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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Red Flags Emily Tried Not to Notice Before Signing the Surrogate Contract
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 Soundby 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.
I admit to reading light romances when I want to relax. Sometimes I just don’t feel like thinking hard about what I’m reading. I want pure entertainment, and I prefer reading to television. I’m also addicted to free or bargain books. Some of these were free for a limited time on Amazon and some still may be free. Some I paid for after getting hooked on the series. Some I got free directly from the authors, but that did not influence my reviews. I always give my honest opinion.
Olivia by Kate Palmer
Olivia is Book 3 in the Western Hearts Series. Olivia Neilson unwillingly agrees to help run her father’s ranch while he’s away. She is a renowned horse trainer who dreams of having her own stable to breed and train horses. She is also engaged to Shane Chapman, a rich real estate investor. They are partners in forming Sterling Shoes Stables. They are building training and boarding facilities during the six months Olivia is running her parents’ ranch in Cedar Creek, an hour away from Sterling Shoes Stables, closer to the city.
Olivia has promised Shane to come to the city to join him when he wines and dines potential investors. At the first of these dinners, she hears Shane promise a couple of investors a quicker return on their investment than is reasonable. They also seem to expect her to train race horses, which she’s never done.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Shane’s investors appear with horses Olivia and her father’s new partner, the Cedar Creek vet Adam, do not expect and did not authorize. Olivia senses something is not right. Then two creepy men start following Olivia. Shane never seems to have satisfactory answers when she asks about these incidents.
Is Shane not what he appears to be? Is Olivia in danger? What can Adam do to help her?
This clean Christian romance with a touch of mystery fully engaged me. I couldn’t put the book down until the plot resolved itself. Click images to check prices at Amazon.
The Mutt and the Matchmaker: A Short Amusing Romance Novella
This light-hearted novella first introduces us to Jane Bly, who has given up on finding Mr. Right. Armani Vasquez, a self-proclaimed psychic matchmaker decides Jane is the perfect match for Tom Hanlon, a Private Investigator who is trying to catch a thief. Add Tom’s Aunt Ruby and her neighbor’s Maltese to the mix along with Jane’s fearful foster dog Calamity, and you have the recipe for a wacky romantic mystery.
This is a quick read and amusing if you don’t have anything better to read, but it has no depth and the plot is highly unrealistic. The best thing about it was the free promotional price. It kept me amused while I rode the stationary bike at the gym. It’s the first book in a three-book series by JB Lynn. If you love a mix of mystery and romance and want some light reading, this series may be for you.
I saved my favorite book for last. This Christian historical romance is set in historic Eagle Harbor on Lake Superior. It introduces a cast of unforgettable characters, many of whom fish or work in the nearby copper mines to support themselves. The theme of God’s providence runs through the book but is not intrusive.
Tressa, Otis, Colin, Erik, and the Sheriff
Widow Tressa Dannel discovers her cheating scoundrel of a husband, Otis, has left her with a mountain of debt. Tressa has been earning money to pay the mortgage on her bakery, where she and her son Colin live. Someone had stolen her savings three times and the banker, Erik Ranulfson, is about to foreclose. Sheriff Jenkins isn’t very helpful in finding the thief.
Finley McCabe and Reed Herod: The unwanted Suitor and The Brothel Owner
Finley McCabe, an uncouth man Tressa despises, keeps proposing and forcing unwanted attention on her. Reed Herod, the owner of a brothel Otis frequented, is pressuring Tressa to prostitute herself to pay off Otis’s debt to him. There is no way Tressa will agree to either of these options.
The Heartless Creditor, Bryon Sinclair
Otis borrowed money from wealthy merchant Bryon Sinclair to buy a new ship and then had gambled it away. Tressa inherited the gambling debt when Otis died. Bryon insists Tressa earn the money to pay off Otis’ debts as a cook on one of his ships. This would separate her from her ten-year-old son Colin. He could forgive Tressa’s debt and never feel it, but he won’t. Instead of showing compassion, he flaunts his wealth and power.
Colin Lost, Mac Meets Tressa
Now Colin is nowhere to be found. He’s not with his friends, and Tressa has to search for him. First, though, she has to mix another batch of dough. As she reaches for a wooden spoon her utensil canister falls to the floor. As she searches on her hands and knees for her errant rolling pin, Colin enters, startling her. Her head comes up against the counter and knocks the glob of sourdough into her lap, leaving her head throbbing.
Mac sympathized with Tressa because his father had been much like Otis. His best friend Elijah Cummings’ father, Hiram had taken Mac in, so Elijah was like a brother to him. Hiram had died in a shipwreck and they all still missed him.
