Book Review: A Season to Dance

When I saw Susan’s review of A Season to Dance by Patrica Beal, I wasn’t sure if I’d be interested in the story. But I was touched by the author’s testimony of how she became a Christian during the course of writing the book. So when I saw the ebook on sale for the Kindle app, I decided to give it a try.

In this novel, Ana Brassfield is a ballerina with dreams of dancing at the Met one day. She’s happy in her relationship with landscape architect Peter. But her old boyfriend, Claus,  is in town to dance Romeo to her Juliet. Ana is conflicted because she never knew why Claus left ten years ago. And though she doesn’t want to be, she finds herself still attracted to Claus.

But a betrayal ends her relationship with Peter and sends her traveling to Germany. New challenges and relationships rise and fall. A chance meeting with another American and a tract lead to Ana reading the Bible, but she doesn’t understand most of it.

Many people live like Ana, pursuing dreams and relationships only to find that nothing satisfies. One of the things Ana pursues are men. In this book she is torn between two, but a side comment reveals “for years and years, I’d kept looking for that first-love magic. Forever looking—from bed to bed—but never finding it.” Since a lot of people do live this way, I didn’t have a problem with that part of Ana’s journey being mentioned. If someone’s main problem was theft, we’d see them stealing. Like the woman at the well in John 4, Ana’s main temptation was men. Still, I could have used less mention of it. Thankfully there were no explicit scenes. I don’t read many romances, so statements about how someone’s kisses taste and phrases like “nibbling my wet lips with a sigh” kind of make me cringe.

Aside from that aspect, though, I was touched by Ana’s journey. Patrica writes how she came to know the Lord while writing this book here. I appreciated that Ana’s spiritual experience was a gradual one, with understanding coming in bits, and willingness coming a little later. I think it’s that way for most people rather than one sudden flash. And I really liked that the author was clear about salvation. I know every Christian book doesn’t have to contain the plan of salvation, and there are times a more subtle message is appropriate. But sometimes when authors try hard not to spell out what salvation and conversion involve, they make it unclear and confusing.

Like Ana, the author danced ballet and lived in both Georgia and Germany, so her writing is enhanced by those experiences. I don’t know much about ballet, and I enjoyed a peek into that world. One aspect I particularly liked was that Ana’s fiance worked at Calloway Gardens in GA, one of my favorite places from the few short years we lived near Atlanta.

One of the characters contracts Huntington’s disease, and the author described the heartbreak of that illness and its effects in a realistic way.

If it weren’t for the heavy sexual aspect of this book, I’d have no problem recommending it. As I said, it’s not explicit, but it’s mentioned quite a bit. I think that part of Ana’s life could have been conveyed with a lot less information. But I loved Ana’s gradual transformation and growth.

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

Book Review: Castle on the Rise

Castle on the Rise by Kristy Cambron Castle on the Rise is the sequel to The Lost Castle novel by Kristy Cambron. I think they could be read as standalones. But I’d recommend reading both.

Laine Forrester travels to France to be the matron of honor at her best friend’s wedding. The castle setting and the events leading up to the wedding make it seem like something out of a fairy tale.

But a couple of events bring the fairy tale crashing into real life problems. For one, the groom’s estranged brother from Ireland, Cormac, shows up just before the wedding to ask him to come back to the Foley home for an urgent need.

Laine’s friend asks her to come along. Laine hasn’t told her of her own crisis and crossroads. Now doesn’t seem like the time. But the invitation is a perfect excuse to get away for a while with her adopted daughter, Cassie.

The Foleys have been bequeathed a castle from a customer’s will. They didn’t know her well and can’t figure out why she willed them a castle. Cormac’s father, Jack, just wants to call an auction house and sell everything. But Cormac feels he needs to find out what’s behind the gift. Laine’s father was an antique dealer, so she helps Cormac evaluate which items are of value.

