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Piper Huguley

DA3 Interview & Giveaway: Back to School

DA3 Interview & Giveaway: Back to School

The school year isn’t fresh and new everywhere at the beginning of September, but it’s a good excuse to bring you some books with peeks inside the classroom. These stories also share the theme of communities facing conflicts of values and culture:

Farmer In Your ArmsHuguley Preachers PromiseRice Dixie Rebel

In Merry Farmer’s historical In Your Arms, a Native American raised among whites struggles to teach in a racially-mixed school on the Montana frontier.

Piper Huguley’s The Preacher’s Promise takes readers east of the Mississippi to Reconstruction Georgia and a town founded by newly-freed men and women, who aren’t so sure they want a Northerner helping them, no matter how well-educated she is.

Finally, a favorite with many Dear Author regulars is Patricia Rice, who keeps us in the South, but for a contemporary, Dixie Rebel (formerly published under the title Impossible Dreams), in which an idealist’s school for kids who flounder in traditional classrooms is threatened by the town’s desire for–well, they call it progress.

Your heroine’s best and worst qualities: 

Merry Farmer: Lily’s best quality is her compassion and dedication to making sure all of her students are given the best chance to succeed in life. Her worst quality is her impatience, which leads to some dangerous choices.

Piper Huguley: Her persistence is her best quality and her worst is her impulsiveness. 

Patricia Rice:  Best: empathic compassion; Worst: a dreamer of ridiculously impossible dreams.

Why readers will fall in love with your hero: 

Merry Farmer: Christian is determined and sure of himself, but with just enough vulnerability that you aren’t sure whether you want to tell him off or kiss him.

Piper Huguley: He’s hot, tortured and in desperate need of the love of a good woman.

Patricia Rice: He cares too much but hides his heart for fear he would lose the authority he wields–authority upon which so many people depend.

The first kiss happens…

Merry Farmer: In the classroom when the kids are at recess and Lily and Christian are alone…almost.

Piper Huguley: in front of their house, after they are married. 

Patricia Rice: Wadeville, North Carolina.

For you, what is it about teaching that made it seem compelling enough to draw a character from? How does that compelling aspect show up in the character or plot? 

Merry Farmer:  Teachers, whether in Montana in 1897 or today, have so much power to shape the lives of their students and to open their minds to new ways of thinking. Lily certainly feels that responsibility and is determined to teach racial equality in an era where the concept was a new and revolutionary issue. What gives her an edge that many of the activists of her time didn’t have is that she truly loves her students and can work with their hearts as well as their minds to teach equality. All of the speeches in the world don’t have as much impact as the daily activities of a classroom.

Piper Huguley: These people, like Mary Peake, who Amanda is based on, were teaching warriors.  They dared to go into the southern states and teach the enslaved the literacy they knew they would need before the Civil War was even over. That fortitude and bravery make for characters modern day readers can connect with. The fact that Amanda is willing to go toe to toe with Virgil made for great conflict. 

Patricia Rice:  To me, teachers are the hope of our future, the valiant people dedicated to making our children the best they can be so our world will be a better one. I don’t think any trait can be more compelling than wanting to improve the world. And that’s what idealistic Maya, my heroine, really wants to do, because the world as she knows it has never been a happy one. And she ends up battling that cynical world to make dreams possible for her students. Unfortunately, Axell, the hero, is part of the cynical world she has to fight.

Your teacher characters end up as activists–they have to take a stand against the community, or at least a segment of it. 

Merry Farmer: Lily is trying to teach tolerance for people of different races in a time when the world was changing so fast that many people were having a hard time keeping up. She is herself a Native American in an area with an uneasy blending of peoples, and a woman at a time when the push to give women the vote was at its height. This really raises the stakes when it comes to Lily finding love with one of the town’s most prominent citizens and fighting for that love against prejudice that would keep Lily and Christian apart. Fortunately, both Lily and Christian are far too stubborn to put up with other people’s small-mindedness, but boy, does it affect them!

Piper Huguley: Amanda is a black woman the enslaved have never seen before.  Just her presence is activist enough.  Virgil is not sure he approves of her ways—so there’s more conflict. 

