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review 2017-10-17 12:04
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Gilead #1)
Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

In the town of Gilead, Iowa, 76 year old Congregationalist minister John Ames senses he is nearing death and is trying to prepare his family for his imminent passing. Author Marilynne Robinson lays out the entire novel in the form of one long letter Ames is writing to his nearly 7 year old son (obviously a son he fathered late in life). This letter is largely full of Ames' musings on his long life, seasoned with long stories,  meaningful anecdotes, lessons learned, etc..."As I write I am aware that my memory has made much of very little."

 

 

 

 

He also tries to impart final lessons to his son on the value in being financially humble yet rich in familial bonds, and the hardships & merits that come from living a life of service.

 

 

"I can't believe we will forget our sorrows altogether. That would mean forgetting that we have lived, humanly speaking. Sorrow seems to me to be a great part of the substance of human life. For example, at this very moment I feel a kind of loving grief for you as you read this, because I do not know you, and because you have grown up fatherless, you poor child, lying on your belly now in the sun with Soapy asleep on the small of your back. You are drawing those terrible pictures that you will bring me to admire, and which I will admire because I have not the heart to say one word that you might remember against me....I'll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray you find a way to be useful."

 

I was moved at Ames' protective thoughts regarding one Jack Boughton, a man Ames fears may pose a threat to his family after Ames' death. Minster or no, you gotta respect that father gene kicking in:

 

"How should I deal with these fears I have, that Jack Boughton will do you and your mother harm, just because he can, just for the sly, unanswerable meanness of it? You have already asked after him twice this morning. Harm to you is not harm to me in the strict sense, and that is a great part of the problem. He could knock me down the stairs and I would have worked out the theology for forgiving him before I reached the bottom. But if he harmed you in the slightest way, I'm afraid theology would fail me."

 

It may come as no surprise to some but I'll go ahead and let the general reader know that this one turns pretty heavily religious. Our main character is a minister so it naturally comes with the territory, but even with that in mind it still felt like overkill at times. Long, looong bits on preaching, a lot of actual Scripture woven into the novel's text.  Also, Ames swings his thoughts back to the topic of his grandfather SO MUCH, to the point of distraction for me.

 

 

With the narrator coming from a long line of preachers, there's a healthy amount of biblical overtones & parallels. Some of the sermons were totally lost on me, but I did enjoy the theme of creating a life of love and strong family bonds. Ames' description of his relationship with his second wife (the mother of the son he is writing to) has its memorably heartwarming bits. Together a relatively brief time, only 10 years married by the start of the novel (he 67, she in her mid-30s at their wedding) , Ames shares with his son that he takes comfort in leaving the world knowing he was able to provide his wife the stable life she craved, though he hints that she "settled". The way the proposal went down was pretty cute, the deadpan way she just says "You should marry me", his equally straight-faced "You're right, I think I shall", her "Well then, I'll see you tomorrow." and Ames admitting to his son that it was the most exciting thing that had ever happened in his life LOL

 

If you're the kind of reader who heavily relies on plot, you'll likely be disappointed with this one. In that respect, this novel is pretty dull. Its strength mainly lies in the thought-provoking subjects Ames presents in his letter. For that, it may make for a good book club pick. Mostly my take away was the warmth and love Ames tries to imprint upon his son and wife through his final words. 

 

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review 2017-10-16 10:56
The Whispering of the Willows by Tonya Jewel Blessing
The Whispering of the Willows - Tonya Jewel Blessing

A work of historical fiction, The Whispering of the Willows is set in the late 1920s in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Eighth grader Emerald is about to learn some hard lessons when a deeply disturbed man is thrust into her life by her abusive father and enabling mother. Author Tonya Jewel Blessing tells a story about a young woman's struggles and redemption. The blossoming young woman is accompanied by her friends and her foes on the journey towards hope and healing. Love weaves through gut-wrenching circumstances and dismal poverty. There, Emerald Ashby grows strong despite grievous wrongs committed against her. 

~from back cover

 

 

 

Emerald "Emie" Ashby is a young girl from a dirt poor family, just starting her teen years, coming of age in the small Appalachian town of Big Creek, West Virginia during the 1920s. With her 8th grade year of schooling coming to a close, Emie's father decides "she ain't a boy that can carry his weight", so he decides to arrange to have her married off to a local boy... a decision he makes without so much as a word to Emie herself. 

