Something to (read and) Think About… Religious Fiction

Our current genre presents a little more of a challenge than the beach reads (ie pretty much whatever you wanted -no limits!) This discussion featured religious fiction, a book that has religiously-based attitudes, values, or actions as a central feature of the story in any style of story. When you read what people said about their books, you’ll see there’s a pretty interesting variety. Are you ready to find the next book to add to your growing TBR pile?

Megan: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, is a hilarious and irreverent accounting of Jesus’ life between the time of his well-documented birth and his famous teachings, miracles, and ultimate sacrifice as an adult. Jesus’ best buddy Biff tells all, revealing all sorts of adventures and high jinx. Fans of Moore will recognize his satirical humor and well-placed bawdy joke.

Carol: The winner of several awards for Christian fiction, Dear Mr. Knightley, Katherine Reay’s 2014 debut novel, is jam-packed with Jane Austen references and is based on the 1912 novel Daddy-Long-Legs. Samantha Moore receives a grant from a mysterious benefactor to receive her Masters’ degree with the caveat that she write him letters telling him how she is doing at the school. Sam uses the correspondence to this anonymous “Mr. Knightley” as a means to escape her unfulfilling life—revealing to him alone what she truly feels. “Sam” is naive, innocent, and flawed, but finds that with guidance from some new friends, including the single, handsome writer Alex Powell, she might not mess up her one chance at a new life.

Beth: Michael Perry’s The Jesus Cow is a satirical take on small town life in middle America. When Swivel’s own born and raised, Harvey Jackson discovers the face of Jesus Christ on his calf, he tries his darndest to ignore it. Soon the secret gets out and his small town farm turns into a national destination. This blasphemous tale of false idols is light hearted and enjoyable.

Steve: Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns is the heartbreaking tale of two women, Mariam and Laila, who, through tragic circumstances, end up the wives of the sadistic Rasheed. They come to rely on each other and form a surprising bond as they help each other survive in the brutal household in this moving story that spans three decades, beginning with the turbulent 1970s in Afghanistan.

Sara: I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. This is historical biblical fiction based on the life of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob. Jacob is well known for having 12 sons, the youngest and most famous being Joseph, abandoned by his brothers but going on to rule Egypt. Dinah is mentioned in only one chapter of the Bible as the daughter who is defiled by a prince of Shechem and avenged by her brothers. This story tells of Dinah’s life as girl living in a world where her father and grandfather have multiple wives, and women are seen as property and breeding stock. Dinah grows up with her mothers and aunts, learning about life and dreaming about love while sitting in the red tent where women went during their times of impurity in keeping with Jewish law. This was an interesting look into what the life of a woman of her times could have been like.

Gina: In William Paul Young’s The Shack, Mack returns to the Shack. This old abandoned building was the last location that Mack’s youngest daughter was thought to have been when she was abducted from a nearby camping grounds in Oregon during a family vacation. Mack was intrigued by a note he received in the mail to return to the shack, addressed by God. In this visit, Mack meets all three forms of God, gets understanding of life’s mysteries and finds peace. If you have ever wanted to have a deep meaningful conversation with God, this is the book for you as it was for me.

Emma: In Cynthia Ruchti’s As Waters Gone By, Max and Emmalyn Ross bought a cottage on Madeline Island in Lake Superior 8 years ago. Currently Max is serving a 5-year prison term for seriously injuring a man when he drove drunk into a fertility clinic. In order to pay Max’s legal fees, Emmalyn had to sell their home and move to the island. She plans to restore the cottage and hopes to restore her soul. The good neighbors on Madeline Island play an important role in helping her achieve her goals. This Christy Award finalist in contemporary fiction is a short sweet happily-ever-after book.

Dori: In Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, 16-year-old Amal decides to start wearing the hijab full-time to school to embrace her faith, but she’s worried about everyone’s reaction. She knows she can count on her best friends, but what will the teachers, her parents and handsome Adam think? Set in Australia, this young adult novel helps to explain why young women would choose to wear the hijab and also deals with prejudice and fear. It also does a great job of explaining that Muslim people are as different, or as alike, as everyone else. Amal is a fully realized character; she’s smart, funny, and charming and you will want to see how she and her friends succeed in negotiating our tricky world.

Stacey: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff starts with an unnamed woman visiting a recently opened exhibit “Two Hundred of Circus Magic” at the Petit Palais in Paris. She’s checking for a message from the past, hoping to find out what happened to her dearest friend when they were separated by tragic circumstances during World War II. Both women face persecution based on religious beliefs and are aware they must hide important elements of who they are in order to survive. With plenty of historical details and changing relationships, this could be a good book choice for your next book discussion.

