Feb 8, 2011

An Unlikely Blessing by Judy Baer

An Unlikely Blessing is a heartfelt story about a new pastor and life-long city dweller Alex Armstrong, who reluctantly accepts his first assignment, a two-point parish in the wilds of North Dakota. Hilltop Township, a farming community, blooms from the prairie like a wild pink rose—lovely and prickly all at once, much like the people who live there.

Alex quickly finds that this lovely place is in quiet peril. Farmers are struggling to make ends meet: Jonas Owens, a faithful member of Hilltop parish, is on the brink of losing the farm. Alex believes that part of why God called him to Hilltop was to help turn things around, and steps in with ideas for saving the Owens' land. But can even God's minister help save this rural community?

There are a lot of firsts for the new pastor—the annual Hunter's Breakfast, julebukking (also called Christmas fooling), King Oscar's fish balls, and the melody of the musical saw. And the new, single pastor creates remarkable excitement among the unmarried women in the community. If you could die of hot dish overdose, Alex would be a dead man. Whether performing weddings, counseling his flock, or herding cattle by snowmobile, Alex soon discovers that his new church home has as much to teach him as he will teach them. Day by day, he falls more in love with the people of Hilltop Church. People may leave Hilltop, but Hilltop never leaves them.


Judy Baer is the author of over seventy-five books for adults and teens. She has won the Romance Writer of America Bronze Medallion and has been a RITA finalist twice. She lives in Elk River, Minnesota with her husband. Follow the Hilltop characters on Judy’s blog and find out more about Judy and her books at http://www.judykbaer.com

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I just finished reading An Unlikely Blessing, and I honestly feel like I had a visit with old friends and family from my childhood. I grew up in a small farming community that sounds very much like Hilltop Township, complete with the close-knit Scandinavian neighbours that truly cared about each other.

Alex Armstrong moved to the community of Hilltop and became the pastor of two quaint little country churches. He divided his time between the two congregations, and quickly became involved in the lives of his new friends and neighbours.

I loved "meeting" all the characters in the book, and so many of them reminded me of people from my childhood. Three elderly siblings who still lived together and never married, the couple who was losing their farm to the bank, the neighborhood bully, and the little boy who rescued hurting animals (including a skunk) are just a few of the characters that I found endearing.

And the food ... the descriptions of the amazing potluck dinners at the church, and homemade preserves and apple pies, to name just a few. Some great recipes are also included in the book, which I intend to try very soon.

Here is a quote that almost had me rolling on the floor laughing:

"Gandy, you started this. The least you can do is tell me what lutefisk is."

"It's cod fish soaked in lye. Around here they serve it with boiled potatoes, peas, and lefse. My mother likes it with mashed rutabagas. When you cook it, it becomes translucent and stinks like crazy. Then you pour butter all over it and ..."

"You're right. I'm not ready for that." His stomach roiled at the thought of stinky fish and mashed rutabagas.

Talk about a flashback!!  This describes perfectly every single Christmas in our house as we were growing up.  That stinky lutefisk served with hot butter was a delicacy to most, but to a child it was disgusting and the whole house reeked from the smell. And to also mention rutabagas (turnips) just about did me in.

This little book is a gem, and a small glimpse into the life of a close knit farming community.  It is exactly the type of place that my best memories come from. It was a true delight to read, and I look forward to discovering more books written by Judy Baer, especially the "Forever Hilltop" series.

Check out Judy Baer's 
An Unlikely Blessing 

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of An Unlikely Blessing through Litfuse Publicity Group, in exchange for my honest review.

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