Thursday, 22 August 2013

Book Review: The Sweetest Hallelujah

The Sweetest Hallelujah
Author: Elaine Hussey (aka Peggy Webb)
Published: July 30, 2013 by Harlequin MIRA


Betty Jewel Hughes was once the hottest black jazz singer in Memphis. But when she finds herself pregnant and alone, she gives up her dream of being a star to raise her beautiful daughter, Billie, in Shakerag, Mississippi. Now, ten years later, in 1955, Betty Jewel is dying of cancer and looking for someone to care for Billie when she's gone. With no one she can count on, Betty Jewel does the unthinkable: she takes out a want ad seeking a loving mother for her daughter. 
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, recently widowed Cassie Malone is an outspoken housewife insulated by her wealth and privileged white society. Working part-time at a newspaper, she is drawn to Betty Jewel through her mysterious ad. With racial tension in the South brewing, the women forge a bond as deep as it is forbidden. But neither woman could have imagined the gifts they would find in each other, and in the sweet young girl they both love with all their hearts. Deeply moving and richly evocative, The Sweetest Hallelujah is a remarkable tale about finding hope in a time of turmoil, and about the transcendent and transformative power of friendship.


Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Desperate. Nowhere to turn. Dying woman seeks mother for her child. Loving heart required. Call Vinewood 2-8640.

This short advertisement taken out by a mother as a spur-of-the-moment, maybe even foolish (as Betty Jewel acknowledges) act of desperation sets off a series of events that will forever change the lives of Betty Jewel Hughes, Cassie Malone, and everyone they love. 

This book was such a warm, lovely joy to read. While at times, I started to wonder whether the plot was starting to drag a little, the author still managed to make me wish I could stay on a little longer in the world of Shakerag when it finally came to an end. 

As with any great Southern Fiction novel, there are elements of magical realism and some larger-than-life characters. There are tons of laughs and snickers, but also tears. Spirituality, music, soul food, civil rights and women's rights, baseball, adventure, and even a ghost. 

I am a sucker for good Southern Fiction. I am not ashamed to admit it. I have been ever since stumbling upon The Secret Life of Bees for the first time. I am happy to say that this novel is worthy of sitting up on a shelf right beside that favourite, along with The Help and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt [read my review].

This was a story about women and their love of a child. (It takes a village, after all...) Hussey captured the essence of true friendship and the love that can bind people despite even seemingly impossible odds. It is an ode to humanity in the face of ugliness, and it is a tale of hope and grace. 

I've been putting off writing this review because I was afraid it would feel like saying goodbye to a good friend. As I sit here writing, I'm not sad- I just wish I had the words to describe how warm and fuzzy I am feeling just thinking about the joy I had reading this book. All I can do is tell you to go out and read it for yourself... It's like being wrapped up in a warm blanket while relaxing on a porch swing on a breezy summer evening. 

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