4 out of 4 stars
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Have you ever felt that you've been placed on this Earth to do something? Ruby was born and raised in Texas, so she's used to helping out around the ranch. But she aches with the need to paint. In the late 1800s women aren't supposed to paint anything but flowers and babies, but Ruby wants to hone her skills and depict the harshness of life, whether or not it's a "suitable" subject for female artists. Against her family's wishes, she enrolls in an art academy in Philadelphia, leaving her betrothed behind. Even as her skills grow, so does her rebellion. She has an affair with Willow, a fellow female artist at the academy and the exact opposite of the man waiting for her in Texas. Being tugged in various directions, Ruby is loathe to choose between a life of hard work and bearing children for a man she has loved since she was a child, or a life of mutual interest and soft, tender love with a woman, a love which would never be acknowledged by the people around them.
In A Different Kind of Fire, Suanne Schafer paints, with words, a stunning portrait of a girl who attempts to take charge of her own life and is repeatedly beaten down by the patriarchy, sexism, cruel fate and a lack of understanding from those she used to hold dear. She struggles to live as a free woman with a right to decide her career and what she does with her body, all while the men -- and even some women -- of the era beat her back down into submission. What starts out as a simple story of her love for art turns into a dramatic biography of the choices she must make.
A Different Kind of Fire starts in the late 1800s and goes through the late 1920s. Schafer did a wonderful job setting up and describing the historical backgrounds, both in Texas and in Philadelphia. It felt like I was truly being sucked into the past, the book sprinkled with tiny details that kept reminding me of the time period. I personally grew up in Indiana and moved to Philadelphia when I was in high school, so I was able to connect with Ruby as she went from living on a ranch with nothing around to suddenly being in a city that seemed so far advanced and full of culture, but still seemed to lack something.
Still, what I loved most about this book was Ruby's relationships with the other characters. She cares for her mother, but doesn't want to become like her. She knows that her betrothed loves her and is waiting for her, but his expectations for her, succinct words, and love of the Texan land and its animals clash with her own love of art. Willow, a fellow artist, engages her mind and body but prefers cities and social clubs to the Wild West, where a part of Ruby's heart still lies. In the book, Ruby's love triangle is compared to a coyote with its paw stuck in a trap. No matter which leg of the triangle she chews off, one of her lovers will be hurt. And, if she abandons both to tend to her art alone or continues to suffer silently while keeping both of them waiting, she will be maiming herself.
Everything about this book, from the characters to the settings and pacing, was perfect. I only found two minor formatting issues in the entire book, and Schafer's writing style was a delight, full of descriptions. I flew through the first half of the book in a matter of days and then had to pace myself, needing to take breaks to grieve with Ruby and sort out my thoughts along with hers. A Different Kind of Fire was certainly an emotional rollercoaster ride, with a sad but satisfying ending. I rate it 4 out of 4 stars and would recommend it to anyone who loves historical drama mixed with romance and tragedy. There are quite a few love scenes, but none of them are graphic. I hope this book becomes a hit and opens the minds of readers everywhere. I know that I will be looking forward to Suanne Schafer's next work, although I may need to stock up on tissues before I start reading.
A Different Kind of Fire
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