Review: Refuge of the Heart by Ruth Logan Herne

October 16, 2015 Christian, contemporary, romance, Ruth Logan Herne 15

refuge of the heartDistrict Attorney Mitchell Sanderson wanted for nothing and lost everything in a tragic accident. A dogged worker, Mitch’s conviction rate earned him respect and trust. Now up for re-election, Mitch’s law-and-order persona makes him a shoo-in candidate. But when faith, conscience and love of a troubled refugee ripple the smooth waters of his existence, can Mitch risk everything for love?

Magdalena Serida fought her way out of the terrors of a government-quelled insurgent uprising in Chechnya. The church-sponsored refugee knows the horrors of war first-hand. Now in America with her five-year-old sister, Lena is uncertain who to trust. Her Christian faith has maintained her through the loss of her family, but when Mitch Sanderson shows interest, Lena longs to take a chance. Should she open herself up to this man of law and order, a man who imprisons women like her? Or slip quietly back into the shadowed fringe of anonymity?

But choices slip away when Mitch’s friend spews half-truths about Lena, rumors that cost Mitch his new love and possibly the election. Can he find his way to a faith deep enough to love again, and to offer Lena the refuge of his heart?

my thoughtsEarlier today, I participated in a cover reveal for my dear friend Pepper Basham’s upcoming Penned In Time series novel The Thorn Keeper.  When I reviewed the first book in that series, The Thorn Bearer, I described it like this:

It isn’t often that I finish a fictional book and pause to reflect on it in silence for several minutes, but I did in this case. Even after I finished the last word, this story resonated throughout my spirit for a good long while.

I feel the same way about Refuge of the Heart.

It’s not all about books in my life. Almost all 🙂 but not completely.  When I’m not reading or blogging or spending time with my family, I stand in front of a room of adults from all over the world and teach them English.  I myself know mostly just English, like a true American, so it can get quite entertaining in my class as I try to communicate new vocabulary and grammar. But oh.. it’s so much more than words and structure and pronunciation.  It’s about hugging someone who maybe has never been hugged before.  It’s about laughing until your sides hurt one minute and then having your breath stolen away by the purest friendship the next minute.  Teaching English as a Second Language has – without question – completely changed my life.

And so, as I read Ruth Logan Herne’s exquisitely beautiful Refuge of the Heart, I laughed and cried and grinned and sobbed with Magdalena from Chechnya.  Ruth so perfectly captured the voice of an educated immigrant, the inflections and the frustrations (idioms!), the struggle and the dignity.  It was easy for me to see and hear Lena in my mind as I read.  Because to me, Lena is more than just a tiny but fierce character.

She is my friend from China who got out of my car to watch me pump gas because “I must learn.”  That same friend now teaches Chinese in a local elementary school and wins awards left and right.  I see her determination in Lena.

She is my friend from Ukraine who told me just this past Monday that she discovered a new reason to love me that day. Her new reason? I had come into class with a bag on each arm, in her words “like Ukrainian woman in Soviet Union”. Sweet laughter shared together! She is this same dear Ukrainian friend who asked me one day if I ever forgot that I wasn’t talking to Internationals and spoke to Americans in my slow (ESL teacher) voice. “Maybe,” she said with a wink, “they think you have not much skills.” I nearly had to sit down on the curb from laughing at her probably very accurate assessment! I could hear Lena saying something like that to Mitch 😉

She is my friend from Uzbekistan who said that she liked my new haircut because I had a pretty elbow, while swiping her hand across her forehead. More delightfully-shared laughter. She is this same friend who asked me to help her understand the Bible while she received her first chemotherapy treatment. As we read the Sermon on the Mount together, she looked up at me and nodded. “This means I have to forgive my ex-husband, yes?” Her abusive ex-husband. I’d heard her story, had cried with her over it, and I was struck temporarily mute in the face of her childlike faith. “Yes,” I managed to croak, my throat tight with emotion, “Yes it does.” To me, Lena has her face.

She is my friend from Iraq who shared her story with me one day as I drove her home from English class. Her family lived in Baghdad. Her husband opened the door of their home one day and a bomb exploded, killing him instantly and injuring her son-in-law and destroying their house. Yet she loves to dance – to Shakira and Beyonce, no less. We have dance parties on the way home sometimes, and I’m sure other motorists are highly entertained. I wanted to have that kind of dance party with Lena and Anna.

Refuge of the Heart is a romance but it’s so much more. (And oh, the romance is so incredibly sweet and tender.  The way Mitch deliberately pursues Lena and his unabashed affection for Anna… simply swoonable!)

It is a story that will reach into your heart and squeeze until you feel you can’t breathe from the emotion.

“God knows you, Lena Serida… He cherishes you.  How he wishes you could cherish yourself.”

It is a story filled with warmth and humor and smiles in spite of the heaviness of loss that both Lena and Mitch have known.

“Clean up?” Lena toted an armload of boxes as they descended the stairs.

“Doll up.  Put on the dog. Dress to the nines.  All dressed up like you are tonight.”

“This language gives me pain.”

The look on her face made him laugh.

It is a story that will open your eyes to the world around you – including the world at your backdoor.

…he had trouble envisioning the horror that had overtaken the small Russian republic in its militant quest for independence… But he could see the conflict now, simply by reading one woman’s eyes.

It is a story of hope, of redemption, of courage, of survival.

