Monday, January 30, 2012

Thrillers with a Christian World View

Plots taken from today's headlines, story-lines that have real people facing real problems written from a Christian world view with Christian values comprise a new subgenre within suspense. How can writers address terrorism, murder, economic strife and real life situations and still be Christian fiction writers? These situations happen in real life and are met head on by real people of faith every day. Authors such as Davis Bunn, Joel C. Rosenberg, Lis Wiehl, Steven James and others have set out to meet contemporary issues with faith-based characters and have created exciting thrillers for all readers. This is a growing subgenre that appeals to those of us who prefer to read books that are spine-tingling and thought provoking without the gratuitous sex and profanity. These authors have found that they can write excellent books without all the trappings that some writers feel they have to include to sell their books.

Author Davis Bunn received an email requesting a "gutsy Christian hero" who could face war, terrorism, or the demands of his job and keep his faith. The emailer was surprised to find that Bunn had done just that with "Lion of Babylon".  The story is set in Bagdad during the restructuring (after the removal of Saddam Hussein) and in the midst of the struggle between religious factions in that nation.  In this action-packed thriller, the author provides a look at contemporary Baghdad and the traditions, history and strife which are behind the today’s headlines. Marc Royce must become a warrior, a lion, for truth to gain the cooperation and trust of ancient enemies to solve the mysterious disappearance of Americans. This is one of the best faith-in-action thrillers written to date, and yet it is great storytelling that can be enjoyed by all.

Davis Bunn has written other faith based books on contemporary subjects.   "Book of Dreams" examines the current world finance situation. A group of people are drawn together by a series of shared dreams to expose the global chaos that caused the current financial collapse and has left so many people facing foreclosure and homelessness. An honest man is about to be asked to run for vice president but factions who oppose him seek to destroy him fearing he will speak the truth and expose their schemes. His wife begins having recurring dreams and visits a psychiatrist who is famous for interpreting dreams. The book gathers an unlikely group of people through the interpretation of their dreams to fight against global powers at great risk to themselves to expose the greed and avarice that caused the current crisis. Davis Bunn not only does an excellent job of explaining the global banking crisis but also covers the power of prayer, interpretations of dreams and visions, grief management, and the daily existence of a faith –based person in today’s world.

 In “The Tehran Initiative”, author Joel C. Rosenberg explores the nuclear weapons situation in Iran. Iran has accomplished its first atomic test and, The Twelfth Imam is stirring religious fervor.  Israel is fearful that Iran is about to unleash its new powers and destroy Israel. The President of the United States is afraid that Israel will react first causing war and global economic crisis. He sends David Shirazi and his CIA team to find and sabotage Iran’s nuclear warheads before Iran or Israel can launch a devastating first strike. In a story that could have come from today's newspaper, this is a nail-biting thriller. Rosenberg is hailed as one of the best political thriller writers of today. His books have the feel of reading history in the making as it could be happening right this minute.  

Ted Dekker  is another Christian fiction writer who addresses the forces of good and evil. “Boneman’s Daughter” is about a serial killer who kidnaps young girls and kills them slowly, painfully.  Intelligence Officer Ryan Evans has lost everything; his wife and daughter have written him out of their lives. All he has left is his job which is to find this killer before he can kill again.  The investigation gets incredibly personal when his own daughter is kidnapped by the Boneman, and yet somehow Ryan himself becomes a suspect. Now he must find and capture this killer before his daughter is killed while on the run from the authorities. Dekker juxtaposes the father who wants to find the perfect daughter with the father who just wants to be allowed to be a father to his daughter. In this edge-of-your-seat thriller Dekker examines the motivations and inner workings of the serial killer’s mind.  

These authors and many more seem to have their fingers on the pulse of existence in our world today.  They write about global and local topics while sharing their Christian view of the world with characters that meet the challenges of their day from a perspective of faith and hope. The stories are great reads for any reader and particularly appreciated by those who prefer not to read fiction filled with profanity, nudity, and immorality. These books still handle very real topics like murder, vice, and greed with very real likeable characters who meet life head-on with faith and belief.  

