Denise Hildreth Jones' biggest strength as a writer is creating characters who feel as if they live next door or just down the street. Each and every one of the people she creates become a part of our lives for the length of time it takes to digest her stories. This is certainly true of those characters that inhabit her new novel Secrets Over Sweet Tea.
The first person you meet in this book is Scarlett Jo Newberry. She is a unique individual who goes her own way even when it is startling to her pastor husband Jackson. We quickly learn however that Jackson adores Scarlett Jo and woe be unto anyone who criticizes her. He knows her heart and her heart is large.
The next person introduced to the reader is Zach Craig, an attorney who is cheating on his wife Caroline. Zach knows what he is doing is wrong but he is unable to resist the temptation life has thrown at him. He actually does love his wife but he feels isolated from her. Still he knows that what he is doing can lead to tragedy for all involved.
Finally we meet news anchor Grace Shepherd. She and her husband Tyler have had a bumpy relationship. His problems with alcohol have placed stress on their marriage and his failure to want to have children has affected Grace emotionally. She is committed to their marriage but her patience and her hope is running thin.
All of these stories take place in the enchanting town of Franklin, Tennessee. It is a place that is as southern as they come and the choice of drink, as in most southern towns, is sweet tea. That magic elixir can warm the heart and help create friendships. It can also pry personal secrets out of the most cautious and private of people. And secrets do come out in this novel.
Jones is able to bring you into the world of these characters instantly and make them appealing even with all their flaws. She also knows how to plot a story that will fascinate her readers while giving them a plethora of problems to mull over as the story evolves. Life is not simple for these people but when things look the darkest a bright light comes their way.
There are more than a few twists in this story and what you as a reader think you have figured out, you probably don't. Jones has a message inside her story and a few observations of faith but that never drags the story down or makes it into a fairy tale.
Secrets Over Sweet Tea is a story to be savored. You will like Jones' style of writing; you will like the characters she creates; you will like this book.
Secrets Over Sweet Tea is published by Tyndale House. It contains 416 pages and sells for $13.99.
Jackie K Cooper