Monday, October 3, 2016

Survivors Will Be Shot Again by Bill Crider


©2016 Minotaur Books, New York

Blacklin County Texas is finally settling in to the quiet Mayberry-like existence that it should enjoy, so Sheriff Dan Rhodes has decided to take a long overdue day off. But when a would-be thief descends on the same convenience store Rhodes has entered to end his hiatus from drinking Dr Pepper, days off vanish from his mind.

It's just as well, because a crime ring has been operating on the outskirts of the county. Billy Bacon, who’s been the victim of thieves on his property over and over again, has called in another incident on his place. This time, the sheriff finds not only an empty space where Billy’s heirloom saddle should be, but also the body of Bacon’s neighbor, Melvin Hunt.

As usual, readers are treated to the squad-room banter of Hack and Lawton, even though Hack is convinced that the high sheriff intentionally keeps his dispatcher “out of the loop.” There is also high adventure as Rhodes heroically wrestles a “prehistoric turtle” and rids Clearview of the scourge of illegal marijuana patches.

We have another fast and fun story played out on the stage of Blacklin County Texas. Rhodes and his cohorts earn another 5 reading glasses for their efforts.

--Benjamin Potter, October 3, 2016

Between the Living and the Dead by Bill Crider

©2015 Minotaur Books, New York

[Note to the reader: I received and read this book several months ago, and now that I have finished the next in the series, I thought I should go ahead and post a quick note about this good Dan Rhodes story.]

Seepy Benton, professor at Clearview College, trained member of Blacklin County’s “Citizen’s Patrol”, and part-time live music for a local restaurant has a new job interest—he’s a ghost hunter. And so is born another headache for county sheriff Dan Rhodes.

As is his fashion, award-winning author Bill Crider, weaves a story filled with ghosts, guns, and intrigue. Throw in some trademark comic relief and mystery lovers have another good evening’s read. Crider is known for his wit and attachment to clichéd phrases, and constantly files them away to surface in one of his mystery novels. As I read the description of Dan Rhodes subduing a run-away bull in the Walmart parking lot, I fairly laughed out loud to see that the good sheriff “took the bull by the horns.” And I wondered how long Crider had been waiting to fit that one into a story.

Again filled with our favorite characters, Sheriff Dan Rhodes fans will not want to miss this edition of crime and punishment in Blacklin County Texas. This one will be fun at Halloween time with its haunted house, reference to ghosts and hat tips to the Ghostbuster movie franchise. Dan Rhodes gets another 5 reading glasses, if for no other reason than he “ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”

—Benjamin Potter, October 3, 2016

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Win a Galley

Actually, I'm just posting this to increase my  chances. If you don't enter, I have a greater chance to win.

http://bit.ly/2ds0Pky

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Saffire – Sigmund Brouwer


©2016  WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs

“A Novel.” That is the descriptor listed beneath the title on the cover of this fascinating book. I have been reading selected Sigmund Brouwer books for a couple of decades now. Most of them fall into the category of “novel” which indicates that they are fictional stories, and that the main thrust of the story is to, well, tell a good story. I think that’s why I enjoy reading Brouwer’s fiction. He writes for audiences at a variety of stages in their reading, and goes out of his way to inspire young people to both read and write, often focusing his seminars on school-aged boys who find it difficult to “get into reading.” May his tribe increase.

Yes, Saffire is a work of fiction. Yes, it is a good story, well-told. But it is so much more than a good story. Like all good historical fiction, this book becomes a time portal through which the reader can be transported to anywhere in history and become a part of the events described.

Saffire actually defies genre-fication—it is hard-pressed to be squeezed into a mold created by the publishing companies for marketing purposes. A surface glance at this novel could very easily place it in the category of romance because of the attraction-tension that runs throughout the story. The back-story of lost love for the hero that finds its replacement in the beauty and fire of one of the developing characters (Rachel Sandoval). There is a tip of the hat to the western story moseying through the pages as Jim Holt constantly remembers his days with the Buffalo Bill Wild West show, and concerns himself greatly with the location and condition of his cowboy hat. Mystery and intrigue lace the pages as Holt constantly asks questions on behalf of the orphaned child for whom the book is named.

