(Review) The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Publisher and Publication Date: Berkley Books/Penguin Random House. February 2, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 384.
Format: NetGalley e-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers. Readers of early 20th century California history.
Rating: Excellent.

To read more information about the book from the publisher: Berkley Books. At this link there is an audio sample.

Link @ Amazon

Link @ Barnes and Noble

Author Info:
The following link is Susan Meissner’s bio.
Website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Pinterest

Links to read more information about the 1906, San Francisco earthquake.
Archives.gov-several photographs at this website
Wikipedia-don’t dismiss the write-up and photographs because it’s at Wikipedia

There are several videos of the earthquake destruction. I chose these two. The second shows San Francisco before the earthquake and afterwards.


The story begins in 1905, San Francisco, California.

Sophie Whalen arrives in San Francisco and is immediately taken to the courthouse for a hasty marriage to Martin Hocking. She met and married him on the same day. They’d written letters to one another while she still lived in New York City. He wanted a mother for his young daughter, Kat. He wanted a wife without fanfare. He is a business man and travels often.
Sophie had not been in New York City long. She is from Northern Ireland. She left behind her mother. A brother lives in Canada.
Sophie’s heart goes out to Cat. Sophie’s days are spent caring for Cat and making the house a home. The relationship with Martin is chilly, strained, and with no affection.
Meanwhile, a young woman arrives at Sophie and Martin’s home. Her visit followed by the earthquake shake up the lives of everyone.

While reading The Nature of Fragile Things I am reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

My Thoughts:

The Nature of Fragile Things is a heavy story. It is heavy with strong themes, it has a huge historical earthquake at its swirling center, and there is a mystery element. A book this heavy could cause gastric reflux, but it works, and it works well!

Themes in The Nature of Fragile Things: marriage, maternal health, courage, sacrifice, shame, ambition, obsession, bravery, complex trauma, death and dying, self-worth, abuse, betrayal, compassion, friendship, loyalty, parenting, society and culture standards, crime, and survival.

Several reasons why I love The Nature of Fragile Things:
1. Surprises. There are surprises about the characters I didn’t expect-I didn’t see coming.
2. Martin Hocking is sinister from the introduction. He is a character no one takes their eyes away from. I believe this is clever writing because it hides the possibility other characters are not who or what they claim to be.
3. The devastation of the 1906 earthquake and the fires afterwards are seen dramatically through the lens of Sophie. The descriptions and experiences brought additional tension and emotion to the story.
4. I have read (possibly) one other historical fiction on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I wonder why? This is a fabulous history spot to write about people’s lives through fiction. I love the time period. I love the history of this book.
5. I love the character Sophie. She is imperfect. She is not described as a beautiful, gorgeous woman. So often in stories the female lead characters are beauty queens. Okay, I am being overly dramatic. Most people are just in the middle. Neither the most beautiful nor the ugliest. In my opinion, middle of the road and imperfect people are believable. When the characters are believable I can relate to them. And, I can become swept up in the story.

(Review) The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller

The Meaning of Marriage
Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Books. First published 2011.
Genre: Christian nonfiction. Marriage.
Pages: 352.
Source: Self purchase.
Rating: Good.
Audience: A basic book on Christian marriage with a brief look at singleness.


Timothy Keller

Goodreads page for Timothy Keller (list of books, bio, etc.)

If someone were to ask me to explain this book in brief, I’d sum up The Meaning of Marriage as a Bible based book that gives the basics of a Christian marriage. The topics in the book are things to work towards in a marriage. This book is not helpful for people who are having marriage problems. This is not a self-help book.
The Meaning of Marriage is explained as a series of sermons that Keller has arranged and edited to a book. His wife is a big help with sharing stories from their marriage. Kathy has written chapter six, “struggling with the difference in gender roles between men and women.” Page 192. This chapter is titled, “Embracing The Other.”

A complete list of the chapters:
One-The Secret of Marriage
Two-The Power for Marriage
Three-The Essence of Marriage
Four-The Mission of Marriage
Five-Loving the Stranger
Six-Embracing the Other
Seven-Singleness and Marriage
Eight-Sex and Marriage

My Thoughts:
Well, I have many thoughts. Before I begin, I’d like to share my age, how many years I’ve been married, and my thoughts on marriage.
♥Age 55.
♥Married 37 years.
♥Marriage is as diverse, complicated, and messy as the people who are living it. And it doesn’t matter whether the people are Christian or not. Marriage is hard.
One of the great things about being 55 is I’ve had enough life experiences, and have observed enough people, to realize I will never have a grasp on fully understanding people. It just cannot be done. This includes my own husband.
Recently, I surveyed me, friends, and family members who are married. All of the marriages have had struggles or they are currently struggling. Some of the problems are big, even life changing.
Some examples of problems:
♦Health crisis, this includes mental health.
♦Financial, this includes when one spouse cannot or will not work.
♦Drug and alcohol abuse.
♦Gambling. I’m referring to examples when the grocery or rent money is gambled away.
♦Abuse in all forms.
♦Disagreement over children from a previous marriage.
♦A spouse after several years of marriage declares they are gay or lesbian.
♦Criminal activity.
♦One spouse wants children and the other doesn’t.
♦A spouse refuses to have a conversation about real issues. They turn away and walk off when a deep conversation starts.
♦When one spouse abandons the Christian belief.
♦When a spouse declares they are done with sex.
♦Abandonment. This includes emotional abandonment.
♦Military deployment during a time of war.
♦Arrest and imprisonment.
♦Deception, manipulation tactics, and compulsive lying.
♦Death. And, the spouse who died left no money and no insurance policy, but they left big debts.
It’s exhausting to list all of those problems, because I know all of the people who have lived through them or they are currently living through them. In nearly every situation, they grasp with the question: what do I do now?
The biggest problem with The Meaning of Marriage is it does not address any of the above problems listed. It is a proactive book, with teaching material for living out a Christian marriage. The focus of the book is what the Bible teaches.
On the back cover of the book, Keller addresses his concerns about teaching a Biblical marriage versus what the world’s culture believes. This is a big reason why the book has been written, to combat the wrong beliefs from the world.
I’m disappointed the book only gives illustrations that are positive. Not all problems can be worked out and marriages end.
In all of the problems I listed, all of the people attend church regularly and state they are Christians. Where do they turn for help? Counseling (including the prices at churches) are $80 to $150 per hour session. Counselors do not always accept insurance. They accept cash. Most people do not have extra money for counseling. Maybe if they don’t buy groceries they can attend a counseling session?
The marriage plan that God created is beautiful. Marriage is important for a stable society and culture. Marriage is an important foundation for a strong family. But marriages are in trouble, both in the Christian church and in the world. I’d like to read books from Christian authors who address the hard problems.
Timothy Keller teaches: “The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once.” Page 44.
I agree with his statement. I also believe marriage is a picture of grace or at least it should be. What marriage has taught me is that I cannot endure without strength and power from God. I cannot make it unless I pray for patience and self-control. I cannot make it if I dwell on what might have been or in fantasies. I must live in the present, even if it’s painful.

Image (5)

Two crazy unprepared kids. December 18, 1982.