Book Review: Hidden Places

Hidden PlacesIn Lynn Austin’s novel Hidden Places, Eliza Wyatt is a young widow with three children in the 1930s. After her husband’s death she had stayed on with her intractable father-in-law at Wyatt Orchards. But now he has died as well. She’s not sure how she is going to manage, but she wants to keep the house and orchards, the only true home she has ever known. With the Depression, she couldn’t sell it, anyway.

One night while doing chores outside she is startled by a hobo. She’s not opposed to helping hobos, so she invites him in and feeds him. Then she discovers he has a nasty gash on his leg and ends up tending him through a nearly fatal infection. In the meantime, her husband’s Aunt Betty – usually called Aunt Batty because she seems to have some mental issues — ends up moving in with Eliza when Betty’s roof caves in during a heavy snowfall. But Aunt Batty turns out to be an able hand around the house, and Eliza soon relies on her help. The hobo, Gabe, offers to stay on and help to pay back what Eliza has done for him.

Gabe proves an able hand as well, but seems to have an uncanny familiarity with the farm and its needs. She is drawn to him, but afraid of the past he is not revealing to her. Yet she hides her own past, too: not even her husband knew her background.

It turns out Aunt Batty has a hidden past as well, and an unexpected underlying wisdom.

One theme or motif throughout the book is that of angels, from an opening admonition to “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrew 13:2), to Aunt Batty’s prayer for God to send a guardian angel to Eliza, to other references. Harsh, self-willed fathers turn up in a number of families, and several characters have to learn to follow their dreams despite such fathers and other obstacles. “Hidden places” in each heart come to light eventually, and, by God’s grace, are healed.

A couple of favorite quotes:

“Why did God have to make our lives so fragile and so short?” Walter thought for a moment before answering. “Because life is very precious to Him. He treasures each life He created and He wants us to treasure it, too—like fine porcelain china. God knows what it’s like to live and die in a frail human body like ours. His Son suffered physical death, Betsy, so that you and I can face it without ever being afraid.”

“All these troubles you’ve been having aren’t a punishment from God. He wants to use them to draw you closer to himself.”

Lynn’s writing and characterizations here are stellar. I was drawn in to each character’s story and ached with them through their trials and rejoiced in their triumphs. Excellent book overall.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)


Book Review: Fly Away

Fly AwayIn the novel Fly Away by Lynn Austin, Wilhelmina Brewster faces forced retirement after teaching music at a Christian college all her adult life. She’s depressed and doesn’t know what to do with herself. She never married, never had any other hobbies or interests.

She volunteers playing piano at a cancer center sometimes, and one day there she runs into Mike Dolan – and they got off very much on the wrong foot.

Mike is a widower and a pilot who still flies for the business that he started and his son now runs. But Mike has just learned that he has cancer with a life expectancy of only three months. He doesn’t want to put his family through the same agony they experienced when his wife died, so he plans not to tell them. When the cancer gets too bad, he plans to fly – “and forget to land.”

Somehow he ends up telling Wilhelmina his plans, and she is horrified, especially when she learns he is not a Christian. But she has never witnessed to someone in her life. She talks to her pastor, but he feels like she should be the one to talk to Mike, since she knows him. She talks to her pastor brother, but he has someone over the evangelism department in his church and is not much help. She appeals to her professor brother, and he gives her several detailed arguments from Christian apologetics that she knows she won’t remember and doesn’t think Mike would respond to anyway. No one seems to know how to simply tell a dying man about the Savior and hope of heaven.

Wilhelmina tries to give Mike some tracts, but her efforts are thwarted. Somehow, though they keep finding reasons to see each other, and a tentative relationship begins. Mike feels sorry for her when he learns she has been retired against her will and tries to think of things to cheer up up – like a kite-flying contest with his grandchildren, something Wilhelmina never thought in a million years that she would do.

She learns that Mike isn’t just a project. And even though he’s dying, he knows how to enjoy life much more than she does.

My favorite line in the book comes from advice Wilhelmina’s father gives to a friend: “We have two choices, you and I; we can lose ourselves in despair or find ourselves in Christ” (p. 170).

