Friday, January 27, 2006
Made of Honor
By Marilynn Griffith
Published by Steeple Hill
Made of Honor starts out exactly where it probably should – at a wedding reception. Dana has once again found herself participating in someone else’s celebration, and she has the dyed shoes to prove it. Not so crazy about her close friend Tracy’s choice of grooms, Dana tries to push aside doubts about the new marriage while hoping to avoid catching the bouquet that is surely to be fired her way. Her dress is too tight and an ex-love shows up at the reception looking fabulous. Not a great day for Dana Rose.
This is just the beginning of life spinning out of control for Dana. One problem after another arises as she tries to trust God and press forward. Girlfriends are there to encourage and speak truth to her. Well, at least until her relationship with one of the friends becomes strained as resentments fester and judgments are cast.
To top that off, Dana Rose is also juggling a new business, old boyfriend problems, a deceitful sister, a gambling dad and more. She learns, not so easily, that God is faithful even when people are not, and that forgiveness is required for obedience, no matter how hurtful the offense.
I had a blast walking with Dana. She’s a riot. I laughed and cried and hated to see the last page
Reviewed by Dawn Burns
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
By Debra White Smith
Reviewed by Erin Valentine:
Description: Amanda Priebe, the title character, is still feeling the rush from a successful matchmaking effort when she decides to match Haley, her best friend and secretary, with someone “more appropriate” than Roger, the dairy farmer about whom her friend is apparently pretty serious. Nate Knighton, Amanda’s dear friend and brother-in-law, opposes her plans, but stays away from her efforts – primarily because he’s afraid he may be falling in love with Amanda. Complications arise when wealthy and handsome Franklyn West shows interest in Amanda, and Mason Eldridge, the man she intends for Haley, doesn’t follow the game plan. For her part, Amanda knows exactly what she wants, or does she? Will everyone end up with his or her one true love, or will Amanda’s best-laid plans go awry?
This is the fifth offering in Debra White Smith’s Austen Series. Fans of Austen will find that Ms. Smith does a masterful job of preserving Austen’s characters in contemporary settings. The re-telling of classic novels can be a dicey enterprise; people often feel protective of their favorite characters; social norms and conventions have changed, and conflicts that seemed fresh and innovative before feel dated and archaic now. Not so with the books in the Austen series. Smith retains the wit and charm of the Austen novels, but makes necessary revisions to intrigue a modern readership. Besides, Austen dealt with the vagaries of a human soul, creating keen psychological examinations of people both likeable and not. The human character is unchanging; therefore, our peculiarities are interesting in whatever time period they are revealed.
Amanda is a beautiful, intelligent young woman from a privileged background. As such, she has rarely been denied anything she wanted, and when the novel begins, she wants to match her friend Haley with Mason Eldridge, the music director of their church. There is something a bit disturbing in the character’s egotism, her certainty that she knows what is best for others whether they like it or not. The author, however, allows us to view Amanda’s better qualities, her generosity, fun spirit, keen wit, and empathy for others, and that is what makes her a multidimensional character, one we enjoy getting to know despite her flaws.
The miscommunication between Amanda and her intended victims is great fun, and so is the suspense that develops when the reader can’t be quite sure that Amanda will acknowledge what her heart has known all along. Readers who want romance will love this book, especially those who avoid books they fear might be “preachy” in the Christian market. Although the faith of Amanda, Nate and the others is present, it is inherent in who they are - the way they live their lives and the decisions they make. Their Christian worldview replaces any lengthy text on theology that might otherwise be present.
With Amanda, Smith aptly illustrates that “The course of true love never did run smooth,” but the twisted path these characters follow to romance is an intriguing one, and I feel certain that others will enjoy the trip as much as I did.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Emma Jean Reborn
by Dr. Cupid Poe and Kathi Macias
Published by Authorhouse
Back in Crooked River, Emma Jean takes refuge with her former classmate Sadie and, eventually, in an African-American church, where she begins to learn the secret to overcoming her past and establishing her own identity for a positive future.
