Tag Archives: marriage problems

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.

 

 

Who Pays the Price of an Affair? A Review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney

I doubt if people ever forget the first person who steals their heart – that precious first love. Few people forget losing that love, either. When Aiden tells his significant other Liv over dinner one night that he wants to break off their relationship so he can find himself and explore the world without being tied down, etc., she is crushed and unable to understand why she wasn’t adventure enough for him after they had been soul mates for a year. This review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney explores some of the complications of the many emotions we call love.

The relationship with Aiden is past history when Liv Caleghan marries Douglas Hood, a surgeon she met when he tended to her tonsils during an emergency room visit. It was only later, after they were married, she realized he was an alcoholic. As the book opens Liv is just planning on a quiet evening in, waiting for Doug to get home from a business trip when the phone rings.

She already knows the caller will tell her that Douglas is drunk again somewhere and she will need to come get him. This time he fell asleep on the train ride home and missed his station. She goes to pick him up, all the time thinking about the letter her father gave her with the keys to her Nanna’s home in Ireland, which she had just inherited. They represent freedom to her – a chance to get away for a breather to decide what to do about Douglas, her, marriage, and her life.

She has always wanted to be a mother, but Douglas had denied her that. Instead she has had to mother him and enable him, and she constantly wonders how long he can keep his job if he doesn’t get help. He has made half-hearted attempts to stop drinking, but they never succeed. She loves him, but she is tired of living this way. He has promised to make one very serious attempt at a live-in rehab spa while Liv is in Ireland, deciding what she will do with Glenkeen, her grandmother’s house. Her hopes aren’t very high that Douglas will succeed this time. She is not sure they can fix their broken marriage. ‘How is it she, wonders, that I love him but I can’t wait to get away from him?”

Who Pays the Price of an Affair? A Review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney

Meanwhile, Aiden also married. His wife Maeve is a reliable, faithful woman and a wonderful mother to their children, whom he also loves very much. He had just left a successful computer career because he hated the job and had moved his family from Manchester, over Maeve’s protests, to Castlegray to sell vegetables in the market. He also supplies his his mother in-law, Eileen O’Donovan’s grocery store at Redden’s Cross, the closest place to Glenkeen to buy provisions. By now you have probably guessed that Aiden has discovered Liv is now in the area.

Aiden loves his wife, but has never felt the same way about her as he did about Liv. He doesn’t like the way she decorates the house and doesn’t feel comfortable there, but doesn’t say anything because she sees to feel he owes it to her to let her make decisions about the house since he uprooted her life when they moved. He now regrets breaking off the relationship with Liv, and especially the cowardly way he did it. Now that he has seen her again, he can’t stop thinking about her and he also dwells more on the ways he and Maeve are different. The reader will soon pick up on his selfish streak. He can’t resist going to pay Liv a call at Glenkeen.

Liv is vulnerable, and although she knows it’s not right, she allows Aiden back into her life and Glenkeen to become their love nest, feeling confident they won’t be found out. When they are, Aiden moves in with Liv and the two plan to continue the repairs on Glenkeen, grow a garden for Aiden’s vegetables, and spend the rest of their lives together there. That’s when things get really complicated.

The author does a great job in developing the characters enough so that you will feel for all of them as the plot works itself out. The author has injected enough realism into this novel to make a happily ever after ending impossible. Aiden’s rash decision to dump Liv years ago has limited his options once they find each other again. When married people who have affairs also have children, there are consequences beyond one’s own feelings.

Who Pays the Price of an Affair? A Review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney

As I read this book, I bled in my heart with each character who was hurt. The characters had to deal with love, responsibility, lust, and selfishness as they lived out their lives in the book. The love nest at Glenkeen was invaded and Liv and Aiden could not ignore making hard decisions that would affect more lives than their own. It is only after Liv makes one of those hard decisions that her Great Uncle Owen reveals an old family secret that explains much that Liv had wondered about.

This book raises many questions about the nature of love. When the chemistry is right between two people, does it justify their following their feelings when doing so will break up one or two families? Who is to know if this kind of love will last any longer than the love for the previous partner lasted? Should people in love expect to always love everything about their marriage? If they have differences does it justify looking elsewhere for happiness? And what about the cases where people fall in love accidentally without ever really wanting to find someone else? Is an affair ever right? What can one do to affair-proof a marriage?

 OUT OF THE BLUE a gripping novel of love lost and found How to Help Your Spouse Heal From Your Affair: A Compact Manual for the Unfaithful How to Grow Affair Proof Hedges Around Your Marriage Intimacy After Infidelity: How to Rebuild and Affair-Proof Your Marriage Recovering Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity

&

Book Review of Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge

The Family Dynamics

Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge deals with a dysfunctional family, and specifically the relationship between three sisters and their mother. During the book we learn that the oldest sister, Monica, a famous actress now in wheelchair,  had been sexually abused by her father while a child. Her mother Betty, a battered wife had known, but not stopped it.

