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Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances by Shanna Hatfield

A Christian Romance Series for the Christmas Season

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

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

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

The Setting : Hardman, Oregon

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

The Characters

Luke and Filly Granger

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


Ginny Granger,  Blake Stratton, and Their Parents

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

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


Arlan Guthry and Alexandra Janowski

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

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

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


Adam Guthry and Tia Devereux

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

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

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

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


Tom Grove and Fred Decker

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

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

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

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

Grayson Carter and Claire Baker

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

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

 

My Review of the Hardman Holidays: Christmas Romances

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

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

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

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

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

From The Christmas Confection:

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

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

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

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

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

Get the Whole Hardman Christmas Romance Series

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Introducing Randy Singer: Master of Legal Thrillers

My Randy Singer Reading Binge

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

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

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

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

My Reviews of Randy Singer Legal Thrillers

The Justice Game

Justice, Inc.

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

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

The Shooting

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

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

Sherwood Fires Jason and Andrew

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

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

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

Jason Defends Gun Manufacturer against Rachel’s Husband

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

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

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

Blackmail

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

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

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

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

Moral Issues

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

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

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

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


By Reason of Insanity

Annie’s Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine O’Rourke’s Case

Held in Contempt

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Recommendation

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


The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney

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

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

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

The Ultimate Reality Show

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

Judge Oliver Finney Signs on to Represent the Christian Religion

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

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

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

The Contestants

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

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

The Threat

randy-singer-pin-catamaran

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

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

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

The Assassin

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

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

Religion on Trial

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

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

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

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


Randy Singer: Pastor and Lawyer

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

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

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

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

More Reading Recommendations

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

Fatal ConvictionsFatal Convictions

 

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

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

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

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

 

A Place Behind the World by David Hazard: Review

A Place Behind the World Not the Right Time

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

The Plot of A Place Behind the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts on the Book

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

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

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

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


Related Book Reviews You Might Enjoy

A Brief Look at HOW SWEET THE SOUND by Amy Sorrells

The Surrogate by Patricia Bell: The Unintended Consequences

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

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: A Book Review

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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

Language of Flowers

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

The Aborted Adoption

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

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

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

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

After Elizabeth

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

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

My Review of The Language of Flowers

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

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

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

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

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


How The Language of Flowers Affected Me

 

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

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

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

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

Reviews of More Novels on Foster Care and Adoptive Families

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

The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Review

Tess Discovers She Has Family at Bella Vista

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

The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Review

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

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

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

Meeting the Family at Bella Vista

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

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

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

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

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

The Bella Vista Chronicles by Susan Wiggs: A Review

 

The Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs

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

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

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


My Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relax and Unwind with These 3 Romance Novels

Light Romance Novels Make for Relaxing  Reading

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.

Review of Olivia by Kate Palmer, a Western Hearts Series Romance
Quarter Horses

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.

Snowed Inn: Western Hearts Series NovellaSnowed Inn: Western Hearts Series NovellaStorm (Western Hearts Series) (Volume 2)Storm (Western Hearts Series) (Volume 2)
Olivia: Western Hearts SeriesOlivia: Western Hearts SeriesAlexis: Western Hearts SeriesAlexis: Western Hearts Series

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.

 

A Matchmaker Mystery (3 Book Series)A Matchmaker Mystery (3 Book Series)

Romance: Love’s Unfading Light by Naomi Rawlings

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.

Into this mess walked  Mac Oakton, the assistant lighthouse keeper,  to buy some bread.  He laughed and grabbed the heavy flour sack that was about to fall off the counter. That is how Mac and Tressa met. They soon became friends. ( Learn more about the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse and its keepers here. )


 Great BIG Canvas Poster Print of Eagle Harbor Lighthouse


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 Light immediately. 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.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Eagle Harbor (5 Book Romance Series)Eagle Harbor (5 Book Series)


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

 

 Olivia: Western Hearts SeriesCheck Price The Mutt and the Matchmaker: A Matchmaker Mystery NovellaCheck Price Eagle Harbor Series Box Set 1-3: Historical Christian RomanceCheck Price

See more of my romance reviews:

Relax and Unwind with These 3 Romance Novels

 

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Christian Books for Adolescent Girls

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. 

Books for Adolescent Girls

 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. 

Books for Adolescent Girls by Janet Oke

Janet Oke is best known for her western romances and a series of children’s animal stories that focus on character qualities. The books I recommend for teen girls go way beyond her usual romantic themes.

