Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review and Tour Stop: The Shadow of Your Smile by Susan May Warren

The Shadow of Your Smile by Susan May Warren
A Deep Haven Novel
Genre: Contemporary Christian Fiction
Pages: 384
Publication Date: January 2012
Publisher: Tyndale
Source: I was provided with an e-galley to participate in a Litfuse Blog Tour.
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Book Description (from the publisher):
A beautiful blanket of snow may cover the quaint town of Deep Haven each winter, but it can’t quite hide the wreckage of Noelle and Eli Hueston’s marriage. After twenty-five years, they’re contemplating divorce . . . just as soon as their youngest son graduates from high school. But then an accident erases part of Noelle's memory. Though her other injuries are minor, she doesn’t remember Eli, their children, or the tragedy that has ripped their family apart. What’s more, Noelle is shocked that her life has turned out nothing like she dreamed it would. As she tries to regain her memory and slowly steps into her role as a wife and mother, Eli helps her readjust to daily life with sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-heartwarming results. But can she fall in love again with a man she can’t remember? Will their secrets destroy them . . . or has erasing the past given them a chance for a future?

Early last summer I read My Foolish Heart, a wonderful book from Susan May Warren's Deep Haven series that I really enjoyed. So when I saw there was another book coming out in the same series, I decided to jump on board with the blog tour organized by LitFuse. I was expecting the setting to be familiar, but was surprised that the Deep Haven of this book felt so different from the Deep Haven of the last book.

Part of the difference was in the setting. Deep Haven in winter is very different from the Deep Haven I got to know in My Foolish Heart. Plus Noelle and Eli basically live on the outskirts of town, so the story feels different in that sense. The other difference is that the couple at the center of the story, Noelle and Eli, face different circumstances. They are a married couple, with sons in their teens and twenties. Their marriage is falling apart and on the brink of divorce when Noelle loses her memory in a fall. She wakes up in the hospital thinking she is still in college, unable to remember her husband, children, or the life they had together. She has to get to know them all over again and try to reconcile herself with a life that she doesn't recognize and that her college-age self hadn't even anticipated.

There are fewer light-hearted moments in this story than in My Foolish Heart. There is a lot of pain here, and not just with a marriage on the rocks and the struggle of a family to cope and heal after Noelle's accident and resulting amnesia. Eli struggles with whether he should tell Noelle about the daughter they lost when she was killed at her job in a convenience store. Part of the reason their marriage was falling apart was because Noelle and Eli were devastated by their loss, and mourned for their daughter in different, incompatible ways. They didn't know how to comfort each other. There were also a lot of secrets going on in their marriage, as Eli developed what I would consider an emotional affair with Lee, one of Noelle's best friends, and Noelle had secrets of her own (which were difficult to work out with amnesia).

There is a good amount of suspense in this novel, with danger lurking on the edges of the story related to Noelle's accident. I wanted to know if she would regain her memory and what revelations would follow. I was also kept on pins and needles wondering what would happen between Eli and Lee, and whether they would do the right thing or not. There was also a nice side-story involving Noelle and Eli's oldest son, Kyle, and their daughter Kelsey's best friend Emma (Lee's daughter), as they get to know each other as adults and figure out what they want out of life (and love).

I really liked that the characters in this book were complicated and their relationships messy. Although I felt at times that there were too many coincidences lining up just right in the storyline, the characters and their relationships helped ground the story and made it feel more realistic. I felt frustrated with every one of the characters at different points in time, but at least it wasn't because they were too perfect--they definitely had human flaws and weaknesses. I found that I could identify with Noelle's struggle to recognize herself as she realized that the life she had led over the past 25 years was so different than what she had planned as a young adult. We kind of lose sight of those idealistic hopes and dreams for the future as we focus on present demands, worries, and decisions. It is true that my younger self would probably have a hard time recognizing the present me. It was quite thought-provoking to consider this question as I read.

So far it appears that the novels in the Deep Haven series don't really need to be read in order and stand alone quite admirably. Susan May Warren has impressed me again with the depth of her characters and the relevant issues raised within the pages of The Shadow of Your Smile. If you like Christian Fiction that makes you think and that you can sink your teeth into, I would definitely recommend it. I'm liking what I've read so far in the series, and I am looking forward to reading more.

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