CFBA Tour – Hurt by Travis Thrasher

The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is featuring Hurt, a young adult novel by Travis Thrasher, categorized on the back of the book as mystery and thriller. One of those endorsing the book, however, says The Solitary Tales books are superior entries “in the genre of Christian horror and teenage angst.” Oh, joy! My two favorite things! 😕 But wait.

The Story. Seventeen year old Chris Buckley has returned to the town of Solitary to save his mom. For all he knows she’s being held against her will by an evil pastor trying to manipulate him to do things he doesn’t want to do. And to keep him from the fledgling faith he recently embraced. The problem is, Pastor Marsh and the man he works for, as well as the man who does his bidding, won’t stop at threats. In reality, no one Chris knows and loves is safe. Who can he turn to for help? Who would believe him if he told all he knows about the men behind the evil in Solitary?

Evaluation. Travis Thrasher is an excellent writer–that’s clear from the start. He creates a character with a unique voice. Yes, he’s full of angst, but he isn’t without hope. In fact a good portion of the book is about the protagonist wrestling with his faith or discovering a new love.

Both of these threads–and sometimes they intertwined–are masterfully written. I liked Chris as a guy who appeared self-assured though inwardly he feels like he hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing. I like his protective nature, his inability to say all he’s thinking, his awe at the bright spot this one special girl has become in his life.

The horror never felt particularly horrifying to me, but I think that aspect of the series was more prevalent in the first three books. In Hurt, the perpetrators have been unmasked, the goal of their schemes is clear. The real focus is on how Chris is going to respond when the critical D-day approaches.

To be honest, the end wasn’t what I’d hoped. I wanted Chris to have a better plan, to do more, stand up for what he believed, resist evil. Instead it seemed as if he was still in reactionary mode, which he’d mostly been in throughout the novel. He had put some plans in motion, but what those things were mostly happened off stage. The one critical event had some flaws.

For (a purposefully circumspect) example (to avoid spoilers), at one point Chris needs help with a belt, but later in the scene, he seems to have no trouble with this belt even though there’s no one around to provide the same kind of help he required earlier.

There’s also a place where Chris could have exercised at least a modicum of forgiveness–the kind he’s received–but he spurns the opportunity in what seemed to me to be a cold-hearted disregard for life. In standing against evil, I’d like to see the character offer a sharp contrast–not returning evil for evil.

All in all, the book moved at a brisk pace. There were moments that were thoroughly engaging. I can see fans of horror embracing this series. I think the Christian elements and faith discussions were natural to the character and his circumstances. I liked the contrast between evil Pastor Marsh’s “sermons” and those of Chris’s girlfriend’s pastor.

Recommendation. Would a non-Christian read these books? Sure, if he wasn’t predisposed to hate Christians or Christianity. I think it’s an entertaining story without a bit of preachiness. Chris’s struggle with his faith seems believable under the pressure and intimidation with which he lives.

What about Christians? I see less here for Christians. Young adults may relate to the characters, but I’m not sure what they’d come away with.

Nevertheless, readers of any kind who like horror or thrillers can enjoy Hurt, no doubt.

– – – – –
About the Author

After college, Travis Thrasher targeted working in the publishing industry and was fortunate to find a job early after graduation. He worked as Author Relations Manager for Tyndale House Publishers, the publisher of his first two novels.

The thirteen years he spent working in author relations taught him the business of publishing as well as the psyche of writers.

Early on, he made a deliberate choice of not wanting to be boxed in by a brand or a genre. Instead, Travis has chosen time and time again to write the stories that mean something to him at that moment. He views his first ten years of being published as training and practice. Those novels in many ways were written for himself.

The four years of writing full time have taught him the discipline and determination necessary to make it as a novelist. They’ve also served to close the chapter on what is hopefully just one era in his writing journey.

The stories continue to fill his head like they did when he was in third grade. The only difference is that Travis now knows what to do with those stories. His goal continues to be to tell stories that move him as well as his readers. He wants to continue to experiment and take risks, but more than anything he wants to provide readers a satisfying experience.

