BY SHERRI SANDS
Published by David C Cook

Sierra Montgomery is struggling. A divorced mother of three, she’s lost her job, been evicted from her home, and forced to move in with her busy-body mum. New employment is thin on the ground, her ex-husband is a deadbeat dad, and she’s lost her faith in her God.

Worst of all, she’s been willed a horse.

Chance, a 22 year-old grey gelding, is the epitome of her every fear. Having lost a young friend to an equastrien accident in her youth, the horse symbolises every danger that she is desperately trying to shield her children from. Continually undermined by her mother, efforts to sell the horse are quashed, and she must rely upon the good graces of hunky landscaper Ross Morgan to give the horse stable room. Can she also rely on him to heal her broken heart?

Well, yeah, if she’ll only re-admit God to her life. Ross is not keen on courting her if she remains outside the fold.

I’ve never read a Christian novel before. When I was researching the novel, and the whole book blog thing, I think that the prevailing theme of the publisher might have hit the corner of my eye. As I intend to write a romantic comedy set in an equestrian centre, I was interested in seeing how another author handled the subject matter. It turns out the horse isn’t nearly as important as the man upstairs.

I’m not a complete heathen. I just don’t believe in trotting out [sorry] my personal beliefs across the page. Everybody’s different. That’s what makes life great. As a genre, I expect that the Christian novel has a faithful following, but I’m not convinced that it will reach a secular audience.

This novel isn’t entirely non-secular. The presence of divorce, whilst it may not have the stigma it carries in Catholicism, is nevertheless rendered in a true-to-life, heartbreaking fashion. Sands is at her best when dealing with the trauma of the broken family, and stellar in her handling of the relationship between mother Sierra and eldest son Braden. The whole of her immediate family’s life is wonderfully rendered in all its tragedy and triumph, its disappointments and hard-won triumphs. Sierra herself is complex, struggling to remain true to her ideals whilst also exhibiting a maelstrom of feelings that run counter to those of her erstwhile fellowship.

The other relationships are less well drawn. Mother Abbey is unceasingly manipulative. Best friend Elise is merely exists on the fringes; her morale boosting phone calls and visits don’t succeed in making her a well-rounded character, and I found it hard to believe that she and Sierra had a relationship that transcended the one-sded pep talks. Ross has sufficient conflict in his life to add some depth to his doings, but he, like everyone else in the novel, had little to no patience with Sierra’s distress when it comes to Chance.

As a horse person, I can vouch that Sierra’s fear of horses in general is very real. You’re just plain stupid if you don’t approach the notion of the horse without a healthy dose of respect. When the respect is entirely cancelled out by terror, it’s a long way up to calm and trust. Sierra is thwarted at every turn, by her mother, by the children, by Ross, and the degree to which she is maligned and dismissed in regards to this, by her nearest and dearest, seemed distinctly un-Christian to me. We all need to move through our own issues — but not necessarily forcibly, via other’s impatience.

While there is a great breakthrough in regards to the unwillingly owned grey, Chance exists almost entirely on the sidelines. The healing power of the horse does not get the outing it deserves, and despite a few instances of acting up, and eating Ross’ bushes, we don’t see nearly enough of him. He was, one presumed, meant to be the source of Sierra’s newfound strength, but he’s no match for the heavenly Father.

That’s the world of the book. Sierra must indeed reclaim her trust in God in order to move on. She does, and it’s only nominally due to Chance. The presence of the horse does, of course, trigger [sorry, didn’t mean to do that, really!] events to unfold, and as a writer, Sands handles the escalating events with aplomb. But I can’t help feeling that, as one of God’s creatures, and a wise old gelding at that, he surely could have shouldered more of the load.

The book is available here, on Amazon.

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