Claire at Edisto by Lin Stepp: A Review

Suddenly a Widow Without a Home

In Claire at Edisto, we first meet Claire Avery beside her husband Charles’ fresh gravesite. Rain is pouring down on her, and it’s thundering in the distance. The burial service is over.

Book Review: Claire at Edisto by Lin Stepp
Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

The day had been sunny at the time of the service in the church Charles had pastored.  Claire had stood in the receiving line for two hours afterwards with her daughters Mary Helen, 9, and Suki, 5. Charles’ brother Parker, who had lost his wife Ann three years before, picked up Suki to hold her when she got tired.

In the first five pages we meet the rest of both families. Claire overhears her own mother and sisters discussing her as she’s about to open the door to the kitchen of her house when she gets home. They never approved of her marriage to the “backwoods” pastor. Now she’s hearing what they really think of her and her children — things they would never say to her face.

Claire’s wealthy family had a lavish home  in Arlington, complete with  housekeeper. They assumed Claire would move in with them, since she would have to move out of the parsonage in Sweetwater, Tennessee. Their materialistic values were very different than Claire’s Christian values. She knew they would also treat her like a child again and try to fit her and the children into their mold. They would stifle the children’s creativity and personalities. Overhearing their conversation had told her that much.

The Averys, Charles’  farming parents  who lived about two hours away from the parsonage, had also offered their home, but it was really too small for them all and Claire knew they’d have a hard time turning her into a farm girl.

Parker offered a third alternative, knowing that Claire would have a hard time with either her parents or his. He offered Claire the use of his beach house, Oleanders,  on Edisto Island in South Carolina. Charles used to bring them there to spend their vacations and they all loved it. It seemed an appropriate transition place to Claire as she decided what to do next. Parker offered to help move her there for the summer, since school was almost out for the children.

Life in the Beach House at Edisto Island

Edisto Island Beach Homes
Edisto Island Beach Homes, Image by Don White from Pixabay

Claire and her children quickly became a part of the island community in Edisto. They knew their neighbors and the children already had made friends because they had spent vacations there in the past. The children loved their rooms that Ann had decorated especially for them while she was alive.

Claire was caring for the Mikell and Whaley children when her friends Elaine and Lula had to work. She was also making items for Isabel to sell in her shop, the Little Mermaid. When Isabel sprained her ankle, she even hired Claire to work in the shop for a time.

Parker came to Edisto anytime he could get away from Wescott’s, the antique store in Beaufort that he and Ann had owned together. Claire appreciated being able to talk to someone who understood what she was going through, since so many of her friends avoided talking about Charles and his death. Ann had died of an aggressive cancer. Charles had died suddenly of an aneurysm in his church office as he was preparing a sermon. They talked about their grieving experiences.

The two also talked about the issues facing Claire:

  • How to support herself and the girls
  • Where to live
  • How to resolve the problems with her parents if Claire were to live with them in Arlington

Both her own parents and the Averys felt it looked bad for Claire to continue living at Parker’s house rent-free, especially since he often visited. Claire was feeling the pressure to move in with her parents in the fall.

Miles Lawrence

Claire at Edisto by Lin Stepp: A Review
Image by Christoph Schütz from Pixabay

One evening toward fall Parker was watching Suki while Claire and Mary Helen were taking a walk on the beach.  Miles Lawrence, whose mother Eudora owned a beach house three houses down from Oleanders, approached Parker. Like Parker he was an occasional visitor, but told Parker he was writing a book and would be around more during this summer. He was a psychology professor.

Just then Claire and Mary Helen came into view.  Miles made it clear he found Claire attractive. Parker was quick to state she was the recent widow of his brother, and Miles stated his interest was only professional. Parker doubted that and felt a stab of jealousy.  But he was forced to introduce them as Claire returned.

Parker was seething as he watched the handsome blond man try to charm both Claire and Mary Helen. He wondered why he was upset and it suddenly occurred to him he was starting to fall for Claire himself.

Miles seems to turn up frequently when Claire appears to be alone on the beach or on her porch. He probes her with personal questions that make her feel uncomfortable, and she realizes she’s attracted to him and slightly repelled at the same time.

One evening she is looking for her sketchbooks that contain some stories she has written and illustrated to entertain the children. She sees Miles approaching and he has them under his arm. He tells her they were really good and that he’s approached a friend of his at a publishing house with them. Mary Helen had showed him the books and he had borrowed and copied  them.

Claire expresses her anger at his doing this without her permission. He asks her if she’s afraid she’ll fail or succeed if her books are published,  and he challenges her to pursue her talent. He intimates she may not have the discipline to develop it. She asks if he enjoys upsetting her.

I like making you think about yourself….I like making you look at who you are besides a wife and mother. You define yourself in too narrow a sphere. You don’t recognize any of your talents as possibilities for expanding who you are. Yet each of them hold the potential for showing you a whole new dimension of your being.

When she expresses her discomfort at his probing he replies, moving closer: ‘I make you uncomfortable, too, because I look at you as a woman, a beautiful, desirable, and attractive woman. I know you feel the attraction between us. I certainly do.’ (p. 97) Then he kisses her. She tells him to stop, grabs her books, and flees.

The next day her dad arrives unexpectedly and talks her into moving to Arlington. He has found a job for her there and wants them to leave Edisto as soon as she can pack. They will caravan. She agrees to go. At least she will escape Miles’ unwelcome attention.

Arlington

Once in Arlington with Claire’s mother and sisters, Claire and the girls are predictably unhappy. Suki is forced to go by Sarah Katherine, which she hates, and her natural music gifts are being squelched by a piano teacher who won’t recognize them and let her use them. Verna Hampton is also determined to ‘work on’ Mary Helen’s ‘stubborn independent streak.’ She also thinks Mary Helen is ‘entirely too outspoken for nine years old and shows her intelligence too much for a girl. ‘

Claire herself takes a job offered by a lawyer friend of her father’s and she hates it. She misses the island. Three months later, in November,  Parker pays an unexpected visit. He has two important messages for Claire that give her two good reasons to return to Edisto. He helps them leave almost immediately while Claire’s mother and sisters are out of town.

 MILL WOOD ART Edisto Island Map Home Decor Art Print on Real Wood (9.5

My Review of Claire at Edisto

This book is for thoughtful readers who aren’t simply looking for light escape fiction. This book is character-driven. I knew by the end of the first chapter how it would end, but that didn’t spoil it for me. I was  very interested in seeing how the characters got to the end I foresaw. All the characters reminded me of people I have actually met. I saw no stereotypes or cardboard characters. Most of the people I met in the book I would enjoy meeting in real life. I’d probably invite them to dinner.

Claire herself was kind, thoughtful, and diplomatic. That probably helped her as a minister’s wife. Perhaps she was too diplomatic in dealing with her mother and sisters. Claire is an  attentive mother and a helpful friend.  She should probably be more assertive in her relationships, since others, especially in her family, try to dominate her or take advantage of her desire to please people.

Parker, like his brother Charles, is an oddball in his family. Their parents and siblings are farmers and the boys did not want to follow in their footsteps. Parker is a good businessman and a caring person. Like Claire, he communicates easily with all ages. Both children and adults like and respect him.

Probably my favorite character is Mary Helen. She  always calls the shots the way she sees them and isn’t shy about it. When Parker pays his visit to them in Arlington she reveals exactly what’s happening, whereas Claire is trying to be accepting and make the best of the situation. `Parker takes them all out to dinner. This except from the book will show you how these characters interacted then and will reveal a lot about their personalities:

Suki tells Parker, “We miss you and Edisto. I wish we’d never left because me and Mary Helen hate it here.”

Claire’s eyes flew wide with embarrassment. “Suki, that wasn’t a very nice thing to say. You know your grandparents are very good to us. ”

“She always says things like that,” Mary Helen said, rolling her eyes. “She won’t tell you her mother is mean to us, but I will. She’s not a very nice person.”

Parker tried to hide a smirk.

“The girls are having a little difficulty adjusting to a lifestyle that’s somewhat different for us,” Claire said, pasting an awkward smile on her face.

 Edisto Island Beach South Carolina Beach Vacation TriptychEdisto Island Beach South Carolina Beach Vacation Triptych

The Edisto Community

The island is a tourist spot that’s much busier in summer than during the rest of the year. Those who live on the beach year round know each other and help each other out. Many become friends. Claire’s friends were Elaine Whaley, a realtor, Lula Mikell, who with her husband owns a business that rents bikes, boats, etc. to tourists, and Isabel Compton, who owns the Little Mermaid, a children’s clothing and gift store. Isobel’s husband Ezra is a psychiatrist. Their children are all friends, too.

The community had worked together to help keep the island from becoming overly developed. When a hurricane threatens beach homes, neighbors look out for each other. When Claire had a painful experience involving Miles, Ezra went to see him and told him to make himself scarce and leave her alone. (You’ll have to read the book to find out about that.) Friends watched each other’s children and often socialized over meals. One doesn’t often see neighborhoods like that today — at least not where I live.

Issues the Book Dealt With

The two main issues I believe the book illuminated were healthy grieving and practical Christianity in relationships of all kinds. Lin Stepp presents these issues with characters who model healthy behaviors and with dialogue.

 

Healthy Grieving

Both Claire and Parker model healthy grieving behaviors. Claire’s grief is fresh and she still cries a lot, mostly at night after the children are in bed, but not always. She lets the girls know it’s okay to be sad and does not feed them any platitudes in response to their questions. They asked questions about why God would let their daddy die when they needed him, whether their daddy was watching over them from heaven, and more. Claire does the best she can to give them honest answers even as  she’s seeking them herself.

Parker is farther along in his grieving process, since it’s been three years since he lost Ann. He is able to share what has helped him as he seeks to comfort Claire. As their uncle, he does his best to fill in as a positive male figure in the lives of his nieces. He and Ann had never had children.

