Friday, June 27, 2008

Room of Marvels

by James Bryan Smith
Broadman & Holman Press, 2007

A huge Rich Mullins fan, I stumbled across this book when I was looking for books about this well-known and well-loved musician, who was taken from us all too soon.

In Room of Marvels, Christian writer Tim Hudson has suffered a series of devastating losses and is on the verge of losing his faith. Advised by his pastor to go on a silent retreat, he visits a monastery where he experiences a vision of heaven that transforms and renews his spirit. In heaven, Tim meets people he's influenced in his life and who have influenced him. These meetings help him understand that love is not just important, it's the only reason for living. He also comes to accept the truth that we live on an eternal plain, that death is not the end and is not something to be feared.

While I'm not 100% sure of the theology in spots, the book sends an important message to believers, and has brought comfort to countless readers. It is semi-autobiographical and helped the author to recover from his own grief as well. I was moved by the fictional account and by the true story behind it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Last To Die

Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada
by Robert J. Hoshowsky
Dundurn Press, 2007

Written by one of my former high school classmates, this book was nominated for the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award in the Best True Crime category this year. It lost out to Julian Sher's book, One Child at a Time: The Global Fight to Rescue Children from Online Predators, but there is no shame in that - Sher is a well-known Canadian writer, with several true crime titles under his belt. Though widely published in magazines and newspapers, this is Hoshowsky's first book, but undoubtedly not his last.

Accused of killing a Toronto police officer, Ronald Turpin was a small time hood not given to violence or the use of guns. There is no doubt cast on his guilt - he was caught trying to escape the scene of the crime - but there are questions about what exactly transpired between the two men and whether Turpin might have been convicted of a lesser crime that spared him the noose.

The conviction of Arthur Lucas, for the murder of a pimp and his prostitute, is even more questionable. All of the evidence against him was circumstantial, and while he was found to have a very low IQ, the crime had all the marks of a professional assassination, performed by someone more capable than he of carrying out a methodical, planned execution.

Hoshowsky has done an admirable job of scouring primary and secondary materials, interviewing along the way a number of people connected with the two cases. He paints a vivid picture of both men and the crimes they are alleged to have committed. We never really know where Hoshowsky stands on the issue of capital punishment, but even the reader most compelled towards the death penalty must find some sympathy for Turpin and Lucas, who had the worst of beginnings in life and then made the worst of choices.

Occasionally repetitive, I was nonetheless impressed with the work, which taught me much that I hadn't previously known about capital punishment in Canada - particularly with respect to the last two hangings, which took place on December 11, 1962. I was also impressed by the fact that the foreword was written by Peter C. Newman. Way to go, Robert!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sisterchicks Go Brit!

by Robin Jones Gunn,
Multnomah Books, 2008

Book 7 in the Sisterchicks series. Not necessary to read in order. A way to travel inexpensively and vicariously through the lives of the characters. Light reads that albeit give the reader something to think about.

For some reason, I didn't get into this book as easily as I did the others. The rhythm wasn't there or I just couldn't get the hang of the dance - although the pace did pick up around chapter 19.

Liz and Kellie are BFF (Sisterchicks) with dreams. Liz has always wanted to go to England, and Kellie has desired a career in interior decorating. An unexpected opportunity to travel to Britain brings these longings together.

As ever, the book left me longing for a true sisterchick with whom to share life's experiences.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Before Green Gables

by Budge Wilson,
Penguin Canada, 2008

I stumbled across this book, the prequel to L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, and am so glad I did! This year marks the 100th Anniversary since Montgomery's publication of Anne, and Before Green Gables is both a wonderful tribute to the originator, and a marvellous addition to the collection.

Wilson begins the story in Nova Scotia with Anne's loving parents, Bertha and Walter Shirley, and takes us through their deaths into Anne's life with the Thomas family, the Hammonds, and the orphanage, where Mrs. Spencer comes from PEI and chooses Anne for Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. We recognize all the names from Montgomery's Anne books, and meet some new characters along the way. Wilson has clearly done a careful reading of Montgomery's work and captured her voice and Anne's character exceedingly well.

The story is by turns sad, hilarious, and hopeful. The characters are complex and real. I advise you to get out your hanky!

If you loved the Anne you knew before, you will love her even more after reading this book. I plan to purchase my own copy to complete my collection of the series.