Book Review: Never Without Hope

Written by Michelle Sutton
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

There’s something about Michelle Sutton’s Never Without Hope that kept me turning pages. Maybe it was because the author hooked me and got me to desperately want things to get better for heroine Hope Williams. But the author wouldn’t allow that to happen. Throughout most of the novel consequences keep piling up due to Hope’s sexual sin. It was as if every time Hope took a step forward, somebody dropped a proverbial safe on her head.

This novel goes where many fear to read, into the arena of male erectile dysfunction and what happens in an otherwise happy marriage when this medical condition occurs.

The novel opens with Hope is in a world of hurt. James, the husband she loves and desires has had waning desire for her for almost a year and their sex life has been nonexistent the past six months. Aching for affection in her marriage bed, Hope tires to communicate with James about the issue and he angrily rebuffs her. When she tries to seductively entice him back into the marriage bed, he actually pushes her, physically hurting her and humiliating her. After that, she is easy pickings for the extra-marital affairs she feels herself slipping into. However, Biblically, one could argue her husband had already broken their marriage vows by leaving Hope so bereft of affection in the marriage bed. Be that as it may, the author doesn’t in any way excuse Hope for her mistakes.

To her credit, Hope does not dwell on the speck in her husband’s eye, but rather, she fully focuses on the issue of her own sin. The author depicts for us the metamorphosis of a church going Christian wife and mother who has slipped from saint to sinner. She has failed not just her family, but her God. In fact, Hope fears her sin has become so deeply rooted and pervasive in her life that God cannot forgive her. She has been drinking from another woman’s well. Yes, Hope is sleeping with another woman’s husband.

The author skillfully moves Hope through a series of emotionally devastating situations to the point where she discovers God’s love, grace, and redemption.

If I’m going to be a bit nit-picky, I’d have to say at times I got a bit tired of Hope’s first person narrative. I would have enjoyed having the story broken up some, perhaps with a scene here and there in James point-of-view.

Even thought it was Hope’s story, I felt horribly for James. The man, so frustrated and debased by his sexual dysfunction, refused not only to discuss this with his wife, he also would not see a doctor. James suffers a heart attack and discovers his erectile dysfunction was a symptom of heart disease. His treatment is successful and he and Hope begin working through their trust, marital, emotional, and spiritual issues.

This novel falls squarely into the category of edgy Christian fiction. There are some explicit scenes. However, this book just might ease the pain of a woman in the throes of an affair and help her to find her way out of that bad situation. It certainly offers spiritual encouragement to any woman with an affair in her past. This novel encourages the reader to deeper faith.

Book Review: Back On Murder

Written by J. Mark Bertrand
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

This is the Christian crime fiction novel I’ve been waiting for. It’s intelligent and well written. Author J. Mark Bertrand knows his police procedure and has got cop culture down.

Main character detective Roland March wants back on murder. He’s kind of flushed his career due a dark depression he’s been wallowing in which has led to his apathy about the job. As result he’s been assigned a string of undesirable cases, none of them homicide. Even his old partner, once a close friend, wants nothing to do with him. Then he notices a detail at a murder scene the other cops have missed and that lands him squarely on the case. This is his last chance to redeem himself and resuscitate his failed career.

Roland’s instincts tell him this homicide at a drug house, missing it’s female victim’s body, is linked to a high profile missing person’s case, where the other young female victim is a church going good girl. Sometimes it seems as if he’s trying to make the pieces fit. Sometimes he might be hoping they fit to prove a theory of the case that will allow him to exact revenge upon his old nemesis on the police force.

I didn’t always like protagonist Roland March. He can be petty, mean, dense, and not above begging. Near the beginning of the story, something snaps inside him and he manhandles a very drunk woman trying to get into her car outside a bar he frequents. He takes her keys away and might’ve even saved her life, but his behavior was over-the-top. Later, it’s revealed what personal demons drove him to conduct himself in so vile a manner.

The novel is definitely edgy. The main character is not saved and doesn’t get saved by the end of the book. One of the murders has highly sexual overtones. One of the characters may or may not have date raped a girl and Roland does little to nothing about it. There’s tons of violence. More than a few scenes take place in a cop bar. The hero thinks about sex with his wife more in sexual terms than in a romantic manner…or perhaps it’s in a habitual way. The autopsy scene is graphic. All this adds up to edgy Christian fiction. But it’s a fantastic ride. A detective story reader’s dream comes true.

