Book Review: A Slow Burn, by Mary DeMuth

Last night I finished reading A Slow Burn , a recently released novel by Texas resident Mary E. DeMuth. This is the second novel in her Defiance Texas Trilogy, a series that tells the story of a tragic event in a small east Texas town and its impact on the people who live there. I read A Slow Burn right after finishing Daisy Chain, the first book in the trilogy. Unfortunately I can't tell you about A Slow Burn without including a spoiler for Daisy Chain, so if you haven't read the first book, maybe you should just stop now, take my word for it, go buy that book, and read it before you read the rest of my review. I am very glad I read these well written books and wait eagerly for the release of the third and final novel in the trilogy.

I am struggling to find words to describe A Slow Burn and how it made me feel, so let me start by saying I strongly recommend both books. The stories have a suspenseful throughline — in Daisy Chain, a 13-year-old girl goes missing and ultimately is found murdered. At the end of A Slow Burn we still don't know who killed young Daisy Chance, and throughout the story the town of Defiance, Texas, is on edge because the killer is still at large. Each of the books is told from a different point of view. Daisy Chain is told mostly in the voice of 14-year-old Jed Pepper, Daisy's best friend, while A Slow Burn is told mostly from the perspective of Daisy's mother, Emory, a single mom with a wounded, sordid past. Both characters are struggling with grief. Each of them at times seems to be losing the battle with overwhelming guilt over their respective roles (real or perceived) in Daisy's disappearance and death.

Mary DeMuth writes with a lyrical grace that borders on poetic, deftly creating a world you experience with all of your senses and characters who live and breathe. These books don't sugar-coat the world they portray, though. Jed and Emory and the other people living in the wake of Daisy's death are all the more compelling for the real-world anguish they endure — various key players suffer the effects of drug addiction, anger, infidelity, domestic abuse. DeMuth pulls no punches in showing the awful consequences of these things, with heartwrenching impact on the reader at times.

But — and this is a critical “but” that makes these books must-reads — the entire, often heartbreaking, tale is suffused with a subtly and artfully conveyed message of hope: grace and mercy are available and abundant, and healing is possible for even the deepest of soul-wounds. The last few chapters of A Slow Burn included events that surprised me and left me . . . almost unable to breathe as I experienced the depths to which a broken soul can take a person — and the unimaginable lengths to which grace will go to rescue that broken soul. In the context of an engrossing story about a child's death and a mystery killer, A Slow Burn asks the question (among others): can a person's sin take her to a place so dark, so far, that grace can't reach her there?

The book's back-cover copy says it well: “[T]his suspenseful novel is about courageous love, the burden of regret, and bonds that never break. It is about the beauty and the pain of telling the truth. Most of all, it is about the poiwer of forgiveness and what remains when shame no longer holds us captive.”

I don't feel like I've done this book justice — I want to say I recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fiction, but they run deeper than that. Unlike some “Christian fiction” that reads like a thinly veiled (and badly written) sermon, Daisy Chain and A Slow Burn simply tell a riveting story and, while doing so, show a vivid picture of how God's grace can reach into the darkest situation and bring light.

Book Review: Let Go, by Sheila Walsh

The publisher's website says, in part, the following about this book:

“In Let Go, the bestselling author and speaker [Sheila Walsh] walks readers through the journey to freedom in Christ. Along the way, she tackles some of the toughest struggles that weigh women down, answering them with overwhelming truth, promise, and hope.

You can lay down your burdens. You can rest. You can find peace. You can live free.

Start here. Let Go. And see what God can do.”

I received my review copy of this book at a time when I was pondering some issues in my life, feeling weighed down with burdens I'm trying to carry for myself and others. I sat down to read this book Saturday morning; the tears started in the first chapter and continued through to the end on Sunday.

Using a mixture of scripture, quotes from heroes of the faith, parables, and intensely personal stories from her own life, Sheila Walsh has written a loving letter to each woman who reads this book, full of encouragement and hope. Every woman — every person — who struggles with burdens from a troubled past, a difficult present, or an uncertain future will find help in this book.

I still am trying to wrap my mind around the point Walsh makes at the end of a discussion of the story of Hagar, the slave girl who bore Abraham's first child and was sent into the desert to die with her young son. Instead of death, Hagar met an angel who introduced her to God, whom she called El Roi: the God who sees. Speaking of Hagar, Walsh points out that “She was left by this world to die — but she was not forgotten by heaven. The God who sees never took his eyes off Hagar.

“And he never takes his eyes off you.”

The God who sees never takes his eyes off me. That thought alone is worth the price of this well written book. I highly recommend it.

Checking in is Better Than . . . Not

I haven't posted anything to this blog in weeks, because (a) I suddenly got busy at work and (b) I couldn't come up with anything profound to say. Mostly it's (b). If I can't say something profound, I don't want to say anything at all. Which is why I have never finished a novel, even though I've wanted to write one since I was a kid.

I'm too hard on myself. I know that. When it comes to writing, part of my problem is that I've read so much over the years, I've been exposed to the good and the bad and the ugly in published material, and I just really, really don't want to put the bad or the ugly out there. But I'm not sure I can measure up to the standard I've set in my own head.

But I have to have something in my life other than my job. Yes, of course, I have my family and the farm, and those things are the best part of my life. But I'm talking about something in my life to do for myself other than work.

So just for the sake of saying I've done it, I'm going to try to check in here several times a week, even if I have nothing profound or witty to say. Today all I have to say is that I wrote 1500 words on my novel-in-progress this morning. Not good words; not brilliant writing. But I got words into the computer file and moved the story a little farther down the road.

Today that will be enough for me.

It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This

Yesterday I finally got around to transfering a bunch of photos from our digital camera to my laptop. Many of them were taken last month when our children surprised Mike and me with a party for our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Part of the surprise was that both of our sailor sons (one stationed in Hawaii, the other in San Diego) showed up. We'd been told that both were at sea (and, in fact, they were), so although we suspected that the kids were up to something vis a vis our anniversary, we never dreamed the boys would be there. For the first time ever we had all five of our children, both kids-in-law, and all four of our grandchildren (along with my mother and one of my sisters, whose visit also was a surprise) here in Texas with us at the same time. I was in heaven.

Anyway . . . we took LOTS of photos. And yesterday, in response to a Navy son's request that I email some of those photos to him, I spent some time transfering the photos. This was on a day when I was sitting at my desk worrying about . . . a lot of things. Mostly, though, about the economy and its impact on my law practice. I do not cope well with uncertainty, so I was feeling pretty discouraged, pretty down, pretty . . . stressed out about the future.

But then I saw this photo. I was overwhelmed. I can't even describe the emotions I felt, looking at the two of us with these babies — the future of our extended family. When I recovered from being all choked up, I got to thinking . . . these may be anxious times, but so what? Prices are rising, business is bad, our retirement fund has taken a beating. Like everyone else these days, our family is struggling because of the economy. Okay. Still, though, in general, life is pretty good. We are generally healthy and basically happy and we all love each other. Mike and I have had thirty years together, we have these great kids and these beautiful, funny, amazing grandchildren. And even in an uncertain world, those things are for sure. Though it doesn't happen often enough, we occasionally have these opportunities to gather the family and eat and laugh together and just generally enjoy each other. It doesn't get any better than that.