Beyond the Ashes
By Karen Barnett
The Golden Gate Chronicles, #2
Where better to rebuild and face one's fears than in 1906 San Francisco, a city rising from the ashes?
Ruby Marshall, a young widow, is certain she'll discover new purpose assisting her brother Robert with his cancer research, but she doesn't anticipate finding new love.
Dr. Gerald Larkspur dreams of filling his empty home with family, but he'd always hoped it would be a wife and children. In the aftermath of the great earthquake, the rooms are overflowing with extended family and friends left homeless by the disaster. When Robert's widowed sister arrives, the close quarters seem close indeed.
Ruby and Gerald's fledgling romance is put at risk when Gerald develops symptoms of the very disease they're striving to cure. Together they must ask---is it worth a second chance at love when time might be short?
I chose to read Beyond the Ashes because I had never read any of Karen Barnett's novels, and I'm very glad that I did. Readers will find a lot of realism in this story, dark themes contrasted with spiritual insight and the promise of hope - all elements that I appreciated. Although a sequel to Out of the Ruins, this story can stand alone.
This historical romance, set in 1906 shortly after the San Francisco earthquake, has a lot going for it - one of the main things being the historical detail. The city was coming back stronger than ever, great losses overshadowed with new life. Karen's writing is solid and the depth of her research shows, especially when it comes to the medical knowledge in the early 1900s. It was a time when researchers hoped that X-rays would be the miracle cure for cancer, not realizing the costly danger that overexposure to radiation would bring, and many scientists died from the very disease they were trying to cure as a result. From the squalor of refugee camps, to Cliff House's grandeur, to the realism of medical procedures and treatments, Karen did a great job at vividly conveying the realism of the time - even through the humor of Ruby's driving lessons! Be sure to check out the excellent Pinterest board that Karen put together for this book.
Another strength is the medical element and I found Gerald and Robert's joint X-ray research into the treatment of cancer fascinating, as they worked with "long hours, limited funds, and dying patients." For me, the best parts of the novel are when Ruby and the other characters were actually working with patients, and the narrative outside of those sections sometimes seemed a little slow. One of my favorite scenes was when Ruby read from the book of Job to the dying Dee, who commented, "That's my God."
I love the truthfulness of this quote: "God doesn't always choose the easy road for us. But He always chooses the best path." Past experience made Ruby strive for control, fearing that God wouldn't answer her prayers for protection if she trusted Him completely - and that is something to which many of us can relate. Eventually, through Gerald's influence, Ruby realizes that her only need is God. A spiritual journey like this is what I love about Christian fiction, but I longed for more insight as to how Ruby reached that point.
At times the plot seemed a little uneven, slow in places, certain things not fully explained or developed. However, the plot picked up speed toward the end. The conclusion was a little abrupt, but the way for book #3 is obviously paved. Gerald and Ruby still face trials and their future is uncertain - but isn't that reflective of life? I'm fully and emotionally invested in their story and look forward to the next book. Recommended to fans of historical fiction.
Karen Barnett is the author of Beyond the Ashes, Out of the Ruins, and Mistaken. Named the 2013 Writer of Promise by Oregon Christian Writers, Karen lives in Albany, Oregon, with her husband and two kids. When she's not writing novels, she loves speaking at women's events, libraries, and book clubs.
Connect with Karen online at karenbarnettbooks.com, Facebook, and Twitter.
Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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