Christian Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Softly and Tenderly (Songbird #2)

Softly and Tenderly (Songbird, #2)Softly and Tenderly by Sara Evans

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the Songbird trilogy, The Sweet By and By, a heartwarming tale of love and redemption. This second novel takes up a couple of years after that sweet ending. At first, it looks like Jade’s life is pretty wonderful in Whisper Hollow, Tennessee except for the fact that she and her husband Max have still been unable to have a baby. Then a series of events exposes the many cracks in Jade’s world – her husband’s substance abuse, her father-in-law’s cheating ways and the motive behind them, and, most of all, her husband’s betrayal just before their wedding and a life-changing secret that’s like a knife to Jade’s already wounded heart. On top of all of this heartbreak, Jade’s Freebird of a mother, Beryl, is losing her battle with leukemia and wants to die at home in Iowa.
Grieving for the mother she’s not ready to let go of, Jade, along with her mother-in-law, June, take the opportunity of granting Beryl’s wish as a way to get away from the various sources of heartache and do a little soul searching. Enter Jade’s ex-husband, her father-in-law’s bid for state judge back in Tennessee, and a rolling hill of memories, Jade struggles to deal with everything.
Because it’s a lot. I felt that there were too many problems facing Jade and June at once – substance abuse, infidelity, betrayal, grief, old feelings, an accident at Jade’s business, and more. I mean, sure, that’s how life can be but for the sake of the story, there were just too many things vying for the reader’s attention. There is not a lot of joy to be found in this second story about Jade’s continuing search for redemption but there is a lot of wisdom. And several questions left at the end that are hopefully answered in the final book.

Though it is really about real life and finding the strength to deal with it, Softly and Tenderly and the Songbird series falls under the category of Christian fiction.  With a few exceptions, I don’t read a lot of Christian fiction but if what you’re looking for is the tale of strong women thriving in the real world, I recommend J. Ryan Stradal’s The Lager Queen of Minnesota.

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Chick-Lit, Reviews

Too Close to Home?

Louisiana LuckyLouisiana Lucky by Julie Pennell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you to Goodreads.com for the opportunity to read an ARC of Julie Pennell’s Louisiana Lucky, the story of three close-knit sisters each struggling to make ends meet until, after years of playing the lottery together, they win the Powerball jackpot.

As a reader born and raised in South Louisiana, I once complained about novels set in the state but written by non-Louisianians being filled with stereotypical characterizations and descriptions of what the world thinks Louisiana is like. With Louisiana Lucky, it seems like the Louisiana born author made an effort to avoid that by giving very little characterization to her characters and mundane descriptions of sunsets and moss hanging on oak trees. I was not transported to places that I could easily have pictured. The only things that indicated that the novel was set in Louisiana rather than any other southeastern state were the requisite mentions of New Orleans, LSU football, and gumbo. Although the writing lacks a bit of finesse, Louisiana Lucky is a sweet, quick read great for summer reading.  If I were looking for new material for a Hallmark movie, Louisiana Lucky might be a good place to start.

The quality of the writing wasn’t my only issue with this Louisiana set novel.  Though I’ve complained in the past of the stereotype-filled books where all Louisianians live in the swamp and speak as if we dropped out of school in the fourth grade, as I reader I personally don’t necessarily want to read about the places and things I hear about every day.  One of the sisters attended my alma mater, University of Louisiana, which was actually kind of cool, but I have heard enough about the LSU and its rivalry with Alabama to fill multiple lifetimes.  Perhaps if the writing had been more refined and the characters and places more well-defined, I would have enjoyed reading this story that could happen in my hometown.  Or maybe I’m just nitpicky when it comes to novels about my home state.

If you’re wondering if I’ve ever enjoyed a novel set in Louisiana, they are few and far between because I’ve all but avoided reading novels set in my home state since I had one terrible experience but here are a few I’ve really enjoyed:

50972888._SX318_SY475_The Awakening by Kate Chopin

ConfederacyA Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (one of my favorite books ever)

yayaDivine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (another favorite)

MudbugTrouble in Mudbug  by Jana DeLeon

Sissy LeblancThe Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc by Loraine Despres

Celiseum StreetThe House on Coliseum Street by Shirley Ann Grau

PollyThe Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall (technically set in Texas but part of the story takes place in Louisiana and it is a great read)

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Historical Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Tidelands (Fairmile #1)

Tidelands (Fairmile #1)Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

“Whether it’s a sin against God or not. Whatever you could say it would be […] and offense to me […] It would be a deep offense to me, against myself.”

“It doesn’t matter – “

“It matters to me.  I matter:  in this, I matter”

That quote from the most heartrending passage in Philippa Gregory’s latest novel, Tidelands sums up the feelings the novel provoked in me perfectly.

Sometimes you know right away that a book isn’t going to be a quick read. Such was the case with this story of Alinor, the abandoned wife of a fisherman who uses her skills and knowledge to raise her two children in an unforgiving land and an even more unforgiving society during the English Civil Wars.

The story is set during the last months of the reign of Charles I of England and James’s part in the tale is driven by his loyalty to the crown. While James’s service to Charles serves as the vehicle to his meeting Alinor and the change represented by Charles’s ultimate fate is a symbol of the changes great and small it will take to change Alinor’s lot and the lot of women and the poor throughout history, the choice to set the story at this particular moment in history is not key to the true heart of the story.

Though much of the novel reads like a romance between impoverished Puritan Alinor and wealthy Catholic priest James, it is truly an exploration of women’s lives in a time when they had none. Part of why Tidelands was such a slow read for me was that I often couldn’t bear to read too much in one sitting because the appalling treatment of the women made me so angry that I had to put the book down. When I read historical fiction (or classic literature) I, like so many readers, imagine if I could live in the time or place in which the story is set. In reading Tidelands I quickly learned that England in the mid 17th century was not for me. The treatment of women as nonentities in the realms of politics, the home, the community, and the church while being thought of as the source of so many troubles was just heartbreaking to me. And it wasn’t just the Puritans with their storied intolerance of independent, intelligent women. My strong feelings while reading Alinor’s story just went to show me how far we’ve come in the ensuing 400 years but they also highlighted how much further we have to go before women worldwide are truly considered equal. We can pass all the laws we want but it is the mentality of inferiority that must change. And it isn’t just the men with this mentality. When Alinor’s daughter, Alys points out to her mother how she defers to men and to anyone better off than she (which is pretty much everyone!) even though she has more knowledge and experience than most of them, I realized that we still see women doing this every day. Sorry to sound preachy but this book brought up such strong feelings in me.

Alinor may have been a strong, independent (by the standards of the time) heroine but, for me, the true hero of the story is her daughter Alys who sidesteps the societal strictures throughout the story then barrels right through them at the end. It was only Alys and this ending that made me happy to learn that Tidelands is just the first in a series that will follow generations of Alinor’s family and gives my review the little extra quarter star.

If you’re looking for a thought-provoking read that demonstrates what fear of the unknown and prejudice has done throughout human history, I highly recommend Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time with its unique look at the repercussions of intolerance and the fear it causes. 

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