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review 2019-01-10 10:33
The Orphan's Wish - Melanie Dickerson

Orphaned and alone, Aladdin travels from the streets of his Arab homeland to a strange, faraway place. Growing up in an orphanage, he meets young Lady Kirstyn, whose father is the powerful Duke of Hagenheim. Despite the difference in their stations, Aladdin quickly becomes Kirstyn’s favorite companion, and their childhood friendship grows into a bond that time and opposition cannot break. Even as a child, Aladdin works hard, learning all he can from his teachers. Through his integrity, intelligence, and sheer tenacity, he earns a position serving as the duke’s steward. But that isn’t enough to erase the shame of being forced to steal as a small child—or the fact that he’s an orphan with no status. If he ever wants to feel equal to his beautiful and generous friend Kirstyn, he must leave Hagenheim and seek his fortune. Yet once Aladdin departs, Lady Kirstyn becomes a pawn in a terrible plot. Now, Aladdin and Kirstyn must rely on their bond to save her from unexpected danger. But will saving Kirstyn cost Aladdin his newfound status and everything he’s worked so hard to obtain?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

In this re-imagining of the classic tale Aladdin, Dickerson takes Aladdin out of his original setting and moves him to Hagenheim, Germany in the 1400s, where he finds a place of sorts with the Duke of Hagenheim's family. Aladdin, orphaned at a young age, is taken in by the priest of Hagenheim Cathedral. Through this connection, Aladdin meets Lady Kirstyn, the duke's daughter. Both little children at the time, Aladdin comes to her rescue one day during a game where he thinks she is being bullied. Moved by his attention to her, Kirstyn befriends him and the two fast become constant companions. 

 

Fast forward a few years, and Aladdin now works as the duke's steward while also being Kirstyn's best friend, indulging in her many privileged whims. While he cares for Kirstyn, Aladdin does find enough of a sense of fulfillment from his current life situation. He explains to Kirstyn that he does not wish to be seen merely as a lowly servant his entire life, but instead wants to make something of himself, find success (and hopefully wealth) on his own terms. He breaks it to her that he intends to leave town to find his fortune. Rather than being encouraging and understanding, Kirstyn falls into a whiny fit and makes it all about her, only focusing on how this change will affect HER and HER wants. (Trust me, you'll be begging for a Jasmine return during this ridiculous pout fest). As kindly as possible, in so many words Aladdin tells her she'll just have to get over it because his mind is made up.

 

He goes off, finds work apprenticing with a merchant in Lüneberg, a neighboring town. Aladdin moves in with the merchant's family and is soon doing quite well for himself. He proves to have quite the business & finance acumen, inspiring the merchant to suggest Aladdin one day being his successor. For years, Aladdin had silently been throwing around the dream of one day marrying Kirstyn but previously had felt that to be impossible, with their difference in class stations. But should he do well with this business, it may be an opportunity after all! The thought drives his dedication to only work harder.

 

All is going very nicely until Aladdin gets word that Kirstyn has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. From there, everything else is dropped, so beginning Aladdin's efforts to bring his maybe-one-day-wife back home to safety. 

 

Ohhh, the issues I had with this book. First off, the quiet but annoyingly present whitewashing of one of my favorite childhood fables. Good lord, could this have been made any more white-bread boring?! I've been working my way through Dickerson's Hagenheim series --- the whole series meant to be re-imaginings of classic stories --- and while some of them have been just okay, some have been really enjoyable. So while I had my doubts about this one, I gave her the benefit of the doubt since the one I read before this, about a landlocked Little Mermaid, was actually a lot of fun (even though, again, I had my doubts about that one, taking a mermaid out of the water... but Dickerson made that one work, surprisingly!).

