Category Archives: christian lit

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake
Jenny Wingfield
Published by Random House Trade
352 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

When you are accustomed to living where the Lord sends you, the last place you might expect to wind up is home, sweet home. For Samuel Lake, a preacher whose style tends to put off his flock more than bring them to the light, home is what he hopes is a temporary locale. As the adage goes, however, we plan and God laughs.

Every year, on the first Saturday in June, the Moses family holds a reunion. Of John and Calla’s three children, one son died in a tragic accident, one (Toy) lives on the family’s 100-acre farm with his beautiful but terrible wife Bernice, and their daughter, Willadee, lives with her husband Samuel Lake and three children in whichever community Samuel is called to work. Willadee and the children come for the reunion, with Samuel due to follow.

The fun kicks off with a death in the family and continues apace. Told from different perspectives, this book really is like a warm summer day in the south: slowly getting hotter and stifling, with brief moments of respite provided by a nice glass of iced tea. One thing leads to another, leads to another, and pretty soon, you start to think that you’re a member of the Moses family yourself.

When Samuel Lake does get to his family, they are distraught over the death and their need for him – for his comfort, if not his physical presence. No one feels the latter more than Willadee, and it quickly becomes clear that these two enjoy each other in the Biblical sense, much to the dismay of Bernice. You see, Bernice had her chance with Sam, all those years ago, but she played games with him, dumped him, and as he nursed his broken heart, he met Willadee. The fact that Bernice married Toy (out of spite and revenge) does not seem to have had its desired effect on Sam, because he is devoted to Willadee and his kids.

But things do not go as smoothly as Samuel Lake would like. There is the matter of him not finding a new pulpit, for one thing, and he suspects his wife and children hide things from him. He also wonders if they have lost respect for him; when Blade, the young son of an evil neighbor (a man described as Satan’s stepson) escapes to the Moses home for some respite from his abusive father, Sam sends him back, horrifying his precocious eleven-year-old daughter Swan (yes, Swan Lake).

Sam repeatedly tries to save his family and meets with repeated frustration. At one point, he howls to the heavens, begging God for help. Sometimes, he fails to see that God answered his prayers, because God does not necessarily answer them as Samuel would like or expect. Other times, God responds quite clearly and emphatically.

There are several tragedies in this book, all of them heartbreaking. What will strike you as remarkable, however, is this family’s determination to survive what assaults them. They all trust God, some more than others, and their faith in the Lord and themselves is something to behold. Each of them struggles against something, whether it’s loss, failure or powerlessness.

Jenny Wingfield’s voice pulls you into this book, and you will not be able to put it down. You will care for this family (most of them, anyway), and you will want to be sure that they are going to be okay. And when the book is over, you will miss the Moses family.

Read this. It’s a very good book.

Leave a comment

Filed under christian lit, family, literature

The Guest Book

The Guest Book
Marybeth Whalen
Published by Zondervan
336 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

Well, what do you know. We have a summer beach read that is actually set at – GET THIS – the beach! Not that The Guest Book wouldn’t work at any time of the year, but its arrival this summer fits rather nicely.

Macy is twenty-four, a single mother (the baby daddy hit the road when daughter Emma was an infant), works as a clerk at a grocery store, and basically has her life’s gear set on idle. She’s in a perpetual state of waiting. She waits for Emma’s father to come back (he does, but is that what she wants?), she waits to get over her father’s death ten years ago, she waits for middle of the night phone calls from her wayward older brother Max (he needs her to bail him out of one scrape after another), she waits for her mother to heal from grief, and she waits to find out the identity of The Artist.

Ah, The Artist.

He’s a boy – or at least, he’s frozen as a boy – with whom she began a correspondence of sorts in a beach cottage guest book when she was five. She drew a picture of some shells, and when she returned the following year, the boy had drawn her a picture. They exchange these drawings, along with photos of each other, for nine years. But with the death of Macy’s father, going to the beach becomes too difficult for her mother, Max and her. Then Emma came along, and life sort of took off without Macy realizing it.

On the tenth anniversary of her father’s death, Macy’s mother announces that she has rented the cottage for two weeks. Macy greets the news with joy, if not a teensy bit of ambivalence. The baby daddy is back in her life, and she needs to decide what to do with that, and she’s worried about the guest book. What happened to it? Can she find it? What happened to The Artist?

Macy herself is an artist, not that she uses her talents for anything other than painting the windows of the grocery store. But she has an artist’s sensibilities, and the romance of reconnecting with the guest book – and The Artist – beckons her. She also finds herself needing to reconnect with God; she loosened that bond after her father died, but now, coming back to the beach house, she feels drawn back to prayer and the Lord. Again, the guest book is like a talisman to her.

After she drew the butterfly shells in the guest book, she’d imagined the other guests who came to the beach house wondering about the little girl who’d drawn the picture. She wondered if they would say her drawing was exceptional. She wanted to do something special for God with her talents, like Daddy had told her to. She wanted to be exceptional.