Ultimately, though, Saffire finds a comfortable resting place in the seat occupied by historical fiction. The narrative intertwined with the historical setting and events that are the construction of the Panama Canal will hold the reader’s attention. Brouwer, as is his custom, is able to take a moment in history that is simply a mundane paragraph to most, and turn it into the exotic, exquisite exploration that fascinated those who lived there or watched from the window of newspapers around the world when it was happening.
This is a most enjoyable read which draws a portrait of the politics, mechanics, and theatrics of the Panama Canal Zone as a perfect setting for the story. I highly recommend this book to people interested in the building of the Canal, in the art of intrigue, in the history of the Canal Zone and the country of Panama, or even in the orchestration of bull fighting. I give Christy-winning author Brouwer five reading glasses for this latest novel.

—Benjamin Potter, September 13, 2016

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Prince Noah and the School Pirates – Silke Schnee


© 2016 The Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York

You may recall when we were introduced to Prince Noah in the story The Prince Who Was Just Himself. He is back—along with his brothers (princes Luke and Jonah) and this time the boys are off to school.

In the fairy tale kingdom where they live, school is different than the school that we know. School is on a ship—the boys on one, the girls on another, the children with eye patches went to school on another ship, those with only one leg on another, and there was even a special ship for the children who didn’t learn so fast.

Adventure begins when all the ships are blown into pirate waters by a terrible storm. All the children are captured and taken to an island where they are imprisoned in a tower. The children all work together using the things they have learned on their separate ships to escape and return home to their families.

This endearing story encourages us to work together to solve problems and remember that everyone is important, even those of us who may be just a little different.

The author has teamed up again with illustrator Heike Sistig to give us another book that highlights the wonder of children who are “just themselves.” Having a child with Coffin-Lowry Syndrome, I find Schnee’s treatment of her own son with Down Syndrome delightful. Especially endearing is her description of her own Prince Noah as “blessed with an extra chromosome.”

Families with special needs children should get a copy of this book. And every school library should invest in a copy of this delightful tale—even if they are in a building and not on sailing ship. (5 reading glasses)

Benjamin Potter, August 6, 2016

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free for the purposes of this review.]

Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are – Léonce B. Crump, Jr.

©2016  Multnomah Books, Colorado Springs

I like recommendations, sometimes. I especially like it when people take the time to notice where I’ve enjoyed something and make recommendations based on that. (Note of warning: on-line sites like Facebook and Amazon.com don’t really take the time to note your preferences, they just make recommendations based on volume activity.) Anyway, someone noticed that I gave a positive (maybe even glowing) review of David Platt’s Radical, and so this book was recommended to me.

The author, lead pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta, is a former professional athlete who loves his town and his calling.

Like any book that approaches the norm from an angle, this book is liable to challenge your traditions as well as get your feathers ruffled because Crump forces us to ask the questions that no one wants to ask—or be asked.

The book has some drawbacks. The author’s love for Atlanta because of first a calling to that great city and followed by his intentional planting of himself there is evident in the amount of time spent in the first half of the book describing the history (good and bad) of the city of Atlanta. It is laudable for the church planter whose calling is to plant in Atlanta to love Atlanta. The take away for others is to fall in love with your place of calling. However, the first chapters, in the guise of supporting a sense of call to place, become an effort to convince all readers that Atlanta is the place (and the only place to serve). With a bent toward overselling his city, Crump almost loses his audience from his actual message—God not only calls to vocation, he calls to place as well.

Another distraction in the book is the intermission included in the middle of the manuscript. The record of the interview between the author and several of his colleagues who are part of his church planting effort does not flow with the rest of the book. If its inclusion was mandatory (on either the part of the author, the editor, or the publisher) for the book to see the printing press, it would be better served as an appendix located at the end of the book. Perhaps the production team felt that (even though it distracted from the message of the book) it might have missed a few readers’ eyes as an appendix, and centrally placing this section would earn it more readers, it still seemed to be less a part of the book and more a piece of the research for the book, and draws a giant question mark as to its inclusion (especially as an interruption).

I am disinclined to totally pan the book though. In a day and a vocational path that trends toward itinerance, Crump calls for longevity. He suggests that perhaps when the minister is answering the call from God to be part of church leadership, that the minister should consider not only the what but the where of that call. According to Thom Rainer, the average tenure of a pastor in a local church still hovers at just under three years (up from when I began my ministry when preachers were staying an average of 18 months). With research also claiming that most effective ministry is done after the 5-year mark, it would behoove ministers to actually plant themselves. The challenge is for those called to vocational ministry to stop looking for their next position the moment the moving truck drives away from the parsonage of their current place of service. Instead, study your place and the people there. Learn how to become one of them, and make your life about your place of calling. (Again this is addressing a God-calling that is often short-circuited by short-sighted men and women.)

