Tag Archives: women’s fiction

Review: The Other Child, by Pirkko Rytkonen

The Other Child, by Pirkko RytkonenThe Other Child, by Pirkko Rytkonen (2017)

Emma Jorgens’ outwardly stable life sits on a shaky foundation. She and her husband, Kent, are each wrapped up in their own lives and drifting apart. She has overindulged their fourteen-year-old daughter, Becky, whose entitled attitude is growing stronger by the day.

And Emma has a secret that could destroy everything she’s gained.

As a teenager, newly-arrived from Sweden, wide-eyed and impressionable, she fell for her employers’ son and had a baby. She was tricked into a closed adoption, so the records are sealed, but she’s never stopped wondering about her infant son.

Emma and Kent have created a basement apartment for some extra income. Their first tenant is a university student recommended by a friend – a young man named Mathias Smith.

It doesn’t take Emma long to realize Mathias is her son, and they begin a complicated attempt at a relationship. Mathias is frustrated because he wants to meet his birth father, who doesn’t know he exists.

Emma’s afraid to tell her husband the truth, but she’s out of time because the birth father is running for office and the tabloids are digging up whatever they can throw at him.

Emma and Mathias are each struggling, mentally spiralling into dark places because of their stress. Mathias’ health is deteriorating, too, and Emma’s so wrapped up in him that her husband and daughter feel abandoned.

The Other Child is an account of a secret finally exposed, and the emotional fallout that must come before any chance of a happy ending.

The author clearly knows her main characters well, but at times I was confused about what was happening because I needed more of a lead-in to orient me in the scene or I needed another clue to help me understand a character’s behaviour.

Pirkko Rytkonen has written an emotionally-complex novel that dares to address hard issues about relationships, secrets, and drug addiction. The Other Child is her first novel. Her writing theme is “Grace Through the Journey.” For more about the author and her work, and to read her blog entries, visit pirkkorytkonen.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Five Miles South of Peculiar, by Angela Hunt

Five Miles South of Peculiar, by Angela HuntFive Miles South of Peculiar, by Angela Hunt (Howard Books, 2012)

Twins Carlene and Darlene celebrate their 50th birthday during this story, and younger sister Nolie is in her forties. Each woman’s life has been shaped by past hurt, whether inflicted or received, intended or imagined. And as the back cover says, “If these three sisters don’t change direction, they’ll end up where they’re going.”

Angela Hunt does an amazing job of bring three very different and yet believable sisters to life, and while there may be moments you want to shake some sense into each one of them, you’ll appreciate each one as well.

The story is set in a sprawling home near the fictional town of Peculiar, Florida. As Nolie says about small towns: “there’s not much to do, but plenty of people to talk about you when you do it.” [p. 288]

Five Miles South of Peculiar is an engaging read. While we may not have the same secrets, longings or hurts that the three sisters carry, it may help us see areas in our own lives where change would be healthy. And isn’t it encouraging to know we’re not “stuck” as long as we’re still alive?

The novel’s secondary characters include two Leonberger dogs, a large breed I’d never heard of. (My spellcheck hadn’t heard of them either, but Google has.)

Angela Hunt is a Christy Award-winning author and sought-after writing teacher who writes both contemporary and historical women’s fiction. Her current series is the Dangerous Beauty series about women from the Bible: Esther, Bathsheba and Delilah. Read her story of how she came to write Five Miles South of Peculiar on her website.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Character interview: Pam Lake

Pam Lake is  the heroine in the newest novel in The Women of Valley View series by Sharon Srock. Pam’s story releases this month.

Janet: Pam, thanks for visiting us today. It sounds like you have a great group of friends in Valley View. You’ve given your support to Callie and Terri in their stories, but how does it feel to be in the spotlight yourself?

Pam: Janet, thanks for having me. Being in the spotlight is not something I would have chosen for myself. It was tough to share the secrets of my past, even with my friends.

Janet: Let’s start with some surface chatter. I know you’re divorced, remarried to a loving man. Do you have children? A job outside the home? Hobbies?

