In 2018 I’ve probably read at least 200 novels from cover to cover . A few I decided not to finish. Many were entertaining but not outstanding. Some were excellent, but I didn’t have time to review them. Here are the books that had the deepest impact on me in 2018 with links to their reviews:
These are the books I’ve read during the first four days of 2019. I will include some brief thoughts on each.
Until Now by Cristin Cooper
Billy met Bridget when she came into the diner he had unwillingly inherited. She was pregnant at 16 and homeless. She was hungry for the love her father never gave, and he kicked her out when he discovered she was pregnant. The college boy who seduced her thinking she was over 18 was not ready for marriage and told her to get an abortion. She had refused. It was in this situation she sought a warm place and a bit of food in Billy’s diner.
Billy was also lonely and unhappy, searching for love in the wrong way. He, too, had been rejected by one he thought loved him. Once Billy and the waitress Diane were aware of Bridget’s situation, they took her in and gave her work and a place to live above the diner. She raises her daughter Katie there and never marries. Billy hasn’t married any of his women friends, either. He wants to marry Bridget and she wants to marry him, but both are afraid to confess their love so they keep their relationship platonic. They center their attention on raising Katie, the one who brought them together.
The book opens on the day Katie is about to leave for college. Both Bridget and Billy wonder what will happen to their friendship then. The book jumps back and forth between time periods and relationships that both Bridget and Billy have as Katie grows up. I found the book engaging, but like most romances, a bit unrealistic. The ending, however, satisfied me.
Alert: There is some adult content.
The Rogue Reporter (A Police Procedural Mystery)
Written by Thomas Fincham (a pseudonym for Mobashar Qureshi, this is #2 in the Hyder Ali Series I started in 2014 with The Silent Reporter. The Rogue Reporter has many of the same characters, and I couldn’t put either book down. Fincham uses many of the same techniques he did in the first book. You can read my review of The Silent Reporter here. If you like suspense this author will keep you turning the pages.
Although I couldn’t stop reading this book, I had a tough time with a couple of torture scenes. They were brief, but it was hard to get through them. I don’t remember such scenes in the first book and I’m hoping the next books won’t have more than the normal violence and suspense you would expect to find in a detective novel. As I write this, the entire series is available in Kindle Unlimited where you can read it for free. You could probably finish it during the free trial period.
Eleventh Street: A Story of Redemption by Steven K Bowling
We first meet Lucas as he fights the Japanese Imperial Army and reminisces about the attack on Pearl Harbor he survived. We continue to see him fighting for his life in battlefield after battlefield throughout World War Two as he experiences the continual horrors of war. He had prayed plenty of genuine foxhole prayers, but after leaving the service he didn’t even go to church.
His older sister had married the brother of their church’s pastor, Buck Johnson, who simply called himself Pastor. As jobs got scarce in Kentucky, Pastor and most of those in his church, including Lucas’ other surviving siblings, moved to Hamilton Ohio to find work in the steel mills. Pastor converted the East Side Dance Hall into a church.
When he went to war, Lucas had left Maggie, the girl he loved, behind. She would not date him because she wanted to marry a God-fearing man and he didn’t appear to be one. When he returned to Hamilton, he sought Saturday night amusement at the East Side Dance Hall, since friends had recommended it. But it was quiet — except for a voice he recognized from the past: “Do you know the Lord today?…”
Maggie’s love had motivated Lucas to try to act like a Christian, but it was the Holy Spirit and Pastor that finally made him give his life to Christ at what had become the Eleventh Street Church. Lucas met the power of God through the ministry of Pastor. Pastor had no formal theological training, but it was obvious the Holy Spirit had called and equipped him.
We follow Lucas’s life and the life of Eleventh Street Church through three very different pastors. After Pastor’s death there was a gradual transition as new members joined the church and and older ones left. It becomes apparent to readers that the third pastor of the church after Pastor retired is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who is leading the flock astray.
This book’s message is relevant for today’s church. Often pastor search committees may be more interested in a candidate’s advanced degrees and administrative abilities than in his dependence upon God. So many churches today that want to grow look to new music, new methods, and even new doctrine, to attract new members. They sometimes begin to depend more on these new ideas than on the Holy Spirit.
What happened to the Eleventh Street Church could happen to any church that begins to depend upon and follow a charismatic leader more than Christ himself. This thought-provoking novel will be of most interest to Christians.
Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar by Carol Guthrie Heilman
Agnus Hopper did not move to Sweetbriar Manor retirement home willingly. But when her forgetfulness causes the home she had shared with her late husband Charlie to burn down, she became homeless. She moved in with her daughter, Betty Jo, but Betty Jo could only handle that for three months. She then took Agnus to Sweetbriar, assuming that she would make friends and soon be happy there. Agnus knew better.
