Book Review | “A Place Called Hope” (Hope series, No.1) by Philip Gulley A small towne fiction novelist I’ve been curious about reading!

Posted Sunday, 31 July, 2016 by jorielov , , , , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I am a new reviewer for Hachette Books and their imprints, I started by reviewing two releases by FaithWords, their INSPY (Inspirational Fiction) imprint of releases focusing on uplifting and spiritual stories which are a delight to read whilst engaging your mind in life affirming and heart-centered stories. I found Hachette via Edelweiss at the conclusion of [2015] and have been blessed to start reviewing for them.

I received a complimentary copy of “A Place Called Hope” direct from the publisher Center Street (an imprint of Hachette Book Group Inc.) in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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Why I wanted to read a Gulley novel:

I cannot recollect exactly when I discovered the Harmony series by Mr Gulley, but it was during my wanderings at my local library, a book or two from the series kept winking at me to read! Similar to the novels by Ms Whitson, I simply never had the pleasure of soaking inside his novels!

I can honestly say, the most enjoyment I have had in recent years is being caught up inside ‘small townes’ in the fictional worlds authors are treating me to visit! Townes like Cedar Cove (Debbie Macomber), Serenity (Sherryl Woods), Lambert’s Corner (Rosina Lippi), Skye (Jessica Brockmole), Soda Springs (Carolyn Steele), Coorah Creek (Janet Gover), Butternut Lake (Mary McNear), Henry Adams (Beverly Jenkins), Dickinson (Larry D. Sweazy) and serial mysteries that feel like small townes for how much interplay there is with repetitive characters by such authors as: Susan McDuffie, Anna Castle, Susan Spann, Catherine Lloyd, Susanna Calkins, Charles Todd, Tessa Arlen and Anna Lee Huber!

The reason I love small townes has been expressed many times over, but at the heart of what draws me inside small towne fiction is the quirkiness of how the stories are told and the eclectic harmony of how the lead characters are attempting to find their footing or be ever present to the needs of their neighbours and community. Small towne fiction stories are a slice of life that is a step outside the harried pace of our normal lives (unless we’re blessed to live in a small towne where everyone champions each other in unconditional support) where life is a bit easier to take in and where not everything has to be done at the speed of a clock ticking off moments as if they need to be registered somewhere!

I also like the different interpretations of small towne life and how for each community I visit in fiction, I am hoping there are at least ten composite communities out there somewhere that are reflective of the community togetherness that is inside the novel at hand! I find you can dig yourself happily inside a small towne novel (as I mentioned a few one-offs above) or a series (a treasure of a find!) with the glowing joy of knowing your respite inside it’s chapters is going to make you feel light with euphoric happiness for your journey! I suppose in many ways, reading #smalltown #fiction is one of my guilty pleasures as a reader, because I simply find myself put in such wonderful moods after reading them!

Who wouldn’t want an uplift of joy on their bookshelf?!

And, so dear hearts, this is why I wanted to finally read my first Gulley novel! The chance to laugh, the chance to smile and the chance to see what everyone had previously found inside the Harmony novels, as I had a sense that his wit and charm would continue to enthrall us in the Hope series! There is simply something quite keen about finding authors who are writing such realistic stories set in townes that we can all identify with and find readerly happiness in reading!

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Book Review | “A Place Called Hope” (Hope series, No.1) by Philip Gulley A small towne fiction novelist I’ve been curious about reading!A Place Called Hope
by Philip Gulley
Source: Direct from Publisher

When Quaker Pastor Sam Gardner is asked by the ill Unitarian minister to oversee a wedding in his place, Sam naturally agrees. It's not until the couple stands before him that he realizes they're two women. In the tempest of strong opinions and misunderstandings that follows the incident, Sam faces potential unemployment.

Deeply discouraged, he wonders if his pastoral usefulness has come to an end. Perhaps it's time for a change. After all, his wife has found a new job at the library, his elder son is off to college, and the younger has decided to join the military once he graduates high school. Sam is contemplating a future selling used cars when he receives a call from a woman in the suburban town of Hope, Indiana.

