Book Love, Christian fiction

Book review: Colors of Truth by Tamera Alexander

A story of racial reconciliation and the cost of telling the truth

Colros of Truth by Tamera AlexanderBack cover copy: In a town battered and bruised by war, one woman embarks upon an impossible search — and one man must face the past in the very place that almost destroyed him.

Tennessee, 1866. According to the last letter Irish immigrant Catriona O’Toole received from her twin brother, Ryan, he was being dispatched to Franklin, Tennessee, where — as a conscripted Confederate soldier — he likely endured the bloody Battle of Franklin that claimed the lives of thousands. Catriona leaves behind the lush green of their Irish homeland in search of him, with nothing to her name except the sum of cash Ryan sent to their family. Now the sole provider for her seven-year-old spitfire sister, Nora, Catriona hopes to reunite the siblings — the only surviving members of their devastated family.

Wade Cunningham is a former Federal soldier who now works for the newly formed United States Secret Service and is trying to uncover counterfeiting rings in the postwar South. In order to infiltrate their sophisticated enterprise, he must pose as a former Confederate in Franklin — a town where counterfeit greenbacks run rampant. When Wade meets Catriona, he is immediately intrigued by her and the little redheaded scamp in her care — but what he doesn’t anticipate is that the cash in Catriona’s possession is some of the most convincing counterfeit money he’s ever seen. Soon the object of Wade’s affection is also the suspect in a major crime — one he’s expected to prosecute.

My review: I have long been a fan of Tamera Alexander and have read all of her books, full of imperfect characters and rich historical details that add so much to the story without weighing it down. Colors of Truth is no exception. I will say that I usually get pulled into her stories quicker than I did this time, but I think that was because it was so different from the fast paced, jump-right-in YA titles I’ve been reading lately (which is what you expect from different genres, I just needed to shift to a historical romance mindset).

Catriona is no stranger to struggles or grief but is determined to not let those mark her life. When she and Nora lose everyone else in their large Irish family to famine or other disease, the money Ryan sends is her only hope of a fresh start for herself and Nora. She decides to follow Ryan to America and help him regain land that was taken from other family members years ago. Once in America, her high hopes soon crash into harsh realities no one warned her about — particularly prejudice against the Irish. People are suspicious of her traveling alone with Nora, are wary of taking her money, don’t want her in their places of business, and assume she’s a thief or troublemaker.

This thread of prejudice is layered throughout the book in ways that aren’t necessarily expected in a story set in the South on the heels of the Civil War. There’s the obvious prejudice against Catriona and Nora, plus the prejudice most characters still hold against Negroes and the North. Catriona and Wade don’t share the views of the Confederacy but shy away from speaking out because of their circumstances. Yet each notices small things about the other that hints of their true beliefs.

Redemption and accepting forgiveness are other important themes in Colors of Truth. Catriona and Wade both carry the weight of guilt from words and actions that they have trouble finding closure for because their loved ones are gone. They both have to learn how to ask for and accept forgiveness and how to make peace with their past and move on. It’s no easier task for them than it is for us in real life. Without sharing any spoilers, I’ll say that I loved the scene that brought them both the closure and peace that they so desperately needed.

The faith element in Colors of Truth is strong, as it is in all of Tamera Alexander’s books. Characters have all levels of faith and show it in all different ways, from speaking boldly to keeping it private to infusing little bits of it into everyday life. Catriona is especially affected by this and is finally able to believe that God hasn’t turned His back on her even though sometimes it can feel that way. That’s another life lesson for us as readers that manages to come through without being preachy. Alexander’s subtlety in handling those types of elements is one of my favorite things about her as an author.

Who should read it: Alexander’s books are always multilayered and have more than one plot thread running throughout. That means they’re more detailed and longer than some historical novels, but I personally enjoy the extra details she’s able to include because of the longer length. My guess is that her primary reader is an adult female, but anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially stories set in the Old South, should enjoy Colors of Truth.

Bonus: Tamera Alexander shares a bit of conversation about cancel culture and Colors of Truth on the home page of her website. You might be interested in reading (and hearing) her perspective as an author of historical fiction.

This book review of Colors of Truth counts as my March “event/time period” book in the Read Something New in 2021 Book Challenge. What have you read lately? The April selection is “young adult;” I’d love for you to join me!

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Living in Faith, Monday Motivation, Scripture verses

Monday motivation: It’s never too late

Here’s a nice thought to start our Monday: It is never too late to be what you might have been.

Every day is a new day, and a new chance to start over or at least take a step — even if it’s only a really small one — in the direction of our dreams. God wants good things for us and plants beautiful dreams in our hearts. He is continually making us new and helping us get closer to being the person He wants us to be, closer to seeing the dreams He gives us become reality.

Every moment of every day brings a fresh beginning. Here’s to remembering that as we step into this new week.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

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Living in Faith, Scripture verses

Jesus is not here!

