The Fire Trail

Published by eLectio Publishing, 2016

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Sisters of the Presentation High School Reunion Luncheon, University Terrace, Berkeley, June 12, 2016

Author Reading at Curves Studio, June 14, 2016

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Reviews,  Interviews, and Reader Responses:

Review by Francis Etheredge, Catholic theologian and author in England, February 2022

The Fire Trail by Christine Sunderland, Little Elm, TX: eLectio Publishing, 2016. 

The book opens with Jessica on a beautiful walk called The Fire Trail, when she hears a woman scream and then is seen by the man who has committed a brutal crime. This event overhangs the whole story until, at the end, it is resolved; and, therefore, one has the impression that this is almost a symbol of our cultural climate and our need for God: revealing both a definite fragility to human life and, at the same time, a resilience which comes from the Christian faith. Within this structure of suspense, lies the beginnings of courtship between Jessica and Zachary, two PhD students whose research informs the whole book: being about love and friendship and the religious foundations of learning in Berkeley and beyond. The story engaged me from the beginning and, at the same time as it does not dwell on tragedy yet it is there, like an unpredictable infection, bursting out in different places and eventually touches, very closely, the living present of the main characters of the story; indeed, the author traces a fine line between sketching the ways that women intensify their vulnerability to abuse without, exactly, either blaming them for what happens or excusing the men who assault them. 

The author, an Anglican, has a definite affinity with Catholicism and at the same time a very positive grasp of a variety of Christian denominations and their contributions to culture. Her work is a rich combination of historical research and fictional characters. I was particularly impressed with the five Irish Catholic nuns whose journey entailed that they ‘sailed from Kingstown (today Cobh [on the South Coast of Ireland]) to Liverpool to New York, then to Panama. They rode mules across the Isthmus, through mud and high rivers, following rocky trails along precipices, forging their way through dense tropical forests. They sailed up the coast … and arrived in cold and damp San Francisco on Monday, November 13, 1854.’ This contact with Irish history proved to be a good starting, talking point between my wife and I which, incidentally, allows the book to do what the author advances as a main contribution to marriage: to stimulate good conversation. Additionally, these intrepid Irish nuns, who struck out on a tremendous adventure, suggest that a modern mentality of “blaming the Church” for the underdevelopment of women may yet be a thesis to be challenged!

While the book was close to arguing that wives need to match their well-shaped husbands, that special diets and exercise are almost “mantric” elements of social life and that the references to the tragic outrages of terrorism suggest a cultural need to be more informed about Muslims who are sympathetic to other ways of life, it may be that these are a part of the “times” in which a well observed novel is set and indicates, as with any contemporary “moment” in time, that there is always more going on than can be fully explored at any one time.

francis.etheredge-200x300All in all, as I say, a stimulating and engaging read.

by Francis Etheredge, author, 11 books on Amazon and two, possibly three more in 2022:

Amazon UK    Amazon U.S.

Review by Bay Area novelist SUSAN PRUDHOMME:

“Christine Sunderland’s The Fire Trail is one part suspenseful murder mystery and one part passionate plea for social sanity in the face of a society disintegrating around us.  Jessica Thierry, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, is struggling to overcome the downward drag of a family fragmented through the loss of her father and the depredations of drug abuse on her sisters.  Fearful of falling into the same pattern, Jessica fashions for herself a program of rigidly held moral values: ‘discipline, self-control, and delayed gratification.’  Thus armed, she requires herself to postpone forming any deep relationships and focus entirely on her doctoral research.  Her chosen field is history, particularly the story of an order of nuns, the Sisters of the Presentation, who made important contributions to the well-being of the Berkeley area during its early years.”


“I found this story about the life of a graduate student at Berkeley who stumbles upon a murder scene both encouraging and frightening. She is caught up in the exciting stage of finding her dissertation topic and has trouble realizing that the real world is still all around her and not always safe.

“Like someone who is caught up in a book to the point where the world disappears (which happened to me as I read the climax of this tale) the heroine has to try to wake up and balance her yearning to focus on her work with trying to stay alive.

“The author paints a vivid, if implicit, contrast between the purposeful life of the main character with her sisters and many of the street people in Berkeley who have lost their ways. As a teacher since the 1970s, it struck a real chord in me to see Jessica try to keep herself on track in a world that does little to support or guide her until she begins to find friends and a group that seem to also value her struggle to construct a life of purpose and virtue.

“At least when I was in graduate school I lived on the second floor and had full windows! This book is brilliant at sketching what it is like to be a serious-minded graduate student at a modern American university.”

— Paul S. Russell, Five Star Amazon Review

From Reader Views:

“In The Fire Trail by Christine Sunderland, we meet Jessica Thierry, a U.C. Berkeley grad student who is working on her PhD in History. She has a hard time trusting others and is determined not to be like her sisters with their pregnancies, promiscuous ways, and drug abuse. In fact, she is so determined not to be that way it has taken over her life and she cannot see the good in others around her.”

Continue reading: Reader Views’ review of The Fire Trail.

From Feathered Quill Book Reviews:

“Christine Sunderland offers a thought-provoking viewpoint on the collapse of Western civilization in her latest murder mystery.

“Twenty-two-year-old Cal student Jessica Thierry witnesses the rape and murder of a young woman while walking on the scenic Fire Trail. It is difficult for Jessica to get the horrific images out of her thoughts. Jessica is particularly unnerved by the fact that she and the murderer made eye contact. Between dysfunctional family issues and the murder, Jessica has to find a way to keep her attention on her history dissertation research, instead of allowing herself to be engulfed by fear and worry…”

Continue reading: Feathered Quill Review .