Monday, December 27, 2010

‘The Clouds Roll Away’ by Sibella Giorello – Book Review

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One of my favorite book genres is Christian suspense. The latest book I have read in that category is ‘The Clouds Roll Away’ by Sibella Giorello.

Here is the synopsis of this suspenseful book:

Raleigh Harmon’s life seems as impossible to solve as the high-profile case she’s pursuing. Closing her assignment with the FBI’s Seattle office, forensic geologist Raleigh Harmon returns to her hometown of Richmond, Virginia, expecting a warm welcome. Instead she finds herself investigating an ugly cross burning at a celebrity’s mansion and standing in the crosshairs of her boss at the Bureau. And the deeper Raleigh digs into the case, the murkier the water becomes…until she’s left wondering who the real victim might be.
To make matters worse, Raleigh’s personal life offers almost zero clarity. Her former confidant is suddenly remote while her former boyfriend keeps popping up wherever she goes. And then there’s her mother. Raleigh’s move home was supposed to improve Nadine’s fragile sanity, but instead seems to be making matters worse.
As the threads of the case begins crossing and double-crossing, Raleigh is forced to rely on her forensic skills, her faith, and the fervent hope that a breakthrough will come, bringing with it that singular moment when the clouds roll away and everything finally makes sense.

Here is the biography of this author:

Sibella Giorello grew up in Alaska and majored in geology at Mount Holyoke College. After riding a motorcycle across the country, she worked as a features writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Her stories have won state and national awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. Her novel The Stones Cry Out won a Christy Award. She  lives in Washington State with her husband and sons.

Sibella is a wonderful writer. The book is written in the first person. Here is Raleigh describing her boss at the FBI, Victoria Phaup. It is a wonderful combination of a physical description and character study:

She was a stocky woman with short brown hair threaded with gray. She must have been pretty at one time, but twelve years of clawing her way through Bureau management had compressed her small features into a persistent expression of defensiveness, her eyes like fractured gray pebbles. Thin mouth locked, loaded for counterattack. And her office smelled like dry ice. (p. 15)

It seems as though most people that are members of the FBI grow cynical. In contrast, Raleigh is a devoted Christ follower. Here she is discussing her faith with Hale Lasker, a member of the Ku Klux Klan who is serving a sentence at Meckleburg prison:

         “Do you care what’s next?” I asked.
         “Heaven. It exists.”
         He almost laughed. A dry sound at the back of his throat.
“Eight years I been in here, eight years with nothing but questions. You’re not going to hear my answers.”
“But your group believes in God.”
“My group? The Kiwanis?”
“I thought those crosses were supposed to put the fear of God in a man’s soul.”
“It’s right there in the Bible, God doesn’t want the races mixing.”
“And you believe the Bible.”
“Course I believe it. Heard of Job? That’s me. Festering wounds and all.”
“With one difference.”
“Job was a Jew.”
“God said Job was blameless.” (pp. 31-32)

This book is set in Raleigh’s hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Although I have never visited Richmond, Sibella provides so much detail that I felt as though I had been there. Here is an example, as she and her mother, Nadine, and housemate, Wally, head to St. John’s Church for the first time since her father’s death four year before:

He glowered out the side window as we passed downtown’s old department stores. Thalhimers and Miller & Rhodes, closed years before, abandoned for free parking and food courts at the suburban malls. On either side pawnshops sprouted up and furniture stores rented sofas for 20 percent interest monthly. Steel bars covered the windows.
But this was my city. Richmond. Noble and sad. Heroic and fallen. Forever on the verge of turning around. So much potential it hurt.
I glanced over at my mom. “You’re not nervous?”
“Whatever for?” she chirped.
For the memories, I wanted to say. For the anticipatory ache I already felt ten blocks away. My father’s church, the church for generations of Harmons, all the way back to 1775, when Patrick Henry stood up and delivered his ultimatum on liberty and death. St. John’s was also where we had his funeral.
After that, I couldn’t go back. Neither could she. (p. 45)