The book reads a little slowly because of some of the distractions included in it, but it does have value if only to challenge both ministerial types and church members in general to start looking at their church place as a place to be planted, a place to serve, and a place to become. Christians are to be about the building up of the community—not necessarily changing it to the American dream, but changing it from the heart outward with the love of Christ. Therefore, I rate this book with three and one-half reading glasses. Don’t rush out and buy a copy (unless you want to plant a church in Atlanta), but go ahead and read it if a copy falls into your hands.

—Benjamin Potter, August 6, 2016
[Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]


Monday, July 25, 2016

Don't Wait for the Obit


Bill & Judy Crider

For some reason we always seem to wait until obituary time to write the glowing report of our friends. This time, I don't think I'll wait for the obit to say the good.

I first met Bill Crider when he was Dr. Crider teaching American Lit. at Howard Payne University. I enjoyed his teaching style so much that I took him for a J-term version of English 201 (I think it was 5 papers in 3 weeks - the one year there was snow on the ground in Brownwood, TX). During the American Lit class I stopped by and asked if he as my English professor would look over a short story I'd written. He took it and a couple of days later he gave it back with some advice about the characters and a fairly generous assessment of the story itself. He was right about the need for character adjustment, but I think he was over-generous with the story itself--I still haven't re-worked it into anything worth sharing.

Fast forward about 15 years and I found a book with Bill Crider as the author. On a hunch, I bought the book, looked up his addressed, and inquired if he had been my English teacher. He was, and our friendship became more than student/teacher. He has become a friend, mentor, and all-around encourager. He's read a couple of my stories since and has always been more than friendly in his critique.

I've become attached to his writing (I've even indulged in some of the darker stuff that appeared under the name Jack Maclane) and always enjoy looking for the newest Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery.



This mild-mannered friend of all has a talent not only for writing, but for music (especially if you like barbershop) and for being a great encourager. Thanks for being my friend, Dr. Crider.

I'm saying all this, and trying to join the cloud of voices bringing laud to a man who deserves it, because Bill has recently run up against a dire diagnosis of aggressive carcinoma. So while I'm not going to wait for the obit to tell what a powerful encouragement, influence, and friend Bill has been to me, I am going to take this moment to send thoughts and prayers out for him and this battle he's found himself in. Godspeed, Dr. Crider, and beat this thing. I know you've got another story (or 10) to tell.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Prince Who Was Just Himself – Silke Schnee


© 2015 The Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York

Children’s books sometimes seem to be a dime a dozen. Often authors of children’s books rise up out of almost every corner of the market. Celebrities are the newest joiners into the competitive market of Children’s reading material—often gaining sales for their celebrity instead the quality of the book. So when I receive a book designed for children I look for several indicators that the book will be appropriate for and appealing to children, as well as enjoyable for parents to read to and with their children.

A big factor in children’s literature appeal is the accompanying artwork. In this selection, illustrator Heike Sistig uses vibrant colors, simple shapes, and touching scenery to convey the story being told by the author. If one must find a drawback or flaw with the illustrations it would be in the occasional overpowering backgrounds of the full-page illustrations. But they don’t distract from the pictorial re-telling of the story for the child-reader to associate with the tale.

Another major concern in children’s writing is the story itself. Is it appropriate for young minds? Does it appeal to the child’s senses? Are the sentences short and concise enough to engage the child in the story? Schnee does it all. This story—the story of a third prince born into a royal family (the new prince being noticeably different from the other people of the kingdom)—has lots of adventure and appeal. For an added bonus, the story is a lesson for everyone in the family as well as the kingdom. Without giving too much away, this book gives parents of all types of children an opportunity to talk about how one child can be different, but that can be okay. The author’s personal experience (making the tale almost autobiographical) brings the story to life. She surely was able to use the story to help her sons adjust to their new brother. And now the world (thanks in part to excellent translation by Erna Albertz) can do so as well.

If you, or someone you know has a child who is “a little different” you will want to make this delightful book a part of your library. Read it with your child. Let your child read it with you. Let the world know that your child can be happy “just being himself.” (5 reading glasses)

Benjamin Potter, September 2, 2015

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free for the purposes of this review.]

