Book Review: ‘Rule of Law,’ by Randy Singer

This is the first Randy Singer novel I’ve read and I’m certain it won’t be the last. The combination of the legal, military, political and intrigue is compelling. Yes, some of the legal mumbo-jumbo and Supreme Court protocols were at times a bit tiresome but it wasn’t long before Singer brought us back to the human element. Special forces soldiers who were fighting for their country were killed in a bungled raid in Yemen. And now their loved ones had no father, no husband, no son, no brother and no explanation as to what really happened to their men.

Paige Chambers and Wyatt Jackson are two excellent creations. So different in style, mannerism and attitude but a terrific combination of youthful innocence and seasoned cynicism. And Amanda Hamilton, the President, was a leader with heart and courage to do what is best for the people of the nation not just make the right political move.

I suspect the story line borders on the truth – are the CIA effectively a rogue unit when operating outside the US without appropriate Congressional authority to act? When acts of war occur without appropriate authority are the executive branch protected by the “state secrets” provisions allowing such acts to not be properly brought to account and the perpetrators brought to trial?

Like many novels the novel is set up well and the first 200 pages are compelling. The story sagged a little in the middle as our lawyers went through their processes to testify in multiple court situations. But the last 50 pages or so are brilliant. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and I was kinda sad when it all came to an end.

I do hope Randy Singer has found himself a new hero that he can use in a series of JAG-style novels: Paige Chambers. I know I’ll certainly be reading that series.

If you enjoy watching TV shows like JAG and Madam Secretary you going to enjoy Rule of Law (without the soap opera that sometimes comes with TV shows).

I received a Net Galley copy of Rule of Law as part of the Litfuse Blog Tour with no expectations of a favourable review.

Book Review: “The Dog who was There” by Ron Marasco

As a dog lover, I was intrigued to read a story about a dog who experienced first hand the life of Jesus. I didn’t really know what to expect and now having read it I have a mix of thoughts as regards reviewing it.

I appreciated the grittiness of the story. We see the times of Jesus from the ground level so we get a taste of the dirt and squalor of certain areas of Jerusalem and other nearby locales. We get a view of the violence of the period, in particular, the ruthless and callous disregard the Romans had for life, both human and canine. For some readers this may be a bit confronting.

Barley is a rescue dog in the true sense of the description (we have 2 at home) and has a delightful spirit even though for much of his life he is poorly treated. But we do get to see him being loved by a married couple and later by a petty criminal, Samid, which Barley responds well too.

Jesus, or the Kind Man as Barley describes Him, doesn’t really enter the story until about halfway and then it’s not until the last 30% of the book when Barley gets up close to Him in His last days. And the crucifixion scene is tremendously portrayed from the eyes of Barley.

What I found challenging about the novel is that not a lot happens in the first half and I struggled to get through to it. I kept wondering when Jesus was going to become more prominent as that’s what the title alluded to. I was confused by the POV quite a lot. The author jumped between Barley and 3rd person narrator frequently to the extent they almost meshed. I felt Barley often saw things through a human and not, a dog perspective.

The last third of the novel was very good to read with a couple of very clever twists which amped up the emotional connection I had to the story. However, there is so much quality reading material available I’m not sure I’m able to recommend this one.

Note: A special thank you to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

You can discover more about “The Dog who was There” on the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

“A.D.30,” Ted Dekker

934503This is the first novel of Ted Dekker’s that could be classified as Biblical fiction. It is breathtaking in its portrayal of the times, the brutality of humans and in Maviah, the central character, someone all readers can relate to. And then we meet Yeshua, the Hebrew for Jesus. It’s hard to put into words the experience the reader has seeing Jesus through Maviah’s eyes. Sitting near Him as he shares many of the parables we’ve come to know through the Bible. I didn’t want Him to leave. I expect that was how the disciples felt as they journeyed with Him.

Maviah is a Bedouin slave who at the request of her dethroned father to seek out King Herod and secure his assistance to free her people from the Thamud. This takes her on a wild journey through the desert with her valiant aids Saba and Judah. Their journey will take them past Jerusalem. Judah who knows of Jesus, being a descendant of the kings who visited Jesus at his birth, and is desperate to meet him. Circumstances outside their control unexpectedly lead them to the house of Nicodemus where Jesus is happening to supper.

Maviah is a wonderful character. We see her courage in undertaking the journey and the many fears she will fail. It is in meeting Jesus she is able to begin to realise her destiny as Queen of the desert. The final scenes are simply extraordinary storytelling as Dekker demonstrates the power of faith when the odds appear insurmountable.

There are many other notable well developed characters; Judah and Saba in particular. It was fascinating to see Dekker present his interpretations of such people as Herod, Herodias, Aretas as well as Stephen and some of the disciples.

This is Dekker at his absolute best. In fact, he’s stepped up a level as he combines the truth and power of the gospel with a breathtaking tale of good and evil that makes me want more and more.

“Kept,” by Sally Bradley

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Photo courtesy of SallyBradley.com

I don’t read much romantic fiction but I was drawn to “Kept” by the comments of some reviewers whom I respect dearly. What grabbed my attention in their reviews was the notion that this novel wasn’t your typical Christian romance as it grappled with some tough issues.

