The Courtship

Head Over Heels

A Kiss to Dream On

The Marriage Bed Sweeter Than Wine

A Heart Full of Miracles
by Stephanie Mittman
(Dell, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-22556-6
Nobody does Americana romance better than Stephanie Mittman. She lovingly recreates the small towns and small farms in the midwest at the end of the 19th century, thus transporting the reader to a different world. A Heart Full of Miracles is vintage Mittman.

Eden’s Grove, Iowa, is like any other small farming community. It has a few stores, a local newspaper, a doctor’s office, a Grange Hall. It did have a church, but that burned down a bit before the story opens. So the Reverend Merganser has to preach in the Hall. He worries that the lack of a church will lead the local Methodist bishop to try to find a more suitable pastor than a reformed alcoholic lay minister with a large and unruly family.

The Reverend’s’ daughter Abby is a sunny, happy young woman. The word winsome comes to mind when describing her. She has a good job working for her brother’s newspaper. There is but one thing she needs to make her life perfect. She has to convince Dr. Seth Hendon that he loves her as much as she loves him.

Seth is fourteen years older than Abby and still tends to think of her as the child who was his beloved sister Sarrie’s best friend. As the story opens, Sarrie has recently died of complications from the scarlet fever she caught as a child. Seth had become a doctor because of Sarrie’s illness. Her death and all the other inevitable failures that were the lot of a physician in the days before antibiotics and miracle drugs have combined to convince Seth that he wants nothing more than to leave medicine and Eden’s Grove behind. Abby sets out to convince him that this is not a good idea.

Abby succeeds in her quest, in part by creating a fictitious rival, in part just by being Abby. Then, the world she has created comes crashing down around her. Stephanie Mittman excels at creating for the reader the gradual realization that there is something very wrong with Abby’s health. Thus, as we observe her developing romance with Seth, we also have this sense of impending doom. Watching Abby’s growing recognition of her plight is painful, to say the least. Indeed, I teared up a couple of times, so great was my identification with the characters. But this is a romance, after all, and heroines do not die at the end of romances. Mittman’s solution to this dilemma is both compelling and ultimately believable.

Mittman includes a large cast of secondary characters who add interest and humor to her story. The Merganser family’s reputation for idiosyncratic behavior is well earned and their antics are entertaining if just a tad over the top. Equally well drawn are the other inhabitants of Eden’s Grove who people the book.

At the center of the story are Abby and Seth, both admirable and well drawn characters. Watching Seth reluctantly come to realize that he is indeed in love with Abby is a real treat. Of course, Abby is at the center of the tale and she is a truly lovable heroine. She is bright, cheerful, and absolutely determined to win her man. And when she believes that the cost may be too high for Seth, her actions are fully in character.

A Heart Full of Miracles is both entertaining and moving. Mittman knows how to tug at the reader’s heartstrings. She knows how to combine the joy and the heartache that are the essence of life. As I said at the outset of this review, nobody does Americana romance better.

--Jean Mason

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