Tag Archives: general fiction

First Line Friday — Missing Isaac

12 Jan

This week, First Line Friday is featuring Diversity. Books featuring characters of color, civil rights, or Martin Luther King, Jr. are being shared by other bloggers. Over the years my book club has read books that involve the fragile state of race relations in the United States. Sometimes difficult to read, many times challenging to our mindsets, these books have created thought-provoking discussions. Be sure to check out The Color of Justice by Ace Collins, A Time to Stand by Robert Whitlow, and Snapshot by Lis Wiehl.

This week I am featuring By The Book’s February selection, Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse. Set in the American South in the 1960s, I anticipate that this one will be another great read. Please leave a comment with your first line and then head over to Hoarding Books to check out what other bloggers are sharing.

 

 

There was another South in the 1960s, one far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news. It was a place of inner turmoil, where ordinary people struggled to right themselves on a social landscape that was dramatically shifting beneath their feet. This is the world of Valerie Fraser Luesse’s stunning debut, Missing Isaac.

It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny, unassuming town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople’s reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for. Before it’s all over, Pete — and the people he loves most — will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever.

Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others. As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.

 

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Book Review: Stars in The Grass

21 Dec

Nine-year-old Abby McAndrews has just experienced her greatest loss, and in its wake, her family is unraveling with guilt, grief, and anger. Her father, Reverend McAndrews, cannot return to the pulpit because he has more questions than answers. Her older brother Matt’s actions speak louder than the words he needs to confess, as he acts out in dangerous ways. Her mother tries to hold her grieving family together, but when Abby’s dad refuses to move on, the family is at a crossroads.
 
Stars in the Grass, set in a small Midwestern town in 1970, is an uplifting novel that explores a family’s relationships and resiliency. Abby’s heartbreaking remembrances are balanced by humor and nostalgia as her family struggles with — and ultimately celebrates — life after loss.

 

Ann Marie Stewart grew up in Seattle, Washington and is a die-hard UW Husky (and Wolverine) after earning a Masters in Film/Television from University of Michigan. She originated AMG’s Preparing My Heart series, write the column “Ann’s Lovin’ Ewe” for The Country Register and blog for Mentoring Moments. Her first novel, Stars in the Grass released February 2017.

When not writing, She is waving her arms directing musicals, teaching middle schoolers, or watching UVA Basketball or Madam Secretary. In her free time she hangs out with her husband, raising two lovely daughters and a whole flock of fuzzy sheep on Skye Moor Farm, in Virginia — where unscripted drama provides plenty of entertaining material.

 

My Impressions:

Ann Marie Stewart’s novel, Stars in The Grass, won the 2017 Christy Award for Debut Novel, and after reading it I can understand just what wowed the judges. Moving, insightful, and full of heart and heartache, this novel grabbed my imagination from the beginning. I would not characterized it as an easy read by any means, but would call it a must-read. A grieving family is the at the center with all facing a new reality with differing responses. The journey is painful, but with a whisper of hope that touched this reader. Stars in The Grass is very highly recommended.

The year is 1970 and nine year old Abby McAndrews is faced with days of love and fun with her family. That is until the unthinkable happens, leaving a gaping hole in their hearts. Abby, brother Matt, dad John, and mom Renee return to their home and begin the process of getting over what occurred. But there is no getting over a broken heart or lost dreams or a shattered family. And the grief they experience prevents them from going back or moving forward.

Stars in The Grass is told in Abby’s first person perspective. I really identified with this character for a number of reasons — I am exactly one year older than her since we share the same birthday — so her life and times were mine. But it is her response to the loss of her brother that resonated with me. The losses I have experienced in my life — death of a child, loss of parents, and sudden death of my brother-in-law — were met with the same reaction as Abby. Fear. The fear of what the next day or moment could bring because life had become uncontrollable and uncertain. Stewart’s realistic portrayal of Abby and the other characters’ responses to death are so realistic that I felt the bitterness, the guilt, the anger, the fear, and the hopelessness of each. But in the end they and we can know that grief can be accompanied by hope. Was it easy for the McAndrews family (or for us)? No. But the assurance of a God who brings light even in the darkest of pits can get us through.

Easter came in the midst of the family’s grieving and Abby found the following:

My Easter was about being lost and found. It was about a Comforter. About hope and life, and the birth of a Church, and resurrecting dreams even when nobody quite knew how. But we were together and we were talking. And something about that felt — for now — almost good enough. (p. 245)

As I stated, Stars in The Grass is not an easy read, nor is it a quick one. This book is meant to be read in an unhurried manner, allowing for breaks for emotion and thought. It is an award winner for a reason. It is beautifully written with realistic and complex characters, and a subject matter that will make you think. If this is what a debut looks like, then I am eager to read more from Stewart.

