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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Andy Griffith's new role: pitching health care law

My daughters in a summer photo shoot. God is very good.

LEFT: Laura, 8, and Julia, 6.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: Deceit by Brandilyn Collins

What a fun novel by Brandilyn Collins! She never disappoints. As usual, she pulled out all the stops and offered another suspense tale ripped from the headlines and demanding compulsive reading until the very last line. I loved Deceit and wanted to post my thoughts about it here.

In this tale, skip tracer Joanne Weeks is convinced that Baxter Jackson killed his second wife (Joanne's best friend) seven years ago. She uses her skip tracing skills to try locating Melissa Harkoff, who supposedly knows where Baxter hid the body of Linda Jackson. With this forensic evidence, Joanne is convinced that the police will be able to put Baxter away. The problems, of course, are that somebody is coming after Joanne and that tracking Melissa down isn't quite so simple, even for an expert skip tracer.

When I began this novel, I had no clue what skip tracing was. I'd never heard of it, and I consider myself to be a pretty well-read and knowledgeable person. I remember turning to my wife and asking, "Skip tracing—ever heard of it?" Now that I understand it better, I can easily see Collins featuring Joanne in future novels. The skill is perfect for any type of crime investigation. I enjoyed learning about this new skill, and I also liked Collins's new character, Joanne. She mourns her dead husband and is addicted to Jelly Bellies. The only dimension to Joanne's character that was a groaner for me was her affection for eighties rock and her pop references to groups like Chicago and Aerosmith. To her credit, Collins creates a clever twist using a song title toward the end. Very well executed.

Along the way, I was frustrated when Joanne continually lies to further her investigation. I was so impressed when Collins exposed Joanne's problem with deception. She also raises an ethical question about how law enforcement conducts its business. Is it ever right for a believer to lie to get information or to hunt down a killer or his victim? This spiritual question hit home for me because we are all tempted to whitewash the truth from time to time.

Bottom line? What a great novel! Collins is a veteran at Christian suspense, and it shows. The pace never let up, and the pages were flying. I had to know how this story was going to end—and I wasn't disappointed. Whenever I read Collins, I learn so much about dialogue, plotting, police procedure, characterizations, and how to describe suspenseful moments, so I always keep her novels for repeat readings and further study. Seriously, her novels are some of the best textbooks you'll find on the craft. Deceit happily claims a spot on my shelf beside Dark Pursuit. Way to go, Brandilyn! I've still got Exposure on my dresser and plan to read it soon.

Note: I received my copy of Deceit courtesy of Zondervan for the CFBA. 

Dark in the City of Light by Paul Robertson

The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance introduces Dark in the City of Light
(Bethany House, July 1, 2010) by Paul Robertson.

About the Author

Paul Robertson is a computer programming consultant, part-time high-school math and science teacher, and the author of The Heir. He is also a former Christian bookstore owner (for 15 years), who lives with his family in Blacksburg, Virginia.

About the Book

What Evil Haunts the Shadows of 1870s Paris?

Baron Ferdinand Harsanyi — After his wife's mysterious death, this Austrian attaché holds control over mines whose coveted ore could turn the tide of war.

Therese Harsanyi — Swept up in new romance and the spectacle of Paris, the Baron's daughter is blind to the dangers stalking her family and the city she loves.

Rudolph Harsanyi — Unsure whom to trust, the Baron's son's grief over his mother's death twists into growing anger and a desire to break free.

As France and Prussia plunge toward war, one family is caught in a web of deceit, political intrigue, and murder that threatens to tear them apart.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Dark In The City Of Light, go here.

My Review

My wife read this novel because my TBR stack is too tall at the moment and offered her comments. She, my mom, and I loved According to Their Deeds. So she was eager to read Paul's new novel and wasn't disappointed. What an intriguing story—and yet so much different from ATTD. The history was fascinating because I was unfamiliar with the period and these events. The author must have done a ton of research to pull this story off! Quite impressive. And the plot really pulled me along through a fascinating tale worth reading. The faith message could have been stronger, but that seems to be par for the course in so much Christian fiction now. Still, this was a thoroughly enjoyable, engaging read all the way through. Don't miss it!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Truth Project -- Extended Trailer

We're doing The Truth Project at our church.

Fishing Pike With The UP Pro Staff

Some friends at church are really serious about fishing. Here's a fun video showing some of their recent catches at nearby Cowboy Lake and other local locations. My girls and I are toward the end with one fish they caught and the one that got away.
YouTube - Fishing Pike With The UP Pro Staff

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How To Connect Your Laptop To Your Television Video | Laptop Computers |

How To Connect Your Laptop To Your Television Video | Laptop Computers |

You Don't Have to Pay for Cable TV

You Don't Have to Pay for Cable TV

The girls and I go fishing

U.P. Pro Staff: Tuesday Evening on the River:

Laura and Julia had some fun pulling in some northern pike tonight. This one is a 29 incher! Laura also had a 35 inch or bigger up to the side of the boat but it got off.