I have a lot of experience with grief. I’ve lost both parents and both children. The grieving shown in this book is true to what I have lived. Everyone grieves differently, but some authors overdo it in a way that makes me wonder if they’ve ever had any first-hand experience with grief. Lin Stepp either has experience or has studied it very well.

Practical Christianity

I have read more Christian novels than I can count. Some are subtle in getting Christian principles and the Gospel itself to readers. Others are like a series of thinly disguised sermons. Claire at Edisto is subtle. Christian characters model Christian living more than they preach about it. Much of the Christian teaching is presented in natural conversations. Claire teaches her children in everyday language to be kind and not to judge people by skin color, etc. Adult conversations are more complex, delving more deeply into issues like unanswered prayer.

Characters discuss subjects like evil in the world, death, prejudice, forgiveness, leading people on in relationships, fear of being honest about one’s romantic feelings, how soon it’s okay for widowed people to remarry, and unanswered prayer. None of these topics seem tacked onto conversations. Rather,  these conversations help you know what the characters are thinking and feeling. They are the kinds of conversations you might have with your friends.

What I like about Stepp’s dialogue is that it’s well-integrated into the story as a whole where appropriate. So many Christian novels I’ve read dump  sermons of several paragraphs into a conversation that doesn’t relate well to its context. It’s almost as if the author feels compelled to put the Gospel in there somewhere so that the novel will be Christian, but the rest of the book almost seems secular.

Stepp scatters small tidbits as appropriate in context throughout the book. Christianity is part of who Claire, Parker, and Aggie (Verna’s black servant) are.  The way they live and speak is usually consistent with what they say they believe. I really appreciate that.

One more thing I appreciated was the realistic and thoughtful way Parker and Claire treated each other as their relationship slowly developed.  There was only a tinge of the artificial “this relationship is impossible” device some authors use to keep characters apart to give the plot time to develop. I would not label this a romance because it avoids the contrived plots most books labeled as romances have.  The more typical romantic behavior occurs between Claire and Miles.

Recommendation

I would recommend this book to anyone who is grieving, especially if they are grieving the loss of a spouse. I believe any single mother in the midst of a big change or in search of a new direction would enjoy this book, as well. It’s well-written and provides food for thought as the plot steadily progresses.


It’s not a mystery or a thriller, but there are some suspenseful moments near the end. It resembles the Mitford Series by Jan Karon in its portrayal of a small town of connected people where Christians live consistently according to their principles and have solid relationships with each other. If you liked visiting Mitford, I think you will also like visiting Edisto. I’m looking forward to the next book.

I would like to thank Lin Stepp for giving me a review copy of this book. My review is still objective and my honest opinion after reading the book twice.

Other Books You May Enjoy

Rosemont Series: Suspense, Romance, Politics

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

Rosemont Series: Suspense, Romance, Politics

The Rosemont Series by Barbara Hinske

The Rosemont series has characters you can love and some you might hate.   You will meet strong women, fatherless children, single moms, pets, a gay couple, Christians, crooks, gangsters, and lots of hurting people.

Rosemont Series: Suspense, Romance, Politics: A Book Review
Even animals are important characters who help their human friends heal from their emotional hurts.

Most characters are middle class professional people, but some are victims of circumstance and are just getting by. Themes include heartbreak, redemption, forgiveness, small town spirit, and some solid family values. Not all the family values are traditional. The pets play important roles in healing their human friends.

Rosemont Series (5 Book Series)Rosemont Series (5 Book Series)

The genres are mixed. The series contains mystery, romance, intrigue, murder, arson, suicide, and political corruption. If I had to put a genre label on it, I’d call it a political thriller. The protagonist Maggie Martin and her friends in government try to unravel the corruption  and nearly get killed in the process.

There are five books. I will review them as one because after the first one, I downloaded all the rest from Kindle Unlimited and kept reading until the end. The main characters remain the same and the plot continues from book to book until the end of the series. These are the five books in the Rosemont Series:

  1. Coming to Rosemont
  2. Weaving the Strands
  3. Uncovering Secrets
  4. Drawing Close
  5. Bringing Them Home

 Coming to Rosemont: The First Novel in the Rosemont Series Weaving the Strands: The Second Novel in the Rosemont Series Uncovering Secrets: The Third Novel in the Rosemont Series Drawing Close: The Fourth Novel in the Rosemont Series (Volume 4) Bringing Them Home: The Fifth Novel in the Rosemont Series

Plot Setting and Beginning

Maggie Martin inherits Rosemont, an estate mansion in the midwestern small town of Westbury, when her husband Paul dies. She had no idea he owned it before his death. After his death she also discovers his long-term affair. He had embezzled from Windsor College when he was its president, and she hadn’t known that, either.  He had lived quite a secret life.

Maggie moves to Rosemont and becomes an active citizen. She is a forensic accountant and volunteers to help when she learns that someone has been embezzling from the city’s employee pension fund. Paul and Maggie have two adult children, Susan and Mike.

The Rosemont Cast of Characters

  • Frank Haynes: Cold and calculating when we meet him, but shows his soft side with animals. Runs Forever Friends, a no kill animal shelter.  Westbury City Council member caught in a web of corruption he doesn’t know how to escape.
  • William Wheeler: Mayor of Westbury and fall guy for the corruption and embezzlement.
  • David Wheeler: William Wheeler’s tween son
  • Chuck Delgado: Also on Westbury City Council. Suspected of being gang connected.
  • Ron Delgado: Chuck’s brother who has been in charge of the investments for the pension fund
  • Sam Torres (wife Joan): handyman, Christian, always willing to help those in need.
  • Loretta: Mother to Sean, Marissa, and Nicole. Moved to Westbury from Scottsdale to work for Frank as his assistant in his fast food company. Was a mistress to Paul Martin before he died.
  • Tonya Holmes: Member of Westbury City Council who is trying to get to the bottom of the corruption.
  • Dr. John Allen: The veterinarian who cares for all the animals we meet in the book.
  • Alex Scanlon: Lawyer and former prosecutor.
  • Aaron Scanlon: Brother of Alex, an orthopedic surgeon.
  • Marc: A pianist and the partner of Alex
  • Many dogs and cats who belong to the main characters.


My Thoughts after Reading the Entire Rosemont Series

I only meant to read the first book in the series, but I couldn’t stop. I went on a three-day reading binge to finish all the books. The well-developed characters were engaging and I cared greatly about what would happen to Maggie, her children, John Allen, Loretta and her children, and David Wheeler, among others.  I appreciated watching the personal growth in both Maggie and Frank. Even the dogs were important characters as they helped heal their owners.

Although there were some Christian elements in the book, the behavior of some characters did not seem biblical to me. People said grace and prayed when they were in trouble, but many were also friends with benefits. Sam and Joan Torres seemed to be the most consistent in living out a Biblical faith. There is no explicit sex, but the gangsters act like gangsters. I was glad there was no vividly described violence included with the acts of murder and arson.

My Recommendation

I would recommend this book to anyone who cares about relationships in families or enjoys a clean romance, mystery, or political  thriller.  Those who have been betrayed by a spouse will be able to identify with Maggie as she comes to grips with the extent of Paul’s betrayal.

Those who want to avoid lurid sexual scenes or graphic violence won’t see them in these books. I enjoyed the light romance elements, the family problem solving, the community spirit, and the race to catch the guilty politicians and their cronies.

Animal lovers will delight in seeing the dogs as major characters who bring people together and help heal their emotional wounds. When I met Frank I believed that his love for animals was a redeeming quality in an otherwise selfish personality. It showed there might be hope for him. I hope those who love animals or people will take a chance on this book. I read all these books free on Kindle Unlimited. Start your own free trial here. 

You may also enjoy these books.

Who Pays the Price of an Affair? A Review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney

Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield

Best Books Read in 2018 and First Books in 2019

Best Books I Read and Reviewed in 2018

In 2018 I’ve probably read at least 200 novels from cover to cover . A few I decided not to finish. Many were entertaining but not outstanding. Some were excellent, but I didn’t have time to review them. Here are the books that had the deepest impact on me in 2018 with links to their reviews:

Best Books Read in 2018 and First Books in 2019
Best Books Read in 2018

Books I’ve Read So Far in 2019

These are the books I’ve read during the first four days of 2019. I will include some brief thoughts on each.

Until Now by Cristin Cooper

Billy met Bridget when she came into the diner he had unwillingly inherited. She was pregnant at 16 and homeless. She was hungry for the love her father never gave, and he kicked her out when he discovered she was pregnant. The college boy who seduced her thinking she was over 18 was not ready for marriage and told her to get an abortion. She had refused. It was in this situation she sought a warm place and a bit of food in Billy’s diner.

Billy was also lonely and unhappy, searching for love in the wrong way. He, too, had been rejected by one he thought loved him. Once Billy and the waitress Diane were aware of Bridget’s situation, they took her in and gave her work and a place to live above the diner. She raises her daughter Katie there and never marries. Billy hasn’t married any of his women friends, either. He wants to marry Bridget and she wants to marry him, but both are afraid to confess their love so they keep their relationship platonic. They center their attention on raising Katie, the one who brought them together.

The book opens on the day Katie is about to leave for college. Both Bridget and Billy wonder what will happen to their friendship then. The book jumps back and forth between time periods and relationships that both Bridget and Billy have as Katie grows up.  I found the book engaging, but like most romances, a bit unrealistic. The ending, however, satisfied me.

Alert: There is some adult content.


The Rogue Reporter (A Police Procedural Mystery)

Written by Thomas Fincham (a pseudonym for Mobashar Qureshi,  this is #2 in the Hyder Ali Series I started in 2014 with The Silent Reporter.  The Rogue Reporter has many of the same characters, and I couldn’t put either book down. Fincham uses many of the same techniques he did in the first book. You can read my review of The Silent Reporter here. If you like suspense this author will keep you turning the pages.

