Newly available in paperback, and the first in a series by multiple authors, BACK HOME AGAIN delivers just what its cover promises --- a nice, faith-filled escapist read. Veteran author Melody Carlson (who has written more than 90 books) pens book one in the Tales from Grace Chapel Inn.
The saga of three aging sisters begins as they succumb to the Christian fiction cliché: turning their family's old Victorian house into a bed and breakfast. Yes, you've seen this in so many other Christian novels, but Carlson is a competent author and crafts a relatively smooth story around this worn plot idea. The house is in need of paint and a new roof, and hasn't been kept up for many decades. Alice, the protagonist, notes, "Of course, she knew the house was run down, but it was a friendly sort of wornness, like a pair of old slippers that had been properly broken in, or so it seemed to her." The three Howard sisters converge upon the rambling Victorian after their father's death, and their inheritance proves to be a turning point for their future.
Alice is an even-tempered nurse looking into retirement, Louise a feminine "fuddy-duddy" musician who teaches piano, and Jane a free spirit and new divorcee who is artistically inclined and enjoys cooking a good meal. Some mild tension ensues as they squabble over paint chips, wallpaper samples and the direction of the B&B, but Alice the peacekeeper smoothes everything over without a lot of trouble. More remodeling glitches lie ahead, but faith and family lend resilience to the women, and readers will never feel more than a mild concern that the eventual outcome will be just fine.
The setting is Acorn Hill, Pennsylvania, a quiet town whose most avant-garde business is Nine Lives Bookstore where Viola Reed, the owner, is quick to criticize the customer's taste in books. (This reviewer, a former bookseller, would like to note that this seems bad for business.) Plainly named, The Coffee Shop provides opportunities for readers to meet other members of Acorn Hill, including Craig, the owner of a small florist business called Wild Things, and Hope, the proprietor of the coffee business.
Acorn Hill is one of those timeless small towns that eschew change, and when the sisters begin their renovations some mild tension ensues. Several of the church board movers and shakers of Grace Chapel next door are upset that the former parsonage is about to become a business, and some of the townsfolk are up in arms that the color of the house is changing from peach to the original hues. "…There are plenty of folks in this town who like things just fine the way they are," notes Alice's walking companion, Vera. But the plucky Alice replies, "Sometimes change is good."
Aunt Ethel provides some light conflict when she can't control her tongue, but the family fracas never really progresses to anything heavy. Forgiveness and apologies are abundant and never long in coming when needed. Faith is woven throughout the lives of the sisters, whether Alice is attending a church board meeting and navigating the diverse personalities there, or creating the motto for the B&B, "A place where God is at home."
Some wordiness and repetition of words slow down the pacing, and there's not much depth to the story or the characters. But this is a pleasant, restful read that won't tax you; a nice escape from reality that promises nothing more upsetting than remodeling troubles or a few mildly troublesome relatives. Pick up this story on a cold winter's afternoon along with a cup of hot chocolate, or on a day at the beach when you want something light and soothing. If you enjoy BACK HOME AGAIN, look for book two in the series, RECIPES AND WOODEN SPOONS, by Judy Baer.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on October 15, 2006