Monday, March 31, 2008

The Shack

by William P. Young
Windblown Media, 2007

Forget Oprah's book choice, this is the book everyone's talking about and the "must read" of the year!

When tragedy strikes the Phillips family, its patriarch, Mack, is overwhelmed with feelings of grief and anger. Where is God when evil happens - why does He allow it, and can He really be trusted ? Three and a half years later, Mack is still wallowing in "The Great Sadness". Then he receives a mysterious note that compels him to return to the scene of the tragedy and to meet God face-to-face.

The story gives the reader much to think about, and presents God and the trinity in a fresh and accessible way. An endorsement from Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, states "This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his. It's that good!"

Buy your own copy of The Shack - I did. I guarantee you won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Death of a Cad

by M.C. Beaton
St. Martin's Press, 1987

Second in the Hamish Macbeth series.

Priscilla Halburton-Smythe is engaged to be married to Henry Withering, a successful London playwright. Her delighted parents decide to throw a house party in his honour and are besieged with phone calls from people who want to be included. Thus, a motley assortment is gathered, including Captain Peter Bartlett, the "cad" of the book's title.
It comes as no surprise when Bartlett winds up dead, the result of an apparent hunting accident. Enter our hero, local bobby, Hamish Macbeth, who also happens to be more than half in love with Miss Halburton-Smythe herself. Hamish outwits his superiors when he discovers the killing was no accident, but murder.
Several suspects present themselves. Bartlett endeared himself to noone with his boorish ways and penchant for casual sex. Hamish must discern which of the house guests, or an outsider, brought about the Captain's untimely demise.
Beaton has created a very charming hero in Macbeth, and the reader cheers him on - both in his investigations and in his attempts to woo Priscilla, whose wealthy parents consider him beneath contempt.

Wonderfully written.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Less Than Frank

by Lynn Bulock
Steeple Hill, 2006

Second in the Gracie Lee mystery series, after Love the Sinner.

Frank is a crooked businessman and no-good husband. When he turns up dead from a single bullet wound to the head, it comes as no surprise to anyone who knows him. The only question is which of the several suspects was the trigger man.

Gracie Lee's son, Ben, was seen arguing with Frank the morning of the murder. Gracie Lee knows that her son would never kill anyone and needs to figure out who did it before the handsome and infuriating detective, Ray Fernandez, charges Ben with the crime.

While Bulock tends to ramble at times, she has created likable characters and a reasonable plot. Not the calibre of secular authors M.C. Beaton, Robin Hathaway, Jill Churchill, or Joanne Fluke, but enjoyable nonetheless. I will read the next book in the series while I continue to seek out the best mystery authors who write with a Christian slant.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The J. Alfred Prufrock Murders

by Corinne Holt Sawyer
Fawcett, 1989

This is the first in a series of mysteries set in Camden-sur-Mer, a retirement home in the tiny town of Camden, California. Our amateur detectives include four 70-something ladies, who live at the center - the formidable Angela Benbow, and her friends - Caledonia Wingate, Nan Church, and Stella Austin.
The book opens with a death. Sweetie Gilfillan, retired librarian and plain jane, who lived at the smallest cottage on site, was stabbed multiple times and fell down a staircase. She is found face down on the beach. Initially no one can figure out who would want to murder the innocuous victim - "poor Sweetie" - who always had her nose in a book. Angela and her friends decide to help the police in their investigation - partly because the murderer may be a threat to all of them, but mostly because it's an exciting adventure in their otherwise humdrum lives.
Then a second murder takes place. Paulette Piper, who's been married three times and may have been after a fourth husband, is found at the bottom of the center's back stairs, pushed to her death. What could connect the two victims, for surely their murders must be related?

There are plenty of suspects - Mr. Grogran, the angry drunk who lived next to Sweetie; Mr. Littlebrook, whom Paulette may have set her sights on as husband number four; Mr. Torgeson, director of the residence, who may have a secret to hide. Did one of them do it?
I enjoy pitting my wits against the sleuth (or in this case, sleuths) to determine the guilty party. Though in this story I was pretty sure who the culprit was before the close, there were enough red herrings to keep me wondering. And Sawyer kept me laughing without demeaning her protagonists, as Angela and her "partners in crime" got themselves into one humorous predicament after another along the way.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Tying the Knot

by Susan May Warren
Tyndale, 2003
Second in the Deep Haven series, this book was written during a difficult period in the author's life, though you'd never know it from the ease with which it reads. Warren has the romance genre down pat, with lots of attraction, tension, miscommunication and misunderstanding between the hero and heroine. In addition to creating a well crafted plot, she paints vivid settings and is able to evoke strong emotions from the reader.

Anne has come to Deep Haven to find peace from her past, a past that has scarred her deeply. Brought up in a Christian home, she spent her teen years in the inner city of Minneapolis as her parents worked among its broken people. High school was intolerable. More recently, Anne's work as an EMT in that same area brought her face to face with a teen strung out on drugs, a teen who shot and wounded her without provocation. The only memory from that night worth holding onto is the man who prevented the shot from hitting her in the face, the man who sang "It is Well with My Soul" over her as she was carried from the scene on a gurney.

Noah is in Deep Haven for different reasons, though he too has a scarred past. God has given him a vision for a wilderness camp that will take urban teens out of their day-to-day reality and plant them in a beautiful natural environment absent their gang colours and associations, where they can be challenged spiritually and physically. With her medical credentials, Anne is the only one who can help Noah's camp get off the ground, as the local church committee refuses to provide financial backing without a trained medical person on staff. Will Anne cooperate? And will she learn to trust Noah? To see beyond his exterior tough guy appearance to the interior man of faith?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Me, Myself, & Bob

by Phil Vischer
subtitle: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables
Nelson Books, 2006

If you haven't heard of VeggieTales (in which two key players are Larry the lovable cucumber and Bob the tomato, his straight sidekick), I have to wonder where you've been for the last ten years. Me, Myself, & Bob is the fascinating story of their creator, Phil Vischer, and the spectacular rise and fall of his animation studio, Big Idea Productions Inc.

Phil Vischer grew up in small town Iowa, in a very religious Christian family. His grandfather on his father's side was a big businessman, and his mother's father was a pastor. A bit of a loner with a quirky sense of humour, Phil had a vivid imagination and a passion for audiovisual media and computers. Some of the technical detail in his book is lost on me, but he does write with the layperson in mind, I think, and certainly his wit comes through loud and clear throughout the telling of his tale.

The best part of the book apart from the overall "story" takes place in the last three chapters where Phil shares the lessons he learned from Big Idea's explosion and its following implosion. They are lessons we can all benefit from and apply to our lives. Though what Phil, his family and colleagues went through was painful and difficult, Phil finds that God does indeed produce beauty from ashes.