I recently finished CJ Darlington's debut novel, Thicker Than Blood, just in time for her blog tour this week! CJ's novel won the 2008 Operation First Novel contest with the Christian Writers Guild, and after reading it, I can certainly see why.
Here's a short blurb:
Christy Williams finally has her life on track. She’s putting her past behind her and working hard to build a career as an antiquarian book buyer. But things begin to unravel when a stolen Hemingway first edition is found in her possession, framing her for a crime she didn’t commit. With no one to turn to, she yearns for her estranged younger sister, May, whom she abandoned after their parents’ untimely deaths. Soon, Christy’s fleeing from her shattered dreams, her ex-boyfriend, and God. Could May’s Triple Cross Ranch be the safe haven she’s searching for? Will the sisters realize that each possesses what the other desperately needs before it’s too late?
Before I don my therapist cap to do my psychological review, just a couple of general statements about CJ's story world and writing. She really has a knack for sharing pertinent detail. I say pertinent because it's certainly not boring detail that she weaves effortlessly into her prose, but detail that just transports the reader straight into the pages.
I also really appreciated the way CJ introduced me to a profession I knew absolutely nothing about. She digs into many facets of antiquarian book traders--of which CJ knew tons about because she was one!--from buying at trade shows and estate sales to internet sales and the managing of a book store. I love how CJ used a small, interesting fact of her trade to really spin the plot on it's side. (Of course, I won't tell which one...and you learn tons of them throughout the book...so you'll just have to read it.) :)
Now, let's talk about characters with real problems, and how CJ portrayed them very realistically. By Chapter One, you know her heroine, Christy, has a little problem with drinking. Given the situation, though, you might be tempted to excuse her. But as the book progresses, you realize that her problem is much more serious. Alcoholism really is a way of life, and CJ does a great job of showing the reader how Christy's past, present, and future fall victim to the choices and decisions she made. Being under the influence of any kind of drug alters your perceptions of everything, from what constitutes a "good" relationship to what looks like a good business arrangement that you later regret.
The key to creating such a flawed character really is in CJ's consistency. Christy's first thoughts when faced with any kind of hardship or stressful situation is to turn to the bottle for courage. This is so true to life! Alcoholics reframe their addiction and think things like the bottle will give them courage they wouldn't have otherwise. Christy falls prey to this line of thinking more than once--she's consistent.
CJ also blows the lid on abusive relationships and co-dependency. Abuse can come in many forms, not just physical. Emotional abuse--mind games, threats, using manipulation--are extremely common in relationships today. Christy's relationship with Vince is a testament to many women out there who go through the exact same thing every day. It's hard. It's scary. But kudos to CJ for showing that a woman can break free. Yes, it requires falling down and dusting yourself off. It requires striking out into the unknown. But it can be done!
I was pleasantly surprised at the character arc for Christy. I thought it was going to be one of these ultra-convenient spiritual transformations during a church scene. HA! The only time I was actually frowning while reading this book was during the preacher's oh-so-timely testimony. I'm not going to tell you how Christy "sees the light," but it sure wasn't during the church scene. :) So refreshing! Christy has come a long way, through so many hard knocks, to just lay down and pick up something as simple as a relationship with a Lord she has had no firsthand experience with. So again, kudos to the writer, who made her conversion believable.
Last but not least, CJ digs into family member estrangement. Any number of events could cause members of the same family to close off from one another. While misunderstandings are probably the most common, CJ's scenario works just fine. A very believable watershed moment sets the stage for these two sisters to walk down the paths they do. There is a certain amount of palpable awkwardness when the two sisters meet up for the first time in 15 years. It's not all hunky-dory and tears and hugs. Piecing back a family takes longer than that. It's really a very poignant reunion...eventually. CJ doesn't spoil it by making the connection too soon, in my opinion.
If you don't want to read the book after all that, something's wrong with you! While it's not a romance, there is a little romantic thread (although from a romantic side--I sure wish there had been more. I also wish there had been a little string-tying in that general direction...but perhaps there will be a book two?) amidst quite a big suspense thread. Ultimately it's a story of redemption and hope you won't want to miss out on.
You can buy the book from Amazon, CBD, Barnes and Noble, or Borders. You can also reach CJ at her website, http://www.cjdarlington.com or her blog, http://www.cjdarlington.blogspot.com/.