Within a few days Agnus knows something is very wrong with Sweetbriar and that the manager is hiding something. She is determined to find out what is really going on as she gets to know the other residents. She is especially concerned about her best friend from high school, Pearl, who no longer recognizes her.
Throughout this book and its sequel, which I’m still reading, you’ll meet a quirky cast of senior citizens trying to make the best of where life has put them. Agnus and her friends do their best to bring down their crooked manager so they can live in peace. In the sequel, Agnus finds the body of one of her husband’s friends not far from his grave. She is determined to find out who killed him and why.
Move over, John Grisham. I was disappointed with the last of your books I started — The Rooster Bar— so disappointed I didn’t finish it. This week I’ve read four legal thrillers by Randy Singer, three of which I’m reviewing here. Between them these books deal with jury selection and tampering, gun control laws, child and spousal abuse, legal insanity pleas, protecting news sources, and even deciding which is the true religion, if any.
Why is Randy Singer my new favorite author of legal thrillers?
Compelling and well-developed characters
Intriguing plots that make it hard to put his books down.
Discussion of complex moral issues
Unexpected but satisfying endings that rarely happen as I thought they might
Although there is some graphic violence, the language is clean and any sexal behavior is implied rather than explicit. If you love reading well-written thrillers with a legal theme but prefer not to read four-letter words and sex scenes that seem inserted in a book for their own sake, I think you will enjoy reading Randy Singer.
The Justice Game was the first of the Randy Singer books I read. It centers on a legal consulting firm called Justice, Inc., founded by Robert Sherwood, CEO, and Andrew Lassiter, the brains behind the firm’s success. Andrew invented the software the firm used to make its predictions.
Two other main characters, lawyers Jason Noble and Kelly Starling worked for Justice, Inc. They argued important cases in front of shadow juries , concluding them before the actual court cases ended. Justice, Inc. used the shadow jury trial results to make predictions for their clients. The clients used them make profitable (they hoped) investments. A wrong prediction could cost clients millions.
The book opens with a dramatic shooting on the Virginia Beach WSYR television newscast anchored by diva prime-time anchor Lisa Roberts. She survived. Pregnant Rachel Crawford, who was presenting a special investigative report on Larry Jameson, a human trafficker, did not. When the SWAT team finally arrived, they killed Jamison, but not soon enough to save Rachel.
Jason had watched this unfold from across the continent in Malibu. He is finishing a case there using his famous hair analysis evidence to prove accused star Kendra Van Wyke had poisoned a backup singer. Sherwood is watching the shadow trial. If Van Wyke is convicted, Sherwood could lose $75,000,000, so he decides this will be Jason’s last trial for Justice, Inc.
Sherwood Fires Jason and Andrew
Sherwood fires Jason for “being too good” — better than most attorneys in the real trials. That throws the company’s predictions off. Sherwood also fires Lassiter after the two argue about how his software might have also caused the shadow juries to be wrong.
Jason and Lassiter have a good relationship and used to analyze case results together after trials ended. After Sherwood fires them both, Lassiter wants to hire Jason to sue Sherwood. Lassiter is upset because he can’t take the software he designed with him and and he had to sign a non-compete agreement. But Sherwood had given both an excellent severance package and helped Jason start his private practice. He won’t make any move Andrew suggests without checking with Sherwood first.
Jason doesn’t want to be caught in the middle of the conflict between his two friends and tells Lassiter to get a business lawyer. Lassiter almost has a meltdown. He is very cold to Jason when he leaves.
Jason Defends Gun Manufacturer against Rachel’s Husband
Meanwhile, Rachel Crawford’s husband Blake decides to sue Melissa Davids. She owns MD Firearms which manufactures the gun Jamison used in the WSYR shooting. On Sherwood’s recommendation Melissa hired Jason to defend her. She already had a lawyer, Case McAllister, but Sherwood convinced Davids to use McAllister for overall strategy while Jason tries the case in court.
Lassiter contacts Jason again to tell him that the prosecuting lawyer, Kelly Starling, had also been trained by Justice, Inc. Blake had hired her because she had helped sex trafficking victims. Lassiter offers Jason his services in jury selection. Neither Jason not Kelly has been practicing law very long.
As Jason and Kelly prepare their cases, both, unbeknownst to each other, begin to receive blackmail messages from “Luthor.” He threatens to expose the darkest secret each has if they don’t follow his directions.
If either settles the case, he will expose them. He also tells them which jurors they must keep. These are both jurors Jason is sure will hurt his case, and Andrew wants to strike them. Luthor tells Jason to use a police chief as a witness, but he also gave Kelly documents that would discredit that witness.
