Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: Promise Bridge

Summary: "This is a promise bridge, and it bridges a promise flowing from your heart to mine. It can't never be broken...the promise is part of you now, understand."

Thus begins an unlikely friendship between Hannelore Blessing, a plantation mistress, and a slave girl named Livie. As the young women are launched on a harrowing journey of awakening filled with shared risks and nurtured promises amid whispers of the Underground Railroad and the rising tension preceding the Civil War, they discover their ability to trust, love, and ultimately take action.

Aided by Colt, a devoted suitor hoping to win her heart, Hannah comes to understand that true friendship means letting go, so that Livie can be free to find a life and destiny all her own. However, a vicious slave catcher stalks the two women-and his unseemly motives and relentless pursuit threaten all that Hannah holds dear, as well as put her loved ones in unimaginable danger. -- NAL

If you follow my blog at all, you probably already know that I love historical fiction -- it's one of my favorite genres. But you might not know that one of my favorite time periods for books is the time surrounding the Civil War. So when I learned that the new novel PROMISE BRIDGE by Eileen Clymer Schwab took place in the years leading up to the Civil War, I was thrilled. I'm not sure that I've read many books that take place during these years, and I was definitely looking forward to this story about the friendships that develops between a young plantation mistress and slave girl.

I found PROMISE BRIDGE to be a great book and it really did have a little something for everyone. There was history, suspense, and even a little bit of romance. And, there was the major theme of friendship which ran throughout the novel -- and I'm always a sucker for a book about female relationships. The book had quite a few surprises, some bigger than others, and it definitely kept me on my toes. I have to admit that I didn't see quite a few of the twists coming, and I love that I was surprised by the complexity of the characters. In addition, I found the romance/love elements to be extremely sweet and meaningful -- and not overdone at all.

The story that took place in this novel was extremely interesting; however, I think what I most appreciated was the character development. I absolutely loved Hannah and Lizzie, but I also thought quite a few of the secondary characters were interesting in their own right. And even those characters that I didn't love (or possibly even hated) were still well-developed. I found that almost all of the characters were multi-dimensional and their actions definitely caused my to think about the times they lived in. I enjoyed that many of the characters in this novel exhibited moments of bravery and I even considered their actions to be heroic. It was so refreshing to appreciate so many characters in one story.

Despite the horrific events covered in this story (remember it was a time when slavery was rampant in the South), I still felt that the book ended with a feeling of hope. Many of the events that took place between the pages of PROMISE BRIDGE were disturbing and some even caused my to tear up, but I loved that the novel demonstrated the strength and resilience of humans -- it's truly amazing what humans can do when faced with adversity. The book definitely ended in a good place for me, but my initial reaction when I finished was that there is more to Hannah and Lizzie's stories. We'll just have to wait and see..

It was evident to me that Ms. Schwab thoroughly researched this time period as well as the setting before beginning work on this novel. She seemed to have a grasp on southwestern Virginia in the years leading up to the Civil War, as well as the dynamics between the plantation owners and slaves. She also seemed to have a definitely knack for the dialect. I was quite impressed with her portrayal of southern life.

PROMISE BRIDGE would make a wonderful book club selection, especially if your group enjoys historical fiction and/or stories about female friendship. It would also be a fantastic pick for a mother/daughter book club or one for teens. In fact last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a book club/author event at Aaron's Books with the author Eileen Clymer Schwab. All of the members of the book club (as well as the other attendees) absolutely loved this book, and there was definitely not a lack of things to discuss. There is a reading guide in the back of the book (along with an awesome interview with the author), but I wasn't able to find an on-line version of the questions. The guide has twelve very interesting questions and covers such topics as the meaning of the title, female friendships, secrets, freedom, racism/slavery, romance/love, and many more.

I can't rave enough about how much I enjoyed listening and talking with Ms. Schwab. She is a first-time novelist who is extremely passionate about her story and the characters she created. I loved learning about the research she conducted before writing this novel, and I have to admit that her excitement about her story was infectious. It was so interesting to hear the reasons why her characters acted in a certain way as well as the scoop on her next books -- her second novel will be out next summer and I can't wait!

Bottom line -- PROMISE BRIDGE is definitely a book for fans of historical fiction and well worth checking out!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I'll admit I haven't read much about the Civil War, but what I have read has really captured my imagination. (I'm really hoping War Through the Generations Challenge picks that time period soon!) It is hard to put your finger on the appeal or all the differences from the wars overseas - maybe because it was internal. This sounds like a wonderful book! Great review!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

Whenever we talk about the Civil War or slavery in my comp classes my students seem almost incapable of comprehending war right here at home...and families fighting against each other. I try to remind them that some children grow up with war in their very own neighborhoods and streets every single day. It scares me when generations "forget" because that usually means the past will eventually repeat itself.

I use historical fiction whenever possible to help my students "remember" as best they can through some other method than a history textbook. This sounds like a great book!

bermudaonion said...

I'm not sure that I've read anything, except Gone With the Wind, set during that time period. This one sounds fascinating!

Anonymous said...

I recently read Prayers for Sale which takes place after the Civil War, with some flash backs. I have only just started getting into historical fiction. This one sounds like a must read.

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

This sounds like a wonderful read. I enjoy historical fiction but don;t seem to read much of it these days. I think I may add this to my wish list and give it a try. Great review!

Beth F said...

I love books that take place around the Civil War. I'll have to keep this author in mind.