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MIRACLE AT ANGELS BEND

A CONTEMPORARY TALE OF FINDING JOY THROUGH JESUS CHRIST

A page-turning and heartfelt novel of a group of average folks encountering a new side of their faith.

The lives of four characters are transformed by a mysterious Christian revelation in Bohlen’s novel.

The town of Angels Bend, Pennsylvania, is “nestled inside the protective arm of a large arc in the Susquehanna River, having a dense stand of timber on a steep slope directly opposite.” The narrative focuses on four main characters: Hannah, whose dreams of going into missionary work have been stymied by a tragic automobile accident that took the lives of her father and brother (Hannah was at the wheel); Josh, an aspiring musician who’s down on his luck and increasingly estranged from his family; office worker (and volunteer fire fighter) Dave, whose marriage to Ellen is strained by her mental health issues; and Larina, a journalist who’s the object of extramarital temptation for Dave, who’s tormented by both his feelings for her and by his concern for his erratic wife. (“He thought back to his twenties when he could imagine nothing more satisfying than being married. But what did he know about mental illness at age twenty-four?”) These four people find themselves linked both by the looming threat of wildfires and by a mysterious book—author and provenance unrevealed—that feelingly explores aspects of the Jesus story. The small cast of characters find their personal religious faiths challenged and re-affirmed by the tidings of this enigmatic book, even as the events of their lives—with attendant grief, guilt, doubt, and lust—unfold.

Bohlen does a very effective job of balancing all four of his main plotlines, never allowing one to dominate the others. He navigates the endemic narrative pitfalls of contemporary Christian fiction—including saccharine piety and unrealistic characters—with a good deal of skill; his people are largely believable, and he more often than not avoids the annoying straw-man caricatures that tend to provide the conflict in Christian fiction. There are lapses, as when readers are told that Hannah’s Psych 101 class describes “existentialism” as a worldview in which “nothing has purpose, nothing has meaning, things happen to you, and you’re just stuck in it, essentially alone and unloved,” adding, for good measure, “Good and evil are pragmatic, not moral. Nothing is fundamentally right or morally wrong.” More surprising are the frequent notes advocating humanistic self-care, such as, “The Lord doesn’t expect you to submit to abuse.” (This assertion is buttressed, as many of the book’s other points are, by a footnote: “Living with manipulative family members who are struggling with mental health or addiction issues is extremely taxing and can lead to severe effects on those around them.”) Bohlen is particularly empathetic when describing the transformative nature of Christian faith; Josh, for instance, feels “something worth holding on to. A soft, eternal Presence—long ago pushed to the basement of his soul.” This is a refreshingly straightforward and reality-focused example of Christian fiction, convincingly depicting everyday people with everyday problems who will be relatable to Bohlen’s audience. Christian readers will doubtless appreciate the author’s portrayal of the many ways the living current of their faith can find its way into their lives just when they need it most.

A page-turning and heartfelt novel of a group of average folks encountering a new side of their faith.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2024

ISBN: 9781956370287

Page Count: 315

Publisher: Carpenter's Son Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2024

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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SWAN SONG

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

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A stranger comes to town, and a beloved storyteller plays this creative-writing standby for all it’s worth.

Hilderbrand fans, a vast and devoted legion, will remember Blond Sharon, the notorious island gossip. In what is purportedly the last of the Nantucket novels, Blond Sharon decides to pursue her lifelong dream of fiction writing. In the collective opinion of the island—aka the “cobblestone telegraph”—she’s qualified. “Well, we think, she’s certainly demonstrated her keen interest in other people’s stories, the seedier and more salacious, the better.” Blond Sharon’s first assignment in her online creative writing class is to create a two-person character study, and Hilderbrand has her write up the two who arrive on the ferry in an opening scene of the book, using the same descriptors Hilderbrand has. Amusingly, the class is totally unimpressed. “‘I found it predictable,’ Willow said. ‘Like maybe Sharon used ChatGPT with the prompt “Write a character study about two women getting off the ferry, one prep and one punk.”’” Blond Sharon abandons these characters, but Hilderbrand thankfully does not. They are Kacy Kapenash, daughter of retiring police chief Ed Kapenash (the other swan song referred to by the title), and her new friend Coco Coyle, who has given up her bartending job in the Virgin Islands to become a “personal concierge” for the other strangers-who-have-come-to-town. These are the Richardsons, Bull and Leslee, a wild and wealthy couple who have purchased a $22 million beachfront property and plan to take Nantucket by storm. As the book opens, their house has burned down during an end-of-summer party on their yacht, and Coco is missing, feared both responsible for the fire and dead. Though it’s the last weekend of his tenure, Chief Ed refuses to let the incoming chief, Zara Washington, take this one over. The investigation goes forward in parallel with a review of the summer’s intrigues, love affairs, and festivities. Whatever else you can say about Leslee Richardson, she knows how to throw a party, and Hilderbrand is just the writer to design her invitations, menus, themes, playlists, and outfits. And that hot tub!

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9780316258876

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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