The reader has already learned that Kelly’s father is a Christian pastor, and that Kelly’s secret is that she had an abortion her dad doesn’t know about. Jason’s secret is that his detective father’s partner Cory covered up that Jason was driving drunk in an accident that killed his best friend. LeRon had drunk more and asked Jason to drive his car. Should the secret come out, not only Jason, but also his father and Cory, could lose their jobs and/or face possible prosecution. Both Kelly and Jason live with guilt.
Author Randy Singer is a Christian pastor, yet he is low key in showing his bias. It comes through in conversations between Kelly and her father.
Jason grapples with his guilt and were it not for the damage it could do to his father and Cory, he would ignore Luthor and take his chances with the exposure of his secret. He feels guilty about not giving his client the jury she deserves in order to protect himself.
The other moral issue the author tackles is the issue of gun control. The trial brings out both sides in terms the reader can understand.
The suspense intensifies as the plots and subplots weave their way to a dramatic climax. I will not spoil that ending by saying anymore about it. I found l liked both Jason and Kelly. It was easy to sympathize with almost all the characters. If you love legal thrillers, this book should not disappoint you.
By Reason of Insanity tackles the issues of legal insanity, multiple personality disorder, protecting news sources, incest, child molestation, the death penalty, and more. It begins with Quinn Newburg’s passionate defense of his sister Annie. She is on trial for killing her husband after she feared he was making moves to molest her daughter. Her own father had molested her for years. If she screamed for help he had beaten her mother and brother if they interfered. Quinn appeals to the jury:
Who can begin to understand what such abuse does to a young girl’s soul? to her mind? to her psyche? ….If she had shot her father in self-defense that night…who would have blamed her?
Expert witness Rosemary Mancini testified that the terrified young Annie had repressed her feelings. She later married a man ten years her senior — the heir to his father’s Las Vegas empire. He seemed charming, but there was a dark side. When he began to touch Annie’s daughter Sierra’s private parts, something in Annie snapped and she remembered her past. Quinn explains in her defense:
The rage and fear consume you and overwhelm your inhibitions until you become the monster your father and husband created….To protect yourself and Sierra, you must act…you must make it stop….And you do.
Annie shot her husband. Quinn claims she was insane when she pulled the trigger and begs the jury for justice.
Catherine O’Rourke’s Case
Held in Contempt
Catherine O’Rourke witnessed the trial as a reporter for the Tidewater Times. Although the jury convicted Annie, one juror confessed she really thought Annie was innocent but was pressured to agree with the verdict. The judge declared a mistrial. Rosemary began counseling Sierra, and the two had good repore.
Meanwhile it appears there is a serial killer/kidnapper on the loose. The police receive notes from “The Avenger of Blood” claiming responsibility for kidnapping babies and killing murderers and the defense lawyers who who had set them free. A source from the police department contacts Annie offering undisclosed information he wants the public to know if she promises to never reveal him. She agrees because she wants the story. A judge then holds her in contempt and sends her to jail because she won’t reveal her source.
In jail Catherine has her first vision relating to the serial murders and kidnappings. These visions continue after she is released. The visions are scary and include a hand writing in blood red letters on the wall.
She tells her source about the visions hoping they might help the police, but instead she’s arrested because she knows facts about the murders that aren’t public knowledge. To defend herself she hires Marc Boland, a top defense lawyer, but he supports the death penalty. She hires Quinn as co-counsel for the penalty phase, since he does not believe in the death penalty.
Catherine learns the dangers of jail as she awaits trial. Her visions continue. Some feature executions in makeshift “electric chairs.” She’s not sure if she’s awake or asleep when she gets her visions. She begins to question her own perception of reality. To complicate things even more, it appears Quinn may be falling in love with her.
The plots and subplots reveal the hearts of the main characters as well as their human weaknesses. I could not help but sympathize with the struggles of Annie, Catherine, Sierra, and Quinn. The ending caught me completely off-guard. I lost a night’s sleep over this book because I couldn’t put it down. Don’t start it until you have time to finish it. This is Randy Singer at his best.
One Man’s Quest to Find Out Which Religion Is True
As the Patient learned he had one year left to live, he rapidly worked through the stages of his grief. He accepted his brain cancer diagnosis and prognosis over the course of a month. He got his affairs in order. A lifelong atheist, he felt remorse. He could not take the billion dollars of assets he’d worked for and intended to enjoy later with him. He knows if there really is a God, he isn’t ready to meet him.
The Ultimate Reality Show
The Patient decided to use part of his money to produce “life’s greatest reality show.” The contestants chosen to participate would be powerful advocates for the world’s most popular religions. They would stay on a remote island and the producers would prevent them from contacting anyone off the island. The show would test their faith with various physical trials, as well as by cross examination in court. The Patient expected many new believers would follow the winner’s god, including himself. He believed the show would prove losing gods were powerless. He would donate millions to the winner’s designated charity or cause. What could go wrong?
