Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But when she receives a shocking telephone call from her sister, Jewel, everything she's worked for begins to crumble.
After the sudden death of Jewel's husband, Jewel needs Lula's help. With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister. But the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Neither subject belongs anywhere near the halls of academia, according to Lula!
Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year, determined to do well and prove herself to the town. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys' coach, Chet, to learn the game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She's returning to college as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet.
However, the more time she spends in Dunn, the more Lula realizes God is working on her heart--and her future is beginning to look a lot different than she'd expected. (picture and summary from Goodreads)
When I saw the cover I thought, "Oh...a book about a piano player!" But...it's hard to say what our heroine really is....a mathematician or a pianist. She can do both. When the story begins Lula's passion is mathematics. It has given her opportunities for higher education, a teaching job, and makes her feel smart and solid...nothing like the "Fruity Lu" of her youth. And since her mother's death, mathematics has allowed Lula to earn the attention of her father and pursue his dream for her of higher education. Throughout the book, even though Lula has to become a music teacher to support her family, she is able to tutor some girls in math and thoroughly enjoys it. There was a kind of spiritual connection that she made with music, though. Once she let go of everything others thought of her, she found her long lost joy in playing pieces on the piano. When it comes down to it, pretty much everything Lula does in this story she becomes good at. It's hard to discern whether or not piano playing was her truest passion.
A unique characteristic of this novel is that it's told in first person, but the chapters alternate between Lula's perspective and Chet's perspective. This is usually the kind of thing I really like in a novel, and I did like it for the most part in this one. The only criticism I have is that at times the switching of perspectives stalled the momentum that was being built up in the story. Just when I was really getting into what Lula was thinking, it switched to Chet, and vice-versa.
I would consider this a very clean novel, which I appreciate, but at times I wanted a little more spark between the two characters. More communication that would lead to them sharing their feelings more was also needed in the story. It was a slower-paced romance, and it was hindered by some rules that were set with Lula's job, but I would've like to have seen Lula and Chet follow the rules but still stoke the romantic fires a little more. A little more talk AND a little more action ; ).
There was a plot twist in the end that I don't want to spoil, but I'll just say that it surprised me and even made the story stall out for me. I could understand why the character felt the need to do it, but it didn't carry the momentum for me that an action at the climax of the story would normally have. It's kind of hard to describe my reaction without spoiling it...so I'll just leave it at that.
Playing by Heart has the themes of loyalty, self-sacrifice, and honor...all themes that are carried out well throughout the novel. I liked the way Chet encouraged some young men he spent time with to honor their parents even if it was hard. Chet is an honorable man himself, not giving in to flirtations from other women and tries to be a good example for his students and basketball players. Lula gives up her dreams to help her sister, which was very hard for her. Even I found myself thinking negatively about Lula's family for wanting her to sacrifice everything while they went on with their lives.
I'm going to give this novel:
*** 1/2 stars
**I was given a free copy of this novel from the publisher (Bethany House) in order to give an unbiased review**
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