After many years of hard work, Lula Bowman has finally landed a collegiate teaching position and a prestigious scholarship in mathematics. As a woman, neither of those were easy to come by, but Lula has proven herself to be worthy of such an endeavor.
But when she receives a frantic phone call from her sister, Lula reluctantly returns to her hometown of Dunn, Oklahoma.
Giving up her scholarship and her teaching position at the university, she agrees to the only position she can find – high school music teacher and girls’ basketball coach. The music side of things Lula can handle. She has a talent for playing the piano, and she had a real passion for music when she was younger. But she knows nothing about basketball and has to turn to the boys’ coach for help.
Chet Vaughn currently teaches math at the high school as well as serves as coach for the boys’ basketball team. With his brother away fighting in the Great War, Chet is left to care for their widowed mother. The new music teacher should have been the last person to turn his head. After all, he had fended off every other eligible girl trying to get his attention in the last few years. But something about Lula catches Chet off guard, and he doesn’t really know what to expect.
As Chet and Lula spend more and more time together, they each try to combat their growing feelings. God is working in the hearts of both of them, and He might just be leading them in a direction hey never would have expected.
Set during World War One in a small Oklahoma town, Playing By Heart is a novel filled with warmth, hope, and faith in a God who gives us the desires of our hearts – even if those desires were not what we thought they would be.
I was really excited to pick up this book and read it since I have enjoyed several of Anne Mateer’s novels in the past. I was also excited about reading this book because the book I read previous to this one was so depressing and so terrible (not by Anne Mateer and not Christian fiction) I couldn’t even finish it. I was craving something nice and fun and uplifting to drown out the awfulness that had saturated my brain. (The awful book was not a review book. It was for my book club, and it’s not even worth mentioning the title!).
So it was with great joy that I dove right into Playing By Heart, and it met almost all of my expectations.
One of my favorite things about the book was how well I got to know the characters of Lula and Chet. The novel alternates between the viewpoints of the two, and each is written in first person. At first I thought this might be a bit awkward, but it actually wasn’t, and it helped me to really identify with the main characters well. I guess I identified with Lula the most since she had a passion for music – piano specifically – as well as an interest in academics. Her struggle to achieve what the world sees as success (college, math) rather than allowing her identity to be rooted in Christ was something that hit close to home for me. Lula and Chet were both intelligent characters that were strong without being overbearing.
I also thought the secondary characters were fleshed out very well in this novel. The boys and girls on the basketball teams were so fun, and the characters of Lula’s sister and Chet’s mother were so real. The other characters in the book really gave it a balance that was appropriate and refreshing.
The setting in this book was unique, which kept the plotlines from being completely cliché. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of a book set during World War One that focused mainly on a love interest that revolved around high school basketball. I’m a huge sports fan and this part of the story really sold the plotlines overall for me.
While the plot was interesting – mostly because of the secondary characters and the basketball angle – there were things about the romantic plotline that were somewhat disappointing. There were some external factors and situations that kept Lula and Chet from discovering/declaring their interest in each other too early in the book, but most of what kept them apart was the much-used transgression of just not sitting down and talking to each other like adults. Their conversations were sometimes stilted and just downright frustrating.
Even though the romantic angle wasn’t quite to my liking, the rest of the book was. The message of faith was not extremely deep, but it was clear and woven throughout the novel and into the hearts and lives of the people in this small Oklahoma town.
And in case you're wondering, Playing By Heart was just the thing I needed to rid my mind of that previous atrocity of a book!
I will give Playing By Heart … 4 BookWorms.
Playing By Heart
by Anne Mateer
Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: September 16, 2014
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."