Tag Archives: coming-of-age

If You Liked . . . The Best Summer of Our Lives

31 Aug

My book club had mixed feelings on The Best Summer of Our Lives by Rachel Hauck. While I was glad I read it, it is not my favorite of her books. If you did like it, I have some more reading recommendations for you.

Strong Characters/A Music Element

Everything Is Just Beginning by Erin Bartels

Michael Sullivan is a talented lyricist and a decent guitarist, but since he was kicked out of his band (and his apartment), he’s not sure he’ll ever get a record deal. Living with his loser uncle in a beat-up trailer and working a dead-end job, Michael has little reason to hope for a better future. Until the invitation for a swanky New Year’s Eve party shows up in the mailbox. It’s for his uncle, with whom he shares his name, but his uncle is going out of town . . . 

On the effervescent night of December 31, 1989–as the Berlin Wall is coming down, the Soviet Union is inching toward democracy, and anything seems possible–Michael will cross paths with the accomplished and enigmatic young heir to a fading musical dynasty, forever altering both of their futures. 

Award-winning novelist Erin Bartels enchants with this story of two lonely souls who have exactly what the other one needs–if they could simply turn their focus from what is ending to what is just beginning.

Coming of Age

The Key to Everything by Valerie Fraser Luesse

Peyton Cabot’s fifteenth year will be a painful and transformative one. His father, the heroic but reluctant head of a moneyed Savannah family, has come home from WWII a troubled vet, drowning his demons in bourbon and distancing himself from his son. A tragic accident shows Peyton the depths of his parents’ devotion to each other but interrupts his own budding romance with the girl of his dreams, Lisa Wallace.

Struggling to cope with a young life upended, Peyton makes a daring decision: He will retrace a journey his father took at fifteen, riding his bicycle all the way to Key West, Florida. Part declaration of independence, part search for self, Peyton’s journey will bring him more than he ever could have imagined — namely, the key to his unknowable father, a reunion with Lisa, and a calling that will shape the rest of his life.

Through poignant prose and characters so real you’ll be sure you know them, Valerie Fraser Luesse transports you to the storied Atlantic coast for a unique coming-of-age story you won’t soon forget.

Restoring Relationships

Five Miles South of Peculiar by Angela Hunt

If these three sisters don’t change direction, they’ll end up where they’re going.

Darlene Caldwell has spent a lifetime tending Sycamores, an estate located five miles south of a small town called Peculiar. She raised a family in the spacious home that was her grandfather’s legacy, and she enjoys being a pillar of the community. Sycamores is the kingdom where she reigns as queen . . . until her limelight-stealing twin sister unexpectedly returns.

Carlene Caldwell, veteran of the Broadway stage, is devastated when she realizes that an unsuccessful throat surgery has spelled the end of her musical career. Searching for a new purpose in life, she retreats to Sycamores, her childhood home. She may not be able to sing, but she hopes to use her knowledge and experience to fashion a new life in Peculiar, the little town she left behind.

Haunted by a tragic romance, Magnolia Caldwell is the youngest of the Caldwell girls. Nolie has never wanted to live anywhere but Sycamores. She spends her days caring for her dogs and the magnificent gardens she’s created on the estate, but when she meets a man haunted by his own tragedy, she must find the courage to either deny her heart or cut the apron strings that tie her to a dear and familiar place.

Can these sisters discover who they are meant to be when life takes an unforeseen detour? In a season of destiny, three unique women reunite and take unexpected journeys of the heart.

Book Review — The Best Summer of Our Lives

31 Aug

My book club chose The Best Summer of Our Life by Rachel Hauck as its August selection. We had a lot to talk about, though not all positive. We generally liked the book, but there were some things that we wanted more of . . . and less of. 😉 My thoughts are below.

Twenty years ago, the summer of ’77 was supposed to be the best summer of Summer Wilde’s life. She and her best friends, Spring, Autumn, and Snow–the Four Seasons–had big plans.

But those plans never had a chance. After a teenage prank gone awry, the Seasons found themselves on a bus to Tumbleweed, “Nowhere,” Oklahoma, to spend eight weeks as camp counselors. All four of them arrived with hidden secrets and buried fears, and the events that unfolded in those two months forever altered their friendships, their lives, and their futures.

Now, thirtysomething, Summer is at a crossroads. When her latest girl band leaves her in a motel outside Tulsa, she is forced to face the shadows of her past. Returning to the place where everything changed, she soon learns Tumbleweed is more than a town she never wanted to see again. It’s a place for healing, for reconciling the past with the present, and for finally listening to love’s voice.

Rachel Hauck is a New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling author.

She is a Christy Award Winner and a double RITA finalist. Her book The Wedding Dress was named Inspirational Novel of the Year by Romantic Times Book Club. She is the recipient of RT’s Career Achievement Award.

Her book, Once Upon A Prince, was filmed for an original Hallmark movie.