U.P. Pro Staff: JD's 34 1/2 Inch Pike

U.P. Pro Staff: JD's 34 1/2 Inch Pike: "That Right There is 'The King of The Deep'"

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back on Murder by J. Mark Betrand

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing
Back on Murder (Bethany House, July 1, 2010)
by J. Mark Betrand

About the Author

J. Mark Bertrand has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. After one hurricane too many, he left Houston and relocated with his wife Laurie to the plains of South Dakota.

Mark has been arrested for a crime he didn't commit, was the foreman of a hung jury in Houston, and after relocating served on the jury that acquitted Vinnie Jones of assault. In 1972, he won an honorable mention in a child modeling contest, but pursued writing instead. Besides his personal website, visit his Crime Genre website at

The next book in this series, Pattern Of Wounds will come out in the summer of 2011.

About the Book

Det. Roland March is a homicide cop on his way out.

A missing girl. A corrupt investigation. They thought they could get away with it, but they forgot one thing:

Roland March is BACK ON MURDER...

Houston homicide detective Roland March was once one of the best. Now he's disillusioned, cynical, and on his way out. His superiors farm him out on a variety of punishment details. But when he's the only one at a crime scene to find evidence of a missing female victim, he's given one last chance to prove himself. Before he can crack the case, he's transferred to a new one that has grabbed the spotlight--the disappearance of a famous Houston evangelist's teen daughter.

All he has to do? Find the missing teenage daughter of a Houston evangelist that every cop in town is already looking for. But March has an inside track, a multiple murder nobody else thinks is connected. With the help of a youth pastor with a guilty conscience who navigates the world of church and faith, March is determined to find the missing girls while proving he's still one of Houston's best detectives.

Battling a new partner, an old nemesis, and the demons of his past, getting to the truth could cost March everything. Even his life.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Back On Murder, go HERE.

My Review

My mom is currently reading this one, but I plan to read it soon and write a review. It looks like a good one! Congratulations, Mark!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Great Music: "If Ye Love Me" Performed by the Cambridge Singers

Tomorrow We Die by Shawn Grady

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing Tomorrow We Die
(Bethany House, July 1, 2010)
by Shawn Grady

About the Author
Shawn Grady signed with Bethany House Publishers in 2008. He was named “Most Promising New Writer” at the 39th Annual Mount Hermon Writers Conference. He is the author of the novels Through the Fire & Tomorrow We Die.

Shawn has served for over a decade as a firefighter and paramedic in northern Nevada. From fire engines and ambulances to tillered ladder trucks and helicopters, Shawn’s work environment has always been dynamic. The line of duty has carried him to a variety of locale, from high-rise fires in the city to the burning heavy timber of the eastern Sierras.

Shawn attended Point Loma Nazarene University as a Theology undergrad before shifting direction to acquire an Associate of Science degree in Fire Science Technology as well as Paramedic licensure through Truckee Meadows Community College.

Shawn currently lives in Reno, Nevada, just outside of Lake Tahoe. He enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his wife, three children and yellow Labrador.

About the Book

Chase the Angel of Death and You Might Catch Him

Jonathan Trestle is a paramedic who's spent the week a few steps behind the angel of death. When he responds to a call about a man sprawled on a downtown sidewalk, Trestle isn't about to lose another victim. CPR revives the man long enough for him to hand Trestle a crumpled piece of paper and say, "Give this to Martin," before being taken to the hospital.

The note is a series of dashes and haphazard scribbles. Trestle tries to follow up with the patient later, but at the ICU he learns the man awoke, pulled out his IVs, and vanished, leaving only a single key behind. With the simple decision to honor a dying man's last wish, Jonathan tracks the key to a nearby motel where he finds the man again--this time not just dead but murdered. Unwilling to just let it drop, Jonathan is plunged into a mystery that soon threatens not only his dreams for the future but maybe even his life. He must race for the truth before the Angel of Death comes calling for him.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Tomorrow We Die, go to HERE.

My Review

Sorry, Shawn, my mom snagged my copy. I plan to get it back and read the novel soon, providing a review here. Congrats on another novel!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Nightmare by Robin Parrish

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing Nightmare
(Bethany House, July 1, 2010) by
Robin Parrish

About the Author

Robin Parrish is a journalist who's written about the intersection of faith and pop culture for more than a decade. Currently he serves as Senior Editor at, a community portal that fuses social networking with magazine-style features about entertainment and culture.

He had two great ambitions in his life: to have a family, and to be a published novelist. In March of 2005, he proposed to his future wife the same week he signed his first book contract with Bethany House Publishers. They contracted him for the rights to The Dominion Trilogy: Relentless (2006), Fearless (2007), and Merciless (2008). His science fiction thriller, Offworld came out in 2009. This summer debuts Nightmare, and he's working on another for 2011. Robin and his wife and children live in North Carolina.

About the Book

The Nightmare is Coming...

Ghost Town is the hottest amusement park in the country, offering state-of-the-art chills and thrills involving the paranormal. The park's main ride is a haunted house that promises an encounter with a real ghost.