Pam: I have two children with my first husband. Jeremy is the oldest. Then I have a daughter, Megan. They are not quite 14 months apart. I work four days a week in my husband’s law office doing computer research. It’s great to have a three day weekend each week. As far as hobbies go, I’m not a crafty type person, but I do love to cook.

Janet: And tell us a bit about Valley View. Where is it located, and what are some of the things you most appreciate about living there?

Pam: Well, Valley View is the name of our church. We live in Garfield, Oklahoma. Garfield is a small town in the central part of the state. I think the thing I appreciate the most is just the sense of community we have. We care about each other.

Janet: It sounds like you’re facing a life-changing struggle. Are there some wounds in your past that might not be as healed as you think?

Pam: Divorce always leaves wounds behind. I don’t think you can ever be so happy in a second or third marriage that it completely wipes away the baggage of the past. This is only multiplied if you have children with an ex-spouse. You will always have to find a way to deal with the ex for the sake of the children.

Janet: You have good friends who will stand by you. Do you also have a faith to help you through this crisis?

Pam: I thought I did. What I’ve come to realize is that the unforgiveness in my heart was just like a nasty, sticky clog in a drain pipe. I was trying to live a life of faith on the tiny drips of faith that managed to flow past the clog. Once I allowed God to flush the unforgiveness out of my system I discovered what I’d been missing for the last four years.

Janet: Tell us the truth: is it possible your abusive ex has changed? Or is this just more manipulation?

Pam: I think God’s love can change anyone. I wanted to believe that Alan was excluded from that, but he isn’t.

Janet: Do you want him to have changed? If he has, what does that mean for you? And what would it take to convince you?

Pam: You know, I honestly didn’t think it mattered. I have Harrison in my life now. But it didn’t take long for me to start dumping the baggage of the past onto someone who didn’t deserve it. I had to forgive Alan in order to fully love again. I don’t have to be convinced, I just have to leave it in God’s hands.

Janet: Even if Alan hasn’t changed, can you forgive him? Forgiveness doesn’t mean what he did was right, but letting go could help heal some of your pain. Easier said than done, I know!

Pam: Like I said, There comes a time when you just have to give it to God. Alan could never heal the wounds his words inflicted. But God could, and did, once I asked him to take the pain away.

Janet: I really hope things work out for you, Pam, and I’m glad you have a good support network.

===

The Women of Valley View: PamPam’s divorce broke her heart. The cruelty of her ex-husband broke her spirit. A bottle of sleeping pills almost took her life. Four years later the scars of Alan Archer’s emotional abuse are beginning to fade under the love of her new husband. When Alan returns to Garfield, Pam must learn that buried secrets and carefully cultivated indifference do not equal forgiveness.

Alan Archer has returned to Garfield with a new wife and a terminal heart condition. His mission? To leave a Christian legacy for his children and to gain Pam’s forgiveness for the sins of his past.

Two hearts hang in the balance waiting for the delicate touch of God’s healing hands.

 

Purchase links for The Women of Valley View: Pam
Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Pelican Book Group

Sharon Srock

Author Sharon Srock went from science fiction to Christian fiction at slightly less than warp speed. Twenty five years ago, she cut her writer’s teeth on Star Trek fiction. Today, she writes inspirational stories that focus on ordinary women using their faith to accomplish extraordinary things. Sharon lives in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma with her husband and three very large dogs. Her books include: The Women of Valley View: Callie and The Women of Valley View: Terri. The Women of Valley View: Pam released 11 April 2014.

Receive Sharon’s newsletter.

Connect with her at www.sharonsrock.com or on FacebookGoodreads or Pinterest.

Please visit Sharon’s AMAZON page to find current info on her books, and check out these free reads:

Free PDF: MEET THE WOMEN OF VALLEY VIEW

Free Novella: FOR MERCIE’S SAKE

Review: The Merciful Scar, by Rebecca St. James and Nancy Rue

The Merciful Scar cover artThe Merciful Scar, by Rebecca St. James & Nancy Rue (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

This novel is life-changing. I almost didn’t read it, because emotionally-laden tales aren’t my thing. But the authors introduce us to Kirsten as her world falls apart, and the story isn’t about angst—it’s about healing.

