Friday, November 28, 2008

Such A Time as This, by Rebecca Velez (OakTara)

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In Such A Time as This, Ms. Velez retells in unique style the delightful tale chronicled in the Biblical book of Esther. She takes us from the young girl Hadassah’s warm and peaceful home in Susa’s Jewish enclave, to the guile and intrigue of the royal harem in Xerxes' palace. Along the way we’re given glimpses into the tender mind of Hadassah as she copes with her capture by Xerxes’ soldiers, her preparation for his bed, and finally with her prominence as his queen.

Ms. Velez appoints a poignant cast of characters to add color to the story, some as close allies of Queen Esther, some as scheming enemies. Together, we tread the streets of Susa, the halls of Xerxes’ palace, and the gentle corners of Hadassah’s mind as her role in God’s plan for his people in exile begins to unfold. Reminicent of Tommy Tenney's A Night With the King, Ms. Velez takes the story further along, as the family of the disgraced and executed Haman plot revenge against Mordecai and the Jews of the realm.

The story of God’s deliverance of His people from the evil Haman’s genocidal plot through His fragile servant Hadassah is well known. But the ‘what’ of the story is not the draw of Such A Time as This, it’s the ‘how’.* The precious thoughts of this most humble of God’s servants carry us gently along the storyline, imbuing a poignant pathos—even empathy—into Hadassah’s experiences at the hands of a moody and unpredictable king, an often hostile court, and growing in her devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Each of these experiences matures a young, sometimes na├»ve, Jewish girl, who, in the fullness of time, blossoms into a competent queen—a woman of substance prepared to give her life for her people and her God in ‘such a time as this’.

* See this review for a discussion of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of a novel.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Everybody Called Her a Saint, by Cecil Murphey (Heartsong)

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Of course, when I reviewed Everybody Loved Roger Harden and Everybody Wanted Room 623, you knew it was inevitable that the final book of Cecil Murphey’s ‘cozy mysteries’ would also find its way into these spaces. But even if I hadn’t read the first two, I believe this one would’ve shown up anyway. ‘Cuz, as the A1 Steak Sauce people say, “Yeah…it’s that good.”*

In this final installment, our heroic duo, Julie West and James Burton, embark on an Antarctic voyage at the request of their mutual friend, psychiatrist Twila Belk. Startling to discover, Julie and Burton aren’t on speaking terms. Mm hmm, something has happened since Room 623 that has sent Julie through the ceiling and she has broken their engagement. More on this later.

Early in the voyage, Twila is murdered. This presented me with a problem. In real life, Twila Belk—yes, Cec did it again; he killed off a friend—is Mr. Murphey’s esteemed assistant. The delightful Ms. Belk is actually the person who sent me the book. Which, in and of itself is fine; however, when I read of her demise on the first page…and then looked down at the return address on the envelope in which the book arrived…well, it was a little eerie. You get it, right? Enough on that.

As I said prior to digressing, early in the voyage, Twila is murdered. Clearly, the only possible suspect is among the other 45 passengers on the ship, all of whom are friends and/or patients—former and current—of Twila’s. No coincidence; Twila had chartered the boat and paid everyone’s passage, for one reason or another. So, as we’d expect, with the unofficial blessing of the ship’s captain, Julie and Burton set about investigating the murder. This, of course, is complicated by their strained relationship, which they have to shelve to do honor to Twila’s memory.

Mr. Murphey succeeds in pulling off another intricate whodunit, again in the first-person through Julie’s eyes. The gripper of this tale, though, has nothing to do with the investigation, or even with Twila’s murder. It has to do with Julie and Burton. If you read my review of Roger Harden, you’ll recall each person on the island had a secret known only to Roger and the respective individual. During that investigation, everyone’s secret came to light. Everyone’s except Burton’s. It’s this secret that, when he tells it to Julie, unravels their relationship. Want to know what it is? Hah!

You. Will. Never. Guess. This. One.

If you read either of the first two cozy mysteries, you’ll leave this earth at the end of your life incomplete unless you’ve read Everybody Called Her a Saint. If you haven’t read either of the first two, you can still enjoy this final mystery—but you’ll be oh-so-much-happier to have read Roger Harden and Room 623, first.

Yeah…they’re all that good.

* Yes, yes, I know the A1 slogan is actually, “Yeah, it’s that important.” Allow me a little artistic license, would you, please?

