The Prayer Box
by Lisa Wingate
Decorated boxes and boxes of letters were stacked high in the closet of the old woman who had passed away. The letters told the story of a lifetime of racism, hardship, and misunderstanding contrasted with faith, generosity, and love. Tandi was at the end of her rope when she read these letters written by Iola to her Heavenly Father. They were a lifeline to this single mother trying to escape her past and build a new and better life in a tiny North Carolina coastal town where no one knew her or her dark secrets.
Befriended by kind townsfolk and absorbing the lessons of the letters, she learns how to trust others, herself, and God. The way is not easy, however, as she has always made poor relationship choices with men. She also needs to find a way to financially support herself and her children and establish a good mother-daughter relationship with a teenager who has been left in charge for much too long. Drug addiction born of a painful accident constitutes another hurdle for Tandi.
The sisterhood that welcomes Tandi at Sandy’s Seashell Shop is a delightful group of creative, caring, and wise women. Paul is an unlikely romantic interest, but extremely kind, likable, and reliable. Ross, Tandi’s boyfriend, is very self-centered and manipulative; he assigns Tandi’s children a low place on his metaphorical totem pole. Tandi’s sister, Gina, shows up unexpectedly to do what she does best—stir up trouble. As we get to know all of these characters, we are also watching the character of Iola unfold through the letters in her prayer boxes.
There are forces who want to destroy Iola’s old Victorian home. Some investors in the area are looking at profiting financially. Other locals feel like Iola had no right to the house. No one is aware of Iola’s generosity. In the midst of her own troubles, Tandi makes it her mission to save the house and and honor Iola’s memory. This is a big undertaking, but Tandi is learning to rely on an even bigger God.
Filled with images of water bubbling and flowing and lighthouses standing steadfast and firm, Lisa Wingate’s The Prayer Box tells a cross-generational tale. It is beautifully crafted both in the carefully selected words and in the plot that, through prayer letters of the past, weaves Tandi’s story with that of Iola; both are entrancing. This is a book I didn’t want to put aside to finish another I was reading. The Prayer Box won as I was quickly and thoroughly immersed in the plot, language, and characters.
Category: Women’s Fiction, Romance, Christian
Notes: 1. This is the first book in the Carolina Heirlooms Collection which is a series of three books united by setting, not characters.
2. The end of the book includes “A Note from the Author” and “Discussion Questions.”
Publication: August 16, 2013—Tyndale
He was wearing orange tennis shoes and red-flowered swim shorts, topped off with a lime-green Windbreaker with palm trees and lizards on it….All in all, he looked like he’d raided Jimmy Buffett’s closet and then gotten dressed in the dark.
It felt good to do something good for someone else. To add a few deep-fried droplets of kindness to the world. A little act of service. Is it possible that all service is worship? The words were still in my head.
After so many years of dysfunctional relationships that masqueraded as love, having someone offer real love and ask nothing for it in return was startling, sometimes too much to handle. I wasn’t sure I could trust it or was worthy of it.
Stay: Discovering Grace, Freedom, and Wholeness Where You Never Imagined Looking
by Anjuli Paschall
A spiritual journey is such a personal adventure. Anjuli Paschall shares hers in the book Stay. She also reaches out to other women encouraging them to lean into God through the irritations of daily life and the times of actual trauma and to stay with the pain of hard places because you’ll find God there. She suggests that, instead of building up walls of protection and withdrawing from the fray or working harder to force things to happen, we need to stay with Jesus and “drink life-giving water.” With intriguing chapter titles like “The Guard Shack: An Invitation to Make Mistakes” and “Old Spaghetti Factory: An Invitation to Hold On,” this book is filled with anecdotes and Paschall’s descriptions of how God led her to grow spiritually.
Paschal is a good writer and very effective at drawing the reader into her frame of mind as she navigates the various circumstances in her life. I highlighted many passages and agreed with most of the things she said. I am amazed at the number of turns in her life journey. She is the mother of five, wife of a pastor, photographer, founder of a social media site that helps other moms in truly desperate straits, and a spiritual counselor. Now add writer to that list.
Realizing that I am isolating statements that come from a rich context, I feel I must point out what I perceive to be a major conflict. Towards the end of the book, the author states “My one and only purpose in life is to be loved by God.” I disagree with that and she does too as earlier in the book she states: “We all have one calling. One deep, right, true, foundational calling in life—to love God and to love others.” That philosophy is found in the Bible in Matthew 22 in the New Testament and in Exodus 20 and Leviticus 19 in the Old Testament. Although, I have a few points of disagreement, in general I find this book to be refreshing in the author’s honesty and transparency. She doesn’t try to appear to have it all together. She shares her fears and vulnerabilities as she also shares her hopes and dreams. She encourages women to abandon shame over never being enough and stay the course resting and trusting in Jesus.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bethany House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Self-Help
Notes: Discussion questions are included.
Publication: March 31, 2020—Bethany House
I’m learning to be okay with my mistakes. They don’t define me or determine my worth, but simply direct me to God.
