Thursday, May 12, 2011

Nick of Time – Tim Downs

© 2011, Thomas Nelson, Nashville

Writer, speaker, and cartoonist, Tim Downs’ Bug Man is back.

This time Nick Polchak is getting married . . . if he doesn’t get cold feet. Nick is getting married . . . if he doesn’t get killed first. Nick is getting married . . . if he doesn’t get his fiancée killed first.

Sick of wedding plans, and with the wedding less than a week away, Nick decides to travel to Philadelphia for a meeting of the Vidocq Society—an elite group of forensic specialists from every field that meets once a month and helps solve cold cases—only cold cases (at least two years without any new clues), and only murder cases (lost your cat? Don’t come to Vidocq).

Upon arrival at the meeting, Nick discovers the friend who lured him there with the promise of a really tough case has been murdered. The evidence points him to the Poconos and an old murder by neglect case. When his fiancée doesn’t hear from him at the promised time—two nights in a row—she heads to the Poconos to find him.

Fans of Bug Man novels will recognize the sarcastic obstinacy of our hero as he does everything to avoid endearing himself to any and all law enforcement officers along the way, including old friends like FBI agent Nathan Donovan (who is pegged to stand with Nick as best man).

The writing, as always, is fast-paced and action-packed—even at the boutique shop of the wedding planner (Weddings ‘n’ Such—where Nick wants more wedding and less such). If you want to meet the bride and attend the wedding, you’ll have to grab a copy of the book and read it. For background, you’ll want to read earlier Bug Man novels, especially Ends of the Earth. In the meantime, I’ll give Downs another five out of five reading glasses for another excellent diversion.

—Benjamin Potter, May 12, 2011

[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor – Chuck Black

© 2010 Multnomah Books, Colorado Springs

Chuck Black is a former F-16 fighter pilot and tactical communications engineer. He now writes young adult fiction. Sir Quinlan is the fifth in his The Knights of Arrethtrae series (which is the second series dealing with “The Kingdom Across the Sea” featuring the King and the Prince). This is my first encounter with the stories, and I must say that I am well pleased.

In this adventure, the title character moves from being the unassuming—even cowering—Knight of the Prince called Twitch to leading the elite group of Knights known as the Swords of Valor. He deals with apathy, distraction, and failure in his quest to become the Knight of the Prince that he wants to be.

While this is one in a series of stories, the adventure—like all good series adventure stories—could stand on its own. The author includes enough of the background story to understand its connection with previous installments, but weaves a tale that could stand on its own and engage most young men who love adventure stories (and not a few young women).

The story itself (and I’ll assume both of Black’s series) is a rather thinly veiled allegory of the gospel message of Christianity. For the reader coming from the background of the Christian faith the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Prince takes no effort. Other readers would have no trouble enjoying the story, and this book (along with its sisters) might be an excellent starting place for a young person to talk to friends about matters of faith—or for parents to talk with their pre-teens and teens about them as well.

One drawback in the book is the use of ancient languages and cryptic abbreviations to point to specific allegorical references. For example, the abbreviated names “Disty” (for distractions) and “Bli” (short for blindness) in reference to the cute creatures used by the forces of the Dark Knight to create apathy among the Knights of the Prince; and the name of the creature that represents passion—penthomoth—whose name is taken from the Greek word pentho which means “passion.” To discover these cryptic references one must read the study questions and answers located at the end of the book.

The story itself is well-written and has the ability to stand on its own without the extra study helps that have become popular in the publishing world today. A simple footnote concerning the above mentioned references would be sufficient for the inquisitive reader.

Finally, I should mention that included (along with the study questions) are a couple of artist’s renderings of the unfamiliar creatures encountered in the book and a musical score for a song that relates to the Swords of Valor (“Ride of the Valiant” by Emily Elizabeth Black) as a sort of postlude to the story.

Lovers of swordplay and knightly quest/adventure will love this story as much as I did. In fact, I may look for the previous stories about Arrethtrae just to go on more adventures with the Knights of the Prince. Four out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, May 4, 2011

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Year in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania -- Novels by Calvin Miller

Seasons of Pennsylvania Series – Calvin Miller

© 1998, Wind © 2000, Shade © 2001, Frost © 2002 Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis

I have to apologize for reviewing a collection of books, but these should be read together, if you can find them all. Calvin Miller—preacher, author, artist, poet (not necessarily in that order)—is a master storyteller. And he proves it once again with this four book collection that brings the reader to the small community of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in the era of the Great Depression.

