Book Review: Like a Flower in Bloom

 In the novel Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell, Charlotte Withersby’s father is a botanist in Chesire, England, in the 1850s. Her mother was a botanist as well, and Charlotte loves to study and illustrate plants. Since her mother died, Charlotte has been her father’s assistant, secretary, and all around right-hand person.

But Charlotte is now 22, and her uncle, the Admiral, thinks it’s high time for her to go into society and find a husband. Charlotte has no interest in either society or matrimony. She loves her work, and she doesn’t think her father can possibly do without her.

But then a long-time correspondent, a Mr. Edward Trimble from New Zealand, shows up on the Withersby’s doorstep. He seems the ideal solution: he can assist Charlotte’s father so the Admiral can introduce Charlotte to society.

Besides Charlotte’s lack of interest, being presented to society is fraught with another  major problem. Charlotte’s father has never had any interest in society. He has always been the somewhat eccentric absent-minded professor type. With only her father as her main companion for life, Charlotte doesn’t know how to dress or act. Fortunately she finds a friend in Miss Templeton, who likes Charlotte’s quirky ways. Miss Templeton is younger but also tasked with finding a husband, something she dislikes as much as Charlotte, but for different reasons.

Charlotte hatches a plan. Since she can’t seem to escape her fate, she’ll go after a husband just to make her father realize that he can’t do without her. Then he’ll call off this nonsense.

But Mr. Trimble proves himself an able assistant, so that her father seems to be able to get along without her very well. And her plan to attract suitors, assisted by Miss Templeton, succeeds only too well.

I’m afraid I didn’t like Charlotte at first. Even the person who came to love her called her “the most maddening, most vexing, most exasperating woman I have ever met.” I didn’t mind the fact that she didn’t know how to fit in society, and I even agreed with her that some conventions seemed silly. But at first she seemed to see only her own viewpoint. Yet, as I got to know her, and as she broadened her horizons and learned a little humility, she grew on me.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

Conversation, my dear Miss Withersby, is a very fragile creature. You must nourish it if you would have it survive. Its favorite food is a question.

Siri Mitchell’s books are far more than romances. I loved her note at the end of the novel where she explained the different influences that went into this story: women who contributed to the study of botany but could not be published under their own names, the conflicting views of botany between scientists and religious people, the eccentricity of botanists, the unusual collections and plant projects of the times, the Opium wars between Britain and China, the nature of introverts, the concept of a helper in the Bible, Victorian gender roles and expectations. She wove all of these together seamlessly, with warmth and humor. Above all the book illustrates the main theme of being who God created you to be.

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

 

Book Review: The Other Alcott

Louisa May Alcott has been famous for hundreds of years as the author of Little Women. Not many people know that her younger sister, Abigail May (who went by May and is Amy’s counterpart in LW) had some success as an artist. May probably would have gone further in her career, but she died at the age of 39. The Other Alcott is Elise Hooper’s attempt to bring May’s story to the forefront via fiction.

The book begins just after Little Women has been published and the Alcott family received the first reviews. Praise was high for Louisa’s book, but not so kind for May’s illustrations. May decided she needed more instruction, so she approached Louisa about living with her in Boston and taking art lessons there. After some curmudgeonly grumbling, Louisa agreed.

A few years later, Louisa, May, and another friend traveled to England, where Louisa wrote and May explored and took lessons. They were prohibited from traveling to Paris at that time due to war, but a few years later May traveled to Paris on her own and continued her studies. She met John Ruskin and several other “women artists languishing in the margins of the historical record.” She became friends with Mary Cassatt during the beginnings of the Impressionist movement. Mary eventually became a well-known Impressionist, but the movement was controversial at first. May continued along a more traditional route. “Her paintings were exhibited in the Paris Salons of 1877 and 1879, major accomplishments for an artist of the era.” She wrote a book titled Studying Art Abroad, and How to do it Cheaply.

She met and married Ernest Nieriker, a Swiss tobacco merchant and violinist, in 1878. In November of 1879, May gave birth to a daughter named after Louisa but called Lulu. But May died seven weeks later, Wikipedia says from childbed fever, Hooper says from cerebral spinal meningitis. May wanted Lulu to be sent to Louisa in the event of here death. Louisa raised Lulu until her own death ten years later, when Lulu was sent back to her father.

