Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sons of Texas – Tom Early (Elmer Kelton)

Elmer Kelton has long been a shining light in the realm of Western genre writing. It is no mystery that Berkley contacted him and contracted him to pen a series of books dedicated to the developmental days of Texas. The result – the Sons of Texas series. Booklist touted the writing as a “series that brings to mind L'Amour's multi-generational Sackett Family saga”, this first novel in the series is one that will get you hooked.

I picked up a copy to combat homesickness the first time I moved away from my beloved Texas on a permanent basis. It was this book that actually started me down the slippery slope of reading Westerns. I’ve not regretted a moment of it. In 2005, Forge decided to re-release the novels in hardcover and attributing them to Kelton instead of his pseudonym. I'm still debating on adding the new hardcover editions bearing Kelton's real name.

Begin on the journey following the Lewis family. Mordecai and his son break ground in the vast countryside of Texas. Join them as they travel back east only to be forced by a bloody feud to return to the new land that promises dreams. The land that was “there for the taking” turns out to require more blood and fighting. Stephen Austin finds that the Lewis men are up to the challenge and discovers that they, while reluctant to follow military pathways, have a natural talent needed to defend the emerging nation.

Sons of Texas is a gripping, action-packed novel of the American west that contains the grit and gumption required by readers of Western novels. The entire series (started by Kelton using the Tom Early pseudonym) continues for six books, following the growth of the Lewis clan and the growth of the infant nation/state of Texas. The first three of the books were penned by Kelton, other writers (including historical/western novel veteran, James Reasoner) were tapped to extend and conclude the series. Fans of Texas and the Western novel will want to read all six volumes.

—Benjamin Potter, March 29, 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Purpose-Driven Life – Rick Warren

So today has inadvertently become “Rick Warren Day” here at Book ‘em Benj-O. But that’s all right. As I dredged up my thoughts on The Purpose Driven Church, I thought that I ought to do a companion review of The Purpose Driven Life. And here we are.

In The Purpose Driven Church, Warren delineates five major purposes of the church:

  • Worship

  • Ministry

  • Evangelism

  • Fellowship

  • Discipleship

The follow-up book applies the same kind of appointment to personal life that has been afforded corporate life in the church. The author makes this application in the process of answering the question: What on earth am I hear for?

In correlation to the five purposes of the church, Warren finds five purposes in life:

  • Worship

  • Fellowship

  • Growth

  • Service

  • Evangelism

If you look closely, you will discover that, according to Rick Warren’s ideology, the Christian’s life and the Church’s life are following the same pattern in their purpose.

What’s missing that was so great in the PD Church is the neat baseball diagram and analogy. Who wouldn’t love to approach life as a baseball game, seeing success each time they cross home plate? Instead we have the graphic picture of a tree—each purpose addresses some component of a healthy oak tree—the roots, trunk, limbs, leaves, and fruit.

If you’re a fan of Warren and the purpose-driven model, this book is for you. If you want to be inspired to become a better Christian, this book is for you. If you view all Christian Living books as so much drivel, you’ll probably be disappointed in this read. I’d offer it anyway because Warren uses the same easy style as with his preaching. You won’t be required to think any deeper than you like. That is a plus about Warren’s writing. You can enjoy the book if you just want to be inspired, or if you want to tear it apart for deep theological thinking. All sorts of readers can enjoy their own level of involvement with this book. And you wonder why it sells so many copies? Get yours today.

—Benjamin Potter, March 28, 2007

The Purpose-Driven Church – Rick Warren

Here’s the book that started it all, at least for leaders and congregations in my denomination. Others had approached the topic of building congregations with a reasonable outcome in mind, moving away from the tradition-driven model, and moving into an era where all the church members see themselves as viable parts of Christ’s Kingdom work, but Warren, the lead pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California, drew a blueprint that struck at the heart of church-goers all over the nation.

I must admit that I first read the book with a critical, if not skeptical, eye. I had misgivings about anything that seemed to explode into a movement overnight. But the more I heard about what was going on in the movement, the more curious I was about the book that reported it. So I picked up a copy and found an adaptation of the author’s doctoral background study, filled with practical examples from the real-time laboratory that is Saddleback Church. I discovered principles for growth that are grounded in biblical teaching and everyday use. I found language and illustrations that would speak not only to vocational ministers, but also to grassroots, volunteer ministers that line the pews of my church.

