Two Book Reviews: Rachel’s Prayer and Sarah’s Promise

Leisha Kelly’s books about the Wortham family take them from the Depression through WWII. Since I finished the last two within a couple of days of each other, I decided to review them together.

In Rachel’s Prayer, WWII is in full force. Several from the Worthams’ Southern Illinois area enlisted, including Robert, the Worthams’ only son, and three of the next-door Hammond boys. Frank Hammond desperately wanted to, but his limp and inability to read kept him out of the service.

The Hammond’s father, George, handles his sons’ leaving like he handles everything else: by not handling it and withdrawing. He has not handled life well since the first books, but he took a downward turn when his wife died, leaving him with ten children. Throughout this book the family begins to think it’s not just drinking and laziness that affect George. There’s something fundamentally wrong with his thinking. He would probably be diagnosed with depression today.

Rachel is Robert’s girlfriend, and his sister and parents are getting used to the idea that he’s grown up and will probably propose once he gets back home.

With that many young men going off to war, it’s inevitable that some won’t come back and some will come back changed. The folks at home deal with uncertainty and sorrow not only across the sea, but in their own neighborhoods.

But even though there are sad parts to this book, God works through the sadness to strengthen and draw people closer to Himself. Ultimately Sarah finds it good to “to let my future, my heart, and his, rest where he said they belonged: in the hands of God. No other hands could be so capable. None could be more generous, more able to give peace in trials, strength in despair, and understanding in the midst of a confusing world.”

In Sarah’s Promise, Sarah Wortham and Franky Hammond are engaged. Frank is about to leave on a 200-mile journey to help his brother move. Folks are worried because Frank can’t read and the winter weather is iffy. But Frank has a good memory, and his brother has drawn a map and told him the succession of towns he’ll need to pass through.

Everyone assumes Frank will continue on doing wordwork with Sarah’s father. Sarah would like nothing better than to live nearby to the only home she’s ever known. But Frank wants to prove himself. All his life he’s dealt with not only being unable to read, despite desperately wanting to, but also with being thought “different.” Frank tends to think deeply to the point that he’s unaware of what’s going on around him, causing his siblings and especially his father to accuse him of being addle-brained and unable to function without supervision. Frank would love the opportunity to work on his own and provide for Sarah without the safety net of their families, which scares Sarah to death.

While Frank is away, he and Sarah both have praying to do, trials to undergo; lessons to learn. One of the most beautiful parts of the book I can’t share much about without spoiling the climax, but my heart was so touched by a pastor’s ministry to Frank when he was at his lowest, when all his father’s verbal abuse made him think he couldn’t accomplish anything.

I dearly loved all of these books. Leisha had such a skill in bringing us right into the characters’ circumstances and emotions and weaving spiritual truth into the fabric of her stories. I was sad to learn, as I mentioned in a previous review, that she and her teenage son had passed away a few years ago in a car accident. I’m sad for her family but also for readers.

I wanted to list the first four books as well, linked back to my reviews:

  1. Julia’s Hope introduces us to the Worthams, a family at their lowest point that has lost everything in the Depression. They come to an abandoned house and offer to fix it up in exchange for living there, eventually allowing the elderly owner to come back home as well.
  2. Emma’s Gift. Emma, the elderly lady from the first book, dies, as does her neighbor, Mrs. Hammond, mother of ten. The Hammonds and Worthams are not only devastated, but uncertain of their future, as Emma owned the property they all live on.
  3. Katie’s Dream. Sam Wortham’s ne-er-do-well brother brings a young girl and a convincing story that she belongs to Sam. But Sam has never been unfaithful. Why is his brother doing this? Will the town, and most importantly, his wife, believe him? And what do they do about the little girl?
  4. Rorey’s Secret. Rorey, the oldest Hammond daughter, has gotten in with a bad crowd. When a fire starts in the family’s barn, causing serious damage and injuring Mr. Wortham and Bert Hammond, Frank is blamed. He’s innocent but won’t cast the blame on anyone else. Rorey knows the truth, but will she share it?

The last three books are technically the Country Road Chronicles, but they timeline continues through all six. Each could be read as a stand-alone book, but I’d recommend reading them all in order. There’s a Christmas story in the series as well that I haven’t read yet: I’ll save it for December.