Patricia Rice: Maya never set out to be an activist. She simply wanted to teach kids. But the men in charge of the community want to make money—something Maya is pretty much incapable of doing. When it becomes apparent that the school she’s established stands in the way of the community making money…the conflict boils down to reality vs dreams. In the short term, people would profit by tearing down her school. But in the long term, the children would benefit from the education she can provide not just to them, but to the community, since the school is a historical and botanical museum. With Axell being the leader of the town council, he knows the town needs money…but his daughter needs Maya’s understanding nature.

Events escalate with the arrival of Maya’s ex-convict sister. When the powers-that-be want to arrest her sister for crimes she didn’t commit in hopes of sending both sisters out of town, Maya has to finally wake up and fight for what she wants. And Axell has to choose sides. Can’t get much more romantic than a man surrendering his tried-and-true path for the love of his daughter…and a woman who is the antithesis of everything he thought was true.

What does your teacher character still have to learn? 

Merry Farmer: Lily still needs to learn to trust. She needs to trust Christian to have her best interests at heart, she needs to trust that her new friends really do care for her, and she needs to trust herself and the love she feels

Piper Huguley: She has to learn that the South she has just moved in to will not be so slow to change. Virgil will have to teach her that. 

Patricia Rice:  Practicality. <G> Maya has a huge heart and dreams bigger than she is. She can accomplish a lot on her own, but to carry out dreams as large as hers, she needs help, big help, practical help, people who will channel her dreams down workable paths. And she needs to learn to sort through the people and advice to find the ones who believe in her. It’s a lot for an idealist to learn.

Your favorite school/office supply:

Merry Farmer: Mmmm… It has to be spiral-bound notebooks! I love the smell of paper and the potential a good notebook has!

Piper Huguley: Post-it notes. What did they do without them in the 19th century?

Patricia Rice: Oh, don’t make me choose! I love office supply stores, have ever since I was a kid. New pens, pretty mechanical pencils, bookmark post-it notes…!

And your best back-to-school tip: 

Merry Farmer:  Make friends with the school secretary! My mom was a school secretary, and I tell you, they know everything and everyone. They pretty much control the school. And my mom used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day for the kids whose parents forgot their lunches.

Piper Huguley: Write down your notes and don’t take pictures of the board.  Learning doesn’t happen that way. 

Patricia Rice:  For students or teachers? Perhaps the answer is for both: Smile. People want to talk to people who appear happy and look them in the eye, people who say hi and exude confidence. Even if you’re new to school, a smile shows you’re glad to be there, that you’re open to new adventures and friends. And make sure to add an extra smile for those who aren’t the most popular. It’s amazing what you can learn from the introvert sitting alone.

A copy of in Your Arms is going to a commenter, so we’d love to hear your back-to-school tip or  your thoughts on the interview. Many thanks to Merry Farmer, Piper Huguley, and Patricia Rice.

REVIEW:  The Preacher’s Promise by Piper Huguley

REVIEW: The Preacher’s Promise by Piper Huguley

Dear Piper Huguley:

I first learned about your new historical romances when several readers in my Twitter feed raved about your lovely covers. When you posted in DA’s author open thread I decided I wanted to read and review the full length novel. Jayne had independently decided to read and review the novella, so we thought reviews of both stories would be fun to do. I hadn’t read anything about the novella when I read the novel, so I think readers can pick up either installment without difficulty.

The Preachers PromiseI didn’t know that these books were in the Inspirational genre when I bought The Preacher’s Promise, but I didn’t think it would be a big deal for me unless they were heavily tilted toward proselytizing, and since they aren’t, it wasn’t. I hadn’t read an Inspie before this, so I’m sure there are things I missed (and there were a couple of phrases that were unfamiliar to me), but I didn’t notice anything that made me feel as if I wasn’t part of the potential target readership.

