Her Mother’s Hope

Her Mother's Hope (Marta's Legacy, #1)

Growing up in Switzerland, Marta’s father is not only strict, he is also unfair and even abusive to Marta. Her beautiful sister Elise receives much better treatment as her health is fragile. Marta, the not-as-lovely elder sister is made to work and work hard. Although at the top of her class, Marta is taken out of school to work in a bakery and a hotel. Her mother encourages her to ‘follow her dream’ and escape her home life and the story takes Marta from housekeeping school to working in restaurants and boarding houses until she finally saves enough and becomes owner of her own boarding house. After Marta marries Niclas, a German (Marta speaks four languages), they eventually emigrate to Canada.

“Now, clutching the rail, Marta prayed God would keep her on her feet and keep what little food she’d eaten in her stomach. Please, Lord Jesus, bring us safely across the Atlantic.
She cast any thought of ever getting on another ship into the undulating sea. She would never see Switzerland again.’’

Marta hates the bleak, cold Canadian winters on the prairie but her husband’s dream is to be a farmer. “Could she live in the plains of Manitoba with winters forty below zero and summers of melting heat? Could she live out in the middle of nowhere, the closest neighbor a mile away and half a day’s ride for supplies in some small farm town? And how could a man who had gone to the university in Berlin be satisfied plowing fields?”

When her daughter Hildemara is born, Marta is determined to not allow Hilda to make the same tragic mistakes her sister Elise made and thus the miscommunications begin.

“Her Mother’s Hope” is a generational story based upon the author’s own background. Cutting across two world wars, we follow Niclas and Marta from Canada to life in California and the long journey to financial security.

In writing a fictional family story, the author attempts to correct the suppositions that we all make with one another and encourage open lines of communication. The author writes: “I am blessed to have many wonderful family memories… I knew there were times of stress and tension between my parents and Grandma, but all families have them. Most work through them. Sometimes minor disagreements can escalate when things aren’t resolved. No one but God can see into the human heart.”

It is possible that what Francine Rivers is trying to teach us in this novel might be that, with all of our gains, we are still the losers, if we cannot communicate our love and acceptance of our own children. Francine has written about some difficult circumstances in this partly-biographical novel. It kept me engaged and interested well into the night and even though a hefty tome (almost 500 pages!) I can’t wait to start the next one in the series.

Posted in Historical Fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment

And the Shofar Blew

And the Shofar Blew

Trapped between the huge success of his father’s ministry and his unending search for the acceptance and self-esteem missing from his childhood, Paul Hudson is on a mission… but is the road to success as straightforward as he thinks?

Wounding both new and old members of his congregation, ignoring his son Paul’s needs and placing his marriage in jeopardy are only a few of the many mistakes Paul makes in this contemporary Christian novel about the seeker-sensitive movement so popular with many church congregations today. Will Paul find his way back to a healthy marriage, be able to admit to others his errors, and realize what truly matters in ‘serving the Lord’?

The author explains that the motivation behind her writing comes from her travel experiences:

“During my travels around the country and speaking at various churches, I saw many struggling through building projects and massive programs to draw more parishioners. Size of building and number of people in the pews seemed to define success or failure. Like a government out of control, the “church” (in many cases) has forgotten its foundation and purpose.’”

As always, Francine Rivers’ writing carried me away and I found this engrossing novel hard to put down. Bringing to life her characters, I grieved for them, hoped for them, aspired to be them (Abby!!) and identified with their flaws and weaknesses. Even when reading about the characters’ lives and their real-life struggles, one cannot help but realize that the author is coming from a true standpoint of love and mercy.

Posted in Christian Fiction, Fiction, Mainstream fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Saturday’s Child

  • saturdayschild
Susan Brown wants it all. Tired of the drudgery of clerking in a busy office, tired of the same round of lunch with the office girls at noon, catching the trolley in the mornings in rain and slush, tired of the endless bills to log in and check, Susan is hoping for a better, easier life. The problem is that she doesn’t quite know all of what that life entails… but she is about to find out.

Enter Peter Coleman. Peter is a social darling; wealthy, assured, handsome and witty, he is immediately attracted to Susan and vice versa. Suddenly Susan is introduced to life on the ‘other side’ and she becomes caught up in the gaiety of social life among the comfortably wealthy. Although not at first confident in her new surroundings, and finding she has much to learn, she is enamored of the wealth and prestigious homes she is introduced to. However, and especially after she accepts a position as companion to one of Peter’s acquaintances, Susan begins to find that the life she thinks of as so easy and attractive is anything but.

