Book Review: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Cold Outside

Dottie Morgan just wants to be left alone. Even at Christmas. Especially at Christmas. A part of her died when her son, Nelson, died in WWII. She’s not been well-favored in the town of Frost, Minnesota, since she ran off and married a “Dapper Dan” stranger, only to return pregnant and alone when her husband went to jail and later died. She and the town had held each at arm’s distance ever since. She felt that even God was keeping His distance from her because of her mistakes.

And then a blizzard trapped four other people in her house.

First Violet Hart came to tentatively ask Dottie about using the star she and Nelson had once made for the Christmas dance. But Violet got into an accident right in front of Dottie’s house and had to be tended to. Violet had been in the WAACs during WWII, a crack mechanic, but people didn’t respect her service. Now, even when she changed a light bulb or fuse, people wondered why she did a man’s job. But Violet had always felt more comfortable with mechanical issues than typical women’s pursuits. She had met one young man, Alex, overseas and corresponded for years. She had hoped he’d come to visit, but when her last letter came back stamped “Return to Sender,” she could only conclude he wasn’t interested, and she’d end up an old spinster like Dottie.

Jake Ramsey was the inadvertent cause of Violet’s accident when he tried to catch her. He had been Alex’s best friend all his life. When Alex died, all his belongings came to Jake, including Violet’s letters. Jake sort of took over Alex’s place, writing in his stead. In the process he began to get to know Dottie and then to love her. But how would she react when she learned that Alex had died and Jake had pretended to be him?

Gordy Lindholm had been Dottie’s neighbor across the street for as long as they could remember. He had loved her once. Still did, in fact. But she had married someone else. He had loved Nelson like his own, but Dottie resented that Gordy had taught Nelson to shoot and then inspired him to be a soldier. Dottie and Gordy had maintained a distant truce over the years, but he watched out for her, filled her wood bin and such. Now he heard the accident and went over to see what was wrong when the blizzard suddenly blew in. He could probably make it home, but it looked like he could be of help at Dottie’s house – if she’d let him.

Arnie Shiller had to stay after school as punishment for daydreaming. Darkness and cold descended on him as he made his way home, and then a sudden snow storm. He tried to make it home, but when that seemed impossible, he strove to make it to his designated Storm House, Mrs. Morgan’s.

Susan May Warren deftly weaves all these lives together in  Baby, It’s Cold Outside. I had started this before Christmas, but then set it aside to finish a library book that I could not renew due to holds on it. After Christmas I planned to put this book away for next Christmas. But I picked it up and read a few pages where I had left off – and got hooked into the story.

Susan has managed to write a tale of five wounded souls with all their flaws, unrecognized virtues, and issues without it becoming sappy or trite Christmas fare.

I loved this book. I loved each person’s story, their interactions, misunderstandings, and journey to make peace with God and each other.

And there were some brilliant moments throughout. As one example (in a slight spoiler), Arnie has been out in the cold too long when he is finally discovered. As they try to warm him, Jake explains that as feeling comes back into Arnie’s limbs, they’re going to be painful at first before they get better. In an aha moment, I realized that the exact same thing was happening to Dottie inwardly. All the emotions she had numbed since her son died were being rubbed back to life by all the circumstances and conversations, and at first they caused nothing but pain. I love that Susan made that parallel without being blatant about it, setting it up to dawn on the reader. She explains in her afterward another parallel or symbolism in the storm house itself.

A few quotes:

God doesn’t expect us to be strong without Him…we’re supposed to need Him, and there’s no disgrace in that. In fact, weakness just might be the mark of a man of God. Don’t call yourself weak because of the things you can’t do. Call yourself weak when you don’t let God take over, do His work in your life…That’s the point of Christmas, isn’t it? Our weakness, His strength? Him coming to our rescue? (pp. 225-226).

Hope, however fragile, is the one thing that keeps us from getting lost…We can’t stop the pain. We can only apply the comfort of God to it (p. 281).

Excellent book, even after Christmas.

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Book Review: Among the Fair Magnolias

magnolias Among the Fair Magnolias contains four different stories set in the Civil War-era South.

“A Heart So True” by Dorothy Love takes place in Pawley’s Island, SC. Abby Clayton’s father plans to run for governor and expects Abby to marry a distant cousin, Charles. But Abby’s previous encounters with Charles have turned her against him. Besides, she loves the country doctor. Will she end up marrying Charles out of duty, or will he show his true colors and convince her father Charles is not the man for her?