It seems Hope Friends Meeting is in desperate need of a pastor. Though they only have twelve members, they also have a beautiful meetinghouse and a pie committee (Sam is fond of pie). But can he really leave his beloved hometown of Harmony?

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to Riffle

ISBN: 9781455586882

Genres: Contemporary (Modern) Fiction (post 1945), Inspirational Fiction & Non-Fiction


Published by CenterStreet

on 19th March, 2015

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 256

Published by: CenterStreet (@centerstreet)
an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc. (@HachetteBooks) via Hachette Nashville

Formats Available: Hardcover, Trade Paperback, Audiobook and Ebook

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Hope series:

A Place Called Hope by Philip GulleyA Lesson in Hope by Philip Gulley

Readers are mentioning Gulley’s writing style in relation to Karon’s Mitford series; although I never read about Mitford, my grandmother loved reading the series before she died. We shared a mutual love of small towne fiction, and I believe our shared joy in finding small towne fiction to curl up inside is partially why I continue to seek out more from this lovely section of literature. She might not be able to travel with me as I visit each ‘towne’ but I know she’s smiling at me from heaven, happy I continued my adventures seeking writers who know how to write about the nuances of ordinary life!

A Place Called Hope | No.1

A Lesson in Hope | No.2 | Book Synopsis

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Converse via: #INSPYbooks, #QuakerFiction & #INSPYfiction

+ use these two in combo: #SmallTown #Fiction

About Philip Gulley

Philip Gulley Photo Credit: Matt Griffith

PHILIP GULLEY, a Quaker pastor, has become the voice of small-town American life. Along with writing Front Porch Tales, Hometown Tales, and For Everything a Season, he is the author of the Harmony series of novels. Gulley lives in Indiana with his wife, Joan, and their sons.

Photo Credit: Matt Griffith

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The towne of Hope:

Hope doesn’t come into the picture until half-way through A Place Called Hope, as prior to reaching the chapter where Ruby Hopper and Wilson Roberts enter the scene, I was feeling as if I were reading an additional Harmony novel. I was celebrating that fact, as like I had said earlier, I regretted I hadn’t had the chance to settle into the Harmony series. I loved how we had the gift of staying in Harmony for as long as we did, especially if we were unaware of what had happened in Harmony prior to the new series (Hope) beginning to take-off where the other series left-off. It was a treat for me and I am sure other new readers to Gulley’s work will appreciate it too.

There is what I would now call “classic Gulley humour” spilling out on page 93 where Ruby Hopper is questioning why she didn’t just up and abandon ship on her life to relocate to where all retirees head once they reach their golden years. It’s quite hard to read this novel without laughing out loud or smirking yourself into a blooming smile of joy! I love Gulley’s approach if nothing more than to find a way to speak the truth about everything and still find a wicked good threading of humour to tie it all together!

Settling into Hope was a true blessing – not because the towne isn’t without it’s own fair share of quirks or an absence of drama – no, it’s because Hope has a wonderful way of being realistically real and honest about itself. Small enough to rebuild your life or fuse together a new chapter whilst you have other parts of your life closing where previously you felt you might never make a change. It’s the kind of place with a welcoming spirit with honest people who generally care about you, but might have a quirky way of showing it! One thing is for sure, before you can blink you’ve already sorted out which residents of Hope who attend the Quaker church are featured on the book’s cover! I love when you can do this!

My Review of A Place Called Hope:

Entering into an extension of the Harmony series, I must say, Gulley has a way of pulling in the humour of the situation surrounding his Pastor quite well! Especially to a new reader of his, of whom has only recently read about both series rather than read them individually first-hand. I like his moxie to paint a more humbled realistic view of pastoral care, highlighting the downside to being everyone’s listening ear and living inside of a community that might grow a bit too small for personal comfort if your the sole spiritual leader who has to act as co-cheerleader to everyone except yourself. It’s one of the negatives of living in a small towne but also one of the benefits, depending on the day or situation, as sometimes small townes are wonderful for their close-knit capabilities but as you see from Sam Gardner’s point of perspective, this isn’t always a viable way to have vitality in a pastor’s life.

I honestly liked how Gulley approached this from a burnt out Pastor’s perspective as Gardner doesn’t dislike being a pastor but he isn’t as keen to be dearly invested in the ins/outs of his small community as much as he had been in the past either. The fact he’s open about his own mental health issues is a key nod towards how sometimes the more you internalise of other people’s stress, the more likely it is for it to have a boomerang effect on your own outlook or health. You can only take in so much before you either need to step away or relocate to keep yourself in a healthier state of wellness.

I had to smirk when I saw how Gulley shifted the focus off the congregation of the Quaker church Gardner was presiding over and re-focused on how small townes can become altered from their historical past to a current present full of new churches and residents making their mark on a towne which did not quite know what to do with the inbound ‘new’ ideals. It’s how Gulley chooses his words and expressions by which his characters are describing all the changes coming in that give you the most delight of all! I truly loved how the Unitarians completely threw the Quakers for a loop and how they were both curious and non-curious to understand them properly as they felt they were into everything that was a bit too New Age for their personal spiritual preferences.

I smiled whilst observing how Sam Gardner offered to takeover a wedding for the ill pastor at the Unitarian Church as for some reason, I knew what Gulley had planned up his sleeve even before it was pronounced directly. This is a story of personal growth and spiritual growth, of finding where your heart lies and how your spirit is being renewed throughout the experiences which accumulate your hours. I found it very interesting how Gulley granted Gardner both innocence and thoughtfulness in handling different situations, especially those that would take him outside his comfort zone. Gulley wrote Gardner with a bit more of acceptance than his Quaker fellows and a bit more inclination to move forward past the old ways than his peers; if anything, he was very apparent both Sam Gardner and his wife were in direct need of a new life. Somewhere outside of Harmony and perhaps even, on a new course that would give them a new thanksgiving for experiences that would re-define how they lived. This is one thing that is true of Unitarian churches (or Unitarian Universalist churches; UUs for short) you can be from any spiritual background and find like-minded souls within it’s church walls.

I found Sam’s wife Barbara refreshing! She was speaking to the truth of married life and how sometimes husbands get too reliant on their wives for such ordinary things like cooking! I nearly laughed myself silly when I saw Gulley had actually written-in the ‘most go-to meal’ for husbands: cereal! Honestly, it’s scenes like this of a frustrated wife who wants to become more independently self-sustaining (she’s been a stay-at-home-Mum and longs to help carve out a bit of extra income to offset the fact their always falling a bit short of funds) that make this first novel of Hope so very entertaining to read!

Watching Sam’s life unravel due to ignorance and prejudice was difficult, but observing his resolve to not weaken in the face of his peers simply because they differed on their beliefs was champion! Keeping your strength in the face of indifference is difficult enough but finding your bravery amongst those you know best at a moment where their bullheadedness is opposite of your own open heart is commendable. A lot of what is happening inside A Place Called Hope can readily be observed in modern life. Churches are being too exclusive and are not accepting of anyone outside of whom they perceive as fitting their ideal match for a congregation. This is short-sided on their part but a sad truth of what you will find if you make your rounds at local churches. It did not surprise me that Sam felt disillusioned by his neighbours and so-called friends, who would rather persecute him than accept they had differences between them. In his case it was doubly difficult has he was a minister at a church (Quaker meetinghouse) that had a definitive outline of what was acceptable and not acceptable; thereby driving the nail to point out to him he needed to make a radical change in his professional life.

