The Last 7 Novels I’ve Read
by Lucinda Secrest McDowell
“It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.” ― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Last month I posted a stack of my TBR (to be read) books — are all by both non-fiction and fiction authors who are also friends. And since the past months have been filled with Snow (!) and Speaking Travel, I’ve had opportunity to begin to chip away at that stack, and post my reviews at online sites. In the process, I have enjoyed a variety of fine novels and wanted to share them with you.
“Author Christa Parrish possesses that unique gift of being able to portray the life and world of broken and flawed humans through the lenses of grace, beauty and hope. Ada Goetz is merely the latest of her heroines to draw me into her world of fractured history, bewilderment amidst change and the delicate dance with a God who both frightens and intrigues her. Yes, “Still Life” is a story of tragedy and how the consequences ripple throughout the lives of previously disconnected people. But the focus stays on the redemptive story of the man who was lost – and how Julian’s actions and choices leave a legacy which will bring new meaning and hope to those floundering in the wake of the crash. I freely admit that I have loved all of Parrish’s award winning novels. I’m grateful she aims her lens on those who live at the fringe of society and are rarely noticed, much less understood. But I’m even more grateful that in “Still Life” and prior works, this author allows us to both question and embrace the real Jesus – a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Read Christa Parrish, for all the right reasons.” - Lucinda Secrest McDowell
“To read “The Red Coat” is to be instantly transported to another world – Irish families in post WWII South Boston. From the very first scene where an upper class Beacon Hill socialite and an Irish washerwoman exchange ownership of a red coat, the reader is treated to a lesson in all things Bostonian – from dressing up to shop downtown at Filene’s to Irish Catholic policemen in the South end. Along the way, we are privy to intimate details of the tumultuous family life of both the Irish “Kings” and the Brahmin “Parkers.” How these two intertwine throughout the decade makes for a fascinating story. Author Dolley Carlson (who has based this first novel on her own family – she is ‘Ruth Ann’) colorfully describes the social manners, class distinctions, religious challenges, and even mid-century fashion and retail to make it truly come alive. And the setting of Boston landmarks (generously presented in sidebars and photos) serves as a main character in itself. Dolley Carlson is a fabulous storyteller with a trained eye to detail and well-documented research. I’m recommending “The Red Coat” to all my New England and Irish friends and hope you will read it too.” - Lucinda Secrest McDowell
“Stories of the rocky road to forgiveness in fractured families are as old as ancient times. And yet the repercussions of pivotal choices continue to make for high drama, whether in biblical times or pre-Revolutionary War America. In Lori Benton’s first novel in the new Pathfinder Series, “The Wood’s Edge” we discover how the interweaving of the Aubrey family and an Oneida Indian family build towards a true transformation. The question is will it be a tearing apart by sworn enemies or a forgiving together of comrades on a common mission? After having enjoyed Benton’s award winning “Burning Sky” and “The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn” I was eager to read about Anna and Two Hawks, Lydia, Reginald and Good Voice. Benton deftly transported me back to eighteenth century upstate New York and offered a satisfying and ultimately redemptive story, leaving me ever eager for the sequel.” (this novel to be published in April- I’m an early reader) – Lucinda Secrest McDowell
“If I’m going to read an historic novel, I want to be sure it is filled with both a fascinating story and compelling, accurate details based on thorough research. And if the characters experience a spiritual transformation (not contrived or ‘preachy’ but in a ‘journey’ fashion, like real life) due to the people and experiences portrayed, then I’m in! That said, Cathy Gohlke, in her latest book “Saving Amelie” had me at page one. Though it is a cringe-worthy expose of the Nazi experiments in eugenics, this story deftly weaves elements of family, romance, heartbreak, struggle, and boldness in standing up for those who have no one to speak for them. I especially appreciated how the twin sisters differed from one another – both were authentic and flawed but also full of courage and perseverance. I’m delighted to have discovered Gohlke and will now set about reading her award-winning backlist of great stories. “Saving Amelie” shows there was (and can yet be again) good amidst great evil.” - Lucinda Secrest McDowell
“As an occasional teacher in public high school, I’ve often wondered if my sporadic and limited contribution makes any difference in the lives of my students. Cecil Murphey’s new novel “The Promises of Ophelia Bennett” offers a story explaining how one teacher did just that – profoundly impacting her students for more than forty years. Don’t expect a fast paced thrill-a-minute narrative. Set in 1940’s Illinois, Mrs. Bennett’s creative ideas about educating ‘hellions’ who reside in a setting where innovative was suspect, different was bad and encouraging words were received as water to a thirsty soul. But soon, the foundational plan of this seasoned educator takes an unexpected (or perhaps predictable all along) turn. Years later, the ramifications of both her courage and choices are revealed. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Murphey named most of the characters after many of our mutual friends in the publishing industry. Anyone who is an influencer will find great lessons here, and educators perhaps a boost for today’s similar institutional challenges.” - Lucinda Secrest McDowell
“It’s almost impossible to lead a double life in a small and sheltered community, but Rachel Beller does just that – at least for a while. This young Amish widow’s yearning for knowledge exceeds her allegiance to family tradition and rules. Gayle Roper’s newest novel “An Unexpected Match” brings Rachel together with fellow students Rob and Amy who are each dealing with their own story of failure, family and buried dreams. As the trio’s classes at both community college and the school of life proceed, we discover principles that perhaps shine a light on our own struggles and yearnings. I’m a Roper fan (though hardly an Amish fiction fan) and I highly recommend “An Unexpected Match” for a completely satisfying story of the delicate dance between family loyalty and becoming the person God created us to be.” - Lucinda Secrest McDowell
“I greatly enjoyed reading the stories of three different women dealing with the same issue in the Victorian era, the Post War 1950s and today. One would think that the whole predicament of “pregnancy outside of marriage” would have evolved into a non-issue in our current culture. But, surprisingly there are still challenges and complications when young women are surprised by impending motherhood they never planned. “When the Morning Glory Blooms” is the second fine novel I have read from award-winning author Cynthia Ruchti, though certainly not the last. As she weaves a story about a brave woman with a calling to make a difference in her world, we are also introduced to several others who will follow in her steps, though in unique ways and times – Anna, Ivy and Becky. Though each is in a different position, they all must come to terms with their own choices, both in family relationships and with God. The unveiling of the common thread – morning glories – makes this an authentic and ultimately hope-filled story.” - Lucinda Secrest McDowell
What are YOU currently reading? Why not leave a comment and share some of your favorite novels? And if you’d like to try one of the above, just click on the bookcover to purchase from Amazon. Happy Reading!
under the mercy, Cindy