What I've been reading, and why you should too.
All God's Children
"All God's Children"
What is faith? What is hope? What is love? And what will you do for love?
Elizabeth "Beth" Bridgewater, an American living in Munich, Germany in 1942, doesn't see herself as a heroine. She just does the next thing.
When the "next thing" turns out to be giving her own passport and papers to a desperate Jew, she figures she's an American and she'll get out somehow.
When she discovers another young woman hiding from the Gestapo, with two children, Beth's response is immediate: she takes them home and hides them in her uncle's attic.
Her American optimism and her outspokenness get her in trouble, and they're not easily understood by her German friends and relatives, who are still beaten and fearful from the last war.
The man she loves, Josef Buch, is afraid to work against the Reich and to upset the status quo. He has the general fear of all ordinary Germans, and a special fear: his father is a top-ranking Reich official. But he's no match for Beth with her Quaker faith and American determination, and he at first reluctantly joins her in her resistance efforts. Along with her uncle Franz, he becomes involved in an underground information network, The White Rose.
From the book:
"He was also well aware that she continued to look for ways to do more. Her concern was for those being persecuted. People whose only crime was that they held beliefs and attitudes that the present government did not like. She did not believe in war-- or politics for that matter. To her -- and the professor-- people were people.
"We are all God's children," she had once said to him, and for Beth that was the core of the matter. He was quite sure that for Beth loving someone--anyone-- meant that she would move mountains for that fortunate person."
Heidelberg Castle, Germany
Beth's family, the uncle and aunt she lives with and the cousin she's helping raise, are also targeted. Her uncle Franz loses his university post.
From the book:
"His last lecture..
He stared blindly at his notes, the words swimming before his eyes as he heard the hall fill with students, so full of life with their laughter and chatter. When the room grew quiet, he continued to stare at the water-stained papers before him. He allowed himself one moment of fantasy in which he imagined telling the students of his impending dismissal and envisioned them rising up and marching as one to the office of the chancellor to demand his reinstatement. The very idea of such an insurrection actually made him smile through his tears.
"Class dismissed,' he said, and left the room."
Josef and Beth are found out, go on the run and are apprehended. Josef faces a prison sentence. Desperate to stay together, desperate to share his fate, Beth asks if they can be married first. Josef's father produces a retired judge who performs a civil ceremony, and they go as a married couple to SS Sobibor, a concentration camp in Poland.
From the book:
"'Stand there,' the SS man growled, and then he turned to the others. 'This man is accused of the crime of speaking out against our beloved Fuhrer. For the benefit of our newest arrivals, let me be very clear about the punishment for such a crime.' He turned around, pulled a sidearm from his holster, and shot the man at point-blank range.
Josef heard Beth gasp.
'Back to work,' the man on the balcony shouted, and everyone scattered, running to their posts in various places around the yard.
A guard grabbed Josef's arm, pulling him away from the group.
'No!' Beth's protest rang out above the sounds of the others racing for
their posts. The guard turned on her and raised his hand. He surely would have struck her had a man of obviously higher rank not stepped forward and stopped him. 'Herr Doktor Buch?'
Josef came to attention, but he did not offer the Hitler salute.
"We are all God's children," she had once said to him, and
for Beth that was the core of the matter.
He was quite sure that for Beth
loving someone--anyone-- meant that she would move mountains for that fortunate person."
"Ich bin Kommandant Franz Reichleitner," the man said. He spoke to Josef as if the two of them wre alone. 'I hope your father is well?'
'Ja,, Danke,, Commendant."
Because of Josef's connections the Buchs do have a relatively easy camp experience, with jobs in the pharmacy and clothing sorting room and little physical abuse. But it's a camp nonetheless, as the searchlights and barbed wire make perfectly clear. And their hearts break for the prisoners who aren't as "lucky."
In the camp Beth reunites with Anja, the woman she helped back in Munich, now the head of the sorting room. Anja schools Beth in the realities of camp life, and Beth feels sorrow at her friend's loss of hope.
Though Josef admired Beth's courage back in Munich, in "normal" life, he's the one who decides an escape is in order, and Beth the one who hangs back.
From the book:
"This is not living," Josef told her as he walked away.
She shuddered at the bitterness in his tone.
Together they walked back into the darkness and took their places on
the bench they had come to think of as theirs. Beth curled into the hollow of his side, inviting him to put his arm around her. When he did, she closed her eyes and waited for words that might reassure him, that might steer him from this dangerous path.
As the others began moving toward their respective barracks, Josef stood up. He kissed her but did not move away. "I know that you believe that if we make it out they will make Anja pay the price."
