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Book Review

BLESSED CHILD
By Ted Dekker
With Bill Bright

Book Review

Calling on all deep thinkers! This book is unique and one of Dekker’s best. The story revolves around a young orphan, Caleb, who was abandoned by his parents. He’s subsequently taken in and raised by an Ethiopian monastery. Caleb, never having gone beyond the monastery walls, has been completely sheltered from the world. He’s never known violence or cruelty, only peace and kindness. But this sweet bliss can’t last long—powerful people want him eliminated and he must flee or die. His enemies know something about Caleb that could change the world, and if they can’t have him, they’ll make sure no one else does.

A relief expert, Jason Marker, along with a French-Canadian nurse, Leiah, work together to rescue Caleb from the monastery. They know if this child gets into the wrong hands, he’ll be subjected to cruel experiments on a physical and psychological level. When Jason and Leiah go in to extract Caleb from his life-long home, exciting twists and turns begin to take place. They are hunted down by unknown enemies, powerful people who want to capitalize from something Caleb possesses—the supernatural ability to heal. As Caleb and his two rescuers flee, they must escape an expert militia, but just as they see no way out, spectacular events begin to happen. Jason and Leiah realize Caleb’s abilities extend much further than anyone had guessed; his pure, untainted faith in God moves events in ways that surpass all scientific explanation. The world isn’t ready for someone like Caleb, nor is he ready for them. He’s special, and his enemies know it.

On a personal level, I wasn’t the same after reading this book; my faith became challenged as never before. Armed with my Bible, I was determined to answer the question: How much of what happens in my life is because of faith or the lack of it? I’m still working on the answers!

If you pick up this book, be prepared to be challenged. It’s almost impossible to read this story without a new awareness of miracles, or a personal desire to explore the possibilities.

NIGHTMATES / Novella Preview

NIGHTMARES
Preview of a Novella

Jane tucked herself into the thick fabric of a winged-back chair, wishing she could disappear. She looked down at her folded hands, digging her thumb into one palm. She could feel Doctor Daniels’ eyes on her, but she dared not look up. He was getting too close to the truth.

She heard him tapping his pen on a notepad. “Jane, did you have any nightmares this week?”

“Yes. Almost every night. My uncle was in them too.”

“You know, Jane, you’re not alone. I’m sure you’ve learned in your college Psych class that families have a diverse range of dysfunction, ranging from unusual to insane, from mean to murderous. When a cruel gene pops up, it’s all too easy for families to explain it away. Most people want to believe it’s a distant phenomenon. That it exists only in remote places, under bizarre circumstances. But it’s often much closer to home than we’d like to think.”

She could hear the clock ticking in the silence as he waited for her response. “But, Dr. Daniels, I do feel alone. Most people are hurt by strangers. This was my own family.” She looked up at him, her eyes pleading for understanding.

“That’s a misconception, Jane. Almost every family has at least one member that’s, at the very least, mean-spirited. Maybe it’s a second cousin or a distant uncle, but there’s always that one we really don’t want to invite to Thanksgiving dinner. They may not be killers or hardened criminals, but we sense something cold, unfeeling. Sometimes it’s in their eyes, or something we just feel. Did you ever experience something similar with your Uncle Jake?”

She shivered a little and hugged herself. “I guess. He was fun. Sometimes. He laughed a lot, but there was something about his eyes. When I was a kid, they reminded me of polished stones.

“Were you ever alone with him?” The doctor’s face was expressionless, unreadable.

“Yes. My mother completely trusted him. After all, he was her little brother. She’d get so excited about his visits which were random and unexpected. On any given weekend, he’d show up asking to take me places. So off I’d go, whether I liked it or not. One day, he put me in my red wagon and pulled it across a major highway to a nearby carnival. It was a cool sunny day, but it was dark by the time we got home.”

Dr. Daniels leaned slightly forward and nodded encouragingly. “Tell me about the carnival.”

Jane looked away as she caught a hard glint in the doctor’s eyes. Was he angry with her? She took a deep breath and went on. “Well . . . there were lots of rides and plenty of junk food. For some reason, I can still feel the way the cotton candy stuck to my chin, and gummy candied apples to my fingers. I kept wiping my hands on my pants while we ran from merry-go-rounds to spinning teacups. Even though I got a little dizzy . . . it was all good. Until that final ride—The Cage.