Although I couldn’t stop reading this book, I had a tough time with a couple of torture scenes. They were brief, but it was hard to get through them. I don’t remember such scenes in the first book and I’m hoping the next books won’t have more than the normal violence and suspense you would expect to find in a detective novel. As I write this, the entire series is available in Kindle Unlimited where you can read it for free. You could probably finish it during the free trial period.


 

 

Eleventh Street: A Story of Redemption by Steven K Bowling

We first meet Lucas as he fights the Japanese Imperial Army and reminisces about the attack on Pearl Harbor he survived. We continue to see him fighting for his life in battlefield after battlefield throughout World War Two as he experiences the continual horrors of war. He had prayed plenty of genuine foxhole prayers, but after leaving the service he didn’t even go to church.

His older sister had married the brother of their church’s pastor, Buck Johnson, who simply called himself Pastor. As jobs got scarce in Kentucky, Pastor and most of those in his church, including Lucas’ other surviving siblings, moved to Hamilton Ohio to find work in the steel mills. Pastor converted the East Side Dance Hall into a church.

When he went to war, Lucas had left Maggie, the girl he loved, behind. She would not date him because she wanted to marry a God-fearing man and he didn’t appear to be one. When he returned to Hamilton, he sought Saturday night amusement at the East Side Dance Hall, since friends had recommended it. But it was quiet — except for a voice he recognized from the past: “Do you know the Lord today?…”

Maggie’s love had motivated Lucas to try to act like a Christian, but it was the Holy Spirit and Pastor that finally made him give his life to Christ at what had become the Eleventh Street Church. Lucas met the power of God through the ministry of Pastor. Pastor had no formal theological training, but it was obvious the Holy Spirit had called and equipped him.

We follow Lucas’s life and the life of Eleventh Street Church through three very different pastors. After Pastor’s death there was a gradual transition as new members joined the church and and older ones left. It becomes apparent to readers that the third pastor of the church after Pastor retired is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who is leading the flock astray.

This book’s message is relevant for today’s church.  Often pastor search committees may be more interested in a candidate’s advanced degrees and administrative abilities than in his dependence upon God. So many churches today that want to grow look to new music, new methods, and even new doctrine, to attract new members. They sometimes begin to depend more on these new ideas than on the Holy Spirit.

What happened to the Eleventh Street Church could happen to any church that begins to depend upon and follow a charismatic leader more than Christ himself. This thought-provoking novel will be of most interest to Christians.

Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar by Carol Guthrie Heilman

Agnus Hopper did not move to Sweetbriar Manor retirement home willingly. But when her forgetfulness causes the home she had shared with her late husband Charlie to burn down, she became homeless. She moved in with her daughter, Betty Jo, but Betty Jo could only handle that for three months. She then took Agnus to Sweetbriar, assuming that she would make friends and soon be happy there. Agnus knew better.

Within a few days Agnus knows something is very wrong with Sweetbriar and that the manager is hiding something. She is determined to find out what is really going on as she gets to know the other residents. She is especially concerned about her best friend from high school, Pearl, who no longer recognizes her.

Throughout this book and its sequel, which I’m still reading, you’ll meet a quirky cast of senior citizens trying to make the best of where life has put them. Agnus and her friends do their best to bring down their crooked manager so they can live in peace. In the sequel, Agnus finds the body of one of her husband’s friends not far from his grave.  She is determined to find out who killed him and why.

The Adventures of Agnes Hopper Series (2 Book Series)The Adventures of Agnes Hopper Series (2 Book Series)

I’m trying to make the most of my trial Kindle Unlimited membership. Most of the books I’ve read this year were free to read on KU. If you read a lot, why not try it? Just click here for your Kindle Unlimited trial.

Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield

A Christian Romance Series for the Christmas Season

During the busy Christmas season, these historical Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield will entertain you and engage your brain. You will meet delightful families, and watch their children grow older and some of them court and marry. There’s enough suspense to keep you reading, but not so much that you can’t put the book down to do necessary chores.

Review of Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield
Victorian House Decorated for Christmas © B. Radisavljevic

One thing I really appreciated about the books in the Hardman Holidays Romance Series were the clues the author left for me. I like to try to figure out what will happen as a the book unfolds. Shanna Hatfield dropped enough hints for me to make reasonable guesses that turned out to be very close to what did happen. There is enough suspense to keep me reading, but not enough to keep me awake all night if I don’t finish the book before bedtime. There are also no dramatic twists at the end that have no foreshadowing. One can see cause and effect.

The Setting : Hardman, Oregon

The small town of Hardman still exists, but it’s been a ghost town town since a railroad to Heppner was completed in the 1920’s. In the book Hardman was the center of social life and commerce for the farmers and related tradespeople who supplied the needs of the community.

The Characters

Luke and Filly Granger

We first meet Luke Granger, owner and manager of the Hardman bank, in Book 1: The Christmas Bargain. He has a big heart — so big that he  reluctantly accepts a disreputable farmer’s daughter in payment for an overdue loan — mostly for the daughter’s sake. Then he marries her. Luke and Filly’ home is often a scene in most of the books that follow, since most characters have some connection with the Granger family.


Ginny Granger,  Blake Stratton, and Their Parents

In The Christmas Token we meet Ginny Granger, Luke’s sister. She lives with Luke and Filly when she wants to get away from an unwise romantic entanglement with Nigel in New York. He’s from a wealthy family, but has no love for Ginny or anyone but himself. Unfortunately, he tricked her into signing an engagement contract before she left for Hardman to escape him.

Meanwhile it seems everyone in Hardman is trying to get Ginny and her ex-love, Blake Stratton, back together. They had fallen in love when Ginny and her parents Greg and Dora Granger had lived in Hardman. Dora was a snob who like to wear ridiculous hats. She believed Blake Stratton wasn’t good enough for Ginny and the move to New York was designed to separate the two, breaking both their hearts. Just as it appears Ginny and Blake may finally be headed for happiness, Nigel reappears to claim Ginny as his bride. All Ginny and Blake’s friends work together to thwart his scheme.


Arlan Guthry and Alexandra Janowski

Luke Granger’s assistant manager at the bank lives an orderly life and is engaged to the town’s school teacher, Edna Bevins. His future is all laid out for him until he’s riding up a hill and  hears what appears to be an argument, a woman’s angry cry, and a loud slap. He spurs on his horse Orion  until he sees a very fancy wagon with a broken wheel and a beautiful woman wearing pants holding a top hat. She is Alex the Amazing, trying to escape a murderer who is after her. The elaborate wagon is where she presents her traveling magic show. But now she begins to work her magic on Arlan’s heart.

When Edna leaves town to care for her mother who had been struck by a runaway buggy, the town convinces Alex,  a trained teacher, to substitute for Edna until she returns in a few months. Alex is stuck in town anyway while her wagon is being repaired.

Meanwhile she uses her magic skills to advantage in her classroom.  She enchants both her students and Arlan. But what will happen when Edna Bevins returns? See her story, one of my favorites in this series, in the book below.


Adam Guthry and Tia Devereux

We meet Arlan’s brother Adam and Tia Devereux when Adam, a Columbia River pilot, returns to Hardman for the funeral of a close mutual friend. Tia had broken Adam’s heart. While he was planning to propose, Tia ran off and married the son of a prominent judge in Portland. There she had all the advantages of wealth.

Now Tia was a widow with a young son. She had returned to Hardman when her grandmother died and decided to stay and raise her son Toby in the town she loved, away from his elite grandparents.

Now all Adam wanted to do was get away from Tia  before she could hurt him again. But before he could escape back to Portland, little Toby won his heart. When Tia’s father-in-law filed to take custody of Toby on the pretext that Tia was alone in the world and couldn’t properly raise him, Adam stepped in to help. He did still love her.

The only way Tia can legally retain custody is being married, and so Adam proposed a marriage of convenience. Would it ever become the real marriage both wanted and wouldn’t admit? Or would Toby’s influential grandfather’s thugs succeed in getting them out of his way and grabbing Toby?  How will Adam protect protect them all?  Find out in The Christmas Vow.


Tom Grove and Fred Decker

We first meet Tom Grove and Fred Decker in the class Alex is teaching in the book The Christmas Calamity. Both the teen boys had caused problems for the previous teacher. Alex had better control of the class. She stood up to Fred, the ringleader of the older boys, and Tom started to behave. Fred continued to be a problem, even when he ditched school.

Later in that book Alex saves Fred’s life after his father had beaten him almost to death. In the next book we follow the boys’ lives as they grow up. In books 5 and 6 in the Hardman Holidays Christmas Romance series we watch as each falls in love and courts a wife. Neither boy thinks he’s worthy of the woman he loves, but the women disagree.

Naturally the course of love doesn’t run smoothly for either young man. The woman Tom loves is already engaged to a man she left back east.  Can he win her away from him?

Fred loves Elsa,  a  bakery owner new to Hardman. Unfortunately an outlaw believes she’s really a woman of ill repute who disappeared years ago from the infamous Red Lantern Saloon.  The two women resemble each other. The outlaw believes Elsa can lead him to the treasure hidden by Fred’s father’s old gang. It’s up to Fred and the town to find and rescue her when the outlaws kidnap her.

Grayson Carter and Claire Baker

The next book in the seven book series, The Christmas Melody, will be released on December 28. You can preorder it now and meet two new characters.  Grayson Carter wants to be left alone with his daughter Maddie on his thousand acres, and the lovely Claire Baker determines to draw him into the holiday festivities. Will Christmas magic draw them to each other?

