Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Review of The Time of Grace Series by Alicia Ruggieri



It Is Always Time for God's Grace


The Time of Grace Christian romance series is different than most I've read. Its overall theme is that God himself is the great lover of the men and women who live their lives from day to day. The secondary theme is the difference Christians can make in the lives of those who live in despair because they have not experienced God's grace and have no hope.

Review of The Time of Grace Series by Alicia Ruggieri
Image Courtesy of Pixabay.com


Not Your Typical Christian Romance


Most Christian romances I read have two main characters who fall in love but encounter obstacles on the path to marriage. These are often due to a misunderstanding on the part of one or both of the characters. Maybe they overheard some gossip they accepted as fact, or saw something that was different than it appeared to be. The main action in these romances is getting the two people together and married so they can live happily ever after. We don't usually see what comes after.

The three books in the Time of Grace Series are not like that. The main character, Jesus, is never seen except in the lives of his people and their efforts to reach out to those have not yet accepted his free gift of grace and salvation. We see God dealing with the main characters as families and as individual members of those families.

The three Christian historical romance novels in this series are set during the depression years in Rhode Island. Book 1, The Fragrance of Geraniums, begins in 1934. In it we first meet fifteen-year-old Grace Picoletti, as she auditions for the school chorus, humiliated because the rubber band holding the sole of her saddle shoe has burst, and her shoe is flapping. Her family is destitute. We also meet her teacher, Mr. Kinner, who is conducting the auditions. He and his wife, Emmeline live in a lovely home and Emmeline grows geraniums from hanging pots on her porch. Grace looks forward to seeing the beauty of these red geraniums every day as she comes home from school. We also meet Paulie Giorgi, one of Grace's classmates, son of a prominent doctor. 

Review of The Time of Grace Series by Alicia Ruggieri
Photo in Public Domain Courtesy of Pixabay


The Families


The Picoletti Family


The Picoletti family is destitute. Grace's mother Sarah lives in despair. Her husband Charlie is unfaithful and abusive. As the book opens Grace's oldest brother Ben makes a surprise visit. He tells Grace their father is planning to bring his latest mistress home to live on a cottage on their property. He reveals he has fought with his father about this and has just punched Charlie out because of it. He tells Grace he has to leave again.

The other four children are minor characters in the book. Sarah finally sends her favorite, Evelyn, to live with her wealthier sister so she can have a better life. Grace's two older sisters leave home to get jobs and live on their own to get away from the violence. Then they get married and we don't see much of them after that. Cliff, the younger brother, is out of control and often gets into trouble.


Review of The Time of Grace Series by Alicia Ruggieri
Photo in Public Domain Courtesy of Pixabay
The author focuses mostly on Sarah and Grace, both of whom have little hope. There is not enough to eat, Charlie publicly humiliates them with his blatant infidelity, and they can't afford decent clothes or shoes. Sarah has let herself go physically, since Charlie pays little attention to her anymore except to demand she cook, clean, and take care of his laundry – or else. The family is Catholic, but they don't connect what happens in church to their daily lives. They have no notion of a God that loves them personally. They have no hope of improving their lives. 

Grace is highly intelligent, but Sarah is expecting another baby and insists Grace will need to quit school to help her. The baby is born 85% of the way through the book, and Emmeline, who has become a friend to Sarah, stays to help her. Charlie shows no interest in the baby and wants no part of him. This crushes Sarah.

Charlie's mistress Gertrude leaves him and takes everything of value that was in the room they shared. Charlie goes to town, gets drunk, and is killed in an accident. He leaves Sarah no source of income and much debt, since he has not paid the bills or the mortgage in months and the bank is about to take the house. She sees no solution except to move in with her brother in New Jersey, taking Cliff and Grace, and leaving friends and her grown children behind.

The Kinner Family


Geoff and Emmeline Kinner attend the First Baptist Church. They are a middle class family and economically well off enough to share what they have with others. They are kind to all. Geoff is Grace and Paulie's teacher, is truly interested in his students, and prays for them.