This story captivated me from page one. Gut-wrenching and powerful, I found it very much worth reading. I worked for Child Protective Services for 15 years and believe me, there wasn't anything I hadn't seen during that time. Emma Jean's story is just as tragic, however, it provides insight like few other novels do. Many women are are suffering in dysfunctional relationships, one after the other, and haven't a clue why they repeat the same pattern. This novel helps explain some of that. People often say, "I don't understand why she keeps marrying men that abuse her." This story also answers that question. Most importantly, this novel shows healing can occur in even the most damaged heart. Emma Jean had every reason in the world to hate God and everything He represented, yet the hole in her heart that we all possess, still steered her toward God, and she wanted so much to believe in Him. She just couldn't trust, and who could blame her for being skittish? What had happened to Emma Jean was worse than what Dave Peltzer suffered in his biography "A Child Called It." The most impressive aspect of this story-to me-was that the abuse cited happened to an actual person as described. Unfortunately, true life is often much more disturbing than we'd like to think, but if as Christians we reach out to the hurting around us, like the African-American church did to Emma Jean, we can make an impact on people who need Christ. In my opinion, this novel is the perfect outreach tool to minister to abused women searching for hope and healing. This novel was very well-written. I commend the authors for being brave enough to write such an emotionally intense book, and I hope this story really takes off.
Reviewed by Michelle Therese
Writing truth into fiction...digging deeper, soaring higher
Great Beginnings finalist 2005
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
By Karen Kingsbury
Published by Zondervan
Shane Galanter is ready to put down roots, but is he making the right choice? Is there a woman somewhere who even now remembers—as he does—those long-ago days…and a love that hasn't faded with time?
Lauren Gibbs, a successful international war correspondent, gave up on happily-ever-after years ago when it was ripped away from her. Since then, she's never looked back. But why is life so empty?
Emily Anderson is a college freshman raised by her grandparents and about to take her first internship as a journalist. But before she can move ahead, she discovers a live story whose tragic ending came with her birth. As a result, she is drawn to look back and search out the mother she's never met.
A young woman seeking answers to her heart's deep questions. A man and woman separated by lies and long years…yet who have never forgotten each other.
Even Now is a story of love and loss, of faith and restoration. For readers who have come to love Kingsbury's distinctive style of deep characterizations and difficult what-if plots, you will not be disappointed. There is nothing predictable or formulaic about this novel. A master of the craft, Karen Kingsbury entwines her readers into the fabric of her characters' lives, until you are living the story with them. The outcome is important to you.
And Kingsbury delivers. I stayed up late two nights in a row to read this book, and when I turned the last page, I knew the characters would live on in my memory. That's Kingsbury's hallmark: memorable characters and extraordinary plots.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
The Mustang Breaker
by Stephen Bly
Published by Broadman & Holman
What can a horse wrangler teach a sophisticated Indiana schoolteacher?
In cowboy country, schoolteacher Develyn Worrell is trying to recapture the contentment she felt there as a child. Her summer is filled with adventures as a friendship deepens with the quirky Casey Cree-Ryder, but things heat up when romance blossoms between Develyn and Renny Slater, the mustang breaker.
Her veneer is stripped away layer by layer when she plays matchmaker, rescues a cowboy, and embraces the spirit of the west. Through her interactions with others, she comes to believe she's in Wyoming for a purpose beyond herself.
The novel opens with a dream sequence that confused me as a reader. That said, however, author Stephen Bly aroused enough curiosity in me to keep reading. There are some scenes in which Bly weaves a spell and captures the reader in a web of suspended disbelief. Like when Develyn and Cree-Ryder spend the night in the old, abandoned LeSage Mansion, home to a bygone countess. Some of the dialogue between the women felt unnatural, but the storytelling carries the day.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Title: The Trouble With Lacy Brown
By Debra Clopton
Published by SteepleHill
Love is in the air…and the hair—or so wacky hairstylist Lace Brown believes when she swoops into Mule Hollow. The town placed an ad for wives, and Lacy's salon is going to guarantee pretty ones!