Beth heaved a sigh of relief. Finally he understood.
"That's why we have to take her with us," he added as he kissed her again and then ran for his barracks to beat the curfew."
This is a strong addition to the body of World War II literature, and
fearless Beth is a memorable heroine.
It's also a moving portrait of "ordinary" Germans who want to do the
right thing, and do it. The period detail is perfect.
And in Beth and Josef, we have a human mirror of the Love That Will Not
Let Us Go.
Welcome to Last Chance
"He played the old hymn flawlessly. It was clearly a guitar solo, with Elizabeth accompanying him on the piano.
Lainie found the page in the hymnbook and tried to follow along. Even without the words, the melody was haunting. But the words touched Lainie in a place deep inside she had long guarded. What would it be like to have someone tell you that you were his own? That you were his own in a loving,
protective way--not like you were his property. A crushing ache swelled in her chest until she felt she couldn't breathe."
"Welcome to Last Chance"
Part of "A Place to Call Home" series
From Mayberry to Mitford, Americans love their small towns.
Several contemporary Christian novels are bringing a fresh take to Main
Street, USA, including Anita Higman's "Middlebury" series, Judy Christie's
"Green" series and Cathleen Armstrong's "A Place to Call Home."
"The warning light, some kind of car part with a circle around it,
flashed on some time after midnight. At least, Lainie Davis guessed it was that late.
The clock on the dashboard had read 5:11 since she drove the car off the Long Beach lot three days earlier and headed east. Each mile driven was one mile further away from Nick and the shadowy world of drugs and dealers that was turning him into a frightening stranger. Now, as she was daring to breathe again, that red light mocked her. "Really thought you were going to make it this time, didn't you? Nice try."
When Lainie Davis flees California and her abusive boyfriend, she doesn't
realize she's not only running from something but to something. Her used car breaks down in Last Chance, N.M., a town not much bigger than the tumbleweeds that roll across the road. She lurches to a stop in front of the High Lonesome Saloon and meets the bartender, an affable young man named Ray.
From the book:
"Lainie squirmed to get comfortable. She tried to remember when she had ever heard such silence and could not. She was no stranger to loneliness, but she was to being alone, and it frightened her. Tomorrow she'd find a way to get to El Paso and the new start she knew was waiting for her there. What was it those signs said Last Chance for rest, for the good life? She was still gazing at the stars when, enveloped by the hot smell of her cooling engine, she fell asleep. Maybe one more chance was all she needed."
Lainie intends to leave as soon as her car is fixed. But when she learns that Nick is looking for her, she decides to stay put, at least for a while.
And Last Chance puts its arms around her. Fayette, the owner of the cafe, offers her work. Elizabeth, a retired ranch wife, gives her a room. She joins the church choir and finds her voice, in more ways than one.. After a few early squabbles she begins a friendship with Ray, a friendship that develops into something more.
From the book:
"Her hand felt easy in Ray's as they walked up the trail behind the cabin. The sun on the scrub pines that clung tenaciously to the rocky slope filled the air with a spicy scent. A lizard skittered across their path. Every few paces Ray stopped to show a view he had painted or intended to paint. He clambered up a boulder and reached a hand to pull her up. As she reached him, she lost her footing on the gravelly granite, and he caught her and pulled her close. For a moment they stood gazing into each other's eyes. It was Ray who broke the spell."
And Lainie begins to think about God.
From the book:
"He played the old hymn flawlessly. It was clearly a guitar solo, with
Elizabeth accompanying him on the piano. Lainie found the page in the hymnbook and tried to follow along. Even without the words, the melody was haunting. But the words touched Lainie in a place deep inside she had long guarded. What would it be like to have someone tell you that you were his own? That you were his own in a loving, protective way--not like you were his property. A crushing ache swelled in her chest until she felt she couldn't breathe.
But Lainie isn't done running. When she makes a mistake with Ray, she determines as always to move on. She's packed up and ready to go as soon as Fayette's wedding is behind her.
From the book:
"Lainie was surprised at how quickly she was able to pack up everything
and how few containers it took to hold it. Her new suitcase and a few cardboard boxes held her life. For a while, as she had allowed more roots to begin sinking into the sandy soil of Last Chance, it had been hard to tell where she left off and Last Chance began, but now the boundaries were clear. They consisted of a few pasteboard enclosures and the click of a suitcase lock."
But God has other plans.
When Nick, the ex-boyfriend, finds her during the wedding reception, he drags her off and Lainie's newfound faith receives the ultimate test.