 

It's the choice of the groom that gets everyone's hackles up. Young Charlie, still working through his teens himself, has already gotten himself a reputation for being short-tempered, mean-spirited, possibly even abusive towards women. Just like his father. Emie's mother, Alma, though used to acquiescing to her husband's wishes, fears that if this marriage goes through, her daughter will be unfairly condemned to a life of endless work and abuse from both husband and father-in-law, leaving her with little more than an utterly broken spirit. When Emie's father, Ahab, continues to insist that the match is a good one, Emie's older brother, Ernest, begins to have suspicions of ulterior motives. Sure enough, some digging on Ernest's part turns up the truth: Emie's marriage to this boy is so important to Ahab because of its ties to a business deal he needs to see succeed. Unfortunately, Ernest's involvement in the family drama leads him to find young Emie one night, propped against the support rail of a bridge, still alive but with her body battered & broken following a sexual assault. 

 

From there the story becomes one of Emie's physical and emotional healing, working through the emotions that come with having one's childhood unexpectedly truncated, and the need to make sure such horror doesn't befall her younger sisters. Emie gets a fresh start under the protective wing of "Auntie Ada", not a biological aunt but one Emie calls a "love aunt", a longtime friend of Alma. It's in Ada's home that Emie experiences the kind of environment every young person should be privy to: one of love, kindness, tolerance and compassion for all.

 

 

"Even in darkness, there was always a measure of light."

 

This is illustrated firsthand when Ada hears of a black man, ironically named Justice, who is falsely accused and arrested for Emie's assault. Everyone in town knows who's likely responsible, but because of the person's position in town, it's hushed up and a fall guy is produced. Well, Ada won't stand for it. Once Justice's release is arranged, she not only takes in him but his entire family to keep them safe from those who'd wish him harm. Not only does Ada offer the family food, shelter and friendship, but she also works her magic to arrange for educational opportunities for Justice's young children. 

 

"Around my table, we are all equal like the good Lord intended." ~ Ada

 

It's through the nurturing environment of Ada's homestead that Emie learns the true meaning of respect, love, and healthy family bonds. Through witnessing Ada tackling social injustices head on, Emie is provided a firm example of what it means to stand by one's word and protect the innocent. 

 

"God listens to all prayers, darlin', even the ones too painful to be sayin' out loud." ~Ada to Emie

 

I couldn't quite put my finger on what was creating the sensation, but there was something to the writing here that made this novel feel much more dense and complex than one might expect for being less than 400 pages. The plot somehow manages to simultaneously be complex yet easily imaginable, scary as that sounds. The characterization of Emie's father alone made much of the text hard to stomach, imagining a father that would repeatedly put his daughter in the path of danger with little more than a shoulder shrug and a hope for solid monetary gain for his decisions. And then there's Alma. The yin and yang of dysfunctional relationships -- if there's an abusive husband, there naturally has to be the doormat wife to say "he has his reasons for being difficult." In this case, Alma reasons away her husband's abuse by saying he wasn't the same man she married when he came back from World War 1, but the horrors he saw make him lash out....it's not really him doing it... etc. Just picturing this couple -- the father easily condoning the sexual assault of a minor so he can make a few extra bucks here and there, and his wife dismissing herself out of responsibility with a curt "mind your father" ... it made for a maddening reading experience! But it's a testament to author Tonya Jewel Blessing's writing that she can make a reader feel SO strongly towards her characters! 

 

One way Blessing lightens the heaviness of some of the darker bits of the plot is by incorporating nods to Appalachian folklore as well as a sweet love story for Emie that quietly, gently unfolds under the whispering of willow trees by the river, teaching her to trust again and believe that a good man won't mind waiting for a great gal (and that these men do exist, if one only has faith!) The folklore that heads every chapter was entertaining, a number of them being not too far off from what many of us would deem "old wives' tales". Some of them are oddly specific, such as to keep evil away, find the left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit.. or flower that bloom out of season are evil. I got a kick out of some of the things that create bad luck, according to these Appalachian beliefs: bathing on your wedding day, watching a person leave until they are out of sight, dreaming of muddy water... just to name a few. 

