Thursday, December 1, 2011

Great Lady, Great Author, Great Cause

Please scroll to the bottom of this page for a really important notice.

Thanks so much!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lost, by Ed Lewis (Cape Arago Press)

A storyline you don't expect; a tale you won't forget.

In Lost, Mr. Lewis treats us to glimpses of the past, present, and a possible future, and ties them together in an intriguing tale that juxtaposes deception with integrity, and grief with hope.

The story opens with an engaging monolog by a minor--or at least, not-as-major--character, who sets the stage with glimpse into the past and its application to the present. Then we're off and running...

A brief visit to Delhi, India, where a top-secret scientific breakthrough lauches us into the initial foray between deception and integrity. Dr. "Derek" has invented the capability every military commander in the world covets. Today, that translates to untold billions of dollars for the firm that can bring it from the laboratory to the battlefield. And Mr. Winston Ridgely of the RCI Corporation intends to do just that.

Skip to Pine Crest, Oregon, where Viet Nam veteran, now newspaper owner/editor, Tom Jenkins and his wife, Marty share a quiet life--a life that is about to be turned upside down. Marty embarks on an Alaskan cruise as a member of a singing group. Then, only a couple of days out, the ship runs afoul of RCI's field-testing their newly acquired capability.

Enter grief vs. hope. The Coast Guard gives up on the chances that there are any survivors, but Tom can't let go of the feeling that Marty is still alive. His conviction sends him on a mission that ranges from the cruise line's home office in London, England, to Oregon's backwoods. Driven by his obsession, he ignores the sentiments piling up against him by well meaning friends who counsel him to move on, that he must reconcile himself to his wife's death. He just can't do that--oh, did I mention his granddaughter was also on the cruise? Yeah. Now you see.

But who is right: Tom or everyone else? What really happened to the Paradise Voyager, its passengers and crew?

Mr. Lewis toys with mysticism, but not too much; flirts with science fiction, but doesn't cross the genre line. What he does is produce a unique story that pits the staying power of love and devotion against the forces of 'fate' manipulated by the intervention of greedy men.

Well researched and thoughtfully written, this is a story you'll ponder well beyond the final page.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Yesterday's Tomorrow, by Cathy West (OakTara)

In 1954, Malcolm Taylor, a noted foreign-affairs journalist, kissed his daughter at the front door, said goodbye, and promised to come back. He didn't.
In 1967, Kristin Taylor, a budding novice journalist, followed her father's trail to find out why.

So begins a gritty and heart-rending tale of integrity, faith and perseverance in two war-torn countries: Vietnam and the United States.

In Saigon, Kristin meets up--or rather, is forced into reluctant collaboration--with Luke Maddox, a photojournalist who irks Kristin in just about every way imaginable. And she reciprocates. Little do either of them know that Kristin's determination to follow through on a story her father had begun the previous decade and Luke's hidden past are intertwined. Finally, her self-imposed assignment, an exposé on a secret war within a war, threatens to explode both of their worlds, which have now become one.

Professionally, Kristin excels in her honest portrayal of a conflict gone so wrong, endearing herself to the men she has come to respect and love. Personally, she doesn't do so well in shielding her emotions from the horror engulfing a nation she has also come to love. From the trauma of a blood-spattered field hospital, to the heat of battle at a forward fire base, to the precious and precarious existence of a Saigon orphanage, Kristin learns the hard way how to survive physically, mentally and emotionally in an environment man was never meant to endure.

Her love-hate relationship with Luke comes to a head, then Kristin is forced to return to the States. Like most veterans of that conflict, part of her she leaves in Vietnam, part of Vietnam she brings home with her. And life is never again the same.

Ms. West delivers an honest, compelling, and very well written tale of war and the aftermath of war. But it's not a mere blood-and-guts story. It's one of hope. She shows us how love and faith have curious and unexpected ways of sprouting even in the most barren soil. Yesterday's Tomorrow will leave you very satisfied at its conclusion, but don't expect the path to be strewn with rose petals. Few paths to meaningful destinations are.

As an endnote, Ms. West is represented by Rachelle Gardner of the Wordserve Literary Agency. Neither Ms. Gardner nor Wordserve are known for tolerating mediocrity. In Catherine West, and Yesterday's Tomorrow, they've advanced their excellent reputation.

This is a re-post of the ARC review I wrote prior to the book's release for Ms. West's blog tour. And yes, the story is just as good now as it was when I first read it.  ;-)

Monday, September 26, 2011

1 Step Away, by Eric Wilson (Bay Forest)

Why didn't I think of this? What a great premise--one that every Christian should consider; a book every American Christian should read.

Mr. Wilson has taken the age-old story of Job and turned it on its head. What if--just what if a man who had very little in the way of material wealth suddenly came into a fortune? How would it affect his faith? Could this windfall do to him what the deprivation of wealth failed to do to Job? And what if the same spirit who was behind Job's story were also behind this one? You see where this is going? Uh huh.

The Vreeland family is being watched. Their 'doom' is being plotted. They have little to their name, scraping to make ends meet, until...well, until $6,000,000 is unexpectedly dropped into their laps. All the expected emotions emerge: wonder, excitement, perhaps a little trepidation. But emotions are only the vehicles that transport action. What will they do with this fortune? What will it do with them?