The dream remains the same. To try and write something magnificent. To make up wild worlds full of wonderfully rich characters. To make sense of the world through the stories he tells. And to try and inspire hope with the words he writes.

Learn more about Travis and his work at his web site, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Published in: on January 14, 2013 at 6:02 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Tour – Hurt by Travis Thrasher  
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Fantasy Friday – The Kingdom Review

As part of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, I received a review copy of The Kingdom by Bryan Litfin from the publisher, Crossway. This is the final book in the Chiveis Trilogy, following book 1, The Sword and book 2, The Gift.

The Story. Continuing where The Gift left off, The Kingdom tells the story of Anastasia and Teofil, two exiles from Chiveis living in a post-apocalyptic Europe.

For the most part Christianity had vanished because the Bible had been lost, but through Ana and Teo’s efforts, that changed, and in The Gift the entire Bible was recovered. Now, in The Kingdom their mission is to take the Holy Writings first to lands of the Beyond, but ultimately, back to their native country.

Evaluation. Writing an epic story is hard and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion, harder. There are only so many times that the hero can overcome the antagonist before these confrontations lose power. Without the stakes being raised, each new conflict seems predictable and redundant.

Unfortunately, The Kingdom falls prey to these lurking predators. At the same time, the characters are much the same as they were in the first volumes of the story–not actually a good thing since I found them to be “thin. Their motives are clear but not in the least complicated. The changes in their goals or moral fiber happen quickly, even easily, and often over night.”

Plot problems are solved in the same quick, easy way, which is why the stakes remain low–there is no sense that failure is actually a possibility.

There’s inconsistency in the intriguing setting, too. While the Bible had been lost for decades, once its found, there is no trouble translating it into various languages in a matter of weeks and of printing out multiple copies, though their world is without basic technology.

And while the Bible had been lost in the post-apocalyptic age, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the Pope, and various abbeys survived. Yet apparently nowhere among these was there knowledge of Jesus, His death and resurrection, or promised return.

In many ways I feel a little heartbroken. I am still excited that another Evangelical Christian Publishing Association house chose to invest in a fantasy series. I’m also happy that they chose a post-apocalyptic story since this side of the genre has been popular in the general market. At the same time, the story had many elements that made it feel like familiar fantasy–a good thing for fantasy lovers like me.

However, the sharp edge of promise was dulled by mediocre execution. As much as I want to be a fan, as much as I have prayed for Mr. Litfin to do well and to succeed, I find myself more relieved to be finished than pleased I read the trilogy.

Mine is just one opinion, of course, and I know for a fact that others who read the book in conjunction with the CFBA tour had a much different take on it than I did. See for example Megan who reports that she loved the book.

You can also read the first chapter of the book and/or watch the impressive trailer Crossway put together to showcase the book:

CFBA Tour – The Gift by Bryan Litfin

A little over a year ago I wrote a review for Bryan Litfin‘s debut novel The Sword published by Crossway, a house not known at the time for its speculative fiction.

What impressed me the most about The Sword was the premise, so much so that I seized the opportunity to review Book 2 of the Chiveis Trilogy, The Gift. Now, as then, I’m so happy Crossway has taken the bold step to invest in fantasy.

The Story.
This dystopian fantasy continues the plight of Teofil and Anastasia who are exiled from their homeland because of their faith in the one true God who they know as Deu.

After an adventure that almost takes Ana’s life, they arrive in Ulmbartia where they encounter others who believe as they do. But just like them, their new friends do not possess a copy of the last part of the sacred writings.

However, some of the traditions of their faith have survived, though what these things mean, none can say.

When circumstances separate Teo and Ana, they take wildly different paths. He commits himself to finding a copy of the New Testament but refuses to turn his back on what he considers his first mission — to protect Ana.

In my review of the first book, I voiced concern about a theological point — specifically how people without Christ were coming to God. In The Gift, I thought Mr. Litfin did an admirable job reflecting what Scripture says about those in relationship with God prior to Christ’s coming. The clear emphasis was on the hope for the Redeemer King.

