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Skin by Ted Dekker

I delayed reading Skin for several months primarily because of the cover. Oh, I’m a Dekker fan and bought the book a)because BJ is also a fan and b)I wanted to read it. But I’m not a big “horror” reader and the cover (pictured below) coupled with the title made me think this was a horror book.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I’ll go on record as to say that I think the book is mis-titled and the cover was horribly chosen; it doesn’t represent the story at all.

And it’s a good one, too…the story, I mean.

So after I purchased it, it sat on my book shelf for a while just looking at me. Truthfully, I was in no hurry to read it. But, I needed something to read last week and knew that I could rely on Dekker to deliver a good story, even if it was in a genre’ that wasn’t really at the top of my list.

As I began to read Skin, I kept looking for the horror aspects of it…but it never showed. 200 pages into the book, I actually got a little agitated because I was thoroughly enjoying the book but could see no relevance to the title or the cover.

In a nutshell, (and I can’t give the story away because BJ has yet to read it) five characters are drawn together in a small town out west. What draws them together is a serial killer who is after each of them with the goal of getting them to commit suicide. Several coincidences get them together, but what seems like story flaws are tied together nicely in the end so that it’s not really coincidence at all.

Dekker has created four very interesting characters (yes, one of them isn’t developed at all) and the pages turn quickly. It’s hard to put down. And that’s a good thing. Several of the minor characters are developed just enough to be interesting and to add flavor.

The ending has an incredibly interesting twist that we do not anticipate and that ties the title to the story. The twist works and is very good, but it’s a poor attempt to tie the title to the story. His editor should have worked with him to change it. J

However, the last 2 pages completely ticked me off. In essence, Dekker gave us a great story…then ended with a “to be continued” or a question mark at the end of “the end?” It is a too blatant attempt to set up book 2.

Those things aside, I do recommend this book on the strength of Dekker’s story and writing alone.

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Riven by Jerry B. Jenkins

Okay, I’ll admit that I had no idea what “Riven” meant when I picked up this book. Why, then, would I buy it? A couple reasons, actually; you already know I’m a sucker for sales. That should say enough. But, I also picked it up because of the author. Prior to this, I was only familiar with Jenkins’ work with Lahaye on the Left Behind series, the fictional account of the tribulation. Depending on how you look at it, that work could almost fall in the science-fiction category.

I’m also a sucker for science-fiction…and Riven sounded odd, so it had to be science-fiction…or thus my thinking went.

It’s not science fiction and I learned through the author’s note that it isn’t the only other work outside of Left Behind he’s done. Since when did books stop listing the “other works” by the author? As a young reader, I used those lists as a checklist for other books I wanted to get when I found a good one; I always figured if I liked that work, I’d like others. Tis a major marketing mistake not to have that list, methinks.

I also learned through the author’s note that Riven is the story he’s been dying to tell for years and years. And only an author with his name recognition could get away with it. At 526 pages, it’s about 250 pages too long. Oh, it’s not that it is a bad story, it’s not. It’s just too long. The first 4/5 of the book is where the reduction should have occurred. In fact, it’s not until the last fifth of the book that you realize the first 4/5’s were connected.

The story is about a Brady, a young man who makes horrible decisions his entire life—and we get to see just about every single horrible decision he makes; and Thomas, a lifelong pastor who’s shuffled unappreciated from one church to the next. Both of these characters, and their supporting crew, are interesting in their own right, but both almost deserve their own book. After the first few chapters back and forth between the characters, there’s never any real suspense that their lives will meet up someway, somehow. The suspense is trying to figure out when and how. That’s aided, of course, by the number of pages left still held in your right hand. The “how” they meet up is also not much of a surprise and we see it coming a long way off. The surprise comes in the end result.

This doesn’t strike me as either an anti or pro death penalty work. Both sides seem to have equal representation in the characters. However, the death penalty will certainly be on your mind once you finish the book.

Do I recommend it? Yeah, I do. It is a good read; the characters are interesting and that propels you forward. Jenkins’ prose also flows well and is easy to both follow and read. Would Jenkins have gotten away with it if he wasn’t Jenkins? No way. It’d be about half the size. That shouldn’t stop us from reading it now.

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When the Cat’s Away

I’ve just finished reading When the Cat’s Away by Gilbert Morris. Even though Morris is well-known in Christian circles, it was the first work I’d read of his and I found myself enjoying the story—even though it was the third book of a trilogy (I didn’t know that when I got it!)

The reason I bought the book to begin with is that I had the opportunity to meet Gilbert in Tuscaloosa, Alabama last year at the Deep South Christian Writers Conference where he was the keynote speaker. I sat up front—as I try to always do—during his presentation on building characters, and then when he was done he popped down and sat at my table. After he signed a few autographs, we began to chat and I discovered he was, if not a fan, certainly knowledgeable about comic books. Well, we hit it off and had a nice conversation even when we should have been listening. J I doubt he’d remember my name, if that’s what you’re wondering…but he might remember “the comic book guy.”

