Saturday, March 31, 2012

Code Of Silence: Teen Suspense With A Solid Message

Halloween is just around the corner, but eighth grade pals Cooper, Gordy, and Hiro never expected three men wearing masks to burst into their favorite burger joint,  wave weapons, demand money, and critically injure the co-owner, Frank, right in front of their eyes.  Making their escape from the robbers they hi-tail it across town, but before they can make it home, Cooper is snagged by one of the baddies and threatened.  He and his friends and family are in danger unless Cooper turns over the security camera hard–drive he grabbed before leaving the diner and had successfully hidden from the robbers. A hard-drive that will reveal who stole the money and put Frank in a coma. Problem is, he can’t go to the police because he has every reason to believe some dirty cops are involved in the heist.

Code of Silence by Tim Shoemaker is a quick-paced nail-biter.   Main characters Cooper, Gordy, and Hiro are fast friends who find themselves in a dilemma that tests their friendship and puts them in a position which causes them to choose between the truth or deceit.

Shoemaker’s main characters seem to follow the formula of teen-fiction friendship: Cooper, the impetuous leader, Gordy, the light-hearted lover of all things edible, and quiet, introspective Hiro, the girl and spiritual anchor of the group.  But it’s okay if it is formula, because it works.  What might seem predictable to a middle-aged woman (like myself) will seem fresh to a middle schooler.  The characters are likeable – and wonderfully average.  And that’s why I liked this novel.

They aren’t vampires, they aren’t fighting aliens, they aren’t being whisked back-in- time to battle black knights and evil sorcerers, and they don’t have super powers.  They are incredibly average, delightfully so.  What makes this book tick is that Cooper, Gordy, and Hiro are ordinary kids placed in an extraordinary circumstance – but a circumstance that could, in the everyday world, happen.

The fact that they are Christians also adds a layer to the story line.  The moral quandary that Shoemaker explores is this:  If you are a Christian, is it okay to lie to your parents, teachers, and authorities in order to do what you think is best to protect yourself from a bad situation?  Are some lies legit? Some pretty deep waters for a book aimed at upper elementary to middle schoolers, but Shoemaker handles the topic with a style that is not heavy handed. 

Brimming over with bad guys, close calls, and subterfuge, Code of Silence drives home the point that God’s ways are the best ways – even if we can’t understand how that could be possible. 

(Courtesy copy of Code of Silence provided by Zondervan through Netgalley)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Flirting with the Forbidden - An Honest Look at Temptation

Reading a book about temptation tends to be the literary equivalent of a yearly employee performance review. The author acts like your boss pointing out all the places where you are performing below par, and if you’d only implement the company game plan you’d bring your performance up in no time.

 So you close the book feeling somewhat defeated. You just didn’t try hard enough, didn’t have faith enough, or the pitfalls are so overwhelming you are bound to keep falling into the adversary’s traps.

 Steven James’ Flirting with the Forbidden doesn’t come across that way. James does not sit across the desk stabbing a finger into your chest. It’s as if he’s hanging out with you at a coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon passionately discussing common struggles over a steaming mug of Nicaraguan blend.

 The way James approaches the topic of temptation is incredibly engaging. With scripture as his template, he transforms Bible personas from flannel-graphed to full-blooded. Joseph struggles with lust, David agonizes with shame, Pilates’ wife wrestles with guilt. James crafts first-person accounts, which make the well-known people of scriptures become more human…men and woman who are relatable, who went through the same struggles we all face to some degree.

 Each story is a prologue to James’ own take on various temptations that so easily assail us all.

 What I appreciate is James’ transparency. He openly admits his own struggles, and his willingness to do so allows the reader not to be intimidated to look honestly into his own heart.

 What makes Flirting with the Forbidden such an encouraging book is that Christ is at the center of it all. James leaves no doubt who gives us control over those things of the world, which throw us off center.

 I loved its devotional style. I read a chapter each day and it gave me a lot to think and pray about. I would love to see James write a similar book but with a full year’s worth of material.

 James is the consummate storyteller who isn’t afraid to let his guard down. Flirting with the Forbidden challenges, convicts, and encourages. A fan of his fiction, I am thoroughly impressed with this insightful non-fiction work.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Looking For Ms. Locklear: Amusing and Endearing Road Trip

I am aware that Looking For Ms. Locklear is a film, not a book. However, as a huge Rhett and Link fan I want to spread the love.  It is my hope that some day Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Neal will indeed write a memoir chronicling their life-long friendship.  Until then, I must be satisfied with this delightful documentary.

I’m a sucker for road movies, especially Hope and Crosby wisecracking their way across (fill in exotic locale) with Lamour popping up somewhere along the way.  Nothing, I thought, could replace that talented duo in my heart.  

After viewing Rhett and Link’s Looking for Ms. Locklear I do believe that the Commercial Kings at least have nudged Bob and Bing over a bit and definitely set up a little place of their own in my cardio area.
Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, if you don’t already know, are up and coming YouTube sensations, filmmakers, and hosts of The Commercial Kings on the Independent Film Channel.  Both former engineers, they began producing low budget yet exceedingly witty and quirky commercials for small businesses - their most famous being the Chuck Testa taxidermy ads which thrust Mr. Testa into internet memedom.

The premise behind the film, Looking For Ms Locklear, is a road trip back to their North Carolina roots to find their first grade teacher.  She is the reason that team Rhett and Link exists today.  Keeping the young Rhett and Link inside from recess for writing bad words on their desks, Miss Locklear unknowingly cemented a friendship between them that has lasted a lifetime. 

Desiring to track her down to thank her for bringing them together, Rhett and Link decide to travel the back roads of their childhood seeking out people who may help them find her.  Before starting out on their quest, they decide not to use any form of communication (internet or telephone) to locate her.  They would only interact face- to-face with people, filming their adventure along the way.

Looking For Ms. Locklear is an endearing tribute not only to a well-loved teacher, but to the people of Rhett and Link’s place of growing up.  The film is populated with real “characters” who, if handled with less loving hands, could have come off as targets of mockery – but with Rhett and Link we can only smile and wish we had them as neighbors.

Surprisingly, Looking for Ms. Locklear is more than just nostalgic whimsy.  As a serendipitous sideline, it brings to the fore the struggle of the Native American nation, the Lumbees, for Federal recognition as an Indian tribe with Rhett and link traveling to Washington DC to lend their moral support at a Senate hearing.

I can’t remember the last time I watched a personal documentary that wasn’t cynical and jaded.  Looking For Ms. Locklear is a delightful, uplifting movie that will make you feel good about humanity.  It is well worth a look.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Peretti's Illusion Is Magic

One minute magician Dane Collins is tooling down the road with his beautiful wife of forty years, Mandy, the next he stands beside her badly charred body as the doctor takes her off life support.  A tragic car accident separates him forever from his one and only love.
One minute a 19- year-old Mandy is traipsing through the county fair with her best friends, the next finds her at the fair – 40 years later, a teenager dressed only in a hospital gown – trying to convince everyone around her she isn’t crazy.
I am happy to be the bearer of good news.  Peretti is back.  It’s been six years since his last book where he matched metaphors with Ted Dekker (House) – an experiment in “You write then I’ll write” which left me feeling embarrassed for two of my favorite authors.  Before that was Monster (2005), which was so weak I couldn’t get beyond page 50.
So when I say “Peretti is back” I mean the Peretti of novels I can’t put down. 
Illusion is the story of married magicians Dane and Mandy Collins who have decided to retire from Vegas to start a new chapter in their lives.  But when Mandy is killed, Dane struggles to continue living life with out her.  So when a teenage Mandy doppelganger appears on the streets of his small town, he thinks he’s one rabbit short of a magic trick.
Mandy is no less perplexed when she’s snatched out of the 1970s and thrust into the present.
Peretti’s newest book is a sort of a Siegfried and Roy Meet Quantum Physics.  He skillfully blends the worlds of platform magic and stage illusions with an inter-dimensional, time travel slight of hand –  “now you see it; now you don’t”, sci-fi style.
But the real magic of Illusion comes from the time-altered romance between Dane and Mandy.  A calling of kindred souls across a temporal divide, their relationship is seemingly both forbidden and familiar.  There is a sweet strength about their commitment to each other – even when their world is a swirling mass of confusion.
I did love Illusion, however, the dominant spiritual aspects so apparent in his earlier novels (This Present Darkness, The Visitation) are sadly missing.  The main characters mention God, pray, and go to church, but it’s almost as an aside.  I have always been inspired by his deeply Christian plot lines.  Illusion doesn’t go there.  It is a thriller without the theology.  Still, it’s a good read.
Suspenseful, swift-paced, and sentimental, Illusion immediately drew me in with engaging characters, mystery, and Peretti’s wry sense of humor.
If you have been anticipating Peretti’s newest book – you won’t be disillusioned.

(Courtesy copy of Illusion provided by Howard Books through Netgalley)