Book Review: Anchor in the Storm

AnchorIn Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin, Lillian Avery looks forward to her first job as a professional pharmacist in Boston in 1941. Her new boss had not wanted to hire a woman, but a male pharmacist wasn’t available. He’s also aggravated about employing a “cripple,” though Lillian’s wooden leg doesn’t hinder her work in the least.

While Lillian sets out to prove her value at work, she fends off attention from her brother’s best friend, Arch Vandenberg. Arch is rich and good-looking, but Lillian feels these attributes are hindrances rather than attractions. Besides, for reasons of her own, she doesn’t trust any man and will never allow herself to be weak.

Arch is an Ensign recently assigned to a destroyer along with Jim Avery, Lillian’s brother. Jim and Arch had survived an attack on their previous destroyer, but Arch has been battling flashbacks, shaking hands, and a fear of being trapped below decks. He can’t tell anyone, though, both because he is an officer, and because he might be ejected from the Navy.

Arch hates his family’s wealth and plans to give his inheritance away when he gets it. He’s tired of girls who only show interest because of his family’s money. Lillian seems different, but they get off to a wrong start. Arch decides to just befriend her with the hopes that eventually she’ll be open to him as more than a friend.

While Lillian notices some odd prescriptions at the pharmacy, Arch notices odd behavior on the ship: men acting groggy, almost drunk, and not performing their duties well. Lillian tries to alert a detective to her suspicions, but he doesn’t believe she has enough evidence. Lillian and Arch decide to investigate together and compare notes. But their findings might be just as dangerous as the war.

My thoughts:

I don’t like to read romance just for the sake of romance, especially giddy, silly romances.  Sarah’s stories have much more to them, and I love that. They are neither silly nor giddy. Lillian and Arch have much to work through, mentally as well as spiritually, and the plot line involves more than their romance. I always love the way Sarah includes a lot of historical data about WWII but without becoming stuffy or didactic. The mystery plot line was well-done and the faith element was natural and realistic. I enjoyed the book very much.

This book is the second in the Waves of Freedom series, the first being Through Waters Deep. Though some characters from the first book appear in the second, and it’s enjoyable to read both, the second can be understood well as a stand-alone book.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

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Book Review: Another Way Home

Another Way Home Another Way Home by Deborah Raney is the third in her Chicory Inn series involving the family of empty nesters Grant and Audrey Whitman, who have turned their family home into a bed and breakfast. (The first was Home to Chicory Lane; the second, Two Roads Home.) Though the whole family of their adult children, sons- and daughter-in-law, and grandchildren are in every book, each book in the series focuses on one particular child and his or her family.

This time the spotlight shines on middle daughter Danae and her husband Dallas. They have been trying to conceive for years with no results except tension in their marriage and resentment and hurt on Danae’s part. She’s particularly stung when sister Corrinne becomes pregnant – again – unexpectedly without even trying. Danae can’t keep her resentment from showing, and Corrinne feels guilty and unsure when to even announce her news to the family. Though the family empathizes and tries to be sensitive,  Danae resents their well-meaning questions and concerns and sympathy. Dallas especially feels he has to constantly walk on eggshells around Danae. Dallas won’t even discuss the possibility of adoption, for reasons which he won’t share, even though he himself was adopted and raised by a loving family.

Danae decides they should stop fertility treatments and the quest to have a baby for a while. To try to occupy herself, she responds to an announcement at church asking for volunteers at a women’s shelter. There she becomes friends with another older volunteer, Bertha, and gets involved in the lives of one of the women there and her son.

I don’t want to say any more than that so as not to give the story away.

I love how Deborah doesn’t sugarcoat any of the facets of the story. All of the characters’ struggles are gritty and realistic while they seek for God’s direction, provision, and grace.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Sins of the Past

Sins of the Past Sins of the Past is a collection of three “romantic suspense” novellas by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, and Lynette Eason. The characters and stories are unrelated except that each main character’s current dilemma is a result of or related to something in his or her past.