Once again, I found the look at Christianity from the eyes of those who have the promises of the Messiah without the knowledge of who He is to be particularly interesting.

The story was fast paced and interesting, with lots of danger and intrigue. New villains surfaced, as deadly as those in the first volume. In addition, the main characters battle their own doubts and fears.

Plus, this is the kind of fantasy I enjoy. I was happy to pick up the book, glad to be in the unique world Mr. Litfin painted.

While I enjoyed The Sword, I thought The Gift was a stronger book. And yet …

My main quibble is with the characters. I find them to be thin. Their motives are clear but not in the least complicated. The changes in their goals or moral fiber happen quickly, even easily, and often over night. In addition, the action takes place at a breakneck pace so there really isn’t a lot of time to develop the characters in the well-rounded way I enjoy most. However, I’m sure there are some readers who prefer it that way. 😉

The story had a particularly interesting twist at the end, and I thought the climax was foreshadowed, at least in the brief way the rest of the story unfolded.

However I thought there were a few holes in the plot such as what became of the people in the Sanctuary after the Overseer left and what became of the sell-out Knight of the Cross and his little defective son. I also wondered how Teo who was banished from one country seemed to operate there freely. I wondered why he could defeat the Iron Shield in their first engagement but had so much trouble with some of the lesser skilled foes he faced later. I wondered why he didn’t keep shouting to Ana to trust him or even tell her in their native language what he was plotting rather than let her take his place.

Little things, to be sure. But those holey spots kept me from being completely immersed in the story.

While I wasn’t immersed in the story, I still enjoyed it and am glad I had the chance to read The Gift. Overall, I thought the book was a fine sophomore novel that showed stronger writing than the debut it follows.

Again, this one will be a book those who love fantasy and who want a story with a Christian worldview will enjoy. I suspect there will be more Litfin fans coming on board because of The Gift.

To acquaint you with the book further, stop by the CFBA blog and click on the links to other posts about The Gift. If you visit Mr. Litfin’s website, you can also read the first chapter. For now, sit back and enjoy the book trailer.

The Gift Trailer from Crossway on Vimeo.

Special thanks to Crossway for providing me with an Advance Reader’s Copy of the book to review.

Published in: on May 3, 2011 at 5:57 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Tour – The Gift by Bryan Litfin  
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Another Dawn by Kathryn Cushman

I may have mentioned that Kathryn (Katie) Cushman is one of my favorite authors. Consequently I jumped at the chance to be a part of the CFBA tour for her newest book, Another Dawn.

The Story. Single mom Grace Graham wants to do what’s best for her son Dylan. That’s why she chose not to have him vaccinated. Her close friend and co-worker/boss Jasmine is dealing with an autistic child — one who had been developing normally until a week after he received his shot. And Grace has done her homework — she’s read what a host of other moms in similar circumstances are saying, in contradiction to the latest scientific studies. In the end she made the choice she thought best for her son.

But when she leaves California to help care for her father as he undergoes knee surgery, she finds that her decision has ramifications she never considered. Like so many other things in her life — her break-up with Steve, her decision to take time off from work when Jasmine needs her most, and her anger toward her father after her mother died.

Strengths. Katie is a master at revealing both sides of an issue in a sympathetic way. She does so beautifully in Another Dawn. But this book is not a mere “issue” book. Yes, the central external conflict deals with a relevant question that confronts parents today, but there’s so much more happening in this story. There are relational issues between the protagonist and her father, her boss/friend, her sister, and her former boyfriend. There’s also an internal conflict about how she handles problems, and there is a spiritual dimension that overlays all. In other words, this is a complex story.

However, the complexity never feels knotted. It’s masterfully interwoven and makes this book speak to readers on a number of different levels.

Is it entertaining? Completely. I found it to be a compelling story, one that had one mystery after another waiting to be unraveled.

Moreover, this story digs inside hearts. It confronts because the character is forced to confront. It is full of faith and encouragement even as it works as a needle excising a splinter or a scalpel cutting away infection.