Hauck has been acclaimed for her split time novels and royal romances.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, and a former sorority girl, Rachel and her husband live in central Florida. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

In other news, she’s recently learned how to hard boil an egg. She’s quite proud.

Visit her at http://www.rachelhauck.com or http://www.facebook.com/rachelhauck.

My Impressions:

I feel that The Best Summer of Our Lives is a bit of a departure from what you would expect from a novel by Rachel Hauck. The book centers around four long-time best friends who are embarking into adulthood. Having graduated from high school and caught pulling an over the top prank, they are sentenced to work as camp counselors in Tumbleweed, Oklahoma. The Four Seasons as they are known to family, friends, and classmates grow up a lot during the 8 weeks they spend in the isolated camp, but that is only the beginning of this coming-of-age story.

I have to admit that I did not like the names of the 4 girls — Spring, Summer, Autumn (aka Fall), and Margaret “Snow” Snowden. You see why they are dubbed the 4 Seasons. But, for me, the names really got in the way of getting to know the characters. I kept getting confused on who was who. It took me about half the book to become comfortable with who they were. The book really is Summer’s story, with side plots of her best friends. My book club wished there had been more Summer and less the other characters. We really liked the Prodigal aspect of the book, and Summer’s encounters with The Preacher presented some powerful scenes. But there were other times when the book seemed like a soap opera (I won’t share specifics because that would reveal spoilers) involving the other members of the Seasons. I also really liked that most of the men in the book were generally good guys. Reconciliation, grace, and forgiveness are strong themes.

The Best Summer of Our Lives has gotten really great reviews, so I urge you to look at those. Reviewing is subjective and a lot of things can influence how someone feels about a book. While I am glad I read it, it is not a favorite of mine from Hauck.

Audience: adults.

(Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

If You Liked Missing Isaac . . .

28 Feb

By The Book read Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse and loved it! This coming-of-age novel set in Alabama of the 1960s, was a quiet novel that had a dramatic backdrop, yet was more about ordinary people’s actions and reactions rather than the headlines of the time. In coming up with a list of books to recommend for further reading, I kept that in mind. Each of the following books are set in turbulent times, but have at their heart people struggling to make sense of the times in which they live and to make a difference in small ways. I hope you enjoy these novels as well.

Child of The River by Irma Joubert

A compelling coming of age story with an unlikely and utterly memorable heroine, Child of the River is a timeless tale of heartbreak and triumph set in South Africa at the dawn of apartheid.

Persomi is young, white, and poor, born the middle child of illiterate sharecroppers on the prosperous Fourie farm in the South African Bushveld. Persomi’s world is extraordinarily small. She has never been to the local village and spends her days absorbed in the rhythms of the natural world around her, escaping the brutality and squalor of her family home through the newspapers and books passed down to her from the main house and through her walks in the nearby mountains.

Persomi’s close relationship with her older brother Gerbrand and her fragile friendship with Boelie Fourie—heir to the Fourie farm and fortune — are her lifeline and her only connection to the outside world. When Gerbrand leaves the farm to fight on the side of the Anglos in WWII and Boelie joins an underground network of Boer nationalists, Persomi’s isolated world is blown wide open. But as her very small world falls apart, bigger dreams become open to her — dreams of an education, a profession, a native country that values justice and equality, and of love. As Persomi navigates the changing world around her — the tragedies of war and the devastating racial strife of her homeland — she finally discovers who she truly is, where she belongs, and why her life — and every life — matters.

The Pearl Spence Trilogy by Susie Finkbeiner

A Cup of Dust 

Where you come from isn’t who you are.

Ten-year-old Pearl Spence is a daydreamer, playing make-believe to escape life in Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl in 1935. The Spences have their share of misfortune, but as the sheriff’s family, they’ve got more than most in this dry, desolate place. They’re who the town turns to when there’s a crisis or a need―and during these desperate times, there are plenty of both, even if half the town stands empty as people have packed up and moved on.

Pearl is proud of her loving, strong family, though she often wearies of tracking down her mentally impaired older sister or wrestling with her grandmother’s unshakable belief in a God who Pearl just isn’t sure she likes.
Then a mysterious man bent on revenge tramps into her town of Red River. Eddie is dangerous and he seems fixated on Pearl. When he reveals why he’s really there and shares a shocking secret involving the whole town, dust won’t be the only thing darkening Pearl’s world.

A Trail of Crumbs

“I believed it would have been a sin to stay inside when God had sent us such fine weather. According to Pastor Ezra Anderson, sin was the reason we’d got in the dusty mess we were in. The way I saw it, that day was God’s way of letting us know He wasn’t mad at us anymore. Just maybe He’d seen fit to forgive us.”

Pearl Spence has been through more in her young life than most folks could handle. But through it all, her family has been by her side. They may not be perfect, but they love her and they all love each other, come what may. That’s one thing Pearl no longer questions.

But the end of her beautiful day signals the beginning of the end of her secure life.

