Friday, December 25, 2009

Saving Cicadas, by Nicole Seitz (Thomas Nelson)


(Click cover for more information)

I want to describe Saving Cicadas as deceptively imaginative, but ‘deceptive’ could cast a negative shade over the story and I don’t mean it in any negative way. Still, it’s true, so I’m sticking with it.

Saving Cicadas is deceptively imaginative.

Nicole Seitz has woven a subtly explosive tale of redemption, hope and fantastical intrigue set in the flatlands of the South. It seemed harmless enough. When the theme began to emerge from the plot, I sat back, comfortable in my certainty with where the tale was going. I assumed the journey would be the focus as the destination was obvious. And then something happened. I straightened in my chair, narrowed my eyes, and read on. After a couple more chapters, all became clear again, and, lulled into a second brief period of smug satisfaction, I turned the page—and stepped right into another curve ball. Then came a fast ball. Then a slider. My gosh, Nicole! What are you doing here? What she was doing was incredible.

Delivered in the first-person perspective mostly through the eyes of 8½ year-old Janie Doe Macy (who might not be who she thinks she is), and Grandma Mona (who might not be who you think she is), Saving Cicadas both celebrates and struggles with the miracle of life—all life; from bugs, to roses, to children, and a whole lot in between. But there's more to it than that. The true delight of the first-person voice is experiencing the story through the eyes of a character directly involved in it. If done well, it creates the effect of involving you in it, too. Nicole captures Janie’s mind and vernacular so well, you don’t experience the story with Janie, you become Janie. If you don’t, either you’ve never been eight years old, or you have no pulse.

Saving Cicadas is a journey of discovery, but you won’t really know where it’s leading until Ms. Seitz decides it’s okay for you to know. She sets you up with a straightforward thematic thrust, putting you comfortably off guard, then keeps you off balance with simplistically complex plot. Multi-dimensional characters challenge your inclination to develop first impressions and stick with them for any meaningful length of time. Her colorful writing voice paints a warm and unpretentious backdrop—which is ‘deceptive’ in its own right. Then, when you least expect it, the story picks up speed and passes the point of safe ejection before you have a chance to react. So, get yourself two cups of tea and unplug the telephone, ‘cuz you’re not going anywhere for awhile.

I guess you’ve probably noticed that I enjoyed this book. Please get it. If, when you’ve finished it, you don’t agree with this review, I’ll refund you the cover price. Seriously.

One last bit of advice: Don’t ever sit down at a poker table with Nicole Seitz. You haven’t got a chance.

(Disclaimer: Saving Cicadas was provided free of charge by Thomas Nelson for review; however, my comments would have been no different had I spent twice the cover price.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Deadly Wilderness, by Kelly Irvin (Five-Star)

(Click cover for more information)
I finally turned off the reading lamp an hour and a half after my usual bedtime last night. I had reached the last few chapters of Kelly Irvin's A Deadly Wilderness. It wasn't so much that I "couldn't put it down." It's that I refused to put it down.
Set right here in San Antonio, A Deadly Wilderness is a fast-paced thriller that follows the exploits of Detective Ray Johnson, who, while hiking in one of the city's wilderness parks, literally falls over a dead body--but not just any dead body. The late Joey Doyle, son of a prominent local family, has been savagely murdered and partially dismembered. Immediate and intense political pressure fuel Ray's innate overdrive, and he fights both the politicos and the clock to solve the case before the killer strikes again...and then again...and then again. All the while, Ray's professional skills and his devout faith are challenged to the limit every perilous inch of the way. Then, when he starts to get too close, the killer turns his eyes on Ray.
An excellently conceived and cleverly crafted supporting cast push and pull at Ray throughout the ordeal. His on-again/off-again relationship with the lovely Susana Martinez-Acosta becomes entangled with the investigation, as does his strained friendship with Susana's protective brother, Samuel--who also happens to be Ray's boss. Hindered as much as helped by Detective Deborah Smith, his alcoholic partner, Ray limps one step forward then stumbles two steps backward until...nope, not gonna tell ya. You'll have ta read the "until."
But Ms. Irvin does more than spin a gripping tale of murder, lust, and greed. She invades the human heart and turns it inside out, spilling the good, the bad and the ugly into a jumbled mess on the floor. Then she very carefully and skillfully reassembles the pieces and sculpts them into a diverse cast of personae who complement and collide, attract and repel, win and lose, and...well, I guess act a lot like you and I. They're at once lovable, annoying, inspiring, frustrating, and...well, I guess are a lot like you and I. Do I detect a trend here?
Only one more thing. You'll enjoy Ms. Irvin's delightful writing voice that permeates the characters' dialog and garnishes the narrative with glib one-liners and poignant observations. I mean...okay, let me give you an example. Now, this is just from her 'Acknowledgments' page, mind you; it's not part of the actual story and, in fact, isn't designed to be overtly clever. You be the judge:
"It's important to state for the record that the events in this novel are complete and utter fiction. San Antonio parks are incredibly safe, beautiful places for families to share wonderful times together, in large part because of the San Antonio Park Police. The crimes that occur in parks in this novel are figments of a feverish, overactive imagination."
Now I ask you: if she can write a sterile acknowledgment with this much personality, imagine how it reads when she's selling you her dream. Just how do you not read a story by someone who writes like this? Uh huh, you'll refuse to put it down, too.
So, now **yawn** I've begun my work week sleep deprived, and it's all Ms. Irvin's fault. If I get grouchy, Kelly, you have Jeannie to answer to, that's all I have to say...
(A Deadly Wilderness is scheduled for release in January 2010. I highly recommend you pre-order it here.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Feature!

Some of you may already have noticed, but there's a new widget on the blog. Halfway down on the left side is a Shelfari bookshelf with those books I have lined up for my next reviews. Mouse-over the cover and you'll get a synopsis of the story. There are also navigation buttons at the bottom of the bookshelf to page ahead to additional covers.

If you have a work of Christian fiction you'd like me to review, please feel free to leave a comment at any time. Thanks!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Love for Eternity, Janice Braswell (OakTara)

(Click cover for more information)
In A Love for Eternity, Janice Braswell crafts a warm story of redemption, self-discovery and love. Drawing from her own family experience of homelessness, abandonment and abuse, Ms. Braswell imbues her writing with an intensity of pathos that permeates every scene, every page, every heartfelt struggle of her heroine--and those who reach out to her.
Jayden Arman is a veteran of the foster-care system. Growing up in Odessa, Texas, in the home of an abusive man and his alcoholic wife, Jayden counts the moments until her eighteenth birthday when she can escape "the system" to forge her own way in the world. Tethered to her past by her devotion to Emma, a special-needs child who shared Jayden's foster home, she struggles to develop her own identity and capture some sense of self worth.
Unbeknown to Jayden, Jonathan Baxter, the youth pastor at the church Emma attends, discovers his own tether--a growing attraction for the girl who picks up Emma every Sunday, but refuses to darken the door of the church herself. His pastoral desire for her spiritual need for Christ and his concern for her emotional well being complement, then conflict with, his attraction for the lovely Jayden.
Jayden moves to San Antonio and stumbles into the life of Daniel Taylor, son of a local landscaper, but, more importantly, a committed Christian with a deep love for mission work--especially in Africa, where he spent a year among the people of a small village near the Zambisi River. He falls for Jayden, too, but would she ever share his zeal for mission work on the Dark Continent?
Here we go. You ready? Jonathan moves to San Antonio to assume a church pastorate not far from the boarding house where Jayden lives. Uh huh, you see it coming, right? Daniel? Jonathan? Jayden's own search for redemption from an abused childhood and her quest to discover her father's part in her mother's murder, which put her into foster care in the first place? Yeah, I didn't tell you about that, did I? Collision time.
Oh, you'll want to read this, 'cuz that's all I'm giving you.
Bravo, Ms. Braswell. Well done!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Debut of Shiloh Winter May