This novel weaves together stories from three timelines, all revolving around the castle. One takes place in the 1790s during an uprising between the Irish and English. Maeve’s family owns the castle, but her father is immobilized in grief over the loss of his wife and son. So she has to take the reins. One of her first tasks is to deal with a wounded enemy.

Another strand of the story takes place during the 1916 Easter Rising. Issy’s family now lives in the manor house, but her brother goes against her father’s wishes to join the rebels. Issy feels compelled to join him, and her budding interest in photography helps document events.

As Laine and Cormac investigate, they discover more of the castle’s surprising past. They each take steps to overcome their own past wounds to be open to new possibilities.

I knew, of course, that the Irish had fought against English control at intervals. But I didn’t know many of the details. I enjoyed learning some Irish history through this book. But I also enjoyed the stories in each timeline and the obstacles each character had to overcome.

And often, whenever I cam to a stopping place, music from the Irish Tenors sprang to mind for the next little bit. 🙂

A few quotes:

[Sean] was of a sort to look far down a path—he always said, to see the good that could come of something God was crafting behind the scenes, one had to keep an eye out for it. And Issy needed that view at present because she failed to see it (p. 50).

The talk of luxuries went far deeper than a gift of fruit. Maeve knew that. Theirs were the longstanding divides between the rich and poor, Protestant and Catholic, Anglo and Irish, even oppressed and free—for hundreds of years. They’d bled into the very earth beneath their boots, and it was tasked to her to either uphold or endeavor to change attitudes around them (p. 162).

Writers are the caretakers o’ history, Byrne. We document the livin’ and dyin’ of the human cause. But our pen, however noble, however well-intended, will always bleed the color of our convictions (p. 181).

I also enjoyed Kristy’s notes at the end concerning what led to her writing the novel, her research trip to Ireland, and the true historical details she included.

All in all, this is another great book by Kristy with three stories in one.

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

Book Review: A Portrait of Marguerite

In A Portrait of Marguerite by Kate Lloyd, Marguerite Carr’s only son is about to leave for college, and she feels lost. Her best friend drags her to an art class, just to get out of the house and do something fun. Marguerite had been an art major in college but had set art aside when she married and then had her son. She’s reluctant to let art back into her life, but she lets her friend talk her into the art class.

There she meets two people who will have an impact on her future: the instructor, Henry, and an older fellow student, Emily. Unfortunately, Henry is a friend of Marguerite’s ex-husband, Phil, which doesn’t raise him in her estimation.

We learn later in the book that Marguerite is weighed down by a secret from her past. As the story progresses, everyone that she holds in high regard is found to have faults and failures, even her beloved father. And her ex-husband, wonder of wonders, seems to have changed for the better.

I’m usually not one to infer symbolism where it’s not intended, but I do think Marguerite’s painting journey, from reluctance to dabbling to freedom, parallels her inner journey as she learns to forgive and accept herself and others.

The spiritual undercurrent, mainly from Emily, is subtle but realistic.

While this wasn’t the most riveting read, I enjoyed it. I’d give it a 4 out of 5.

(Sharing with Carole’s 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 and Giveaway: The Shop Keepers

The Shop Keepers by Nancy Moser is the third book in her Pattern Artist series. The first two books, The Pattern Artist and The Fashion Designer, tell the story of Annie Wood, who came from a difficult family background to become a maid to the Summerfield family of Nancy’s Manor House series. (Annie’s backstory in included in Christmas Stitches.) In the first two books, Annie had a knack for sewing and designing, but the other women in charge of that work took credit for hers. On a trip to America, Annie left her position and found a job first at Macy’s Department Store, then at the Butterick Pattern Company, then in her own dress shop. She met, fell in love, and married Sean Culver.

This third book takes place in New York in 1919, just after the first World War. Annie has two young daughters by now, but her husband has not returned from the war. He’s missing. Her shop, Unruffled, is not doing well. People had to buckle down during the war, and no one felt like buying fashionable yet practical clothes. The country is still in recovery mode. Most of the shop is decked out in black mourning dresses. One of Annie’s partners suggests they go into wedding dresses to help those who had been waiting for sweethearts to return. The prospect raises hope not only for new business but for a brighter shop and outlook.