Mr. Wilson covers all the angles, as the pressures of a sudden shift in socio-economic status takes its toll on the family of Bret and Sara Vreeland. The decisions they make in the face of this pressure will not only determine the future of their family, but reveal the substance of their faith.

Interesting? Sound like a nice, but rather linear plot? It might be in the hands of a lesser author than Eric Wilson. But what I haven't told you is the one-two punch poised before the Vreelands' noses, the seemingly apparent plotline that suddenly diverges into two threads, and what you thought was predictable is anything but that.

This is not only an entertaining novel, it's a study in human nature. Worthy of individual contemplation and group discussion, 1 Step Away offers a lot in 379 pages. You can't help but put yourself in the place of the Vreelands, and, instead of asking yourself, "Man, what would I do with all that money?" you ask "Man, what would I do about all that money?" 1 Step Away may surprise you with your own answer.

Highly recommended. Get the book.

Oh! And watch the trailer here. It's really good.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Lights of Home, by Amanda Morgan (OakTara)

.In The Lights of Home, Ms. Morgan links past and present tales--with a supernatural twist--in the fiction-fertile soil of Washington State.

First in the series "Legends of the Sanctuary Tree," The Lights of Home finds archaeologist Jill Reade coming into an unexpected inheritance: a bed & breakfast she neither has the time for, nor really even wants. Circumstances beyond her control (but not beyond God's) strand her at the property, where she meets a supporting cast of quirky characters, all of whom try their best to convince her to keep the estate--all but one, that is.

Odd occurrences, unexplainable, bring the disparate group together where they must rely on each other for both emotional and physical survival. What Jill learns from them sparks her transformation from a blunt stalwart loner to a ... well, you'll see what she becomes.

Lurking in the background all the while are shadowy figures of the past, who contribute their own unique influence not only to Jill's change of heart, but to all those they touch.

Ms. Morgan has a gift for description and is clearly familiar with the setting in which her story takes place. Her vivid imagery transports you from snow-bound forests to pine glens ripe with summer life--and portrays the drama of nature and life played through both. If you love the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, or think you might, The Lights of Home will provide a satisfying read.

The Lights of Home was provided free of charge for this review.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Deception Pass, by Vanessa Tyler (OakTara)

Deception Pass is a gently written tale of acceptance and grace. Set on Whidbey Island, tucked into Washington State's Puget Sound, we follow newcomer Calla Livingston who has come to tutor the children of a prominent family of the island--until it's discovered that she's half Cherokee, half white.

A tumultuous past between the white settlers and the native Indians of Whidbey Island leaves her ostracized by both sides as a 'half-breed'. Now jobless, and with no prospect of fitting into society, Calla is determined to return back East to her widowed father. Accepting a kind gentleman's offer to live on his property and keep house for him, while earning her return fare sewing for a local seamstress, Calla begins to settle into life on the island.

Time softens her resolve to leave, as does her encounter with the elusive Aaron Dutch, a native who had been adopted into the family of a local lumber merchant. Secrets in his past and uncertainty in her future jostle their blossoming relationship, until it begins to crumble when Aaron is suddenly accused of murder. Does she follow her heart, or heed the warnings of what seems to be a condemning array of evidence mounting against this enigmatic and troubled young man?

The answer lies in the pages of Deception Pass, not on this blog.

Note: OakTara provided a free copy of this book for review.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

No Child of Mine, by Kelly Irvin (Five Star Publishing)

The perfect sequel to A Deadly Wilderness.

Ms. Irvin takes us once again to the the stark outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, where an unforgiving wilderness hides a horrible secret--one that history now threatens to repeat.

Discovery of a shallow grave containing the remains of a five-year-old murder launches a team of homicide detectives and a deputy sheriff on a manhunt for the perpetrator. A simultaneous kidnapping splits the team's efforts between bringing to justice the murderer and the kidnapper. Their quandry: how to prioritize their time between the case of a living victim and a dead one. Seems like a simple answer, save the niggling uneasiness among the lawmen that the two crimes may well be related. For both of them involve young children.

Intense personal issues, as well as awkward professional and interpersonal relations, among the team's members complicate the intertwined investigations. And hovering over these issues is the lingering promise of faith and the consequences of denying it.

Ms. Irvin ramps up the tension at a measured pace until the pedal is against the metal and you best not let go of the steering wheel. If it reaches that point while you're settling down for a little bedtime reading, as it did for me, plan on a late night. It's just going to happen.

As the cover image implies, this is an advance reader's copy. No Child of Mine is due for release in August 2011. Glad I got a sneak preview.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TV Interview for "Katia"

My TV interview about "Katia" is playing today and tomorrow at Click on The Authors TV Show link in red font at the top of the home page. Kinda fun! Hope you'll take a look.

Monday, July 11, 2011

For Time and Eternity, by Allison Pittman (Tyndale House)

Allison Pittman is another gifted author who has no need of a review from me. But I'm writing one because I really just need to. Don't ask me why.

