Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas
Series: Appalachian Blessings #2
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Publish Date: May 5, 2015
Find it here: Goodreads / Amazon
When a family tragedy derails Henry Phillips’s college studies, he’s left unmoored and feeling abandoned. Although Henry tries to find escape in bad company, the only things that can tamp down his anger and grief are the family farm, his fiddle, and sweet but unusual pre-teen Mayfair Hoffman.
Unfortunately, Mayfair’s older sister, Margaret, with the freckles and cute, turned-up nose, has the opposite effect. Worse, she’s his grandmother’s housekeeper and helper, so she’s always around and ready to push his buttons. At first he thinks she doesn’t care about his loss, before beginning to understand she’s facing her own struggles. Mayfair’s health and unique gift sit at the heart of those worries, and Henry and Margaret soon find themselves relying on each other as both Henry’s future and Mayfair’s life are put at risk. (Goodreads)
Until the Harvest is the second full-length novel in this series, featuring the story of Henry Phillips and Margaret Hoffman. Henry is the son of Casewell and Perla Phillips, the featured couple in the previous book. (Casewell is my favorite character from Miracle in a Dry Season and probably the entire series so far.) This story takes place in 1976.
As the book begins, Henry is a college student when his family suffers an awful tragedy. As a result, Henry stays home from college for a while to help out on the family farm. Feeling angry and displaced for several reasons, Henry begins hanging out with some friends that have an affection for illegal activities, and Henry becomes involved, justifying his involvement because he is earning money, which his family needs. The local authorities have a great respect for his family and try to steer Henry in the right direction more than once, but Henry seems to struggle with his choices. Eventually, his streak of not-getting-caught catches up with him and Henry is forced to untangle himself from the huge mess he has gotten into.
At the same time, Margaret is working for Henry’s grandmother, as a sort-of housekeeper/companion. While she does not particularly need this job, Margaret loves the time she spends out on the farm. Despite the urging of her family to go to college and acquire a degree, Margaret feels sure that she would love to have a farm of her own one day. She loves the feel of the garden soil and the satisfaction of making sure a home is in working order. Her parents regret that she does not aspire to anything “greater” – their relationship is strained. Margaret is forced to make a choice between quitting the job she loves in order to start/further her college career, or move out.
Margaret is thankful for the relationship that she has with Mrs. Phillips; it is because of her generosity that Margaret is able to find comfortable housing, right on the farm that she loves. It is also because of her job that she is forced into Henry’s path, day in and day out. At first, she has a tough time with Henry’s attitude (everyone does) – he is grieving and acting out a little bit, and she can’t stand it. Eventually the two find an unexpected common ground, and over this the are able to build a friendship: Margaret’s sister, Mayfair.
I am convinced that this author is one that I will turn to for comfort reads from here forward. Her stories thus far have made me feel like I’m living inside of them and the words make me feel like I’m being hugged. I can think of few better things when I’m reading. Really.
Here are the things that I loved about this story: I loved returning to the same town that is familiar to me, as I mentioned above. I love that this is another generation in the same family that I love so much. I love that some of the same supporting cast is still present and even more fantastic than before. I love that the characters still feel very real to me and still have very real issues, and the people that are rallying around them are providing a realistic range of advice and guidance. I love that the characters, main and secondary, make mistakes. I love that there is redemption and grace and mercy for those characters and it feels so great to read and experience it. I love that there is plenty of context for me inside of this story without being obnoxiously obvious – it is gentle and kind, just like these characters.
I also love that one of the characters has just a little something special about her – a little something that she is able to do that others can’t. You may or may not remember that before, in the previous book, it was Perla + her special cooking ability… This time Margaret’s younger sister Mayfair has the special gift.
Mayfair is a great character, so pure and kind and loving. She is able to reach out to an entire community and bridge relationships that have been broken for years, to heal people in many ways with her love and her soothing touch. She is the biggest link between Margaret and Henry in this book, and I love the way their relationship grows because of their care and concern over her. Mayfair has an entire plot thread of her own here, and it is pretty amazing.
Speaking further of characters, I want to point out again that the secondary cast is just as enjoyable as the main cast. These people are the support of the book – they’re the ones that give that extra push or nudge to Margaret and Henry, and they do plenty more in the story. They’re developed so well and I felt like I could see them all in my head, down to their worn, worried faces and their clothes. LOVE THAT. Also, the ones that carry over from the last book? I LOVE THEIR STORY, MY GOODNESS. LOVE.
While I love this story to absolute pieces, like re-read-status kind of love, it broke my heart a little bit that there were some characters that were no longer present in the book or that had aged significantly and were experiencing difficulties – what did I expect for a series installment that jumped ahead several decades? For everyone to be stuck permanently in time, never aging? All silliness aside, it isn’t a bad thing at all. I actually think that this is a testament to how much I fell in love with these characters when I initially met them in previous installments, that I would mourn some of them so much. I kind of love this about this series, that these people are so very in my heart.
One notable thing about this book: Even though the book clearly lets me know that it takes place in the 1970’s from the beginning, I had a hard time picturing it. I continued to picture these characters, their clothes, their home decor, and their cars as still stuck in the 1950’s. I’m not sure if I was forcing this or if it is because the story reminded me so much of the last book. There are a few references to pop culture from the time – things like Twiggy, etc – which helped remind me of the actual time setting. I don’t mind at all that I kept picturing this as more past-dated than it was. It is just worth noting.
I adore this book. I adore this series. I am waiting for the next book eagerly. I can’t wait to see who and what is next for this series. I want more by this author! I recommend Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas to readers that enjoy Appalachian settings, great secondary characters, great sibling/family relationships, and clean romance. Also: character redemption because it is abundant in this series.
Romance: No Triangle
Great Setting: Appalachia, West Virginia, 1970’s
The Appalachian Blessing Series is: