Author: Cathleen Armstrong
Title: Welcome to Last Chance              
Publisher: Revell

It’s every woman’s nightmare . . . all alone on a dark highway in the middle of nowhere in a car that’s only one sputter away from total breakdown. When Lainie sees the sign saying “Last Chance” she figures it’s an ad for a truck stop and pulls off hoping for a mechanic. What she finds is something else altogether. Last Chance isn’t a gas station; it’s a small New Mexico town. And it very well may be Lainie’s last chance for a new life.

Since Lainie’s old life was pretty rough she could use a fresh start. She wasn’t exactly planning on starting over in Last Chance, but since she’s stuck there she’ll have to make the best of it. Fortunately for her the natives are a mostly friendly bunch, even if they do talk about God a lot. Lainie’s not what you’d call a churchgoer, but her new landlady—a grandmotherly sweetheart with a will of iron—aims to fix that. Lainie may find her new boss to be unnaturally cheerful, but at least she’s nice to work for. As a temporary stop on the way to somewhere else, this tiny town (population 743) will do as well as anywhere.

There are certain other local attractions, too, and the most attractive one of all is Ray. He’s a somewhat relapsed Christian who’s a reluctant bar owner . . . or at least, a bartender. He runs the town’s only drinking establishment, but not by choice and not for long. Or so he says. (It’s a long story and saying more would spoil the fun of discovery.) Ray has secrets, but then so does Lainie. Neither one plans to stick around long, so a romance is out of the question. Or is it?

Cathleen Armstrong’s debut novel is a warm-hearted look at ordinary people living out genuine faith. Last Chance is populated with the kind of authentic characters you’d expect to find in an average neighborhood. They don’t preach; if anything the spiritual side of things is a little light compared to the typical Christian romance. But while Armstrong doesn’t knock the reader over the head with an altar call (that’s a good thing), she puts everyday people into situations where they have to rely on their faith to survive. All of them—from the single mom who runs the local diner to the sometimes sanctimonious church lady to the town drunk—are full of human flaws and glimpses of greatness. Lainie is a rough and tumble city girl so the church-going, potluck social culture of Last Chance comes as something of a shock, but she’ll probably learn to adapt. Unless her past catches up to her first.

While there’s nothing particularly surprising about the story (other than Ray’s occupation), Armstrong’s style is as comfortable as a pair of well-worn jeans. Welcome to Last Chance welcomes readers into its pages for a relaxing, rewarding story about a girl looking for a better life and the life she finds in Last Chance.

*This Review First Published 8/14/2013