At just the right time, a salesman from a local fabric shop offers them beautiful fabrics just right for weddings at deep discounts. Full of charm, he tempts the customers in Annie’s shop with his samples. This boon helps set the shop on a new, welcome trajectory. But something about this man bothers Annie, especially when he turns his charm her direction.

Henrietta, Annie’s bookkeeper and long-time friend. feel fortunate that her husband has returned home from the war. But he doesn’t seem totally back. He spends most of the day sitting in a chair looking out the window at the sky. She can’t seem to interest him in herself, their sons, or life in general.

Maude, who had been with Annie since her Butterick days, had married widower Antonio Ricci in the last book. Maude could not have children of her own, but welcomed Antonio’s two children. Now the oldest, Gela, is an independent-minded teenager who finds an unexpected talent. Maude is concerned where Gela’s gifts will take her in her naivete, especially when an unsavory character from Maude’s past comes on the scene.

It took me just a little bit to remember who the characters were and their backgrounds. This book could be read as a stand-alone, but I think it would be a much richer experience for those who have read the first two books.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. I’ve often read books set during the world wars, but the time of adjustment after after WWI is a fascinating era that few focus on. There were threads of intrigue with the salesman, the man from Maude’s past, and a seeming presence in the shop workroom. Henrietta’s husband’s condition, Annie’s missing husband, and Maude’s concerns lent strands of pathos. Those were woven together with needs for forgiveness, patience, hope. I always enjoy Nancy’s afterwords with details that went her story, historical elements that were true, etc. And I love the book cover.

Once again, I found myself with both a paperback and Kindle copy of this book. I read the Kindle version, and I’d like to give the paper copy away to one of you. Just leave a comment on this post if you are interested in being part of the drawing for this book. (I’ll take all comments on this post as entries unless you let me know you’re not interested.) I’ll draw a name a week from today. I’m sorry, due to shipping costs I can only send the book to US addresses.

Have you read much from the post-WWI era?

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

The giveaway is closed: the winner is Linda!

Book Review: Promise Me This

In the novel Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke, Owen and Annie Allen have been raised by their manipulative Aunt Eleanor in England ever since their parents died. Now Owen has trained himself as a gardener and is about to set off for a new life in New Jersey with their aunt and uncle on their father’s side. He can’t take Annie with him yet, which makes her furious. But he removes her from Aunt Eleanor’s house to a school until he can send for her.

As Owen gets ready to sail on the Titanic in a week, he meets a young street kid, Michael Dunnagan. Owen has compassion on him, shares his food, and gives him odd jobs until time to leave.

Michael picks up another job making deliveries to the Titanic. He muses that in a ship that size, he could hide away and escape from his abusive uncle.

Within just a few days at sea, Owen discovers Michael and takes him into his quarters. He shares his food as well as his plans and dreams to start a new life in New Jersey and send for Annie as soon as possible.

Then comes the fateful night the Titanic hits the iceberg. Owen sends Michael off with the women and children and wraps him in the jacket where he had sewn his precious seedling samples in the lining. Michael fights with everything he has to stay with Owen, but Owen insists and bodily pushes Michael to safety.

After a series of events, Michael finds his way to Owen’s aunt in New Jersey and tells her all that has happened. She takes him in and tells him about the trouble she faces which Owen had not yet heard. In their grief, they decide to try to make a go of Owen’s plans. Michael is determined to bring Annie home.

Annie is devastated, angry, and bitter, not only that Owen died, but that Michael lived instead. Back in Aunt Eleanor’s clutches, Annie finds herself responding in kind and becoming more like her.

When Michael first writes to Annie, she sends the letter back. But soon a tentative friendship begins. Annie trains as a nurse while she waits to go to NJ. And then WWI breaks out.

