Monday, March 30, 2009

Murder in Four Parts – Bill Crider

Crider is back with Dan Rhodes. And this one sings!

Anyone familiar with Bill Crider knows that he has a wide range of interests. He loves reading, music, and movies. Dan Rhodes
stories are filled with all of these. But at the top of Crider's list is alligators. Mike Gonzo's "sewer monsters" turned out to be alligators, Galveston private eye Truman Smith encountered gators in one of his outings, and if you visit Bill's Pop Culture Magazine you won't have to scroll too far before encountering a gator link. Is it any wonder that along with the allusion to barbershop harmony in the title is accompanied by a chicken-eating gator?

This time out the victim is the treasurer of the local barbershop chorus and is found dead in his floral shop in the opening sequences of the book. Rhodes, true to his own form, spends the better part of three days plodding along finding pieces of the puzzle. In this edition you get a glimpse of the culture that is barbershop harmony, Texas gambling establishments, and a new game known as geocaching.

The characters are as entertaining as always, including original friends like Hack and Lawton and Dan's beautiful wife Ivy, and some of the newer arrivals like Seepy Benton and Max Schwartz. When I first started reading Dan Rhodes books some fifteen years ago, I thought--Mayberry! After all these years, and all these stories I see a bit of Sparta, Mississippi mixed in with the good folks of Blacklin County Texas.

Pick up a copy of Murder in Four Parts, you won't regret it.
I give Dan Rhodes five reading glasses (to make up for all those pairs he loses in hot pursuit of bad guys).

– Benjamin Potter, March 30, 2009

Personal note: I think you ought to buy this book. You can click the title to find its listing at as always, or you can do like I did and support your local independent book seller. I got my copy at Houston's Murder by the Book (Bill signs 'em there).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Giveaways

Marta's giving books away again. Now, this post is not really an advertisement for you to go over to Marta's Meanderings and comment so you can get a chance. It's actually my selfish way of getting my name in the mix more often. So don't go over to Marta's place to enter the giveaway, but do go over there to read her always interesting reviews.

I know, I know, that's selfish of me. But I've been itching to read this series by Patterson.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Associate – John Grisham

©2009, Doubleday, New York

John Grisham’s latest release is another trip down the legal thriller aisle. Kyle McAvoy is the chief editor of the Yale Law Journal in his last year of law school. As he prepares for graduation and his opportunity to face the dreaded bar exam, McAvoy is ambushed by a non-person who has access to information about a deep, dark secret in the young aspiring lawyer’s past and uses this information to blackmail Kyle into foregoing his plan to spend a couple of years with a charity-type firm and opt to accept a position as a first-year associate in the world’s largest law firm.

The purpose is legal espionage. Kyle is supposed to work his way into a particular team in order to steal sensitive information for his new “handler”.

The book is fast-paced and easy to read, in the fashion of much of Grisham’s writing. The language he uses is a bit saltier than normal. While Grisham doesn’t keep all cursing out of his writing, he seems to shake the salt-cellar a bit heavier in this new book. A couple of the side stories provided by the blackmail scheme are pretty intriguing. In particular, I was really drawn in by the turn-around story of McAvoy’s frat buddy Baxter Tate.

Another throw back to previous Grisham stories is the soft ending. Several questions that need to be answered aren’t, but these distractions don’t take away the enjoyment level for the reader. I give The Associate three out of five stars.

—Benjamin Potter, March 17, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lost and Found – Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, & Jason Hayes

©2009 B&H, Nashville

As much as I hate reading statistics and as hard as it is for me to search through research, I have been looking forward to this report/book for several months. Ed Stetzer and the guys over at LifeWay Research have been working on this compilation for a few years. The result is more examination of how to reach the younger generations. Lost and Found walks pretty much hand in hand with books like Simple Church (B&H, 2006), Essential Church (B&H, 2008), and UnChristian (Baker, 2007).

Divided into three parts, the authors use their research to introduce us to (1)what the younger generation looks like [younger generation is defined as the twenty-something crowd of which many have been identified as unchurched or even de-churched], (2)the mainstays (four pillars) of what it takes to reach this generation, and finally (3)a survey of the commonalities among the churches that are in fact reaching this generation.

Part I is filled with charts and graphs and tables and statistician-speak that is always difficult to muddle through for readers like me. However, this is the necessary groundwork from which the observations and suggestions throughout the book are drawn.

Part II is more interpretive and is built on the part of the research where all the responses to questionnaires are piled up in stacks of post-it note madness, reducing said responses to categories represented by a few key images (the graphics for these post-it mountains/key image categorizations is cool). The four areas discovered during the interview process that are important to younger adults (both within and outside of the church) as identified by the research team were Community, Depth (and content), Responsibility, and (Cross-Generational) Connection.

An interesting inclusion in the book is the on-going story of four representative twenty-somethings. The reader will find the fictional representation of how this research is lived out every day at the end of each chapter in parts I and II. I liked this part of the book because the fictional representatives of five different kinds of young adults helped to put some flesh on what goes on in the minds of those who participated in the research. The only glimpse of the characters outside of the first two parts of the book is the challenging conclusion that is in the (what else) conclusion.

Part III focuses on the churches that are getting it right as far as the younger adult generation is concerned. Mountains of interviews and reading are reflected in this section that identifies nine common traits found in those churches that are actually reaching this younger set of adults (creating deeper community, making a difference through service, experiencing worship, conversing the content, leveraging technology, building cross-generational relationships, moving toward authenticity, leading by transparency, and leading by team).

There are several bits of useful information in the book and some helpful hints as to how to build (or re-organize) your ministry to reach a generation that is quickly turning away from the church. One of the better moments is found about halfway through the book as the authors talk about the importance of building community. They suggest that churches should move from a behave/believe/belong model (which currently characterizes a majority of churches in America) to a belong/believe/become model. The former expects unchurched people to behave in the right manner before we even allow them in the doors of our space, then we teach them how to believe and finally we are free to invite them to belong to our number. The latter model suggests that we welcome people in (as they are) to then learn what we believe and then become with us as we learn to be more like Christ. (see pages 83 & 84).

I would recommend this book to anyone who is still trying to get a handle on the new generation. Those who are already getting it won’t benefit too much from this book except to validate what they are already doing.

I give Lost and Found 4 out of 5 reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, March 12, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Toot Your Own Horn

Once in a while it's nice to toot your own horn. Then there are those who will toot it for you. Click on over to Coffeespoons to find a review of my first two little works.

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