What was quite tragically classic is how quickly the congregation turnt on Sam as soon as he was fired. Their true colours were quite apparent as soon as it came time to find his replacement but also, in so doing, you learnt a few things about the elders in charge that would make you cringe! What was more alarmingly is that due to the added stress of job displacement countered with the bills that Sam felt was neverending with the reality of a house that has more owed on it than it’s worth – for the first time in his life, Sam was questioning the meaning behind his path as a pastor. It did not feel as clean-cut to him originally and his uselessness in understanding other fields or even other jobs that he could take in the interim before he resolved his main career was grating on his nerves. His wife on the other hand collected more hours (working a solid seven days) and supported him as best she could, whilst recognising he was better off losing his job than keeping it. Even Barbara started to notice the subtle difference in her husband’s demeanor when he was away from the people who gave him the most grief.

Right in the middle of everything falling apart for Sam and Barbara, an unexpected turn of events allows them to say goodbye to their former lives. For each of them, a new beginning is exactly what is needed; a time to shed away the past and embrace a new future. I found myself truly enjoying their journey, including watching how Gulley used humour and honesty to talk about topics that are current whilst bridging together a walk of faith everyone can relate too, as it broaches how your walk is individual. It’s a beautifully uplifting story, filled with characters you cannot help but enjoy reading about and a centering on the quaintly humble life you can live in smaller townes.

I truly loved every inch of A Place Called Hope and cannot wait to return to the Hope series! If your seeking an uplifting light-hearted book to read that will keep you in laughter and pauses of thought, this is definitely a series you want to pick up as one of your next reads!

I appreciated how open-minded the series is written and how cross-relatable Gulley has made his character Pastor Sam Gardner! Truly a pleasure to read!

You will not want to put this one down until you’ve reached the conclusion!

And, then your treated to an excerpt of the sequel “A Lesson in Hope”!

The inspiring small towne fiction of Philip Gulley:

The best humour for me is when Gulley is first presenting the obnoxious focus on the ‘smallest of details’ and the ‘finer points of how to run a community’s church’. This was seen through the process of attempting to update a church’s directory records and how obstinate the church’s elders were to make any progress towards using technology to aide the Pastor’s organisation to keep his flock in communication with him and each other. It’s not too ironic to think there are those who hesitate to upgrade their methods of keeping ‘house’ so to speak, as too often, people overthink how technology can be used for the positive rather than always asserting there is something negative about how technology can change our lives. You have to seek the balance and not be afraid to paddle in waters that you might not at first understand completely but will takeaway more benefits than harm.

Gulley has created a fusion of INSPY literature where current topics within spiritual communities are commonplace and where different denominations most often have become the ‘new’ interfaith network rather than having different religious backgrounds represented at interfaith fellowships and meet-ups. It’s quite interesting to see how he laid the foundation of this new series, as even though I’m a bit in the dark about the Harmony series, I can see why readers fell in step with where Gulley was taking them! He’s keeping the dialogue current, the topics on point to what matters most today and creating an interesting balance between tradition and new ideas which broker together to form a new dialogue to discuss. To say it’s a charming read is putting it mildly, as it’s the best book to read if you need to unwind, soak inside a quirky towne and sit back to see what unfolds at every turn of the page!

I loved too, how openly Gulley is sharing a message about Equality and Acceptance for everyone and how churches who want to thrive in today’s world need to remember everyone is our neighbour and we’re all walking through life side by side. In other words, it was wonderful to see how a Quaker minster who believed in Equality and supportive of LGBTQ+ rights was in the middle of a transitional period of his life where his previous seat as minister no longer supported his personal views and beliefs. This is a beautiful story that encompasses what I love to find inclusive for Equality in Literature and I know readers who follow the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement will appreciate it, too. It’s very forward-thinking and openly honest about how you have to stand strong even if the people around you are confronting you about your personal beliefs which run counter-current to their own.

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This book review is courtesy of:

Center Street

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!

Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst bloggers who gravitate towards the same stories to read. Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Sunday, 31 July, 2016 by jorielov in 21st Century, Balance of Faith whilst Living, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Book Review (non-blog tour), CenterStreet, Compassion & Acceptance of Differences, Equality In Literature, Inspirational Fiction & Non-Fiction, LGBTTQPlus Fiction | Non-Fiction, Modern Day, Quaker Fiction, Quakers, Small Towne USA




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