My thoughts:

When I reviewed Cathy’s Saving Amelie, which became one of my top ten books of last year, I mentioned wanting to read more of Cathy’s books. A couple of people mentioned this story. When I discovered it was partially based on the Titanic, I planned to start it in conjunction with our visit to the Titanic museum.The book did enhance my visit and vice versa.

Cathy mentions in her afterword that there was a Titanic passenger named Owen Allum who was a gardener, but not much else was known about him. I enjoyed reading how she created his and Annie’s stories and what influenced her.

The Titanic section is just the first part of the book, however. I loved the example of laying down one’s life for another as Owen did. And then Michael and Annie each had to learn what it meant to love others and to receive love.

Some of my favorite quotes:

No matter what pain, what hard things come to us in life—and pain and trouble come to all of us—no matter what dark roads we walk or poor choices we make, it is not the end of the story.

It’s no good being fearful. Worry won’t change the future a whit, and it misses the joy of this glad day.

Each morning, when we wake—if we wake—we pick up whatever it is we’ve been given to carry for that day, with the sweet Lord Jesus in the yoke beside us to tote the load. Each night we lay it down, giving it into God’s hands. If it’s still there in the morning, we pick it up and begin again. If the burden is gone or if there is something different, we know where to start.

“Growing is a patient thing, lad,” Daniel explained. “You must give all living things time to adjust to their new surroundings, their new soil, then time to grow, as well.”

Does your hate make you happy, my dear, or does it continually eat through you, a cancer of its own making? Does the constant fueling of that angry fire not exhaust you and take away from living the wonderful life you’ve been given?

I loved the characters (including some not mentioned here) and the story. I loved how Cathy pulled us in to empathize with them in their anger, pain, and hope. Highly recommended.

(Sharing with Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Christmas Stitches

Christmas Stitches: A Historical Romance Collection: 3 Stories of Women Sewing Hope and Love Through the Holidays, contains three stories, one each by Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson. As the subtitle says, they have in common some kind of sewing or needle arts. They’re also all set in the late 1890s-early 1900s.

A Seamless Love by Judith Miller takes place in Pullman, Illinois. Hannah Cushman had once been romantically interested in her longtime friend, Daniel Price, but Daniel wanted to remain only friends. Years later, Hannah’s working at the Pullman Dressmaking and Millinery Shop. Her special talent in embroidering bead work has come to the attention of Mrs. Pullman, who asks her to work on some special projects for her. She’s being courted by Louis Nicholson, who lives in Chicago. But her old friend Daniel wants to work for the Pullman Car Company and move closer to Hannah. Something about Louis doesn’t sit right with Daniel. And he’s finally ready to move beyond friendship with Hannah, but is it too late?

Nancy Moser’s story, Pin’s Promise, takes place in Summerfield, England. Penelope Billings, nicknamed Pin, has loved Jonathan Evers as long as she can remember. They promised each other as teenagers that they’d marry after his six years of education training to be a doctor. Now he’s back, trying to find his place with his new ideas in his father’s old-fashioned practice. Pin is an accomplished seamstress and teaches others to sew. She’s driven while Jonathan is laid back. She runs ahead, sure of herself, while Jonathan likes to take his time and think.

Pin becomes aware that a local girl, Annie, who sells eggs in the village has some serious needs. As she tries to help, she learns the family is in poverty because the father is a drunkard who abuses his children.

A tragedy involving Annie’s family pulls Pin and Jonathan apart. Are their differences too great to keep their teenage promises to each other?

One fun aspect of this story was that some of the characters appear in others of Nancy’s books. I’ve only read book in her Summerfield series, but Annie was the main character in The Pattern Artist and The Fashion Designer.

Stephanie Grace Whitson‘s story, Mending Hearts, takes place in small Lost Creek, Nebraska. Rachel Ellsworth’s pastor father has just died and Rachel has to move out of the parsonage in St. Louis. She’s engaged to Landis Grove, but she has nowhere to go before their wedding except to two older single aunts in small Lost Creek, Nebraska. Rachel is an artist looking forward to the Grand Tour on her honeymoon. But for now, she puts her artistic talents to work at the local quilting bees.