Jeannie and I now have enough grandchildren for a football penalty.
Shiloh made her appearance at 11:10 am on Sunday, November 1st, measuring 20 inches and weighing in at 8 lb. 5 oz. Remember that, as I expect this is the last time she'll ever let me publicize her weight again.
Number-nine granddaughter/number-twelve grandchild is home and lookin' good, as is her mom. Her dad looks a little haggard, but, oh well. Okay, that may sound harsh, but I'm supposed to be hard on the guy who, married my daughter.
The scorecard now stands at:
Tom & Kim May - 4 girls and a boy
Neal & Janice Judisch - 3 girls and a boy
Collin & Janelle McCann - 2 girls and a boy
(Is it just me, or does anyone else spot a trend?)
Bruce & Jeannie Judisch - 3 dogs and a cat
Who's winning is a highly subjective call; however, Bruce & Jeannie don't get up for two o'clock feedings. :-)
Welcome to the family, Shiloh. Love you! - Grammie & Papa

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wisdom Hunter, by Randall Arthur (Multnomah)


(Click cover for more information)

Some novels are character driven, others plot driven. Wisdom Hunter is unabashedly agenda driven.

Agenda. In Wisdom Hunter, Mr. Arthur pounces on and wrestles to the ground a modern American evangelistic model that replaces the joy and compassion of Christ-centered, Biblically focused Christianity with suffocating legalism and contrived tradition. Thought-provoking, in spots controversial, Wisdom Hunter takes on a rigid institutionalism that bears no resemblance to the example or the teachings of the Christ it purports to emulate. Not surprisingly, Mr. Arthur draws the parallel between Jesus and the Pharisees of His day.

Character. In the story, the Reverend Jason Faircloth is a mega-church pastor who has built his empire--North Metro Church of the Bible--on religious dogmatism and the strength of his own unbending will. North Metro is so far to the right on the religious spectrum, even Rush Limbaugh would raise an eyebrow. Strict dress code, no rock music, no dancing--the stereotypical litany of "no's," but especially no questioning the pastor's decisions. Dubbed "The General" by the media and his own congregation, Rev. Faircloth runs North Metro and his household in like manner.

Plot. North Metro statistically "thrives" under The General's leadership. But his household collapses, when his only daughter, Hannah, runs away to escape his domestic tyranny, and his wife, Lorena, dies of a broken heart. Jason's faith is shattered that God did not dutifully honor his petitions for Hannah's return and his wife's recovery, and he crumbles. He resigns the pastorship and embarks on a dual-focused journey of self discovery and searching for a granddaughter he has never met. The pedulum swings to the other extreme and Jason samples the 'greener pastures' of worldliness. His travels take him across the States and overseas, still in search of himself, his granddaughter, and, ultimately, his God.

To tell his tale, Mr. Arthur selected the third-person omniscient view, in which the narrator has, as the term implies, omniscience over the entire story and can convey to the reader insights irrespective of chronology or focal character. This allows him to describe and interpret the thoughts, actions and reactions of his characters rather than (or in addition to) the characters acting and speaking for themselves (see this review for similar commentary). The style has the potential of allowing the narrator's voice to rise above those of his actors and his thoughts to overshadow theirs. And, although the characters in Wisdom Hunter are strong enough to carry the plot (although somewhat two-dimensional; i.e., the heroes--human and institutional--appear faultless and the villains lack any redeeming trait whatsoever), the plot itself occasionally becomes transparent against the backdrop of the agenda. There is a strong finish, though, and you'll be satisfied with the story, even if you're not absolutely sold on the agenda.
Wisdom Hunter will prompt you to examine your Christianity as it is designed to do, no mistake. Just in that, it is well worth the read.
Note: Wisdom Hunter was provided free of charge by Multnomah for this review.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Katia" to be Contracted by OakTara!

Heard from my publisher today. Looks like they're going to pick up the option on my fourth book, Katia. :-)

In case you missed the synopsis from my earlier post, here it is.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Centurion, by L.D. Alford (OakTara)

(Click cover for more information)
Okay, now we're talkin'! I bet you all thought I'd gone soft with all the romance reviews. Well, my guy card raced gleefully back into my wallet with this one.
L.D. Alford has outdone himself, in my estimation. Centurion has it all: captivating storyline, impeccable research, plenty of action, and a great balance between the harsh realities of 1st-century AD everyday life and the ideals of a radical fledgling faith. Oh, okay, and there's some romance, too, but it didn't intimidate me.
Abenadar is a half-breed bastard (literally) of a Galilian mother and a Roman sire. I say "sire" instead of "father" because there's more to being a father than simply siring a child--and Abenadar had no father. His mother, an outcast living on the outskirts of Nazareth, finds her only friend in Mary, the mother of Christ--also an outcast. Abenadar and Yeshua become friends during their formative years. And before Abenadar leaves to seek his future as a Roman soldier, Yeshua exhorts him not to forget his God--Adonai.
Abenadar finds his calling in the austere life of the Roman camp. His military acumen and prowess are quickly revealed--and tested. In battle after battle, Abenadar distinguishes himself, accumulating honors and accolades that advance him to the unexpected rank of Centurion--a position normally reserved for only those of full Roman blood. But inside, he is a man caught between two worlds; fully a Roman warrior, but fully a child of Galilee, who adheres to the precepts of his God, Adonai.
He is posted to Jerusalem, where he rescues Ruth, a woman of the streets, from an abusive client. Captivated by her beauty, he seeks her out and rescues her from her life of forced harlotry. The stigma he carries as half-Roman, and hers as a Judean whore, bring them together against a world that accepts neither one of them.
Yeshua enters the picture once again, and Abenadar's and Ruth's respective worlds collide in the draw of this unlikely prophet. How does the love of a Roman soldier, bound to his oath to Caesar, and a Jewess, bound to her faith in God and the promise of His Messiah, survive through the passion of the King of Kings? The answer lies in the pages of Centurion.
L.D. Alford delivers an extremely well written and meticulously researched story that won't let you go. Steeped in Roman martial lore, you'll learn more about the Empire's military organization, weapons and battle tactics than you ever realized existed. But the learning never comes at the expense of the story. If fairness still exists anywhere in this world, Centurion is destined to become a classic in Christian literature--it's got to.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rocky Mountain Oasis, by Lynnette Bonner (OakTara)

(Click cover for more information)
Confession: At first, I was fearful this was going to be just another Wild West saga nestled into the dusty piles of rustic romances filling the shelves at the local bookstore. Then I read the first chapter. Many thanks, Ms. Bonner, for allaying my fear.

In Rocky Mountain Oasis, Lynnette spins a tale with a unique twist that keeps your attention from the front cover to the back. Brooke Baker is on her way west, a mail-order bride escaping an abusive past, but with little hope of a less abusive future. And her lack of hope would have been justified, but for Divine intervention through the initiative of one Skylar Jordan of Pierce City, Idaho.

Sky discovers the slovenly Jason Jordan has bought himself a bride. Pricked at the thought of any woman left at the hands of his sot of a cousin, Sky buys the rights to her during one of Jason’s drunken stupors. He meets his unseen, newly betrothed with the chivalrous intention of protecting her from local men less genteel than himself through the coming winter, then granting her the freedom to return east in the spring. But the moment the beautiful girl alights from the stagecoach, his world changes.

Brooke holds the ruggedly handsome Sky—and her own heart—at arm’s length, convinced that all men are like her cruel Uncle Jackson and brutal ex-fiancé, Hank. Fighting her own emotions, and the draw of the kind and thoughtful Sky, she struggles to escape a past that refuses to let her go. The question is, can Sky’s patience and prayers heal the wounds on Brooke’s heart? It’s slow going, and, at times, becomes as agonizing for the reader, it seems, as it is for Sky. But the story is worth the agony.

Ms. Bonner captures the smell of the towering pines and the chill of the mountain air on every page of Rocky Mountain Oasis. She also brings home the power of righteous prayer in purging the dregs of human tragedy. The story is well conceived, and will linger with you long after you’ve read the last line and began researching when Lynnette’s next book is scheduled for release.

By the way, Rocky Mountain Oasis is based upon actual events, people and places. As an added treat, pull up Google Maps on your computer and type in “Pierce, ID” as a keyword. Select the satellite view, zoom out, and you’ll get a great visual of what Ms. Bonner does such a fine job of describing. You can feel the trip from Pierce City westward to Lewiston almost as Sky and Brooke did as they wound down mountain paths and forded rocky river beds. Neat story!

Stray Affections, by Charlene Ann Baumbich (WaterBrook)

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In Stray Affections, the last thing that Cassandra expects out of her Sunday is to be mesmerized at a collectors’ convention by a snowglobe. She’s enjoying some shopping time, with husband Ken at home tending their brood of four young boys, when she’s utterly charmed by the one-of-a kind globe containing figures of three dogs and a little girl with hair the color of her own. She can’t resist taking the unique globe home—even if means wrestling another shopper for it.

The beautiful snowglobe sparks long-dormant memories for Cassie, of her beloved Grandpa Wonky, the stray she rescued as a child, and the painful roots of her combative relationship with her mother, “Bad Betty” Kamrowski. Life in Wanonishaw, Minnesota is never dull, though, and Cassie keeps the recollections at bay, busy balancing her boys, her home daycare operation, and being a good friend to best pal Margret. But after a strange—flurrious, as Cassie deems it—moment happens with the remarkable snowglobe, Cassie and the people she loves are swirled into a tumultuous, yet grace-filled, and life-changing journey.
The quirky, close-knit Midwestern small-town feel invites readers to experience the laughter and the healing of second chances.
About the author: Charlene Ann Baumbich is a popular author and speaker and an award-winning journalist. In addition to her Dearest Dorothy series of novels, she has written seven nonfiction books of humor and inspiration. A bungee-jumping, once motorcycle-owning grandma and unabashed dog lover, Charlene lives with her husband and rescued dog Kornflake in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. She loves telling stories, laughing whenever possible, and considers herself a Wild Child of God.
You can view a YouTube video trailer of Stray Affections here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Culpa, by Morgan D. Jones (OakTara)

(Click cover for more information)

I, just this minute, finished reading Culpa. I eyes haven't cleared yet, so please forgive any typos.

This was s-o good. I wasn't sure at the beginning how I would receive Mr. Jones's offering. It's a hefty 519 pages, but the climax is well worth the journey.

My first concern was that Mr. Jones penned his tome in the third-person omniscent voice. That means he tells the story as a narrator who has all the facts from the beginning to the end, and can share them with the reader at will regardless of how far the tale has progressed and what his characters know--although there is contemporaneous dialog and action, don't worry. That style has the potential pitfall of disassociating, or distancing, the reader with the characters themselves. Not so with Culpa.

Culpa follows the life of one Brock Stowolski, a former seminarian who has abandoned his calling for the trappings of the world. Enticed by the lure of the self-made man, Brock follows his dream; that is, his egocentric dream of self-fulfillment and wordly success apart from the God who called him. And he falls into most of the traps such a deception has to offer--but he thrives in those traps, deceived by the grit, determination and talent instilled in him by God, but used apart from God. You genuinely come to hate Brock. You really do. Until...

I won't reveal the 'until.' There is a family he destroys, a business he nurtures through guile and ruthlessness, and a soul he places in serious peril. But God has another plan, right at the point of the story where you believe there is no hope, no salvation for such a man as Brock. God, as He is wont to do, turns the tables and forces us to examine our own attitude toward the sinner.

Mr. Jones has done a great job in developing plot and character to the point to where you think you have them nailed, then only to discover there is hope and there are foibles in those whom we thought were capable of neither.

Bravo! Good book. Buy it!

The Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love, Beth Patillo (Waterbrook)

(Click cover for more information)

(My wife, Jeannie, is the guest reviewer for this book. I've captured her thoughts as well as the story synopsis below. At least, I hope I have...)

Six lives in Sweetgum, Tennessee, are in for changes in ways none of them anticipated.
Once a month, the women of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society gather to discuss books and share their knitting projects. Inspired by her recent, and unexpected marriage, group leader Eugenie chooses “Great Love Stories in Literature” as the theme for the year’s reading list–a daring selection for a group whose members span the spectrum of age and relationship status.
As the Knit Lit ladies read and discuss classic romances like Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, and Pride and Prejudice, each member is confronted with her own perception about love. Camille’s unexpected reunion with an old crush forces her to confront conflicting desires. Newly widowed Esther finds her role in Sweetgum changing and is surprised by two unlikely friends. Hannah isn’t sure she’s ready for the trials of first love. Newcomer Maria finds her life turned upside-down by increasing family obligations and a handsome, arrogant lawyer, and Eugenie and Merry are both asked to make sacrifices for their husbands that challenge their principles.

Even in a sleepy, southern town like Sweetgum, Tennessee, love isn’t easy. The Knit Lit ladies learn they can find strength and guidance in the novels they read, the love of their family, their community–and especially in each other.

The interaction between the Knit Lit ladies, and the reactions they have to the selections of their book club from their own life perspectives, provide a rich filling for a cozy story of evolving lives. Interwoven with metaphorical allusions to knitting, this is a tribute to love and all its complexities.
If you enjoyed Jan Karon's Mitford series, this is a good bet for you.

Yup, Jeannie like it–and she's a hard sell. :-)

The Rose House, by Tina Ann Forkner (Waterbrook)

(Click cover for more information)

The Rose House is story of a private grief, a secret painting, and a woman's search for hope. Still mourning the loss of her family in a tragic accident, Lillian Diamon finds herself drawn back to the Rose House, a quiet cottage where four years earlier she had poured out her anguish among its fragrant blossoms.

She returns to the rolling hills and lush vineyards of the Sonoma Valley in search of something she can't quite name. But then Lillian stumbles onto an unexpected discovery: displayed in the La Rosaleda Gallery is a painting that captures every detail of her most private moment of misery, from the sorrow etched across her face to the sandals on her feet.
What kind of artist would intrude on such a personal scene, and how did he happen to witness Lillian's pain? As the mystery surrounding the portrait becomes entangled with the accident that claimed the lives of her husband and children, Lillian is forced to rethink her assumptions about what really happened that day.

Ms. Forkner has excellent eye-pen coordination in describing La Rosaleda, its surroundings, and, particularly the enigmatic Rose House featured on the estate, which has a history of its own. However, some plot amibuguity, what seemed to me to be a rushed romance between Lillian and Truman and a few curious dialog snippets yanked me from the dream at spots. Altogether, though, a good read.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper, by Kathleen Y'Barbo (Multnomah)

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This is a fun read, especially for those who, like myself, are blessed with a touch of the Walter Mitty syndrome.

Eugenia “Gennie” Cooper is a high-bred debutante of New York City with a secret affinity for dime-store novels—particularly those of her favorite heroine, bounty hunter Mae Winslow, Woman of the West. Spurred on by Mae’s exploits (pun intended), Gennie dreams of having a “Wild West” adventure. Her chance comes when a servant’s sister, destined to become nanny to a precocious child in Denver, needs a temporary substitute to accommodate her wedding plans. Unbeknown to her parents, Gennie schemes to become that substitute in lieu of her summer trip to Boston.