I’m glad this is going to be a series. I don’t want to see Roland March go away any time soon. I’ll put this book up against any secular crime fiction best seller. Though writing style and hero personality is different, the book is comparable to Michael Connelly’s long running Harry Bosch series.

What makes Roland compelling is his cop’s sense of righting a wrong on behalf of the victim. He particularly wants justice for the nameless, faceless girl whose body is missing, but who so obviously died in that drug house. While Roland obviously has a gazillion negatives to his personality, he can also be noble, brave, loyal, and doggedly persistent.

Roland March is not a spiritual man, yet he’s the perfect one, to objectively show how the secular world views the church. He’s saddled with a new female partner, a Christian, who’s easy on the eyes and he’s ogled her, only to be slapped down. He later comes to respect her as a woman, cop, and valued partner. Through his eyes, we meet the young missing person victim’s mother, a church worker who indeed lives her faith. We get to see her at first through his jaded eyes and then slowly see she’s the real deal. We marvel at her compassion, just as he does.

I highly recommend this book to crime fiction fanatics of every stripe, or anyone looking for a terrific police procedural/thriller. This is an intelligent, complex, gritty mystery and the writing is excellent. It’s a real page turner.

Book Review: Double Minds

Book Review: Double Minds
Written by Terri Blackstock
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

In Double Minds, there’s a lot of deceit going on in the Nashville Christian recording community — even murder. Here’s a novel in which author Terri Blackstock doesn’t shy away from presenting Christian characters with all their warts.

Songwriter/singer Parker James, who’s day job is a receptionist position at Colgate Studios is stunned when a young college intern turns up murdered at her desk. Parker wonders if she was the intended victim, but can’t figure why that would be. As it turns out Parker’s brother Gibson is one of the detectives in charge of the murder investigation.

Gibson who moonlights as a studio musician is getting it from both ends. The chief of police wants to remove him from the investigation because the murder happened at his sister’s place of employment. Most annoying to Gibson, his little sister Parker keeps sticking her nose into the investigation.

I enjoyed the character of Parker James as crafted by the author. Her internal conflicts come across as authentic. Parker, totally sold out to the Lord, struggles with desires all Christians face. She’d like to make something of herself, yet she’s been asked to water down some of her Christian lyrics. Since the Christian singing sensation asking her to change the title song into a romantic love story is her best friend, Parker complies. The Lord moves in mysterious ways. The change in lyrics helps to pinpoint the exact time the murder victim broke into Parker’s laptop and stole the previous, Christian version of the song. Who says God’s not in charge?

In Double Minds the reader is introduced to the not-so-lovely side of the Christian recording industry. There is theft of intellectual property (Parker’s songs), a singer starving herself to present the sleek image her manager and producer want her to have, inventive ways to get around the laws against payola, rumor mongering, and murder. Of course, there are wonderful Christian characters walking with the Lord throughout this novel as well.

The character of Serene, the Christian contemporary music star is less than sympathetic. We’re given a glimpse of her abusive upbringing, but that never compensated for her narcissism and manipulative behavior. Perhaps the reader could have used a more in depth look at Serene’s early relationship with her abusive father in order to have more compassion for this character. At any rate, I was happy that after being the victim of a shooting near the end of the novel, this character decides she wants to live and not kill herself slowly via anorexia.

Perhaps the brightest aspect of this novel is the portrayal of the Parker family. With all of its flaws (the alcoholism of the father being one), led by a godly mother, the family members demonstrate powerful love for each other. They pray together, stick together, and have each other’s backs; even the hard drinking patriarch, as much as he can. I appreciated the very real portrayal of Christians and the impact they have on the lives of others in this novel.

Book Review: Texas Roads

Written by Cathy Bryant –
Review by Nike Chillemi –

Texas Roads does not disappoint. There are enough secrets in this intriguing debut novel by Cathy Bryant to keep any mystery lover turning pages. Read more

Book Review: The Right Call

Written by Kathy Herman –
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

Gambling is a terrible addiction. That’s what Steadman Reeves finds out in Kathy Herman’s well crafted novel The Right Call. Steadman falls over the edge, pulling others with him into the pit. Luckily, he doesn’t lose everything. Others are not so lucky and they pay the ultimate price. Read more

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