It didn’t take long to get absorbed in the story. It’s powerful storytelling with wonderfully believable characters (well maybe the good looks are a little exaggerated but my wife tells me that’s essential to most romance novels). I expect Miska, the drop-dead gorgeous freelance editor who has an arrangement with a married pro baseballer (whom she loves) whenever he comes to town, may create some tension amongst readers.

Next door are two brothers: Garrett, the cool soon-to-be-married lawyer and Dillan, the clumsy giant who happens to be a youth pastor. Christian men who befriend Miska and soon become aware of her arrangement.

There’s a wonderful supporting cast of characters any of whom you can meet on the street. My favourite was Tracy who demonstrated how to love someone without any judgment or preconceived notions of who or what they should be. Even when grappling with her own heartbreak she takes Miska on and simply loves her.

But what stirred me most about this story is how Bradley demonstrates the power of Christ’s pursuit of individuals and how His love transforms. Miska reflects all of us; her life is complicated and messy. Sure her particular situation may be extreme compared to the “stuff” we grapple with but it all reflects our fallen natures.

Oh, and there’s a very sweet love story.

We need more Sally Bradley’s to write such novels that portray the rawness of life and the transformative power of Christ’s love.

“Motherless,” Erin Healy

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Photo courtesy of Erin Healy

“This is truth: we all tell the stories that we want to believe. We tell them for so long that we forget what we really know. Occasionally we convince others to believe them too.”

Motherless is the story of brother and sister, Marina and Dylan, who are coming to terms with the anticipated death of their father (he’s in an induced coma) having lost their mother many years earlier from an apparent suicide.

Marina, even though only a few years older than 16-year-old Dylan, has taken on many of the responsibilities of being a mother. She is especially protective of him as he suffers from agoraphobia, which can be tremendously debilitating.

Their story is told through the eyes of a first person narrator who has a particular interest in their welfare. This individual takes on a far greater role in their story and especially the key themes as it unfolds.

Healy uses vivid imagery in describing her characters, the Californian coast and the delicacies created by Sara, another key character. At any moment Healy is able to transport the reader into being a cocktail party guest, harvesting grapes in a vineyard or sitting on a surfboard waiting for the next set to roll in.

I particularly appreciated how Healy took me into Dylan’s mind, the young poet who was at his happiest surfing the break outside his home even though stepping out the front door to pop down to the shops crippled him with fear. I know what that feels like.

Lies, deception, grace and forgiveness. Key themes at the heart of most families as they reflect the darkness and light we all must navigate through life.

This is what makes this story so compelling: it could be any of our families that Healy has captured on the page.

Highly recommended.

“The Legend of Sheba,” Tosca Lee

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Photo courtesy of Tosca Lee

There is little mention of the Queen of Sheba in the Bible other than that she paid King Solomon a visit having heard of his great wisdom and he worshipped an unseen God. (1 Kings 10:1-13)

This novel greatly expands on the little we know and introduces us to an enchanting, complex Queen who is powerful, fiercely independent, intelligent and very beautiful. We meet her as a child and then retrace her period of exile before becoming Queen. She soon asserts her authority by utilising Saba’s natural wealth to build a greater kingdom. Her council continually badger her to marry and produce an heir, however, she only wants to marry for love.

One of Saba’s trader’s shares his meetings with the King of the northern tribes of Israel who is becoming increasingly powerful in the region. She is soon intrigued and infatuated as the two begin corresponding by letter. He with his songs and proverbs, she in riddles. But a greater need arises as Solomon begins to build a fleet of ships and ports that will negate Saba’s trading capabilities. Sheba takes it into her own hands and sets off on the 6 month journey to pay the King a visit to negotiate access to his ships and ports.

It is on arriving in Jerusalem that this novel takes off as we get to witness a most passionate love affair between the two. The tension simmers for many pages as they seek to understand and be understood by the other. Solomon, tired of his wealth and his huge number of wives, meets his equal. A woman who can inspire, motivate and lift him from his boredom. He is captivated by her.

Sheba resists her feelings for him not wanting to be another conquest. But the more time they spend together the more she sees of the heart of this man. Having grown up worshipping Almaqah, a god of the sun and moon, she begins to realise it’s folly. It is in seeing Solomon’s struggle between his faith and his riches she comes to realise the unseen one is the one true God.

Lee writes beautifully as she always does taking us back in time as observant bystanders to the sounds, smells, and sights of the era. Her authorial skill makes this a most charming and fascinating read. Frankly, I was so disappointed when it ended.

There is an informative appendix that outlines some of the key findings from Lee’s exhaustive research which helped answer many of the questions I had as I read the novel. But one must always remember this is a piece of fiction.

“Spirit Bridge,” James L Rubart

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Image courtesy of James L Rubart’s website

Spirit Bridge is the third and final episode in the Well Spring series. And wow, it sure finishes in a mighty way, so much so I’m very sad that it has now ended.

I’d suggest all readers read the first two in the series: Soul’s Gate and Memory’s Door, not just because they are fabulous novels but they provide a valuable introduction to this final episode.

