Marlene Queens returns to Parness Springs, Missouri, to help wrap up her elderly Aunt Beth's affairs and becomes involved in the various disputes and problems of her kin. Since Marlene has a lot of family intrigue, this carries the novel much farther than one might expect. In fact, the book itself is much better than one might expect, given the lightweight and cliched fluff that fills many inspirational romances (yes, even the spiritually minded sometimes turn to mush when love is in the air).
Lori Copeland has written a number of books and sold over three million copies --- so she clearly knows something about what fans are looking for, and that seems to involve smart, sassy narration. Marlene opens her story by telling us that her life, just as Forrest Gump's mother said, really is like a box of chocolates: "… and someone had eaten the creams and left me the nuts." (The candy metaphors are numerous, and include references to Payday candy bars, caramels and more.)
Slowly, Marlene realizes that the nuts are far more nutritious and long-lasting than those easy-to-eat creams. Our heroine is by no means the lithe, beautiful ingenue of many a romance: she has an overly dependent daughter, a case of diabetes and an old flame in Parness Springs whose path she has to cross now that she's coming home --- because he's the acting mayor. Despite the eccentricities and demands of her elderly relatives, Marlene finds herself struggling to keep her life together and her lifelong secret hush-hush.
Naturally, neither of these efforts meets with success. What fun would it be if they did? Marlene's great sin is not lying, but pride, which is something that so many readers will recognize in themselves. While she may have lied to keep her "secret" (no spoilers here!), the motivation behind her lying is the all-too-common sin of pride.
SIMPLE GIFTS is a fast read --- some might say a simple one --- but like strawberries and cream or peach cobbler in the summer, it's simplicity of the finest kind. This is a book I highly recommend for your end-of-summer beach bag.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on April 24, 2007