Kirsten has been carrying a lot of pain for seven years now, hiding it from the world because that’s what she’s been taught. The pressure of post-graduate studies, and a boyfriend who won’t commit, only make things worse. Nobody knows that when the stress gets too much, Kirsten cuts her own flesh for relief. Her body is a map of scars.

Falling apart is the best thing to happen in her life, because now she can heal—if she’ll acknowledge the hurts. Despite parental objections, she chooses an unconventional sort of treatment centre: a remote sheep ranch run by a former nun, Sister Frankie.

Sister Frankie is amazing, and I wish we all had someone like her in our lives. May we become someone like her to those around us: present, listening, waiting, praying.

Other residents of the ranch include Emma, a young woman struggling with post-traumatic stress after a stint in Afghanistan, as well as Frankie’s Uncle Joseph and later her nephew, Andy. The daily work of caring for the animals bonds them into family and slowly allows Kirsten and Emma to begin the healing journey.

This is one of those richly-crafted stories with strong characters and a vivid sense of place. Kirsten, the hider, feels exposed on the vast Montana flatlands. In the sheep and in one of the sheepdogs, she sees much of herself. The authors don’t rush anything or over-explain, so readers can live the story too.

As we follow Kirsten’s self-discovery, there’s room for insights of our own. It’s not just Kirsten’s experiences and relationships that have damaged her, it’s the way she learned to handle them and what she began to believe about herself.

Like many of us, Kirsten has a snarky little voice in her head that’s quick with a snappy comeback or a self-criticism. She calls it the Nudnik. One of her assignments on the sheep ranch is to learn to hear the voice of God. Maybe, between the Nudnik and the Lord, she’ll discover her own true voice and find the courage to use it.

How do we handle our stresses? What lies do we believe about ourselves that impact how we live, that stifle who we were meant to be? Just like Kirsten sees herself in the farm animals, I see aspects of myself in her. And in her liberation, I find freedom for myself.

My favourite quotes:

“My soul chose that moment to do something it hadn’t done in longer ago than I could remember. It began to cry.” p. 41

“Finding that true self and embracing it is how anyone connects to God.” p. 167

“I already believed in God. Now I had to accept that God believed in me.” p. 169

The Merciful Scar is a gentle yet compelling story, well told, and it’s one of those rare books my heart felt safe to fall into. I highly recommend it to fans of women’s fiction, Christian fiction, anyone with insecurity or other stress issues, and to anyone who loves someone who practices non-suicidal self-injury (cutting).

About the authors: Rebecca St. James is a Christian recording artist as well as the author of a number of non-fiction books. Nancy Rue is a novelist and acclaimed teacher of the craft of writing fiction. This is their first collaboration, and I hope it won’t be their last. Twitter users can follow the conversation about the book under the hashtag #MercifulScar.

[A review copy was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was in no way compensated for this review.]

Review: The Third Grace, by Deb Elkink

The Third Grace book coverThe Third Grace, by Deb Elkink (Greenbrier Book Company, 2011)

Aglaia Klassen is a thirty-something single woman developing a strong reputation in the world of costume design. Her goal: become a “seasoned urban artist” and find the inner peace that’s eluding her.

Born Mary Grace Klassen, she left that name behind with the family farm and the Mennonite faith of her childhood. ‘Aglaia’ is the name of one of the Three Graces in Greek mythology, and it connects her to a major root of her inner turmoil: François Vivier, the young French exchange student who spent a summer on the farm—and who left with her heart.

An upcoming business trip to Paris, and François’ sensual notes in an old Bible, bring the past into the present and Aglaia develops an obsession with finding Francois again. If she can see him now, perhaps she can put the past to rest and find her true identity.

