Attention all romance addicts who are tired of the fact that every historical romance is set either in 19th century America (mostly the west), 18th or 19th century Britain (Georgian, Regency and Victorian) or the middle ages. For all those who have asked the question, "Why aren't there any historical romances set in the 20th century?" veteran author Dorothy Garlock has an answer. "Now there are!"
With Hope is the first of a planned trilogy that will use the 1930s as a backdrop. This first book is a most promising beginning and will open up for us a time and place that are in fact almost as remote from the present as Regency London or medieval Scotland.
Garlock sets her novel in southern Oklahoma in 1932. The Depression is getting worse; farmers are unable to make a profit on their crops; the climate has turned dry and hostile. Worst of all, there is no hope that things will get better.
Henry Ann Henry is the daughter of a relatively prosperous farmer. Her mother had abandoned both husband and daughter to pursue the more exciting life in Oklahoma City. As the story begins, 24 year old Henry Ann is returning to Red Rock from burying her mother. Accompanying her is her 15 year old half sister; the Henrys had already taken in another of the mother's bastards, a son now 20. These are good people.
Henry Ann and Isabel are given a ride to the farm by the new near neighbor, Tom Dolan. Tom has recently moved to the next farm with his wife Emmajean and his young son. The town doesn't know what to make of the Dolans, especially the wife who comes from a prominent Texas family but whose behavior seems strange.
When Henry Ann gets home, she discovers that her father is dying. She now faces the challenge of keeping the farm going and caring for her two half siblings. Her new neighbor offers her his help and support.
Tom Dolan's circumstances are daunting. He was railroaded into marrying Emmajean, only to discover that she is mentally unstable. The only bright point in his life is his young son Jay. But Emmajean is a danger to Jay; she sees him as the cause of all her problems. So to protect his son, he asks Henry Ann to take him in. This brings the two together, brings them closer, and ultimately brings them to fall in love. And yet Tom is trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman who is falling ever deeper into madness.
But this is merely the barest bones of the story. What struck me as I was reading With Hope is the incredible texture that Garlock provides. While the romance is clearly at the center of the story (actually, there are two nicely done secondary romances as well), there is so much more. There is a telling portrait of small town life in an America that is on the cusp of becoming modern. There are 30s-only events like dance marathons and air shows. There are rich descriptions of the many people who lived in these rural areas – the town gossip, the shrewish wife, the "poor white trash," the black "auntie," the itinerant hobo, the bootlegger and so much more.
Rich – that is the word that comes to me as I think about With Hope. Real is another way to describe this book. These are real people with real problems and in Garlock's sure hands they come alive to the reader. Readers who prefer their romances played out against a rich, textured background, who enjoy reading about ordinary people who find extraordinary love, who want to explore a different time and place – these readers will enjoy With Hope.
Interestingly, I had never read Dorothy Garlock before. But I will read her again. You can be sure that when the next installment of her trilogy, With Song arrives in the stores, I will be waiting. And I imagine I will be checking her backlist as well to see if she brought the same rich texture to her more traditional westerns.
So if you are one of those readers who wants to see romances set in different eras, if you enjoy novels that effectively recreate the past, if you like strong heroines, attractive heroes, well done plots, and well developed secondary characters, then read this book. I'm glad I did.