Romance Novels are Ideal to Read When You Have to Read in Spurts
When it’s hot and I’m feeling a bit wilted, I tend to read romance novels that don’t demand too much from me. This is especially true when I have to spend a lot of time waiting. I had numerous computer problems this week. I used several tiny slices of time to read just a few pages while I was waiting for scans and reboots.
Light romance novels are just right when I have to keep putting the book down. A mystery or thriller I can’t put down tempts me not to go back to work when I should. So during my trouble shooting waiting times, I sometimes read romances.
All Romances Aren’t of Equal Quality
Many of what we consider the best romances aren’t romances at all. They are novels that include romance and we remember those romantic scenes, even though they may be only part of the plot. I think of Jane Erye and Gone with the Wind as examples. They are classics because they are about much more than romance.
If you Google “romance genre,” most sources agree that a romance novel focuses on the love relationship between the two main characters and that the ending satisfies the reader. In other words, there should be a happy ending. When people read romances, that’s what they usually expect.
The digital romances I read this week on my Kindle varied in quality. All were free, since they were daily promotions. Some were worth exactly what I paid for them. Some I enjoyed, even though it was obvious that the author stuck close to a typical formula.
When I read a romance, I’m happy if it’s clean, if I care about the characters, and if the plot seems to evolve from who the characters are. I don’t expect much more when I’m reading for escape. I read romance novels when I want to have something to do during commercials, or while I wait for my computer to work. Romances or short stories are my choices when I don’t want to get involved with a novel I can’t put down when it’s time to get back to work.
Best Romance of this Reading Spree
My Father’s House by Rose C. Johnson is set mostly in rural Georgia. There are also scenes in New York, Canada, and Detroit. The settings in the novel are not just places where things happen. They take on personalities of their own in how they influence the protagonist, Lily Rose Cates. Georgia is where Lily Rose thrives. Detroit, and Manny who took her there, together kill her spirit.
Lily Rose was born in a small town in Georgia in 1964. She is a country girl in every way. Her mother fell into depression when Lily Rose was born and never recovered. Lily’s father brought Annie Ruth to come five days a week to help raise her. When her older brother James Michael left to become a missionary her mother’s spirit seemed to all but die.
Lily’s father, though, believed in her and made her world perfect. That helped her believe in herself. Her early years were idyllic. She was Daddy’s girl. When she was sixteen her world crashed. Her father died of a heart attack while mowing the lawn. His last words to her were, “‘Lily Rose, you’re gonna be all right.'”
Annie Ruth continued to take care of her and her mother. Her father had provided for their support in his estate. Annie Ruth explained to Lily Rose what she needed to know just when she needed to know it. She did the real mothering. One theme of this book is the importance of support from family and friends when one faces life changes. Lily Rose faced many of them.
When Lily graduated from college, her closest friends moved on and married, but she stayed in the cottage the three of them had shared. She got a part-time job in a flower store, wrote for the local paper, and felt very much alone. Then her cousin Maggie called and invited her for a visit in New York.
The visit with Maggie lifted her spirits, but it also led to some of the worse years of her life. On a Friday night they had dinner at Valenti’s — an iconic Italian restaurant. Their waiter, who introduced himself as Manuel, paid Lily Rose a great deal of attention. At the end of the meal, he asked for her phone number. She was sure she was in love.
When she got home, he did call. Often. She learned that he was a lawyer in Detroit — not a waiter in New York. He had only been visiting his brother who owned Valenti’s the night they met. They had a whirlwind courtship. It seemed almost enchanted. Manuel wined and dined Lily Rose and brought her diamonds. When she took him on a visit home to meet Annie Ruth, though, suddenly the enchantment disappeared. The instant Annie Ruth met him, her smile vanished.
Once they were alone, Annie Ruth warned Lily Rose that he was trouble. When she found out Manny had proposed, she said privately, “‘Don’t get tangled up in the briers with that man.'”