Ms. Pittman tackles a subject only a motivated and knowledgeable writer can handle well: Mormonism and Christianity. More people have gut-level reactions than erudite opinions on the subject, and I was among them until I read this book.

 For Time and Eternity is gutsy, fair, and extremely well written--oh, and don't forget entertaining. That's probably why it's a 2011 Christy Award finalist. It's neither a treatise nor an exposé, but rather a heart-gripping and heart-warming story of culture and faith, but mostly love.

Camilla Deardon is a Christian girl growing up in an austere pioneer environment--an environment that lends its austerity to the Christian instruction she receives from her stalwart mother, and enforced by her strict father. A Mormon encampment abuts their property, providing her the opportunity to observe from a distance their orderly and devout ways. It also provides her the opportunity to meet Nathan Fox, a young orphaned man rescued by a Mormon preacher from the streets back East with his sister Rachel. Mormonism's emphasis on community and familial love envelopes Nathan, he adopts the Prophet's teachings wholeheartedly, and is on his way to the new Zion at the shores of The Great Salt Lake.

A series of events thrusts Camilla into Nathan's arms and into the Mormon community, and she leaves her family and cleaves to her new love. Nathan's and Camilla's young family flourishes in the close community...until. It's the "until" that turns the heart-warming into the heart-gripping.

Ms. Pittman bestows on the reader more than insight into the early Mormon culture, more than a love story in search of a happy ending, but also an honest portrayal of a clash of faiths that engenders the gut-level reaction. Happily, it converts that reaction to the erudite opinion in an honest appeal to both the mind and the heart.

For Time and Eternity is the first in the Sister-Bride series. The ending of the book will have you tapping your fingers on the table waiting for the sequel.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Radio Interview

I had the privilege of being interviewed regardin Katia on The Christian Author's Show, which is being aired today and tomorrow at They did a great job editing. Please stop by and listen in. Thanks!

Saturday, June 11, 2011


After too long of a silence, wanted you all to know that the sequel to Katia (working title For Maria) is in it's fourth edit. This one has been as difficult to write as Katia was easy, for reasons I hope you'll understand when you read it.

So, stay tuned for Madeline and Brendon's life together, as well as the story of Lilli-Anna and Kammbrie, the lost twins. Those of you who read Katia will get this right away. If you haven't read Katia, well just shame on you! :-)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nick of Time, by Tim Downs (Thomas Nelson)


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This is without a doubt one of the most entertaining books I've read in a long time. Storyline, writing style, characterization, message--it's got it all. I knew after two chapters that even if I hated the rest of the book, it was still well worth the cover price; a safe assertion, as I was certain that worst-case scenario would not materialize. And of course it didn't.

Dr. Nick Polchak is a quirky, single-track-minded forensic entomologist with a sardonic wit as dry as the months-old puparia littering his college professor's desk, his car, and his life. Uh huh, forensic entomologist--solving crimes one bug at a time. He and Raleigh Harmon would get along famously, probably be engaged by the end of their second week if they didn't kill each other by the end of the first.
Oops. Strike that last sentence. Nick's already engaged. You're safe, Raleigh.

Meet Nick's fiancée, Alena Savard. Just-as-quirky Alena lives alone on the top of a hill. Well, almost alone. She has 41 dogs, at last count. And she trains them. No, not like rolling over and playing dead, but rather like pinpointing where someone else has rolled over and really died. Fun stuff like that. Oh, and she's r-e-a-l-l-y good at it. One snap of the fingers and a subtle hand motion, and one of her dogs could probably finish typing this review faster and better than I can. (Okay, no wisecracks necessary...)

Nick's proposal of marriage to Alena shocked them both. And he's pretty sure that he really wants to be married. It's the 'pretty' part that gets him into trouble. The week of his wedding, when it appears that one of his friends and colleagues is murdered, Nick figures he has enough time to do some sleuthing out of respect to his friend and still be back in plenty of time for the ceremony. Alena is less confident both that he really wants to be married and that he will make it back in time.

So the stage is set for a rollercoaster ride of a tale that has you laughing out loud on one page (multiple times) and sobering under a subtle revelation of human nature on the next. A huge twist toward the end brings you to a screeching halt, gives you a moment to scratch your head in disbelief, and then plunges off at bumblebee velocity in a completely different direction with you in hot pursuit.

If you enjoy a great crime thriller laced seamlessly with insightful human interest, and one that is pristinely written for the genre and voice, there is simply no other option than to get this book. You just can't not read it. Go ahead. Try me. See if I'm wrong.

Note: despite what I said about being worth the cover price, I'm obligated to mention that Thomas Nelson sent me this copy free of charge to review. It was a good move on their part, because they've garnered at least one more Tim Downs fan who will be purchasing more of his books quite promptly.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Apostle, by Ed Lewis (Cape Arago)

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The first two installments to the “The Seeds of Christianity” series, Witness and Disciple, set the expectations bar high. Apostle clears it with room to spare.

It was like a long-awaited reunion with dear friends when Rivka’s and Shem’uel’s names first appeared in this, Mr. Lewis’ most recent historical novel based upon the first-century founding of the Church. Having fled persecution in Jerusalem, the family travels to Antioch, where Shem’uel becomes the fledgling congregation’s senior elder, their episkipos. A supporting cast of memorable characters emerges one by one as the Gospel takes root and grows in the unlikeliest of spiritual and societal soil. Historical figures like Simon Peter, Paul and Barnabas blend effortlessly in with the fictional characters as they transit Antioch on their missions to plant and nurture the Way throughout the known world.

