Reviewed by Kevin Lucia
Loving Liza Jane by Sharlene MacLaren
"...a delightful romantic excursion into 'yesteryear'; a story that reads like Anne of Green Gables meets Laura Ingalls Wilder..."
Loving Liza Jane, by Sharlene MacLaren, is a delightful romantic excursion into “yester-year”; a story that reads like Anne of Green Gables meets Laura Ingalls Wilder, with authentic characters and language that is still accessible to the twentieth century reader. Widower Benjamin Broughton and new school teacher Liza are wonderfully written characters, emblematic of the classic “reluctant lovers”, who – despite their best efforts to the contrary – are pulled together by fate, forces beyond their ken, perhaps even God Himself.
When newly licensed teacher Liza Jane Merriwether arrives in the small, Kentuckian town of Little Hickman Creek, she finds the town much smaller than imagined, its folk more “rough and tumble” than she’d bargained for, and a student population posing far more trouble than she’d like. Suffering the long, bumpy cart ride into town with the ornery Mr. Brackett was bad enough, but when Liza discovers that the private lodging she’d requested isn’t even ready yet, it’s enough to make a girl want to run home, as she thinks to herself, Oh Lord, what have I done?
Undaunted, Liza Jane is determined that God has brought her to Little Hickman Creek for a reason. She’s been hired to teach for one year, and in spite of a town more concerned with its crops than education, a pack of hooligans that’s run off three teachers in exactly three years, and her own doubts about her ability, she’s determined to make the best of the situation. In fact, the one thing she can do – get a handle on her housing, and discover why her personal cabin isn’t ready yet – she does, marching out the Broughton farmstead, bristling with questions.
However, Ben Broughton is the last thing she expected to find in Little Hickman Creek. He’s a charming, handsome widower struggling to run his farm and raise his two daughters, seven year old Lili and fifteen month-old Maggie. He’s rugged, contrary, and protective in an old-fashioned way that aggravates and charms Liza to no end. He’s also a spiritual man, too---a true man of God who’s accepted the death of his wife as a burden of faith, not allowing his losses to make him a bitter man.
Liza’s position as the new school teacher stands in the way, however. First of all, allowing something to flower between she and one of her students’ parents just wouldn’t be proper, and secondly, there’s the harsh stipulation of her contract – a clause she never imagined would pose a problem – she shall have “no improper contact with the opposite sex”. Is it improper to suddenly discover she harbors feelings for the father of one of her students?
Ben Broughton, on the other hand, is at the end of his rope. He loves both his daughters dearly, and would do anything for them – caring the load of the world, if he had to – but in recent months, it’s become painfully clear to him that his growing girls need a feminine touch, a woman around the house to nurture them in ways he never could. In a moment of desperation, Ben does the unthinkable – he sends away for a mail order bride, to provide the mother his daughters need so desperately.
Unfortunately, there’s a problem; he too senses the growing attraction between he and Liza, and after he receives confirmation from his “mail order bride”, a stranger named Sara Woodward, he’s torn – should he ignore his feelings for Liza, especially after he’s already “paid” for his bride, or is God trying to give him a not so subtle nudge in the direction of the answer to his prayers?
Loving Liza Jane is a wonderful story of endearing faith, hope, and love, written in a literary fashion reminding one of a Jane Eyre/Pride & Prejudice story. The classic love triangle – or perhaps even square, given the mail order bride, Sarah Woodward – is there, with Ben Broughton’s childhood friend, Reverend Jon Atkins, lurking after Liza himself. All the makings of a classic love story. Loving Liza Jane is an excellent first entry in a series that will hopefully bring us more stories from the small Kentucky town of Little Hickman Creek.
Lucia Kevin Lucia writes for The Press & Sun
Bulletin and The
Journal. His short fiction has appeared in Coach’s
Midnight Diner, The Relief Journal, All Hallows, Darkened
Horizons Vol. 3 & 4,
NexGen Pulp Magazine Issues 1 & 4, From the Shadows, Morpheus
Bohemian-Alien, Shroud Publishing’s horror anthology, Abominations,
Tyndale House’s inspirational anthology Life Savors. He’s
writing a novella for Shroud Publishing’s upcoming novella series, The
Hiram Grange Chronicles. He resides in Castle Creek, New York, with his
wife Abby, daughter Madison and son Zackary. He teaches high school English at
Catholic Central High School
in Binghamton, New York; and is finishing his Masters of Arts in Creative Writing
at Binghamton University. Visit him at his website and