press, May 2016 | ebook, 175 pages

Oh, and isn’t that a lovely cover?  Once I found out that River Rest was the name of the Chadbourne’s farm (and read the apple picking scene) it seemed very fitting for this story.