Her aunts help take care of the children of a widower, Adam Friesen. Adam had offered to marry his wife to help her out of a bad situation. Though their relationship had grown, he is wracked with guilt that he didn’t really love her as he should have before she died. He’s in a haze of pain since his loss, but he keeps busy in the community.

Rachel receives a letter from home which changes her whole future. At a loss now herself, she struggles with finding God’s will for her life now.

I enjoyed all three of these stories. I’ve loved needle arts for decades, so that aspect was fun for me. But mostly I sympathized with each woman in her situation and her struggles to trust God and apply His truth to her situation.

In addition, the cover is gorgeous and the inside opens out for even more lovely artwork.

I highly recommend this one.

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

Book Review: Till Morning Is Nigh

Till Morning Is Nigh: A Wortham Family Christmas by Leisha Kelly comes about in the middle of her six-book series about the Wortham family. I finished the series back in September but wanted to save the Christmas story until now.

The Wortham family had been down and out during the Depression. With their last hope of a job fallen through, they hit rock bottom. They took shelter in an abandoned house, then got the idea that perhaps the owners would let them stay there in exchange for fixing up the place. The owner was an elderly woman named Emma who took a chance on the family. She had not been able to live home alone, but the Worthams eventually moved her back into her home with them, and she became a grandmother and mentor to the family. That was back in Book 1, Julia’s Hope.

This story opens several years later. Emma has passed away as has the Wortham’s neighbor, Mrs. Hammond, a mother of ten children. George Hammond had been devastated and unstable after his wife’s death, and the Hammond children often spent as much time at the Wortham’s house as their own.

George had seemed to settle down for a while. But now it’s the first anniversary of his wife’s death, and he’s missing. The older children think perhaps he has drowned his sorrows in a drinking binge, but they fear worse. Some of the middle children are angry. The younger children are just sad and afraid. The Worthams take them all in and try to help. On top of everything else, some of them have the flu.

While nursing the various sick ones, keeping everyone fed, praying and worrying, Samuel and Julia Wortham try to prepare a meager Christmas and discuss what they should do if the worst has happened to George.

When a friend tells Julia, “I don’t know how you do it,” Julia responds, “I don’t. Whatever you think I’m accomplishing, I really can’t manage at all. Nothing but the good Lord could have gotten me through this holiday.”

Someone suggests that they make a Nativity scene out of what materials they have. The project starts out as a diversion but eventually becomes meaningful in various ways to different ones.

This story is a reminder that not all Christmases are giddy parties. Sometimes deep grief and stark need prevent the usual Christmas we’ve come to expect. But joy, love, and light can shine in and touch hearts.

I think this book could be read easily as a stand-alone. Enough of the back story is explained that readers new to the series wouldn’t feel lost. But the story is richer for having read the rest of the Worthams’ books. I enjoyed them all, so I recommend them all to you.

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

Book Review and Giveaway: Catching Christmas

 In Terri Blackstock’s novel, Catching Christmas, Finn Parrish is a grumpy cab driver called to the house of an old woman named Callie. First he’s put out to make a residential call, as he needs money and can make more in the city or at airports. Then he finds the old woman alone and asleep in her wheelchair. She wakes up and introduces herself—and continues to fall asleep, wake up, and introduce herself for the rest of their time together. When she is awake, she makes unfiltered comments on the people she sees.

Finn takes her to her doctor’s office and tries to explain to the distracted receptionist. He leaves for a few hours, but can’t get his mind off Callie. He drives back by the doctor’s office to check on her, and finds her asleep right where he left her. He makes a fuss insisting that they see her now and waits for her, then takes her home. He leaves his card in case she needs help and wonders what kind of loved ones she has, that they would leave her in such a state.

