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The Rainwater Secret

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“The Rainwater Secret” is a deeply moving, historical fiction novel about a woman who becomes a missionary in Africa after the death of her mother. Single and feeling there is nothing left for her in small-town England, Anna embarks on an adventure as a volunteer with the Medical Missionaries of Mary to teach the leper children in Africa. Life as Anna has known it, is forever changed as she learns the culture that would banish its sick, disfigured, and crippled to the jungles. Babies are left to die on roadsides, children are chased away to live by whatever means they can find. The aged are abandoned. Anna’s daily life is an adventure as she travels from one village to another across a hostile land with few passable roads, rickety bridges threatening to fall apart and cast its occupants on the jagged rocks far below, and weather that turns a calm river into a roiling death trap. In spite of the trials, Anna also manages to find love and family in this godforsaken land. Follow this adventure through disease, weather, strife, death and determination to turn a few acres of land into a loving home for the outcast lepers of Nigeria.

361 pages, Kindle Edition

Published March 30, 2017

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About the author

Monica Shaw

3 books30 followers
Monica Shaw is a writer in Dallas, Texas. Her debut novel, The Rainwater Secret, started off as a personal research project looking into the life of her great aunt who became a missionary later in life. Shaw is married with 3 children.

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5 stars
81 (57%)
4 stars
39 (27%)
3 stars
16 (11%)
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4 (2%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 31 reviews
Profile Image for Camille Maio.
Author 10 books1,041 followers
February 5, 2021
This book was an exceptional and memorable read. Inspired by the true story of the author's aunt as a missionary in Nigeria, it is full of heart, peril, love, and history. I will be recommending this one to many friends.
25 reviews2 followers
September 11, 2021
The Rainwater Secret is an excellent read about a young woman who joins a missionary in Nigeria. The mission cares for the medical and educational needs of the outcast villagers affected by leprosy.
The characters are very well described especially their relationships and tragedies that many encounter.
Also, the Nigeria countryside is depicted vividly allowing the reader to become vicariously part of the story.
I highly recommend this book. It is hard to put down!!
Profile Image for Peggy Hess Greenawalt.
595 reviews12 followers
March 9, 2021
What an amazing story about leprosy and Nigeria based on the true life of Anna Goodwill. It made me smile, laugh, cry, and appreciate the amazing sacrifices of missionaries all over our world. It had me on the edge of my seat as well. I loved this book, and highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Mary Manson.
325 reviews
September 28, 2019
Beautiful Memoir and Definitely a Worthy Read

This is an absolutely amazing book! Beautifully written and a book I read as fast as I could because I wanted to finish learning about the life of Anna Goodwill. Honestly, I was intrigued by the title of the book but, I am blessed by reading about her lifelong fight to provide medical help and so much more for the people afflicted with leprosy in Africa.
1 review
November 4, 2022
This book did more than take me on bumpy kit car rides around Ogoja; it made me imagine my own life, and the endless comforts I take for granted each day. When life is at its most bare, when we're stripped beyond what our egos could imagine, simple things become holy things. It's a story about faith, loss, love, and what we can possess on earth while we're here.

The main character, Anna, spends most of the book on a mission in Africa. She volunteers with the Medical Missionaries of Mary to teach and heal lepers. She doesn't hesitate in fear of the unknown because she trusts in God and his plan for her life. Her bravery reminds me of Mary's, and she becomes like a mother of God to the children who have been cast out of their homes.

She is a true lily of the valley, hopeful for rain when dew drops dry. At the end, love is all that's left, and it continues through the dust of the dry season.
May 1, 2019
Set in the 1940s, this was an intensely enlightening and moving look into the life of a young woman who willingly sacrificed any sense of convenience and normalcy to travel with Catholic missionaries into Africa in order to teach in a leper colony. Even more fascinating was the fact that it was largely based on the real life and work of the author's great-aunt, making this a refreshing and inspiring read about a woman choosing to live beyond herself as she tries to make a difference in a world so far removed from the only life she had ever known. The writing is so detailed and engaging that I oftentimes found myself forgetting that this wasn't a biography!

Filled with enriching descriptions that take readers across continents, what at first seems like a change of pace for a young woman left reeling from the loss of a suitor gradually encompasses her life and provides new meaning and fulfillment. As she moves beyond mourning, she settles into a life within the jungle that brings about its own drama as well. Each day is filled with hard work, and survival is not guaranteed, but rather than give up or become overwhelmed by the unknown, Anna's determination and loyalty to her Christian charity provides deep satisfaction at completing the day's activities, which ultimately ended up spanning decades. Readers are also provided the unique opportunity to gain even more insight into Anna's perspective when some of her letters to her best friend in England are shared in their entirety. This gives such a complete understanding of Anna's feelings regarding pivotal moments throughout the course of the story. These snapshots across time bear witness to just how much changes, or in most cases, how much remained the same.