In “Missing” by Dee Henderson, Wyoming police chief John Graham received word that his mother was missing from her retirement community in Chicago. He flew back to Chicago from Wyoming. Initial reports showed no foul play or evidence of a robbery or a sudden attack. John begins to fear that someone from his undercover days in Chicago is taking revenge on him through his mother. He works with Lieutenant Sharon Noble to find his mother and her kidnapper.

In “Shadowed” by Dani Pettrey, competitive open-water swimmer Libby Jennings goes for a pleasure ride to see dolphins when the skipper of the boat sees a dead body in the water. When they pull the body in, Libby finds it is one of her competitors, Kat. Kat was from Russia and the two women had had some conflicts in the past, but Libby hates to see Kat dead. Libby works with the local law enforcement of small town Yancey, Alaska, to find out what happened. Since this story takes place in the Cold War era, investigators suspect ties to Communist intrigue as well.

In “Blackout” by Lynette Eason, Macey Adams has been suffering from migraines and memory loss since a horrific accident several years earlier. But just when bits and pieces of her memory begin to return, she finds herself in danger. Her brother-in-law had died trying to help her regain her memories, so she closes herself off from others so as not to put anyone else in danger. But a police officer-neighbor comes to her aid when he hears her screaming after a home intrusion, and together they investigate who might be trying to do Macey harm and why.

My thoughts:

The draw for me in this book was Dee Henderson. Suspense and crime drama aren’t my first choice of book genres, but I discovered Dee years ago while looking for Christian fiction that my mom might be interested in, and I think I have read all of Dee’s books since then. I very much enjoyed her story, though I figured out the culprit early on. I was surprised as to the person’s motives, though. I had not read either of the other two authors before. There were a couple of odd sentences in Dani’s story (one example: “He looked her in the eye, the depth of his heart wading in them”) and a few too many “She looked at his lips, which she wished were pressing hers” kind of statements. There seemed to me to be a couple of illogical aspects in the last two stories (a civilian heavily involved in a murder investigation, someone who is being stalked taking out the garbage alone behind her building at work). But overall I did enjoy these stories, too. Lynette’s particularly started off right in the middle of a tense scene and drew me right in. I appreciated that the characters in the first two stories acted “Christianly” (to borrow Rebekah‘s word), yet in a natural way. There wasn’t much from a Christian nature in the third except for a couple of prayers or acknowledgments of God’s intervention.

If you like stories that are clean, Christian, and suspenseful, you might like these books. One advantage of novella collections is the opportunity to sample writing from a few different authors.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved, Literary Musing Monday)

How Christian Do You Like Your Christian Fiction?

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Recently I was talking with an author friend about a favorite Christian author’s most recent book, which wasn’t particularly Christian, unlike her previous books. He said that Christian publishers are now encouraging authors to write moral stories which are not overtly Christian because there’s no market for the latter.

I was astonished. Admittedly I’m just one small speck in the universe, but I hear from people all the time who want Christian fiction. Clean, moral stories are fine in their place, but readers of Christian fiction want the Christian content. It doesn’t have to contain a full-blown conversion story (though it’s fine if it does), it shouldn’t be didactic, some things may be implied rather than spelled out, but one reason we read Christian fiction is for Christian content. We want to see how people apply Christian principles to their dilemmas and everyday life. We expect to see them acting Christianly, as a friend recently said. That can be done and has been done without the book being preachy or stuffy.

I know there is a market for such books, though I am sure it’s a smaller market than secular or just moral books.

But one major bestselling series with a clear Christian thread running through it is Jan Karon’s Mitford series. I don’t think it’s even marketed as Christian fiction, yet there are conversions, clear gospel presentations, characters attending church, praying, reading their Bibles, Biblical principles worked out into life. I don’t know if it’s so well accepted because the main character is a minister, or if it’s because Jan Karon weaves everything together so naturally and realistically. But it can be done.

I have noticed, though, with some books that seem to be striving for the middle ground, that some reviewers criticize it for having too much religious content and others criticize it for not having enough. So it seems like this is one area where it’s best to be overtly Christian or not at all.