My thoughts:

I loved this story. I could identify with Wilhelmina’s personality so much. There were so many comical moments, yet serious ones, too. The book blurb says one of them is “figuring out how to live, the other how to die.” Lynn’s notes in the book share that this was one of the first books she wrote. The story takes place in 1987, later than her many historical books, but too far back to be called contemporary. It was published in 1996 and went out of print, but has since been reprinted, keeping the 1987 references, which I enjoyed. I am so glad it was reprinted. I would have hated to miss this story.

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

What’s On Your Nightstand: October 2018

Nightstand82The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand the last Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

Here we are near the end of another month, and it’s time to look over my reading activity.

Since last time I have completed:

Emma’s Gift by Leisha Kelly, reviewed here. Two women in a close neighborhood pass away, and one women owns their property. The remaining families not only deal with their grief, but also the uncertainty of whether they’ll keep their homes. Very good.

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron, reviewed here. A moment of clarity for Ellie’s grandmother leads Ellie to a lost castle in France where she uncovers stories of strong women in two different timelines. Very good.

My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay, reviewed here. A group of teens on a backpacking mission trip get caught up in village fighting and have to hike three weeks to safety. Excellent.

Borders of the Heart by Chris Fabry, reviewed here. A farmhand near the border of Arizona and Mexico comes across a dehydrated, injured woman and, instead of calling border patrol, decides to help her, leading them both into danger. Okay.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible With Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin, a reread, reviewed here. Loved it just as much as the first time through.

Classics of British Literature by John Sutherland was not a book, but a series of lectures about British literature. Reviewed here. Very informative.

Coming Unglued and Scrapping Plans by Rebeca Seitz. I’ll review them together with the last book in the series when I finish it.

I’m currently reading:

Reading the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word by George Guthrie.

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano (audiobook)

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White

Christian Publishing 101: by Ann Byle

Perfect Piece by Rebeca Seitz

Fly Away by Lynn Austin

Up Next:

There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe, recommended by Michele Morin.

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas

Close to Home by Deborah Raney

Katie’s Dream by Leisha Kelly

Are you reading anything good?


Classics of British Literature Lectures

When I think of lectures, I picture sitting in a large room with spiral notebook and pen in hand and that question uppermost on the minds of students: “Will this be on the test?”

So, although I actually enjoyed lectures in college, I wasn’t inclined use my precious audiobook time to listen to them. I tend to do better listening to stories while I do something else with my hands. If I am reading for instruction, I need to have pencils and sticky tabs to mark important places, and I need to be able to flip back a few pages to get a better grasp on a concept.

British classicsBut when Hope reviewed the Great Courses lectures on Classics of British Literature, I decided to get the series (which only cost one Audible credit). I’ve mentioned before that I was not exposed to many classics in my education, so I have made a deliberate point to read them as an adult. While I have enjoyed working through many of the obvious classics, I figured this series would bring more to my attention as well as enhancing my enjoyment of the ones I already knew.

John Sutherland is the lecturer, revealing a wide range of knowledge not only about British classics and authors, but the prevailing influences and philosophies of the times.

There are 48 lectures in the series, each lasting from 30-45 minutes. They begin with Beowulf and Chaucer, traveling over the years to Salman Rushdie, covering plays, poetry, and novels. Some lectures cover a person (some, like Shakespeare and Jane Austen, merit two lectures); some cover an segment of time (“The 1840s—Growth of the Realistic Novel”); some cover a group (“The Metaphysicals—Conceptual Daring,” “The Augustans—Order, Decorum, and Wit”). Some of the lectures cover one particular work (“The King James Bible,” “Frankenstein—A Gothic Masterpiece”). Others explore a particular genre (“Lyrical Ballads—Collaborative Creation,” “Voices of Victorian Poetry”).

Sutherland covers varying philosophies with the qualifier that we don’t have to agree with them, but understanding them helps us better understand the works in a particular time frame. He discusses some bawdy material with a fair amount of discretion, but I do wonder at the selection of those choices to share: however, I guess some of those are a part of the progression of literary history. Likewise, the tawdry content of some authors lives are shared for explanation, not titillation.

When covering several hundred years of literature, one can’t go into everything in depth. However, I was sad that Robert Burns, one of my favorites, received only 10-15 minutes, and his only work quoted was “Auld Lang Syne.” Oddly missing are C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and their works (although mention is made that Tolkien was a Beowulf scholar).