I enjoyed learning more about May’s life. I had particularly wondered why her daughter was sent to Louisa, and this gave insight into that decision. It was interesting to read of the Impressionist movement’s beginnings.

May and Louisa seemed to be the most headstrong and spirited of the Alcott sisters. May’s burning of one of Louisa’s early manuscripts (an event that really happened and was portrayed in LW) gives a glimpse of the way they could clash. But I felt Hooper played up their differences and potential for butting heads a bit overmuch. She admits in her afterward that the estrangement between the two in her book was made up for the story. I know authors may have to make up some details and dialogue in a fictionalization of a true story, but I felt this went too far. Hooper also portrayed May as resenting the way her book counterpart, Amy, was portrayed. I don’t know if this is true or made up or over-emphasized for the book. The book indicates Louisa was unhappy about May’s marriage and suspicious that her husband was really after Louisa’s money, but Wikipedia says, “Louisa Alcott called the day a ‘happy event’ and described Ernest as a handsome, cultivated and successful ‘tender friend’. Further, ‘May is old enough to choose for herself, and seems so happy in the new relation that we have nothing to say against it.'”

Louisa comes off as mostly grouchy in this portrayal. The author says of May, “Creating beauty through art made her happy. And being happy seemed to be her natural state.” But Hooper did not portray May as happy except during her courtship and early married days.

Hooper describes one scene where May finds herself in a class of all men sketching a male nude model who, when he sees May, acts lewdly toward her. Again, I don’t know f this scene is real or invented, but even if real, it went into more detail than needed.

So, I have mixed emotions bout the book, and reviews seem to be mixed as well. Though I did enjoy learning more about May, and I think the cover of the book is gorgeous, I don’t think I will be reading this author again.

Book Review: All the Way Home

Home In the novel All the Way Home by Ann Tatlock, Augie O’Shaughnessy‘s father has died by his own hand in the 1930s. Her mother takes what money they have left and moves her family in with her reluctant brother and his family. But Augie’s mother checks out and seeks respite in alcohol. Augie’s uncle is short-tempered and harsh; her aunt is a little more caring, but busy and distracted. Augie is mostly left to herself.

One day Augie wanders down to a park and meets a Japanese girl named Sunny, who invites Augie home. Augie becomes close with the whole kind and loving Yamagata family, spending more time with them than her own family. She even comes to consider herself Japanese.

Then Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, and the Yamagatas are sent away to an internment camp.

And Augie’s brother comes home from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and is never the same.

Fast forward twenty years, and Augie is a journalist specializing in civil rights stories. She has been asked to travel to Carver, Mississippi, to find out why no Negros have registered to vote even though the law allows them to. She finds more surprises than she bargained for.

I’ve read many WW2 novels, but none of them have touched on the Japanese internment camps. I had not known many details about them. It was interesting, but sad, to learn what happened to them. The fear was understandable: many experienced a similar fear of Middle Eastern people after 9/11. Like young Augie has to wrestle out for herself, no race of people is all good or all bad.

I’d like to tell him that there is no such thing as “they” or “them.” That there are only individuals with layer upon layer of experience, ideas, hopes, dreams, beliefs. That there are some Japanese who are really Americans, some whites who are really Negroes, some Irish-German-Americans who are really Japanese at heart. And that in spite of what a person appears to be or not to be, it’s the heart and not the face that matters.

I could begin again to differentiate, to see the faces of individuals rather than the blur of one large group. The Yamagatas had the eyes but not the soul of the people who had destroyed my brother. And that was what made them different.

Some of the civil rights era stories were both brutal and sad as well. Ann captured the struggles of everyone in the story in a realistic and heartfelt way. Her writing shines as well in a couple of turns of phrases I particularly liked:

I was already well aware of a hollow place inside of me, like an air bubble caught in a pane of glass.

Her painted eyelids were two blue robin’s eggs in a nest of clotted mascara.

The music filled what we would otherwise not have recognized as our parched souls, helping us realize the beauty that we longed for only when we heard it.

This book was a Christy award winner, and I can see why. A very good read.

