#IMWAYR: Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg
I hope everyone is doing well! Today, I'm reviewing another adult novel, since I've given myself the freedom to review adult novels on this kidlit roundup
when the need arises when I haven't read anything else. I'm taking a look at Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg!
Please note, this is an adult book, and although I think it is perfectly acceptable for YA readers, it contains a bit of slightly mature content that doesn't make it a great pick for younger readers.
Also, there are no spoilers in the review below for the preceding book, The Story of Arthur Truluv.
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(Before I get into this review, I have to note that my copy of this book has the weirdest printing error I've ever seen in my life—pages 117 through 132 are duplicated. As in, there are two full sets of them. It's so bizarre I had to share it!)
Night of Miracles is the first of two companion novels to The Story of Arthur Truluv, a wonderful novel with an irresistible combination of warmth and depth. It's best to read that book before trying out Night of Miracles, because this book does contain spoilers for the first book—but rather than focusing on the same set of characters as book one, this book uses beloved character Lucille Howard as a jumping-off point for a cast that is pretty much all new.
Let's take a look at the publisher's description! Please note, I have redacted a small portion of the publisher's description below to avoid spoilers for The Story of Arthur Truluv.
Lucille Howard is getting on in years, but she stays busy. Thanks to the inspiration of her friend Arthur Truluv, she has begun to teach baking classes, sharing the secrets to her delicious classic Southern yellow cake, the perfect pinwheel cookies, and other sweet essentials. Her classes have become so popular that she’s hired Iris, a new resident of Mason, Missouri, as an assistant. Iris doesn’t know how to bake but she needs to keep her mind off a big decision she sorely regrets.
When a new family moves in next door and tragedy strikes, Lucille begins to look out for Lincoln, their son. Lincoln’s parents aren’t the only ones in town facing hard choices and uncertain futures. In these difficult times, the residents of Mason come together and find the true power of community—just when they need it the most.
I honestly didn't know what my thoughts on this book were when I finished reading it, and it's been a little while since I finished it anyway. So I just took a few minutes to flip through it, and it's definitely a good sign that those few minutes turned into about an hour of me reliving the best moments of this story!
The best part of Night of Miracles is Lucille Howard. Lucille is such a wonderful character in The Story of Arthur Truluv, and her return gives her the character development that was squeezed out of that first book. Lucille is crotchety, yet compassionate—she is the kind of person that can bond with a child or keep them in line just as effectively. We see the complex emotions Lucille is grappling with, as well as her stubbornness to keep going, whether so she can keep teaching her baking classes (which feature the most delicious-sounding desserts) or so she can be there for the people she loves.
Children also play a meaningful part in Night of Miracles as well. Lincoln, the preteen son of the couple next door to Lucille, is clever and likable yet still a child, and Lucille's quick-witted, no-nonsense demeanor makes her a great match for him when the two are forced by circumstances to come together. I loved seeing the ways Lucille bonds with him—she isn't his grandparent, but the way she acts with him is beautifully reminiscent of the grandparent-grandchild relationships so many of us cherish. And there's another child in the story who I won't say too much about, except that she too is a wonderful companion for Lucille.
I also want to mention Iris, a new addition who thankfully returns in the third and final book of this series, The Confession Club. The way Lucille slowly welcomes Iris into her world, and the way Iris slowly begins to absorb Lucille's best qualities, is beautiful to watch—it's a wonderful example of how older generations pass on what they have learned to those who are listening in younger generations (which is not to say that Iris is super-young, just younger than Lucille—she is middle-aged). Iris also grapples with some personal history that is meaningfully yet concisely depicted and says a lot about human relationships and their imperfections—and the resolution to that plot line is very rewarding. And finally, Iris also forms a connection with another neighbor, Tiny Dawson, and he and their relationship are both delightful to see too.
One other quick note I want to add is that Lincoln's parents, Abby and Jason, are excellent characters as well—they act as foils for Iris's difficulties in how their relationship is imperfect too, but ultimately built on a sustainable foundation. Seeing them work together and overcome hurdles is simply wonderful!
Before I get into a few critiques, one final note I want to add is that Elizabeth Berg has some serious writing talent—she's not as great at plotting an entire book as one might like, but she can cram in some absolutely beautiful meditations about the world through the different characters' perspectives via third-person narration. This is one of those books where beautiful little mini-lessons are scattered throughout, and it makes for a wonderful, engrossing reading experience.
Now for some critiques—unlike with The Story of Arthur Truluv, there are a few specific things in this book that could use improvement. Lucille gets a pretty good amount of time in the spotlight (although I always want more of her), but I really wish we had more time with Lincoln, his parents, and Iris—the scenes you do get with them are as lovely and meaningful as I described, but you can also tell that these characters have even more to say that there just isn't time for in this story.
And what's particularly aggravating is that one plot line—that of Tiny and fellow new addition Monica's will-they-won't-they relationship—is slightly dreadful to read and could easily have been cut to make more room for the other characters. It's unclear why Tiny and Monica make such absolutely-ridiculous decisions that could easily be avoided, and the whole thing is so predictable. And relatedly, Monica herself is probably the weakest character of the story (which is why I didn't mention her until now)—I really needed more personality or backstory (beyond the vague relationship with her mother) to make her "screen time" worthwhile.
The last thing I'll note is that the ending of the book is not badly written, but there's not as much of a takeaway as I would have liked—whereas The Story of Arthur Truluv brought many meaningful life lessons to the table, this book is more of a well-executed character study, a sort of wool blanket of a book to get cozy in, but not to base life decisions upon.
Overall, despite this book's flaws, Night of Miracles is a book with rich, realistic characters that invites you to spend time in its beautifully written world. It may not stick with you forever, but it is a light yet meaningful read that does an excellent job bridging the gap between The Story of Arthur Truluv and The Confession Club!
My rating is: Pretty good!