As the years go by, Anna becomes so much more than just a character on the page. She truly comes alive as we celebrate with her victories, cry alongside her near misses, and rally behind her unwavering dedication to bring love and learning to the most unfortunate among us. It is within these pages that the glorious meaning of selfless service is defined.

There is so much to be both entertained and educated by when reading this book, which is a truly solid example of what compelling historical fiction should be! And I do hope that you take the time to check it out!

Many thanks to the author and Lone Star Book Blog Tours for providing me with a free book in exchange for my honest and thoughtful opinion. This review and more special features can be found on That's What She's Reading blog at thatswhatshesreading.com.
Profile Image for Jo.
407 reviews
October 28, 2019
"Lepers were destined to a life of seclusion from the rest of the world, yet they longed for human companionship. They rarely touched one another, since they had their own hierarchy. It was like, "I have it so bad, but not as bad as you do," That attitude kept them from touching each other for fear of making it worse. As Anna touched this lady, she appeared overjoyed."

"Another result of the injections was giving the patient the feeling that someone cared about them. Someone was tring to make them feel better. They might be drowning, but hep was rowing out to them with a life vest. And maybe, just maybe, they could be cured and return to their families. After all, they could dream."

Based on true story, young British teacher travels to Nigeria to be a teacher at a leprosy colony run by Catholic mission. Her one extravagance/pleasure is the Rainwater Secret. The story is riveting as she faces dangers, adventures, relationships, life, death and love.

"You can't make a person like you who's already made up their mind not to. You can pray for them but it's truly out of your hands."

182 reviews4 followers
October 8, 2022
6th of October was my blog tour spot of ZooloosBookTours for The RainWater Secret by Monica Shaw. I read this historical novel as an ebook for this tour and I’m glad that I took part on this tour because this novel made very interesting and emotional reading. It follows a teacher who sets off to Africa on an adventure as part of a group of missionaries to help people who are suffering from leprosy. I couldn’t believe that it is a true story, Anna really lived and earned medals for her selfless work in Africa. It made this historical novel seem even more special as I can’t believe the courage of the people working tirelessly in Africa helping others.
I really loved the location of The Rainwater Secret. I like travelling to a different place and time via novels and this historical novel definitely took me on a journey to a far away place. This historical novel was quite a lengthy read and not to be rushed. It is totally different to the many crime novels and thrillers that I read and I liked it.
I’m giving this historical novel 4 stars as it is a true story about real people helping others and I really liked reading the story of the courageous missionaries in Africa.
Profile Image for Christena.
218 reviews52 followers
May 2, 2019
“There are a lot more tracks I can’t read so I’m still learning, but at least I haven’t seen a hungry lion or an angry elephant. When I have to bathe, the tracks in the mud make my trips down to the river adventurous. Before, I didn’t even blink an eye, or for that matter have a dark thought. Now, I’m stopping every thirty seconds and studying the tracks. It makes my journeys somewhat longer and certainly a bit more stimulating.”

The Rainwater Secret is a story filled with pain, loss, and resilience. A typical story yet – it’s so much more and here’s why. The story revolves around Anna who was dealt two devastating blows and she sold everything and went to Nigeria to become a missionary teacher to children with leprosy.

In the beginning chapters, I already knew three predictable things about the progression of this story that the marriage between Anna and her Clarence was not going to be. Secondly, I knew Anna’s mother would be dead when Anna returned from picking up her mother’s medicine. Third, I knew what would happen next with Anna when she needed to escape the pain of those losses.

What I did not see coming was how Anna would immerse herself fully into the missionary life in Nigeria helping people with leprosy especially the kids. Even with the given warnings to reach out to the kids and people hidden amongst the trees around the settlement, the best part of this story evolved between Clarence and Anna. This Clarence aptly named by Anna was a small boy with leprosy when she first encountered him in the remoteness of Nigeria. She watched him grow into a young man and become a man and have children of his own. It was this Clarence who gave her the rainwater secret that kept Anna sane during her time in Nigeria.

“When the rains came, the ground turned to mud and funny enough, green grass sprung up out of nowhere. It was like the grass had been hiding and all of sudden it came to life.”

When I put the book down my mind kept being transported back to what was going to happen to Anna next so I had to get it back it. I can only imagine experiencing a country like Nigeria before modernism took hold. Author Monica Shaw transports you to this country when roads and bridges were almost nonexistent and leopards roamed freely through settlements.