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

 

Book Review: Travelers Rest

Travelers Rest Travelers Rest caught my eye first of all because I used to live near a town by that name in SC, and I always thought it was a lovely name for a town. Then, as I started reading books by Ann Tatlock, I wanted to bring this one up from the depths of my accumulated Kindle sale titles and place it high on the TBR list.

In this story, Jane Morrow and Seth Ballantine live in Troy, NC, and are engaged, planning to be married after his tour of duty in Afghanistan. After nearly a year, though, Seth is hit by a sniper and paralyzed. He’s told Jane to stay away, but when he is shipped to the VA hospital in Asheville, she can’t help but go to see him to assure him of her love.

But Seth is no longer the man she knew. Though the physical issues are daunting, Jane thinks they can overcome them. But the mental and emotional hurdles for Seth are a different story. Gradually, though, he gets used to Jane coming around.

Though Jane still loves Seth and wants to marry him, sometimes she’s overwhelmed by the losses they face and by Seth’s extreme emotions. While taking respite in the common rooms, she meets an older black man, Truman, who once was a doctor but now lives at the VA. He still makes “rounds” to encourage the patients and help where he can. He has seen quite a lot, and he helps Jane understand Seth’s perspective. As they talk, Jane learns more of Truman’s life and sorrows. Truman is from Travelers Rest, where events in his twenties changed his course and relationships forever. He doesn’t think he can ever return there.

Jane’s spiritual background is shaky. She knows Truman and Seth and his family are believers, but she doesn’t know what to believe. But she knows her love alone isn’t enough to heal Seth’s internal wounds.

My only reluctance to reading this book beforehand was that I figured I knew how it would end. But I was wrong! Even if the story had gone the way I thought it would, however, I would have loved the unfolding of it. I enjoyed the characters very much. I also enjoyed the setting, as I’m familiar with many of the places mentioned. I liked the different layers of meaning of “Travelers Rest” employed in the book. I wish Jane’s faith journey would have been just a touch more clear. But overall, I loved the story.

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

Book Review: A Room of My Own

Room of my ownIn A Room of My Own by Ann Tatlock, Virginia Eide’s family was not rich, by her father’s definition, but they were better off than most during the Depression. He was a doctor, which at least provided steady work, even if some people paid in goods and services rather than cash.

But not everyone had steady work. Ginny’s uncle’s loss of his job led to his whole family living with the Eides, with Ginny having to give up her room and sleep with her younger sisters.

The Depression also led to a shanty camp being set up outside of town called Soo City. People who had lost their jobs had nowhere else to go. They tried to rig up some kind of shelter to stay in while they looked for work.

When Virginia’s father was called to help a woman in labor in Soo City, Virginia’s mother had misgivings. Every time he was called there, she had a feeling that something bad was going to happen.

Of course, there were the usual opinions around town that the Soo City residents were bums, that they could find work if they wanted to. To combat those attitudes and develop Ginny’s empathy, her father asked her to assist him in his rounds there. He didn’t tell her his purpose: he just told her he could use her help. Likewise, when he gave some of their home-canned goods to Soo City residents, he asked if they could take the old jars of food off their hands because his wife was getting ready to start this year’s canning. He made them feel like they were doing him a favor.

Ginny feels important helping her father, and she comes to know many of the residents by name.

Meanwhile, her uncle has become involved with a man trying to set up a labor union, while townspeople accuse strikers and unionists of Communism.

Things come to a head with both the strikers and Soo City, bringing tragedy to Virginia’s world and jolting her out of childhood.

I loved the back-and-forth between Ginny’s girlish activities with her friend and her fledgling forays into being grown up. I loved her father’s gentle and thoughtful example. And I loved Ginny’s coming-of-age in a manner she had not expected.

Some of my favorite quotes:

We can’t help worrying sometimes. But in spite of what we feel, we can still trust God to do what’s right.

Fear, I discovered in that moment, is as contagious as disease–maybe even more so because it takes only a moment, a few words, or a look for it to leap from one person to the next.

Most people might just be glad it was the other fellow hit by hard times, but a sensitive person like you probably can’t look on the suffering of another without feeling guilty that you aren’t suffering in the same way. But you have to look at it this way. If you and I had nothing, we’d have nothing to give. And if we had nothing to give, our friends down in Soo City might be just a little bit worse off.