 

Let me just say, I'm not hating on the German setting itself. I married into a German family, clearly I'm down with the culture :-) But Germany in the context of ALADDIN -- an ARABIAN fable --- nah, didn't work for me. All the magic, allure, sand, desert winds, mystical stories ... all gone here. Instead, Dickerson gives us a whiny, spoiled brat of a female lead, her family all-around serving a heaping helping of white saviour complex,  and pretty much all the non-white characters have been made servants or criminals. Aladdin falls in love with Kirstyn in all her blonde-haired, blue-eyed glory. Later on, when the merchant's daughter develops an interest in him, Dickerson writes of how Aladdin finds her "pretty" with her dark hair and small mouth, but not nearly as beautiful as Kirstyn with her "pale blond hair, full lips and large blue eyes". YAWN. Aladdin has had his traditionally Muslim beliefs canceled and is now preaching the importance of strict Christian morals. There is virtually NO trace of the original story except for the use of the names Aladdin and Abu (Abu here is a small homeless child Aladdin looks after). Maybe, if you really stretch, you could liken Kirstyn's kidnapping to the time Jafar tried to keep Jasmine captive... but that's about it.

 

Beyond that, let's talk about the writing itself:

 

* Historical "say what now?" moments:  IE. Dickerson writes, regarding Kirstyn, "She was only sixteen and marriage seemed like something far in the future." Marriage at 16 far-fetched in the 1400s? Where if you took good care of yourself, you MAYBE made it to 40?! LOL 

 

* The dialogue in general: UGH, SO MELODRAMATIC. Reminded me of silent film emoting. Not every moment of the day is that *OMG* *SWOON* *SCOWL* *GASP*

 

* All around boring or head-knock-into-wall inducing characters: IE. Anna to her violent boyfriend: "You promise not to hit me again?"... proceeds to believe him... *eyeroll*

 

* The same few sentiments are repeated over and over again to convince the reader that Kirstyn and Aladdin are totally headed for forever love: Mainly, 1) They love long walks in the woods and 2) They of course understand each other better than anyone else in the world. Problem is, they spend the majority of the book spending ZERO time together, sooo... 

 

Lastly, while I understand this book is published through a Christian publisher (so some religious elements are to be expected at some point), here the religious undertones were not well done (as to feel natural to the story's enviroment / set up), instead coming off much too forced. The ending scenes are especially heavy-handed.

 

I'll continue on with the series installments, but this one was a definite disappointment.

 

 

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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review 2019-01-06 09:59
A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz
A Bound Heart - Laura Frantz

Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning--together. Laura Frantz's prose sparkles with authenticity and deep feeling as she digs into her own family history to share this breathless tale of love, exile, and courage in Colonial America.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up together on the Isle of Kerrera, Scotland. Now it's the year of 1752 and Magnus is laird of Kerrera Castle while Lark is the castle beekeeper, herbalist and manager of the castle stillroom. When Magnus's young wife, Isla, suffers her 6th miscarriage, he goes to Lark requesting something that will not only bring his wife physical comfort while her body mends but also something to help her successfully bring a child to term. Lark certainly has elixirs for pain management, but getting a pregnancy to stick? That's trickier. She seeks counsel from her grandmother, who trained her in the ways of medicinal plants. Lark's grandmother vaguely remembers something that may work, but she's struggling to recall the full recipe. 

 

When Lark's cousin goes into labor (this is a baby-making lovin' place, people!) Lark rushes to assist. Upon her return to Kerrera Castle, she finds the place in an uproar. Castle staff tell a wild story about Lady Isla apparently going mad from something, running off, her body later discovered at the bottom of a cliff. To Lark's shock and horror, fingers point to her as the culprit, even though several voices come to her defense, noting that she wasn't even in the area when all this went down!

 

It's for naught though... she's the herbalist, and it's suspected that Isla's sudden burst of madness was due to an overdose... but Lark hadn't given her anything yet, so how can that be? At least, nothing that would cause that kind of reaction in a person. What really went down? Lark's guess: Isla, having previously showed signs of depression, turned suicidal. Her parents, not wanting to deal with any social stigma attached to suicide, looked to have a scapegoat to save face for the family name. Lark was the easiest target. 

 

After a short joke of a trial, Isla is found guilty of manslaughter. Rather than the death penalty, she is sold into indentured servitude in the American Colonies (Virginia, specifically) for the duration of 3 years. Placed on a womens' transport ship, she gets word that two Kerrera locals are on the mens' transport: Laird Magnus (charged with wearing a kilt, of all things) and Lark's pirate friend, Rory MacPherson (charged with smuggling goods).