From the book:
"He shoved the car into Reverse to pull out of the thicket and then gunned it back the way they came.
Lainie clutched the door with one hand and held the other against the ceiling as they bounced over ruts and fishtailed through sand. Her eyes wouldn't close, but she silently prayed anyway. "Lord, even if no one else knows where I am, you do. Please, please, please..."
A loud curse broke the silence, and Nick slammed on the brakes and threw the car into Reverse again. Just ahead, a sheriff's car turned off the highway and barreled down the dirt road toward them. Another followed right behind, and a pickup that looked a lot like Ray's brought up the rear."
Because God knew where Lainie was.
This story has all the elements of the "quirky small town" genre. The motel owner who doubles as mayor. The diner and its open-handed owner. The sharp-tongued but warmhearted choir director. In less-deft hands they'd become cliches. But Armstrong's Last.Chance is greater than the sum of its parts, a place where the coffee pot is always on and you're only a stranger once.
Armstrong's people are real people working on real problems.
She doesn't sugar-coat Lainie's past or paint her as a victim. Lainie made bad choices, choices she will have to leave behind. Ray wants to walk in the light, but he can't until he walks away from the bar.
Above all, this is a story of redemption.
Tough, independent Lainie, with her father gone and her mother "somewhere in Wyoming," has schooled herself in the art of not getting too close. The good people of Last Chance break down her walls, one brick at a time, so she can let Jesus in. Ray is closer to the Kingdom, but he's cruising on his childhood experiences. Both need to surrender all. And when they do they find that with Christ, they too are greater than the sum of their parts.
The Sky Beneath My Feet
"The Sky Beneath My Feet"
Thomas Nelson 2013
"Every once in a while, I glance in the rearview mirror and see my own eyes staring back at me. It's disconcerting. I'd forgotten you were in there. And then, blink, she's gone again. Or I am."
Beth's musings (I don't think we're ever given a last name) seem at first to be little more than the lament of the middle-aged, middle-class mom. Think Frankie Heck on TV's "The Middle." Beth dropped out of law school to marry Rick for a good reason -- she was pregnant with their son Jed. They repented their mistake, and Rick eventually became a staff pastor. One more son later, Beth spends her days going to book groups and jewelry parties, in the nebulous role of an associate pastor's wife. Rick serves as the Men's Pastor in their mega-church called The Community, where the worship is multi-media and the members tool around in Beamers. Somewhere along the way she's lost not only herself, but her God.
"Confession: I don't pray much, not these days. Not for a long time, actually.
I might offer up the random request, like my supermarket wish not to run in to church people, but as far as deep, heartfelt communication, not so much. Sometimes I tell myself God and me, we're like an old married couple, so much in sync that they don't really have to say anything. Only I don't know any old married couples like that. Other times I worry what the two-way silence signifies."
Beth has mixed emotions about many parts of Christian culture, including the metal "Jesus fish" on the back of her car. "The Jesus fish is my own fault. I'm a Christian, but not that kind of Christian. Not the in-your-face culture warrior. Not the sort to plaster bumper stickers all over my car. I don't drive like a Christian, after all, and when I'm speeding or cutting somebody off, the last image I want to leave them with is that shiny faux-metal fish. But I shot my mouth off about the stupid fish and hurt the feelings of one of my study group ladies. You know the kind: she forwards e-mails to everyone in the group about liberal conspiracies and tries to sign us all up to march in front of clinics and boycott Hollywood and invest
From the book: "Before we get going," she says in her singsong, school-mistress voice, like she's speaking to a roomful of children whom she suspects of being a little slow. "I'd like to make an announcement for those of you who didn't make it to
my Sunday School class this week.. There have been some ominous developments in the courts recently that it behooves us as Bible-believing Christians to take a stand on."
She pauses to dig through an over-sized tote, producing a stack of stapled handouts. "I printed some things off so everybody could follow along."
Beth manages to hold it all together until Rick moves into the back shed for an extended feeling of self-imposed hermithood.. Without a husband or even her vague "pastor's wife" role, Beth's inadequacies are thrown into relief.
"You're not thinking at all. You're feeling. And what you're feeling is the ground dropping from beneath your feet, leaving you to kick through thin air, falling.
It makes no sense, but it doesn't have to. When did the heart start having to make sense?"
Beth is in free-fall.
What is faith, and what does it demand of us?
As her husband waits to hear from God, she makes excuses for his absence, raises two very different teen boys, and wonders if there's something more. She stumbles on a ramshackle halfway house for troubled teen girls, in inner-city Baltimore. She attends a protest march in Washington, D.C. It's originally for peace, but who really knows? Not, apparently, the marchers.