I was so overwhelmed by feelings that I couldn’t feel anything anymore.

I missed home. I missed the routines of our lives, all the otherwise unnoticed customs–meals together around the kitchen table, and evenings together on the porch or around the radio, all the untroubled hours of work and play and rest. How sweet all those simple things seemed now. How much I longed for that completely unromantic but loveliest of lives.

American flags waved from front porches all up and down our street. I saw the patriotic gesture as ironic–people had been complaining about our country all year long, but now that it was Independence Day, they went right ahead and celebrated as usual. Maybe it wasn’t hypocrisy that led to the flags and the fireworks. Maybe it was hope.

So for a time, with Charlotte at my side, I almost forgot where I was and why I was there. Friends can do that, bring a bit of real comfort in a time of distress like balm on a wound.

I love this one for the description, as one who grew up with oscillating fans before central air-conditioning was common: “The one small fan in the corner turned its head from side to side, giving off mechanical sighs of contentment as it blew warm air across the room.”

When I looked this book up on Amazon, I was surprised to see a note that it was written for the general market but “may contain content of an inspirational nature.” There is a natural faith element woven into the story without being at all preachy.

All in all, a very good book.

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

Book Review: I’ll Watch the Moon

MoonIn the novel I’ll Watch the Moon by Ann Tatlock, 9-year-old Nova lives with her mother and 13-year-old brother in her aunt’s boarding house in 1948. Her mother works in a bakery by day and helps at the boarding house afterward. Nova’s mother is usually sad or angry, and Nova doesn’t know why until much later. Nova’s aunt, Dortha, is a woman of faith but has learned to choose her words carefully around her sister.

She was, you see, actually a loving and gentle woman. It’s just that she was lost, hidden way deep down inside somewhere, in a place of no light, the bottom of an ocean of too many hard years. And yet there were moments when she rose to the surface, breaking through the sadness and the anger like a diver coming up through murky waters. When I glimpsed her then, in those moments, I knew that this was the real Catherine Tierney, the good and kind woman, my mother, and someone I wouldn’t see very often because she had to work so very hard to find her way out of that dark inward place.

Nova’s brother, Dewey, is nicknamed Galileo because he loves astronomy and wants to be the first man on the moon. Nova and Dewy are exceptionally close, making it doubly hard for her to accept his going swimming without her. Their mother has strictly forbidden them to swim due to the possibility of getting polio, which was running rampant at the time. Dewy will risk it himself, but will not let Nova.

Other boardinghouse residents are a quiet Polish professor named Josef, a couple of show-business sisters, a middle-aged single lady, and a few others. One theme of the book is that every heart has its secrets sorrows, and some of these are revealed as the story progresses. And, as their stories come to light, and Nova goes through her own set of hard circumstances, another theme emerges: we often can’t explain why things happen the way they do. But we can trust God is with us.

“And if I curse him, Mrs. Tierney? What then? If I turn away from him, what do I turn toward?” Josef paused, shook his head slowly. “No. Better to keep one’s face toward heaven, even if you are angry with God, than to turn away and find nothing at all.”
___

Even a grain of hope can manage to eclipse a whole world of despair.
___

“Until then you can put yourself in the hands of God—he’ll see you through. You can take it from someone who knows, dear. I’ve found his hands to be an easy place to rest.”

I had read this book some years ago, evidently before I had a blog. I couldn’t remember much about it, so I bought a copy during a Kindle sale. Lou Ann’s recent review reminded me of it and brought it to the top of my TBR list. Interestingly, I was reading this just as our church was reading through Ecclesiastes, which often shares a similar theme: some things in this life don’t make sense, but we can trust God for what we can’t understand.

This was a wonderful story on many levels. I am so glad I read it again, and, this time, jotted down some of what I gleaned from it.

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

 

Book Review: The Fashion Designer

Fashion designer The Fashion Designer by Nancy Moser is a sequel to her book The Pattern Artist. I think the second book could be understood alone, but I encourage reading both of them.

