Book Review: Seagrass Pier

Elin Summerall has a lot on her plate. Her husband died a few years ago, leaving her with their baby daughter, now four years old. She took in her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Then Elin developed a virus in her heart, which required a transplant.

Recovering from transplant surgery, Elin has been having frightening dreams—only they seem more like memories, memories of her donor being stalked and murdered. When she tells people, they think she’s just reacting to the trauma of the surgery and the strong anti-rejection drugs.

But then someone breaks into her home, leaving odd messages.

She takes her daughter and mother and flees to Hope Beach. There she finds an old acquaintance, an off-duty FBI agent, Marc Everton, who takes her story seriously and offers to help. They’ve never gotten along, except for one night in their past that they’ve both repented of.

Can they overcome their differences and work together before it’s too late—especially after Marc finds out Elin’s secret?

Seagrass Pier is the third in Colleen Coble’s Hope Beach series, and to me was the most intense. The first two were Tidewater Inn and Rosemary Cottage (linked to my reviews). Some characters from the first two books appear in the third as well. All of the books are set in a beach town on the Outer Banks, and all feature lovely historic homes I’d love to see in person.

The books have been reprinted with different covers, and one Kindle version bundles all three together.

I don’t know if the concept of “cell memory”—the idea that a transplant recipient can have memories of the donor or take on traits of the donor—goes as far in real life as is portrayed in this book. But as this is a work of fiction and not a medical treatise, I was able to set aside whether this could really happen and just go with the story.

If you like romantic suspense with a Christian undercurrent, you would probably like these books. Just don’t do what I did and start the last one in the evening without being able to put it down until way past bedtime.

Book Review: Rosemary Cottage

Amy Lange visits her family’s beach home, Rosemary Cottage, to mourn for her brother, Ben. They used to spend time at the cottage every summer together. But Ben died, in what some say was a surfing accident. A mysterious email suggests another possible explanation. However, the police think the email is just a prank.

Amy is a midwife. As she revisits Hope Island, she begins to think she could start a practice there.

Curtis Ireland is a member of the Coast Guard rescue team on the island. He’s raising his young niece, Raine, since his sister died after being struck in the water by a passing boat. His aunt, Edith, has come to help him with Raine.

Amy’s brother was idolized by her family as the golden boy, set for a successful life. Gina, Curtis’s sister, was the “black sheep” of the family, yet had made positive changes the last years of her life. But appearances can be deceiving.

Amy and Curtis join forces to investigate the siblings’ deaths, yet each holds back secrets. Each is defensive of his or her sibling. But they need to put aside their differences . . . especially as someone begins to threaten them both.

Rosemary Cottage is the second book in Colleen Coble’s Hope Beach series. Tidewater Inn was the first, and some of those characters appear in this book as well.

I not only liked the beachy setting, but I enjoyed the old houses mentioned in each book. There’s a budding romance for those who like that in a book, and there’s plenty of suspense for those who prefer action and intrigue. I thought the faith element was developed naturally.

All in all, a nice summer read.

You Don’t Have to Write Devotionals

I follow the Facebook page of someone who is not a household name, but is well known in certain circles. I don’t know her personally, but she and her husband have ministered to my family for decades. She writes of her husband’s declining health, the decisions that need to be made about his care, memories of their life and ministry together, funny stories from the past and present, etc. I’ve been thankful for her transparency, the way God has used her family, and the way He provides for her in myriad ways now.

In one post, however, she lamented talking about herself too much. The next day, she posted lessons from a passage of Scripture.

I had never thought of any of her previous posts as talking about herself too much. I had been encouraged to see God’s hand in her life and the strength and grace He gave her. While I hope I never have to walk the road she is on, her example taught me that God will help if He calls me to that. She reminded me that a life used and blessed by God is not always an easy one and that shining moments occur along the way.

Devotionals are good. Bible studies are good. I’ve been blessed and helped by both.

But I’ve also been blessed and helped by seeing God’s hand at work in someone’s everyday life.

A couple of my favorite bloggers, who, sadly, are no longer blogging, had what I called homemaking blogs. Their blogs weren’t how-to articles. The ladies just shared what was going on in their lives, but their spirit showed through and instructed me. They talked about the Lord in a natural way as part of everything they did.