 

Book Review of Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge
License CCO, https://pixabay.com/en/dependent-dementia-woman-old-age-441406/

Anna, who is in the process of losing the pounds that have always made her feel ugly in comparison to her gorgeous sister, cares for Monica by day and their mother Betty by night. Monica pays Anna very little but makes heavy demands on her time and energy. Anna puts up with it because it’s the only way she can afford to pay for help in caring for Betty, who has dementia and can’t be left alone. Anna would love to be free to live her own life again, but in spite of Edna’s urging, Anna simply hasn’t the heart to put her mother in a nursing home. 

Anna pays Edna to help Betty in the daytime, but Monica’s money makes that possible . Arcela is paid to help Monica during the night when Anna can’t be with her. The third sister, Liz, does very little to help Anna with Monica or her mother. She is divorced and has a child.

Anna resents having Monica dominate her life while constantly putting her down, especially about her plump figure and unstylish clothes. As the book unfolds you soon understand as you watch Anna and Monica interact what a toxic situation Anna is in.

 

The Intervention

Book Review of Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge
Public Domain courtesty of Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/en/drink-glass-alcohol-beverage-1031701/

Monica is an alcoholic.  When Anna can no longer face dealing with the drunken Monica, she finally persuades a reluctant Liz  join her for an intervention to insist Monica enter a live-in rehab program.

Liz resists but finally agrees, and she and Anna participate in group therapy during family week as part of the treatment plan. In the therapy process Anna and Liz learn much more about each other and begin to build a better relationship.  Anna also falls in love with Marc, one of the therapists there. He reveals he has a wife he still loves who is in a mental institution.

Murder?

After Monica comes home from rehab, she seems to be abstaining for a while, but then starts drinking again. After a confrontation where Anna hands in her resignation, she returns home exhausted physically and mentally and goes to bed early.  It is  Arcela’s night off, so Monica is alone. The next morning when Arcela arrives at  work, Monica is found dead in her swimming pool. Anna is arrested for her murder. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

Ironically, just as it appears Anna might finally find happiness, it seems she may have to spend the rest of her life in prison. You’ll have to read the book to see what happens next — to Anna, to Liz, to Mark,  to Betty and to all the characters in the subplots I didn’t introduce.

My Response to the Book and Recommendation

This book held my interest from beginning to end. I so wanted to see Anna stand up to Monica, who uses every bit of her acting talent to continue to manipulate Anna and keep her from having a satisfying life. Anyone who has ever lived with or had an alcoholic in the family can relate to Anna’s discouragement and frustration.  The romance with Marc,  Anna’s arrest, their search for the real killer, and watching the murder hearing made it hard for me to put the book down until everything was resolved.

I would  recommend this book to anyone who has suffered at the hands of alcoholics or been abused as a child or by a husband or boyfriend.  Friends and those trying to help such people will also find this book meaningful. Even if you’ve led a fairly normal life, you will find it easy to become emotionally involved with the well-developed characters in the book and enter into their lives.


After reading Wish Come True, I’d like to go back  and read the other books in the Carson Springs Series . Although Wish Come True can easily stand alone, I wish I’d read the two earlier books in the series first. I just stumbled upon this book, but you can start at the beginning. You can also save by buying all three books at once for your Kindle. I have a Kindle Paperwhite, which I reviewed in Should You Buy a Kindle Paperwhite? 

I also reviewed The Replacment Wife by Eileen Goudge – another book you might enjoy.

The Litigators: An Escape from Corporate Law

How would you feel if you had to work a hundred hours a week at a job you hated for a boss you despised because your father had pressured you into it? What if that job were bringing in three hundred thousand dollars a year with the promise of more if you kept up the pace to become a full partner in the law firm? What would you do?

The Litigators is the story of  Chicago corporate lawyer David Zinc’s  breakdown and escape from his high-pressure law firm.  He snaps one morning as he’s about to take the escalator up to his office. When he can’t force himself to get on, he sits on a bench to try to figure out why he suddenly feels like he is having a heart attack. Five years of his deadly dull and meaningless work with colleagues he couldn’t stand have made him physically ill.

David finally makes it to an elevator going up to his office on the ninety-third floor, watching others get off on the way up. He was sweating and hyperventilating by the time his floor approached. When he arrived, his colleagues urged him out of the elevator, but his head was spinning and he fled back into it before it started down.

He sat down in the corner of the elevator and other riders were a bit freaked out to see him there. When he finally got to the ground floor,  he felt better because he’d had the guts to leave and the pressure was off. He thought about what the important people in his life might think, and then he became afraid his boss might send security after him. He decided to flee the building as quickly as he could, though he had no idea where to go.

In a Bar

He finally ducks into a bar he sees and begins to drink to get drunk (though he has never done so before.) When his secretary calls to ask where he is, he brushes her off. When his wife calls to say the office had called twice trying to find him, he doesn’t answer. He spends most of the day in the bar with Abner the bartender.

Before the author introduced us to David, he first introduced us to the shady “boutique” law firm of Finley and Figg and the two partners, Oscar Finley and Wally Figg. Their specialty was personal injury cases, and they never let ethics get in the way when they were trying to recruit or sign up clients.

