I gave this book a five star rating simply because at one point I felt compelled to stop reading, copy three paragraphs, and email it to a friend halfway around the world because she HAD to read this one part as soon as she woke up. HAD TO. A book that screams "share me now" is a good book. Period.
As for the story itself...
I am not Lutheran, so the explanations behind the symbolism used were fascinating and educational, and valuable as they helped me visualize some of the scenes at a deeper level. And even though the book was about a church committee in a church doing churchy things, it wasn't dripping with churchiness (is that even a word?) to the point where I felt like I was at the bottom of a sermon. I didn't at any time feel preached at.
The story itself is two fold. It tells of a year in the life of a church going through changes in both leadership and traditions, as well as what happens in the private lives of a few of the members of that generic Ladies' Committee found in pretty much any church, school, club, or what have you. They are bound together only by a mutual love for their church community, which leads naturally to conflict, tension, mis-understanding, practical jokes, passive aggressive comments, manipulation, and power-plays. There is also forgiveness, empathy, sympathy, bonding, a group hug, and compromise. It is well rounded, taking the reader through several highs and lows, and at no time appears flat or static. Importantly, everything is absolutely believable. It feels real. It feels honest.
The read was quick and light. I laughed out loud (literally) at several moments and sniffled back tears at a few others. The only moment that left me scratching my head involved the incident on Easter morning and Lorena. It felt too vague and I was left feeling that I wasn't getting the punchline and/or message. And I am pretty sure I am a bad person because I thought the hamster incident was incredibly funny. And I loved the whole concept of Saint Scary. And I am leaving it vague so as not to ruin it with a spoiler. My only other negative remark (if you can even call it that) is that some chapters were headed with scripture, and others just standard chapter titles. I wish all were headed with scripture as I felt those were more thought provoking and set the emotional tone without giving anything plot related away.
I haven't had the guts to try the jello salad recipe included at the end. But I love the fact it is there.
(review of free book)