I’m going to sorely miss the Worthams and Leisha.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

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Book Review: Kill Order

In Adam Blumer‘s new novel, Kill Order, Landon Jeffers is an award-winning pianist diagnosed with brain cancer. After his doctors removed as much of the tumor as they could, they inserted an implant into his brain to continue to fight the remaining cancer.

But that’s not all they inserted.

Landon is recovering from surgery at his mother’s house when he starts having vivid partial memories of a couple of incidents in his childhood. As he tries to unravel what really happened, he also starts having strange dreams. In one, he stole an item from his mother’s neighbor. When he wakes up, he finds evidence that he really did commit the crime.

Then he wakes up one morning with blood on his clothes. As he turns himself in to the police, he learns he can’t be sure whom to trust. He has to find a way to escape whoever’s controlling him.

Adam keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Bits of humor are sprinkled throughout at just the right moments. Landon is not a Christian, but his mother and childhood friend both are, so there is some tension along those lines as well.

Adam had pledged to his readers that he will keep his novels clean. There are no swear words or sexual scenes here.

Adam also makes his books distinctively Christian. I’ve read too many books that are “Christian lite” or that are Christian in name only. I like to see Christian people doing Christian things in Christian fiction, seeking God’s will as they wrestle with issues. I loved how Adam’s characters developed spiritually.

Kill Order is a highly enjoyable, highly recommended book.

I interviewed Adam last week about what sparked the idea behind Kill Order, how he got started writing, and other topics here.

There are a few days left in the contest for to win a signed paperback copy of Kill Order here. Or you can find Adam’s book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. At the time of this writing, the Kindle version is only $2.99.

Here is a trailer for the book:

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Don’t Stop Preaching to the Choir

You’re likely familiar with the phrase “preaching to the choir.” It comes up when one person is holding forth on some topic, and another responds, “Well, Bud, you’re preaching to the choir,”  meaning, “I know what you’re saying and I agree with you.” The choir, behind the pastor both literally and figuratively, are probably the most familiar with what he has to say and the most in agreement with it.

I’ve seen Christian authors use this phrase to describe their desire to write for the general market rather than the Christian one. Why keep writing to people who are already believers, who already agree with what we’re saying, when we can use our words to help influence an unbeliever towards Christ?

Writing as a light to the lost is a worthy goal. Yet I wonder just how “general market” one can be and still have any light shine through. One author friend was told by two Christian publishing industry professionals that he’d have more success if he wrote for the general market and took the Christian content out of his latest manuscript. But how can one have any kind of Christian witness without Christian content? Perhaps the idea that readers will like a general book so much that they’ll look up the author, find out he or she is a Christian, and seek to know more about their faith. Or an author might write a few books in both markets, and fans from one will seek out the other.

Some do manage to share Christian truth even in general market books. Jan Karon’s Mitford books share an amazing amount of truth even though they’re not marketed as Christian fiction. Perhaps unbelievers accept her Christian content because her main character is a minister. Or perhaps her stories are just so enjoyable, people who don’t like the Christian aspect are willing to overlook it. C. S. Lewis’s Narnia tales are marketed as children’s books or fantasy, yet they have a Christian undertone veiled by symbolism. One trouble with that veil, though, is that some readers interpret meanings in vastly different ways than the author intended.

What happens with a lot of crossover fiction is that Christians complain that there is not enough Christian content while non-Christians complain that there is too much. One post cited criticism by non-Christians as one reason to remove Christian content from fiction. But some non-Christians will always object to any Christianity in a book, no matter how winsomely it’s expressed. Jesus said the world would hate the Christian message and its messengers. In the past, when a majority of American society had a somewhat God-fearing leaning, general Christian-sounding content was more tolerated. Not so in these postmodern days. Yet we don’t win the lost without sharing the truth. Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Some have also cited a smaller Christian market as a reason to go “general.” The Christian market will always be smaller than the general one. There are more people on the wide road than the narrow one, Jesus said. But that’s no reason to leave Christian fiction behind. Though many Christian writers would love to make best-seller lists, most don’t write for that purpose.

