"Readers will fall in love with the characters in this story."
Wow. An author dreams of a response like that, and I am humbled and delighted by Jennie Hansen's words about GOLDEN, my latest novel. Today I'm sharing her review in Meridian Magazine with my blog readers:
reviewed by Jennie Hansen
No one wants to enter the dark old mansion known as the Witch House. It’s actually a retirement home housing a dozen elderly people, but it’s poorly maintained. The landscaping is overgrown, the house is a dingy black color, and the interior is worse. When Jana Waterson and her seven month pregnant partner are assigned to visit teach a new resident there, she is appalled by the gloomy atmosphere. One of the elderly residents, a former nurse, recognizes the symptoms of preeclampsia in Jana’s partner who is quickly whisked off to the hospital. When Jana calls her husband, Ethan, who is the new bishop, he rushes to the hospital to give the woman a blessing. Thus begins the Waterson’s introduction to the house and its residents that soon become a major part in their lives and the lives of their ward members.
The Waterson children insist they want nothing to do with the Witch House, but Ethan is more afraid of his calling as bishop than of the spooky old house. With the owners’ approval he takes on renovating the house as a ward project. Many ward members are reluctant at first to get involved, but little by little the various organizations agree to portions of the project and some of the children adopt the individual residents as unofficial grandparents. Conversions, an irate son, a visit from a television station, a convert who changes her mind, and a romance or two are just a few of the happenings that occur during the project. Most surprising are the discoveries concerning the old house. Most rewarding perhaps is the discovery that past fears and doubts can be overcome. Black can be turned to gold.
Readers will fall in love with the characters in this story. Their doubts and fears are the type most of us struggle with. Each of the Watersons is a distinct personality with flaws, strengths, and personality quirks that make them realistic. Ethan and Jan’s interaction with each other and with their children strengthen the story. The residents of the senior facility are a great cross section of the elderly. Like people anywhere at any age they have likes and dislikes, they argue, they support each other. They also have memories they hold dear. They hold life dear too, and aren’t through living. Some are in wheelchairs and some rely on canes, but all are fiercely independent.
Hilton includes many humorous situations and clever lines, but there is a serious side underlying the humor. The story acknowledges the regrets most of us have and the insecurities we feel in certain situations, but it allows her characters to grow and better understand the atonement. She shows how weaknesses can become strengths, mistakes can be overcome, the power of forgiveness, and shows how in helping others we also help ourselves become stronger and better. As the Witch House is transformed from a place no one wants to enter to a golden opportunity desired by almost everyone, a similar transformation takes place in the hearts of those who take part in the project. Being elderly doesn’t keep the residents who decide to be baptized from becoming pioneers, the first members of the Church in their families. The author manages all this cleverly with a fun story and no preaching.
Joni Hilton is the author of twenty-four books, many magazine articles, and several award-winning plays. She is a regular feature writer for Meridian Magazine and also writes for Music and the Spoken Word. Formerly a TV talk show host, she now tours the U.S. as a corporate spokeswoman and a motivational speaker. She has held many leadership roles in her ward and stake and currently serves as ward Relief Society president. She and her husband live in California and they are the parents of four children.