I was startled to realize recently that Jesus didn’t say, “Be a light to the world.” He said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14a). If we’re believing Him, obeying Him, walking with Him, His light will shine through us.

I’ve shared a few times before an incident found in Isobel Kuhn’s book, Second Mile People:

Isobel shared that at a certain Bible conference, she met a sweet, winsome girl named Dorothy. Isobel was not yet a believer, and Dorothy hoped to speak to her about the Lord. But when they took a walk together, Dorothy didn’t get a chance to share, and she felt like a failure. Isobel wrote later that Dorothy was

unconscious that the one she had hoped to help was going away enchanted with this glimpse into the very human sweetness of this Christlike girl. ‘…I felt His Presence when you laughed just now….’ The Spirit-filled life cannot ‘fail’, it is fruitful even when it may seem least to have done anything. That walk gave Dorothy ‘influence’ over me when a ‘sermon’ would have created a permanent barrier. In fact at that time I carried a mental suit of armour all ready to slip on quietly the moment any ‘old fogey’ tried to ‘preach’ at me!”

Oswald Chambers says, ‘The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies of the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly.’ A great mistake is to think that a Spirit-filled man or woman must always be casting sermons at people. Being ‘filled with the Spirit’ (which is a first qualification of Second Mile People) is merely a refusing of self and a taking by faith of the life of Christ as wrought in us by His Holy Spirit. “We must take the Spirit’s fullness, as we take our salvation, by faith in God’s promise that He is given to us.”

This isn’t saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” as is often mistakenly attributed to Francis of Assisi. Not only did Francis not say this, but it’s an unscriptural idea. The very gospel is words, words Jesus wants us to share with others. Later in Isobel’s book, Dorthy did get to share the gospel with her more clearly, at a time when Isobel was ready to receive it.

But those words don’t always have to be in the form of a “lesson.” If we walk with the Lord, His Spirit will fill us and infuse everything we do.

God can use those gifted at unfolding truths from Scripture in ways that help others understand.

But God also uses any kind of writing or speaking that testifies of His working in our lives, acknowledging His provision, protection, fellowship. When someone tells of how God met their need or manifested Himself to them in some way, I’m drawn in.

I have known some people like Dorothy who seem to reflect Christ and carry a “sense of Him” in everything they do, every word, action, and attitude. Something of Him shines through even when they are talking about everyday activities. That only comes from spending much time with Him in His Word and prayer and being filled with His Spirit.

May I live so close to Him that people always sense His presence.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading online

I am behind again in my blog reading, but here are posts that stood out to me this week:

Judging the Sins of Our Fathers, HT to Challies. “It should also make us less sanctimonious and more cautious when we judge the sins of our fathers and the systems in which they were participants. Our hands are not so clean.”

Give Me Nineteen Men“: Muslim Missions Twenty Years after 9/11, HT to Challies. “It could not have been a better time to go. Going when circumstances looked so dark made a statement to our new neighbors: we weren’t afraid because we knew Jesus went with us. It also bore testimony that we loved the people of the Arabian Peninsula, and that we had something important to share with them.”

The Americans Who Don’t Want to Leave Afghanistan, HT to Challies. “But there are indeed Americans who want to stay in Afghanistan. I don’t know how many and I don’t know the story of each one. But there are more who want to stay than you might think. Why? Because they love God and they love Afghans.”

Are Pro-Lifers Just “Pro-Forced Birth?” HT to Challies. “Abortion advocates are brilliant at playing word games. Using clever rhetorical moves, they are able to make protecting preborn children look bad and killing preborn children look good.”

Does This Really Matter? HT to Challies. “How we spend our days isn’t just how we spend our lives. It’s how we become who we are and who we will be. It’s not just about what we’re doing, but the heart behind how and why we’re doing it.”

All We Need. “Earlier this week a friend and I were talking about the difficulty of not casting blame when other people let us down.  We came up with a pretty simple prayer from the perspective of frail and fallible human beings who are walking side-by-side along life’s path with other frail and fallible human beings.”

Finalists of the 2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, HT to Laura. These are always so fun.