Each installment of the collection focuses on one season, and the interaction of several of the notable families in this rural town. As expected, Snow is set in winter—specifically around the Christmas season—and we become acquainted with the Muellers (the “coal people”) and Mary Withers, a young widow with a sickly daughter. As the dram unfolds, the little girl, Alexis, almost dies on the night that Otto Mueller is discovered to return home to his estranged family, even as his younger brother Erick falls in love with that “Vithers voman” as father Hans calls Mary. Christmas miracles ensue.

In Wind, Miller turns our focus to the McCaslin family (the “cow people”). Peter—the male heir to the McCaslin Dairy—finds himself at odds with his sister Isabel (called “Dizzy Izzy” by everyone because of her proclivity to quote scripture and hang on to the long gone love of an unscrupulous Bible salesman named Benny Baxter) when she insists that the dairy is responsible for giving a job to the down-on-his-luck Ernest Pitovsky and give him, his wife, and their two children a warm place to live. Otto Mueller appears once again, this time to rescue Isabel from her lovesick madness.

As summer creeps up on our little town, Shade chronicles the lives of the families involved as Benny Baxter returns to turn Isabel back into Dizzy Izzy. Also returning to town is Mabel Cartwright’s wayward daughter Christine who discovers a dark secret in the memory boxes of her mother—whose personal memory is failing. Otto sees his love for Isabel slipping away even as his father Hans succumbs to cancer. How will the Muellers survive crisis after crisis?

In a final note, Miller returns us again to King of Prussia in Frost. As the title suggests, this part of the story takes place in Autumn as the town anticipates the first frost of the year. Christine Cartwright discovers she is carrying Benjamin Baxter’s baby—though she has discovered just what a heel Benny is. Helena Pitovsky continues to battle tuberculosis. Mary Withers disappears with her dead husband’s identical twin brother only to find out that they are only identical in physical appearance. Ingrid Mueller must work the wonders only a mother can work to ensure that her sons will be happy and find the love that they both deserve.

You must read the books yourself to get a feel for Pennsylvania in the 1930s. The continued reference to the local Lutheran Church brings a homey touch to this collection of books (which you can order as a set from the author’s website while supplies last).

As a whole I give the books four out of five reading glasses because they are good, readable tellings of a pleasant story about a not-so-pleasant time. I did find that the first of the books touched my fancy most, though. Miller suggests that the last installment is the best because of the resolution found there. In any case, you will enjoy them. I know that my girls enjoyed them when I read them to them at bedtime.

—Benjamin Potter, May 3, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer – Michael Connelly

©2005 Grand Central Publishing, New York (1st Movie Tie-in edition, 2011)

As you know, I’m a sucker for free books. So when I saw an opportunity to put my name in the hat for one of several copies of the movie tie-in book or a poster of the just released film based on Michael Connelly’s book, I did just that (chanting, “book, not poster; book, not poster” for several nights until I forgot about the drawing). Then my book (not poster) came and I just needed to find time to read.

I was sure I’d like Connelly’s writing (though I’d never read it before), and I was right. The Lincoln Lawyer is the first among the novels featuring defense pro Mickey Haller—a twice divorced, son of the star of all defense lawyers (who died when Mick was a boy, but left a legacy of courtroom sleight of hand to match Ben Matlock and Perry Mason).

With the smell of dollars in the air, Haller engages a client who convinces him of total innocence in the murder alleged, and takes the case hoping for it to turn into a franchise (that is a big money-maker that keeps on giving for the foreseeable future). What he discovers is layer upon layer of deceit and pure evil. Mickey will be lucky to get out of this one with his life, let alone his attorney’s license.

Here’s a fast-paced legal thriller that will have you guessing, reading, and rooting for the underdog. You might even want to run down and buy yourself a Lincoln Towne Car to run your office from (or start a Limo service, whichever seems most lucrative). I give the book 5 reading glasses and can’t wait for the movie to hit DVD and Blue Ray so that I can get it into my queue.

And by the way, the new paperback version includes a sneak peak at Connelly’s newest best seller, The Fifth Witness (in stores now).

—Benjamin Potter, May 3, 2011

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