For our next genre discussion? We will *not* be lightening the mood -at all. Next up is literary fiction defined by an inventive, rich, demanding, multi-layered, experimental, or technical virtuosity writing style. The focus is more on character than plot and will prompt a high degree of interaction between reader and book. And so -let the search begin!

enjoy!
Stacey

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A Gentle Introduction …to gentle reads

It’s always nice to start off anything new with a quiet, gentle approach -right? So why not start off the New Year with a Gentle Read?! If you’re reading along with us, that means you found a book that has a low-key, charming book that centers around a small community or group of people and their everyday joys or sorrows. Or maybe you were waiting to see what we all choose to read and share at our discussion? If so, then you’re in luck today! Here’s what everyone had to say:

Carol: In Morning Glory by Sara Jio , Ada is a travel writer who is mourning the tragic loss of her husband and child. When her psychiatrist offers to rent her a houseboat in Washington and the suggestion that she get away, Ada jumps at the opportunity. The houseboat and surroundings are just what she needs, and, with nothing but quiet and calm, and a few helpful old timers as neighbors, Ada begins the healing process and is given a second chance at love. She also learns about Penelope Wentworth, a woman who lived in the same houseboat in the 1950s. Penny was in an unhappy marriage and went mysteriously missing one night decades earlier. Ada attempts to unravel Penny’s story and the secret of her disappearance—a secret that some of her new neighbors are still trying to keep. This gentle read is about love, friendships, grief and healing and makes for quick reading. An added bonus is the addition of some tasty sounding recipes and a twisty surprise end.

Chris: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett is an absolutely charming story. It all begins when Queen Elizabeth’s corgis go into a bookmobile parked near Buckingham Palace and she follows them in. Once there, she feels obligated to check out a book, does so, and that one checkout, ultimately turns her into a voracious reader. So much so, that she starts neglecting her royal duties; she’s more interested in staying home to read. Naturally, her palace staff is troubled, but never more so than when she turns her thoughts to becoming a writer. As wonderful and witty a story as you might expect from one of England’s most celebrated writers.

Dori: Miss Buncle’s Book, written by D.E. Stevenson and published in 1936, is a cozy story of small town village life. Barbara Buncle, a wallflower and spinster, is in need of money, so she decides to write a book about the only thing she knows – the villagers of Silverstream, England. Much to her amazement, the book is accepted for publishing under a pseudonym and becomes quite popular, but when her fellow villagers read it and recognize themselves, she creates quite the tempest in a teapot. Some residents vow to either sue the author for libel or hunt down the viper in their midst, but have no idea that Miss Buncle is the culprit. When events in the book begin to take place in real life, life in the village changes for the better. First of a trilogy, this is a humorous, quick read, perfect for a winter afternoon.

Beth: The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag is a whimsical, magical tale of self-discovery and love. Cora Callaway is a scientist who spends her days in the research lab trying to complete her parents’ life work to save the world, at least until her grandmother, Etta Sparks, takes action. Etta’s dress shop is magical and every dress helps make her customers’ dreams come true. With a little meddling, Etta works her magic into the life of her granddaughter’s world, opening up new feelings, memories, and mysteries. This was a whimsical and lighthearted (despite some heavy circumstances) read. Though it wasn’t the most riveting storytelling, you can’t help but fall in love with some of the uncanny characters.

Lauren: Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof interweaves the lives of myriad characters on a quaint college campus. We meet professor Tom Putnam, his troubled wife Marjory and her mother Agnes, and Rose, the new campus bookstore employee who seems to charm everyone she meets. But everyone’s lives are upended with the arrival of ten-year-old Henry. Henry arrives at the train station with a backpack containing a teddy bear, a change of clothes, a birth certificate with Tom Putnam’s name on it, and a half million dollars. Woodroof calls upon each of her characters to cope with changing life circumstances, secrets, surprises, and true matters of the heart.

Steve: A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson finds Mr. Malik, a widowed 61 year old, vying to identify the most birds that he can in a week, hoping to top his old school acquaintance, Harry Khan, for the chance to invite Rose Mbikwa to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball. Mr. Malik is secretly in love with Rose, who leads the weekly bird walks of the East African Ornithological Society that he attends. The story revolves around his challenge to identify the birds, and his nightly meetings at the Asadi Club, a social club where he and fellow members review the day’s events (the unassuming Mr. Malik surprisingly gets into more than his fair share of dangerous situations), and more importantly the bird totals.