Ms. Cooper suffers a terribly inauspicious introduction with her new employer, but manages to win the hearts and minds of the household staff and her rebellious charge, Charlotte “Charlie” Beck, albeit more slowly with the latter. Her relationship with silver baron Daniel Beck, Charlotte’s father, suffers through missteps and misunderstandings throughout the tale, but, as a romance demands, emerges the victor when the trail dust settles.

Ms. Y'Barbo crafts a clever story, weaving excerpts from Mae Winslow’s adventures into Gennie’s story. Oh, and, if you read closely, you’ll notice a interesting relationship between Mae’s and Gennie’s dilemmas.

If you like stories about the West in the 1880s and would be intrigued by the exploits of a romantically inclined city girl grappling with the lure of her rustic fantasy world within the reality of her proper societal upbringing, you’ll enjoy The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Look Whatchya’ll Did!


Here they are: the long-awaited results of yesterday’s Debut Day on It was so neat to watch the numbers change every hour. Thanks so much for taking part. It was a great kick-off event for the book.

Now, me bein’ an analyst an’ all, it’s only right that I comment on the graph and ‘splain to everyone what it appears happened. (Disclaimer: For those of you who don’t know me very well, the below analysis is purely tongue in cheek. Don’t you dare take any of it seriously)

First, the early part of the day:

As you can see, the book began the day at a ~840,000 ranking. That is stratospheric and is not a good place for a human or a book to be without supplemental oxygen. At the 7:30-8:30 hour, you’ll notice a precipitous—we authors are allowed to use words like ‘precipitous’ with impunity; we can use ‘impunity,’ too—drop in altitude, which is good when your novel is becoming hypoxic. What disturbs me is such little activity between 5:30 and 7:30. Where was everybody? I thought everybody is online cruising at 5:30 in the morning. I blame my sister, Robin, for not dragging out of the sack at a reasonable time and getting things rolling. Where’s family when you really need them?

Second, mid-morning:

At 9:30, you’ll observe a nice leveling out at the ~20,000 mark, where things hesitated a bit before dropping again. I blame the stutter-step on my sister, Robin, for only ordering 1 book instead of the 112 books I nagged her…er, that she promised me she’d buy. What’s up with sibling loyalty nowadays? And explain to me that spike up to ~28,000 at 10:30, when her co-workers were supposed to be chained to their computers, hardwired to, but were instead most likely given a lamely deserved coffee break. Whatever has happened to the American work ethic?

Third, later morning:

After dropping off to a nice four-figure level at 11:30, the book kept to the four-figure mark for most of the rest of the day. No drop-off; no progress; no three-figures. I blame my sister, Robin, for actually working on the job instead of being productive and harassing her co-workers to buy more books like I nagged her…er, like she offered to. Focus has never been a strong point of hers, but this is just unacceptable

Finally, later in the day:

“Languishing” is the only word for it. Yes, languishing. You guessed it: my sister, Robin, probably had the nerve to go home at the end of the workday—I mean, the book-buying day (not that these ever really end)—and she surely let her co-workers do the same. So there were all those computers sitting at the office going to waste. And we wonder why we’re losing ground in the global marketplace. My sister, Robin, has a lot of explaining to do when the next state-of-the-economy figures are released, that’s all I have to say.

So, now that the dust has settled, I want to thank everyone again for being so great during Debut Day—well, except one person.

And for those of you who think I’ve been unnecessarily hard on my sister, Robin, well, you didn’t see the birthday card she sent me…

All kidding aside, the response to Debut Day was phenomenal—even by my sister, Robin. (Okay, so not all kidding aside...). Peaking at 3,800 when the ranking set is over 2.5 million data points is incredible. And, as of the time of this, writing, the book is still below the 9,000 point. Thanks again to all of you. This was terrific!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

'Debut Day' Set for August 4th

As most of you know by now, Tuesday, August 4th, is the day to order The Journey Begun online. However, if you aren't able to order a book on Tuesday, please don't think you can't order at all(!) The book's gonna be there for awhile. :-)

By the way, for those who are electronically inclined, The Journey Begun is now also available as a download onto a Kindle. (What'll they think of next...?)..

(Click image for more info)

I'll post the results of Debut Day when the dust settles. Thanks to everyone in advance.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

'Debut Day' for The Journey Begun

We're there! The Journey Begun is now available on However, before you order...

I'm in the process of arranging book signings at local bookstores. I'll be sending out invitations for those events when they're set. However, those who are not in the local area, or who prefer to order their book online, I'm planning a 'Debut Day' on Amazon. com. I'll ask everyone who intends to pick up a copy to wait until one specific day to order it. The spike in orders will push the ranking of the book higher and get it more visibility, for however long the demand remains. I'll be sending out an e-mail message with the specifc day very shortly.

More to come. Be ready for that spam... :-)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Critical Care, by Candace Calvert (Tyndale)

(Click cover for more information)
There are three relative-milieu perspectives in which you often find stories set.

First, there’s the inside-looking-out view. At the risk of sounding self-serving, I’ll use my own Ben Amittai: First Call as an example. The hero—the prophet Jonah—is viewing the outside world from inside his unique perspective as a prophet called of God. He sees the effects of his calling—his milieu, if you will—on those around him who are not part of that calling, but are touched by it.

Second, there’s the view from the outside looking in. TL Hines’ Waking Lazarus has an interesting twist on this perspective as our hero, Jude Allman, has forced himself outside his milieu, denying his calling, and looking in only as his gift is forced upon him.

Finally, there’s the inside-looking-in view.* Candace Calvert has excelled in this perspective in Critical Care. Here we see the inside workings of a trauma team operating within the milieu of an emergency room, and we see the effects of the ER on the actors living and working within it. What do I mean? Oh, okay, enough of the esoteric stuff. Here’s the scoop:

Doctor Logan Calvert is the hard-nosed ER director at Sierra Mercy Hospital. The good doctor’s utmost motivation is the wellbeing of his patients. “Good,” you say. Well, in his drive for perfection, he goes through ER nurses like a hot knife through soft butter. If they aren’t the crème of the crop, they’re history. No questions asked, no answers offered. Oh, and he has a hidden trauma in his past that defines his drive.

Nurse Claire Avery is attached to the education department of the hospital. Her counseling task: to “heal the healers” who day in and day out, psychologically deal with the trauma they encounter in different ways—and not always gracefully. Oh, and she has a hidden trauma in her past that defines her drive.

ER Nurse Sarah Burke is an overachiever. Excessively efficient, she is driven by her self-imposed commitment never to let Dr. Caldwell down. Oh, and—yes, you guessed it—she has a hidden trauma in her past that defines her drive.

ER Nurse Erin Qinn is the nurse-in-charge of the ER nurses. She is competent, caring, and caught in the middle between the iron-fisted Dr. Caldwell and her own nursing staff. Hidden trauma? I’ll let you decide.

In short, if I were unfortunate enough to end up in an ER, this is the team I’d want working on me.

All of these drives at times complement, at times collide. Conflict, the grit of reality in the ER and, of course, unexpected romance combine to make this a fast-paced novel that challenges your mind, your heart, and your faith all at the same time. Ms. Calvert—a former ER nurse herself—delivers a tightly-written tale that sends you to the peak of contentment on one page, then into the valley of frustration on the next; kind of like, well, life in an emergency room. Her command of the intricacies of the ER and the pressures it imposes on those who work there permeate her story as the ER team handles one crisis after another. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind Ms. Calvert being on that trauma team either…

If you like ER and Grey’s Anatomy, but yearn for a clear Christian motivation in the mix, Critical Care is your book.

