4 out of 4 stars
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Caitlin Spillane has grand plans for her life; she wants to go to university, which is almost unheard of for a woman. Her father, however, has other plans for her. He's working on an arranged marriage. Jack Flynn is the intended, a man more Caitlin's father's age than her own. A hard-working dairy farmer, Jack has his own secrets. Donal Kelly, the son of a nearby farmer, has an accidental encounter with Caitlin. From that point on, he can't get her out of his mind. His father needs him at home, he has no interest in farming life, and his political views might be dangerous. All have different dreams, but not all dreams come true. How will they manage when life brings troubles as it's wont to do?
Only with Blood: A Novel of Ireland by Therese Down is what I would consider literary fiction or historical fiction. There are some romantic elements, but this is not a romance. There are no explicit scenes, but I would still recommend the book to high school age and older.
The book is set in Ireland in the 1940s. It's clear that World War II is ongoing; but, while Ireland struggles to remain neutral, there's almost a civil war happening. Historical events used throughout the book make it more realistic as well as educational. I know more now about Irish history than I did before reading this. Having said that, not being very familiar with this part of the world before going into the book might have been somewhat of a detriment. I was occasionally confused about happenings or political parties. This did not, though, change my enjoyment of the plot. Still, Ms. Down may want to improve on the explanations of these events.
In contrast, the characters need no work. Their realism engaged me from the start. I had to know where Caitlin's academic ambitions would lead. Would Donal escape his familial duty? I was equally rooting for the characters and screaming at them for their selfishness. They were conflicted, as most of us tend to be. It made them relatable and extremely enjoyable.
Being set in Ireland, there were words that were difficult to comprehend. Some were explained contextually but not all. For example, I don't know, still, what Tir-na-nÓg is. A glossary would be helpful. Other than these foreign terms, the vocabulary is on a more advanced level, using words like lugubrious and saturnine. I thought this elevated the story, but not everyone will appreciate it.
Finding no errors, I must state that the book was extremely well-edited. Since the characters speak in dialect, there is incorrect grammar, but this is an intentional device by the author to immerse the reader in the book.
I was thrilled to read Only with Blood: A Novel of Ireland and rate it 4 out of 4 stars. There were only minor hiccups where I would suggest the author make a few changes. None of these were enough to subtract a star, though. Without spoiling anything, it's worth mentioning that the ending was unexpected in a delightful way. I would suggest this story for all who enjoy a little history, a dash of romance, and outstanding characterization. Conversely, it could be a bit hard to understand for those without a good grasp of the English language.
Only with Blood
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