The Living End

by Lisa Samson

Another well-written story from Lisa Samson, this book chronicles the quest of Pearly Laurel, a recently-widowed woman who grieves through the process of carrying out her husband’s “wishlist.”

I usually find Samson’s writing so captivating that I have difficulty putting her stories down, but this book didn’t pull me in like her others have. Perhaps it was the melancholy tone; or the fact that I found it difficult to relate to the suicidal Pearly, (though I did find myself liking her and hoping she would somehow find the courage to move on). The Living End does an admirable job depicting the complex process of grief, but I felt less satisfied with Samson’s approach to Pearly’s eventual conversion. Somehow her acceptance of the faith just seemed to unfold too conveniently in the plot, especially for a character who’d done so much resisting in the past. I couldn’t quite understand what helped Pearly finally make the leap to faith. But then again, I suppose most conversions are an organic experience that can’t be easily explained.

As usual, Samson’s writing offers up a well-written slice of life. And though I didn’t find this particular book to be my favorite flavor, I’m sure I’ll be returning to Samson’s table for her next new dish.

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Flabbergasted

by Ray Blackston

Have any beach trips planned in the next few months? If so, this is a perfect vacation read. I thorougly enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek tone as the author relates the story of Jay Jarvis, the new guy in town who decides to start attending church to meet girls.

Of course, Jay’s not the only one in this story who’s looking to the church for true love: The girls he encounters have already developed an extensive e-mail network for rating area churches based on their bachelor potentials.

Filled with quirky characters, an easy-going plot, and a refreshingly honest perspective on singles in the church, this book begs to be read from a lounge chair in the ocean breeze. But even if you aren’t planning any treks to the ocean, you’ll find it an entertaining read. So slip on your flip-flops (yes–even if it’s only 20 degrees outside!), grab a cup of lemonade, and pick up a copy of this book for a relaxing afternoon.

Follow-up note: If you enjoy Flabbergasted, you’ll be happy to know that Ray Blackston wrote two additional titles for the series. I’ll give you a short description of each below:

A Delirious Summer follows the story of Neil Rucker, a single, South American missionary who desperately wants to find a date. A furlough in Greenville, SC (site of the spouse-shopping church hoppers in Flabbergasted) seems to hold some promise for his romantic prospects. But soon he finds himself back on the mission field as he and his new Greenville friends head to Ecuador on a mission to rebuild a burned-out village. Another engaging story about friends, faith, and the search for love from Blackston.

In Lost in Rooville, Jay Jarvis and his buddy Steve take an Outback adventure with their girlfriends. As both guys consider taking the “plunge” into marriage, they begin searching for the perfect moment to propose. But their trip Down Under quickly turns up trouble, with an unexpected detour that leaves one of the couples stranded. Will Jay and Steve be too distracted to fulfill their knee-dropping, question-popping goals?

The Russians

by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella

I first started reading The Crown and the Crucible while I was in high school. I enjoyed this literary journey into a turbulent era of Russian history and quickly went on to read the next four books in The Russians series. Two years ago, I returned to the series again after learning there had been two additional titles added since my first reading.

I’m not usually one for rereading, but this series was just as delightful the second time around. They are wonderful stories where drama, history, and a little romance mingle together like the flavors of a favorite coffeehouse blend.

I loved the characters and stories, but what made this series especially enjoyable for me were the numerous history lessons I learned along the way. Phillips and Pella do an excellent job of weaving historical facts into the fictional lives of their characters. I feel like I’ve taken a course in Russian history – but without the tedious lectures and term papers. (In fact, I did take a Russian history class in college and I was surprised by how much I already knew simply from reading these books.)

If you enjoy historical fiction, get your hands on this series. The first few books are no longer in print, but if you can find them in a library or a used book store, it will be worth the search!

For your information, here is a complete listing of the series.:

#1 – The Crown and the Crucible

#2 – A House Divided

#3 – Travail and Triumph

#4 – Heirs of the Motherland

#5 – The Dawning of Deliverance

#6 – White Nights, Red Morning

#7 – Passage Into Light

* Books #1-3 were written by Phillips and Pella, Books #4-7 are by Judith Pella only.

Club Sandwich

by Lisa Samson

This is the second book I’ve read by Lisa Samson, an author I fell in love with after reading another of her novels, Tiger Lillie, last fall.

At first I was a bit taken aback by the completely different tone of this book. In contrast to the beautiful and near-lyrical quality of Tiger Lillie, this book has a harder edge. But I quickly realized that the tone of Club Sandwich perfectly suited its primary character, Ivy Schneider; a middle-aged woman sandwiched between the needs of her children and her aging mother. As if it’s not enough to juggle those needs, Ivy also struggles with a marriage that’s deteriorating and an ailing family business.

I love Samson’s writing because she does such a perfect job taking on the voice of her characters. (Her books are written in first person.) As you read Club Sandwich, you really feel like you’re hearing these experiences from Ivy, not some third party author. She also weaves in stories from the characters past, slowly revealing the rich tapestry of their dreams, faith, fears, and personalities.

This isn’t a book with shocking plot twists. It doesn’t have a dramatic or highly romantic story line. And yet I couldn’t put it down. It’s just an insightful look at real life, real people, and real faith. And that earns it a very high recommendation from me.