The following websites are helpful resources to locate more titles and information about Christian fiction genres:

Other titles to explore:
Hand of Fate by Lis Wiehl (Triple Threat Series)          
The Pawn by Steven James (Patrick Bowers Thrillers Series)   
Water’s Edge by Robert Whitlow
Over the Edge by Brandilyn Collins 
This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti
Vanished by Kathryn Mackel           

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Enjoy a Good Yarn This Winter

Are you a crafter who wants to unwind with a good book after the hectic holiday season?  Even if you are not currently a crafter, try one of these crafty books, and you might find yourself inspired to start a new hobby!

Cozy up with a light mystery!  In the cozy mystery genre, the action usually takes place in a small, close-knit community, usually downplays sex and violence, and are often more light hearted than other murder mysteries.  Sometimes they include bonus material, such as a recipe or a pattern, at the end of the book.  Cozy mysteries cover a variety of themes, but as a yarn enthusiast I love to read the ones about knitting and crochet, and I recommend the following. 
Death by Cashmere by Sally Goldenbaum follows the adventures of Izzy Chambers, a former law professional who ditched her fast-paced life in Boston for calmer surroundings in the quiet seaside town of Sea Harbor, Massachusetts.  With the help of her aunt and uncle, Izzy has transformed an old bait shop with a fantastic view of the sea into a cozy shop called the Seaside Knitting Studio.  In no time Izzy has acquired a small community of local knitters, the Seaside Knitters, who meet at the shop. The group of knitters becomes even closer when Izzy’s tenant for the apartment over the shop, Angie Archer, drowns mysteriously and is discovered by one of the knitters. Almost everyone is quick to assume that Angie’s party-girl ways caused her drowning, but Izzy finds too many loose ends and can’t believe Angie’s death was an accident.  Since the local police aren’t interested in investigating, it is up to Izzy and the Seaside Knitters to unravel the mystery and find the killer.

Hooked on Murder by Betty Hechtman is the first book of a crochet mystery series featuring Molly Pink, a forty-something widow with two grown children who has recently become the event coordinator-community relations person for the bookstore, Shedd & Royal Books.  As community outreach, Molly encourages a local crochet group to meet in the bookstore. Molly does not get along with the leader of the group, Ellen Sheriden; however, when Ellen forgets her crochet hooks she returns them to Ellen at home. Unfortunately for Molly, she finds Ellen dead in her home.  The police arrive to find Molly in a compromising situation that makes it look like she is the killer.  Furthermore, the lead detective in the case has an axe to grind because Molly is dating her partner, whom she happens to be in love with.  Detective Gilmore would like nothing more than to pin the murder on Molly, and Molly’s history with Ellen makes it easy for her to look guilty.  With the help of The Average Joe’s Guide to Criminal Investigation, Molly is forced to untangle the mess she’s in and find the real murderer!
If you are not in the mood for a mystery, try Debbie Macomber’s The Shop on Blossom Street or Kate Jacobs’ The Friday Night Knitting Club.  Both stories center on a yarn shop that becomes the central meeting place for a group of knitters who bond and form close friendships despite their differences. 

In The Shop on Blossom Street, Lydia Hoffman, a two time cancer survivor learns to knit while undergoing chemotherapy.   She decides to pursue her dream of opening her own yarn shop immediately hangs a sign in the window advertising a knitting class to make a baby blanket.  Jacqueline Donovan’s marriage is in shambles, and her son is married to a woman she dislikes and who is pregnant.  While visiting her husband’s worksite on Blossom Street, she sees the sign for the knitting class in Lydia’s shop window.  Despite her feelings about her daughter-in-law, she is determined to be the best grandmother she can be and enrolls in Lydia’s class.  Carol Girard is desperate to have a baby and has undergone expensive procedure after procedure.  Carol sees the new store and views the class sign as a message that her dream is about to come true and she enrolls.  Alix Townsend is young, but her life has already been hard with a childhood of arguing, alcoholic parents. She sees the sign in the store window and decides to take the class and donate the baby blanket to Project to earn community service hours for an offense she claims she did not commit.  Through the common bond of the knitting project, the women get to know one another and the friendships that they form will impact them in ways that they could not imagine.