I’d love to know how you feel. If you don’t like Christian fiction, fine, you don’t need to trash it here. But if you do like Christian fiction, how Christian do you like for it to be? And what do you think we can do to let publishers know that, besides, of course, the most important way: buying it?

See also:

Why Read? Why Read Fiction? Why Read Christian fiction?
The Gospel and Christian Fiction.
Sexuality in Christian Fiction.
“Edgy” Christian Fiction.

(Sharing with Faith on Fire, Literary Musing Monday)

Two Short Christmas Reviews

In The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren, Marianne Wallace is an avid football fan, but none of her sons have been interested in playing – until her youngest son’s senior year. She becomes the Big Lake Trouts’ biggest fan. But is she a big enough fan to don the trout costume when the mascot is out for the season? Especially when her husband, thinking she needs some spice in her life, volunteers her to head the hospitality committee with its upcoming Christmas Tea (note to husbands: don’t do this!) and she’s trying to create the perfect Christmas for her family.

The Christmas Tea is a challenge as the older pillar-of-the-church ladies want to keep the tea the same as it has been for eons, but the younger women want to change it up. And as her grown children one by one cancel their plans to come for Christmas, this holiday season is shaping up to be one of the most disappointing and stressful ever.

The story is written in a humorous vein but it still manages to tackles key issues, for instance: is showing another person your love best done the way you think conveys it, or are the unusual and perhaps unorthodox opportunities that arise, that seem like hindrances, actually new opportunities to show love? Another: what’s the nature and focus of traditions and hospitality?

Loved this novella!

The second one also happens to be by Susan May Warren: Evergreen: A Christiansen Winter Novella. The Christiansens are facing their first Christmas with an empty nest. John is excited, planning a surprise trip to Paris to renew their vows at the top of the Eiffel tower. But Ingrid agrees for them to head up the church’s live Nativity, their dog has a major illness, wiping out the savings for the trip and needing their time and attention, and Ingrid’s sister, who is going into rehab after being arrested, asks them to take in her son, a nephew they haven’t seen in years. Their disagreements over these things dredge up past unresolved hurts, driving a wedge between them.

Some quotes from this one:

Even Mary had to let her child go…You have to wonder, as Mary watched Jesus on the cross, did she look back and ask herself if she had made a mistake? God had told her she would be the mother of the Savior. You can’t get more devastated than Mary, watching her Son—the Savior—die…But Jesus’ path wasn’t for Mary to determine. Her greatest ability as a mother was to be His mother. To love Him, nurture Him, care for Him. She embraced her destiny, then let Him go to embrace His. You have to let your children embrace theirs.

She didn’t want to hear it. To see his love in a thousand small ways. Because then she’d have to loose her hold on the ember of bitterness, let God heal her heart.

I should have leaned into God for courage, instead of reacting in fear.

Along with the nature of love and the best ways to show it, this one also discusses protection and fear. Protecting each other is something we’re supposed to do, yet sometimes it can stifle the other.

This was a different tone from the first one, but poignant and quite good. Evidently Susan has a whole series involving the Christiansens.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: One Enchanted Christmas: A Novella

Enchanted ChristmasIn One Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg, Maren Grant had one of the best nights of her life one December evening. Her book was about ready to be published, and as she developed a serious crush on Colin Renwycke, the model posing for the cover of her book, he actually asked her out. They had a wonderful, “enchanted” evening going to dinner and then a carriage ride around the city, ending with his issuing an open invitation to come visit his family’s farm, even to stay there and write for a while.

A year later, even though Maren only heard from Colin once, via a postcard reminding her about his open invitation, and at the urging of her best friend, she decided to take Colin up on his offer. She had begun to think of him as her story’s hero, and was stuck in her next novel. She decided seeing Colin’s home and town might provide her with inspiration. She couldn’t reach him, so she decided to just show up. He had told her where to find the key if the family was away, and as she tried to retrieve it, who should arrive but – not Colin, but his brother, Drew, mystified as to why this woman was trying to break into his house.

