Monday, August 31, 2009

Obsessed by Ted Dekker

Today, I am taking a look back at Ted Dekker's Obsessed(released Feb. 2005). On occasion, I will be looking back at books that have been recommended to me. If your local bookstore does not carry them, they can usually order the book for you.

Obsessed is one of my favorite Dekker books. Ted has produced many exciting thrillers. This is one of the best.
Stephen Friedman is making a good living. An ordinary guy. Until he discovers a secret, his past is not what he thought it was. From the grave of a Holocaust survivor comes the message that he is the heir to an incredible fortune.
As Stephen begins his quest, so does another man. The only other man who can understand the clue to the treasure is a serial killer named Roth Braun. Unknown to Stephen, Roth has been waiting 30 years for him. Roth was stopped from killing him once before but this time he will let nothing get in his way. Roth is one of the most sadistic villains in Christian fiction.

The chapters alternate between the story of what happened in the concentration camp Torun that set these events in motion, Roth's obsession, and Stephen's quest for the truth. The author does an excellent job of turning up the suspense with each chapter. This is one of those books that you will not be able to put down once you start reading it.

This book helped convince me that Ted Dekker is one of Christian fiction's greatest treasures.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Author's Website: Ted Dekker

A Bigger Life by Annette Smith

Sometimes you start reading what you think will be a good but not great book. Not too many pages into A Bigger Life, I knew that Annette Smith had written one of the best books of 2007.
Once I began reading the story of Joel Carpenter's life, I could not put it down. It reminds me of the writing of Nicholas Sparks(The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember). Sparks novels pull you into the life of the characters and doesn't let go until the end of the book. This is that kind of novel. Joel's problems and how he deals with them are realistic. Everything is not solved by a quick fix. His friends will seem like people you know.

This is the kind of writing that we need more of in Christian fiction. A Bigger Life will go on my shelf next to The Notebook and A Walk to Remember.

I will definitely be looking for more books by this author.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Author's Website: Annette Smith

Monday, August 24, 2009

Coral Moon by Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins follows the first book in the Kanner Lake Series(Violet Dawn) with Coral Moon. Brandilyn has written numerous books in the Hidden Faces, Bradleyville, and Chelsea Adams series. Kanner Lake looks to be another good series for fans of suspense novels. A unique feature of this series is the characters have a blog called Scenes and Beans. It is interesting to keep up with the characters between books. Take the time to visit the site.

Kanner Lake is a small Idaho town that was the sight of a murder in the first book. Coral Moon follows a second murder that occurs in this rural community. The murder appears to be senseless. The victim was very well liked. Who did it? Why did they do it? What is the secret of the mysterious note left pinned to the victim? As the clues are gaithered, it looks like the murderer could be the ghost of a former resident. Or is it one of the people from the first book? But that is impossible, isn't it? The author will keep you on the edge of your seat until the mystery is solved.

I thought that this book was not quite up to the level of the first book. At times, some of the supporting cast seemed too much like characters in a novel instead of real people. It pulled me out of the story. Overall it is still a good book and worth reading.

The third story(Crimson Eve) is previewed in the back of this book. It looks to be a good one. Brandilyn continues to write some of the best opening chapters of any author I have read.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Author's Website: Brandilyn Collins

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Lost Sheep by Brandt Dodson

The only bad thing about the fourth Colton Parker Mystery is the wait for the next book in the series. The Lost Sheep is more proof that Brandt Dodson is one of the our best writers. A new book by Brandt automatically goes to the top of my must read stack.

This is the first time that we have seen Colton leave the familiar setting of Indianapolis. The cause? His teenage daughter runs away. The trail leads to what has to be a father's worst nightmare-Las Vegas. With the help of a local cowboy, he is hot on the trail...realizing that each day his chances of finding his daughter become slimmer.

Colton continues to struggle to do the right thing while doing what he has to to save his daughter. But when a cult leader named Malak is opposing him, Colton has to decide between doing things his way or God's way.

With the level of personal involvement, Brandt has raised the bar for future installments. I will be anxious to see how things work out in the next book.

Highly recommended. If you have not read the earlier books, read them in the order listed below. The author has written them so they can be read in any order but the story is best read in order.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Author's Website: Brandt Dodson

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Root of All Evil by Brandt Dodson

The third Colton Parker mystery is another great read in the crime noir tradition. This is one of those books that pulls you in and you can't believe how long you have been reading when you stop to check the clock. Brandt Dodson is a fascinating storyteller.

At the start of this book, Colton is still struggling with money but his reputation as a private eye is growing. Wealthy businessman Berger Hume is looking for the son he has never met. Berger is dying. Colton is racing the clock to find the son and prove that he really is Hume's son. This leads him into a conflict with Satan's Posse(a notorious biker gang). When Colton's daughter is threatened, it becomes personal.

Along the way, we get the chance to revisit with some of Colton's(and our) favorite hangouts. Old friends appear. Brandt has done a great job of building a history around the characters in this series. You just know that they have a life outside of these stories.

I am eagerly awaiting book four(The Lost Sheep) to see what happens to Colton's daughter. Based on his reaction when Callie has been threatened in the past, this should be the private eye's greatest test.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Author's Website:
Brandt Dodson

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Seventy Time Seven by Brandt Dodson

Some memories stay with you forever. One of those memories for me is the first time I saw a Humphrey Bogart movie. My first one was Casablanca. Once I saw it, I was a Bogie fan for life. Bogie played a tough guy with a heart of gold. He always played a character that had a problem. Rick in Casablanca tried to forget his broken heart by drinking his life away. But when his friends(including the girl who broke his heart) were in trouble, he would step up and do the right thing.

Watching Bogie movies led me to reading the works of various hardboiled crime writers. Authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Lawrence Block. None of these wrote Christian fiction. What they did write about that appealed to me was people. Most of them are not perfect but they did the right thing when it mattered. They overcame their faults, rose above their problems, and helped the people who needed them. I don't have a problem with alcoholism. I never shot a person. But we have all fallen short of the glory of God and needed redemption. Everyday I ask God to forgive me for the sins I have committed. I believe that is why this type of story(whether it is a Bogie movie or a crime novel) touches my heart.I have been looking for an author who writes hard boiled crime fiction from a Christian point of view. Brandt Dodson is that kind of writer.

Seventy Times Se7en is the second Colton Parker novel. Colton is a P.I. who used to work for the F.B.I. He was fired from his job and had a fight with his wife. She left and died in a car wreck. His teenage daughter blames him for her mother's death. Colton does not understand why his wife was a Christian. In this book, Colton is hired to find the wife of Lester Cheek. Lester's wife left without an explanation. In the process, Parker has to take on an international hit man and stop a murder for hire. At the same time he is trying to reconnect with his daughter. A daughter who wants nothing to do with him.

Brandt has managed to craft a Christian hard boiled novel. This book gives me the mix of Christian fiction and crime story I have been waiting for.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Author's Website: Brandt Dodson

Monday, August 17, 2009

Original Sin by Brandt Dodson

This is the book that started the Colton Parker mystery series. I previously reviewed(and enjoyed) the second book in the series-Seventy Times Se7en. The review is located here.

I am happy to say that this book is as highly recommended as Seventy Times Se7en.

Original Sin is an excellent introduction to the series. When the book starts Colton has already been fired from the FBI. Following his loss of employment, Colton's wife dies in a car wreck. He moves his 13 year old daughter in with his in-laws while he starts his new career as a private investigator.

Emma Caine is a popular high school counselor. When she is brutally murdered, her nephew(Billy Caine) is arrested. Billy's girlfriend hires Colton to prove his innocence. In the tradition of other great mysteries, this is just the start.

Colton shows his trademark humor, unwillingness to give up, and resentment towards God for his losses. The style of the book will remind you of Raymond Chandler. What sets Colton apart from other fictional detectives is his relationship with his daughter. He knows that he needs to be a better father but has no idea how to do it. Re-occurring characters such as FBI agent Mary Christopher, his in-laws, and his wife's pastor are there to help.

WARNING...once you start this book you will have a hard time putting it down.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Author's Website: Brandt Dodson

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fallen by Matthew Raley

Jim was finishing the day's work when his eyes drifted over to the coffee shop visible from his office window. An attractive woman driving an expesive car pulled up to the curb...and out stepped Dave, Jim's married pastor.

