“On Shifting Sand” by Allison Pittman

Summary

Nola Merrill longed to leave her small hometown in Oklahoma long before the Dust Bowl first barreled through. But her husband, Russ, is the town’s preacher, and maintains that they need to keep their family rooted in the community. To Nola, everything is slipping away–she once dreamed of going to college and having adventures–twelve years after their hasty marriage, Nola and Russ have two children, they live above a shop that makes no money, and Nola watches everyone and everything in her landscape drift away or die.

When Russ’s old friend Jim comes to stay with them, Nola is reminded of her desires and is further troubled with discontentment. Jim stirs feelings of adventure and romance in Nola as the two of them plan clandestine meetings to read novels. Nola knows she needs to distance herself from the sinful relationship, but continues to seek Jim’s attention. As Nola’s desire for change grows, and as she shirks her inner voice telling her to plead for help, Nola slips further into an affair and even further from the contentment she seeks. With an unspoken secret between them and the constant threat of dust storms wreaking havoc on their nearly desolate town, Nola and Russ drift further apart, making it increasingly difficult for Nola to find forgiveness.

The Pros

As a historical fiction novel, On Shifting Sand presents great insight into the lives of Americans living through the Dust Bowl. Pittman includes plenty of historical detail in the novel, including the preventative measures people took to keep dust out of their homes, the ailments that plagued them, popular culture of the day, and an overview of the lifestyle. The story is written in clean, descriptive language.

Infidelity is not a common topic in Christian Fiction. Rather, it is something shied away from as too messy and too sensational to talk about. Pittman does a thoughtful job negotiating this delicate topic with honest first-person narration that never slips into graphic explanations of sexual encounters. Nola’s story is an important story to tell. Within the Christian community, people are suffering from the ramifications of adultery, reeling from the loss of trust and the shame. Nola’s story, as well as Russ’s, gives readers a powerful insight into the nature of infidelity–the seeds that plant it and the ways it is nurtured into something even more destructive.

The Cons

While Nola’s discontentment with her living conditions is understandable, the reason for her attraction to Jim is not well-developed. The reader is told they read together and have lengthy, personal conversations while the family is away, but does not actually witness much of this. Nola is suddenly infatuated with Jim with little reason. Thus, Nola’s character is oftentimes unsympathetic. She continually puts herself in emotionally dangerous situations while ruminating on the potential pitfalls, which also makes the plot circular and redundant.

Nola’s marriage to Jim is ultimately meant to be a positive example for readers. However, Jim often makes decisions for the family without consulting Nola, decisions that directly impact their family’s well-being. This may be a character-flaw or a product of the setting in which the story takes place, but Jim often comes across as domineering and apathetic.

With the subject of the novel, some of the content may not be appropriate for younger readers. There is no graphic sexuality, but there are thematic elements including dark emotional content and some innuendo.

Conclusion

On Shifting Sand is a powerful read for those who have dealt with infidelity. Pittman often brings the reader back to the example of Christ’s love for His bride, the church, and His unfailing love for her.

You can get a copy at Tyndale House Publishers or at your local library!

Pittman, Allison. On Shifting Sand. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2015. Print.

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“Still Life” by Christa Parish

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After a fatal plane crash, the lives of Ada and Katherine–total strangers–are jostled from normality and both women are hurdled into a season of self-doubt, questioning, and seeking.

Ada lost her husband in the crash–a prize-winning photographer who married her months before, rescuing her from her domineering father, a prophet leading a fringe religious group.

Katherine was supposed to be on the plane, but she gave up her seat in order to spend one last night with her lover. After the crash, Katherine can’t pretend her life is in order, and she is forced to face the ugly truth of adultery, betrayal, and doubts she’s kept at bay for over fifteen years.

Through changing perspectives, Christa Parrish tells the story of these women–the impact of the plane crash on their lives and the pursuit of love and forgiveness that covers all shame.

The Pros

Parrish’s engaging story considers multiple perspectives on the Christian Faith. From Ada’s self-deprecating, even abusive faith formed beneath her Father’s judgmental gaze, to Katherine’s dismissal of faith as a crutch for the weak, to the example of Ada’s husband, Julian, readers see Christianity in action at its worst and at its best. The changing viewpoints allow readers to see circumstances from another angle, forcing them to grow their awareness and empathy.

