Rating: 3.5 stars, rounded up.
I went into this novel with a bit of hesitation. I’ve read many of Beth Moore’s Bible studies and been touched and illuminated them over the years. This book is Beth’s first attempt at writing fiction. I’ve always loved her writing style, which is full of character and makes reading non-fiction more fun. But I can only imagine how difficult transitioning from writing Bible studies to writing fiction must be, and to keep yourself from sounding preachy when you’re so used to, well, preaching.
However, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised! The writing was engaging and funny, even if the plot was fairly dark. Knowing some of Beth’s story, that darkness was expected. As was the light and humor that permeated the darkness. I could feel her straining not to be preachy as she wrote, though there were a few places where that preachiness peeked through just a touch. But for the most part, Beth did a wonderful job of balancing her own opinions with those of her characters.
And those characters were so much fun! The tenants of Saint Sans are a motley crew with loads of personality. While the main character, Jillian, grated on me during the first half of the book, I understood the purpose. You can’t witness the growth of a character if they have no need to grow. Jillian definitely had that room, but thankfully she did indeed grow throughout the novel. The characters went through some terrible things, though they made a valiant effort to laugh in the face of adversity. I thought this was a beautiful quote about the pain of losing a loved one:
“The pain of a hard good-bye is the heart’s tribute to the privilege to love.”
Probably my favorite aspect of this book besides the humor was the setting. I love books set in my home state, and New Orleans is undoubtedly the cultural center of Louisiana. I have a soft spot for Southern novels that actually sound and feel quintessentially Southern throughout, and this one did. Beth is most definitely a Southern Belle, and that mix of sass and sweetness that are the defining characteristics of Southern ladies.
And she genuinely loves Jesus, which shines through in the last half of the novel. I thought that the growth of the spiritual element of the book felt natural, which isn’t always the case in Christian fiction. I love Jesus with all of my heart, but even I sometimes feel that Christian novels are heavy-handed when it comes to the faith aspect. Then there are others that don’t even really mention God at all, and I can’t see how they differ from novels outside of the Christian fiction genre. I thought this was well balanced.
All in all, I enjoyed this book. There were slow parts, and it occasionally felt just the slightest bit preachy. But even in that, I could feel her desire to communicate the love of Jesus that has radically altered her life, so that preachiness never reached heavy-handed or offensive levels. If Beth decides to write more fiction, I look forward to seeing how her writing changes and grow in this new genre. I’ll leave you with they words with which Beth closed her acknowledgements at the end of the book:
“Jesus loves us. He is not scandalized by our failures. He is not limited in what he can do with what’s left after family disasters. Nothing is beyond his redemption when he is invited in. No one with a whit of breath left is beyond the reach of his grace.”