Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Feast for Thieves - A Tasty Read

Rowdy Slater always seems to find himself in trouble. Coming home after World War II, Rowdy, the man considered the most incorrigible soldier in Dog Company, has bounced around the country and hasn’t been able to pull his life together. But when he nearly dies after robbing a bank, Rowdy decides to return the money to the Sheriff of the Texas town of Cut Eye.

Rowdy showing up in Sheriff Barker’s office with a sack full of loot creates some problems for the no-nonsense lawman, so Barker decides to make Rowdy a deal - sign on as Cut Eye’s new preacher for one year or go to jail.

Perplexed but eager to avoid prison, Rowdy takes the offer, not realizing what that year behind the pulpit would get him into.

Watching Rowdy interact with the quirky sinners of this backwater town as he struggles with his own spiritual awakening is amusing as well as poignant.  We find ourselves rooting for our protagonist to turn his life around, but it isn’t long before his past shows up threatening to steal away his new life.

Author Marcus Brotherton is no stranger to the written word, having penned, We Who Are Alive and Remain, the nonfiction New York Times bestseller about the World War II combat veterans known as the Band of Brothers.  Feast for Thieves is his first foray into the world of fiction.

Feast for Thieves delves into what redemption looks like in the lives of imperfect humanity.  Brotherton’s Cut Eye, at first glance, is a sleepy town, but underneath its languid appearance it is a community populated with hurting people looking for hope.

Marcus Brotherton’s novel is a delight.  The citizens of Cut Eye, Texas are eccentric but loveable, and Rowdy Slater, the ne’er do well with a tender heart, is someone you want to see take advantage of his unexpected second chance.

Feast for Thieves is a tale that tugs at the soul and lifts the heart. If you’re looking for a book to encourage your spirit and make you smile, this feast will fill you up.

The Fight - A Novel With Punch

In the world of Christian fiction may I say how over-the-top excited I become when a book is gritty, bloody, and violent?  How almost giddy I am over protagonists who are messed up emotionally and spiritually and who aren’t doe-eyed Amish girls?

I love a novel with a dark side so when hope does decide to show up, it shines all the brighter.  I love a story that I could recommend to a man that isn’t light and fluffy.

The Fight 
, by newcomer Luke Wordley, is such a book.

The novel’s setting is the world of boxing, a world that attracts alienated and angry teen, Sam Pennington.  Living in a run-down public housing complex in East London, Sam is at home in the violent streets.  Fueled by a rage flamed by the untimely death of his father and by his mom’s addiction to alcohol, he is kicked out of one school after another and is frequently in trouble with the law.
Sam is savage and uncontrollable and terribly lost in the seething fury that has become his fortress.
Serendipity intervenes when Robbie, a young boxer from a local boxing club, rescues Sam after a street fight. Sam is then introduced to trainer, Jerry Ambrose, a man with an eye for talent and a past that still tries to cripple him.

The Fight is all about what drives humanity - anger, addiction, fear, family, God. Forces that will either ravage or redeem.

Sam is a lost soul who can function only when his anger is at its peak.  Jerry is a Christian struggling with a past that almost destroyed him. When he sees Sam in the ring for the first time, dreams of fame come alive, threatening to bury his faith.

Wordley brings the reader into the world of the fight – both inside the boxing ring and inside the soul.  He’s not afraid to create a Christian protagonist who goes off the rails, and who is refreshingly real.

The only aspect of the novel that keeps it from being a total KO is the abrupt and somewhat contrived ending.  Wordley, it seems, tries to wrap up the story with a neat little bow.  It left me feeling cheated.  I wanted to go deeper with the characters.  But maybe it was intentional.  Perhaps sequels are on the fight card.

I hope so. The Fight left me hoping for a few more rounds.


Out of the Ruins- Even the Great San Francisco Earthquake Can't Shake Up the Plot

San Francisco, circa 1900s, is the backdrop to Karen Barnetts’ latest novel, Out of the Ruins.  The post-gold rush city is full of excitement, but Abby Fischer would rather be home in her fruit orchard. 

Unfortunately, her family moved to the City by the Bay in order to stay close to her sister, Cecelia, as she undergoes a new experimental treatment for leukemia.

Handsome young doctor, Robert King, who is overseeing the treatment, has eyes for Abby, but when Cecilia dies, their romance is in danger of ending.  And to make matters worse, Abby turns her back on God for not saving her sister.

I remained hopeful that the novel’s venue would make for a rich and intriguing read.  I found myself disappointed that San Francisco remained a simple high school play backdrop against a stilted, predictable love story.

There were a few paragraphs that addressed the problem of Chinese girls sold into slavery, but they were quickly glossed over, used merely to highlight the heroic doctor and the damsel in danger.

Even the famous San Francisco earthquake of 1906 did little to shake up the plot.  With destruction and flames all around, the reader spends the last quarter of the book observing Abby and Robert, separated by the disaster, wandering around looking for each other. 

Of course, by this time, after rubbing spiritual shoulders with a ramrod straight Scottish missionary and her group of Chinese girls, Abby has made amends with the Almighty.  A simple wrap up to the theological quandary, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”. 

Those who love romance novels with happy endings will enjoy Out of the Ruins– it’s a romance, plain and simple, and Barnett does that genre well. It’s an uncomplicated story which would be a great read for a week at the beach.  No surprises, no deep thinking, just a love story with a catastrophe thrown in.

Saving Amelie - Predictable Plot, Stereotypical Characters

Rampaging Nazis, frauleins in distress, wide-eyed children in peril, helpful priests, and a dashing young American reporter to the rescue - the perfect list of ingredients for a predictable historical romance set during World War II.

Cathy Gohlke’s novel, Saving Amelie, has all of the above, including a predictable plot with stereotypical characters.

In the novel, young and beautiful Rachel Kramer is visiting Germany in 1939 with her father, a scientist very much involved in eugenics experiments.  She discovers that her friend’s daughter, who was born deaf, is slated to be euthanized –with the approval of the girl’s father, a rabid SS officer who cannot abide less than perfect Aryan offspring.  Reluctantly, Rachel steps in, with the help of charming reporter, Jason Young, to spirit the child away.

Along the way, Rachel discovers she has a twin who had been sterilized as a result of eugenic experiments that both of them had unwittingly taken part in as they grew up.

Soon Rachel and the child find themselves hiding in the quaint village of Oberammergau, refugees in the home of her newly found sister and grandmother.

Don’t get me wrong, Saving Amelie is not a bad read, especially if you like novels set in this particular era. But it is nothing new.  Some of the characters reminded me of characters in a series of books, The Zion Covenant, written by Bodie Thoene, particularly the newspaper reporter.  And the final climatic scene during the play?  I couldn’t help but think Sound of Music. 

There was one intriguing subplot of the book that I really wanted Gohlke to run with, but she was satisfied with leaving it in the shadows - reporter Jason Young’s interaction with Dietrich Bonheoffer.  Bonheoffer, the author of The Cost of Discipleship and a German believer who stood up to the Nazi regime, was an interesting addition to the storyline, but, unfortunately, a sideline that was not developed.  That was a disappointment.

All in all, Saving Amelie is a novel that delivers a tried and true formula.  If you like this type of historical romance, it delivers no more than what you would expect.