A true delight of “The Seeds of Christianity” is not just the great storyline, but the historical setting the author so brilliantly depicts. Mr. Lewis has one foot planted firmly in an ancient history class and the other in a creative writing class. And he’s acing both courses. You feel the heat of the potter’s kiln on your face and the and cool of the wine grapes on your bare feet as everyday life in the ancient Middle East comes alive on each page. We help Paul construct his tentmaker’s loom and Hadassah knead her barley bread, all the while learning a stark lesson in what daily survival demanded of the first Christenoi. The joy of the lesson, though, lies in the tale and the prose, both of which Mr. Lewis crafts as skillfully as Paul did his tents and Hadassah her loaves.

If you like a good story enhanced by a good education, the “The Seeds of Christianity” series is a sure bet for your money.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Peace, by Jeff Nesbit (Summerside)

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Imagine a Joel Rosenberg and Tom Clancy collaboration, add intensity, and you have Jeff Nesbit's Peace.

A page-turner that blends a geo-political-techno thriller with human interest and spiritual introspection, Peace offers a realistic look at the fragility of the Middle Eastern balance of power, if it can be considered a balance. Sound dry? Oh my, no!

What carries Mr. Nesbit's work beyond a scholarly treatise in Foreign Affairs is a gripping storyline that spans the gamut from the pristine Oval Office to a squalid covert prison camp in North Korea, the ornate halls of the Kremlin to a dusty tribal village in Malawi. What's surprising in that lopsided contrast is just who exerts more influence over the outcome of the story.

If you like international thrillers that take you through scenarios seemingly impossible to resolve--but plausible to conceive--drenched in suspense and intrigue, you've got a treat in store for you in the pages of Peace.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Singing in Babylon, by Ann Galia O’Barr (OakTara)

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Kate McCormack is a college graduate seeking a meaningful profession and relief from beneath suffocating debt. She travels unwarily far beyond her cultural and spiritual comfort zones to satisfy both goals.

Philip Tangvald is a journalist on assignment for a foreign affairs magazine seeking professional recognition and relief from a failed personal and spiritual past. He immerses himself in his work to satisfy both goals.

Kate’s and Philip’s respective quests bring them together in the unlikeliest of places: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Neither of them are prepared for the other. Each of them needs the other.

Thus Ms. O’Barr begins a story of maturation and self-discovery steeped in cultural and spiritual nuance. Arriving fresh to teach English to Middle Eastern female students, sheltered Kate nearly goes into shock confronted by the stifling environment of a single woman in an Islamic state. Philip rescues the hapless Kate from more than one social misstep, in the process becoming drawn to the young woman, the last thing he wants to happen. Kate finds his rescues annoying, but discovers herself warming to him, also the last thing on her agenda.

Together, they live what it means to be an expatriated Christian in a Muslim culture. His assignment on immigration trends—both legal and illegal—exposes their hearts to a world they previously only knew in their heads. Ms. O’Barr’s personal knowledge of the issues involved from her experience as a foreign service officer in the Middle East lend authenticity to the story. Her ability to portray this so well as a writer brings the issues home in an engaging way.

A thought-provoking, even-handed look at faith, culture and love, Singing In Babylon provides solid fodder for personal reflection and group discussion. Beware, though, that some of that reflection and discussion will be uncomfortable—as it should be.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mine Is the Night, by Liz Curtis Higgs (WaterBrook)

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I buy Liz Curtis Higgs' books just for the sheer joy of reading Liz Curtis Higgs. It really doesn't matter what she writes--well, it least it hasn't thus far (now don't go silly on me, Liz...)--it just matters that she writes. There, now that that's out of the way, let's get to the book.

First a disclaimer: I acknowledge that the cover--as nice as it is--puts my guy card in mortal danger. But if I can read this book on a Lifecycle at a military gym every afternoon and escape unscathed, y'all can cut me some slack, too.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes.

Of all Ms. Higgs' Scotland-series books, Mine is the Night was my favorite. The prequel, Here Burns My Candle, runs a close second, but Night is the clear winner. Picking up where Candle left off, Marjory Kerr, newly stripped of her nobility due to her support of the ill-fated Jacobite cause, flees Edinburgh to her hometown of Selkirk. With her is daughter-in-law Elizabeth Kerr, still in mourning from the loss of her husband in the battle at Fallkirk. With nowhere to go and nothing to her dishonored name, Marjorie finds a hostess in her cousin Anne, who begrudgingly takes them into her extremely modest dwelling.

Marjorie adapts her self-centered lifestyle to menial service in the home while Elizabeth supplements their meager income plying her needle and thread. Enter the Admiral Lord Jack Buchanan, Selkirk's newest resident, retired from a distinguished and highly profitable career in the service of King George's navy. Lord Buchanan needs a dressmaker to outfit his domestic staff, and Elizabeth needs work. What blossoms in the ensuing months of Elizabeth's employ to the Lord Admiral, though, is more than heather on the surrounding hills.