And finally, I just happened across this video. Having a little fun with the William Tell Overture:

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week
with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

In contrast to last week’s quietness, this week has been pretty busy. Here are some highlights:

1. Grandparents’ Day. We had planned to get together with the family on Sunday. But two people in our church and three at Jason’s place of work tested positive for COVID this week. Just to be extra safe, we decided we should put off getting together. (The adults are vaccinated, but vaccinations aren’t 100% effective. Plus one can carry the virus even if not sick personally. And Timothy has not been vaccinated–and kids can get COVID.) Jason, Mittu, and Timothy dropped off a wonderful meal (ribs, potatoes, green beans, rolls, and cheesecake), plus pink roses for me and beef jerky for Jim.

2. Granddad book. Also for Grandparent’s Day, Jason, Mittu, and Timothy gave me a throw blanket for the living room to replace the one I’ve been using, which is so old the threads are starting to break off. They gave Jim the cutest book called Why My Granddad Is My Super Hero. Each page had a prompt for Timothy to fill in.

3. Jesse’s birthday. Love celebrating the family’s special days.

4. Cake reclamation. Jesse wanted this Lemon Blueberry Cake, which Mittu had made back for his “10,000th day” celebration. Cakes are not my best thing, especially from scratch. And replacing the regular flour with a gluten-free blend doesn’t always go well. But I gave it a try. To make a long story short, it did not go well. There were tears. I didn’t take a picture of it at its worst, but, once I stopped crying about it, we all had a good laugh. My dear daughter-in-law did a wonderful job redeeming it and even making it look cute–and it ended up tasting good, too.

To give you a clue of just one of the MANY things that went wrong in the course of making this cake . . .

. . .when I went to mix the wet stuff with the dry, I dropped the wet stuff bowl, and it splattered.

I so appreciated that Jim, Mittu, and Timothy pitched in to help clean up the kitchen, and Jim did some straightening around the house I hadn’t been able to get to before everyone came over.

5. Cake strips. One thing that did go right! The blogger with the cake recipe recommended cake strips, which you wet and put around the cake pan. Normally my cakes end up thin around the edges and domed in the middle. Evidently that’s because the outside edge cooks more quickly, and the cake strips help avoid that. They worked great! But I’ll share this tip: I bought the kind he recommended from Amazon, but then later I saw them for half the price in Wal-Mart’s craft section.

And a bonus: today there’s nothing on the agenda and nothing that absolutely has to be done, so I’ve already had a nap and am looking forward to some rest.

How was your week?

Chris Fabry’s Dogwood

Dogwood by Christ Fabry is set in West Virginia and told from four different points of view.

Karin is a pastor’s wife with three children. But she feels far from God. She has trouble sleeping and spends most nights in her closet with a Bible and a book of poetry. She doesn’t seem to know what the basic problem is or how to feel close to God again. An aged woman in her church, Ruby, takes an interest in her and tries to help her.

Will Hatfield is from Dogwood, but has spent the last twelve years of his life in prison for his part in an accident that killed two children. He has loved Karin since he was a teenager and plans to go back to Dogwood and win her when he gets out.

Bobby Ray is Karen’s brother, a rookie police officer, and a soon-to-be dad of his first child with his wife.

Danny Boyd is a young boy who talks to a counselor about his feeling responsible for the death of his sisters.

At first, the four different points of view are confusing, especially as some of the names of side characters are similar. I listened to the audiobook, which makes it harder to backtrack to double check names or points. But after a while, I was able to distinguish who was whom and who belonged with which character.

I was able to piece various parts of the story together as the narratives went along. I had figured out one aspect, but the main twist, revealed in the last 30-45 minutes of the story, took me by completely by surprise.

I loved some of Fabry’s phrasing here:

My constant companions were fears, not God. I convinced myself he was simply on vacation, out carrying someone else on that beach with all the footprints. My heart had shriveled, and my soul was as wrinkled.

Ruthie was the first to tell me that God hadn’t abandoned me but was drawing me deeper, calling me out of the shallows, past the abyss, and into the current of his love and mercy. Yeah, right, I thought. God hadn’t asked me if I wanted to go deeper, and thank you very much, I liked the shallows. It’s easier to play when there’s no current. In the middle you lose your footing; you lose control.

Water that’s not moving becomes stagnant. And if there’s not someone pouring into you, the pitcher gets dusty. A person is most satisfied and most useful when she is both giving and receiving. In marriage. In life. In friendship. With God too.