Judge Oliver Finney Signs on to Represent the Christian Religion
One requirement for contestants was that each needed to have a terminal disease. Finney has metastatic lung cancer. Producer McCormick, his interviewer for the show, reminds the 59-year-old Finney that the show will test his spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical limits. Is he really sure he’s ready for that? He says he believes he is, and he signs the contract. Little does he know then what he will face later.
Another requirement for contestants is that they have a shameful secret. The producers also required contestants to have a theological or legal background. Judge Finney not only had that, but he had also written a book anonymously about Jesus, The Cross Examination of Jesus Christ. In it he had inserted coded messages, since he also loved ciphers and codes. He hoped future readers of his book would be able to solve those puzzles.
Meanwhile, he often quizzed his clerk Nikki Moreno with questions that required her to decipher a bit of code. She wasn’t good at it. She knew just enough to help her later contact Wellington, a genius at deciphering code messages, at Finney’s direction. This enabled Finney to send secret messages via search queries on an internet site for lawyers that Nikki could access. Contestants were allowed to do internet searches, but not to send emails or post to social media.
The selection process had produced five contestants for Faith on Trial. The Rabbi who was representing Judaism dropped out because of pressure from the Anti-Defamation League and it was too late to replace him. Instead they allowed him five minutes time on the first show to explain to viewers why they should not watch the show. These contestants remained:
Judge Finney: Christianity
Victoria Kline: Science rather than religion
“Swami” Skyler Hadji: Hinduism
Kareem Hasaan: Islam
Dr. Hokoji Ando: Buddhism
Contestants have no privacy except in the bathroom. There are cameras everywhere else. Contestants wear microphones at all times except when sleeping or using the bathroom.
Finney and Kline have discovered they can leave their microphones on land if they sail together. They arrange for Finney to give Kline sailing lessons on the large Hobie Cat sailboat that was available for contestants’ use. That allows them talk privately.
Kline had overheard a conversation between the producers as she had approached McCormack’s condo unexpectedly. She tells Finney the next day that it seemed the producers were planning to do something bad and then use their secrets to blackmail them into keeping quiet.
Finney also hears that he should not try to make the finals because one of the finalists will die. The producers have let the rumors get out to test the contestants but they don’t know about The Assassin.
The reader does know about that other character on the island. He calls himself The Assassin when communicating with those who hire him. He is part of the supporting staff for the show, but the producers don’t know his evil purpose. That purpose is to complete his last killing assignment during Faith on Trial . He plans to retire as a hitman when he completes this last job and gets paid. Readers don’t find out who he is until he acts.
Religion on Trial
Those readers hoping to learn more about the major religions will find plenty to think about. Though the Rabbi chose to drop out, leaving the Jewish religion unrepresented during the trial, readers will learn much about the other religions. As a Christian, I believe Finney’s presentation of the Christian religion is fair and accurate. I also began to see what attracts people to Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
The cross-examinations of characters try to expose weaknesses in each contestant’s faith. The Chinese water torture scenes are designed to test each character’s faith under pressure . I didn’t enjoy reading that part.
I especially enjoyed the bonding that occurred as the characters interacted, each living his faith through daily life. In my opinion the final scene — the one that backfired on the producers, was the most powerful illustration of faith in action. I won’t spoil it for you here. I hope you will read the book and decide for yourself.
Randy Singer: Pastor and Lawyer
Randy Singer was second in his class when he graduated from William and Mary Law School in 1986. He began to practice law in Norfolk Virginia. He was lead counsel in several cases similar to the ones he wrote about in the books I’ve reviewed above. One, Farley v. Guns Unlimited, was the first jury trial in Virginia to receive complete television coverage. After 13 years at the large Willcox and Savage law firm in Norfolk, he began his private practice. He specialized in counter-terrorism cases.
In 2007, the elders of the Trinity Church in the Virginia Beach area called Randy Singer to be a teaching elder, and he’s still preaching as of the time of this writing in 2018. Many of his novels are set at least partly in Virginia Beach and the surrounding area.
Singer’s background as both pastor and lawyer gives him a firm foundation of first-hand knowledge for the books he writes. His writing is consistent with his Christian worldview and he’s not afraid to tackle the hard issues of faith and life.
This dual legal-pastoral background has enabled Singer to write Fatal Convictions, a book I’ve read but not yet reviewed, realistically. It deals with a pastor who takes a case defending a Muslim imam accused of being behind an honor killing. During the course of the trial the pastor almost lost his church and his life.