 

While the subject matter can be tough to stomach at times, Blessing's writing here has a true down-home way about it. Her way of describing the emotions and environments of these characters has a certain flow, a kind of lyricism to it that offers the reader a true sense of mountain life of the 1920s. There were times during the first half of the novel where portions of the writing came off a little too direct for this girl's liking, leaving little room for mystery or opportunities for the reader to have some fun with guessing / inference. However, the suspenseful plot twists (particularly the major tragedy explored in the final chapters) Blessing stashes away on the back end of the story more than made up for this! It's also admirable that Blessing uses a couple of her characters to address the struggle & hardships of interracial relationships within a largely racist community. It's sad to say that though this novel is set in the 1920s, what the reader sees this couple go through won't seem too unfathomable in today's world.

 

* FYI: or those interested in this book as a possible book club pick, a list of discussion questions is included at the back of the book. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Bookcrash.com & Capture Books kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

________

 

EXTRAS:

 

* This novel is inspired by the stories of author Tonya Blessing's own mother, who grew up in the real Big Creek, WV -- an area used for the setting of the film October Sky. 

 

* Author Tonya Jewel Blessing and her husband are co-directors of Strong Cross Ministries, a non-profit dedicating to offering assistance to churches in impoverished communities around the world carry out humanitarian projects meant to better provide for struggling communities. ALL proceeds of this novel will be funded back into Strong Cross Ministries of South Africa. 

 

 

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review 2017-10-09 08:38
Can You See Anything Now? by Katherine James
Can You See Anything Now?: A Novel - Katherine James

Follow a year in the small town of Trinity where tragedy and humility reveal true motivation and desire. This raw and unsentimental story exposes the complicated ways that interwoven lives affect each other for good and for bad. There is the suicidal painter, Margie, who teaches her evangelical neighbor, Etta, how to paint nudes; Margie's husband, the town therapist, who suspects his work helps no one, and their college age daughter, Noel, whose roommate, Pixie, joins them at home for a winter holiday, only to fall into Trinity's freezing river. 

 

~ from back cover

 

 

 

 

TRIGGER WARNING: This novel, from the very first sentence onward, addresses themes of suicide and self-harm. 

 

 

There's one interesting mix of folks living in the small town of Trinity! The focus of this novel is mainly on Margie, an artist who has been struggling with various forms of physical and mental illness for much of her life. Most recently, her doctor has dropped a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Struggling to get a grip on her dark moods, Margie introduces herself to the reader in the opening scene of Can You See Anything Now? via a suicide attempt. Though she's nearly successful in her attempt, due to some unexpected details of the moment, Margie is given a second chance at life. 

 

Within these opening chapters, there was something that struck me as very Sylvia Plath about Margie, what with the struggles with the emotionally distant husband and all. Perhaps that is what author Katherine James meant to convey, as the likeness between Margie and Sylvia Plath IS actually brought up as the reader nears the final chapters of the book. Margie mentions to a friend that her husband treats her like Sylvia Plath, a moment where, had I been there in person, I would've likely pointed and yelled a "haha! I knew it!" The rice box scene was particularly telling:

 

She struggled with the box of rice. "The side of the box says to push and pull up to open but it's not working." She scratched at what looked like a perforated part of the cardboard.

 

Nick said, "I don't read the directions, I just open the box."

 

"You force things."

 

He took the box from her and pressed the perforated tab in with his thumb  and handed it back to her. 

 

She turned back to the stove. "You force things and then they break."

 

Though still deeply depressed much of the time, Margie makes an honest effort to find the good in each day. Quite the feat, as the reader comes to learn that Margie is married to a therapist disillusioned with his work and quietly grumbly over how his life has turned out, though he outwardly tries to put a good face on things for show. Margie gives the impression that she and her husband, Nick, were quite happy and in love for many years but over time something ever so subtly shifted. Though there is still love there, the kind that comes with having been with someone for a good chunk of one's lifetime, perhaps these two are not IN love these days? Because there is a noticeable difference, one that is more easily defined after many years of life together, between having a general, overall autopilot kind of love for someone versus still having the hearts aflutter IN LOVE quality to one's union. Margie's source of happiness and strength these days seems to largely stem from her bond with daughter Noel... but even there Margie fears a loosening of the child-mother ties.