 

Magnus uses his connections to pull some strings and have Lark moved to the mens' ship, so that she may serve as the ship's herbalist / botanist. Immediately, Lark's beauty grabs the attention of every man on board, though Rory finds himself unable to shake the sailor's superstition of women on a ship being bad luck. {Considering the events that later unfold, he may have been onto something!}

 

Magnus has his work cut out for him, protecting Lark from the ship's lust-filled men, the main one to watch being Surgeon Alick Blackburn. Magnus and Lark now both being convicted criminals -- guilty or not -- brings them back more on equal footing, as far as societal ranking goes. Lark's family name, MacDougall, was once one of great prestige but later fell out of favor and "time and misfortune turned them common". In recent years, Magnus's family line had taken hard hits as well -- father killed in battle, mother and sister dead from pox, Magnus's wife's struggles with pregnacy... and now she's gone... with Magnus headed to the New World, people may give an impressed nod to his former titled self, but it'll mean little else beyond that outside his homeland. Besides, Magnus hears rumors that he may be sent to a Jamaican estate to serve out his sentence, not Virginia with Lark. Can he manage to find a way to stay with her? If not, can he convince her to wait for his return?

 

Though I have a few other of Frantz's books on my TBR shelf, this is the first of hers I've now read. Inspired by the story of some of Frantz's own ancestors, A Bound Heart lacked a lot of heart IMO. It's not a bad story by any means, but all the 5 star ratings I'm already seeing for it (being offically released just a few days ago) strike me as awfully generous. Frantz has a solidly enjoyable writing style, the novel definitely shows the woman is dedicated to research! The novel is detail-rich, but almost to a fault, as the plot is very slow-going. 

 

Now typically I don't hate a slow-burn novel if a steady increase or layering in plot complications or character histories can be seen. I'm all about being invested in fictional worlds! Unfortunately, this one fell a tad short for me in that department and I found myself not only not attached to the characters but I think at one point I believe I literally fell asleep mid-read. There are little bursts of action here and there but they are SUPER brief. The rest of the story seems to be just general conversing, lots and lots of conversations going down while characters (and readers) wait for their lives to turn eventful. That said, I will say the pace of things noticeably picks up once our primary characters board the transport ships. 

 

The romances -- or the suggestion of pairings, anyway -- tickled me about as much as flat soda. The only character that really struck my interest was Lark's smuggler friend, Captain Rory. He appeared pretty personable in the beginning of the novel, but boy, did he end up showing his true colors towards the end! Trevor grew on me a bit, but he seemed like the type who'd want to pin down Lark's strong, independent nature. As far as Magnus and Lark, there's a sweet friendship there to be admired but the reader isn't really given enough of a backstory between them to really feel much for them beyond that. 

 

The glossary for Scottish terminology provided at the beginning of the book was helpful. While I was already familiar with some of the terms, there were a few in there that I'd never heard used before. Also a nice touch, the quotes from famous poets, novelists and philosophers that Frantz uses to foreshadow each chapter's events. She found some particularly great quotes to reference! 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Revell Books 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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review 2018-10-13 22:51
Once Upon A Farm (memoir) by Rory Feek
Once Upon A Farm - Rory Feek

Raising their four-year-old daughter, Indiana, alone, after Joey’s passing, Rory Feek digs deeper into the soil of his life and the unusual choices he and his wife, Joey, made together and the ones he’s making now to lead his family into the future. Now two years after Joey’s passing, as Rory takes their four-year-old daughter Indiana’s hand and walks forward into an unknown future, he takes readers on his incredible journey from heartbreak to hope and, ultimately, the kind of healing that comes only through faith. A raw and vulnerable look deeper into Rory’s heart, Once Upon a Farm is filled with powerful stories of love, life, and hope and the insights that one extraordinary, ordinary man in bib overalls has gleamed along the way. As opposed to homesteading, this is instead a book on "lifesteading" as Rory learns to cultivate faith, love, and fatherhood on a small farm while doing everything, at times, but farming. With frequent stories of his and Joey’s years together, and how those guide his life today, Rory unpacks just what it means to be open to new experiences.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Two years after the death of his wife and the close of his first memoir, This Life I Live, songwriter and "gentleman farmer" Rory Feek gives readers an update on where his life is today as a single father raising daughter Indiana, now four years old. 