There were a couple of statements that bothered me, like “I’m convinced God sometimes wants to communicate outside the usual box” and “Listen to your heart.”

And I didn’t like couple of scenes with a teen couple swimming in their underwear and mention of women displaying cleavages for Will to see.

But the overall story was very good. Chris tells some of his thoughts in writing the novel here. This is the first of a trilogy. I had already read June Bug, the sequel, a few years ago. I probably won’t read the last one, though, about an angel’s assignment in Dogwood.

Tidewater Inn

In Tidewater Inn by Colleen Coble, Libby Hollander is an architectural historian. She and her business partner, Nicole, convince investors to let them restore old buildings.

While Libby checks out one house, Nicole visits a property on the Outer Banks. But what she discovers stuns both of them. Libby had been told her father died when she was five. However, he had been living on Hope Island all this time, remarried, had two more children, and left his Tidewater Inn to Libby when he passed away a year before.

Libby learns that her half-siblings knew about her. Even though they’ve received a sizeable cash inheritance, they’re not happy that she inherited the inn. Another investor is also interested in the Inn. Though Libby would dearly love to keep it, she doesn’t have the money to restore it. The investor wants to begin a ferry service to the island and build up some other properties, but long-time residents fear commercialization of the island.

Before Libby can even begin to delve into all this, however, Nicole is kidnapped right before her eyes—and the local sheriff thinks Libby is the prime suspect.

And a hurricane is heading toward the island.

There are different layers of mysteries tied up in the story, and a handsome Coast Guard lieutenant helps Libby untangle them.

Several years ago I had read a few of Colleen’s books about a woman named Bree and her rescue dog, Samson, and some of the rescues they were involved in. And, lo and behold, Bree and Samson turn up in this book for a bit.

I enjoyed the story, Libby’s journey, and the setting. I grew up on the Southern Texas coastline, near Padre Island, and stories set in a coastal town bring that back to me.

This is the first book in the Hope Island series, and I’ve already started the second.

Back to the Classics Challenge Wrap-Up

Karen at Books and Chocolate hosts the Back to the Classics Challenge. Books have to be 50 years old and fit within the categories chosen for the year in order to qualify. Karen draws a name from participants at the end of the year to receive a $30 gift card towards books, and the number of categories you finish determines how many entries you get.

Here are the categories I finished this year. Titles link back to my reviews. I actually finished back in June (a record for me, I think), but am just now finishing this post.

1. A 19th century classic: The Warden by Anthony Trollope
2. A 20th century classic: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
3. A classic by a woman author: Silas Marner by George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans)
4. A classic in translation: The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
5. A classic by BIPOC author: The Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth and Olive Gilbert
6. A classic by a new-to-you author: Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
7. New-to-you classic by a favorite author: Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
8. A classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title: Animal Farm by George Orwell
9. A children’s classic: Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
10. A humorous or satirical classic: Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
11. A travel or adventure classic (fiction or non-fiction): A Room With a View by E. M. Forster
12. A classic play: Our Town by Thornton Wilder.

Karen wants us to put the number of entries we get for the prize drawing based on the number of categories completed. I have three entries because I completed all twelve categories.

Karen also wants us to put our contact email here: barbarah06 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Once again, I very much enjoyed this challenge. Some of the books were cozy; some were challenging. All stimulated thinking in one form or another. That they still speak and still provoke thought and discussion after to so long a time is, I suppose, what makes them classics.

Kindness

I shouldn’t look. But sometimes on Twitter a name or situation in the “Trending” sidebar catches my eye. So I click over. And I am usually sorry I did. All too often, the trending person or group is the subject of undeserved vitriol and ridicule.

Most people would say that the world should be kinder. If only people would just be nicer to each other, we think, then the world would be a better place to live. Wars, murders, and injustice would cease.

But then someone disagrees with our politics, and we lambast them. Or someone cuts us off in traffic, and we call them all kinds of names. Or we see someone wearing a mask while inside their car, alone, and we take to Facebook to make fun of them.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, I got in someone’s way in a store without thinking. As the young man passed me, he looked in my eyes, pulled his mask down, and told his companion, “I hope she gets COVID. I hope she dies from it.” Seriously—to wish death on someone for a minor inconvenience?

If we want a kinder world, we can’t wait for everyone else to make the first move. We need to evaluate our own words and attitudes.

