Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith

Joy in the Morning

Joy in the Morning

Betty Smith (Adult Fiction)

            “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

                                    —Psalm 30:5

 Carl Brown and Annie McGairy are young and deeply in love.  Just past her 18th birthday, Annie travels from her home in New York to the Midwest to join her beloved in marriage.  Much to their mutual surprise, Carl and Annie’s first year proves to be unexpectedly difficult.  Carl is attending the university studying law and holding down several jobs while Annie tries to adapt to her new surroundings without the security and familiarity of friends and family.  Together, through lean times and unforeseen events, they must rely on their faith and love to pull them through.

What I admire most about Smith is that she gives us a strong, witty, and self-assured female character without diminishing her male counterpart.  All too often we see one character being lowered for the sake of elevating the other.  Despite their differences in education and social standing, Carl and Annie view each other as equals and share a mutual respect and passionate devotion for one another.  This alone is refreshing to see in a novel.

Set in 1927, Smith presents us with a small university town populated with principled (albeit flawed) people who all share a strong work ethic, solid moral compass, and innate desire to be decent, kind, and fair to their fellow man.  Her stories are charming and heartwarming without being overly sentimental or trite. A truly uplifting book that focuses on the goodness of humanity rather than its faults and follies.

Rating: 4/5

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson (J)

It’s Tween and Teen Tuesday where we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book.

Ben and Me

Ben and Me

Robert Lawson (Juvenile Fiction)

Do you recall seeing portraits of Benjamin Franklin where he wore an old fur hat?  Little did you know that inside that hat lived one very intelligent, outspoken, and opinionated mouse by the name of Amos.  Amos was Franklin’s closest friend, adviser, and the one largely responsible for Franklin’s greatest innovations and achievements…regardless of what historians may have recorded.

Lawson writes with wit and charm and provides readers with whimsical drawings that give life to both Ben and Amos.  From lightning rods to “Liberty Forever!”, young readers will get a glimpse into the greatness and brilliance of one of history’s most accomplished individuals.  Of course, we need to temporarily overlook the flamboyant embellishments of one overly enthusiastic rodent, but when you do, you get a delightful story that is just the right length to hold a young reader’s attention while capturing the imagination.  Throw in a revolution…or two…and you have a tale that is sure to delight and amuse.

Rating: 4/5

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Susan Crandall (Adult Fiction)

Whistling past the graveyard.  That’s what Daddy called it when you did something to keep your mind off your most worstest fear…”

Starla Claudelle is nine and growing up in 1963 Mississippi.  At the age of three, she is abandoned by her mother, who is busy chasing dreams of country music stardom in Nashville.  Her father works months on end on an oil rig in the Gulf, which leaves the responsibility of her care and upbringing to her strict and overbearing paternal grandmother, Mamie.  On the fourth of July, Starla decides to run away from home—convinced that if she locates her mother, she will have a real family once again.  Along the way, she gets a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white infant.  Together, they embark on an extraordinary road trip that will change both of their lives forever.

Not since Francie Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith) have I delighted in a literary heroine so thoroughly. Starla is sassy, plucky, loyal, reckless, and fearless.  Because of her youth and naiveté, she often makes decisions based on her heart rather than her head, ultimately leading her into some precarious situations.  However, Starla’s spunk and spirit are endearing and allow the reader to readily forgive her of these seemingly foolish transgressions.  The story has a nice and steady pace, the main characters have heart, and Starla’s narration is full of honesty, humor, and charm.  A truly enjoyable read that will undoubtedly find a spot on our Best Of list at the end of the year.

Rating: 5/5