Review: Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate. Before We Were Yours. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2017.

For many of the novels that I review here on the Books and Biscuits Blog, I can honestly recommend them to anyone.  However, some books have more appropriate audiences than others.  This week’s book is an incredible and poignant read, but I would not recommend it to those people (including some in my own family) who are easily bothered by stories in which parents and/or children are hurt or lost.

Before We Were Yours is based on the true story of the cruel operations of Georgia Tann and her adoption agency that used its connections to adopt poor children from Tennessee to the wealthy, leading to one of the greatest scandals of its kind in American history.  The novel presents two interconnected stories, one set in Depression-era Tennessee and the other based in the present day.  As a federal prosecutor in Maryland, Avery Stafford has made a name for herself, separate from her family’s connections and father’s career as a senator.  When her father receives a cancer diagnosis, Avery returns home to South Carolina to assist him with his campaign, leading her to encounter a mysterious family history that she never knew.  During the Great Depression, Rill Foss and her siblings were kidnapped from their home on a Mississippi River shantyboat.  Their experience living at an orphanage run by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society ripped apart their family and changed their lives forever.  Bridging past and present, Rill’s story reveals her attempts to reunite her family and the powers at work trying to keep the truth hidden.

Acclaimed author, Lisa Wingate, writes a compelling story about the secrets of a past generation and the tragic story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage.  Her characters jump off the page, making this incredible tale come to life.

Overall, I was very impressed with Before We Were Yours.  Although it’s not released by the Christian publishers that I normally read and review, I depended on the fact that Ms. Wingate is a long-time author within the genre.  The novel does not have any outright Christian themes, but remains relatively clean in terms of language and theme.  The story itself would not be considered G or PG rated, although I was impressed at how Ms. Wingate did write it in such a way to leave much to the imagination, without any graphic scenes or descriptions.  From a historical perspective, the novel is absolutely fascinating and very well researched, with Ms. Wingate utilizing her characters to add an emotional depth to the facts behind the Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal.  While I am not typically a person to read a book about children placed in a cruel situation, the novel provides enough resolution to that storyline through its contemporary plotline to leave the reader well satisfied with the novel overall.

Fans of Ms. Wingate’s previous work may find Before We Were Yours to be well worth reading.  Additionally, those who appreciate the split historical/contemporary storyline format may also enjoy this novel.

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Amazon – Before We Were Yours

Review: The Angels’ Share – James Markert

James Markert. The Angels’ Share. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Periodically, a book’s central topic is so utterly unique that I enjoy trying a new author, style, or type of story than I normally read.  With the help of some Christian publishers, I have the opportunity to explore such novels more often than before I started blogging and reviewing books.

James Markert’s latest release, The Angels’ Share, follows the story of William McFee and his family after the end of Prohibition.  Before alcohol became illegal, the family earned their livelihood from the Old Sam Bourbon distillery, under the management of William’s father, Barley.  However, the entire town of Twisted Tree faced a rapid decline without the distillery in operation.  The town buries its indigent residents in the potter’s field next to the distillery and one drifter’s burial soon draws great attention to the area and the McFees, in particular.  Barley McFee begins to fear for the family’s safety, as journalists begin to investigate the miracles of the “Potter’s Field Christ” and the truth behind the elder McFee’s activities during Prohibition.  As William fights to restart the distillery, he soon finds himself searching for the real story behind the family’s tragic past and looking for a way forward for all of them.

Mr. Markert brings a new voice to Southern-inspired fiction, telling the story of Kentucky’s post-Prohibition history and its bourbon distilleries.  Fans of American historical fiction will appreciate Mr. Markert’s perspective and research.

Overall, I was left with mixed feelings toward Mr. Markert’s novel.  He creates a relatively unique set of characters that naturally fit within the setting and era of his story.  Likewise, he develops a fascinating sense of place throughout the novel that will draw in his readers, particularly those with an interest in the history of Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries.  However, I found the actual plotline to be disjointed and lacking resolution, as several subplots appeared in the story without any further development. The Angels’ Share contained stylistic elements and a plotline more commonly found in commercial historical fiction, rather than novels released by Christian publishers.  Additionally, some of the themes, events, and language may not be appropriate to the general audience who typically read Christian fiction. From a storyline perspective, I thought that Mr. Markert offered some intriguing historical perspective and details told through the eyes of his characters, especially William McFee.  However, the “Potter’s Field Christ” plotline would have benefitted from further editing and tighter writing, as the purpose of this storyline (especially in a work of Christian fiction) will likely confuse many readers.  I would have preferred to see this concept developed with a closer eye toward Christian themes, rather than “the mystery of miracles,” as described on the back cover of the book.

Fans of commercial historical fiction may find The Angels’ Share to be a worthwhile read.  Those who enjoy Christian historical fiction, especially focused during the Great Depression or based in the American South, may also find this to be worth exploring.  While most Christian fiction may be accessible to a general audience (teens, adults, etc.), this novel would have a PG-13 or R rating in a movie format, due to content and language.  Additionally, the “Christian” themes are few and far between, as Biblical references are oftentimes taken outside of their proper context and some reviewers have pointed to elements of this book as being “supernatural” or “cult-like,” rather than Christian, in nature.

Special thanks to Thomas Nelson and The Fiction Guild for the advanced copy of The Angels’ Share!

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Amazon – The Angels’ Share