I must admit that I still am not ready to accept the premise under which Warren decided to build the church, while at the same time I can’t argue with the success he’s encountered. My beef is the questionnaire used in the initial polling of the community where Saddleback was to be planted. The object was to seek out non-believers and the unchurched, ask them what would be the ideal church for them, and then pattern the new church on the results. I continue to have difficulty with going to those who are not church to determine what church ought to be. Perhaps the greater issue, though is that church members of long-standing don’t really know what church should look like either, because we’ve attached our traditions and trappings to the original in such a manner as to hide what real church really is.

Having said that, can I use the principles marked out in the book? Of course. Should I try to develop a target and implement activity directed toward that target? Without doubt. Is this a resource that will gather dust on my shelves? I pray not. Do I recommend this book? Most definitely; for pastors, teachers, leaders, and church members everywhere. This is the kind of book that will challenge you to be more than you can be. With Rick Warren, I caution the reader, “Don’t try to duplicate, or even imitate what has happened at Saddleback. Apply the principles and see what kind of church God wants to grow in your garden spot.”

—Benjamin Potter, March 28, 2007

Monday, March 26, 2007

Love & Respect – Emerson Eggerichs

“The love she most desires; the respect he desperately needs.” The subtitle sums up the concept of the marriage conference that spawned this book. Along with his wife, Eggerichs began the conferences in 1999 based on his years as a pastor and marriage counselor.

This is another of those books that my wife and I have found helpful in our evening time together. Without giving the whole of the advice away, and attempting not to squeeze all that’s said into one pithy saying, Eggerichs’ premise is that marriage should be based on a scriptural mandate: “Each of you should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) He then explains that most married couples find themselves on “The Crazy Cycle” that destroys feelings and feeds on itself. He offers advice on how to get off the Crazy Cycle and onto the “Energizing Cycle” which allows us to make each other feel good about ourselves, our marriage, and our spouse.

I recommend this book for two kinds of couples—those who see their marriages going down the drain but have a deep desire to rescue it; and those who want to enrich their already great marriage, making it better still.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Night Light – James & Shirley Dobson

From the creative mind of “Focus on the Family” and his wife comes a top-notch aid for husbands and wives to spend time together. This devotion help provides short, thoughtful readings for couples to share each night. With a thematic progression that is sewn together by thoughts from Dr. and Mrs. Dobson, this volume can serve as the foundation for family time between a husband and his wife. Even timid readers will discover that only a few minutes each evening can make a big difference in the strength of their marriage. Designed for the newlywed, Night Light is helpful for every married couple.

My wife and I found our copy so beneficial in our first days of marriage that when our first child was born, we hurried down to the bookstore to get a copy of Night Light for Parents. We also determined that the original would be one of the best options for gifts to couples just starting out.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

The Oath – Frank Peretti

He’s the father of modern Christian fiction. His faith-based suspense stories do a better job of mixing the natural and the supernatural than almost anyone in the publishing business. Most Peretti fans will turn your attention to his breakthrough novel This Present Darkness for a look at the author’s best. I would draw your attention to his actual best, though—The Oath.

People are dying in the mountains. The small town population is aware, frightened, and resigned to the dark evil creature that hovers all around them. Someone must defeat the dragon, but who can? How can it be done? Does Levi Cobb, the town lunatic, really know the answer?

The Oath is a fantasy, a mystery, and an allegory, all rolled into one. The writing is engaging, the story is intoxicating, and the answer is hiding in the darkness at the end of the book. Few 500-page books read faster. It’s good for a scare, and for relief. Pick up your 10th-Anniversary copy today.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Time to Kill – John Grisham

Before he’d made a name for himself outside his home state of Mississippi, John Grisham was a lawyer. Then he decided to write a book. The first one took some time, but he completed it and shopped it around. It wasn’t his first book that made him famous, but the second which was purchased for filming. The success of the film version of The Firm got the good lawyer noticed. Soon we were being blessed by a book a year and movies right on the heels of the books. And finally his publisher, Doubleday, discovered the obscure raw talent that really was Grisham—A Time to Kill.