When Mac sees how desperate Tressa’s situation is, he wants to help, but she won’t let him. She is also determined never to marry again. She doesn’t want any man to control her life and all she owns as Otis did. About all she will let Mac do is care for Colin if she has to work on the ship to pay Mr. Sinclair.
Mac and Elijah both believe God is in control, even as their own plans to buy a shipyard together in Port Huron and move there fall apart. Mac wants to marry Tressa, but she only wants to move away from a town she believes despises her. Her creditors are taking her to court in a few days, and only Judge Matherson can determine how much she has to pay to whom. He has a history of siding with men.
My Review and Recommendation
Naomi Rawlings grabbed my attention with Love’s Unfading Lightimmediately. Although I had started the book on the stationary bike at the gym, I couldn’t put it down to get any work done after I got home. I finished it before bed.
The Eagle Harbor setting in this novel plays a large role in shaping the characters. Eagle Harbor is a real place and you can read more about it and its history here. In this small fishing village and mining town, everyone knows everyone else and usually has an opinion about their neighbors. There is a wide gulf between the lives of the rich people who have power and those who earn their living as fishermen, miners, and small business owners.
The characters were well-developed. It was easy to care about Mac, Tressa, Elijah, and their many friends. It was also easy to mentally boo Bryon Sinclair and Reed Herod, the heartless villains. Had this been a drama, they would both have been trying to tie Tressa to the railroad tracks as the train approached. Mac would have gotten there just before the train to untie her.
The banker, Erik Ranulfson, was not a villain, even though he felt he had to foreclose if Tressa could not pay the mortgage. The grocer, Mr. Foley, also had a heart. You see the good in these men as they interact with Tressa and other characters.
The plot was intricate, with many subplots neatly woven into it. The author left just enough hints scattered through the book to allow readers to anticipate how these would build.
As I read the book, I knew I had met some of the characters before. Sure enough, I had read Love’s Sure Dawn, Book 3 in the Eagle Harbor Series, a year ago. I liked it even more than Love’s Unfading Light. I hope to read the rest of this series soon. I highly recommend getting the entire series at once, because if you like Christian historical romance you will want to read them all.
Grab One of these Romances Now for a Reading Treat
Books of Special Interest to Families with Adolescent Girls
These Christian books can lead to great discussions between adolescent girls and their mothers. The themes are rarely presented as well in the other books for adolescent girls I’ve read. The heroines develop deeper Christian character as they deal with social issues, peer pressure, faith, obedience, and friends.
A Room of My Own by Ann Tatlock.
A Room of my Own is set during the Depression, and Virginia, the daughter of a prominent physician, does not feel the Depression personally at first. Her family is well-off, and physicians are never laid off. But suddenly, her Uncle Jim loses his job at the grain mill, and Virginia must give up her room and share a bed with her younger sisters so that Uncle Jim, Aunt Sally, and their children can live with them — in HER room.
This makes the Depression more personal, and it becomes even more alarming when Uncle Jim becomes involved in organizing a labor union for the mill workers (which finally results in a violent strike). Virginia’s father begins to take her along on his calls to “Soo City” — a shantytown populated by the newly homeless along with the older hobo residents. The climax occurs when Virginia must choose between saving her father from sure danger and warning the residents of “Soo City” that the sheriff is going to burn their homes.
I suggest this book because it introduces many important themes. One is how blind we can be to the needs of others, blaming them for their needs, when we ourselves are not hurting. This can be especially evident in adolescent lives.
We can also see that personal knowledge can chase away prejudices and generalizations about people. Here are some of the historic/economic themes in this book worth discussing:
how to best help the poor
why labor unions were formed
whether violence is ever justified in trying to correct social ills
the effects of the Great Depression.
Though the central character of this book is a girl, there is much here for boys, as well. There are plenty of male characters for them to identify with, including the good doctor himself.
Because there is violence in the book, parents should only give it to children of at least adolescent age who can handle mature themes. It would make a wonderful read-aloud for families with adolescent girls.
The first is The Tender Years. Strangely enough, the protagonist of this book is also named Virgina. She has a persistent problem with peer pressure. The exciting Jenny, who leads the “in” group at Virginia’s school, has picked Virginia as her special friend. Virginia doesn’t want to lose that favored position even though Jenny’s schemes often get her in trouble with her parents.
Virginia’s supportive but firm Christian family provides appropriate consequences when she breaks the rules, so Virginia tries to obey. She succeeds for a time, but one day the pressure is too great. She lets herself be talked into a very risky situation — a ride in a “borrowed” raft with the gang. Virginia’s father had warned her that the creek was high and very dangerous. Virginia knew if she wanted to stay Jenny’s best friend she’d better show up for the raft ride. So, instead of going directly home from school as she was told, with heavy heart Virginia went to the creek.
