Tag Archives: Christian

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)

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Books for Adolescent Girls

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.

 

 

In Between – Not Just a Title but Also the Theme

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

Katie Moves in with the Scotts

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

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

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

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

Foster Care is an Adjustment for Everyone

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

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

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

 Maxine  Provides Comic Relief

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

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

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

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

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

My Recommendation

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

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

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

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

Get the Series All at Once

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

 

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

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

Book Review of In Between by Jenny B. Jones

Short Reviews of Mysteries I Read Recently

 bookwormMysteries on Today’s Bookworm Menu

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

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

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

Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer

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

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

Murder Mysteries

52 Steps to Murder by Steve Demaree

Short Reviews of Mysteries I Read Recently

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

My first introduction to the Dekker Cozy Mystery series was

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

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

Short Reviews of Mysteries I Read Recently

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Please Give Me Characters I Can Believe


I am willing to invite into my Kindle or bookshelf fictional characters I would not invite to dine at my table. I don’t have to like them to read their stories to the end. But I do have to believe they are authentic in order to give them a place in my life and time. I downloaded Tears at Night (Book 1, Praise Him Anyhow) by Vanessa Miller as a free book on my Kindle a few days ago. When I got around to reading it, I simply couldn’t believe the characters.

Carmella Marshall has been married to Nelson, a prominent judge, for over twenty years. After they married, she put him through law school and then he wanted her to be a stay-at-home mom to their two children, Joy and Dontae, after they were born. He also expected her to be the perfect hostess for his fundraising events in their home. She gained a reputation for her cooking and baking. Nothing unbelievable about that so far.

As the book opens, Carmella is taking Nelson’s favorite sweet potato souffle out of the oven when Nelson says, ‘I’m leaving you.’ Carmella had her Christian praise music on so loud she hadn’t heard him. So he repeats his statement. She thinks he’s just leaving on a business trip, but he clears up that misconception by telling her he’s leaving for good, wants a divorce, and will leave papers on the table for her to sign in a couple of days. She says she won’t sign them.

Up until this time, Carmella has assumed they were a happy Christian couple. Their son, Dontae, a senior, is away at football camp. He expects to be admitted to Harvard, his father’s alma mater, the next year. Their daughter Joy, who is in law school, works in Nelson’s law office. When Carmella asks what she should tell the children about Nelson’s wanting a divorce, he says the children are old enough to handle it.

It doesn’t work out that way. Joy and Jasmine are roommates and when we meet Joy, she is helping Jasmine move to a new house where she will live with her mystery man whom she has been seeing somewhat secretly for some time. They are relaxing in the large and elegant home waiting for Jasmine’s new boyfriend to arrive so Joy can finally meet him.

Joy has long suspected this man was married since he never picked up Jasmine for dates and the two were sneaking around. Joy couldn’t condone this behavior because she grew up with Christian parents who had gone to church every Sunday. Her father had run for judge on a platform of the family values he had tried to instill in his children. But Joy and Jasmine had been roommates since college, now attended law school, and both worked in Judge Nelson Marshall’s law office.

They were planning to open their own law firm when they graduated. For the sake of their friendship, Joy had gone ahead and helped Joy move her things, teasing her that her boyfriend should have helped with the heavy lifting. Joy herself is engaged to Troy, someone honorable — like her father.

The girls have had pizza delivered and are sitting around eating it and recovering from unloading the moving truck. Jasmine went into the kitchen to get some drinks when the doorbell rang again. So Joy answered the door, and I probably don’t need to tell you that she opened it to see her father. Since Joy hasn’t heard about his leaving her mother yet, she assumes he’s heard where she was and was intending to pick her up and take her home. Joy figures things out quickly when Jasmine comes out of the kitchen and gives Nelson a big kiss. Joy prepares to leave as Jasmine gloats. Nelson says to Jasmine, ‘This isn’t how I wanted to tell her….You had no right bringing Joy here without letting me know.’

Joy is confused and no longer trusts men. She breaks her engagement because she thought her father was honorable and he turned out not to be, so she’s now not sure if Troy is as honorable as she always thought. Poor Troy doesn’t understand why Joy suddenly thinks he’s going to cheat on her after he’s always treated her well.

