It’s Book Club Day: Let’s Discuss and Win a Prize!

Renee Ann Smith —  November 29, 2010 — 38 Comments

It’s Book Club Day! And we’re discussing The Sweet By and By, co-written by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck. This book tells the story of Jade Freedom Fitzgerald, who runs a shop where she takes in vintage items and gives them new life. She loves an antique piece with an intriguing history. However, Jade is determined to keep her own history a secret from everyone in Whisper Hollow, Tennessee, including her long-suffering fiancé Max. Unfortunately for Jade, unwanted folks from her past keep popping up. Soon her new life—a life built on lies—begins crumbling around her. What’s left for Jade after her façade is stripped away? If you haven’t yet read this story, buy the book here and find out!

One of the big issues in this book is a recurring theme in literature because it is more and more frequent in real life: unresolved conflicts and unfulfilled expectations from childhood that follow a person into his/her adult years. Jade’s story reminded me that a parent’s influence on a child is far-reaching. When a parent emotionally or physically abandons a child, he or she damages that adult child’s emotional and spiritual development.

I believe God is the answer for an adult left searching for security, acceptance, and unconditional love. Consider Psalm 27:10, Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close. And Psalm 68:6 seems tailor-made for Jade’s story, God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But He makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

In her youth, Jade’s grandma tried to share God’s healing Word with her. But Jade’s refusal to listen to God’s still, quiet voice leaves her isolated and empty. The closer she gets to her wedding day, the more peace eludes her. When she visits Max’s pastor for pre-marital counseling, every question the Reverend asks seems to highlight a lie she’s told. His attempts to show her from Psalm 139 how much God loves her fall on deaf ears. The following paragraph describes Jade’s panic attack in the church:

“But the room was hot. The books and heavy furniture sucked up all the light and air. Digging her fingernails into the wood tip of the leather arm, Jade’s heart rate spiked. Why did the walls choose now to close in on her? Maybe she shouldn’t be here, chatting with God’s representative and marrying marvelous Max. She didn’t deserve him. At all. Breathing deep, Jade glanced at the exit. Could she make a run for it? But the door was closed. Her pulse drummed in her ears. Trapped. If she made a run for it, she just might never come back.

However, even after that experience, Jade continues to lie. I found Jade a bit disappointing as a heroine in that she seemed to never come clean until she was directly caught in an untruth. Until the very end of the book. And I had a problem with Max’s character, too. He wasn’t portrayed as having a strong faith himself. In fact, he told the pastor he didn’t need to know if Jade had had a conversion experience because she was a “good” person. So when he handled every lie with equanimity, he came across as somewhat shallow.

Spoilers (kind of): But I liked that eventually Jade takes responsibility for her choices. And after things come to a head, she turns to the Lord. For the first time since she was eight years old, her character experiences true peace and untainted happiness. This time when she seeks out Max’s pastor at his church, she feels at home as she listens to choir practice in the sanctuary:

“When the first chords from the piano and guitar filled the sanctuary, Jade’s heart swelled. Granny loved this song. In the sweet by and by . . . Jade hummed, eyes closed, swaying from side to side . . . we will meet on that beautiful shore . . . The peace Jade encountered the night in Beechgrove at Miss Linda’s deepened. She’d even started reading Granny’s old Bible instead of clinging to it like a stuffed toy.”

And the pastor’s words to Jade are true for all of us: “[God] loves relationships. We make it about religion, rules, and regulation. But God, He loves to be in relationship with people . . . Jesus comes to take away our guilt and shame, Jade. Why not yours? . . . Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We all mess up, make mistakes, but if there’s a yes in your heart to Him, you’re on the right path.”

As a reader, I wished to see more development in Max and Jade, especially after her conversion experience.  Maybe we’ll see that in book two: Softly and Tenderly, which is available for pre-order at this link.

Here’s the blurb that describes Jade’s continuing journey:
Happily married, and owner of two successful boutiques, Jade longs to begin a family with her husband, Max. But when she discovers a secret Max has been keeping, Jade’s life is turned upside down. She flees to her childhood home, a rambling Iowa farmhouse, with enough room to breathe. There, while her mother’s health grows fragile, and the tug of her first love grows stronger, Jade begins to question everything she thought she knew about family, love, and motherhood.

In the wide-open landscape, Jade begins to see a future that doesn’t rest on the power of her past, but in the goodness of God’s tender mercies.

This month’s book club is being hosted by Juju, at Tales of Whimsy. I’ll be linking my review to her page and adding to the discussion there. I encourage you to visit her blog through this link and add to her discussion also!