 

Hurting in her own heart, living with a dissatisfied spouse, these two empty-nesters struggling to stay emotionally connected with their now college-age daughter, Noel... your heart just breaks for this woman silently but fervently grasping for a lifeline of light and joy. But the important thing is she's trying. A common theme that runs through the stories of all the characters actually, that determination to make a daily effort to try, even when the path seems obscured, even impossible to traverse. Margie tries to keep things exciting and positive within her marriage, she tries to build a friendship with neighbor Etta, even if it feels awkward at first, she tries to talk with her daughter, even if she's not sure she's saying the things Noel needs to hear. 

 

There was an equation for everything. The scattered physical pain and the pall of her mind that were constantly tugging her out of alignment could sometimes feel like proof that she was responsible. Certain illnesses reek of a sovereign retribution, even though she wasn't even sure she believed in God.

 

Margie's neighbor, Etta, is another character who gets a good chunk of the novel's focus. Etta is also an artist, albeit one who has developed a following largely through her paintings of tomatoes. Just tomatoes. But Etta wants to branch out, maybe start doing some paintings of rooftops. She feels there's something magical about the way light touches rooftops that she'd like to capture. Connecting with Margie, one artist to another, Etta is pushed to explore her artistic side in ways she's never considered before. While Etta has her own struggles with depression and general dissatisfaction, her method of coping is to just push aside any and all negative thought. Instead, she challenges herself to be the very best wife, friend, bible study group member.... whatever life asks of her, she will give her all. Etta powers through the darker days with relentless optimism: visiting with the sad or lonely, cheering a down in the dumps neighbor with her homemade baked goods, whatever will turn the world's frowns upside down. 

 

This novel is definitely one that begs to be taken slow and honestly contemplated. Thinking over my reading experience after that last page, the book in its entirety was not solid gold for me, but man, it was close. There were some points where certain conversations felt a bit filler-ish. There were also multiple points within the last 100 pages or so where I thought to myself "oh, this would make for a great dramatic close right here," but the story would continue on.. and on... perhaps to its detriment.

 

But given time to think on the novel's topics days after completing the book, there's so much good here...  good in the "hard truths" sense, a kind of tough love way of storytelling ... that can really benefit those brave enough to face it. This is not a book for the reader who always and only ever wants the happy ending with rainbows and gumdrops. This is for the reader who has been run through the gauntlets of life and wants literary representation for it. The characters of the town of Trinity illustrate the person who cries out for the desire to truly be seen, the need and hope one has for loved ones to somehow innately sense your silent struggle and TRULY understand your pain when you can't find the words to ask for help yourself... impossible as that can be at times, you can't help but want it anyway. 

 

Through their individual life paths, each character within this novel, in their own way and time, discovers the incredible release that comes with a good ugly cry when you've been trying to be strong for so long, as well as the lesson that oftentimes the best way to heal or at least diminish the pain in your own heart is to help others work through their moments of suffering.

 

"Wisdom was knowing how stupid you are."

 

Though this novel technically falls under Christian Fiction, purists of the genre may struggle with the grittier themes of this story. Can You See Anything Now? touches upon mature content themes such as cursing, premarital sex, drug abuse, suicide, and self harm.  While possibly hard to stomach, these elements do play an important role in the emotional struggle and overall development of the characters. Still, readers should be aware of what they are getting into, particularly if the reader is highly sensitive to such themes. One scene involving the character who struggles with self harm is rather memorably graphic as it describes the actual process and damage on the body of the character. 

 

That being said, if you are a big fan of the topic of love languages, that topic as well has a recurring role within the characters' conversations. 