So I came away both impressed by him and by his character building workshop and decided to put his name on my list of “pick up something from this writer.” I found When the Cat’s Away and got started on it last week.

Set in White Sands, Alabama (along the coast), WtCA is a mystery novel of sorts, but it takes a while before the mystery to really kick in. Actually, I didn’t realize it was a mystery until well into the book. Being a reader of Tony Hillerman, I expect the mystery to be presented much earlier and then the entire novel spent solving it. The characters and situations are all interesting, one of the big “events” of the story being a cat show in which one of the main characters is entering a cat for the first time; first time for both her and the cat.

And even though I liked the book, I found one aspect of it very annoying: interjected sporadically we get to hear the thoughts of two of the cats; one of which was the contestant, the other of which is a mean big black cat that claws just about everyone he can get near. Oddly enough, it is the cat which solves the mystery…and this was kind of a let down for me. Obviously, this has worked before as this is the third book, but I didn’t like the cat solving the mystery.

That said, the prose flows smoothly and is both easy to read and interesting enough to hold your interest. The characters are well rounded and not cookie-cutter. In fact, there is such an amalgamation of different characters; one of them is bound to interest you. So, while I might not put this book on the top 10 list, I have no reservations about suggesting it for your reading list.

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Soon I will be Invincible by Austin Grossman

It’s been said here before that I’m a sucker for “sale” books. That’s true, but I’m also a sucker for superhero books. I don’t mean comic books, which you all know that I like, but I mean novels about superheroes…and not just Spider-Man or Bat-Man, either.

Soon I will be Invincible, by Austin Grossman, is just that, a superhero book about a bunch of heroes and villains we’ve never heard of before. Actually, I want to say that I prefer books like that. I think the reason is that I expect Spider-Man to act in a certain way (that established by the main man, Stan Lee) and when he doesn’t, I get a little upset. Early efforts were done well, but in recent years, many authors have been given great liberty and it generally doesn’t go over well with me.

Regardless, the cover to SIWBI grabbed me immediately—it did exactly what it was supposed to do…it got my attention. Plus, I love the title; kinda long, but very telling.

SIWBI starts off fantastic. Told in first person from the points of view of Dr. Impossible, the main bad guy, and Fatale, a new superheroine, we are dragged right into the story. Dr. Impossible, a supervillain who suffers from Malign Hypercognition Disorder (otherwise known as “evil genius syndrome”) is incredibly fascinating. When the story begins, he’s in prison after having been captured for about the twelfth time, plotting and planning not his escape, but his next attempt to take over the world.

Fatale has moments, but on the whole is pretty forgettable as are most of the other “heroes.” Many of the heroes are thinly veiled ripoffs of long established characters, or amalgamations of some. Granted, that’s part of the draw to them, to see what characteristic and personality quirks he picks up from this. Grossman pokes fun at superheroes and comics and often it is difficult to tell if he’s making fun of comics or if he’s treating it seriously. That may be because some of the novel reads seriously and other sections make you think he’s making fun. Again, the best sections are those with Dr. Impossible. I’d almost like to see the non-Impossible chapters removed, make the whole book about him as Grossman does a very nice job getting inside the head of someone who’s just not quite right.

I didn’t realize it when I bought it, but some quick internet research revealed that SIWBI was a finalist for the 2007 John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize.

Do I recommend it?

Yeah, I do. It’s not the best thing you’ll read and there are parts that are slow…but the pages continue to turn and you find yourself hurrying through Fatale’s chapters wanting to know what happens with Dr. Impossible.

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Terminal 9 by Rushford and James

Terminal 9 is another one of those books I found under those alluring words “book sale.” It didn’t exactly one of those covers that yelled “buy me,” but it did have one of those price/sale stickers that said that. It is actually the third book in a series, though reading the first two aren’t required to read this one. Co-written by Patricia H. Rushford and Harrison James, the 334 pages aren’t exactly page turners, but it wasn’t a complete waste of my time like one or two I’ve read in the past.

Part of the problem is that we see every…single…thing…that happens during and after the death of the victim. There are very few scenes of real drama, suspense or action. Yes, the plot moves along…well, it crawls along. And it isn’t that the characters aren’t interesting, it is simply a case of the editor failing to tell the writer, “you gotta cut some of this, it’s too long.”

An old man in a wheelchair is run over by a train near his house. All sorts of suspects, including the railroad company that wants to buy his riverfront land. The lead detective is Mac McAllister, who’s just been assigned a new partner…a female who happens to be a former romantic interest of his. We learn, through several agonizing scenes, that they’re both still interested in each other, but want to keep the relationship “professional.”