In “To Mend a Dream” by Tamera Alexander, Savannah Darby takes care of her sister and brother after the deaths of their parents and loss of their Nashville home. She works for a seamstress and suddenly finds herself tasked with sewing curtains for the new owners of her family’s home. This is an opportunity to find a box her father had told her he had hidden away on the property.  Bostonian Aidan Bedford had visited the area and bought the place after an unusual conversation with an enemy soldier whom he nicknamed Nashville. Aiden has brought his fiance to see the place and decorate it to her tastes, but the more time they spend together, the less sure he is of their engagement. But something about the seamstress working on their curtains intrigues him.

In “Love Beyond Limits” by Elizabeth Musser, the Civil War is over, the slaves are now working as freedmen and sharecroppers in Georgia, and Emily couldn’t be happier. She spends most of her time teaching former slaves how to read. Not everyone shares her joy, however: the Klan is dangerously active in the area. An old friend seeks Emily’s hand, but she can’t accept him because she loves another: one of the freedmen. But she can’t express her love because it would be dangerous for the man she loves. (This one had an unexpected double twist at the end!)

In “An Outlaw’s Heart” by Shelley Gray, Russell Stark has been on the run for years. He had defended his girlfriend, Nora, from an attack by his drunken father and killed him in the process. Both his mother and Nora told him to go, and he has spent most of his time with an outlaw gang. Now he’s come home to Fort Worth to find his mother seriously ill and his former girlfriend caring for her. Nora is still single but seeing another man, someone Russell thinks is hiding something. But will anybody believe an outlaw? And can he ever put his past behind him and move on?

Some of the characters in the stories were from other books by the authors, but I didn’t feel I was missing anything in the stories by not having read the previous books.

I got this book mainly because I love Elizabeth Musser’s writing. But I enjoyed all these stories, the lessons learned, and the journeys of faith for each one.

Book Review: Annabel Lee

annabel leeAnnabel Lee lives with her uncle, called Truck, and his scary dog in small-town Alabama. Truck teaches her from home, mostly languages like German and Creole. Suddenly one day Truck takes Annabel to an underground bunker, leaves the dog with her, and tells her sternly not to open the door for anyone, including him, without the safe code.

Meanwhile investigator Trudi Coffey has noticed that a personal newspaper ad that has said merely “Safe” for months now suddenly says “Unsafe.” Shortly thereafter a mysterious “Dr. Smith” comes to her agency to ask if she has seen or knows anything about Truck. Trudi denies any knowledge, though Truck was a friend and colleague of her ex-husband, Samuel.

Then Samuel himself shows up, asking to borrow back a book he had gifted her with some years before: a volume of Edgar Allen Poe’s works. Trudi gives it to him but doesn’t tell him that she had discovered the secret compartment in the back and removed the key and note there.

The Mute is an ex-military sniper who first earned his nickname because he was so quiet. Then an explosion while on duty took away his voice for real. The Mute is Truck’s friend and knows Annabel is in trouble but doesn’t know where to find her. But he knows evil people are also looking for her.

Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa grabbed me in the first chapter and did not let go. Not only was the story riveting, but the banter, particularly between Trudi and Samuel, was exquisite. The point of view goes back and forth between Annabel, Trudi, and the Mute. The story was a bit more violent than my usual fare, but it wasn’t gratuitous: the bad guys were extremely bad guys and needed extreme means to defend against. There’s a definite faith element and undercurrent to the story, though it’s not blatant.

Though I wanted to race through the book to find out what happened, I was also sad to see it end. Great story: wonderful writing: highly recommended.

Book Review: The Christmas Heirloom

Christmas Heirloom The Christmas Heirloom: Four Holiday Novellas of Love through the Generations by Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, and Becky Wade follows a family brooch handed down through generations.

“A Legacy of Love” by Kristi Ann Hunter takes place in 1827 England. Sarah Gooding came about her job as a lady’s companion in an unusual way, and she and her employer have a close relationship. Sarah is attracted to her employer’s grandson, but their different stations in life would prohibit anything more than friendship between them. Yet they do come to each other’s attention in protecting Lady Densbury’s interests, and she’s unconventional enough to help their relationship along. She bequeaths Sarah a brooch that had been given to her by her husband when they first married.

