Category Archives: What I’ve been reading

Reading: Eggsecutive Orders

Julie Hyzy has done it again. Eggsecutive Orders, the third in her White House Chef mystery series, is a delight. Just as the staff is gearing up for the White House Easter Egg Roll, a guest–National Security Agency big shot Carl Minkus–dies after eating dinner there. Immediately the entire staff comes under suspicion of placing poison in the food. Taking no chances, the Secret Service bars them from the kitchen. The White House Chef, Ollie Paras, is concerned with a lot of things–how to clear their names, how to keep the upcoming Egg Roll on track even though she can’t get into the kitchen, and how to keep her visiting mother away from a handsome suitor who might be connected to the death. Ollie’s determination to clear her name leads her into conflict with her lover, Secret Service agent Tom MacKenzie, who is assigned to keep her away from prying into the murder. But Ollie can’t help it. People talk to her, and why shouldn’t want to use that information, especially if it will clear the staff and get them back into the White House?

The book is full of red herrings, and there are a number of people who either had motives or are just plain suspicious. How it all fits together is complex, and Julie does a great job of keeping the reader guessing until the very end. I missed them being in the White House kitchen, which is always interesting, but of course I understand why that was necessary given the plot. Anyway, it’s a fun read and I highly recommend it.

(By the way, the first novel in the series, State of the Onion, won the Barry and Anthony awards for Best Paperback Original. Congratulations to Julie on that one!)

I look forward to book four in this eggseptional series.

Reading: Hostile Takeovers

I just finished reading Michael A. Black’s new Leal and Hart mystery, Hostile Takeovers.  I really enjoyed it, even more than the debut novel in that series, Random Victim, which was itself an excellent read.   This series is classified as a police procedural, meaning that the main characters are policemen and -women, and you follow them as they go about solving a crime.  Frank Leal is a sargeant for the Cook County Sheriff’s Police; Olivia (“Ollie”) Hart was his partner, but they’ve been separated into different units.  

In this book, the two of them are working on different cases, but the cases are linked–though they don’t know that.  One of Leal’s snitches turns up dead in the city of Robertsville on Chicago’s southside, just as he was preparing to give the police information on a drug lord in the area.  Hart is also working in Robertsville, where the corrupted police department had to be turned out and replaced.  Until the replacements are trained, the area is relying on officers like Hart to maintain order.  Though Leal is pulled off investigating the case in favor of tracking a roaming band of thieves who rob convenience stores, he won’t give up the case entirely.  Good thing.  The snitch was the victim of a freelance killer hired by a drug lord who plans to take over a nearby drug lord’s territory.  As each drug lord plans to eliminate the other, the situation turns deadly for all in Robertsville, putting Hart, Leal and many of their fellow officers in danger.  

This book has several stories going on at once, but Black is a master storyteller, and by the end all the loose ends have been sewn together in a great, tightly scripted ending.   As a policeman, Black knows the dirt and grit of the Chicago area, and his writing is authentic.   Don’t miss this paperback original, out from Leisure Books!

What I’ve been reading…

In the last couple of months I’ve been reading some Christian books because of volunteer work I’m doing at my church (Plainfield United Methodist Church, for those of you who are interested…), but I’m just going to review one of them, The Shack.

Perhaps its the contrarian in me, but the fact that some very conservative Christian denominations were condemning this book as being non-Biblical and recommending against it made me want to see what all the fuss was about. What I would like to say is this–don’t listen to them! The Shack by Wm. Paul Young is a wonderfully refreshing book that will challenge you to think of the Trinity in a totally new way. To those who lay the claim it’s not Biblical, I say this: how do you understand the Trinity without metaphor? The Bible doesn’t say much other than the Trinity is, rather like the name of God is I AM. Since the first century man has wrestled with this Trinity concept. No one has a complete grasp on it, and we’ll never truly understand it because we’re not God. Only God can fully comprehend how there can be three persons that make up one God. So each generation has thinkers who stretch themselves and stretch us by giving us their thoughts on it. Young does that, and it’s refreshing. The story is an account of a man whose daughter dies a horrible, tragic death, and he is angry at God about it. Through an encounter with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit at the shack where his daughter died, he comes to understand the goodness of God and accept that we must trust and put our faith in Him, that He’s not responsible for the sins of the world, but through Jesus He completely understands what it is to be human. He will never leave us, even as we experience the human consequences of sin in this world. He wants to be with us.

I recommend this book! I won’t claim it’s the best written book I’ve read (in fact, there are whole passages that aren’t well-written), but Young’s insight into how we might understand God is compelling. And if you reject his notion, what harm has come from reading it? It’s not wrong for us to be challenged in what we believe, and The Shack will help you wrestle with theological concepts you may not even have thought about. One way or another, it will make a difference in your spiritual life.

Sticking to the Christian theme, Saving Mattie is Phil Dunlap’s first Christian Western, and it’s terrific. His hero, Rawhide Smith, wasn’t looking to save a 12-year-old girl when rides his horse up to a homestead; he was looking for work. Instead he finds a defiant young girl with a shotgun aimed at him. She’s been through a most horrific encounter with outlaws–she witnessed them kill her parents. He feels it’s his moral duty to be responsible for her until he can find a family to look after her. In the process, he ends up being hired by a corrupt cattle baron who will stop at nothing to shoot innocent people and take their land and cattle. Rawhide is determined to get to the bottom of what happened to Mattie’s parents, but on his own can he stand up to the gunslingers in the baron’s gang? When he meets Marshal Moses Brewster, he finds he’s not alone. Still, they’ll need some luck and another helper to right the wrongs that are being done to the gritty homesteaders trying to make an honest living out in the West. Phil has a gift for bringing the Old West alive. You will enjoy Saving Mattie!

More at my next update!