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to the author for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

Top 10 Tuesday — Dear Santa, I Want Books!

19 Dec

Welcome to the Top 10 Tuesday before Christmas. The theme today is books bloggers want Santa to bring. I have always been a fan of books as gifts. And if you don’t know which book to get me, a gift card so I can pick my own is always the next best choice! 😉

For the books other bloggers have on their wishlists, head over to The Broke And The Bookish.

 

I always have a long wishlist of books — book club books, new releases, old releases I missed . . . . You get the picture! The following are the books that are headed to the top of my TBR list.

Top 10 Books I Want from Santa

Beneath The Surface by Lynn Blackburn

Formula of Deception by Carrie Stuart Parks

The House on Foster Hill by Jamie Jo Wright

If I Live by Terri Blackstock

The Love Letter by Rachel Hauck

The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers

Portrait of Vengeance by Carrie Stuart Parks

Send Down The Rain by Charles Martin

The View from Rainshadow Bay by Colleen Coble

Where Hope Begins by Catherine West

 

What books do you want from Santa?

First Line Friday — Stars in The Grass by Ann Marie Stewart

3 Nov

Welcome to First Line Friday. It’s easy to participate — grab the closest book and comment with the first line on the first page. Then when you are done, head over to Hoarding Books to find out what other bloggers are sharing.

This week I am sharing Ann Marie Stewart‘s book Stars in The Grass. Ann’s book has been nominated for The Christy Award — First Novel! Winners of this prestigious award will be announced on November 7th.

 

Nine-year-old Abby McAndrews has just experienced her greatest loss, and in its wake, her family is unraveling with guilt, grief, and anger. Her father, Reverend McAndrews, cannot return to the pulpit because he has more questions than answers. Her older brother Matt’s actions speak louder than the words he needs to confess, as he acts out in dangerous ways. Her mother tries to hold her grieving family together, but when Abby’s dad refuses to move on, the family is at a crossroads.
 
Stars in the Grass, set in a small Midwestern town in 1970, is an uplifting novel that explores a family’s relationships and resiliency. Abby’s heartbreaking remembrances are balanced by humor and nostalgia as her family struggles with — and ultimately celebrates — life after loss.

 

Ann Marie Stewart — I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing stories, putting on plays, or belting songs. Ever since grade school when my dad substituted me in for his turn at the Toastmaster podium and I held a captive audience with my speech, I’ve loved making people laugh and cry.

I grew up in Seattle, Washington and am a die-hard UW Husky (and Wolverine) after earning a Masters in Film/Television from University of Michigan. I originated AMG’s Preparing My Heart series, write the column “Ann’s Lovin’ Ewe” for The Country Register and blog for Mentoring Moments. My first novel, Stars in the Grass came out February 2017.

When I’m not writing, I’m waving my arms directing musicals, teaching middle schoolers, or watching UVA Basketball or Madam Secretary. In my free time I hang out with my husband, raising two lovely daughters and a whole flock of fuzzy sheep on Skye Moor Farm, in Virginia — where unscripted drama provides plenty of entertaining material.

 

Your turn!

What’s your first line?

August Book Club Selections

3 Aug

Here are the books my two book clubs will be reading this month. Have you read them? What did you think?

 

51ycWviNHOL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Pearl in The Sand by Tessa Afshar. Can a Canaanite harlot who has made her livelihood by looking desirable to men make a fitting wife for one of the leaders of Israel? Shockingly, the Bible’s answer is yes.

Pearl in the Sand tells Rahab’s untold story. Rahab lives in a wall; her house is built into the defensive walls of the City of Jericho. Other walls surround her as well–walls of fear, rejection, and unworthiness.

A woman with a wrecked past; a man of success, of faith…of pride. A marriage only God would conceive! Through the heartaches of a stormy relationship, Rahab and Salmone learn the true source of one another’s worth and find healing in God.

 

51dfH32zyfL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse…

As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life—answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

Book Review: Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor

24 Jul

UnknownWhen Heather Toulson returns to her parents’ cottage in the English countryside, she uncovers long-hidden secrets about her family history and stumbles onto the truth about a sixty-year-old murder.

Libby, a free spirit who can’t be tamed by her parents, finds solace with her neighbor Oliver, the son of Lord Croft of Ladenbrooke Manor. Libby finds herself pregnant and alone when her father kicks her out and Oliver mysteriously drowns in a nearby river. Though theories spread across the English countryside, no one is ever held responsible for Oliver’s death.