As the gang waited for Jenny, their ringleader, to arrive, Virginia became more and more concerned about the time. When Jenny finally arrived, Virginia got into an argument with her, stood her ground, and left. Later, when Virginia hears that the raft overturned in the swift current, she is consumed with guilt — especially when one of her friends dies as a result and Jenny is badly injured.
The rest of the book deals with the healing process — not only for Virginia but for her friend Jenny. Virginia’s parents want her to reach out to Jenny with the love of Christ since Jenny has no home life. She has no mother at home and her father is an alcoholic.
There are many subplots that add interest to this book, and I found it difficult to put it down. The main themes are obedience and peer pressure and the conflicts between the two in the mind of an adolescent. This book would be good to read with preteen girls and up, for there is much to discuss.
The Tender Years is the first of four books in the Prairie Legacy Series. I’ve read all four because I became very interested in Virginia’s life. I think you won’t want to stop after you read the first book either, so you might want to get them all at once. There are links to the individual books if you click the image above.
Return to Harmony by Janette Oke
Return to Harmonyis another of my favorite Janette Oke books (with T. David Bunn). It is the story of the friendship between Bethan and Jodie, two Christian girls, as they grow into young women.
The book begins in Harmony, North Carolina in 1915. Harmony is a very small town. The population was under 350 back then. It was and still is primarily a community of small farms. Bethan was very content to live there. Jodie was hoping to leave someday.
Bethan and Jodie became friends the day Bethan had found a puppy and was sobbing because her mother said she couldn’t keep it. Then the school bully, Kirsten, tried to torment the puppy and Bethan, her favorite victim. Jodie sprang to Bethan’s defense, and from then on the girls were fast friends. Jodie knew just the person who really needed a puppy and led Bethan to Mr. Russel, a Civil War veteran who lived alone. He said the girls could visit the puppy anytime, and they often did.
Jodie was protective of her smaller friend, who was often picked on at school because she had a lazy eye. She knew Bethan hated having to wear her dreaded eye patch — especially at school. On the days she had to wear it, she also had to carry a spare. When Jodie saw how unhappy Bethan was on the day of the school spelling bee, Jodie wore the spare patch during the spelling bee, which she won, to show her solidarity with Bethan.
Jodie and Bethan were very different. Jodie was academically gifted and loved school. Bethan’s eye problem made reading hard for her and she didn’t do well in school at all. Just before the spelling bee Jodie had overheard her teacher and Bethan’s talking in the hallway. Bethan’s teacher was afraid she’d have to hold Bethan back at the end of the year. Jodie interceded for her friend and said she would tutor her, and her teacher agreed to try that.
Tragically, Jodie’s mother Louise catches polio not too long after that. Bethan stayed by her side during the period when Jodie was not allowed in to see her mother. Day after day the two girls sat together in silence at Jodie’s, gazing through her mother’s window in the afternoons, watching her struggle to breathe.
On the ninth day, Louise expresses her love to Jodie and her father and dies. After that, Jodie tells Bethan God let her down when He took her mother and she stops praying and won’t let Bethan talk to her about faith anymore. Her grieving is long and hard, but Bethan is with her through it. Bethan never stops praying for Jodie.
By this time Jodie’s father, who was always quiet except with Louise, has retreated into his own world and hardly ever says a word to Jodie. Were it not for Bethan and her family, Jodie would be completely alone. Neither had any other real friends.
As it became apparent that war would soon break out in Europe, Bethan’s family became concerned that Bethan’s brother Dylan would soon reach the age of conscription. The girls were also growing up. They were now sixteen. Though Bethan loved living in Harmony and desired nothing more than to find a loving husband and spend her life there, Jodie wanted to go to college and become a scientist. She also wanted to be a city girl.
Dylan is finally drafted, but the war is almost over, so he really doesn’t see the fighting. Instead, he repairs engines and decides he wants a career in the new automotive industry. It’s not long before he’s home again. At his welcome home party, he notices that Jodie is now a young lady, no longer just a kid. The two fall in love and get engaged.
It is apparent to Bethan and her mother, though, that Jodie has abandoned her Christian faith. Dylan is still a committed Christian. At the request of her mother, Bethan talks to her brother about their concerns. Dylan, who was trying not to face this issue, finally admits he has also seen this. He breaks the engagement and broken-hearted Jodie won’t forgive Bethan. Instead, she walks out of her life saying she never wants to see Bethan again.
