Monday, July 23, 2007

Sticks & Stones (A Rachael Flynn Mystery)

Sticks & Stones (A Rachael Flynn Mystery)
By Susan Meissner
Published by Harvest House
ISBN-10: 0-7369-1915-5

"They're going to find a body at the River Terrace construction site. He deserved what he got, but it wasn't supposed to happen. It was an accident."

Lawyer Rachel Flynn has only been at her new job in the Ramsey County attorney's office for four months when she receives an unsigned letter with the startling message.

Two days later the predicted body is found, but to everyone's astonishment, the remains have been buried for at least 20 years. When the body is identified as that of a 15-year-old-boy, the police begin to dig for clues. Rachael continues to receive anonymous notes...and the questions keep coming...
Was it really an accident, or was it murder? Why has it taken so many years for this story to come to light? And why did the young man "deserve" to die?

As Rachael searches out the identity of the writer, she finds herself drawn to the neighborhood where the body was found—and to an abandoned house that no longer exists, but seems to call out to her nonetheless.

Brilliantly written, Sticks & Stones is one of the best books I've read this year! Meissner's characters step off the page, taking you by the hand to journey with them.

And that journey takes you into a dark past, where a bully made their lives a living hell. I found myself angry at the parents and the school officials for not stopping him. And yet what could they really have done? Nothing more than they did. And that's why this story rings so true. You'll feel the victims' helplessness, their terror, and see how each has the perfect motive for murder.

Each one a suspect, Meissner leads you through a labyrinth of twist after twist, not to mention plenty of red herrings, and leaves you be kept guessing until the end. This reviewer gives Sticks & Stones her highest recommendation.

Linda Hall's Black Ice

Black Ice (Fog Point Series)
by Linda Hall

Book Description
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (March 20, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1578569559
ISBN-13: 978-1578569557

They said she came in with the ice…

Lenore Featherjohn found the girl, frozen against a snow bank behind Lenore’s bed-and-breakfast. Some said she was a ghost, others said an angel.

Lenore knows better. Fearing that the police might look to her sons as murderers, she hires Jake Rikker and his crusty business partner, May, to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding her undesirable discovery. Their search leads them not to the strange girl–or to Earth’s final days, as many in the town suspect–but to Amy McLaren, the wife of a local minister. As Jake and May get closer to the truth, the tension between Lenore and Amy rises, forcing each woman to face the secrets they’ve hidden far too long.

Return to Fog Point in Black Ice, a gripping novel that asks, is any faith strong enough to survive the coldest seasons of life?

My Review:

I don't know how I've managed to miss Christy nominated, best-selling author, Linda Hall.

I will be rectifying this.

Black Ice wrapped around me and pulled me in, holding my attention until the very satisfying conclusion. Beautiful, haunting descriptions. Multi-dimensional and realistic characters. Page-turning, haunting plot.

The Christianity elements resemble the Christians I know, chipped, cracked and broken in progress and process.

Well done and recommended.

The Healing Season

The Healing Season
By Ruth Axtell Morren
Published by Steeple Hill
ISBN-10: 0-373-78588-7


Could a scarlet woman win the heart of an honorable man? Tough he'd found his life's calling, Dr. Ian Russell hadn't yet found his life's mate. Then the former Army surgeon encountered the enchanting stage actress Eleanor Neville.

Ian's good works and strong faith set him apart from other men Eleanor knew. But despite his fascination with her glittering world, Eleanor feared her notorious past would end their future together before it had ever begun. Could true love and faith overcome all obstacles and make their lonely hearts as one?

It wasn't until I neared the end that I realized this book is a retelling of Hosea and Gomer, albeit with a twist. Thoroughly engaging in story and style, Morren transports her readers to London in the early 1800s. Credible emotions and prejudices color both Ian's and Eleanor's lives, creating wonderful conflict and tension. The Healing Season doesn't have the predictability of formula romance; rather it's a beautiful love story of God's grace. A definite recommendation for your bookshelf.