In a nod to "Thelma and Louise," she and her best friend take a road trip to a borrowed Florida beach house, where things crystallize for
And Rick performs his first and possibly last miracle, leaving his shed
and going by instinct to rescue an elderly neighbor from a fall.
Nobody has remained unchanged.
A renewed family and a few friends make a commitment to the women's shelter, their new "church." And when the little metal Jesus fish, by now dented and weather-beaten, falls off her car, Beth decides she'll keep it a while longer.
None of this comes easy. Samson doesn't go for the easy answer, even by Christian fiction standards. Samson's peace protesters don't come across as saints or sinners, but good people as confused about their motives as Beth. The director of the halfway house isn't a "saint" either, but a woman with a troubled (read "felon") past. She isn't particularly lovable, to Beth or the reader, but she's doing the best she can. Because nobody else will.
Samson shines a laser beam on contemporary Christianity, including
mega-churches and make-work. Nothing escapes her scrutiny. Is Beth "playing church"? Are we?
The "Shining Waters" series
"River's Song," "River's Call" and "River's End"
Widowed Anna Larson hasn't been back to her home on Oregon's Siskiyou River in years. She's been an unpaid cook and housekeeper for her wealthy mother-in-law, the formidable Eunice. Anna, believing she is penniless, submits to Eunice's drudgery and insults, and even to Eunice's bigotry regarding Anna's half-Indian
heritage. It's nothing new for Anna -- her own mother denied her heritage as she tried to live in the white world.
As she returns to the river to settle her mother's estate, Anna draws strength from the Siskiyou, the strength she needs to break from Eunice's abuse. She decides to stay and open an inn, a "place of healing." She finds herself again, a purpose, her heritage and even
But Anna can't force people to come to the river. Her daughter
Lauren remains with grandmother Eunice until an unplanned pregnancy, a scandal in the 1950s, leads her back to her mother and the river. She marries the boy, has the baby and, to Anna's dismay, embarks on a life of self-indulgence and excess.
It takes losing her own daughter to the chaos of the 1970s to bring
Lauren back to the river and to God.
Sarah, Lauren's daughter, flirts with the ideas of the Age of Aquarius while refusing to forgive both her parents for their self-absorbedness. Wise, patient Anna waits for her, as she waited for Lauren, and Sarah eventually comes home for good..
"The river doesn't judge. It waits for people to come to it.
The Cedar Key Novels
Eva Marie Everson
"Waiting For Sunrise"
Part of the Cedar Key series
Casselton, Ga., 1946
Patsy Sweeny hasn't had an easy life, and it's about to get worse. Her mother's husband, the exacting, controlling Ira Liddle, has begun to look at her in a different way. Her desperate mother puts her on a bus to a town called Trinity and a foster home where her brother Lloyd already resides. Patsy doesn't want to go -- but she knows why she's going.
From the book:
"She clapped a hand over her mouth, if only to show Mama that even she was shocked at the way she was speaking. But Mama didn't seem upset with her. For a moment, Patsy felt they were no longer mother and daughter, but friends. If she were going to bare her soul, the time was now.
'The way he treats you, Mama. The way he...the way he looks at me.' Patsy pounded her palm against her chest in tiny staccato beats. Don't you even see, Mama?'
Mama pulled her firstborn toward her, drawing her closer until they met in the middle of the front seat. 'Hush, now, child. Yes. Yes, I know. Yes, I see. Why do you think...' She kissed Patsy's hair, just behind her ear.
'Why do you think I'm letting you go?'"
In Trinity, under the loving care of "Mam" and "Papa" Buchwald, Patsy gets to know her brother and finds a place in home, church and community. She's courted by Gilbert Milstrap, a dashing young man just home from the Air Force. The young couple plunges into postwar life, with a thriving business, big house and eventually five children.
Patsy feels the 50s housewife's pressure to be perfect. But she's slowly unraveling, from the inside out. She's still the young girl who clung to her mama, begging her not to send her away, and the God she attempts to serve is at least as demanding as her stepfather.
Gilbert tries to cope, but he's as lost as she is.
"'Where were You in this story, I wonder,' she dared to say aloud. 'Were you there when my father died?
When Mama married Mr. Liddle?
When he beat her? Beat me?'
Looked at me with those eyes.
Her smile had slipped to a frown. 'Were you there when Mama practically shoved me on that bus?'
