A Miracle for St Cecilia's (by Katherine Valentine)

I don't remember where I first heard of Katherine Valentine. Perhaps her books were recommended to me after finishing some by Jan Karon. Perhaps she was mentioned after I enjoyed novels by Susan Howatch. In any case, I had this book on my wishlist for some years but had quite forgotten it was there, until I was given it for my recent birthday.

'A miracle for St Cecilia's is a gentle kind of novel, set in small town America, featuring a Roman Catholic Church. Most of the town's population know each other, and despite financial problems they all seem to hang out in the coffee shop regularly. The waitress there is deeply troubled because her husband is very ill, waiting in vain for a bone marrow transplant; but pretty much everyone has some kind of worry or problem.

In addition to all this, the church itself is in danger of closing down. Father James, who works there, has no idea what his future might hold, and is even more worried about what will happen to his elderly predecessor who's getting rather erratic, but who definitely does not want to be sent to a retirement home in a different state.

All this could have been set at any point in the 20th century, however the book was actually published in 2002, and is brought right up to date with yet another storyline: that of a somewhat nerdy teenager who has been suspended from school for hacking, comes up with a rather unusual idea that gets somewhat out of hand. With the benefit of an extra ten years of technology since then, I still found myself faintly bewildered at the idea and its implementation, none of which seemed believable - but it did provide some light humour, so in the end I didn't worry about whether or not it was feasible.

The novel makes pleasant light reading; it was somewhat in the style of Jan Karon, although there was no main character - other than, perhaps, the priest; but it was not all told from his perspective. I found it very hard to remember who was whom, although part of that was that I read the first third sporadically over a couple of weeks. The story-lines were a bit rambling, and it took me some time to get into it.

I then read the second half at one sitting, on a long flight, and found myself getting much more 'into' the story, hoping for good outcomes, even though I still found rather too many characters to relate to. Some of the conclusions felt a bit contrived - rather literally 'deus ex machina' in some cases - but overall it was quite heartwarming, with parts that were encouraging and uplifting.

I'm not sure if I will read any of the sequels, but I was glad - finally! - to have had the chance to read this book. Recommended in a low key way for anyone who likes books in the style of Jan Karon or Philip Gulley.

No longer in print in either the UK or US, but it's available in Kindle form, and can sometimes be found second-hand in paperback.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 6th May 2013

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