Book Concierge's Reviews > Prayers for Sale

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas
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May 07, 11

Read in May, 2011 — I own a copy

Audio book read by Maggi-Meg Reed
2.5**

The novel is set in a small Colorado mining town, high in the Rockies, during the Depression-era. Hennie Comfort is an 86-year-old widow who has lived in Middle Swan since shortly after the Civil War. 17-year-old Nit Spindle is newly arrived with her husband from Kentucky. The young girl sees a sign in Hennie’s yard – “Prayers for Sale” – and gets the courage to ask for a prayer. Thus begins a friendship, and the old woman’s mission to get the young girl settled before Hennie “goes below” to live with her daughter in Iowa.

In the course of the novel Hennie tells Nit a lot of stories of the old days in the mining town. We learn what happened to Hennie back in Tennessee, what brought her to Colorado, how gold is mined, and the role in the town’s history of the “soiled doves” who work at The Willow House. We also know that Hennie has a secret that “prickles her heart;” we know this because Dallas tells us – far too frequently – that Hennie has to take care of this business before she can go to her daughter’s in Iowa.

Dallas does a pretty good job of painting the picture of the early Colorado mining settlement through Hennie’s stories. Dallas has a way with dialogue and with incorporating terms and phrases that are appropriate to the time and place. This lends an air of authenticity to her works, and helps to put the reader in the setting. It also gives a very personal feel to the story; you really do feel as if Hennie is sitting at your kitchen table, sharing coffee and cake, and telling you about her life. I wish she had left this as a short story collection.

Flashback is a useful technique; when employed with skill it keeps the story moving forward while explaining the past. I think that’s what Dallas was trying to do here. I heard an author interview in which Dallas said she started out writing a series of short stories. That original collection did have some connecting threads in that the same old woman was telling all the stories. But her agent insisted that this was a book … as long as Dallas fleshed out the story arch for the “modern” part of the story. So that’s what Dallas did – or attempted to do; she doesn’t quite succeed. The result is that the “current’ story arch, which explores Hennie’s final year in Middle Swan as she befriends Nit, seems to not have enough attention paid to it. The plot points at the end seem rushed and inconsistent because we haven’t had enough information about the current-day characters to naturally lead us to these happenings. And telling us over and over that Hennie has a secret did nothing to build suspense (which I assume was the author’s intent), it just annoyed me. I’ve been a fan of Sandra Dallas’s writing for quite a while, but this is clearly not her best effort.

Maggi-Meg Reed’s performance on the audio book was not to my liking. Her pace was far too slow and everyone (including Nit) sounded like an old woman. As it is presented 2.5 stars rounded down to 2.
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