The author offers many clues to foreshadow what will happen in the marriage, and there is enough complexity in the plot to hold your interest to the end. Although I started reading in spurts, I went back to the book when I had larger blocks of time and I was just too hot to enjoy more demanding reading.
I recommend this book as a Christian romance that is inspirational, but not preachy. You will be able to predict what will happen in the marriage, but not how the characters will solve their problems. This book will especially appeal to those who have lived in small towns and those who appreciate clean rather than explicit romances. I hope you will enjoy In My Father’s House as much as I did.
Rose C. Johnson also wrote a devotional I’m hoping to read soon — God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea.
I’ve had time to read two books since I last posted here. In each, life deals a woman a hand of adversity she must play. Of the two, the book I liked best was the memoir of a military mom, first published in 1958 — Rough Road Home: A true and moving story of one woman’s courage under adversity. Melissa’s grief and loss are sudden and unexpected. The trials of raising her mentally deficient child are constant.
In the second book, a novel, Valencia and Valentine, a woman struggles through adulthood with OCD. She, too, lives with loss, but also struggles with guilt.
Adversity in Rough Road Home by Melissa Mather
In 1950 Melissa and her husband Bob were living at Fort Monroe in Virginia with their four children in barely adequate housing. The oldest children were eight-year-old twin boys, one of whom would always have the mental abilities of an eighteen-month-old child. That would be Mike. Pat was his normal twin brother. The middle child, son Chris, was six, and daughter Kitty was three. Mike couldn’t talk, but Kitty made up for it.
As the book opens, Bob learns from his higher-ups that Mike is being kicked off the post. Bob is about to be sent to Korea. Mike goes temporarily to live with Melissa’s parents as Melissa and extended family members go to prepare a dilapidated farmhouse for occupancy. She had been planning to move somewhere isolated with the children while Bob was in Korea — somewhere Mike couldn’t get into trouble. She had bought the small farm in Vermont. Here’s how she describes the house:
It was a haphazard house painted a tired lemon yellow with windows scattered casually wherever needed or convenient. It had the comfortable settled-down look of old Vermont farmhouses, no line exactly horizontal or exactly vertical, but “more or less”….It was everything an army barracks is not.
Longin: The Friend Who Was Family
Longin was an honorary member of the family. He was Polish. His own family had been wiped out during the war. He was in a German labor camp when Bob’s unit liberated it in 1945 and he became a displaced person. Bob had befriended him and helped him get a visa and transportation to the United States.
Once home, Bob was stationed at Fort Knox and Longin moved in with them to help with Mike. Bob treated Longin like a younger brother. When Bob was transferred to Fort Monroe, Longin joined the paratroopers.
The Plane Crash
After Mike went to live with Melissa’s parents, Bob and Melissa had two months at home without him. Bob and Melissa grew closer, and Bob could spend quality time with his remaining sons. Then the Army sent Bob and some other officers on an inspection trip to the West Coast and their plane crashed. There were no survivors.
Longin, who was stationed at Fort Bragg, got a three-day pass to drive Melissa and the children to Melissa’s parents in New Jersey where they stayed until they finished making the the complicated funeral arrangements . His three-day pass extended into a month’s emergency leave.
Then Longin and Melissa drove to the farmhouse so they could work until the funeral. When they got there they discovered how much needed to be done. The furnace and sink needed replacing and new wiring had to be put in. The house was in such bad shape it wasn’t fit to live in.
A few days later Melissa and the boys with other family members went to the funeral at Arlington Cemetery. Longin stayed behind to keep preparing the house for human habitation. Some of the neighbors also helped. Soon after the funeral was over and the family returned home, Melissa discovered she was pregnant. Melissa was happy to still have part of Bob with her. Longin went home and extended family came to help every weekend.
As the family tried to settle in, more and more of the house began to fall apart. The pump broke, the roof leaked, and the house sagged so badly they couldn’t shut the front door. The workmen she hired fleeced her. She wrote to Longin that things were out of control. He got a compassionate discharge to come and help. I was amazed at how many handyman skills he had.