Weakness. In a large part, Another Dawn shows Christians working out a set of problems. The one question that came to me after I finished the book was about the back story. With Grace’s past, I couldn’t help but wonder when she stopped running from God, as it seems she was doing prior to Dylan’s birth. As I recall, Grace did say something about not talking to God much lately, but she seemed to pick up where she left off without acknowledging sin in her life.

I know this is a somewhat contentious issue these days. Does “Christian fiction” need a “conversion”?

Katie did a beautiful job portraying real people who happened to be Christians. Consequently, I was surprised when in the end I didn’t see what I would expect from a Christian who has strayed from God.

Did it ruin the story? Not at all. Was it theologically unsound? Not in any way. It was silent, is all. Many people may not think twice about Grace’s past.

As I write this, however, it seems like her realizing she had run from God as much as she had run from her other problems could have made the story even stronger.

Recommendation. Must read for those who enjoy women’s Christian fiction. Must read for parents of younger children. Highly recommended for anyone (yes, even men) who enjoys a well-written story.

In conjunction with CFBA I received a free review copy of this book from Bethany House.

Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 8:15 pm  Comments Off on Another Dawn by Kathryn Cushman  
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CFBA Blog Tour – The Lightkeeper’s Bride

This side of heaven, expectations can be a curse. I wish that was a line describing the theme of this CFBA Blog Tour feature, The Lightkeeper’s Bride by Colleen Coble. Unfortunately, it’s related to my reaction to the novel.

I anticipated what? A good story, well-written, but of course those things are subjective. One of the endorsers of this historical mystery romance mentioned plot twists, another, red herrings. A third identified the book as a fast-paced romance. Those then were things I expected.

Except, the title gives away which of the two men in the heroine’s life she falls in love with. No twist there, despite the usual prickly beginning to their relationship.

What about the mystery element? There weren’t any genuine red herrings. The heroine suspected the hero, but the reader knew he was out in the ocean at the time of the crime trying to save a group of sailors whose ship had been pirated. The next suspect was the heroine’s father, and he admitted to his part of the nefarious events. But not the critical event our heroine is initially concerned with.

Who was left? The constable, the hero’s private investigator brother who is trying to solve the pirating crime, the heroine’s mother, and her gentleman friend who insisted on courting her though she had no feelings for him. Hmm. Let me see. Who do I think committed the crime? 🙄

I understand, not everyone puts as high a value on surprise as I do, and perhaps others read without interest in looking for suspects. Consequently, I’m sure some will overlook the things that bothered me and enjoy the typically sweet romance in this story. (Girl meets boy; girl is forced because of a small pox epidemic to move into the lighthouse with boy—and a chaperon and an abandoned one-year-old they both want custody of; girl is attracted to boy because of his rugged good looks and tenderness with child; boy falls for girl; girl admits her attraction but thinks she must marry to please her parents; love conquers in the end).

Those who enjoy the romance may well overlook some of the writing issues that disappointed me, too, such as characters that dropped out of scenes without explanation, or blackmail secrets told in front of characters as if they weren’t present.

At one point the heroine felt physically ill when she found out the man wooing her was involved in the piracy that cost ten men their lives. But earlier in the story when she learned of her father’s similar involvement in said piracy, she had no such reaction.

Those kinds of hiccups made the story feel uneven to me. At some points I was caught up in the adventure and at other times I felt uninterested in characters that seemed unrealistic.

Too bad. I like the idea of a historical mystery romance. I think this book’s beautiful cover gives a feel for the intrigue I expected. But the problem with expectations … they sometimes cause a letdown.

In conjunction with the CFBA Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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CFBA Blog Tour – Back on Murder

The current CFBA Blog Tour feature is J. Mark Bertrand‘s Back on Murder, a Roland March Mystery (Bethany House Publishers). I’ve known Mark as an online colleague for some time and have learned a lot from him, so I was happy to join in a tour for his first solo novel. You may recall, he debuted as the co-author with Deeanne Gist of a romantic suspense entitled Beguiled (a novel I also reviewed).

