Monday, June 23, 2014
I had given up on fiction.
Especially Christian fiction.
Sure, I knew there was some good fiction out there, but mostly I was disappointed. Either they were bland or sensual, unrealistic or forgettable - mostly I regretted the time spent in its pages.
So for years I stuck with non-fiction and classic fiction.
And I'd be there yet except for a friend's recommendation.
One of my favorite questions to ask a friend is "What are you reading?" I have found many treasures through the years from answers to this question. Sheila is the one who first mentioned Jamie Langston Turner - describing her novels at far different than the typical fiction.
And were they ever. A few chapter into the first book and I was hooked. These were pages to be savored, not devoured. Instead of rushing to "see how it would turn out" I was lingering over phrases, rereading favorite passages, and saddened to turn the last page.
I'm not the best critic on writing but even I know that the literary quality of Turner's books far surpasses the usual fare. I have finished a book only to page back through wondering how ever Turner was able to weave all the various aspects of the story together. These are books that can be read and reread. The layers of the story become richer from digging deeper. The details of life and insight into human character put her books into a category of their own.
Turner takes her readers to the small South Carolina town of Derby. Each of her books stands alone as its own story and her books can be read in any order. But I highly recommend reading her books in the order that they were written. Turner's characters have a way of showing up in the pages of other books. You will want to know who is that eccentric old lady at the next restaurant table. But even better is the sneak peak into the growth of Turner's characters. The struggling main character in one book becomes a mentor in the next book - a reminder that God does bring redemption.
Redemption...if there is any theme through Turner's books it is grace and redemption. Turner doesn't hide the realities of life. Not everything is pretty and idyllic in Derby. But if there were no pain and sin, there would be no grace. Turner walks her characters through their pain into God's redemption - so that you and I that are reading can experience redemption too.
Turner is discreet and tactful but I'll add a warning here that her books are for the mature reader since they do face things like adultery and abuse. I don't want any of you handing these books to your twelve-year-old just because Gina said they were good books!
I'm going to give a brief review of each of Turner's books in order that they were written. This is the order that I'd suggest reading them - though if you can't get a hold of a particular book - don't miss out on the others. I'll try to tell you a little bit about the book without giving anything away - since I hate spoilers when I read a book!
Suncatchers introduces us to the town of Derby and Eldeen Rafferty. Eldeen's neighbor, Perry Warren left the shambles of his home to take an assignment to write about The Church of the Open Door. Through Eldeen, the reader finds laughter and Perry finds hope. Thankfully this isn't the last time that we will meet Eldeen because by the end of the book she became a friend.
Some Wildflower in My Heart is written in a unique first-person style, at times written directly to the reader like a non-fiction book. This was the first of Turner's books that I read and still a favorite. Margaret and Birdie are opposites but forge a friendship that turns Margaret's life upside down. Birdie's unassumming love challenged me in my relationships.
By the Light of a Thousand Stars focuses on four very different women. Each woman is faced with disappointments and trials but as their lives intersect, God's grace is revealed. Creating memorable characters may be what Turner does best. Who can forget Catherine and her crazy son Hardy or her sister-in-law Della Boyd?
A Garden to Keep begins with Margaret reaching out to Elizabeth in the same way Birdie had reached out to Margaret with an offer of God's grace. With Elizabeth's marriage crumbling she would need to hold onto grace - and respond with grace. It is hard to pick a favorite but I think A Garden to Keep is mine, probably because of the focus on communication, family, and marriage. Poetry lovers will particularly enjoy this one.
No Dark Valley is Turner's only book that could be termed a romance - at least the main characters are a single man and woman. But these two are not looking for romance, they are searching for forgiveness. Celia attends her grandmother's funeral in Georgia and is reminded of how far she has traveled from her grandmother's faith. Just as books are to Some Wildflowers in my Heart and poetry is to A Garden to Keep, hymns are to No Dark Valley. I love Turner's chapter titles in all of her books but with the focus on old hymns, this book is a favorite.
Winter Birds combine an old lady's memories with quotes from Shakespeare, facts about birds, and obituaries from Time magazine. It sounds like a wacky combination but Turner makes it work. And work well. This book is set outside Derby in a small town in Mississippi. If I tell you the main character is an elderly woman, Sophia, who rarely leaves the four walls of her room, you may think it pitifully boring. But I loved this book. In all her books, Turner peels back layers to show the change in a soul and this book is a good example of that change as Sophia warms up to Patrick and Rachel's love.
Sometimes a Light Surprises brings Mr. Buckley, the owner of the Home and Garden Bazaar face to face with memories of his late wife and her faith through his newest employee. Of course I had to like a book with a homeschooler as a main character! Add in a busy-body secretary who tries to solve the mystery of a
decades old murder and this was a fun read.
I had Sometimes a Light Surprises on my bookshelf for months before I read it. Not that I didn't want to read it...not at all. I just didn't want to read the very last Turner book and know that there were no of her books to read. I'd rather have the knowledge that there was one more left.
But finally I pulled it off and enjoyed it while we were camping. And it was only a few days later that, through Sheila, I was offered an advanced copy of Turner's newest book, To See the Moon Again. The copy I read was an uncorrected proof. The publisher, Penguin/Berkley, will have it available in September 2014.
To See the Moon Again introduces Julia Rich whose tidy life ravels when her niece Carmon drops in for an extended visit. The two women are so very different, but each carry a heavy load of guilt. Like all of Turner's book, this one follows a journey to forgiveness, along the way restoring broken relationships and making life changing discoveries. In some ways I found this book hard to read, maybe because I read it while feeding my baby and the book's reference to babies. (But I won't say more lest I give too much away!) But as always there is hope - hope in Jesus Christ. Hope that the moon will rise again with fresh mercy for a new day.
Definitely if you like Turner's other books, you will want to look for To See the Moon Again in the fall. You can pre-order now at Amazon. Most of Turner's other books are out of print but you can still find them on Amazon, both in paperback and e-book format. (Or if you are a tight-wad like me, you can find some copies on Paperback Swap!)
To be reminded of redemption and grace...to make friends within the pages of a book...to see the moon again...read Jamie Langston Turner's books.
I was given an advanced copy of To See the Moon Again but all opinions of this review are my own. This post contains affiliate links which mean if you click on a link to Amazon and purchase anything (not just books) I will get a tiny amount.