Deadline

006

 

by Randy Alcorn

Published 1994

What’s worse than being in a car accident that kills your two best friends?  Finding out that it wasn’t an accident…

So this is supposedly a thriller, but really ended up being more about one man’s journey from skeptic to believer in the Christian faith, with some random murder/investigative action thrown in.  Parts of this story I really enjoyed, but I felt like the actual ‘thriller’ part wasn’t a natural part of the rest of the tale.

Jake is a newspaper columnist for a big newspaper in Seattle.  (He’s syndicated, now, so his column is actually read across the country a couple times a week.)  Fifty years old, divorced, a Seahawks fan, Jake seems like a typical middle-aged guy.  His two best friends, Doc and Finney, have been his best friends since childhood.  They graduated high school together, fought in Vietnam together, got married at the same time, have kids the same age – despite the different directions their lives have taken on a personal level, they have managed to stay close through all these years.

Doc is a successful and wealthy surgeon.  An atheist and a philanderer, Doc’s moral compass seems to point at whatever he feels is right at the time.  Finney, on the other hand, became a Christian in his 20’s, and has been walking the straight and narrow ever since.  Jake, as he has his whole life, tries to find the middle ground between the two.  While he agrees with Doc objectively, he often finds himself disagreeing with Doc’s personal life.  However, he can’t understand why Finney is so insistent on this idea of Truth.  A social liberal, Jake frequently debates with Finney on topics like abortion, extramarital sex, and homosexual marriage.

Everything changes one Sunday afternoon when the three go to pick up pizza at halftime.  They’ve been watching the football game like they do every Sunday, with their wives hanging out in the other room (even though they’ve been divorced three years, Jake’s ex-wife Janet still comes by most Sundays to spend with “the girls”), and head out to get the pizza.  Doc’s car goes out of control and lands all three of them in intensive care.  Spoiler alert:  two of the three don’t make it.

Alcorn’s story touches on every social hot-topic you can think of:  abortion, extramarital sex, homosexual marriage – those are just the beginning.  The existence of heaven and hell, racial quotas, racism in general, feminism, sex ed in schools, whether teens need parental consent to get an abortion, charter schools, and loads more that I probably can’t remember right now.  Alcorn isn’t afraid to tackle these topics head-on, through letters Finney wrote before he died, interviews Jake has with people, and articles Jake is writing himself for his columns.  When Jake finds out that the accident wasn’t accidental, he begins a quest to find out who could have done this dire deed.  Because it was Doc’s car that was sabotaged, he looks to find any potential enemies of Doc, and he immediately begins to wonder whether it was those crazy anti-abortionists.  This leads to lots of conversations with the pro-lifers.

Through it all, Jake is also having lots of other personal issues with his family.  When he finds out his teenage daughter is pregnant and was on the verge of committing suicide, Jake is forced to face whether his views on assisted suicide, abortion, and “free sex” really work out in the long run of the real world.

Alcorn has a lot of thought-provoking things to say on sensitive topics, and, overall, I feel like he works them into the story fairly well, although at times it feels like a bit much.  I think this story would have really benefited from a narrower set of topics to tackle, because, in the end, the book comes off rather preachy, and the “thriller” part feels rather forced.  Someone like me, who agrees with most of Alcorn’s views might finish the book, but I think that the audience of social liberals that Alcorn hopes will read his books will be turned off by the rather aggressive campaign.

I do love a lot of his descriptive language, though –

In the newspaper business, ideas were perishables …  if not served up today, they’d be stored in the front of the refrigerator, then crowded toward the back, and finally – neglected until too old to recognize and too rancid to digest – unceremoniously tossed in the trash.

Alcorn hits abortion particularly hard.  I don’t usually get too “political” on this blog, but I am unabashedly pro-life, and will gladly have a conversation defending that point of view any time someone wants to take it on.  At one point, Finney’s widow, Sue, runs into a liberal senator (long story) and, before the Senator knows it, he’s embroiled in a conversation on abortion.  Fancying himself to be a real “women’s rights advocate,” he pompously reels off his usual litany, which Sue uses right back at him.

“For instance, I’ve heard you say you want abortion to be rare, that abortion is a heart-wrenching decision.  My question is, why?  What’s wrong with abortion?”

