Book Review: On Sparrow Hill

July 31, 2008 by  
Filed under Book and Movie Reviews

By Donald James Parker  
Book written by Maureen Lang     

Are you the kind of reader who requires compelling action in a book to pull you along to the end?  If so, this probably isn't the kind of literature you want to purchase.  I can say with only a modicum of reservation that the majority of men wouldn't like this or be able to finish it.  I might have been tempted to halt in midstream, but I had committed to reviewing this book.  Is this an indictment of the writing?  Not at all.  The intended audience for this work is anyone who might deal with disabled people (which potentially is all of us at some point in our lives).  A secondary group of people who would embrace it are the incurable romanticists who can't resist the ebbs and flows of a male/female relationship. This book can be considered a romance, but goes far beyond the confines of that pigeon-hole.

This plot involves a pair of love stories featuring many parallels.  Both of the male suitors are men of wealth and position.  Both of the females are in positions of servanthood by choice, and the doubts of both of the women about their prospects of having a happy marriage weigh heavily on their minds.  The overwhelming contrast of the two romances is that one took place five generations ago, giving the later arriving couple the pleasure of reading the letters written by the great-great-great-grandmother of the contemporary man, who happens to be an aristocratic bachelor in modern England.  The handwritten letters taper off into story narrative as the thread focuses on Berry Hamilton's world as she attempts to establish a school for children with mental disabilities. After the chapter from her past finishes, the thread of the modern couple continues.  That type of ping pong action might make some readers dizzy, while others may be enthralled.  I was basically neutral concerning the back and forth.  The problem I had was with the faint type of the handwritten letters, making it extremely difficult to read.  The publisher perhaps should have used a bold font on those sections.
It's been preached by some writing gurus that a book should not have two protagonists.  However, Maureen pulls off the trick of having two without a hitch in this effort because, in effect, she's created a book within a book.  It's almost like her modern characters are reading the second book along with the readers.  That produced an interesting emotional ambience as they uncover knowledge about the family.  One of the students at the school, Katie, is one of the delights of the prose.  Her conversation is amusing and totally transparent. Reading about these kids reminded me an idea that I've nurtured over the years about mentally deficit people being angels in disguise.  

The romances are not the main thrust of the storyline, however. Dealing with a family curse that causes some of the children to be born as retarded and others to be born as carriers of the Fragile X syndrome poses a dilemma for the entire bloodline of the modern aristocrat. This is not a condition that Maureen made up for her story, but indeed afflicts enough families to warrant having a website devoted to this ailment. The other main theme of the interwoven stories is servanthood.  Jesus said that the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven would be the servants of all. Not many people seem to heed that scripture. Most people filling serving roles are looked down upon.  Both of the ladies of love in this book had to deal with their feelings about servant status and their desire to serve their God conflicting with romantic entanglements.

In the end, the action that was missing throughout most of the book suddenly manifests itself, increasing this reader's pleasure and bringing about an ending that is quite satisfactory.  Some conclusions that I had made about the outcome turned out to be inaccurate, due to some skillful foreshadowing that I misconstrued. This is the kind of situation where a reader tips his cap to the writer and says "touché." On Sparrow Hill was a nicely done piece of work, just not everyone's cup of tea. 

About the author:  Donald James Parker is a novelist and computer programmer who resides in Puyallup, Washington.  Check out his website at


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