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Book Review: The Rose Legacy by Kristen Heitzmann

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When I got the fresh-covered but 10-year-published book The Rose Legacy from Bethany House to review, I wondered, why the resurrection? Then I read this first book in the Diamond of the Rockies series by Kristen Heitzmann, and I understood.

It is 1880. Carina DiGratia, a feisty and beautiful Californian, has been betrayed by Flavio, her childhood sweetheart. However, she will make him pay by setting out on her own. She is sure it will be only a matter of time till he comes to fetch her from Crystal Colorado, where she has a job lead.

But things don’t turn out at all as she expects. Even before she gets to Crystal her wagon breaks down. While she’s trying to figure out what to do, a freight hauler comes along. He offers her a ride into town, but not before making room for his rig to pass by pitching her cart over the steep embankment. Trouble only compounds after that when she discovers the house she has paid for is occupied by squatters, and the job on which she has staked her hopes is in a house of ill repute.

Berkley Beck, the town’s only lawyer, comes to her rescue with the promise that he will look into her house problems. As well he gives her a respectable job in his office – along with hand kisses and longing looks. He creeps her out, but what choice does she have? Meanwhile she does retrieve a few things from her wrecked wagon. In fact, the handsome fright wagon driver, Quillan, is suddenly on hand to help her with the salvage effort.

As Carina settles into a room at Mae’s boarding house and her job at Berkley Beck’s, it becomes evident that all is not well in Crystal. “Roughs” rule the night and law enforcement agents seem powerless to stop the beatings and killings.

Carina, the Italian-born belle of the story, charms with her warm, excitable personality. I love the way Heitzmann makes her feel authentic by sprinkling Italian words throughout her thoughts:

“She sounded like Divina, always disparaging, looking for the bad, the weakness in someone. Where was her indole mite, the sweet temper Papa had praised, calling her dolce angelo, his sweet angel?” p. 93.

Her human and womanly qualities, displayed in friendships with other women, homesickness and a love of cooking also won my heart. Here Heitzmann describes the wonderful day she has talked Quillan into getting just the right ingredients for making ravioli:

“Carina thought how it was as much an art as Flavio’s painting. The mix must be just right. Too much flour and the stuffed pillowy pasta would be dry and heavy. Too much oil and they would sag. A poor seal between the layers of dough and the boiling water would ruin the filling. She could feel with her fingers that she had made it just right. The dough had the consistency of fragile skin – elastic yet powdery.” p. 179

Carina grows familiar with the town and its surroundings by exploring on her mule Dom. Beyond the ghost town of Placerville, she stumbles onto the Rose Legacy, an abandoned mine which, she discovers, has a Quillan connection.

That dark, mysterious and pirate-like character is fighting his own demons.  He realizes Carina may be useful to him in his vendetta with Crystal. Slowly Heitzmann pulls Carina and us into his past history in a chain of events that transfix with their action, emotion and horror. The parts of the story told from his point of view make for tension as we watch a relationship develop between them – one that can best be described as magnetic with moments of repulsion as well as attraction.

The story delves into many meaningful themes, among them forgiveness, dealing with the past, the importance of family and community, and the possibility of faith in God even when those who claim to be His followers have let you down.

The historical setting makes the story timeless. The author’s skill is manifest as she keeps us reading to discover what happens between Quillan and Carina as much as what will be the next tragedy to galvanize the town.

A re-release of Book 2 of the Diamond of the Rockies series, Sweet Boundless, is in hand. If The Rose Legacy is any indication, its new lease on life will be welcomed. I know I sure want to – no, need to — read it.

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