Lord Jack is immediately smitten by the lovely and graceful Elizabeth, and her interest in the dashing admiral grows equally as intense. Hindered by social propriety, the Kerrs' outlaw status as former supporters of Prince Charlie's rebellion, Elizabeth's prescribed year-long period of mourning, and their unwavering devotion to God and His expectations of them, the two must subdue their mutual attraction. But for how long? Ask Marjory, for she holds the key to their happiness. Suffice it to say that, in the end, God is honored. And those who honor Him, He blesses.

Those to whom Ms. Higgs has already endeared herself as a writer have no need of this review. They probably finished the book before I did. Those who enjoy a thoroughly satisfying story told by a master storyteller of the genre, but who've not yet had the joy of reading Liz Curtis Higgs--or even just this Liz Curtis Higgs work--are in for a treat. Really, really recommended; don't miss it.

WaterBrook was kind enough to send me a courtesy copy of Mine is the Night to review. Very thoughtful and greatly appreciated, but, honestly, I'd have purchased the book and reviewed it anyway.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Unforgivable, by Tessa Stockton (Risen Books)

This is one you won't soon forgetmaybe ever forget.

Ms. Stockton has selected a major league topic for her debut novel. It's the one element of the Lord's Prayer Jesus considered worthy of commentary in Matthew 6. It's arguably the single-most difficult commandment the Christian has to deal with, and concept for the non-Christian to deal with. It's an issue that's inextricably enmeshed with other equally difficult problems of the heart, like, oh say, pride. Guessed it yet? Yup.

It's forgiveness. But wait a sec.

Ms. Stockton didn't tackle this heady issue on only one plane, which would be challenging enough. Oh, no. She laid before her readers forgiveness in its purest multifaceted form: intra-personal, inter-personal and multi-personal. How she goes about it is the joy of the ride.

Our heroine, Genevieve, is at a quilting convention and trade show in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with her best friend, Sally, and her new friend, Paloma, an Argentinean craftswoman. A chance encounter at a restaurant with a man, Carlos, sends her heart into palpitations and her friends into shock. The problem: Carlos is one of Argentina's most notorious figures, an ex-military officer blamed for horrible atrocities committed during the Dirty War of the late 70s and early 80s. Chastised for her foolishness by Sally, and harangued for insensitivity by Paloma, whose family suffered personally at the hands of men like Carlos, Genevieve still can't shake what she perceives behind the eyes of this gentleman with a very ungentle history. But she begins to spend more time with him, despite the protestations of her closest friends.

What unfolds is an emotional and spiritual rollercoaster ride for Genevieve, who doesn't dismiss the evidence against the man with whom she's falling in love, or excuse his past, but deals with them at the level on which God is leading her. For she believes God has brought them together. Through her exposure to this enigmatic man of sorrows, Genevieve not only gains a historical lesson in Argentina's Dirty War, but an even more valuable spiritual lesson in what it means to forgive against the backdrop of the seemingly unforgivable.

Ms. Stockton strikes a chord with an intensity few writers have dared to. Many have written about forgiveness; Tessa writes forgiveness. If this story doesn't make you evaluate your response to what is perhaps Christ's toughest commandment, then either you're ready for sainthood or your conscience has abandoned you.

This review is based upon an advance copy Ms. Stockton was kind enough to provide me. I guarantee you, though, having already read the story will not stop me from buying my own copy of the book the minute it comes out. Bravo to Ms. Stockton on a strong debut in the first installment of her "Wounds of South America" series.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Shape of Mercy, by Susan Meissner (WaterBrook Press)

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 I’ve reviewed quite a few books over the past few years. Some I’ve had a lot of fun reviewing, some were more sober endeavors. But I haven’t actually feared reviewing any of them.
Until now.

Why fear? Well, because of the two things I think people fear most: the unknown and failure. I don’t know how to best approach representing this incredible story, and, regardless of the approach I choose, I’m certain I’ll fail to do the book justice.

So, you’re going to have to work with me here. Please be patient.

The Story. Lauren Durough is a young well-to-do university student in covert rebellion against her heritage. Abigail Broyles is an elderly well-to-do retiree in covert rebellion against her legacy. Interposed between them is Mercy Hayworth, an innocent victim of the horrific 17th-century Salem witchcraft trials. Okay, so how does that work? At the marvelously skillful hand of author Susan Meissner, it works exceedingly well.

Abigail retains Lauren to transcribe Mercy’s diary, a precious family heirloom. Lauren is to approach her task wrapped in a cloak of ignorance; that is, she must promise not to research the events surrounding the trials until she’s completed the transcription. Mercy Hayworth must be allowed to speak for herself, unfettered by historiography. Also woven into this cloak, though, is the real reason Abigail has selected Lauren as the transcriptionist, as is the effect the words of a simple girl from a distant era will have on her own self-perception.

An intriguing cast of supporting characters push and pull at Lauren throughout the story, adding their own contemporary thematic hue to the faded brown ink of Mercy’s ancient journal. Through it all, Lauren will either mature into her future or collapse under her past. There’s no other option.