She would make a place for herself in this vast country, this home of the free and the brave.  And maybe someday she’d feel free.  Feel brave.

Bottom Line: Have some tissues handy when you read this book. But be prepared to smile a lot too!  Ruth Logan Herne’s writing style is perfection, as are her characters.  This story – and Mitch, Lena, and Anna – have thoroughly captivated me and they will stay in my heart for a long time to come. Highly recommended for any and every one! Refuge of the Heart is a book you just simply must read!! If I could make it a requirement for all my blog followers, I would 😉

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)

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ruth logan herneAbout the Author:

Born into poverty, Ruth Logan Herne is the mother of six and grandmother to thirteen. She and her husband, Dave, live on a small farm in upstate New York. She works full time but carves a few hours each day to write the kind of stories she likes to read, filled with poignancy, warmth and delightful characters. She loves God, chocolate, writing, dogs, Charlie Brown Christmas trees, rooting for the underdog and people who go the distance while others see the path as too long or broken!
Connect with Ruth at her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Carrie

15 Responses to “Review: Refuge of the Heart by Ruth Logan Herne”

  1. Trixi

    Carrie, what wonder-filled stories you’ve shared about the women you’ve met in this walk of life! I laughed and cried right with you as if I was in the same room. I could certainly envision each one of these women & the precious moments you have had with them 🙂 Ahhh, friendship, isn’t it grand?
    I’m certainly excited for “Refuge of the Heart”! With each blog post I’ve followed, I fall more in love with the story. It has been added to my want-to-read list! I love a story that moves me like this one sounds like it would, where it rocks my little world a bit & makes me reflect for many days after that last page. It isn’t often a book does this, but boy when it does, it echoes in my heart for a long while! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book. I love reading what other people think of different stories!

    • Carrie

      Trixi, thank you so much for such a heartfelt response! I’m looking forward to your thoughts on Refuge once you’re able to read it too 🙂

    • seekerruthyherne

      Trixi, aren’t Carrie’s beautiful revelations about her students book-worthy???? Carrie, I love those words, too, and I can totally see the people you describe… and the scenes! What a wonderful blessing this is, to work with people whose vision of our amazing and beautiful country is shaped by their experiences in other lands, and untainted by cool expectation…. Thank you so much for this!

      • Carrie

        Ruth, thank YOU for such a beautiful book. I may just buy copies for all the other teachers in our program!!

  2. Bonnie Roof

    I absolutely loved your post, Carrie – thank you for your beautiful review, and your touching stories about your friends. After reading those stories, I can understand why Ruth’s ‘Refuge of the Heart’ especially touched you. I read and reviewed it several weeks ago, and experienced so many of the same emotions as you. It’s such a beautiful book – your words captured it perfectly, your comments re: it’s characters remaining in your heart for a long time to come – are exactly my sentiments, thinking about them, even now, gives me a warm feeling. I’m anxiously awaiting Ruth’s next book for Franciscan Media.

    Thank you for the work you do with those learning the English language, it sounds like such a rewarding occupation. After meeting you – I’m sure your humor, warmth, intensity, and faith are a wonderful inspiration and blessing to those you teach. And a joy to Him!!

    Shared post!!

    • Carrie

      Oh Bonnie, I will treasure this comment!! Thank you – you’re so sweet 🙂 And yes, you’re right. It gives such a warm feeling!

      • seekerruthyherne

        Ditto. I honestly never thought of it from an ESOL teacher’s viewpoint, my experiences with first generation immigrants came from working retail and as a teacher’s aide in a school with a high Ukrainian population from a nearby apartment complex. While Mom and Dad and Aunt and Uncle worked, Grandma would walk five or six or seven children along the sidewalk connecting the fenced school to the complex. In windy weather, or winter, she’d have a woolen scarf, folded into a triangle, and knotted under her chin. The little girls often had similar scarves. It was like a look back in time to see them coming across the school yard… and a beautiful one. A family struggling, but working together for the children’s safety and financial security in a new land. So perfectly beautiful.

        • Carrie

          Oh Ruth, that makes me think of my dear Ukrainian friends!! You’ve described it so beautifully

  3. seekerruthyherne

    I love that they work together so beautifully. We all have families, if we step back we realize how difficult that must be… to live in close quarters, dealing with mothers or mothers-in-law, scraping by, disagreements…. I’ve seen Greek families build restaurant and food service businesses doing this very thing, working hand in hand with other Greeks. How wonderful!

    But then I saw Lena, so alone except for a wonderful church community. Filled with guilt, unsure, few to talk to because the church isn’t close by… and how to deal with those huge differences, all alone, while putting on a calm face for Anna. The struggles of loneliness and guilt fueled by a love for America and the urge to stand on her own two feet.

    What a conundrum, but not atypical for immigrants, right?

    Now I want a Ukrainian scarf!!!! 🙂

    • Carrie

      Not atypical in the least, dear Ruth! If you are ever in Kentucky you must stop by my class and meet all of my Lenas 🙂

  4. Kav

    Well I’m all teary-eyed after reading this review — partly because of your stories, Carrie, and partly because your words have brought Lena’s story back to me so vividly. Honestly, this is a book I will definitely read again and I don’t often re-read books. Lovely review.

  5. rbclibrary

    Wow! I am going to get my book club to read this one. Thanks so much for sharing it and your stories too.