What would a father do when he saw the vermin that abused and disfigured his daughter getting off on a technicality? How would he respond? What would matter to him? Carl Lee Hailey has the answer in the form of an automatic weapon, hidden and ready, blasting away to gain vengeance on the rednecks that destroyed his daughter’s life and his own.

Young and green, lawyer Jake Brigance seeks to make his name by defending this black man in a time and a place where the Klan runs rampant and the black community is still referred to as “the Quarters.”

At times the writing is stiff and shows the inexperience of a new novelist. At times the lawyer within takes over, trying to convince the reader as a good trial lawyer would before a seated jury. But always the thrill of this story grips you. It is easy to look beyond the raw edges because of the raw edginess of Grisham’s subject. You may not want to read another courtroom drama, but you will want to read this one. You may be tired of hearing how successful Grisham has become, but you will want to read him before all the accolades. This is a fine piece of literature that is not to be missed. It should be put on every to be read list. And even on some to be read again lists.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

Transitioning – Dan Southerland

As the American church continues to marvel at and imitate the Purpose Driven Church model set forth by Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in California, most church leaders are dealing with churches that are set in their ways, anchored in tradition (be it good or bad). Starting from scratch, the idea of developing a purpose driven church is a simple task. The traditions and practices that begin with the church are those that foster the kind of activity that Warren has experienced.

What do you do when you know you should lead a church the direction of reaching the unchurched and the only way the church members know how to do church reaches only dyed in the wool church goers. Dan Southerland’s answer: Transition. Southerland has written a book which identifies an eight-step process to transitioning from a stagnant, ungrowing church, into a vibrant, living, breathing house of God that reaches people with the Gospel.

Pick up a copy and breath life into your church.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Getting the Lead Out of Leadership – Paul W. Powell

Preachers are constantly telling their parishioners to find a mentor—someone that they can go to for advice, encouragement, as well as to tell them (in a loving way) where they need to make a course correction. Over the years Paul Powell has become that for many a minister. He’s done it by putting his thoughts down to be collected in book form. During his tenure as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annuity Board, he was faithful in presenting a helpful book once a year, to ministers at various conventions he attended in his job. One of those books is Getting the Lead Out of Leadership.

This is a short, helpful look at what it takes to be a church leader. Using examples from his own ministry that spanned both decades and a variety of churches from the small to the large, Powell reminds church leaders of simple practices and rules of thumb that work. His challenges bring the pastor to terms with the fact that he must lead by example. He deals with topics such as goal-setting, planning, motivation, and decision-making, among others.

With his down-to-earth writing style, one can see why he has been a much sought-after speaker, and understand how his leadership has been one worth modeling. This small book is a valuable tool for any minister’s library. For that matter, there are principles that would find great value in the arsenal of any leader. So, “get the lead out” and read this book.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

"The Sunshine of My Wife" -- Bill Crider

For a bit of variety today, I'll review a short story. As you can already tell, I'm a big fan of Bill Crider's writing (probably the biggest, with the exception of Bill himself). What you may not know is that, as well as being a great genre novelist, Bill is quite the accomplished short story writer as well. He's even won awards!

Bill recently participated in a writing challenge of sorts. The call was sent out for short stories that could be posted to a blog, that must be about a blog. Bill went the whole nine yards and created a story that was a blog. It's hard to describe the story without destroying the story. One thing that can be said is that you can read the story from earliest entry to latest, or in reverse (latest to earliest) and the effect is superb either way. If you're a fan of mystery stories, as I am, you will want to click here to see what I'm talking about. If you just like a good story, but don't have lots of reading time available, check the story out. It's a great puzzle story. And like any good literature, it lets you fill in all the blanks. But don't forget to read the "comments" as you read, you don't want to miss one trick in this treat.

See Bill's invitation to read the story here.

--Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Texas Glory – Robert Vaughan

Okay, I admit it. I’m a sucker for almost anything Texas—especially if that something includes a rousing tale about the Alamo. And that’s just what you get when you pick up Texas Glory.

Vaughan is an accomplished writer of historical fiction and takes great pains to do his homework. Americans have long heard of the battle that inspired Texas’ early settlers in their fight for freedom. We have also chanted along with the Texas natives the resounding battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!” But many, not having taken courses in the state’s rich history know that the battle cry included, “Remember Goliad!” as well because of the bloody massacre that occurred there. Mr. Vaughan includes this tidbit in his epic novel.

