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