Annette Lyon steps out of her usual contemporary mode to write a story of the heart that takes the reader back more than a hundred years. The setting of House on the Hill is the late 1870s, when the Logan temple was under construction. Lyon’s own love for the Cache Valley and Logan Temple shine through her story, making it one of those hard-to-put-down novels.
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Lizzy, torn by emotions and questions concerning the reality and fairness of God, is left at the family farm to care for an ill younger brother while her parents and other family members attend a funeral some distance away. She loves David and wants only the best for him, but in her eagerness to provide service to her beloved brother, she sets the house on fire. She escapes the burning house and manages to rescue her brother, but the fire has two serious consequences. Her family cannot afford to rebuild and must move away. In addition, the chronically ill younger brother suffers continued complications from exposure.
The family that offers Lizzy’s family shelter initially is the family of her dearest friend, Joshua. Joshua and Lizzy have been friends since early childhood. As they’ve grown older, Joshua’s feelings for Lizzy have grown romantic, but Lizzy continues to see Joshua as her old, familiar playmate. He’s too familiar for her romantic nature to picture as a suitor. Joshua is patient, and he understands Lizzy better than she understands herself. He’s willing to wait for her and is sympathetic to her impulsive, romantic nature.
As Lyon focuses on character development, the reader gains a picture of Lizzy as a young woman who has a good heart, but who is a little dreamy and immature. She loves to read and fantasizes over the romantic heroes in her books. Her parents are both busy and practical, never suspecting their daughter’s frustration with the mundane or her questioning of spiritual matters. Joshua wants to please Lizzy and though they are good friends who enjoy long discussions, he keeps her in the dark concerning his love for her. His hard-working, plodding personality have him laboring long hours to reclaim her family’s farm as a wedding gift for her, though he fails to mention his feelings to her and she has no idea he is courting her. Even when he takes her for long sleigh rides back to the old farm and asks her opinion on furnishings for the new house he is building, she still fails to see him as a beau.
Lizzy’s days are filled with hard work and little privacy as the family is forced to live with another family in Logan (where her father has found work as a mason on the Logan temple). With her shaky testimony, the tedious labor that fills her days, and the acute pain of having lost her books in the fire, Lizzy is not happy until she meets a young man, Abe, who shares her love for literature and offers to share his books with her. He is handsome, romantic, and shares many of her own doubts concerning the gospel. They meet secretly because her parents, especially her mother, disapprove of him.
Lizzy’s mother cannot see beyond the color of Abe’s skin – nor can she understand how her daughter can fail to have a testimony of the Gospel as firm as her own. Additional pressure is placed on Lizzy and her relationships with her parents, siblings, and the two young men who love her through a number of disasters with far-reaching consequences.
Abe’s life hasn’t been pleasant. As a child who was abandoned by his Indian mother, he has been raised by a man who only values him for the work he can get out of him and a mother who is so brow-beaten she doesn’t dare stand up to her husband. Thrown out of their home at an early age, Abe obtains work on the temple, then hires on with a quarry crew where he and Joshua become good friends without either young man realizing that their girls back home are really just one girl – Lizzy. Abe is an honorable young man, who is reaching for something better than his past. He lovingly cares for his horses. He is tender with his foster mother and tries hard to overcome Lizzy’s mother’s prejudice. His feelings for Lizzy run deep.
I would have liked to see Lizzy confront her role in the fire at the beginning of the book better. It also seemed to me that her choices at the end of the book were based more on impulse and guilt than is healthy.
The triangle relationship holds the reader’s interest, is well-written, and believable, but some readers will be disappointed in the outcome if they are expecting the usual romance. Though the story involves romance, the book is more reality-based than formula romance. I found the best part of the book to be the details of the construction of the Logan Temple and the everyday life of those first- and second-generation members of the Church. There are a number of scenes that excellently portray both Lizzy’s gradual maturing and her spiritual growth, but paralleling her growth is the growth of a temple of God, complete with sacrifices, mistakes, and the beauty of the completed edifice. Just as there are parts of Lizzy that are known only to her and pondered in her secret heart, there are a few mysteries tucked inside the temple walls. Lyon has written a couple of contemporary romances in the past that are among the best of that genre, but her foray into historical fiction has created a memorable novel that will captivate far more readers than just those who enjoy romance.