Saturday, October 5, 2013

Shadowed by Grace by Cara C. Putman

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 4, 2013

Shadowed by Grace is the first in a stirring new series of stand-alone historical suspense novels by acclaimed author Cara C. Putman. Desperate to save her dying mother, Rachel accepts her newspaper’s assignment to travel to Italy to captures images dangerously close to the front lines of WWII. Her real motive – to find the father she never knew -- an artist she hopes can offer the comfort and support both she and her mother need to survive. It’s an unlikely situation for love and faith to flourish, but soon Rachel not only finds herself, but also her long-lost earthly father, and ultimately, the man her Heavenly father created to cherish and provide for her.

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Generally speaking, I like the idea of a fictional story involving the Monuments Men, but I must admit Cara C. Putman's Shadowed by Grace doesn't measure up to the novel I envisioned in my mind's eye. Though I enjoyed the art history she folded into the story, I wasn't sold on the wartime romance she created, nor her attempt to incorporate faith as a primary theme. 

I read a lot of inspired fiction and I honestly feel the best books in the genre are written by authors who weave faith into the fabric of their stories, making it intrinsic to the telling and when all is said and done I don't think Putman was able to achieve that. The Christian themes she utilizes read like peripheral subject matter rather than fundamental content and more often than not felt forced and out of place alongside the historic and emotional aspects of the novel.

I also found the author's lack of familiarity with war fiction difficult to digest. I've not read her before, but it is my understanding that most of Putman's work take place on the home front while this title finds her characters in the thick of the conflict, a place that isn't nearly as conducive to stolen intimacies. It happens several times throughout the narrative, but for example, please consider the following: 

     A shrill whistle filled the air, overlapping the drone, followed an eternity later by the thunder of explosions he felt through the ground. Dirt and debris towered into the air before cascading
back to earth. Men screamed as shrapnel embedded in the men unlucky enough to be close to the detonation.
     Rachel shuddered and covered her ears. Scott rolled, placing himself on top of her, sheltering her as best he could.
     A second wave of planes flew by dropping more bombs. 
     Each explosion seemed to roll through him. More screams followed by moans.
     How close were they?
     He didn’t dare look around since moving would be foolhardy and create a target for the pilots. 
     He felt a vibration as Rachel twisted beneath him, her mouth moving. The words didn’t reach him. His ears were filled with the echoing concussions of the detonations.
     At synchronized intervals death and destruction rained about them.
     He pushed her head down.
     Long minutes passed, and then the silence became real enough to touch.
     Rachel shuddered, and he eased to the side.
     He eased up, then helped her. Her eyes were wide, shock enlarging her pupils, her cheeks slack. He traced his hand down her cheek, then leaned closer to hear her words.
     “We’re alive?”
     “Yes.”
     She threw her arms around his neck and held on. He memorized the moment. The feel of her tucked next to him, then tipped her chin up and pulled her close. His lips settled on hers, and he deepened the kiss as she matched his fervor. He needed to end this. Put a stop to the kiss before it got out of control. But all he could think was how close he had come to losing her. One misplaced
bomb and they’d both have died.
     Tyler stumbled toward them, shock pulling down his face. 
     Scott jerked away from Rachel but not before he noticed her touch her lips.
     Several cars were stopped in front of them, a half-track smoldering in flames. He tried not to imagine what had happened to the men who had been in it. The fields on either side of the road were decimated, civilians bloodied and still. Moans filled the air with a mournful wail. Men writhed not ten yards from the jeep, while others lay still . . .

The dust from an aerial assault has barely had time to settle, adrenaline is pumping, hearts are pounding, a second attack may be moments away, men are scattered on both sides of the road some dead, others moaning in agony, civilians are running in terror and only a few feet from our leading lady, a young girl's life is seeping into the dirt as she succumbs to the jagged piece of shrapnel embedded in her chest. Call me crazy, but this doesn't seem like the time or place for even a second of romantic euphoria, yet that is exactly what Putman is asking her readers to believe. Plausible? I think not. 

Shadowed by Grace is marketed as an inspirational historical romance. Peppered as it is with art history, I can say the historical aspect is present, but as stated, I didn't find the religious themes and/or romantic content believable, a fact that made the book intensely difficult for me to appreciate. While I genuinely feel Putman had a good idea, the execution of it left much to be desired and resulted in a final product that wasn't my cuppa tea. 

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The drumbeat to do more filled him, and the grumbling only stirred that urge. He'd come with order to save Western civilization. The longer he sat in Naples, the less likely he'd fulfill that mission. 
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