When talking with friends about books, I observed that most who had never heard of Francine Rivers were enveloped in books by Karen Kingsbury. I, in turn, who loves Rivers's books, had never read anything by Kingsbury. With reluctance, I grabbed one: Fame. Twenty pages in I realized something was amiss. I called my closest Kingsbury fanatic, Julie, and asked her what was up.
"You can't start with that one! It's in the middle."
"But it's the first book of the series."
"Yes, but it's the second series. You have to start with Redemption."
So, back to the bookstore I went.
I quickly discovered some stylistic choices of this author's writing that really annoyed me. I did not want her to be one of my favorite authors. But when I confess to reading thirteen of her books in less than two months, well, I have to face the facts. She's a good writer who creates amazing characters. She may be melodramatic at times and a bit too redundant in places, but I can't stop reading her books. That says something.
Now, without further ado, here is the Redemption series by Karen Kingsbury and Gary Smalley. (Yes, this first series was written with well-known counselor, author and relationship guru, Gary Smalley.)
Here we meet the Baxter family. John and Elizabeth have five children: Brooke, Kari, Ashley, Erin and Luke. Each of the five books in the Redemption series focuses on one of these kids. They're not really kids, though. Luke, a college student, is the youngest. Brooke, Kari and Erin are all married. Brooke and her husband have two kids and Ashley is a single mom of one. The family lives in Bloomington, Indiana, a town which becomes a character in itself.
Kari is the central figure in this first book. A part-time model married to a literature professor at Indiana University, Kari watches her life turn upside-down when her husband has an affair with one of his students. Her husband moves out, not wanting reconciliation. Kari's Her family is divided over what she should do, and her faith is tested. These events coincide with the timely return of her high school boyfriend who has just retired from the NFL.
This was definitely my least favorite of all the books, but it still resonated with me enough to pull me into the next books. In my opinion, this had too many flashbacks, too much redundancy, and too much psychology. I felt I spent too much time in Kari's head waiting for her to actually do something. That said, this was still an okay book. It teaches love is a choice and holds a wonderful story of redemption that reaches far within the family. The best part of this book is the family. They possess a faith that is rare today. I hope to emulate their prayer lives, their consistent dependence on God in my life.
Remember (Book 2)
Available in Paperback, Kindle and Audio CD. Tyndale House Publishers, 2003; 432 pages.
Ashley is the central character in the second book. An artist, Ashley feels like the black sheep of the Baxter family. She moved to Paris shortly after high school and returned a year later pregnant and jaded. Now she doesn't believe in God and doesn't conform to the perfect image everyone seems to expect of her. She keeps her family at a distance, only calling to have them watch her young son, Cole. Trying to make it on her own, she takes a job at a home for Alzheimer's patients. As these forgotten people help her remember the importance of family and faith, September 11th rips her life apart. Landon, a friend who has patiently and lovingly pursued her since middle school, risks his life and their relationship to help his fellow firefighters at Ground Zero.
Meanwhile, Luke and his girlfriend, Reagan, enter dangerous territory in their relationship. She returns to Manhattan after 9/11 to be with her mother and to search for her father whose office was in one of the collapsed towers.
This was a great book! It was difficult to read the details of 9/11, especially having lived in NY when it happened. But the relationships Ashley builds with the tender people under her care are amazing and inspiring. This was probably my favorite book in this series. It was excellent. Again, there were a number of flashbacks, but the author includes these so each book can stand on its own. I assert, however, that anyone who picks up one of these books will read more than just that one.
Book 3 is all about the Baxter's golden boy and only son, Luke. On September 10th, he and Reagan made a decision they can't reverse and now they aren't even speaking. After God doesn't answer his prayer to save the life of Reagan's father, Luke turns his back on God. Luke tumbles into doubt and despair, a spiral that leaves him estranged from his family, denying the existence of God and in a hedonistic relationship with an atheist classmate. Ironically, Ashley, the sister Luke has publicly despised, is the only one able to reach him.
Meanwhile, Ashley's art gains interest from a gallery. Her relationship with Landon continues, albeit with rocky spots, and an all-too-tangible reminder of her past.
Another great, heart-wrenching book. Kingsbury does a wonderful job maintaining the theme in each of her books. This was obvious in Remember and again here in Return. I love Ashley. She's the character I most relate to, so any book that features her is a book I enjoy. This one did run a bit dramatic between Ashley and Landon, but it's the oozy-sentimental drama Lifetime was created for, the sappy-gotta-drag-it-out-but-we-love-it foundation of most chick flicks.
The fourth book of this series focuses on Brooke and Erin. Brooke's picture-perfect life is shattered when her younger daughter nearly drowns, an event that rocks their marriage and begs them to re-evaluate their beliefs. Meanwhile, Erin's marriage also struggles under the pressure of infertility and a possible relocation through her husband's job. The Baxter family is being stretched from Bloomington to New York and now Texas.
This book challenged my faith and highlighted by skepticism. The characters show an undying loyalty in the midst of trials, a trait I sometimes lack. When I would rather throw in the towel, these characters persevere and seem to always come out stronger than before. It's an encouraging book.
Much happens in this final book of the series. A family reunion and a wedding are being planned. Erin and Sam, now living in Texas, seek to adopt a child, but find the process complicated when the birth mother changes the rules. When Elizabeth discovers her cancer has returned, an old secret resurfaces and sends John on a whole new journey.
The flashbacks return in this book. The subplot with Erin is great, and the secret sets up the next series of Baxter Family Dramas: The Firstborn Series. I cried and rejoiced with this finale. I love this family. They are an example to follow, a standard to strive toward. With their unshakable faith and devotion to one another, they make Bloomington, Indiana, seem like an oasis. I wonder if the population has risen since these books were published?
Final Thoughts: Definitely recommended. If you're looking for chick-lit/Christian drama to stengthen your faith, read these books. Again, the author's writing style is not always my preference, but she is amazing with her characters. They are thoroughly developed; more than endearing, her characters are like friends whom you'll miss when you close the book.
Special Note: If you've read this far, you may be interested to know all the Audio CDs feature abridged versions of the text. (I'm guessing it just omits all the repeated flashbacks.) You can also purchase the entire series as a boxed set in Audio CD. Visit the author's website at http://www.karenkingsbury.com/.