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Stealing Home: A Novel - Allison Pittman Grade: A+ “Don’t worry. This is baseball. There’s always a second chance.”My full review is really long, so here's a few highlights. Actually more than a few, because I highlighted approximately half the book.In summary: Allison Pittman knows her history and her baseball, and she understands the elusive art of "show, don't tell." And her handling of the faith messages absolutely BLEW ME AWAY.The set-upPicksville, Missouri – March 1905:Dave was sending her a man. And he was coming on the two-o’clock train.The settingJust envision Picksville as a Missouri version of The Music Man's River City, Iowa:...If she were to run into any of these same people in the town square, while running errands in the Picksville shops, they might walk right past her or make a quick detour into the butcher’s shop. But here, if they wanted her to slide that ticket through the little archway cut into the glass, they’d have to engage in a bit of conversation.With some Field of Dreams mixed in......The normally terse transactions through the dome-shaped hole in her ticket booth window blossomed into questions about the field — when would it be completed? Who would play there? Was Mr. Dennison planning to bring the entire team to town?Duke built it, and the people came:...The old men on Duke’s team seemed to step out of their graying skin and recapture some of the vigor they must have had when they were the life force of the town — before desks and shops and farms took their hearts.The story-telling and atmosphere and characterizationThe author gives us revolving POVs of the four main characters, with the occasional interstitial backstory or scene-setting in the form of telegrams, newspaper articles, church bulletin announcements, etc.You’re probably cringing, because we all know when that framework doesn’t work, it takes the whole story down with it. But, boy howdy, Pittman pulls it off, and she really knows how to do the “show, don’t tell” thing:Duke: "They don’t trust a drunkard to get a hit. If my judgment’s off by this much,” Duke held up his hand and closed one eye, pinching Miss Elijah Jane Voyant’s head between his thumb and forefinger, “I won’t be able to pull a double play.”Ellie Jane: "Good heavens, Mr. Dennison.” Ellie Jane brought a hand to her breast, as if to still a pounding heart. “I think it’s a good thing you have your celebrity to save you from your dismal flattery.”Ned: "I want to take the field with Cy Young and Cap Anson.” Ned gave a little punch to each signed letter, his fingers moving deftly with each transition. “I want my face on a card in a package of Old Judge cigarettes.” For added effect, he assumed the slouch he’d seen the older boys take on when they stood outside the dormitory and smoked under the gaslight. “And finally,” he said, allowing a dramatic pause, “I want dozens of beautiful girls lined up to give me kisses after the game.”Morris: It’s a whole page of pictures of white boys wearin striped shirts. They all look like miniature Mr. Dukes without the moustache, standin with their arms on their hips and their chests puffed out. Like they had some kind of power. I look at that and figure that’s why Mr. Duke is always tellin me to stand up straight like my mama hasn’t ever told me to.One more Ned: His eyes bored into the back of Duke Dennison’s neck. He’d seen a magician once — one of the many diversions an adventurous boy in a big city could find — who had made his beautiful, scantily clad assistant disappear in a puff of smoke. If Ned’s eyes held half the power of that magician’s wand, Duke would be nothing more than a pinkie ring left spinning on a pew.The romanceThe best inspie authors — [a:Deeanne Gist|52609|Deeanne Gist|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1224204169p2/52609.jpg], [a:Julie Klassen|928415|Julie Klassen|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1351867046p2/928415.jpg], [a:Siri Mitchell|5813022|Siri Mitchell|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1352152625p2/5813022.jpg], and now I’m adding Pittman to my list — create swoon-worthy heroes and HEA-worthy heroines, and give them all the flirting and passion and unrequited love required for even the most jaded romance readers.“It matters because I love you, Ellie Jane.”“You do?” She pulled her hand away and tried her best to look irresistible.Apparently, she succeeded.His kiss was soft and warm, gentle and chaste against her lips. She felt a certain heat spreading through her body — not the rolling explosion that rocked her the night she kissed Duke, or even the electric current from a few minutes ago, but a slow, steadily growing fire, melting her from within. Every bone turned to wax, dripping down inside, hardening into a relentless ball at her core, then starting all over again.It ended too soon, in the middle of a melting moment. When Ned drew his lips away, she kept her eyes closed and tried to follow, opening them only to find that he stood tall above her, looking down with eyes that, even in the growing shadows, held flickers of all that had nearly consumed her.“I’ve waited six years to do that,” he said.“Why?”“Because I couldn’t even get you to look at me.”