For your convenience, here are links to all the books referred to above. I’m sure if you try one, you’ll want to read some of the others. You may find it useful to have the last two in your possession at the same time.
Legal Thrillers by Mark Gimenez: Does every life matter? Gimenez deals with this theme in many of his books. Though the plots move slowly at first, they soon speed up until you can’t put them down.
TheLitigators by John Grisham : An Escape from Corporate Law – A Book Review – The Litigators is the story of Chicago lawyer David Zinc’s breakdown and escape from his high-pressure corporate law firm. He snaps one morning as he’s about to take the escalator up to his office. He can’t force himself to get on. Instead he sits on a bench and has a panic attack. Where will he go from here?
A Place Behind the World was not the escape literature I sought while I was in a post-surgical haze of pain and medications. Nevertheless I wanted to clear paper books off my shelf, and A Place Behind the World looked about the right size to tackle (187 pages). It also had lots of white space. I hoped for an easy read, but the content wasn’t a good fit the day I read it. I had just had neck surgery.
The Plot of A Place Behind the World
When we meet Mary, a single woman who works for an ad agency in Washington, D.C., she is lost in a woods near her workplace. She is on her way to an appointment with a man in the park but can’t find him. Someone calls her name and she fears him. We watch her continuing struggle to find her way through the threatening woods. She fears an ice storm is on the way as she flees from this unknown assailant or kidnapper.
About every five pages there is a flashback. These flashbacks show scenes from Mary’s past and help us glimpse an abandoned child, molested by someone she had trusted. Men she had trusted too often had betrayed her as she searched for love.
We also meet Olivia, Mary’s only lifelong friend. Olivia’s kind father served Mary as both a father figure and Sunday School teacher. Uncle Oliver is the only one in her family that makes it clear he loves Mary. Her Aunt Lucile usually makes Mary feel unloved and unlovable.
For over 150 pages we watch Mary struggle to stay safe. Alternately she attempts to escape her hostile environment and escape “the hunter.” As she flees both she tries to follow the instructions of the illusive Michael who promises to protect her. Michael had described the woods in this “place behind the world” as a place of reckoning.
By the end of the book Mary finally realizes that Michael was right. However she had begun to doubt whether Michael was who he claimed to be. She wasn’t sure whom to trust. I don’t want to spoil the end, so I won’t say more about the plot here.
My Thoughts on the Book
I’m not inclined to analyze the author’s message or theme. I think you will discover it yourself as you read the book. In my opinion other authors have handled this theme better, but not in fiction . I may only have found this book hard to get into because of my physical state when I read it. But I don’t think so.
I believe the author could have achieved the same effect without belaboring the struggle in the woods . I think Hazard could have trimmed what seemed like unending descriptions of the hostile environment. We watch Olivia face darkness, the freezing cold, the rising fog, the murky water, etc. We look on as she finds a way to tunnel through tall and sharp rocks. I would have preferred less time in the woods and a quicker trip through the flashbacks. Sometimes less words are more effective than too many.
After I finished reading, I went back to the beginning to piece the book together. The struggle was important, but I still think too many words were wasted on descriptions of the woods and rocks. The plot and message would have been stronger had the author cut a few words out of those descriptions.
Is this book for you? Those who struggle with guilty secrets might enjoy this book more than I did. Those who have been unable to form healthy relationships with men might also find value in reading it. I think I would have preferred a mystery instead as I was recuperating. This was not an escape novel. I found it tedious.
Why does a person decide to become a surrogate mother? What makes a woman want to carry a child that belongs to someone else? To help a barren friend become a mother? Or as a way to earn money to start a new life?
When young Emily’s employer, Mrs. Stevenson, offers to pay her $100,000 to become her surrogate, Emily jumps at the chance. The cash would help her realize her dream of starting her own cafe.
She didn’t really like working for the Stevensons. She knew Mrs. Stevenson was cruel and manipulative. Emily had seen her falsely accuse and fire good employees who had done nothing wrong. She tried not to get on Judy Stevenson’s bad side, because she couldn’t afford to lose her job as housekeeper and cook for the rich couple. They even provided her with living quarters and she had nowhere else to go.
Emily discusses the Stevensons’ offer for her to become Judy’s surrogate with her best friend and fellow employee Brandon. He doesn’t understand how one becomes a surrogate. First she explains how the egg is implanted into her womb, adding that the doctor will explain more details after she signs a contract with Mr. Stevenson’s lawyer.
Brandon: …If you go through with this implant, they’ll hand you a hundred thousand dollars?….Just like that?
Emily: As soon as the baby is born, they’ll give me the money….They have a contract and everything….Don’t you see? I can leave here and find a place of my own. This is my only way out. A new start.