So, whether you’re up for a cozy mystery, or just a good read about an interesting group of friends, I hope these books will inspire you to explore your creative side!  In case you find yourself tempted to pick up a pair of needles or a crochet hook, check our event calendar for our knitting and crochet programs!

Additional Recommended Titles:
By Debbie Macomber:
A Good Yarn
Susannah’s Garden
By Kate Jacobs:
Knit Two
Knit the Season
By Betty Hechtman:
Dead Men Don’t Crochet
By Hook Or By Crook
By Maggie Sefton:
Knit One, Kill Two
Needled to Death

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dystopian Societies in Young Adult Literature

2012. The apocalypse. How will the world end? Will it be a natural disaster? A plague? Man-made catastrophe? Or perhaps a zombie uprising? Are you prepared? The dystopian society, a popular sub-genre of young adult literature with lots of adult crossover appeal, could be your guide for preparing for the end. Dystopian societies, often born as the result of cataclysmic or apocalyptic events, offer the illusion of perfection, but actually limit the freedom of their residents. 

For a natural disaster ending, try Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Sixteen year-old Miranda’s world collapses when a meteor hits the moon and knocks it closer to earth, resulting in climate changes, tsunamis, fires and chaos. Miranda records events over the course of a year in diary entries, and readers see her transition from a normal high school girl worried about ice skating and boys to a young woman making decisions about the survival of her family as life as she knows it disappears.

In Epitaph Road by David Patneaude, a plague decimates most of the male population. Women take over the planet and bring an end to war, poverty and crime. Fourteen year-old Kellen is part of the male minority, a second class citizen living in fear of the next plague outbreak. When he learns that the outbreaks may not be accidental, he sets out to warn his father who is living in the plague’s projected path within a fringe community of men. What he finds in the community is terrifying. The plague virus can be manipulated and mutated. No one is safe.

Man-made catastrophes abound in dystopian literature and Neal Shusterman’s Unwind and Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy are just two of the many examples of good intentions gone wrong. In Unwind, the second Civil War is fought over abortion and the compromise is the Bill of Life. It states that life is sacred from conception through age thirteen, after which, parents can choose to have their teen “unwound,” a process in which all body parts are harvested and donated to other worthy living people. Nothing is wasted. Fifteen year old Connor’s parents have signed the unwind order, and he is on the run, searching for a safe place where the unwanted have the right to exist.

In Hunger Games (movie coming in March of 2012), drought, famine, and war have caused the United States to fall, replaced by the country of Panem. In order to remind the humanity of it’s role in the collapse, the Capitol of Panem demands a boy and girl tribute be drawn by lot from each of Panem’s twelve districts. The twenty-four tributes fight to the death, gladiator style, in a televised event that everyone is required to watch. The story follows sixteen year old Katniss, the rebellious girl tribute from district 12 who volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the arena. Only one tribute can make it out alive, but is there a way to thwart the Capitol? Is the rebellion already underway before Katniss steps into the arena, and if so, is she a player or a pawn?

Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth takes place several generations after the Return, a time when zombie-like Unconsecrated bring an end to normal life everywhere. Mary has always lived in a fenced in community controlled by the Sisterhood. The Unconsecrated have always hungered just outside the fence, turning any who dared cross outside into mindless undead. When a stranger chances on her community, Mary begins to question whether there is life beyond the fence – a place free of Unconsecrated. Shortly after, the Unconsecrated breach the community’s defenses and Mary must decide whether to stay and help fight a losing battle or take her chances beyond the fence.

Part of the allure of dystopian novels is that almost everyone can identify with main characters fighting for survival or fighting social injustice while taking control of their own lives. What adds a horror aspect to many of the stories is how plausible the apocalyptic scenarios and humanity’s responses are. Picking up a little dystopia with a side of apocalypse isn’t just entertaining; it can also make you think.

Additional recommended titles:

Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix