Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Pastors' Wives by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen (Book Review / iPad Mini Contest Giveaway)

In association with Litfuse Publicity, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for Pastors' Wives by author Lisa Takeuchi Cullen!

Book Review 

Pastors' Wives by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen
Publisher: Plume / Penguin Publishing
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Format: Paperback - 368 pages / Kindle - 577 KB / Nook - 891 KB
ISBN: 0452298822
Genre: Women's Fiction

BUY THE BOOK: Pastors' Wives

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Litfuse Publicity.

Book Description:

What’s it like when the man you married is already married to God? asks Pastors’ Wives, an often surprising yet always emotionally true first novel set in a world most of us know only from the outside.

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen’s debut novel Pastors’ Wives follows three women whose lives converge and intertwine at a Southern evangelical megachurch.

Ruthie follows her Wall Street husband from New York to Magnolia, a fictional suburb of Atlanta, when he hears a calling to serve at a megachurch called Greenleaf. Reeling from the death of her mother, Ruthie suffers a crisis of faith—in God, in her marriage, and in herself.

Candace is Greenleaf’s “First Lady,” a force of nature who’ll stop at nothing to protect her church and her superstar husband.

Ginger, married to Candace’s son, struggles to play dutiful wife and mother while burying her calamitous past.

All their roads collide in one chaotic event that exposes their true selves.

Inspired by Cullen’s reporting as a staff writer for Time magazine, Pastors’ Wives is a dramatic portrayal of the private lives of pastors’ wives, caught between the demands of faith, marriage, duty, and love.

Book Excerpt:

Chapter One


On the first day of my life as a pastor’s wife, I decided to buy a Star magazine.

Not People. Not even Us. No: Star, trashy Star, with its cover promises of fabulous people in unfabulous situations, page after page of full-color schadenfreude. You know. Porn for housewives. If I gave it any weight at all, which certainly I did not at the time, I would have to call it a $3.99 act of defiance. A purchase to attest things had not changed, I had not changed. That Ruthie Matters still belonged to a population that consumed celebrity gossip without guilt or thoughts of spiritual consequence.

Still, I hesitated. I stood there in the airport newsstand, my hand hovering over Jennifer Aniston’s chin. Funny thing about becoming a pastor’s wife: You felt watched. Not by God, exactly. Just . . . watched.

With a start I realized I was being watched, by the cashier, an Indian woman with chipmunk cheeks packed tight with chewing gum, black eyes steady and suspicious. It took a moment to comprehend why. I almost laughed. So much for my new status as a moral pillar of society. If a shopkeeper could suspect me of filching a supermarket tabloid, then clearly I did not yet reek of saint-type values.

I withdrew my hand, and the cashier turned back to help the next customer.

Hands in my pockets, I wandered toward the back of the store, past the blister packs of Dramamine and leopard-print neck pillows and twelve varieties of trail mix. Finally I reached the books. Books sold in airports fascinate me for their schizophrenic jumble. Jackie Collins next to Malcolm Gladwell smooshed right up against Jane Austen. Anyplace else, the reading public could expect some distance between pie recipes and the vampire apocalypse.

And here, in a stand-alone display labeled inspirational, were the Greens.

The Greens. Aaron and Candace Green, of Greenleaf Church, coauthors of Serve Your Marriage. It was the latest in a blockbuster series by Pastor Aaron Green, its premise the application of Bible scripture to serving your country, your worship, yourself. Unless you’re in the market, you probably don’t pay attention to books like these. I never did, either. Once you do, though, you realize they’re huge. Just last week I opened up the Sunday New York Times and saw that the book was number one in the self-help category. 

Even among the other glossy titles by spiritual sorts, it seemed to me the cover of the Greens’ book popped. Against a white background, Aaron stood behind Candace with his hands on her shoulders, a full head taller than his wife. He looked as silvery and dashing as ever, but then anyone with a TV set knew what he looked like. The George Clooney of the pulpit, they called him.

The surprise was Candace. I forgot my resolve not to touch anything in the store and picked the book up for a closer look. Candace’s face looked etched, her features exact, as if their creator had deliberated over every detail. Her hair was curled high and away from her face, tendrils spun like blue-black cotton candy, defiant of any notion of gravity. Her nose had one of those tiny squares at the tip, like its sculptor had completed it with a push. The inky plume of her lashes fanned out from around her beetle-green eyes. Her lips hinted, just hinted, at a smile. She wore a fitted black suit with a leaf-shaped emerald pin in the lapel. In bearing she resembled Jacqueline Onassis, as played by a thin Elizabeth Taylor.

The surprise was not her beauty, exactly. After all, I’d seen her once or twice, when the camera panned to a close-up during her husband’s telecasts. The surprise was that the woman transcended a two-dimensional surface. That scant smile was like a sorcerer’s wand: One flash and you performed as bidden. It scared me just a little.