Jodie takes the train to Raleigh to study chemistry at the university on a scholarship. Bethan is devastated by the separation. Jodie also feels completely alone since she is the only girl studying chemistry and she is ostracized by her male classmates. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there.
This book can be a catalyst for discussion on complicated issues. These include the meaning and responsibilities of Christian friendship, why God lets bad things happen to good people, how to help a grieving person, and the importance of being equally yoked in a marriage. I’d like to see this book in the hands of all Christian adolescent girls.
Elderberry Croft: A Place of Refuge for a Hurting Soul
When Willow Goodhope moved into the old cottage in the Coach House Trailer Park, she named it Elderberry Croft. She had chosen it because she had seen the little elderberry tree growing along the creek near her cottage. It had reminded her of a Bible verse about a tree planted by the water that sent its shoots out and did not need to fear heat or drought. Its leaves would remain green, and it would continue to bear fruit.
As Willow told her neighbor Kathy, ‘I’m like that tree. I’m in a place right now where growing seems almost impossible, but God is teaching me to send my roots toward the water, to choose life, and maybe to bloom where I’m planted, even to bear fruit. For now, this is where I’m planted.’
As soon as Willow got out of her old Toyota truck and started unpacking, her nearest neighbors Kathy and Myra started spying on her. They watched as she transformed the old cottage they both knew was a shack into a hanging garden with her potted plants.
Not only Kathy and Myra but also the rest of the Southern California trailer park residents were curious to see what the young redhead would be like. They couldn’t imagine why someone so young would live at their trailer park. Most of the residents were much older. Most believed they and their neighbors had come to the Coach House Trailer Park to remain until they died. Willow didn’t seem to fit.
Willow was a mystery, an enigma. She managed to find out her neighbors’ secrets as she helped heal their wounded spirits with her goody baskets and tasty things made of elderberries. She somehow managed to help physically and emotionally isolated residents to form healthy and supportive relationships with other residents they knew only as names.
Willow knew everyone’s problems. No one knew Willow’s. Occasionally someone heard her plaintive singing by the creek or saw her tears. Rumors were that she had a husband but was not living with him. No one could pry the reason she was hiding at Elderberry Croft out of Willow until almost the end of the book.
No Spoilers Here
The author gave me a free download for this book with no strings attached. I did not even have to promise to review the book. I decided to read it when I came home from a trip exhausted and didn’t feel like anything heavy. It was the perfect book to keep me curious to the end without taxing my brain too much.
I loved getting to know all the residents of the trailer park and I began to care about all of them. Although the plot was light, the residents all dealt with heavy problems. They ranged from substance abuse, childhood abuse, and PTSD to serious relationship problems that tore families apart.
Until Willow came and reached out to them with her healing baskets of baked goods, teas, jams, and salves made of herbs and elderberries, the Coach House residents nursed their hurts in isolation. Willow gave to others to keep from facing her deepest hurt. In the end, it’s the hurt of another that forces her to confront her own pain.
I did not want this inspirational novel to end. It appeared that Willow was on the way to healing at the conclusion, but I still bought the sequel because I wanted to know more. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Willow yet. If you read Elderberry Croft, you probably won’t want to say goodbye either.
I recommend that you start with the complete collection because once you start reading, you won’t want to stop. The characters’ stories develop together until the end. If you don’t have all the parts, you will be left hanging.
It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart
We’ve all heard the saying that war is hell. It Is Well, by James D. Shipmantakes us toWake Island when it is attacked by Japan and to Fort Benning, Georgia for a brutal look at basic training. Then we move to Europe for a taste of fighting in Sherman tanks. We also see how widowed father Jonathan Beecher worries about his two sons who are involved overseas and his daughter who seems headed for trouble at home. In the midst of all this he is fighting to save his hardware store. The war makes inventory hard to acquire and more expensive.
I don’t usually read war novels, but this book seemed the best of my six choices to read free on my Kindle before release this month, through my Prime membership, . The book is easy to understand, but I found it emotionally hard to read. The only book that affected me somewhat the same way was Andersonville, by Mac Kinlay Kantor.
The story of the Andersonville Fortress which the Confederates used as a concentration camp for Union prisoners during the Civil War is now available in DVD. My stomach and emotions would not be strong enough to watch it. I didn’t feel like eating for two weeks after I read it. Fortunately, It Is Well is not quite as graphic, but it is still a vivid picture of what those in war zones faced and what their families suffered at home during World War II.
The Beecher Family before Pearl Harbor
Jonathan Beecher lived with his two sons, Matthew and Luke, and his daughter Mary, in Snohomish, a small town near the coast of Washington State, just southeast of Everett. Jonathan’s wife Helen had died of cancer when the book opens and the family is together for the funeral. Helen had made Jonathan promise before she died that he would never remarry.
