Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton (2014)

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Western North Carolina, 1787 - Tamsen Littlejohn knows that her life is destined to be aligned with whatever man her stepfather deems suitable, that is, the man who can socially advance him the farthest in society. When her stepfather's latest attempt at matchmaking runs awry, leaving Tamsen with a bitter taste in her mouth as she watches Ambrose Kincaid backhand his slave, Tamsen rushes to the consoling arms of her mother. Her stepfather, Hezekiah Parish, changes her world forever in a horrific act of violence, leaving Tamsen desperate to escape. Little did she expect that the young man she encountered in the barn one night during her first escape attempt, Jesse Bird, would this time assist her escape plans instead of foil them as he had unwittingly done before. On the run, Tamsen has no choice but to trust this stranger who now holds her life in his very capable hands.

Jesse Bird always suspected that when love came his way, if it ever did, that he would know it on sight. The moment Tamsen Littlejohn waltzed into his life, Jesse's heart informed him beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was the one. Now to convince her of this fact that is oh, so obvious to him, but not at all obvious to her, as he helps her flee the vindictive cruelty of her stepfather and the would-be suitor she has no intention of marrying. When he was merely a toddler, Jesse's parents, whose names he doesn't know, were killed, and the Shawnee, who had witnessed the burning of their house from a safe distance, swept the young boy to safety, raising him as their own. With Case, a half-Delaware Indian for an adopted father, and Shawnee tradition running through his veins, Jesse's faith, thanks to Cade, remains strong in the one, true God. He is a blend of cultures, belonging to no one and nowhere, blowing where the wind takes him, yet now, having met Tamsen, he dreams of settling down, making a permanent homestead, if that could even be possible, if they can avoid Tamsen's stepfather, and if God doesn't have other plans for their lives.

Every new book Lori Benton publishes is like a treasure box. I never know what's going to be inside until I crack the cover, but I do know it will be spectacular. Ever since I read Burning Sky, I have been salivating for her next release. She did not disappoint. While nothing can take the place of her debut novel in my heart, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is a delight to read, both harrowing and devastatingly tragic, while maintaining the gentility and heroism I have come to expect from the characters she creates through the written word. I loved Tamsen Littlejohn, a young woman solely raised to marry well, who manages to find an inner strength she never imagined she possessed. But it is Jesse, as I suspected it would be, who stole my heart. I struggled a lot with Willa's choice for a husband in her previous novel. Even though Neil was undeniably a good man, I adored Joseph Tames-Your-Horse and still wish she could have ended up partnered with him, since he too was a good man. But in her latest work, I never struggled in pairing Tamsen and Jesse together. They were ideally matched, right from the beginning, only Tamsen didn't know it yet. And I love Jesse's restraint. He adores her almost immediately, but he holds himself back, turns his thoughts a different way, respects her, and he prays for guidance and for patience from God while he waits and hopes that her affection for him will bloom. The development of their love is beautiful to watch, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness that Ms. Benton took in giving them time to fall in love.

I will say that for the more sensitive Christian reader, be aware that there is mention of rape off-page involving a character we never meet, as well as a near-rape to a secondary character that I knew was bound to happen, or almost happen. The book is hard, it's brutal, it's violent, and it's terrifying, but it also conveys hope and faith on intense, heart-felt levels. That's what I appreciate most about Ms. Benton's work. She doesn't write sentimental fluff. She digs deeper into both herself and her faith to put a strong story on the page that is lasting. For the history buff, like my sweet sister, she also has uncovered little known facts of which I had no idea, that Carolina battled with a faction of the state trying to break off, calling itself Franklin. The attempt obviously failed, but it was a bloody and ruthless time in American history that I found intriguing because I had never heard of it before. I bought this book sight unseen because I didn't want to wait in the holds list at the library. Because I knew it would be brilliant. Ms. Benton far exceeded my every hope and now I am left, once again, to wait for her next release in 2015. I'm just thrilled that Waterbrook renewed her contract for a 3rd book and I hope and pray they continue to do so!

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