After much explanation and the fortunate recognition of her by Drew’s niece, Winnie, who had read Maren’s first book, Drew invites her into the home he shares with his sister and niece. He had inherited the family farm and was trying to make a go of it as a haven for his siblings and himself, helping out with their problems the best way he knew how. He and Colin had argued over the inheritance, and Drew had not see his brother since. He begins to entertain the hope that this author might draw Colin back to the farm.

But as Drew shows Maren around town and as she unavoidably gets pulled into some of the family issues, they find they mesh well, her playfulness a complement to his seriousness. He may not want Colin to rediscover Maren after all.

My thoughts:

I had never read Melissa Tagg before, and romances aren’t my favorite genre, but this was a delight. I loved how Maren and Drew interacted, and a quirky narrator popped up occasionally to summarize, give background information, etc. Though the story has something of a romantic comedy feel, there’s drama as well from the family issues and misunderstandings. It’s a little light on the faith element, but otherwise it’s quite an enjoyable Christmas read.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Keeping Christmas

Keeping ChristmasIn Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh, Stan and Judith Winters are empty nesters. Stan enjoys having a little more freedom of schedule and quietness, but Judith’s life has always been wrapped up in her children, and she misses them. She’s sad that they can’t come for Thanksgiving, but when she learns that none of them can come for Christmas, she falls into a deeper depression than Stan has ever seen. She doesn’t even have the heart to decorate the Christmas tree. That was something they had always done together, and most of their ornaments are what Stan calls “ugly ornaments,” ones Judith made with the kids.

Judith’s best friend does her best to distract her, with minimal success at first. Judith doesn’t think her friend understands, since all of her children and grandchildren live in town. But her friend conveys that just because they’re all there doesn’t mean everything is idyllic and shares some of the family conflicts and quandaries.

Judith and Stan had developed different and separate traditions for their after-Thanksgiving activities, and not only had they hardly talked over their meal, but Stan had even left the TV on. But as he tries to help lift Judith’s spirits, he becomes more attentive. Finally he has an idea, one involving the box of “ugly ornaments” and some sacrifice, but it’s his last option.

My thoughts:

Though predictable, this was a sweet story, not just about helping an empty nester mom’s depression, but about a husband and wife learning to reconnect after all their kids are gone. I’d be a little concerned that moms in the same situation reading this might be even more down since the Hallmark-type happy ending in the book is not likely to happen in real life. But perhaps there’s enough in everything else the characters go through and learn to be beneficial even without that ideal ending. Overall a nice, heartwarming Christmas novel.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Silver Bells

Silver BellsSilver Bells by Deborah Raney opens in small-town Bristol, Kansas in August 1971. Michelle Penn has had to leave college after two years because her parents can’t afford to send both her and her brother, and they hope that having her brother in college will keep him out of Viet Nam. Michelle has found a job as the city reporter in Bristol’s small newspaper. She meets the sports reporter at the desk next to hers, and after she makes a comment about the boss’s son, she’s chagrined to learn that’s him. “First day on the job and she was toast. Burned-to-a-crisp toast.” Thankfully, the boss’s son, Rob, thinks the whole thing is funny.

He shows her the ropes and takes her along for a breaking case, which involves a domestic disturbance. While he’s snapping pictures, she’s supposed to be getting details, but compassion for the battered wife and daughter stop her in her tracks. She talks Rob into using the least graphic of the photos and goes back later to see if she can help the woman.

Later she humanizes the paper a bit by putting a fun, good-feeling photo on the front cover. At first the editor is not pleased that the cover photo did not involve politics or sports, but the response is so positive that he grudgingly assigns her the cover photo from now on. But he does warn her that he has a policy against employees dating.

Unfortunately, Michelle has already taken a liking to Rob, and he is attracted to her as well. They’re thrown together often to cover stories, but Rob’s father once again warns Michelle away from Rob and threatens her with losing her job. Rob wonders if it’s time to get out from under his father’s thumb so he can live his own life the way he wants to.

My thoughts:

This was a sweet, funny, touching, clean romance. I loved the banter between Rob and Michelle. The faith element was woven in naturally as the characters learned to seek and then to trust God with their situation. The 1970s were the era of my teens, and I enjoyed the touches particular to the times that Deborah incorporated. This era is not often written about, so it was refreshing from that aspect as well. The plot ends at Christmastime, making it a perfect Christmas read.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Sarah’s Song

Sarah's SongSarah’s Song is the third in Karen Kingsbury’s Red Glove series, but can easily be read without having read the first two.

In this story, Sarah Lindeman lives in a retirement home while fighting a losing battle with heart failure. Every Christmas she brings out twelve old yellowed envelopes with ornaments with a single word on each and places one on the tree each day. The words unfold the story of her return to the Lord and her love story with dear husband, Sam, a story involving sin, rebellion, grace, and restoration.

This Christmas, one of Sarah’s nurses, Beth, takes an interest in hearing the story unfold day by day. Sarah senses that Beth has deep needs that the details of her own story can minister to. But will Beth hear it? And will Sarah live long enough to tell it?

A couple of sentences made me wince a bit, like “All of life was a dance, the steps measured out to the music of the days” and especially gloves that “smelled of old love and days gone by.” And though the plot line is somewhat predictable, it’s a sweet, touching story and I enjoyed it.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: To Be Where You Are

To Be Where You AreI don’t often read books “hot off the press.”  Usually I have so many stacked up from my last birthday, Christmas, etc., that anything new goes behind them. But Jan Karon’s books are an exception: they go straight to the front of the queue! To Be Where You Are is her newest, and its action starts right on the heels of Come Rain or Come Shine, in which Father Tim’s adopted son, Dooley, married his fiance, Lace.

In this book, Dooley and Lace have been fostering a four-year-old boy named Jack, and they’re making plans for a big celebration on what they call Name Day, when their adoption becomes final. That’s probably the major plot line, but as always in Mitford, there are multiple things, large and small, going on at any one time. Some of the other happenings in this book, just to name a few: one long-time Mitford resident passes away; another faces a serious illness and others offer to pitch in at his place of business; major plumbing problems wreak havoc at Dooley’s practice; Lace is offered a major art project which would take care of the plumbing bills, but it’s in California; a number of romances are blossoming; another Mitford resident is looking for ways to spice up his marriage; another is considering running for mayor; another is writing a book (not Cynthia!).

A few favorite spots:

She thought that one of the hardest parts of marriage was being loving when both partners were exhausted or wounded at the same time. When you had the least strength, that’s when you had to dig beyond your limits and grab whatever could be found and give it away.

She needed complete solitude to do this huge thing. No music, no interruptions, just the work. But that was not going to happen, and she had to get used to it.

Lights on in the town at the foot of the hill. Stars on in the great bowl above.

How could he do possibly want to do this fool thing?…Maybe it wasn’t about wanting or not wanting. Though he was beyond serving the mission field, wasn’t his own town a mission field?…And didn’t charity begin at home?

Once in a blue moon they got an October morning like this. It was a day when he could almost smell the ocean, when a gull might wing overhead. He wasn’t the biggest fan of sand and sea, but occasionally some hungering gnawed at him for the visual feast of the Atlantic plain and the knowledge – more like a secret revealed only to Tim Kavanaugh – that over there were Ireland and England and Scotland and Italy and…

His sermon had been preached 24/7 on the floor of The Local for more than three and a half decades.

Reading the Mitford books is like coming home for an extended visit. It was fun seeing how things had changed and yet stayed the same. The same warmth, gentle humor, and undercurrent of truth pervades this book just as it has the others. I don’t know how long Jan will continue writing Mitford books, but I’ll keep reading as many as she wants to write!

Another nice plus to reading this volume now is that the book started in October, and I also started reading (or listening) to it in October, so there were parallels in the setting to what I was experiencing personally.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read, as the other Mitford books have been, by John McDonough.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

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