Shawna Williams' novel, In All Things, depicts two imperfect people in pursuit of God and the desires of their heart. Meri desires movie stardom, and her husband, Jakob, wants to be an architect and provide for his family, all while raising twin boys. Can these parents stay on track to achieve their goals and yet make the sacrifices needed for their family's greater good? Williams captures the movie business of the 1950s, when Hollywood studios seemed to own their stars. The nostalgia of that time period is intriguing and adds to the story's enjoyment.
When Meri lands a five-year contract with a large movie studio, she's thankful the studio helps Jakob get his degree and a few good jobs to launch his career. But, Meri eventually despises the studio's control over her acting roles, and when her contract is nearing an end, she wants to call the shots in her career more than ever. After an actress confides to Meri that the success of getting the leading part and being the studio's best is never enough, Meri, who has the same thoughts deep in her heart, but hasn't wanted to admit it, questions whether her sacrifices have been worth it. Her life has been all about the success of winning an Oscar.
I read Christian fiction to experience the characters' struggles and triumphs as they try to live out their beliefs. Often I'm encouraged and learn from the ways they apply God's word to their lives. I enjoyed In All Things because of these likeable, blemished people in pursuit of a better life for themselves and their children through relationship with Jesus. She not only delivers a story with believable characters that pull at your heartstrings, she also brings passages of scripture to life. Her characters explore the possibility of letting God move in every aspect of life. I'm looking forward to this author's next book, and you will too.
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I just read In All Things by Shawna Williams and all I can say is . . . Why did I wait so long?!
In All Things is the gripping, emotional continuation of the story of Jakob and Meri Wilheimer, which began in No Other. In this story, Ms. Williams tackles REAL LIFE ISSUES, something that isn't often done in Christian fiction. Or if it is, it's just touched on. The characters in In All Things had some real problems and I'm so proud of Ms. Williams for writing Christian fiction that the average Christian woman (or man) can honestly relate to! We have all made mistakes that we regret, including trying to solve problems on my own instead of relying on the Lord thus resulting in an even bigger mistake. Yes, my heart strings were tugged on several times as I poured over these pages. Despite the issues, the spiritual theme of this book remained constant and in the end tied it all together for me in a very satisfying way. Thank you, Shawna Williams, for another moving story that clearly illustrates Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." I hated to see this one end.
In her new book, In All Things, Shawna Williams reintroduces us to Jakob and Meri. It's a decade later. Thanks to Jakob's willingness to move to California so Meri could pursue her dream of acting, she is now a well known actress.
They have everything they want. A family. Wealth. Careers.
Or so it seems.
But in their quest to gather all the wonderful things in the world, Jakob and Meri have forgotten the one thing that holds it all together. God.
They are so busy being and doing, their relationship is more akin to a house of cards. And the question is, what prevailing wind will finally be the one that knocks it over? Their relationship careens out of control, as their careers, Meri's in particular, begs more time. They find themselves facing dilemma's they never believed they could when they were young starry-eyed lovers.
Though Meri would rather not, they head home to visit the families they left behind and are forced to spend some time with each other and take a closer look at themselves and who they've become.
It takes Meri and Jakob sometime before they peel back the layers of apathy and time and begin to look at each through God's eyes again.
In All Things looks at the dark sides of marriage, and takes a look at what it really means to love even through the hard times. What it really means to commit to a spouse or to God. And it shows you that even when your world looks like it's falling apart, God can bring all things back together again. He's the thread of life that is In All Things and holds all things together.
I didn't think I could possibly enjoy the second book in this series more than the first. After all, No Other made my top fiction list for 2010. It's rare that more than one book in a series ends up on my favorites list in the same year. But In All Things struck a chord in me that resonates still. It had to do with characterization. Ms. Williams does a better job than most novelists in this department because she's not afraid to create human characters. Flawed characters. Characters who act like people act, not how we wish they would act or like some people's idea of publishing standards tells us they should act. I loved that about this book. The spiritual journey of each character flowed naturally and thus inspired me. Nothing seemed forced or contrived. Was anything "over the top?" Nope. Was there real emotion in this book? You betcha! I loved that. I also loved how the author showed the marital conflict and issues that came up in their relationship. Anyone could relate to those situations.
My heart engaged with each of the characters to some degree--even a few of the unlikable ones. They all made mistakes and had convincing regrets for those mistakes. They also made some good decisions along the way. The characters often tried to solve problems on their own rather than trusting God, and it took some major pitfalls to help them see that they needed to give everything they were trying to control over to God.
I loved the message about expectations and about trying to prove yourself to people. Sometimes people do things for the dumbest reasons, but to hurting hearts those things made a whole lot of sense at the time. People want to show their rivals that they weren't like some said they were or implied they were. Getting caught up in jealousies and insecurities made them vulnerable to all of the schemes the enemy cooked up to destroy their relationships with the Lord. This book exposes many of those nefarious tactics through the power of storytelling. I could go on and on but don't want to accidentally post any spoilers, so I'll refrain.
One of my favorite things about this book were Meri's dreams. The one about her seeing the housemaid when she was little was so realistic that I felt like I was watching a movie. I even heard the creaking and could see the maid's terrified face. That was a powerful scene, and the child's point of view that it was written in was flawlessly done. Also, the dreams Meri had about the future had almost a "Christmas Carol" feel to them, making them quite effective.
I loved how the author clearly showed the manipulation and seduction used by selfish people and how these schemes are often hard to detect at first. I was rooting for Meri and holding my breath at the same time. I loved how she had to deal with what really mattered most and loved experiencing with her the road she traveled to come to that conclusion. Bottom line--it had to be her choice. This issue was quite powerfully written and effectively shown.
There were so many insightful lessons in this book that were naturally woven into the plot and characterization that I could write a novel just posting them all. However, I want everyone to read this book for themselves. It had so much heart to it, unlike some of the anemic books I've read this year that barely touched on the inner workings of the heart and focused more on the era or the setting. This book was brave on so many levels, and I felt like I got to know the characters personally. I'm sure going to miss them. They'll have to live on forever on my favorite reads list for 2010.
"In All Things" is a continuation of the story of Meri and Jakob Wilheimer that began in "No Other." Several years have passed and Jakob and Meri have achieved many of the goals they had dreamed about in "No Other." Meri is now a well-known actress with the stage name Meredith Louis, and Jakob is a successful architect. In some ways they have more than they could have ever hoped for, but in other ways their dreams prove to not be so dreamy after all.
The full cast of characters from "No Other" is present, and readers will be happy to get to spend more time with Jakob's siblings (my favorite is Ruth). A few new characters are introduced as well--some as lovable as the original cast and some not so much ;).
Again, Shawna Williams shows her prowess for characterization. You feel everything along with Jakob and Meri, really getting into their heads and hearts. And while this is a character-driven novel, the plot is by no means a weakness. The lives of Meri and Jakob are complex, and a smooth pacing of events will keep you turning pages.
The description got a little wordy in places for my taste, but I admit it did add to the authenticity, as the story is set in the 1950's. My guess is that readers of historical fiction (which I normally am not) will relish the depth of description.
The story comes to a clean ending, but there is a little wiggle room left for another book. I certainly hope one is forthcoming--Shawna Williams has created a host of characters to whom I've become rather attached and I don't want their story to end here.