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Women's Rights and the Rise of Public Education - an Editorial Review of "Brighter Than Her Fears"

Book Blurb:

The 19th century women's rights movement and the rise of public education intertwine with one woman's story of struggle, perseverance, and love.

When her father dies and the family inn falls to ruin in 1882, western North Carolina, thirty-year-old Alice Harris is compelled to marry Jasper Carter, a Civil War veteran twice her age. Far from home and a stranger in a new family, Alice remakes herself. She learns to farm tobacco, mothers her stepson, and comes to love her husband.

However, Alice uncovers pending trouble with the family's land holdings, which threatens their livelihood on the farm. The growth in Asheville promises a different future—one of manufacturing, transportation, tourism, and wealth. Alice believes this future demands an education and she rebels against the limited rural instruction. She joins forces with other women campaigning for Asheville's first public schools. Her actions spark the rebuke of the Carter men.

Tragedy strikes and Alice's newfound security is ripped away. The family challenges her property rights and files for guardianship of her stepson. Battered but determined, Alice turns to the law—and a friendly court clerk—to fight for her independence. Will Alice lose everything? Not if she can help it.

Lisa Ard's debut historical fiction novel will resonate with readers for its parallels, between then and now, on women's rights, inequality, and racism.

Author Bio:

Lisa Ard is the author of the adult historical fiction novel: Brighter Than Her Fears, and three children’s books: Fright Flight, Dream Team, and Saving Halloween (a Kay Snow Award Finalist). When not writing, you’ll find Lisa leading bike tours in Palm Springs, golfing, or curled up with a good book.

Find out more at her website: authorlisaard dot com

Editorial Review:

"Brighter Than Her Fears" is a captivating book written by Lisa Ard, which takes us back in

time to Asheville, in the year 1882. Amidst the enchanting landscape of the mountainous

region, we follow the fascinating story of Alice Harris and her sister Jennie as they navigate

through the changes brought by war and railroad progress in an era marked by strict beliefs

and conventions.

The novel begins with Alice, a 30-year-old woman, preparing for a marriage she considers

more of a necessity than a desire. While she stifles her own desires and puts aside her heart,

Alice is determined to do everything she can to support her family and, especially, to care for

her younger and more fragile sister, Jennie. In a landscape marked by the changes brought by

war and technological progress, the characters face social pressures and their own doubts and


An important part of the story is the relationship between Alice and Jennie, the two sisters

who support each other in the face of life's uncertainties and challenges. Alice, with all her

determination and courage, often feels overwhelmed by the responsibility of protecting and

caring for her loved ones, while Jennie navigates the world with sensitivity and a whirlwind

of emotions, often troubled by the changes around her.

As the story unfolds, we meet a series of intriguing supporting characters, such as Elizabeth

Shackton and Margaret, who bring not only vivid colors of society from that era but also new

perspectives and ideals. Intrigues and surprising events unfold in a rich and detailed setting,

offering the reader a captivating panorama of life in Asheville at the end of the 19th century.

An interesting aspect of the book is how the author explores the relationships between

characters and family dynamics. From the complicated relationship with her older husband,

Jasper, to the bonds with her sister, Jennie, and other family members, Alice grapples with

questions about love, loyalty, and independence, navigating through complex emotions and

tense relationships as she seeks her own path in life.

One of the main themes of the book is the struggle for independence and autonomy in a

world where women were often limited by social conventions and societal expectations.

Through Alice's story, the author underscores the importance of self-confidence and finding

one's own voice in a world dominated by male voices.

Jasper’s lips met mine, and he paused when they quivered. I pressed mine together, willing myself to reach forward and touch my lips to his own. His palm curved around my face and sensuous kisses fell across my mouth, neck, collarbone and elsewhere. With his tender caresses, my body softened. My husband took his time exploring the length of my body, discovering its hidden places. In the light of day, I was large and cumbersome. Tonight I became light and shadow. A flooding warmth replaced the earlier heat I’d experienced. No one had told me what to expect and yet I knew what to do.”

This quote reflects Alice's transformation as she discovers her own sexuality and understands

her body in relation to her husband.

She understands the importance of education in changing people's lives and is determined to

follow her vision, even if it means going against what is expected of a woman in those times.

In the midst of grappling with her own struggles, Alice finds herself facing a complex

dilemma when she wants to contribute more to society. Her attempts to make a difference in

her community often intersect with unexpected obstacles and difficult choices. While she

desires to use her resources and influence to do good in the world around her, Alice faces

moral questions and her own limitations. Faced with challenges and the need to make tough

choices, her internal struggle becomes evident, reflecting the complexity of human dilemmas

and the duty to society.

Had Elizabeth invited me here with a purpose? Had she sized me up and concluded I was unhappy with the role I must soon take on? With my former life gone, I yearned for a choice in my future and a purpose. Public education might have come too late for Jennie and me, but it would help others. I’d been led like a good horse to marry. Perhaps it was time for me to lead.”

The novel captures the beauty of the bond between Alice and her son, Claude, as well as the

importance of the support she receives from family members and friends in difficult times.

Her relationship with William, a trusted ally, provides crucial support in her quest for justice

and independence.

Through detailed narration and well-defined characters, the author creates a poignant and

inspirational story about the courage and resilience of a woman in the face of life's

adversities. Another remarkable aspect of the book is the complex relationship between the

characters and their evolution over time. Over the years, we see how their bonds strengthen

and how they find mutual support in difficult moments.

Lisa Ard manages to capture the atmosphere and specific characteristics of the period and

place where the action of the book takes place, bringing to life the picturesque landscapes and vibrant characters.

The breeze shifted, bringing the scent of roses. I breathed in the sweet smell and swept a dry, brown-edged petal from my skirt, hoping to brush away the melancholy that settled upon us.”

I pictured the empty porch at home, the quiet bedroom, and no companion with whom to share my days and nights. Since Jasper’s death, I had occupied myself with a multitude of tasks, allowing little time to think. Here in the quiet afternoon, I glimpsed my lonely future in the woman at my side."

Shame washed over me as I sat on the wooden pew. The sermon on Job held new meaning. Five years ago, Jasper and I had discussed the devil’s trickery within the story. Today my focus turned to Job’s friends questioning his innocence. They asked whether he deserved his afflictions, and he responded with sarcasm, hiding his impatience and fear.”

These excerpts from the book illustrate the author's ability to create vivid and poignant

imagery that captures the essence of the story and brings the emotions and thoughts of the

characters to the forefront.

The book will captivate you from the first pages and linger in your mind long after you finish

it. With well-defined characters, an emotional story, and an authentic setting, this book is

definitely worth reading and appreciating by all who love quality literature.

Lisa Ard skillfully blends elements of history, society, and interpersonal relationships in a

captivating and emotional story about the courage to rise against conventions and follow your

heart in a world full of challenges and changes. "Brighter than Her Fears" is a captivating and

emotional book that explores important themes such as love, independence, and identity in a

world dominated by social conventions and rigid expectations. With complex characters and

a captivating story, this book is recommended reading for those interested in historical fiction

and the exploration of the human condition. It is a captivating read that will impress and

inspire readers alike.


“Brighter Than Her Fear” by Lisa Ard receives five stars from The Historical Fiction Company



To have your historical novel editorially reviewed and/or enter the HFC Book of the Year contest, please visit 


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