“Gift of the Heart” by Karen Witemeyer takes place several generations later in 1890. Ruth Fulbright is a young widow starting a new chapter in life with her daughter. They travel several miles via stage coach to a new job as a cook in Hope Springs, TX. She carries her heirloom brooch in an bag embroidered with her initials plus those of its three owners before her. Not having quite enough money for accommodations, she proposes giving the brooch as collateral to her landlord until she can earn enough to buy it back. Normally he would not accept such an arrangement, but she does not take no as an answer, and he sees how much it means to her. He has been almost a recluse since an injury and disfigurement of his arm in his youth changed his mother’s perception of him. He thinks everyone must feel about his handicap the same as she did. But Ruth’s bright spirit draws him out.

In “A Shot at Love” by Sarah Loudin Thomas, Fleeta’s parents have passed away, and she lives with an aunt and uncle in Bethel, West Virginia in 1958. Her main interest in life is guns: known as a crack shot, she also loves building them and carving designs into them. Her hope is to have her own gun store. Fleeta’s aunt brings out the brooch and tells Fleeta about it, saying her mother had wanted her to have it “when the time was right for [her] to find true love.” Fleeta doesn’t have much interest in love. Grief for her father hastened her mother’s demise, and other women seem to be held back by the romantic relationships in their lives. But then a stranger comes to town, a friend of a friend, who is just as good a shot and has just as much an interest in guns as she does. And he’s not put off by her unconventional femininity.

“Because of You” by Becky Wade tales place in modern-day Merryweather, Washington. Maddie Winslow had a crush on Leo Donnelly, but Leo married her friend, Olivia. But Olivia has passed away, leaving behind a young son as well as a grieving husband. Maddie still loves Leo but feels loyalty to Olivia places him “off limits.” Maddie and Leo are paired together for their church’s “Mission Christmas,” in which the different participants work together to help a family without means during the holidays. Maddie comes across the brooch while looking in the attic for items for a fund-raising rummage sale. She asks her mother about it and learns the story. Thankfully someone’s family history research reveals the brooch’s past. Leo had had no thoughts of loving again, but as he gets to know Maddie, he begins to think his heart can love again. The only thing I didn’t like about this one was multiple mentions of going to bars and drinking alcohol. I know Christians have a variety of opinions these days as to what exactly is acceptable in the realm of drinking, but I’d rather it was not “pushed” as normal. Having had an alcoholic father and visited a few bars before my salvation, to me, alcohol is part of the old life. There are any number of other places the folks in the story could have met.

There’s some mention of the brooch bringing its owners love, but the authors dispel the notion of it as something of a good luck charm, saying rather than love comes from God’s leading and provision.

This was a sweet, clean, enjoyable holiday read.

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Book Review: The Christmas Bride

Christmas Bride The Christmas Bride by Melanie Dobson is based on her own ancestors five generations back who were married by lot. That’s how things were done in the Moravian community, known then in the 1750s as the Unity of the Brethren under Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf. If a man wanted to marry, he went to the brethren with his request. They consulted the lot, which, for them, was a tube with three pieces of paper in it. One said “Yes,” one said “No,” and one was blank, indicating “Wait.” If the answer was yes, the woman still had the opportunity to accept or decline. Sometimes the couple knew each other beforehand and were in love: other times they did not know each other or didn’t really have a relationship, but the man needed to marry to participate in certain forms of ministry. Melanie writes in her afterword that many women were reluctant to marry in this way but accepted it as the will of God. Her own ancestors were married for fifty-eight years. The couple in her book were not based entirely on her ancestors, as she did not know much else about them, but she researched the Moravian customs at the time and represented them faithfully.

This story opens with the wedding of Susanna and Christian Boehler – and several couples in a group wedding. Susanna had seen Christian from afar and admired him, but she did not know him. She was excited about their upcoming ministry to Indians in Pennsylvania and willing to accept marriage as part of God’s will. She was understandably concerned about what her relationship with her husband would be like, but she was willing to be a good wife. Yet, at the end of the ceremony when Christian simply nodded to her and left the building, she was disappointed. What she didn’t know was that Christian had loved another, who was marrying someone else in the same ceremony.