Tracey Bateman's Catch a Rising Star

Catch a Rising Star
By Tracey Bateman
Published by FaithWords, (July 17, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0446698938

Book DescriptionWhen thirty-something Tabby Brockman has the opportunity to reclaim her role as a killed-off character on the nation's #1 daytime soap opera, she figures this must be God's reward. But back on the set, she's faced with the same hateful head writer who killed off her character in the first place, kids who drive her crazy, a stage dad who rubs her completely wrong, and and an unwanted boyfriend who can?t seem to get the message. Faced with this dizzying rollercoaster of challenges, Tabby has to wonder: is she finally a star on the rise or just on the brink of another spectacular fall?

Tabby Brockman is a young girl who is getting a second chance to reprise her role on the nation’s number-one daytime soap opera. Right away Tabby’s faith is tested. She knows that she wants to make a different in the field she loves – acting; but is she have the courage to stand up for her principles? Will she be strong? Will being on the show be different this time now that she is a “Christian”? The story is funny, witty and believable. Tracey shows what Tabby has to deal with as a member of the soap opera cast on a daily basis. Tabby learns how to make Jesus - Lord of her life through a process of trial and errors (some pretty funny) Tabby also battles with “Lies” of the enemy about her weight and other topics that come up in that industry. This was a fun book and the first in its series called "Drama Queen".

Reviewed by Nora St. Laurent
LifeWay Book Club, Buford, GA

Kristin Billerbeck's Split Ends

Split Ends: Sometimes the End is Really the Beginning
by Kristin Billerbeck
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (April 17, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1591455081
ISBN-13: 978-1591455080

She's armed--with hot irons, sharp shears, and a flair for color.

She's dangerous--truly bad news for bad hair.

And she's going to do whatever it takes to make a place for herself in the exclusive Beverly Hills salon.

Even if that means sweeping hair, emptying trash, scrubbing dummy heads, and making soy lattes for the stars that come to Yoshi's salon.

Even if it means hiding the fact that she's not really an up-and-comer from New York, but a drunk's daughter from small-town Wyoming.
Even if it means igoring her attraction to a tall, dark stranger in a fedora who just stepped off the elevator...and into her heart.

But can a talented hairdresser from the sticks really make it in image-obsessed L.A.? And can she ever find true love and real success in a town that wrote the book on fake?

My Review:
Kristin Billerbeck writes charming men and sassy, angsty women with such warmth and creativity that I can't help but sigh when closing one of her books.

Split Ends is well told and with seeds of truth that push the reader to ponder the things that hold them captive to messed-up thinking or burdens from the past.

Each chapter begins with a quote from a movie star from "back in the day." The day when all men were gentle yet tough and women felt protected enough to be vulnerable.

Those who are old movie fans, Hollywood hounds, into hair and/or fashion, or just love a sweet story will find much to like.
I discovered a time conundrum or two within the story. But since this is Chick-Lit and those of us who enjoy it do so for the escapism and the fun and subtle errors are easily overlooked.

For the more sensitive readers -- a wee bit of language and slightly indelicate mention of natural beauty enhancements occasionally pop up along the story line. However, anyone who watches television won't be put off unless they think that Christians don't know slang, or that it's a sin to use it.

Shepherd and Everson's The Potluck Club Takes the Cake

The Potluck Club Takes the Cake
By Linda Evans Shepherd & Eva Marie Everson
Published by Revell
ISBN 10: 0-8007-3074-7

Is the Potluck Club becoming the Bridesmaids Club? Wedding plans and romantic desires abound as the six friends continue to share food, friendship, prayer—and new adventures renging from hilarious to dangerous!

Shocking rumors, family secrets, and a mountain avalanche threaten the friends' sense of security, their relationships, and even their lives. As Evangeline's wedding day draws near, Lisa Leann's matchmaking ways threaten to cause trouble ion more than one relationship. Will the Potluck Club be able to put aside their differences and help each other survive the storms of life and love?