The Writing. As writers, we’re encouraged to keep our readers on the edge, to force that next page turn, anything to breathe new life into the tired cliché “I couldn’t put it down.” There are techniques to do that, such as ending scenes and chapters with mini-cliffhangers, dangling questions that simply must be answered now. And gadgets like that have their place.

But then there’s writing like Ms. Meissner’s.

You know quality prose when you’re not sure you want to turn the next page, but find yourself compelled to do so—not because of a dangling question, but because the titanium thread binding the storyline blurs the distinction between pages, and so you go on. You have to. And you will.

Intense and honest, humorous and poignant; I’ve yet to read a book that I’d recommend more highly than The Shape of Mercy.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Yesterday's Tomorrow, by Catherine West (OakTara)

In 1954, Malcolm Taylor, a noted foreign-affairs journalist, kissed his daughter at the front door, said goodbye, and promised to come back. He didn't.

In 1967, Kristin Taylor, a budding novice journalist, followed her father's trail to find out why.

So begins a gritty and heart-rending tale of integrity, faith and perseverance in two war-torn countries: Vietnam and the United States.

In Saigon, Kristin meets up--or rather, is forced into reluctant collaboration--with Luke Maddox, a photojournalist who irks Kristin in just about every way imaginable. And she reciprocates. Little do either of them know that Kristin's determination to follow through on a story her father had begun the previous decade and Luke's hidden past are intertwined. Finally, her self-imposed assignment, an exposé on a secret war within a war, threatens to explode both of their worlds, which have now become one.

Professionally, Kristin excels in her honest portrayal of a conflict gone so wrong, endearing herself to the men she has come to respect and love.  Personally, she doesn't do so well in shielding her emotions from the horror engulfing a nation she has also come to love. From the trauma of a blood-spattered field hospital, to the heat of battle at a forward fire base, to the precious and precarious existence of a Saigon orphanage, Kristin learns the hard way how to survive physically, mentally and emotionally in an environment man was never meant to endure.

Her love-hate relationship with Luke comes to a head, then Kristin is forced to return to the States. Like most veterans of that conflict, part of her she leaves in Vietnam, part of Vietnam she brings home with her. And life is never again the same.

Ms. West delivers an honest, compelling, and very well written tale of war and the aftermath of war. But it's not a mere blood-and-guts story. It's one of hope. She shows us how love and faith have curious and unexpected ways of sprouting even in the most barren soil. Yesterday's Tomorrow will leave you very satisfied at its conclusion, but don't expect the path to be strewn with rose petals. Few paths to meaningful destinations are.

As an endnote, Ms. West is represented by Rachelle Gardner of the Wordserve Literary Agency. Neither Ms. Gardner nor Wordserve are known for tolerating mediocrity. In Catherine West, and Yesterday's Tomorrow, they've advanced their excellent reputation.

This is a review of an ARC of Yesterday's Tomorrow. The book is due to be released through online outlets in March 2010 by OakTara--another pretty good outfit, I might add. ;-)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Gatekeeper, by Ruth Crews (OakTara)

In the middle of page 28 of Gatekeeper, the author plants this deceivingly benign snippet of advice:
“Most of your life will not allow you to use sources for proof or inspiration.”

Although Ms. Crews didn’t feature it as a tagline on the front cover, she could have. And our heroine is about to find out why.

Anna Merritt, a vivacious coed from the southern United States, finds herself on exchange in the archetypal upper-British academic environs of Oxford. Unshackled by even the remotest degree of formality and tradition, Anna plows a ‘primitively colonial’ furrow into the neatly manicured grounds of the ancient and renown university, and especially into the lives of two fellow students: the spontaneous Eddie Mitchell and the reservedly detached Nicholas Diggs. Inseparable almost from the first day, the trio brave the academic stresses and social pressures of Oxford’s Saints College. But that’s just the beginning.

Everything proceeds as both Anna and the reader might expect, until one fateful day a ‘routine’ tutoring session unexpectedly thrusts her into a position to test the above-suggested tagline. You see, Nicholas Diggs is poised for destruction on his 21st birthday, a mere three weeks away, at the hands of the people from whom he would least expect it. Anna’s tutor, the enigmatic Dr. Barney, lays Nicholas’ future in her lap—then promptly disappears.

At the end of the term the three students embark on a whirlwind trip through Prague, Berlin, Paris, then back to Oxford. The trip provides the perfect scenario to help Anna forestall Nicholas’ day of reckoning. Or so she thinks. Anna is aided in her task by the mysterious Mr. Truman, who always seems to be at the right place just at the right time, and only divvies out information to Anna in just the right amounts at just the right times. The question is, does Anna have what it takes to rescue Nicholas, whose dilemma is diametrically opposed to her own inner struggles?

You’ll discover the answer to that question in the pages of a very cleverly written story by a promising new author, Ms. Ruth Crews. Her fresh, perky writing voice pairs wonderfully with her personal experience at the venues in which the story takes place to deliver a fascinating, humorous and poignant coming-of-age tale. You’ll find the repartee between the three friends to be absolutely priceless—especially for those who have visited the UK. Not only do Anna’s Americanisms wage battle with the boys’ British-isms throughout the story, but her right-brained English-major subjectivity clashes with the stodgy, ultra-functional outlook on life to which Nicholas clings so tenaciously. And Eddie? Well, Eddie is Eddie, and he takes shots at everybody.

