Book Reviews

a life once dreamed

Another book review, coming’ at ya! This book was one that sounded great, and I decided to take a chance on it. It had it’s good qualities and it’s bad qualities, but overall, I was grateful for the opportunity to read it!


Six years ago, a shocking secret sent Agnes Pratt running in search of a new start.
She found it in Penance, a rugged town of miners and lumberjacks in the Dakota Territory,
where she became Miss Aggie, respected schoolteacher and confirmed old maid.
But the past has a way of catching up with people.

When childhood friend and former sweetheart James Harris accepts a position as the town doctor, Aggie’s pleasantly predictable days suddenly become anything but.
James wants to know why Agnes left behind the life they had dreamed of creating for themselves–
but he is the one person who can never know.

In the shadows of the Black Hills, can a healing light be shed on the past?
Or will the secret Agnes can’t seem to outrun destroy her chance at happiness?

It’s no surprise by now that I love the period of the Old West. The struggles, the triumphs, the challenges . . . I love reading about it all. And this book was definitely full of those things.

I had never read a book from this author before, and I found Rachel Fordham’s style enjoyable. I loved the details, I enjoyed all her descriptive words. I felt like I was there, immersed in a portion of history.

For the most part, the characters and their stories all designated with me. Agnes — which, by the way, is an old-fashioned name that I adore and feel is too seldomly used and should absolutely be resurrected — is a remarkable heroine. She had left behind her circumstances in the big city of Buffalo, New York, and headed to this o’dunk town of Penance. Her back story was slowly told, throughout the story, and it was enjoyable to discover who the girl was. The circumstances surrounding Grace’s birth, the friendship Agnes had with Hannah — all were so well told and added a depth of realism to the story.

The minor side characters were well written, as well, and gave the town of Penance a character. Minnie, the ol’ busybody always looking to matchmake somebody, was only slightly annoying and yet she meant well. The mayor and his wife were hospitality itself. Tommy and his questions made me smile, ’cause boys and their questions can always be slightly humorous. James Harris, the doctor, was a soft-hearted guy who cared about the townspeople. And then baby Fred absolutely stole my heart away.

By themselves, each of those characters were interesting, unique. The story had potential, and I was enjoying it immensely. But remember when I mentioned good qualities and bad qualities? Yeah . . . well, three characters in particular contributed to the bad qualities.

Firstly, Agnes. The stubborn, bullheaded woman, who ran away from what was plaguing her in the city. A sad story, one that happened all too often, unfortunately, but the author allowed the circumstances to make this character into a woman who wouldn’t have been recognized by women out west. Seldom do we hear of single women who traveled out to the Dakota territories, never married, but taught school for years. I’m sure it happened, but this woman was so dependent and a tad bit feministic, that it made this otherwise well-written character a bit on the obnoxious side to me.

Sam was the second character. He seemed to me to be in the story mainly for the emotional conflict, to help create the love triangle that eventually formed. He had a backstory, but it wasn’t a complicated one and it was repeated over and over and over and over and . . . yeah. This character needed a larger purpose in the story, more than just to confuse other people about emotional attachments.

Then there’s James Harris. The wealthy son of a wealthy man who travels out west to seek his lady love. While Agnes and James had a history back in New York, there was tension there between them, obviously. They hadn’t seen each other for years. And he suddenly shows up, out of the blue, and demands answers. And when no answers are forthcoming, it’s like he assumes that they’ll just pick up where they left off, and everything will be hunky-dory.

The romance that follows was one full of sappy emotions. I mean, they kinda worked together to care for baby Fred, they did help with the fever, and they worked together to help Minnie. But with everything they did together, their thoughts were always about each other. Were they impressing the other? What was the other one thinking now? What was s/he thinking of me? Wow, s/he looks/talks/walks/acts nice/beautiful/handsome/winsomely . . . and it was just too emotionally driven. You know my opinion of emotion-driven romance already, and suffice it to say that this is definitely not something I’d want a girl to read who was already romantically inclined.

But the book wasn’t all bad — far from it. That’s why I started with the positives — it had it’s good qualities, and I quite enjoyed those. I appreciated the strong pro-life/adoption message the book contained. Children cannot be punished for the sins of their parents, and little babies in less-than-ideal situations still need love and care. The description of the town and the characters well written.

I would recommend this one for those who are older and who like romance and don’t mind love triangles. Me, I personally prefer something a little less gushy, with a stronger message/theme running throughout it. I’m giving it three stars, and I am thankful to the publisher for a copy of the book to read.

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I am a 23 year old young lady who is redeemed and saved from my sin only by the grace of God. A bibliophile at heart with a love of history who desires to see the Word of God practically applied to all aspects of our daily lives -- in our homes, in the grocery store, in the political realm. I strive to put my jumbled, chaotic thoughts down onto paper -- reducing them into black and white rows, letters, sentences. Into some semblance of sanity. And I share them here with all of you, where I can challenge you, make you think, and cause you to ask questions. I am the oldest of eleven children living the country life in the deep south.

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