Category Archives: Christian Fiction

In Between – Not Just a Title but Also the Theme

 A Book Review of In Between, by Jenny B. Jones

Katie Moves in with the Scotts

How does it feel to be in between in the small Texas town of In Between? We meet sixteen-year-old Katie in a minivan as her social worker, Mrs. Smartly, is driving her to a foster home. Katie’s mother, Bobbie Ann Parker is in prison for selling drugs. Katie has been in a group home since her mother was arrested six months ago. Until her mother left, Katie was pretty much raising herself.

Like many older children in foster care, Katie fears what she may find in a new home. Katie is really freaked out when she finds her new foster daddy, Jame Scott, is a preacher.  Katie has not spent much time in churches.  As Katie and Mrs. Smartly get closer to the Scotts’ home, Katie discreetly seeks clues on what her “pretend-o-parents” will be like. She says it this way:

It’s like I want to know about these people, but I don’t want Mrs. Smartly to think I’m too interested. Or scared.  The thing with foster care is you have way too much uncertainty. I knew where I stood at the girls’ home. I knew who to be nice to, who to totally avoid, and what the lumps in the dining hall mashed potatoes really consisted of.

As Mrs. Smartly keeps probing to find out what Katie is afraid of, we get a good idea of what life in the Sunny Haven for Girls was really like and what Katie fears about foster care. She is in between one life and another, and although she hated the old, she is afraid of what she might find in the new. She still smarts from the rejection of her mother, who chose drugs over her own child.  I remember one of my very own nephews grieving for the same reason many years ago. He never had to go to a real foster home, since my mother and I were allowed to take him and his brother in to our homes until their home was stable again. Eventually it was.

Foster Care is an Adjustment for Everyone

Jenny B. Jones has written In Between (and the books which follow it in this series) in Katie’s voice.  Though the books are targeted for young adults, I couldn’t put them down.  That may be partly due to my own experience as the foster parent of a troubled girl we later adopted. I only wish our experience could have been a bit more like the Scotts.  Our daughter left us when she was a few days from turning seventeen. As we continued to read In Between, we discovered that the Scotts’ also had an adopted daughter, Amy, who left them for some of the same reasons.  This is one more reason this book spoke to me.

In Between deals seriously with common problems both foster children and their foster parents face, and many of them are similar to what most teens and conscientious parents face.  These problems include self-esteem, acceptance, boundaries, discipline, expectations, drug abuse, and peer pressure.  More complicated issues include the fear of being sent away from a family once you feel at home, or having a child you have grown to love sent back to unsuitable parents.

We watch as Katie adjusts to learning about church and God, as she tries to fit into a new school and has to deal with a school bully who happens to be the daughter of her P.E. teacher, who is also a bully.  She first gets into the wrong crowd at school and gets into trouble. She is sure James and Millie will send her away, but they find a way to keep her from getting a jail record while providing some very appropriate consequences.

 Maxine  Provides Comic Relief

Almost the first thing Millie does after Katie moves in is take her mall shopping for new and fashionable clothes. This is followed with a new hair style. While they enjoy lunch at a restaurant, Millie’s phone rings and we first become aware of Millie’s eccentric mother, Maxine. Here’s how Millie describes her to Katie:

‘my mother is, um, different. I don’t want to scare you, but she’s been compared to Judge Judy….on crack’

We then learn that Maxine can no longer drive because she knocked over a few stop signs. So she bought a tandem bicycle that she named Ginger Rogers and had a little accident

‘wiping out in the street. Luckily though, the chicken truck stopped for her. After it hit a fire hydrant.’ (Millie) shakes her head and laughs. ‘It rained feathers and naked chickens for and hour. But Mother says she is close to perfecting he wheelie.’

As you might guess, Maxine and Rocky provide the comic relief in this book to keep it from getting too heavy.  Maxine reminded me a bit of Electra Lark, Temple Barr’s eccentric landlady in the Midnight Louie Series by Carole Nelson Douglas, but Katie’s foster granny Maxine makes Electra seem conventional.