Ms. Crews sets the bar at a very respectable height with her debut novel. Highly recommended for the genre. Looking forward to reading The Leaving, the second installment in Ms. Crews' “Gatekeeper” series.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Winter Haven, by Athol Dickson (Bethany House)

"Do not seek the truth, and find no evil."

Is there a more spiritually poignant--or intellectually alluring--tagline than this?

So, why Winter Haven? A few words on the story and the writing.

The Story: Winter Haven is a town on an island of the same name slouching listlessly across the Gulf of Maine. Its inhabitants, isolated by fifty miles of seawater from mainstream reality and unimpeded by centuries of somewhere else's progress, defy such progress and create a reality of their own. And they're fine with that. Until one of them places a phone call.

On the surface, Vera Gamble of Dallas, Texas, is unremarkable. A mousy accountant, her self-imposed life of obscurity comprises work, rented movies, frozen pizza and being taken advantage of. And she's fine with that. Until the phone call comes.

Vera's autistic brother, Siggy, missing for thirteen years, has washed up on Winter Haven's shore. On a rare impulse, Vera slips the comfortable prison of her double-deadbolted apartment and ventures to Winter Haven to claim Siggy's body. Immediately, she meets with her first of many shocks on this island full of mysteries. Like Winter Haven, time and distance play tricks on Siggy--he still appears to be the fifteen-year old boy he was when he ran away from home.

So Vera takes her first faltering steps on the road to discovering the truth about Siggy's demise, the island's secrets, but mostly about herself. A collection of quirky townspeople--oh, has Mr. Dickson captured the small-town Mainer!--propel and impede Vera in her quest. She stumbles awkwardly into a mystifying tale of a vanished Pilgrim colony, around the eerie specter of the woman reputed to be the reason for the Pilgrim's plight, through the dusty rooms of a dilapidated mansion from another era, and into the disturbingly enticing arms of handsome Evan Frost, who may not be who he seems to be...or might be who he seems to be...or who he seems to be might not be what she thinks...well, you get the picture.

Oh, and Vera has a few issues of her own, secrets she's suppressed since her childhood. The secrets burst back to the surface of her consciousness, unbidden and unwanted--no, deathly feared--and force her to face the reality of who she is. For Vera, too, has a 'handicap' to deal with, a malady that may just hold the key to her own sanity--just as Siggy's held the key to his.

The Writing: Athol Dickson. 'Nuff said.

Winter Haven is the suspense reader's dream. But it's more than that. Look back up at the tagline. Uh huh, you'll get much more out of it than you expect. If ya pass up this chance for a wicked good read, it'll be yer own fault, ayuh.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Lost Mission, by Athol Dickson (Howard Fiction)

This was remarkable. Just remarkable.

Athol Dickson's writing credentials are impeccable, and one need only read Lost Mission to discover why. Painstakingly researched and masterfully told, the story bookends lives separated by 200 years in time, but intertwined in eternity.

In 1767, Fray Alejandro left his Franciscan monastery in Italy in response to a call to minister to the heathen natives of New Spain. Adventures and misadventures befall the holy man as he strives to establish La Misión de Santa Delores in Alta California with his abbot, Fray Guillermo, and brother priest, Fray Benico. All three padres are forever changed in their endeavor. Fray Alejandro bequeaths an unlikely legacy that changes the lives of all who behold it. Especially four lives in our present day.

Lupe de la Garza of Rincón de Delores, home village to Fray Alejandro in his final days, senses a similar call to witness the Gospel to the lost Americanos north of the border. Carrying Fray Alejandro's legacy in a cloth sack, Lupe sets off on her mission. Enter Ramón Rodriguez, on a quest to earn money for his family and his dream back in Mexico, who leads her into the desert wilderness over the border only then to lose her. Discovered and saved by newly ordained Tucker Rue, himself seeking divine guidance in the solitude of the desert, Lupe joins him in his ministry to the Latinos of Wilson City. Seeking to renew her call to preach to the Americanos, Lupe leaves Tucker's ministry and ends up in the employ of the rich and powerful Delano Wright. The stage is now set.

The lives and fortunes of these four people, who couldn't be farther apart on the spiritual and socio-economic spectrums, become inextricably enmeshed--glued fast by Alejandro's legacy and a mysterious figure who himself spans the centuries. Faith and principle collide with temptation and human weakness with predictable results. Well, maybe not so predictable.

The story reaches its climax when the dormant and lethal specter of the long-lost Misión de Santa Delores arises and engulfs modern-day Alta California as it did in Fray Alejandro's day. Redemption is granted, restitution is exacted, and nothing is left to fate.

There are many lessons we learn from Mr. Dickson skillful pen, perhaps the most notable being that the consequences of our actions, words and even thoughts--good and bad--affect not only our own lives, but the lives of those around us. And yes, even of those who come ages after us, those whom we will never meet this side of eternity.