 The Christmas Quandary: Sweet Historical Holiday Romance (Hardman Holidays Book 5) The Christmas Confection: (A Sweet Victorian Holiday Romance) (Hardman Holidays Book 6) The Christmas Melody (Hardman Holidays Book 7)

 

My Review of the Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances

Overall, I enjoyed reading this series as light escape fiction. Although pegged as a Christian series, it seems we saw a lot more sensual thoughts than spiritual ones. There were  plenty of Christian trappings — church activities, blessings before meals, and prayers when people were in trouble or needed something. Neighbors did help each other out and in that way demonstrated their faith. But I didn’t see people struggling with the hard questions in life and applying their faith to them as much as I’ve seen this in the work of many other Christian romance writers. (Beverly Lewis, Janette Oke, etc.)

I did appreciate that the main male characters loved and respected their wives and behaved playfully with their children. The children of the main characters  respected their parents and other adults in authority over them and were for the most part kind to their siblings. Both adults and children tended to tease others in their age group or family in a healthy way.

Some of the romantic scenes were quite sensual (definitely at least PG). The characters just reigned in their emotions before they got too far out of control. I personally would have liked less sensuality and more discussion of real issues in the relationships. Your preference may be different.

The plots were not realistic, but I’m willing to go along with the author in this kind of light reading. There were a few misuses of words an editor should have  caught. And the author was much too fond of the word “waggle.”

The author also used another technique that personally jars me.  The characters put up their own obstacles to their dreams coming true. As they longingly look at the ones they love, THEY decide the love is hopeless and can never be. They then accept this as fact and repeat constantly lines such as these:

From The Christmas Confection:

“It was crazy to ask her to go  with him. Stupid to allow his dreams to surface when he knew they’d never come true.” Chapter Six

“He knew she only saw him as a friend, one she could depend on when the rest of her world crumbled around her. And that’s all he could ever hope to be.” Chapter Nine

As the characters continued to falsely read each other’s minds, they themselves built the walls that separated them. Without these walls, the author would have few obstacles for the characters to overcome in their romance.  Shanna Hatfield is by no means alone in using this literary device. Far too many romance writers do it.

That being said, I enjoyed getting to know the characters, even if some seemed too good to be true. I liked watching the children grow older and the adults experience some personal growth. I loved seeing some solid family relationships. The books had enough suspense to hold my interest and the endings were all happy.

Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield: A review of the Hardman Holiday Romance Series

Get the Whole Hardman Christmas Romance Series

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Introducing Randy Singer: Master of Legal Thrillers

My Randy Singer Reading Binge

Move over, John Grisham.  I was disappointed with the last of your books I started — The Rooster Bar — so disappointed I didn’t finish it. This week I’ve read four legal thrillers by Randy Singer,  three of which I’m reviewing here. Between them these books deal with jury selection and tampering, gun control laws, child and spousal abuse, legal insanity pleas, protecting news sources, and even deciding which is the true religion, if any.

Why is Randy Singer my new favorite author of legal thrillers?

  • Compelling and well-developed characters
  • Intriguing plots that make it hard to put his books down.
  • Discussion of complex moral issues
  • Unexpected but satisfying endings that rarely happen as I thought they might

Although there is some graphic violence, the language is clean and any sexal behavior is implied rather than explicit. If you love reading well-written thrillers with a legal theme but prefer not to read four-letter words and sex scenes that seem inserted in a book for their own sake, I think you will enjoy reading Randy Singer.

My Reviews of Randy Singer Legal Thrillers

The Justice Game

Justice, Inc.

The Justice Game was the first of the Randy Singer books I read.  It centers on a legal consulting firm called Justice, Inc., founded by Robert Sherwood, CEO, and Andrew Lassiter, the brains behind the firm’s success. Andrew invented the software the firm used to make its predictions.

Two other main characters, lawyers Jason Noble and Kelly Starling worked for Justice, Inc. They argued important cases in front of shadow juries , concluding them before the actual court cases ended. Justice, Inc. used the shadow jury trial results to make predictions for their clients. The clients used them make profitable (they hoped) investments. A wrong prediction could cost clients millions.

The Shooting

The book opens with a dramatic shooting  on  the Virginia Beach WSYR television newscast anchored by diva prime-time anchor Lisa Roberts. She survived.  Pregnant Rachel Crawford, who was presenting a special investigative report on Larry Jameson, a human trafficker, did not. When the SWAT team finally arrived, they killed Jamison, but not soon enough to save Rachel.

Jason had watched this unfold from across the continent in Malibu. He is finishing a case there using his famous hair analysis evidence to prove accused star Kendra Van Wyke had poisoned a backup singer. Sherwood is watching the shadow trial.  If Van Wyke is convicted, Sherwood could lose $75,000,000, so he decides this will be Jason’s last trial for Justice, Inc.

Sherwood Fires Jason and Andrew

Sherwood fires Jason for “being too good” — better than most attorneys in the real trials. That throws the company’s predictions off. Sherwood also fires Lassiter after the two argue about how his software might have also caused the shadow juries to be wrong.

Jason and Lassiter have a good relationship and used to analyze case results together after trials ended. After Sherwood fires them both, Lassiter wants to hire Jason to sue Sherwood. Lassiter is upset because he can’t take the software he designed with him and and he had to sign a non-compete agreement. But Sherwood had given both an excellent severance package and helped Jason start his private practice. He won’t make any move Andrew suggests without checking with Sherwood first.

Jason doesn’t want to be caught in the middle of the conflict between his two friends and tells Lassiter to get a business lawyer. Lassiter almost has a meltdown. He is very cold to Jason when he leaves.

Jason Defends Gun Manufacturer against Rachel’s Husband

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney
Should gun owners be sued if a gun they make is used in a crime?

Meanwhile, Rachel Crawford’s husband Blake decides to sue Melissa Davids.  She owns  MD Firearms which manufactures the gun Jamison used in the WSYR shooting. On Sherwood’s recommendation Melissa hired Jason to defend her. She already had a lawyer, Case McAllister, but Sherwood convinced Davids to use McAllister for overall strategy while Jason tries the case in court.

Lassiter contacts Jason again to tell him that the prosecuting lawyer, Kelly Starling, had also been trained by Justice, Inc.  Blake had hired her because she had helped sex trafficking victims. Lassiter offers Jason his services in jury selection. Neither Jason not Kelly has been practicing law very long.

Blackmail

As Jason and Kelly prepare their cases, both, unbeknownst to each other, begin to receive blackmail messages from “Luthor.” He threatens to expose the darkest secret each has if they don’t follow his directions.

If either settles the case, he will expose them. He also tells them which jurors they must keep. These are both jurors Jason is sure will hurt his case, and Andrew wants to strike them. Luthor tells Jason to use a police chief as a witness, but he also gave Kelly documents that would discredit that witness.

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney
LaRon…handed his keys to Jason> “Your daddy’s the cop,” he said. “They won’t bust you for DUI. You can take me home and crash at my house.” Randy Singer in The Justice Game

The reader has already learned that Kelly’s father is a Christian pastor, and that Kelly’s secret is that she had an abortion her dad doesn’t know about. Jason’s secret is that his detective father’s partner Cory covered up that Jason was driving drunk in an accident that killed his best friend.  LeRon had drunk more and asked Jason to drive his car. Should the secret come out, not only Jason, but also his father and Cory, could lose their jobs and/or face possible prosecution.  Both Kelly and Jason live with guilt.

Moral Issues

Author Randy Singer is a Christian pastor, yet he is low key in showing his bias. It comes through in conversations between Kelly and her father.

Jason grapples with his guilt and were it  not for the damage it could do to his father and Cory, he would ignore Luthor and take his chances with the exposure of his secret. He feels guilty about not giving  his client the jury she deserves in order to protect himself.

The other moral issue the author tackles is the issue of gun control. The trial brings out both sides in terms the reader can understand.

The suspense intensifies as the plots and subplots weave their way to a dramatic climax. I will not spoil that ending by saying anymore about it. I found l liked both Jason and Kelly. It was easy to sympathize with almost all the characters. If you love legal thrillers, this book should not disappoint you.


By Reason of Insanity

Annie’s Case

By Reason of Insanity tackles the issues of legal insanity, multiple personality disorder, protecting news sources, incest, child molestation, the death penalty, and more.  It begins with Quinn Newburg’s passionate defense of his sister Annie. She is on trial for killing her husband after she feared he was making moves to molest her daughter. Her own father had molested her for years. If she screamed for help he had beaten her mother and brother if they interfered.  Quinn appeals to the jury:

Who can begin  to understand what such abuse does to a young girl’s soul? to her mind? to her psyche? ….If she had shot her father in self-defense that night…who would have blamed her?

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney
Courtesy of Pixabay

Expert witness Rosemary Mancini testified that the terrified young Annie had repressed her feelings.  She later married a man ten years her senior — the heir to his father’s Las Vegas empire. He seemed charming, but there was a dark side. When he began to touch Annie’s daughter Sierra’s private parts, something in Annie snapped and she remembered her past. Quinn explains in her defense:

The rage and fear consume you and overwhelm your inhibitions until you become the monster your father and husband created….To protect yourself and Sierra, you must act…you must make it stop….And you do. 

Annie shot her husband. Quinn claims she was insane when she pulled the trigger and begs the jury for justice.

Catherine O’Rourke’s Case

Held in Contempt

Catherine O’Rourke witnessed the trial as a reporter for the Tidewater Times. Although the jury convicted Annie, one juror confessed she really thought Annie was innocent but was pressured to agree with the verdict. The judge declared a mistrial. Rosemary began counseling Sierra, and the two had good repore.

Meanwhile it appears there is a serial killer/kidnapper on the loose. The police receive notes from “The Avenger of Blood” claiming responsibility for kidnapping babies and killing murderers and the defense lawyers who who had set them free. A source from the police department contacts Annie offering undisclosed information he wants the public to know if she promises to never reveal him. She agrees because she wants the story. A judge then holds her in contempt and sends her to jail because she won’t reveal her source.

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Catherine’s Visions

In jail Catherine has her first vision relating to the serial murders and kidnappings. These visions continue after she is released. The visions are scary and include a  hand writing in blood red letters on the wall.