The Story.
Roland March is a troubled, and apparently, in trouble, homicide detective in Houston. He’s been shipped, metaphorically, from the penthouse to the outhouse—given jobs he sees as the bottom of the barrel. He wants desperately to get back into real detective work.

Except, he can’t seem to treat his superiors as … superior. When he gets a chance to work on a case again, under an up-and-coming younger detective, he chafes under the restraint. He has his own hunches he wants to check out, which makes him inattentive to the jobs he’s given.

Even as March is taken off the case and loaned out to another agency, then yanked back to homicide to work the dreaded cop-suicide detail, he continues to pursue his ideas, believing that his career hangs on his solving the intertwining crimes.

There’s more. A grudge match with another detective, personal failings, and heartbreak. As the story unfolds, so does the character—readers learn what caused March’s career to tank and what’s behind his personal demons.

But of course, I’m not going to tell you any of that. “Twould the story spoil. 😉

The thing that impressed me the most was how integrated Christianity is in this story. Not all the characters are Christians, mind you (I read that recently, in a blog comment at another site—that in Christian fiction all the characters are Christians 😛 ). But since one of the crimes around which the story centers involves a Christian, of necessity Detective March must interview a youth pastor among others.

As it turns out, one of his partners is also a Christian and so is … well, you get the idea. Sprinkled throughout his co-workers and acquaintances, March encounters a variety of Christians, none who try to convert him. They simply act the way Christians in real life act.

They struggle with guilt, make good choices, make brave decisions, make mistakes, show weaknesses, live out their faith, and more.

Besides the faith aspect, Mark has done an excellent job portraying characters. Roland March, his wife, Detective Cavallo, the youth pastor Carter Robb, all of them spring to life. They are believable, interesting, three dimensional, well motivated. In short, they make the book.

But what about the plot, you may ask. I mean, this is a mystery, isn’t it? Yeeess, sort of. It’s not your typical mystery, but I’ll touch on that in a bit. The thing is, the plot keeps moving forward and readers learn more about March’s inner world even as they learn about the complex crimes he’s working to solve. It’s not high-action, page-turning, heart-pounding drama. It’s more real than that. An engaging story, peopled with realistic characters, and placed in a true-to-life setting.

Recently Mark wrote a guest post at Forensics and Faith called “First Person, Present Tense (And Other Risks)” in which he said, “The story made me do it.” Yes, Back on Murder is written in first person, present tense. And I have it listed under “weaknesses.”

It’s a personal thing. I don’t like first person very much, though I can adjust. I don’t like present tense hardly at all, but I have liked some books that utilize it.

Both? Such a book requires a strong character voice, and I suggest one that is “agreeable.” To be honest, early in the story, I found Roland March’s strong, distinctive voice to grate on me because it continued page after page. He wasn’t whiny, but he was cynical and negative and depressed and jaded and a bit arrogant. He wore on me.

Thankfully as he became more engaged with the case, he began to … not change as much as shift. I began to understand where his attitude came from, too, so I grew more sympathetic. Let’s say, I’m glad I persevered through the earlier parts.

The other thing I’m considering as a weakness is that Back on Murder isn’t really a mystery. It’s a puzzle. This is not your Hercule Poirot type mystery with a cast of suspects and a litany of clues. Rather this is a twisty, interwoven series of crimes that relate to one another and March is trying to connect the dots.

It’s interesting, but I don’t see it as the kind of mystery that allows a reader to “play along.” Readers learn things as March learns things, so we’re sort of in it together, but not in the same way as the Agatha Christie mysteries. My taste runs toward those.

I know how Mark prefers reviews of Christian books that are more than promotional pieces. The thing is, Back on Murder is worth promoting. It’s a well-written story that integrates Christianity in the same way that Christians are, or should be, integrated in society. The book is entertaining even as it is insightful. I highly recommend Back on Murder to anyone who enjoys a good crime story, who wants to read a well-crafted novel, or who wants to read a book with intriguing characters.