The story itself is rather well-written. A detractor is the nearly soap-operatic story line centered on Marie Doucette. It seems that the New Orleans debutante finds herself expecting a baby before her wedding to a man who runs to Texas to avoid marrying her because of the drop of black blood coursing through her veins. She chases him there only to fall in love with the man who determines to be her escort to keep her from harm on the way.

Having said that, the novel has plenty of battle scenes, including the courageous defense and subsequent loss of the Alamo, and the vengeful routing of Santa Anna’s army at Lynch’s Ferry. Readers will enjoy the treatment of courage and honor that pervades this novel. Vaughan includes the romance of love and the romance of battle, appealing to female and male readers alike.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Kill – Anne Perry, ed.

Sometimes you have to mine the bargain bookshelf at the local bookstore to find a real gem. Here’s where I often find new authors to read. I find them in books that have been marked down to next-to-nothing (often because they are overprint copies). Another thing that I look for is anthologies—collections of stories. When dealing with mystery writers, these anthologies include several stories centered upon a theme. By reading stories in these anthologies, I often discover writers that I want to read more from. It also helps me to weed out authors that don’t interest me without having to read an entire novel to find out.

In today’s case, the theme is stories that are inspired by the Bible. The stories are set in ancient and modern times. There are familiar characters and new faces as well. It is interesting to note that Pharoah’s chief detective uses one of the plagues to help him solve a crime in ancient Egypt. As always, I’m impressed as Dan Rhodes figures out how someone has been crucified in a small town in Blacklin County.

Here we have a variety of tales for a variety of tastes. If you like Anne Perry or Simon Brett, Ralph McInerny or Bill Crider, you’ll find something you like in this collection of biblical mysteries.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

The Colorado Kid – Stephen King

Some authors don’t need a new plug, but they get them anyway because they continue to be read. Some publishers do deserve a plug because they make a special contribution to the publishing world. Stephen King is one of those authors, and Hard Case Crime is one of those publishers.

Hard Case has not yet sold out to the greedy-fisted publishing houses that dominate the market today, but pledges to bring you the best of the best that the world of hard-boiled crime fiction has to offer. In their mission, the good people at Hard Case have sought out classics that deserve to have another publishing run and mingled them with new stories from the best writers in the business.

The Colorado Kid is not necessarily King’s best effort, but he shows why he is considered one of the most widely-read wordsmiths in the business. Two ancient newspapermen take the time to share with their young intern the story of a lifetime. It’s a story that has now resolution and therefore can’t be printed. It’s the kind of story that begs to be told, but can’t be. Along the way they teach the young intern all about the real newspaper business, convincing her that she doesn’t want to join a huge paper upon graduation, but instead stay on the island off the coast of Maine to take over the tiny paper there.

As I said, this is not classic King, but it has the markings of becoming a classic in the genre.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Links to Past Reviews

Because I have a tendency to be lazy instead of industrious, but I did want to include these reviews here, I decided to just link to the reviews for those who would like to read them rather than cut and paste them. So here are some past reviews that I did before starting this blog:

Just click the links and enjoy.

--Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Leper – Sigmund Brouwer

Inspired by the art of Ron DiCianni, Sigmund Brouwer weaves a story that will have even the hardest hearted men weep. The Leper tells of outcast, Nathaniel, who returns to 19th century England only to discover that he has contracted leprosy while stationed in India.

Now, without contact with his family, he takes refuge in a single room away from society and all the people he loves. Gabrielle enters his life, a small loving girl. She provides for him the touch that allows his spirit to soar. He discovers a reason to seek survival instead of solitude and even death.

This novella will take very little time to read and provide a lifetime of memories.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Heart of the Problem – Henry Brant & Kerry L. Skinner

In a world filled with pop psychology creeping around every corner, it is often difficult to find a voice of someone who has the desire to root out the real issues. Henry Brandt is that man. Some years ago, he (with Kerry Skinner) gathered years of ministry and counseling into a volume that deals with the syndrome of coping and getting by and learning to live with difficulty. Let’s face it we all have difficulties in our lives.

Brandt spent years basing his counseling ministry on Biblical basics. What he learned during those years of listening to individuals and couples bring him their problems, was that the core of all the issues, the “heart of the problem,” can usually be boiled down to a simple word—sin. The difficulty compounds when we have to admit that maybe I’m the one with the sin problem. But then, he asserts is when healing can begin.

