Back on Murder : Response

Yesterday I posted the basic info about Back on Murder for the CFBA tour, but I wanted to write a little more about the book. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and found it to be one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time. It’s not perfect, but Mark Bertrand has done a wonderful job of creating a rich, complex character in a fully realized setting. Roland March is a mess, which I know bothers some people, but I like him. (I’ve enjoyed Michael Connelly’s books featuring Harry Bosch, a complex mess himself.) March is his own worst enemy at times, and a little irritating, but he has a dogged determination to solve the web of crime he’s confronted with and I like that about him.

That dogged determination doesn’t apply just to crime solving — early in the book I wondered if March’s marriage could possibly survive, but he sticks with it. Mark captured the ways a couple can wound each other so well, but he also captured the underlying love and commitment to see each other through the bad times. It’s one of the best depictions of a fragile marriage I’ve read. Relationships matter to me and I enjoy reading books where relationships matter, so I appreciate that the relationships in Back on Murder are an important part of the story.

Another strong point is the depiction of Christians. Roland March is not a Christian, and in fact finds much evangelical culture to be confusing. He’s not sure how to deal with the Christians he’s working with, and yet he responds to their kindness and integrity. They’re not all perfect, which is also refreshing. There are no conversion scenes but there is hope.

One aspect of the book that worked less well for me, at least part of the time, was the first-person present tense. I’m fine with first person but sometimes I found all the present tense a little jarring. Still, I was forced to see things through Roland March’s eyes, as he saw them, and that was an interesting experience. I’m not sure I could pull it off, but Mark kept the voice consistent throughout. I also thought the story felt a little rushed at the end, though sometimes events all come together at once.

I appreciated what seemed to be a realistic picture of police life and I appreciated that, though the crimes were solved, it was bittersweet. Some crimes just almost never have a happy resolution and that plays out realistically in the book.

I can heartily recommend Back on Murder and I’m really looking forward to the next installment in the Roland March series next summer, The Pattern of Wounds.

CFBA: Beguiled

(I’ll give my take on the book in a day or two. In the meantime, here’s the basic information. I will say, even if you’re not usually a romance reader, you may enjoy this romantic suspense. I am. Also, per FTC rules, I received a free review copy of this book from Bethany House.)

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Beguiled
(Bethany House February 1, 2010)
Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Deeanne Gist, the bestselling author of A Bride Most Begrudging and The Measure of a Lady, has a background in education and journalism. Her credits include People magazine, Parents, and Parenting. With a line of parenting products called “I Did It!® Productions” and a degree from Texas A&M, she continues her writing and speaking. She and her family live in Houston, Texas.
J. Mark Bertrand has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. After one hurricane too many, he left Houston and relocated with his wife Laurie to the plains of South Dakota.

ABOUT THE BOOK

In the shadows of Charleston, someone is watching her… Rylee Monroe, a dogwalker in Charleston’s wealthiest neighborhood, never feared the streets at night. But now a thief is terrorizing the area and worse, someone seems to be targeting her.

Reporter Logan Woods is covering the break-ins with the hope of publishing them as a true-crime book. The more he digs, the more he realizes this beguiling dogwalker seems to be at the center of everything. As danger draws ever closer, Logan must choose: Chase the girl, the story, or plunge into the shadows after the villain who threatens everything?

If you’d like to read the first chapter of Beguiled, go HERE

Come and visit with those posting for this tour!

