Book Review: Hurricane Season

In Hurricane Season by Laura K. Denton, Betsy and Jenna grew up as very different sisters. Their parents were both professionals and distant. Betsy was the responsible one who did all the right things. Jenna was free-spirited, willful, and apt to make a mess of things. But they loved each other fiercely, and Betsy was Jenna’s greatest advocate and protector.

As adults, Betsy married dairy farmer Ty, and they work together to make a go of the business and home that had been passed down through generations in Alabama. Their biggest sorrow is their inability to have children.

Jenna is a single mom to two young girls and a coffee shop manager. An old friend urges Jenna to go to an artist’s retreat in Florida to revive her dormant love of photography. At first it seems impossible. But a scholarship and her sister’s agreement to watch the girls for two weeks enable Jenna to go.

Betsy’s fragile peace with her childlessness is threatened by having two children full time, but she thinks she can hold on for two weeks. But then Jenna calls. She has an opportunity to stay past the initial two weeks, possibly even for the rest of the summer.

Besides the potential storms brewing  internally, a hurricane threatens the Gulf of Mexico.

The point of view shifts back and forth between Betsy, Ty, and Jenna. Their current circumstances and their past histories are shaped by their perspectives and personalities. Probably no one person has the entire perspective of a family. We need each other’s viewpoints and narratives to understand the whole.

I enjoyed each sister’s bumpy journey. My mind raced ahead to different ways the plot might go, but it ended up working our differently than I had thought it would—a good thing!

When I bought this book, I thought it was Christian fiction. Though there are a few mentions of God, prayer, church, etc., I can’t say a faith message was overt. For that reason, I’d label it inspirational fiction.

This is the second of four novels by USA Today best-selling author Denton. Have you read any of her work? What did you think?

(Sharing with Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: The Words Between Us

In Erin Bartels’ novel, The Words Between Us, Robin Dickinson is a loner who runs a used book shop in Michigan. Only her party-girl friend, Sarah, knows Robin’s real last name is Windsor and her father was a U. S. Senator tried and found guilty for murder and treason. Robin’s mother was implicated as well, and both parents have been in prison for eighteen years. Robin hasn’t seen either of them in all that time.

The book opens on the day Robin’s father is scheduled for execution. Robin just tries to get through the day and avoid the news when she gets a surprise package in the mail: a book from the only other person who knew her secret and betrayed her: Peter.

Robin had met Peter when she first moved to the area after her parents’ arrest to stay with her grandmother. He found out she liked to read. His mother had died a year ago and his father had boxed up all her books. Peter was reading them one by one in her honor. He offered to loan them to Robin, and she repaid him with a poem. They were heading toward a high school romance until a crisis resulted in Peter’s betrayal. Now, after having no contact in eighteen years, he sent her a copy of the first book he had loaned to her. Why? How did he know she was here?

The chapters alternate back and forth between “Then” and “Now” as Robin’s story unfolds.

In some ways, this is a story of how people survive excruciating pain. In others ways, it’s a story of judgments and misconceptions. Even when we think we have a “right” to our opinions about others, sometimes we’re wrong. It has elements of mystery and suspense. Ultimately, it’s a story about words and their effect, as the title says.

As the gorgeous cover indicates, there are a multitude of literary references.

Robin spends a lot of time thinking of the meaning of death, that indefinable something that’s missing life. Pondering a dissected frog and dead goldfish, Robin muses: “Always a body, but with something missing, something twisted out of order. It was that off bit that made me wonder. What was really missing other than breath? Because it wasn’t just that.” She notices that same absence in an old house. And later, she realizes even some books do not live:

Most of these books are not alive. They have not stood the passage of time.

They do not still burn in the hearts of those who have read them. It’s unlikely any of those readers could pull the names of the protagonists from memory. They are merely inert paper and ink, and I doubt very much they could live again.

I know why some books live on forever while others struggle for breath, forgotten on shelves and in basements. the authors . . . hadn’t bled. They hadn’t cut themselves open and given up a part of themselves that they would dearly miss. They hadn’t lost anything in the writing. That’s the difference between the books that I could never aptly explain to Dawt Pi and the ones I let The Professor [a parrot] shred. That’s the difference between the dead and the living.