Now her family is fleeing their Oklahoma wasteland. Pearl isn’t sure she’ll ever see home or happiness again. Are there any crumbs powerful enough to guide her back to the dependable life she once knew?

The strong narrative voice of Finkbeiner’s young protagonist from A Cup of Dust returns in this gritty yet hopeful sequel, sure to please her many fans.

A Song of Home

Pearl Spence has finally settled into a routine in Bliss, Michigan, far from her home in Red River, Oklahoma. Like all the other kids, she goes to school each day, plays in the woods, and does her chores. But there’s one big difference: Mama is still gone, and doesn’t seem to have a thought for the family she’s left behind.

Escaping from her worries is another part of Pearl’s new routine, whether that’s running to Aunt Carrie’s farm, listening to the radio with Ray, or losing herself in a book. In fact, a chair in the stacks, surrounded by books, might be her favorite place on earth–until she discovers swing dancing. The music transports Pearl to a whole other world.

When Mama unexpectedly returns, it isn’t the happy occasion Pearl had imagined. Mama is distant and Pearl can’t figure out how to please her. And the horrible way she treats Daddy is more than Pearl can bear. Seems life would be better if Mama would just stay away.

Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock

Stunning coming-of-age drama set during the Great Depression and Prohibition

When Eve Marryat’s father is laid off from the Ford Motor Company in 1931, he is forced to support his family by leaving St. Paul, Minnesota, and moving back to his Ohio roots. Eve’s uncle Cyrus has invited the family to live and work at his Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge.

 Eve can’t wait to leave St. Paul, a notorious haven for gangsters. At seventeen, she considers her family to be “good people,” not lawbreakers like so many in her neighborhood. Thrilled to be moving to a “safe haven,” Eve soon forms an unlikely friendship with a strange young man named Link, blissfully unaware that her uncle’s lodge is anything but what it seems.

When the reality of her situation finally becomes clear, Eve is faced with a dilemma. Does she dare risk everything by exposing the man whose love and generosity is keeping her family from ruin? And when things turn dangerous, can she trust Link in spite of appearances?

Book Review: Missing Isaac

17 Jan

There was another South in the 1960s, one far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news. It was a place of inner turmoil, where ordinary people struggled to right themselves on a social landscape that was dramatically shifting beneath their feet. This is the world of Valerie Fraser Luesse’s stunning debut, Missing Isaac.

It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny, unassuming town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople’s reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for. Before it’s all over, Pete — and the people he loves most — will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever.


Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others. As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.


My Impressions:

This review is going to be difficult to write. Although Missing Isaac, the debut novel of Valerie Fraser Luesse, is a book that has it all — relatable and complex characters, a story that grabs your heart, and a voice speaks to the soul — it is difficult to get past the emotions that it elicited and name specifics as to why you should read it. And read it, you must! This book will win awards, I guarantee. And it most definitely will be on my best of the best list for 2018, if not of all time. It gets the very rare Very Highly Recommended distinction from me.

The time is the 1960s and the place is rural Alabama. It is a simple time for 11 year-old Pete who adores his father and has not a care in the world. But things can change in an instant, and Pete is swept up into a world of loss and grief. His anchor in the storm is an unlikely friend — a 30-something black man who has worked most of his life as a field hand for Pete’s family. They form an easy bond, but in another life-changing moment, Isaac disappears, leaving Pete unsettled and determined to find our what has happened to Isaac Reynolds.

Luesse has a beautiful writing style. The language of the different classes and races shines through in her flowing narrative and dialogue. The characters, quirky and oh so Southern, are real. I found myself quickly immersed in the story. And though Missing Isaac is a novel to be savored, it was a surprisingly quick read. I just could not put it down, and the many distractions around me faded the minute I stepped into the world of Glory, Alabama. There’s a lot going on in Glory, the nuances and undercurrents of which Pete is innocent. His encounter with a girl from the Hollow expands his experiences with life and love beyond his safe home. You see, there are all kinds of worlds out there that we have no knowledge of. As Dovey puts it — “Pete, what’s throwin’ you off is that you think there’s just one world we all live in, but there’s not. There’s a bunch of ’em. There’s the world you come from and the world I come from and the world Isaac comes from — there’s all kinda worlds. And the only people that don’t seem to know that are the ones that come from yours.” What I especially liked about this book is that Luesse merged those worlds, those different classes of people that made their home in Glory, in a beautiful way.

Missing Isaac is a poignant look at a time gone by that is not so distant from our own time, a time that hasn’t changed enough. But while it handles some heavy issues, there is a lightness and a wit about it that keeps the darkness at bay. There are some really funny moments in the midst of fear and grief and discouragement — a picture of real life. Missing Isaac has a wonderful foundation of faith as well. It is as natural and living as the fields that surround the small farming community.

I hope my ramblings will get you interested enough to pick this one up. Missing Isaac is my book club’s February selection. I cannot wait for my friends to read it!

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: young adults through adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to Revell for a complimentary copy. All opinion expressed are mine alone.)