Abi at lighter side
Amy at My Life
Andie at Radiant Light
April at Projecting A
Barbara at Victoria Hill Farm
Becky at Joyful Mother
Betsy Ann at Betsy Ann “Writer at Large!”
Bonnie at Bonnie Writes
Brandilyn at Forensics and Faith
Brittanie at A Book Lover
Cara at the law, books, and life
Carla at Carla’s Writing Café
Carol at Blogging With Carol
Carrie at The Random Thoughts Of Carrie
CeeCee at Book Splurge
Cheryl at Writing Remnants
Christa at Fairfield Corner Academy
Christy at Christy’s Book Blog
Christy at Southern Sassy Things
Dave at The Plot Thickens
Dave at Novel Spotlight
Deanna at Deannna’s Corner
Deborah at books, movies and chinese food
Deborah at Comfort Joy Designs
Debra at Soul Reflections
Deena at A Peek At My Bookshelf
Delia at Gatorskunkz And Mudcats
Edyth at Great Reads by Jasmine
Elizabeth at Count it All Joy
Ernie at Writing: My Adventures In Words
Georgiana at Georgiana D
Gretchen at Back Cover Reviews
Heidi at Reviews By Heidi
Jane at Winning Readings
Janis at The Nearsighted Bookworm
Janna at Cornhusker Academy
Jason at Spoiled For The Ordinary
Jendi at Jendi’s Journal
Jennifer at So Many Books…So Little Time
Jill at Artistic Blogger
Kara at Ramblings-n-Writings
Kate at A Simple Walk
Katie at Christian Novels
Kelly at A Disciple’s Steps
Kelly at Scrambled Dregs
Kim at Window To My World
Kristi at Stamped With Grace
Leah at Ponderings From My Heart
Linda at Mocha With Linda
Linda at Musings From The Windowsill
Linda at Reading For His Glory
Lori at Noggin Bits
Lynn at Ladybug Chronicles
Margaret at Creative Madness
Marjorie at The Writer’s Tool
Mark at Thoughts Of A Sojourner
Melissa at Real Heart Prints
Michelle at Just A Minute
Michelle at Edgy Inspirational Author
Michelle at Raising Little Women
Nicole at Into The Fire
Nora at Finding Hope Through Christian Fiction
Pam at Pam’s Private Reflections
Pam at Daysong Reflections
Rebecca at A Christian Worldview of Fiction
Ruth at Booktalk & more…
Ryan at loves to read
Sabrina at Hijinks From The Heartland
Sally at Welcome To Sally Bradley.com
Sean at Bookmark Cafe
Sheila at Book Journey
Stacy at Vader’s Mom
Susan at New Every Morning
Takiela at Beauty 4 Ashes
Tara at Tara’s View On Books
Tracy at Pix-N-Pens

Bible Review: The Transformation Study Bible

trans NLT sbI’m not usually a fan of study Bibles built around a particular author or niche group. (I’ve been using the ESV Study Bible and like it a lot.) But when I got the chance to receive a review copy of the Transformation Study Bible, I was interested. For one thing, it’s the New Living Translation (NLT), which I’ve been interested in learning more about. And I was very interested in the study helps based on Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s series of Bible commentaries.

So far, I like this study Bible. The NLT is a good, readable translation and I think I’m going to enjoy using it. It’s a dynamic equivalent translation, which means it’s less formal than the ESV. That makes it a good contrasting version for study. This Bible’s layout is useful — it has two columns, with center references, for the scripture on the top two-thirds of the page. The bottom third (more or less) of the page is the study notes, which are set in two columns in a slightly smaller contrasting font. The text of both is large enough to be easily read. (And that matters a lot to me as my eyes get older.) There’s also a concordance and maps in the back, along with preaching outlines of each book of the Bible (a feature of Wiersbe’s commentaries). Interspersed throughout the Bible are set-off sections labeled “Catalyst.” These sections highlight specific themes in the text. For example, on the page with Hebrews 11 is a Catalyst section about Faith — just a couple of paragraphs of additional thoughts a reader could use devotionally or to spark further study. Each book of the Bible has an introduction that includes an outline of the book, a brief overview, and a section labeled “Be Transformed,” which focuses on the application of the text. Dr. Wiersbe is a respected writer, preacher and Bible teacher and his commentaries have been widely used for years. His doctrine falls squarely within the evangelical mainstream. His commentary in the various helps and study notes is clear and will be easily understood by the average person in the pew, as well as useful to pastors and teachers.

Most study Bibles come with a certain set of theological presuppositions and the reader needs to keep in mind that introductory sections and study notes are helps and not part of the scripture. But a good study Bible can help the reader understand more and dig deeper into the scripture. I think the Transformation Study Bible is another good tool that a student of the Word will find useful.

CSFF Tour: Offworld

No, this isn’t going to become a blog celebrating all things Robin Parrish, but I do want to highlight Offworld once again. One of the things I thought Robin did well in this story was the gradual development of faith in the characters. It wasn’t heavy handed, it wasn’t preachy — it was organic. If you came home and found everyone gone, you’d have questions, too! If events so bizarre and unexplainable were happening around you, and to you, you’d wonder where God was in all of the chaos. A couple of weeks ago, Robin commented on his facebook page that some Christians complained that the book wasn’t Christian enough, but to non-Christians it was too Christian. I think that’s a good dilemma for a writer to have — it suggests that the writer is telling the truth and it’s making people uncomfortable.

Of course, a lot of people just want to read a good story. And that’s another way that this novel succeeds. It’s a rousing good tale that keeps the reader hooked from the first page. Robin does a good job of weaving the elements of the story together so the reader learns new things along the way, but not too many new things at once. This is the kind of story that depends a lot on the author’s ability to engage the reader — if the reader can’t buy into the premise of the story, then the author has lost him. Robin never lost me, even at points where I was afraid the story might be headed off the rails a bit. But the story world held together and I rode the roller coaster to the end.