Was that also what made a person or a bird or a frog alive? Was there a part of God’s heart that animated each otherwise insignificant part of the world? Had he given something up in creating me?

A couple of other quotes from the book:

Sometimes we’re handed adversity for our own good, so we’ll grow. Just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting for.

There are many types of quiet. The quiet when you first open a book and prepare yourself to enter a story. The quiet of the seed underground, waiting for spring. The quiet that follows the moment the past rips through time to invade the present.

I couldn’t remember who recommended this book to me, but I had thought it was Christian fiction. Yet I didn’t see much of anything connected to faith at first besides a couple of references, so I thought I was mistaken:

“God loves you, Robin. I pray for you—every day.” I can’t answer her without releasing the tears that are swiftly building up behind my eyes like a river behind a dam. I wish I was so sure that God looked at me with anything but fathomless disappointment.

Because of all the people I know, she’s the only one who has ever made me wonder if perhaps God must be real despite everything.

But by the end, Robin opens up to the possibility of faith in a God who loves her. So there’s a faith element, but it’s not heavy-handed.

I enjoyed Robin’s story and journey.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

 

Book Review: She Makes It Look Easy

In the novel She Makes It Look Easy by Marybeth Whalen, Ariel Baxter is a stay-at-home mom and photographer. Her photography side business has taken off to such a degree that she and her husband can afford a nice new home in a neighborhood she has dreamed of living in for years. Though Ariel has her gifts, her life and home are disorganized and chaotic.

Through my lens I watched the dynamic of friendship play out among Heather and her friends: the familiarity laced with timidity, the chance to open up paired with the fear of being exposed, the awkward dance of really knowing another person. . . somehow the girls always found a way to come back together, to find what made them stick and hold on to that. I envied their natural rapport, the ease that can only come with time together. How ironic, I thought as I focused and clicked, that these girls already had what I couldn’t seem to find.

Ariel’s neighbor, Justine is one of those women who has it all together. She’s pretty, fit, perfectly made up for a pool party, her daughters wear matching outfits. She’s organized – she even has an organizing notebook! And she’s creative and speaks to her church’s ladies’ group.

Ariel is delighted that Justine deigns to befriend her and help her start organizing and exercising. As they spend more time together, Ariel is sometimes frustrated that Justine calls the shots in what they do. But she doesn’t want to jeopardize the friendship, so she goes along. She even acquiesces when Justine steers her away from another neighbor, Erica, whom Ariel actually likes.

As events unfold, we see that Justine’ life is not as perfect as everyone else thinks. She may be organized, but her happiness, marriage, and spiritual life are facades.

We had been living in denial for months, fooling ourselves into thinking that we were safe if we stayed inside the bubble of our affluent neighborhood, not realizing that’s the problem with bubbles: They shimmer and shine, but they burst easily.

I think we all have a little bit of Eve in us. She had perfection and everything she could ever want and still she reached for more.

I fell asleep praying for the strength to do what was right and for God to guard me from situations that could land me in the same situation Justine had gotten herself into. I was learning we all need protection from ourselves.

The not-so-subtle theme of the book is that no one is perfect and we shouldn’t put people up on pedestals. No matter how great everything looks on the outside, we all have our issues. While I think this is an important point, and we get into a lot of trouble comparing ourselves to each other, I felt the author took the theme and characters to extremes. I don’t think she’s saying that organized, put-together people are bad and disorganized people with messy lives are on the right track, but it almost looks that way in the book.

Another theme is the contrast between healthy and toxic friendships. Justine is the suburban equivalent of the “queen bee” at school whose favor almost everyone seeks and who decides who is “in” and “out.” Ariel’s just glad to be “in” at first and she’s entirely too trusting. Slowly and painfully her eyes are opened to the truth.

Motivations are another key factor. Justine seems to be primarily motivated by finding “happiness,” even if it takes her on a path that she knows is wrong. Her organization, ministries, and everything else were not for God and His glory or to benefit her family and others. They were her personal search for significance.

Some readers would want to know that a couple of characters engage in adultery, but there are no explicit scenes.

Overall, this story uncovers important truths to consider in our friendships, motivations, our evaluation of ourselves, and our walk with the Lord.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)