BUT NOT BY CLINT MATLOCK
The moment cattleman Clint Matlock meets the spitfire stylist, he can tell she won't last. Attractive women just don't stick around dusty cow towns; his mom certainly hadn't. But Clint never expects Tornado Lacy to set his emotions spinning, Perhaps the trouble with Lacy Brown is that her last name should be Matlock.
If you're looking for a fun read, The Trouble With Lacy Brown delivers. A real lollipop of a novel, I thoroughly enjoyed Clopton's debut book and devoured it in one sitting. She has a fresh voice, penned with subtle humor, and I found myself laughing out loud a few times. Her heroine is not the stereotype hairstylist, while the minor characters were just that—characters, funny and just what you'd expect to find in a small Texas cow town. Some of the plot points were heading toward predictability, but Clopton gave them enough of a twist to keep my attention. The sequel, And Baby Makes Five, is due out in April, 2006. A good first novel, Clopton will only get better with each book, and I'm looking forward to her next offering.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
The Beach House, by Sally John
Publisher: Harvest House
When four women reunite to celebrate their fortieth birthdays in San Diego, past meets present, and their lives are changed forever.
An irresistible desire for the closeness they used to share prompts Dr. Jo Zambruski to invite her childhood friends Char, Molly and Andie to California. The women look forward to the camaraderie of old friends and escape from everyday life, but inevitably, relaxation turns to reflection, and each guest must face t\he struggles and decisions she brought along with her sandals and sunglasses.
What’s in this house by the sea that helps four old friends reconnect? If they give each other a week to be transparent with one another, will long-hidden secrets finally be revealed? Will they find the answers together they have struggled to find alone?
Talented author Sally John weaves a web around her readers, drawing them into her characters' world. I read this book in two sittings, unable to put it down. These ladies came alive, each with a crossroads-crisis in her life. John offers wonderful insight into each woman's make up, and how she handles her problems. I loved how she portrays Molly's faith: strong for others, but her own in peril. Andie struggles with debilitating fear; Char, temptation from a marriage that's stagnant, and Jo is caught in a tidal wave of emotions, carried on the crest by guilt.
Sally John seamlessly ties the sub-plots together through masterful writing. Her secondary characters are just as delightful as the main ones and tote a tad of mystery around them. When I turned the last page of The Beach House, I sighed. I didn't want it to end. I wanted to know more about these ladies. But, oh, what a satisfying read—one of the best of the year. This was the first novel I'd read by Sally John, but you can bet I'll seek out other novels by her. She's hooked another fan!
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
By Elizabeth White
Published by Zondervan
Former ATF agent Susannah Tait is out to prove that pyrotechnics genius Quinn Baldwin is responsible for a million-dollar fireworks catastrophe during a Mardi Gras ball. With her faithful black lab, Monty—a retired explosives task force animal—Susannah moves to the charming backwater town of Mobile, Alabama to uncover the truth.
On the pretext of researching for a doctoral thesis, Susannah suffers herself to be dragged to church, ministry projects and gargantuan southern dinners—all in the name of thorough investigation. But this world traveled military brat with a string of letters behind her name finds herself wholly unprepared to navigate the cultural quagmire of the Deep South. Everyone she interviews, from local ATF agents to Azalea Trail Maids, seems to speak a foreign language.
Captivated by the unexpected warmth and joy of her new circle of friends, Susannah struggles to keep from falling for a subject who refuses to be anything but a man of integrity, compassion, and lethal Southern charm. Fireworks offers a glimpse into the heart of the South and a cynical young woman's first encounter with Christ like love.
I enjoyed this romantic suspense. White uses her talents as a word artist, delivering picturesque portraits of the south and its inhabitants. I chuckled as Susannah Tait struggled to understand the cultural differences from her own Arizona roots. As a native of California transplanted into the south, I could relate to this heroine.