* No, I didn’t forget the outside-looking-out. The milieu of the story is the “in” and there would be no setting for the story if there were no “in.” Nice try. :-)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sneak Preview of Novel #4

A Prophet's Tale now being complete and at the publisher, it's time for a sneak peak at the next novel. Expect something entirely different.

My family was living in West Berlin, Germany, in November, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Like most of the rest of the city, we rushed to Checkpoint Charlie, the Tiergarten across from the Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag to welcome East Germans pouring through breaches in the Wall.

On that day, I snapped the picture of a man standing on a street corner holding up a plain white paper sign on which the name "Katia" was written. The picture became the seed for my novel. Below is a short synopsis:

- - - - -

“Seek the truth, embrace the pain, cherish the freedom.”

Spunky Madeline “Maddy” McCann is a twenty-one year-old journalism major completing her year as an exchange student at the Freie Universtität, in Berlin, Germany. She has a career to launch.

Stalwart Katia Mahler is a sixty-six year-old German invalid who grew up in post-World War II East Berlin. She has a story to tell.

Enigmatic Oskar Schultmann brings together the journalist and the storyteller. Maddy’s task: to chronicle Katia Mahler’s life.

All three of them discover more to Katia’s story than they bargained for.

Cultures and generations clash, as the young American and the German matron strive to understand each other’s present and past. Maddy learns more than a personal history; Katia receives more than a memoir. And always in the background is Oskar, who gets drawn into the story in ways he never intended.

Peek behind the Iron Curtain and over the Berlin Wall as Katia’s story—the story of a lost generation from a failed state—comes to life through the scribbled notes of a girl struggling to grasp the significance of what she has written for her own life as well as for future generations.

- - - - -

I hope to have the manuscript for Katia in to the publisher within a month. It's my most exciting work so far. Can't wait to share it with you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

'Nuther Update!

A Prophet's Tale: The Journey Begun has finished all editing and cover design. It went to the printer this morning. Estimates are three weeks for printer approval, then three more weeks for it to get posted for availability on,, etc.

My apologies in advance, but expect a spam from me in the not-too-distant-future! :-)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Coming Soon! (no, really)

Take a look! It's official. See, I haven't been kidding!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Meghan Clare McCann

The newest member of the McCann/Judisch clan entered the world at 5:19 pm today. 9 lbs 6 oz, 20.5 in. Labor was 5.5 hours. (See pix) Mom, Dad and young 'un are doing fine. Grandparents are marginal. Say a prayer of thanks.

Baby McCann, by Janelle & Collin McCann - (Blessings, Inc)


It is 2:45 pm and the first edition of Baby McCann is due off the presses at any moment. Authors are intently engaged with final editing. Final release specifics will be posted as soon as available.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Night Watchman, by Mark Mynheir (Multnomah)

(Click cover for more information)

In a genre in which it's becoming increasingly difficult to find something unique, something fresh, The Night Watchman is indeed a uniquely fresh find. Mr. Mynheir delivers a no-punches-pulled story that delves deeply into the struggle between unrelenting evil in its most vile form and the tenacity of a man's spirit in its most glorious form--underpinned by the power of God's grace.
Ex-detective Ray Quinn, formerly of the Homicide Division of the Orlando Police Department (OPD), is a near-cripple. A year ago, two of three 9-mm slugs fired at point-blank range forced his reliance on a cane. The third took the life of his partner and fiancé, Trisha. The guilt he assumes over her death--paired with the pain and hopelessness of his new, barely ambulatory life--gives him no rest, haunting his nights and clouding his days. The shooting remains unsolved, the trail gone cold.
Ray now languishes as the night watchman at an upscale condominium complex, wasting away his nights over a Sudoku book and his days over a whiskey glass. His shift partner, Crevis Creighton, is a young buck with law-enforcement aspirations, more enthusiasm than gray matter, and he drives Ray nuts.
A suicide-murder at the complex involving an urban missionary and an exotic dancer brings Pam White into Ray's life. Pam is the pastor's sister, a vibrantly unapologetic Christian, and a fierce adherent to the belief that her brother is innocent of the crime. She convinces Ray to investigate what she believes to be a double murder. Pam is attractive, tenacious, prayerful, and she drives Ray nuts.

Circumstances--but mostly his ascerbic personality--alienate Ray from his former boss and co-workers in the Homicide Division, and force him to accept Crevis' and Pam's help in tracking down the truth surrounding the crime. The stumbling investigation of this unlikely trio takes them into the seedy world of "adult" entertainment, the smoke-filled backrooms of the local political establishment, and even the crowded offices of Ray's old workplace--the OPD. Together, they keep one limping half-step ahead of the police and the bad guys through the final twist of this serpentine tale of intrigue, deception and murder.

Kudos to Mr. Mynheir for an innovative spin on a story that, in less capable hands, could've been just another whodunnit with a quirky cast. His innate knoweldge of the subject matter, skillful character development, and subtlely devised plot progression make The Night Watchman a truly enjoyable read. If you like a fast-paced, high-tension story with a believably lovable/irritating lead protagonist and a uniquely gifted supporting cast, you've found it in The Night Watchman.

Good stuff; highly recommended!
Oh, by the way, I have a free copy of The Night Watchman I'd be happy to send to the first person who makes it all the way through this review, and leaves a comment telling me where I misspelled a word and that they'd like to have the book. Happy hunting!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Update on A Prophet's Tale!

I heard from OakTara this past week. (Yes!) I've sent them a revision to The Journey Begun, and should have the first proof sheets in hand next week. Once we're mutually happy with the manuscript, things should roll pretty quickly. Of course, will keep you all posted, as soon as I hear a target date for release. (Of course!)

The senior editor is also halfway through The Word Fulfilled manuscript submission, and things are looking good for a contract on the final part of A Prophet's Tale.

Oh, and I've begun work on my next novel. No, not tellin' just yet. All I'll say is that it has nothing to do with Jonah (bless his heart!).

Cheers! Bruce

New Link - HeartBeat the Magazine

There's a great resource for inspirational online Christian reading - HeartBeat the Magazine. Everything from book reviews (yup, some'll be mine) to everyday Christian living to current events to recipes--they've got it all.

Check it out. You'll enjoy it!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pilgrimage, by Christine Sunderland (OakTara)

(Click cover for more information)

Twenty-two years ago, Madeleine Seymour suffered every parent's worst fear. Now the nightmares are back.

In Pilgrimage, Ms. Sunderland does a great job of telling a tough story--that of an agonized mother seeking spiritual and emotional redemption.

Pilgrimage begins with Madeleine confiding in her beloved pastor of the distant event that has returned to haunt her nights. He recommends a break, a 'vacation' to Italy, where she and her husband, Jack, had traveled years ago. This time, however, he draws up a list of twelve churches that she is to visit in the order listed. He doesn't say why; he leaves that discovery to her.

So, Madeline and Jack embark on a three-week journey, the itinerary of which includes Rome, Milan, Venice, Bologna, as well as other cultural/religious centers in Italy. At each stop, Madeleine takes another step toward spiritual healing, understanding and self-forgiveness through the lives and lessons of the saints--living and dead--who inhabit the churches they visit.

What is uniquely fascinating about Pilgrimage, is the history--Biblical and traditional--the reader learns about each of these centers of worship and their patrons. Not to fear, though, that it reads like a travelogue; Ms. Sunderland, although thorough and highly descriptive in her treatment of the religious sites, does a great job of weaving this information into a multi-threaded storyline. It is, after all, a novel. As Madeleine focuses on the issue depriving her of sleep, a subplot of intrigue builds against her because of an object she carries. What is it? Sorry.