The church ladies live on, and if you liked the first two Potluck Club books, you'll love this one. I just know these ladies are members of my church, and if you look over your shoulder, you may see them in the pew behind you, too. The sometimes zany, sometimes crotchety, and sometimes out-of-control characters are always charming. Shepherd and Everson have delivered another fun-filled read with some unexpected results. Things I wanted to happen didn't, but it was okay. With surprises at each turn, this third book of the series does indeed Take the Cake! And the recipes are delicious, too.

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Alton Gansky's Crime Scene Jerusalem

By Alton Gansky
Paperback: 318 pages
Publisher: River Oak (January 20, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1589190963
ISBN 978-1-58919-096-2

Alton Gansky never ceases to amaze me in his variety of styles in writing, and Crime Scene Jerusalem turns the tables again.

Crime Scene investigator Maxwell Odom is a troubled man. One of the best in his field of forensics, he is suffering from a few personal setbacks. He is “kindly” forced into a business trip to Jerusalem as a speaker and teacher to a special police unit. Here he was to teach some of the newest tactics in forensics. After a long tiring trip, he lays down to nap before his speech and suddenly finds himself transported to ancient Jerusalem.

His guide, Yoshua, escorts him throughout old Jerusalem to investigate the murder of an innocent man – the Son of Man. Taken to various significant places a few days after the death of Jesus, Maxwell attempts to work a modern-day crime scene investigation in first century Jerusalem.

Though he has become a calloused man through years of gruesome crime scene investigations, Maxwell is forced, to not only observe the facts of this crime; but to reevaluate his own beliefs as well. Given a unique opportunity to meet those who loved Jesus, traveled with him, and knew him personally, Maxwell seeks out the truth. He is now forced to see, what to him was only a story in history, as a reality and truth.

Alton Gansky has beautifully incorporated footnotes that reinforce the truth that lies beneath the fiction. This unique combination of fact and fiction bring together a wonderful marriage of words. Gansky has done his homework in the forensic field as well, bringing a vivid true-life picture of the death of Jesus.

Clearly, this is another score for Gansky as he presents this clever combination of fact and fiction. Cook Communications and RiverOak have found a winner.

Reviewed by Cindy Sproles, Mountain Breeze Ministries

A Letter On The Fourth of July

A Letter On The Fourth of July

Early this morning, I found my way to watching the Prime Minister's Questions in the British Parliament. Every week, the leader of the government presents himself to the legislature, where he may be asked questions about any topic and must answer. In response to an unsatisfactory answer or dodge, the chamber does not hesitate to howl in protest or heckle. It may be raucous. It may be passionate. There are often displays of admirable wit. What is always present, in the very tradition itself, is accountability. The executive leader of this government is accountable to the people's representatives, and is held accountable - in person - on an ongoing basis.

In that one important conviction - the accountability of its leaders - Britain has surpassed our democracy. In the United States partisanship and cynicism continue to prevail over the common good, over truth, over justice, over sound policy. And who in our republic expects anything better anymore? Who in our country values the words of our Declaration of Independence enough to feel personally insulted by our politics, and to demand something better with a deep conviction that the United States is better than this?

Partisan politics are always part of the process, and a competition of ideas is necessary for the health of a democracy. At the right time, however, politics must yield to truth and to justice. We are a nation of laws, not of men - and not of political parties. Or are we?

Last night, Keith Olbermann opened his dramatic call for Bush's resignation by quoting the actor John Wayne, who was a right-wing conservative. Upon learning that his choice, Richard Nixon, had been beaten for the presidency by John F. Kennedy, Wayne reportedly said, "I didn't vote for him, but he's my president, and I hope he does a good job."

There it is in a single sentence. Partisanship has a vital place, and at other times, we have to concede partisanship and put country first. In turn, presidents - who are also leaders of political parties - must do the same. There is a time for politics, and a time to put them aside and focus on what is truly best for the republic and her people.

