Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you enjoyed your weekend.
Today I’m excited to share a review of All That Makes Life Bright by Josi S. Kilpack. This was my first book by Josi and, wow, I am hooked on her novels now! This is one of her “historical proper romances” that follow the real life love stories of famous authors. As someone who loves literature and loves romance, these were made for me!
If you’ve been here long, you know I love Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson. I reviewed it here just a few months after I started my blog. It continues to be a favorite with me. This novel is in the same genre as Edenbrooke. We get a beautiful, clean romance with compelling characters.
When I first saw this book, I knew I would love it. This was a book that I wanted to read at the expense of everything else in my life. I put off everything to read a few more pages. I love books that grip me like that!
- I want to read Harriett Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin this year after reading this book. I felt like Harriett becomes more of a real person for me through this novel so I am excited to read her work.
- I’m impressed by the research that went into the creation of this story. Josi includes short descriptions in an appendix sorting out factual details and where she took creative license. The story flows quite well between the fact and the fiction.
- I appreciated the way faith and God are interwoven into the plot throughout the novel. I think it is a skill to seamlessly connect religion into a story without sounding preachy or over the top. This novel balances it well.
- How gorgeous is this book cover?!
Goodreads summarizes, “When Harriet Beecher marries Calvin Stowe on January 6, 1836, she is sure her future will be filled romance, eventually a family, and continued opportunities to develop as a writer. . . . Deeply religious, she strongly believes God has called her to fulfill the roles of wife and writer and will help her accomplish everything she was born to do. Two months after her wedding Harriet discovers she is pregnant just as Calvin prepares to leave for a European business trip. Alone, Harriet is overwhelmed-being a wife has been harder than she thought and being an expectant mother feels like living another woman’s life. . . . When Calvin returns, . . . nothing seems to have turned out as planned. Struggling to balance the demands of motherhood with her passion for writing and her desire to be a part of the social change in Ohio, Harriet works to build a life with her beloved Calvin despite differing temperaments and expectations.”
“There must be room for Hattie in us, and Calvin in us”
“Love was only one part of this life they shared. There must also be respect and trust and…a lot of work.”
All That Makes Life Bright, pages 253 & 256
The characters in this novel are complex and flawed, making them easy to relate to and cheer for. I love Harriett (“Hattie”) because she reminds me of myself. She wants it all–to be a wife, mother, and writer. But she quickly discovers that life is a difficult balance. I appreciated her flaws and the ways she didn’t measure up to her own or others expectations. Hattie feels real because she isn’t perfect. Her house isn’t always spotless, she argues with her husband, and she burns dinner regularly. Life is not perfect. We all have aspirations and dreams for the future that don’t come about as we hoped. But what is especially compelling about Hattie is how she tries to learn from her mistakes. She seeks to become a better housekeeper, learn to cook, and desperately tries to find time to write.
I also really enjoyed Calvin’s character. He has known deep sorrow in his life, but he has sought for happiness and love again in his second marriage to Hattie. I’ll admit, at times he drove me crazy–with his ridiculous expectations about hot dinners and pristine houses. But he melted me heart as he held his children for the first time, shared a kiss with Hattie or finally asking for help. Calvin is a strong husband and father who wants to provide for his family. But I appreciate that he has things to learn just as Hattie does.
I love books with multiple perspectives and this one adds to my enjoyment of that point of view. I think it’s intriguing to get inside the heads of multiple characters, especially in a novel like this that is sharing a love story. It was educational and compelling to understand different situations from both Hattie and Calvin’s points of view. While I enjoyed Hattie’s view more, I appreciated with Calvin’s perspective added to the story.
“I do believe that the sacrifices we make as mothers are worthwhile. I have learned so much about myself in the world and God, well I’m sure I could have learned those things another way if that were my path, I didn’t. God blessed me with this path, and once I gave myself over to that journey and was willing to learn as I went, I found myself within that Journey.”
All that Makes Life Bright, page 260
This novel utilizes it’s genre well and expanded my understanding of frontier life in 1830’s Ohio. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres because it teaches me about different time periods and places. I’ve raved before about my deep love of British Literature and history, but I am not as well read (or passionate about) American history. This novel deepened my interest in American history. It gave life and vibrancy to a time in American history I know little about. I appreciate books that teach me something and this one does that well.