Married couples in the Brethren did not live together at this time in Moravian history. The community was divided into “choirs” – not singers, but groups divided by gender and marital status. the single woman lived in one house, the married women in another, etc. Married couples had the opportunity for a one-hour private meeting once a week in a room for that purpose. Children live in the community nursery.

At first Christian and Susanna were married in name only and lived much as they has as singles. They’re awkward with each other, and Susanna is dismayed when she’s too ill to accompany Christian on his first mission. He’s gone for more than six months, but she finds ways to be useful. She befriends an Indian woman in the community, begins to learn the language, and enjoys visiting the children in the nursery.

Most of the Indians that the Moravians visit are not interested in their message. Some are friendly: others are openly hostile, not just due to a message about a different religion, but because of other issues with the French and British. The Moravians aren’t associated with the fighting and practices of the other white men, but it’s hard for the Indians to distinguish between them. But a few do believe – an individual or a handful here and there.

The rest of the book details the growing ministry to the Indians with its problems and blessings, Christian and Susanna’s getting to know each other amidst fits and starts, and a subplot with Susanna’s friend, Catherine, who comes from a more refined family and has trouble adjusting the the hardships of their life – and who, unbeknownst to Susanna at first, was the woman Christian originally loved.

Melanie’s afterword shares that the separation of families only lasted for about twenty years altogether. The purpose of that separation was so that people couple serve the Lord and community without the problems and distractions of family life. But, as Melanie shows, that separation strained family relationships, and some began to wonder at the wisdom of it.

I don’t know much about Zinzendorf. I heard bits and pieces from his life in a presentation on BBN Radio produced by Moody Bible Institute, but not enough to have a firm grasp of it. From what I understand, he preached and taught the gospel. But I would differ from him in many aspects, family living being a major one.

The physical side of the Boehler’s relationship is an issue in the story, because there was none at first. When they finally do come to love each other in that way,  there’s just a bit more description leading up to it than I care for, but nothing explicit.

This book was originally published under the title Love Finds you in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Melanie graciously offered the Kindle version of it free under its new title to subscribers of her newsletter.

It was interesting to learn of this background of the Moravians, and I enjoyed the different plotlines. I especially enjoyed the way Christian and Susanna and Catherine grew in their faith through their circumstances.

Book Review: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Home I’ll Be Home For Christmas: Four Inspirational Holiday Novellas by Lenora Worth, Belle Calhoune, Jill Kemerer, and Allie Pleiter contains, as the title suggests, four stories that involve coming “home” in some way.

In A Hope Valley Christmas by Belle Calhoune, Mallory Jefferson is visiting her family over the holidays. The one person she hopes she doesn’t run into is Colton James. She’d had a serious crush on him back in the day, and her youthful exuberance and infatuation had led to some pretty embarrassing attempts to get his attention and show him her feelings. Yet who should walk into her father’s mechanic shop, just when she’s helping out, disheveled, and greasy, but Colton. Her father suggests she give Colton a ride home. As Colton and Mallory talk, Colton tells her his grandfather isn’t doing well. His grandfather wants to see Colton happy and settled with someone he loves. To ease his grandfather’s mind, Colton told him he did have a girlfriend. Then Colton gets the bright idea that Mallory can stand-in as his pretend girlfriend at an upcoming family dinner. Reluctantly, Mallory agrees, and they get to know each other as they are now, and not as they were in their high school memories.

In Sugarplums and Second Chances by Jill Kemerer, Chase McGill is a former NFL star trying to recover from mistakes in his past. In a fit of vengeance he had assaulted his wife’s killer and served time. Now he’s trying to make up for lost time with his son as well as help out another young man. Courtney Trudesta is the widow of his former teammate and wrote him regularly to encourage him while he was in prison. Courtney stops by on her way to a new job to visit with Chase for a few days. As they try to help each other deal with their losses and find their purpose in life, they wonder if those purposes might include each other.

In A Brilliant Christmas by Allie Pleiter, Zoe Walters’ passion is the community arts center that she runs. She has mixed feelings about the new artist-in-residence for the next six weeks: Nigel Langdon, a famous animator who has fallen from Hollywood graces. Besides the fact that he’s not currently popular, his gruffness doesn’t promise good things for his time with “her kids.” His first session does get off to a rocky start. But Zoe begins to fathom the hurt and the heart underneath his crusty exterior, and her devotion to her kids and program opens his eyes.

