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Burning Sky: A Novel of the American…

Burning Sky: A Novel of the American Frontier

by Lori Benton

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Burning Sky is Lori Benton’s debut novel. If I had not known that, I would never have suspected that Benton was not an author with several novels to her credit. This novel is just sooo good! Great sense of place, lyrical writing, complex characters, wonderful plot, thought-provoking themes — you just can’t get any better than this. And while Burning Sky is labeled an historical novel, it easily transcends the genre. If you have to categorize it, I would say it is literary fiction. Interested yet? Then go out and get it! You won’t be disappointed.

Willa Obenchain was abducted by the Mohawk Indians at the age of fourteen. Twelve years later she returns to her former home as changed as the settlement of Shiloh is. The Revolutionary War is over, her parents are missing and the status of their homestead is to be determined by a magistrate. Having faced loss repeatedly over almost half her life, Willa is determined to live alone, without any chance of getting hurt again. But of course life takes over — a wounded naturalist lays across her path, as do two orphaned half-breed children, and her Mohawk brother. There are also those who cannot let the past remain in the past and are determined to drive Willa from her land.

Burning Sky is a novel with many strengths. Benton has created a world long past, but very real to the reader. The frontier of New York in the 1780s is depicted with historical accuracy. The characters, major as well as minor, are well-drawn, having a complexity that adds depth to their motives and actions. Willa is perhaps the strongest female character I have experienced this year. Benton’s writing style is beautiful, especially in the conversation of Neil MacGregor. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a man who talked like that!

There is a lot to discuss with Burning Sky as well. My book club meets tonight, and I anticipate great conversation to come from this novel. Is love without loss possible? How does God shape families? Is a gentle spirit more desirable than physical strength in times of crisis? And then there is the whole topic of slavery vs Indian abduction — is there any difference?

Burning Sky is one of those books I will think about for a long time. And one I will recommend over and over.