She tells her source about the visions hoping they might help the police, but instead she’s arrested because she knows facts about the murders that aren’t public knowledge. To defend herself she hires Marc Boland, a top defense lawyer,  but he supports the death penalty. She hires Quinn as co-counsel for the penalty phase, since he does not believe in the death penalty.

Catherine learns the dangers of jail as she awaits trial. Her visions continue. Some feature executions in makeshift “electric chairs.” She’s not sure if she’s awake or asleep when she gets her visions. She begins to question her own perception of reality. To complicate things even more, it appears Quinn may be falling in love with her.

My Recommendation

The plots and subplots reveal the hearts of the main characters as well as their human weaknesses. I could not help but sympathize with the struggles of Annie, Catherine, Sierra, and Quinn. The ending caught me completely off-guard. I lost a night’s sleep over this book because I couldn’t put it down. Don’t start it until you have time to finish it. This is Randy Singer at his best.


The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney

One Man’s Quest to Find Out Which Religion Is True

As the Patient learned he had one year left to live, he rapidly worked through the stages of his grief. He accepted his brain cancer diagnosis and prognosis  over the course of a month. He got his affairs in order. A lifelong atheist, he felt remorse. He could not take the billion dollars of assets he’d worked for and intended to enjoy later with him. He knows if there really is a God, he isn’t ready to meet him.

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney (Or which religion is true?)
Which religion is true?

The Ultimate Reality Show

The Patient decided to use part of his money to produce “life’s greatest reality show.” The contestants chosen to participate would be powerful advocates for the world’s most popular religions. They would stay on a remote island and the producers would prevent them from contacting anyone off the island. The show would test their faith with various physical trials, as well as by cross examination in court. The Patient expected many new believers would follow the winner’s god, including himself. He believed the show would prove losing gods were powerless. He would donate millions to the winner’s designated charity or cause. What could go wrong?

Judge Oliver Finney Signs on to Represent the Christian Religion

One requirement for contestants was that each needed to have a terminal disease. Finney has metastatic lung cancer.  Producer McCormick, his interviewer for the show, reminds the 59-year-old Finney that the show will test his spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical limits. Is he really sure he’s ready for that? He says he believes he is, and he signs the contract. Little does he know then what he will face later.

Another requirement for contestants is that they have a shameful secret. The producers also required contestants to have a theological or legal background. Judge Finney not only had that, but he had also written a book anonymously about Jesus, The Cross Examination of Jesus Christ. In it he had inserted coded messages, since he also loved ciphers and codes. He hoped future readers of his book would be able to solve those puzzles.

Meanwhile, he often quizzed his clerk Nikki Moreno with questions that required her to decipher a bit of code. She wasn’t good at it. She knew just enough to help her later contact Wellington, a genius at deciphering code messages, at Finney’s direction. This enabled Finney to send secret messages via search queries on an internet site for lawyers that Nikki could access. Contestants were allowed to do internet searches, but not to send emails or post to social media.

The Contestants

The selection process had produced five contestants for Faith on Trial. The Rabbi who was representing Judaism dropped out because of pressure from the Anti-Defamation League and it was too late to replace him. Instead they allowed him five minutes time on the first show to explain to viewers why they should not watch the show. These contestants remained:

  • Judge Finney: Christianity
  • Victoria Kline: Science rather than religion
  • “Swami” Skyler Hadji: Hinduism
  • Kareem Hasaan: Islam
  • Dr. Hokoji Ando: Buddhism

The Threat

randy-singer-pin-catamaran

Contestants have no privacy except in the bathroom. There are cameras everywhere else.  Contestants wear microphones at all times except when sleeping or using the bathroom.

Finney and Kline have discovered they can leave their microphones on land if they sail together. They arrange for Finney to give Kline sailing lessons on the large Hobie Cat sailboat that was available for contestants’ use. That allows them talk privately.

Kline had overheard a conversation between the producers  as she had approached McCormack’s condo unexpectedly. She tells Finney the next day that it seemed the producers were planning to do something bad and then use their secrets to blackmail them into keeping quiet.

The Assassin

Finney also hears that he should not try to make the finals because one of the finalists will die.  The producers have let the rumors get out to test the contestants but they don’t know about The Assassin.

The reader does know about that other character on the island.  He calls himself The Assassin when communicating with those who hire him. He is part of the supporting staff for the show, but the producers don’t know his evil purpose. That purpose is to complete his last killing assignment during Faith on Trial . He plans to retire as a hitman when he completes this last job and gets paid. Readers don’t find out who he is until he acts.

Religion on Trial

Introducing Randy Singer, Master of Legal Thrillers: Reviews of The Justice Game, By Reason of Insanity, and The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Those readers hoping to learn more about the major religions will find plenty to think about. Though the Rabbi chose to drop out, leaving the Jewish religion unrepresented during the trial, readers will learn much about the other religions. As a Christian, I believe Finney’s presentation of the Christian religion is fair and accurate. I also began to see what attracts people to Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

The cross-examinations of characters try to expose weaknesses in each contestant’s faith. The Chinese water torture scenes are designed to test each character’s faith under pressure . I didn’t enjoy reading that part.

I especially enjoyed the bonding that occurred as the characters interacted, each living his faith through daily life. In my opinion  the final scene — the one that backfired on the producers, was the most powerful illustration of faith in action. I won’t spoil it for you here.  I hope you will read the book and decide for yourself.


Randy Singer: Pastor and Lawyer

Randy Singer was second in his class when he graduated from William and Mary Law School in 1986.  He began to practice law in Norfolk Virginia. He was lead counsel in several cases similar to the ones he wrote about in the books I’ve reviewed above. One, Farley v. Guns Unlimited, was the first jury trial in Virginia to receive complete television coverage. After 13 years at the large Willcox and Savage law firm in Norfolk, he began his private practice. He specialized in counter-terrorism cases.

In 2007, the elders of the Trinity Church in the Virginia Beach area called Randy Singer to be a teaching elder, and he’s still preaching as of the time of this writing in 2018. Many of his novels are set at least partly in Virginia Beach and the surrounding area.

Singer’s background as both pastor and lawyer gives him a firm foundation of first-hand knowledge for the books he writes. His writing is consistent with his Christian worldview and he’s not afraid to tackle the hard issues of faith and life.

This dual legal-pastoral background has enabled Singer to write Fatal Convictions, a book I’ve read but not yet reviewed, realistically. It deals with a pastor who takes a case defending a Muslim imam accused of being behind an honor killing. During the course of the trial the pastor almost lost his church and his life.

More Reading Recommendations

Another book you should know about figures prominently in  The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney.   The Cross Examination of Jesus Christ contains the key to the codes Finney uses to communicate with his clerk while on the island as a contestant for Faith on Trial.

Fatal ConvictionsFatal Convictions

 

For your convenience, here are links to all the books referred to above. I’m sure if you try one, you’ll want to read some of the others. You may find it useful to have the last two in your possession at the same time. 

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The Justice GameThe Justice GameBy Reason of InsanityBy Reason of InsanityThe Cross Examination of Jesus ChristThe Cross Examination of Jesus ChristThe Cross Examination of Oliver FinneyThe Cross Examination of Oliver Finney

Legal Thrillers by Mark Gimenez: Does every life matter? Gimenez deals with this theme in many of his books. Though the plots move slowly at first, they soon speed up until you can’t put them down.

The Litigators by John Grisham : An Escape from Corporate Law – A Book Review – The Litigators is the story of Chicago lawyer David Zinc’s breakdown and escape from his high-pressure corporate law firm. He snaps one morning as he’s about to take the escalator up to his office. He can’t force himself to get on. Instead he sits on a bench and has a panic attack. Where will he go from here?

 

A Place Behind the World by David Hazard: Review

A Place Behind the World Not the Right Time

A Place Behind the World was not the escape literature I sought while I was in a post-surgical haze of pain and medications. Nevertheless I wanted to clear paper books off my shelf, and A Place Behind the World looked about the right size to tackle (187 pages). It also had lots of white space. I hoped for an easy read, but the content wasn’t a good fit the day I read it. I had just had neck surgery.

The Plot of A Place Behind the World

When we meet Mary, a single woman who works for an ad agency in Washington, D.C., she is lost in a woods near her workplace. She is on her way to an appointment with a man in the park but can’t find him. Someone calls her name and she fears him. We watch her continuing struggle to find her way through the threatening woods. She fears an ice storm is on the way as she flees from this unknown assailant or kidnapper.

Do Not Fear For I am With You Beautiful Christian Bangle Bracelet with Wire Design and Cross Charm and Bead (Worn Gold)Do Not Fear For I am With You Beautiful Christian Bangle Bracelet with Wire Design and Cross Charm and Bead (Worn Gold)

About every five pages there is a flashback. These flashbacks show scenes from Mary’s past and help us  glimpse an abandoned child, molested by someone she had trusted. Men she had trusted too often had betrayed her as she searched for love.

We also meet Olivia, Mary’s only lifelong friend. Olivia’s kind father served Mary as both a father figure and Sunday School teacher. Uncle Oliver is the only one in her family that makes it clear he loves Mary. Her Aunt Lucile usually makes Mary feel unloved and unlovable.

For over 150 pages we watch Mary struggle to stay safe. Alternately she attempts to escape her hostile environment and escape “the hunter.” As she flees both she tries to follow the instructions of the illusive Michael who promises to protect her. Michael had described the woods in this “place behind the world” as a place of reckoning.

By the end of the book Mary finally realizes that Michael was right. However she had begun to doubt whether Michael was who he claimed to be. She wasn’t sure whom to trust. I don’t want to spoil the end, so I won’t say more about the plot here.