“She saw the poisoned undercurrent of this glittering and exquisite existence, the selfishness, the cruelties, the narrowness. She saw its fundamental insincerity. In a world where wrongs were to be righted, and ignorance enlightened, and childhood sheltered and trained, she began to think it strange that strong, and young, and wealthy men and women should be content to waste enormous sums of money upon food to which they scarcely ever brought a normal appetite, upon bridge-prizes for guests whose interest in them scarcely survived the moment of unwrapping the dainty beribboned boxes in which they came, upon costly toys for children whose nurseries were already crowded with toys. She wondered that they should think it worthwhile to spend hours and days in harassing dressmakers and milliners, to make a brief appearance in the gowns they were so quickly ready to discard, that they should gratify every passing whim…”

But if the easy, carefree life Susan has so craved has its dark side, then where is poor Susan to find fulfillment and happiness? The reader may not be too surprised that after a her share of failed romances, Susan will discover that happiness entails (surprise!) not only companionship, but also hard work. Susan find fulfillment not within a life of idle luxury, but alongside a husband that shares her own values and is her true companion and friend. It is eye-opening to Susan to realize that joy can be found in the most simple of everyday pleasures, whether indulging in a dinner of fried oysters or a day spent picnicking in the countryside.

“Why, I was thinking that I’d rather,” Susan began hesitatingly, “rather have my work cut out for me in this life! That is, I’d rather begin at the bottom of the ladder, and work up to the top, than be at the top, through no merit of my own, and live in terror of falling to the bottom! I believe, from what I’ve seen of other people, that we’ll succeed, and I think we’ll have lots of fun doing it!”

A thought-provoking, satisfying read.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Marling Hall

marlinghallLettice Watson has lost her husband at Dunkirk. Left with two small children to raise, she is living at home (Marling Hall), but in an apartment over the stables. Recognizing her mother’s tendency to ‘take over’ Lettice’s life, she very wisely distances herself as much as possible.

“She recognized, without rancour, that it always had been and always would be impossible to talk to her own friends when her masterful mother was present. For this reason, as we know, she had preferred to live in the flat over the stables where at least she had solitude when she needed it and could ask a friend to tea.”

Lucy, Lettice’s sister, on the other hand is assertive, bossy, and totally the opposite of her sister.   When Lucy invites a friend (Captain Barclay), home to tea, he immediately detects the contrast in personalities and is attracted to Leticia. But is it kind to Lucy, Lettice thinks, to steal her sister’s friend?

‘Marling Hall’ was published in 1942, written in 1941. Thirkell gives the reader a window into what everyday life was like in the beginning years of the war for England. Food and clothing rationing has not yet made a full impact (although the reader can tell that the effects of rationing will be felt soon).

There are several characters with not only the challenges of the war to overcome (and the changes brought to their personal lives), but their own internal foibles and problems. The charming David Leslie whom everyone seems to love (although he can’t fool his old nurse, Miss Bunting), is also enamored of Leticia. Whom will she choose? The Harveys, a brother and sister, rent from Mrs. Smith and Miss Harvey sets her cap at Oliver Marling.

“One of the things he admired in Miss Harvey was her firm, nay almost overbearing attitude towards her brother. He liked her spirit and did not stop to think that her power of bullying might be equally applied to a husband.”

The annoying Mrs. Smith, who is also a widow, rents her home out and then continually returns to ‘borrow’ the items she misses and her tenants seem unable to resist her.

“Oh, Mrs. Smith,’ said Mr. Harvey. ‘Is she a friend of yours? I wish you would ask her not to come and take things out of the house now we have taken it. She has got two saucepans and a reading lamp and she has just taken the dining-room tongs.’ “

Not my favorite Thirkell but entertaining nonetheless!

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The House of the Deer

The House of the Deer

“The House of the Deer” is the sequel to “Gerald and Elizabeth”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Gerald’s sister Bess, the famous actress, is now married to the shipyard owner, Walter McCallum. Hired by his new brother-in-law to help with security, Gerald begins to regain his confidence and we follow his adventures in this story set in Scotland. Gerald joins a house party in the north, hosted by the MacAslan family, to stalk deer. Lots in here about hunting and conservation that I hadn’t known!

“A certain number of deer must be killed every year to prevent the herd from increasing.’

‘But why don’t they want their herd to increase?’ asked Gerald in bewilderment.

‘Because there’s only a limited supply of food for them… In Scotland the forests have no roads or tracks; there are mountain and moors and bogs. As a matter of fact MacAslan said he was going to try feeding the stags this year as an experiment…”

One member of the party is particularly offensive and jeers at Gerald’s story of shooting lions in Africa but he eventually gets his comeuppance (DE Stevenson always satisfactorily ties up all the loose ends in her stories!)

“…Oliver leaned forward and burst out: ‘Mac, listen to me! There’s something wrong about that fellow!’

‘Something wrong? Do you mean he’s not well?’

“No, I don’t mean that at all. I mean there’s something fishy about him. He isn’t straight.”

This book was not sophisticated or especially clever, but it was enjoyable nonetheless! I was anxious to follow Gerald’s story and find out if his name is ever cleared from the first book. I really appreciated Gerald’s character in this story as the author contrasts him with the indulged and selfish Oliver Stoddart, a friend of the MacAslan family.

The author gives us a window into Oliver’s private thoughts: “Phil was a sensible girl and would realise her good fortune in having attracted such an eligible suitor as Oliver Stoddart.”

