(Yes, I know. It takes a long time for me to get around to books in my TBR pile. So many books, so little time.) I've also spoken to Judy since at an RWA meeting. I don't think that knowing an author affects my opinion of their books, but, in case you are the suspicious type, I thought I'd better make that statement.
Judy has published numerous romance novels with Silhouette and Harlequin, but Mulberry Park was her first foray into the inspirational market. I wasn't sure what to expect, other than the back cover copy, but the combination of knowing the author and wanting to break into this market myself put Mulberry Park on my list of "survey of the genre" books.
Claire Harper's life came crashing down around her the day her son was killed while riding his bike. Unable to put aside her grief, her marriage falls apart and friendships are neglected. One day while jogging after work, Claire finds a letter to God written by Analise, a young girl who lost her parents in an automobile accident. Touched by the girl's faith and a loss that is the mirror of her own, Claire decides to write back.
Thus starts a story of the broken people who are the regulars at Mulberry Park. In addition to Claire and Analise, there's Walter, an elderly man who has lost his best friend Carl; Hilda, Analise's babysitter; Maria, a pregnant single mother; and Trevor, a boy only slightly older than Analise who's pretty much on his own while his guardian works long hours as a waitress. As these people make connections with one another, we get to know their stories. And they begin to form a family of sorts, caring about one another in ways they thought they'd forgotten.
I loved these characters and the expert way in which Judy Duarte wove their stories together. Several of the characters, including Claire, rediscover their faith in God due to Analise's letters and her never-failing belief that God will take care of you. I was reminded of the quote from Isaiah 11:6:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
And yet the faith aspect doesn't seem heavy-handed. It's a natural part of the story.
I'll definitely be adding The House on Sugar Plum Lane, which takes place in the same town with some of the same characters, to my TBR pile in the future.