My Thoughts on the Book

I’m not inclined to analyze the author’s message or theme. I think you will discover it yourself as you read the book. In my opinion other authors have handled this theme better, but not in fiction . I may only have found this book hard to get into because of my physical state when I read it. But I don’t think so.

I believe the author could have achieved the same effect without belaboring the struggle in the woods . I think Hazard could have trimmed what seemed like unending descriptions of the hostile environment. We watch Olivia face darkness, the freezing cold, the rising fog, the murky water, etc. We look on as she finds a way to tunnel through tall and sharp rocks. I would have preferred less time in the woods and a quicker trip through the flashbacks. Sometimes less words are more effective than too many.

After I finished reading, I went back to the beginning to piece the book together. The struggle was important, but I still think too many words were wasted on descriptions of the woods and rocks.  The plot and message would have been stronger had the author cut a few words out of those descriptions.

Is this book for you? Those who struggle with guilty secrets might enjoy this book more than I did. Those who have been unable to form healthy relationships with men might also find value in reading it. I think I would have preferred a mystery instead as I was recuperating. This was not an escape novel. I found it tedious.


Related Book Reviews You Might Enjoy

A Brief Look at HOW SWEET THE SOUND by Amy Sorrells

The Surrogate by Patricia Bell: The Unintended Consequences

I originally published a version  of this review on Persona Paper  December 11, 2014. I have revised it for use on this blog.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: A Book Review

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers is the story of Victoria. She was abandoned by her mother at birth and raised in the foster care system. Her social worker Meredith took her to and brought her back after every failed placement. Finally, though, she went to Elizabeth, a vineyard owner,  who wanted to adopt her.

Language of Flowers

Elizabeth loved Victoria. When she saw Victoria’s misery in school, she schooled her at home. She taught Victoria the language of flowers. That language stayed with her long after she left Elizabeth’s home. The two used flowers to communicate feelings throughout their relationship. During their time together Elizabeth also taught Victoria about grapes and vineyard management.  That made her home education  practical as well academic.

The Aborted Adoption

Elizabeth worked hard to reach Victoria and earn her trust. Victoria was actually looking forward to the court date that would officially make Elizabeth her mother. Elizabeth had even bought her a new dress for the occasion. But the court date never happened.

Elizabeth decided Victoria needed a more complete family than she could provide. She postponed the court date while she dealt with her own insecurity. This disappointed and crushed Victoria, putting her back in limbo.

Unfortunately, Victoria was jealous of the attention  Elizabeth paid to her estranged sister Catherine. Elizabeth spent lots of time on the phone as she tried to repair that relationship. Victoria lashed out by setting Elizabeth’s vineyard on fire to get her attention. She did not intend for the fire to get as big as it did. Although Elizabeth still loved Victoria and wanted to keep her,  the powers that be put her in a group home. Victoria had destroyed the only chance she had had to be part of a family.

 The Language of Flowers: A Novel The Secret Language of Flowers A Victorian Flower Dictionary: The Language of Flowers Companion The Language of Flowers Coloring Book (Dover Nature Coloring Book) The Language of Flowers: Penhaligon’s Scented Treasury of Verse and Prose

After Elizabeth

This was not, of course, the end of the story. What Victoria learned about flowers from Elizabeth helped her get a job at Renata’s florist shop, Bloom. So Renata became her mentor and taught her the florist business.  Renata cared about Victoria as a person and wanted to help her.  Working for Renata brought Victoria back into contact with Catherine’s son Grant, Elizabeth’s nephew.  He becomes important later in the book.

That’s all I will tell you about the characters and plot. Anything further would be a spoiler.

My Review of The Language of Flowers

Vanessa Diffenbaugh develops the main characters skillfully.  Victoria tells the story herself so we always know what she’s thinking. One thing may confuse some readers. The action often switches back and forth between Victoria’s life with Elizabeth and her life after she left Elizabeth. The flashbacks continue throughout the book as Victoria thinks about her past. We are there with her so we see all the other characters through her eyes.

The book opens as Victoria leaves the group home on her eighteenth birthday. Then it flashes back to the day Meredith took Victoria to Elizabeth. Next we see her back in Meredith’s car on the way to a transition home in the California Bay Area.

Meredith tries to prepare Victoria for life on her own but Victoria ignores her. Her mind is busy reliving the history of her relationship with Meredith, who has stuck with her case all the way through.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: A Book Review
Rosemary for Remembrance

We watch Victoria finally get a job and we witness her employer Renata’s compassion on and concern for her. She becomes the closest thing Victoria has to a parent. Things appear to be looking up for Victoria until she discovers she is pregnant. You need to read the book to see what happens next.


How The Language of Flowers Affected Me

 

I loved this book. We got our own children through the fost-adopt program. Our daughter Sarah came to us at nine and found it as hard as Victoria to trust adults. She was just as troubled as Victoria and manifested it in many of the same ways. (You can read about Sarah’s life and death here.)

Reading The Language of Flowers  helped me better understand the problems foster and adoptive children and parents face. I recommend it to anyone considering adopting an older child, even those with previous parenting experience. The book packs an emotional impact that will be with you long after you finish it.

Incidentally, you will also learn the language of flowers in the handy dictionary of flowers and their meanings in the back of the book. I believe gardeners and vineyard owners will find much to enjoy in this book.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: A Book Review
Yellow Rose: Infidelity

Reviews of More Novels on Foster Care and Adoptive Families

  • Book Review: A Mother’s Conviction: A Mother’s Conviction explores the issues of what home is in the best interests of a child who has been in foster care while a parent has been incarcerated for a DUI. Should she return to her parent or stay with her foster parents?
  • In Between: Not Just a Title but Also the Theme: We meet 16-year-old Katie in her social worker’s minivan enroute to her new foster home with the Scotts. Her mother is in prison for selling drugs. Katie freaks out when she learns her new foster dad is a preacher. How will she adjust to that?

The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Review

Tess Discovers She Has Family at Bella Vista

Except for her mother Shannon who is rarely around, Tess Delaney has no family. She  makes her living searching the world for stolen treasures. She helps families fill in the blanks of their family histories. So far, though, she hasn’t been able to fill in the blanks in her own family history.

The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Review

Her exciting but high-pressure job at Sheffield Auction house in San Francisco satisfies her. As the book opens Tess is about to interview for a promotion that would take her to New York.  She loves her job, but she has no close friends – just work acquaintances.

As Tess waits for  her appointment, she has a visitor, Dominic Rossi. He informs her that she has a grandfather, one Magnus Johansen. He is in a coma because he fell off a ladder. His will leaves her half his estate in Sonoma County – Bella Vista – which contains a villa and working  apple orchard. The other half goes to her half sister Isabel — a sister she never knew she had.

The news sends Tess into a full-fledged panic attack and Dominic takes her to the ER. The interview is delayed. Later Dominic takes her to Bella Vista to meet Isabel.

Meeting the Family at Bella Vista

Tess  never knew who her father was. Shannon’s mother, her Nana, raised Tess, since Shannon’s job kept her away for weeks at a time. As a child, Tess considered Nana’s antique shop, Things Forgotten, as her home. Now Nana is gone and all Tess has left of her is her huge antique desk.

The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Book Review
All Tess had left of her Nana was the antique desk from her shop., Things Forgotten.

As her newly-discovered half-sister Isabel helps Tess fill in her family tree, even more questions beg to be answered. How is it she and Isabel were born on the exact same day? Erik Johansen fathered both of them but they have different mothers?

As Magnus Johansen lies in a comma, Isabel and Tess discover he is about to lose Bella Vista because of poor money management.  Will the sisters find a way to save it?

What of the handsome Dominic and his two children? Will they become a bigger part of Tess’s life? Should Tess quit the job she loves and find a way to open the  antique shop she’s always wanted — at Bella Vista? Will Magnus ever wake up? The first volume of the Bella Vista Chronicles, The Apple Orchard, answers these questions and makes you want to read the sequel.

The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Review

 

The Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs

I don’t want to tell you too much about this sequel to The Apple Orchard because it might tell you more than you want to know about how that first book ends. Whereas The Apple Orchard focuses mainly on Tess’s story, The Beekeeper’s Ball focuses on Isabel. It also introduces two important  new characters, beekeeper Jamie Westfall, and famous journalist Cormac O’Neill. Cormac has come to write a biography of Magnus Johansen, who has come out of his coma.

As The Beekeeper’s Ball ends, the author leaves the door open for another book in the series that focuses on Erik Johansen, father of Tess and Isabel. Cormac has what appears to be a recent photo of Erik on a distant beach. Is it possible he’s still alive? I’d love to read that story

I would also I’d like to what’s next in Jamie’s story. She arrived at Bella Vista young, pregnant, and homeless. Much of her story is told in  The Beekeeper’s Ball, but there is much more I’d like to know about Jamie beyond this book.  Please Ms. Wiggs, add these stories to the series.


My Opinion

I loved the main characters and the author made me care a lot about what happened to them.  The Beekeeper’s Ball tells us much more than The Apple Orchard  about Magnus and his relationship with Annalise and Eva. We see details of how the Johansen family and those in the Resistance suffered during Hitler’s occupation of Denmark.

If we only saw this suffering, the book might be too heavy. But Wiggs also gives us a lovely setting in Bella Vista for contrast. At Bella Vista we see beauty, life, kindness, and healing . This helps make up for the depressing examples of death and loss  in the chapters set in Denmark. We see both heroism and cruelty in Nazi-occupied Denmark. At Bella Vista we find an abundance of acceptance and love.

One theme that permeates both books is the importance of delicious food served attractively. Each book is divided into parts that consist of several chapters. In The Apple Orchard there is at least one  recipe at the beginning of each part. Each part of The Beekeeper’s Ball opens with a quote about beekeeping followed by a recipe that contains honey.

I want to read many more by Susan Wiggs. Her books have heart and well-developed characters I can’t help caring about. Her plots are complex and well-crafted. I suspect whichever of her books I choose to read next, I won’t be disappointed.  So far I’ve read those below. Please click on any image for more information on purchasing any of the books.