When you experience so much death each death leaves an indelible memory that cannot be erased and Anna experienced a lot of death.

Shaw moves the story eloquently along with huge passages of time. The story really comes to life with the personal letters written by Anna to her friend back in Britain.

I truly admire authors writing fiction books who find ways to incorporate nonfiction elements in their books. Shaw opened my eyes to a history I did not know regarding the Biafran war. Shaw gave this war a heart wrenching, gut-twisting, a few tears shed turmoil for the main characters of the book in the last chapters. When you think everything will end peacefully the most emotional roller coaster of the book begins in its pages. The Medical Missionaries of Mary actually does exist and was started in Nigeria in 1937 by Mary Martin.


The Rainwater Secret is an apt title for a book that deals with so much death, hope, and love. Shaw crafted a story around a heroine that shows no matter how much adversity one faces in life, no matter how much death is thrown at you, it’s how you choose to live your life afterward that matters and at least Anna was smiling at the end.

Anna pursed her lips. “Memories of death tend to stick with me.”

The one question I’ll always want answered is what was in that box that Grant gave Anna? If you notice by the quotes I pulled from the book having Anna connect with the nature around her was truly meaningful to me as a wildlife biologist. It’s those kinds of connections that books memorable and special. Thanks, Monica for The Rainwater Secret.
1 review
March 8, 2022
I loved The Rainwater Secret and the fabulous story of Anna's adventures in Nigeria with the Medical Missionaries of Mary. It was enlightening to read about her tireless compassion for the lepers in the community where she lived and worked in for so many years. I particularly loved the letters she wrote to her best friend, Molly, with the vivid accounts of her daily life. There was never a dull moment !

I had the pleasure of meeting the author Monica Shaw. She graciously agreed to speak to our book club. We were fascinated by the research she did about her great aunt and enjoyed seeing the original photos of "Anna" and actual the leper community where she spent 20+ years of her life.

Who knew rain water would make your hair lustrous??
2 reviews
December 30, 2018
An awesome and enlightening book. Based on the life of a teacher living in England in the 1940's and 50's who travels to remote Africa with a group of missionaries to teach leper children. These babies and children were discarded in fields when they showed signs on leprosy. The author based the book on her great aunt's life - and it kept me on the edge of my chair - just waiting to start the next chapter. I learned so much about leper colonies, and life back in this era. I highly suggest this book to everyone. I can see it as a Netflix series - it is awesome and just needs more awareness.
257 reviews
May 15, 2020
This was a fun book. it would be a great book club book because it has everything: Excitement, romance, geography, politics, religion, a purpose (treating leprosy before cures were available) engaging characters and a perilous escape. Based on more than one real characters known to the author. The author is available by Zoom for your zoom book club meetings, and has photographs of the land and people involved! Also has the original photo which inspired the cover.

An easy read and a page turner.

Profile Image for Laine Cipolla.
99 reviews
July 8, 2021
So this wasn't my typical genre and I held onto this book for about a year and a half before I finally got around to it - but I'm glad I finally did! Anna's adventures in Africa were interesting and exciting to read. Definitely a lot of truth and drama to the realities of living in the African bush - but so satisfying to read and experience the impact one person can have by trying new things and caring for others.
8 reviews
September 21, 2022
A lovely story with plenty of uplifting, hopeful experiences as well as scary, perilous adventures. This is a fun read. It is very well researched and easy to follow. I enjoyed feeling a part of a story which took place just after WWII in remote Africa. The author provides excellent detail about the geography, culture, history, and conditions of her setting in Nigeria. She deftly weaves these facts into a smartly conceived fictional story with compelling characters and plot twists and turns.
April 14, 2019
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There is a free flowing style to Ms. Shaw's writing that connects you with the characters. I laughed - I cried - I received hope from the truly good people in this book. I highly recommend it.
32 reviews
March 21, 2020
I feel like I’ve been to Nigeria!

