Review: The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart

Title: The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart
Publisher: Kensington Books
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 376 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


Where the Crawdads Sing meets The Four Winds as award-winning author Donna Everhart’s latest novel immerses readers in its unique setting—the turpentine camps and pine forests of the American South during the Great Depression. This captivating story of friendship, survival, and three vagabonds’ intersecting lives will stay with readers long after turning the final page.

It takes courage to save yourself…

In the dense pine forests of North Carolina, turpentiners labor, hacking into tree trunks to draw out the sticky sap that gives the Tar Heel State its nickname, and hauling the resin to stills to be refined. Among them is Rae Lynn Cobb and her husband, Warren, who run a small turpentine farm together.

Though the work is hard and often dangerous, Rae Lynn, who spent her childhood in an orphanage, is thankful for it–and for her kind if careless husband. When Warren falls victim to his own negligence, Rae Lynn undertakes a desperate act of mercy. To keep herself from jail, she disguises herself as a man named “Ray” and heads to the only place she can think of that might offer anonymity–a turpentine camp in Georgia named Swallow Hill.

Swallow Hill is no easy haven. The camp is isolated and squalid, and commissary owner Otis Riddle takes out his frustrations on his browbeaten wife, Cornelia. Although Rae Lynn works tirelessly, she becomes a target for Crow, the ever-watchful woods rider who checks each laborer’s tally. Delwood Reese, who’s come to Swallow Hill hoping for his own redemption, offers “Ray” a small measure of protection, and is determined to improve their conditions. As Rae Lynn forges a deeper friendship with both Del and Cornelia, she begins to envision a path out of the camp. But she will have to come to terms with her past, with all its pain and beauty, before she can open herself to a new life and seize the chance to begin again.


The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart is a captivating historical novel which takes place in the turpentine camps of Georgia during the Depression.

Delwood “Del” Reese is a hard worker but his penchant for womanizing soon becomes his downfall. Barely escaping with his life, he lives an itinerant life before hiring on at a Georgia turpentine camp. Del immediately upsets the status quo by working alongside the Black men who “cat face” the pine trees. He and woods rider Crow intensely dislike one another and their rivalry intensifies after Del’s promotion makes them equals.

Rae Lynn and Warren Cobb have a small turpentine operation on their farm in North Carolina. Rae Lynn works as hard as Warren because of their lack of workers. Warren is well known for his clumsiness and eventually he is in a tragic accident. Rae Lynn flees the farm disguised as man so she can work in a turpentine camp in Georgia. Through a series of unfortunate and almost deadly events, Rae Lynn’s deception is discovered.

Commissary owner’s wife Cornelia Riddle is stuck in an abusive marriage but meeting Rae Lynn becomes a saving grace. Despite her best efforts not to anger her husband, she is often the target of his frustration. When Rae Lynn’s deception is uncovered, their friendship is the only thing that makes her life tolerable. With Del and Rae Lynn’s encouragement, Cornelia makes a decision that is truly life changing.

The Saints of Swallow Hill is an atmospheric historical novel that is quite fascinating. The various characters are vividly drawn and for the most part, very appealing. Rae Lynn has not had an easy life but she is compassionate and stands by her convictions. Del undergoes tremendous growth after his life altering experience. Cornelia is a sympathetic character that is caught in untenable situation.  The turpentine camp work is hard, the conditions deplorable and workers are often in debt to the company who hires them.  In spite of the hardship and poverty, Donna Everhart brings this vibrant, historically accurate novel to an uplifting conclusion.

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