The Tender Years

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 Harmony is 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. 

 A Room of My Own (Legacy Editions) (Volume 2) The Tender Years (A Prairie Legacy, Book 1) (Volume 1) Return to Harmony New Kid in Town (Janette Oke’s Animal Friends)

Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial and you will be able to read some of these books and many others for free.

Books for Adolescent Girls

National Read a Book Day Should be Every Day

National Read a Book Day

I have been unable to discover who decided September 6 is National Read a Book Day, but it really doesn’t matter. People should be reading books every day. Most teachers, librarians and booksellers would agree. My nose has always been in a book. I can’t understand why more people aren’t  turning off the TV. I’ve always found reading more entertaining.

Life Without Books?

As one who’s always been surrounded by books, I  don’t want to think how dull life would be without them. I usually read three to five books a week. I’m currently reading A Lady of High Regard by Tracie Peterson, a Christian historical romance.  As I write this it’s still free in the Kindle edition, but the price could go up any time.

I cut my bookworm teeth on picture books. Later I read my way through most of the juvenile section at the public library near my home. I walked there nearly every day. The librarian “didn’t notice” when I had checked more than the total books I was allowed at one time. By the time I hit high school, I was reading  my way through any nonfiction books in the adult section I found interesting. You might conclude I was a voracious reader and you would be right.

Television  Lost when Competing with Reading

When I was very young, TV was new. I was  six years old when the first neighbor bought one and we all gathered to watch Beanie and Cecil on the Leakin’ Lena. Here’s a sample show of the type we saw — the original black and white puppet version.

Is it no wonder that I preferred the Thornton Burgess animal stories?  TV shows for children in those days could not compete for my attention with Amanda, by Wolf Von Trutzschler. It was my all time favorite picture book. Amanda was a friendly snake who wanted to help all the other animals, most of whom loved her. Her best friend was Archibald, a monkey, who acted as her hands. The pictures in that book will stay with me forever. The book is now collectible and expensive, but I wanted you to see the cover anyway. I’m glad I still have my copy, even though it’s worn out.

 Amanda by Von Trutzschler, Wolf (1990) Hardcover

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 Some of my   favorite stories and poems came from  the big orange Childcraft books (1954 edition) Mom had on the shelf. I poured over the folk and fairy tales, adventure stories, and illustrated poems day after day.

Among other books I loved was Make Way for Ducklings,  a book no child should miss. I loved the scene where the policeman held back  traffic so the duck family could safely cross the street.

The Little Golden Books are Unforgettable

Back then there were not many quality picture books, but we did have the Little Golden Books. Some of my favorites are still available today.  These books sold for only a quarter when first published. I had a large assortment. These are the illustrations stored in my mind. For the most part, these are the editions I loved.  Newer editions of The Three Little Kittens have dropped a few pages deemed politically incorrect today.

Noises and Mr. Flibberty-jib was one of my favorite books because  noise bothers me, too. That’s one reason I moved to the country, just like he did. I made my mother read me The Taxi That Hurried over and over. I wanted that taxi to get to the train station on time.  The Poky Little Puppy appeals to the children who like to stop and observe what they see, even if it makes them late for dinner.

 Classic Characters of Little Golden Books: The Poky Little Puppy, Tootle, The Saggy Baggy Elephant, Tawny Scrawny Lion, and Scuffy the Tugboat The Poky Little Puppy (A Little Golden Book Classic) Noises and Mr. Flibberty-Jib (A Little Golden Book) The Taxi That Hurried Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (A Little Golden Book) Three Little Kittens Little Golden Book 50th Anniversary Edition (50th Anniversary Commemorative Facisimile Edition) Walt Disney’s Dumbo (Little Golden Books)

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My Preteen and Teen Years: Books vs TV

As I grew older, my parents watched westerns and variety shows. I sometimes watched Hometown Jamboree with them, since I liked Tennessee Ernie Ford.  My parents didn’t join me when I watched the Mickey Mouse Club .

Annette Funicello was about my age, and I idolized her.  She finally got her own series on the Mickey Mouse Club. Disney featured Annette’s series in a collector’s DVD set.  It includes biographical information on Annette, as well. I read her autobiography, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, not long before  she died.  It satisfied my search for more information about the  person I had identified with so much during my middle school years.