I really enjoyed experiencing Anna’s life as she worked so hard to help build the leper sanctuary. Her ups and downs began to feel personal. I was right there with her! Loved it all!
Profile Image for Sophia Galvin.
2 reviews4 followers
May 18, 2017
The Rainwater Secret is an adventurous and moving story about a woman who is willing to sacrifice everything she’s ever known and everyone she’s ever loved to serve the people that the rest of the world has forgotten about. Anna’s love, devotion and loyalty to the mission is immeasurable to anything I have witnessed in my life. This book made me want to hop on a plane and teach children in Nigeria. I love it, I love it, I love it and I recommend it to anyone who loves a good story, a good cry and a good laugh.
1 review
September 10, 2019
Learned so much about the Leper Colony in Africa run my the medical ministry of Mary. A true tale of courage and hope any beautiful people of Africa.
October 30, 2018
"The Rainwater Secret" is the story of an adventurous, brave young woman, Anna, who travels from Ireland to Africa to carve out a life for herself as a teacher in a leper colony. Set in the mid-to-late 20th century, we mourn as she watches a potential suitor marry another. Clench our teeth as she sets sail aboard a rickety ship bound for Nigeria. Then heave a sigh of relief when she finally reaches her destination. After she settles into her life amidst wilds of the jungle, we root for her as she navigates through relationships with the nuns (one of whom is a pill), as well as galvanizes her relationships with those around her: the head priest, Clarence (a village leper boy), her beloved students, another potential husband (who is a real rascal) and a variety of other colorful characters. High drama ensues, as we watch her narrowly miss a tiger attack, motor to neighboring towns in primitive vehicles that read more like golf carts and hide from warring tribes who threaten to kill her. Throughout the narrative, you'll share in Anna's secret of washing her hair in rain water, which makes it silky and soft. However, that's just the literal interpretation of the novel's title. During the last chapter in the last few paragraphs is where the full, glorious meaning of "The Rainwater Secrets" unfolds.

While Anna's charm and spunk will cause you to cheer and lament, cry and gasp, it's her determination, loyalty and Christian charity that will capture your heart. In our world that's often rife with unspeakable tragedy, Anna is an unforgettable character whose selflessness and love for "the least of these" will remind you of all that's good about life.
Profile Image for Lorilei Gonzales.
163 reviews3 followers
April 24, 2019
While I can see this book appealing to the Eat, Pray, Love set, The Rainwater Secret spoke to me on a deeper, maybe even primal level. That might seem strange since the main character, Anna, journeys to the wilds of Africa with Catholic missionaries, and I should probably be affected on some spiritual level. But to be honest, the theme of survival that runs throughout the novel didn't bring up many Biblical allusions to me. Although now that I write that broad statement, I can think of some stories in the Bible that could parallel with the trials faced by the Medical Missionaries of Mary and the people in the leprosy settlement in general.

But as I was immersed in the story, those connections were not established. That could actually be good news for readers who avoid Christian books. This book does not force religion or the author's beliefs on you. It actually shows that even the most pious person can be flawed and that humanity stems from being human, not necessarily one's faith.

I felt a fierce protectiveness over Anna, a woman of almost thirty who seemed to do everything right but received the short end of the stick. I loved that she never pitied herself or her situation - although I wonder if that could partially be due to her best friend's disability as a byproduct of warfare. And as war had ruined much of her future prospects, I couldn't help but admire her drive to run to a place on the verge of its own civil war.

Some might look at Anna's actions and think she was just outrunning heartbreak or perhaps that she was just some privileged white woman who wanted to help the poor in order to feel better about herself, but really think about the time period and where she is going. No one with an ounce of selfishness would volunteer to work among lepers in Africa. These people are the untouchables, literally. The disease is so feared that villages cast out even infants in an attempt to stop the spread. But even before she sets her eyes on the horrific living conditions of the outcasts, Anna could have gone back home when she realized just halfway to her destination how harsh the environment was and how dangerous it was to be a white woman in the bush.

Shaw writes in such a way that I forgot this was fiction. I could feel the grit in my mouth as the characters ate food during dry, windy days and grimaced as the nurses injected the patches of leprosy patients with dull needles. When I found out that Shaw based this novel on the life of her aunt and her own personal research, I was not surprised. She writes with an intimacy that goes beyond dreaming up a character and a story, and makes the reader emotionally invested. When I reached the end, I was satisfied but I would have loved to live those 20 years in Africa with Anna. Without the usual gloss of romanticizing the great unknown or softening the blow of loss and destruction, Shaw gives us an honest portrayal of missionary work in the 1940s.

After reading about the obstacles that Shaw faced in order to get this book published, I feel that I have to mention that the only thing that sets this book apart from what you see at the bookstore are all the extra markings printed by the big publishing houses on the spine and cover. This book is solid with gorgeous cover artwork, good typesetting and editing (I only noticed a few typos near the end), and constructed with quality materials. I sincerely hope that publishers take notice of Shaw and pick up her next novel.
Profile Image for A.Borroel.
41 reviews
May 1, 2019
Wonderful. This book was simply wonderful all around. From the moment you pick it up and read, until the time you are on the last page, you simply will not want to put this interesting and attention grabbing book down. The author uses her words, descriptions and all-around narrative to elevate this already fascinating tale of her great aunt's life and takes it to the next level.