Remember, Pats. I was on that bus
From the book:
"She'd managed to smile, but it hadn't reached her blue eyes. At one time, they'd shone as though the sun had burst from within them. But over the years, they'd become dark. Lifeless. In spite of all the life she'd brought into the world.
"For a while, little things helped. His being home more often, time with her brother, her parents, her friends. His sister Janice had practically bent over backward for her, adding their kids to her own for outings, and Rayette called daily just to make her laugh. But lately, nothing had worked and everything had gotten worse. Her sleep patterns were off. She often woke in the middle of the night gasping for air. While the house remained spotless, she couldn't seem to find anything. And dinner was whatever Martha cooked at the Trinity Cafe and he brought home."
Patsy tries until she can't try any more, and she enters a sanitarium.
From the book:
"When she'd first arrived, they said she had a 'flat effect.' She didn't know what in the world that meant, so Gabrielle explained it to her one day when they were taking a walk. 'It means, Miz Milstrap, that you don't show much emotion.'
"Patsy hadn't commented. To say anything might show that she did have feelings, which were mostly sadness and loneliness. And the sense that something was missing. In spite of all the people around her and the activities they kept her busy with. There was something...it was out there.
"She had a dream one night that whatever that something was, she had her finger on it. She couldn't see it; she could only feel it. It was right there, close enough to grab hold of and identify. But, in doing so, she knew if she did, it -- whatever it was -- would expose her. The revelation of looking into a mirror and not liking what you see. And so, in her dream, she ran from it. Fast and furious. When she woke, she was covered in sweat. So much so, she had to change her nightgown and bed linens in the dark of night."
Gilbert, frustrated and frightened for his wife, begins a search for her roots, a journey that will take them to Cedar Key, a village in the Florida Keys that is untouched by time.
It's a place of healing, though Patsy doesn't know it yet.
In Cedar Key, Patsy reunites with her half-brother Billy, who has made a life in spite of Ira Liddle. Away from the demands of domestic life, she faces herself and her past. And she comes face to face with God.
From the book:
"'Where were You in this story, I wonder,' she dared to say aloud. 'Were you there when my father died? When Mama married Mr. Liddle? When he beat her? Beat me?' Looked at me with those eyes. Her smile had slipped to a frown. 'Were you there when Mama practically shoved me on that bus?'
Remember, Pats. I was on that bus too."
And Patsy sees at last -- Gilbert, her children, the friends and
family who stood by her, the God that never let her go. And the mother who made a sacrifice as great as Jochebed's.
This is a good addition to the women's fiction genre by an accomplished author. It's the second in the "Cedar Key" series of connected novels. It explores the issues of abandonment and mental illness, issues that weren't fully understood in the 50s and 60s, against a background of period charm. Patsy's story should resonate in any child who was abused, and in the people who want to help them.
Slow Moon Rising
Eva Marie Everson
"Slow Moon Rising"
Part of the "Cedar Key" trilogy
What is a family? What is a secret?
Anise Kelly knows she has "father issues." She's worked around them all her life, ever since her father left his family for another. The Maine florist doesn't expect to ever marry, but when Ross Claybourne, a vibrant physician in his 60s, visits her coastal town, she falls deeply and permanently in love, marries him and moves to Florida. She joyously accepts the challenges of being stepmom to his four grown daughters.
But Anise gets even more than she bargained for:
-- Ami, the youngest, who carries her mother's last secret;
-- Jayme-Leigh, the physician, who can't solve her own physical
-- Kimberly, the teacher, who can't save her marriage; and
-- Heather, the homemaker, who hides her emptiness behind marathon shopping and deeply resents her father's new wife..
From the book (Ami):
"Anise came to live here as Dad's wife in August, and I still heard about it from Heather four months later. My gosh, my sister just didn't know when to give it up. Let it go. Move on. Couldn't she have found a million and one better things to waste her energy on? Like her kids? Her husband?
Couldn't she just be happy for someone else at least once in her life rather than try to make everything about her? How she felt? What she wanted? Why didn't she just...see?
Not to mention Dad's marriage to Anise was the tip of the iceberg. So not the real issue.
Not that Heather would have known it. Not that anyone would have.
No one but me. And who could I have told? No one."
"Losing a loved one without warning is like waking up
the sun has stopped shining. But
losing a loved one over a long period of time-- now matter how short that time
is -- is like waiting for the sun to set and knowing that once it does,
it will never rise again.
These five remarkable women are talented and successful on the
outside. But Anise has never dealt with her father's departure, and the Claybourne girls have never dealt with their mother's alcoholism-- or an even more explosive secret the dying Joan Claybourne reveals to Ami.