Sixty years later, Heather Toulson, returning to her family’s cottage in the shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor, is filled with mixed emotions. She’s mourning her father’s passing but can’t let go of the anger and resentment over their strained relationship. Adding to her confusion, Heather has an uneasy reunion with her first love, all while sorting through her family’s belongings left behind in the cottage. What she uncovers will change everything she thought she knew about her family’s history.

Award-winning author Melanie Dobson seamlessly weaves the past and present together, fluidly unraveling the decades-old mystery and reveals how the characters are connected in shocking ways.

Set in a charming world of thatched cottages, lush gardens, and lovely summer evenings, this romantic and historical mystery brings to light the secrets and heartaches that have divided a family for generations.

 

MDobson-314Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of thirteen historical romance, suspense, and contemporary novels. Two of her novels won Carol Awards in 2011, and Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana won Best Novel of Indiana in 2010. Melanie lives with her husband Jon and two daughters near Portland, Oregon.

 

My Impressions:

Family secrets are at the center of Melanie Dobson’s newest novel, Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. Taking place over a span of 65 years, this mystery/family saga was slow to capture my attention, but as more and more was revealed by the author, I found myself having a hard time putting this novel down. If you are looking for a good end of summer read, then this book could be just what you are looking for.

Maggie and Walter Doyle’s early days of marriage are happy, but shadowed by secrets kept by Maggie. When deceits come to light they escape to a new place and a new life. But just as they think that their family has a chance at lasting happiness, their daughter Libby’s strangeness and the attentions of the Lord’s son bring new worries. Forty-five years later, Maggie and Walter’s second daughter returns to sort through the remains of her late parents’ life and to find a peace that has eluded her. But more secrets have a way of coming to light.

Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor was slow and a bit confusing to me at first. Points of view shift between Walter’s journal, past events and present day. It took me a while to get into the book’s rhythm, but once I did, I immersed myself in the twisting and poignant tale of love, betrayal, deceit and forgiveness. The characters are very flawed. They make huge mistakes. And it is the message of forgiveness that makes the story so encouraging. Despite our mistakes, we have a Father who will forgive and set us on a right path again. My favorite character, Walter, was the one I most disliked at the beginning, yet came to love for his sacrificial love and care of the women in his life. Dobson’s exploration of the lies that people tell to protect the ones they love, which instead cause greater damage and invite division and estrangement, is excellent.

Complex in its writing style and themes, Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor is a deeply moving novel that I recommend.

Recommended.

Audience: adults.

To purchase this book, click HERE

(Thanks to LitFuse and Howard Books for a review copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

Book Review: Test of Faith

13 Aug

733265Elle Butler has managed to hold on to her politically-driven husband and her secrets until the unexpected happens. When one phone call rips her world apart, Elle will have to decide if the truth is worth the consequences. Especially when it threatens to destroy the world she’s so carefully built around her life and her marriage.

 

 

UnknownA true Southern woman who knows any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa Allan writes women’s fiction, stories of hope and redemption. Her upcoming novel, A Test of Faith is scheduled to release in March of 2014. Threads of Hope, one of the books in Abingdon’s Quilt Series, released in March (2013). Walking on Broken Glass (2010) and The Edge of Grace (2011) were also published by Abingdon. Love Finds You in New Orleans (Summerside Press) released in 2012.

Christa is the mother of five, grandmother of three, and recently retired after teaching twenty-five years of high school English. She and her husband Ken live in New Orleans in a home older than their combined ages.

 

My Impressions:

Test of Faith by Christa Allan is my book club’s August selection. If you have read this novel, please let me know what you thought.

Elle Butler has a secret that she thinks will never need to be disclosed, even as her husband Logan begins his campaign for State Representative. But an unforeseen tragedy exposes the long hidden truth with repercussions felt in her marriage, relationships and her husband’s political future. Elle gave up faith long ago and is not sure what to expect from God — can she trust that He will be there for her?

Test of Faith is another great book from Christa Allan. I love how she takes difficult subjects and personalizes them with flawed and very real characters. This is the greatest strength of the novel. Some characters, like Elle’s sister, shine. You just have to love her support and wisdom throughout Elle’s life. Others, like those in real life, disappoint with their hardness and unforgiveness. And others will surprise you, making you smile at the revelation of their true colors. Test of Faith also elicited many emotions too. I was in turn mad, frustrated and touched. The faith journey that Elle takes is true to life as well. I liked how she reached out to God even though those who represented Him had let her down.

I can’t wait for our group’s discussion. I know we will be have a lot to talk about — judgmental attitudes, forgiveness, sanctity of life. I loved this book and think my group will too.

Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: Adults.

(I bought this book for my Kindle. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

To purchase this book, click on the image below.