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Monday, February 25, 2013

The "Flabbergasted" Trilogy: A Review

The so called "Christian fiction" genre has grown steadily over the past several years, boosted by the fact that stores devoted solely to Christian books have been opening as fast as other brick-and-mortar bookstores have been closing. The problem with most of these Christian novels is that while they do have religious overtones and far less sex, language, and violence than mainstream fiction, they are typically not very well-written stories. One notable exception is the Flabbergasted trilogy by Ray Blackston.

Flabbergasted is Blackston's debut novel, and it gives the name to the trilogy that ultimately followed. Set in Greenville, South Carolina, Flabbergasted is one of the best beach novels I have ever come across. The characters are vividly drawn and definitely grow on you as narrator Jay Jarvis and his friends navigate the Southern singles scene by, of all things, visiting various church singles Sunday school classes. Not a bad idea for those tired of the online dating sites.

I was well into the book before I realized that it fell into the "Christian fiction" description, because unlike many others of its kind, it was not dogma converted into a novel. And when the subject of salvation did finally appear, it was written with humor and subtlety, something many Christian writers (and preachers) lack. From girls who church-hop looking for husbands to missionaries with a fondness for throwing food at people, this is an entertaining group of characters, not some fictionalized hellfire-and-brimstone sermon.

The second book in the series is A Delirious Summer. The premise is similar to Flabbergasted, but with a twist. The narrator this time is Neil Rucker, a missionary on furlough for the summer looking for a wife in the wilds of Greenville, where he encounters many of the same people Jay Jarvis met in the first book. He quickly finds that Carolina beaches may be even more dangerous than the Amazon jungle, and watching this young man try to navigate the Greenville social scene is a lot of fun. Allie, Darcy, and Alexis form one of the most hilarious (if sometimes dangerous) trios I've read in a long time.

The final novel in the series is Lost in Rooville, and it is here that Blackston falls a little flat. For most of the book the characters are lost in the Australian Outback, and while there are entertaining parts, taking the setting outside of South Carolina hurts the story somewhat. We do get to see the resolution of these myriad relationships that started in the first two books, however, and that combined with the familiar and likable characters makes it worth reading.

So if you're looking for some well-written, funny, and sometimes enlightening novels for those long winter nights, check out the Flabbergasted trilogy, particularly the first two books. If nothing else, you'll never look at dating the same way again.

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