Despite the dark subject matter, Parrish manages to keep the pace steady as the characters muddle through the fallout. The questions they face are real, questions readers have likely asked themselves; why do some people live and others die? Where is God in times of suffering? Thoughts and prayers linger, long after turning the final page.

The Cons

While Parrish does a masterful job juggling multiple heavy, emotionally cumbersome storylines, there was one aspect of the story which was seemingly glossed over in order to tie up the story. Ada’s upbringing in the compound is integral to her character; marrying Julian was akin to being reborn, fresh to the world and soft to its thistles and barbs. However, there is surprisingly little insight into life at the compound and the power of Ada’s father, the Prophet. Through back-story and allusions, Parrish brings the reader up to speed on Ada’s emotional slant, the result of her upbringing. But there’s a whole world resting just below the surface, leaving the reader curious to learn more. The story could have started back in time, early enough to see more of Ada’s life in real-time. With the first few chapters, the reader gets a strong impression of the foreboding Prophet, but is never able to fully see him in the light.

Some aspects of the book may be difficult for younger readers, such as the characters dealing with death, affairs, and divorce. While Parrish never pushes the reader into a graphic portrayal of the crash or romantic affairs, some of the content may be unsuitable for very young, impressionable readers.

Conclusion

Still Life is an exceptional novel, written in audaciously honest, and often beautiful prose. This story provides readers with a beautiful depiction of Christ’s love and the unimaginable extent of God’s Grace. Don’t miss this book!

To get your copy of Still Life, visit Thomas Nelson’s site or check it out from your local library!

Parrish, Christa. Still Life. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015. Print.

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“Jaded” by Varina Denman

Summary

Ruthie Turner and her mother have avoided the local church for thirteen years after being shunned for Mrs. Turner’s alleged sins. Everyone in town, besides Ruthie’s cousin JohnScott and her aunt and uncle, ignores Ruthie and her mother until a preacher comes to town and starts paying attention to Ruthie. Between the new preacher and a rapist moving back to the small Texas town, there’s plenty of changes for community and for Ruthie’s family. Ruthie is determined to ignore the preacher’s advances and her cousin’s new interest in the church, working two jobs to pay for college. Despite her efforts, Ruthie finds herself attracted to the handsome preacher and to Jesus whose love could restore her hope in the church and heal the scars etched into her soul so long ago.

The Pros

Jaded is well-written with relate-able characters, plenty of small town charm, and romance. The themes of Jaded are important to contemplate in the church today; how do we treat our neighbors, and do we embody the love that Jesus taught us to give? Varina Denman explores the deep-seeded hurts of a woman who has been expelled from the church through no fault of her own, and the role Christians played in pushing her away from their community. Ruthie’s story urges the reader to consider how one shows love to fellow Christians and non-Christians, and conversely how one allows disappointments in the church to hold oneself back from participating in the community of the Church.

The Cons

Though I was able to engage in the characters’ lives and the setting, there were points in the story where the pacing lagged. Ruthie’s attitude toward the people of Trapp, Texas and the Church is imperative to the story, but I wanted to move past Ruthie lamenting her past and see what was going to happen to her next.

As a romantic, I enjoyed seeing the relationship between Ruthie and Dodd develop through the story. However, there were a couple things that seemed too convenient, such as Dodd working at the school with Ruthie while also being a preacher. In a small town, paths are likely to cross at multiple points, but it seemed unlikely to me that Dodd would be able to move into town and secure a position both at the school and the church.

I was confused as to why a small town would hire a man who had no experience in church leadership, especially when they are so tight-knit. It’s more likely that one of the overseers would have stepped into the position rather than letting an outsider in. In addition, there is little talk of Dodd’s role as the pastor of the church. His leadership in the church doesn’t overlap his daily life very often, it even seems as if this isn’t something he aspires to do long term.

Conclusion

The Cons of this novel are minor; Jaded is a great read and it made me stop and ask a some deep, reflective questions. Denman tells a relate-able story of a woman whose past experiences have pushed her away from faith in God, and the pursuing love of God that draws His children back to Him.

You can order a copy of Jaded through David C Cook or check it out at your local library!

Denman, Varina. Jaded: A Novel. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2015. Print.

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