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.

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.

Unconditional

Unconditional by Eva Marie Everson is based on a movie by the same name, which in turn was based on true events.

Samantha Crawford loves her life, living on a ranch with her beloved husband, Billy, riding her horses, and writing and sketching children’s books.

Then tragedy strikes. Billy is gunned down in an alley in a poor part of town.

Samantha loses her belief in God’s love and goodness. She doesn’t write any more.

At her lowest point, Samantha encounters a child hurt by a hit-and-run driver. Taking the child and the child’s brother to the hospital, Samantha runs into one of the children’s neighbors—her best from from school, Joe Bradford.

As Samantha reconnects with Joe, she learns he has kidney disease. But he spends his time ministering to the children in his neighborhood. He and his girlfriend, Denise, provide after-school snacks, attention, affirmation, and encouragement. But Joe’s time is running out unless he can get a kidney transplant.

Observing Joe’s simple faith and ministry, Samantha’s heart starts to warm again. But she’s also driven to find her husband’s murderer, convinced that the police have given up on the case. And she thinks she just may have found him—in Joe’s neighborhood.

I had not heard of the movie, but picked up this book on a Kindle sale because I had enjoyed some of Eva Marie Everson’s books. I didn’t know when I started reading it that it was based on a true story. “Papa Joe” Bradford started Elijah’s Heart to aid at-risk children.

Finding out the story was true made it even more heart-warming and inspirational than it already was. In an interview, Joe Bradford says about 97% of film is true to his life and the Samantha character is a composite of different friends.

The movie used to be on Netflix, but isn’t any more. However, it’s online here and on YouTube here. I enjoyed watching it last night. The book uses scenes and dialogue from the movie, but includes more information. Here’s a trailer for the film:

Have you seen or read Unconditional? If not, I hope you do.

A Southern Season: Stories from a Front Porch Swing

I picked up A Southern Season: Stories from a Front Porch Swing because I liked the title and concept. Plus, I had read several books by one of the authors, Eva Marie Everson, and heard her speak at a writer’s conference I attended virtually.

The book contains four novellas written by different authors. Each story takes place in the South in different seasons.

the first is Ice Melts in Spring by Linda W. Yezak. Since her husband’s drowning, Kerry Graham had avoided the coast. But now she has been requested by a reclusive author to come and catalog the items the author is donating to the museum Kerry works for. As the author lets down her guard and shares from her life, Kerry finds they have more in common than she knew.

In Lillie Beth by Eva Marie Everson, Lillie Beth was overjoyed not only to fall in love, but to escape her abusive home life. After she married David, Lillie Beth lives with David’s Granny while he goes to Viet Nam. But David doesn’t come home: he is killed in action.

Meanwhile, a Dr. Gillespie comes to town to help and then replace the town doctor. Dr. Gillespie’s wife had died, and he feels God has abandoned him. As the doctor helps Lillie when Granny is dying, he sees Lillie Beth’s simple faith and strength of character.

In Through an Autumn Window by Claire Fullerton, Cate returns to her Memphis hometown after her mother passes away. Her brother perpetuates their sibling rivalry until the two of them face a common enemy.

In A Magnolia Blooms in Winter by Ane Mulligan, Morgan James is living her dream as a Broadway actress. It was harder to break in than she thought. While waiting to hear whether she got her first leading part, her mother calls her home. The man leading the Christmas play has been injured. Since Morgan wrote the play, and her mother is responsible for the man’s accident, her mother asks Morgan to come help out. Morgan finds unexpected joy in directing the play and helping other young actors. When she reconnects with an old flame, she struggles with the thought of giving up what she thought was a God-given dream to act on Broadway. But could God have given her that dream for a specific purpose and season?

I enjoyed all these stories. Some were sad, some were funny. All were poignant and hopeful. The title fit well: this was a good book for summer evenings.

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Out of the Shadows

In Sigmund Brouwer’s Out of the Shadows, Nick Barrett’s life has been shaped by two abandonments. His mother left with his trust fund before his tenth birthday, and there had been no word from her since. And as an adult, his wife of four days betrayed him.

Nick’s mother had been a waitress when a war hero from one of Charleston’s elite families saw her and fell in love. They married, but Nick and his mother were considered outsiders, especially after his father died. When his mother left, he was begrudgingly taken in by his father’s relatives. But he was still always on the outside. Just four days after he married the girl he loved, an accident cost him his leg, his marriage, and his Charleston residency. He signed an agreement to leave and never return.

