I picked up A Bigger Life by Annette Smith because of its high standing in Novel Journey circles. And because the subject matter is related to my current WIP.
Joel Carpenter lost is wife because of a stupid mistake. Now a single dad, he copes with raising a child part-time and dealing with a life he never expected to have, and that ain’t good. He misses his wife, Kari, and wants a do-over. Then comes his hardest test, and Joel learns that more than freedom, he wants forgiveness.
Kudos to NavPress for going out on a limb in the CBA world with the subject material: a man who has an affair. Besides that, he’s not a Christian (although there’s a Christian presence of love and hope with the characters that surround him), he smokes, and he occasionally drinks (although not in front of the kids, mind you). The book is good in character development, and once I got to page 140, I was drawn in.
Downside: you have to be faithful to the 90% backstory for the first 139 pages. The story itself doesn’t start until after that. I was okay with that for the most part. My primary question is can I feel the character.
Yes, I felt the character with his East Texas redneck accent. Although, let’s be honest here. Joel was not so much of a guy as much as he was the guy women want a guy to be. Does that make sense? There were several things that one of my crit partners, had I sent a story like this to him, would have told me, “That’s not how a guy thinks!” and I would have had the guy burp or something. Or stop taking all the blame on himself and thinking his ex-wife was and is perfect.
One more thing to watch out for: it gets preachy. A lot of characters talking about how life hasn’t turned out right and what Jesus means to me, and it didn’t always feel natural. I felt the book was strong when it showed Christ’s love active in Christians but weak in some of the conversations before that.
It’s contemporary fiction, but it reads like women’s contemporary fiction, though there’s a guy protag. I know, I know. I don’t make sense. But it’s more like Lisa Samson than it is Richard Russo.
Overall, I’d recommend it. The story flows. It’s hard. I cried. But there’s a beauty in it. There’s love and commitment and reconciliation. Oh, one more thing. For some reason, perhaps due to user error, I couldn't find it on Amazon. Sorry, folks. But it's pubbed by NavPress, if that helps.
Now, on to Son of a Witch (which, come on, is just a downright fun title). This one I read because I loved the musical Wicked, which is the other side to The Wizard of Oz. Son of a Witch is about a boy who might be Elphaba’s (the Wicked Witch of the West) son. Or he might not be. It’s a journey of him discovering himself through discovering his past, but more discovering himself by his choices. I struggled with some things because I hadn’t read the novel Wicked but counted on seeing the musical, so I had to piece together aspects that were different. If you haven’t done either, you need to read Wicked first.
The story is good. I enjoyed it. The character still echoes in my brain, which is always a good sign. It was creative, although not as much so as Wicked. The end was excellent, I felt. It didn’t tie up all the loose parts to make it a Cinderella happily-ever-after, but in the discovery, it is happy.
But it was also political, a little too obviously so for my tastes. Just goes to show that it isn’t just Christian writers who are preachy.
I enjoyed it. I found myself in “one more chapter” mode for most of the book, another good sign. Let me find out what’s around the next bend, then I’ll put it down. Of course, the next bend leads you to the next, and before you know it, you’ve taken a much longer lunch break than you meant.
If you want to read this book, and I think it’s worth it especially if you like fairy tales and fantasy (although there’s not a very big presence of magic in it), say so in the comments. There’s one thing I’d warn you about, although it’s not worth mentioning in this post.