 The Apple Orchard (The Bella Vista Chronicles) The Beekeeper’s Ball (The Bella Vista Chronicles) Family Tree: A Novel

Have you read any books by Susan Wiggs? If so, please share your opinion of the ones you’ve read. Do you have a favorite?

The Surrogate by Patricia Bell: The Unintended Consequences

Why Would One Become a Surrogate Mother?

Why does a person decide to become a surrogate mother? What makes a woman want to carry a child that belongs to someone else? To help a barren friend become a mother? Or as a way to earn money to start a new life?

Book Review of The Surrogate by Patricia Bell: A Tale of Unintended Consequences

When young Emily’s employer, Mrs. Stevenson, offers to pay her $100,000 to become her surrogate, Emily jumps at the chance. The cash would help her realize  her dream of starting her own cafe.

She didn’t really like working for the Stevensons. She knew Mrs. Stevenson was cruel and manipulative. Emily had seen her falsely accuse and fire good employees who had done nothing wrong.  She tried not to get on Judy Stevenson’s bad side, because she couldn’t afford to lose her job as housekeeper and cook for the rich couple. They even provided her with living quarters and she had nowhere else to go.

The Offer

Emily discusses the Stevensons’ offer for her to become Judy’s surrogate with her best friend and fellow employee Brandon. He doesn’t understand how one becomes a surrogate.  First she explains how the egg is implanted into her womb, adding that the doctor will explain more details after she signs a contract with Mr. Stevenson’s lawyer.

Brandon: …If you go through with this implant, they’ll hand you a hundred thousand dollars?….Just like that?

Emily: As soon as the baby is born, they’ll give me the money….They have a contract and everything….Don’t you see? I can leave here and find a place of my own. This is my only way out. A new start.

As Emily tries to convince herself it’s the right thing to do, it seems simple. She gets the implant, carries the baby to term, gives birth, and collects her $100,000. Brandon urges her to think it over for a couple of days before signing anything. He warns her that she could form a bond with  the baby and not want to give it up. She dismisses the idea. She knows she’s not old enough at nineteen to raise a baby.

Into this discussion walks Mrs. Stevenson herself, but they hadn’t noticed at first that she was listening.  She tells Brandon to get back to his gardening duties. As he’s leaving, this scene unfolds. Here’s how Emily tells it:

‘Oh, and Brandon, ‘ Mrs Stevenson pauses, awaiting his full attention. He turns and glares at her in complete defiance. A look I’ve never seen from him before. If you’ve ever heard the saying tension so thick you could cut it, then you understand my current situation. ‘I don’t pay you to give advice. If you would like to stay employed in this household, I suggest you mind your own business.’

‘But he was—‘ I start, but she silences me with a mere glance. She’s the type of woman who can smile at you and stare daggers into your soul at the same time. Something about her gives me the chills. 


 

Brandon Disappears

After Brandon leaves, Emily regrets ever telling him about the offer and her intention, thus provoking the confrontation. She is very fond of Brandon and is drawn to him. He has always been caring and gentle with her, unlike the many men her mother had brought home when she was growing up.

Her mother had kicked her out of the house the day she turned eighteen.  She had worked at a diner until Mrs. Sevenson employed her and gave her a place to live.

Emily recognizes she’s attracted to Brandon, but is afraid he just sees her as a friend. He has been sharing his Christian faith with her.

Now Mrs. Stevenson approaches her, asking if she’s having second thoughts. She also tells Emily that if she decides not to become the surrogate, they will no longer have a place for her to stay. It will go to the person who does become a surrogate.  Emily assures Mrs. Stevenson she will go through with the plan.

That night Brandon turns up in her living quarters unexpectedly and they continue the conversation. When Brandon leaves, the two are still at odds. Emily knows Brandon disapproves of her decision, but she hasn’t changed her mind.

Emily is anxious to talk to Brandon again, but try as she might she can’t find him anywhere on the grounds. At first she assumes he’s mad at her. She later discovers he’s been fired. She feels terrible. And she misses him.

Book Review of The Surrogate by Patricia Bell: A Tale of Unintended Consequences

Red Flags Emily Tried Not to Notice Before Signing the Surrogate Contract

  • Brandon’s questions
  • Mr. Stevenson’s admonition to think about it at least overnight and his seeming discomfort over the transaction.
  • The provision in the contract that the money will be paid when she delivers a healthy baby
  • The lawyer’s statement that the contract is unconventional and that such transactions are normally done through an agency
  • Mr. Stevenson’s haunted look while urging Emily to think carefully before signing
  • The behavior of the doctor leading Emily to believe Mrs. Stevenson has had other surrogates
  • The words of Nurse O’Neill while giving Emily her medications, and the words the nurse mutters that she thinks Emily can’t hear, as well as the stories she tells Emily about Mrs. Stevenson’s past.
  • Her own observations of Mrs. Stevenson’s character, manipulative behavior, and selfishness


My Review of The Surrogate

I couldn’t put this book down from the moment I started reading. The main characters were well-developed, though I thought the plot was unrealistic. However I was so interested in what might happen next I was willing to overlook that. I believe the author’s main intent was to show how what seems to be a simple decision can be incredibly complex and even dangerous.

Emily appears to be a new Christian. She is blinded by her desire to escape Mrs. Stevenson’s employment and start her restaurant with the money she will get when the baby is born.  She assumes everything will go as planned. It doesn’t.

After early testing, the doctor tells Mrs. Stevenson that there’s a chance the baby may be born with Down’s Syndrome, and Judy insists on an abortion. By this time Emily is bonding to the baby and she runs away with Brandon’s help to try to save the baby’s life. As it turns out she also needs to save her own. The reader is in suspense until  the end as Emily and Brandon try to escape from Judy’s thugs . The action doesn’t stop.

The story reflects the author’s pro-life position and Christian values. There are plenty of Christian characters besides Brandon whose lives impact Emily’s in a positive way.

The book is suitable for both young adults and their mothers who want to read clean fiction with lots of suspense and a touch of romance.  It delves into the ethical and emotional issues surrounding surrogate motherhood and abortion without being preachy.  I recommend it.


Here are some of the other Christian novels I have reviewed that you may enjoy:

How Sweet the Sound by Amy Sorrells:  The author uses this Christian novel to reveal  the destructive patterns that can lead families and individuals to despair, but she also show us the way to Abba’s love and healing.

Tabitha by Vikki Kestell — A historical novel in which a young lady’s bad decision caused pain from which only the grace of God could deliver her

Inescapable: The Road to Kingdom: Is it possible to escape one’s past by running away? Lizzie Engel, born Amish, tries.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

Grief and Loss Affect Everyone Differently

Grief impacts individually uniquely. A sudden death in an accident or suicide affects the survivors differently than a slow death from cancer or dementia. A violent death is different than a natural peaceful one.  The type of loss often affects how survivors will respond. So do the beliefs of the dying person and their family about an afterlife. Grief has many faces, depending on the person grieving. Only one character in these three novels seems to value religion.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

Luke, the protagonist of When I’m Gone, a widower with young children, has watched his wife die of cancer.  In The High Cost of Flowers, an already dysfunctional family with adult children deals with a mother who has dementia.  In The Storied Life of A.J Fikry, a widowed bookseller discovers a toddler a mother has left in his store’s stacks with a note, and it changes his life.

When I’m Gone, by Emily Bleeker

Luke, arrives home from his wife Natalie’s funeral with his children — Will, 14, May, 9, and Clayton, 3. Will’s eyes are red and wet. May says she’s hungry. Clayton is still sleeping in the car seat.  Natalie’s mother, Grandma Terry, has left food for the family before making her escape. She has never liked Luke and had never wanted Natalie to marry him because Luke’s father was an alcoholic wife-beater.

Natalie had planned the perfect funeral for herself and took care of all the details before she died. She knew that Luke would have trouble coping with the house and children after her death so she planned that, too.  When Luke walks into the house he finds the first of many almost daily letters from Natalie on the floor in front of the mail slot. They were definitely from Natalie, but who was delivering them?

The continuing letters help Luke cope with his life as a widower. Natalie’s best friend Annie helps out a lot, but she has her own secret.

Natalie knew Luke would need more help with the children than Annie could provide, so in one of her letters, she urged him to hire 21-year-old Jessie to watch the children after school. Why was it so important to her that Luke hire Jessie?

Luke also keeps running into a Dr. Neal in Natalie’s letters and as a contact on her phone. He doesn’t like the jealous feelings and suspicions that rise up in him. Who is this Dr. Neal? Why was he so important to Natalie?

Follow Luke and Annie’s grief journey as they get to know each other better. Find out Annie’s secret and who has been putting Natalie’s letters through the mail slot. Discover the secrets only Dr. Neal can reveal. Don’t miss When I’m Gone.

The High Cost of Flowers by Cynthia Kraack

Dementia is hard enough to for a family to deal with when there is an abundance of love between family members. When siblings alienate each other and fight constantly, it’s almost impossible to share the care and decision making.

 

Family matriarch Katherine Kemper and her neighborhood friend Janie had done everything together before Katherine had a stroke. The stroke left Katherine with dementia. Her husband Art tries to care for her at home with some help from Janie and his children Todd and Carrie.

As the book opens, Art reflects on the old pre-stroke Katherine he loved and wishes she were back. His old life of puttering in the garden and seeing friends is gone. He feels the pain and frustration of all who care for loved ones with dementia.

Art’s Life as Katherine’s Caregiver

Janie tries to help out, but the demented Katherine berates her and accuses her of stealing her diamond and trying to poison her with the food she often brings over.  In the first chapter, Janie has brought over some chili, and Katherine refuses to eat it. She often has tantrums now.