Well, sure, we might say. We need to watch our temper. We probably shouldn’t get on Facebook or Twitter to vent. But, seriously, there are some people . . . like the guy who just will not listen to reason. Or who is totally wrong about the best way to handle immigration, economics, or whatever.

Sadly, many Christians are nor faring any better in the kindness department. Some are gracious and loving online. But many are harsh and judgmental, quick to argue instead of listen, answering in superiority instead of humility. We desperately need revival.

Kindness doesn’t mean passivity, never taking a stand, or never disagreeing. But I think it must at least involve assuming the best rather than the worst motives and not stooping to the lowest levels in the way we answer people made in the image of God, people Jesus loves and died for.

We’re to treat other believers as family: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2). To unbelievers, we should shine as lights. We should be inviting, treating them as those we want to come into the family.

Jesus told his disciples, in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

How is it that we apply this to everyone else under the sun, except the person who irritates us the most?

God doesn’t just give good things to those who believe on Him. He “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” He went so far as to die for people who were his enemies:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

And we’re called to be like him.

We can’t do that in our own strength. We need His.

The world at large won’t understand this. But maybe if they see it in action, their eyes might be opened, their hearts more receptive to the truth.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

Here are several posts that spoke to me this week:

What Can God Do with Broken Hearts? “Where we tend to dispose of what has been broken, God treasures it. Where the human instinct is toward those who are confident, assertive, and self-sufficient, the divine eye is drawn to those who are humble, who are contrite in spirit, and who tremble at God’s Word. Where the world looks to those who are whole and strong, God looks to those who are weak and broken, for his specialty is bringing much from little, beauty from ashes, strength from weakness.”

It’s a Terrible Thing for a Sheep to Go Astray, HT to Challies. “Baarack probably thought it was a great adventure when she wandered off from her flock. Yet, fast-forward a few years, and that freedom was shown to be a massive problem. With no-one to look after her or encourage her, she was close to death.”

Has God Abandoned Me? “He bends down and begins writing in the dirt. The Bible doesn’t tell us what he wrote. I wonder if that’s because his intention was deeper than words. He wanted to show us he’s not afraid to stoop low into our dirtiest messes and get our dirt on his hands.”

Is Your Wisdom Really Wise? “Although I’ve never seen these qualities hanging on a wall like the fruit of the Spirit, James 3:17 provides us a compact description of ‘the fruit of wisdom.'”

Being the Bad Guy, HT to Challies. “The thing is, all my terrible plots have ended in failure. I guess I’m not really that great at being an evil mastermind. Somehow, the children have always found a way to defeat me. Which is fine. Actually, I’m happy. I want the bad guys to lose, too.”

5 Things to Say to Help a Depressed Christian. “While these descriptions can help you understand depression a little more, you don’t have to know if someone has been clinically diagnosed to help them. You don’t have to be a counselor to be a loving and compassionate friend.”

The Commitment Cycle. “It’s a reminder to slow down, do less, and go deeper on the stuff that really matters. I want to be intentional about optimizing for quality over quantity, choosing focus over frenzy.”

No Purpose for Old Folks, HT to Challies. Loved this story with it’s ironic title.

The World Needs Your Story, HT to Challies. “I don’t need to go viral for my contribution to the world to be valuable. My story doesn’t have to be seen by the masses to be meaningful.”

Looking the World Back to Grace, HT to The Story Warren. A delightful piece about how Anne of Green Gables sees things: “If Anne seems out of touch with reality, it is because she is in touch with a deeper reality. Matthew and Marilla are good people, but they are pragmatic people, in bad need of a reminder that there is more to their world than meets the eye.”

A Prayer for Our Nation on September 11. “We remember the fear and uncertainty we felt that September morning. But like the Americans at Fort McHenry in 1814, we also remember the hope you gave us as the smoke began to clear and we saw our star-spangled banner, still waving, unfurled over the battlefield our enemies meant to be our place of defeat. Lord, encourage and strengthen us on this day, for You are our true hope.”

It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since 9/11. I shared my experiences and impressions of that day here as well as subsequent anniversaries. One of the young men in our church shared the following verse in the aftermath. Life is short and uncertain. Only in God is our refuge, strength, and comfort. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones that day.

Shared from The Story Warren, William Blake’s poem, “On Another’s Sorrow.”