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

(Thanks to Waterbrook for an ARC of this novel. The opinions expressed are mine alone.) ( )
  vintagebeckie | Apr 28, 2014 |
“I am the place where two rivers meet, stilted with upheaval and loss“. So begins the narrative of Willa Obenchain–also known as Burning Sky–with these words spoken to herself as she is on her way to her first home. Taken from that home when she was 14 by Mohawk Indians, she learned to live contentedly among them until war and disease forced her to return. Yet she is not sure what she has to return to–after 12 years the Revolutionary war has changed everything and her parents may not even be alive. Surprisingly, Willa does not return alone–for she encounters a wounded man and his dog along the way. She drags him to her parents cabin, which turns out to be deserted, and nurses his wounds. She soon discovers that her neighbors are hostile, and that she may not even be permitted to stay–for they suspect her parents of having been Tories, and they plan to auction off their land. Still she is determined to survive, to plant a crop and keep the only thing that is left to her. Yet her neighbors will not let her forget her tainted past, nor will her Mohawk brother, Joseph Tames-His-Horse. And then there is the matter of the man she rescued, the Scotsman Neil MacGregor, who wants to lead her in a different direction. Above all, she must learn to trust the Almighty to direct her to the right path.
Lori Benton is a new author (this is her first book published by Waterbrook Press, a Christian publisher) and I am so glad I picked up the advance reading copy of this book! It was a delightful read and I was drawn in by Willa’s courage and the difficult choices she had to make. Her journey was a much one of the heart as it was one of survival, as she learned to overcome the emotional trauma she had endured and decide whether or not to risk opening up her heart to others again. The tension of seeing which man would win her affections–Joseph Tames-His-Horse or Neil MacGregor–made me keep turning the pages, along with wondering how she was going to overcome the many obstacles that threatened her survival. Neil MacGregor was also a quite intriguing character as he faced his own decisions about what course he would take–and often spoke to the Almighty with his Scottish burr in quite amusing and remarkable ways.
I would definitely suggest this book to lovers of thoughtful historical romances, especially if they enjoy stories which explore a person’s relationship with the Almighty along with their relationships with others and personal growth. It also has some suggested questions for those that might want to use it for a book discussion group–for which I think it would work well. I will look forward to more books from this author! ( )
  debs4jc | Nov 4, 2013 |
I absolutely love this beautiful story of Burning Sky/Willa,Lori Benton put alot of heart and research into her book as it leads us into the life of Burning sky, her sorrows and finally happiness is a very powerful story. I love the Scottish dialect she has put into this and the Revolutionary war is greatly depicted in this. I truely hope she makes a second story of Burning Sky, carry it on into a new story Lori!! ( )
  mware1961 | Sep 24, 2013 |
Title: Burning Sky
Author: Lori Benton
Pages: 400
Year: 2013
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
When I first laid eyes on the cover of the novel, it was interesting to say the least. However, when I read the summary I will admit my interest was piqued. Then, as the story began to unfold, I was literally reading to savor the rich tasting flavor with each page turned! I was just reclining, drinking ice tea and enraptured with the setting, characters and plot I could pull away from the page. The author’s debut novel paints the scenes so vividly the reader will swear they are actually witnessing the action.
The setting is in the wilderness of colonial New York when our nation was still attempting to be independent. One young woman born from German immigrants living out in the wilderness is captured and becomes adopted by a clan of the Mohawks. Her name is changed from Willa to Burning Sky. She is to no longer remember she is white or speak English. Now, lost to her one family, she knows she has a new one. However, later down the road, she experiences a loss of which she believes she will never recover. In an attempt to protect her heart, she builds wall around it never wanting to love and lose again.
Willa returns to the land where she was raised. During the journey, she comes across a man who is injured near her land marker. Neil turns out to not be as severely injured as first thought, but as time passes he comes to realize he has suffered the loss of the one ability he cherished most. With the war coming to an end, anyone thought to be loyal to the crown had their land forfeited. Without any knowledge of how to prove her parents loyalty to their new land, Willa stands to lose everything she owns. On top of that, she now has two orphans brought to her door by her Mohawk brother Joseph. How are Willa’s attempts to stay disengaged to protect her heart going to become her reality?
Believe me when I say this novel is epic! Full of emotion, adventure, history and more that will draw you away for a while from reality to enjoy it. The book is rich, enchanting and abundant really beyond my ability to adequately express. As I read, I just kept thinking how awesome this debut novel is, thrilling my heart more with each twist of the storyline. In all seriousness, I feel like I have discovered an author whose writing will capture readers’ hearts and minds for years to come!
My rating is 5+ stars.
Note: I received a complimentary copy for an honest review of this book. The opinions shared in this review are solely my responsibility. Other reviews can be read at http://seekingwithallyurheart.blogspot.com/ . Also follow me on Twitter @lcjohnson1988, FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/lisa.johnson.75457 ( )
  lcjohnson1988 | Aug 6, 2013 |
BURNING SKY by Lori Benton is an interesting Inspirational American Frontier Historical Fiction/Romance set in the late 1700's New York Frontier. Debut author. "Burning Sky" is the story of one woman's journey through two worlds and the men who loved her. Willa Obenchain was abducted at seventeen by Mahawk Indians,after twelve years she returns to the white man's world. What she finds is her parents missing rumored to be traitors to be Tories,secrets,danger,tension,a new family and love. An enduring epic tale of the Frontier in the early 1700's. After losing not one but two families,Willa finally finds healing,forgiveness,through loss,grief and love. A powerful story! If you enjoy Laura Frantz you will enjoy "Burning Sky". This debut author is a rising historical author who delivered vivid details of Frontier life,and the after effects of war. Engaging,realistic characters and a heart wrenching plot. A must read! Received for an honest review from the publisher. I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.
REVIEWED BY: AprilR, Review courtesy of My Book Addiction and More ( )
  MyBookAddiction | Jul 23, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307731472, Paperback)

Q&A with Lori Benton

Q. What first sparked your interest to write Burning Sky?

A. When I began researching the 18th century history of what would become the United States, almost at once I was drawn away from the populated seaboard settings to the sparsely settled periphery—the mountain and over-mountain frontier—where cultures inevitably collided, in friendship, trade, and war. What captured my imagination were those individuals who were drawn across those cultural barriers and not only survived the encounter, but thrived, in some cases learning to straddle that line between two worlds.