In addition to her mother, Raleigh had a sister. Here is our introduction to Helen and her partner, Sebastian:

Helen lived in bohemian splendor on Oregon Hills with an abstract artist named Sebastian Woodlief. Spawned by prestigious British boarding schools, Sebastian considered himself a passionate supporter of the workingman, despite never having a job himself. My dad prayed Helen wouldn’t marry someone like this. Unfortunately, his prayer was answered. There weren’t married; they lived together. (p. 67)

I love how Sibella intersperses Raleigh’s faith and worldview throughout the novel. Here is another example of that:

…[N]ot for the first time, I wondered about people’s attitudes, whether half the world’s agony would evaporate if each person discovered the talent God gave them instead of squandering days painting by numbers laid out according to someone else’s preference. Parents. Peers. Pastors. We read books bursting with self-help, about roads less traveled and finding bliss and all these so-called secrets to life. But they all left out the most crucial factor. We fought an enemy, invisible yet definite, who diligently worked to block us from our intended purpose, keeping us from the one thing that brought joy, that connected us from each other and to our Creator. Condemned and resentful, miserable and uncertain, we filled our minds with chatter from talk show hosts, always hoping for the answer, when all the while one simple supernatural prescription awaited: “Come to me.” (p. 105)

And here is how Raleigh interprets the theory of evolution:

When chimney smoke joined the darkening sky, I settled into the carriage house’s claw-footed bathtub for bubbles and Scientific American. Soaking in the suds, I read a good story about DNA, marred only by the author’s assumption that our double helixes of nucleic acid were the product of chance.
Quite an assumption. It was like saying blueprints could write themselves.
And not just any blueprints. Our DNA contained three billion complex sequences – for each living creature. The statistical probability of this happening by random selection was laughable. It was like saying tornadoes can rip through junkyards and create jumbo jets. Never mind that the second law of thermodynamics proved that over millions of years we grew closer to entropy than order, the opposite of what evolution claimed.
Scientifically speaking, evolution was whacked.
But try telling that to the smart people – the people who believed fish scales turned into feathers and sludge somehow squeezed out higher life forms. Try explaining the degree of planning and order and creative genius necessary for just one hundred working sequences, let alone three million.
Try it. They’ll call you delusional. Go figure. (p. 115)

That is a brilliant section of the book!

Although I have not focused on the plot to a great extent in this review, suffice to say that the storyline is suspenseful and wonderfully well-written.

I really loved this book; I read it in one day – I could not put it down! This is the first book I have read by Sibella. She is my friend on Facebook, and I had a feeling that I would love her writing; I definitely do! This is the second in the series featuring the Raleigh Harmon character. The first book is ‘The Rivers Run Dry.’ I have not read that one; this book stands alone from that book. I really loved this book, so it makes me want to go back and get the back story on Raleigh. The third book in the series, ‘The Mountains Bow Down,’ will be releasing March 1, 2011. I look forward to reading the continuing adventures of this strong and intelligent Christ follower!

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Thomas Nelson Publishers and provided by Thomas Nelson and the LitFuse Publicity Group for review purposes. I am happy to be participating in the blog tour with these others bloggers.


C.J. Darlington said...

So glad you discovered Sibella's writings. She is a terrific writer, and I love her novels too!

Andrea Schultz said...

Hi C.J. -

Thanks for stopping by! I am glad to be on the Sibella bandwagon now - as I am on the C.J. bandwagon! : )

Thanks also for retweeting my blog link tweet!

Blessings & Happy New Year -


sibella giorello said...

Andrea, we are both on the CJ bandwagon! Yeehaw!

Thank you for this extensive review, and for choosing some of my favorite parts of "clouds," particularly when Raleigh goes off on her DNA thoughts.

Happy New Year, Andrea, and thanks again for reading with Raleigh.


Andrea Schultz said...

Hi Sibella -
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to read your book! And I'm glad we're both on the C.J. bandwagon!
Blessings & Happy New Year -

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