The Champion by Carman Licciardello

Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Black book cover shows a serious boxing hero with wrapped hands and wristsThe Champion by Carman Licciardello

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

After his last fight turned him away from the world of professional boxing, Orlando took his cruiserweight title and retired to run a youth mission. But when a hotel incident leaves the world’s current heavyweight champion in want of revenge against Orlando, an old legal agreement forces the retiree back into the ring in The Champion by author Carman Licciardello.

While Christian pop culture (especially from the ’90s) knew Carman as a music artist and evangelist, I was curious when I found out he authored this 2001 novel that a movie by the same name is based upon. Though I wasn’t a fan of the movie when I saw it years ago, my longtime ChristFic-loving self wanted to see how the book would compare.

Although the writing is grammatically correct, much about the novel’s style is like that of a beginner. There are far more dialogue tags than necessary, and the characters say each other’s names over and over while they talk to each other. The story is full of clichés, from the preaching/evangelizing to the characterizations, and there’s no subtlety as the narrator offers commentary about the characters, especially as the story keeps patting the hero on the back for his range of virtues and accomplishments.

The love story is poorly developed and reads like another accomplishment for Orlando: “God had meant for them to be together… She was His gift for a job well done.” And a joke from the hero about his need for sex serves as the lead-in to his marriage proposal to the beautiful woman God is rewarding him with for living a good life.

Plot wise, I found the read to be slow. But I stuck with it because it isn’t a long novel and the ramping-up of the boxing side of the plot got me interested enough at the halfway point to keep reading through to the end.

This author wrote another boxing novel before his passing. Although it’s unlikely that I’ll check that one out, I’m glad I gave this earlier one a look as I continue my journey through ChristFic old and new.

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Inhaling Hope by Nadine C. Keels

Inhaling Hope
A Short Story with a Twist of Grace
Romantic Contemporary Fiction

Soft pink and orange book cover shows a smiling short-haired woman with her eyes closed, smelling a vibrant, tricolored bouquetA simple decision isn’t always easy.

Ever since Clarion met a frank and friendly neighbor of hers, she’s enjoyed their natural, comfortable connection. The two of them feel open to share their personal histories with each other…

…even as Clarion’s history is still hovering over her head.

For their present and future, her neighbor has made an intimate, pivotal choice. Now it’s time for Clarion to make her own.

Bonus: This short story includes an excerpt from Love Unfeigned, a second-chance romance from the series For Every Love.

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Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes

Split-Timeline Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

5 Stars

Dark SonsDark Sons by Nikki Grimes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Ismael: coming of age in ancient times. Sam: coming of age in modern times. The lives of these two young men parallel during the breakdown of their relationships with their fathers and as more comes afterward in Dark Sons by author Nikki Grimes.

Man. It’s likely I wouldn’t read 300 pages of a YA novel this somber and painful, as that kind of journey can be too long and depressing for this fiction lover. But stripping such a story down into free verse like this, raw but straight to the point, makes for one way someone like me can dive in and swim right through without getting too weighed down in the middle.

I can appreciate a read that asks tough questions and isn’t afraid to show human flaws, including those of a patriarch such as Abraham. I further appreciate that Ismael’s and Sam’s related stories offer compelling hope without resorting to too-easy answers or fairy-tale fixes.

Now, the book includes some language my quasi-conservative self wouldn’t use. It’s something ChristFic fans may want to be aware of, though the language is minimal and nothing that would have to be bleeped-out on network TV.

I’d recommend this inspiring book to fans of split-timeline fiction and to contemporary poetry enthusiasts alike.

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Saint Ben by John Fischer

Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

5 Stars

Saint BenSaint Ben by John Fischer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Growing up in the 1950s, Ben is an unusual boy who can’t stand pretense or empty practices, especially when it comes to Christianity. He, along with his relationship with his best friend Jonathan, impacts his community in a remarkable way in Saint Ben by author John Fischer.

Admittedly, I had the wrong impression about this ChristFic book before I started it. I thought it sounded like a story about an innocent boy who’s so passionate about God that his passion makes the hypocritical grown-up Christians around him see the error of their ways.

But Ben isn’t an innocent boy on a mission for God. Ben’s friendship with Jonathan, the narrator of this story, isn’t a carefree schoolboy friendship. The key grownups in the story aren’t one-dimensional pictures of piety. And this isn’t a sweet or simplistic little tale with a nice and neat ending.

Sure, it has a nostalgic feel to it, with its ’50s setting (still considered contemporary fiction at the time the novel was written) and distinct threads of U.S. history and Americana woven through it. And much of it plainly depicts two boys experiencing the time right before adolescence as they play, wonder, get into humorous mischief, and that kind of stuff.

Yet, though it’s simply told, it’s a complex story. The kind that’s supposed to make you think and feel and think some more. A story that doesn’t hand out a bunch of easy answers to the problems it depicts and the questions it raises.

Now, one partly “resolved” matter in the story didn’t settle with me, as it addressed the issue of sexual abuse in the church. I understand how the issue would more or less be “over” for the two main characters after a certain point, since neither one of them have been abused. But that kind of problem isn’t resolved just because someone may have gotten the offender to stop it. Merely putting a stop to abusive behavior doesn’t heal the victims, sweeping the issue under the rug doesn’t fix a church or the people in it, and an offender who manages to remain in position is likely to reoffend in the future.

This novel doesn’t go further into all of that though, since then it wouldn’t be Ben and Jonathan’s story. Still, the manipulation, secrecy, and blindness/denial the story touches on there is haunting because it’s too common in real life. In too many real churches.

On another note, although the events involving Ben and Jonathan in the novel’s last quarter didn’t surprise me, my particular sensibilities made a certain aspect of the ending a bizarre, highly disturbing one for me. Creepy as all get-out, and not in a fun way.

Yet, the disturbing, sobering, abundantly meaningful, unusual ending of this book fits the unusual boy who drives the plot…like a motorist in an unusual American automobile.

I can’t describe all the ways this story touched me, but I’m unlikely to ever forget it. Once I’m mentally prepared to read the sequel, I will.

____________

Saint Ben Novels

The Saints' and Angels' Song Saint Ben Saints Angels

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