Thursday, 15 May 2014

Book Review: The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate

by Iola Goulton

Tandi Reese has escaped with her two children to Fairhope, a small village in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She’s broke, trying to escape her controlling husband and hopefully find herself and reconnect with her children, Zoey and JT. She rents a cottage on the grounds of a run-down stately home, owned by a reclusive old lady, Iola Anne Poole.

Soon after moving in, she finds Iola Anne dead, and is given the job of clearing the house in exchange for rent. While cleaning, she finds dozens of prayer boxes filled with letters, prayers from Iola Anne to her heavenly father, in which she has poured out the details of her life.

I will admit I didn’t actually buy this novel based on the cover blurb. I bought it because it had a character named Iola (even though Iola is dead by the time the novel starts). Iola isn’t exactly a common name, and I was intrigued.

My curiosity was rewarded: The Prayer Box was certainly worth reading. It’s been nominated for the 2014 Christy Awards in the Contemporary Fiction category, and it’s got to be a strong contender. The plot is tightly-woven, the characters are real and interesting, and the writing is excellent.

While The Prayer Box is written by a Christian author and published by a Christian publisher, it’s not preachy come-to-Jesus Christian fiction, but the nature and theme of the novel—prayer—is certainly Christian. The Prayer Box is about a broken woman with a life full of mistakes trying to rediscover herself, slowly realising that her identity is about her, not about her boyfriend or husband:
I wasn’t looking for Iola in these boxes. I was looking for myself, for the answer to the question I’d be asking and avoiding for years. How do you finally move beyond the past?
I don’t know why Lisa Wingate chose Iola for her character’s name. I don’t even know if she knows the meaning of the name. It’s a fascinating choice that underpins the book. Common wisdom is that Iola is a Greek name, meaning “violet-coloured dawn”—which doesn’t fit at all.

But I’ve always been told my name was Welsh, and after some online research a couple of years ago, I found the Welsh meaning of my name. It’s not “violet-coloured dawn”.

It’s “valued by the Lord”. And that’s what The Prayer Box is all about: Iola Anne Poole, who I believe knew she was valued by the Lord despite what others said about her, and Tandi Reese, who learned she was valued by the Lord, that she was the carpenter’s daughter both literally and spiritually.

Recommended.

Here's Lisa Wingate talking about the inspiration behind The Prayer Box:



You can find more about Lisa Wingate and her novels at her website.

11 comments:

  1. I've had this on my kindle for a little while. Must put it high on my list. Does sound good.

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    1. I only started reading it when I found it was a finalist for the Christy Award, and I'm glad I did.

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  2. What a worthwhile story, Iola. Thanks for such an intriguing review. I'll download that to my Kindle. I do connect with its premise as I found what I'd written in an old journal written 30yrs ago. And it thrilled me to realize these prayer requests of mine had been answered in such wonderful ways.
    ' Valued by the Lord' - lovely - and sounds similar to our surname, 'Galieh', which means very precious. And that can only be to the Lord.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that, Rita! Being able to look back and see the answers to prayer is hugely encouraging.

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    2. I have actually been in contact with an author whose name sounds so similar to mine I have been tagged in F/book by the confusion resulting from it. Her name is Rita Gerlach , a historical romance writer. That's why I use my middle name. Rita Stella Galieh is less likely to be mistaken. (BTW, Rita is battling cancer right now.)

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  3. Oh, wow! How cool is that. Valued by the Lord. I admit, however, to really liking violet-coloured dawn. That's like the special shade of 'rose purple' that symbolises the season of Advent. Apparently the colours of Lent are to be differentiated from the colours of Advent by this subtle shading which is emblematic of the pre-dawn sky.

    Thanks, too, Rita for the meaning of 'Galieh'.

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    1. I will admit that violet is one of my favourite colours, and I like the way it links to the Advent season. Perhaps I can claim both meanings of my name!

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  4. Iola, fascinating review! It's interesting how it was the shared name that first drew you to the story. I wonder how often that happens? Or, if it's only meaningful for those of us with unusual names? The story sounds intriguing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. I suspect those of us with unusual names are more likely to do this than a person named Jane or Mary. I haven't seen any Narelle's in fiction ...

      I once read a novel where one of the main characters was named Paul Ignatius Greatoreaux (not sure if I'm spelling that right). One of the reviewers was ... Paul Ignatius Greatoreaux, Like me, he'd read the novel simply because of the name. It was a Christian novel, and he'd enjoyed it even though he wasn't a Christian.

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    2. Now that is a cool "coincidence". Imagine finding your name - and such an uncommon one at that - as a fictional character. Is there a moment of unease as you wonder what way the author is going to present your name to the world?

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  5. Great review Iola. Sounds well worth reading.

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