Fireworks abound, both in the sky and between Susannah and Quinn. A great read, well plotted with many unexpected twists. A few times I thought I had the mystery figured out, but then the plot spun in a different direction. I was left with one unaswered question though. Why does an explosives task force Labrador Retriever cower under covers during a thunder storm?
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Monday, January 16, 2006
She's All That (Spa Girls)
Publisher: Integrity Publishers
Reviewed by Michelle Therese:
Best friends since Johnny Depp wore scissors for hands, The Spa Girls live very separate lives, but stay in touch with routine visits to California’s Spa Del Mar. Morgan Malliard lives an heiress’s life, modeling her father’s diamond jewelry to San Francisco’s elite. Dr. Poppy Clayton doles out sage Biblical advice and herbal remedies as a chiropractor in Silicon Valley. And Lilly Jacobs struggles to make ends meet as a up-and-coming fashion designer with a college degree that’s useless, and a self-imposed deadline that’s looming.
The first novel in the Spa Girls Collection™, She’s All That, focuses on Lilly Jacobs, a San Francisco fashion designer determined that her "bad hair" is the root source of her problems – but a nagging grandmother, a vixen boss and well-meaning friends certainly aren’t helping matters. Lilly’s deadline is fast approaching, and success isn’t. What does God have in store for these gals as they contemplate life, love and the pursuit of a perfect pedicure? Lay back, kick up your feet and escape to the spa with the girls!
I have to laugh at how well the author does when it comes to one-liners, which is half the fun of reading the story. Poor Lilly was brilliant but so down on herself, and she had terrible judgment regarding decent men. I love how the author tied in her lack of trust with her abandonment issues. So true! Billerbeck is a master at making you want to keep reading. I had to see who Lilly was going to choose. I found the issues she dealt with realistic and enjoyed being part of her circle of friends, even if only as an outside observer. I'm glad she made the best choice and laughed at her quirks and her drama. She's like a lot of ladies I hung out with when I was single. There are no men that like you and then wham...the whole world wants you at the same time. Talk about pressure. I'm so glad I'm not single anymore. I can't wait to read Morgan's story. Of the three spa girls, I felt most connected to Morgan because she had such a good heart. Poppy was just a hoot. I have many nature-lover friends who "do herbs, not drugs" and are totally into health. I enjoyed her characterization as well. This series is very enjoyable, not at all boring, and full of the kind of drama that makes chick lit fun to read. Looking forward to the next book.
Friday, January 13, 2006
A Bride Most Begrudging
by Deeanne Gist
Bethany House Publishers (July, 2005)
Reviewed by Michelle Therese
When Lady Constance Morrow finds herself held against her will aboard a ship bound for the American colonies, a ship filled with "tobacco brides" and felons, she is quite sure that as soon as she arrives she will find a reasonable man who will believe her father is an earl and send her back on the next ship to England. Instead she meets Drew O’Connor, a determined Colonial farmer who is nearly as headstrong as she is. Drew wins Constance as his bride but soon realizes he has taken on much more than he bargained for.
I found the subject matter of this book (a forced marriage under dreadful circumstances) extremely captivating. How does one who has full marriage rights grow to love a stranger enough to want to be married to them in all ways? The tension in this story was highly believable and exciting to read. A real page turner. The historical element and Constance's bumblings at trying to be a good colonial wife was thoroughly intriguing and very sympathetic. I felt like I was in the colonies with her and couldn't stop reading. I was so glad when the couple finally admitted their feelings to each other, but then I wanted to slap Drew for thinking it best for her to be shipped back to England where she'd be "happier." I wanted to cry with Constance when Drew started avoiding her and refusing to get close. How painful and real. I won't say anymore or it may spoil some of the details for the reader. Overall this was a satisfying read with a wonderfully written spiritual element and moving romance theme. I'd love to see more books published by this author.
SAHM I AM
Publisher: Steeple Hill
Reviewed by Vennessa Ng:
Are you a stay-at-home mum? Do you often feel lonely, discouraged, driven crazy?
Then pick up a copy of Meredith Efken’s debut novel and lose yourself in the lives of the women who belong to the SAHM I AM e-mail loop.
Scattered across America, these women share their joys and tears through e-mail, drawing support and encouragement from one another.
Through a sub-loop called Green Eggs and Ham, we learn of five women and their struggles. There’s Dulcie, whose husband who is constantly on out-of-town job assignments and a mother-in-law whose wedding is turning into a stage show. Artistic Zelia’s desire for her children to express themselves is threatened by her husband’s decision for them to attend school. Jocelyn is heartbroken when her son can’t seem to shake normal childhood pains. Brenna must come to grips with farm life and her husband’s desire for children. Completing the group is Phyllis, the pastor’s wife whose youthful mistakes resurface to threaten her family’s security.
Let’s not forget loop moderator Rosalyn and her sister, Veronica. Their insufferable relationship prompts many of Rosalyn’s weekly topics for the e-mail loop. Will Veronica's latest bid for attention destroy the last fragments of their relationship?
SAHM I AM is a laugh a minute. But don’t get too comfortable; just as you settle into the fun pace of the story, Meredith turns things around and touches sensitive subjects.
I found Meredith’s e-mail message format refreshing. It effectively pulled me into the lives of the characters, cutting away use of description and narrative. The clever dialogue gives the story a more intimate feel. The lack of chapter breaks also makes the book very hard to put down.
As a stay-at-home mom myself, I would recommend this book to any woman who chooses to remain home with her young children. The issues these women face ring true for any stay-at-home mom. Their stories will touch your heart to reveal the power of friendship via cyberspace, and this book may leave you longing for your own SAHM I AM e-mail loop.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
A DISTANT MUSIC
By B.J. Hoff
Harvest House Publishers
Reviewed by Vennessa Ng:
Picking up a B.J. Hoff novel guarantees that you will be transported into another time filled with captivating characters. Book #1 of the new Mountain Song Legacy series, A DISTANT MUSIC, is no exception.
Ever since the publication of her novella, THE PENNY WHISTLE, readers have asked B.J. for more of the story. With A DISTANT MUSIC, B.J. delivers the first installment, and it’s a novel that will tug at your heart and fill you with hope.
Skingle Creek in the late 1800’s is a small coal mining community whose inhabitants have little of the ‘extras’ in life. But it is also a community where people genuinely care for one another and are willing to sacrifice what little they have to help those in need.
It comes as little surprise then when Maggie MacAuley turns to those around her in a desperate attempt to save their schoolteacher, Jonathan Stuart. Ever since Mr. Stuart’s flute has gone missing, he has grown sicker and weaker by the day. With the help of her classmates, Maggie hatches a plan to bring music back into their teacher’s life, and hopefully renew his strength. But will the desperate plight of Widow Hunnicutt and the Crawford family put an end to Maggie’s plan?
It seems to Maggie that God has lost interest in the good people around her. Not only is her teacher fading away, but her best friend, the ailing Summer Rankin, is also waning by the day, spending more time in bed than at school. Then there is the matter of Kenny Tallman and the class bullies. In Kenny’s attempt to save Maggie from a beating, Kenny puts up with the abuse from the bullies and swears Maggie to secrecy. But just how long will his heroism continue to protect her?
Maggie struggles to understand how God can know about everything and care about it all when those around her struggle with ill health, hunger, and bullies. How can a loving God let bad things happen to good people?
B.J. Hoff’s gift of bringing characters to life shines in A DISTANT MUSIC. I found myself drawn into Maggie MacAuley’s troubles and shed more than a tear or two with her.
A DISTANT MUSIC is an enchanting read that touches the heart. Once more B.J. proves that when it comes to the historical voice, she is the master. B.J. tells us that this is the just the beginning, with more to come. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the rest of the Mountain Song Legacy.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
R. K. Mortenson
“Just ask Landon Snow. He could tell you all about being swallowed by a book, or falling from the sky on horseback, or fleeing a hail of arrows through an enchanted forest, or watching a gigantic gold coin flipping into the sky and wondering…could it be chance, mere circumstance?”
