I love quirky, unusual heroines, and these two new inspirational novels fit the bill. Find out why.
I receive free electronic advanced reader copies of these books through an arrangement between the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion on NetGalley’s website. I only review books on my blog that I really love.
Do You Like Unusual Heroines?
I have nothing against the traditional fictional heroine. Someone like me, white, educated, Christian, raised in a two-parent home, and all that implies. But I love it when an author surprises me with unusual heroines. After all, I read fiction to broaden my understanding of the world. If I only read about people like me, my world won’t broaden. Both Kimberly Duffy (an author I’ve read before) and Susannah B. Lewis (a new-to-me author) create beautiful, quirky, unusual heroines in their latest inspirational fiction releases.
By Kimberly Duffy, Bethany House, February 7, 2023, 400 pages.
Hailed as the World’s Strongest Woman, Mabel McGinnis feels anything but strong when her father, the World’s Strongest Man, unexpectedly dies. For 20 years, they have performed as a father-daughter act for the Manzo Brothers Circus. And for most of those years, Mabel thought her mother had died in America.
Mabel clings to memories of her mother—an aerialist in the same circus—that remain. She remembers giving her mother her little doll, Isabella, on the day her mother left. Words her mother said to her father, such as, ‘she’s too big,’ hide in the corners of Mabel’s mind. Mabel can’t deny the truth of the words—after all, what eight-year-old towers above her mother?
Her father’s death leaves Mabel feeling like a weak shell. Debilitating stage fright causes her to choke when she returns to the circus. The owner gives her a choice—leave or join the sideshow as a tattooed woman.
Isabella Moreau can no longer rely on her body to perform the same stunts which endeared her to the adoring public. She’ll do anything to keep her place at the circus because she knows no other life. Twenty years ago, she left Italy to care for her aging mother. Only she couldn’t go back. The darkness of her failures as a mother and wife incapacitated her. Her husband called her a weak woman and refused to touch her after the birth of their only child almost killed her.
Leaving Mabel and Bram felt like the bravest thing she could do at the time. When she receives word of Bram’s death, she feels desperate to keep her place with Wells and Son Circus. But her career careens towards a backbreaking life as a circus laundress, and Isabelle once again feels the darkness closing in.
What I Loved About This Book
Duffy tackles a subject (depression), era (the early 1900s), and situation (parent-adult child relationships) with creativity and grace. Throw in two second-chance romances and a talented author, and you end up with the perfect story of redemption and grace.
Readers can relate to Mabel’s feelings of abandonment and Isabella’s struggles with depression. While growing up in a circus has left Isabella and Mabel sheltered from everyday life, it has also provided them with a microcosm of human nature from which they can learn. Jake (Mabel’s love interest), Mabel, and Isabella struggle with narratives they believe about themselves.
The most broken of the three, Isabella, remembers words her mother shared with her towards the end of the book: I can do all things through Christ. This memory acts as a catalyst for change for Isabella and, eventually, Mabel. Keep a box of tissues handy for unexpected gems of wisdom that bring on healing tears. Especially if you’ve ever suffered from strained relationships or bent under the burden of false narratives.
I would share this book with non-Christian friends. References to the Bible, churchy lingo, salvation, and other things which might turn off someone who has no time for Christianity are absent. Duffy does what few authors can do—carry the cross over without sounding like a self-satisfied know-it-all Christian.You'll love Kimberly Duffy's latest release (who doesn't love the romance of a circus?) from @bethany_house #amreading #inspyromance Click To Tweet
By Susannah B. Lewis, Thomas Nelson, February 7, 2023, 288 pages.
Identical twins Della and Darby Redd confound everyone with their differences instead of their likeness. Della, college-educated and vibrant, makes purple her signature color and, at 29, still works hard at fitting in. Even though the people of Clay Station, Mississippi, can’t seem to overlook the sins of her mother and delight in exacting revenge on Della and Darby.
Darby keeps her head down and seems content living in her own small world—working at a pill bottle factory and hanging out in her bedroom at home. As an introvert, she doesn’t see the need to expand her horizons or worry much about what others think. She wishes Della would return to Chattanooga and her circle of friends instead of settling for a dead-end job as a receptionist at a doctor’s office.
Both girls live with Birdie, their maternal grandmother, and the woman who raised them after their mother’s tragic death. Most people in town consider their mother’s death a blessing and the circumstances a tragedy for the rest of the town. Birdie can’t forgive herself for her mistakes as a parent and wants nothing more than for Della and Darby to find happiness. But it looks like a losing battle.
When Della and Birdie decide to throw a 30th birthday bash for the sisters, Darby has her doubts. Della fantasizes about showing up with her suddenly-in-love-with-her boss and finding redemption in the town’s eyes after 25 years of ridicule and bullying.
When a new employee at the factory starts pestering Darby with unwanted friendship, Darby struggles to know how to react. Even worse, her unasked-for friend, Cliff, tells her about a sting operation involving Della’s boss. When Darby shares the information with Della, she fears she may have pushed her sister out of her life for good.
What I Loved About this Book
While the subtitle proclaims Della and Darby is a novel about sisters, it could just as easily be subtitled ‘a novel about regrets.’ We all have them, and we often forget how we deal with them has a ripple effect that touches other people’s lives.
Another possible subtitle, ‘a novel of blindness,’ works, too. We all have a blind side to our characters where we buy into false narratives—victim, introvert, failure as a parent, or extrovert. Della, Darby, and Birdie show us how false narratives can take over our lives and trap us in places we never want to go.
Told from multiple points of view (Della’s, Darby’s, and Birdie’s), I found it sometimes painful to enter Della’s point of view. Her desperation to fit in made me ache physically. Birdie’s point of view made me examine my parenting failures and how I grieve and move on (or don’t).
But most of all, Della and Darby helped me understand and have compassion for those on the margins. We each have beautiful, painful, intriguing, and heart-rending stories which shape us. The world would be better if we took the time to explore often, listen more, and judge less.This new release from @susannahblewis will make you think while it entertains you. @ThomasNelson #netgalley #amreading #inspy Click To Tweet