“No,” Ellie Jane said, harnessing all those lonely years behind her question. “Why did you wait?”He bent low and placed one more quick kiss on her lips. “I didn’t have a choice.”That *thud* you heard was my Kindle hitting floor. Again.The baseball bromanceI know that “bromance” isn't the most appropriate term for this subheading, but I couldn’t think of anything that describes the relationship that evolves between Morris and Duke. Morris isn’t just a rookie player without a coach, and Duke is much more than a paternalistic mentor to the lonely boy....Now so far this has turned out to be a million dollar day and I can’t even think of anything that would make it better. Then Mr. Duke comes down off that front porch and he’s smilin bigger than a quarter moon. Come back here, he says, and I open the gate and follow him to the backyard. Then he says, Here you are, and hands me a brand new glove.Eventually, Duke decides it’s time to take his new protégé public, so he recruits Ned to be the first witness to Morris’s phenomenal talent....The minute the ball left the boy’s hand, Ned saw nothing but the gray leather orb barreling right down the line. As it came closer and closer, he tensed for impact. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the bat cut through the air, but just a breath too late because the ball was now cradled safely in his glove, and the bat dangled uselessly in Duke’s hand. Ned had never seen a man so proud to swing a strike.Morris obviously needs a bigger playing field, which leads to Duke laying out base paths in the vacant lot next to the train depot. He builds it, and the people come.And I can't tell you what happens after that because, you know, SPOILERS. Let's just say you'll need to have a BIG box of kleenex handy.The faith messagesIn a recent contemporary inspirational I read, the hero is basically shamed into going to church, and then he Sees The Light when he cracks open the Good Book for the first time and a Magical Bible Verse pops out and smacks him on the head. Not so much in this book.Saturday afternoon means one thing. Church. There’s no way my mama’s gonna let me skip out on it to play baseball. So I tell him the problem — nothin about the money just about church.He looks real surprised and says, On a Saturday?I say, Yeah. We’re Adventists and that’s when we go. Every Saturday, four o’clock....Mr. Duke laughs and says that’s why he never went in for church — might interfere with his baseball.I tell him there ain’t any reason why a fellow couldn’t have both but if he had to choose well baseball couldn’t ever offer up the kind of promises the Lord can. What kind of hope can you have in a game?He picks up the ball and tosses it from hand to hand a few times before he talks again. He says when he was just about my age he had nothin to give him any kind of hope.I say, That’s a shame because God and baseball was both around back then.He says his old man never would’ve let him have either one.But wait - we're not done with this scene yet....Right then Mr. Duke and I are at a place where we’re just the same. Hard to tell who’s the boy and who’s the man because all I want to do is try to take away the sadness that’s come over his face. I’m thinkin maybe I can help him know God the way he helped me know baseball and in my heart I know there’s room enough for both. So even though I’m not real sure how I’m gonna make it happen I tell him that I’ll be here this afternoon for the game.He says, What about your Holy Spirit?I tell him it’s not my Holy Spirit it’s God’s and it’s with me all the time. The rest of the church is on their own.Then just because it seems the thing to do I rip off half of the sweet roll and hand it over to him. He puts the whole hunk in his mouth so I put the rest in mine and we just sit there and chew and chew while the minutes of the mornin waste away.I’ll give you a moment to recover from that.That was about halfway into the book. I was already sold by chapter two, and completely hooked by the time Morris put on that brand-new glove. So naturally I thought that scene would be the spiritual high point, because it really couldn’t get any better.I WAS WRONG.A few chapters later, we get Morris’s play-by-play and color commentary as he’s sitting by himself in the town square on an ordinary Sunday morning. And I swear to God (sacred-wise, of course), this scene just about killed me. In the best possible way.I can hear them singin from the churches all around me. Seems they sing so slow like their spirits are all tied up in some fancy wrap. Can’t imagine their women cryin or their men on the floor eyes up to Jesus. Maybe in their church they like to sit real still so the Holy Spirit will know how to find them. Kind of settle in the gaps and fill up the room. Not like our church where we keep Him hoppin.But then even this quiet settles down into a quiet I don’t know I’ve ever heard. Round my house even dead of night you hear people talkin. Hear them fightin when the man comes home late or hear them lovin each other in the dark. This is white quiet. I don’t know if we could ever sound like this on my side of the railroad tracks.Must be the preacher’s time. All that talk about Jesus and His life and His love — can’t be too different from church to church. I ain’t never had a Bible of my own but I heard enough of it to know what it says and the same Lord that loves me loves them just the same.It’s like what Mr. Duke taught me about pitchin baseball. Every man — short, fat, tall, or slim — has the same strike zone. That same invisible box between his knees and his heart. Some churches just swing a little higher than others.I wonder what kind of noise they’d make if I took it upon myself to just wander right in. How loud would those heads be turnin around? If that would rattle them out of what they know to do. If it would throw them off their worship game.But I don’t because right now I’m in the sweet spot. Like I’m square in the middle of a perfect throw. God’s lookin down and seein me — one black boy in the middle of a green, green park surrounded by lily-white noise.This mornin this is my church.THIS is why I have inspirationals amongst all the smut on my Kindle.For more excerpts and SPOILERS, read the full review.