“Think that could be us someday?”

Jerry had snuck up behind me. I saw that he’d already inhaled half his bag of peanut M&M’s, his in-flight comfort food. I glanced over my shoulder at the shopkeeper. But Jerry projected goodness, just radiated it. I was pretty sure no one had ever suspected my husband of shoplifting so much as a loose gumball. Sure enough, all I saw of the shopkeeper was the long braid trailing like an oil slick down her back.

Jerry took the Greens’ book from my hands and peered intently at the jacket.

I snorted. He glanced up. “What?”

“The thing about us,” I said. “Becoming them.”

We looked at the book cover together. “Yeah,” he said finally. “You’re probably more of a Tammy Faye.” I took the book back and whacked him with it.

“Hey!” he said. “It says Serve Your Marriage, not Beat Your Husband.”

As he took my hand and led me out of the store, I found myself repeating this exchange in my head, sifting it for underlying intent. Was he joking? It sounds crazy, but I wasn’t entirely sure. In our recent life together, I’d lost my grasp of his meaning, my ability to read between his lines. It’s like when you’re channel surfing and you stumble upon a Sandra Bullock movie and you’re happily settling in only to realize it’s dubbed in Spanish. On the surface, all was familiar. But at times like this I became aware I no longer felt fluent in our language.

As we lined up to board, I inspected Jerry from behind. He was even taller than I was, a discovery that had relieved more than attracted me when we first met. It’s not that I minded shorter guys; it’s that they minded me. He still let his wavy dark hair grow over his collar, a style he’d never bothered to change even when he worked on Wall Street. His cheeks were leaner, his jaw more often set. His eyes had taken on the cast of a hotel pool before a summer storm. But otherwise he looked like the Jerry I’d met years ago outside Professor Baker’s office.

Except he wasn’t. He had ceased to be the Jerry I knew that morning in April when we woke to the rain machine-gunning the windowpane and he turned his face to me and said, “I had the most incredible dream.” 

The dream. Some might say that was the day I first became a pastor’s wife. When does a man become a man of God? Is it the day he joins a ministry, or the day he’s called?

The word incredible caught me—Jerry wasn’t given to hyperbole—but I grunted a sleepy “huh” and pursued it no more as I padded out to start the coffee. He didn’t mention it again until later that evening, when he returned from work with Thai takeout.

A new place called Basil had just opened down the block in a storefront notorious for the brief life span of its inhabitants. We called it the Cursed Corner. I took a mouthful of shrimp pad Thai and promptly spat it out. 

Jerry frowned, upset. “I said no cilantro. I said.”

“Gah,” I said, flailing for water. Cilantro tastes like stinkbugs smell. No need to argue; it’s a fact. “Curse the Cursed Corner!”

Once he refilled my glass and sat down, he clicked off the TV and turned to me. “So about that dream I had,” he said.

I put down the beef satay (more or less a Slim Jim dipped in peanut butter), tucked one leg under the other, and smiled at my sweetheart. His dream. What dream?

He hadn’t even asked me about my day yet, and that was unlike him. Not that I had much to report. I was between jobs, which is to say I was between careers, which is to say I had no clue what to do with my life. Ever since I’d left my job as an assistant publicist at a book-publishing company, I’d spent the days online, reading up on graduate schools. Journalism at CUNY. Film at NYU. Creative writing at the New School. No sooner would I work up the enthusiasm to download an application than I would alight on another, sparklier option. It’s so hard to choose a future.

Still, he always asked, and he always listened. And Jerry was exceptionally good at listening. He’d put down the prospectus in his hand and look in my eyes. He laughed in the right spots. He asked pertinent questions. If I grew vexed, as I admit I often did, Jerry stroked my forearm with his thumb, a sensation I liken to what a cat must feel when it’s rubbed under its chin. It occurred to me only recently that as the middle child of five, I was wholly unaccustomed to anything resembling undivided attention. I never even knew until I met him that I had craved it all my life.

So I faced my husband that night to hear about this dream of his. For despite the casual wording, something in his tone indicated it mattered.

I had no idea how much.

Jerry took a deep breath. “It’s not that I remember the dream so much,” he said. “There was a kind of lightness. Like warm light. Like someone was hugging me.”

I raised my hand. “That would be me. Your wife. I was cold.”

He smiled. “It was . . . I don’t know,” he said. “This feeling of coming home.” He was quiet for a moment, his eyes scanning my face like it held some sort of answer. “I think I was called.”

“By who?” I asked, reaching for a rice chip.

Jerry blinked at me.

Whom,” I said through a mouthful of chip. “By whom.”

The silence stretched.

“You know,” he said. “By God.”