A Christian author might write a great general market book that manages to share light and truth that non-Christians will accept, or at least tolerate. But there are still reasons not to keep writing Christian fiction:

  • To use God’s gifting. Both evangelism and shepherding/teaching are God’s good gifts (Ephesians 4:11). Neither is a lesser calling. Though we might be called primarily to evangelize or disciple, we’re to engage in both.
  • To help Christians grow in Christlikeness. The purpose of God’s gifts is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). Christians are not perfect yet. Even though they agree and support the body of Christian truth, they’re all in various states of growth and maturity. Yes, we grow mainly from reading and hearing the Word of God. But Christian fiction helps flesh out truth. Many times I have been strengthened and encouraged in my own walk with the Lord by the journey of the characters in a Christian fiction book.
  • To help Christians increase and abound. Wherever we are in our Christian walk, there’s still room for growth. Paul prayed that his readers’ “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9). Even though the Philippians were demonstrating their love, they needed to increase.
  • To provide the missing element. Years ago in Why Read Christian Fiction, I commented that Christian fiction has the element missing from all other fiction: God, His truth, His ways. The best secular story may show literary redemption, a protagonist pulling himself up by his bootstraps and conquering the obstacles. Christian fiction depicts real life for a Christian in dependence on God.
  • To help work through hard issues. Even mature Christians still wrestle with questions like suffering, seeming inequity, etc. Some who wouldn’t be inclined to read a nonfiction book on these subjects might appreciate a story with characters who ask the same questions they have.
  • To remind of the truth. New Testament writers often encouraged people to remember the way God had brought them to Himself, the truth they had been taught, etc. Peter said, “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1).
  • To help readers to be a light. As Christian readers grow and are encouraged spiritually, they will in turn shine the light of Christ in their spheres of influence. So those who write to other Christians are not wasting their light: they’re multiplying it. By strengthening other Christians, we’re helping God’s truth get out beyond our own reach.
  • To evangelize. Even though Christian fiction might be directed “to the choir” who already knows the truth, there are professing Christians who have found that they were not really saved. And Christian fiction is sometimes accepted by non-Christians. Some of my own loved ones did not like to talk about spiritual issues, but they loved to read and would accept Christian novels I passed along. In one situation, Christian fiction laid a great deal of groundwork towards a person’s salvation.

It’s not wrong for a believer to write for the general market. Some are called to do that and have done so with great success. Most of us need to be more evangelistic in general. We can do everything—eat drink, and write—as unto the Lord. Some people would never willingly pick up Christian books, so if writers can convey truth without being blatant, that’s wonderful. The book of Esther is not fiction, though it is written in story form. It doesn’t mention the name of God, yet His fingerprints are all over the narrative. If Christians can write in a similar way, wonderful!

I would encourage those writing for the general market not to try to be like the world in order to win it. That never works. Jesus was a friend of sinners, but He did not join in their sin. The Bible talks about all kinds of sin, but doesn’t drag readers through the gutter. There’s no need to add objectionable elements in the name of realism.

I also encourage Christian writers not to forsake the Christian market just because it’s smaller or because they don’t think they can be as effective. For all the reasons I’ve mentioned and more, Christians can have a great ministry in Christian fiction.

Have you been ministered to through Christian fiction? I’d love for you to share about it in the comments.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Kingdom Bloggers, Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, Global Blogging, Happy Now, Hearth and Soul, Tea and Word, Anchored Abode, Let’s Have Coffee, Worth Beyond Rubies, Recharge Wednesday, Porch Stories, Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith ‘n Friends, Booknificent)

 

Interview with Adam Blumer, Author of Kill Order

Adam Blumer writes page-turning “meaningful suspense” novels. I loved his first two: Fatal Illusions and The Tenth Plague (linked to my reviews). His third novel, Kill Order, just released a few days ago. Here is the summary:

When he sleeps, the forgotten terrors of the past come alive.

Grammy-winning pianist Landon Jeffers’s brain cancer has given him only a few years to live. But when he sleeps, the forgotten terrors of his past torment him. When he wakes, shameful memories come rushing back. Desperate for answers, Jeffers discovers that a brain implant intended to treat his cancer is really a device to control him, forcing him to commit terrible crimes. Now he’s being manipulated by an evil crime syndicate and a crooked cop.

What if free will isn’t? What if your every move is predestined? If you kill, are you guilty of murder?

Intriguing, isn’t it? I’ve read the book and will be reviewing it next week, and I can assure you, it’s excellent! At the end of this post, I’ll let you know how you can enter to win a signed copy of the book.

Today I am welcoming Adam to Stray Thoughts to share a little about about himself, Kill Order, and writing.

First, a little background information:

Adam Blumer fixes other people’s books to pay the bills. He writes his own to explore creepy lighthouses and crime scenes. He is the author of three Christian suspense novels: Fatal Illusions (Meaningful Suspense Press); its sequel, The Tenth Plague (Kirkdale Press); and Kill Order (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas).

A print journalism major in college, he works full-time from home as a book editor after serving in editorial roles for more than twenty years. He lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife, Kim, and his daughters, Laura and Julia. When he’s not working on his next thriller, he’s hiking in the woods, playing Minecraft with his daughters, or learning new chords on his guitar. He is committed to writing clean suspense that is free of profanity, vulgarity, and sexual content. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), the Christian Editor Network, and The Christian PEN. He works with literary agent Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.

What gave you the inspiration to write Kill Order?

My dad, Larry, passed away from brain cancer in 2011, and several aspects of his cancer journey kicked off the initial story idea. One key detail involved a medical procedure; the doctors agreed to remove as much of my dad’s brain tumor as possible and replace it with medicinal wafers intended to fight the existing cancer. My mind began playing the what-if game. What if the doctor implanted something else, something that could monitor or even control my dad’s life? The story’s premise grew from there.

I noticed that your branding on your website is for “meaningful suspense.” What inspired you to write these kinds of thrillers and suspense novels? Also, could you please tell us what inspired your “clean fiction guarantee”?

I began reading Christian novels in junior high and soon gravitated to suspense. Back in the day, an inspirational thread was a staple in Christian fiction, and I believe a Christian novel can do more than simply entertain. These days many authors are leaning toward writing clean, moral stories but avoiding overt Christian content. I’m a believer that the inspirational content should stay (hence “meaningful suspense”). Books can encourage and even challenge readers’ thinking while taking them on a roller coaster of a ride. The “clean fiction guarantee” came about due to the rise of objectionable content in some Christian fiction. My fans were expressing disappointment to me due to content issues when they tried books by some Christian authors. I felt it was time to declare where I stood, and many readers have appreciated my guarantee.

When did you realize your calling to create words on paper to share with the world?

When I was a child, I began writing wildly imaginative pirate and fantasy stories. My first handwritten story was a fantastical tale about Captain Kidd’s spyglass. In high school, I also wrote and finished an unpublished novel called Down with the Ship. It’s such an Agatha Christie copycat that I laugh whenever I peruse it, but emulation is how a lot of authors get to be where they are today. Those were the early projects that inspired me to take novel writing seriously. When I won a high school award for creative writing, I wondered if God wanted to do more with my love for fiction. In college I won more writing awards, and though I studied journalism, I took as many creative writing courses as possible. God opened doors from there, and I’ve never lost my love for fiction writing.

If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self, what would that be?

Writing the story is only half of the project. The other half is finding out what readers like to read, crafting the story for them by following publishing standards, and writing the story to the best of your ability. Then remember that publishers can take a very long time to decide whether they want your work. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep going and waiting.

Name your three biggest frustrations about the writing business.

  1. The amount of time each book requires from start to finish. Included in this is the long wait time from publishers.
  2. The continually changing rules in writing and publishing. Just when you think you know what publishers are looking for, your agent tells you something else.
  3. Book marketing. One cannot guarantee sales. I wish a book release was like the movie Field of Dreams. “Build it, and they will come.” If only it were that easy. There is almost an equal amount of work in just promoting the book.

On the flip side, what excites you the most about the creative process?

I get most excited about the creative process when a plot development I never saw coming unexpectedly presents itself, taking the story in a new but stronger direction. This epiphany has happened to me several times.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I have been blessed with a wonderful home office. Though I often like to write in other locations, this is by far my favorite place. I can close the door, shut out life’s distractions, pray, and become immersed in my story. Now and then, if I need a break, I can glance out the window and delight in God’s creation.

What are you reading at the moment, and who are a few of your favorite authors and why?

I’m currently enjoying Mind Games by Nancy Mehl. I especially enjoy a good thriller, whether Christian or secular. Some of my favorite authors are Steven James, Terri Blackstock, Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, and Brandilyn Collins. I like how they weave story threads together and craft their scenes in ways that keeps the plot moving forward. Their books are great examples of what works in suspense writing. I learn so much simply by reading their novels.