"For a while I tried to convince myself that a pastor sometimes rides in a Mercedes with a woman who's not his wife. But the more I tried to imagine the scenarios, the less I could believe it."

Matthew Raley has crafted an all too realistic tale. No one wants to believe that their pastor would do something wrong and then lie about it. I knew a pastor who was involved in something they should not have been doing. Like Jim in the story, my first reaction was doubt. I did not believe that my pastor was doing anything wrong. The author has done an excellent job of creating the feelings and thoughts that go with this situation. I thought the characters were represented the type of people found in most churches. After reading about them, I could match the characters to people that I know. Sometimes, first time authors struggle with realistically portraying the supporting characters. Not so with Raley. His first novel features many great characters. If you are looking for a book that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, look somewhere else. Raley has created a lesson for the church community. This is a lesson that Christians need. We need to help our pastors stay accountable. With some pastors, this is easy to do. But when you run into a situation like the one described in this book, you need all the help you can get. The Christian fiction market needs more books like this.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Author's Website: Matthew Raley

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fatal Illusions by Adam Blumer

Fatal Illusions is an excellent first novel by Adam Blumer. This book is a suspenseful page-turner. I read it while on vacation and that is a good thing. Since I did not have to get up for work in the morning, I was able to stay up late and read a few more chapters each night. The author kept increasing the intensity with each chapter. The short chapters that changed between the different viewpoint characters also helped contribute to the pacing. I personally like the short chapters when the storyline is fast-paced.

The only problems I had with this book was a couple of the scenes involving the antagonist, Haydon Owens. Haydon’s amazing ability to drive through the blizzard when the police were having problems with the road conditions surprised me. This does set up Haydon as an unstoppable force of nature but it made him appear less human. I can’t really hold this against Blumer. The same type of antagonist have been used by many more experienced authors such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz. So this is more a matter of personal preference.

The other scene I did not care for was the appearance of Ryan (I do not want to give away the plot, but you will know which scene I am talking about when you read it) to save the day. Although I prefer shorter books, in this case I would have liked another chapter added that would have set up Ryan’s appearance. I think that it could have been included a few chapters before. This would explain his later arrival without it seeming like a surprise pulled out of nowhere.

Despite the few problems I had, this book was a very good first novel. Probably the most surprising part to me was the theme of forgiveness. In a suspense/thriller type of book I don’t expect that to be a major theme. I was impressed with the way Marc was worried about Stacey even after her attack. Gillian realization of the lack of forgiveness Haydon expressed led to his problems. If he had been willing to forgive, many lives would have been spared. It was interesting to watch how forgiving or a lack of forgiveness guided the lives of the various characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Author Website: Adam Blumer

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Shepherds' Prayer by Richard M. Barry

Very few books make it to my annual reading shelf. Of course, the Bible is number one. It is the only book that I read daily. Every Easter I find myself re-reading Suddenly, One Morning by Chuck Swindoll. Now I will be adding
The Shepherds' Prayer to my annual Advent reading.

The story follows a young man's journey to find his past. His adopted father found Anam when he was an infant. Anam's mother was already dead when he was found. The only clue to his past was the blanket he was wrapped in. A blanket that leads him to Bethlehem. Anam returns to his birthplace, hoping to find his family. The clue shows a connection to someone named Jesus.

When people think of Christmas, we think of the birth of our Savior. We think of Mary and Joseph, the angels, the manger, and times of great joy because of God's gift to us. This book takes at look at the shepherds and the all too human reaction of the residents of Bethlehem.

The author puts you in the place of the shepherds. Shepherds are referred to many times during Christmas but do you ever stop and imagine what life was like for them? This book will give you a taste of their life.

The most startling aspect of the book was the reaction of the townspeople. When Anam starts questioning the people about Jesus, he does not get the response he expects. The people of Bethlehem remember Jesus' birth as a time of pain and suffering. They remember the slaughter of the innocents by Herod. How would you feel if you lost a child or family member and a stranger asked you about the time it happened?

Based on what I have described, The Shepherds' Prayer sounds depressing. But it is not. It is a reminder of what happened during the time of our Savior's birth. The life of Anam is an uplifting story when it is finished.

Rating: 5 out of 5