Callie’s granddaughter, Sydney, is a lawyer in a firm that is downsizing. Her job is hanging by a thread, dependent on her current ridiculous case, one she doesn’t believe in. On top of the extra work created by layoffs, her grandmother suddenly seems to be not quite in her right mind. She wished she could have accompanied her to the doctor, but they both need her job.

The next day Finn gets an early call from his dispatcher. A customer has requested him by name. He’s thrilled until he finds out it’s Callie. She wants him to take her several places in town. He doesn’t want to be stuck with her all day, doesn’t want to be responsible for her, and can’t afford to spend his day on one fare. But he goes. Callie has a way of talking people into what she wants, and she has a secret mission.

This book is outside Terri’s usual suspense dramas (though there’s a touch of suspense when a black limousine shows up). But I’m so glad she wrote it. It’s a sweet and touching story, just right for the holidays. Finn and Sydney don’t have much of a spiritual foundation, but they’re impacted by Callie and some of the people in her life. The faith element is not spelled out quite as much as I’d like: Finn and Sydney are just beginning to understand what it means. But it’s a strong undercurrent.

I also enjoyed reading Terri’s afterword about the influences that went into the story.

I’d like to give away my gently-used copy of this book. If you’d like to enter a drawing to win it, leave a comment on this post. I’ll draw a name on Wednesday morning, Dec. 18, the same day as my giveaway for The Carousel Painter. You can enter both giveaways but only win one: if you’d like to enter both but have a preference of one over the other, let me know. Due to mailing costs, I can only ship to continental US addresses. I’ll count all comments on this posts as entries for Catching Christmas unless you ask me not to.

Even if you don’t win, I hope you’ll check out this great book.

(Sharing with Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

 

(Update: The giveaway is closed and the winner is Becka. Congratulations, Becka!)

Book Review: Jessie’s Hope

 In Jennifer Hallmark’s debut novel, Jessie’s Hope, Jessie is a young woman who lives with her grandparents. An accident that claimed her mother’s life left Jessie in a wheelchair since childhood. Jessie’s father abandoned the family.

Jessie is engaged to Matt and looks forward to their marriage. But she wrestles with several issues. Does Matt really love her, or does he just feel sorry for her? Though she longs to be independent, she worries that she won’t be able to be the wife Matt needs. And she wonders about her father and whether she should try to look him up.

Jessie’s grandfather, Homer, wants to provide Jessie with a beautiful wedding, but funds are limited. He goes to a ritzy wedding shop to see what can be done, but can feel their scorn towards a poor farmer in overalls who couldn’t possibly afford anything in their shop.

The course to a perfect wedding never did run smooth (apologies to Shakespeare), and a variety of problems crop up before the big day.

A secondary story line involves Angeline. She works at the ritzy wedding shop and had a crush on Matt, but he rebuffed her. She’s jealous of Jessie and feels Jessie views her as an enemy. But then they are thrown together in unexpected ways.

This is a sweet story with a number of underlying themes: the difficulty and necessity of forgiveness, the need to yield to God’s control instead of our own and to walk with Him by faith, the need to help others.

I love the strong sense of place Jennifer created. The contemporary Southern setting is distinct without being overly romanticized. The dialogue is just what I grew up with:

“What can I do you for?’

“If it tweren’t one thing, it was another.”

The cover is lovely and fits in well with the story.

My only quibble is that when Jessie us talking with another girl about becoming a Christian, the conversation revolves around accepting God as one’s Father. I think probably the author put it that way because both girls had father issues, and even though earthy fathers fail and forsake us, our heavenly Father never will. However, there are people who call on God as Father who do not trust Christ as Savior. Jesus and his death on the cross isn’t even mentioned in the conversation. Perhaps the author felt this character had been exposed to other aspects of the gospel in earlier encounters with Christianity. But I wish this had been a little more clear.

Otherwise, this is an excellent book. At the moment it’s on sale for the Kindle app for $3.99. You can learn more about Jennifer at Alabama Inspired Fiction.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)