25 September 2013

ACRBA Review: Streets on a Map by Dale Harcombe

23 - 27 September
(Ark House Press December 2010)
Dale Harcombe

About the Book
Every choice carries a price as Abby discovers when she marries Joel. If she had known when Joel first walked into Clancy’s what lay in store, she would have stopped the relationship before it got started. However, by the time she found out it was too late. The choice was made. Or so she thought.

But then between her and her one friend in Astley, Laila, they arrive at solution that could benefit Abby and the small county town. A deliberately lit fire and an unplanned pregnancy threaten to bring their carefully laid plans and Abby's dreams undone. Problems of some newcomers to the town impinge on Abby's life too, but it is the arrival of an old resident of Astley that could end up destroying everything and not just for Abby.

Who else's lives will be affected and changed forever. Will the unwelcome arrivals in Astley destroy everything Abby and Laila have worked to achieve? What is the secret that will have all of Astley reeling?

About the Author
Streets on a Map, was published by Ark House Press. Prior to that Dale has had seven children’s books and Kaleidoscope a collection of poetry published. Many poems in Kaleidoscope have been previously published in Australia’s literary magazines. She has won prizes for her poetry and has been published in several anthologies.
Along with her husband, Dale was for a time houseparent for a family of twelve boys. She has also been a manuscript assessor and book reviewer and run creative writing classes. She has also written bible studies and Sunday school lessons. For several years she wrote about Christian living, marriage and home related topics for www.families.com. She has a BA in Literary and Australian studies. More information about Dale can be found at www.daleharcombe.com or on her Write and Read with Dale blog


My Review

Abby and Joel Donovan have recently moved to Joel’s home town of Astley, near Bathurst. They are renovating Joel’s childhood home, and Abby is having trouble fitting in to the close-knit community, especially as the move has meant she has had to give up her career as a singer. She feels alone, as the only friend she’s made is Laila, an older woman. Laila is probably the best character in the book—a spunky older woman who has made it through many life trials with her sense of humour and faith intact.

This is supposed to be a book review, not a critique. Unfortunately, it’s more like a critique because I found the story difficult to get in to, easy to put down, and marred by distracting writing and punctuation. The story is written in the third person, mostly from Abby’s point of view. The viewpoint is consistent in that there is no head-hopping, but it would have been better to have scenes from the viewpoints of more than one character (we do eventually get some scenes from Laila’s viewpoint, but not until almost halfway through the book. Unfortunately, we then get the viewpoints of several minor characters, including some head-hopping).

Joel and Abby have been married less than a year but I only saw the immaturity of their relationship and their struggles, not the reason they fell in love and married in the first place. I also felt that I was being shown what happened—she did this, he said that—rather than getting an insight into the reactions of the characters, the choices they made, and why they made those choices. I found Abby difficult to relate to and never got to know Joel well enough to decide whether or not I liked him (I’m leaning towards not).

There were several flashbacks in the story, which had a negative effect on the pacing. It’s one thing to have an occasional flashback to a point in time before the story began in order to show us something about a character that is relevant to their current situation—if it’s actually relevant (which was debatable). What were more annoying were the flashbacks to incidents within the timeline of Streets on a Map, which just made it feel as though the story was being told out of sequence.

My other major complaint was that there was very little Christian content, despite Streets on a Map originally being published by a Christian publishing house and now being offered as part of a blog tour for Christian novels. Laila was a strong Christian, and I kept waiting for something to happen that would draw Abby towards God. I’m still waiting. I can only assume the theme of the novel was the uselessness of life without God, because what came through was a series of experiences with very little in the way of character reaction or personal growth. There was the potential for a good story here, but it didn’t eventuate.

Thanks to Dale Harcombe and ACRBA for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Dale Harcombe at her website.

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