The Church Ladies

by Lisa Samson

Samson delivers again in this engaging story of Poppy Fraser, a reluctant preacher’s wife who’s struggling to hold herself and her family together.

This story doesn’t boast clever plot twists or fast-paced action; It unwinds at a slow and steady pace–like one of the many walks Poppy takes to gather her thoughts throughout the book. As she grapples with the guilt of a past affair and the pain of an increasingly estranged daughter, Poppy resents the pressures and expectations of being a preacher’s wife. While she constantly entertains the notion of running away from it all, Poppy’s real relief comes in an unexpected place: A group of minister’s wives who begin prayer meetings when Poppy’s best friend loses her son in an accident. These “church ladies” influence Poppy’s faith journey and as she does some difficult soul-searching, she eventually learns to embrace the grace she so desperately needs.

When I see Samson’s name on the cover of a book, I’ve come to expect two things: beautiful prose that captures the raw emotion of her characters and a story that has a hopeful heart. It’s not for the action-junkie crowd, but if you don’t mind a quiet pace, you’ll enjoy Poppy’s story.

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.

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.