As Emily tries to convince herself it’s the right thing to do, it seems simple. She gets the implant, carries the baby to term, gives birth, and collects her $100,000. Brandon urges her to think it over for a couple of days before signing anything. He warns her that she could form a bond with the baby and not want to give it up. She dismisses the idea. She knows she’s not old enough at nineteen to raise a baby.
Into this discussion walks Mrs. Stevenson herself, but they hadn’t noticed at first that she was listening. She tells Brandon to get back to his gardening duties. As he’s leaving, this scene unfolds. Here’s how Emily tells it:
‘Oh, and Brandon, ‘ Mrs Stevenson pauses, awaiting his full attention. He turns and glares at her in complete defiance. A look I’ve never seen from him before. If you’ve ever heard the saying tension so thick you could cut it, then you understand my current situation. ‘I don’t pay you to give advice. If you would like to stay employed in this household, I suggest you mind your own business.’
‘But he was—‘ I start, but she silences me with a mere glance. She’s the type of woman who can smile at you and stare daggers into your soul at the same time. Something about her gives me the chills.
After Brandon leaves, Emily regrets ever telling him about the offer and her intention, thus provoking the confrontation. She is very fond of Brandon and is drawn to him. He has always been caring and gentle with her, unlike the many men her mother had brought home when she was growing up.
Her mother had kicked her out of the house the day she turned eighteen. She had worked at a diner until Mrs. Sevenson employed her and gave her a place to live.
Emily recognizes she’s attracted to Brandon, but is afraid he just sees her as a friend. He has been sharing his Christian faith with her.
Now Mrs. Stevenson approaches her, asking if she’s having second thoughts. She also tells Emily that if she decides not to become the surrogate, they will no longer have a place for her to stay. It will go to the person who does become a surrogate. Emily assures Mrs. Stevenson she will go through with the plan.
That night Brandon turns up in her living quarters unexpectedly and they continue the conversation. When Brandon leaves, the two are still at odds. Emily knows Brandon disapproves of her decision, but she hasn’t changed her mind.
Emily is anxious to talk to Brandon again, but try as she might she can’t find him anywhere on the grounds. At first she assumes he’s mad at her. She later discovers he’s been fired. She feels terrible. And she misses him.
Red Flags Emily Tried Not to Notice Before Signing the Surrogate Contract
Mr. Stevenson’s admonition to think about it at least overnight and his seeming discomfort over the transaction.
The provision in the contract that the money will be paid when she delivers a healthy baby
The lawyer’s statement that the contract is unconventional and that such transactions are normally done through an agency
Mr. Stevenson’s haunted look while urging Emily to think carefully before signing
The behavior of the doctor leading Emily to believe Mrs. Stevenson has had other surrogates
The words of Nurse O’Neill while giving Emily her medications, and the words the nurse mutters that she thinks Emily can’t hear, as well as the stories she tells Emily about Mrs. Stevenson’s past.
Her own observations of Mrs. Stevenson’s character, manipulative behavior, and selfishness
My Review of The Surrogate
I couldn’t put this book down from the moment I started reading. The main characters were well-developed, though I thought the plot was unrealistic. However I was so interested in what might happen next I was willing to overlook that. I believe the author’s main intent was to show how what seems to be a simple decision can be incredibly complex and even dangerous.
Emily appears to be a new Christian. She is blinded by her desire to escape Mrs. Stevenson’s employment and start her restaurant with the money she will get when the baby is born. She assumes everything will go as planned. It doesn’t.
After early testing, the doctor tells Mrs. Stevenson that there’s a chance the baby may be born with Down’s Syndrome, and Judy insists on an abortion. By this time Emily is bonding to the baby and she runs away with Brandon’s help to try to save the baby’s life. As it turns out she also needs to save her own. The reader is in suspense until the end as Emily and Brandon try to escape from Judy’s thugs . The action doesn’t stop.
The story reflects the author’s pro-life position and Christian values. There are plenty of Christian characters besides Brandon whose lives impact Emily’s in a positive way.
The book is suitable for both young adults and their mothers who want to read clean fiction with lots of suspense and a touch of romance. It delves into the ethical and emotional issues surrounding surrogate motherhood and abortion without being preachy. I recommend it.
Here are some of the other Christian novels I have reviewed that you may enjoy:
How Sweet the Soundby Amy Sorrells: The author uses this Christian novel to reveal the destructive patterns that can lead families and individuals to despair, but she also show us the way to Abba’s love and healing.
Tabitha by Vikki Kestell — A historical novel in which a young lady’s bad decision caused pain from which only the grace of God could deliver her
Inescapable: The Road to Kingdom: Is it possible to escape one’s past by running away? Lizzie Engel, born Amish, tries.