Emma: The River is a stand-alone novel by Beverly Lewis. Tilly and her father have always had a strained relationship. She believes her father holds her responsible for her little sister’s death. Tilly left the Amish community, married an Englischer, and has young children. Ruth, Tilly’s sister, followed her into English life cutting off all ties with the family in Lancaster. The sisters are invited home to celebrate their parents’ 40th anniversary and discover their father is in poor health. An engaging story of family relationships that begin to reconcile after many years.

Stacey: In A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley, Sara Thomas, the main character in the contemporary setting, is a loner with uncanny ability to see patterns and break hidden codes. When Sara’s given the task of deciphering the diary of Mary Dundas, a seemingly average woman of the Jacobean era, everyone is surprised at the secrets revealed. The complex relationships, in both the present and the past, will provide plenty for readers to ponder and the historical information adds a little easy learning for all.

Next time? We’ll be sticking with the unexpected genre + month = theme by reading Romance! Yes, that’s right. We’ll be reading Romance in February… surprise! So if you’d like to read along with us -and who wouldn’t?- you’ll want a book that appeals to your emotions and will give you a fabulously happy ending. (Sweet!) All the characters can be strong and independant but it’s their romantic relationships that are the main focus of the story. Enjoy the love people…yep yep…enjoy the love!

—Stacey

It Was a Gentle Kind of Story…

One quiet afternoon at the library, the Adult Services staff settled in to discuss the books we chose as gentle reads… well, that’s not totally true. There’s rarely a quiet afternoon here at the library, but we did discuss books that focus on everyday joys, frustrations, and sorrows of ordinary people -aka gentle reads! It’s actually one of the more difficult categories to pin down with distinct guidelines so if everyone had picked something completely random? I don’t think I would have been surprised. Instead, I’d say there is a definite gentle reads vibe to alllll these books and I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find something (or multiple somethings!) that will pique your interest. So are you ready to read?

Megan: The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is the story of Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean. Dubbed the Supremes as teens in the 1960s, they forged a friendship at the window table at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat that had the strength to last a lifetime. Forty years have passed and life was not always kind to them, but the Supremes have stuck together through it all. Now, the trio is facing a new set of challenges. Luckily, they still have each other and their table at Earl’s. The heartbreaks and joys of ordinary lives are captured beautifully in this charming debut novel. Full of colorful characters and witty banter, this book is a tribute to the enduring power of lasting friendships.

Dori: In The Tower, The Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart, Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater who lives in the Tower of London and gives daily tours about its tragic history. His wife, Hebe, works at the London Underground’s Office of Lost Property. Suffering from the death of their young son, they are drifting apart. When the Queen asks Balthazar to become the caretaker of a menagerie of animals that she’s received as gifts over the years, he begins to heal and when Hebe reunites a lost urn with its owner, she begins to find her way as well. Quirky side characters, animal antics, and historical ghosts add a lightheartedness to this thoughtful gentle read.

Ann: True Sisters by Sandra Dallas is based on historical events. Imagine it is 1856 and you are a young woman living in England or Scotland. What could persuade you to give up your life in England or Scotland to travel to the United States and walk from Iowa to Salt Lake City, Utah? For the four women in our story who do just that, it is the lure of the Zion, the Promised Land described by the Mormon missionaries who have come to the United Kingdom seeking converts. The community and sisterhood that develop among the four women and their family are strong, but the trip to Zion is harsh, and one that not everyone completes. This is a gentle read tempered by the true reality of history.

Emma: The Icecutter’s Daughter by Tracie Peterson is the story of the Krause and Jorgenson families. At age 10, Merrill Krause promises her dying mother to care for her father and brothers. It’s now 1896 and over the years the men have come to rely on her help. Rurik Jorgenson moves to Minnesota from Kansas to help his elderly sick uncle with his furniture-making business. His ex-fiancée, Swea, follows him to Minnesota claiming to be pregnant with his child and hoping to force Rurik into marriage. Rurik does not love Swea and wants to court Merrill. A happy ever after story filled with neighbors helping neighbors and strudel.

Steve: Jim the Boy, by Tony Earley, is the story of 10 year old Jim, who is growing up in North Carolina during the Depression. At the story’s onset we discover that Jim was born just a few weeks after his kind-hearted father passed away. Jim lives with his mother and her three brothers on a small town farm. The story describes Jim’s gradual realization of life’s complexities. Those who are looking for a simple paced story will enjoy.