Seashell Santa by Lenora Worth is a different kind of Christmas in Key West, Florida. Navy Seal Rick Houston‘s beloved grandfather, Pappy, has died and requested that Rick come to his old cabin at Christmas and disperse his ashes. Who else should show up at the cabin but Willa Kincaid, Rick’s ex-girlfriend, who had received the same request. Realizing Pappy’s trick, they decide to put aside their differences to honor his wishes. In the meantime, as their arguing gives way to further discussion, they each realize they didn’t know everything about the other’s motives for their previous actions.

I’m not a fan of romances in general, both because of the silliness of tingling sensations and such, descriptions of kisses, and the end-all of romances being the declaration of true love (when, in real life, that’s just the beginning.) However, I do like when the characters have to learn or overcome something in the process of coming into a relationship, and that happens in each of these stories. Some of the stories have more of a faith element than the others. A couple of them contain characters from the authors’ other series, but the stories were complete enough in themselves that I didn’t feel I was missing pieces.

My favorite was Allie Pleiter‘s Brilliant Christmas. Both the story itself and the writing were refreshingly different. I’ll be looking up more of her work in the future. My favorite line from the book came from her story:

Our job is to bring out whatever talent or self-expression is there. Help them see that picking up a paintbrush might just be more powerful than picking up a knife. Get their emotions out in ways that don’t involve sending each other to the emergency room.

My least favorite line in the book came from Lenora’s story, about a character who “put out feelers to the Big Guy in the sky.” Big Guy in the sky? Seriously?

This collection is not showing up on Amazon anymore, but Sugarplums and Second Chances and A Brilliant Christmas are available individually. I’ve not read any of these authors, but I used to follow a blog that Lenora contributed to, so that’s probably what prompted this purchase. All in all it was a nice Christmas read.

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

Book Review: Twelve Days at Bleakly Manor

BleaklyTwelve Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep is the first in her Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series set in Victorian England.

Clara Chapman’s family has lost its fortune, and the person seemingly to blame was her former fiance, Benjamin Lane. Not only did Ben abscond with the family fortune, but he left her at the altar with no explanation. She’s been living with an aunt, trying to survive in reduced circumstances.

Out of the blue Clara receives an invitation from an unnamed host to Bleakly Manor. If Clara can stay the entire twelve days of Christmas, she’ll receive 500 pounds. At her aunt’s urging, Clara accepts the invitation.

Clara finds no host at Bleakly Manor, but she is surprised to see an assortment of people there who have all been promised various rewards if they will stay twelve days. A late and most startling arrival is none other than Ben!

As the participants get to know one another, personalities clash. The host remains absent. And odd occurrences begin happening: one person’s jewels go missing, strange foods are served at mealtimes, accidents happen that turn out not to be accidents. And then the group is informed that only one of them will win what they were promised.

This book started out as a cozy mystery, dragged just a bit in the middle for me, and then took a darker turn as the “accidents” increased in intensity.

I had to look up my review of Dickens’ Bleak House to remind myself of the characters there and see the parallels. This story is not meant to be a point-for-point retelling, but it does contain elements of the plot and some characters.

All in all an enjoyable Christmas read.

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

Book Review: Florian’s Gate

FlorianIn T. Davis Bunn’s novel, Florian’s Gate, American Jeffrey Sinclair is bored in his job. His mysterious uncle, Alexander Kantor, has a glowing reputation in the antiques business in London. Alexander never reveals where his exquisite pieces come from, but their high quality always fetches good prices and willing buyers. When Alexander invites Jeffrey to become his assistant, Jeffrey jumps at the chance, quickly learning both the details and the instincts needed.

Jeffrey hires a part-time helper who rapidly becomes a valuable assistant, Katya. Jeffrey falls head over heels for her, but she is guarded around him. He senses her past contains pain, but she’s not willing to reveal it to him yet. Plus she is a believer, but he has turned his back on God after a family tragedy.

When Alexander asks Jeffrey to take a trip to Poland, Jeffrey is thrilled to be trusted enough to be asked. There he meets Alexander’s brother, Gregor, and begins to learn some of Alexander’s sources. Poland is still reeling from being trampled underfoot by WWII and then Soviet occupation. At first Jeffrey thinks everyone looks sad and depressed, understandably. But he soon finds an underlying resilience in their character. Alexander, Jeffrey, and Gregor visit some of the most unlikely places to find some of the poorest people with great treasures they’ve been holding on to for years but are now in desperate enough straits to sell.

