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READ: Review, Bound by Guilt by C.J. Darlington

The sophomore slump. In the publishing world, this term refers to the phenomenon of an author’s second novel that fails to live up to the standards of the first. Like baseball players and filmmakers, authors dread it.   As a reader, I dreaded it, too. I enjoyed C.J. Darlington’s Thicker than Blood, winner of the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel award. I admired the author—a young homeschool graduate—as much as her work. In fact, I took time to interview her for Homeschooling Today magazine. (Read that four-part interview here). So, although we’ve never met, C.J. and I have a history. That’s why I opened the advance reading copy of Bound by Guilt (Tyndale, March 1, 2011) with some trepidation. She took years to develop her first novel. How could this one match it? The truth: Bound by Guilt doesn’t match the writing skill or reading quality of C.J.’s first novel. Instead, this offering exceeds the first at multiple points. In her new book, C.J.’s strength in creating believable characters shines as does her plotting ability. But the true power of Bound by Guilt lies not in the plot or characters but in its warm portrayal of God’s redemptive love.  Life’s dealt young Roxi Gold a tough hand. Abandoned by her drug-addicted mother, she bounced in and out of multiple foster homes before landing with her mom’s cousin, Irene. Problems solved? No, multiplied. Irene’s self-centered perspective extends to her career: stealing and reselling rare books. She trains both her son and Roxi to serve as her accomplices. Despite Roxi’s misgivings, it seems like a great scheme—until the night things go horribly, terribly wrong. Police officer Abby Dawson has an anger problem. Wounds from the past (including a controlling father and an attorney ex-husband who limits her access to her only child) combine to make her dedicated but dangerous. Abby’s pain blurs the line between legal and illegal, right and wrong. When her hurt intersects with Roxi’s, they both need a miracle. Roxi and Abby are fearfully and wonderfully made. They’re also deeply loved. Will  they discover these truths in time? Will they believe them when—and if—they do? Author Darlington uses her bookselling expertise (she’s worked in the antiquarian book business for more than ten years) to provide both foundation and supportive details for her characters and their crimes. I enjoyed learning more about the book business which, along with several shared characters, also appears in Thicker than Blood. But what I loved most about the sparkling prose of Bound by Guilt was its portrait of God as Father, Redeemer, and Lover of our souls.  Read Bound by Guilt for the story. Weep at the ways...

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READ: Firm Foundations, Fulfilled Dreams: An Interview with Author C.J. Darlington (Part I)

Homeschooling Today magazine recently published my interview with homeschooled author C.J. Darlington. I’ll share it with you in four parts over the next four “Read” and “Write” blog days. In spite of its homeschool slant, I believe non-homeschoolers will be equally blessed to read about this gifted young writer who’s also become my friend. Enjoy! Keep the foundations strong.Our family watched this principle come to life when faulty construction forced a neighbor to vacate her home. Within two years of its construction, huge cracks appeared in the floor. An improperly laid foundation threatened the home’s integrity and its owner’s safety. Today, the house sits abandoned—beautiful on the outside, hopelessly flawed within. Homes that endure time and testing provide encouragement to keep the foundations strong. In the same way, we find hope when we look at longtime homeschool families and the fruit of their labor. Often, this fruit comes in the form of people: students who succeed, parents who persevere, and lives that are changed. As a writer and veteran homeschooler, I took particular delight in the news that homeschooled writer C.J. Darlington had won the prestigious 2008 Operation First Novel Award from the Christian Writers Guild. C.J.’s prize, presented by CWG owner and bestselling author Jerry Jenkins, included $20,000 and a contract with Tyndale House for her novel Thicker than Blood. Homeschooled throughout her school years, C.J.’s story offers unique encouragement to parents and students alike. Although Thicker than Blood releases in January, C.J. and her identical twin sister, Tracy, have already earned a strong reputation in the world of Christian publishing and entertainment. In 2006, they began to promote Christian books, music, and other media. The Darlington family also runs an online store dedicated to the same type of book search featured in Thicker than Blood. But I’ll let C.J. tell that story herself. Marti Pieper: Can you tell us about your family? C.J.: The cool thing about being a twin is that I had an instant fellow classmate. We were in the same grade with similar interests, which made homeschooling a lot more fun. It was also easier for Mom since she only had to teach one grade level. But although Mom did most of the teaching, our dad taught us science and took us on most of the field trips. I’m not sure who had more fun, Dad or us. M.P.: Please describe your interest in antique books and explain how that developed into a business.C.J.: For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to read and visit the library or bookstores. At age seventeen, Tracy and I became book scouts who bought used books and resold them to retailers. As the Internet dawned,...

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