Way of the Raven

My Review of Jackie Zack’s Novel

By Jeff Salter

I met author Jackie Zack over at the Christian Writers & Readers Group and we’ve touched base back and forth ever since. I picked up this title when she had it on sale and it took a while for me to get to it, since my TBR stack is so tall. But I’m glad I did.

Author Bio:

Jackie Zack loves to read and grew up reading Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt, Agatha Christie, and many others. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Jackie has spent many years studying and practicing the craft of writing. Her light-hearted novels include the genres of romance, suspense, and/or mystery. She loves serving up her special blend of entertainment and hopes it will bring much enjoyment to the reader.

Book Blurb:

Two Converging Paths…NYC editor David Wappelhorst has everything going for him except what he’s wanted in life. Concerned he’s waited too long to pursue his dream of writing a bestseller, he ditches his prestigious career and relocates to his hometown.

After witnessing a murder and given a new identity, Megan Summers finds herself in a Podunk Pennsylvanian town far away from family. Stunned with grief, she wonders if it’s possible to rebuild her life. A nearby abandoned brick house with a grim history lends more unease to her situation. Has she escaped one deadly past to live in the shadow of another?

David is intrigued by crossing Megan’s path. Why does she seem familiar? And by meeting her, has his desire turned tragically unattainable?

My Review:

This is an engaging story of two “opposites” who arrived at the same small town of Pleasant PA for very different reasons… and each cuts off almost all contact with their former big city existence. In Megan’s case, it’s regrettably required for her own safety… but David WANTS to isolate himself.

Megan – who witnessed a horrible crime in her big city – has been relocated (to this totally unfamiliar environment) through the witness protection program. Her life is in danger as the remaining bad guys actively track any witnesses – even associates of witnesses – to silence them (permanently).

David, on the other hand, has totally burned out of his prominent position as exclusive editor for a NYC publisher’s best-selling author. He wants time and solace to write his own novel… in his former hometown, where he still knows some of the residents.

But to Megan, Pleasant PA is a different world… an isolated, foreign exile. After she meets David, both are cautious… but their mutual attraction grows.

Several plot threads emerge, including nosy citizens and a flirtatious trouble-maker who’d like her own relationship with David. There’s a mysterious boarded-up cottage adjacent the property Megan is renting. David seems to know something about it, but won’t really explain.

To me, the most interesting sub-thread involves real-life Centralia PA… a nearby town totally shut down for decades because of a massive deposit of subterranean coal that won’t burn out and can’t be extinguished. [It’s a perpetual underground fire, rather like I might imagine Hades.] The description is so vivid that I had to ask the author if she’d actually visited there.

The relationship between Megan and David is sweet — and I mean that in a positive way. Their early dates are at church and she entices him with her baked delicacies. Things develop with the usual ups and downs. Most of the downs are caused by them over-analyzing, jumping to conclusions, and generally wallowing in angst. For example, David makes a big deal about their age difference… but Megan scarcely seems to notice.

The heroine and hero are well-drawn and likeable. Most of the other characters also behave believably, but I found a few (like the former friend who is father of the two boys) whose reactions and dialog did not ring true… to me, anyway.

Another character – out-of-town – behaves in a rather unrealistic (to me) manner but I can’t discuss that individual without including spoilers.

There’s an effective, tense scene in a tunnel / cave beside Megan’s rental… and we later see more details of that elaborate underground studio / gallery. It was created by the artist who formerly lived there. Except for the absence of sunlight, it seems like the kind of writing studio I would enjoy!

One of the intermittent threads I found particularly interesting is David’s periodic, brief “conversations” with his fictional protagonist, Max. A psychologist might have a field day with this, but – as an author myself – I can easily picture “discussing” plot issues or other characters with one of my heroines or heroes. [It helps to have an intelligent sounding board, even if they don’t really exist!]

My biggest complaint — the author brings us to the climactic action scene… but then fast-forwards to the aftermath. Even just a few paragraphs (in my opinion) would have been better than just skipping over it! But I think I comprehend the author’s likely rationale — not to feature the probable violence in a Christian-themed story. So, readers of Christian romance will probably be grateful for this “missing” scene.


Despite my beef about two of the supporting characters, I’d recommend this novel all readers of Clean and Christian fiction. And, despite what I’m calling the “missing” scene, I think most general fiction readers would also enjoy the story.

Buy Link:


If you’re curious about Centralia PA:


[JLS # 594]


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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14 Responses to Way of the Raven

  1. Jackie Zack says:

    Thanks, Jeff! I really appreciate you reading and reviewing my book. I had so much fun with the research. Centralia, PA is an unbelievable place! I’m hoping that you will write a story that takes place there! (Please, please!) I would love to read it! I also enjoyed writing about the abandoned house in the field behind Megan’s rental. It is so much more than what can be seen from the outside. You’re right about the missing scene. Sometimes I overthink what my readers will like and won’t like. I didn’t think they’d like to see the take-down outside and would much more enjoy the gentle scene of Megan taking care of David. (99% of my readers are female) 🙂 But I can totally see your point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Although not my #1 favorite of Jackie books, it is certainly #2. The mystery involved in this tale kept me guessing and intrigued.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Elaine Cantrell says:

    This sounds like something I’d enjoy. Thanks for the review, Jeff.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I am sorry that I am late to the party! This looks like a; good read; for me. My mother grew up in a small town in NE PA, I have known many people from small towns in Central VA,(and been there) and I know a number of Pittsburgh-area folk. I find the Witness Protection Program to be fascinating and indeed, someone convinced me that a person here was in it, and I will never know the truth, but I also have a story based on him that is waiting to be polished.
    Jeff, it is common for authors to do a ZIP to a future scene as an epilogue. One of my all-time favorite books does it twice, so there are three ‘endings’ to the story, as it were. Also, there are couples who have the elder concerned about the age difference more than the younger partner, in fact, it is quite common. And as for ‘jumping to conclusions’, I will have known The Husband for 46 years comes August, have known him through many situations, have been married to him for 39 1/2 years and last night, as often happens, conclusions were jumped to and had I not learned to voice it out, a lot of hurt could have ensured.
    What I don’t see is an artist in a cave/tunnel; usually they go for lots of light. I will have to read this to get it, but I would love to be there.
    I hope that Jackie has success in all of the facets of her life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I can’t (now) recall how many years were between David and Megan, but I think it was around 10. Not enough, in my opinion — or in Megan’s — to make so much difference. But David fretted about it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jackie Zack says:

      Thanks so much for your comments! I really appreciate it! If it helps, the tunnel/cave had electricity, so it had light and was artistically decorated by the artist. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Anonymous says:

    This sounds like an intriguing book. I love stories where writers write about writing. The conversation between the author and lead character is a brilliant idea, and the subterranean writer’s cave (literally), to die for! Also, as soon as Small Town, Pennsylvania was mentioned, I immediately thought of the perpetually burning subterranean coal vein in Tawnie O’Dell’s ‘Coal Run,’ and lo and behold there it is.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Jackie Zack says:

    Thanks so much for your comment! I loved writing this story. 🙂 For me, it was like being there. Hope the readers will feel that way too.

    Liked by 1 person

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