Books of Special Interest to Families with Adolescent Girls
These Christian books can lead to great discussions between adolescent girls and their mothers. The themes are rarely presented as well in the other books for adolescent girls I’ve read. The heroines develop deeper Christian character as they deal with social issues, peer pressure, faith, obedience, and friends.
A Room of My Own by Ann Tatlock.
A Room of my Own is set during the Depression, and Virginia, the daughter of a prominent physician, does not feel the Depression personally at first. Her family is well-off, and physicians are never laid off. But suddenly, her Uncle Jim loses his job at the grain mill, and Virginia must give up her room and share a bed with her younger sisters so that Uncle Jim, Aunt Sally, and their children can live with them — in HER room.
This makes the Depression more personal, and it becomes even more alarming when Uncle Jim becomes involved in organizing a labor union for the mill workers (which finally results in a violent strike). Virginia’s father begins to take her along on his calls to “Soo City” — a shantytown populated by the newly homeless along with the older hobo residents. The climax occurs when Virginia must choose between saving her father from sure danger and warning the residents of “Soo City” that the sheriff is going to burn their homes.
I suggest this book because it introduces many important themes. One is how blind we can be to the needs of others, blaming them for their needs, when we ourselves are not hurting. This can be especially evident in adolescent lives.
We can also see that personal knowledge can chase away prejudices and generalizations about people. Here are some of the historic/economic themes in this book worth discussing:
how to best help the poor
why labor unions were formed
whether violence is ever justified in trying to correct social ills
the effects of the Great Depression.
Though the central character of this book is a girl, there is much here for boys, as well. There are plenty of male characters for them to identify with, including the good doctor himself.
Because there is violence in the book, parents should only give it to children of at least adolescent age who can handle mature themes. It would make a wonderful read-aloud for families with adolescent girls.
The first is The Tender Years. Strangely enough, the protagonist of this book is also named Virgina. She has a persistent problem with peer pressure. The exciting Jenny, who leads the “in” group at Virginia’s school, has picked Virginia as her special friend. Virginia doesn’t want to lose that favored position even though Jenny’s schemes often get her in trouble with her parents.
Virginia’s supportive but firm Christian family provides appropriate consequences when she breaks the rules, so Virginia tries to obey. She succeeds for a time, but one day the pressure is too great. She lets herself be talked into a very risky situation — a ride in a “borrowed” raft with the gang. Virginia’s father had warned her that the creek was high and very dangerous. Virginia knew if she wanted to stay Jenny’s best friend she’d better show up for the raft ride. So, instead of going directly home from school as she was told, with heavy heart Virginia went to the creek.
As the gang waited for Jenny, their ringleader, to arrive, Virginia became more and more concerned about the time. When Jenny finally arrived, Virginia got into an argument with her, stood her ground, and left. Later, when Virginia hears that the raft overturned in the swift current, she is consumed with guilt — especially when one of her friends dies as a result and Jenny is badly injured.
The rest of the book deals with the healing process — not only for Virginia but for her friend Jenny. Virginia’s parents want her to reach out to Jenny with the love of Christ since Jenny has no home life. She has no mother at home and her father is an alcoholic.
There are many subplots that add interest to this book, and I found it difficult to put it down. The main themes are obedience and peer pressure and the conflicts between the two in the mind of an adolescent. This book would be good to read with preteen girls and up, for there is much to discuss.
The Tender Years is the first of four books in the Prairie Legacy Series. I’ve read all four because I became very interested in Virginia’s life. I think you won’t want to stop after you read the first book either, so you might want to get them all at once. There are links to the individual books if you click the image above.
Return to Harmony by Janette Oke
Return to Harmonyis another of my favorite Janette Oke books (with T. David Bunn). It is the story of the friendship between Bethan and Jodie, two Christian girls, as they grow into young women.
The book begins in Harmony, North Carolina in 1915. Harmony is a very small town. The population was under 350 back then. It was and still is primarily a community of small farms. Bethan was very content to live there. Jodie was hoping to leave someday.
Bethan and Jodie became friends the day Bethan had found a puppy and was sobbing because her mother said she couldn’t keep it. Then the school bully, Kirsten, tried to torment the puppy and Bethan, her favorite victim. Jodie sprang to Bethan’s defense, and from then on the girls were fast friends. Jodie knew just the person who really needed a puppy and led Bethan to Mr. Russel, a Civil War veteran who lived alone. He said the girls could visit the puppy anytime, and they often did.
Jodie was protective of her smaller friend, who was often picked on at school because she had a lazy eye. She knew Bethan hated having to wear her dreaded eye patch — especially at school. On the days she had to wear it, she also had to carry a spare. When Jodie saw how unhappy Bethan was on the day of the school spelling bee, Jodie wore the spare patch during the spelling bee, which she won, to show her solidarity with Bethan.
