Archive | 10:21 AM

Book Review: Eastbound From Flagstaff by Annette Valentine (3/5)

17 Dec

It had been a long time since I accepted an ARC though I get requests often. This time, it felt right. I’m getting ready to send my own story out and I want to put good juju into the universe to maybe get some back. This book sounded right up my ally, too. 1920s Detroit setting, what’s not to love?

Cover image via Goodreads

Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine

Summary from Goodreads:

Simon Hagan is running from a lie, intent on believing his own efforts and perseverance can overcome anything. He abandons roots that are his foundational strength and hides behind his charm, living every moment as if life’s daring him to fail―again. He’s reckoning with his father’s God who could have delivered better outcomes but didn’t.

When I think about this book, I mentally divide it into two parts: Detroit and After Detroit. I will freely admit a likely bias here but I liked the part in Detroit much more than what came after. It wasn’t just the setting; it was the pacing. The story in Detroit was a slow pace and a slow burn. Simon was slowly moving up in the world and making his own way. The secondary characters had lives of their own and equally compelling stories. Even with a time jump leaving me confused about the importance of Simon’s police work, I was still engaged. When he moved out West, I was a lot less enthralled. I felt the plot moved too fast. as if the author realized how long the book was already and needed to rush to an ending so the second book of the series could start. To give you an idea, the section I enjoyed was the first 243 pages. The part I felt was rushed went to the final page, 323. So overall, I enjoyed much more than I was bothered by.

I felt Valentine’s side characters were more engaging than Simon. Mrs. Butcher and Mr. Begbie were my favorites. The Mallory family was very believable. I felt like Simon didn’t have much emotion and when he did, it was predictable. He stayed very level headed as things happened to him. He took hard news well and did exactly what was asked of him most of the time. I wanted more out of him, but he also felt like a pair of eyes through which I could watch the story happening which was a unique way of seeing the time period and other characters.

Mr. Begbie was my favorite character. I loved that he had a unique voice. You always knew it was him talking. It was so pronounced that there were very few dialogue tags with his name present because it wasn’t necessary. I liked how stand-offish he was at first with Simon. It made the relationship they developed mean even more meaningful.

Some parts of Simon’s personality were relatable to me. He was a really hard worker and I see that in myself a lot. When he got pushback from his supervisors to work harder, he did. I had the same reaction to bosses and teachers who pushed me. When he was faced with a problem, he put his head down, focused on his goal, and got the work done. It might not make for an exciting character, but it made for a relatable person for me.

Annette Valentine
Image via the author’s website

Simon’s time in the Ford plant was my favorite. I worked at Ford for two years and it was fun to hear about how things had been in the 20s when cars were new and a job in the factory was a welcome change to working conditions. It helps put the recent UAW negotiations in perspective and see how things could have gotten to where we are now.

The last third of the book fell flat to me. Simon had lost his way and things were falling apart around him and I didn’t see the revitalization in him that he said he had. He felt the pull to return to God, but he didn’t seem to act on it. He still seemed defeated to me and I was waiting for an uplifting moment when I’d feel it in him but I didn’t get that. I wonder if it will be in book 2.

I was surprised at the strong Christian themes in this book. I didn’t anticipate that from what I heard about it through reading the summary now, I should have anticipated it. If Simon would return to God or not was a big theme in this book. We see his brother Alan also turn away and never turn back. Simon’s father is of the belief that all of his tragedy is dealt to him because he turned away. I’m not sure I like this idea. There are a lot of people who don’t follow God who don’t have terrible things happen to them. I do believe that Simon could deal with his tragedy only by seeking God’s help. I also felt the Christian undercurrent in this book was either too much or not enough. If it had been more present throughout the book, it would have been stronger. And if it hadn’t existed at all, I don’t think the book would have suffered from it. It almost felt like it was added on.

Writer’s Takeaway: I took away lessons on pacing from this book. The book moved slowly at first and I enjoyed getting to know Simon and his daily routine in Detroit, but then the book rocketed ahead faster than I thought it should. I think the first section should have been edited down or the later section slowed down to keep the pacing consistent.

Overall enjoyable but not a new favorite. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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