This book is not for the feel-good Christian. Nor is it for the one who wants to put a band-aid on his boo-boo and go on running amok in his life. No, this is the book for the serious believer, whose desire it is to grow closer to God and his fellowman. If you have no desire to be challenged, my advice is to leave this book on the shelf. Otherwise, this is one worth reading . . . more than once.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Spyglass – Richard Paul Evans

Having won the hearts of Americans with his Christmas masterpiece, The Christmas Box, Richard Paul Evans continues to turn out heartrending stories that mirror his first small book written as a gift for his children. Several years ago, he was inspired by children again. This time the idea was to create children’s books that would be a true gift to children. The Spyglass is one example of that inspiration. The author pledged his proceeds from this book (among others) to be donated to The Christmas Box House International, Inc.(TM) In this way he is offering a gift to at-risk children who would move from risk to dire reality.

And so, Evans writes a story about faith. The Spyglass is the story of a once-great kingdom, a kingdom that has lost its luster and greatness. Even the king has relegated himself to being the lowly king of a lowly kingdom without prospect of improvement. Until a mysterious traveler appears asking only a meal and a night’s lodging. In exchange, he shows the king what his kingdom lacks. He shows the king what might be and leaves the instruction, “Now go and make it so.”

More than a story of faith, this small children’s book is a story of vision and inspiration. And it is a painless way of supporting an effort at improvement for our own “kingdom.”

—Benjamin Potter

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Power in the Blood – Michael Lister

Michael Lister takes his experience as a Florida prison chaplain to infuse his protagonist, John Jordan, with a realism that draws you into his world. What you find there is a cesspool of human dregs that seems to corrupt even the most incorruptible of people.

Lister develops an uncompromising, gritty look at the prison system, the AIDS epidemic, and the struggles of a minister who feels unworthy. This first novel is one that will make you want to read the next and the next.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Bringing Up Boys – James Dobson

The guru of Christian family life, psychologist James Dobson, gives advice on raising boys in a modern society. This book was a gift to me when my son was born and provided some insight as we began to tackle the task of raising a boy when our only experience had been with a girl.

Most of the material is reminder-type fare. We’re told that boys and girls are different, that sometimes the reason that boys behave the way they do is that they are boys, and that parents, while being firm must be fair, and fairness is often based on the child and not the society.

In the course of the book we discover that boys do not require tutoring to develop a game of war or cowboys. Turning things into guns for pretend battles is natural. Boys, Dobson contends, who are kept from this aggressive type play, will act it out later in life, much to the disappointment of the unwitting parent. Dobson also cautions that boys need a positive male influence in their lives, and he provides suggestions for those whose sons have absent fathers as to how to find for them this necessary part of life.

Overall, Bringing Up Boys is a helpful work. While you may find yourself disagreeing from time to time with Dr. Dobson in his assessment, you will find that the book is well worth the purchase price if you are raising boys.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007

Blood Marks – Bill Crider

I know, I know, you’re saying, “Doesn’t he read anything besides Crider?” As a matter of fact, I was once accused by a used bookstore owner of being a “purist” in my reading. At the time I was working on completing my collection of Crider first editions that were published before I discovered that this former professor and now friend of mine was a writer of renown.

I’ve introduced you to his westerns, now I want to give you a taste of his mysteries. When looking for the “best of” an author, I tend to steer away from their series. I like Dan Rhodes (the most prolific of Crider’s characters), I’ve read all the Truman Smith private eye novels, all the Carl Burns novels (my favorite of Crider’s protagonists), and the Sally Good novels as well. I like reading Crider because his style is easy and readable, but to find his best I turn to his stand-alones.