Published in: on July 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Blog Tour – Back on Murder  
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CFBA Tour – The Sword

The Sword by Bryan Litfin (Crossway), one of the current Christian Fiction Blog Alliance (CFBA) features, is a unique fantasy. It contains elements of classic fantasy, but the story is set on earth, in the future. Intrigued? I was.

The Story. War decimated earth and brought on a nuclear winter that nearly wiped out the human race. Four hundred years later, a noble but primitive civilization has developed in a land known as Chiveis. Almost everything about the “Ancients” has been forgotten, including Christianity. However Teofil, a young scholar and Royal Guard captain, and Anastasia, the young woman he’s rescued from Outsiders who kidnapped her and carried her to the Beyond, discover a copy of the Ancients’ sacred writings.

The narrative and poems introduce a handful of family and friends to the Good God who contrasts with the four Chiveisi gods that rule by fear and displays of power.

The High Priestess of the most potent of these gods determines to keep the religion of the cross from coming to Chiveis.

And there I’ll stop.

Strengths. Without a doubt, Bryan Litfin has a winning premise. He’s cleverly married a dystopian/futuristic novel with traditional fantasy. Those who favor the former may not find enough here to keep them excited, but those of us who prefer the latter have all the sword play and horseback riding we can want, along with some intriguing futuristic/dystopian elements such as a discovery of the remains of iron carriages and the ruins of ancient cities.

This unique genre blend also gives a fresh look at Christianity. Teofil, the young scholar, must translate the Sacred Writings for his friends who do not read the Fluid Tongue. He finds sections with names such as Beginnings, Departure, Magistrates, First and Second Histories, Hymns, and Maxims. As they read portions at a time, they begin to formulate ideas about the Good God.

For the most part, the story is unpredictable. There are some interesting surprises, some questions left unanswered, some disappointments that mirror real life.

Weaknesses. While there is much to like in this book and I am thrilled that Crossway has ventured into fantasy, I wish there were fewer problems. Characterization was not strong. At times the action seemed almost cartoonish, with devastating injuries having little or else unusually short effect.

Character motivation was a problem. Why did Ana so quickly and unswervingly turn from the gods of Chiveis to the Good God Deu? Why did Valant spurn his wife? Why did Lewth turn from what he had believed was the task Deu had given him? Why did Habiloho reject the path she’d been on for over a year? Too many such questions kept the story from being what it could be.

Then too, the characters seem to reach accurate conclusions about the Good God fairly quickly, something that is surprising in light of the fact that they have only known evil gods up to this time, and they have only read a small portion of the Sacred Writings.

But the biggest problem, in my opinion, was theological. Whenever a book is set in this world, a Christian author, if he addresses spiritual things, must be faithful to Scripture. While The Sword apparently is primed to do so, Mr. Litfin took an interesting but damning turn: he had the last third of the Sacred Writings unreadable. Consequently, the characters who are learning about the Good God, do so without any knowledge of His Son.

It’s an interesting twist, but the problem is the apparent relationship a number of the characters develop with the Good God, including two who die. Yet the Sacred Writings which are true and would be true in the future, too, say that the Good God’s Son is the Way, the Truth, the Life and that no man comes to His Father but through Him—the Son that these characters do not know.

It’s a huge problem and one that has serious ramifications for the real world if you believe those ignorant of the Son can still come to the Father. Why then did Jesus die?

Recommendation. I’m glad I read The Sword. I’m glad Crossway published it. I think fantasy lovers will enjoy the story. I think those who care about the Truth will question why a man with Mr. Litfin’s theological background (he’s got a masters degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and is a professor in the Theology Department at Moody Bible Institute) would write something so misleading. While I’d like to give this one an enthusiastic endorsement, instead I have to give it a tepid nod primarily for those who love fantasy.

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm  Comments (11)  
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CFBA Tour – Dead Reckoning

Isn’t that a GREAT cover?