Nick has been away from his native Charleston, SC, for fifteen years. He’s bitter against his mother, his relatives, and God. But a mysterious unsigned note has brought him back, promising information about his mother. Looking not only for information, but also revenge, Nick is led through a winding path of revelations. But what will they cost him in the end?

In defense of the stubbornness of my soul’s early flight from God, there were all the events before I left Charleston—events that seemed totally bereft of the touch of a God of love. God, however, as I was about to discover, is a patient hunter. I can now examine my years of exile and see earmarked on the pages of my personal history the times he beckoned, times that I resolutely turned aside to my own path. I imagine that in a way, I was like Jonah, determined to head in the opposite direction of God’s calling. For Jonah, the city he desperately wanted to avoid was Nineveh. For me, it was Charleston.

I picked up this book on a Kindle sale partly because I love Charleston and partly because I had read something of Brouwer’s in the past. I remembered enjoying it, though I couldn’t remember what it was.

This book was fascinating. There were several jaw-dropping surprises or twists, but not too many to seem realistic. I love the Charleston history and setting. I loved the irony of the Old South incongruity of using the most polite language while doing the most awful things. A couple of my favorite characters were a gossipy pair of elderly twin antique owners.

I didn’t know at first that this book was the beginning of a series. But now I look forward to reading the rest.

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The Summer Kitchen

The Summer Kitchen by Lisa Wingate opens with SandraKaye Darden meeting a realtor at her Uncle Poppy’s house. Poppy had been tragically killed in a robbery just a few months before. The police had no new leads in his case. It was time to sell the house and move on.

The house was old and had not been well-kept due to Poppy’s advanced age. But SandraKaye can’t quite let it go yet. This house was a safe haven for her as a child when her mother’s mood swings and substance abuse were too much to bear. Though it doesn’t really make sense, Sandra decides to paint the kitchen cabinets. But she doesn’t tell her family or her pushy best friend.

Though outwardly Sandra looks affluent, she feels her world is crumbling. Her husband, a successful doctor, is rarely home. Neither is her youngest son, Christopher, who is struggling but won’t open up to her. And her oldest son, Jake, fled after Poppy’s funeral. Jake blamed himself: if Jake had been with Poppy, as he usually was that time of the week, perhaps Poppy would still be alive now. Jake’s car was found at the airport, and they suspect he went back to his native Guatemala, from which he had been adopted as a young boy.

As Sandra works in Poppy’s house, some of the neighborhood faces become familiar. The pre-teen wanna-be thugs who roam the streets. The disabled elderly lady. The kids who run around unsupervised. The family of Hispanic people across the street. And the teen girl who looks 13 going on 30.

The teen girl, Cass, lives with her brother, Rusty. Their mother died, and they didn’t want to live with “creepy Roger,” their mother’s boyfriend. So they ran away. Rusty, age 17, finds work to support them, and Cass tries to make ends meet in their cheap apartment. They lie about their ages so that social services won’t find and separate them.

One day when SandraKaye chases some young children from the dumpster, she realizes they were probably scavenging for food. She decides to bring peanut butter sandwiches the next day. That starts a regular routine. Cass begins helping, mainly in order to have access to those sandwiches. The two women form a relationship that changes both their lives.

I picked this book up on a two-for-one audiobook sale because I loved Wingate’s Carolina Chronicles series so much. This book, however, started extremely slowly. Then a crude reference and a bad word caused me to set it aside and listen to another book instead. I decided to come back to it later, and I am glad I did, because I enjoyed the latter half much more.

The slowness was not just the beginning plot. The narrators also seemed slow. The point of view goes back and forth between Sandra and Cass, and the story is set in Texas. I grew up in TX and don’t recall anyone there speaking as slowly as these narrators. It finally occurred to me to speed up the audiobook to 1.2. That helped a great deal without distorting the voices.

I was very disappointed to see the crude reference and bad word in one of Lisa’s books. I hope this doesn’t become a trend. Both were quite unnecessary. I got from the rest of Lisa’s description that the neighborhood Poppy and Cass lived in was seedy. There was no need to throw those elements in for realism or grit.