And so a mystery of sorts unfolds. Who is The Artist? Can she find him when she returns to Sunset Beach? Can she help her mother and her brother? Can she figure out what to do with the Baby Daddy? Can she find romance?

This is a sweet, heartwarming book utterly devoid of any scenes featuring people rocking the headboard. What lovin’ is featured is almost chaste. Romance is almost beside the point here, anyway. What drives this book is Macy and her quest to move forward in her life, to get off of idle and be exceptional, even in a small way.

Yes, there is some old time religion here, so all you Bible thumper haters need to move on to another book. God’s presence is very strong, whether it’s through Macy’s prayers or her friendship with a hot looking minister. As she tries to find the answers to her questions, she realizes that she needs God’s help. Will you be told to drop to your knees and beg for Jesus? No. But will you maybe think that maybe asking God for guidance couldn’t hurt? Perhaps.

If you want a quick, happy little book, this is the one for you. And if you can read it at the beach, all the better.

1 Comment

Filed under chick lit, christian lit

Five Miles South of Peculiar

Five Miles South of Peculiar
Angela Hunt
Published by Howard Books
Available June 5
384 pages
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

Do you ever read a book in which you find yourself hating just about every character? I do. Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I really loathe those people. For instance, in The Replacement Wife, I HATED Camille. HATED. HER. I hated every character in that Fifty Shades nonsense (GOOD GRIEF, not that again), other than my main man Christian Grey. In Bared to You, I hated them all except – le sigh – Gideon Cross.

And in Five Miles South of Peculiar, I hated every character except Nolie and Erik.

Nolie is the youngest – by ten years, making her an “oops” baby – of three sisters, the older two of whom, Darlene and Carlene, are twins. Carlene, she of the beautiful voice and beauty pageant good looks, takes her talents to Julliard, eventually winding up on Broadway. Before she goes, however, she has to say goodbye to her high school boyfriend, Griffith.

Darlene, meanwhile, has become the proverbial hearth in the home of Peculiar. She hosts book clubs, she organizes pot luck suppers, she volunteers here and there. After her husband’s sudden death, she begins dating Henry Hooper, the town’s mayor.

Then there is Nolie, who makes aprons for townspeople and dreams of raising Leonberger dogs. Of the characters mentioned heretofore, Nolie is the only one with a truly pure heart, albeit a terribly broken one. She was supposed to have married her teenage sweetheart, but she didn’t. You’ll have to read to find out why.

With Carly in New York, Darly and Nolie have run The Sycamores, their family estate, for years. Then one day, Erik Payne, a minister recently let go from his parish because he and his wife divorced. Erik can’t find a new ministry, so he comes to Sycamores to work as a handyman until he secures a position. Nolie finds herself drawn to Erik, and their relationship deepens into a close friendship.

But Carly comes home, ostensibly to celebrate her and Darly’s 50th birthdays, but really because, due to an operation, she no longer can sing. She has nowhere else to go. But she and her twin have a fractured, combustible relationship. How can they learn to get along?

This is a sweet, ambling story about a family learning to love each other, in spite of past hurts. Carly and Darly do some truly nasty, mean-spirited things to each other, each seemingly oblivious to how their actions will affect the other. Even when they do realize it, they keep doing what they’re doing. There is no one to root for when it comes to Darly and Carly, not to mention the men in their lives.

But Nolie. Sweet, kind, selfless Nolie. Oh, you want her to find happiness. You want her to get over her broken heart. When she stands up for herself to someone who done her wrong, you cheer. She inspires affection in you, as does Erik. They have no hidden agendas; these are two people who want to see if God’s plan for them includes personal happiness and contentment.

Ah, yes, God. He’s very present in this book, but not in a way that people who find Christianity off-putting will be off-put. Angela Hunt’s message is soft and unintrusive: trust God, and see where He takes you. For instance, when Carly is in church, she finds herself questioning her relationship with God:

During the benediction, she gripped the back of the pew in front of her and wondered how long it had been since she turned her attention toward God. Sometimes she thought of him as a habit she’d left behind in Peculiar, but occasionally she’d been keenly aware of him in New York. She glimpsed him in the faces of caring strangers, heard him in the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and inhaled him in the crisp breath of autumn. She tasted is goodness in sparkling sunsets and felt his presence in the quiet night … but why did she so rarely stop to notice him?

That’s the way Hunt uses God in this story. Pages and chapters will go by with nary a reference, and then just a mention. Yet we know that these characters, especially Nolie and Erik, are waiting for God to answer their prayers, to send them a message.

There is a lot of family history and anxiety between the twins, and it is mined here. We certainly understand why the two don’t trust each other or, for that matter, much like each other. Not that I can blame them, because I didn’t like them, either.

Five Miles South of Peculiar is one of those books that feels peaceful, yet melancholy. There is an underlying sadness that you hope goes away, but you know probably won’t. Too much has happened for it to evaporate.

Yet if anyone deserves to be happy, it’s Nolie and Erik.