Dead Reckoning, published by Abingdon Press, is the debut novel by talented writer Ronie Kendig. By my way of reckoning, this adult novel falls into an unusual category—romantic thriller. It’s unusual, I think, because of expectations. Readers who enjoy romance aren’t expected to enjoy thrillers, and vice versa. But think Indiana Jones, and you’ll have an idea what this book is like.

The Story.
Rather than an archaeology professor, Dead Reckoning features an archaeology student, Shiloh Blake, who specializes in underwater recovery. In the midst of an important dive off the coast of India, Shiloh’s two companions who remained topside are gunned down. One is killed, the other wounded.

Shiloh is able to drag Khalid, her best friend, to safety and signal for help. When the authorities meet with her in the hospital, however, she suspects they are not police as they said.

So begins the adventure that takes her into the world of spies and secret agents, and eventually into the arms of the one man she thinks she can trust.

Author Deborah Piccurelli said “Dead Reckoning moves at the pace of an action-adventure movie,” and I think that’s true. Lots of intrigue, clues, connections, danger, and narrow escapes. For the most part Ronie makes these scenes believable. The opening in particular had me on the edge of my seat wondering who was shooting at college students even as I admired the heroine’s quick thinking and courage in the face of the danger.

The protagonist Shiloh Blake is a smart, caring young woman, though she’s been emotionally wounded and has trust issues, especially when it comes to men. Because of her, I want to follow all the exploits and dangers that entangle her.

With so much going on, I think it’s not surprising that some threads seem to get dropped. One in particular seems to be ignored until the latter part of the book, but then it is picked up only to be dropped again.

There’s a writing instruction book adage that if an author puts a gun on the mantle, he’d better have some character use it before the end of the book. Unfortunately, I thought there were a number of “unused guns,” and I felt myself wondering why some things that seemed important the way they were painted in the initial scenes weren’t revisited. (I don’t want to give details because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone).

I realize that fans of thrillers probably care less about these details, but mystery fans like myself are always looking for clues, so I found the dropped threads disappointing.

Now to the romance. I haven’t read widely in this genre, but I think Ronie has all the elements necessary. My one problem here was that at particularly tense moments when action was fast and fear high, there were romantic interludes that didn’t seem realistic. I would rather have seen those slipped in when the characters wouldn’t have been trying to avoid death. 😉 (And don’t get me wrong. There were romantic scenes at more appropriate places, too.)

This is a tough one. I think women who love romance will enjoy this book, but men who like thrillers? I’m not sure they’ll want the romance, which shares almost equal weight in the story, I think. Of course, if you love both, then this is definitely the book for you.

Special thanks to Abingdon Press for providing a review copy of Dead Reckoning without cost.

Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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CFBA Tour – Raising Rain

Raising Rain (Moody Press) is the perfect title for Debbie Fuller Thomas’s second novel, one of the tour features of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance.

I was happy to sign up for this book because Debbie is one of the authors I know personally. We first met at a Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference back in 2005, I believe. I think it was at the 2007 conference that I learned Debbie had a contract. As it turned out, Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon became a Christy Award finalist.

The Story. Raising Rain, released in September, may duplicate that accomplishment. This is a splendid story, exploring deeper themes by looking at the lives of five women who came out of America’s cultural revolution during the late 1960s and early 70s. Four of these women were young adults just starting college in one of the hotbeds of cultural change—Northern California—during the turbulent times of the Vietnam War era.

If I gave you a thumbnail sketch of the plot, you might be scratching your head thinking, where’s the story? This book might be considered “character driven,” but Debbie skillfully moves the plot forward by giving timely looks back—flashback scenes that show the reader what life was like for the four roommates and the little girl named Rain that they helped raise.

In addition, Debbie creates curiosity and suspense. What happened between protagonist Bebe and her family? Why did the roommates stay friends with the abusive Jude? What will Rain do about the greatest desire of her heart? And what will the Celebrate Life weekend produce?

Those questions and more had me turning pages late into the night—or should I say, wee hours of the morning.

Strengths. Above all else, I think Raising Rain mines one of the least understood eras, and perhaps most influential upon contemporary culture, of American history, but it does so through five characters that epitomize those most immediately affected by the societal upheaval. It’s a powerful look at the effects of the dramatic changes that took place.