What is the best part of your author’s life?

I love hearing from readers who went to work tired because they stayed up too late finishing one of my novels. If I kept them immersed in my story and entertained, that’s a score in my book.

Do you have any new writing projects on the horizon?

I’m almost finished with the first draft of the sequel to Kill Order and hope to have something ready for my agent sometime this fall.

Adam, thank you for stopping by and for giving us another great book. I am looking forward to the next one. Thank you, especially, for producing books that are not only well-written, but clean and meaningful.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my writing life at your blog.

Where Readers Can Buy a Copy of Kill Order

Paperback:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1645261867/
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/kill-order-adam-blumer/1132572349?ean=9781645261865
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas: https://www.shoplpc.com/product/kill-order/

Kindle E-book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VRSPGMN/

How to Connect with Adam

Website: http://www.adamblumerbooks.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AdamBlumerNovelist
Twitter: https://twitter.com/adamblumer
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Adam-Blumer/e/B001PYV33I/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2315682.Adam_Blumer
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/adamblumer/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/adamblumer/

Kill Order Paperback Giveaway:

You can enter for the opportunity to win a signed paperback copy of Kill Order here.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Happy Now, Hearth and Soul, Tea and Word, Booknificent)

Book Review: Sweet Mercy

In the novel Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock, seventeen-year-old Eve Marryat is glad her family has to leave St. Paul, Minnesota in 1931. The city had become a haven for gangsters and crime: Eve had even witnessed a man being killed.

Her father, newly laid-off from the Ford Motor Company, is taking the family back to where he grew up in Mercy, Ohio. His family owns the Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge right on the beach, and Eve and her parents will help out in various capacities. Eve has idyllic memories of her family’s previous visits to the hotel and beach.

Before long, Eve learns that things and people aren’t always what they seem. She learns she has an albino cousin she never knew of before. At first he seems curmudgeonly, she assumes because of what he looks like and how other treat him. She soon finds out he harbors deep pain. She’s surprised to find that a bum who comes for an occasional handout meal has attended college and has ambitions. A boy she meets and starts a relationship with seems good and kind, until she finds out he’s a part of a crime network. And then she learns of nefarious goings-on right there in her uncle’s hotel.

Eve has a hard time with everyone else’s wrongdoing until she’s put into a position she has to cover up.

All I knew for sure was there wasn’t a place in the world that matched my dreams. For as long as I lived I would never stop pining for Paradise, but the gates had been shut and bolted long before I was born. I knew that now. The heartsickness of life outside of Eden was everyone’s lot, including mine

Her guilt and need for mercy open her eyes to her judgmentalness and everyone else’s need for mercy as well.

When I first read the description of this book, I thought the gangster side of it an odd topic. But I loved the way Ann showed us Eve’s character and opened her eyes as well as ours. I enjoyed Ann’s creative phrasing, like “A small steel bridge, humped like the back of a frightened cat” and “The day hobbled along on wounded feet.” I loved the many layers of the title’s meaning. This is another winner.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent, Literary Musing Monday)

Book Review: Rorey’s Secret

Rorey’s Secret is the fourth of Leisha Kelly’s series about the Wortham family, set during  and just after the Depression. The fourth through sixth books are called the Country Road Chronicles and take place a few years after the first three, when the Wortham children are teenagers.

This book begins with mom Julia Wortham in the kitchen preparing a birthday dinner for one of their neighbor boys. The Hammond family lost their mother at the beginning of the second book. Their father, George, had not coped well at first, but seemed stable now. Several of the Hammond’s ten children are over visiting the Worthams at any given time. The youngest is trying to help Julia fry chicken, and making a mess. Just as another Hammond child tries to bring newborn kittens in the house, the oldest drives up with his wife in labor and very active toddler diving in Julia’s cabinets because he likes the bang all the pans make as they fall out. As Julia’s husband and son come in from working, Julia sends them off for the doctor.

But the doctor can’t be reached, and Julia reluctantly plays midwife. Somehow after several hours, the baby is born, everyone’s fed, and several of the Hammond family go home.

As Julia and her husband, Samuel, prepare to drop into bed, they notice a strange glow in the distance: a fire over at the Hammonds’. Sam and his son and daughter drive over to help: Julia stays behind because the new mother and baby are still at her house for the night.

