Book Review & Giveaway
By Cathy Bryant on April 20, 2009
Higher Hope by Robert Whitlow is a legal thriller in the style of John Grisham, and his second book in the Tides Of Truth series.
Set in beautiful Savannah, Georgia, it tells the story of Tami Taylor, a summer law clerk for the Braddock, Appleby and Carpenter law firm.
Because of her strict religious upbringing, she is assigned to a case involving a caustic preacher-turned-prophet, who goes by the name of Sister Dabney. This poses a huge moral dilemma for Tami. Will her conscience allow her to take part in a case against one of God's anointed?
In addition to this quandry, she has not one, but two honorable Christian men vying for her attention--Zach Mays, an associate with the firm, and Vince Colbert, another summer intern. Several chapters near the beginning of the book cover the experience of Tami taking Zach to Powell Station, Georgia, a rural community where her parents, two sisters and two brothers live.
These chapters are tense and full of conflict since Tami's parents have raised her to respect their religious views concerning relationships with people outside their church. Even though Zach is a Christian, his own upbringing in a California communal-type church (and the length of his hair, which he wears in a ponytail) stand in sharp contrast to her parent's beliefs.
These opening chapters also serve to help us understand why Tami is the way she is, which helps us understand her behavior and reactions in later chapters of the book.
Here are some things I especially enjoyed about this book:
One dialogue skill that writers have to learn to employ is subtexting, or showing the deeper meaning behind a character's words. This story is loaded with examples of subtexting.
Here's an example. (To set up the line, Tami and her mother are preparing breakfast, and talking about Tami's relationship with Zach. Although the comment appears to be about eggs, her mother is really referring to Zach's ability to weather the storms of life.)
"These eggs can be stubborn," she said. "They're so soft to eat you wouldn't think they would stick so hard to the pan. Things don't always react to heat and pressure the way we think they will."
Robert Whitlow has a clean writing style and voice. Consider this paragraph from Tami's point-of-view:
I walked slowly upstairs, Mama had seen more than she told me. (referring to her mother's prophetic ability) I was sure of it. But I had no idea what it might be. God knows the past, present, and future, all at once, and sometimes he lets people like Mama have a peek. The rest of us have to walk by faith--and hope we don't stumble beyond recovery.
Interesting Point-of-View Technique
The author uses first-person POV for the majority of the story, as told through the character of Tami. All other scenes are seen through the eyes of Sister Dabney, and told in third-person POV.
The more I study the craft of writing, the more I become convinced of the importance of injecting snippets of humor into the manuscript. Whitlow does this well. Here's an example, when Tami is thinking about her brother's and father's cattle business.
I loved the cute calves with their rough tongues. It always bothered me that they were so soon destined for the slaughterhouse; however, unless sold for veal, the male offspring of dairy cows were often killed at birth. Cattle culture was one society where being male was a huge negative.
Even though this was a story about a young woman and her experiences in the legal profession, a strong spiritual thread was woven throughout this entire book: in this case, a story of a higher hope that awaits all believers.
Use of Rhetorical Device
I've recently learned of the importance of using rhetorical device in writing to deepen the emotional impact the story has on the reader. Here are a couple of examples from this story:
Hope can take long vacations.
Dread crawled up my throat.
In spite of the liberal dousing with sunscreen, my skin felt prickly when Zach dropped me off at Mrs. Fairmont's house.
There are thousands of ways to describe sunburn, but this one felt fresh to me.
Attention To Detail
There had been a thunderstorm in the night, and green leaves were scattered on the sidewalk and into the street. The leaves had been plucked prematurely from the branches by the violence of the storm and would never fulfill summer's purpose or reveal fall's glory. Whatever, happened, I didn't want my storm to rob me or allow a wordly outlook to direct my steps.
Notice how the author used the storm to reflect what was going on in Tami's life.
As a homeschooler I'd never been summoned to the principal's office, of course, but I suspected this was how it felt. I walked a step behind Ms. Patrick, too numb with apprehension to ask her a question. I brushed my hair behind my ears, knowing it would immediately fall back into place. Mr. Carpenter's secretary didn't look up as I passed--the reaction of a bystander not wanting to have eye contact with the condemned.
More fresh writing, as the author lets us experience first-hand the nervousness Tami feels.
This was an enjoyable read by a gifted author. I found the story interesting and fascinating, especially the character of Sister Dabney in relationship to the main character, Tami Taylor. The connection between them can only the explained by God's Spirit indwelling each of them.
To be entered in the drawing for this book, leave a comment with a way for me to contact you if you're the winner!
NOTE: We have several posts this week in our ongoing topic of discussion on How To Write Character Emotion. Every one of our emotions this week are exhibited by characters in this book. For every Character & Emotion discussion you comment to this week on WordVessel, I'll put your name in the hat again for the drawing of this book!
(Leave a comment at http://wordvessel.blogspot.com to be entered in the drawing.)