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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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