However, Sutherland did cover an immense swath of ground in this series. Time and again he brought out what was going on in history, how that influenced literature, and how literature in turn influenced life. This series might be better titled the History and Development of British Literature. Thankfully a PDF copy of Sutherland’s notes is available for further perusal.

It would be impossible to share even a fraction of the information gained from these lectures here, but here are a few points of interest and quotes that stood out to me.

  • The first literature was oral and communal rather than written and solitary. (I wonder what people who don’t think listening to audiobooks is “real” reading would say about that. 🙂 )
  • “Great literature is timeless. That is one of the main connotations of the word classic.” (Introduction)
  • Churches were “the nation’s chroniclers” until the 11th century.
  • “Literature is a time machine. It can take us back and connect us
    with people who are no longer here. It is, in the best sense, a conversation with the dead. In fact, this is the reason we read and study literature and the
    reason that it lives for us. This living quality of literature—the fact that it is
    still animated over centuries—makes it worth our time and effort and makes
    a historical approach to literature valuable” (from Lecture 1: “Anglo-Saxon Roots: Pessimism and Comradeship”)
  • “Literature has many functions in society. That’s one of the things that makes it so interesting to read and to study and to reread. Literature, good and bad, can instruct; it can entertain; it can educate. In some circumstances, literature can even corrupt us. Given literature’s dramatic power to influence readers, it perhaps isn’t
    surprising that exactly which works of literature are corrupting has been much disputed throughout the centuries.” (Lecture 4: “Spenser: The Faerie Queen”)
  • “If literature can corrupt, it can also civilize or at least contribute to the civilizing process by articulating the elements that hold a society together. Literature defines the core values on which a civilization is founded.” (Lecture 4: “Spenser: The Faerie Queen”)
  • I was astonished that Robinson Crusoe was seen not as a classic prodigal son story, but “an allegory of English colonialism in the 18th and 19th centuries” and an example of capitalism. (Lecture 17: “Defoe–Crusoe and the Rise of Capitalism)
  • Sutherland demonstrates a broad understanding of Christianity expressed in literature, but I felt he missed the boat on the last sentence here (unless the philosophy is of the people he is quoting, in which case the misunderstanding is theirs): “It’s interesting to note that many thinkers, such as Marx, Max Weber, and R. H. Tawney, have argued that the rise of capitalism is intimately connected with Protestantism and Puritanism. Just as capitalism stresses the individual acquisition of wealth, so do Protestantism and Puritanism stress the individual’s private, personal relationship with, and responsibilities to, God. The individual has credit with his maker and must earn his salvation.” (Lecture 17: “Defoe–Crusoe and the Rise of Capitalism) Neither Puritanism nor Protestantism teach that we have any credit with God or that we can earn our salvation.
  • I wondered at the statement “The novel would not exist in the form that we have it if it were not for women readers, because the novel is a domestic form” (Lecture 18: “Behn–Emancipation in the Restoration”). Weren’t other types of books read in homes before novels were invented? Or perhaps women generally weren’t as interested in reading until the novel came along?
  • “Literature expresses or embodies the noblest aspirations, the finest articulations, of idealism which a culture or society has.”
  • In William Blake’s “The Lamb” and “The Tyger,” Sutherland brings out the innocence of the lamb and its symbolism. He says, “The answer Blake hints at is that without the destructive tiger—without crucifixion, to allegorize it in Christian terms—the innocence of the lamb would be nothing. It would be literally bloodless. And it is the blood of the lamb, not the innocence of the lamb, that the Christian William Blake believes will save us” (Lecture 24: Blake–Mythic Universes and Poetry). But Christians believe that the Lamb’s – Jesus’ – innocence is vital as well. If He were just any other human, He could not have saved us. And part of salvation is not just forgiveness, but that His righteousness goes on our account: He fulfilled all of God’s law in our place.
  • Sutherland considers Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen the “greater than great,” the “giants” of English literature.
  • In discussing 20th century poetry, Sutherland pointed out that no one could support himself by writing poetry as a main profession any more. One reason, he felt, was that the energy and creativity that in an earlier era would have gone to lyric poetry now went to popular music.
  • “The story of [British] literature is a constant series of beginnings or breaks—sometimes violent breaks—with tradition, or revolutions and new starts. … Literature advances … by rejection, contradiction, and radical innovation.” (Lecture 48: New Theatre, New Literary Worlds)

I definitely learned a lot! Overall, I really enjoyed the series and may explore other Great Courses now.

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

Laudable Linkage

Welcome to my latest round-up of noteworthy reads around the web:

Please Do and Don’t Assume Motives. This would solve so much. It doesn’t mean being naive.

Are You Becoming More or Less of an Encourager? HT to Challies. “The church must be an oasis for the true Christian! You must be such a great encouragement that you become a breath of fresh air for those who speak to you. Of course, we should confront sin and push people towards holiness, but when people talk to us they should feel like we care about them and, more importantly, their soul. Sadly, as life goes on and as time goes on, we can tend to become crankier and less thankful for our salvation, but the writer of Hebrews calls us to be different.”

We Don’t Need to Go Back to the Early Church, HT to Challies. I’ve heard off and on throughout my Christian life that we need to “do church” like the early church of the first century. But if you read the NT epistles, those churches were rife with problems that the NT writers had to correct.

How Can You Show Radical Hospitality as an Introvert? by Rosaria Butterfield, HT to Challies. “We need the people who are quietly listening and praying as other people are talking, discerning about things.”

Home Libraries Confer Long-term Benefits. “Home libraries are strongly linked to children’s academic achievement.”

Is Turning Off Your Notifications the Ultimate Productivity Hack? HT to Challies. Excess notifications are one of my biggest pet peeves, and I turned off most of them long ago. Especially anything that makes noise. Interesting note here that it takes “on average, 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand after a distraction.”

And, finally, someone shared this on Facebook. Pretty cute.

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: Emma’s Gift

Emma's gift Emma’s Gift is the sequel to Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly. I think you could read and understand the second book without the first one, but you’d get much more out of the story with both of them. Plus, since Julia’s Hope will probably be one of my favorite books read this year, I encourage you to read it, too.

In Julia’s Hope, Julia and her husband, Samuel Wortham, and their two children lost everything during the Depression. They were hitchhiking east to get a job with Samuel’s cousin when they got word that the job fell through. Totally alone and with no hopes, they find shelter in an abandoned farmhouse. Then Julia gets the idea that perhaps the owner would let them stay in return for fixing up the place. They find the owner, Emma, who is an elderly amputee who can no longer live alone. She agrees to the arrangement, much to the consternation of some of her friends who think the Worthams are taking advantage of her. Before long the Worthams suggest that Emma come back to the farmhouse and stay with them, which she agrees to do, and they become something of an adopted family for each other.

Emma’s Gift picks up the story several months later. Emma was not in good health in the last book and knew her time was soon coming to an end. She passes away near the beginning of this story. It’s not unexpected, yet it’s still a blow to the family. But then their neighbor, a mother of ten children, passes away the same night, totally unexpectedly. The Worthams take in the children while the woman’s husband, George, deals with his grief. While glad to help, and, really, having no choice, an addition of ten children, one a newborn, weighs heavily. Helping the children through their grief while dealing with their own is a challenge.

Uncertainty also weighs on both families as their houses and land were owned by Emma. Emma had tried to give the Worthams the deed to the house they were in, but Samuel refused at the time. George has been unable to make any payments for months, if not years, and Emma wanted to forgive the debt. But now her affairs are in the hands of her nephew, so everyone has to wait to see whether he’ll abide by Emma’s wishes or take the property as his own.

Some of the townspeople bring food out and stay to help with the children, which helps Julia to feel that they are finally accepted. Some of the men help Samuel deal with George, who is on the verge of doing something stupid.

Even though the first part of the book is heavy with grief, please don’t let that deter you. The light does break through in the end, and it’s heartwarming to see the progression.

The point of view switches back and forth between Julia and Samuel. Two themes emerged for me: that everyone has something to give to help others no matter how much or little they have, and when you’re weighed down almost to the breaking point, God’s grace sufficient.

A few favorite quotes:

It made me feel good inside to love her right over top all the rough edges.

Kissing cheeks, passing plates, even listening to George pour out his woes one more time over a late cup of root coffee—it was all the work of God. Because people need each other. And sometimes we don’t realize how much we have to give until we’ve started giving it.