We also meet their secretary,  Rochelle Gibson, who had no qualifications except she’d been a client whose case had been butchered and she had threatened to sue the partners. She hung around the office so much that the three got used to each other, and she was there when the real secretary quit. Since the phones were still ringing and the partners were busy yelling at each other, Rochelle just started answering and was soon the new secretary, peacekeeper, and real manager.

Back to David, who at almost five o’clock is passed out at the bar. Abner wakes him up, tells him it’s time to leave and go home, and puts him in a cab. But David doesn’t want to go home and face his wife. He sees an ad on the side of a bus for Finley and Figg and tells the cab driver that’s where he wants to go.

Shortly after that a disheveled David Zinc walks into the office of Finley and Figg and says he loves the place and want to work there. When asked why he left his corporate job he says, “let’s just say I hate the work, hate the people I work with, and hate the clients.”

Rochelle comments he should fit right in at Finley and Figg, and over Oscar’s objections, they let him stay to see how things will work out.  Around eight Wally calls Helen Zinc to come get David, and Helen proves to be fairly understanding — at least enough to wait until he sobers up before they really talk.

I love the way Grisham brings the most unlikely people together. David had a Harvard education and impeccable law credentials and had been on the path to a partnership in the large firm of Rogan Rothberg. Finley and Figg was a two-bit ambulance chasing firm. Finley and Figg had felt no need or desire to add another lawyer, but David makes an offer to work at a price they could afford,  on a trial basis.

David joined the firm just before Finley and Figg were on the verge of what Figg considered their ticket to wealth —  a class action suit against a large pharmaceutical company.    David becomes the ethical voice of reason in the firm who gets stuck with the dirty work and gets paid little for it.  It is watching these unlikely characters interact so that each meets his own goals that makes this book so much fun to read.

I won’t tell you any more. I found the ending very satisfying and consistent with what we might expect of the characters as Grisham portrayed them, and you, too, will know them well before you are far into the book.

David is called upon to use all his  education and experience his new position, and his character and the genuine concern he has for his clients give the book heart. As he saves himself, his presence is a catalyst in saving Figg, Finley, and Rochelle. As in most of Grisham’s books, we see plenty of courtroom drama, and a bit of humor. I highly recommend the book.

 The Litigators: A Novel

A Brief Look at HOW SWEET THE SOUND by Amy Sorrells


When I began HOW SWEET THE SOUND I didn’t realize what I was in for. I guess I expected a typical formula-written inspirational Christian novel that would not challenge me much. I got quite a surprise.

This was not a book to let me escape, but a book to make me think about the subjects many people live through and few want to bring into the open and talk about. These subjects include bereavement, grief, rape, incest, suicide, sibling rivalry, and child abuse – most of it in one family. Unfortunately, this book is realistic enough to make it believable, and, therefore, depressing. Most of the book is depressing, but it’s so well-written that you are willing to see it to the finish. Fortunately, by the end things are looking up.

The author really knows how to use the English language. No cliches here. We see the characters through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Anniston, and her aunt, Comfort. Anniston begins the narrative on Thanksgiving Day in southern Alabama shortly after Hurricane Frederic has ravaged the coast and destroyed half the Vaughn family’s pecan orchard. At first she describes what appears to be a typical extended family gathering, but before dinner is over you will see how dysfunctional the Harlan family is. Before the night is over, two brothers, Anniston’s father, Rey, and uncle, Cole, will be dead, and their sister Comfort will be dying inside.

The book is hard to follow in the beginning. The family tree diagram on the first page is a must if you want to keep straight how the characters are related. The first chapters are like beginning to work a jigsaw puzzle. They contain pieces of plot that you will need to place in your mind. It’s better to get the edges (the family tree) in place first, so you can more easily figure out where the other pieces go.

This is not a book one reads to just enjoy and savor. It’s a book that will introduce you to ways of life that may seem foreign if you were raised in a loving and a supportive family. The plot is based on the story of Tamar in the Bible, a daughter of King David, who was raped by her brother Amnon. You can read the story in 2 Samuel 13. Even royal households can be dysfunctional. Sin and lust lurk everywhere. The sins of the fathers often are passed to their sons until the cycle is broken. Yet the book will offer hope to those who have suffered bereavement, grief, rape, and incest. It will also show parents how important it is not to favor one child over the others, and everyone what sharp weapons their tongues can be.

The dead cannot be brought back, but the living can become new. Comfort’s path to healing was not an easy one, as you will see in the short poems she writes. But her Abba does not leave her alone. His voice comes to her during her darkest moments. Her family and Solly, the man she had been planning to marry, continue to reach out to her. It is only when she had lost all hope that she was willing to accept help. Abba (and her family and Solly) pull her from the prison into which she had retreated and healing begins.

Even though this may be a hard read, I recommend it. I almost stopped reading after the first few chapters, but I’m glad I didn’t. The characters reached into my heart and I wanted them to find peace and recognize the love that did surround them. No family or person is without sin. The author reveals the destructive patterns that can lead families and individuals to despair, but also show us the way to Abba’s love and healing. You can purchase How Sweet the Sound Here

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.