Sarah, the Wortham’s daughter, tries to keep the younger Hammond children safely away from the barn’s flames, but ten-year-old Bertie dashes away into the barn out of concern for the calves. Sarah alerts her father, who runs after Bertie to bring him out. Then the roof caves in.

Both Bertie and Sam are pulled to safety, but both are injured, Sam seriously. His son takes both of them back to the Wortham’s house and goes to try to find the doctor again. Julia, worried sick, tries to help them the best she can.

Inexplicably, several of the Hammonds blame middle son Franky for the fire. In the previous books there has been a subplot involving him. He seems to have a learning disability: he can’t learn to read no matter how much he wants to. He can do math in his head, but not on paper. Of course, not much was known about such then, and his schoolmates and even his father think he’s stupid. Franky is also the most dreamy, sensitive, and spiritual of the bunch. If he had started the fire, he’d be the first to own up to it. There also seems to be some tension between Franky and his teenage sister, Rorey, but neither will open up about it.

Rorey, for her part, is being cagey and aloof. The bulk of the book focuses on the tension between Rorey, Franky, and the rest of the two families as the cope with the aftermath of the fire. When Rorey tells a part of her secret to Sarah, then Sarah’s in a quandary as to whether to keep her promise not to tell.

The point of view rotates from chapter to chapter between Julia, Sarah, and Franky. I could identify a lot with Julia, worrying about her husband, feeling overwhelmed with all the people and issues, wanting to set things straight between Franky and his father. She struggles to trust God and seek wisdom. But she makes a good point here:

Somewhere I’d heard that the first time a young person does something really bad, a significant bit of their future and the choices they make rest upon the kind of response they get. I prayed our response to Rorey would be what she needed (p. 229).

I loved the first couple of books in the series. All the chaos in the beginning of this one nearly made my head spin. Still, life is like that sometimes, and that’s one of the hardest times to maintain trust in the Lord. I liked the way this one worked out in the end and what everyone learned along the way.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Every Secret Thing

In Ann Tatlock’s novel Every Secret Thing, Elizabeth Gunnar had attended Seaton Preparatory School in Delaware. Her high school English teacher there, Mr. Dutton, encouraged and nurtured her love of literature and inspired her to become an English teacher herself.

There are mentions through the book that something terrible happened to Mr. Dutton, and his story is told piecemeal in Elizabeth’s flashbacks. He was a well-loved teacher, so his tragedy hit the student body hard. But Elizabeth and three of her friends were stunned that the school covered up what really happened.

Now, twenty years later, Elizabeth has returned to Seaton as an English teacher. Mr. Dutton’s shadow looms large, but eventually Elizabeth finds her footing. One of her students, a girl named Satchel Paige, seems aloof, but Elizabeth learns of her troubled family background, and they eventually form a relationship.

Elizabeth speaks often of what she calls “moments of being.” She borrowed the phrase from Virginia Woolf, who described them as “a sudden shock, a welcome shock, in which she sensed something beyond the visible, or, as she wrote, the shock ‘is or will become a revelation of some order; it is a token of some real thing behind appearances.'” Elizabeth felt those moments were God manifesting Himself or trying to get our attention, and she even wrote a paper on that premise. But she knew Virginia didn’t believe in God. And she was sad to discover that Mr. Dutton didn’t, either, though he gave her an A on her paper.

Satchell progresses well until a crisis at home affects both herself and Elizabeth.

I feel I am not doing justice to this story: there’s so much I can’t say because I don’t want to spoil it. But I loved this book.

For one thing, I loved the era. Elizabeth graduated a couple of years behind me, so all the 70s references were familiar and nostalgic to me.

Then I identified very much with Elizabeth as the bookish “Jesus freak” (as some Christians were called then) introverted A student.

I loved the threads of “moments of being” throughout the novel as well as the thread of invisibility. Both Elizabeth and Satchell had felt invisible for different reasons. Elizabeth brought up Jesus’s calling of Nathanael, seeing him when he thought he was alone under a fig tree. I liked the truth that sometimes God uses us in ways we never knew until much later.

Overall, it’s a beautiful, redemptive story. It’s one of my favorites of Ann’s. I hope you’ll read it and tell me what you think.

(Sharing with Booknificent, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: A Place Called Morning

In the novel A Place Called Morning by Ann Tatlock, Mae Demaray faces a grandparent’s worst nightmare. Her two-year-old grandson died while in her care, due to a moment of carelessness on her part.