Even though this book is historical fiction, the characters felt real to me. There is a part where the Priest goes though a little something and I had so many feelings for him. And the main character, Anna, makes me want to be a better person. She makes question if I would be able to endure a life full of wonder, death and the abscence of toilets so that I could help make a difference in children's lives.

Along with the characters, the whole book makes you feel a rollercoaster of emotions. There are funny moments, like with Anna getting in trouble with one of the nuns. There are heart warming moments, like when Anna is teaching is her leper children, joyous moments like when the Pirest becomes a Bishop and sad moments, with all the unexpected deaths and even some scary times thrown in their. So many emotions, yet it still flows very well and th characters really process these emotions in a timely manner.

I also want to point out a small aspect that made me happy. As you come to know Anna, you know her desire to want a family, but she chooses to stay in her colony and ends up making the leper kids her family and that is just beautiful.

I think this is a spot on book, but if I could ask the author anything, it would be if any of these characters were real and if any of the events actually took place. It really intrigues me too see what was real and if some of the crazy stories were created from one of her aunts letters.

Overall, I give this book a 5 out of 5. I highly recommend it and you can try to win your own copy for free by clickin on the giveaway below!
Profile Image for Erin Decker.
112 reviews27 followers
May 1, 2019
The Rainwater Secret is a powerful historical fiction novel that reminds us that the world is bigger than ourselves and that we as a humanity need to take care of one another. This story centers around Anna, a young woman in pursuit of a life purpose following World War II. When her beau marries another woman and her mother passes, Anna is left with only her best friend. She is inspired by a young visiting priest's sermon about taking care of the lepers in Africa. Following her instinct she applies for a position in the leper colony as a teacher. She knows she can bring experience to the people in Africa and teach them to take care of themselves and each other. 

Though fictional, Anna is based on the author's aunt, and is an inspiring and relateable character. The author uses vivid imagery to bring you, the reader, with Anna on her journey through the ups and downs of her life in the African Savannah amongst the wild creatures, the people, and the living conditions. Anna experiences so much loss and heartache that you really become compassionate with how resilient her character is and you end up rooting for her and all her comrades in the leper community.

This book left me wishing for more and I cannot wait to see if this author puts out any other novels. I highly recommend this to fans of historical fiction and those that feel a need to help out their world community. I gave this book a solid 5 out of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Kathy.
21 reviews2 followers
January 7, 2022
Monica Shaw has written a wonderful historical fiction based upon an aunt who traveled to a leprosy camp in Ogoja, Nigeria to serve as a missionary/teacher in 1946. It is a remarkable story that paints an accurate and interesting picture of a rugged life there during this time period. A perfect book club read, it provided adventure, politics, a little romance, and factual information about leprosy. Additionally, the author presented a fabulous historical slide show on Zoom during our meeting with actual photographs of the mission work in Ogoja.
1 review1 follower
August 11, 2017
This was a very good book by a first time novelist. Monica Shaw does an excellent job chronicling the adventures of a fictionalized version of her great aunt. Set in the 1950s in a Leprosy Settlement, the reader is entertained and educated about the culture, history, and challenges of the time. I thought the book started a bit slow with some background information on the main character (Anna), but once the story gets to Africa it is a real page turner! Would love to see this become a movie.
Profile Image for Pam Chantrell.
539 reviews11 followers
October 3, 2020
An absolutely fascinating read made all the more amazing because it is based on a relative of the author. I read the book with incredulity that someone could have lived such a full and varied life dealing with adversity, challenge, heartbreak and joy. I read this book slowly because I wanted to savour it all. I was sad when it ended because I was so invested in the life of Anna and her friends. It is very well written in such a way that I remained engaged and interested all of the way through. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jennifer Cross.
Author 1 book1 follower
May 23, 2017
The story of Anna Goodwill is one of courage, faith and determination. It was inspiring, entertaining and at times heartbreaking. It took you deep into the wilds of Africa where a young woman had run away from everything she knew to find everything she would ever need to know inside herself.

From the varied character descriptions to the tightly wound plot, I am so happy to have experienced Anna's story.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
643 reviews9 followers
October 8, 2022
This is a bit different to some of my recent reads but I think a lot of readers will enjoy this one.

This is actually a novel that's based on true events which I liked a lot, knowing that the things in the story actually happened.

I felt like this was quite a rewarding read and one that stays with you after reading.

If you do enjoy history and stories of the past this one might be a book that you enjoy investing your time in.
20 reviews
May 19, 2017
A bit tedious

Interesting story but way too detailed. I had no idea it was a fictional representation of a true story until the end. And I have no idea what the relationship of the author was to the main character.
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