Surprisingly, Alexander comes face to face with his own painful past, which Jeffrey learns of for the first time. When Alexander is incapacitated for while, Katya comes to assist and translate. What Jeffrey learns through all these experiences helps him understand his uncle and Katya and helps him come to grips with his own past as well.

A few quotes from the book:

Dissatisfaction tends to lift one’s eyes toward the horizon. Those who are comfortable rarely make the effort to search out something better. They may yearn for more, but they do not often receive it. They are too afraid of losing what they already have, you see, to take the risk. And there is always risk involved, Jeffrey. Always. Every major venture contains a moment when you must step off the cliff and stretch your wings toward the sky.

Even in the darkest of hours, people have a choice. They can turn toward self, or they can turn toward God. They can turn toward hate, or they can turn toward forgiveness and love.

The world says there is no greater tribute you can grant yourself than to say, I can make it on my own. My perspective says there is no greater deception. The power within our own will and our own body and our own confined little world is comfortable, and it is tempting. It gives us a wonderful sensation of self-importance. Thus most of us will try to live outside of God until our own strength is not enough. Yet the way of the cross is the way of inadequacy. We need what we do not have, and therefore we seek what is beyond both us and this world.

There are an infinite number of lessons to be drawn from the cross, my boy….All human hope lies at the foot of the cross. In the two thousand years since it first rose in a dark and gloomy sky, it has lost none of its luster, none of its power, none of its divine promise.

Normally Bunn’s stories involve quick-moving plots and page-turning intrigue. There was intrigue here, but a different sort than I am used to from him. His mother’s former ownership of an antiques gallery and management of others informed his knowledge of antiques. He says at the beginning of the book that each piece he describes is real. The different Polish people and stories that he shares are based on real people and situations in his wife’s family in Poland.

I thought the story ended somewhat abruptly, but then I found that this book is the first of three in the Priceless Collection series. So maybe some day I’ll find out what’s next for Jeffrey, Katya, and the others.

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

Book Review: Someday Home

Someday HomeIn the novel Someday Home by Lauraine Snelling, Lynn Lundberg is adjusting to widowhood. She loves that her home is the central gathering place for the children and grandchildren who all live nearby, but otherwise it’s too large for just one person. She reads about a concept called house sharing in which rooms are rented out to others and everyone shares responsibilities. After doing some research and convincing her children that the idea is a good one, she begins to seek two other ladies to share her home.

She finds one through her son’s friend. His mom, Angela, was blindsided by her husband’s request for a divorce. She had spent years remaking herself into the kind of wife he wanted, even weighing less than she did in high school – but all for naught since he found someone else. Needing a place to stay, heal, and figure out her next steps, she accepts Lynn’s offer.

A chance meeting leads to another tenant. Judith spent all of her adult life caring for her ailing father, setting aside college and other dreams. Upon his death, she learns he willed the family home not to her, but to the historical society to be made into a public venue. So she also needs a quiet place to stay and time to decide what to do next.

Naturally there are some bumps along the way. Lynn is used to being the family matriarch and has to learn that independent middle-aged women don’t appreciate being “mothered.” The other ladies have not had their own voice for years and have to learn how and when to use it. They all have anger issues and wrestle with the need to forgive those who have wronged them. But ultimately they learn to work together and appreciate each other’s differences.

This story caught my eye both because it was a Kindle sale, plus I had read some of this author’s historical fiction. I enjoyed the aspects of each of these women learning to live together and having to determine in their middle years what to do with the rest of their lives and in

But there are a number of awkward sentences, like this one:

Fighting back the tears—again, she stumbled through her morning routine—and after dressing (which took some serious self-talk; the bed had looked so inviting, or at least oblivion did), she made her way down the split-log stairs and into the kitchen, where the cat was sniffing the dog dish, water bowl, and then looking out the window to the deck.

Thankfully there are only a half-dozen or so, but they are a bit jarring. I don’t remember coming across that kind of thing in her other books, but then it has been a long time since I read them. I thought at first perhaps they were all connected with Lynn, who is in the throes of menopause: maybe this was supposed to reflect her scattered thinking. But they don’t seem to be limited to her scenes.