As Art prepares to heat the chili, Katherine says: ‘That’s not one of our containers. Did that woman make that food? Are you going to eat out of it or is it poisoned just for me?’ Katherine is itching for a fight Art doesn’t want.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels
Janie tries to help by bringing chili for Art and Katherine

 

She crashes a soup bowl on the end of the granite counter sending shards flying everywhere. Then she stomps on the bowls, cuts her feet, and attacks Art with a piece of the glass. She then smashes another dish and picks up pieces of it to throw in Art’s face.  One piece connects with Art’s forehead. When he demands to know what she’s doing, she replies:

I’m trying to make you ugly so women won’t  want you. So you won’t put me away. I want you to bleed. like me.

Then she cries and reaches out for him. He gets a sharp pain in his chest and calls 911.

Rachel

Meanwhile, their estranged older daughter Rachel is running along the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago. She fights loneliness after her separation from her husband David since he had an affair. She is a trained therapist who has written family self-help books.

Later that evening she sits pondering the changes in her life as she eats dinner and works at home.  Her parents’ physician, Dr. Wagner calls to inform her that both her parents are in the hospital and her siblings are both out of town. He asks Rachel to come to Minnesota and help out. He wants to place Katherine in a care facility for patients with dementia. Katherine, as well as Rachel’s siblings, have always opposed this, so Rachel anticipates a family fight.

A Portrait of a Dysfunctional Family

Katherine has always been domineering and abusive. Both her husband and children have been her victims. Rachel’s siblings Todd and Carrie are already alcoholics when we meet them in the book. Catherine has told Rachel not to call her “Mom” and doesn’t want her around. At family functions, Catherine has tantrums mixed with episodes of dementia.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels
Todd and Carrie are already alcoholics

It’s evident to the reader that Catherine is too sick for  Art to be able to continue to care for her at home. Art, Todd, and Carrie try to pretend this isn’t true. After Catherine attacks Art with the broken glass, he realizes she needs more care than he can give and Art and Rachel move her to a care facility. Rachel supports him, but her siblings still resist.

They blame Rachel for moving to Chicago where she’s not close enough to help. She has really moved to keep herself and her son Dylan away from the Kemper family dysfunction. Except for Rachel, all of the adult Kempers drink too much. That’s how they deal with the family problems.

Families in Crisis, Hurting People

Author Cynthia Kraack offers us a window into the unhappy lives of the characters. We see their family dysfunction clearly whenever the family or siblings gather. It’s one thing to know about dementia and abuse intellectually. It’s another to see it happening as family members push each other’s buttons and use words to manipulate and hurt each other. Sibling rivalry hangs over all family interactions.

We watch as Katherine goes in and out of the real world within seconds. One minute she’s lucid and the next she’s wondering who that stranger in her room is or seeing long-dead family members around the dinner table. She may become suddenly violent, then wonder how her victim got hurt, and then cry like a baby.  An observer might see all these behaviors within an hour. We see Katherine’s pain and confusion and her family’s pain as they watch.

Learn to recognize early signs of dementia in the video below.

My Personal Response to the Book

This book grabbed my attention from the first pages. The characters were so well developed you could almost predict what they would say or do by the middle of the book. The plot, though, had some twists I didn’t expect. I won’t give any spoilers.

The focal point of the book was Katherine and her dominance in the family. Everyone had to focus on her when in her presence. She was the elephant in the room when she wasn’t present. Ironically, at the end of the book, when Katherine finally dies, what’s left of the family is celebrating July 4 together, and no one was answering their phones when the nursing home called to notify them of her death. They had started a new tradition of turning them off when together.

I would recommend this book to those who have grown up in dysfunctional families or who give or have given care to those with dementia. Those who have alcoholics in their families or are grieving lost loved ones will probably identify with characters in this book, too. The book may also help those who need to make a decision about getting institutional care for a loved one unable to continue living at home.

Of all the main characters, the only ones I might have enjoyed spending time with were Rachel and Art. The others would tend to suck away my energy.

The book is well-written except for a couple of typos in the eBook that weren’t caught by an editor.  The plot moves swiftly and many of the characters become more functional as the book progresses. Those who depend on alcohol and or drugs find that they aren’t a lasting cure for pain. Those who are willing to forgive hurts and face their problems honestly discover there is hope.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

Get The High Cost of Flowers at Amazon for a revealing peek into the lives of a dysfunctional family caring for their mother who is no longer herself.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel

No bookseller or bibliophile should miss this book by Gabrielle Zevin. Every chapter is prefaced with A. J. Fikry’s thoughts on specific stories which turn out to be significant in the plot. And who is A .J. Fikry?

 

A. J. Fikry is a grieving bookseller who lost his wife less than two years prior. She died in an accident driving an author home from a signing. He’s become a grumpy 39-year-old man who tries to drown his grief in drink, and he’s lost interest in his life and his bookstore Island Books on Alice Island. He has a very rare copy of Poe’s Tamerlane which he plans to sell someday to finance his retirement. Meanwhile, he keeps it in a locked glass case in the store below the apartment where he now lives alone. He has few real friends but very specific book tastes.

A Bad Start for a Relationship

Amelia Loman, a new sales rep with Knightley Press in the Boston area, is about to call on Fikry for the first time. She is the replacement for former rep, Harvey Rhodes. Although she has made an appointment to see Fikry, he doesn’t seem to be aware of it. She gets off to a bad start on the way to his office when her sleeve catches on a stack of books and knocks down about a hundred of them.  Fikry hears the commotion, approaches her, and asks, ‘Who the hell are you?’ He tells her to leave.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

A.J. says they have no meeting. He’d never gotten word of Harvey’s death. He reluctantly does let her in so she can pitch Knightley’s winter list. She doesn’t expect to get an order. She begins to tell him about her favorite book, Late Bloomer, but he says it’s not for him. He said Harvey knew what he liked and Amelia challenges him to share his likes and dislikes with her. He does.

Grief Leads to the Loss of Tamerlane

Later that night A.J. regrets treating Amelia so badly. He goes up to his apartment and reminisces about past book discussions with Harvey. He puts a frozen dinner in the microwave to heat, as usual, and while waiting he goes to the basement to flatten book boxes.

By the time he gets upstairs again his dinner is ruined. He throws it against the wall as he realizes that although Harvey meant a lot to him, he probably meant nothing to Harvey. On further reflection, he realizes that one problem of living alone is that no one even cares if you throw your dinner against the wall.

He pours a glass of wine, puts a cloth on the table, and retrieves Tamerlane from its climate-controlled case. Then he places it across the table from his chair and leans it against the chair where his wife Nic used to sit. Then he proposes a toast to it:

‘Cheers, you piece of crap,’ he says to the slim volume.

Then he gets drunk and passes out at the table. He “hears” his wife telling him to go to bed. One reason he drinks is to get to this state where he can talk to Nic again. `

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

When he wakes the next morning he finds a clean kitchen, a wine bottle in the trash, and no Tamerlane. The bookcase is still open. He hadn’t insured the book because he had acquired it a couple of months after Nic had died. In his grief, he forgot to insure it.

He runs to the police station and reports the theft to recently divorced Chief Lambiase. He admits everyone he knows is aware that he had the book. The police find no prints and the investigation goes nowhere. A.J. knows he’ll never see the book again.

Maya

After news of the theft gets out,  Island Bookstore’s business picks up. After a day of rather difficult customers, A.J. closes the store and goes running. He doesn’t bother to lock the door. He doesn’t have anything worth locking up anymore.

J.J.’s review of Bret Harte’s Story “The Luck of Roaring Camp” introduces this chapter.  In his review, he calls it an “Overly sentimental tale of a mining camp that adopts an ‘Ingin baby’ whom they dub Luck.” He admits not liking it much in college, but that it had brought him to tears as an adult.

When A.J. returns from his run, he hears cries coming from the children’s section. As he investigates the source, he sees a toddler holding the store’s only copy of Where the Wild Things Are.  As A. J. asks her where her mother is, she cries and holds out her arms to him. Of course, he picks her up. Then he sees the Elmo doll on the floor with a note attached.  The child is two-year-old Maya and the mother wants her to be raised in the bookstore.

A.J. reports the abandoned child to Chief Lambiase. Lambiase and A. J. decide that A.J. will keep the child until Monday when social services will arrive. The next day, the mother’s body washes to shore.

Are you wondering

  • What will happen to Maya?
  • Who is Maya’s father?
  • What happened to Tamerlane?

It’s fairly easy to guess the answers to the first two questions. The clues are there. As to the last, I don’t want to be a spoiler.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

My Critique

I will admit I loved the book, but I didn’t love all the characters.   The author introduces Maya’s father early in the book. I didn’t like him then and didn’t change my opinion. He appeared in the book long before A.J. found Maya.

Grief and loss appear in many forms: bereavement, infidelity, suicide, terminal illness, and material loss. Yet there is also love. We watch as love for Maya transforms A. J. Fikry as surely as “Luck” transformed a mining camp’s residents.

Bibliophiles, writers,  and booksellers will relate to A. J.’s constant references to and opinions of well-known books.  He also describes events in his own life in terms of writing techniques and plots. Booksellers will be quite familiar with the problem customers Fikry deals with. They may or may not share his opinion of book signing parties.

All parents of toddlers will relate to the challenge that faces A.J. as he learns to care for Maya.  Foster and adoptive parents will enjoy watching A. J. interact with Jenny, the young social worker who is stuck with Maya’s complicated case. By this time Maya and A.J. had developed a relationship. He was not ready to put her in the system unless he had a say in her placement. You can imagine how that went.


There is too much gold in the book to display in this small space. The characters are very well-developed. Several subplots and characters I have not described will also captivate readers. I loved the book even more the second time I read it. Please don’t miss this treasure if you love people or books.

Don’t miss our other reviews that also deal with how people face grief and loss.

 

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels
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Wish Come True: Portrait of a Dysfunctional Family