by Shari Randall
My preferred genre to read is mystery but occasionally I branch out, usually into historical fiction. I especially enjoy novels about women breaking barriers and finding their voice. Gilded Age stories and stories of artists are also my go to’s, so debut novelist Suanne Schaefer’s A Different Kind of Fire was right up my alley.
Schaefer’s passionate tale of love, art, and first wave feminism centers on Ruby Schmidt, a talented artist who leaves her family and fiancé, Bismarck in Truly, Texas, to attend art school in Philadelphia in 1891. Despite her obvious talent, Ruby struggles against the restrictions placed on women, not just by society but also by her art school. She finds solace in the bohemian world of her fellow artists, and begins a lifelong love affair with Willow, daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia family.
When Willow’s family discovers the affair, Ruby is left destitute on the streets of Philadelphia. She becomes pregnant by a volatile Italian artist and marries him, but when he leaves her, she is forced to return to West Texas, to face those she left behind.
Ruby is a gutsy heroine - headstrong, determined, driven to pursue her art but longing to reconcile her love for art, love for her family, passion for Bismarck, and her longing for Willow – the “different kinds of fire” of the title.
The love scenes are erotic and explicit. Schaefer’s thorough research into and knowledge the art world of Gilded Age Philadelphia provides fascinating context, and her love of her West Texas roots is evident.
Ruby’s struggle to reconcile her passions – for art, for those she loves – made for an enthralling read.
I’m already looking forward to Schaefer’s next book, Hunting the Devil, about a biracial American physician who gets caught up in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
You can learn more about Suanne at her website, The Art of Words.