Death, family, antiquated books, drugs, the love of horses, and empty lives collide in C. J. Darlington's latest novel Ties That Bind, published by Mountainview Books. Picking up with familiar characters from her past novels (Thicker Than Blood, Bound by Guilt), C. J. takes the reader on a search for belonging and redemption, both of which seem an impossible feat for her protagonist Brynn Taylor.
Brynn Taylor's mom's dying request was that she find her father and give him a chance. Her only guide to his possible location is a rare book she inherits with an inscription addressed to her from him. His name is Peter Williams, and in the back of this book is the name Edna Williams with a location in Elk Valley, Colorado. With her meager belongings and a five year stint in jail behind her, she sets out to do what she thought her mother asked. Her bitterness about having no one in her life since her mother ebbed away from cancer when Brynn was 17, knowing her inability to cope with losing her led to a downward spiral, Brynn hopes to renew her life by meeting a dad she's never known. What little faith she had in God plus her passion for painting passed away with her mother.
Through twists and turns in her journey, she meets the Williams' sisters, Christy and May, but getting the nerve to introduce them to her real identity amps up Brynn's old cravings for medicating her angst. Making it to May's ranch, she's readily accepted by the gentle old woman known as Ruth who co-owns the ranch with May and encourages her to trust the two women enough to tell them who she is. Ruth promises not to reveal her secret at Brynn's request. When Ruth hires her, much to May's surprise and annoyance since she can't afford her and doesn't really need her, it doesn't get past Brynn's notice, but her desire to please May weighs even heavier on her fragile shoulders.
The stark realities she learns about her father leave her even more empty and yearning for a real relationship with the Williams' sisters, but as all addicts do, she manages to find a way to secure some drugs and revisit that fake calm they incur until they wear off, realizing they'll just take her where she doesn't want to go.
C. J. weaves an intricate story of loss, addiction, recovery, and redemption through the lives of diverse characters and personalities illustrating how lives become entwined with or without our efforts. Showing hurting lives with and without Jesus, C. J. manages to make a way for her characters to mend not only broken down fences on the ranch but in relationships.
And for anyone who's ever loved a horse and made that once-in-a-lifetime connection with a special equine, there's something especially edifying - and tear-jerking if you're a sap like me - with the inclusion of a particular relationship between a young lady and a flashy mare.
All the different avenues of plot points in Ties That Bind do, in fact, come together and make for a quality story. C. J.'s clean and purposeful writing, some meaningful character sketches and development, combined with some good dialogue, provide a realistic tale of finding redemption, a place to call home, and amplify Brynn's mom's final instructions to her daughter.
Available in print or e-book:
Father, C. J. has served you faithfully. Please continue to bless her life with clear direction and a straight path as she endeavors to follow after you. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.