Book Review: Sarah's Quilt & The Star Garden by Nancy E. Turner

Book: Sarah's Quilt
Author: Nancy E. Turner
Pages: 402
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle
Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books
Book Source:  Public Library System
Category:  Historical Fiction, Western
Style:   First person, some violence

Book: The Star Garden
Author: Nancy E. Turner
Pages: 306
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Book Source:  Public Library System
Category:  Historical Fiction, Western
Style: First person, some violence

Sarah's Quilt Synopsis from GoodReads:

In These Is My Words, Sarah Agnes Prine told the spellbinding story of an extraordinary pioneer woman and her struggle to make a home in the Arizona Territories. Now, in this mesmerizing sequel, a three-year drought has made Sarah desperate for water. And just when it seems that life couldn't get worse, she learns that her brother and his family are trapped in the Great San Francisco Earthquake. A heartwarming blend of stubbornness and compassion, Sarah Agnes Prine will once again capture the hearts of readers everywhere. more. . .

The Star Garden Synopsis from GoodReads:

It is winter 1906, and nearing bankruptcy after surviving drought, storms, and the rustling of her cattle, Sarah remains a stalwart pillar to her extended family. Then a stagecoach accident puts in her path three strangers who will change her life. In sickness and in health, neighbor Udell Hanna remains a trusted friend, pressing for Sarah to marry. When he reveals a plan to grant Sarah her dearest wish, she is overwhelmed with passion and excitement. She soon discovers, however, that there is more to a formal education than she bargained for.  more . . .

My Take:

I'm lumping these two reviews together because in my opinion, for all intents and purposes, they are one book.  At least, they are one story.  However, Ms. Turner would have had a 700-page book on her hands had she treated it as such, which can be daunting to many readers (myself not among them, of course).

Sarah's Quilt, a sequel to These Is My Words, picks up some ten years after the end of the first book, her children all but grown.  However, her child-rearing troubles continue as she gradually becomes the matriarch of her close-knit family: tutoring her nieces and nephews, bonding with her grandchildren, nursing the sick back to health, rescuing her brother and his family from the wreckage of the great San Francisco earthquake, and making the tough decisions no one else wants to make.

Although she no longer fights of Comanche or Apache, she yet must still wrangle with cattle rustlers and greedy land barons.  Teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, her Arizona cattle ranch continues to struggle and she battles drought, poisoned wells, crazy old coots, pushy neighbors, wild fires, tornadoes, and rebellious children.  She meets with plenty of opposition to struggle against and prove her mettle, shows her heart of gold, and dallies with a bit with romance both welcome and not.  This volume ends with more tragedy and heartbreak, rain, family solidarity and a tenuous truce struck between herself and Maldonado, her grasping neighbor.

The Star Garden picks up a few months later.  The truce is broken as Maldonado starts gun-running into Mexico and conspires with the railroad to steal her land.  Her love life picks up with her new neighbor, further sparking Maldonado's ire, and her sons bring home their own love interests to keep it interesting.  An all out range war ensues.

This volume focuses a great deal on the dynamics of the Prine family and Sarah deciding first if she loves Udell Hanna and then if he loves her or just wants a wife for his house.  The self-protective caution life has forced upon Sarah over the years serves Udell in poor stead.  As is the case with turbulent romances, communication degenerates to an all-time low and Sarah resigns herself to widowhood for the rest of her life.  Even so, Udell proves himself.  

Ms. Turner's characters are well-written and lovable.  The reader becomes as attached to the third generation as is Sarah herself.  Her aged are venerable, vital to the family's survival and bereaved when lost.  I especially appreciate the fact that she assaults the middle generation with their own new beginnings.  Even parents of grown children cherish dreams and make journeys of self-discovery.  Every phase of life means change which the family must face as a whole.

While both these books are written in Ms. Turner's inimitable style and strong voice, I found them somewhat less compelling than her first book.  Perhaps because Sarah is more mature, more seasoned, more certain of herself and less passionate about the men in her life.  Neither Moldanado nor Hanna claimed center stage as did Jack Elliot.

Tucson, AZ 1909
While there are plenty of life-and-death situations and the books are full to the brim with heartbreak, neither book is the white-knuckle ride that was These Is My Words.  But then, that seems the way of maturing.  You grow up, you stabilize, you start to get some ballast so that when the worst gales rage, you aren't at the mercy of the wind quite as much.  Trouble is, you get too much ballast and you swamp.

Bottom Line:  While neither are the tear-jerker of her first book, Sarah's Quilt and The Star Garden make welcome additions to Sarah Agnes Prine's story.  Ms. Turner steps up and delivers everything the reader came to expect with These Is My Words.

FTC disclaimer:  I borrowed this book through the public library system and received no compensation from the author or their agent for this content.

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