This is simply a must read for both the story and the storytelling. Like an intricate and costly tapestry, the storyline is illuminated and enhanced by a frame of extraordinary prose. It isn't just a great read, it's an emotional, intellectual and spiritual investment

Less than halfway through Lost Mission, I ordered two more of Mr. Dickson's books. You'll be seeing his name again on this blog.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hero's Tribute, by Graham Garrison (Kregel)

Michael Gavin--football star, war hero and philanthropist--has died. Expectations run high in his small hometown of Talking River as to who will be the one honored to speak at his funeral. None of those expectations include an obscure local newpaper reporter, Wes Watkins. Why?

Wes Watkins and Michael Gavin never met each other, yet Michael leaves behind a written request that Wes deliver his eulogy. He also leaves Wes a list of names and one week to find out why.

The list, people from Michael's present and past, yields more information about their hometown hero than anyone expected--and that few of them wanted to know. Michael's purpose: to teach the town the difference between a legend and a man.

Wes's investigation encounters speed bumps and roadblocks right off the starting line. From his micro-managing senior editor, whose primary motivation is the revenue Wes's exclusive is sure to generate, to Talking River's high school football coach, who digs in his heels to protect the hallowed image of his childhood friend, Wes struggles against a waxing tide of resistence every step of the way. Only Michael's immediate family understand his purpose, and they lead Wes with measured steps in the right direction with enough--but not too much--information. For there's a hidden personal lesson for Wes in Michael's request, too.

Mr. Garrison selects an intriguing premise for his debut novel and follows it through with a great narrative style. I wish my first novel read as well as Hero's Tribute does--okay, I wish my fourth one did! Delivered in a distinct and engaging voice, Mr. Garrison paces his story fluidly, filling in flashback narratives at just the right time to propel Wes's investigation--and our enlightenment--to a startling ending. We stumble into plot twists along with Wes--one of the most surprising epiphanies coming at the hand of the adorably precocious Addy, Michael's young daughter--as gradually we absorb the lesson Michael is so intent on bequeathing to Talking River.

Excellent story, solidly written and definitely worth the read.

Click here to read more about Hero's Tribute and view a really nice video trailer.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Deborah: Mother of Israel, by Marlene D. Lake (OakTara)

Deborah: Mother of Israel is a comfortable tale of the renown Old Testament judge (Judges 4-5). The book exalts her as a woman of integrity and faith, endowed by God with extraordinary wisdom. Deborah uses this wisdom to flawlessly dispense justice in difficult civil cases among her countrymen, while continuing in her responsibilities as a young, small-village Israelite woman.
Ms. Lake fills in the Biblical account with skirmishes between the Israelites and their northern nemesis, the Canaanites, under the leadership of the evil Sisera. In one raid by Canaanite soldiers on her village’s livestock, her betrothed is killed, and another villager, Lappidoth, is severely wounded. Deborah helps nurse Lappidoth back to health, a process during which they become attracted to each other, then finally marry (Judges 4:4).
Over the years, the Canaanite oppression becomes so intense, something must be done. The fragmented Israelite tribal confederation seeks unity, looking to Deborah for spiritual leadership and to Barak for military expertise. The story reaches its climax in the battle against Sisera’s overwhelming army, and the Israelite’s subsequent victory, largely due to Deborah’s inspiration.
Ms. Lake strictly follows the Scriptural account of the famous Israelite prophetess, only creating fictional characters and scenes where necessary to propel the historical account to its well known conclusion. She also scatters snippets of Biblical history throughout the story, providing some insight into the life and times of ancient Israel. The story ends with an antiphonal rendering of Deborah’s and Barak’s song of victory (Judges 5).
Fans of the Old Testament figure of Deborah will likely appreciate Ms. Lake’s pristine rendering of her character. And those who love to loathe the vile Sisera will find plenty to fan their fire in the pages of Deborah: Mother of Israel.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Like a Bird Wanders, by Sharon Smith, Rosanne Croft, and Linda Reinhardt (OakTara)

A sordid history is about to repeat itself, save for the cryptic note of a dying woman.

Grace Rose McFarland leaves a single message for her beloved granddaughter: "Julia, the lion will destroy you." Nettie and Eva Jo, Grace's sisters, honor her last request by leading Julia to her grandmother's heritage chest in the attic. In it, she discovers a stack of letters and three prayer journals. And she begins to read.

Thus comes to light the story of the McCleods, a pioneer family eking out a living in 1902 Yacolt,Washington, by the grace of God and the toil of their hands. Told exclusively through letters and entries into the sisters' prayer journals, Julia learns family secrets she never would have dreamed could be true of her upright, God-fearing grandmother. But there's a story to tell and a lesson to learn, and Grace reaches out from the realm of eternity to ensure her precious granddaughter benefits from her mistakes.

The question is, will Julia take her grandmother's message to heart ?

In Like a Bird Wanders, we experience with Julia wilderness dangers common to the early 20th-century era, but lost to most modern Americans. But the most important things we learn are not restricted to a bygone historical era, they are timeless; that is, the choices we make, good and bad, affect not only on our own lives, but the lives of those around us--and especially those dearest to us.

Grace Rose McFarland has a story to tell not only to Julia, but to all of us. The question is, will we take her message to heart?