Although Jonathan urges Matthew to stay home and help him at the store, Matthew opts to return to his job as a civilian construction worker in the Philippines. He tells his father he will probably return home in April of 1942, when his job is done. He is then transferred to Wake Island.
Jonathan had had high hopes for Matthew. He was intelligent and knew how to apply himself, but had no desire to go to college as his father wanted him to. So Jonathan pinned his hopes on Mary, who was also intelligent enough to go to college.
She was very helpful at home and at the store, but she disappointed him by welcoming the attentions of a much older policeman Jonathan knew was up to no good. Mary appeared to be willing to accept the counsel of her father not to date him, but she then later eloped with him. As Jonathan suspected, he turned out to be abusive.
Luke, the younger son was lazy. He tried to get through life with his good looks and smooth talking. He was also a prankster who had little respect for authority and often got into trouble. His father worried he’d never be a productive person. He knew he couldn’t rely on Luke for any help at all.
Pearl Harbor Changes Everything for the Family
The Beecher family attended the Snohomish Free Methodist Church where Jonathan is a pillar. After the service on December 7, 1941, his friend the pastor introduces him to a new church member, Sarah Gilbertson, a widow with a daughter. He explains that Sarah will be helping out at the church, and that Jonathan may be seeing her on the days he mows the lawn.
As they are talking, Jonathan notices a commotion in the church yard with a crowd gathering. He goes to see what’s causing the excitement and learns the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. The young men are already talking about enlisting . Jonathan knows Luke, and tells him not to go, or at least to wait a bit to see if they really will need him. Luke, being Luke, doesn’t listen. He has no idea what the Army is like. He believes it is one more adventure he can get through without much work or effort, so he enlists.
After he is living alone again, Jonathan is lonely. He and Sarah become friends with the understanding that they can never become more than friends. Sarah is not happy with that, and neither is Jonathan, but he feels bound before God by his promise to Helen not to marry again.
All Is Not Well at Home or Overseas or at Fort Benning
The Japanese invade Wake Island and Matthew had to learn to stand alone in the face of circumstances he’d never imagined he’d have to face. Luke discovers his disrespect for authority has severe consequences in the Army. For me, painful as it was to read, the important part of the book was watching these boys grow into what they needed to be.
Mary also learned that her disregard of her father’s guidance has made her life miserable and dangerous. Jonathan, meanwhile, knows he has fallen in love with Sarah and crosses the line by kissing her. Then he is filled with guilt and knows he needs to go back to just being friends. Sarah is not willing and breaks the relationship.
Meanwhile, the hardware store is more in debt every day. Supplies cost more because of the war that makes nails and other tools scarce. His customers have less to spend because of the war. Jonathan is trying to save his business.
The reader watches as the characters fight their own internal and external battles. Most begin to realize that the faith they have is weak or non-existent. They begin to seek God as best they can. They see how poorly equipped they are to survive physically or emotionally with no hope. By the end, all the characters have grown in character through what they have suffered.
This book is very well-written with complex characters whose lives you want to follow. The author shows every bit as much as he tells. Even though I don’t like war stories, especially battle scenes and human misery, this book drew me in and I couldn’t put it down.
I was a war baby sheltered in America. My own dad was rejected by the Army because he had flat feet, so I never heard any first-hand war stories. This book opened my eyes to what our infantry can experience in battle and the enormity of their physical and mental anguish. And I was only reading about it. They live it. No wonder so many come home unable to share their experiences except with their Army buddies!
Although though the plot was engaging, it was merely the vehicle to show us how the characters matured as they faced their inner and external demons. I won’t be a spoiler and tell you how the book ends. I’m hoping you will take this journey of discovery yourself.
The Kindle edition was the first Kindle novel I’ve read in a while that still has the X-Ray feature. I miss it when a book doesn’t have it — especially if it’s a book I want to review. Kindle books aren’t as easy to scan and flip through as paper books, and the X-Ray feature makes it easier to remember all the characters and important parts of the plot.
I would recommend It Is Well to those who enjoy realistic historical fiction, especially that which relates to World War II. There is blood and gore, as you might expect, and cruelty. It was hard for me to read those parts. I am more sensitive to these things than most people I know. Yet each of these episodes contributes to the growth of the characters. They aren’t there just to be sensational.
I would not recommend this to people suffering from depression since there aren’t many happy moments until near the end. These were not happy times. The book is realistic and doesn’t paint a rosy picture of war at home or abroad. It does portray the devastating effect war has on all involved, including civilians. If you’d like to better understand what we now call “the greatest generation,” I urge you to read this book.