I think one of the things I learned while editing comic scripts/stories is that the lead characters should be characters of action…not inaction. The lead characters should be the ones doing the doing…not having the doing done to or for them. Terminal 9 read as if someone were simply pointing the way around to all the things that happened. It felt more like someone merely relaying facts of a story to me…when it should draw me in, get me involved and make me actually care about what happened. With the exception of Mac, we don’t really learn much about the other characters, and that’s too bad because there are sketches of some really interesting characters.

It would be hard for me to suggest this book to you for a retail cover price of $14…but if you can find it on the sale table like I did, it’s better than the latest book featuring Fabio on the cover. J

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The Best of Evil by Eric Wilson

Eric Wilson’s The Best of Evil was a very pleasant surprising find. As mentioned in this space before, I’m a real sucker for any place that has a sign containing the words “book” and “sale.” That’s exactly how I spotted Wilson’s book (and a few others that I’ll probably mention here in the coming weeks). 

As it happens, I’d just come out of a dentist appointment with a new dentist here in Oxford. Brett and I both had checkups (both of us had a clean teeth bill of heath, thanks!) and were returning to my truck. This office is in a strip mall, the first time I’d ever seen one in such a location.

Needless to say, next door is a Christian book store. As I got in my truck to leave, I stuck the key in the ignition. Before I could turn it, those words-you know them-“Sale. Half off.”

So, I told Brett to stay put (I could actually see the books on the table from my truck), and went inside for a quick look. I ended buying about 5 books, all for $3-$5.

The Best of Evil is about Aramis Black, a young man who’s moved from somewhere out west to Nashville. Out west he had considerable drug and alcohol problems (don’t they all, “out west?” -that’s a joke) and so he moves in with his brother, a struggling young country musician.

Aramis, who has opened up his own coffee shop, is still pretty much struggling to find his way, when out of the blue (how come it’s always “blue”? Why can’t it be out of the red? Or orange, or brown?) a man is gunned down in his shop right before his very eyes.

One of the ingredients in this story that really drug me along is that Aramis is supposedly a descendant of Merriwether Lewis, of the famous Lewis and Clark. Wilson’s tale tells of murder and intrigue relating to the Lewis family and a secret the family has passed down since the famous Merriwether’s death/murder. In fact, Aramis, when only a child, witnesses the murder of his mother, a death which he blames on his uncle.

Aramis must discover this secret past, which every one of his family members seem to know, but refuse to tell him.

The book was published in 2006, so it isn’t very old. It contains a lot dialogue so it moves very fast-the pages turn quickly. You’ll make your way through the 335 pages in no time. I don’t know that I could recommend it at the original sticker price of $14, but certainly worth your time and money at half that.

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Shawn Hawk by Roger Elwood

My latest read is a book titled Shawn Hawk by author Roger Elwood. While I can’t say it’s the best book in the world, I enjoyed it more than Warren’s Wilderness…but not as much as Faulkner’s Unvanquished. The thing I will say is that it is a very fast read. I had the thing finished (about a hundred and twenty-five pages) in about two and a half hours. Generally, I don’t read books quite that fast, but I did this one.

 

If you look too long at the cover, it’s difficult to tell what the title is. The book is titled after the name of the main character and it is inscribed on the cover in exactly the same font as the author’s name. A little confusing and poor design by the publisher.

 

Maybe the reason I finished it so quickly was the simplicity of the work. After the opening 20 pages or so, Shawn is the only character on an alien planet. **I think I’m supposed to put “Spoiler Warning” here** I don’t worry too much about spoiling it as it’s not a new book. In fact, the publisher’s date on it is 1995. Anyway, in this story of the future, the earth is in such a bad shape that people are leaving it in droves. Technology has advanced to the point that individual families can now take a spaceship and head out to one of the multitude of colonies and/or worlds ripe for colonization. In the early pages, Shawn has left earth with only his mother and father on the ship with him.

 

Wouldn’t you know it, the ship crashes and Shawn becomes the only human on an alien world. Monkey Planet (Planet of the Apes) worked because the monkeys also talked and you could get their perspective and all that. The problem on this planet is that none of them can actually do much talking to him. They do find ways to communicate, especially a small tribe of monkey-like things, the entire tribe of which Shawn kills off by disease. Much like Americans did to the Indians when colonizing North America.

 

Elwood finds a nice way to work in belief in God, the one true God of Jesus Christ and not some “made-up” God that sounds an awful lot like ours. That was a nice touch and very refreshing to see in a science-fiction book.

 

There’s no indication that this book was intended for a younger audience, but I’d highly recommend it for a 12-15-ish age group. It moves along at a nice clip, is science fiction, and has Christianity firmly presented.

 

I found this book like I find a lot of the books I buy-on sale at the local Christian book store. I’m not certain I would have paid a “new” price for it, but if you can find it for $4 or less, buy it, read it, give it to an young teen.

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