Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review of "All for a Song" by Allison Pittman

Rating: 5 Stars
~  ~  ~
Review: "All for a Song" is a melodic new release, reminding me of the many reasons Allison Pittman is one of my favorite authors. Like most of the her other novels, "All for a Song" is filled with depth, faith, and discovery. I've learned from Pittman's previous novels that her plots are not completely predictable and rarely do her stories have fairy tale endings. Their realism and pain always linger with a poignancy unique to Pittman's work.

The novel opens on the eve of Dorothy Lynn's 107th birthday.  Throughout the novel, we see Dorothy's life as a young woman of 19 and as an old woman of 107.  The dual perspective is unique and provides a complete story. By the end of the novel, Dorothy Lynn's life and faith have come full circle. Building parts of the plot around the life of a woman over 100 is a fresh concept. The chapters focusing on Dorothy Lynn's present day life are just as enjoyable as those portraying the adventures of her youth. Her recollections often build anticipation about the upcoming events in the life of 19-year-old Dorothy Lynn.  Both stories, past and present, grasped my attention and created an unforgettable tale.

"All for a Song" is lyrical novel with resonating chords of hope, grace, and direction. Pittman sets her scenes on vastly different stages: St. Louis, Los Angeles, and a small town in the 1920s and an retirement home in 2010.  Her depiction of the 1920s takes center stage, shining through Pittman's use of clear descriptions and imagery.  She captures the temptations that defined the roaring 20s, but also introduces readers to the movements of faith that grew during the same era. I loved the historical detail and the scenes of Los Angeles and St. Louis in the glamour of an earlier era.  I often wish that I could transport myself back to an earlier time period, and the pages of a book like "All for a Song" allows me to do just that.

Whenever I pick-up a Allison Pittman novel, I know that I am about to begin a journey that transcends a printed page.  "All for a Song" is no exception, and I will keep it on my bookshelf alongside her other novels.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Tyndale House Publishers.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Summary from Tyndale: Dorothy Lynn Dunbar has everything she ever wanted: her family, her church, her community, and plans to marry the young pastor who took over her late father’s pulpit. Time spent in the woods, lifting her heart and voice in worship accompanied by her brother’s old guitar, makes her life complete . . . and yet she longs for something more.

Spending a few days in St. Louis with her sister’s family, Dorothy Lynn discovers a whole new way of life—movies, music, dancing; daring fashions and fancy cars. And a dynamic charismatic evangelist . . . who just happens to be a woman. When Dorothy Lynn is offered a chance to join Aimee Semple McPherson’s crusade team, she finds herself confronted with temptations she never dreamed of. Can Dorothy Lynn embrace all the Roaring Twenties has to offer without losing herself in the process?

About Allison Pittman: Award-winning author Allison Pittman left a seventeen-year teaching career in 2005 to follow the Lord's calling into the world of Christian fiction, and God continues to bless her step of faith. Her novels For Time and Eternity and Forsaking All Others were both finalists for the Christy Award for excellence in Christian fiction, and her novel Stealing Home won the American Christian Fiction Writers' Carol Award. She heads up a successful, thriving writers group in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives with her husband, Mike, their three sons, and the canine star of the family—Stella.

Tyndale Author Q & A:

1. What was your inspiration for this book, All for a Song?

There were so many different pieces that came together with this book; it’s hard to name just one. First, I was introduced to, and then became fascinated with Aimee Semple McPherson, and while I wasn’t ready to take on her story, I knew I wanted to create my own characters to somehow come into her sphere. She was a woman who embraced both ministry and fame, and I wanted to create a character who had that same opportunity. With that, I am so inspired by the decade of the 1920’s—such sweeping social changes, shifts in moral centering, an explosion of choices and opportunities for women. It was a time to test one’s faith—to go against the new norms in pursuit of righteousness. Such a challenge!

2. Tell me about your main character Dorothy Lynn. Was her character based upon anyone in particular?

The young Dorothy Lynn, no, not really—not beyond any other singer/songwriter out there. She’s a young woman with a message and a voice, so maybe she’s a mash-up of every musician I know. The older Dorothy Lynn, Miss Lynnie, is somewhat based on the mother of a friend of mine. His mother went to be with the Lord while I was in the final stages of writing this novel, and at her funeral, I learned that she had a stroke years before her passing, during which she had a glimpse of Heaven, and had spent her intervening years longing to return. I remember going home from that celebration of her life and re-writing just about every Breath of Angels scene, incorporating that into Dorothy Lynn’s story. It was exactly what the story 
needed, and brought about a depth I couldn’t have imagined in the initial draft.

3. What lessons or truths will your readers find in the pages of this novel?

I hope that they learn that it’s good to take a chance, to take hold of opportunities that come your way, even if it doesn’t always make sense to do so. Yes, there are times that require periods of prayer and reflection and guidance-seeking, but then there are times when you have to hop on the next train and trust that God has the details well in hand. Along with that, I’d want them to know that while there is breath, there is opportunity for grace and forgiveness, but we might need to humble ourselves. There’s a theme of a longing for home, no matter how enticing the alternative seems. 

4. Although this novel is set in the 1920s, how does Dorothy Lynn’s story still resonate today?

The world today wants nothing more than to entice young women to exploit themselves in some way, and the enemy wants nothing more than to make us think that we are beyond redemption. We all make stupid, thoughtless, reckless decisions; we all get ourselves into such unbelievably embarrassing messes; we all disappoint our loved ones. The world tells you to move on; God tells you to go back. 

5. As a writer, what did you particularly enjoy about crafting this story?

Oh, my goodness. As a historical writer, I loved the time period—that sort of new, innocent fumbling with innovations of the time. One of my favorite scenes was when the 107-year-old Dorothy Lynn experiences her first iPad. (By the way, I had to make her that old in order to make all the history “fit.” I spent every day for a month watching the Willard Scott segment on the Today show making sure that her age would be believable. Wouldn’t you know? Every week there’s somebody that tops the 105th birthday!)

6. What is your hope for this story? How would you like it to impact readers?

I would love it if this book would prompt a reader to reach out to somebody they feel they have lost. Reconciliation is hard—whether you’re the perpetrator or the victim of whatever “wrong” that happened. But life is short, even if you’re going to get more than a century of living, at some time that final day will come. Close those gaps in your life. Offer and ask for forgiveness. Leave a legacy of grace.

7. How has this novel helped you to grow as a storyteller?

My tendency (a very purposeful one) is to leave my stories with a bit of an “unfinished” edge. I like my characters to leave the page on the cusp of fulfillment, so that my readers can have the pleasure of imagining those final, satisfying moments. A good friend (and, coincidentally a fan) of mine said, “I love your books. I hate your endings. I’m just going to have to accept that this is what an Allison Pittman story does.” So—how fun was this to write the most definitive ending, ever! To open a story on the last day of a character’s life—so totally new for me. 

8. What is the best advice or encouragement that you have received?

It goes back to a conversation I had with James Scott Bell back when I’d written approximately 7 chapters of what would become my first novel, Ten Thousand Charms. The whole conversation is chronicled in Chapter 16 of his fabulous book The Art of War for Writers. (I’m the “young woman” – which I was, at the time, sort of…) Anyway, I was frustrated and discouraged, and he explained to me that this writing thing was like a pyramid. At its base, you have everybody who ever thinks they maybe might want to try to start writing a book someday. At the top is Max Lucado. The rest of us are somewhere in-between. “Your job…is to keep moving up the pyramid. Each level presents its own challenges, so concentrate on the ones right in front of you.” I love and welcome every new challenge.

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