But I did appreciate SandraKaye’s realization that she didn’t have to retreat into a shell. It was good to see her world opening up to see the needs of others, not just as statistics, but as real people.

I especially liked how Sandra went from asking herself “Aren’t there programs to help these people?” to doing what she could personally.

I was also very satisfied with how the story ended. There were a couple of ways it might have that would have been nice but implausible. I think Lisa ended it the best way possible to be both realistic and gratifying.

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Three Shall Be One

Francena Arnold was one of the first—if not the first—writers of Christian fiction. Her first book, Not My Will, was published in 1946 and became a classic. I read it at least twice and its sequel once. I wasn’t aware (or had forgotten) she had written other books until I saw her Three Shall Be One on a Kindle sale.

In this story, Linda and Tony are a young couple with two little ones. They don’t have much, but they’re happy—at least until Tony’s controlling mother comes for an extended visit and moves them into a nice place with better furniture.

Linda is furious, not only at her mother-in-law, but at her husband for not standing up to her. But Tony has learned through long years of experience that he never wins with his mother, and it’s easiest just to let her have her way.

Linda learns to be quiet for the most part when her mother-in-law is there, despite constant criticism. Occasionally Linda will let slip a sarcastic remark, exasperating Tony.

When Tony’s mother leaves, he and Linda have it out. Tony had thought couples argued when they no longer loved each other, and he is “troubled by the realization that ugly quarrels could come even when they loved.” But after a day apart, they regret their harsh words and make up.

Both Tony and Linda had rejected religion of any kind as a sign of weakness.

Life goes on much the same—until the next mother-in-law visit. An incident then sets off a chain of events none of them could have anticipated.

There are a couple of implausible plot twists in the book that take away from the story, but I can’t go into them here without revealing too much. And this book suffers from the same problem a lot of early Christian fiction had: the main character(s) come to a crisis which leads to their salvation, and then all their problems are solved. Of course, problems don’t go away when we become Christians, though at that point we do have His grace and help and wisdom for them.

If you can look past those issues, though, the book is a sweet, old-fashioned story. I liked that the book didn’t end with Linda’s salvation and showed some of her growth afterward. Also, Linda’s friends’ care for her was a great example. The author shows good understanding of the psychological factors involved in the couple’s troubles.

I looked at Amazon to see what other books they had by Francena Arnold. The Kindle versions of some of them are 99 cents as of this writing, including this title. I’m glad to see someone made them available for the Kindle app, though they are still available in paperback as well.

Have you read Francena Arnold? What did you think of her books?

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Heaven Sent Rain

In the novel Heaven Sent Rain by Lauraine Snelling, Dinah Taylor is a scientist who started her own company of food supplements to improve health. Her job, her life, her all-white condo and wardrobe are perfectly ordered.

One day at her usual breakfast stop, she sees a small boy and his dog sitting out in front. They look shabby, but not dirty. Dinah offers to buy the boy, Jonah, breakfast, and he accepts. Then he’s at the same place the next day, and then every day thereafter. Dinah tries to find out his background, imagining everything from a drug-infested home to neglect. But Jonah evades her questions.

Then in the middle of one night, Dinah receives a frantic phone call. Jonah’s dog is badly injured. Can she help?

Dinah isn’t sure what she’s getting into, but she can’t refuse. Searching for an emergency vet clinic open that time of night, she takes Jonah and his dog in. They are met by veterinarian Garret Miller, who seems warm and kind toward Jonah and the dog, but icy toward Dinah.

As Dinah continues to help Jonah, she gets in over her head. As she, Jonah, and Garret interact, their lives change.

Most of the other books I’ve read by Lauraine were historical fiction about Norwegian immigrants. I didn’t think I had read any of her contemporary fiction, but then remembered I had read Someday Home a couple of years ago.

I loved the way Dinah’s story unfolded, with the author revealing just a bit at a time until the whole picture came into view. Garret is an enjoyable character, too, after getting past his initial standoffishness, which is explained later.

Dinah is not a Christian, having rejected her parents’ teaching and beliefs. The details of that situation are gradually revealed, too. Garret and Jonah are both believers, as is Dinah’s receptionist. But the faith element felt very natural and not forced.

I thought the ending wrapped up a bit too quickly, and I had a theological quibble with one sentence. But overall I really enjoyed the book.

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