 A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story

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My family  watched Lawrence Welk and I loved the Lennon Sisters. I recently read their autobiography, Same Song, Separate Voices, written by all four of them, and loved it. They grew up in Los Angeles County, as I did, and they weren’t rich. I had watched them sing on Lawrence Welk for years and the book showed me how they got started,  what those years meant to them, and what came after them. Every fan should read this book.  This video shows the sisters when they were young on the Lawrence Welk Show, as I knew them.

As a preteen, I spent most of my free time in my room devouring the historical fiction of Gladys Malvern. I had loved Behold Your Queen — the fictionalized version of the Bible‘s Esther.  I wanted to read all Malvern’s books. Now they are available in Kindle editions.  I see I missed some my library didn’t have. Nancy Drew was also required reading when I was young, so I read through the original series.

I still preferred books to television when in my teens. The only shows I really cared about were comedies. Our Miss Brooks was my favorite. I love to laugh, and that’s something Eve Arden always makes me do. Other shows I watched were I Love Lucy, and the Burns and Allen show. Those shows accounted for about 90 minutes a week, so I had lots of time left to read. Most of my friends read, too, so we shared book recommendations.

What I Read While I Was in College

I continued to read classic fiction. I was an English major, so a lot of the fiction and poetry I read was assigned. If I enjoyed authors, I tried to read more of their books. I read German poets in the original.

College was also a time of spiritual inquiry for me. By my junior year I had returned to faith in Christ after a three-year period of exploring other religions. I read a lot of Christian nonfiction to better understand my faith and inspire me to live it out in everyday life. The books I read in college were the classics of evangelical students in the 1960’s, and I had the privilege of meeting some of their authors at conferences.

One of these was John R. W. Stott, a prominent Anglican priest and world-renowned Bible teacher. His most well-known book is Basic Christianity.  His writing is alive with truth and challenges to apply it to life.

I also met Elizabeth Elliot, first missionary and later a college professor.  She was widowed three times. Her most famous book is Through Gates of Splendor, the story of the martyrdom of her husband and four other American missionaries in a jungle in Ecuador. After his death, she edited and published his journals.  Shadow of the Almighty reveals the innermost thoughts of a man totally committed to following Christ — even to death.  It required careful and thoughtful reading.

The End of the Spear is a movie that tells the story of the five missionaries’ deaths from the point of view of the Waodani warrior who led the raid that killed them. The movie also reveals the good that came from this martyrdom.

 End Of The Spear Through Gates of Splendor Let Me Be a Woman Shadow Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (Lives of Faith) The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture) Basic Christianity Men Made New: An Exposition of Romans 5-8

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Reading Beyond College

You now know some of the books that satisfied my need for stories and knowledge during my youth. I will skip the years of early marriage and parenting. I have shared some of what I’m reading now in other reviews on this blog. Most of the books here are now available in Kindle editions.  That means you could actually buy a book today for National Read a Book Day.  If you don’t have a Kindle yet, I review the one I use here.

If you opt for picture books, I hope you will get physical books rather than eBooks. I think real books provide a better reading experience for children and allow for better interaction with the pictures.

No matter what day today is when you read this, go read a book and help your children to do the same. Take a trip to the library to celebrate Read a Book Day. Then take your treasures home and read them. Enjoy.

National Read a Book Day Should be Every Day

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Romance Novels Make Great Summer Reading

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 you have to read in spurts.   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.

Don’t Waste Your Time or Money on These

I normally enjoy mail order bride romances. I read quite a few of them. I thought I was getting a good deal when Mail Order Bride: Clean Romance and the Call of Marriage was offered free during an Amazon promotion. It got some good reviews so I gave this 13 short story set a try. Amazon classified it as Western Christian Inspirational Historical Romance Short Stories. The stories did not inspire me. The first few weren’t too bad, but the more I read the worse they seemed to get.

As an ex-English teacher the spelling and grammatical errors bothered me a lot. The author really needed an editor to catch mistakes the spellcheck didn’t . I think what bothered me most among the mistakes was the use of the wrong pronoun. Too many times the author is talking about a woman, and then referring to her later in the sentence or in the next one as he.  Or a man will later be referred to as a she. This leaves me going back to reread to see if I misunderstood. This happened many times over the course of these stories.

You may find some of these stories amusing, and they may keep you entertained for a few minutes, but in the end you will probably wish you’d spent your time reading something better. I certainly wouldn’t pay to buy this.

The Best Romance in the Bunch

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 when 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.'”

Reading Romance Novels Can Kill Summer Boredom: Review My Father's House by Rose Johnson

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. She stayed in the cottage the three of them had shared. She got a part-time job in a flower store and wrote for the local paper. She 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. The only thing that put a damper on it was was a visit home to Annie Ruth so she could meet him. 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.

Reading Romance Novels Can Kill Summer Boredom

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.

 

 My Father’s House: a novel God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea: Experiencing God in the Midst of Everyday Moments

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Book Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

It All Happens in Burford

In Greening of a Heart, Stepheny Houghtlin shows us not just one heart, but several that need healing.  All of them are part of or tied to the restoration of the garden of the vicarage of St. John the Baptist Church in the Catswold Village of Burford. Burford and the church are  real. You might want to check out the websites linked to so you can picture the setting before you read this. These sites say nothing  about a garden. The church, however is the setting for some important scenes, since Hannah and Martin live in the vicarage.

Photo of St. John the Baptist Church in Burford courtesy of Tom Bastin, CC by 2.0
Photo courtesy of Tom Bastin, CC by 2.0

Tom Bastin  took the picture of the church St. John The Baptist Church you see above. You can also see many other scenes from Burford  in his Flicker Album Burford.

The Cast of Major Characters

  • Hannah Winchester, an American: The vicars’ wife and mother of Anne and Christopher
  • The Reverend Martin Winchester: Vicar of St. John the Baptist Church, father of Anne and Christopher
  • Malcolm Thomas: Martin’s old college friend, now also his Bishop
  • Brother Gregory: Monk at St. Edward’s House and spiritual counselor to Martin
  • Anne: Daughter of Hannah and Martin, wife of Geoffrey Bentley, mother of James and Kate
  • Geoffrey Charles Bentley IV:  Anne’s husband and father of James and Kate
  • Christopher: Brother of Anne and son of Martin and Hannah, single
  • Henry Bernard: On a research sabbatical from Kew Gardens in London.  Hannah hired him to help with the heavy work in the garden during its restoration. Single
  •  Madeline Thompson, widow: An old college friend of Hannah’s who is Hannah’s sounding board in the book.  She is a catalyst in helping many characters find direction
  • Christine Bennett: Never married, older parishioner, critical of Hannah’s garden restoration. Lives across the road from the vicarage and has her own garden. She is no longer speaking to Hannah since garden work began.
  • Robert K Myers: Deceased former Vicar of St. John the Baptist Church, who originally designed the garden Hannah is restoring. Close friend of Christine.
  • Emma Barksdale: Another parishioner, close friend of Christine and Hannah. She doesn’t understand why Christine is so critical of Hannah’s garden restoration project
  • Samuel White: Senior Warden at St. John the Baptist Church, single, close friend of   Martin and Hannah.  He appears to be secretly in love with Hannah
  • Lucy and Randy Talbot:  Henry lives with them in Burford while he works for Hannah
  • Many men who are working to restore the garden and coach house, and their wives and children
  • Other parishioners, including Lynn Spencer, who likes to make trouble with her gossip, and her husband Mark, who is much kinder
  • Margaret Clover: New in town, just bought the Bay Tree Inn. She plans to use it to serve healthy meals such as those that helped cure her cancer. Divorced
  • Caroline Clover: Margaret’s daughter, who will be the chef at the Bay Tree Inn

A  Troubled Marriage

 

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin
Photo in Public Domain Courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

As the book opens, we learn that Hannah and Martin Winchester have a troubled marriage. Martin is burned out as a priest and a husband, since he has let his work dominate their lives. Hannah is wondering what happened to the man who courted her and laughed with her when they were first married. Now he rarely laughs at all. They now sleep in separate bedrooms. The author  describes it this way:

“The image of one of her garden walls, where stacked stone had shifted and sagged over time, reminded her of their relationship.”

Although they shared a common faith as members  of the Church of England, they did not express it the same  way. Hannah’s family had been “high church” with services closer to those in the Catholic Church.  Martin was “low church” and did not believe in icons and incense, or “smells and bells.” This  was occasionally a source of conflict.

Whereas Hannah had been an  independent American woman while in college, now, with an empty nest, Martin seems to think she is incapable of managing her life without his input. He has become stern and impatient with her.  He is no longer interested in sharing memories of their courting days and other carefree times, as they had in the early years of their marriage. There had been no intimacy for so long that Hannah had begun to think of Martin almost as a guest in her home, more a priest than a husband.

The Role of The Garden In Greening of the Heart

Hannah’s Garden Restoration Project

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

The book begins in the vicarage garden, with Hannah pulling weeds. She aspires to gain recognition as an authority on plants someday. She has accumulated a library of gardening books and has visited other gardens whenever there was time.

She is in the process of restoring the garden the late previous vicar, Robert Myers, designed and planted.  She is hoping that as she works on the garden restoration, it will bring her closer to Martin again. She expected they would make decisions together, but he shows little interest, preferring to let Hannah make the decisions.

Martin’s Dreaded Lunch Date

Martin is about to leave for a lunch date with Malcolm, his friend and bishop. Malcolm had called Hannah earlier with  concerns about Martin’s health and state of mind. Hannah knows Malcolm is going to tell Martin to take a leave of absence. She also knows Martin will be disconsolate after the meeting.

Henry Arrives in Burford

Meanwhile, Henry Bernard is on his way to Burford from London to meet Hannah. He hopes she will hire him to help with the garden restoration. He is  also looking for information about a photograph he’d found while cleaning up his  grandmother’s home after she died. The photo is of a young priest who is his own mirror image.  He arrives in time to have a quick look inside the church before meeting Hannah, but Hannah is already there watering the altar flowers and she had seen him come in. She noticed he was touching a remembrance plaque on the wall, which she later discovered  was for Robert Myers.

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin
Adapted from photo of Kew Gardens found on Morgue File

She engages Henry in conversation and he says he’s her 2 pm  appointment. Henry tells her he’s taking a sabbatical from his work at Kew Gardens to study the influence of clergy gardeners on the development of English gardens. People believed Robert Myers had integrated spiritual elements into his gardening activities. Henry said many clergymen considered gardening both work and prayer.

Henry impresses Hannah she and hires him after negotiating terms of employment. Hannah tells Henry he’s an answer to her prayers. He silently disagrees, thinking that it wasn’t her prayers, but his own detective work that  brought him to her.

Martin Returns Home after Lunch Date

After Henry leaves, Hannah returns home to find Martin is back from his lunch date and he’s devastated, as she expected him to be. Malcolm has sent him to take a course in Jerusalem that will be part of a three-month leave from his ministry.  Malcolm hopes this will restore Martin’s health, energy, and heart for preaching again. Hannah hopes it will restore her husband to her.

Who is  Henry Really?

Why did he want to come to Burford?  More than one character in the book raises this question. Anne seemed not to trust Henry. Lynn Spencer chided  Hannah for hiring someone she knew nothing about. Hannah, however, had no reason to be suspicious and she let the criticism roll off her. A savvy reader will have a pretty good idea early in the book who Henry is,  but the author does not completely reveal it until much later.

The Garden Party

Will There Be Trouble?

Hannah goes back to preparations for her garden party the next Saturday. She has invited everyone to the Winchesters’ Garden Opening.  Hannah is hoping there will not be trouble since she knows some parishioners have been upset with her project. Christine Bennett, usually not a critical person,   has been most vocal in her complaints. She had accused Hannah of ruining Robert Myers’ garden, and Hannah had reminded her that it no longer belonged to Robert Myers.  Christine had not spoken to her since.  Emma Barksdale, a friend of both,  had told Christine to behave at the party. Madeline has warned Henry to steer clear of Christine.

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin
Ready for Garden Party

For the most part, the party turns out to be a success as, Madeline, Hannah’s oldest friend, had come to help. A few incidents had marred it, however.   She and Martin had quarreled just before the party because he thought he needed to tell her how to act with the guests. Henry has impressed Madeline,  but Hannah’s daughter Anne wants him fired because she had dated him years ago and he had left her alone at a party he’d invited her to.

Hannah Speaks, Martin Prays, but Not Everyone Is Happy

Hannah welcomes everyone. She explains that she restored the garden to honor the memory of her mother who had died ten years ago and that her inheritance from her mother was helping to pay for the restoration.  The guests applaud, but Christine does not join in. Martin prays for everyone involved with the garden restoration and for the future ministry of the church.

