As I have stated several times previously, most of my reading is nonfiction and when I do read fiction, it is generally scifi/fantasy, not the bestseller list types. The last James Patterson I read was 10+ years ago; the last Stephen King was the original publication of The Stand. But occasionally I do come across fiction outside the scifi/fantasy genre that simply captivates me.
In my fiction reading, I find that I classify a novel that I have actually read as either OK/good, very good, or fantastic. It is only novels in the last category that I consider worthy of recommending to anyone. What makes a novel fantastic? For me, such a novel has these characteristics, among others: believable characters, a good story/plot that holds my interest, tight dialogue, few errors (e.g., spelling, grammar, syntax), evokes an emotional response (e.g., laughter, concern for a character, tears), and imbues in me a strong desire to immediately purchase more books written by the author. The Promises to Keep quartet by Shayne Parkinson fall into this category.
In the Age of eBooks and self-publishing, an age when most self-published ebooks can best be described as mediocre and more often as significantly worse than mediocre, Shayne Parkinson’s Promises to Keep quartet stand out for the excellence of the writing and the storytelling. The quartet well deserves, in my opinion, being characterized as fantastic!
To be correct, Promises to Keep is a trilogy — Sentence of Marriage, Mud and Gold, and Settling the Account — followed by a sequel, A Second Chance. Because they deal with the same characters and actually follow one on the other, I refer to them as the Promises to Keep quartet.
The quartet is the story of Amy Leith, her trials and tribulations, beginning with her adolescence in the 1880s in New Zealand — the Victorian Age. It is historical fiction, a genre I haven’t read in years, that is well researched and woven into a tight story as Amy grows from youth to grandmotherhood. It is a story of misfortune and fortune; it is a story of a difficult life brought about by Victorian morality and acquiescence to Victorian norms on the frontier. It is a grandiloquent look at New Zealand’s coming of age.
It is also more than the story of Amy Leith — it is the concurrent story of her family and her cousins and how they struggle to adapt by imitation as well as by innovation. Amy is the quiet one who puts everyone else first; her cousin Lizzie is the dominant one with a heart of gold who holds much of the family — immediate and related — together by sheer force of her will.
Amy, a farm girl with dreams of becoming a teacher and seeing more of the world (or at least Auckland), is a victim of Victorian morality but a fighter; she accepts her fate but doesn’t let it destroy her essence. And her rock is Lizzie whose expansive heart embraces Amy throughout all that befalls her.
Shayne Parkinson’s books are worthy of publishing by a major house; alas, they are not. I stumbled on them by her offering Sentence of Marriage as a free ebook. The title intrigued me. Once I started it, I immediately purchased the remaining 3 books ($1.99 each at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and other ebooksellers) — the story was captivating, the characters real, the dialogue crisp. I admit to having cried and laughed and even having wanted to murder a character and beat another one within an inch of his life — which is simply a testament to how well written these books are.
Normally I read a novel then delete it from my ereading device — not these. I have marked them to be reread (something I very, very, very rarely ever do with any book) and for my wife to read them. I also marked them to recommend to you. The quality of these books is the quality that every author should strive to meet and represents the best of the self-publishing world that ebooks and the Internet have brought to the reading public.
You might disagree with me about these books, but you cannot go wrong giving them a try. Sentence of Marriage is free as an ebook at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble. It is also available from Amazon as a paperback, albeit a high-priced one. I eagerly await the next volume in the series.