Monday, September 26, 2011

The Muse Reviews: Treasure from the Storm by Ellen Sherrill

A delightful Christian historical romance written by a talented author/friend of mine.

Apart from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, which arguably is partly science fiction/fantasy with its time travel elements, I simply don't read many romances, no matter what kind they are. I am not the typical romance reader. But I do like a good book with characters that stand out and impress themselves into my memory. And that's what you get when you read Treasure from the Storm.

Ellen Sherrill is one of those authors who comes up with characters that leap off the pages. And that makes reading Treasure from the Storm a delight. From the moment you see heroine Sugar Magnolia in action, you will fall in love with her. (So will Noah, the man she tends back to health, but more on that later.)

One of the challenges a romance author faces is that it's not easy to write heroines who stand out. The more unique the heroine is, the harder it may be for readers to imagine themselves in the heroine's shoes. But a heroine who is too bland can turn off people who read for more than just a casual fantasy. This is why I don't read romances much.

But Sherrill masterfully pushes aside this dilemma by creating characters, like Sugar, who are so likable and relatable that you end up rooting for them. It's like watching a good friend in a happy relationship. You just root for them to win. Sugar becomes that kind of a friend to the reader: she's a hard worker; she's a fighter who has faced hardship but is determined to rise above it; she is kind to people that society normally tosses aside. Like I said, you'll just like her.

When she finds a man washed up on the shore during a terrible hurricane, she risks herself to rescue him and nurses him back to health. He finally wakes, and discovers he has amnesia. This is a common trope, but in Sherrill's hands, you won't mind, because Noah (as he decides to call himself) is also likable. He's polite and caring; he engages with everyone on the staff, playing no favorites; and he is clearly a gentleman. (What female reader wouldn't love that?)

In pursuing their interest in each other, Sugar and Noah have to contend with the possibility that he'll recover his memories and discover that he is not free to pursue her, for any number of reasons. And if he doesn't recover his memories, what will he do for a living? In his "Noah Doe" state, he has no money, no prospects, and no idea what to do with himself. After his memory starts to return, other complications arise. Sherrill manages a nice sense of rising and falling action to keep you reading.

The Christian element is present, but not overdone. It's easy to see and believe that faith is a part of the characters' lives, though Sugar has some doubts that arise from her troubled past. And the local pastor does give two short sermons, but they are not overly preachy. 

A nice element to the book is the look at what it is like to be a member of a minority (specifically African-American) in Biloxi, a southern stronghold, over a century ago. The subplot ties nicely back into the main plot, and it enriches the overall experience of the novel.

My only criticism is that one of the subplots, featuring an old flame of Sugar's, seems to drop off rather than being tied up neatly. But Sherrill is a growing novelist, and her work stands far above many other Christian novels I've read. So I can overlook this one small flaw.

It needs to be said that Sherrill is a friend of mine. We attended the same writers group while she worked on this novel, her fourth. She is a great person, and I want her to do well. But it also needs to be said that if I didn't like her book, I wouldn't be reviewing it here. With all sincerity, I can highly recommend Treasure from the Storm.

Bottom line: Treasure from the Storm is one of the best Christian romances I have read. I'd read it again for the delightful characters who are so lifelike that I wouldn't be surprised to run into them in the local Walmart. (Or wherever characters from novels hang out.) If you like romances, Christian books, or historical fiction, this one is worth reading. Order it through Westbow Press or Amazon.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

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