I believe we all can be placeholders of heaven for others. We can create a seat at a table, offer a single cup of coffee, leave bread on a doorstep, or clear an hour in our schedule. God will continually bring us people who are desperately in need of home. If we can embrace each other’s differences, move toward the disabled, welcome the foreigner, laugh with a child, talk with the elderly, all kinds of heaven can burst open like a flower in bloom here on earth. Even the tiniest spaces can become a place for others to taste eternity.
No amount of getting, accomplishing, or achieving will ever satisfy the soul. The soul focused on gaining power, influence, and admiration will only grow hungrier.
A Fatal Yarn
by Peggy Ehrhart
I have read four out of five of the books in the Knit & Nibble Mystery Series by Peggy Ehrhart, so I obviously enjoy the series as a whole. All of the books are more calming than usual for a cozy mystery series, rather like knitting is a tranquil activity for many. In A Fatal Yarn, however, the author’s greatest asset, descriptive writing, becomes a flaw in her writing. At first I was just amazed at passage after passage detailing settings and meals. Then I realized that the food descriptions especially had become redundant. I don’t really need repeated retellings of the main character’s preparations of black coffee and multigrain toast to understand that she only has coffee and toast for breakfast every day.
The story revolves around Pamela, a widow who edits articles for a fiber craft magazine, and her friend and neighbor Bettina, a writer for the local weekly paper. In this case, they are trying to prove that Roland, a member of their knitting group, did not murder the mayor. Before they can accomplish that task, they discover that an elderly woman in town did not die of natural causes. Pamela and Bettina follow clues by trailing suspects, interviewing those with connections to the victims, and occasionally putting themselves in harm’s way. The plot was good, the characters quite likable, and the descriptions well executed. I enjoyed it because I like the series, but I would not recommend this book to introduce someone to the series. I wondered, sadly, if this talented author was trying to fill out a word count. Regardless, I still want to read the next book in the Knit & Nibble series.
I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #5 in the Knit & Nibble Mystery Series which does not have to be read in order.
2. Includes directions for a knitted cover for a throw pillow and a recipe for “Lemon Yogurt Easter Cake with Cream Cheese Icing.”
Publication: March 31, 2020—Kensington Books
Bettina was distracted then by the milkshakes. They arrived in tall glasses filmed with condensation and crowned with a froth of bubbles, accented by straws inserted at a jaunty angle. She pulled her milkshake toward her and sampled it with an eager sip.
Such a human impulse, she reflected, to express oneself with whatever art materials were at hand. And women, whose world was so much narrower in some cultures, had found in crafts like needlework or weaving or quilting or knitting vehicles for their artistry.
As they watched, a rooster appeared in the doorway, a magnificent creature with glossy feathers that shaded from fiery orange on his neck and chest to the iridescent blue-black plumes that formed his exuberant tail. He strutted forth, turning his head this way and that as if to display the proud serrations of his bright red comb and his quivering wattles.
A Long Walk to Water
by Linda Sue Park
You have probably heard of the Lost Boys of Sudan. In A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park tells the story of one of those lost boys, Salva Dut, who even as a refugee himself, took on a leadership role for 1500 boys in their very long, dangerous, and seemingly hopeless journey for survival. Salva, as a young adult, was chosen out of a refugee camp to emigrate to the United States. This book tells how he transformed his desperate situation into a life giving project for the people of Sudan based on hope, faith, and most especially perseverance.
Told in two timelines with apparently disparate plots, this book moves back and forth with both stories progressing forward in each chapter. It begins slowly, but soon picks up the pace and the reader’s interest. The book starts with the tale of Nya, an eleven year old girl in southern Sudan in 2008 who spends her day traveling from her village to a pond to collect dirty water in a jug which she then carries home on her head. She does this twice a day in extreme heat, traversing with bare feet a thorny path to bring home enough water for her family to survive.
Salva’s story also begins in southern Sudan, but much earlier, in 1985, when his village and school are attacked by armed men during an ongoing confrontation between the Muslim government in the north and the rebels of the south. Thus begins Salva’s separation from his family and his struggle for survival.
Although this book is aimed at a younger audience, as an adult I am so glad I read this story which is based on the lives of real people, Salva and Nya and their families. It reads quickly and lays out the need for clean, accessible water for South Sudan, pointing out the many rippling effects of pure water on a community. It also shows how diverse tribes can work together for a common good. The website noted at the end of the book provides more information and gives a practical way for those of us blessed with plenty to help those without the basic necessities.
Category: Children’s Historical Fiction
Notes: 1. The suggested ages and grade levels vary according to printed reports, but in general: Grades 5-9 and Ages 10-14. The book does a good job of recording hardships and violence without graphic details. Because of the subject matter, I would not recommend it for younger children.
2. The reader will find links to lots of videos about Salva and his project at www.waterforsouthsudan.org.
Publication: October 4, 2011—HMH Books for Young Readers
No one in the group had eaten anything for two days. Their water was nearly gone. Only the vision of leaving the desert kept them moving through the heat and the dust.
It did not seem as if the camp could possibly hold any more, but still they kept coming: long lines of people, some emaciated, some hurt or sick, all exhausted.
He felt as though he were standing on the edge of a giant hole—a hole filled with the black despair of nothingness. I am alone now.
It was hard to keep hope alive when there was so little to feed it.