Behind Picketwire by M. Day Hampton

Not your usual love story

This book is going to be complicated to review, for the simple fact that it is too easy to give away spoilers. Indeed, especially towards the end, even the tiniest detail is a spoiler!

But I will start with this – as soon as Red had his fall, this was one of the few times that I wanted to skip to the end, to see what happened to him. I resisted the urge and in many ways I’m glad I did, as the ending is too strong and would have spoilt the rest. Instead, I stuck with it, with Red and the dog(s) (minor spoiler), on their journey through the wilderness.

In some ways, this could be classified as Dystopian – a world where people, law, order, the modern world, has all disappeared. It’s like a One Man and His Dog version of The Land Before Time. There’s just the wilderness, with all of nature as it once was and could be again.

So, considering it all, even before starting, we know that Red has to be in some dream-like state. Is it a coma? Is he already dead? Will he wake up? All those questions are hard to tell, as the book trundles slowly on. And yes, I did find it a slow read. I think probably because for the first part of the book, it did move slowly. It makes it hard in that the only dialogue is between Red and his dog, or random into the wilderness, or memories. Yes, there are many flashbacks, that help us understand Red better as he starts to understand himself better, too, from his childhood to more recent memories. He sees his triumphs, but he also sees his faults, and wonders why he couldn’t have been a better person at the moments when it mattered. He knows that he cared in those moments, yet was unable to show it better. Regrets, yet rediscovering the love that he moves forward to refind.

Not everything goes to plan in the wilderness. When he does finally set off, with such certainty of where he has to go, where he will find his wife again, between disasters and durability, he somehow finds his way forward.

Once you get into the final thirty percent of the book, the ending can be seen coming. Yet, somehow, you still hope for more.

So, we know what happens to Red, right at the end, yet what about Jake? And who was his coyote companion, he named Lady?

Another note is that there are Christian elements throughout, but in such a casual way as to not be overbearing. I appreciate a book that can give insights into someone’s religious, or semi-religious life, without trying to preach to you or force it down your throat (unfortunately I’ve had a few of the bad kind of late). This is pretty safe for anyone, no matter their spiritual- or non-beliefs.

On the whole, this is a book that deserves forbearance. When the emotional moments come, they are overpowering. In between is a journey that is far more than it first seems.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Dead Silence by Robin Caroll

Christian political suspense

I should have paid more attention when picking this book up, that it was listed as Christian fiction, as I know that I have many problems with that. In fact, this book could also be surmised as “Mother of deaf child works her way back to God through additional trials and tribulations.” Yes, the substory was essentially that, which I felt a little uncomfortable with. It wasn’t too preachy, surprisingly, but as soon as a book goes into that sort of territory, I do hope that it’s not going to go too far.

But the main thing that invited me to read this book was actually the fact that the MC’s son is deaf. Sign language, lip reading, and deafness aren’t huge topics for a mystery suspense, so I liked the idea.

So, anyway, as for the main part of the story itself, we have a single mother, who lost her husband a few years previously, who now loses her difficult mother-in-law. She can sign and lipread, making her great as a court sign-language interpreter. But it also puts her into other difficult territory, when she reads the lips of someone without thinking, who turns out to be planning the murder of her mother-in-law, one of the state senators.

Well, of course, something comes in the way, so she can’t inform anyone, until it’s too late and the FBI are already at her workplace asking her questions. One FBI agent, who’s rude, abrasive, and incompetent. Another who is well meaning, but completely blind to how bad his partner actually is. When a leak puts Elise’s life in danger, all secrets are excruciatingly slowly forced out into the open.

In actual fact, it takes Elise herself, plus the assistance of a reporter who wants to help rather than going for the big money, and her ex-press step-father-in-law and sister-in-law, to crack the case. They somehow, between themselves, manage to uncover things that the FBI hasn’t.

How believable all of that truly is, I’m not quite sure. It was quite a ride, which left me wanting to read further at many points. Although it was pretty frustrating when it was revealed what Liliana (MiL) was actually working on and the penny didn’t even drop as to who the villain actually was. For me, it was blazingly obvious! So with the Christian elements, the FBI incompetence, and the supposedly ‘good sleuthing crew’ missing obvious clues, there were a few head bashing moments.

All of it put together, and it ends up as an OK read instead of a brilliant one. I don’t regret reading it, yet it doesn’t warm me to read any of the author’s other books.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

The Englisch Daughter by Cindy Woodsmall and Erin Woodsmall

Fighting against the odds

Now this is exactly what I wanted from a religious book – an overview of the religion and culture, without preaching to me (this comment is because of having recently been burnt with that).