Ms. Sunderland betrays an intense love and profound respect for the richness and glory of God-centered liturgy, something sorely lacking in evangelical Christianity today--let alone Christian fiction. She delivers historical-ecclesiastical information in an interesting and entertaining way through the characters' dialog and meditations, avoiding pedantic narrative digressions. Her prose is excellent, descriptions vivid, plot revelations subtle, and love for/knowledge of her subject evident.

Oh, and you also learn a lot about what to eat and drink in Italy (Jack's primary interest). The descriptions of their meals had me scrambling for the 'fridge more often than necessary. There's a drawback, if you're looking for one.

.I am really glad Ms. Sunderland wrote this book. It entertains, educates, and makes you think, all at the same time and in an even balance. I can think of two people right off the top of my head I'm going to order copies for. Looking forward to reading her next novel, Offerings, soon to be released by OakTara.

.Thanks, Christine!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Stones Cry Out, by Sibella Giorello (Revell)

(Click cover for more information)
Another first! Although I’ve reviewed multiple works by the same author in the past, this is the first time I’ve reviewed two in a row. Doin’ it now, ‘cuz it’s worth it.

It’s not at all difficult to see why Sibella Giorello’s first novel, The Stones Cry Out, garnered a Christy Award. The subject matter is engaging and borderline controversial, the protagonist’s perspective unique, the ensemble of characters intriguing, and the writing style daring. My goodness, where do you go to follow to that act? (Well, actually, you go here).

Subject matter: Civil rights investigation. During a racially charged demonstration, two people fall to their deaths from the roof of an abandoned factory (incidentally, the focus of the demonstration). One is a white cop, the other a black ex-boxer. The local police are handling the crime scene, but politicos have prompted the FBI to launch a parallel civil-rights investigation. This creates the perfect setting for a conflict triangle. One leg of the triangle is tension between local law enforcement and the Feds, whose respective processes and agendas inevitably collide. The second leg comes from Richmond's Southside community, who have nothing but contempt for both the locals and the Feds. The third is internal conflict within all three of these entities, as individual biases clash and reverberate throughout the story. And they all need each other, if the truth is ever to come to light.

Protagonist’s perspective: Our heroine, Raleigh Harmon, is an FBI agent with a background in forensic geology. She’s been with the Bureau long enough to know her way around, but not long enough to become cynical beyond redemption. Both of those factors become at times assets, at times liabilities. Her boss wants the investigation shelved: “Ask some questions. Pretend we’re interested, then close the case.” Why? Civil-rights cases can’t be solved; they’re lose-lose situations. Hence, pay some lip service and get on with more important things. Well, Raleigh just can’t get her head or her heart around that. (Which is why she’s our heroine).

Ensemble: Ms. Giorello compiles a fascinating and complex character grid, each member of which adding his/her own special weight to Raleigh’s already mind-bending load. The pressing memory of her murdered father compounds the delicate imbalance of her mentally and emotionally needy mother, effectively disquieting what should be the beleaguered agent's quieter moments. These personal pressures vie for position with the bulging tension triangle that demands her quasi-secretive professional attention. She seems to have no relief from any quarter—save her faith.

Oh, and one scene in particular scares you to death. You’ll know when you get there.

Finally, writing style: In my estimation, this was a daring debut for a novelist, in that Ms. Giorello selected a first-person perspective, all present-tense narrative style. The first-person point of view (see specific comments on the style here) is not terribly unusual. The “historical present” tense is rarer—although she’s in really good company with the likes of Charles Dickens (selected passages in David Copperfield) and St. Mark (much of The Gospel According to Mark). She makes it work. Add to this a distinctive and enjoyable writing voice, and you’re in business.

Be prepared to ride the emotional rollercoaster. My wife, Jeannie, on more than one occasion looked at me like I’d lost it when I’d burst out laughing at one of Raleigh’s sardonic one-liners or witty dialog runs. Where do you find room to laugh anywhere in a storyline as heavy as the one I’ve just described? Well, pick up the book and find out for yourself. There's no way you'll ever regret it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I know, it's been awhile. Not even a Quote of the Week. I can only appeal to the tyranny of manuscript editing. I'll try to do better.


It's worth the wait if you read my last review. Good book!

Here's wishing you all a wonderful Holy Week. He is risen!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Rivers Run Dry, by Sibella Giorello (Thomas Nelson)

(Click cover for more information)

If you're looking for a great, edge-of-the-seat crime novel with a unique perspective, you've found it. In The Rivers Run Dry, Ms. Giorello introduces you to the gritty world of FBI field work, but through the eyes of Special Agent Raleigh Harmon, a forensic geologist by training. Forensic geology. I didn't even know that existed--but then, why wouldn't it?

The story is set in and around the Cascade Mountains in Washington state (what better setting for a geological slant?). A young woman, Courtney VanAlstyne, goes missing while hiking the trails of Cougar Mountain. The only child of a wealthy and well connected family, political pressure is intense and immediate that Courtney be found. The family is convinced it's a kidnapping; the law enforcement establishment, not so convinced.

Enter Special Agent Harmon, recently transferred for disciplinary cause from her home state of Virginia to the Pacific Northwest. Her technical and professional skills are beyond reproach. Her political acumen is not. We meet Raleigh perservering under a cloud of distrust from both the professional black mark in her records and a concrete gender barrier in the male-dominated Violent Crimes unit. Prodded and pushed without mercy or support by her supervisor and her training agent, she navigates the back streets of Seattle and the back trails of the Cascades in search of anything that may shed light on the rich girl's disappearance. She tackles the case the hard way: clue by clue, step by misstep.

Ms. Giorello delves into a wide variety of issues through Raleigh's personal and professional life as she touches and is touched by a colorful supporting cast. She does a marvelous job of weaving them seamlessly into the story line instead of basting them awkwardly over the fabric of... Wait. This is supposed to be a geological slant. What am I doing at the sewing machine? Let me try again.

Crystalline flecks of humor, pathos, frustration and dogged determination sparkle across the lustrous grain of a polished, rock-solid story line...

Okay, okay. Now you know why Sibella got the publishing contract and not me. (sigh!)

Enough fun. This was a great read. Ms. Giorello constructs a squeaky-tight, well paced plot involving multi-dimensional characters who are real enough that you love them one moment and want to slap them silly the next. You learn a lot about both geology and crime-investigation techniques without getting lost in technical jargon. You also learn a lot about human nature as it bends, and sometimes breaks, under the pressure of society, religion and its own weight.

Highly recommended. The Rivers Run Dry rocks! (Sorry, I had to do that.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Coming Soon!

Initial cover design for A Prophet's Tale: The Journey Begun

Saturday, March 14, 2009

There's Movement!

I sent the manuscript for the second and final volume on A Prophet's Tale to OakTara this afternoon. They acknowledged receipt and told me that the volume currently under production has gone to the graphic designer for cover work. Stuff's happenin'!

I just think that's so cool... :-)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mixed Signals, by Liz Curtis Higgs (Multnomah)

(Click cover for more information)

‘Nuther great book. She’s on a roll.

Ms. Higgs sets Mixed Signals in the radio industry, one with which she’s intimately familiar, being a radio personality herself. Her comfort with the broadcasting environment (there’s even a glossary of jargon at the beginning of the book) is as evident as her comfort with the genre. And that’s really comfortable.

This one is going to be difficult to summarize for two reasons:

First, I would like to fuss over our heroine, Belle O’Brien, but I’m still nursing a crush on Emily Getz, and, well, you know about two-timers… Belle is a treat in her own right—a very believable personality with just enough angst to make her lovable (but not be annoyed with), just good looking enough to want to meet (but not drool over), and has just enough faith to grow with (not roll your eyes at). In her mid-thirties, love has studiously avoided Belle through the years of her ‘prime’. Her career as a disc jockey has soared with the eagles and crash-landed with the dodo birds alternately—making empathy with her story even more attainable.