Blood Marks follows a serial killer, at sometimes being narrated from the killer’s point of view, and at other times filling in the story. The beauty of the story is that until the “reveal” you’re kept guessing as to the identity of whose mind you see from time to time. The humor for which Crider is famous is not missing, but it takes on a darker tone in this masterpiece of a crime novel. This book is a nail-biter, terror-building, psychological thriller that will keep you up at night—at first because you just can’t put it down, and then because you can’t get it out of your mind. When you get this one from your friendly neighborhood used book seller or borrow it from the library, be sure to lock the doors and windows as you curl up for a thrilling ride.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hannah’s Gift – Thomas Eidson

Since the 2003 release of the film Missing based on his novel The Last Ride, Thomas Eidson has enjoyed more acclaim than in previous years. He’s written several novels set in the American west. All have been well-written, but the story line works better for some than others. Eidson has been well received in both the United Kingdom and in America, winning the Western Writers of America Best First Western Novel and Best Western Novel and in the U. K. won the “Thumping” Good Fiction Award from W. H. Smith for his first novel, St. Agnes’ Stand. Some would classify his stories as “Historical Fiction” and I guess that would be accurate, but I still read them as Westerns. Even so, I had to go all the way to (England’s version of America’s to find a copy of Hannah’s Gift.

Tucker Gibbons finds himself shot, meets Hannah Morgan who convinces him it’s just a head graze. The next day he wakes to a missing Hannah and a hole that goes through and through his clothes.

Here’s a novel that reads as much like a Mystery as a Western, as much like a Supernatural Thriller as a Historical Novel. There is action, intrigue, as well as good old shoot ‘em up fun. I recommend anything by Eidson, but especially Hannah’s Gift.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

The Carpenter’s Cloth – Sigmund Brouwer

This small book, subtitled Christ’s Journey to the Cross and Beyond, caught my eye because I had been reading S. W. Brouwer’s fiction. It is a small, gift style volume presented early on from the J. Countryman imprint of Word Publishing (about the time they were bought out by Thomas Nelson).

The book details Jesus’ final days, including the burial and resurrection, by focusing on key persons and events surrounding Christ’s Passion. The detail that jumps out is the treatment of the title element – the carpenter’s cloth. According to the tradition examined by the book, when a carpenter of the first century completed the job he was commissioned to do, he would fold his personal cloth neatly and place it in the corner of the room, thus signifying to the owner of the house that the job was complete.

This understanding of culture and custom gives new meaning to the positioning of the grave clothes and the face cloth as disciples ran to and entered Christ’s empty tomb. I recommend this reading for pleasure or devotional purposes.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Friday, March 9, 2007

Outrage at Blanco – Bill Crider

Bill Crider is often seen as a mystery writer. He’s most famous for his award-winning Sheriff Dan Rhodes series. (You can see a review of the latest of these here.) But this retired English prof is well-versed in the writing of western stories. As a matter of fact, just a few years ago he joined a growing number of authors who are asking two key questions: (1) Isn’t the American Western novel closely related to the American Mystery novel? And (2) Whatever happened to the Western? (See his article here.)

At any rate, one of the better examples of his Old West genre writing was Outrage at Blanco. This paperback original (pbo) chronicles the actions of Ellie Taine who rides a trail of vengeance in the wake of the utter destruction of Blanco, Texas which included the murder of her husband and her own violation at the hands of an outlaw gang. Ellie discovers an inner strength usually reserved for men of her age, and seeks justice for herself, her family, and her town.

Crider’s follow-up, Texas Vigilante, another pbo featuring Ellie Taine, was chosen as a book club offering. This means it got to ride the coveted hardcover trail. I liked Outrage better as a read, but if you’re looking for good westerns, let Bill take you down memory lane. His westerns are all great for an evening of relaxing by the campfire.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Thr3e – Ted Dekker

Twists, turns, suspense, and scares. Not what you’d normally expect from a Christian writer published by a major Christian publishing house. But that’s exactly what you get in Ted Dekker’s Thr3e. Along with mainstays like Frank Peretti and writing gurus like Sigmund Brouwer, Dekker is helping Christian fiction become as good or better writing than mainstream publishers can offer.

Thr3e is the story of struggling seminary student Kevin Parson. He is plagued by phone calls and notes from a homicidal maniac. Who can he trust to help save his life and the lives of those he loves? The FBI, the police, his favorite professor and mentor?

Dekker writes with a smooth gate that leads the reader to a variety of conclusions, all of which are partly right and mostly wrong. As you read this page-turner, you’ll be caught up in Parson’s life, you’ll figure out who the caller is three times before you discover that you were wrong, but you should have seen it. Of all Dekker’s books, Thr3e is the one to start with. Read it and then see the movie.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Thursday, March 8, 2007

A Painted House -- John Grisham

I first encountered this modern example of American literature when it was published in serial form in Oxford American Magazine. An avid Grisham fan for several years, I subscribed for the duration of the serial just to read the real first edition of A Painted House.