From the book (Ami):
"Get serious, Ami, I chided myself. This is just two adults talking about a precocious little boy. Two adults who have known each other for over thirty years. Why shouldn't they have a cup of coffee together? Why shouldn't they talk about their children? Their grandchildren?
"But then Dad cleared his throat. Spoke. Said the words I'd hoped never to hear. "So it's true."
"It was all horrifically true."
Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays. The seasons change, time moves inexorably on, and one by one, the Claybourne facades crumble, to be replaced at last by something better.
From the book (Anise):
"I swallowed hard. I hadn't seen my father since the night I graduated high school. Even then our conversation was strained. In the years since, he'd made little effort to contact me, and I'd made less effort to contact him.
He was alive; I knew that much.
I received occasional Christmas cards from one of my siblings, and my stepmother sent a birthday card every year. Both she and Dad signed it, and I often imagined her standing over him, forcing a pen into his hand.
'I suppose,' I finally said, 'I thought it was up to him to reach out to me. He hasn't, so...'
"'Hmm.' Heather cocked her head at me. 'I was just thinking how hard you worked to reach out to me. Difficult as I was.'
The five women sharpen each other like iron, and no one remains the same. But the real catalyst is Cedar Key, a town barely touched by time and a place of healing for the Claybournes. It is where Ross comes to die.
From the book (Anise):
"Losing a loved one without warning is like waking up and discovering the sun has stopped shining. But losing a loved one over a long period of time-- now matter how short that time is -- is like waiting for the sun to set and knowing that once it does, it will never rise again.
"I've watched the sun set time and time again in Cedar Key, so I know how slowly it sinks toward the horizon.
Yet, once it reaches a certain point, a particular place in the orb, it
drops quickly. Too quickly. Blink and you've missed it.
"Many evenings, Ross and I drove out to Shell Mound. We stood at the end of the pier, our hands clasped, our shoulders rubbing against each other, waiting for this magnificent moment of nature. Then, after the sun puddled into the green grasses, the black rush, and the blue-green water of the marsh, we'd wait for the afterglow, that moment in time when the clouds become brilliant colors of gold, orange and red. And, as it always has and most likely always will, the sky enflamed, as if God decided to lead his children, once again, to the Promised Land, and we had become them. And as Anise prepares to lose her beloved Ross, he makes one request of her.
From the book (Anise):
"A strange sense of knowing came over me, as if something in my life had been left undone and now--now of all the moments of my life-- it was time to bring it to completion. To honor my husband's wish for me. I didn't necessarily want to finish it, but knew -- instinctively -- that in order to continue on, to be able to breathe even, I had to."
This a skillfully-drawn portrait of a family and its joys and sorrows. As with Everson's other "Cedar Key" books, the tropical refuge is a character in itself, a place of healing and hope.
All For a Song
"She was begging for release -- from her sin,
from her song,
from the responsibility of making
any more decisions
in this life.
She closed her eyes at the final note.
"Thank you, Jesus," she whispered, her gratitude lifted up
on the cloud of soft applause."
"All For a Song"
Tyndale House 2013
Dorothy Lynn Dunbar knows God has a plan for her life. Problem is, everyone else has one, too.
The lines for 19-year-old Dorothy Lynn have fallen in pleasant places: she's been courted and proposed to by a young minister. He's strong in the Spirit, physically appealing to her, and deeply in love with her. He even supports her singing, guitar playing and songwriting, questionable pastimes for a young woman in their deeply conservative community of Heron's Nest, Mo.
Brent Logan has come to the tiny town to pastor Dorothy's late father's congregation. She has the opportunity to slip into her mother's former role, and almost the same life.
"This morning the lines of Dorothy Lynn's life seemed very clear. They stretched no farther than this pew, the pulpit and the man in the high-backed chair who was to be her husband."
Or, as she observes later on, the only difference when she marries Brent is that she'll change beds.
But there's a world outside Heron's Nest, and it's changing. Automobiles, picture shows, bobbed hair, jazz. A chance encounter in St. Louis opens that world for her, and she leaves Heron's Nest behind for a cross-country odyssey as a singer with evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson's revival team.
The old rules, the ones Dorothy Lynn grew up with, don't apply any more. She finds herself performing her gospel songs to crowds of thousands, wearing modern clothes and make-up, and stretching the boundaries of life in Heron's Nest (though she manages not to bob
her hair). And Brent lets her go, but warns her not to contact him until she's ready to come back for good.