The fourth of July is a day that commemorates a fateful choice: the choice to be independent of tyranny, to govern ourselves in a manner that is accountable, to hold our own government accountable. Where is that spirit today, when tyrants prevail in the executive branch, overruling civil law, our Constitution, and international law whenever it suits their partisan advantage? Where is that revolutionary spirit now that the opposition party, having been elected to lead Congress, fails to provide the check on executive power run amok, which is so clearly needed? Where are America's citizens, as they turn out to vote in fewer numbers and give up on the promise and the sacred duty enshrined in our founding documents, and the moving words of our Declaration?

The leaders of our government do not have to answer to the people's branch or to the people. What is far worse, is that few of us really expect them to. We abide, shaking our heads, while expensive and unproductive wars are launched over deliberate lies. We abide as boys young enough to be my son are shipped home dead or maimed, for no ultimate good and with no end in sight. We abide when a great, historic American city is destroyed in a flood, and the president fails to ensure that our emergency relief agencies are functioning effectively - and, indeed, when the president praises officials whose undisputed incompetence cost lives. We abide one disappointment after another, as the institutions of justice are put to political purposes over and above the dictates of blind justice. Finally, just before the fourth of July, the President commutes the sentence of a close political aide who was rightfully and properly convicted of lying under oath to obstruct an enquiry into our administrations actions.

James Madison said, "If the President be connected in any suspicious manner with any person and there be grounds to believe that he will shelter him, he may be impeached." As if we hadn't enough other causes already.

Yet there is no proceeding. Only the solemn shaking of heads as the rival party - putting its own political ambitions for 2008 first - plays safe, steps back, and allows the debasement of our republic to continue. Yes, the Democrats also put partisan politics first, and as the disappointments mount and fewer people bother to vote, political ascension is a matter not of excellence but of funding and marketing.

I read the words of Declaration on the 4th of July and imagine the frustration, the suffering, and the aspirations of colonists who wanted liberty and self-determination, a chance to survive and prosper in their own right, and their audacity in rejecting tyranny in favor of self-government, a kind of representative democracy that must have felt like a precarious experiment.

What can I imagine those people would say of us today? What would Madison say of our current president, who has insisted he has a mandate to rule as a monarch; and what would he say of us, who have permitted it?

What we celebrate on the fourth of July is a fateful choice. It is the choice of people who risked their very lives on what was an audacious idea: that they somehow had the right to say no to tyranny and govern themselves. Their successors, two centuries later, can hardly be bothered to vote in regular elections - and certainly cannot be counted on to howl and heckle and hold their leaders personally accountable.

On this fourth of July, I would like to celebrate rare citizens such as Harry Taylor, who hold our top leaders personally accountable. And I would like to share, for those who haven't seen it, Mr. Olbermann's commentary, which aired on MSNBC last night, who notes that even Richard Nixon - a man tragically obsessed with partisan politics, to the point of doing crazy and illegal things - finally subordinated politics to what was best for his country

Where Congress Fears To Tread

Where Congress Fears To Tread

Madam Speaker,

On the 4th of July, 2007, I am calling on you as Speaker of the House to reverse your position on impeachment proceedings against the President and Vice President of the United States.

For the good of country, and putting that greater good ahead of partisan advantage, I call on you to put impeachment back on the table.

Are there not sufficient grounds to measure high crimes and misdemeanors when the President intentionally misleads the Congress and the public to justify his invasion and occupation of Iraq, in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 1001; and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States in connection with the war against Iraq in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 371;

When the President admits - nay, proudly announces! - to ordering the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance of American civilians without seeking warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, duly constituted by Congress in 1978, in violation of Title 50 of the United States Code, Section 1805;

When the President conspires to commit the torture of prisoners in violation of the UN Torture Convention and the Geneva Convention, which under Article VI of the Constitution are part of the "supreme Law of the Land"; and enacts a policy of extraordinary rendition of these prisoners to hidden facilities in other lands to avoid the conscience of our great republic;

When the President subverts civil law by ordering indefinite detention of citizens, without access to legal counsel, without charge and without opportunity to appear before a civil judicial officer to challenge the detention, based solely on the discretionary designation by the President of a U.S. citizen as an "enemy combatant";

When the President fails to ensure the competent functioning of emergency agencies, and even praises officials whose undisputed incompetence caused unnecessary deaths as one of our great historic cities was destroyed;

And when the President commutes a standard sentence for a close political aide convicted in a jury trial of lying under oath and obstructing an appropriate investigation into the Administration's activities;

When the President has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President, subversive of constitutional government to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of this republic?

