By Ann H. Gabhart
Revell - September 2013
It is 1864 and the nation is still torn apart by civil war when Heather Worth discovers she is with child. She has been working as a laundress with her husband's army unit, but when the army gets orders to march south to Tennessee, Gideon insists Heather go home to have their child under safer conditions. Heather agrees, but returns home to another kind of devastation--deaths in the family and a father who refuses to forgive her for marrying a Yankee.
With nowhere else to turn, Heather seeks refuge at the Shaker village of Harmony Hill, where her great aunt Sophrena lives. There, after many peaceful years at Harmony Hill, Sophrena is having doubts about her Shaker path. Both women are in need of love and forgiveness--whether given or received.
Shaker Village, Kentucky
I have enjoyed Ann Gabhart's Shaker series, which explores the lifestyle and beliefs of an unusual religious group in Kentucky, and the novella Christmas at Harmony Hill (Revell) is a welcome addition. The stories are set in the Shaker village of Harmony Hill, and while this novella features a character from one of the previous novels, each story stands alone and can be read in any order.
Christmas at Harmony Hill is a well-researched novel with a vivid sense of setting. (For some great pictures of the Shakers and their village in Kentucky, visit Ann's Shaker board on Pinterest.) One indication of an excellent historical novel is that it makes the reader desire to know more, and that's the effect Ann's series has had on me. The Shakers were a peace-loving group who strived for simplicity and offered hospitality to all in need. Their goal was to live as those in heaven lived: "Without acrimony. Without the stress of individual family life. Without wars and conflicts. With simple peace." But to accomplish that, all family relationships were dissolved, so that "children lived in a children's house and the mothers were now sisters to their sons and daughters" - a belief so incomprehensible to me that I can't see how this group existed for so many years. And worship consisted of spirit-filled dancing in which the sins of the world were shaken off.
God's hand of care and provision is seen in Sophrena's initial longing to reconnect with her family after spending years in the Shaker community, which led Heather there in her time of need. The growing relationship between these two ladies, and the way Heather, in the weeks leading up to her delivery, reflected on what Mary's feelings for the Christ Child might have been were special touches that I enjoyed.
Even though the war kept Heather and Gideon apart for most of the book, Ann did a great job of fleshing these characters out and making their love feel real. I loved the scene where, as Gideon's company was marching away, he broke rank for one last goodbye kiss. Heather reflects: "He was ready to dance to whatever tune the day might be playing. But he promised to always give her the first and last dance."
Christmas at Harmony Hill is a sweet story of healing and hope, told against the backdrop of the Shaker community who not only accepted Heather, but showed the love of Christ in their own way. I enjoyed this story, as well as Ann's other books, and recommend it to those who enjoy inspirational fiction.
Ann H. Gabhart
Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of several Shaker novels--The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed, and The Gifted--as well as other historical novels, including Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, and Words Spoken True. She lives with her husband a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Visit Ann's website at annhgabhart.com to learn more.
Christmas at Harmony Hill is available November 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
This book was provided by Revell in exchange for my honest review.