Carol: In The Daughter’s Walk by Jane Kirkpatrick, it’s 1896 when Norwegian American Helga Estby and her 19-year-old daughter Clara accept a wager from the fashion industry to walk from Spokane, Washington to New York City within seven months in an effort to earn $10,000, money desperately needed to save their family farm. More than a year later, based on secrets she learned on the trip, Clara chooses to leave the family and change her name–resulting in a 20-year separation from the only life she has ever known. This gentle and inspirational read is based on a true story and teaches lessons about forgiveness, acceptance and God’s greater plan.

Stacey: A Little Folly by Jude Morgan was written by a contemporary author but has the feel of a classic novel created long ago. Valentine and Louisa Carnell are siblings who have been stifled by a harsh, uncaring father. It’s only after his death in 1813 that these two young adults really begin to live. Without having had many previous opportunities to make choices for themselves, they stumble a bit but it might just make them stronger in the end. This quiet, thoughtful book with plenty of lovely details and interior dialogue will provide many hours of reading pleasure.

Our next discussion genre? Women’s fiction! You’ll want to search out a book that features a female protagonist with a focus primarily on relationships between the main character and family, friends, or partners. There can be elements of suspense or mystery but will always have a more romantic tone. These characters will overcome and learn from the challenges they face. We’ll talk titles in a month!

— Stacey

Anyone for a Feel-Good Hug?

This was our gentle read slash religious book genre discussion. (You may be thinking, doesn’t she mean Christian fiction? And I would say, “Nope, I’m broadening our horizons and making it ‘religious’ fiction so we can include all kinds of faiths!” We like to be an inclusive group, so don’t you think that makes sense?) And I’d say we wound up with a good mix of gentle vs. religious themes and historical vs. contemporary settings, making for an interesting and wide-ranging discussion. There wasn’t one, big idea that came out of it, but I think now we all have a new appreciation for the variety of stories available in these two categories.

Why not decide for yourself? Take a peek at what we’re saying about the books we read and make up your own mind…

I’m saying this about the book I read:

Courting Trouble by Deeanne Gist is a sweet, funny romance featuring a main character that turns to her faith in time of need. Essie is an old maid in 1894 in a small Texas town but she’s just about given up any hope that she’ll ever have a family of her own. When a drifter comes to town and begins paying her special attention giving Essie hope again. But not all is as it appears and in the end Essie must decide what she wants to compromise about herself, if anything at all.

Evelyn is saying this about the books she read:

Collins, Brandilyn — Brink of Death (Hidden Faces #1)

Soon after Annie Kingston moves her family to the small town of Grove Landing, California, her neighbor is killed in a break-in. Erin, the twelve-year-old daughter of the neighbor sees the killer but is too traumatized to offer up a description. Because Erin is friends with Annie’s daughter, Annie, who is a courtroom sketch artist, offers to help Erin create a drawing of the killer. Erin’s father’s faith during this whole ordeal amazes the nonbeliever Annie and, as she tries to help Erin, she finds herself asking God for help.

Ferrell, Miralee — Love Finds You in Last Chance California

After the death of her father, Alexia Travers must manage the family horse ranch—not an easy task in 1877 California. Despite her best efforts, everything seems to go wrong. Some of the ranch hands refuse to work for a woman boss, a fence is cut and horses are stolen, even the gold her father received from the bank after mortgaging the ranch is missing. Alex offers widower-newcomer Justin Phillips a job after he arrives in Last Chance with his young son. He seems like a good man, but he has secrets he seems unwilling to share. He is a man of strong faith, but will he be able to help Alex learn to depend on God? A nice, historical/western romance that has likeable and engaging characters and an interesting story line; the author actually visited the present site (a ghost town) of Last Chance, California as part of her research.

Janet is saying this about the book she read:

Any Minute by Joyce Meyer centers on the main character, Sarah Harper. Even though Sarah is a wife, mother, daughter and career woman, her career receives the majority of her attention. Unfortunately it takes a life-threatening accident to get Sarah to take a good look at herself and her priorities.

Julie is saying this about the book she read:

I read Celebrations at Thrush Green by one of the masters of gentle reads, Dora Jessie Saint, aka. Miss Read. In this installment of the Thrush Green series residents are arranging festivities to celebrate the 100 years since the founding of both the town school and a mission in Africa set up by one of the village’s own. This isn’t a book with a great deal of pathos or action, but something to slip into if you want to feel a bit less hectic and bit warmer inside.