1 Comment

Filed under christian lit, romance

Hunter’s Prize by Marcia Gruver

Evidently part of the “Backwoods Brides” series, Hunter’s Prize, by Marcia Gruver, tells the pleasant, enjoyable tale of Addie McRae, a young woman from Canton, Mississippi, who winds up in Marshall, Texas, as the nanny to an apparently mute – yet precocious – young boy named Ceddy. On her first day in town, Addie runs into Pearson Foster, a fortune hunter in town to search for gold in a sunken ship.

In addition to the romance, there is a mystery to Hunter’s Prize: two thugs are after Ceddy, whom they believe has a large, uncut diamond. Well, Ceddy sure is attached to his rocks …

Hunter’s Prize is more than a romance or mystery novel. It’s also got a Christian sheen to it, as Addie and Pearson do some of their courting at church. Both also seek God’s help in understanding each other and in helping Ceddy. If you aren’t into that kind of thing, never fear – it is tacit enough to not bother you. If you do enjoy a Christian slant, then you will like Hunter’s Prize even more.

This is a pleasant, amiable read. It won’t set your world on fire, nor will it stick with you after you’ve finished it. But while you read it, you will enjoy it. Marcia Gruver knows her characters, and she will make you love them as much as she does. Even secondary characters, such as Priscilla Whitfield, Ceddy’s maiden aunt and Addie’s employer. Priscilla either can help Addie and Pearson come together, or she can keep them apart.

“You took lunch with total strangers?” Miss Whitfield snatched a small crocheted doily from the corner of her desk to fan herself. “Oh my, I hope no one saw you. What was Mariah thinking?”

Addie’s spine stiffened, and she drew up her chin. “My mother may be a bit unconventional at times, but she’s ever the lady. There was nothing improper about our behavior.”

Biting her bottom lip, Miss Whitfield lowered her makeshift fan and leaned to touch Addie’s hand. “Forgive me, dear. I never meant to imply otherwise. I’m a bit concerned, that’s all.”

Her eyes drawn to the letter again, Addie cleared her throat. “This mystery is easily solved.   I have errands in Marshall this afternoon.” She reached across the desk. “I’ll be happy to forward this on to Mother. I’m sure she’ll send a timely explanation.”

Snatching the envelope before Addie’s fingers reached it, Miss Whitfield shook her graying head. “Don’t trouble yourself.”

But Addie is troubled, because the letter in question is from Pearson, and Addie’s curiosity about its contents rattles her.

Enjoy Hunter’s Prize for what it is: a sweet, affable book with a sweet, affable story.


Published by Barbour Books and available for pre-order on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!

2 Comments

Filed under christian lit, mystery, romance

Lily

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to preview Lily: Song of the River, co-written by Diane T. Ashley and Aaron McCarver.

Lily is set in 1859 Natchez, Mississippi, and is perhaps the first book I’ve read set in that place and time. Lily Anderson is an 18-year-old girl with two younger sisters, forced to live with her grandmother after her mother’s death and father’s desertion. Lily has one goal: to be independent from her grandmother. It isn’t that she does not love her grandmother – she does. Quite a bit, in fact. But Lily was born to live on the water, and she misses it. Until her mother’s death, she and her family lived on a boat, and Lily wants to return. So after her grandfather passes away, she takes the inheritance left to her and her sisters and purchases a boat.

Only it turns out that she purchases 51%. A controlling interest, but a shared interest, nonetheless. Her co-owner is the rakish Blake Matthews, who wants to create a gambling boat, whereas Lily wants to haul cargo. They agree to her terms, and their partnership proceeds.

You can probably predict where this is headed.

There are obstacles to their budding love story, namely Blake’s dismissal of God. See, Lily is really all about God’s love. So if you aren’t interested in books that stir the soul, then this is not for you. The religious fervor is not piled on thick, however. It actually is smoothly inserted into the story, and it avoids getting preachy. For that, Ashley and McCarver should be commended.

A particular exchange I enjoyed:

Not seeing why she wanted to bring God into the discussion, he waited.

Lily turned to him. “He already had things worked out, Blake. Don’t you see? He’ll help us through this trouble. I’m sure of it.”

“If you say so, Lily.” She might want to rely on God, but he was more of a man of action than of prayer. That was why he’d considered their predicament from every angle. He had a solution, but would she accept it? Could she let go of her strict moral code long enough to allow him to put his plan into action? He doubted it but felt he needed to try anyway. “There’s another way around this.”

 See? God is in the story, but you don’t feel like you’re listening to a sermon.

This is a pleasant, if unsurprising, read. The subtitle says that it’s “Book One,” so I assume other books are coming.

The characters are enjoyable, the story is interesting, and the message is nicely played. I liked this book, but didn’t love it. It’s … nice. It doesn’t grab you, nor do you feel wildly compelled to turn the pages. But if you’re looking for a nice, sweet story, this is for you.

Leave a comment

Filed under christian lit