This one starts where the last one ended, the Warriors Riding hoping to take some time out to rest and convalesce after the battle with Zennon and his demonic warlords. However, the Spirit has other ideas and it isn’t long before the battle is renewed and with tragic circumstances.

Two additional characters play pivotal roles. Simon, who we’ve met previously, and are never quite sure whose side he’s on. Rubart manages this ambiguity brilliantly. The second, Miyo, is in fact a new character and she plays an important leadership role in discerning the insidious plot of Zennon.

Brandon and Dana’s characters are well developed in this episode and I especially grew to like both of them. The romantic tension between them continues as an undercurrent but doesn’t distract the reader in developing empathy for them both.

What I particularly appreciated about this episode is how Rubart presents spiritual warfare in the context of the daily battle we all have in surrendering our desires and hopes to God. He explores it through Reece, Brandon and Dana demonstrating how each of them unknowingly allows the enemy to infiltrate through some form of self-glorification.

This culminates in a fantastic final battle scene that is magnificently described allowing the reader to visualize it effortlessly.

This is a wonderful series that so powerfully demonstrates spiritual warfare in a fictional context that is uplifting, challenging and thrilling in its suspensefulness.

I can’t recommend it enough and so look forward to reading Rubart’s next creation.

“Hacker (Outlaw Chronicles),” Ted Dekker

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Image courtesy of Worthy Publishing

My name is Nyah and I’m a hacker. I know things most people would never believe. Things that shouldn’t exist, but do.” 

Seventeen year old Nyah Parks is a genius hacker whose world is unraveling. Desperate and with no other choice, Nyah turns her programming skills to cracking the firewalls of the world’s largest corporations. She exposes their weaknesses, and then offers her services to secure their systems from hackers.

But when the most dangerous job of her life backfires and forces her to go on the run, she encounters an impossible reality that shouldn’t exist, but does.

A hack unlike any other. A hack that will take her beyond the firewall of the human brain itself. A hack, which may be the only way to save her mother now.

What if there was a way to tap into the unseen reality that surrounds us all? Would you hack in? How far would you go to find the answers to your deepest questions? The answer lies deep beyond the firewall.

As part of the FirstLook Blog Tour Worthy Publishing provided a Q&A with Ted Dekker which adds good background to the above teaser.

Read more

“Raptor 6,” Ronie Kendig

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Image courtesy of Shiloh Run Press

This first instalment in “The Quiet Professionals” series has everything we’ve come to love about Kendig’s writing: thrills a plenty, heart-pounding pace, solid character development, great military heroes, some crazy mad bad guys and a love story in a war zone.

But in this novel, it’s wonderful to see how Kendig has excelled in upping the ante so everything I’ve mentioned is even better.

What I’ve always loved about Kendig’s writing is her tremendous craftsmanship in drawing the reader into her war zone. In Raptor 6 it is no exception. She takes us right into the thick of it. We can feel the tension, hear the guns being fired, smell the sweaty testosterone within the cramped confines of the military vehicle and taste the grittiness of the dust.

And then there’s the love story. A young military leader passionately responsible for leading his small troop go where very few dare but emotionally wounded by events of the past. Torn by serving his nation and opening his heart to what has only led to heartbreak in his past.

The soldier soon meets a striking American but with Afghani blood and an absolute ripper of a name: Zahrah Zarrick. The daughter of a military hero who has returned to her mother’s homeland to bring hope to the children who know no other life than living in a war zone.

Zahrah falls hard for her soldier hero, he reminds her of her father, the decorated General. But it’s her faith and willingness to die serving God that attracts me the most to Zahrah. Kendig handles this well in demonstrating the challenge it can be when faced with terrible consequences for one’s faith.

I’ll stop there before I start giving too much of the engrossing story away.

This is a great start to the series and I can’t wait for next one.

“Stranger Things”, Erin Healy

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Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson website

This is my new favourite Erin Healy novel. It has all the hallmarks of what we’ve come to expect from Healy: gripping suspense, characters grappling with their external world but also with what’s in their heart, and an insider’s perspective of the “thin places” where the natural and supernatural intersect. However, added to this novel is an especially powerful story line drawing the reader into the dark sinister world of human trafficking.

The novel starts fast and doesn’t let up. Healy’s descriptive powers make this novel a highly visual experience. We get multiple points of view which I enjoyed as it enlightened the experience in my mind.

The story demonstrates how human trafficking is able to proliferate due to systematic abuse, deceit and corruption. For much of the novel we’re not exactly sure whether the heroes are actually villains and vice-versa. As the story unfolds the layers gradually peel away to reveal some very courageous people and sinister bad guys.

Serena Diaz and Amber Larsen are two very gutsy women, both survivors of this heinous industry, and marvelously crafted. They are drawn together, coincidentally, by Amber’s brother, Christopher. Embedded in both ladies is his passion and energy to rescue those in need and shine light in the darkness of the industry that has played such a role in their lives since their youth.

The bad guys are creepy in their arrogance, abuse of power and complete disregard for the lives of the many they destroy. Healy reveals the far-reaching tentacles of structured corruption that pervades the industry.

This is an effortless read that was hard to put down and I was sad it ended.