The senator looked surprised, as though he’d never  been asked that question.  “Well, it’s…it’s not a pleasant thing, and it’s a difficult decision for a woman to make.”

“What’s so unpleasant about it, Senator?  If it’s just a blob of tissue, like a cancer or something, a woman should be glad to get rid o f it.  Why is it such a difficult decision?  I mean, if your appendix or a kidney stone or something is making your life miserable, you just have it removed, get rid of it.  It’s not that difficult decision at all.  Why is abortion different?”

I think that abortion advocates are often people who haven’t really thought through the logic of their decisions, and, really, that’s the heart of Alcorn’s book – constantly making decisions based on our own desires does not lead to good ends.  There’s a particularly heart-tugging scene where Jake and Janet are talking with their daughter, Carly, who has decided not to abort her baby.  Carly doesn’t know that Jake and Janet got an abortion when they were in college  because they “weren’t ready,” and at one point Carly says, “No matter how much it messed up my college plans, my volleyball scholarship, and my life in general, I couldn’t go through with it.  I started thinking, what if I had come along at a time that was inconvenient for my parents?  Would I want them to kill me?  I just couldn’t punish an innocent child for my stupid mistake.”

Wow.  That scene just had such an impact, because, actually, if Carly had come at an inconvenient time, her parents would have killed her – they already killed her older brother or sister.  That’s a real turning point for Jake, where he begins to realize how his beliefs have impacted so much.

The book talks a lot about the impact abortion has on men and on the whole concept of parenthood.  Talking with a coworker (the only conservative in sight, and he’s in sports, where it doesn’t matter), Clarence is lamenting the lack of role models in his home neighborhood (Clarence is black and grew up in a poorer, crime-ridden part of town).  He says something I found vitally important:

“Men are told when they get a woman pregnant it isn’t their baby, it’s just hers.  They’re told they have no say in if they want the baby to live.  Spousal consent is an offensive concept to abortion rights people.  Men have no rights concerning the babies they’ve fathered.  But, Jake, we all know rights and responsibilities go hand in hand.  You can’t separate them.  So, when we tell men they have no rights, we’re really telling them they have no responsibilities.

“How can we say, ‘You have no right whatsoever to stand up for the welfare of this child,’ then expect them to take any responsibility whatsoever for the child if the mother decides to let him live?  You can’t have it both ways.  Either the father has rights and responsibilities for child, or he has neither rights nor responsibilities for the child.

“So what do we get as a result of believing this abortion propaganda?  A bunch of irresponsible men.  They’ve been taught they’re not needed in the home, women and children can get along fine without them – better because the government gives them a paycheck as long as they don’t marry the father.  So the men can go get a woman pregnant, then move on to the next woman and do the same thing, instead of settling down, getting a job, and supporting their family.  If they decide they want to take responsibility, which is what they should want, they’re told it’s none of their business, it’s the woman’s baby, not theirs.”

This was an intense and emotional book, and one that I sincerely wish had a bit more story to go with it.  I really think that Alcorn could have made a stronger impact by narrowing his focus and concentrating on keeping the story going.  I grew really attached to Jake and watched his personal (and unwilling) journey, but the whole thing with Doc’s death and how it came about felt very contrived and as though Alcorn just needed an out to finish up the story.

If you’ve stuck with me to the end of this ridiculously long review, thanks.  And I don’t usually get super personal on this blog, or super serious, but allow me to say that if you ever want to have a legitimate, honest, not-angry-or-accusatory conversation about abortion, just drop me a line.

Dragonlight

002

 

by Donita K. Paul

Published 2008

And here is the final installment of Paul’s Dragonkeeper series.  I found these books moderately enjoyable overall – I really, really wanted to like them, but I found myself liking the concept of them far better than the execution far too much of the time.

In DragonfireWulder’s followers were able to defeat the enemies and bring peace to the land.  In Dragonlight, the country is attempting to embrace that peace and establish the new normal.  Unfortunately, the citizens of the country are soon to learn that evil does not have to come from outside influences.

Like I said, I really wanted to like this series, and especially this final book, but, per usual, I felt like the story created way more questions than it resolved.  First off, the meech dragons.  I don’t get them.  They give me the weirds – they’re dragons who can walk and talk like humans, but are still dragons??  They are completely intelligent but not considered a high race??