My Recommendation

By now I’m fully immersed in Katie’s world. I have read all four books in the series, In Between (1), On the Loose (2), The Big Picture (3) and Can’t Let You Go (4).  I’m not a spoiler, so I won’t say much more about the plot. I can’t get enough of the characters. I now really care what happens to James, Millie, Katie, Frances (Katie’s friend), Sam (Maxine’s friend), Amy, and even Maxine, crazy as she seems.  Like most teens, Katie doesn’t learn all she should from her mistakes the first time around. James, Millie, and Maxine do their best to keep her safe from those mistakes and unlikely to repeat them.

Trust is a big issue, as it is in most families.  The books show how it is carefully built, violated,  and rebuilt. We see important changes in all the characters as the plot develops, and we get to know them well.

I recommend this series to all who want to get inside the heads of foster children and foster parents, to those who are foster teens or foster parents, or to anyone who is a friend of any of these.  Even when the plot moves into serious territory such as tornadoes, bullying, vandalism, and cancer, the author allows us to laugh and relieve the tension. She doesn’t put anyone on a pedestal and gives even ministers and their families heavy problems to grapple with.

Although the book is definitely Christian, it’s not goody-goody nor does it raise expectations that Christians will have trouble-free lives. Instead it shows believers trusting God in the midst of their pain and uncertainty.

Get the Series All at Once

I received In Between as a free eBook from Amazon. It may still be free if you hurry. But I give you fair warning. If you read it, you will want to get the other books immediately. I have now purchased and read them all. You can get all of them at once in the Kindle edition.  If you decide to buy the paper rather than the Kindle editions, be sure to buy them all at the same time to avoid being left hanging, waiting for the next book to arrive.

 

Featured photo at the top is one I took edited on PicMonkey.com

The photo below is perfect to share on Pinterest. The girl in the photo is my daughter, who had come to us as a disturbed foster child. The picture  was taken when she was about the same age as Katie was in the book. You can read her story here: Sarah: The Suicide of Our Adult Child

Book Review of In Between by Jenny B. Jones

Short Reviews of Mysteries I Read Recently

 bookwormMysteries on Today’s Bookworm Menu

Today I will offer my fellow bookworms an assortment of mini-reviews on the most recent mysteries I have read. First, though, are some things you should know about my personal reading tastes so you can determine how similar yours might be

I tend to like mysteries that focus on police detectives or professional PI’s but a couple of my favorite authors feature amateur sleuths and/or cats.  Among these are the  Midnight Louie series and the  Benni Harper series.  Both feature amateurs who seem to always be finding bodies in the course of their everyday lives and feel compelled to find out who killed them with or without police cooperation, and I love both these series.  I think it’s because the characters are intelligent people and don’t take as many stupid risks or engage in the silliness I’ve seen in some cozy mysteries.

I don’t like reading a lot of profanity but will tolerate some if consistent with the characters’ otherwise likable personalities.  I don’t want to read page after page of it, though.  Neither do I enjoy a lot of bedroom scenes — especially those that seem to be there for no good reason that contributes to the plot. I would prefer to follow the process of solving the crime and not have to see violence, blood, and gore unless it helps me in trying to figure out who the murderer is.

Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer

I read a lot of Christian inspirational fiction, but have discovered it is not all of equal quality.  For example, I did not get much inspiration from Tears Fall at Night even though many people say they did.  On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer, since it showed how a consistent witness of walking the walk may be the best way to win over someone who is resistant to preaching. I found the characters believable and enjoyed getting to know them.

Now that you know where I’m coming from with regard to fiction, here are some comments on my recent reading.

Murder Mysteries

52 Steps to Murder by Steve Demaree

Short Reviews of Mysteries I Read Recently

52 Steps to Murder (Book 1 Dekker Cozy Mystery Series)
by Steve Demaree , was clean, as far as mysteries go, but slow moving, especially at the beginning. The detectives, Cy and Lou, were Christians and prayed each morning before they left their homes. Lou often received a “word from God” each morning that usually turned out to be a clue in solving the case.  I wish, though, that these men had also paid attention to the Scriptures that told them how to treat their bodies.

