Ella Beckley, finally given a chance to be a nurse, is the only one who cares what happens to a sick infant girl, save for her striking father. Charlie Lionheart, a lion tamer for the circus, will do everything he can to protect baby Holland, and if that means bringing the nosy nurse back to the circus with him, then so be it. As she gets to know Charlie and other performers, Ella sees both the light and the dark of the circus, the beauty and the scars; and she is given a chance to heal from her own deep wounds.
Both the bright magic of the circus and the darker, grittier aspects are brought to life in this story, while maintaining the setting of the East Coast and Appalachians.
I was expecting Charlie Lionheart to be a showman and larger than life--which, to a degree, he is--but the way he's introduced is so down to earth and real, that that was how I saw him throughout the story: a man in love with his child, doing everything he knows to do to provide for and protect her. Only as the story progresses do we find out what lengths he has gone to, what intensely personal sacrifices he has made to protect the baby. He's the best kind of hero.
A moving story of healing, it focuses on both physical and spiritual aspects. I wouldn't call it an allegory, but there is definitely a fair amount of symbolism--in many ways, Charlie is a reflection of Jesus, and it isn't much of a stretch to see ourselves in Ellie's place. Over all, it's a beautiful story, and a winner of the 2017 Christy Award for best historical romance--the first ever given to an independently published book!