Second, the story offers an early twist that a thorough synopsis will only spoil. Suffice it to say that Belle comes to Abingdon, Virginia, to anchor middays at a start-up oldies radio station. A former colleague has enticed her away from one of the dodo-bird landings in Chicago, and she accepts, wondering if perhaps there may be more to the job offer than just a job. That’s all you get to hear about that.

She meets Norah, who becomes her landlord and best friend; runs into David (literally), the station engineer, who harbors some subtle secrets of his own; jousts with Patrick, the infuriatingly charming owner and station manager, and—well, there’s a whole cast of characters who color the story in their own unique ways. As you’d expect, adventures and misadventures abound in Belle’s world as she finds her way to love through her angst, her faith and With A Little Help From Her Friends (yes, that’s an oldies pun and I’m just hokey enough to be proud of it.)

Ms. Higgs’ pen again flows with a subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—witty prose that is a joy to read. Gentle sub-plots undergird the story that enhance its pathos and deliver its message of hope in wonderful style. This is another sure bet, if you like quirky realism and human interest that really is interesting.

(Two-timing aside; Emily, if you don't start answering my e-mails, you may just get bumped by Belle. Last chance.)

Thanks, Liz, for another delightful story. (I got all three words in this time, if you noticed.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Still Here...

Sorry for the lack of postings lately, all. It's the tyranny of the editing process. The manuscript is now at version three and Jeannie is reading it for the first time. If it gets past her eagle eye with an assessment that there's at least some hope of salvaging it, I should have it to the publisher by the end of this month. It's trimmed from over 109,ooo words to just under 104,000.

Will keep you posted and I plan to have another review up within a couple of days.

Thanks for your patience. (Not that this blog really impacts on your lives or anything...)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I Can't Believe It's Over...Almost

I began my series on Jonah in the summer of 2002 on a business trip to the Washington, DC area. I finished it this afternoon on a business trip to the Washington, DC area. I discovered I wasn't ready for that.

The minute I typed the last line of the last scene, I looked down at it...wondered if I wanted to finish that way...reread the scene segment...decided that was the way I'd end it...and my eyes immediately watered up and I got all chokey. (What??)

Yeah, I know: I've been slow-roasting my guy card for awhile now, but it's finally burst into flames. Jonah has uttered his last line in my story and I'm a mess. Now, how does that happen?

Oh, we'll meet again (see my last Quote of the Week), that's for sure. The really tedious part now begins of going back over the manuscript and editing...and re-editing...and re-editing. I edited the second volume of the series a full eight times--and who knows how many partial edits?--before I got smart and sent it off to a professional editor to shred. When I got it back, I edited it two more times before I submitted it. I wonder how many times I'll edit this one before I send it to my editor. It's kind of like cleaning up before the maid service arrives.

Ben Amittai: First Call was a 39,000-word novella. A Prophet's Tale: The Journey Begun ended up at about 89,500 words (closer to where Ben Amittai should have been...). The final volume (first draft) is sitting at around 109,000 words. The editing will trim it back, but it'll still end up being longer than either of its predecessors.

But, you know, I really like every one of those 109,000 words. It's a good story. I just hope someone else will like it as much as I do; that is, as much as I do before I start editing...and re-editing...and...oh, well.

Quote of the Week

Editing your manuscript is the revenge your characters get on you for thinking you were running their lives. - Bruce Judisch (whoever he is...)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Love Finds You in Last Chance California, by Miralee Ferrell (Summerside)

(Click cover for more information)

You’ll recall I reviewed a contemporary novel by Miralee Ferrell not too long ago. In that book, her desire to write from the heart, to encourage, to edify, all came through loud and clear. They just did again, only 130 years earlier.

What, you ask? Let me ‘splain.

Love Finds You in Last Chance California—yes, yes, I know; enough about my guy card, okay?—is a recent addition to Summerside’s “Love Finds You” collection, and the first contribution by Ms. Ferrell. Great debut in the genre!

In it, she takes us back to 1877 California, where she’s crafted a well-researched and tightly written novel inspired by a real person of that era and venue. Our heroine, Alexia “Alex” Travers, has unexpectedly inherited her father’s horse ranch at his untimely death. She strives to keep the ranch solvent, encountering along the way all the resistance and bias you might expect of that period regarding a woman running a ranch full of male wranglers. Add to the mix the romantic interest the community’s now most eligible bachelorette draws—including those more ambitious for her land than smitten by her charm—and a hidden conspiracy to drive her into ruin, and you’ve got a fast-paced story that rarely lets up.

Ms. Ferrell celebrates the grit and determination of an independent woman who is determined to make a success of her father’s legacy. However, along the way she discovers independence is not all it’s cracked up to be. For Alex learns true independence includes dependence upon God, family and good friends—not to mention a very special friend; one who enters her story and her life in a rather inauspicious, but singularly intriguing, way.

If you like stories of the Old West where you can hear the creak of well worn saddle leather, smell pungent sage and aromatic fir, and feel the sweat and satisfaction of taming a wild land at every page turn, this is a good bet.

Oh, did I mention there’s romance? Umm, well, yes, there’s that. But take heart, guys. Somebody gets shot at, too.

Presumed Guilty, by James Scott Bell (Zondervan)

(Click cover for more information)

An author like James Scott Bell has little need for a review from the likes of me—but then again, neither did Cec Murphey, or TL Hines, or Joe Hilley, or…well, you get the picture. But I’m gonna do it anyway just as a way of saying thanks for a really good read.

And Presumed Guilty was just that: a really good read.

Mr. Bell tackles several delicate subjects in this legal thriller: pornography, post traumatic stress disorder, marital infidelity, physical abuse, and—perhaps worst of all—presumption of grace. Sprinkle in shady politics and corruption in the legal system and you have all the ingredients for a hard-hitting, thought-provoking novel that balances all these evils with dogged faith and unrelenting loyalty by those who are hurt the most.

What I appreciated most about Presumed Guilty was Mr. Bell’s ability to deliver realism without abandoning hope. There seems to be a line of demarcation in Christian literature today (or fiction that presumes to be Christian; or perhaps spiritual is a better word—no matter). Off to one side of the line is the story that supports itself on theologically correct platitudes that do little to comfort the afflicted—indeed, that leave the afflicted worse off by feeling guilty that the platitudes do not satisfy, believing that somehow they should. At the other extreme is the story that, in striving to be “real,” denies (or marginalizes) faith and perseverance that are very real, through which people can and do overcome. I’ve read both types over the past few months. I’ve reviewed neither.

I thank Mr. Bell for straddling the line so well; one foot planted firmly in the reality of faith, one foot just as firmly in the reality of the mortal. And even more importantly, he then sees them through to reconciliation.

In Presumed Guilty, you feel the gut-wrenching tearing of the soul, the spirit, and the faith in the victimized. You cry, slam the wall with your mental fist, and agonize with the character whose soul is tormented beyond his desire or ability to pray it away. At the same time, you also put your emotional shoulder alongside the beleaguered heroine and strain and sweat for all you’re worth in lifting the burden you know she can’t share, carrying the load you know is hers alone. And you lay exhausted with both of them as they fall prostrate before the Almighty not because they choose to, but because they have to, because the weight of the world crushes them there. But the faith that kept them flat on their faces, when the world’s heroes tell them to get back up and fight, lifts them to a greater level than they could have ever achieved playing the stoic.

The synopsis? No, read the book. There's no risk in ordering this one.