I will not go into all the details of the hardships they faced and how they solved their problems. Handling Mike was one of their biggest problems because there was no way to teach him. Back then there was no help for children with such severe disabilities. He could not go to school.
What I Learned from Reading This Book
How hard it was to make a living farming
How little support there was for families with a mentally disabled child.
How little patience, understanding, and tolerance there was when such children acted out
How little human nature changes in such things as political and neighbor-to-neighbor conflicts
The author’s style was delightful. Melissa was resourceful, brave, and hard-working. So was Longin. The family was closely knit. You’ve probably already guessed that by the end Longin would marry Melissa.
I would recommend this book to anyone facing adversity, to new widows with small children, to military families, and to anyone else who enjoys memoirs and a well-written story about the triumphs of real people over what life throws at them. Although there is sorrow and loss, the book is also laced with laughter and plenty of love.
Valencia and Valentine: Obsession, Compulsion, and Imagination
The Rough Road Home is primarily about overcoming grief and physical hardships. Valencia and Valentine by Suzy Krause is about living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and retreating to an imagined world.
We first meet Valencia at work in the West Park Services Call Center where she is a very unhappy debt collector. The first thing we learn about her is that she ‘didn’t think about death too often.’ Ironically, death is almost all she thinks about. Her imagination frequently focuses on how, when, and where she might die. That’s one reason she is afraid to fly. She regularly visits her therapist, Louise.
Here’s how the author describes the call center:
The only sounds in the building were shuffling feet and hundreds of hushed, one-sided telephone conversations. . . . Everyone seemed either uneasy or bored. . . it was less like a penitentiary and more like a hospital; you got a feeling of dread in your stomach when you walked in. You got the sense that that people inside were all sick or dying or dead.
She’s eighty-seven years old and lives alone in her apartment. Her best friend Mrs, Davies lives across the hall from her and is about the same age. They have been friends for many years and call each other by their last names to remind themselves of their dead husbands.
As the book progresses and we learn more about Mrs. Valentine and her memories and flashbacks, we begin to suspect she and Valencia have or will have some sort of relationship to each other. Both are bored with their lives, think about death a lot, and have a vivid imagination.
Saying more about this book could spoil the ending for anyone who actually reads to the end. This book was free as my Kindle First Read this month. I wish I had chosen a different one since this book was a bit too far out for me to relate to. If you read it, your opinion might be different.
I was sick when I read it and that might have influenced my response to the book. I just couldn’t get interested in wallowing around in all the obsessive thoughts about death. One-sided conversations with people who don’t exist don’t thrill me much either. I finished the book, but it fell flat. I could not connect with it and I found the constant back and forth between the lives of Valencia and Mrs. Valentine confusing.
The Rough Road Home held my interest all the way through. It provided an example of a close family working through very difficult circumstances and not giving up. Best of all, it was true.
Valencia and Valentine showed me what unhealthy minds and relationships look like. I’m glad it was fiction. I wish it had been more interesting. The plot is like a yoyo between Valencia and Mrs. Valentine as they live out their compulsions, fears, and relationships. Nothing much changes for what seems like forever. When we finally learn the truth at the end, it doesn’t really surprise us much.
Melissa in The Rough Road Home showed the sort of strength and spirit in adversity that helped her overcome her great losses. In contrast, in Valencia and Valentine we see a crippled spirit whose friends are imaginary. She obsesses about death daily and considers continuing to live an accomplishment . She knows she is reinventing her life history with her made-up stories and that the people she often talks to are rarely real. But they are real to her because her mind makes them real.
Both Melissa and Mrs. Valentine are widows. Melissa has a real life and tackles making what’s left of it work in spite of the adversity. Mrs. Valentine has feared death and adversity all her life. She is a fictional character who manufactures her own fiction to make her life liveable. Maybe you will enjoy Valencia and Valentine more than I did if you want to give it a chance. It is one of Amazon’s best sellers, and many readers gave it glowing reviews.
Or if you want more realistic information on OCD one of the books below might be a more interesting read.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
TheLitigators 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.