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Reviewed by Brenda Casto for Readers' Favorite
"Okatibbee Creek" is based on the true story of the main character in this story, Mary Ann Rodgers. This story opens in 1834 when young Mary is six years old, and is spending time down at the creek with her brothers and sister while waiting for the birth of another sibling. Though there is joy that day she also experiences the loss of her two brothers along that creek. From there we follow the Rodgers family through the eyes of Mary. We get snippets of her life as she grows up and and at the age of eighteen marries her childhood sweetheart Rice Carpenter, becomes a mother herself and watches as they turn from farming to becoming owners of a mercantile business in town. We also experience the loss and longing she feels when many in her family, including her beloved Rice, head off to fight in the Civil War. Mary is left at home to take care of the children and run the store and times are far from easy, with dwindling supplies and a typhoid epidemic that has her taking in several of her nieces and nephews. It seems that death and destruction is around every corner, but Mary knows she has no choice but to stay strong.
For me "Okatibbee Creek" is the best kind of historical fiction, because it is based on real people, places, and events. I found myself so completely drawn into this story that I felt the Rodgers family actually became my family, and I was transported back to the south during the Civil War. The author easily captured the emotions that the characters felt, bringing each person to life, which allowed me to experience the feelings that the felt, the joy of a new birth or wedding, or the sadness and sorrow as death took a beloved family member. I really thought the letters that passed between Rice and Mary were wonderful, and actually found myself re-reading them. In addition to the sense of family I felt within this story, I also felt a sense of experiencing history. It was obvious that Lori Crane did her research as regards the Civil War aspects of the story. From the shortages that many experienced to the rosters that named the dead posted in the mercantile, it all seemed so very real. The story spans the period from 1834 to 1869, which allows us to glimpse many changes that take place not only within the family but within the United States as well. One of my favorite secondary characters had to be William Jolly; he seemed to know what to say and do at the right time. The melding of his and Mary's family seemed to work so well, truly a second chance at life and love. An added bonus is the pictures of the Rodgers family that the author included with this story. Overall, this book certainly qualifies as historical fiction. It is a perfect blending of fact and fiction with romance, hardships and a glimpse at one of the worst times in our country's history. I enjoyed the way the author wrapped the story up. I am so glad to see that Lori Crane plans at least two more stories around the Rodgers family.