The story opens in 1866 with Amanda Stewart mourning the recent death of her father, a lawyer dedicated to the abolitionist cause. She has just graduated from Oberlin College, but she has no job and very little money, and when her father’s white partner makes her feel as if he has designs on her, she decides to take the teaching position in a small Georgia town that was recently offered to her father. When she arrives in Milford, the mayor and town blacksmith, Virgil Smithson, is surprised and dismayed to meet a young, attractive lady rather than the older gentleman he was expecting. Virgil is determined to put her back on the next day’s train north, but Mrs. Milford, whose family owns the large plantation which gave the town its name, basically orders Virgil to keep Amanda on as teacher and marry her for the sake of convenience and respectability. Although each finds the other physically attractive, southern, small-town Virgil and northern, college-educated Amanda don’t see themselves as a match at all, but Mrs. Milford’s word is still law to Virgil in many ways, and Amanda has nowhere to go if she leaves Milford.

The rest of the novel tells the story of Amanda’s adjustment to life as a wife and schoolteacher in the south, Virgil’s growing acceptance and respect for his “Mandy,” white resistance to a school for blacks, and the revelations of Virgil’s (and his daughter March’s) personal histories, which wind up being enmeshed with Amanda’s. This is both an opposites-attract romance and a cross-class romance, since Amanda is free and highly educated for a woman (especially a black woman), and Virgil, although a respected preacher and blacksmith who appears bound for politics, is a former slave with little formal education.

I enjoyed many things about this story. The setting, the plot, and the supporting cast are all imaginative and the choice to set the book directly after the end of the Civil War gives us a community that is still grappling with making the transition from slavery to freedom. Mrs. Milford still rules the roost, however benevolent she may be, and the less powerful whites in the neighboring town (we only see the men) are deeply suspicious and always threatening, implicitly or explicitly, to put blacks back in their former place. The laws of the time (such as those covering the manumission of slaves) are woven effectively into the storyline. Mrs. Milford, March, and Pauline (who looked after March in Virgil’s absence) are depicted with sympathy and skill, and the overall life of Milford remained with me after I finished the book.

Virgil and Amanda are interesting and sympathetic characters, but I felt that the execution didn’t quite live up to the promise where they were concerned, especially as their relationship developed. Part of this was because the gulf between them seemed so wide, and the author’s decision to use dialect for Virgil in both his thoughts and his words meant that the gulf between him and Amanda (whose speech was quite formal in its grammatical and vocabulary choices) was even wider. There is a very good scene in which we see Virgil preaching and believe the way the congregation responds so positively to him, but for much of the time Virgil seemed tongue-tied not only in his conversations but in his interior thoughts. It would have worked better for me if he had been hesitant in his speech but more fluent in his thoughts.

As a result, while I was rooting for Virgil and Mandy, I didn’t feel as if I really saw them fall in love on the page. I don’t think this was because the book is an inspirational and therefore the physical passion aspect is more muted. The author effectively conveys their mutual physical attraction and their growing respect and affection, but I never got that “oh, there they go, they’re in love” feeling. That could entirely be me rather than the book, though.

The writing was serviceable, but at times it became rough and a bit clunky. Perhaps because Amanda and Virgil didn’t have an easy time communicating, a lot of the story unfolded in exposition or interior monologues, and these often interrupted the rhythm of the story. Sometimes points were repeated, which slowed down the pace even more. The first half of the book contains a lot of setup, while the second half has much more action as the several plot points are resolved. There are some glitches in the copyediting; I noted a couple of homophone errors and a supporting character’s name changed spelling partway through the book. Overall, while the cover was indeed lovely, the rest of the production values (including the formatting) could have been better. It wasn’t enough to stop me because I really wanted to see how everything turned out, but if you’re not committed to the story, I can imagine it being enough to cause some readers to put the book aside.

This is definitely an inspirational romance. Both characters invoke God regularly and Virgil is a real preacher, as opposed to a Regency vicar, for example. The characters read the Bible to each other and they talk about their relationship in terms of serving God. I didn’t find this emphasis to detract from the romance (although I did wonder why Virgil felt it would be wrong to consummate the marriage, since they were lawfully wedded, lots of people married for reasons other than romantic love, and they were planning to stay married). I felt as if the emphasis on not just religion but spirituality fit the community and the characters, but readers who want to keep their religion and their romance separate are probably going to have some trouble with this.

Despite the flaws, I’m glad I picked up this book. It wasn’t the smoothest read, but the historical setting and the characters made up for that. I look forward to seeing what happens next with these characters and the Milford community. Grade: B-/C+

~ Sunita

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