The Mohawk Valley of New York—before, during, and after the Revolutionary War—is a setting rife with such encounters, played out against the greater conflict of what amounted to a civil war. I couldn’t resist learning more about these men and women—European, African, and Native American—who survived profound losses, made wrenching choices, and saw their families and communities fractured by violence and upheaval, leaving them to redefine their identities as nations, neighbors, kin, and individuals.

I began writing Burning Sky in 2009, but because I let a story germinate for months before writing, I can’t recall exactly when the character of Willa Obenchain first came to me. What I do recall is that a vision of a solitary woman on a journey, somewhere on the New York frontier, intruded upon me as I was going about my day. She was tall and strong, and she bore a carrying basket on her back. And somewhere, I was fairly certain, a collie was lurking.

Q. Who is your favorite character and why?

A. Because I’ve attempted to live inside each main character’s skin, to understand them and their concerns, I’ve formed a deep attachment to all of them. But to give an answer I’ll choose Neil MacGregor, the wounded Scottish botanist Willa meets in the first chapter. Neil MacGregor is a survivor. He has suffered a debilitating injury that might easily have caused him to give up his life’s passion, his dreams. It’s an injury that renders everyday life more challenging. Yet he’s pressed on, found ways to compensate, and discovered he is capable of more than he’d ever have known had that injury not occurred. I find that inspiring, and I hope readers do as well.

Q. Do you have any Native American heritage in your own family?

A. Possibly, if ancient family history is to be trusted. In my case it traces back to the settling of Jamestown, and the Powhatan people of eastern Virginia, where I was born. But that’s very far back in my family history. I came to adulthood with no connections to Native American nations besides friendships. My husband’s Cherokee heritage is more recent, and more certain. He’s descended from a Cherokee family who didn’t go west in the 1830s along the Trail of Tears. They hid from government officials and remained in the east, and thus never ended up on the Dawes Rolls. My husband’s Cherokee ancestor eventually settled in Louisiana, where my mother-in-law was born. Now in her 80s, she remembers her half-Cherokee grandmother well.

Q. What do you believe is Willa’s most relatable characteristic to readers?

A. During the war years, prior to the opening of Burning Sky, the inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley who didn’t flee in the face of continual attacks lived within walled forts to survive. Devastated by personal losses, Willa Obenchain has internalized this defensive position, forting up her heart behind protective walls. But behind those walls she’s still a woman of fierce compassion. When push comes to shove she follows that compulsion, even if it entails putting herself in harm’s way. I admire that in Willa.

Q. How do you hope Burning Sky will affect readers?

A. I’m a storyteller first and foremost. As such I hope readers are entertained by Willa’s story and transported to her 18th century world to experience situations and challenges most of us (thankfully) don’t encounter in our daily lives, but that hold abiding interest nevertheless. Beyond that… I’ve heard it said that no two people who read the same book… read the same book. Each reader brings to the story a lifetime of experience (and opinions, wisdom, burdens, questions, preferences, and dislikes). It’s a wonderful, unpredictable chemistry that can happen between the reader and the story world. Sometimes the chemistry is strong and good. Sometimes it isn’t there at all. But if a reader should turn the last page of Burning Sky and find herself reminded that through trials and tears we have a heavenly source from which we can draw comfort, courage, and strength to help in time of need, I’d be thrilled.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:31:56 -0400)

"Formerly an Indian captive named Burning-Sky, Willa Obenchain unexpectedly returns to her family's New York homestead after her twelve-year absence. With faith in God and the skills to survive on the frontier, Willa must decide if love is possible as she faces the challenges brought on by her dual identities and an unforgiving land"--… (more)

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