David C. Cook
The Next Target by Nikki Arana asks the question, what if you went looking for love but instead found danger? Can the solution to the latter be found in the former? That's what Austia Donatelli must ask as she struggles to bring God's hope and healing to Muslim women. Through the process, God's plan will lead her to both love and heartbreak.
The Next Target marks Arana's first attempt at the suspense genre, although it began, like her other award-winning novels, as women's fiction. As a result of the switch, the pace ambles where it should run and sprints where it ought to draw out the suspense. Whereas readers of women's fiction might appreciate the detailed descriptions of Austia's inner conflicts, suspense fans will find the book a novice attempt at the genre. Plot devices are introduced too late and seem to come out of nowhere. Secrets are revealed too quickly, and hopeless situations are explained away vaguely. It has the ingredients of a great suspense novel, but lacks the execution.
Its strength, however, is its characters' conflicts. Austia works to bring Islamic women to Christ, even as she struggles with her own bitterness over the loss of her husband at the hands of radical Muslims. Those extremists still threaten her ministry, which, for security reasons, Austia runs under the guise of an English language school. The danger becomes imminent, however, when one of Austia's students is killed by her family for converting to Christianity. Soon, Austia finds herself in the relentless path of a terrorist organization.
As in any good suspense story, Arana's characters, both good and wicked, spiral around each other in an effort to conceal their own secrets, while uncovering those of others. Through the deception, Austia must test her belief that love can conquer anything, whether cultural differences or prejudicial hate. The book uses sometimes “preachy,” yet no less insightful passages to illustrate the message of 1 Corinthians 12:13, that God loves all people and wants them to be saved: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
The book proclaims an important message, while humanizing the plight of Muslim women, and an author question-and-answer section in the back provides more insight into the subject. Women who have enjoyed Arana's past novels will appreciate the intertwining relationships. Suspense fans, however, may be disappointed to find a romantic drama where they expected a tale of danger. – Deborah Rocheleau, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
It only took one bullet. Austia's friend and student fell dead. And with a glimpse of a newspaper headline, the young and recently widowed Austia knows more about what happened than the police. From that fatal night, Austia’s secret outreach to the U.S. Muslim community—in the guise of English language classes—becomes a target. Local Muslim extremists set their sights on ending her ministry and even her life. And the women she ministers to will be next.
A thick web of deceit closes in around Austia, and her circle of friends becomes smaller by the day, even as she finally opens herself to the idea of falling in love again. But who can she trust? Facing a spiritual battle that proves more treacherous than it at first seemed, Austia’s convictions are tested to their limits and her heart becomes primed for breaking. She must ask herself: how much she will risk to stay true to her herself, her faith, and to the lives of the women she serves?