An Unlikely Blessing by Judy Baer is my most recent LitFuse Blog Tour book. And this book is wonderful.
Let me tell you a bit about Judy Baer -- she grew up in rural North Dakota, attended Concordia College, and now lives in Elk River, MN. All of the above are places that mean something to me, though if there is something that can be labeled as "urban North Dakota" that would be where I grew up.
I have never read anything else she has written, but I guarantee I will read everything else that comes out in the Forever Hilltop series.
It is so blatantly obvious that in this book, Baer is writing about something she knows intimately -- small-town life in North Dakota. I worried that the new pastor from Chicago (it is through his eyes that we see the entire story) would be either slightly patronizing towards the "backwards" people of 'Nowhere, ND'. Or, just as bad, that he would be portrayed as a dumb city slicker.
Alex Armstrong is neither. Okay, so he did have some preconceptions about bib overalls. But that is something that is mentioned only in passing.
The story takes place in Alex's first weeks in this new position as pastor... oh, let me pull part of the publisher's description:
An Unlikely Blessing is a heartfelt story about a new pastor and life-long city dweller Alex Armstrong, who reluctantly accepts his first assignment, a two-point parish in the wilds of North Dakota. Hilltop Township, a farming community, blooms from the prairie like a wild pink rose—lovely and prickly all at once, much like the people who live there.Okay, so now you know a bit more about the story.
Alex quickly finds that this lovely place is in quiet peril. Farmers are struggling to make ends meet: Jonas Owens, a faithful member of Hilltop parish, is on the brink of losing the farm. Alex believes that part of why God called him to Hilltop was to help turn things around, and steps in with ideas for saving the Owens' land. But can even God's minister help save this rural community?
So -- what I love about this book:
- the events unfold naturally. There are a lot of characters, they come at you pretty fast, and they are a bit tough to keep straight. Kind of like it is for Alex in his new job. Lot of people and the relationships are a bit tricky.
- the people are so very real. My small-town Dakota life experience is in a different state (northeast South Dakota, where my grandparents lived, and which is predominantly Swedish) but wow, some of these people... My Dakota friends probably understand what I'm trying to say here, but there is just something about the Scandinavian immigrants who settled Dakota Territory, and it is just so *there* in this book. I can't do any better than that.
- I would have been disappointed, of course, if lutefisk hadn't come up at some point. Alex isn't subjected to that particular form of torture. Yet. But he is told by the church secretary that he cannot avoid lutefisk forever. Fish soaked in lye. And people eat it. There are no words... <shudder> Actually, Garrison Keillor had about the perfect words in Lake Wobegon Days. But I digress.
- I laughed aloud at all the "-sens" and "-sons" being introduced as "Olsen with an e" or "Swenson with an o." I loved that it wasn't explained right off, but was later, when Alex finally asks why people are always introduced "with an e" or "with an o."
- I loved that everything didn't wrap up nicely at the end of the book. Lots of open questions, but still a satisfying ending. It was like you really were walking along in the life of this pastor. I know my life never has points where all the issues, concerns and worries wrap themselves up with no loose ends. It just seemed so real.
- It just seemed so real. (Have I said that yet?) Small-town life is not portrayed as being perfect, and there are still rotten bullies and lousy attitudes. Lots of the people in the town have left to see the world (some going as far as Fargo, others actually leaving the state!), and have returned. Some are struggling with how they can afford to stay.
- It isn't preachy. I love a good Christian fiction book that doesn't preach.
My recommendations? I think this is a great book for anyone. People from the Dakotas will probably appreciate it a bit more, but the basics of the story are fairly universal. With different ethnic, weather and crop details, I can imagine the story set in upstate New York, rural Georgia, or in one of the small towns near me in rural Colorado.
Bottom line: Read it.
Prolific author of over 75 novels, Judy Baer, is launching her new Guideposts series, Forever Hilltop, with a KINDLE giveaway! The first book in the series, An Unlikely Blessing is available now wherever fine books are sold. Read the reviews here.
In celebration of the release of An Unlikely Blessing, Judy is giving away a KINDLE prize package worth over $175.
- Brand New KINDLE with Wi-Fi
- A $25 gift certificate to Amazon.com
Disclaimer: I received this book through the LitFuse Blog Tour. No other compensation was received. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.