26/07/2011

It Happens Every Spring (by Catherine Palmer and Gary Chapman)

Browsing free books for the Kindle, as I do fairly regularly, I was interested to see a novel by Catherine Palmer, an American Christian author whom I've come across before. I found her books quite light, a bit low on characterisation, and sometimes a little over-preachy, but mostly well-written with good stories.

It wasn't until I started reading it a couple of days ago that I realised that it was written in conjunction with Dr Gary Chapman, author of the books about love languages, and (more recently) a book about recurring 'seasons' in marriage, which sounds very interesting.

'It Happens Every Spring" is the story of four different marriages set in small-town America, in a place called Tranquillity. There's a newly-married couple, an older, retired couple, a blended family with twins, and the main couple of the story, Brenda and Steve who are recent empty-nesters. I gather that this is the first book in a series of four, and that each of the others focuses specifically on one couple.

There's a very interesting character called Cody who appears fairly early in the book, and demonstrates how prejudice is still rife; Cody is a homeless young man who behaves in a childlike way, and seeing how Brenda related to him positively was a good way of seeing her more as a whole person.

Then there's Patsy who owns a beauty salon, and where much of the conversation happens. I found this aspect of the book rather bizarre, reminding me of one or two ultra-light American films I have seen where something similar happened. It felt like a device for getting women together, but I could not believe the number of times the characters seemed to call by for yet another change to their hairstyles (including colours) or having their nails 'done'.

 I found it a bit shocking that everyone had sufficient disposable income to indulge in this kind of thing regularly, but perhaps it does happen in the USA. What I found particualrly bizarre was that the beauty salon was called 'Just as I am', a quote from an old hymn, which seemed like the ultimate irony since Patsy encouraged people NOT to like themselves just as they were but to keep experimenting with new looks.

However, as a device for women getting together to chat it worked well, aided by an attached café where Patsy's clients were encouraged to hang out and drink tea. The book is light, after all, and the characters not particularly well developed, so the various conversations were useful in helping to build up some idea of the different women. The writing is good and I found the story interesting, reading in just two or three sittings as I wondered how Brenda and Steve's problems would be resolved.

I found some of their argument scenes almost painful in their realism, although the points about different love languages and lack of communication were made rather too obviously at times. Brenda evidently needed quality time whereas Steve needed physical touch, but nobody had ever explained this to them - even though they were both involved in acts of service to each other, which neither appeared to recognise.

There is perhaps a bit too much overt Christian input - it works just fine from Cody (who believes that only Christians will give him chocolate cake) but there are rather a lot of quoted Scripture verses which would probably put off people who are not believers, and yet seem irrelevant to those of us who are. The resolution seemed a little too simplistic, as well.

But overall I did enjoy the book, and since it was free I am glad I downloaded it. I'm interested to know how the situations develop, but can't quite decide whether to buy the other books in the series or not.

No longer available free, but recommended anyway in a low-key kind of way. (Links are to the paperback book versions, which have second-hand editions available in both the UK and USA).

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 26th July 2011

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