One of Robin’s strengths is that ability to tell a fast-paced, wildly imaginitive story. The flip side of that, though, is that the breakneck pace can leave a reader feeling out of breath. And sometimes the characters can be somewhat less than fully realized. I prefer character-driven stories, so if I don’t like the characters in a book, it won’t hold me, no matter how thrilling the tale. I would say that for the most part, Robin did a good job of pacing in Offworld and the characters developed as the story progressed. I was intrigued by them and wanted to know more about them. I cared about what happened to them.

So, if you’re looking for a good read that doesn’t shy away from the spiritual development of the characters, Offworld is for you. If you don’t normally read Christian fiction, give this one a try — and then find Robin’s Dominion Trilogy and read that, too. Then you’ll understand that good Christian speculative fiction is not an oxymoron.

And if you’re interested in joining the discussion about Christian speculative fiction, visit the other fine blogs listed below.

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Gina Burgess
Canadianladybug
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Linda Gilmore
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika
Eve Nielsen (posting later in the week)
Nissa
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Steve Rice
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Stephanie
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Elizabeth Williams

15 books … (more or less)

I’m a sucker for memes and facebook quizzes. So when Chris tagged me in a note called 15 Books That Have Shaped You (for better or worse), I had to make my list. It’s on facebook, but I’ll post it here, too, with a little commentary. (And these are probably not in any particular order, other than roughly chronological.)

1. Black Beauty
2. King of the Wind
I read these two horse stories more times than I can count and I loved them every time.

3. Little Women — I think I related to bookish Jo, always the outsider, the most. The four March girls old friends I like to visit now and again.
4. Jane Eyre — I first read this when I was about 13 and I think this is the book that really awakened me to literature. (up until then I read a lot, but I don’t think I’d tackeled anything very challenging) Sure, it’s gothic romance, but it’s gothic romance at its best, with rich characters and thrilling conflict. I was enthralled.
5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land (both by Robert Heinlein)  — I should probably also mention a book by Andre Norton, but I don’t remember what it was called. But it was one of the first science fiction books I ever read. I was probably about 15 or 16. Then it was on to Isaac Asimov and  Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. I was hooked on science fiction.
6. The Left Hand of Darkness (by Ursula K. LeGuin) — I first read this one weekend while I was in college and it was one of those books that so completely sucked me in that when I would come up for air, it was a bit of a shock to find myself in a college dorm room and not on the planet Gethen. LeGuin is a master storyteller and in this book she was at her best. I still love it.
7. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings — I discovered The Hobbit in high school and had never read anything like it. So then I tackled the Lord of the Rings. It took me a couple of tries to read it all the way through, but I’ve been a resident of Middle Earth ever since.
8. The Chronicles of Narnia — I didn’t discover these until I was in college. We were fond, at my little Christian college, of using passages as devotions. But I think even if you never knew anything about C.S. Lewis or about Christianity, the beauty of the stories would speak to you. They’re all good, but my favorite is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
9. To Kill a Mockingbird — I actually read this in high school and I’ve returned to it many times since. I love the voice and the way Harper Lee wove the story. It’s as if someone were sitting on the front porch and telling it to me.
10. Mysteries by Agatha Christie — My mom is a mystery lover, so I suppose it was only natural that I’d start delving into her collection. I’ve read most of her books and enjoyed them a lot, though I have found that they aren’t the kind of books that hold up to rereading. But she was very good at writing mysteries and I don’t think I ever figured out who did it very much  before the end.
11. Mysteries by Ngaio Marsh — I discovered Ngaio Marsh after I was grown and found her stories to be a little meatier, at least in some ways. Her characters seemed deeper than Christie’s. I think I liked her later books better (especially the ones where Inspecter Allyn’s wife appears).
12. Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers (as well as her others, but this one’s my favorite) — and then I discovered Dorothy Sayers and most English mystery writers have paled in comparison ever since. I can reread some of Sayers’ books, especially Gaudy Night. I realized that a mystery story could be good literature, too, and I just loved the way she told the stories. Some of them are a little rambling and seem dated, but the characters and scenes are still vivid.
13. Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger — it’s beautiful and what else is there to say. Enger has a way with words and with characters.
14. On Writing, by Stephen King — I’ve read a lot of books about writing, but this is my favorite. And I’m not even a big Stephen King fan. But I liked his approach — telling his story and then telling about writing. It all fits together somehow and it’s entertaining as well as instructive.
15. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden — I think I first read this in a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book and loved the story of nuns in Britain. I’m not Catholic, but Godden brought that faith tradition alive. But it’s also full of very human characters and it’s a good story.

I could go on and on (and have sometimes). But I would say that these are some of the books that have had the most lasting affect on me. What about you?