The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers

978-1-4964-0790-0The Masterpiece is contemporary Christian fiction at its best. Having read and loved Redeeming Love, one of Rivers’s previous novels, I had an inkling that I would enjoy her newest work, fittingly titled The Masterpiece.

Many times Christian fiction can become a little too squeaky clean, which distracts from an exciting or enticing story line and pace. Being a Christian myself, I know that no one is perfect and Christians have just as many faults as everyone else. Therefore, Christian fiction should be real and not put on an act, pretending to be completely wholesome and pure. This is one of the reasons that I love Francine Rivers’s novels. Her characters all have major flaws and pasts that haunt them. Many times they feel like or even try giving up, but God is not done with them yet. Rivers has a knack for writing long books with unique plot lines and memorable characters, and The Masterpiece is no exception.

The Masterpiece is a story of survival, grief, forgiveness, family, and love. Famous LA artist, Roman Velasco has a very checkered past, even though his future looks bright to those who don’t really know him. The only person he lets get a little closer to him turns out to be a young, single mother named Grace, who becomes his personal assistant. Grace has been through many a tragedy and trial in her young life, but she knows and loves the Lord and leans on him in everything. Her parents died when she was a little girl, and God has become her one true father. Because of all the pain and bad relationships in her past, Grace keeps her distance and doesn’t have any interest in becoming romantically involved with anyone. Her only goal is to be able to support herself and her infant, Samuel, so that they can be together full time and she can be a devoted mother to him. She is determined not to let her past dictate her future. Roman, on the other hand, is distrusting and unstable. He doesn’t know the Lord. He lets his past mistakes and pain eat at him daily, unable to forgive or forget the horrible things he has done and seen in his young life. In and out of foster care during his childhood, running from the authorities, and tagging with graffiti in a gang, he is no stranger to the streets. No one knows his real name or the circumstances of his upbringing.

As Roman gets to know Grace, he starts to open up and question her about her devotion to God. When a new tragedy strikes, will Roman be strong enough to survive it?

Though this is a very long book, do not be intimidated. It only took me two days to read it, and I loved it. The story takes place in California and many of the landscapes and settings that are described are beautiful and breathtaking. The plot reads quickly, because it switches back and forth from present day back to the time when both Roman and Grace were children and teenagers. It is through the flashbacks that readers are able to get a better picture of the horrible things that Roman and Grace have both endured in their lives. I would highly recommend this novel for fans of Christian fiction, contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, romance, and even mainstream fiction. It has a little bit of everything between its covers. The ending was a tad bit predictable, but that was to be expected with the kind of story it is. Even so, it was rather enjoyable all the way to the last page.

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Welcome to the Slipstream by Natalka Burian

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Originally published in School Library Journal, May 2017.

Grade 9 & up: Van, 17, was forced to grow up quickly in the slipstream of her mentally ill, brilliant mother. Her father died of a drug overdose when she was an infant. Van, her mother Sophie, and Ida, a surrogate grandmother, have lived as vagrants, following Sophie’s work. Leaving their home in Uzbekistan, the women land in Vegas, the city that never sleeps, for Sophie’s job at the Silver Saddle Casino. Van is tutored and left to spend her free time inside the lavish place with, Alex, a handsome college student, as her guide. Alex becomes her first true friend and love interest. Playing the guitar has always been Van’s true joy and form of escape, and she is now given the opportunity to join a band. Then, tragedy strikes and her family unit is falling apart before her very eyes. With Ida ill and Sophie caught in a scam, taken to the Sedona desert for “healing” by a cult, Van follows, determined to save her mother. The pacing is quick, parallel to the constant movement of Van and her mother Sophie. Van has an out of body experience and ends up fighting to survive in the desert. The end is filled with heavy-hearted goodbyes, but also hope and promise for Van’s future. It’s more of a beginning as Van makes a tough decision to set out on her own. The mood throughout is laced with worry and uncertainty, and readers will empathize with Van. Burian’s debut realistic fiction novel is based upon real-life events she witnessed. VERDICT: Recommended for general purchase, teen readers will enjoy the story line and well developed characters, while rooting for the strong female lead to survive what life has dealt her.

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

It’s not the things we remember, it’s the things we keep.

The Things We Keep will be published on January 19, 2016. If I were you, I would make a New Year’s resolution now to read it in 2016. This is such a beautiful, heart-wrenching story of family, friendship, and love, despite the odds stacked against the characters.

There are two story lines to start, but they intersect once the characters meet and end up in the same place. First, we meet Anna Forster, a 38 year old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but in the early stages. Anna’s mother also suffered from Alzheimer’s. After Anna has endangered both herself and others she loves, she has decided to live at Rosalind House, a prestigious, family-like assisted living facility in New Jersey. She knows most of the residents are elderly, but she also knows there is young resident named Luke, her age, and also with Alzheimer’s disease. As she and Luke get to know each other, sometimes starting over with introductions every few days and then every day, near the end, their love grows, despite the research that those without memory and speech (in Luke’s case), suffering from such an awful disease are not capable of falling in love.

In comes Eve Bennett, a young, talented chef with a 7 year old daughter named Clementine, who is quite the spunky little charmer, despite losing her father and then her home a few months prior. The Bennett girls’ energy is a welcome change to the quiet environment at Rosalind House. Eve is the widow of Richard Bennett, the leader of a ponzi scheme which caused thousands of people to lose their money and would have landed him in prison, had he not taken his own life first. Now a single mother and with no income, Eve must find a way to support herself, which brings her to Rosalind house in the role of cook. As Eve crosses paths and gets to know the residents, especially Anna and Luke, she makes some decisions that will forever change all of their lives. There, she also meets Angus, the skilled gardener who is also easy on the eyes.

I love Eve and Clementine’s interactions with the residents of Rosalind House. The author does a wonderful job of describing them so that the reader feels they know them as well. Much of the scenes are written from Anna’s perspective, and in light of her failing memory. Though humorous at times as she tries to come up with a word or does silly things, it is also deeply tragic and sad that she is withering away at such a young age. This story, and it’s characters will be in my thoughts for a long time, as the story really reminded me to hold on to what we have, because we ultimately do not know when our last moment with a loved one will be. It is truly a lovely story, and I would highly recommend that you read it.