Long after her daughter and son-in-law forgive her, Mae can’t forgive herself. She refuses to be alone with her other grandchildren, withdraws from the ministry she enjoyed for years at the children’s hospital, withdraws, in fact, from almost everything, including God. Mae’s daughter tries various ways to draw Mae out, but Mae resists.

The one activity she does keep up is her relationship with Roy, an old family friend. Roy is a few years older than her and has some kind of mental or learning disability. For as long as she can remember, her mother invited Roy from the orphanage for dinner and family get-togethers. Now her parents and her husband have all passed away, and Roy lives in a boarding house. Mae has Roy over for lunch a couple of times a week. He does odd jobs around the house and yard for her. The upkeep on her house, inherited from her parents, is too much for her, and the extra cash helps his fixed income.

Then another crushing family tragedy occurs, this one threatening her relationship with Roy. But in the aftermath, a long-buried family secret is revealed. Though it throws Mae for a loop at first, ultimately it opens her eyes and causes all her walls to come crashing down.

As a grandmother, the first part of this book was hard to read. I could really identify with Mae’s feelings in the loss of her grandson.

I loved the truths Ann brought out about relationships with family and with God. I loved where Mae ended up.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved and Booknificent)

 

Book Review: Home at Last

 Home at Last is the last book in Deborah Raney’s Chicory Inn series. Link Whitman is the oldest and only remaining son of bed and breakfast owners Grant and Audrey Whitman. He’s 29 and single. He’d like to have a family like the rest of his siblings, but has been too involved with work and has just never found the right girl. He tries to avoid disastrous set-ups with relatives of his mom’s friends.

Link is not above a little flirtation now and then, however. On his way to the bakery on cold morning for his mom, he anticipates seeing Shayla, the cute girl who works there. But right in front of the bakery, suddenly a young girl runs into the street. Link has trouble stopping on the icy road, but manages to swerve his pickup and miss her. Then Shayla comes running out, terrified and angry with him. At first he thinks the little girl is Shayla’s daughter, but finds she’s the niece – but a niece that Shayla is responsible for.

This incident sets Link and Shayla off on the wrong foot. But overcoming this rough start proves easier than handling their more serious differences. Shayla is of mixed race, with neither set of grandparents approving her parents’ marriage. Her mother has died, her brother is in jail, and her father is bitter and disillusioned. She thinks there are too many obstacles and issues that Link would never understand.

But Link wants to try and convinces her to go out with him – along with her niece, Portia. The path isn’t easy, with misunderstandings and misconceptions on both sides. Will they overcome them or give up trying?

I enjoyed this last visit with the Whitman family and felt Deborah handled the issues involved with sensitivity and understanding.

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Book Review: Close to Home

 Close to Home is the fourth in Deborah Raney’s Chicory Inn series, where empty nesters Grant and Audrey Whitman have transformed their big, rambling home into a bed and breakfast. Each book focuses on one of their five children. This book, however, tells the story of daughter-in-law Bree. Bree had been married to their youngest son, Tim, who had died a solider in Afghanistan. Bree had issues with her own parents and drew close to the Whitmans. They, in turn, considered Bree as one of their own.

It’s been five years since Tim’s death. Bree’s coworker, Aaron, has shown an interest in her, but she’s just not sure she’s ready to date again. Yet she decides to go out with him just as friends. She enjoys him and the relationship, yet something isn’t right. Is it that Aaron isn’t the right one, or that Bree doesn’t want to lose her relationship with the Whitmans?

Another plotline in this book is that feisty Grandma Ceecee has been having some issues that make Grant and Audrey wonder how much longer she can live alone. Ceecee has already said she would not go to a nursing home. Yet it’s seeming less safe than ever for her to be on her own. And with the inn, they don’t think they can manage caring for her at their home.

As soon as one character from a previous book showed up, I had a feeling which way the plot would go. But I enjoyed the journey nonetheless. I have not been in Bree’s situation, but I could sympathize with her dilemma. And, as many of you know, we have dealt with a parent needing care, so I could empathize with the characters in that situation as well. As always, I enjoyed the time with the Whitmans. Though they have their squabbles and irritations, they they love each other, support each other, and pull together.

Previous books in this series (linked to my reviews):

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