To outsiders, Geoff and Emmeline appear to have an ideal life. But they want to start a family, and Emmeline has never been able to carry a child to full term. At the beginning of this book she has told her husband she is four months pregnant, and they are ecstatic, since Emmeline has never carried a baby this long. But when Emmeline sees the doctor the next day, he dashes her hopes and tells her she probably will lose this baby, too.

The Giorgi Family


Review of The Time of Grace Series by Alicia Ruggieri
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Doctor Samuel Giorgi and his son Paulie, seventeen, live in a mansion with a staff of servants. Samuel's wife, Julie, Paulie's mother, died of an aneurysm six years ago, and Samuel and Paulie miss her terribly. They also attend First Baptist Church.

After Julie's death, Samuel hired Mrs. McCusker as a house keeper to run his household and help out with Paulie. Sam is a prominent obstetrician who often has to leave to deliver babies at all hours of the night. In the last chapters of The Fragrance of Geraniums we learn that Samuel had once been engaged to Sarah before he left for college. His family had disapproved of her, and said if he married they would not pay for his education. He had intended to get get through medical school and then come back and marry her. She had felt betrayed because he had chosen his education over her, and had married Charlie. Sam later met Julie and fell in love with and married her.

Three Books, One Story


After reading what's above, you can probably guess a lot of the plot. Paulie and Grace are classmates and fall in love despite their different economic classes. Emmeline and Grace become friends, and through that relationship Emmeline also meets Sarah and reaches out to her. When Charlie badly burns his face badly in the last quarter of the book, he comes to Sarah for help. She sends Grace to get the regular doctor, but he's away at a conference. They can't afford the hospital or an ambulance, and even though Grace is trying to avoid Paulie, she sees no option but to run to his house to see if his father will come.

Mrs McCusker answers the door and says the doctor cannot be disturbed, but Paulie hears the conversation and gets his dad. Mrs. McCusker treats Grace shabbily. Sam and Paulie drive Grace home. As Sam treats Charlie, Sarah is holding his head. Sam and Sarah recognize each other. She did not know he had returned.

By the end of the first book, Grace has finally understood that Jesus does love her and has given her life to him. Sarah has been listening at home in her darkest hours to a Protestant radio station, mostly for the music. What she hears conflicts with much she has believed as a Catholic, but she wants to believe that Jesus loves her and can change her. She just isn’t sure how to approach him. Emmeline has shared her faith and how Jesus helps her through her grief over the loss of her child. 

The book ends with Charlie's funeral. All three families are there. We have seen God's answer to the prayers of Emmeline and Geoff.  The reader is left hanging as to what will happen to the Picoletti family. Will Sam and Sarah renew their relationship now that Charlie is dead? Do Grace and Paulie have a future together? Those questions are answered in the last two books, which I had to purchase because I couldn't stop reading until I reached the last page of the last book.

The Books' Themes


Several themes play out in this series. First is God's unconditional love. This theme pervades all the others. Christians need, by God's grace, to forgive those who hurt them physically and emotionally, in order to be whole themselves.

Love is sacrificial. This theme comes to a climax near the end of the last book. God's love is redemptive. Sam shows us this in the last book very vividly.

God's love persistent. Both Paulie and Sam persist in reaching out to members of the Picoletti family even when their efforts are rejected.

God seeks and saves those who are lost in despair and bitterness. He uses his people to help, as he used Sam, Paulie, and Emmeline in this book. They prayed, and they shared their faith, but first they listened and helped physically with unspoken needs.

An example: Emmeline initiated a relationship with Grace just because she knew Grace always paused at her house to look at something on the way home from school. She used that knowledge to reach out to Grace and get acquainted. She suspected Grace didn't get enough to eat, so she made sure there were fresh cookies and milk whenever Grace visited. She suspected that Grace was ashamed of her home so she invited Grace and Paulie to have their tutoring sessions at her kitchen table, along with refreshments.