Discussion questions:

  • In the opening scene, Jade struggles with sending a wedding invitation to her mother. A deep wound has distanced them: Have you or anyone you’ve been close to struggled with inviting a parent to a personal and family-oriented event?How did you resolve your struggle?
  • In the pastor’s office, Jade has a full-blown panic attack because of her guilt and self-doubt: Have you ever had something similar happen? How long did it last? How did you respond?
  • At first, Jade and Max decide to let their pasts stay in the past: How can letting the past stay out of the present benefit your heart and relationships? How might it hinder? When is it right to talk about the past? When is it best to let issues of the past go?
  • When Jade was eight, her father left the family. This event shadowed her through life: What is the significance of a father’s presence on a son’s or daughter’s life? How has your life been impacted by the presence or absence of a parent?
  • Ultimately, there was one wedge issue that separated mother and daughter in the story: Do you and someone you care about have an unresolved issue? Do you want to resolve it?
  • It is important to remember the good years as Jade tries to do. Consider setting up a monument in your heart (on a wall in your home) to note the blessings you’ve received: If you’d like to, tell us about the kind of year you’re having.

Now how about a giveaway? I have a $10 Borders gift certificate for one fortunate winner.

Steps to enter the drawing: 1. Must be an email subscriber. Enter your email address in the space provided on the sidebar. (But you’re not done yet! Later look for an email from Doorkeeper or Feedburner in your personal email account. Follow the link provided to verify your subscription.)

2. Enter the discussion. In the comments section of this post, give your thoughts on the book and/or answer some of the discussion questions. If you haven’t read the book, you can still answer some of the discussion questions. You won’t win this drawing simply by stating, “Please enter me.”

Bonus entries: 1. Additional comments. You can return to this post to comment again or add to what others have said. The discussion will last from Monday, November 29th until Wednesday, December 1st.

***NOTE: If I post other items during those days, you can always link to this discussion through the Christian Fiction Book Club button at the top of my sidebar.

2. Like Doorkeeper on Facebook. (I’m trying out a Facebook page for the blog!)

NOTE: All that wish to be entered in the drawing, must include an email address in their initial comment. (But write your email like this jenniebee [at] gmail [dot] com and NOT like this This discourages spammers from bothering us.)

Reminder: December’s book club choice is Grace: A Christmas Sisters of the Heart Novel by Shelley Shepard Gray. It’s a fast, heart-warming read available at Walmart,, and

Thanks everyone and have a great day! Blessings!

Renee Ann Smith

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I teach literature in a Christian high school by day and write inspirational fiction by night. I love to share heart-touching quotes and stories here on my blog. So glad you stopped by!

38 responses to It’s Book Club Day: Let’s Discuss and Win a Prize!

  1. What a book for our generation! I was 35 before I was delivered from a life of rejection – rejection by my dad when he walked out. However, God does fill up that hole. God wipes away all the dirt that dysfunction throws on us. I so missed those father words a dad is supposed to give – but God, well, He gave me those Father words!

    What an awesome book review!!!!!!!

  2. I came over from SITS to say hi. What a great idea for an online book club discussion! I loved reading your review even though the book wasn’t familiar to me.

  3. WOW- what a beautiful review!! I think you got a lot out of this story where I didnt. Its so fun to see how books effect different people.

    • Welcome, Tina! I just visited your site and left a comment on your review. Unfortunately, I could totally relate to your discussion question answer about the struggle in finding balance between reaching out to that difficult family member and enabling them. It’s a tough balance! . . . I bookmarked your blog so I could return later and read more of your posts! Blessings!

  4. Great Review! I really enjoyed the story this month. In many ways it was a reflection of my life and learning to accept that God was the only Father I needed. When I did that all of the other things started falling into place.

    • I just read your review, Gina, and love it that this book had such power in your life! I commented in more detail there–but thanks for all that you shared in your discussion question answers. Your testimony is an encouragement!

  5. What an excellent review. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that had issues with Jade. I found my self continuously wondering, how is this marriage ever going to work? I too have high hopes for the next book and I really hope to see more of her siblings.

    Did you read the summary for the next book? I get a feeling Max has been hiding his own share of drama 😉

    Thanks for linking up.

    BTW, Quite creative of you to turn this into a contest! Brilliant! You will make an excellent CFBC hostess some day.

  6. PS Great point about the far reaching influence of parents.

  7. I haven’t read this book yet, but your review of the lying kind of got to me…I think we are all guilty of those white lies from time to time and I know I need to watch myself more.
    jacque twinmomx5 at gmail dot com

    • I’m not so worried about the little white lies. I’m always amazed when I end up lying to myself–because you’d think I’d know better by now! But somehow denial seems easier than facing things I don’t want to . . . sigh . . . Glad you stopped by, Jacque!

  8. You are right about Max. He did seem like he had some maturing to do. I hadn’t read the summary for the next book until you posted it, so I see know his character was portrayed like that on purpose. It seems like his issues will rear up in the next book. Great review, and I agree with Juju, brilliant idea for a contest!

    • I know Rachel is one of your favorites, Joy, so I’ll have to read Dining with Joy to see what her writing is normally like. I also was encouraged to see that this book was kind of laying the background for book 2. It made me more interested in seeing what happens with the characters!

  9. I can relate a little to the first quesion, not with a parent, but with a very close friend. We had some ongoing issues over a period of time and I decided not to invite her to do something (sorry for being so vague). We resolved things about a year later and I have been sorry ever since for that decision to not invite her. I should have been a better person, so that I had no regrets in not inviting her or better yet I should have made a better effort to resolve things earlier.

    I agree with Joy about Max. I was thinking before I read her comment that Max must have something in his past or be understanding in some way for him to be so accepting of Jade, so it makes complete sense that we would find out more in a second book.

    Thanks for the review.

    • I had a rift with a friend and now that I look back, it was soooo petty! But at the time what she had done really hurt me. In my effort to punish her, I almost ruined our friendship. Thankfully, both of us gave it to the Lord in time . . . And I agree now about Max–I think I’ll like him better in the second book. Glad you shared here, Tressa!

  10. My dad has played a very important role in my life. He has taught me how a man should treat a lady and how to give unconditional love. I am so thankful for his positive influences in my life. After reading in this review I am putting this book on my Christmas wish list.

    • I’m glad, Karen! It’s definitely a book that brings out lots of issues and even emotions in the folks who read it! A dad can be such a wonderful influence in a girl’s life. Sounds like yours was one of the good guys!

  11. This is such a beautifully written review. I agree with you that, as characters, Jade and Max are very flawed. I think that is why I liked them so much! I could learn from their imperfections. I am so excited to read what happens next in their lives.

    • I just popped over to your site to read your review. Great idea to have mothers and daughters read this together! I, too, am interested in finding out what comes next. I guess with all the story questions still to be answered, the authors were hoping we’d react that way!

  12. my sister and i love reading. i should go back to your site often to see what books to read next! i am putting sara evans’ book in my christmas list for my sister. i’m sure she’s gonna love this.

  13. I can relate. There are members of my extended family that are quite difficult to deal with. Something I could stand to pray about more often.

    • I guess this time of year especially highlights the struggle we feel when dealing with those folks. Prayer is the only way to get that extra bit of love and patience that can help us be truly peaceful about all the family stuff!

  14. This books sounds really interesting. I enjoyed reading your review (though I skipped the spoiler section because I’d like to read it).

  15. I think my father presence in my life has made a huge difference! He was my hero. I wanted to be just like him. Thankfully he is the godliest man I know and taught me the Scriptures since before I can remember. I am blessed! laughwithusblog at yahoo dot com

  16. I “liked” you page on facebook and subscribed by email! 🙂

  17. Wow, this is a great review and now I’m sorry I didn’t make the time to read this. I guess I will have to rectify that soon. Renee Ann, I would love to be in one of your classes. 🙂

    Unresolved conflicts from childhood…what a striking theme and one far too many of us struggle with (and I would be lying if I said I never have). Its beautiful the way God brings these things out and forces us to deal with them…all to His glory though.

    • So true! Things surfaced in my life years after they happened, but I guess God knew by then I’d have the people and resources in my life to deal with them. But it’s surprising how they can come creeping back when I least expect it! Keeps me close to the Lord! I’m so glad you’re with your kids each day. When they see your love for them “up close and personal” it prevents so many misunderstandings! Keep on keeping on, Julia!

      • Oh–and I would have been blessed to have you in a class! I still keep up with some of my students who are off teaching and raising families and such. I’ll be “interviewing” several of them in the coming months.

  18. This book looks very interesting. I think that people who set up their whole life as a series of lies it is very hard to give up the lying. It becomes like a security blanket to them. I’ll definitely have to check out this book as I had not seen it before.

  19. I’ve become a facebook fan

  20. This drawing has ended and the prize has been sent! Blessings!

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