It was a towering contraption with dangling round cages. The air was filled with screams, rising and falling. I told Uncle Jake I was scared, but he convinced me it would be super fun. When it was our turn, the attendant said I was too young, but my uncle slipped him some cash and we passed through. After we climbed into our seats, and the bar locked across our laps, I just wanted to run. But I said nothing. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I can still feel the way he patted my hands as I clutched the metal bar, warning me to hold on tight or I’d be sucked into the sky. I remember thinking that my sticky fingers would glue my hands to the bar and save me. Then our seats gave a sudden jolt and I felt myself being hurled into space—just as we hit the top, our seats turned upside down and freefell back to earth. I caught a glimpse of Uncle Jake’s face—the force of the descent was sucking his cheeks back from his lips. His mouth was stretched into a strange gaping smile. When the ride was finally over, my uncle said nothing. He put me back in my red wagon and we headed for home.

When we finally got home, it was dark. Inside, we found a note from my mom saying that she’d went to the store. Uncle Jake swore under his breath and told me to get in his car. Apparently, our adventure wasn’t over. He loaded my wagon into the trunk and drove me to his favorite spot on the intracoastal. He parked a couple blocks away, put me back in my wagon, and pulled it to the waters’ edge. I can still see the white sails waving in the breeze, city lights reflecting in the water. I climbed out of my wagon to get a better view. It was all so beautiful . . . until I looked down and realized how black and deep the water was. I hadn’t quite learned to swim, and it scared me to see how the tips of my shoes were hanging over the seawall edge. I started to take a step back when I felt the force of a sudden push from behind. I fell forward, and in that moment, I felt absolute terror.”

She stopped and bit her lip. “It has a taste you know. Fear. It tastes like blood.” She shivered and sucked in her breath. “When I hit the cold water, I expected to sink down into miles of inky liquid. But I didn’t. My feet almost instantly hit the mucky sea floor—the water was less than two feet deep. I remember looking up to see my uncle’s grinning face. I can still hear his words. “Now, you know Janie, why kids must learn to swim.”

Doctor Daniels’ stared at her. He didn’t seem disturbed in the least, but then he never did. “Why do you think your uncle did that?”

“At the time, I really believed he was trying to teach me something. Now, I know better.”

“Did you tell your mother?”

“No. I knew from experience she would make excuses for him. He could do no wrong. From that day on, I dreaded my uncle’s visits and the red wagon too. The strange thing was . . . he could be so nice. Sometimes he took me to movies, bought me things, even helped me with my homework.”

Jane watched as the doctor put down his pen. “Jane, I’d like to comment at this point. It seems you loved your mom, but you couldn’t trust her to protect you. Your uncle could be kind, but also cruel. Is it safe to say that you learned early in life to pair kindness and love with cruelty and mistrust?”

Jane tilted her head. “Yes. I guess you could say that. Maybe that’s why I date abusive men. It feels normal, familiar, but . . . I never do trust them.

“Is there any one you do trust?”

Jane looked down and then up again. “I trust you, Dr. Daniels.”

A broad grin lit up his face. “I’m honored, Jane. Trust is the hallmark of sound therapy. I have an idea. Would you be willing to go back to that same spot on the intracoastal, to revisit the trauma? The goal would be to create a good memory to overlap the old.”

She drew her legs up onto the chair, hugging her knees. “I’m not sure I can.”

“What if I went with you? To support you. I could talk you through it. Help you to take back the power from, what was once, a powerless situation.”

She looked at him. His expression seemed kind, but she couldn’t help noticing a drop of saliva forming at the corner of his mouth. She hugged her legs tighter. “Okay. If you really think it will help.”

Doctor Daniel’s gave her a broad grin. “Good girl. That’s the spirit. And you wouldn’t happen to still have that wagon, would you?”

Jane gave a tight laugh. “Actually, yes. Rusted but functional. But, obviously, I wouldn’t actually get into it.”

He laughed. “Sure, you can. You’re still young, slim, petite. The closer the details, the better.”

She looked down and studied her hands. “When would we do this?”

“Your address is in the file. I’ll drop by this weekend to pick you up. What do you think?”

Jane hesitated. She had so many plans this weekend . . . “That should be okay. If you really think it will help.”

He looked at his watch. “Well, our time is up. Make sure to plan on this weekend. I’ll follow up with a phone call.”

