Carrie Daly has been living with her brother, Henry, on the family farm Hickory Ridge, Tennessee. She has long been courted by Nate Chastain, the local bookseller. Although Carrie cares a great deal for Nate, she has not yet accepted his long-standing marriage proposal, unsure if by doing so she would be settling for a marriage of convenience and complacency in the absence of all-encompassing, passionate love. Carrie has been alone since losing her husband, Frank, during the Civil War. Nearing her fortieth birthday, each days brings Carrie closer to never fulfilling her dream of having a family and home of her own.
Griff Rutledge is a handsome, charming wanderer who has come to town to train Majestic, a stunning Thoroughbred, to for the upcoming horse race. The citizens of Hickory Ridge are hoping that the race will draw crowds and help the local economy. Jobs are scarce and many local businesses have failed since the Panic of 1873 gave way to a depression that, three years later, shows no sign of abating.
Carrie encounters Griff and Majestic in town as she is completing preparations for Henry’s marriage to Mary Stanhope, a widow with two young sons, Caleb and Joseph. Instantly mesmerized by the mysterious stranger, Carrie impulsively invites him to the wedding, setting local tongues atwitter. As Carrie and Griff get to know each other better, she realizes that he is kind and compassionate. Despite her own misgivings, Carrie’s feelings for him deepen, but she is convinced that Griff is the kind of man who will never settle down, especially in a small town like Hickory Ridge. After all, he hails from Charleston, South Caroline, where he and his prominent family enjoyed a life of wealth, influence, and privilege. Moreover, Carrie is sure that he is harboring many secrets, including some related to Rosaleen Dupree, the beautiful redhead who has taken up residence at the women’s hotel about whose past little is known.
Can Carrie and Griff open their hearts to each other?
Beauty for Ashes is the second installment in author Dorothy Love’s Hickory Ridge series. The first, Beyond All Measure, told the story of Ada and Wyatt Caldwell, good friends of Carrie Daly’s. They appear in Beauty for Ashes, as well, along with their adopted daughter, Sophie, whose parentage comes into play in this latest installment. Readers can readily enjoy Beauty for Ashes without having read the earlier book, but will find themselves wanting to do so, especially considering that the third novel, set to be published in 2013, will find a grown-up Sophie making her way as a newspaperwoman who uncovers the secrets of her past.
Carrie Daly is a compelling, empathetic everywoman who struggles to find meaning in her day-to-day existence. As the story opens, she has lost her parents and husband, and is discontented with the direction of her life, although she prays regularly for guidance about and insight into her future. She often feels that God has forgotten and abandoned her, although her strong faith keeps her from ever completely giving up. She loves her brother Henry and wants him to be happy, but his bossy new wife and her undisciplined children prove to be the last straw. As she takes up residence in the Veranduh, the local’s women’s hotel, Carries feels she has also lost the only home she has ever known. But when Henry loses his job at the local mill, Carrie is called upon to come to the aid of her new sister-in-law and nephews for the sake of her brother and the family his marriage has so tenuously forged. Carrie is tenacious and long-suffering, discouraged but never totally devoid of hope, especially so long as Griff Rutledge remains in Hickory Ridge and seems to be as enamored with Carrie as she is with him.
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion,to give unto them beauty for ashes,the oil of joy for mourning,the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness . . . that he might be glorified.Isaiah 61:3
Griff left his South Carolina home when his father announced that he would be leaving his entire estate to Griff’s brother. Bitterly certain that he would never win his father’s approval, Griff struck out and never looked back. He served during the Civil War and since then has drifted from place to place, sometimes gambling. He is perceived by the upstanding citizens of Hickory Ridge as a dandy ne’er-do-well, welcomed by few. Worse, he appears to have a secret past in which the scandalous Rosaleen played a role. For all of his outward shortcomings, Griff’s kind-hearted, chivalrous and, indeed, honorable nature gradually reveals itself. Carrie cannot help feeling attracted to him and no one is more surprised than Griff to find that his feelings for Carrie are not only genuine, but powerful enough to make him reconsider the choices he has made thus far. Could he really settle down in one place and be a respectable family man?
Love throws plenty of complications and disappointments in the way of Carrie and Griff’s undeniable love for each other, including economic pressures, the demands of extended family members and Carrie’s sense of obligation to them, and the open disapproval of friends and neighbors alike. One outstanding supporting character is Deborah, the disabled wife of the local pastor, who inspires and encourages Carrie, unconditionally loving her and serving as a remarkable role model for resilience and perseverance.
Readers will find themselves cheering for Carrie each step of the way, confident that Griff’s presence in her life will be steady and his heart true. But the path to true love is never easy and Love keeps the journey interesting as Carrie meets each challenge head-on, if not always with a contrite and obedient spirit. Love expertly inserts enough details about the Caldwells’ story to keep those who are familiar with those characters interested, but not so much information that new readers are confused. And, of course, she deftly sets the stage for the latest sequel which will center on Sophie and, hopefully, bring readers up to date about what has happened to Carrie and Griff in the interim. Now that I have discovered the Hickory Ridge series, I will definitely read Beyond All Measure and am eagerly anticipating the publication of the next installment.