I am always in the mood to read a beautiful romance. I love the unique timing of this novel. It begins with Hattie and Calvin’s wedding. Usually, romances start with the beginning of a courtship and end with a wedding. This change in time intrigued me. And in the end, I loved it. I am a young mother and wife like Hattie. And I felt easily connected with her story of continuing the love and passion after marriage. My favorite moments included Calvin’s return from his European tour, their tender moment together before Hattie visited her brother, and the beautiful ending.
“I believed when I married you that I loved you and could not live without you. I believed it, but I didn’t know it. I have come to know it. I love you, Harriet Beecher Stowe, not because of what you do for me or for our children, but because you are remarkable and you challenge me to be a better man.”
All That Makes Life Bright, page 278
If I have any qualms about this novel, it would be the pacing at times and the muddy time period tone. Let me explain that a bit. First, sometimes the scenes where Hattie and Calvin were fighting/disagreeing were longer than necessary for me. I wanted more love and less angst. Second, at times, the book read more like a contemporary novel than historical fiction. Some of Hattie’s thoughts seemed more from 2018 than the 1830’s. But those were minor for me.
Overall, a fun and easy read. I connected easily with the characters, especially Hattie. I enjoyed getting some background on her early marriage struggles and the ways she and Calvin overcame their differences. After finishing this novel, I reserved the other two “historical proper romances” from Josi Kilpack. And I’ve loved the others so far.
What are your favorite historical romances?
What do you love about historical fiction?
7 thoughts on “[All That Makes Life Bright]: A Review”
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I haven’t read many (any?) historical romances, but I love the idea that this is based on a real couple, too! And not just any real couple– but a famous one. I haven’t heard of this book before, but I can understand the appeal easily. Do you have an idea how historically accurate the details of Hattie and Calvin’s life are? It’s a shame that the historical tone doesn’t quite get pulled off– that’s so important!
What are some other historical romances you’d recommend?
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It’s one of my favorite genres lately!! Yes, I love that the focus is on a real couple. The author has a lot of helpful endnotes that detail what is based on fact and what she made up. I really appreciated that! Yes, the tone was so so close. I have actually read another of her books–it’s called The Lady of the Lakes and is based on the love story of Sir Walter Scott and that one completely pulls off the historical tone. One of my new favorites!
I love everything I’ve read by Elizabeth Camden–start with “With Every Breath” and “Until the Dawn”. Her novels are absolutely beautiful and full of compelling history as well! I mention Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson in this review (seriously one of my favorite books ever). Then I also love Dawn Crandall’s Everstone Chronicles. The first is “The Hesitant Heiress”. Let me know which you decide to start with! 🙂
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Is this book or The Lady of the Lakes a more recent publication? (I can’t seem to make Goodreads come up on my phone…) I wonder if she has just improved with more writing? I find that voice and tone are the hardest thing for newer authors to get right in historical fiction. Or, if they jump between writing different eras that some tendencies slip between books. Muddy voicing.
There are so many recommendations! I am afraid to start with your favorite because it might ruin me for all historical romance ever. I’ll check out what is available at my library and let you know!
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I believe Lady of the Lakes was 2016 and All that Makes Life Bright is 2017. This author also has a series of contemporary mysteries. So potentially that is part of the difficulty of “muddy voicing”
Haha, fair enough. But it definitely worth it! 😉 Good luck!
I love finding a book that makes me want to ignore everything to finish it! usually for me that’s a good crime thriller. It’s been a while since I felt that, though – hopefully I’ll get that feeling again soon. 🙂
I love that historical fiction helps me broaden my understanding about history and culture, in a way that’s different than reading nonfiction about the time and place. For instance, I feel like i learned so much about American history from reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Things I had no clue about that transpired in the South in the early 20th century.
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Isn’t that the best?! Hope you come across one that makes you ignore life soon 😉
I feel the same way about historical fiction! It’s so neat to learn more about history from a story. I have a new appreciation for nonfiction lately. But I still love a good historical novel.
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