Jane closed the office door behind her trying to ignore a nagging sense of anxiety. She appreciated the doctor’s willingness to help her, especially on a weekend, but she wished he’d given a definite time. Suddenly she wanted to cancel, but then again . . . she didn’t want to disappoint him. As she climbed in her car, she found herself thinking how much Dr. Daniels reminded her of someone. . . but she couldn’t think who. She turned on the radio, pumped up the volume and drove off. As she sang along with the music, she felt hopeful the nightmares would soon end.

MUSIC TAKES ME BACK

I’m listening to Michael Bublé tunes as I write. It never fails to blow my mind how music can change my mood, take me back, remind me of things I thought I’d forgotten. People, places, lost dreams, old love . . .

Inevitably, music will also remind me of something or someone I’d like to forget. Maybe it’s that one person . . . the one that with one kiss I felt the heavens sigh. The one that made me feel like I could hang a star on the bleakest night. Where did those feelings go? Were they meant to last?

I used to think so. But many songs later, I’m a little less innocent and a lot wiser. I’ve realized that youth’s romantic interludes, like the ghosts of Christmas past, had a part to play but were never meant for the second act. Some love is permanent, some fleeting.

I’ve seen love range from comfortable friendships to crazy entanglements. The latter is the type that keeps us chained to emotions, floating above the real world, and jumping through hoops to make it last. Exhausting. In my book, true love eventually returns us to the real world. It frees us to think and create, to do whatever it is we do best. It allows us to hold other passions to our heart. Enduring love encourages us to not only love God, and to love others, but to love them better.

I don’t know about you, but music transports me. As I sit at my computer, Michael is singing a vintage tune by the Bee Gees, “Baby, you don’t know what it’s like, to love somebody, to love somebody, the way I love you . . .” Yep. I’m on the magical mystery tour of time. It’s taking me back to the cobblestoned streets of memory lane to light the lanterns once again. But when the song is over, it’s time to move on. A new song plays. It always does.

Some people were never meant to be more than just old tunes. Humphrey Bogart’s famous words in Casablanca—”Play it again, Sam,” really brings it home for me. Bogart was stuck in a song that belonged to someone else.

Thank you, Michael Bublé, for reminding me of the songs that were meant to last and the ones that weren’t.

I’M SICK WITH WORDITIS

This morning, after a fitful sleep, I opened my eyes. I didn’t like what I saw. Another day of fb, Twitter and Instagram. All demanding my time. And even more foreboding . . . another blog. Anything but that! Not today. I have nothing to say. Then I began to see words. Millions of them scattering across my mind, dancing in some sort of native frenzy about my head. Even as I wished them away, I felt compelled to order them. To choreograph their movement. But then a bitter thought came. Isn’t that what I do every day? Write, direct and order words? I put the pillow over my head. No. I wasn’t suicidal. I just wanted to block out the light. Am I going nuts or is this what they call writer’s burn-out?

I closed my eyes again, willing all those pesty little letters to go away. It didn’t work. Words began to madly march across the screen of my inner eyelids. Words of all different sizes, colors and tones. Go away!

At this point, I must say . . . In the heart of a writer, words are either friend or foe. On a good day, I love them. I collect them like thousands of tiny treasures, to be ordered and arranged, and then dispersed to the four winds; released to bring messages of joy or despair. Today it’s not joy. But, let’s not get too serious. It’s normal to have an occasional blue day. But knowing this doesn’t make it much better. That’s why I had trouble getting out of bed today.

As I laid there, the bag of feathers still over my head, a thought came to me. My eyes popped open and I cast off the pillow. Pure Genius! Today I will take a holiday from words. In fact, the entire weekend. I will not read. I will not type. Not even with green eggs and ham, I won’t. Instead, I will listen. I jumped out of bed with renewed purpose.

And here I am. Typing. But not for long. With a hurricane on the way, it’s the perfect time to declare a strike from reading; a break from all technology, hoarders of relentless tiny digits. Letters. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Articles. Enough!

What perfect timing. With a hurricane on the way, how exciting it will be to watch, and listen to the wind whipping through the trees, the raining pelting the earth. If the electricity stays on, I will listen to music. Lots of melancholy vibes. And before the storm, there will be other sounds too think of. How long has it been since I’ve listened for birds chirping? For the summer crooning of crickets or the vibrating murmur of Cicadas. Ahh, this is sounding better and better.

Yes. Today, I will speak the language of sounds instead of words.

Will I miss them? Maybe a little. But, after writing a 100,000-word crime thriller, I need to look at something beyond the glare of my computer screen.

Now, as I type away, I’m realizing— This is why we take vacations. We need a break from our everyday world. Even if we love it. Too much of a good thing.

