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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Review: The Sea Keeper’s Daughters – Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate. The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015.

Cover: The Sea Keeper's Daughters

The work of a book reviewer is never done. It’s hard to fully explain the constant influx of new books coming in from publishers, new types of books to explore, and the enormous responsibility to diplomatically articulate the strengths and weakness of each novel. In the midst of these challenges, I also find myself blessed to have this opportunity and to share it with all of you. This week’s novel, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters, explores the similarly complex responsibilities of those who safeguard history in the midst of ever-present trial.

Lisa Wingate’s most recent novel, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters, builds upon her prior novels of the Carolina Heirlooms series. Whitney Monroe spent her childhood summers working at her family’s hotel on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. While grappling with her father’s untimely death, Whitney and her mother forged a tumultuous relationship with her grandmother. As an adult, Whitney views the Excelsior Hotel as a much-needed inheritance that has the power to save her Michigan-based restaurant. However, she never imagined the outpouring of dissent regarding the historic building’s demise, as the structure’s tenants fight to preserve the hotel for their businesses and a nonprofit that has the power to turnaround the area’s failure of its youth. In Whitney’s desperate attempt to find heirlooms worth saving or selling, she uncovers a mystery that has lasted for generations. Through the story of her great-aunt’s work with the WPA folklore writers in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Whitney comes to realize the incredible work of God’s faithfulness in her own life and across generations of her family.

Overall, I ended up greatly enjoying The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. However, I found the pacing and my general interest in the novel to vary throughout sections of the book. The novel focuses its earlier chapters almost exclusively around Whitney’s present-day story, which were far less compelling and slower than the rest of the novel. As Ms. Wingate incorporated an increasing amount of historically-based material around Whitney’s great aunt and the WPA folklore writers, the novel significantly changed to a faster pace and became an absolutely fascinating story to read. Consequently, it is challenging to give an overall rating of The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. While the first portion of the book was hard to get through (even for a very fast-paced reader), the historical aspects and the second half of the novel were inspired and would rank among one of the best novels of the year. It is based on those incredible highlights of this novel that I will likely be reading Ms. Wingate’s The Story Keeper and The Prayer Box in the near future.

Fans of Ms. Wingate’s other novels will appreciate and enjoy The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. The book most closely fits the character development and setting of Ms. Wingate’s Carolina Heirlooms novels, The Story Keeper and The Prayer Box. In general, Ms. Wingate’s pacing is generally slower than that of many other contemporary Christian fiction works, such as those by Rachel Hauck, Denise Hunter, and Becky Wade. However, her style masterfully captures the details of the American South in both the past and present.

Special thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for an advanced copy of The Sea Keeper’s Daughters!

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Amazon – The Sea Keeper’s Daughters (A Carolina Heirlooms Novel)