 

The format here is a little different to his first book, much more loosely structured. Still, it works. Feek shares even more details of his life with Joey as well as pivotal moments in his life before and after her. Some of the big ones being around daily lessons he's taking in raising a daughter with Down Syndrome, and the moment his middle daughter came out as a lesbian and the less than admirable initial reaction he had to the news. 

 

Rory explains that while Joey was a master at traditional homesteading, his life experiences lead him to believe his personal strengths lie more in the idea of something he terms "lifesteading", or "growing love and life and hope in the place where you are planted." This struck me as simply implementing the French proverb "Bloom where you are planted" as a way of life... nonetheless, a cool way to go about living!

 

Image result for bloom where you are planted

 

Lifesteading is about planting yourself in the soil where you live and growing a life you can be proud of. A love that will last. And a hope that even death cannot shake. Like tending a garden filled with vegetables, it too requires preparing the heart's soil and planting the right seeds at the right time and watering them and keeping the weeds of this life and the bombardment of the culture from choking out what you're trying to grow. For us, the harvest has been plentiful. Beyond our wildest imaginations. Dreams that seemed impossible in years past materialized right before our eyes. That doesn't mean there hasn't been disappointments and surprises. Some a lot of people already know about, and some I share in the pages that fill this book. But just because something different than you had imagined has grown doesn't mean that it isn't beautiful. It is. 

 

Through this process, Feek chronicles his experiences and shares them with readers as a way to show others how to maybe find the extraordinary magic woven within moments and places of seemingly ordinary days. Once Upon A Farm also provides Feek a platform where he can give thanks to friends and family (by sharing their heartwarming stories) who have been so instrumental in his various joys and successes. 

 

We also get to see a little more into Feek's creative side, such as the time he enlisted a friend to help turn a former Girls Gone Wild bus into Rory's new touring bus. The story Rory is inspired to write, from the POV of the bus, is weirdly simultaneously hilarious and melancholy. 

 

 

Image result for our very own 2005 movie poster

Related image

*In this book, Rory mentions that the dog featured in 

Our Very Own (and on the poster) was actually

Joey's dog, Rufus. There's a whole story behind how Joey

trained him to ride on the roof like that.

 

 

 

The format of the book features short chapters, so the book as a whole has potential to be a good supplemental piece for daily devotionals. Feek's stories here are all about embracing the now, including who you are in the moment. His own examples: how he is unapologetic about his favorite color being white (*Yes, he points out, the trouble with this has been explained to him. Repeatedly. He doesn't care.) and his favorite day of the week being Monday. 

 

While the first memoir was more about just getting the framework of his life story out there, this one had a much more inspirational vibe to it. Feek's stories here do push for the idea of embracing the now, but he also encourages readers to make peace with their past as well, even our less rosy moments. Lessons we take from mistakes or even all out failures can show us how to move forward and teach us how to best love future loves. 

 

my favorite chapter header in the book

 

 

 

A new addition here that wasn't offered in the first book: an eight page insert on gloss paper of full color photographs. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Thomas Nelson Publishers 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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review 2018-10-13 18:23
This Life I Live (memoir) by Rory Feek
This Life I Live: One Man's Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever - Rory Feek

By inviting so many into the final months of Joey’s life as she battled cancer, Joey and Rory Feek captured hearts around the world with how they handled the diagnosis; the inspiring, simple way they chose to live; and how they loved each other every step of the way. But there is far more to the story. This is the story of a man searching for meaning and security in a world that offered neither. And it’s the story of a man who finally gives it all to a power higher than himself and soon meets a young woman who will change his heart forever.

In This Life I Live, Rory Feek helps us not only to connect more fully to his and Joey’s story but also to our own journeys. He shows what can happen when we are fully open in life’s key moments, whether when meeting our life companion or tackling an unexpected tragedy. He also gives never-before-revealed details on their life together and what he calls “the long goodbye,” the blessing of being able to know that life is going to end and taking advantage of it. Rory shows how we are all actually there already and how we can learn to live that way every day. A gifted man from nowhere and everywhere in search of something to believe in. A young woman from the Midwest with an angelic voice and deep roots that just needed a place to be planted. This is their story. Two hearts that found each other and touched millions of other hearts along the way.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

I remember following the Feeks musical story years ago on the competition show Can You Duet. More recently, I read Rory's blog posts detailing his wife's battle with cervical cancer, a battle she ultimately sadly lost. Not too long ago, I was sent Rory's most recent book for review, but hadn't read this first one yet. In the spirit of honest reviewing, I figured it was only right to backtrack a bit and take the story from the very beginning. 

 

I am famous for loving my wife....All my life I have been anonymous. A nobody. Now I'm not just somebody. I'm somebody's. I am Joey's husband. Rory. And I am honored. So very honored to have been her husband. To have stood beside her at the altar and be standing beside her still when 'til-death-do-us-part became something much more than a phrase in our wedding vows.

 

This Life I Live does offer a behind the scenes look into the marriage of the Feeks, but it also offers readers a look at Rory before Joey. His hard-knock childhood being raised by financially struggling, emotionally immature parents; his stint in the Marines (enlisting for 4 years, getting out, then deciding to re-enlist to get money to buy a PA system); his battle with being painfully shy and how that affected his ability to be in healthy relationships as an adult; last name struggles; his failures and successes as a songwriter in Nashville. There's even portions on random topics he's got thoughts on, such as the concept of tithing... how his views on it changed and the benefits of incorporating it into one's life (even in ways outside of a church setting). Heck, there's a whole chapter here JUST on how he became such a devout wearer of bib overalls!

 

Medicine can't fix being rejected by a father. Only a time machine can unlock that door. Or an apology. And my father selfishly took that key with him to his grave. 

 

Rory lays it all out... maybe to the detriment of his public image. I know I certainly had a different idea of him by the time this book ended! Some of the stuff he fesses up to fall under my personal "hard to forgive" category: hitting rock bottom emotionally and financially leading him to nearly abandon his then very small daughters, sleeping with a close friend's wife, being unfaithful to his first wife (Joey was his 2nd), leaning on Joey to teach him about responsible money management and save his backside from irresponsible money choices over and over again, even with him being a good decade older than her AND with two kids from the first marriage. Also, him writing of his Native heritage then shortly after going into an "Indian Giver" reference was an automatic star deduction from me. Over and over again I found myself reading these stories thinking, "Dude, you should known better... c'mon!" Highly disappointing and honestly, it dampened my enthusiasm for the rest of the book... but I did carry on. And it did get better. 

 

I've said many times that I think I've spent too much of my life trying to write great songs and not enough time trying to be a great man. It's true. I thought success would bring happiness, but it's the other way around. True joy and happiness have a way of attracting good things into your life. And if you aren't already happy when you find success, it will make you more unhappy. It will amplify what's already there. It did for me, anyway...

 

I did the best I could... I did the best I could with what I had. That's not really true, though, for me... I could've done better. Made better choices. But I didn't. Something inside me kept me from making great decisions with my time, energy, and love, and something was a part of me. So, in a way, the old me couldn't have done any better. He wasn't strong enough. I forgive him. Me. I am disappointed in who I was. And I think about it and remember the mistakes I made and what they cost. Who they hurt. And I try, too, not to be like him. I am me because of me. No one else. My decisions brought me here, good or bad....

 

One problematic aspect of the writing though --- at times it feels like relevant details are skipped over / left out... details that would offer more chronological cohesiveness for readers. For example, there's a casual two page mention of him making a movie at one point ... but it was written in a sort of just-in-passing kind of tone ... where he describes a window of time spent writing & directing a Civil War era film... but nothing really about the inspiration of this film, what compelled him to start this project, nothing. Just mostly a "oh, we moved to Virginia for awhile.." Umm, seems like relocating the family for awhile to create a motion picture is kind of a major story... bigger than why one wants to wear overalls every day (like I said, THAT got a full chapter)!

 

Maybe that's how God's logic works. You have to be okay with not having something to be given it.. Give it away if you want to keep it... It doesn't really make sense on paper, but it works. And that's all that matters....

 

There were things I went through with other people... hard things... that were all for Joey. They were opportunities for me to learn something, so I could be ready when she came along. I didn't understand it then, but in time I would. 

 

Rory's story, in the end, DOES offer an important lesson. His journey encourages readers to become the kind of spouse they wish to have in life. From the start, this man is upfront that he did get a lot wrong and will probably continue to have major fails, but when Joey came on the scene, he did his best to learn how to become the husband she deserved, and now the father their daughter deserves. Whether or not I agree with his choices (and let's be real, it honestly doesn't matter if I do or don't), I can respect this side of him. But I still have to say, without Joey... he might have been much less likeable. 

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review 2018-09-23 02:44
The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts
The Solace of Water - Elizabeth Byler Younts

After leaving her son’s grave behind in Montgomery, Alabama, Delilah Evans has little faith that moving to her husband’s hometown in Pennsylvania will bring a fresh start. Enveloped by grief and doubt, the last thing Delilah imagines is becoming friends with her reclusive Amish neighbor, Emma Mullet—yet the secrets that keep Emma isolated from her own community bond her to Delilah in delicate and unexpected ways. Delilah’s eldest daughter, Sparrow, bears the brunt of her mother’s pain, never allowed for a moment to forget she is responsible for her brother’s death. When tensions at home become unbearable for her, she seeks peace at Emma’s house and becomes the daughter Emma has always wanted. Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own—secrets that could devastate them all.

With the white, black, and Amish communities of Sinking Creek at their most divided, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation. But long-buried hurts have their way of surfacing, and Delilah and Emma find themselves facing their own self-deceptions. Together they must learn how to face the future through the healing power of forgiveness. Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today, The Solace of Water offers a glimpse into the turbulent 1950s and reminds us that friendship rises above religion, race, and custom—and has the power to transform a broken heart.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel touches upon the topic of self harm.

 

 

After the death of their young son, Carver, African American couple Delilah Evans and her preacher husband, Malachi, decide to move the family from Montgomery, Alabama back to the small town community of Sinking Creek, PA near where Malachi grew up. Malachi gets to work settling in as the new preacher of a local church in the area, but he finds resistance in his congregation. When he sits down with a family member for perspective on the problem, it's explained to him that he's simply been gone from the community too long and people need their trust with him restored. 

 

Delilah blames Carver's death on her daughter, Sparrow, who was supposed to be watching Carver when tragedy struck. Right from the beginning of the story, it's obvious that Delilah takes out her grieving on Sparrow in cruel ways. Struggling with feelings of guilt and abandonment by her mother, Sparrow, over the course of the novel, turns to self harm to alleviate her inner pain, turning to things such as stinging nettles, glass, even a clothes wringer to leave marks on her physical body as a way to let off steam from inner turmoil. Sparrow comes to find comfort in the presence of Emma, a local Amish woman who knows a thing or two about loss herself.

 

She had this warm milk sort of way about her. A body just couldn't walk away from somebody like that. You just want to drink it in 'cause you don't know if you ever gonna meet anyone like that again.

>> Sparrow, on getting to know Emma

 

 

But once the interactions come to the attention of Delilah, both she and Malachi warn Sparrow that she should probably keep her distance. This novel is set in the racially tense times of the 1950s and interracial friendships (and relationships otherwise) play a big part in the novel's dramatic moments. Emma hears similar warnings from her Amish neighbors and even her husband, a head deacon within the Amish community. It doesn't concern them so much that their new neighbors are black, but simply that they are "Englishers", or non-Amish. In their own ways, both the African-American and Amish communities push on these characters the damaging idea that "we'll all do a lot better if we just stick to our own kind." But as we the readers know, the world doesn't really work like that. We either cultivate love, kindness and appreciation for a multi-cultural world, or our lives face potential implosion, just as the characters in The Solace of Water learn for themselves.

 

"Since when do you know them?" John asked (after he discovers Emma knows the Evans family)

 

"I met them when they moved in. They're a nice family."

 

"The bishop said to leave them all alone because there always seems to be trouble between them and the white Englishers. We aren't like either of them and need to keep to ourselves."

 

Within Emma, we see a vessel for change. She has a poet's soul, full of curiosity in the stories of others, a love of words and a desire for knowledge. But she struggles against the darker corners of her life that threaten to tamp out her light. Her husband's secret struggle with alcoholism, his dislike of her "fancy lines" (her habit of crafting her own bits of poetry) that he sees as a form of vanity, quite the sin in Amish culture. Emma is weighted down with heavy guilt from being an enabler for her husband's drinking. She knows it's not only wrong but dangerous as well. It's not addressed directly, but parts of Emma's story suggest that perhaps John turned to drinking as a way to cope with crippling social anxiety, but over the years his bouts of aggression seem to have escalated along with the amount of alcohol he needs to consume to feel able to function. 

 

Emma's teenage son, Johnny, has had years of spoiling from his father and is progressively drawing more and more toward English ways -- drinking, late night carousing, sneaking pornographic magazines, even befriending an out-and-out racist! What changes Johnny is the first sight of Sparrow, whom he describes as the prettiest, most interesting and different girl he's ever met. You can imagine the firestorm that develops for a man who simultaneously maintains a friendship with a racist AND secretly tries to court a black teenage girl!

 

**Sidenote: I wasn't all that impressed with Johnny as a character. I couldn't help but feel that he saw Sparrow as something exotic and interesting in his Amish life rather than someone he honestly wanted to have a deep loving friendship with... even if he does talk about running away together (I think that was more about "young man caught up in the moment" than anything) and tells his mother that "Sparrow taught me things I never knew before"... What? WHEN? Their interaction throughout the whole book added up to only a handful of rushed conversations in secret! I just didn't buy that his feelings ran as deep as he claimed.**

 

The novel is presented in alternating POVs, rotating between Delilah, daughter Sparrow, and Amish neighbor Emma. To date, the novel seems to have gotten solid 4-5 star ratings across the board but I just did not have the same reaction as so many others. To be honest, I actually struggled to get to the end of this book. I DID finish it but for a book this size (under 400 pages), it took me WEEKS to get there. Highly unusual for me, especially for a historical fiction novel -- one of my favorite genres! The pace felt molasses-slow... which is sometimes nice in a novel if the writer brings the right tone... but when you combine slow with a deeply depressing plot for most of the novel... that alone left me exhausted enough.

 

But then add in Delilah as a character. That woman had a personality that just came off as almost straight vinegar. Yes, it is explained later (through her conversations with Malachi and later, Emma) that much of her acidic demeanor is driven by a combination of fear and grieving, even fear that letting go of the grieving will somehow dishonor the memory of Carver. Full disclosure: I do not have children, have never personally experienced the loss of my own child. BUT, in my own circle of family and friends, there are a number of women who have had that experience in one form or another, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, or tragedy. With that, I can say that none of the women in my circle have ever come anywhere near the unpleasantness of Delilah. They've known the sadness for sure, but they went on to live the best lives they could, full of love and appreciation for the people they still had around them. Delilah was just EXHAUSTING in the way she never gave anyone or anything a chance, she just assumed everything was more misery in disguise ... at least for a large part of the story.

 

So what kept me reading? Well, this is one of those stories that does have its important, moving moments, even if they are few and far between for some readers. But as I said, I stuck with it, and the plot's pace FINALLY picked up for me around the 250 page mark. But remember, the entire book is less than 400 pages. That's a long wait to a payoff. But readers who choose to stay with it do witness revelatory conversations, where women ask the important questions such as "Is that what you want --- to be separate?" and we come to realize that though the details and the POVs may differ, one commonality bonds these women together: they are all desperate for unconditional love and affectionate touch, something to remind them they are still important to others... yet their actions show just how scared all of them are to voice that need.

 

Aaron believed his arrival was a surprise, but I knew better. John's forgetfulness was getting worse the more he drank. His gentleness toward me was diminishing like dampness whisked away in a May breeze. And anytime he was gentle, I was filled with my own regrets and in my guilt I pushed him away. 

>> Emma

 

Good concepts for a novel, the problem for me mainly fell on the characters not having enough dimension for me to have much emotional investment in them.

 

 

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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