Irish Meadows by Susan Anne Mason (Bethany House, August 2015)
Irish immigrant James O’Leary has spent his life building Irish Meadows into a thriving horse farm and is not about to let hard economic times threaten its success. He intends for his daughters to marry prosperous men–ones who will secure the family’s rightful place in society, and at the same time, guarantee the future of Irish Meadows. Both girls, however, have different visions for their futures.
Brianna and Colleen O’Leary know their father expects them to marry well. Yet despite his wishes, Brianna, the quieter sister, dreams of attending college. Vivacious Colleen, meanwhile, is happy to marry–as long as her father’s choice meets her exacting standards. When stable hand Gilbert Whelan returns from college and distant family member Rylan Montgomery stops in on his way to the seminary in Boston, the two men quickly complicate everyone’s plans. It will take every ounce of courage for both sisters to follow their hearts. And even if they do, will they inevitably find their dreams too distant to reach?
I imagined many romanticized elements of Ireland as I read the back cover and devoured the front of Susan Anne Mason’s first novel in her Courage to Dream series. Green pastures. Beautiful horses running wild in bare Long Island meadows. An Irish brogue reminiscent of Once Upon a Time‘s Captain Hook. While the novel took a turn other than I expected, Irish Meadows captivated me with its storyline focused on two sisters with opposite goals and motivations for their lives.
Despite the title of Mason’s first book in this series, Irish Meadows is a character-driven novel that centers on Brianna and Colleen O’Leary. From the outset, I did feel somewhat misled over this novel. The back cover blurb for the novel directs readers to a story that will center heavily on the farm. Make no mistake that even though both sisters’ livelihoods depend upon the success of the family farm, the actual setting of this novel plays a smaller part in the storyline. Both sisters’ stories carry equal weight, but Brianna’s makes up more of Irish Meadows, and with just one female on the cover it is easily believable that just one of them will be the focus of the novel. I have no issue whatsoever with a novel changing perspectives between characters in different chapters; however, by the time I knew which characters I preferred over others I wanted more of a focus on one sister and less on another.
With such divergence between Brianna and Colleen it is natural that readers would have a favorite out of the two. From most of the reviews I have read, Brianna comes up the favorite more often than not. I have no trouble believing this since I also found the younger charming than her older counterpart. However, by the middle of the book I found myself distinctly disliking Brianna O’Leary—enough so that I almost did not want her chapters to begin. On the other hand, I came to Colleen’s chapters hungry to find out what would happen to this pugnacious young lady. As Irish Meadows moved forward, Colleen’s character arc grew exponentially; I loved seeing her growth, maturity, and development. Her story felt believable, realistic, and emotionally satisfying. Brianna, though, did not mature much either in her own motivations or romance. I had a harder time relating to her as Irish Meadows went on, and I did not care whether or not her character showed up in any future novels in the series.
The highlight of Irish Meadows for me was Mason’s discussion and inclusion of Catholicism in her novel. From hardly ever coming across Catholicism in Christian fiction to finding two novels in 2015 including this faith, I am thrilled to find my religion a topic amongst my preferred genre. Mason beautifully portrayed the challenges, questions, and unique aspects that Catholics come across when living out their faith as a lay person or one with a vocation. She handled her characters’ changes in circumstances with respect and maintained the dignity of the faith, all while subtly teaching readers about Catholicism.
It’s been a few days since I finished reading this delightful novel and still the story comes back to me as I ponder and read more of Bethany House fiction. Mason is a gifted storyteller and one I am looking forward to following in her Courage to Dream series.
Rating: 3.5 stars
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Susan Anne Mason’s debut historical novel, Irish Meadows, won the Fiction from the Heartland contest from the Mid-American Romance Authors Chapter of RWA. A member of ACFW, as well, she lives outside of Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and two children. She can be found online at her website.