 

I felt that Cy Dekker, lead detective for the Hilldale Police Department, and his partner, Lou Murdock, were not all that concerned about their lack of fitness and their tendency to overeat. Cy made a big deal out of how difficult it was to climb the 52 stairs to the hilltop homes he often needed to visit during the investigation. This was humorous, but also a bit pathetic.  I understand though, that on the detectives’ schedule, a fitness program and healthy meals weren’t always practical. I suppose the author also thought the humor helped break the tedium of climbing all the stairs each day.

 

 Another source of humor was Cy’s ongoing effort to escape from his unattractive single neighbor who lay in wait for him with her little poodle Twinkle Toes every morning as he left for work.  Although these encounters offered comic relief, it still bothered me that Cy had no problem insulting Heloise Humphert at each encounter. It was also unbelievable that any woman would act the way Heloise did in misinterpreting everything Cy did and said. I have to admit, though, that these encounters did relieve some of the book’s tension. I’m sure that’s the real reason Demaree included them. I just think it detracts from the image of Cy and Lou as Christians.

 

The mystery itself involved two women who had been poisoned, but the timetable was such that it seemed to eliminate everyone who could have committed the crime. That is it did until the detectives learned of the underground tunnels that were common knowledge among the neighbors. Suspects had many ways to come and go unseen by anyone. I won’t spoil the ending, but I was interested enough to keep reading. I probably will read more in this series.  This isn’t as exciting as the In Death Series by J. D. Robb, but I’ve read far worse detective novels than this. The investigative work was very thorough.

 

My first introduction to the Dekker Cozy Mystery series was

Murder In The Library (Book 3 Dekker Cozy Mystery Series)
I thought it moved faster than 52 Steps to Murder, which shows that authors often write more skillfully as they get to know their characters better and write more about them.

‘Doc.’ Gordon by Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman

Short Reviews of Mysteries I Read Recently

I downloaded this free from Amazon. It was first published in 1906 and is now in the public domain. If you are only used to reading literature written in the past few decades, you might find the manners and language in this book a bit antiquated.  After a few pages of reading, however, I expect you will be drawn into the book.

We meet young medical school graduate James Elliot on the road walking from his home village of Gresham 25 miles to the village of Alton, where he will begin his practice of small town medicine assisting Doctor Thomas Gordon (‘Doc’).  He will live in the doctor’s home, along with the doctor’s widowed sister and her daughter.

 

James soon discovers that everyone seems to have secrets they are keeping from each other, and you will become as curious to learn them as James is. There is the hint of the first one when James meets a lovely young woman on his way to Alton and rescues her from a mysterious man who seems to embody evil.  It turns out that she is Clemency, Doc Gordon’s niece, and they will meet again in the doctor’s house.  James realizes he should act like he is meeting her there for the first time. There are several more encounters with the mystery man to come, and it’s obvious that Clemency must be kept out of his sight, but we don’t learn why until the end of the book.

 

Another theme in this book was the illness of the doctor’s sister, Mrs. Ewing.  James could tell she was ill, but Doc denied it when James asked what was wrong.   I was surprised that near the end of the book, the author dealt with the moral dilemma posed by assisted suicide.

 

James, Doc, Clemency, and Mrs. Ewing are all decent people. The last three suffer because of all the secrets surrounding them and their past pain.  They care about the ethics and morals of their day, though Doc often tries to escape his pain with Apple Jack.

 

This book may not appeal to modern readers, but once I got into it I found it hard to put it down.  It certainly doesn’t cost anything to download the free eBook and decide for yourself if it’s worth reading.  Just click the book image above to get to a  download page.

 

That’s enough books for one post. I’d be interested in your opinions if you have read any of these. Feel free to comment. My taste may be different from yours, but not necessarily better. Reading is a personal experience.