About the Book
Book: Phoebe’s Secret
Author: Sydney Tooman Betts
Genre: Christian Fiction, Historical Mystery
Release Date: June 20, 2020
In April of 1843, Phoebe’s family hears about a murder while they are traveling to their new home in the Shenandoah Valley. They arrive to learn the victim attended the church her father has agreed to pastor and the crime took place on a leading church member’s plantation.
Eager to make new friends, Phoebe forms a unique relationship that propels her into the middle of the mystery, and she begins to question several acquaintances’ motives. Will she uncover their secrets before the plantation owner’s charming son discovers hers?
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About the Author
Sydney Tooman Betts resides with her husband near the extensive cavern system that inspired the setting for several chapters in her series The People of the Book.
While single, Ms. Betts (B.S. Bible/Missiology, M.Ed) took part in a variety of cross-cultural adventures in North and Central America. After marrying, she and her husband lived in Europe and the Middle East where he served in various mission-support capacities. Her teaching experiences span preschool to guest lecturing at the graduate level.
Before penning her first novel, A River too Deep, she ghost-wrote several stories for an adult literacy program.
More from Sydney
Proverbs 25:11 says, “Words spoken fitly are like apples of gold in settings of silver.” I was not a great reader as a child, but I loved stories. We remember stories, whether told through movies, good sermon illustrations, parables, or simple novels.
Think of something you’ve read in the Bible. Did an instructional verse, a narrative, or a parable leap to mind? Stories have power because we can relate to them. We see ourselves in the shoes of the main character and ask what we might do in the situation. Mysteries, a new genre for me to write, are a little different. You are in the puzzle with the main character, working out the solution as you both come across the clues. I hope you will enjoy joining Phoebe in her first mystery as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Sally Lunn Bread
1 cup water
1 cup milk
¼ pound unsalted butter
8 cups of high-gluten or bread flour
⅔ cup sugar
2 tablespoons salt
¼ cup yeast
In a saucepan, combine water, milk and butter. Heat until the butter is very soft.
In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients with half the flour. Add the warm liquid, and mix well to form a smooth batter.
Add 3 eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Add another cup of the flour, and mix well. Add the second 3 eggs, one at a time. Add the remaining flour, and mix until the flour has been incorporated and the batter has formed a smooth ball. The dough should be less firm than bread and more firm than a batter.
Put the dough in a clear bowl with a little oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Proof until double in volume. Divide the dough between two bund pans or two loaf pans, or one of each. Proof again until risen and doubled in volume. Bake at 350° for about 20 minutes. Makes 20 servings.
“Changed hearts change habits.”
Sydney Tooman Betts initiates her Phoebe’s Mysteries series with Phoebe’s Secret, a historical fiction novel that revolves around relationships and faith as much as it does mystery. Set in the Shenandoah Valley in 1843, the story opens as 17-year-old Phoebe and her family arrive at their new home, where a murder has just occurred. Due to her own mother’s illness, Phoebe’s mother leaves to take care of her for a few weeks, leaving the running of the household to Phoebe. This burst of action in the beginning somewhat belies the majority of the narrative, in my opinion. Aside from a few brief scenes, the rest of the story follows the pattern of antebellum historical fiction, without the intrigue of suspense. I did enjoy it, but I think I would have appreciated it even more had I not been anticipating a frightening mystery element as the core of this tale. This is not to say that the institution of slavery, present in this novel that takes place in the South, is not a frightful and abhorrent practice.
What truly characterizes Phoebe’s Secret is the interpersonal relationships as they relate to the mystery and to the everyday lives of the characters. As readers will discover, there are actually two mysteries, and both also involve relationships between people. Being the newcomers and the pastor’s family, Phoebe and her younger brother Augie are uniquely positioned to find out what may be going on as more mysteries unfold. I was overwhelmed by the amount of characters and could not keep the subsidiary ones straight, nor could I remember who was in which family; this may well have been a personal issue that might not affect other readers, but speaking personally, I would really have benefited from having a character list that detailed who was in each family.
To return to the major social issue of the time period, Betts does not shy away from addressing slavery, and this part of the book touched my heart the most. An otherwise mostly secondary character, this is where Reverend Ernest Farrell, Phoebe’s father, shines, gently but firmly holding to his anti-slavery views while serving as pastor to a town of slave owners. His line of reasoning comes straight from the Bible and informs our twenty-first century perspective on how to live for the Lord: “It’s all about a change of heart—being born from above, born into His kingdom—and anyone born of God takes joy in pleasing Him. He is a kind and loving father and king. Therein lies the trouble. Most people would rather rule their own kingdom, circling us right back to those men in the book of Judges.” Considering these contentious times we live in, these are words to take to heart as we examine our own hearts. Are we living as monarchs of our own kingdoms, or as servants of the only eternal Kingdom?
I received a complimentary copy of this book through Celebrate Lit and was not required to post a favorable review. All opinions are my own.
My rating: 4 stars ♥♥♥♥
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To celebrate her tour, Sydney is giving away the grand prize package of $25 Amazon gift card and a softback copy of Phoebe’s Secret!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.