Quote of the Week

Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book. - Edward Gibbon

Field of Blood, by Eric Wilson (Thomas Nelson)

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In Field of Blood, the first installment in the Jerusalem’s Undead Trilogy, Mr. Wilson weaves an intricate tapestry comprising two fundamentally strange bedfellows: supernatural terror and Christian spiritual persuasion. I couldn’t avoid the image of Anne Rice straddling the line of salvation—one foot sunk in the mire of the inglorious world of vampires and werewolves, and the other planted on the Rock that rescued her from that world. Yet Mr. Wilson skillfully and thoughtfully reconciles these two genres in a work that both entertains and provokes thought.

Picture the proverbial dark cloud with the silver lining.

The dark cloud is the ethereal world of the Collectors: fallen angels who are bent on ushering in Satan’s alternative to the Final Judgment. The Collectors have no corporeal form of their own, but are constrained to indwell ‘host’ bodies to execute their agenda. Their hope of release from this Separation from the physical lies in the field that absorbed Judas Iscariot’s self-shed blood after his betrayal of Christ. After an ancient tomb in the field is breached by an Israeli construction crew, the Collectors seize the opportunity to invade the crypts and inhabit the ancient bones of those buried beneath the cursed soil. They must sustain these host bodies by ingesting human blood, feeding continually in a vain attempt (Okay, yes, I was tempted to say ‘vein attempt’.) to treat their insatiable thirst. The Collectors exploit the human weaknesses of their victims—pride, self-righteous piety, lust, illusions of self-sufficiency; you know, the stuff you and I fortunately have no problems with—to gain advantage over their victims. All the while they seek to destroy the ‘silver lining’.

The silver lining is the nestarim, thirty-six immortal souls who were raised from the grave at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion, per Matthew’s Gospel. And, much like a full silver lining that traces the entire circumference of the cloud, the nestarim contain the Collectors, engaging in perpetual physical and spiritual battle until God executes His Final Judgment. But the nestarim, too, have their vulnerabilities, and the loss of just one of them will collapse the whole community. Then the lining will fade to nothing. And the dark cloud will become suddenly unrestrained.

Gina, a young girl we first meet in Romania toward the end of Nicolae Caucescu’s regime, is unknowingly one of the nestarim. As such, she becomes the target of a clan of Collectors who have traced her whereabouts from Israel. Inhibited by her mother Nikki, and aided by her mentor Cal—both of whom know of Gina’s heritage—the young Gina suffers from the burden she carries into adulthood without knowing why. Not until an unimaginable tragedy strikes does she understand, accept and assume her role in the battle against Satan’s minions.

Mr. Wilson’s research is impeccable. He displays a remarkable ability for subtlety and surprise in tying Old Testament events (such as the story of Jael and Sisera in the book of Judges), New Testament occurrences (such as the Gospel account of Christ banishing the demons into the herd of swine) and recent events in Israel, the Balkan region, and the United States together for the backdrop of his story.

A caution, however. You won’t be gathering the children around for bedtime stories from these pages. Field of Blood is masterfully contrived, its theme acutely poignant, but it is not light reading. The cloud is very dark, and the silver lining often seems woefully inadequate for its task of containment. Prepare to be frustrated, dismayed, perhaps even a bit annoyed. But those, I believe, are among Mr. Wilson’s intended destinations for his readers, and he delivers us there in style.

As a point of critique, the story flows, but there are moments when the dream hits a speed bump laid by thickness in the prose. That, however, should not dissuade you from reading Field of Blood, if your interests lead you into the darker corners of the supernatural genre. It’s a fascinating tale. I look forward to the next part of the trilogy, due out next summer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thing's Are Movin'...

Sorry about the lull in posting on the blog, but the earth appears to be moving under A Prophet's Tale. OakTara is working the manuscript now, so it should be one of the first titles to come out as they begin posting new novels. Still don't have a firm date, but you can bet I'll letcha know soonest when I do. (Oh, yes, you can betcha I will!)

Meantime, I do have another couple of book reviews on the way. I finished the third and final of Cecil Murphey's cozy mysteries, and will have a report on it pretty soon. You may recall I promised a review on Rebecca Velez's Just A Time As This. It was backordered at CBD and I only just received it in the mail, so it's back in the active queue. I'm also reading a legal thriller by Joe Hilley (Sober Justice) and a r-e-a-l-l-y interesting supernatural thriller by Eric Wilson called Field of Blood.

I leave for Germany on Saturday and won't be back until the following Saturday, but I should be able to keep up with the blog from "over there" (remind you of a song?).

So, I guess what I'm saying is that there's plenty more to come--and, hopefully, some firm news on A Prophet's Tale, too, very soon. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Quote of the Week

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft. - H.G. Wells