People know that I love the book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. They know reading one particular scene in it was what made me want to write way back in 1982. What people don’t always know is that I rarely recommend it.
While Betty Smith wrote a powerful story of a girl’s life in turn-of-the-20th-century Brooklyn, it isn’t a “pretty” story. Instead, it grapples with the horrors of poverty and what other terrible things those horrors sometimes spawn.
I won’t pretend I understood a lot of the stuff in that book. I’ve always been naive about things, and although I’m inching closer to fifty every day, that hasn’t changed over the years. From family members that you can’t allow your kids to spend time with to that “nice man” you know better than to allow your children near, the book has it all. And frankly, I missed most of it.
So, although it is mostly about a girl growing up, it’s not for girls of that age—not in my opinion. Like I said. I love the book, but I don’t recommend it.
Over the years, there’ve been other books I’ve not really cared for as much but I thought were important ones to read. Funny thing is, I can’t remember titles right now. My brain is in editing mode and not behaving. Either that or all the smoke in the air has turned my brain to mush. That’s possible, too.
But as I finished a book tonight, Surf Smugglers, I realized that I didn’t like it as much as the first, but it still has things to recommend it.
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Why I Recommend a Book That Wasn’t a Favorite
When I read Harbor Secrets, I really enjoyed the time period, the storyline, and the characters. Those same things ring true for Surf Smugglers. However, my overall enjoyment of the book wasn’t as strong. There are two likely reasons for this.
Either I needed to read the middle book, Riptide Rumors (which I intend to do, by the way… the hints I got about it from this book make me anxious to get to it), or the subject matter overpowered the series.
Okay, so there’s a strong possibility that both are true.
However, I actually think the subject matter is to blame. In a series that deals with heavy topics like smuggling, domestic abuse, abandonment, and other powerfully dramatic issues, you wouldn’t think racial tensions, early feminism, and WWI would be too heavy.
But they were. I firmly believe that this exact story, told with deep layers, and in a stand alone novel about similar but different characters, would have all of the strength and power of classic World War novels.
However, constrained in this place and with these characters, with a lighter touch due to the rest of the series, Surf Smugglers didn’t pack the punch that it could have. And I think that’s also why the spiritual depth felt a little lacking.
That said, compared to a lot of books marketed by Christian publishers, this one was much more spiritually encouraging. I appreciated that it was there and it was not preachy.
So with all that, why do I recommend Surf Smugglers?
Simple. The story is a nice one. It fits in the series and wraps things up. It doesn’t hold the same draw as some third books—that feeling that if this book is this amazing, then I’ve just got to read the first two. Rather, because the first (and I assume the second) were so good, and because this one deals with important historical events… Not to mention, this book wraps up some character and story arcs!!!
Because of those, I think the reverse is true. The prior book(s) and much of what is included in this one make this book a recommended read. It’s just not my favorite of Melody Carlson’s books.
I’m still not sorry I read the free review copy of Surf Smugglers I was sent, and I’ll be buying the middle book, still, as well as am looking forward to the last in the series. So, take that for what it’s worth.
Looking forward to my next Melody Carlson book… just like I always do.
Surf Smugglers is on tour with Celebrate Lit.
About the Book
Book: Surf Smugglers
Author: Melody Carlson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: August 15, 2019
In the summer of 1917, US troops join the allied forces in the Great War. Back in Sunset Cove, Oregon, other battles wage. Anna McDowell continues to fight old fashioned stereotypes as she runs a newspaper committed to truth.
Despite opposition, she’s determined to expose ongoing rum-running and prohibition lawlessness.
Adding to Anna’s frustrations, her good friend Dr. Daniel seems to run hot and cold. He loves Oregon, and maybe Anna too, but he’s pulled by his East Coast family responsibilities.
Even the lure of a new modern Sunset Cove hospital doesn’t seem enough to keep him in Sunset Cove.
Meanwhile, Anna’s strong-willed daughter Katy continues to develop her dress shop by inviting family friend Sarah Rose to help out. But the woman’s presence tests the small town’s tolerance.
And Anna’s concern that her daughter is growing up too fast is confirmed when Katy’s romantic life takes an unexpected turn, which Anna fears is influenced by the pressure of a devastating war that is not only changing the entire world but Sunset Cove as well.
About the Author
Melody Carlson has written more than 200 books (with sales around 6.5 million) for teens, women, and children. That’s a lot of books, but mostly she considers herself a “storyteller.”