So, thanks, Mr. Bell, for…well, for a really good—and honest—read.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Quote of the Week

About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment. - Josh Billings

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bookends, by Liz Curtis Higgs (Multnomah)

(Click cover for more information)

So, I'm in the bookstore the week before Christmas. There's a few bucks of my shopping allowance left and Jeannie likes to read, so let's see what's available. I scan the shelves and my eye stops on a really classy cover design. It's got old books on it--which I'm a sucker for--so it's at least worth pulling off the shelf for a look-see.

Hmmm...Bookends. Clever title (I think). Let's see what else it's got going for it

Top endorsement reads, "Witty, charming, delightful". I cringe. All the testosterone in my hand and halfway up my arm jumps ship.

Backmatter leads with, "Opposites attract? Maybe not." Okay, I've got this one nailed: "relationship book."

Jeannie'll like that; I won't have to. My 'guy card' is still recovering from an earlier review, but I think I'm safe having it in the house.

Jeannie finishes the book after Christmas around the same time I finish the book I just reviewed, a real guy's book—sweaty and everything.

"You want to try this one?" Jeannie smiles. “It’s good. Witty. Charming—“

“Yeah, I know. Delightful.” I just look at her.

She lays it on my bedside table.

That night at bedtime, I reach over a pick up the top book on my stack of 'to-reads'. Bookends. “Oh, well,” I sigh. “Let's give it a shot.”

I finished it today.

I know my guy card is in for another major hit, but, my goodness, people! This book was fantastic! I’ve never read a story penned with more wit, charm and—wait. Let me back up.

Ms. Higgs has got to have the most clever writing voice of just about anyone I’ve ever read. She snagged me in Bookends from the first chapter to the last as much with her writing style as with her characters and story line. How she was able to deliver the innermost thoughts of two so entirely different people—the Bookends—with such acute insight, pathos, and humor, is nothing less than a work of art.

Oh, yes. The story.

Bookend #1 is Emily Getz. Historian. PhD. Petite. Prim. Proper. Thirty-six years old. Inextricably immersed in an orderly, comfortable, predictable, safe life of academia from which she has no desire to come up for air—nor would she even know how to, if the desire were there.

Did I say “inextricably”?

Enter Bookend #2. Jonas Fielding, land and community developer. Cleverly brash, infuriatingly masculine, and playfully spontaneous. Mr. Fielding is a visionary who approaches his excavation of undeveloped land methodically, with exactness and unwavering purpose. The same Mr. Fielding decides to approach the extrication of drum-tight (and, in his estimation, undeveloped) Dr. Emily Getz in like manner.

Emile has returned home to Lititz, Pennsylvania, on a mission of the greatest personal and professional importance. Key to its success is a quarter-acre patch of ground under which she is certain rests a profoundly important archaeological artifact. Jonas has come to Lititz to develop a top-notch, professional-grade golf course in which both the community and he have invested a considerable amount of money. Key to its success is a quarter-acre patch of ground ideal for the all-important eighteenth green. You see where this is going, right?

Needless to say, Jonas’ intent to extricate Emile—along with his growing, albeit awkwardly expressed, love for the woman—collide with his intent to excavate that quarter-acre of ground. Emile’s intent to remain snuggled in her cozy academic cocoon—along with her own intentions for that patch of ground—collide with a growing, albeit stubbornly resisted, interest in Jonas. The result is a hilarious, poignant, and thought-provoking comedy of connects and disconnects, communications and miscommunications, that provokes out-loud laughter on one page and somber head-shaking on the next.

Ms. Higgs buffers her story delicately with the lives and influences of family and friends in and outside Lititz, each bringing their own strengths and weaknesses into Jonas’ and Emile’s blossoming relationship. You also learn loads about the Moravian Church community of Lancaster County in which the story basks. But mostly you learn a little more about life, love and the role faith plays in both of them.

Wow, I can’t recommend this enough! Great book, wonderful read. I’d even go so far as to say it’s witty, charming, and—(stop it!).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Quote of the Week

First you're an unknown, then you write one book and you move up to obscurity. - Martin Myers

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Double Take, by Joe Hilley (River Oak)

(Click cover for more information)

It’s round two for our hero Mike Connolly, and it’s a doozy. Mike’s challenges in Double Take, the second in Mr. Hilley’s “Mike Connolly Mystery” series, make his first case (see Sober Justice) seem fairly tame.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s try here:

Mike Connolly is retained by a certain Harvey Bosarge, who is an apparent suspect in a overkill bombing that vaporized a member of a prominent local family. I say “apparent.” You could attach that descriptor to just about everybody in this crime novel, as almost nobody is who they seem to be—especially Mr. Bosarge. Caught up in an investigation that involves a half-dozen federal agencies, various local law enforcement agencies, as well as private security personnel, Mike weaves his way through a maze of intrigue and deceit that seems to have no end.

Navigating the now familiar landmarks of Mobile Bay and it surroundings, we travel into the oozing black mud of the Alabama bayou, seedy back streets hosting a variety of activities few people of scruples would choose to discuss, and even on to the French Quarter of New Orleans in all its scandalous glory. All this to track an odd-bedfellow collection of characters caught up in political corruption, drug smuggling and the sex trade. Oh, the fun just goes on!

Mike brings his own foibles to the table, much as we saw in Sober Justice. Mr. Hilley shows us a very real Mike Connolly—now sober and saved—who struggles with the demons of his past life. He takes two steps forward and slips back one—much like many of us who have emerged from a dark, pre-Christian past and have baggage to unload that, at times, seems to stick to our hands. We all understand Mike, we all sympathize with Mike, and many of us empathize with Mike.

If you like a grass-roots tale of crime and consequences—physical, moral and spiritual—Double Take is a sure bet.

Ready for round three!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Other Daughter, by Miralee Ferrell (Kregel Publications)

(click cover for more information)
I may very possibly lose my "guy card" with this review, but, hey, if a book captures you, it captures you.
The Other Daughter is the first novel in Ms. Ferrell's "Coming Home" series, and it's a solid debut. She takes on a variety of tough issues--fornication, an illegitimate child, abuse, abandonment, alcohol, and more--and handles them directly and honestly, but with compassion. The above description may sound like it makes for rather dark reading. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Suzanne Carson's birthday preparations are interrupted by a simple knock at the door. That knock is the last simple thing that happens to the Carson family for the next several months of their lives. For standing on the doorstep is bedraggled thirteen year-old Brianna, who claims that Suzanne's husband, David, is her father. Needless to say, this presents Suzanne with something of a problem.
David is a Christian. Suzanne is not. David had promised her that he entered their marriage bed pure. Suzanne was the only one who actually did. Both Suzanne and David are forced to deal with the consequences of his indiscretion in their own ways. But, as so often happens, the one who ends up hurt the most is the one who is most innocent--Brianna.
Ms. Ferrell writes from the heart to touch the heart. What she delivers is a very intricate, multidimensional story that covers the spectrum of emotions from shock and disbelief, through anger and distrust, but finally to faith and redemption. And she does it very well.
With the exception of a couple minor scene disconnects, which really don't mar the storyline itself, The Other Daughter is skillfully knit together, a product of enduring quality. If you like your heartstrings tugged, this is a book for you.
Okay, so why the "guy card" thing? Well, I confess to being intrigued by the synopsis of The Other Daughter on Ms. Ferrell's Web site; however, this is not your archetypal men's book. Case in point: There are six very nice author endorsements on the first page--all by women. A quick scan of the thirty reader reviews so far on (this will be the thirty-first) revealed only two or three that were clearly identifiable as being from men. But, you know, that's okay. Really. I'm not intimidated.
You'll have to excuse me now. I've got cookies in the oven.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Quote of the Week

It is not a bad idea to get in the habit of writing down one's thoughts. It saves one having to bother anyone else with them. - Isabel Colegate