Carol is saying this about the book she read:

My gentle reads pick was Angela Hunt’s Doesn’t She Look Natural, the first book in her Fairlawn trilogy. This is definitely a work of Christian fiction as God and prayer are central to the plot. A newly divorced mother of two, Jennifer Graham, moves in with her mother in Virginia when her husband leaves her for the nanny. Just as Jennifer is at her breaking point, fate intervenes and Jennifer learns that she has inherited a historic Victorian home in Mt. Dora, Florida–only to discover, it’s also a funeral parlor. Jennifer puts her fate in the hands of God, who she believes has a greater plan for her life. Her only complaint: Does this plan really include running a funeral home?

Though a bit predictable, this novel celebrates the mortician ministry and its effect on loved ones left behind. Despite being filled with some gruesome details about the funeral parlor business, the supporting cast (including Joella and her society of Red Hatters) in this book were the reasons I kept reading. If this sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll be happy we also own books two and three in the series: She Always Wore Red and She’s In A Better Place.

Rosemary is saying this about the book she read:

Tyler’s Rowby Miss Read is a lovely and gentle story. Peter and Diana Hale are smitten with four row houses in the English countryside. Their ultimate plan is to remodel the houses into one beautiful home for their retirement. Of course, their dreams take much longer to achieve than they ever thought possible. The renters in two of the houses are cantankerous and not about to move to other living quarters. Peter and Diana prevail by drawing on their own good humor and the assistance of the Fairacre villagers.

Ann is saying this about the book she read:

Where You Once BelongedBy Kent Haruf

The narrative of small town bad boy, Jack Burdette told by one of the fellow townsfolk of Holt, Colorado. Jack, an unruly kid goes on to become a high school football star, but trouble follows him, and as a grown man when he marries a woman he met at a weekend convention, and then later shocks the town by committing a sinister crime, he becomes the town pariah. DISCLAIMER: This book is not a very gentle read. A better choice for a more gentle and uplifting story is Haruf’s Plainsong and it’s sequel Eventide, both set in that same small town of Holt, Colorado.

Emma is saying this about the book she read:

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene is the story of an unnamed Mexican “whiskey priest” on the run for eight years. Christianity has been outlawed by the state. All priests must renounce their faith, get married, flee or face execution. Although seemingly broken down by his love of the bottle, he remains true to his calling. Finally giving into the Mexican Government’s decree that all priests leave the country, he complies but is called back to hear a final confession. Is this his final act of faith?

Megan is saying this about the book she read:

Lucky T by Kate Brian

Carrie has always counted on her special T-shirt to bring her luck and it has never failed her. She has aced tests, won lead roles in school plays, and found a very cute boyfriend, all with the help of her lucky T. When her mother accidentally donates the shirt to Help India Carrie’s luck takes an immediate turn for the worse. Determined to get back her shirt, her luck, and her charmed life Carrie sets off to India to find the lucky shirt. The odds are against her, but with the help of some new friends Carrie begins a life changing journey. This is a sweet coming of age story with hints of comedy and romance suitable for teens of all ages.

Dori is saying this about the book she read:

In Recipes from the Dumpby Abigail Stone, single mother Gabby Fulbriten lives near the dump in a small town in Vermont. Intelligent, funny and honest, she listens to Shakespeare and frets about her lack of money and a man, about her weight and the environment. Interspersed are recipes for food and for life, such as ‘Life Juice’ and ‘Just Desserts’. Gabby may not find all she’s looking for, but she’s an interesting character to spend an afternoon with.

Donna is saying this about the book she read:

Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragonby Nancy Atherton is the fourteenth mystery in this cozy English series featuring Aunt Dimity, the paranormal detective. Lori Shepherd and her husband and twin sons live in a small English village in the Cotswolds. Aunt Dimity is Lori’s mother deceased friend who communicates with her by writing in a magical blue notebook. Together, they solve the mysteries surrounding Finch and the English countryside. Lori and the villagers are excited to learn that a Renaissance Faire plans to open nearby for the summer. After a series of accidents mar the opening of the Faire, Lori begins to fear that someone wants to kill King Wilfred the Good, the Faire’s organizer. Will Lori and Aunt Dimity be able to stop a murder before it happens?

Good variety, right? Next time things won’t be quite so … kind or … caring. Next up? Horror of horrors, it’s the horror genre! We’ll be reading frightening stories, often with supernatural or occult elements, and they may cause us to have terrified responses to a world gone awry. So, what do you think? Are you ready to sleep with the lights on for a while? Are you going to read a horror book with us? Edgar Allan Poe counts, if that makes you feel better?

—Stacey