 

FTC Disclaimer:  Paraclete Press kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

____________

 

EXTRA:

 

* The song "Brave" by Riley Pearce kept running through my mind as I read this novel. Just offering that if you like extra musical sensory experiences with your reading :-)

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review 2017-10-09 02:33
San Diego: Four Sun-Kissed Romances by Cathy M. Hakes & Joyce Livingston
San Diego: Four Sun-Kissed Romances -

Contemporary Romance: Couples-to-be seek love and romance in this uplifting four-story collection. Vanessa is surprised to feel her heart beating madly when a father and son with matching soulful brown eyes enter her pet store. Valene is startled to realize that handsome Navy fighter pilot, Jordan, shows a strong interest in her, despite social disparities. Della realizes that fairy tales come true when Brandon wanders into her bridal shop, and Tessa learns that even when pride and unforgiveness have torn a marriage apart, love can make a comeback. Will these couples find the key that unlocks lasting love? couples find the key that unlocks lasting love?

Amazon.com

 

 

A quick rundown of the interconnected stories themselves:

 

"Love Is Patient" and "Love Worth Finding" are written by Cathy Hakes while Joyce Livingston contributes "Love Is Kind" and "Love Worth Keeping". 

 

The stories, in the order they appear:

 

"Love Is Patient" : Pet shop owner Vanessa gets involved with widower / single dad Nathan after his young son visits her shop and becomes interested in a dog. 

 

"Love Is Kind" : Remember Vanessa from the first story? Well, now her twin sister, Val, gets the spotlight. Val's neighbor, Jordan, accidentally hits her dog with his truck. The dog survives, Jordan steps up and offers to help cover the cost of the dog's post-op care (as well as lending a hand with the dog's in-home recovery process as well). Spending so much time with Val, Jordan starts to see himself developing deep feelings for her. 

 

"Love Worth Finding" : The story of a romance between "always the bridesmaid, never the bride" type bridal shop owner Della and former Navy SEAL Brandon Stevens (of course, these romances seem to almost always feature a SEAL somewhere nowadays!) who now works in construction. The bridal shop is located next to Vanessa's pet shop (from "Love Is Patient") and Brandon's construction job has him working with Vanessa's love, Nathan. This story is also set about a year and half after Vanessa's story takes place. 

 

"Love Worth Keeping" : You met Vanessa's twin sister, Val, in "Love Is Kind". Now Val's best friend, Katie, is in the process of planning her own Christmas Day wedding. Katie's parents have been separated for 8 years now and even now are not on the friendliest of terms. Still, Katie hopes she can bring them together and get them to get along for her special day. 

 

MY TAKE:

 

Having been born and raised in San Diego County myself, I'm naturally always curious to try out stories set in my home turf. Deciding to pick up this collection prior to a trip back home this summer, I was sadly let down. These were SO not my cup of tea. 

 

I somehow missed the fact that these were Christian romances. It's not all that advertised on the covers, though looking back on the back cover synopsis after finishing the stories, I do see one of the story blurbs makes one mention of "God's love" but I guess my eyes glanced over that part in my excitement to get into San Diego stories. Guess I should've taken a clue from the titles of the stories themselves (a nod to the famous "Love is patient, love is kind," etc, etc Bible quote used at nearly every wedding I've ever been to, including my own LOL) but it escaped my notice until I finished the book. These stories having a Christian theme generally wouldn't deter me from enjoying them. It's just that every one of these was SO heavy-handed with the preachy tone (IMO) that it was off-putting! That, combined with the fact that I just honestly didn't find the stories to be all that well-written made this whole collection a general NOPE for me. And what was up with Nathan knocking Vanessa's love of Doris Day movies? "Great woman but her taste in movies stinks." Seriously? You're going to fault your girl for liking some of the cheeriest movies on the planet? So she likes her some solid HEA in her life. Catch of a guy right there. 

 

The banter between the couples was often of a very boring, vanilla quality and the romance aspect was ruined for me when SO MUCH EMPHASIS was being put on getting the "non-believer" one in a couple to pray more or start attending church. Having strong faith is an admirable quality, I just get annoyed at this idea that you have to walk away from someone you otherwise find absolutely perfect for you JUST because their spiritual beliefs might be a shade different from yours. And this idea came up repeatedly in these stories.

 

I don't mind a beautiful story of someone coming to find faith if it has a natural flow to the process. These characters were just too strong-armed in their methods for me to like them. Val's story especially illustrated this. Val's parents came off pretty hypocritical, the way they said they raised their girls to only be in relationships with Christians, even though the father started out as a "non-believer". Also, Val basically using blackmail to get someone to attend church was unbelievably messed up. 