The main influences in Aglaia’s life are Dr. Lou Chapman, a self-focused feminist who wants to lure her away from her employer to work for Lou’s upscale university, and Ebenezer MacAdam, Aglaia’s gentle boss who’s been quietly grooming her as his replacement.

Aglaia may not know who she is, but everyone else seems to know who they want her to be. Lou pushes, Eb suggests, and François’ notes reveal his own agenda. Author Deb Elkink presents each character as him/herself without commentary and without judgement and lets the reader worry over whether Aglaia will find herself—or be shaped into someone else’s version of reality.

The Third Grace is women’s fiction with the introspection of a literary novel, and the central characters are well-realized and strong of voice.

This is a thinking reader’s novel, although it will satisfy those of us who read mainly for the story. The characters of Lou and François see the Bible as only one of the many valid sources of myth, and Lou is selective in the mythology she uses to prove her own view of the universe.

Eb remembers his own questions along those lines, but he’s found his personal satisfaction in the Bible as truth and he knows it means more than vague philosophy. He’s not threatened, and he’s comfortable to pray for others without trying to argue them into his understanding.

The novel itself does not feel preachy or like a philosophical treatise (although Lou speaks that way because that’s who she is). It’s written by a Christian, perhaps more for wandering women than for those secure in the Kingdom, and portions of the content are more worldly than some Christian readers will find comfortable. Nothing is gratuitous, though, and each character’s thoughts and actions are true to who they are. That’s why the story worked so well for me even when bits were a bit out of my comfort zone.

The Third Grace is the story of one woman’s journey to reconcile with her past and find herself in the present.

You can learn more about Canadian author Deb Elkink at her website, or check out her blog, Rolled Scroll.

[Advance review copy provided by the Greenbrier Book Company in exchange for a fair review.]

Review: Stuck in the Middle, by Virginia Smith

Stuck in the Middle, by Virginia Smith (Revell, 2008)

Joan Sanderson is a middle child—between two sisters who have great lives while she works a mediocre job and shares a home with her mother and aging grandmother. She feels caught between those two ladies too, and she’ll do whatever it takes to keep Mom from putting Gram into a care facility. After all, what’s a little forgetfulness—or obsessive behaviour—among loved ones?

Joan is also on middle ground with God. He feels like a heavenly version of her own father, who’s been absent without contact for thirteen years.

When a handsome single doctor, Ken, and his dog move in next door, Joan finds herself competing with her polished younger sister, Tori, for his attention. Will their frenzied flirting scare him away? Or does Joan really want to catch his eye? He talks about God outside of church. Even asks questions in the adult Sunday school class. Is he some kind of fanatic? Or does he have something Joan needs?

She can’t stop thinking about a visiting missionary’s account of God answering an orphan child’s prayer for chocolate ice cream. The God she knows has never done anything like that for her. Granted she’s never asked, and her needs aren’t as extreme as the lonely orphan, but still… something inside her longs for Him to disrupt her predictable world with some outrageous and personal sign of love. (For more on that, see Virginia Smith’s blog post, “Where’s My Chocolate Ice Cream?”)

Stuck in the Middle is more than just a heart-warming romance. Joan is 25 but I think it’s a coming of age tale for her. It’s also the story of three generations of women who love one another even when they’re on opposite sides. Surprisingly, it’s not over-the-top estrogen-heavy. Sure, the flirting instructions Joan’s older sister Allie pulled off the internet were a bit much for this non-girly-girl reader, but Ken thought so too.

And it’s funny. Joan’s sense of humour keeps her sane by imagining zany headlines to describe her stress. I like her attitude, and the way she grows during the course of the novel.

I downloaded a free electronic copy of Stuck in the Middle from Christianbook.com and enjoyed the read. There were occasional formatting issues with paragraphs, but not often and nothing to affect enjoyment of the novel. This is book one in the Sister-to-Sister series, followed by Age Before Beauty and Third Time’s a Charm. I’d definitely like to spend some more time with this family.

Virginia Smith is an award-winning American author and inspirational speaker. You can learn more about Ginny and her books on her website and her blog, Virginia’s Journal, and you can find her on Facebook.