What emotions the past two days have brought for the women who followed Jesus.

Friday, full of anguish and shock and numbing grief as they watch from the fringes. Jesus – their Jesus, the one they love so much – suffers through a sham of a trial. Is beaten beyond recognition. Ridiculed and spit upon. Forced to carry His own cross along the streets and up to Golgatha, then nailed to a cross in the most agonizing form of death imaginable.

Saturday, full of disbelief. Wishing this nightmare would end. Wondering how they would go on without Jesus. Shedding too many tears and soul-wracking sobs to count.

Sunday, meeting early in the morning to prepare His body with spices. Still mourning – because will that ever end? – but grateful they can offer Him this one last gift.

Then they arrive at His tomb and see the stone has been rolled away. Or are they imagining things in their grief? Are they really at the right tomb?

The man nearby says the most amazing words ever spoken: “He is not here!”

Not because the women are at the wrong tomb. Not because robbers have stolen Jesus’ body. Not because He has been moved to another place.

But because He has been raised from the dead, just as He told them would happen.

So many emotions run through the women at those words: confusion, relief, disbelief, excitement.

And overriding it all, once they see the empty tomb for themselves, joy. Pure, unadulterated, all-consuming joy.

Their Jesus is not dead. Their Jesus is not gone forever.

Their Jesus really is who He said He is, really is who they believed: the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, the one to save the people from their sins.

He isn’t there because He is alive! Resurrected, restored, and returning to His glory.

They squeal and cry and probably stumble over their own feet in their rush to find the disciples. To share the glorious news that still amazes us today:

“He is not here!”

Thank you, Jesus, for loving us so much more than we ever deserve.

For still being alive today as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Most of all, for taking our place on the cross as our Savior.

We give you all the glory, honor and praise.

Happy Easter, my friends.

Living in Faith, Scripture verses

What’s so good about Good Friday?

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and death. It’s a day of sorrow and devastating loss as we ponder what He went through on our behalf and the all-consuming grief that swallowed His disciples and other followers.

Good Friday is a dark, dark day that makes us uncomfortable. But we can’t skip over it on our way from Palm Sunday to Easter.

It’s easy to get excited about Palm Sunday, with its pomp and circumstance, songs full of “hosanna” and stories of how excited the people were to see Jesus ride into Jerusalem (it was such an amazing event that all four Gospel writers tell the story; read Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, or John 12:12-19). It’s even easier to get excited about Easter, when we sing of Christ’s resurrection and God’s gift of eternal life for us. Those are great things to celebrate – after all, the things we celebrate at Easter are the reason why Christ came to earth in the first place.

But we shouldn’t jump from one party to the next without stopping to reflect on what’s in between. You can’t go from one end of the street to the other without passing all the houses, businesses or trees along the way. You can’t read the first and last chapters of a book and understand how the characters got from one place to the other.

In the same way, we can’t truly celebrate the joy of Easter if we ignore the events between Sundays. We need to spend some time walking in Christ’s shoes and imagining how He must have felt to know that His hours on earth were literally ticking away. Humble ourselves as He did on Thursday night when He stooped to wash His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). Feel the disciples’ shock at seeing Him do such a thing and begin to finally realize what Christ meant about serving others.

Follow Christ into the garden and learn from His gut-wrenching prayer for strength and help (Matthew 26:36-46 and John 17). See the compassion and resignation in His eyes when Judas betrayed Him and the soldiers led Him away (Luke 22:47-53, John 18:1-14).

Stand silently in response to trumped-up accusations instead of using His power to overthrow everyone conspiring against Him (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, or John 19). Feel the unbearable pain of being beaten and flogged unmercifully. Sag under the weight of a cross too heavy to reasonably bear. Endure indescribable torture while being nailed to that same cross and left to die while people mock and jeer.

It’s hard to dig deep and try to really understand everything Christ went through that week. We don’t like to suffer and don’t usually like to watch other people suffer either; we’d much rather gloss things over and downplay the pain. It’s much more comfortable to focus on the happy days like Palm Sunday and Easter than the agony of Good Friday.

But the fact of the matter is, if Jesus hadn’t gone through the things of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we wouldn’t have an Easter to celebrate. They were horribly necessary steps to get from one Sunday to the next. Otherwise, God couldn’t resurrect Him and show His power over death!

So what’s good about Good Friday? And how can it be called that, considering it’s a day of darkness and torture and death?

There’s nothing good about it if all you see is the darkness, torture, and death. It’s a day of hopelessness and defeat, a day when Satan wins over God and His plan.

What makes Good Friday “good” for us as Christians is knowing that the hopelessness and defeat were only temporary. All hope was not gone and Satan didn’t really win.

As torturous as that day was for Christ, we celebrate because we know His suffering was for us. He was fulfilling God’s perfect plan for our salvation, and so we could someday live with Him in heaven. The blackness of Friday was for a reason — the best reason of all.

Thanks be to God for all He has done for us.