 

The last story, "Love Worth Keeping", (for me) had the most warmth to the writing, but that's not saying much, given how little I liked the rest of the stories. This one won't be a keeper on my shelf of hometown stories. 

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review 2017-09-24 12:43
The Sweet Smell of Magnolias & Memories by Celeste Fletcher McHale
The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories - Celeste Fletcher McHale

Jacey and Colin shared the three most intense days of their lives together, waiting for help as Mississippi floodwaters surrounded them. Jacey knew Colin was the love of her life—until her rescue boat went under water, along with Colin’s last name and pieces of Jacey’s memory.

 

The last thing she remembered was being submerged in water. Again.

 

As Jacey walks down the aisle as the maid of honor in her friend’s wedding a year later, the last person she expects to see is Colin. The biggest surprise, though, is that the man of her dreams is not wearing jeans and flip-flops as he did when he held her through those long nights of the flood. He’s the preacher.

 

As Jacey’s memories come flooding back, it’s almost more than she can take. The fate of the young family trapped with them haunts her. The unwavering honesty—and support—of her best friend Georgia forces her to take a fresh look at herself. She’s spent her life afraid of love. But this flood is opening Jacey’s heart in the most unexpected ways.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Jacey is a writer for a regional Southern life magazine, on location for a story in Mississippi. Colin is a traveling minister specializing in disaster relief (specifically, building houses for the needy). As life would have it, Colin finds himself caught in one such disaster when the Mississippi town he's currently located in -- the same as our Miss Jacey -- is hit with a storm that brings devastating flooding. Both caught in the storm, Jacey and Colin meet when Colin pulls her onto the roof he and a local family are clinging to while awaiting rescue. 

 

Three days pass while the sodden group awaits rescue of any kind. The reader is told that something magical happened between Colin and Jacey, but honestly we're not given many details about what went down that was so world-rocking between them other than some hints that they talked about the need for survival and then there was some time for cuddles and make-out sessions. But what led to those stolen kisses? Your guess is as good as mine 'cause I kept waiting for those deets that never seemed to come. A couple swears they fell in love in 3 days -- is that not a story the reader deserves to know in ally its swoon-worthy details?!

 

Anyway, when help finally does arrive, Colin makes sure Jacey and Lillian, the mother with the 4 boys that shared the roof with them, all make it into the boat, his plan being that the boat now looks crowded so he'd just wait for the next boat to come around. But he doesn't let Jacey go without writing down all his contact info on a piece of paper and shoving it in her pocket. Just moments after being saved, Jacey's rescue boat collides with another, throwing all the passengers back into the water. Jacey suffers injuries that leave her hospitalized for a time with months of physical rehab after. She also finds that the trauma has left her with not only PTSD but also temporary amnesia regarding events of that harrowing day.

 

Fast forward a year later and we meet the chick-lit standards McHale includes in the plot: the group of besties who met in college and have sailed through thick & thin together since. Best girl Willow is now getting married while other best girl Georgia is struggling with having recently lost the love of her life to his lapse in fidelity. Jacey is at Willow's side as maid of honor and gets the shock of her life to find that none other than Colin is officiating! Now back in each other's lives, the two have to discover if what felt real truly was or if it was just a case of fear-of-death-fueled emotions.

 

This one proved to be yet another case of a novel where the secondary characters entertained me far more than our leads. Maybe it was because I as the reader wasn't made privy to any of the heart-melting conversations that must have went down between Colin & Jacey... must have been something pretty heady to feel love after 3 days ... but I don't know the details of their romance, if it can be called that, so for much of the book I wasn't that invested in their story. In fact, their back and forth cold-shoulder drama and hurt feelings based on assumptions got tiring.