Meanwhile. Carmella is trying to adjust. She really has convinced herself that Nelson is just going through midlife crisis and will be back after a few more months. So she’s back in the kitchen, listening to her praise music when Joy enters and asks why no one told her about her dad leaving? Joy tells her mother about her father and Jasmine living together and her mother won’t believe it at first. When she finally does, she begins laughing hysterically and can’t stop.

Joy calls Rose, her mother’s best friend to come and offer support. They discuss a few emotionally charged options like baking Nelson and Jasmine a cake full of poo, but Carmella doesn’t want to ruin one of her beautiful cakes.

When Rose encourages her to fight, Carmella admits she doesn’t know how. She tells Rose, ‘All I’ve ever done is be Nelson’s obedient pup, run his errands, and take care of his house. I haven’t even put the degree I worked so hard to get to use in over twenty years.’ Then she started to cry “like tears were rain and she was doing her part to end an all-consuming drought. “Carmella retires to her bedroom and Joy brings her something to eat, even though Carmella has no appetite.

A call from the bank wakes Carmella the next morning. The mortgage payment hadn’t been made. The next call tells her the payment on her car is delinquent.  She calls Nelson at the office and screams at him about the bills. She expresses anger when Nelson tells her, ‘No one is belittling what you did for our family. But don’t you think it’s time for you to get a job and handle your own bills?’

She replies he’s the one who left after she had put him through law school and then taken care of his house, raised their children and entertained his business associates for over twenty years. It was his idea that she not have a career outside the home. If he wants to “live a double life he’d better find the money to pay for it.” He tells her to sign the divorce papers and he’ll give her a ‘decent settlement.’

She hangs up in fury and is about to throw the phone against the wall when Joy appears with Dontae, whom she just picked up at the airport. He has no idea what is going on. Joy takes him into another room and explains everything. He says he’s going to see their father and takes off in his Mustang. Carmella takes to her bed and Joy begins to question the direction of her own life. She has already broken the relationships with both Jasmine and her father. She also decides to quit law school and to resign from her job in her father’s office.

About this time Troy calls to find out why he hasn’t heard from her in a couple of days. She projects her anger and disillusionment with her father onto Troy rather unfairly and insinuates he can’t be trusted either.

After she hangs up, she’s about to return to her apartment when the phone rings again. Dontae is calling to say he’s in jail for vandalizing his father and Jasmine’s house by throwing rocks through their window. Jasmine had called the police. Nobody in the family has enough money on hand to bail him out except Nelson, and he won’t since he wants Dontae to learn that actions have consequences.

Carmella and Joy find this statement ironic, in light of Nelson’s own actions. Carmella finally gets an advance on her credit card to go bail Dontae out.

Joy finds out about the unpaid mortgage and car payment. Dontae says he no longer wants to go to Harvard, his dad’s alma mater. Carmella goes to the kitchen to fix dinner and discovers the faucet is still leaking after she had asked Nelson several times to fix it.

 She grabs a pair of pliers and her car keys and tells Joy she’s going to get Nelson. Joy isn’t able to stop her and Carmella says, ‘Girl, get out of my way.’ Carmella’s eyes are wild as she plows her way out the door, ready to go confront Nelson.

It doesn’t go well. She gets to the house, rings the bell, and sees someone peek through the blinds. No one answers the door. She starts screaming that she wants her husband to come out, to no avail. So she starts shouting in the direction of the neighbors’ houses, screaming ‘That’s right everybody. You’ve got an adultery-committing judge and his slimy teen-aged slut living in this house right here.’

She pointed to their house. She airs all their dirty laundry about how Jasmine had stolen her husband and warns the other women to keep an eye on their own husbands.

That brought Nelson out. They had quite a shouting match, much enjoyed by the neighbors. He finally asks what she wants and she hands him the pliers and almost begs him to come home and fix the faucet. Jasmine insults her, and Carmella attacks Jasmine. 

They get into a physical fight and the neighbors egg them on. Nelson can’t separate them so he finally turns on the sprinkler. Jasmine was then able to escape, but Carmella kept pounding the ground. Finally, someone called the police and they restrained her.

By this time it is evident to all that Carmella has had a breakdown. We see her laughing hysterically and the author says…” her mind had taken her to a happy place…a place of peace. A place where she, Nelson and the kids frolicked on the sandy beach and Jasmine was nowhere in sight.’