In The Pattern Artist, which I read and reviewed last year, Annie Wood was a housemaid in England in 1911. She hoped her skill in sewing and designing would move her up to a lady’s handmaid. But the handmaids took credit for her work. Deciding there was no future for her in the Summerfield’s house, she decided on a trip to the US to strike out to pursue her own version of the American dream. She started out in the sewing department of Macy’s, then was hired on as a pattern artist for Butterick.

In the beginning of this new book, The Fashion Designer, Annie and a few friends from Butterick had quit their jobs to start a new company designing practical patterns for the everyday woman. But the lady who had enthusiastically promised to fund their endeavors inexplicably has a change of heart: she wants the women to design for her elite, upper crust friends and wants them to create patterns for a fashion show. At first Annie and her friends comply, but then bow out because their investor’s vision no longer matches their own.

After several discussions with her husband and the other women, they decide to try to open a store with dresses that people can buy off the rack but also have altered to fit if need be. They pool their resources to get started while they look for funding to continue. But all the financial avenues that seem promising end up closing.

Meanwhile, someone from Annie’s past at the manor house in England shows up seeking her own fresh start. Maude, one of Annie’s coworkers and partners, faces struggles in her relationships. She had vowed never to marry, for her own private reasons, but she meets someone who makes her wish she could change her mind. And a difference of opinion with Annie’s husband’s father puts a rift not only in their relationship, but between his parents as well.

Once again Nancy shared at the back of the book how some of her research informed the story and included facts and photos from the era. I especially enjoyed how she tied in Lane Bryant’s true story to intersect with Annie’s fictional one.

I enjoyed following along with Annie and Sean as they struggled to trust God for His wisdom and provision for the plans that they felt had come from Him.

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

Book Review: Saving Amelie

AmelieIn the novel Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke, American Rachel Kramer’s dreams for her life do not match her father’s, so she is eager to get away and start her own life. But she agrees to accompany him for one last trip together to Germany in 1939.

Her father, Dr. Kramer, has done extensive work in the field of genetics, specifically eugenics. Motivated by a desire to eradicate tuberculosis, he argues for sterilization of those who might spread the disease. He shares his work with German scientists who want to apply eugenics much more broadly.

While in Germany, Rachel plans to meet with an old friend, Kristine. But instead of a joyful reunion, Rachel is alarmed at the changes. Kristine is cowed by her controlling husband, SS officer Gerhardt Schlick. Furthermore, Kristine is afraid for the life of her daughter, Amelie, who is deaf and thereby a blight on Gerhardt’s Aryan bloodline. Kristine begs Rachel to take Amelie away before something terrible happens to her. But Rachel has her own plans. She’s not good with children and doesn’t know how she would ever get her out, much less what to do with her afterward.

But as Rachel checks further into her father’s research, she finds that eugenics goes far beyond the prevention of disease, and the German scientists are running experiments on a wide variety people whom they deem imperfect in some way. She’s further stunned to find that she herself has been an object of experimentation, and she has a family she never knew of.

American journalist Jason Young’s reports have been censored by the authorities before leaving the country. But even though his reporting has been hampered, he’s aware of much more than he lets on. At first he thinks Rachel is a part of the Nazi regime and scientific community, then realizes she doesn’t know the full extent of it. Once she does, they join together to save Amelie and others, even crossing paths with theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Rachel herself has to go into hiding, with Gerhardt Schlick determined to find her.
___

This is the first book I’ve read by Cathy Gohlke, but it won’t be the last. Not only was the story was riveting, but Cathy deftly showed how some of the policies of that day are making inroads in modern times, with some less than perfect children deemed unworthy of life. I love how she wove the philosophical discussion in without weighing down the action of the story. The secondary characters are just as well-drawn as the main ones. Highly recommended.

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

Book Review: Steal Away Home

Steal Away Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a fictional book based on facts. It parallels lifelines of two men growing up in very different circumstances and their eventual meeting and friendship.

The two men in question are Charles Haddon Spurgeon, famous and oft-quoted English preacher in the 1800s, and Thomas Johnson, a Southern slave who was freed after the Civil War, became a pastor, and eventually became a missionary to Africa. “In 1879, there were only two Christian missionaries in the entire country, and Thomas Johnson would be the very first African-American missionary to ever step foot on Cameroon soil as an ambassador for the Good News.”