It doesn’t take away the pain of this world. But just knowing the outcome can stop the ache that comes in the middle of some lonely night, or can give you words to make a crying child smile again. God is faithful. Our shelter in the time of trouble. Our refuge in the time of storm. We don’t always know what he’s given us. When we’re deep in the hurt of some awful moment, we don’t always know what good things God has prepared for the days ahead. But we do know so much of himself has been given to our hands. To cherish. To rest in. And especially to share.

These two books are all I have, but there is another sequel, and then another three-book series with some of the same characters as well as a Christmas story. I’d like to get to the rest of them some day. In looking up Leisha Kelly after reading the last book, I was sad to discover that she and her teenage son had died in a car accident some years ago. But I am glad she left this legacy behind.

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

What’s On Your Nightstand: September 2018

Nightstand82The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand the last Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

I checked my calendar yesterday morning, but I somehow got my weeks mixed up and thought I had another week before the Nightstand post! Instead, I am a day late. Oh, well…

Since last time I have completed:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, reviewed here. Loved this! And the movie was wonderful, too, despite a few changes to the plot.

Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly, reviewed here. Loved this story about a family struggling during the Depression who ends up sharing a house with an elderly amputee.

Tea With Emma by Diane Moody, reviewed here. Something of a modern take on Jane Austen’s Emma. It was…okay.

Reclaim Your Life from IBS: A Scientifically Proven Plan for Relief without Restrictive Diets by Melissa G. Hunt, reviewed here. Both practical and helpful.

Helen Roseveare: On His Majesty’s Service by Irene Howat, reviewed here.

The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering by Vaneetha Rendall Risner, reviewed here. Excellent. Deep. Convicting.

I’m currently reading:

Emma’s Gift by Leisha Kelly

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron

Rereading Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

I’ve been using my normal audiobook time to listen to a series of lectures on Classics of British Literature by John Sutherland.

I’m also reading parts of The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White, but it’s more of a reference book than one to read straight through.

Up Next:

Reading the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word by George Guthrie. Some of his blog posts have been very helpful to me, so I am looking forward to his book.

There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe, recommended by Michele Morin.

I am trying to decide whether my next audiobook with be Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas or Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano. I know a little of both men’s stories and would like to learn more.

I have all kinds of Christian fiction in my Kindle app and on my shelf, but I am not sure which one will be next.

I think that wraps up by reading activity for this month! Are you reading anything good?

Book Review: Tea With Emma

 Tea With Emma by Diane Moody is a story within a story.

The outer story has writer Lucy Alexander with writer’s block ever since her beloved aunt died. When Lucy’s father sends her the teacup collection that her aunt had willed to her, Lucy is reminded of their special times together and of the Jane Austen book her aunt had bought for her.

Then Lucy is inspired: she can write a series of stories based on each of the cups. The first one is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma.

Next comes the first story, Tea With Emma.

Two lifelong friends, Maddie and Lanie, are just returning from a trip to England. Maddie is inspired to open an English tea shop, and Lanie has agreed to help her. Their giggling and carrying on in the plane annoys the seatmate in front of them, an English professor. In a comedy or errors, the girls and the professor keep running into each other, with near-disastrous results.

When Maddie goes home to her grandmother in Texas, whom she has taken care of since the latter had a stroke, she lays out her plans for the tea room and gets her grandmother’s blessing. She soon discovers that the grumpy professor lives across the street. She tries to befriend him, but he rejects her efforts.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, but evidently missing what Emma had learned by the end, Maddie feels God’s mission for her life is to be a matchmaker. She encourages Lanie towards the contractor and away from an online computer geek. It does not go well.

Meanwhile the professor has to come to grips with the issues in his life which have made him so cranky.

My thoughts:

I thought the premise would make for a fun, touching story, but I just didn’t connect any of the characters, except maybe the grandmother and the computer guy. Maddie and Lanie seemed juvenile, Maddie seemed pushy, and the professor was just a grouch, at least until he got his heart right. And the transformation from irritation with Maddie to falling in love with her just seemed too quick and unrealistic. Of course, this is a novella, so things had to happen a little faster than they would have in a longer novel.

I enjoyed the theme of letting God have control and following His direction. Both Maddie and the professor became more likeable by the end of the story. I know Jane Austen’s Emma goes through a similar learning curve, but I always found Emma sophisticated and likeable even while I disliked her actions and motivations at the beginning.