Other than that, and one minor theological quibble in one sentence, I thought the writing, the characters, and the story were all good.

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

Book Review: Sisters, Ink Series

The Sisters, Ink series (also called the Scrapbooker’s series) by Rebeca Seitz is made up of four books focusing on four sisters of different ethnicities adopted by Jack and Marian Sinclair in the small town of Stars Hill, TN. The sisters are adults now and Marian passed away ten years ago. Their father, a pastor, is seeing a new lady named Zelda, but the sisters are having a hard time accepting her, not only because they don’t want their mother replaced, but Zelda is so unconventional and different from their mother. That subplot and others carry over each of the four books, but each focuses on one particular sister. The girls call a “scrapping night” in a room set up for that purpose in their father’s home when they need to talk and solve problems.

Sisters

 Sisters, Ink. spotlights Tandy, a lawyer living in FL. She had been adopted after spending her first eight years on the streets with a junkie parent. I read this book several years ago, but for whatever reason did not review it. But her story involved an extended leave at work, visiting TN, running into and clashing with an old flame. The sisters decide to turn their love of scrapbooking into an online business called Sisters, Ink.

 

 

 

Unglued Coming Unglued focuses on Kendra, an African-American woman who is an artist and sometimes jazz singer. She was also adopted at the age of 8 from a mother whose addiction was men. Because she has her mother’s genes and because some of those men molested her as a child, Kendra struggles with self-worth. She’s dating a great guy named Darin, but she feels that if he really knew her background, he’d drop her in  flash. When a married man at a jazz club is attracted to her, she struggles with knowing that relationship is not right, but feeling flattered by it and  wondering if that’s all she’s good for, if she has no right to rise higher.

On one hand I had a hard time being patient with Kendra as she kept deciding not to see the married guy yet kept being drawn back. But, then, we all do that with different things, don’t we? “I need to cut down on sugar” on Monday, and by Tuesday, “What can a couple of cookies hurt?” So we each struggle with our particular temptations. And people do wrestle with that mindset of being “damaged goods” and “not good enough.”

Scrapping Scrapping Plans features Chinese sister Joy. Joy was left on the door of an orphanage in China as a baby and doesn’t know anything of her family and background. She’s the ultimate hostess and most organized of the group, described as a Martha Stewart rival. She and her husband have been trying to have a baby for over a year with no success, and her husband is resistant to testing. She and her husband take a trip back to China to explore her roots.

I liked the play on words with the title, fitting into the scrapbooking theme yet also illustrating the need to realize that God’s plans might be different from ours. I also appreciated the facets of Joy’s experience in grieving over not conceiving, then becoming obsessed with the desire to have a child, and how that impacted her husband.

Perfect Piece brings the story back to Meg, the oldest, married the longest, with three kids. Meg was always the quiet but steady influence of the group. But she has been struggling with headaches through everyone else’s story. In this book, she is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Since the tumor is in an area of the brain that affects personality, everyone is warned that Meg may not be the same after surgery, whether the tumor is benign or malignant. Even knowing this, her husband, Jamison, has a hard time with the bitter, angry Meg that emerges on top of the stress of her illness, taking care of the house, dealing with the children, etc. A breakfast at a diner to get away by himself for a bit results in a pleasant conversation with a waitress which leads to regular meetings.

 I thought the sisters might have been a little too up in each other’s business. I have four sisters, and though we love each other and would do anything we could to help each other, I don’t think we’d confront each other like these did. But we’re different personalities and don’t live in the same town, so that makes a difference. I thought the girls were way too harsh concerning Zelda. I understand the issues involved in getting used to a new step-mom, but they all evidenced a lack of grace in dealing with her, until they came to an understanding in the end. Though there were no explicit scenes, there was a bit too much reference to some of the couples’ sexual lives for my tastes. I also didn’t like repeated references to older women in the church as “bluehairs.” It’s sad that there are rampant gossipers in the church and no one ever deals with that, but I doubt every older woman in one church would be gossipy. There seems to be a fundamental disrespect to older people in general except the girls’ parents.

But I liked several themes that emerged through the series: being there for each other, helping each other, adjusting lives and thinking to align with God’s Word. I liked several instances when seeing a situation from a different viewpoint, or understanding the circumstances instead of assuming them, diffused misunderstandings. So, all in all I enjoyed the series.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)