Hannah then joins Lynn and Mark Spencer at the punch table and Lynn immediately gets on Hannah’s case about hiring “a complete stranger” to work for her.  Mark tries to intervene, but Lynn keeps meddling. Hannah justifies her decision to hire Henry by explaining his qualifications. Lynn still thinks Hannah shouldn’t have hired someone she knows nothing about.

The guests stop to shake Martin’s hand as they are leaving, and Christine isn’t able to hide her negative feelings. The other guests seem pleased.
Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day after the party, Henry takes a bouquet of daffodils to Christine’s house to try to get acquainted with her and try to find out why she is so negative. The reader sees a new side of Christine during this visit.

More Than the Garden Grows

Madeline’s words act as catalysts to the ideas and actions of many characters in the book. Madeline was the one who encouraged Hannah to restore the garden. At one point before the garden party,  Hannah tells Madeline, “I’ve lost touch with my own dreams and it scares me. Growing old is bad enough, but I wake up and think of wasted days where nothing I’ve done is of any consequence…. I need to reinvent myself.”

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

Madeline spins a tale about a  driver telling a couple of strangers he is lost. One of the men responded, ‘No, you’re not, you’re here.’

Madeline adds,  “If we spend our days always thinking of what we’ve missed, what might have been,  we miss the now of our lives, too. You aren’t lost, Hannah, you’re here. In this moment, we’re here, looking at this beautiful garden emerging around us. Perhaps …being lost is not a bad thing, but an opportunity to notice new places you have never been, actually looking at the things you pass by. “

Characters Grow as Part of the Community

Greening of the Heart is a story of people interacting and growing through the process. The church community and those in the wider community of the village around it begin to know themselves better. They make decisions, face unacknowledged truths about themselves,  and find solutions to their problems through their conversations with others and by observing their behavior.

Book Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

An example of this is Anne’s marriage to Geoffrey. The reader sees immediately that the marriage has severe problems. It is only as Anne observes the relationship between other couples that she realizes how troubled her marriage is. Geoffrey is a snob who has tried to keep Anne from her family and any friends that won’t enhance his social standing. He also stifles Anne and their children.

Although Anne has observed the growing distance between her parents, she realizes that Geoffrey’s life is all about impressing people he considers important, whereas her father’s life is about serving his congregation to the extent there’s nothing left for his wife. Geoffrey is harsh with her and with the children, who withdraw in his presence. Anne has smiled through Geoffrey’s rants and cried when she was alone. Anne never saw her father even say a harsh word to her mother.

She decides to seek counsel from her mother and she finally reconciles with Henry for the sake of her mother.  It is her brother Christopher that motivates her to heed Madeline’s advice to get a job so she can be self-sufficient. She decides to do it.

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

Anne sees how loving the relationships between the workmen and their wives are. She observes the other young couples expressing affection and treating their spouses with respect. Anne’s observations and conversations with her new friends and her mother help her see that she must change her interactions with Geoffrey. How that relationship will turn out is still up in the air at the end of the book.

We see more examples of growth during interaction throughout the book.  The relationship between Henry and Christine leads to the reconciliation between Christine and Hannah. Madeline’s words influence almost all the main characters.

Madeline is  good at discerning who can help whom and then doing her best to bring them together and plant scenarios in their minds until they see new possibilities. This results in the idea that the garden might produce the vegetables used by the Clovers in the kitchen at the  Bay Tree Inn. Later Hannah comes up with the idea of using that relationship between the inn and the vicarage garden to gain added revenue for both by giving garden tours in cooperation with Margaret Clover, ending with lunch back at the inn.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Martin is interacting with a new community of people. Their influence, and a frank letter from Hannah,  are helping him see himself and his marriage in a new light, and he wants to save it. 

 

Book Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

My Recommendation

I got very involved in this book. I began to really care about these new book friends. If you enjoy books that are more character than plot based, if you like watching people examine their lives with a mind to understand themselves and others, you will find this a rewarding read. You will see people falling in love, reconciling their differences, and experiencing spiritual and marital  renewal through relationships begun in a garden. 

Book Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin
Book Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

If you thrive on relationships with people and like to observe positive changes in their lives, you will want to read Greening of the Heart. It will make you think about your own life and relationships as you watch the drama unfold. If you are also a gardener, this book will have an added layer of meaning for you. If you enjoyed reading the Mitford Series or Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fanny Flagg, I would also expect you to find Greening of the Heart appealing. If you haven’t read any of these, what are you waiting for? You won’t want to miss any of these books.