Please tell me, in the face of this, what is the sacred duty of the people's branch of government?

Madam Speaker, put patriotism over political expediency. Do what is right and impeach this President and this Vice-President.

Or else, pray persuade the people why Congress should not.

Run, Dan, Run

Run, Dan, Run

On April 22, Long Beach lost its Congressional representative to colon cancer. Her name was Juanita Millender McDonald, a Democrat. She represented her district in the United States Congress from 1996 until her death. Some say she would have been Secretary of Transportation if John Kerry had become President.

To replace her, a special election took place two months after her death. The Democrats vying to replace her spent their time and money fighting each other. Meanwhile, one young man - a clinical social worker in Long Beach who has worked with the mentally ill and youth in trouble - kept bringing the conversation back to the occupation of Iraq, energy and the environment, and health care. Health care, health care, health care.

We're supposed to believe that a candidate like that can't win an election. Yet Daniel Brezenoff, who comes from a family of political organizers and has it in his blood, who has himself organized many campaigns before his own, earned enough votes to get into the runoff election in August.

I haven't met Daniel yet, but I hope to very soon. This is the sort of person, and the sort of plan, we need in our Congress. To achieve that, we need to work for it. I can't vote for Dan, since I live in another district, but I can help him and somehow I will.

Maybe He's Just Jealous

Maybe He's Just Jealous

Live Earth, the 24-hour, intercontinental musical event taking place today has its detractors, of course.

Many people, for instance, have brought up the hypocrisy that this concert is being powered by electricity. That's because of course if environmentalists really practiced what they preached, they'd be living naked in caves.

That way, we wouldn't have to feel challenged by them.

Among the other notable critics of Live Earth is Bob Geldof, who said:

"...why is (Gore) actually organizing them? To make us aware of the greenhouse effect? Everybody's known about that problem for years. We are all [expletive] conscious of global warming."

Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Geldof, who only organizes concerts that publicize things the rest of us don't know about!

For instance, Live Aid, which informed us for the first time that there is hunger in Africa; and Live 8, which informed an unsuspecting world that lots of people live in poverty.

Empty Studio Part II

Empty Studio Part II

Another Saturday sitting in an empty studio. My cushions and my sandals parked by the door, a bag with a notebook and some other items potentially useful for teaching an acting class that incorporates the stillness of Zen meditation and the release of energy into creativity and action.

Sounds like a great idea. Many people tell me that. Sort of like Zen practice itself - people love to read about it or hear about it; yet starting a sitting group is a very lonely proposition. You have to show up, and show up, and keep showing up. Do the sitting even if no one is there. And in the acting studio, that's what I do: fold up my legs, hold my hands softly in position, breathe and listen. Sangha is a precious jewel indeed. Precious, and rare.

Perhaps the only one who is really interested in practicing this is me; and maybe my business right now is in the zendo doing my practice, and not improvising with performing arts and outer path improvisations. Who am I kidding? There is nothing to proclaim. I have offered something, maybe something that really is only interesting to me - anyway, there is no pressing need for it. Clear, clear.

Maybe the problem is, I don't want to say goodbye to acting. Even though acting has said goodbye to me. The empty studio is an echo of a door that shut years ago. Yes, that's possible.

If you want to figure out what's going wrong in a situation, start by following what you want. That's the trail that will lead you to the fuckup eventually.

At Casey's downtown, Chris buys me a pint and tells me I need to shut up and listen to him. Meanwhile I'm thinking maybe we both ought to shut up.

Goodness, I've wandered for away from home. Maybe time to rest my voice for a while and let my scalp feel the sunshine.

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