Marlene Queens is a woman with great intentions stuck in the wrong situations. As the protagonist of Lori Copland’s book Simple Gifts, we follow her through her return to her hometown of Parnass Springs. After running away from home to get married, she returns as an adult woman to settle the estate of her late Aunt Beth. She soon realizes that she will have to face the past she ran away from those many years ago.
Marlene intends to stay only a short while, but a long string of problems unravel that make her departure quite difficult. Vic, her childhood sweetheart, bears no grudge and attempts to renew the friendship he once had with her. Her Aunt Ingrid dominates Marlene’s time. The elderly woman drags Marlene into a petty dispute with her deceased ex-husband’s most recent wife. The two bitter women abuse any compassion that Marlene has. She’s also faced with the dilemma her father’s legacy has left the entire town. To make matters worse, her hopelessly dependant daughter Sara calls frequently begging for her to come back to their home.
Although a good-natured person, Marlene struggles deeply with telling the truth. The dilemmas she faces reveal the flaws of her personality. In her attempts to secure everyone’s happiness, she neglects the will of God and ends up causing more problems. She bends too easily to her daughter, a young woman who refuses to take care of herself. Instead of standing up for the truth, Marlene succumbs to her aunt. On Marlene’s heart is a deep burden of guilt for the lies she’s told and bad decisions she made. The troubling secret she refuses to tell Vic (or even Joe, his father) traps Marlene deeper into her forest of lies. The emotions she represses toward Vic expose her weakness with the truth. The romantic story between these two, however, gives the book an unforgettable spark.
Copeland appears to know very well what a woman in that position would do. The personality of Marlene is vivid and natural. Although all characters are viewed through Marlene’s eyes, their intentions are portrayed well. A deep sense of sarcastic humor is strewn throughout the story to make the characters edgy and entertaining. She places Marlene in situations that try not only physical and mental issues, but also cause a deep, spiritual battle that all humans must face within. My only critique would be that despite the appearance of excellent trials, the characters were not as vivid as they could have been, and dialogue is at times simplistic and flat.
Lori Copeland shows excellent perception throughout Simple Gifts. I would not suggest this story to a younger crowd who are less “life savvy,” but a mature woman in her middle ages or later years would appreciate the book far more. Even if the dialogue is not wonderful, the book does carry with it a meaningful lesson: it teaches readers the value of being appreciative of the small gifts that the Lord gives us. – Melissa Kerkhoff, Christian Book Previews.com
Can anything else go wrong? Marlene Queens goes home to Parness Springs, Missouri, to put her late Aunt Beth’s house on the market and settle the estate. But once she’s back home, Marlene suddenly finds herself in over her head. Her Aunt Ingrid grows more demanding by the day. Marlene discovers her childhood sweetheart is now the local vet and the town’s acting mayor. And when a group of citizens want to put up a statue in memory of Marlene’s father—the parent who always embarrassed her as a child—Marlene is unwillingly swept into a firestorm of controversy.
As one thing leads to another, Marlene sees her entire life being rearranged before her eyes. Parness Springs may never be the same. Marlene fears that the secret she’s kept for years may be revealed. Can God work a miracle so she can finally have the future she’s longed for?