Sunday, June 28, 2009

GUN LAKE by Travis Thrasher


THE SUMMARY: Five inmates break out of Stagworth Prison and are on the run. After a few thefts and bodies are left in their wake, they trek to Gun Lake in Michigan to lay low. Also converging at Gun Lake are numerous broken souls—Norah, trying to flee from an abusive husband; Don, drowning his heartache with alcohol; Michelle trying to break down the walls with her rebellious teenage son, Jared. They and others desire to escape from past mistakes, but at the same time, fear there is no hope in the future. Slowly, all their lives intersect at Gun Lake and an explosive outcome follows.

THE MESSAGE: Many characters in this book are searching for hope—hope for the future and escape from the past. Some try to solve their problems with worldly wisdom while others discover the power of forgiveness offered in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

THE PRESENTATION: Travis Thrasher creates a slow-burning suspense novel, one that gradually turns up the heat until the climax reaches a boiling point. Written from the perspective of half a dozen characters, readers need to be prepared to follow multiple storylines until the tales begin to merge. Many of the characters have mysterious pasts that take a while to emerge, but that’s part of the fun—trying to discern how some of them are connected.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The characters truly struggled with determining what is the right action in a world that is not clear cut. Right actions are taken for the wrong reasons. Wrong actions are motivated by right thoughts. It reminded me of something one of my mentors once told me: “I don’t care what you’ve done wrong. I want to know what you’re going to do to make it right.” That is what this book is about. Determining the right and discovering hope.

THE RECOMMENDATION: 4 out of 5

Sunday, June 21, 2009

WHERE MERCY FLOWS by Karen Harter

THE SUMMARY: After 7 years of little contact with her family, prodigal daughter Samantha comes home to her family. Accompanying her is TJ, her young son, a medical condition that will cut her down in the prime of her life, and years of sin and rebellion. There is more separating Samantha from her family than missing years however, especially between her and her father, a man she calls The Judge. Not only does she feel unloved by her father, but she has a husband who left her the day TJ was born. Will Samantha find love, forgiveness, and mercy before it’s too late?

THE MESSAGE: This story presents many themes, including understanding the depths of a father’s love and the power of forgiveness, mercy, and sacrifice.

THE PRESENTATION: Karen Harter’s first book explores a prodigal daughter’s wandering and her search for a way home. Although a powerful message, some of the scenes felt like too forced to meet a determined conclusion. I didn’t fully connect with the characters or truly felt Samantha’s struggles. For instance, she viewed her father as a harsh, unbending man, but I had trouble seeing him in that light.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Karen Harter’s book won a Christy Award. Although good, I felt the book wrapped up too neatly and easily. I hoped the book would explore a few themes that were hinted at but the author went in a different direction. It’s a good story, but I never felt myself truly rooting for the characters.

THE RECOMMENDATION: 2.5 out of 5

Sunday, June 14, 2009

BLINDED by Travis Thrasher

THE SUMMARY: Michael flew to New York City in hopes of finalizing a business merger. Yet when the deal falls through, he finds himself sipping a Pinot Grigio wondering how everything fell apart. He’s frustrated, anxious, and depressed. And then a beautiful woman, Jasmine, catches his attention—and she seems to show a little interest in him. “Mind if I join you,” she asks. Michael thinks of his wife and two kids at home, but wonders what’s the harm? He’s not going to do anything. Yet as the next few hours pass and the night gets darker, Michael wonders how he ended up so far down a road he never intended, a night filled with rough men, guns, and sexual tension. A little compromise here and a little harmless rationalization there. Will Michael find his way back before it is too late? And does he want to?

THE MESSAGE: Don’t rationalize sin. Evil never jumps up and says, “Here I am—embrace me.” Rather, it says, “You deserve this,” or “Nobody will know, enjoy yourself,” or “You’re not really doing anything wrong.” Yet like the young man in Proverbs who walked down her street at dusk, it doesn’t take long before you’re led like a bull to the slaughter.

THE PRESENTATION: Travis Thrasher uses a unique method of storytelling—using the narrative form of the second person. Rather than using the traditional “I” or “he,” Thrasher uses “you.” Although a difficult way to write, Thrasher pulls it off, making it a more personal story for the reader than either of the other traditional ways.

FINAL THOUGHTS: This book shows the danger of lust and sin. As a man, it’s too easy to rationalize lust. Yet when the guilt is ignored, a few half-truths are told, and we don’t run away from the sin, what started as a temptation can quickly spiral into becoming a prisoner of that sin—and the ugly consequences that follow.

THE RECOMMENDATION: 4 out of 5

Saturday, June 13, 2009

FIRST THE DEAD by Tim Downs

THE SUMMARY: In book three of the “Bug Man” novels, Nick Polchak, a forensic entomologist (a North Carolina professor who studies the bugs that feed on dead bodies) reports for duty in New Orleans hours before Hurricane Katrina comes ashore. Originally volunteering as part of the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, Nick is frustrated to learn that he’s assigned to rescue “the living” from roofs and attics rather than searching for the dead. “First the living” he’s ordered. However, Nick soon realizes that the dead have a lot to tell about the living because a killer is using the hurricane to cover up his murders. Only Nick and his coke-bottle glasses can see the value of the bugs—and the truth.

THE MESSAGE: Follow the truth wherever it may lead. Also, a father is a powerful role model in the life of a boy.

THE PRESENTATION: Nick is a quirky, loveable character fast with the sarcasim and short on friendship. Long ago he stopped viewing himself as human, finding that he relates more to the insects that he studies. Author Tim Downs shows the depth of his research in his writing, although a few times he loses the story in the details.

FINAL THOUGHTS: A fun, suspenseful story that makes for great summer reading. I enjoy the Bug Man novels, not so much for their underlying message but because they are captivating and easy reading that makes me laugh and keep turning the pages. Tim Downs knows how to write suspenseful, original stories, and his character Nick Polchak is one of the most memorable and unique heroes I've ever come across.

THE RECOMMENDATION: 3.5 out of 5

DOGWOOD by Chris Fabry

THE SUMMARY: This is the story of a small town’s pain that has lasted more than a decade, the tragic death of two young girls involved in a car accident. It’s the story of a young man sent to prison. It’s the story of a young woman struggling with a burden that is buried deeper than she knows. It’s the story of a brother haunted with guilt too heavy. It’s the story of an elderly woman who can see through past wounds and bring truth into the darkest of circumstances. It’s the story of sacrifice and love.

THE MESSAGE: The message of the book can’t be shared without giving away its secrets. But it’s about deep love, forgiveness, and facing the truth.

THE PRESENTATION: Each chapter is told from one of four different perspectives. It’s not hard to follow the character jumps, but the reader does need to be aware. Also, much of the story is shrouded in mystery, so it takes a little time to put some of the pieces together to follow what is happening. It’s a captivating read, and one that caught my imagination and wouldn’t let go.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I thought I’d figured out how the story would end. Some of it I got right, however, there were a few twists that took my breath away. It made me go back and reread a number of chapters, and I wonder how my perspective of the book would change now that I see the entire picture. It’s definitely one I feel I need to reread to fully appreciate. And I’ve found that my thoughts continue to return to the book and its message. Very powerful.

THE RECOMMENDATION: 4.5 out of 5