By Monday, I’m sure I’ll be missing the entire alphabet. In their absence, I’m sure I’ll have nurtured a new passion for the little guys. And after a weekend of word fasting, I can see myself running to the computer, eager to type hundreds of them; to watch them gladly lining up like a colorful parade across the screen.

But not today. On the shelf they go. Except for my daily devotional . . . On second thought, not even that. A fast is a fast. Instead . . .  I’ll pray. And listen.

Today, words are not my cup of tea. In fact, a hot cup of coffee and some jazz music sound sublime. And now . . . for the silence of the word.

 

Book Review: The Pawn by Steven James

The Pawn, by Steven James.
A Book review:

For anyone who enjoys thrillers, I strongly recommend The Pawn. This is Steven James’ first fiction book and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s not only an enticing mystery but a trip into the real lives of career specialists, employed to track down serial murderers. This story is a lot like virtual bungie-jumping. It allows the reader to grab all the excitement of the chase without the danger of being grabbed yourself. It’s the closest I ever want to get to a serial murderer!

The Main Plot:

The protagonist, Patrick Bowers is a detective specializing in environmental criminology and Lien-Hua Jiang, his assistant, a criminal profiler. They are teamed up in the hot pursuit of a killer who tortures and kills young girls. Bowers and Lien-Hua are sharp professionals with a spicy chemistry and are both likable and believable. The main plot focuses on intricate cutting-edge methods in stalking a criminal, but the story has enough interesting sub-plots to give the brain a breather.

Sub-plots:

The sociopath called, The Illusionist, is the typical sicko. The chapters devoted to him are written from his perspective, revealing his twisted motives and emotions. Oddly, The Illusionist  has an obsession with professional magic; he uses it to seamlessly pull off his crimes. If you have no interest in magic, this may be a good sign of mental health.

Another layer of the story involves his daughter Tessa. She’s experiencing severe grief over the death of her mother and anger at her forever busy, mostly absent father. This becomes the trigger for self-cutting. On a high note, I think Tessa’s battle will give parents a whole new level of understanding to this epidemic problem. On a low note, poor Tessa, by some eerie twist of events, becomes a point of interest for the killer. Yikes! A third plot-line is about a devoted single mother and her child. Unfortunately, the mother is next on the killer’s list. As I watched them going about their daily lives, completely unaware of the impending danger, I became a little worried that I may lose some sleep. So, I took an ice-cream break. The next day I boldly returned to the story, ready for the inevitable pounce.

A Personal glimpse:

The way I look at it, the side stories use the emotional part of the brain, giving the reader a break from the cool logic of FBI case-solving strategies. The geographical science Patrick Bower uses to track the killer is fascinating, but be prepared to put on your thinking caps. For me, when a crime story focuses only on FBI tactics and police protocol, vacillating between high-tech strategy and violent death, I become a little overwhelmed. But, when I get a sense of really knowing the characters, I’m able to enjoy the thrill of their daily jobs and yet peek into their personal, after-hours lives. This gives me a bit of an emotional escape AND satisfies my curiosity. I want to know how these cliff-hanging characters manage to have a normal life under the pressure of such high-risk jobs. Maybe they don’t.

It’s the Little Things:

Every reader is different, but I enjoy the little things: For instance, I enjoyed finding out that Bowers is a coffee connoisseur that can actually identify where the coffee bean originated from simply by its aroma. I also enjoyed entering his thoughts as he viewed the breath-taking landscapes of North Carolina. It was amusing to read about his lingering glances and witty conversations with Lien-Hua, and his fun camaraderie with his associate and buddy Ralph. All these pleasantries were a comforting diversion from a story of tortured girls and occasional bodies being sawed in half. Yes, we all read murder and suspense stories for the thrill, and we crave just enough anxiety to keep our hearts madly beating, but it’s only human to want a break from the carnival ride of fears—too much of a good thing syndrome. I try to use these tactics in my upcoming novel, Dark Motives, but sorry guys . . . no torture or sawed-off limbs.

One Negative:

My one negative comment is the distracting narrative the story takes into the Jim Jones cult. It was very interesting but again, distracting.

Conclusion:

All in all, The Pawn is not only a nail-biting story of dark suspense, it’s a passage into people’s lives. It had fear, passion and a wholesome message. I like a good thrill, but I also like to return to my everyday life feeling like I’ve just took a jaunt on higher grounds.

If you find out you really like the book, there’s two more in the series.

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