When Landon Snow and his family head to Button Up, Minnesota to visit his Grandpa Karl and Grandma Alice, he had no idea what would lie ahead. After Grandpa Karl suffers a slight injury in an accident while working on his old jalopy, Landon begins to wonder if life is an accident.
Grandpa Karl gives Landon a collectable Bible once owned by Bartholomew G. Benneford founder of the local library, and a “dream stone.” He begins an adventure which teaches him the word of God can be depended upon. When the adventure is over, you, like Landon Snow, will wonder if the adventure was real or a dream. Chance or circumstance?
This “tween” book is filled with extraordinary vocabulary and scripture cleverly tucked into its plot. The book is a great mixture of Alice and Wonderland type characters, books that are alive, and chess pieces which jump the board and become live characters. It’s sure to be a fun read for youth with a Christian content as the guiding force though not overbearing.
I was impressed with the author’s choice of vocabulary, using words such as “auctor”, “furtively”, and “precipice” to challenge young readers to read further and discover their meaning.
Landon Snow will intrigue readers from age 10 to 110. A fun way to see how scripture is given and fulfilled – imaginative and even silly at times, Landon Snow and The Auctor’s Riddle is sure to be a hit with both boys and girls in their tweens.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
February 1, 2006
Reviewed by Gina Holmes
Ms. Collins' first two novels, Eyes of Elisha & Dread Champion, featured Chelsea Adams, a Christian whom God speaks to through visions.
Brandilyn's Hidden Faces Series' heroin is a forensic artist named Annie. Collins brings these two ladies together in her suspense novel, Web of Lies.
Chelsea gets a vision from God, a frightening scene~someone locked in a dark room filled with spiders.
She feels a burden to contact forensic artist Annie to draw the face she saw in this vision. The women's lives interweave and the roller-coaster ride begins.
This story is told in an unusal manner, third person from Chelsea's point of view, first person from Annie's. A strong and believable faith message is ever present as both heroins seek God for His guidance and help.
I had recently read Collins', Dead of Night, so I fully expected the ending of Web of Lies to have a twist I didn't see coming, and Brandilyn did not disappoint. Her writing is tight, and the story is full of twists, turns and surprises.
I recommend Web of Lies to mystery, suspense and thriller lovers.
By Chris Well
Harvest House Publishers
A page-turning crime thriller that sizzles with action! Crime boss Frank "Fat Cat" Catalano has his fingers in nearly every business sector of Kansas City. But a coalition of local storeowners and clergy have had enough---and enlist the help of Detective Tom Griggs. Can they catch "the Cat" before they become the mice?
Reviewed by Dawn Burns
I really had no idea what to expect with this book. I didn’t expect the thrill and fast pace that this story delivers. I was surprised at the intensity, actually feeling my own heart beating fast on numerous occasions.
Chris Well’s writing is edgy and engrossing. Great characters and witty dialogue wrapped in a plot that will keep you guessing until the end - I was unprepared for the twists and turns and never figured it all out until it unfolded on the last few pages.
I read the last page several days ago and have yet to quit thinking of Solomon Long. Yes, it is a story of organized crime and all the evil that goes with that, but it’s ultimately a story of God’s power and His pursuit of us, no matter what we’ve done.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Release Date: 1-01-06
Fiction – Contemporary, Christian
Reviewed by Kelly Klepfer
Some go for quick escapist fiction, along the lines of fast food gulped en route to the next stop. I prefer to ponder the words, like a county fair judge might determine the subtleties of the perfect apple pie.
Susan Meissner serves up wonderful word pictures like, "He scampered off, returning a moment later with a faded rag frozen by time and neglect into a stiff terry-cloth fossil," in her new novel, In All Deep Places.
Luke Foxbourne, carries a burden that comes to a boil through a series of events. The reader is taken to the segment of time that branded his life, and continues to haunt him. Ms. Meissner gives us insight into her protagonist's confusion and sorrow with, "'I don't understand You," Luke whispered aloud, but he was afraid to whisper anything else. He was afraid a cosmic hand would reach down out of heaven, pluck him from the tree house, and fling him to the frozen ground."