Gilda is a meech dragon whose character has been completely up and down; she’s switched from villain to heroine to just plain obnoxious far too many times; her character wasn’t developed so much as it was muddied at every turn.  I spent the whole book just wanting to throttle her, and having no idea why anyone else was acting like what she was doing and saying was fine.

We get this random group of heretics who just sort of show up and start misleading people, and it’s never really resolved satisfactorily – I mean, yes, they find the ringleader and bring him to justice, but in the meantime – you’ve redistributed people’s property and children and not really explained how it’s all going to go back, not to mention the implication that the elderly were being put to death by this group – that never really go resolved, either; it was more of just a throw-away oh-hey-by-the-way kinda thing.

There’s this giant evil dragon whose been sleeping for centuries but suddenly just happens to wake up and everything time he moves he sheds scales and these scales turn into these little evil dragons blah blah blah, well these tiny evil dragons keep attacking Kale, presumably because she’s the Dragonkeeper but…  we never find out why??

Kale gets pregnant, and suddenly we find out like all these vague rules about how o’rants have babies and stuff that are never really explained and it’s like she just made up these gestation rules so she could make it all fit into her story (something like they get pregnant but the pregnancy doesn’t really REALLY start until she’s relaxed and exposed to new places or something and then the baby grows really slow so you don’t even know she’s pregnant until the very end and then it goes super fast and then something special has to happen for her to actually have the baby or something????)

We’ve got an apparently ageless little kimen who I guess Wulder just made her stay the same age for a while because bad stuff happened to her when she was a kid so he kinda froze her age and then put an egg of truth in her???

There was just too much.  I felt like Paul really wanted to make this big point about how Truth was the most important thing, but she did it in this very convoluted and complicated manner, and having an actual rock/egg thing BE Truth seemed clumsy.  Too many of Paul’s attempts at analogy are far too obvious to be a good analogy; I just feel like the concept is being shoved in my face instead of pleasantly slipped into my drink to be swallowed and contemplated later.

A 3/5 for this series as a whole.  I’ve heard other people really enjoy these books and rave about Paul’s world building, but her style just wasn’t mine.  The stories had a lot of potential, and I liked a lot of the characters, but overall things were just overly complicated and too aggressively spiritual to be my style.

Of Beast & Beauty

003

 

by Stacey Jay

Published 2013

So a while back I stumbled upon a list of Beauty & the Beast retellings.  It’s one of my favorite fairy tales, and I’m always up for a good shake-up of the story.  I love seeing how the core elements of the story can be recycled into something completely new.

Of Beast & Beauty takes place on a different planet, and there’s a mild sci-fi feel to the whole tale, but even someone who is not usually huge sci-fi fan (me!) can still find this an enjoyable book.  I honestly had low expectations going in, as many modern YA books have left me feeling completely confused and depressed, but Of Beast & Beauty was actually an intriguing and enjoyable read.

I was leery at first.  If there’s one thing I hate, it’s this recent spate of first-person present-tense narratives.  ARGH!  They drive me CRAZY.  It’s such an awkward, stilted way to tell a story, and it generally involves a ridiculous amount of introspection (I wonder if he is here on purpose, or if mere coincidence has brought him to this place at this hour.  Does he realize that I cherish every hair on his head, and yearn for him to take me in his arms?  Does he realize that I’ve eaten onions for lunch?  I silently curse the onions as he draws closer.  He stops and looks at me, and I can feel his gaze burning through me, but all I can think about are the onions.)  Just.  No.  Why.  Please.  Stop.  Honestly, seeing the FPPT narrative appear in a book is often enough to make me not read past the first page.

But something about Of Beast & Beauty grabbed me anyway, and kept me reading past that first page, despite the FPPT.  For once, and I say that without exaggeration because I can’t think of a single other book that made this work, I actually enjoyed the first-person present-tense narrative.  In part, I think it worked because the narrative rotated between three different characters, each with a distinct voice, which allowed the story to progress even when nothing was happening to one character.  Part of the reason that first-person narrative is so limiting when it’s combined with present tense is that the narrator can literally only tell us what is happening to herself right then, at that very second.  By allowing the narrative to move around, Jay enabled the story to continue moving, even when one character was just hanging around in a jail cell or a tower – something is always happening to move the story along, and Jay was able to effectively shift the narrative to follow the story.

