Reviewed by Alisha Churbe

In the isolated small community of Sweetwater, Idaho, a man is accused of burning down the house of a Muslim family. The man is Chas McPherson, a blackbelly sheep farmer who keeps to himself, but gives an honest opinion if asked. Chas’s father, Franklin McPherson is now an elderly, mute man engulfed in Parkinson’s disease. Franklin was once the wrathful and punishing preacher of the small town and has made only enemies.

Chas, whether because of shame, guilt, refusal or other hidden feelings, is unable and unwilling to care for his ailing father. He posts a position for a nurse; he knows he needs help but describes a job no one would want to accept. Mattie accepts the job as a way to tackle and quiet her own past full of demons. Chas is unwelcoming, difficult and lonely. The secrets of each character are both further hidden and more exposed throughout, creating a rhythm of storytelling that is emotional and authentic. Extreme care is given to the descriptions of the isolated and rustic environment which only serves to further illustrate and enhance the feelings of isolation and guilt of each of the characters.

The story takes some surprising turns and presents different accounts of faith, religion, guilt, shame and how those feelings can eventually lead to forgiveness, hope, and redemption. The themes dominate the story and invite you to rethink your own views.

All at once a novel of crime and suspense with elements of a western and a drop of romance, Sweetwater Burning moves at a surprising tempo with shocking twists that will leave you at the end without realizing. Sharfeddin’s foreshadowing is very quiet and subtle, her writing fluid and descriptive. The novel ends with in a perfect bow that I don’t feel quite fits the mood of the rest of the novel. Don’t let that deter you, one small misstep doesn’t discount the beauty and thoughtfulness of the entire novel.

Rating: 4/5

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Lissy Peace & Associates. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.