Some Grisham readers may be skeptical because of the lack of lawyers and courts and such, but don’t sell him short. Grisham really understands the mid-twentieth century southern mindset. He captures Arkansas cotton farmers’ lives with a note of nostalgia that would make even someone raised in a different part of the country, in a different era, in a different culture feel right at home.

Seven-year-old Luke Chandler narrates this tale of one year when everything seemed to work against his family—nature, migrant workers, family, even baseball were trying to destroy Luke’s way of life. And through it all he learned about life, love, and relationships.
With A Painted House, Grisham finds his literary voice (often missing in some of the courtroom drama). This is his best writing to date, even better than A Time to Kill—his first, most poignant effort . . . until now.

—Benjamin Potter, March 2007

A Year with C. S. Lewis

I must admit that, aside from the books in the Chronicles of Narnia, I have only read one of this master’s works through. That’s why this devotional book is so good. The great works of Lewis are arranged in bite-sized pieces to make them digestible for even the most lethargic of readers.

I used this book as an aid to my devotional reading over the past year (2006) and found that the short selections from some of Lewis’s most thought-filled works were no longer too deep to wade through. I discovered great passages from The Great Divorce and The Problem of Pain. I encountered the best slices of Mere Christianity and was able to walk away saying, “That was good.”

The editors of this one-year devotional have brought to us a collection that allows a few glimpses of Lewis from Narnia to Screwtape and everything in between. Along the way you will find snippets from Jack’s life that will make you feel you had a window on his life. If you like C. S. Lewis, you’ll enjoy this daily walk with him; if you like to have challenging, thoughtful readings to insert into your day in about five or eight minutes, you need to try out this volume.

--Benjamin Potter, March 2007

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Guardian of Light -- Steven Hunt

Several months ago, I was honored by debut author, Steven Hunt, with a request to read and review his first novel scheduled for release sometime this spring. You will want to keep an eye out for this book. Please note that the review was written in November, but I've been saving it back for release closer to the release of the book. I'll add a cover shot when it becomes available.

Coming soon from Tate Publishing in trade paperback and audio book: Guardian of Light by Steven Hunt. Watch your bookstore for this new writer’s first book. Steven Hunt has included two characteristics that endear a book to me: his novel is fast-paced and readable. If you are looking for a story that grabs your attention and holds it, or if you want to read a story that has all the action and none of the trash found in most novels today, Guardian of Light is just the ticket for you.

With Guardian of Light, Hunt seems to have developed a new genre: Sam Spade meets Jesus Christ. Theodore “Chas” Chasowski has all the earmarks of a hardboiled detective. He tries not to show emotion, but it barrels through anyway. During the course of the day, Chas is approached by a wealthy, ambitious couple with a case that leads the P.I. from state to state interviewing people who’ve been saved by an angel. His investigation turns up several encounters from both sides of the spiritual realm—good and evil. At the core of the search, Chas finds faith, and an unlikely group of the faithful who help him in his battle to save his associate and overcome evil.

Another new thing that you will find in Hunt’s writing is the no-compromise message of the gospel. There is no awkward attempt at throwing in the gospel just to appease the Christian publishers. Nor is the Christian flavor a backdrop that is easily missed. While there are occasions that the writing definitely shows signs of a freshman effort, Hunt’s story is compelling and enjoyable. If you’re looking for a good story that can also be a bridge to witness, bring this book to your book discussion group. The message is plain and the mystery intriguing.

—Benjamin Potter, November 10, 2006

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


So here's the new blog. After this post I will be reviewing books. I'll review books I read in the course of my work as a minister (mostly religious type books), books I read for pleasure (mostly mystery and western type genre fiction), books I read to my kids (you get the idea). Don't worry about visiting every day, I'm a slow reader and will not review a book until I'm done. If you have some suggestions for books to review, I'd be glad to take a look. My first review will be for a book I had the privelege of prepublication review. Feel free to comment on the books and on the reviews themselves. If you'd like to guest review, email me and we'll see what we can work out. Most of all, enjoy the reviews.

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