At this point in the book, I saw the list of other books by the author that normally comes at the end of the book. My first thought was that was a very strange ending. Then I noticed that on the bottom it said I was only 26% through the book, but I couldn’t get any further in it. I got offers to put other books on my wish list, etc., but no more pages for this story. I finally called Amazon and three tech support calls later I was able to access the rest of the book in a very roundabout way. By the time I got there, I thought I might be reading a different book. 

I would suggest that if you want to read this book, you get it in paper because one other review I read of the Kindle edition indicated the same problem in downloading a complete book. I thought Carmella would wind up in jail, but they had taken her to the hospital and sedated her, instead. Rose and the children sat with her for two days until she woke up.

She decided then to trust God and praise him and see how he would handle her life. She found a good lawyer to help her get a decent divorce settlement. She got the idea of starting a baking business. She rediscovers the man she almost married whose wife has just died and they go out to dinner. She is once again on the road to being able to handle her life. I did not find these characters true to life.

I personally have never known people who acted this way in these situations. I had two neighbors whose husbands left them the same week. I had many conversations with both of them. One simply couldn’t handle it and she killed herself a few months later.

The other one walked with me almost every day and her teen children had a very tough time adjusting. Her thirteen-year-old daughter eventually left school, shacked up with someone, and got pregnant. Then she got a job as a manager of a fast food restaurant. The son, who was older, was still very upset with his dad but showed maturity in finishing school and going into a successful career in real estate. The jilted wife went back to school so she could take up her nursing career again. She eventually found a new boyfriend.

All this took years. Neither woman made a public scene anywhere. They played the hands they were dealt, each in her own way. Both were believable.

If the one had suddenly started handling her life like a new person after listening to a few praise songs on the radio following her release from the hospital after her first suicide attempt, it would not have been believable. Neither was Carmello’s transformation when she was released realistic. The kind of healing she experienced just doesn’t happen that fast. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s highly improbable.

As a Christian who has seen many Christian women struggle in their marriages and seen their responses when their husbands left them, I have never seen any reaction similar to Carmella’s. I have seen shock or surprise when the men left the women who did not suspect their marriage was in trouble. These women have shared their feelings with me. Their faith did help them through their sadness when their marriages fell apart and their husbands moved in with other women.

It seems to me Carmella was in denial when she put the praise album on after Nelson first left. She believed he would come back. She wasn’t believing God was still there for her even if Nelson was gone for good. When she learned Nelson really was leaving to live with a woman she had always trusted in her home, she suddenly had a complete breakdown. She went from denial to complete breakdown in a short time, with seemingly no in between.

I think it was the extremes that seemed most unrealistic to me and made this book unbelievable. Joy’s sudden projection of her feelings about her father onto Troy was irrational. I can see where she might have had doubts and wanted to explore them, but she went way beyond that. The author has little to write that is good about Nelson, though he states he wants his children to be happy. He has an unrealistic view of what a marriage break-up can do to even adult children, even though he is a judge.

Both Carmella and Nelson seem like cardboard characters, not real people. It seems the characters are there to fit the plot rather than the plot evolving from actions consistent with well-developed characters. I suppose that’s why I didn’t see any growth in the characters. I only saw things happen in the plot.

The end of the book seemed quite unrealistic considering what the characters had been through. I didn’t see anyone genuinely walking by faith in what I suppose was intended to be a Christian novel. Faith acts, not just reacts. Faith is not determined by circumstances. It transforms our view of our circumstances, helping us see God in the midst of the bad things that happen.

The theme of this book — handling adversity through God’s strength, had great potential. In my opinion, the author took shortcuts that did not do justice to that theme. In my opinion, we are still left hanging at the end. All the good things fall into place for Carmella unrealistically and far too quickly to be believable. Yes, God answers our prayers, but these answers didn’t seem consistent with God’s usual way of working.

Many who reviewed this book on the Amazon site loved it and found it inspiring.  Maybe I’m the one who just can’t buy into the plot. You may want to read this for yourself to make up your own mind. It’s on a list of best-selling Christian fiction. Maybe I’m just not tuned into the same wavelength as others, but I will not be reading any more in this series, even though I’m a bit curious to see if Carmella will finally marry her rediscovered first love.