Jodie and Bethan were very different. Jodie was academically gifted and loved school. Bethan’s eye problem made reading hard for her and she didn’t do well in school at all. Just before the spelling bee Jodie had overheard her teacher and Bethan’s talking in the hallway. Bethan’s teacher was afraid she’d have to hold Bethan back at the end of the year. Jodie interceded for her friend and said she would tutor her, and her teacher agreed to try that.
Tragically, Jodie’s mother Louise catches polio not too long after that. Bethan stayed by her side during the period when Jodie was not allowed in to see her mother. Day after day the two girls sat together in silence at Jodie’s, gazing through her mother’s window in the afternoons, watching her struggle to breathe.
On the ninth day, Louise expresses her love to Jodie and her father and dies. After that, Jodie tells Bethan God let her down when He took her mother and she stops praying and won’t let Bethan talk to her about faith anymore. Her grieving is long and hard, but Bethan is with her through it. Bethan never stops praying for Jodie.
By this time Jodie’s father, who was always quiet except with Louise, has retreated into his own world and hardly ever says a word to Jodie. Were it not for Bethan and her family, Jodie would be completely alone. Neither had any other real friends.
As it became apparent that war would soon break out in Europe, Bethan’s family became concerned that Bethan’s brother Dylan would soon reach the age of conscription. The girls were also growing up. They were now sixteen. Though Bethan loved living in Harmony and desired nothing more than to find a loving husband and spend her life there, Jodie wanted to go to college and become a scientist. She also wanted to be a city girl.
Dylan is finally drafted, but the war is almost over, so he really doesn’t see the fighting. Instead, he repairs engines and decides he wants a career in the new automotive industry. It’s not long before he’s home again. At his welcome home party, he notices that Jodie is now a young lady, no longer just a kid. The two fall in love and get engaged.
It is apparent to Bethan and her mother, though, that Jodie has abandoned her Christian faith. Dylan is still a committed Christian. At the request of her mother, Bethan talks to her brother about their concerns. Dylan, who was trying not to face this issue, finally admits he has also seen this. He breaks the engagement and broken-hearted Jodie won’t forgive Bethan. Instead, she walks out of her life saying she never wants to see Bethan again.
Jodie takes the train to Raleigh to study chemistry at the university on a scholarship. Bethan is devastated by the separation. Jodie also feels completely alone since she is the only girl studying chemistry and she is ostracized by her male classmates. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there.
This book can be a catalyst for discussion on complicated issues. These include the meaning and responsibilities of Christian friendship, why God lets bad things happen to good people, how to help a grieving person, and the importance of being equally yoked in a marriage. I’d like to see this book in the hands of all Christian adolescent girls.
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 Marriagewas 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.'”
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.
I recommend this book as a Christian romance that is inspirational, but not preachy. You will be able to predict what will happen in the marriage, but not how the characters will solve their problems. This book will especially appeal to those who have lived in small towns and those who appreciate clean rather than explicit romances. I hope you will enjoy In My Father’s House as much as I did.
Rose C. Johnson also wrote a devotional I’m hoping to read soon — God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea.
I usually read a novel to relax and escape from my daily routines. Some novels I finish and instantly forget. There was really nothing memorable about them. Others stay with me long after I’ve finished reading them. What makes some of them so memorable while I forget the others?
The best novelists create a believable world and characters you want to get to know better. An excellent novelist should have something important to say, but he lets his characters say it. You, the reader, should almost not notice because you are so immersed in the world the novelist has created for you. The characters do the talking.
In a well-written novel, every piece of the plot puzzle is placed on the table where the reader can find it as the plot builds. The reader is with the writer as they put the pieces together until they fit perfectly and the picture is complete. They work with what is on the table. The writer doesn’t hide pieces and then throw them on the table when the puzzle is almost complete, stealing the satisfaction you have as you work with him to put the final pieces in place.
A great novel makes it hard to return to the real world. One doesn’t want to leave the characters behind. The reader is left wanting more.
I felt that way about the Mitford series by Jan Karon. I never wanted it to end. That’s why I’m delighted to discover Jan Karon has finally given us another Father Tim book set in Mitford once more. Even the title reflects the wholesome atmosphere of the Mitford books — Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good. If you are tired of violence and pain and explicit sexual scenes, this is the book you want to read next. I just ordered my copy to be shipped free on its release date of August 4. I can finish some projects before then so I have time to get lost in it for a few days.
If you’ve never been to Mitford with Father Tim, you just might want to start at the beginning of the series with At Home in Mitford. You can find all the Mitford and Father Tim Books here. You can start reading them while waiting for the new book to be released.
Have you read any of the Mitford books? What do you think makes a novel great?