Reviewed by Karin
It's rare to find a book so well written, with so much to think about. I give it 5 star out of 5 star. The beginning was slow going only because I wasn't sure where it was heading. Then I stayed up very, very late to finish it.
This is Cullen's second book, but her first book of fiction. In 2007 she was a reporter for Time Magazine when she attended a convention of pastors' wives. Her article was published in Time in 2007, but she kept thinking about the women. The result is this book, which is entertaining and thought provoking. I came close to tears. The women seem very real, and as one reviewer said, someone you would like to friend on Facebook.
Each woman's story is told in alternating chapters. Their lives entertwine at Greenleaf, a mega church in Magnolia, a suburb of Atlanta.
The characters (in the order of their appearance):
Ruthie, raised a Catholic, follows her husband Jerry, a protestant, to Greenleaf when he is hired to do their financials. He ends up shadowing Aaron, the pastor, almost as if he were Aaron's son, and doing the financials at night, that is, when he is in town. His faith becomes stronger and stronger, while she suffers a crisis of faith. She is hired to be the PR representative for the church. And immediately she becomes the liaison for a reporter who is doing an in depth article on the church. Part of her crisis of faith involves her mother's death. There are some graphic parts.
Candace is Aaron's wife, and a force in her own right. She is a complex character. She always tries to do the right thing, prays deeply, feels it is her job to protect Aaron, so for instance, she pays attention to names, so he doesn't have to. She seems very business like, but loves her grandchildren with a passion, and would do anything for her family. She recognizes her sons have flaws. We see her in action every day, and she really comes through when all that she loves is in danger of falling apart. She hires a body guard and security to shadow her husband to keep him safe. There are also security pads to enter parts of the church, which has every amenity you could think of.
Ginger is married to Timothy, one of Candace and Aaron's sons. He has seeded a new church, Newleaf, but it is in a sorry state, while he travels to the world's hot spots, leaving his wife and two children behind. Ginger has a past -- boy does she -- but Timothy's immediate love and acceptance has gone a long way to healing her. But neither of them have told his parents. When Candace becomes aware, everything changes.
The plot thickens: Divorce and separation seem like very real possibilities. There are close brushes with infidelity, for both a husband and a wife.
It seems as if someone has embezzled a lot of money from the church. But Candace keeps close watch and she's never noticed anything amiss. The bank is able to tell her what went down -- and she is able to figure out who.
And then Aaron is shot and the FBI enters.
My take: I loved this book. I enjoy reading about faith walks, even when they are fictional, but based on reality. The book is funny, touching, endearing, kind, perceptive. It shows you where the power of prayer could take you. Ultimately there is hope and love, friendship and family. I loved the characters. It's a book I might enjoy reading again, which is saying a lot. It always helps me to know where it is going to end up.