By Leigh DeLozier @cleanfictionre1
Back cover copy: All of her life, Irish-American Moira Doherty has relished her mother’s descriptions of Ireland. When her mother dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1920, Moira decides to fulfill her mother’s wish that she become the teacher in Ballymann, her home village in Donegal, Ireland.
After an arduous voyage, Moira arrives to a new home and a new job in an ancient country. Though a few locals offer a warm welcome, others are distanced by superstition and suspicion. Rumors about Moira’s mother are unspoken in her presence but threaten to derail everything she’s journeyed to Ballymann to do. Moira must rely on the kindness of a handful of friends — and the strength of Sean, an unsettlingly handsome thatcher who keeps popping up unannounced — as she seeks to navigate a life she’d never dreamed of . . . but perhaps was meant to live.
My review: I had high hopes for A Dance in Donegal: first, because I’d seen so many positive reviews and excited readers online; and second, because only a fantastic book should be worthy of such a gorgeous cover. 😊
Were my high hopes justified? For the most part, yes. Moira and Sean are likeable characters and easy to cheer for. They’re both rather innocent despite their ages, so their attitudes about relationships and the way they deal with their feelings lean toward the more juvenile side of the scale. Of course, part of that could be characterization based on the time period and how the people in small villages lived.
Supporting characters Bríd, Colm and Peg are wonderful additions who add wisdom and warmth to the story. They help Moira and Sean grow in their faith and mature in various ways. This is particularly important for Moira, who longs for strong adult connections since her mother’s death.
Faith is a strong element throughout the story. Many characters are Christians and show it through prayers, conversations, reading the Bible and trying to teach others about Jesus. It’s all believable because of how Deibel has drawn the characters; it was nice to see Moira’s faith grow, as she wrestled with trusting she had followed God’s plan when she went to Ballymann and trying to understand what He wanted for her there. Anyone who tries to live a life following God can relate to that struggle and might be able to take some of the nuggets of wisdom offered to Moira.
One line from a conversation between Colm and Sean stuck with me: “Smack in the middle of what God is askin’ is the best place for any of us to be.” That’s advice worth considering in real life (even though it can sometimes feel awkward or uncomfortable), not just in a fictional world.
Who should read it: Readers who enjoy a sweet Christian romance, historical novels or books set in Ireland should like A Dance in Donegal. Even if you’ve never been to Ireland, Deibel’s descriptions and attention to detail (thanks to living there for a number of years) bring the story to life. It’s marketed for adults, but also is appropriate for teens or YA readers who are open to stories with characters older than themselves.
Bottom line: A Dance in Donegal is a solid debut novel from Jennifer Deibel. As a writer myself, I felt like some writing mechanics needed work, but that shouldn’t ruin the story for non-writing readers (and should improve as she becomes more experienced). She’s an author to watch as her other novels are published.
That’s my review of A Dance in Donegal. Have you read books set in Ireland that you recommend? Or, what do you think about Colm’s comment to Sean that I shared? Share below — I’d love to know your thoughts on either question.
Book details: A Dance in Donegal
Author: Jennifer Deibel
Genre: Historical romance
Publish date: February 2021