Gerald has no pretensions. How many of us would bluff our way through a talent or skill that we were lacking in? but not Gerald Burleigh Brown.

“I’ve never shot deer,’ said Gerald. ‘I know nothing about stalking but Sir Walter said you would be able to teach me. You’ll find me very ignorant, I’m afraid’….

“I’ve never done any stalking,’ Gerald added. ‘I expect you’ve realized that I know nothing about it.’

Mac had. He said rather anxiously, ‘Sir Walter said you could shoot?’

‘I’ve shot lions,’ admitted Gerald. ‘But that’s different, of course.’

Besides the intrigue of the story, there is the scenery of Scotland and, as always in Stevenson’s books, a satisfying romance.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Every Falling Star

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

Sungju Lee’s amazing survival story of his childhood in North Korea, how he escaped bitter, harsh circumstances, and found new life in South Korea.

Sungju’s family had it all; a nice home, prestige, a bright future. His father was a rising star in the military and people bowed to him as they passed him on the street. Until he did something wrong (that the author could not safely write about), fell out of favor, and the entire family is suddenly banished to the north and to rural poverty.

Sungju ends up on the street, forming a gang with his school friends, robbing others at the food market and train stations just to survive.

“Every Day, Young-bum and I stole twisted bread sticks, candies, dububab (rice wrapped with tofu), and won (currency). With the won, we bought his grandmother’s medicine and then white rice and soybean paste, which he would cook into meals for his grandmother. With all the food she was now eating and the proper doses of medicine she was getting, her health slowly improved. By the start of harvest season, she started spending her days sitting up, and soon she was standing. By the middle of the fall, she’d even awake before Young-bum and me and prepare us a meal of corn rice and vegetable porridge. As we’d eat, she’d tell us stories about what Joseon was like before Kim Il-sung. ‘It was a terrible time when the Japanese made slaves of us all. If you think now is tough…’ she would always say…”

This is not a pretty story but it does bring home to the reader the incredible tenacity of the human will to live and the needs we all have. Everyone needs companionship and belonging and a family, and these young boys find a way to fill the gaps in their lives and support one another in their quest to simply survive.

Reading this book brings home the bleak reality of life for so many; the struggle to survive, to find enough to eat from day to day, and the emotional upheaval coping with the disappearances of family members. The author does not try to gloss over what life really was like for him but he does hold out hope. “I had learned a valuable lesson as a street boy: ‘You can’t wait for hope to find you. You have to go out and grab it.”

This book is not only educational illustrating the experiences of life in a foreign land, it is also crucial for our times. Unfortunately, we live in a time when America’s freedoms are often taken lightly. How easy it is to forget what we have!

“I realized that to achieve my dream, I had to study and find some way to enjoy studying. I knew, after everything I’d been through and how far I had come, I couldn’t drop out. I learned how to deal with the stress, and soon I came to love school. The more I study, the more I see what I don’t know and want to learn.”

All I can say is, the next time you are tempted to complain about the long lines at the supermarket, read this book.

Posted in Biography | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Promises to Keep

Promises to Keep

Rosalind wants what most of us seem to take for granted: a normal, happy home life. But with an alcoholic, abusive father, her mother has a painful choice before her. She ultimately makes the difficult decision to escape her marriage and protect herself and her children.

“I wanted to hear visions of happy Christmas mornings and birthday parties and family vacations. I wanted to hear Daddy tell me that we’d all sit down together to eat supper at night, with him and Wally both there with us, and we’d all get along and talk and laugh, and afterward Mom would wash the dishes while Daddy helped me with homework and Valerie played with a puppy that Daddy had brought home for us…”

Rosalind’s dream seems impossible; but when her father shows up in the same town where they now live, confessing how much he misses the family and making promises of reform, her dream suddenly seems to be taking on reality. Or is it?

A difficult topic to write about, Ann Tatlock brings the era of the sixties to life in this coming-of-age novel. The Vietnam War, drugs, racial tension and air-raid drills are all part of Rosalind’s world and she needs a friend. Mara, her bi-racial school chum, seems to be older than her years as she cautions Ros to ‘be careful’ of her daddy’s promises. And to make life even more complicated, the previous owner of their new home, Tillie, shows up more than once on the front porch, escaping her assisted living facility and demanding to be allowed to ‘die in her own home’.

There are solutions though, and the author brings home to the reader that life is a series of choice, cause and effect, change, and adjustments. Tillie is able to contribute to the family and take care of Ros and her little sister Valerie while their mother goes to work. And Tillie makes other contributions as well; contributions that Ros will never forget:

“… that was the thing about Tillie; that was the legacy she left me. Without her, I might never have known what I know now: that heaven is indeed merciful, and all the hours and days and dreams we deem as lost are simply waiting for us in a place we’ll someday recognize as home.”

Although it could be said that the ending ties up all too neatly, I was pulling for Ros all the way. The author has never disappointed me! I have enjoyed each one of her books and plan to read them all.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment