Saturday, April 28, 2012

Darkroom - Rapidly Paced Political Thriller

Her mother’s recent death, her father’s continuing estrangement, frightening visions associated with any photos she takes with her dad’s camera - photographer Xandra Carrick has a lot to deal with.   On top of that, she’s wanted by the FBI for a murder she did not commit, while nefarious forces want her dead.

Having recently arrived back from a trip to her mother’s birthplace, Vietnam,  Xandra is troubled by her father’s reticence.  And to make her life even more complicated, after taking several photos during her trip, she discovers images in her pictures that she did not see with her natural eyes.  She’s having visions of a supernatural nature – visions that will blow the lid off a major conspiracy – if she lives long enough to have anyone believe her.

Arrested for the murder of a local Julliard student, Xandra flees New York and heads to see her father in California, seeking answers to her visions concerning Vietnam.  FBI agent Kyle Matthews teams up with her to find some answers of his own. 

Darkroom, by Joshua Graham, is a political thriller with a spiritual undercurrent, driven mostly by Xandra’s mother, Grace, a Vietnamese immigrant who married Xandra’s father, Peter Carrick, after a harrowing escape from Saigon when the US troops pulled out.  We hear her voice through several journal entries - beginning when she first met Peter, a photojournalist embedded with a platoon in Vietnam; through the birth of Xandra, until her death.  Her voice brought a depth to the story that certainly tied the themes of purpose, God-given gifts, and the freeing power of truth, together.

Darkroom rips along rapidly, jumping from multiple points of view, from Xandra, her father, her mother, a presidential candidate, an FBI agent, and a hit man.

And because of this, Darkroom’s pace is set at a very high shutter speed, swiftly shifting character Point of Views from chapter to chapter.  Initially, I found this style somewhat ADHD – jumping from POV to POV in only a couple pages.  Soon, however, I settled into Graham’s rapid rhythm, which kept me interested in what was going to develop next.

Graham’s intricate weaving of truth and deceit keeps the pages turning, and with a wide-open ending hinting at the return of feisty and insightful heroine, Xandra Carrick,  Darkroom is a novel you won’t regret being exposed to.

I have given an honest review of this courtesy copy of Darkroom received from Howard Books.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Midnight In Peking - Gritty True Story of Murder and Mayhem in Pre-WWII China

Pamela Werner was a high-spirited, independent young woman living with her father in Peking, China during the late 1930s.

On a cold January night in 1937, Pamela was found brutally murdered at the foot of one of Peking’s well-known landmarks – the Fox Tower.

Pre-world war II Peking was a stressful place to live.  China was in the midst of a civil war and the Japanese had invaded and were waiting for the opportunity to capture the city. 
Nerves were frayed.  A cloud of doom hung over the streets.  Even the well-protected foreign nationals were feeling the shifting of events. But the brutal murder of Pamela Werner kicked the anxieties of the city up several notches.  Both the Chinese and foreign nationals fearfully wondered who could have butchered this innocent young girl.

Paul French’s Midnight In Peking is a masterfully woven non-fiction murder mystery peopled with smug British diplomats, harried Scotland Yard detectives, Chinese police officers with mysterious agendas, an American dentist with degraded, lustful designs, and a beautiful young woman who isn’t all that she seems.

French has done his research, and his findings from the papers of Pamela’s father are most intriguing.  Even after the British dropped the case, Werner doggedly pursued his daughter’s murderer asking help from the Chinese and even the occupying Japanese.  His determination to find his daughter’s killer is inspiring.

Midnight In Peking reads like a true-to-life Agatha Christie with a lot more carnality.  Peking, like most places, had a dark side that could lure a na├»ve young woman to her death, and French takes us there.
This is no stuffy history text.  It’s a blood and guts whodunit that twists and turns through the not so savory back alleys of the present capital of China and digs up dirt on some of her upstanding citizens and those not so upstanding.

French delivers history you can smell, taste, and feel.  Midnight in Peking transports you to an extremely turbulent time in China’s history and puts you in the middle of the events that transpired that frigid night. 
History and mystery.  As a fan of both genres, Midnight in Peking is a win-win.

(Courtesy copy compliments of Penguin Books via Net Galley) 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The World In Your Lunch Box - A Tasty Trip Through History

Getting complaints from your eight year old about his lunch?   Is he tired of the same old ham and cheese sandwich with an apple on the side?  Maybe the answer to his lunchtime tedium isn’t a new menu.  Maybe it’s a new perspective.

Colorfully and amusingly illustrated, The World In Your Lunch Box, written by Claire Eamer and illustrated by Sa Boothroyd, is packed with fun food facts that will not only entertain but educate.  What’s the origin of the sandwich?  Mustard? Apples? Ice cream?  This book answers all those questions and many more. 

Sectioned into a week’s worth of lunches, Eamer analyzes every item on the menu. She takes us through history to explore the origins of food in a kid-friendly way, each chapter stuffed with trivia, puns, and silly jokes.  She also serves up healthy doses of food science along the way.  (Ever wonder about how yeast works or the magic behind mayonnaise?)

The World In Your Lunch Box makes history and science intriguing and relevant to the elementary age cafeteria crew.  In fact, it is a fascinating and enjoyable read no matter what age lunch table you may find yourself at.

The World In Your Lunch Box is both a feast for the eyes and the intellect. It’s a tasty trip through history your kids will eat up.

Courtesy copy from Annick Press through Net Galley.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Worthy Writings in the Blogosphere

It seems everyone has a blog today.  Frankly, I find it difficult to discover a blog that draws me in.  Most posts I see are like public diaries.  I won’t post blogs like that because basically I’m pretty boring.  That’s why I’ve never journaled - I’d put myself to sleep.

So it is seldom that I actually subscribe to someone’s blog.  If I read about your life, I want to be inspired.  If you’re writing about your trip to Walmart to buy butter beans, it’s just not happening for me.

But I’d like to share a blogger with you whom I love.  This guy is inspiring, and not only that, the dude can write.

Adam Young is a twenty-something from backwoods Minnesota.  A devote Christ-follower he spent many years recording original music in his parents’ basement and playing at small local venues.  After posting some of his music on social media, he caught the attention of the music industry.   Yep, now Adam is living the dream, recording and touring around the world – as Owl City.

I stumbled across his posts on the internet one day, expecting a lot of shallow self-promotion.  Hardly, Young comes across as charming, vulnerable, and engaging.  His blogs cover a cornucopia of topics from music, his relationship with Christ, and even the creepy sound his refrigerator makes (recorded of course, to maximize the effectiveness of the post).

Yesterday, preparing for our Good Friday service, I came across this post from 2010.  It’s his cover of In Christ Alone.  It’s a beautiful arrangement sung with obvious emotion, but it’s the blog post itself that’s inspiring. But I won’t tell you about it -  here’s the link. Take some time and view it. Definitely worth a listen and a read – especially on this Easter weekend.  Enjoy.