When Maia Peters visits during her senior year of college, she's not expecting to be impressed. Maia grew up as the only child of a pair of world-renowned "ghost hunters," so the paranormal is nothing new and to her most of the park is just Hollywood special effects. In fact, the ride feels pretty boring until the very end. There, a face appears from the mist. The face of Jordin Cole, a girl Maia knows who disappeared from campus a few months ago.

Convinced what she saw wasn't a hoax and desperate to find answers to Jordin's disappearance, Maia launches into a quest for answers. Joined by Jordin's boyfriend--a pastor's kid with very different ideas about paranormal and the spirit realm--Maia finds herself in a struggle against dangerous forces she never expected to confront on the edge of the spirit realm that try to keep the truth from emerging.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Nightmare, go HERE.

My Review

This was an enjoyable, engaging read. It was unique and certainly nothing I've ever read or expected from the CBA before, considering the subject matter of the spirit world. These subjects, however, were addressed with a clear presentation that demonic activity is evil. The whole subject of ghosts and spirits, however, was not as black and white. That said, this was a true page-turner. Parrish pulled me in, and I found the novel hard to put down. I appreciated his disclaimer at the end that paranormal involvement is inherently dangerous and not something he recommends. Yet what the author warns against is what so much of the novel is about, so this message seems a bit conflicted.

Anybody into supernatural suspense will probably enjoy this novel. I especially liked the visits to real places, such as Alcatraz. The author obviously did a lot of research to pull this off and should be commended for the extra work involved. The photos included in the book also gave the overall presentation a nice touch.

As you may guess, I had a few qualms with this novel. Since the reader sees the story from Maia's POV, he or she reads what she thinks about ghosts and spirits and must simply take her word for it. But I'm afraid this aspect was probably the novel's greatest weakness simply because I don't buy into everything Maia buys into. I don't believe in ghosts (beyond demonic activity), and I read most of these episodes of paranormal activity, thinking, Yeah, right. So the story was on shaky ground to begin with. Each paranormal visit—from the sanitorium at the beginning to the hotel where Stephen King wrote The Shining—didn't keep me as white-knuckled as perhaps it should have.

I have on occasion paused at the SyFy channel show Ghost Hunters, and most of this novel reads just like one of those episodes. A lot of bumps in the night, cold spots, creepy voices captured on fancy equipment, the laughter of children. Nothing concrete one can hang his hat on . . . until the twist comes. The paranormal incidents in the novel become much more serious—downright evil, in fact. At one point, Maia assures Jordin that she doesn't delve into the nastiest spirit manifestations, but how can she control which spirits manifest themselves? I began wondering about the point of the manifestations until I realized we were watching Jordin's gradual descent into demonic oppression. 

I had difficulty relating to Maia. Her clinical coldness doesn't help convey the shock value perhaps intended. Unfortunately, her comrades don't especially ring true either. Jordin is infatuated with the spirit world in contradiction to her evangelical moorings. Good Christians simply shouldn't dabble in the occult. Why would her boyfriend, an up-and-rising evangelical pastor, even be dating someone so obsessed with spiritualism and so obviously lacking in her understanding of Scripture? Again, plausibility is weak here. As the climax and final revelations unraveled, I continued to struggle. The story was over the top for me, and I had a hard time buying it.

I also felt uncomfortable with this journey into spiritualism. As the paranormal activity escalates, it's obvious that Casper the Friendly Ghost has morphed into a talon-raking demon out for Jordin's soul. Twice the name of Jesus Christ is invoked to perhaps summon a spirit or drive it away—as if His holy name can be manipulated as some sort of lucky talisman for warding off evil spirits. Unfortunately, we see nothing else about Jesus for the rest of the story (with the exception of references to God and Jehovah), which is puzzling and really a shame. When the spirit begins speaking by using Maia's voice beyond her control, the story clearly crossed the line from benign ghost story to one about demon possession—and my alarm and surprise mounted.

In my opinion the story has too much emphasis on the demonic side of the supernatural without the balance of a clear, biblical worldview. Maia is a Catholic, and it's unclear that she ever turns to Jesus alone for salvation. So how is she able to combat a demon if she has no spiritual power to do so? To be fair, it's clear that the demon hates God, but how he is defeated (beyond Derek's prayers) seems to have little to do with God or Jesus or the gospel. The worldview presented here is just too fuzzy. Jesus and the gospel should win the battle here, and combat using biblical weaponry would have made more sense. We don't wrestle against flesh and blood.

I see some clear dangers as well, in spite of the author's disclaimer. Couldn't a story like this generate an interest in the spirit world, creating an ungodly curiosity in spiritualism? Does God want us dwelling on the subject master of spirit, possibly demonic, encounters? Could Satan use this fascination for his own ends, pulling us in just as he pulled Jordin in? I'm certain many who read this novel will debate these issues. I kept thinking about Philippians 4:8 and what God wants us to be thinking about. I enjoy supernatural suspense on occasion, but this one pushed the line too far for me.

Note: I received my review copy courtesy of Bethany House for the CFBA.

Why morning people rule the world | Life & Style

Why morning people rule the world | Life & Style