Reviews on Amazon were mixed, with some people loving the story and others not, so it may just be a matter of personalities not appealing to everyone. It’s a sweet, clean story. So don’t let me discourage you from trying the book, especially as it’s free for the Kindle at the moment.  I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

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


What’s On Your Nightstand: August 2018

Nightstand82The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand the last Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

As we near the end of another month, it’s time to recap what we’ve read.

Since last time I have completed:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, reviewed here. Not my favorite classic or Hugo book, but I am glad to have read it. It kept me thinking for days afterward.

30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents  by Kathy Howard, reviewed here. Very good.

Full Assurance by Harry A. Ironside, reviewed here. Excellent study on what the Bible has to say about assurance of salvation.

The Pattern Artist by Nancy Moser, reviewed here. A maid from England accompanies her employers on a visit to America in 1911, then strikes out on her own. She lands a job in the sewing department of Macy’s and captures the attention of the Butterick Patterns salesman. Very good!

Back Home Again: Tales from the Grace Chapel Inn by Melody Carlson, reviewed here. Three sisters turn the old family home into a bed-and-breakfast, working through their own differences and town opposition. The first in a long series. Good.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, reviewed here. Riveting historical fiction based on real circumstances concerning a woman who stole poor children and then placed them for adoption.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book VI: The Long-Lost Home by Maryrose Wood, reviewed here. A fun and satisfying wrap-up to this series.

Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness by Candace Cameron Bure, reviewed here. Cameron’s journey from bulimia and excess weight to fitness, inside and out. Very good.

I’m currently reading:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Finally!

Helen Roseveare: On His Majesty’s Service by Irene Howat

Reclaim Your Life from IBS: A Scientifically Proven Plan for Relief without Restrictive Diets by Melissa G. Hunt

Up Next:

Christian Publishing 101 by Ann Byle

I’d like to reread, or at least look through again, Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

Something from this stack and my ever-increasing Kindle collection:


Are you reading anything good now?

Book Review: Before We Were Yours

Truth is stranger than fiction, the saying goes. It is also more heartbreaking. One of the saddest and strangest situations in history is the story of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society she operated. Georgia would abduct poor children by various illegal means: outright kidnapping, taking children born to unwed mothers for “medical care” and then telling the mothers their babies died; tricking parents into signing their children over to the home, and others. Policemen, family court judges, a crime boss, and others were a part of Tann’s network. The children they obtained would be adopted out to unsuspecting couples or sometimes sold to high-profile, wealthy families. Records were often destroyed or falsified. Even though Tann thought the children would be better off in their new situations, ultimately her enterprise was a money-making scheme. Tann died while she and the home were investigated, but before she could be brought to justice.

Before we were yoursLisa Wingate sets her novel Before We Were Yours in these circumstances.

Avery Stafford is a senator’s daughter being groomed to take his place. On a trip with her father to a nursing home, a resident pauses before Avery, seems to recognize her, and calls her “Fern.” An aide hustles the woman away, chalking the incident up to dementia. But the woman made off with Avery’s heirloom bracelet, and when Avery goes back to the woman’s room to retrieve it, she sees a framed photograph of a woman who looks remarkably like Avery’s grandmother. Conversations with the resident, May, lead Avery to look into her grandmother’s journals. Every scrap of information uncovered produces more questions. Avery isn’t sure what she will ultimately find or what the consequences will be, but she feels compelled to know the truth. And the process causes Avery to question whether she is living a “role” in life set out for her by others.

May’s story is told in flashbacks. She was born Rill Foss, the oldest of five children who lived with their parents on a houseboat. When Rill’s mother goes into hard labor, the midwife insists that she be taken to the hospital. While Rill’s parents are gone, a policeman comes to pick up the children, saying he will take them to see their parents. Instead, he takes them to a woman waiting in a nearby car, who whisks them away to a children’s home.

Children in the home are neglected, not well fed, and abused. But when potential adoptive parents come, the children are dressed up and threatened to be on their best behavior. One by one Rill’s siblings disappear, but when she protests or tries to thwart their removal, she is punished and her remaining siblings threatened.

Even though May’s history is heart-rending, ultimately the book ends redemptively and hopefully.

Lisa’s scenes on the river are so real, I could almost see and smell and feel the surroundings. I ached with May through her story and the ultimate hard choice she had to make, and rejoiced at how things wrapped up for her. And I enjoyed Avery’s story as well.

A very well-written, excellent book.

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