It’s unlikely that two men from such different lives would cross paths. But a member of Johnson’s congregation knew Spurgeon, knew that Johnson lamented his lack of education, and knew there were funds for students who needed them to go to Spurgeon’s college, so he recommended Johnson to Spurgeon. The story has Johnson hearing of Spurgeon while still a slave, when slave owners were burning Spurgeon’s books and papers because of his stance against slavery. So meeting Spurgeon had special meaning for Johnson. They became friends after their first meeting, even to the point of Johnson traveling with Spurgeon for a retreat and being present at Spurgeon’s death.

Though this tells the story of both men, it’s not a full biography of either. It mainly tells their stories as they relate to each other.

And because the book is fictional, we don’t know what’s real and what’s made up. I would have preferred a realistic account.

I’ve read two biographies of Susannah, Charles’ wife, and several accounts of his life. I know he suffered from depression. Most accounts portray him as joyful with occasional bouts of depression: this book characterizes him as mostly depressed with occasional bouts of joy.  The truth is probably somewhere in-between. Probably depression affected him much more than anyone knew. I knew he had gout as well, but didn’t know just how extensive the pain from that could be. But the authors seemed to play up the negative physical and spiritual effects of both Susannah and Charles.

I did not know anything about Johnson, so of course I can’t compare what was said of him. I did learn that he wrote his autobiography, Twenty-Eight Years a Slave, or the Story of My Life in Three Continents. I would love to read that some time.

In a fictionalized story, naturally we expect there will be a few made-up scenes – conversations that did not happen yet reflect events or characteristics of the person’s life, etc. But according to this and this review, some scenes were revised, even the details in the account of Thomas’ conversion. If that’s true, I am very disappointed that the authors would make such revisions. The authors themselves say the book is “not a biography, and it’s not a history book, but a story, based on real events that occurred in history. Many passages in the book are word-for-word quotations from Spurgeon’s or Johnson’s own writing.” They were inspired by another historical book written as fiction that brought the characters and situations to life an wanted to do the same with this book. They admit that they “take literary license, and deviate slightly from the historical record,” but assert that “the overwhelming majority of the persons, places, dates, and even the dialogue of this book are based on real events.”

But aside from those quibbles, I did enjoy learning the relationship between these two men. I felt the hopelessness of Johnson’s situation as a slave, the palpable fear as the slaves met privately late at night to quietly worship together, the long road he had to face even after freedom was granted. I appreciated that Spurgeon was a leading voice against slavery and in treating people of all colors as equals. And though I think the authors over-emphasized Spurgeon’s suffering (they often portray him as incapacitated and don’t show much of the productive aspects of his life), I did appreciate the window into what his down times might have been like.

The title, Steal Away Home, comes from an old spiritual which is referred to often throughout the book. It’s sung here by Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole.

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

Book Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis

I did not start reading anything by or about C. S. Lewis until about twenty years ago. Something I read then indicated that his marriage was just one of convenience so his American wife could stay in England. Since then I’ve read varying accounts of his relationship with his wife, Joy. Patti Callahan asserts that the woman whom Lewis mourned in A Grief Observed and who inspired Til We Have Faces had to have been more than just a dear friend. The letters between the two have been lost, but Patti researched all of the other pieces of Joy’s and Lewis’ writings she could find plus biographies of them to get to know Joy. Based on her findings, she crafted a fictional story titled Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis.

Mrs. LewisJoy was something of a child prodigy, graduating from high school and college early and earning a master’s degree by age twenty. She was Jewish, an atheist, and, for a brief time, a Communist. She married William Gresham in 1942 and had two sons, but the marriage was troubled almost from the start. Bill was an alcoholic with some seeming mental issues after his military service. In one incident when Bill was drunk, despairing, and talking of suicide, Joy dropped to her knees and prayer to a God she did not believe in – and felt something of an encounter. It was enough to change her perspective and start her searching for answers. She had read and respected C. S. Lewis and knew he had converted to Christianity from atheism, so she wrote to him.

