REVIEW: Donna Alward’s THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL, Or “Loved I Not Honour More”

House_on_Blackberry_HillWhen Miss Bates saw the bucolic, small-town romance look of Donna Alward’s latest, The House On Blackberry Hill, she was afraid that one of her favourite category romance writers had gone the way of treacly-sweet-eat-pie-at-the-local-diner-to-be-cured-of-your-bright-lights-big-city ennui. Step right into a Thomas Kinkade world. In category romance, Alward’s canvas contains small towns, but they’re Albertan small towns (how MissB loved the Argentinian-set one) with grasslands, modern cowboys, and space demanding independence and solitude. In her latest effort, the town is small and picturesque, Jewell Cove on Penobscot Bay in Maine, but the canvas is broader, the narrative development expansive and involved. Alward is a romance writer of subtlety and complexity and House On Blackberry Hill, though its trappings have the feel of small-town contemporary romance and some of its elements are derivative, its characterization and narrative unfolding are signature Alward: thoughtful in its portrayal of love’s messiness, family, guilt, coming to terms with the past, growth, acceptance, redemption, and the road to happiness. Alward’s palette shows growth in this novel and growth, as we know, comes with growing pains. Alward’s Her Rancher Rescuer is one of Miss Bates favourite 2014 reads: it’s tight and zippy and interesting, with heroine and hero who have to grow up and extend their understanding to be together. We find no less in House On Blackberry Hill, but Alward also weaves family history, creates places and houses who are as much characters as heroine and hero (Abby Foster, school teacher and heiress of the “house on Blackberry Hill, and Tom Arsenault, contractor) an interweaving of three love stories, two of which are tragic, one of which is set in WWII, and a ghost story. It took Miss Bates much longer to “get into” this novel than the instantaneous love she feels when she opens one of Alward’s categories romances, but it won her over, surprised and moved her. It reminded her of Karen White’s Tradd Street series in mood and circumstance, but containing a more complete, more satisfying romance. Continue reading