Her quest has a purpose in addition to the revivals: she wants to find
her brother Donald, who moved to California after the Great War, fleeing the constrictions of Heron's Nest. She finds Donny, but he refuses to return home even for her wedding. He can't fit back into that world, he tells her, and this is better for everybody.
Donny is "free" -- or is he?
Older sister Darlene lives in St. Louis with her salesman husband, two
rowdy boys and a baby on the way. With her bobbed hair, modern conveniences and stylish clothing, her movies and records, Darlene is everything Dorothy Lynn is not. She piles material thing upon material thing. Charged to make Dorothy Lynn's wedding dress, she loses herself ifabrics and notions without sensing her sister's turmoil -- until Dorothy Lynn goes off with the revival crusade. Then "modern" Darlene is scandalized..
Darlene is "free" -- or is she?
Dorothy Lynn's guide on her journey is Roland Lundi, a member of the McPherson team. An older man, he shepherds her in the ways of the world, from eating in restaurants to choosing dresses. Roland is a paradox, a smoker and drinker even on the crusade, an operator who protects Dorothy Lynn's innocence even as he urges her to stretch her boundaries.
Though she flirts with Roland's world, it all comes crashing down around her when she becomes drunk for the first time and kisses Roland.
Sick and remorseful the next day, she goes off with her guitar and works out her own repentance with what becomes a free gospel concert in a park.
"She played on, ignoring the wave of homesickness washing over her,
stronger than the nausea that had plagued her this morning.
Only the cramping in her hands and the growing dryness of her throat bore witness to the passing of time. But she would not stop, even though she felt blisters forming on the tips of her fingers, even though she felt the corners of her lips clinging to each other with every syllable.
"Until she knew she could sing just one more. Pulled from the depths came her own song again, only now, for the first time, she sang in weakness, struggling for every note and lyric. The gathering grew silent, naturally, as none of them there could have heard it before, unless they'd been there when she first picked up her guitar.
There was only her voice, cushioned by the crowd, the trees lifting it
up and out of the city, and by the time she got to the end of it, she had nothing left. Her back ached from sitting on the concrete step; her arms burned. She was begging for release -- from her sin, from her song, from the responsibility of making any more decisions in this life. She closed her eyes at the final note.
"Thank you, Jesus," she whispered, her gratitude lifted up on the cloud of soft applause."
Dorothy does grow to love Roland a little, a mixture of affection and
pity. But near the end of her journey, she knows her life is with
And in the end, like another Dorothy, she realizes there is no place like home.
Nothing comes easy in this novel. There are no pat answers and no pat people. Roland isn't the slick-haired Lothario of a silent movie.
The one and only time Dorothy Lynn gets drunk, he puts her to bed --
alone. Her purity and innocence attract him, but for all his Christian posturing, Roland's faith doesn't hold up to hers. He is what he is, and at least this reader ended up feeling sorry for him.
Nor is this some kind of non-Amish Rumspringa. It's more complex than that. And it's more complex than avoiding the "evils" of bobbed hair and movies. (We've got all that in 2013-14, and hardly anyone cares.)
At the heart of this novel, Pittman explores what makes a person
free. Donny isn't "free" -- he can't go home and face his past.
Darlene isn't "free," but ensnared by a social order and social
In her tiny town and prescribed life, with Christ at the center and Brent at her side, Dorothy Lynn is freer than Roland or either of her
"Against the Tide"
"Against The Tide"
Through her own efforts, Lydia Pallas has built a life far removed from her impoverished childhood. She has a good job for a woman in 1876, translating materials for the U.S. Navy. She cherishes her
independence and stability. And it's about to fall apart before her
Alexander Bane has devoted his life to stamping out the opium trade. In particular, he wants to stop the work of opium dealer Professor Van Bracken, his former mentor. Bane can't commit to any woman, even the remarkable Lydia, because the Professor will destroy anyone he loves.
Camden's Lydia is intelligent and resourceful. She can add "brave" to her resume after she volunteers to go undercover in the Professor's Vermont fortress, in order to save two small boys and free Bane from the drug dealer's power.
But Lydia has built her life on her own, without Christ. As she fights for the boys, Bane and her own life, she needs a crutch and finds it in the substance Bane has dedicated his life to eliminating.
Can Lydia outwit the evil Professor to save Bane and two captive boys, and can Bane show her enough of Christ's love to lead her to his Lord?
Camden portrays the Boston setting, especially the waterfront, so clearly I could feel the salt spray on the wind and hear the shouts of the dock workers. The historical details also rang true, down to the objects on Lydia's desk.