 

It's generally presented as a given in romances that our female lead be irresistible to those around her but I wasn't entirely sold on Jacey in this sense. It was undeniably kind and moving what she did for Lillian's boys later on in the book but the way she was with Colin at times struck me as gratingly childish. Especially a moment near the close of the book, where Colin just wants to put all the miscommunication behind them -- he approaches her humbled, ready to explain his side of things -- and can I just say, about the worst thing he did IMO is send an insensitive text which masked some of his unspoken insecurities, a text he shortly after profusely tried to apologize for --  and she bald-face lies to him (more than once in one convo!) and then boots him out her door! Girl, what?! And then she has the gall to call Georgia and whine that she wishes Colin would just explain things if he really care. He tried, you goob! Then the inevitable make-up scene -- she admits to lying but gets away with giggling and telling him, "It's your fault though!" which he seems to gladly accept? Colin, in response, admits to being tempted to take her right there on his buddy's ottoman.. okay, I'm done with these two and I see them as the type that ends up divorced in 5 years or less lol 

 

But yes, those secondary characters came in to save my interest! Colin's bartender friend Julie was an admirable tough-as-nails type with a quick wit, and my heart immediately warmed to the elderly Mrs. Ernestine. Shame she didn't have more book time.

 

They heard screaming and both turned their heads to see Georgia running up the back steps, chickens nipping at her heels. 

 

"These freakin' chickens are trying to kill me!" she said, a short but piercing scream escaping her lips every few seconds.

 

Mrs. Ernestine looked at Jacey. "Does she belong to you?"

 

"Yes, ma'am." Jacey laughed.

 

"God help you."

 

 

 

The real show-stealer though -- Miss Georgia. Girl had SASS for days and I loved every bit of it! 

 

Jacey :(after a date with Colin): He was quite the gentleman. 

Georgia: Oh, how boring. 

 

Colin: Gotta be some kind of record, eight seconds in the door and the interrogation begins.

Georgia: I must be slipping. 

 

Georgia was the definition of the perfect best friend. Day or night, if Jacey called and said she needed her, Georgia was there in minutes. If someone hurt Jacey, she was quick to say, "Oh no, I'm not having that." But she also wasn't shy to set Jacey right when her behavior was sometimes slightly out of line. Also, in a nod to McHale's previous novel, The Secret To Hummingbird Cake, Georgia has a story about binging on hummingbird cake while working through a heavy bout of depression, "And I hate hummingbird cake!" {Sidenote: In the author acknowledgements it is revealed that Georgia and Jacey are named after two close friends of McHale.}

 

There are some good thought-provoking themes that stand out in this novel. For one, the reader is introduced to Colin's moneyed background. His story of stepping away from the family fortune to pursue a life of service and the challenges that brought him, in regards to familial relationships, will give the reader pause, having one consider that yes, maybe now that grass over there doesn't seem so green! Colin, through his family struggles, is also given a rough crash-course in the lesson of forgiveness. He carries a lot of deep-seated anger and resentment towards his parents, but over time discovers that perceived sins or mistakes often have more complicated backstories to them that must be considered. As one line in this novel points out, "Forgive people even if they're not sorry." Again, something that readers will likely find applicable in difficult areas of their own lives. 

 

Aside from the dud of a romance (at least for me) between Jacey & Colin, another area of the story that left me somewhat troubled was how the topic of race was handled. It was disappointing to see McHale lean on racial stereotypes to craft the personalities of so many of the African-American characters in this book. Lillian, the mother of the four boys, was a single mother, the father of her children serving a life sentence in prison, Lillian herself described as having little education, living what seemed (by the few descriptions given) to be a low-income neighborhood. The black servant working for Colin's rich white parents, even though this story takes place in present day... Sometimes it just struck me as there being this whispered tone of "well, that's just the way things are around here." I feel as if an opportunity was missed to shed life on these impoverished communities that do indeed exist but also commonly have a rich sense of community behind them. Had that been worked in a bit better, I think the novel would have had some more depth to it. Instead, the plot's focus, in regards to the African-American characters, seemed to be on how the misfortunes of these characters ended up (in a roundabout way) bettering the lives of already-privileged white characters. That undertone made me a bit sad, if I'm being honest. But again, I can appreciate what Jacey ended up doing for those boys, and the willingness to serve and love that that act demonstrated. 

 

While the plot itself wasn't a slam dunk for me personally, I applaud author Celeste Fletcher McHale for announcing her intent to donate a portion of the proceeds for this book to the victims of Louisiana's devastating floods of 2016. She also provides contact info for relief organizations working in the area should you yourself wish to contribute to relief / rebuilding efforts there. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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