Journey to Riverbend is one of those books that is a stand alone with potential for much more. This first time author writes such magnetic characters with unique living and breathing voices that I have had the desire to move to Riverbend to get to know its people better. Even the unsavory residents add to the town's charm and vitality. The action is so driving that I couldn't put the book down once I started reading.
The opening scene is the hanging of a gangly young man whom the main character, Michael Archer, is convinced is innocent. Young Ben's final request was to ask Michael to visit his estranged father, Sam Carstairs, to deliver some letters, an item Ben cherished of his mother's, and attempt a post-mortem reconciliation of some sort.
Michael Archer brought along a letter of recommendation from his friend Sheriff Gideon Parsons to take to Riverbend's Sheriff to elicit his assistance in his efforts. Sheriff Caleb Davis was as good as Parsons in reading character, and this lean and tough young man didn't appear to be the typical kind for ministerial duties. It made him curious to know Michael's life story. He knew this task would be difficult because although Sam Carstairs was the town's benefactor, he was ruthless and hard as nails.
In the meantime, Sam Carstairs had traveled to San Francisco for business, an annual event. On the return trip, he received two disturbing threatening notes. Then in the last leg of his journey he was abducted. As soon as news of the kidnapping reached Riverbend, Sheriff Davis organized a search posse and included Michael Archer.
This is one of the best books I have read set in the Old Wild West. The author's descriptive language is powerful. The setting as well as the characters came alive as we follow Michael along his personal, spiritual, and physical journey. The reader realizes that the title of the book is multi-dimensional as the story picks up on Sam Carstairs own harrowing experiences and the baffling behavior of his abductors.
The book is full of the gritty elements of life in the Old Wild West. Evil is honestly portrayed for what it is and well written in contrast to the good seen in the lives of several of the members of the posse and village. Michael is a strong Christian with a mission in mind, but even he has his demons to deal with. I would rate this book at PG13 because of the multiple incidences where evil triumphs momentarily. Yet while this is true, the Gospel message is strong without being preachy. The author manages to balance the two contrasting characteristics in such a manner that neither is overwhelming. If the author were to write 100 more of this type of book, I would read and recommend all.
However, I can't emphasize enough to parents of teens and pre-teens to exercise caution. There is nothing in the book to compromise the Judeo-Christian values, yet some incidences may be upsetting to those sensitive to brutality. This is a book written for adults, not for children.
There are several supporting characters in this book just begging for a story of their own, or at least for a bit more resolution. This includes the love interest of the main character, Rachel Stone. I sincerely hope this means the author intends to write more.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Michael is at the hanging of an innocent man, Ben Carstairs. Right before his death, Ben asks Michael to find his father and give him a message. Michael begins the journey with only one thought in mind. He'll find Mr. Carstairs, give the message and then go on with his life. But his plans aren't even close to reality. A beautiful woman, a manhunt, and death were not on the agenda. But God can bring beauty out of death and pain.
I just couldn't love this book the I wanted to. The cover kept me from even starting the book, but once I did, it didn't get any better. The characters didn't resonate with me. The plot was slow moving and easily predictable. And the ending was left in such a way that there might be a sequel, but I couldn't find any hint that another book was coming. If you like any loose ends tied up, then you won't like the ending. There wasn't anything at all resolved. My summery would be that this is a Christian western with lots of "preaching", quite a bit of violence, scenes not appropriate for children to read, and a good writing style. I'm giving the book such a low rating because I really didn't like the book and can't honestly recommend it to anyone.
I received this book free of charge from Tyndale in exchange for my honest review.
I really enjoyed this story. It showed the struggles of people trusting God to bring them through the muck and mire of their past into a place of forgiveness. Great theme--can't wait for the next book from this author!
I began reading this book knowing nothing of it, and was put off by the detailed accounts of thoughts and actions against women in the context of taking advantage of them. After the first few pages I didn't want to read any more, but I skipped ahead further in the book several times to see if it changed - literally, every page I skipped ahead to throughout the book contained some sort of mention or description of sexual harassment against women.
For me personally, any beneficial message of the book was crowded out by the focus on such ugliness, and particularly the way it's worded in such a fashion that it appears a reader is invited to take pleasure in it even if the overall message is disapproval of such sinful acts.
I'd advise anyone sensitive to the above to avoid reading it. That being said, from the bits I read it does seem the quality of the writing is quite good, so if my review doesn't put you off then chances are this book might end up being a worthwhile read for you.
Henry McLaughlin is an extremely talented writer, weaving a tale so vividly that I feel I could draw a map of the places traveled and could paint each character's portrait. At times it truly seemed that I was using all five senses while reading "Journey to Riverbend."
Now, I'm not going to try and write a synopsis here, since anyone can just go and read the editorial review. Instead I'm going to focus on what made this book an interesting and unique read.
I said this is not a typical Christian historical fiction novel because its not filled with the fluff that so many of them are. "Journey to Riverbend" deals with the true, nitty gritty, and sometimes just plain horrendous parts of life, especially life in the "Old Wild West." The protagonists and heroes are flawed, dealing with their own pasts of lawlessness and sin, and are still plagued with their former lives, quite like reality. However, the truth of God's Gospel is just as, or perhaps even more relevant and life-changing, and the message of His grace and redemption is woven throughout.
One aspect of the book that was quite impressive to me, was McLaughlin's ability to create evil and despicable characters and yet show their humanity and the broken parts of their souls that made them who they were, enabling the reader to actually feel understanding and perhaps even sympathy for them.
*possible spoiler alert*
In conclusion, if you're looking for a story that is all sunshine and lollipops, with everything coming together at the end in a nice little package, without pain, heartache and sadness, this is NOT the book for you! I really appreciated Mr. McLaughlin's willingness to write out of the box, resisting the pressure to give the reader a "happily ever after", "everything coming up roses" ending that is so common in Christian fiction, but frankly so unrealistic in life and/or history.