The suspense when Lydia is held virtually a prisoner at the Professor's
home kept me reading until I was done.
Camden's book is a love story, a suspense tale and a snapshot of a time in history. But anyone who reads it strictly as a romance, a thriller or a historical misses the point.
As the reader observes Lydia's life falling apart, and as she struggles
back from addiction, we see her carefully-constructed world is nothing without God. He doesn't cause her addiction, but he uses it to show Lydia her need for Him.
As we watch Lydia go off opium, we see this vibrant woman become a trembling husk of her former self -- the husk we all are without Jesus. And we see the Lord restore the years the worm had eaten away.
Camden's book is a love story, a suspense tale and a snapshot of a time in history. But anyone who reads it strictly as a romance, a thriller or an historical misses the point.
A young wife and mother determined to provide for her family.
A desperate couple. Make that more than one.
A technological advance that has changed the world. For good or ill? TBD (to be determined).
Angela Hunt's novel "The Offering" has the ripped-from-the-headlines feel of a Jodie Picoult novel, minus the courtroom scenes and with the addition of a spiritual dimension and a challenge to Christians.
Amanda Lisandra, a young wife and mother in present-day Florida, finds it difficult to manage on her husband Gideon's military pay and her part-time job. When she hears about surrogate parenting from a fellow military wife, she thinks she's found a solution. She tells herself it's not only for the money -- she'll be helping an infertile couple achieve their dream. With Gideon's support, Mandy chooses an aristocratic French couple and prepares to bear their son.
But it's not that easy.
Amanda convinces herself that she's doing a selfless act. But as her husband's cousin struggles with infertility, Amanda is forced to question her own motives.
Amelia, the cousin and Amanda's best friend, challenges her at one point, asking if Amanda would feel the same about carrying a baby for her.
Amanda also grapples with the larger question, What is a family? Is it
birth or bonding, nature or nurture? She feels closer to the boisterous Lisandra clan, her Cuban-American in-laws, than her own mother. She sees Amelia's joy when her friend is finally able to adopt. And in a stunning reveal, she takes a journey she and the reader will never forget.
Hunt provides an appealing and sympathetic protagonist, without sugar-coating Amanda's motives. Her desire to help her family is typical of any young mother. Reproductive technology is not a black-and-white issue, even for Christians, and Hunt doesn't pretend that it is.
The complexities of military life and the culture of Cuban-Americans are also well-portrayed.
But Hunt's real forte in this book is research, both into reproductive
technology and the human heart. She gives a detailed and sometimes chilling account of Amanda's "procedure" without getting too technical. And she delves deeply into the questions Amanda faces, questions that all Christians should be asking. Hunt doesn't preach, she shows the issues through Amanda's thoughts and conflicts. In a chat at the end of the book, she explains her own position. The technology is available and a boon to the infertile, but she warns against freezing too many embryos, noting that once they begin to thaw, they have trouble surviving.
No spoiler alert here, you really need to read the whole book, but I can say that the ending, while not totally happy, is the ending that these characters needed to have.
The only jarring note for me is Gideon's nickname for Amanda, "Baby
Girl." It seems demeaning even for a traditional couple in this century. But if he's going to risk his life defending the free world, he can call her anything he wants.
This book is worth a look and worth your time. Hunt doesn't write
"women's fiction" -- she writes "people's fiction.
Hunt's real forte in this book is research,
both into reproductive technology and the human heart. She gives a detailed and sometimes chilling account
of Amanda's "procedure"
without getting too technical.
And she delves deeply into the questions Amanda faces, questions that all Christians should be asking.
Hunt doesn't preach, she shows the issues
through Amanda's thoughts and conflicts.
Continued from left column
Kay closed her eyes and saw a timeline stretching into eternity.
Recorded on the line, she saw illnesses and healings, miracles and milestones, lives and deaths. And she saw Heaven, stretched out in a
long, glorious line, crossing farther into the future than she could see.. God was the keeper of that time line, the maestro of all that happened within it. The symphony played on -- a song of love and hope and promises kept. A song that wouldn't end before they were all gathered together again.
My only criticism of this book is the tawdry love-lust-money triangle
that leads to Beth's murder. Something as terrible and wonderful as Beth Brannock's death and life would seem to require an equally lofty motive, means and opportunity. But maybe Blackstock is saying something with this, too.
This is not a sci-fi story, despite its speculative nature. Though Blackstock is a suspense writer, it's not that either. And though there's a romance between Deni and Mark that takes four books to play out, it's not a romance. It's the Book of Job for modern people.