My eye has been trained to seek flaws in writing. I suppose a lot like the judge who notices a smidge too much salt, or the wrong kind of apple. It has become, for me, a sign of good fiction, when I get lost in the story and respond to the lives of the characters.
I read Ms. Meissner's novel in three sessions – devouring what I could fit into the very busy holidays. Her characters, her writing lingered. I'd find myself clinging to a neatly turned phrase or trying to squeeze the had-to-do's into smaller time bits so I could sneak a look at what might happen next.
In my opinion, Ms. Meissner writes Christian Fiction the way it should be written, with threads and hints and God webs interwoven into not very rosy pictures of broken lives. In All Deep Places contains tinges of hope, an aroma of life, a slight glow of light, and a lingering trace of poignancy. And that is the stuff of life, the moments when we are forced to think, to face our smallness and the immensity of God.
This is the second of Ms. Meissner's books I've had the pleasure of reading. I intend to continue consuming her books, going back and picking up the two I've missed, and eagerly awaiting the next one.
If you only read books with talking animals or those that end with the words "happily ever after" you might not share my opinion.
If you prefer your fiction to be a little more like real life with spots of word weaving magic, I think you'll like In All Deep Places.
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers (January, 2006)
The first indication to me that Athol Dickson’s newest book,
River Rising, would be something special, was his last book.
The Gospel According to Moses is based on Dickson’s five year study of the Torah at a Reformed Jewish temple. It examines what he discovered about the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, faith, and friendship. It’s not often that authors – not even Christian ones – devote so much time to an in-depth exploration of their theological and historical roots. Let me confess up front, this piqued my interest in his new novel from the get-go.
River Rising is not a theological piece, per se. It is a historical thriller set in the Louisiana swamplands, in an isolated stilt town named Pilotville. But it is Dickson’s grasp of human nature, its longings and distortions, and his devotion to spiritual matters that impregnates the narrative.
The year is 1927 when the Reverend Hale Poser, raised in New Orleans, arrives in the mysterious backwater town in search of his past. Although the locals are suspicious of the newcomer, he eventually gets a job working as a janitor at the Negro Infirmary and begins attending the African Assembly of God church. After several seemingly mystical acts, rumors begin surfacing that Poser is no ordinary man, but a miracle worker.
At first glance, Pilotville appears to be a “sanctuary from racism” where blacks and whites live together in harmony. However, after a baby is kidnapped and the Reverend joins the search, the facade collapses. Not only does the city have a long history of unsolved baby-abductions, Poser’s investigations lead him deeper into the swamplands and the startling discovery of a more sinister cover-up.
The bayou backwaters serve as vivid backdrop to the unfolding mystery. I was reminded of Marlow, the introspective sailor and his journeys up the Congo in Conrad’s, Heart of Darkness. As Hale Poser drifts further back into the belly of the swampland, it is clear his search is for more than just a missing child. It is a journey upriver, into America’s dark past and the depths of human pain—a search for grace and redemption.
Along the way, Dickson’s protagonist struggles with himself and his beliefs, bringing us into contact with hypocrites and haters on both sides of t he aisle. The author uses these to explore a variety of complex issues such as religious faith and racial equality. I found this book timely in its characterization of racial tension and injustice, and appreciated the absence of PC-induced guilt and simplistic answers, as well as the practical outworking of grace as the primary path of reconciliation.
Clearly, Dickson’s interests in theological reflection lace the tale and provide a redemptive scaffold for the dramatic unfolding. But throughout, it is Hale Poser, a simple, gracious man, that leads us through the swamps of injustice and unbelief, bridging the world that is, with the world as it should be.
River Rising is a memorable story, very well-written and deftly-paced. The culture, language and customs of the old south create a haunting atmosphere and imagery sure to stay with the reader. In an age of shallow, mediocre fiction, I found this a refreshing read—a book that will be in many top ten lists at years’ end and referenced for years to come. Highly recommended.