The power of this book only works because Debbie Thomas created such believable characters. Their hurts, foibles, successes, fears, passions, and all come alive through the pages of Raising Rain.

Equally important, the themes of the book transcend the time. These are not Vietnam-era problems; they are human problems, women’s issues, family matters.

Weaknesses. A story about five women has an immediate pitfall—introducing the reader to all the characters without being confusing. I’ll admit, for a few chapters, I was mired in the bunker of confusion, especially as I tried to sort out the various relationships.

A second problem that niggled at me had to do with an unresolved hurt that separated one of the key characters and those she cared about. When the “reveal” came about and I understood what had caused the rift, I felt a little let down. I didn’t think the issue seemed like it would have created such significant distance.

Another interesting thing may or may not be a weakness. Much of this story is delivered through narrative rather than through scene. Here’s a sample I pulled out randomly:

They checked into the hotel and noticed that a majority of cars in the parking lot boasted USMC stickers. They found a place to eat and turned in early … Like a kid on Christmas Eve, Bebe had difficulty seeping. Not only was she excited to see Scott, but she also harbored worry about Bobby in her mind.

The effect this had on me was to distance me from the emotions of the characters. I understood, for example, that Bebe was excited and anxious, but I didn’t feel those things with her. Consequently, places that may have been tearjerker scenes didn’t affect me that way.

Is that a weakness? Well, I didn’t want to read a tearjerker, so I didn’t really mind. But as a writer, I think, Hmmm, maybe pulling a few tears out of a reader would be good. 😉

Recommendation. Here’s the strongest indication of what I thought about the book. I woke up the morning after finishing it sad that I wouldn’t be able to attend a key event the book referred to at the end. In other words, the characters felt that real, and I felt that invested in their lives.

For readers who enjoy women’s fiction, this is a must read.

Published in: on December 4, 2009 at 2:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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CFBA Tour – Leaving Yesterday

I’ll admit, I’m not on top of things with this tour for Leaving Yesterday by Kathryn (Katie) Cushman. First, I forgot I’d signed up for this tour and went ahead and posted my review over two weeks ago.

Second, I chose to post on the last day of the tour, but email problems and ultimately computer problems meant that I’m scrambling to get my post in under the wire (it’s still Friday on the West Coast. 😉 )

All this is unfortunate because this is a book I thoroughly enjoyed and I was only too happy to highlight it again. As I thought about my post tonight, I started kicking myself for not asking Katie for an interview. I’m sure she’d have much more interesting things to say than I will, but I’ll give it a go.

First, the author herself. I met Katie by way of a car pool to the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference three years ago. She had just recently received a contract with Bethany and was looking forward to the release of her first book A Promise to Remember.

All the way up the coast and back the group of us talked about writing and our conference experience. Then we did it again the next year. Through that time I learned that Katie is kind, unpretentious, a good driver, a woman who enjoys simple traditions, loves her family above all else, has a tender heart, is organized, appreciates God’s hand in her journey to publication, is open, intelligent, interesting.

I discovered one other thing when I read her work—she’s a talented writer. Not surprisingly, as a mom of two, Katie writes some of her best fiction (in my opinion) with a mom as her protagonist. The great thing is, she shows universal truths through the life and struggles of this “ordinary” woman.

Katie’s writing is entertaining, insightful, though-provoking. She doesn’t hide from the temptations of life, or the failures. But she follows them up with hope and mercy and redemption.

I’ll reiterate my recommendation of Leaving Yesterday:

Undoubtedly the book, marketed as contemporary fiction, will appeal most to women, but I think men can enjoy the story too. It’s a well-written, important story, and I suggest it’s a must read for Christian women. I highly recommend it to Christian guys as well.

But in the final analysis, I’d recommend you keep your eye on the name Kathryn Cushman and snag her next book as well, and her next, and her next, and her next. She’s just flat out a talented author.

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 10:04 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Tour – Leaving Yesterday  
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