They corresponded for three years. In the meantime, due to health issues and a need for more answers, Joy took a trip to England, where she stayed with a friend, rested, wrote, and finally met Lewis, who asked her to call him Jack. By this time, Joy’s marriage was seriously crumbling, and she was beginning to have feelings beyond friendship for Jack. But she wanted to keep her friendship with Jack pure. She determined to try to save her marriage – until she learned that her husband and cousin were having an affair. Then she asked for a divorce.

Joy returned home as soon as she was able and returned to England with her boys. She and Lewis visited often. She and the boys even stayed with Lewis and his brother, Warnie, for several weeks. They read and edited each other’s writing, walked, ate, drank. Joy fell hard for Jack, but he treasured the philea (brotherly, friendly) type of love they had. He felt he was too old to start thinking about romance, and, besides, in the eyes of his Anglican church, she was still married. When Joy had to face leaving the country due to bureaucratic regulations, Jack offered a civil marriage and bought her a house. When Joy was diagnosed with cancer, Jack realized his true feelings for her and married her in earnest.

Joy was an intelligent, complicated woman. She reminds me very much of the woman at the well in John 4, “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as the saying goes. Early in her life, she was made to feel that she could never “measure up.” Her father punished her for besmirching her A report card with a B. Her mother compared her unfavorably to her prettier, more graceful cousin. She sought for acceptance and assurance of her worth in a string of sexual encounters. She came to learn that sex in itself does not equal love.

Joy is also a reminder that true Christians don’t always fit in a nice, neat box. Really, we have to look no further than our Bibles to know that. Almost every major figure in the Old Testament had serious family and/or personal issues, and the NT epistles dealt with issues in churches that we scratch our heads over these days. Yet even in the messiness of her life both before and after salvation, and the up and down pattern of her growth, there’s a steady trajectory of growing in grace and knowledge.

I must know when it is enough. And I must trust God — again and again I was learning and relearning to trust the truth who had entered my sons’ nursery. The rusty and decrepit habit of trusting in only myself, only abiding in my own ability to make things happen, died hard and slow (Chapter 40).

Much of what I’d done — mistakes, poems, manipulations, success and books and sex — had been done merely to get love. To get it. To answer my question: do you love me? . . . From that moment on, the love affair I would develop would be with my soul. [God] was already part of me; that much was clear. And now this would be where I would go for love — to the God in me. No more begging or pursuing or needing. Possibly it was only a myth, Jack’s myth [Til We Have Faces], that could have obliterated the false belief that I must pursue love in the outside world — in success, in acclaim, in performance, in a man.

The Truth: I was beloved of God.

Finally I could stop trying to force someone or something else to fill that role (Chapter 44).

Jack: I’ve spent all my life in an attempt to find Truth and moral good and then to live it. I can’t discard my moral habits for feelings, which are just that — feelings (Chapter 42).

I enjoyed getting to know Joy and seeing Jack as a normal person in everyday mode. And I loved the truths quoted above that Patti incorporated into the story.

However, even given Joy’s penchant for looking for love through sex at first, there seems to me to be more of a sensual aspect of the story than needed to convey Joy’s misdirection. Even a hill is unnecessarily described as appearing “like the breast of a woman in recline.” Another friend mentioned the preponderance of alcohol in the story. Even allowing that different Christians have different convictions about whether and how much a Christian can consume, alcohol seems the major drink of choice for any occasion here. It’s mentioned even when we really have no need to know what the characters are drinking. I’m left wondering why. I don’t know how much of these things are the author’s choices and how much of it is integral to Joy’s story. Because of these issues, this book won’t appeal to everyone. While I don’t endorse everything in the book,  I think if one can set aside some of the objectionable elements, Joy’s growth as a person, as a Christian, and her impact in Jack’s life and work can be seen and appreciated. The choice whether to read it or not must be left to individuals.

Linda is currently hosting a four-week book club to discuss this book. Week one’s discussion is here: week two is here. Week three is here., just posted today, with one more session coming next week. So it’s not too late to join in if the discussion if you’d like.

Linda also pointed us to a couple of nice videos. In this one, the author shares her thoughts and shows photos of Jack and Joy and videos of Jack’s house, the Kilns.

This one shows aspects of Oxford, integral to both Jack and Joy:

An interview with the author is here (HT to Linda).

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)