I haven’t actually read any Amish books before this, so I didn’t know what to expect at all. I have a vague idea of who they are, from various TV shows, but I didn’t know the difference between the different types of Amish or, indeed, the Mennonites, or even the language they spoke. This book is filled with their version of German, “Pennsylvania Dutch” (which is far more a German dialect and not even related to Dutch!). I actually wish that I had realised that there was a glossary at the back, with a direct translation of the sentences, before I started reading! Although each time, particularly with the children, that they spoke in their form of butchered German, there was an explanation as part of the story.

This is actually quite a heart-warming story. The Amish are highly religious, and opposed to all forms of violence. The women, once married, lose their independence and everything they have belongs to their husband. They are also expected to forgive any transgressions both publicly and easily. All of this, even for the highly religious women, is harder than it sounds. Especially when all the lies and deceit land on their own doorstep.

Yet love truly does conquer all. Through hardship and rebuilding the trust, if love is there, then it can overcome just about anything. The resilience that Jemima shows when she realises that her husband, Roy, has been not only distant, but uncovers that he’s been lying to her, is remarkable. Of course she is angry! Yet her love eventually brings her around once all the lies and deceit are unravelled.

There is a side story here, with Chris, who is going against his religion and culture by fighting, and Abigail, Roy’s sister, who has also gone against her culture by turning down many a potential partner as she prefers being on her own. She doesn’t want to get lost, like she’s seen so many other women do. And even with her connection with Chris, she finds yet another excuse to push him away. Of course, there is a happy ending here as well, which also isn’t hard won.

With the horse farm in the background, to provide an even more traditional setting, things are never as they seem. They fight to keep everything, when everything should be lost. And they do it all with an amazing strength where others would have failed.

All in all, a great and surprising read, that draws you in to another world.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

The Time of Jacob’s Trouble by Donna VanLiere

Not what I was expecting

I would absolutely love to say that I wasn’t the intended audience for this book, but unfortunately I would be wrong. The author’s intent is that everyone reads it, no matter their background, to better understand Revelations and the end of times, and by so doing come to Christ…

As soon as I opened the first pages of the book, and saw which Bible each character was reading, I should have walked away right then. Seriously, being a non-Christian, I couldn’t care less! So it soon became obvious that it wasn’t what I hoped for – a literary exploration of some Biblical ideas. Why can’t someone write something like that without being religiously involved?!

I really tried to see the story amongst the pages, to appreciate the limited amount of actual storyline, trying to ignore the postscript telling you nearly every page to refer to the Biblical explanation of the events that were happening. Some of it did actually have me hooked, but some of the rest was droning, repetitive, and just uninteresting. For the rest, the truth is the overly pushy nature of all the Christian stuff just got to me.

Put it this way, the book actually ends at page 185/63%. The other 37% is entirely dedicated to explaining the Bible (and why am I nice enough to capitalise that word?!) and, oh, that’s where it’s revealed what the author’s true intentions were with this story. After the first couple of pages of the last part, I just skipped the rest. The story was done, there was a cliffhanger waiting for the next, and the rest was just uninteresting babble.

So, as I said, this book was entirely not for me. I’m not a Christian, I don’t want to be preached at. And for that reason, despite what could be good about this author’s works, their purely Evangelistic aim of this book has put me off reading anything else of theirs. Despite all that, well, I didn’t dislike it completely, which surprises me no end. Yet that is still not enough to encourage me to read the sequels. It would need to be far sturdier, and lose all the Biblical and preachy stuff, for me to even consider it.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

The Laws of Great Enligtenment: Always Walk with Buddha by Ryuho Okawa

More miss than hit

When I saw this book available on NetGalley, I decided to give it a shot. I have a basic knowledge of Buddhist principles so, whilst I’ve read a handful of self-help books from different perspectives, I was intrigued as to what this angle would give.

From the off, I was disappointed. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are some interesting points and ideas in here, plus some folkloric background used to give examples of good and bad thoughts and behaviour. But two things ruined this for me: firstly, the author’s over-confidence that he is the best one to pass on this advice; secondly, the repeated mentions of suicide. I actually didn’t realise how bad the problem of suicide was in Japan until I read this book, and that was not what I was reading it for!

Post reading, I’ve barely kept a hold of any of the actual useful tips that were to be found amongst these pages, all because of those points mentioned above.

If it wasn’t for the author’s arrogance, then perhaps there might have been more to find inside this book. But, there again, when I looked up the author afterwards on Goodreads and saw the other types of books that were written, I shouldn’t be so surprised at all.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆ – Disliked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*