Something about the language in this book I loved – I can’t really explain it.  It was almost a poetic book, even though it wasn’t.  The epilogue, for instance, was beautiful in its entirety, but I especially loved this (mild spoiler, but really, you ought to be able to figure out whose going to end up winning) –

On the night their souls slipped away … the Summer Star split down the middle, leaving two stars in its place.

One was as white and pale as Queen Isra’s skin when she was a girl, the other a luminous orange like King Gem’s scales when he sat before a fire.  They were celebrated and named Beauty and Beast, but none of the king or queen’s people would ever say which star was which.  They would only look kindly on the stranger who asked and say, “Beauty is wherever you find it, and Beast is there when you need to defend it.”

This was a  book that wrestled with the ideas of beauty and prejudice and sacrifice, and did it well.  I really enjoyed the way that both the protagonists were equally prejudiced against each other in the beginning (which was really emphasized with the dual narrative) – watching them learn to trust was a good story.

For me, the weak part was the sort of evil goddess/witch/person/spirit – I use so many nouns because we don’t really know what she/it was or what really happened to her/it…  everything got kinda vague at the end and Yay!  Happy ending!  Epilogue! – there was some resolution with the characters, but not really with that aspect.

Also, someone dies in the end and I found it completely unnecessary and annoying because it felt more like Jay just didn’t really know what to do with him, so she killed him off instead of figuring out how he would be able to fit into the new order of things.  I personally felt like this character would have been a real asset in the future of the world, and that killing him was just lazy writing, but that’s just me.

Overall, this book was a solid and surprising 4/5.  An intriguing blend of fairy tale, sci-fi, and YA, this book was enjoyable when I wasn’t really expecting it to be, and the first time I’ve ever thoroughly embraced the dreaded first-person present-tense narrative style.

“Requiem for a Mezzo” and “Murder on the Flying Scotsman”

002004

 

by Carola Dunn

Published 1996, 1997

In the third and fourth books of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, we learn more about Daisy and see her relationship with one of my favorite heroes develop more.

Some words about Alec and why he makes me swoon a bit:  Alec is hardworking, reliable, protective, caring, quiet, compassionate, steady – and all without a lot of fuss or drama.  His wife died in the influenza epidemic (as did Daisy’s father), leaving him a single father (Belinda is nine when we first meet her).  I love that Alec is ten years older than Daisy (my husband is ten years older than me so) – just his feeling of I can’t believe this beautiful young woman seems to actually like me is too adorable for words.  And maybe that’s what makes Alec so endearing – he looks at his relationship with Daisy as just brilliant luck – he’s so proud and pleased to be her man.  He encourages her in her work but is still a voice of reason when Daisy starts to get a bit carried away.  He’s a loving father, an excellent worker, self-educated, and respected by his supervisors, peers, and underlings.  Alec is not particularly romantic, but he’s the kind of man who will wear well, making a solid, dependable husband for life.  Watching the mutual attraction between him and Daisy grow into love is one of my very favorite parts of this series.

Notes about these titles in particular:  They’re cozy mysteries, and one of my favorite part of cozy mysteries is the way likable characters aren’t usually the ones to get knocked off.  In both these stories, the problem seemed to be finding someone without a motive instead of someone with one.  Both also have a closed set of potential suspects, allowing the reader to really have a chance to make a guess at whodunit.  The answer is usually guessable (although I don’t always guess it because I’m a terrible detective), and Dunn doesn’t usually use annoying tricks like whipping out a murderer that you met for two paragraphs on page five while the main character was sipping a cup of coffee.

In both mysteries, Daisy’s presence is natural.  Her friendship with a chief inspector at Scotland Yard also helps make the fact that Daisy frequently seems to stumble across murders seem to be at least slightly less ridiculous than it otherwise could be.  While these book don’t go into a huge amount of character development, I do feel like Daisy is a relatable person – open, compassionate, friendly, polite, hardworking, stubborn, loyal, and slightly impulsive.  We meet Alec’s daughter Belinda in Murder on the Flying Scotsman, and see Daisy starting to think about what her long-term relationship with Alec could mean – about whether or not she (Daisy) is ready to be a mother to a girl only 15 or so years her junior.

All in all, rereading these mysteries is just as much fun as I hoped it would be, and I highly recommend the series.