Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Best Book I Ever Read

I remember the first book I attempted to read.  It was a Golden Book.  The title escapes me but it was about Lassie and some adventure involving small children.  The illustrations were not dazzling, no eye-popping colors, more muted - like washed out water colors.  I'm sure the prose was simple; suitable for a beginner.  But it wasn't the story that I remember.  It was the words - more specifically, the words I could recognize.  This small, thin, square-shaped, stiff-papered book I remember because each week I'd open it up and scan those strings of letters and find new words I had just learned that week in Mrs. Crawford's first-grade class.  Pencil in hand I'd circle words that I now could claim as my own.  "The" was one of the first word I circled again and again - it showed up very frequently.  "Is", "are", "red"...... each time I scanned the pages more words entered my arsenal of literacy, until one day, the leaves populated with circled words, I read Lassie's story cover to cover.
Since those days of sitting on my bedroom floor searching intently for letters that would come together to form a word - like looking for a familiar face in the crowd, I have read thousands of books and have done quite a bit of writing myself.  I know the penciled pages of that book were nothing of note in the realm of literature - but for me it was the wardrobe to Narnia, the looking glass to Wonderland.  It was the best book I ever read.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The 13th Tribe: Top-Notch Thriller

At the foot of Mount Sinai the children of Israel made a big mistake. It’s true Moses had been gone 40 days after he headed up the mountain of God, but an all out rebellion culminating in the unbridled worship of a golden calf was unforgiveable. God’s justice was swift, and according to the newest novel by author Robert Liparulo, it resulted in the creation of a “13th Tribe,” a band of immortals banished from the presence of God for their sin at Sinai. Living throughout the millenniums, they form a vigilante posse determined to win God’s favor back by bumping off evil villains throughout the ages.
Present day Mount Sinai is where mere mortal Jagger Baird, former Army Ranger and executive bodyguard, now finds himself. A glorified security guard for an archeological dig, he’s moved his family to this “God forsaken” land to try to heal, both physically and emotionally from a traumatic event which cost him his best friend, his best friend’s family, and his arm. Angry with God and struggling with the concept of divine justice, Jagger longs for peace – but when the Tribe invades the sanctity of St. Catherine’s monastery at the base of Sinai in an unholy fire fight, Jagger’s plan to get his life together literally goes up in smoke. With his wife and young son in danger at the hands of the Tribe, Jagger goes on a quest to save them, and to save the world from a terroristic plot designed by the 13th tribe to prove to the Almighty that they have earned his forgiveness.
Liparulo, as always, knows how to pack a punch, and in The 13th Tribe there’s no lag time in this tale of vigilante justice, supernatural-style. The Tribe, decked out in the latest stealth tech., doesn’t hold back on its pursuit to rid humanity of moral undesirables; and Jagger is a tough yet spiritually wounded hero struggling with the question of where is God when tragedy strikes.
The 13th Tribe is a definite page turner with a worldwide scope. From the deserts of Egypt, to the catacombs of France, to the shores of North America, Liparulo delivers another fever-pitched suspense novel that doesn’t disappoint.
But the most impressive aspect of his newest novel is its spiritual depth. It challenges concepts of justice, mercy, redemption, and forgiveness. In the midst of explosions, knife fights, and doomsday plots, Liparulo makes you stop and examine yourself.
With its high-octane intensity and thought provoking spiritual overtones, The 13th Tribe, the first in The Immortal Files, in my opinion, is the best Robert Liparulo novel to date.

(Courtesy copy of The 13th Tribe provided by Thomas Nelson through Netgalley)
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Check and Mate: The Queen Is Outstanding

This past summer I attended a writer’s conference in Tennessee.  Steven James was one of the main speakers, so I picked up The Bishop to read before I went.  After all, I wanted to be familiar with the authors who would be leading the conference.
After reading the first few chapters I had to ask myself – “How in the world did I miss this guy?”  The writing was tight, the plot complex, the pacing accelerating like a hopped-up Ferrari.  However, the story was not for the faint of heart.  Graphic and unnerving descriptions of serial murders were front and center.  But the protagonist, FBI agent and geospatial intelligence specialist Dr. Patrick Bowers doggedly tracked down the killers as he handled problems on the home front with his intelligent and perceptive stepdaughter, Tessa.
Since then I have read all James’ Patrick Bowers novels.  Each one keeping me up late at night turning those pages, although toward the end of each novel I purposely slow down, not wanting to finish such a well-written book too quickly.
The Queen, the latest in the series, does not disappoint.  In fact, it’s the best Bowers book so far. 
Bowers finds himself in the wintery woods of northern Wisconsin investigating a double homicide, chasing an international assassin, and dealing with an estranged brother.   As the snow drifts deeper, Bowser faces eco-terrorists and criminal masterminds with evil agendas all their own.
As with all his novels, James expertly weaves the characters from previous books into the plot.  If you’ve read all the books from The Pawn through The Bishop you are definitely familiar with James’ heroes and villains and the battle of good vs. evil.  This conflict is what I appreciate the most.  Bowers is indeed the “Good Guy” and the bad guys are, well, evil and yet James is not willing to allow us to settle for simple solutions, for black and white answers.  James’ characters fight the evil in others and in themselves.   Concepts of the evil within each human heart, guilt, and forgiveness are wrestled with sincerely but never heavy-handedly.
The Queen is not just a good read, but a well-crafted story with multi-faceted characters, a storyline with a good many hairpin turns, and a plot that not afraid to explore our darker nature and yet unashamedly holds out hope.
Steven James has certainly moved this queen into the checkmate position.  It is a winner.

Halflings Delivers Heavenly Heroes

Nikki Youngblood is one happenin’ chick.  At 17 her ride is a Kawasaski Ninja 600. She’s a martial artist and an artist just beginning to be recognized for her talent.   She’s beautiful and just a bit awkward around guys.  It’s true Nikki’s very down to earth – but heaven and hell have taken notice of her.
 Heather Burch’s book Halflings opens with Nikki being chased by hell hounds bent on taking her down.  But three hunky heavenly heroes fly to her rescue.  Thus begins a harrowing otherworldly adventure for Nikki and her Halfling bodyguards Raven, Mace, and Vine.
Burch’s concept for Halflings is taken from Genesis 6 where the “sons of God” saw the “daughters of men” were beautiful.  In Burch’s world Halflings are descendants of the “marriage” of demons and man:  half fallen angel/half man.  Unfortunately for Nikki’s Halfling friends, they don’t belong in heaven or in the human realm, but are destined to fight for The Throne because God is worthy – even if they themselves are beyond redemption.
Nikki deals with Heaven, Hell, and high school with equal amounts of breathless, starry-eyed romance and throttle turning, butt-kicking action.  Her hot-wings love interests:  bad-boy Raven and vulnerable Mace- will make young teenage girls everywhere wish they were her.
That being said Nikki’s budding romances are nothing but chaste and seemingly hopeless.  Halflings and humans just can’t mix.
In Halflings Burch is obviously laying the groundwork for the two remaining books of the trilogy to follow.  Toward the end of the book the action seemed tighter and the plot pace picked up considerably.   It definitely leaves you with a sense of anticipation.
Halflings is certainly a good alternative to the emo-teen romance fiction out there. Peopled with characters who desire to serve the light even when darkness is closing in, Burch’s first novel promises to captivate its audience with a wing and a prayer.

(Courtesy copy of Halflings provided by Zondervan)