The author shows that only people who get their sense of worth from the knowledge that God loves them are secure enough to be who they really are. Since they know God accepts them, they do not need to live for the approval of or fear the judgment of others.

A good part of The Fragrance of Geraniums consists of passages from the Bible that the characters share with each other or encounter in radio or church sermons. This might be a bit much for some people, but each passage is relevant to the themes. The characters share their reactions, not always positive, to these passages.


My Opinion of the Series


Overall, the series held my interest because from the beginning I cared about the characters. I empathized with Sarah and Grace. I wanted Paulie and Grace to straighten out their friendship when it became strained. I wanted Sarah and Grace to experience the grace of God. And I wanted Ben to surrender his bitterness and false pride and answer the nudging of the Holy Spirit. I wanted to see how God would accomplish his plan in each life.

I felt there were some weaknesses that we see in many Christian novels. Although there was a lot of showing in the lives of the characters, there might have been a bit too much telling. It was preachy. Sam and Paulie were so godly they were unrealistic. I loved them, but they were almost too Christlike. They were both very good at turning the other cheek and praying for those who hurt them when most people would at least say something hurtful back and ask forgiveness later. They did sometimes have thoughts that weren't loving, but they hardly ever gave voice to them. I can't think of one example where they really lost it, even though they were tempted.

The author was good at foreshadowing future events. She dropped enough clues to enable the reader to predict why there was a problem between Grace and Paulie in the last book. To say anymore would be a spoiler.

The relationship between Paulie and Sam was one any father would envy. It contrasted with the terrible relationship between Ben and his father Charlie. Emmeline and Geoff showed Grace that all men were not like her father and that a marriage could be healthy and loving.

Unlike most romances, the books in this series are serious and deal with heavy subjects like abuse, bereavement, and rebellion. The marriages are not always the “live happily ever after” kind – even when the man and wife are Christians. Even forgiven sins have consequences that make life hard. God works his plan out even in these marriages that aren't ideal. The main love is between God and the characters, and until they are rightly related to him, the human love affairs don't go very smoothly.

As you read the looks, you may find yourself grappling with issues instead of escaping into a pleasant world with a happy wedding at the end. There are plenty of dark valleys to walk through before you see a rainbow. It's still a journey I'm glad I took -- realistic or not. Book 1, The Fragrance of Geraniums, is free for your Kindle as I  write this. I hope it will hook you and that you will want to read the other  two books, as I did. I would suggest you get all three books at once. Just click on the book covers above.

Review of The Time of Grace Series by Alicia Ruggieri







Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.

12 comments:

  1. Sounds like an interesting series, Barb. I do enjoy books with characters that I like and care about. I'm not crazy about "preachy" books, but I do like when Christians in fiction actually do share scripture and demonstrate their faith. I'll have to give at least the first book a try. Thanks for the review!

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  2. I always prefer Christian fiction. This sounds like a series that might be hard to read through parts because it is so realistic, but it still sounds like books I would enjoy. As you have described above, I have found that lives that look perfect, are rarely what they seem. I have also known people who it was very clear that Christ walked with them through extremely difficult times. The books sound like more of a faith builder, therefore encouraging. I have just added the first book to my Kindle. Thanks for the great review and recommendation!

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  3. I do enjoy an interesting Christian book. I have been reading more online lately.

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    1. Sometimes we have to take time for a book that will give us a break from short posts and nourish our spirits.

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  4. Barbara, thanks for taking the time to read and then review so thoughtfully ~ I'm glad that the series was a blessing to you!

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    1. Reading the books was all pleasure. Thank you for writing them.

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  5. Sounds like another must-read. Thanks for the info.

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  6. A great review, just enough for us to be interested in the characters without giving too much away.

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    1. Thanks. Sometimes it's hard to avoid the spoilers.

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