Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Review: Spring for Susannah

I love Christian historical fiction that takes occurs in places I know.  So I jumped at the chance to review Spring for Susannah, the first novel by Catherine Richmond, which takes place near Fargo starting in 1873.

My family was immigrating into Dakota Territory only a couple of years later than this, though further south.

About the book:
Booklist says, "Inspired by [folk] lyrics, Richmond arrives on the inspirational fiction scene with a moving debut novel. Readers will be filled with hope that Susannah will learn the true meaning of love. Highly recommended where inspiring, romantic historical fiction is in demand."

Hundreds of miles from home, Susannah faces an uncertain future as a mail-order bride on the untamed Dakota prairie.

When her parents die suddenly, and no suitors call, Susannah resigns herself to the only option available: becoming a mail-order bride. Agreeing to marry her pastor's brother, Jesse, Susannah leaves the only home she's ever known for the untamed frontier of the Dakota Territory.

Her new husband is more loving and patient with her than she believes she deserves. Still, there is also a wildness to him that mirrors the wilderness surrounding them. And Susannah finds herself constantly on edge. But Jesse's confidence in her-and his faith in God's perfect plan-slowly begin to chip away at the wall she hides behind.

When she miscarries in the brutal Dakota winter, Susannah's fledgling faith in herself and in God begins to crumble. Still, Jesse's love is unwavering. Just when it seems like winter will never end, Susannah finally sees the first tentative evidence of spring. And with it, the realization that more than the landscape has changed.

She looks to the future with a renewed heart. Yet in her wildest dreams, she couldn't predict all that awaits her.

About Catherine:
Catherine Richmond was focused on her career as an occupational therapist till a special song planted a story idea in her mind. That idea would ultimately become Spring for Susannah, her first novel. She is also a founder and moderator of Nebraska Novelist critique group and lives in Nebraska with her husband.

For more about Catherine, please visit

My take:   First, I really did enjoy this book.  Told primarily from the point of view of Susannah, it also includes portions told by Caleb and some other minor characters.  One part I particularly enjoyed was that each chapter started off with a one- or two-line prayer, usually of Caleb's, that served as a chapter title of sorts.

The story did tend to be more "romance" than I usually prefer, and that aspect will keep me from handing it to my kids to read.

I loved the idea of reading about the very early settlers of the Red River Valley though.  This story starts less than two years after Fargo was founded... and includes the first hotel built in Fargo, along with details about Fort Abraham Lincoln out in Mandan.  Those touches were fabulous.  The aspects of Susannah adjusting to the wide open, treeless plains and the long winters without neighbors were great.  The nearest neighbors -- Ivar and Marta -- oh, I wanted them to be a bigger part of the story.  I would have loved it more if they had been Swedes instead of Norwegian, but there are more Norwegians in the Fargo area, so that was realistic.

As far as the historical aspects go, though, there were a lot of details that did not ring true for me.  There ended up being a lot I went and looked up either as I read, or after.  Like Susannah talking about the landscape being formed by Lake Agassiz... which wasn't named that until a few years after the story ended.  Okay, so a lot of these details did turn out to be accurate or plausible... but enough didn't.  And for someone who isn't terribly concerned about little details of North Dakota history, well, it is highly unlikely that this will bother you at all.

It did not keep me from enjoying the story.  But it did leave me raising an eyebrow and reaching for Google...

You can read other people's opinions of Spring for Susannah at the LitFuse Blog Tour page, and find more details on entering a Kindle giveaway!    

Disclaimer:  I received this book through the LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  


Cathy said...

Debra, Thank you for sharing about Spring for Susannah on your blog. How wonderful that your family were Dakota pioneers! We had a terrific time camping around Valley City while I did my research - what beautiful country. Good catch on Lake Agassiz - I assumed he'd named the lake when he published his research - I should know better than to assume anything! The change I made intentionally was adding people to Valley City. As far as I could tell only 8 people lived there in 1873 - all of them men! May God bless your day!

Debra said...

Cathy -- The Valley City thing was another one I questioned, LOL!

I was pretty impressed with the research you had to have done... and my family came about five years later, settling another 50 or so miles south of where this is happening. Swedes, if that isn't obvious from my review!

The book felt pretty real... and I will look for more from you :)