Friday, April 17, 2015

Memories, Musings, and Mischief – Jo Ann M. Cross


©2015  48HrBooks (www.48HrBooks.com)

When one is well into his fifties, it is often difficult to remember those long past days spent day-dreaming on the third row of Mrs. Cross’ Trigonometry and Analytical Geometry (Trig’n’Analyt) class—yes when he should be listening and learning all about tangents, sines, and cosines. The same must be true for Mrs. Cross when she retires. Who would ever expect the purveyor of all knowledge mathematical would be a great story-teller, too? But here you have it. Jo Ann Cross has penned in her retirement the book that all retirees plan to write. Her subject matter? Not math, but her stories—the stories she heard from parents and grandparents as she grew up in a rural east Texas community, the stories about her own experience, stories that span the funny to the tragic. And she does so quite successfully, too.

In an attempt to preserve some of the stories of her ancestry that have been passed down orally from generation to generation, and to offer a glimpse of community life from east Texas for a larger audience, Cross has developed what she calls “short stories” but is mostly a collection of memoir-type essays that bring all aspects of life into crisp focus.

The author’s talent is evident in superb moments of personification. Many of the stories hinging on her own experience rely heavily on her dry, but ever present sense of humor. The one story that deals with math and her father’s ability to teach the difficult concepts so that the smallest child can understand brought me back to that third row seat in Mrs. Cross’ Trig’n’Analyt class. I recall plainly the day when I kept asking “why” and “how” and Mrs. Cross smiled at the whole class and said, “Don’t try to understand it, just know that it works, and do it.” That advice saved my bacon in the only upper level math I would ever take.

Included in the smiles and jests are a couple of very touching stories. Of particular interest are “Pa-Pa’s Funeral” which deals more with race relations in early 20th century east Texas than the funeral itself, and “Samuel and Sarah” chronicling the author’s ancestral move from the deep South to deep east Texas in the mid-19th century. The latter of these two stories bearing a heavy L’Amour-esque flavor in relating the history of the move.

This little collection will have appeal to a variety of audiences—friends and family of the author will certainly enjoy the book, Mrs. Cross’ former colleagues and students (yes, I am one) will find the peek into the real-ness of Jo Ann Cross very fun and refreshing, readers who like the historical and the hysterical will both be extremely entertained, and like me, people with roots in places like Brinker, Texas (mine would be Cason) will be transported to those thrilling days of yesteryear to relive their own amusing moments. Thanks for the trip down several memories’ lanes Mrs. Cross. And thanks also for being real during all those years you took your place at the front of a Mesquite High School classroom.

Well-written and entertaining, Jo Ann Cross’ “Collection of Short Stories” deserves every bit of the five reading glasses that this reviewer awards it.

—Benjamin Potter April 17, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

Easter Stories – Miriam LeBlanc, compiler


© 2015 The Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York

With Easter just around the corner, I welcomed the chance to read a collection of inspirational stories set in, on, or around Easter for review. Thanks to the publishers at Plough for providing one. You can visit them here: http://www.plough.com/en/ebooks/e/easter-stories.

This collection of stories, with a couple of poems thrown in for good measure, is designed to be inspiring for those who follow the Christ of Easter. The selections included here are often inspirational as promised. Specifically heartfelt is the legend of Russian martyr, Vasily Osipovich Rakhov (born ca. 1861) as creatively told in “The Case of Rachoff”, making this reader want to dig a little deeper into the life of this wanderer who lived a life dedicated to Jesus and Jesus alone.
 
Included are both old and new stories. Some of the classics include selections by Leo Tolstoy (“Two Old Men”), C.S. Lewis (“The Death of the Lizard” from The Great Divorce), and Anton Chekhov (“The Student”). These tales are inspiring if not actually familiar. Newer selections, such as “The King and Death” by Ger Koopman seem to be written specifically for this collection. This latter story was an excellent one with a bit of a slowdown for an ending.

I chose to read this book as part of my morning devotions as there are only about thirty selections (reading one entry per day). This worked well for me, but I found some of the selections to be longer than my 15-20 minute devotional time would allow. Other readers may prefer to read the anthology like any other that they would pick up, selecting only one or two selections a year at Easter time.

This book is filled with stories from distant lands like Germany and Russia, that center on the miraculous nature of the Easter season, and is worth your time to read. Included are brand new wood-cutting artworks by artist Lisa Toth which expertly introduce each story. I would recommend it for anyone who wants to add a new element to their Easter celebration. (four out of five reading glasses)

Benjamin Potter, March 27, 2015

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free for the purposes of this review.]


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