Sunday, August 24, 2008

Book Review: At His Command by Brenda Coulter

It's a privilege to post a review of Brenda Coulter's latest book (releasing in September) "At His Command."

Back cover copy:

In one short month, cheerful army nurse Madeline Bright has become the darling of Prairie Springs, Texas. And if ex-pilot Jake Hopkins isn't careful, she might just conquer his heart. She's young, pretty and blithe-spirited…he's older and jaded. But being around Maddie brings back too many painful memories. Jake still feels guilty about failing to save Maddie's brother in an army helicopter crash years ago. So no matter how much Maddie wants to be in his life, for her own good, Jake can't allow that. He'll never have a normal, stable life.

And sweet Madeline deserves nothing less.

Let’s start with the title. This is a fitting title for an army veteran’s story. But as Christian romance, this title fits in another, more meaningful and satisfying, way. (Read the book to see why.) Great work, Brenda!

Brenda’s message about surrendering our hurts to God was well communicated in her novel. And she had great command of her characters’ technical lives (i.e. their professions)—or at least she made the scenarios sound good to this civilian. As a reader, Brenda’s story elements roused my thankfulness again for our nation’s heroes and heroines. This book is part of the Homecoming Heroes, fittingly. Though Maddie Bright, her heroine, didn’t see herself as heroic, she was just that in her selfless giving to her patients and loved ones. The same was true of Jake's sacrificial service.

Now for the tougher stuff: Brenda had a fine line to walk in her characterization of Jake Hopkins, the story’s leading male. His history includes a tough decision in a war zone, which he regrets bitterly. Now he is consumed by guilt and estranged from God. The challenge was creating a likable character out of Jake. He was pushing Maddie away because he didn’t trust her with himself. So, behind the scenes, he was actually trying to protect her heart from his own. But, the way his resistance came across was harsh. Personally, I felt he was too callous with Maddie several times in the story, so much so, that when the two leads finally reconciled the potential romance wasn’t believable because he didn’t seem repentant enough. I think if he’d given in to at least one instance where he felt compassion after pushing Maddie away, that would have helped. I believe in grace and forgiveness. I was just frustrated by his interactions with Maddie and felt the story resolved too quickly for how much damage he had done in their interactions. Perhaps, too, the dynamic was amplified by the heroine’s sweet disposition, making Jake appear abusive in his interactions with her, at times.

Overall, I’d say Brenda is a good storyteller and obviously didn’t cut any corners in regards to research. She painted real characters and kept them consistent. I believe in real story-lines and characters. But I also believe when a character repents, the reader should be in their head, feeling their deep remorse and watching them have a tough time getting what they want (i.e. realistic consequences). Not to watch him suffer, but for the sake of the heroine and our respect for her and for the sake of realism. If a reader didn't see this dynamic the way I did, the book has enough strengths to be a good read.

"At His Command" releases September 1, 2008. Visit Brenda at or her blog for writers at

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