If my marriage were a timeline—the kind they run in newspapers to mark the meaningful moments in a course of events—this conversation would get a boldfaced mention. Everything up till then was B.C., Before the Call. You might wonder at how dense I was. How I’d utterly failed to understand. But in my defense, B.C., this was not our language. Despite or maybe because of my Catholic upbringing, despite or maybe because of Jerry’s theology degree and his ongoing exploration of faith, religion had heretofore existed in our marriage as an abstract. A topic of intellectual discussion. Words I would soon hear proclaimed at every turn—“I was called,” “I was saved,” “I accepted Jesus”—back then, B.C., this kind of talk was nothing short of alien.

Later I would think of the Tower of Babel. You know the story. These people gather from all over the world and decide to build a structure that will challenge God’s glory. Of course, God doesn’t like to be fronted like that, and in his fury he not only blows the tower to smithereens but smites the people with disparate tongues so they can no longer communicate. That was kind of what it was like for us. Like the marriage we’d built was a tower God recognized as temporal. In the moment, I did not see. Facing my husband on the couch, bad Thai food congealing on the coffee table, I did not see the pillars and stanchions crashing down around us, the ruins that promised to swallow our marriage whole if we did not find each other soon and hold fast. 

Meantime, I had questions. No sooner did I spit one out than another crowded up. “What does that mean?” I spluttered. “How do you know? What did God say? Are you feeling warm? Could it be stress? Or that homeopathic crap you’ve been taking for your sinuses, that weed of Saint What’s-his-face—”

Jerry took my face in both his hands. I loved those hands; I trusted those hands. Instinctively I nestled my cheek against his palm.

“I don’t know what it means,” he said. “I don’t know how I know it was God—I just do. He didn’t say anything. It was more of a feeling. And I’m not sick. I’m not hallucinating. I’ve never felt better in my life. In any case, I’m not doing anything about it yet. I just wanted you to know.” And then he leaned forward and kissed me.

He just wanted me to know. It was one thing to know and another to understand. I pulled back to stare at my husband. And for the first time I wondered: Who are you?

My Book Review:

Pastors' Wives is a realistic portrayal of three very different women whose lives intertwine as pastors' wives in an Evangelical megachurch in the Atlanta suburb of Magnolia. As each of the women struggle with personal challenges in their lives, they evolve into their own true selves as they learn to juggle the demands of living a public life of religious service with the demands in their private life.

In her debut novel, author Lisa Takeuchi Cullens weaves a fascinating tale that takes the reader behind the scenes into the personal lives of three pastors' wives as they struggle with issues of faith, identity, and the balance of responsibility to their family, church and themselves.

Written in the alternating perspectives of the three pastors' wives, the reader follows Candace, Ruthie and Ginger as their lives intertwine as each struggles to define their supporting role and individual purpose within themselves, their marriage and in the church ministry. Filled with back stories and flashbacks to the past mixed with the present, these three ladies take the reader on a emotional roller coaster ride as the complexities of being a pastor's wife and living within a very small fishbowl are revealed.

This is a story that captivates the reader's attention from the start, you can't help but be intrigued by the inner workings of the megachurch ministry, and the behind the scenes supporting role as a pastor's wife. The author does a wonderful job of portraying the women as authentic and normal women who have flaws and personal issues that they struggle with just like we do, instead of maintaining the mystical perfection that is so often the mask that they wear while in the public eye. The author thoughtfully reminds us that these women are human just like we are, and she makes it very easy for the reader to be able to relate to them.

With an intriguing cast of characters who are realistic and have flaws; witty dialogue and dramatic interactions; and a fascinating storyline that reveals the behind the scenes mystique and dynamic of a megachurch ministry and the people who serve in its leadership roles; Pastors' Wives is a powerful story that is full of intrigue, drama, troubling pasts, and enough surprising twists and turns that makes it a thoroughly compelling and enjoyable read.


About The Author

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen was a longtime staff writer for TIME magazine. She now develops TV pilots for production companies and recently sold her first pilot for “The Ordained” to CBS. Born in Japan, Cullen lives in New Jersey with family.

Pastors' Wives by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen ~ Virtual Book Tour Event Page: Litfuse Publicity

Virtual Book Tour Contest Giveaway

Win An iPad Mini

Pastors’ Wives iPad Mini Giveaway and Facebook Party with @LisaCullen on 5/23!

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen is celebrating the release of her debut novel, Pastors' Wives, with an iPad Mini Giveaway and connecting with readers on Facebook on May 23rd!


One winner will receive:
  • An iPad Mini
  • A $25 iTunes gift card
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 22nd. Winner will be announced at the "Pastors' Wives" Author Chat Party on May 23rd. Connect with Lisa for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Lisa will also be giving away books and fun gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of Pastors' Wives and join Lisa on the evening of May 23rd for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 23rd!

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