Her young adult novels (Diary of a Teenage Girl, True Colors etc.) appeal to teenage girls around the world.
Her annual Christmas novellas become more popular each year.
She’s won a number of awards (including RT’s Career Achievement Award, the Rita, and the Gold medallion) and some of her books have been optioned for film/TV.
Carlson has two grown sons and makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and yellow Lab dog.
More from Melody
My favorite way to learn history is through historical fiction—both by reading and by writing it. And I’ve discovered that World War 1 (previously known as the Great War, since WW2 had yet to happen) is quite fascinating. As well as incredibly sad.
But I’m amazed at how science and technology evolved so quickly in this era. Whether it was advancement in automotive, communication, medicine . . . the culture was rapidly changing.
And the war pushed it along at an even faster pace.
Another factor that makes this era interesting is prohibition. Oregon, my home state and where I set my series, was one of the earliest states to adopt prohibition of alcohol—in 1914.
As a result, Oregon became ripe territory for bootlegging and rum-running along the coastline. And because my series involves a small-town, coastal newspaper that’s run (gasp!) by a woman, it gets even more interesting—and exciting!
Speaking of women, the suffrage movement was approved in Oregon in 1912—also well ahead of the rest of the nation (and the main reason that prohibition passed). My theory on why this happened is that the brave women who’d made the arduous journey West (via perilous wagon train or long hard voyages on clipper ships) were strong and opinionated and tough. And many of them were sick and tired of drunken slacker husbands.
Also, thanks to Oregon’s amazing land donation act of 1850, many of these women were equal landowners to their husbands—and land equaled power.
Of course, what these suffragette-prohibition supporters didn’t realize is that banning alcohol would make matters worse because bootlegging and rum-running suddenly became a very lucrative business.
The crime rate soared and the booze continued to flow freely. But all this makes for good newspaper stories, keeping our female editor in chief rather busy. In the first two books of the series, Anna McDowell has her hands full with trying to run her ailing father’s newspaper, restoring family relationships, and staying ahead of the growing crime element in Sunset Cove.
By book three, Surf Smugglers, Anna has her feet under her and doing a good job of standing up to the criminal element in their region. But by now the Great War is really heating up and the United States must get involved. Of course, this means that many young men, as well as Anna’s very good friend Dr. Daniel Hollister, are being shipped overseas to serve.
Meanwhile, there is plenty of trouble at home. And the rum-runners, who despise the newspaper’s support of prohibition, target Anna’s good friend Sarah Rose because she’s a woman of color who’s sought refuge from the big city . . . and naturally things get dicey.
I’m currently finishing up the fourth and final book of the Legacy of Sunset Cove series, and I’m sad to think my ‘history lesson’ in this interesting era is drawing to an end. Not only have I learned a lot, I’ve really come to love the McDowell family . . . and I’m getting worried that not all the men from Sunset Cove will survive the brutal war.
Of course, this is fiction . . . but the war was very real and the losses were great. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the war to end all wars like they’d hoped, but I appreciate the sentiment . . . and continue to pray for world peace.
The Avid Reader, August 31
Connect in Fiction, August 31
Among the Reads, September 1
She Lives To Read, September 1
Through the Fire Blogs, September 1
For Him and My Family, September 2
Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, September 2
Just the Write Escape, September 3
Patiently Waiting, September 3
Blogging With Carol , September 3
CarpeDiem, September 4
Betti Mace, September 4
Christian Bookaholic , September 4
Reflections From My Bookshelves, September 5
Wishful Endings, September 5
Remembrancy, September 5
Maureen’s Musings, September 6
Abba’s Prayer Warrior Princess , September 6
Bigreadersite , September 7
Happily Managing a Household of Boys, September 7
It’s Story Time With Van Daniker, September 7
Connie’s history classroom , September 8
For the Love of Literature, September 8
Hallie Reads, September 8
Moments, September 9
Simple Harvest Reads, September 9
FOR THE LOVE of Books , September 9
Locks, Hooks and Books, September 10
Pause for Tales, September 10
To Everything A Season, September 10
Retrospective Spines, September 11
Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, September 11
Texas Book-aholic, September 11
Older & Smarter?, September 12
Library Lady’s Kid Lit, September 12
janicesbookreviews, September 13
A Reader’s Brain, September 13
Inklings and notions , September 13
To celebrate her tour, Melody is giving away the grand prize of three of her books: Harbor Secrets, Riptide Rumors, and Surf Smugglers!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.