Eleventh Grave in Moonlight, by Darynda Jones

Another installment in the adventures of Charley Davidson, aka “the reaper,” Eleventh Grave does not disappoint.

At first, I wasn’t sure about it, but as the story unfolded, it held my interest more, and gripped me to the point where I almost couldn’t put it down.

My memory seems to be getting fuzzier with age, so there were things that were being referred to, early in the book, that I couldn’t remember happening in earlier stories. But one thing that Darynda Jones does well is write these books in such a way that you could jump in at any point without being completely lost.

As is her custom, Ms. Jones weaves several plots into one story, which definitely keeps the books entertaining. In this volume, we have Charley and her lovely assistant Cookie looking into a couple who obviously run a fake adoption agency and kidnap children. The main reason for Charley’s interest in this couple (the Fosters) is that they were the ones who kidnapped Reyes (her husband)(also the son of Satan) when he was a child, then sold him to a monster of a man named Earl. These are all things covered in earlier books, of course.

Another reason for the interest is that, totally out of the blue, Shawn Foster, the couple’s “son” appears in her private investigation agency and asks her to look into the case of his “parents,” as he is convinced that they are not really his parents, and that he was adopted. Of course, Charley was already investigating them, which Shawn had also figured out.

Reyes, as it turns out, is not so keen on this idea.

Another plot line in this book involves Cookie’s daughter, Amber, and someone who is stalking her via text messaging. Charley, Cookie, and Ubie (Charley’s Uncle Bob . . . hence the name . . . “U.B.” “Uncle Bob” “Ubie” get it?), cook up a scheme to catch the stalker. They are, of course, successful, but it’s not what it appears to be, as things seldom are. And that’s all I’m going to say about that, because I try not to include spoilers in my reviews.

Both of these plot lines tie into the overarching theme of the entire series, which involves what Charley Davidson really is. This gets more strange and complex with every volume. And weird. Is that the same thing as strange? Perhaps not.

Apparently, The Trouble with Twelfth Grave was also released last year, so I will need to get my hands on it soon, in order to find out what happens in the continuing tale of Charley, Reyes, and Beep. Oh . . . I forgot to mention Beep. That’s the daughter of Charley and Reyes. Her name is officially Elwyn, but Charley calls her Beep. You’ll have to read the books.

TTFN y’all!

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Life Without Lack, by Dallas Willard

Life Without Lack is a bit different, as it is not so much a book as an adaptation from a series of teaching sessions done by Dallas Willard, at Valley Vista Christian Community, in Van Nuys, California, in 1991. Larry Burtoft, then pastor of that community, along with Dallas’s daughter, Rebecca Willard Heatley, compiled the teaching sessions, adding bits and pieces along the way for smoother flow, into this book.

Based on what is probably the most famous passage of Scripture, Psalm 23, this book teaches us what kind of life we could be living if we would but base our way of living on this Psalm. A stunning truth in this book is that Dallas Willard actually “believed it was possible to keep our minds constantly on God and that this was the heart and soul of spiritual formation in the kingdom of God.”

Since there were eight teaching sessions, the book is divided into eight chapters, each building on the previous. But, lest we think that all we have to do to have “Life Without Lack” is to meditate on Psalm 23, Dallas points out three characteristics that must be present in the believer’s life in order to have this kind of life.

1. Faith (which he defines as “trust”)
2. Death to self
3. Love

Out of those, it might be easy to say that “death to self” is the hardest, and I believe this to be the case. “Love” is certainly difficult, taking into consideration that Jesus commanded us to love other disciples as he loved us. But the reason that love is so difficult is that we have not fully realized death to self.

The book concludes with a chapter on how to spend an entire day “with Jesus.” This, again, is something that Dallas believed is entirely possible, and he describes it, with some good advice and instruction, in chapter eight.

Like most of Dallas’s work, this one is not one that can be fully comprehended in just one reading. I will, at some point, take a slower trip through it, spending more time meditating on the principles, and trying to bring them into play in my own spiritual formation.

TTFN, y’all!

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

I read this book much earlier, probably around 1969, I think. Long before I started recording each completed book in a list. After decades, a movie has been made from the book, so I decided to read it again before seeing the movie. I had bought a copy for my youngest daughter, for Christmas, so I borrowed it and read it during a long weekend visit to a cabin on a river.

This is, I’m sure, intended to be “juvenile fiction,” or what they call “YA” (Young Adult), these days. However, I loved the story, and devoured it quite quickly. By the way, I remembered nothing at all from my previous reading, other than the infamous first line, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Meg Murry’s father has been gone, missing, for a number of years. He used to write them on a regular basis, but even the letters have stopped. Many people assume that he is dead, but Meg, her mother, her twin brothers, and her younger brother, Charles Wallace, refuse to accept that. He was, after all, working on some secret government project.

Charles Wallace, who, I believe is four or five years old in the book, is a unique person. He is much smarter than he appears, and speaks quite intelligently. The story really takes off when he runs across Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, in an abandoned house nearby, reputed to be haunted.

After Mrs. Whatsit makes an appearance at the Murry home during the “dark and stormy night,” Charles Wallace takes Meg to the “haunted” house to visit her. It is there that they meet up with Calvin, who is there because something just told him to go there. Calvin is an athletic type boy, a basketball star in his school. Yet, he fits right in with Charles Wallace and Meg. Together, they then meet Mrs. Who, at the house, and some reference is made that they will be “going” soon. Needless to say, they truly don’t get the meaning of this.

Oh, I forgot. Right before Mrs. Whatsit leaves to go home, she mentions to Mrs. Murry that the “tesseract” is real.

Shortly, thereafter, though, Charles Wallace makes the pronouncement that it’s time to go, and they need to leave. It is then that Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin join up with the three “W’s” to go on this spectacular journey. It turns out that the “tesseract” is a means of travel across space, a “wrinkle in time,” so to speak (hence the title). It allows them to travel across vast distances in almost an instant.

The journey that they are taking is, of course, to find and rescue Mr. Murry.

That’s about as far as I will go with the story, so as to avoid spoilers. I only found out a few years ago that there is more to the story, though, so I will endeavor to get hold of the rest of the books ASAP.

TTFN, y’all!

Timebound, by Rysa Walker

This was a delightful story, intended for a YA audience, but I loved it, nevertheless.

Timebound is a fascinating story with, as you might guess, time travel as its basis. The main protagonist is young Kate, who learns from her grandmother (also Kate or Katherine) that she has the ability to control/manipulate the “Chronos Key,” which allows her to travel through time.

Teenaged Kate has felt some time shifts, recently, but believed them to be panic attacks. What was really happening, though, is that her grandfather was working some evil plan to change the time line altogether, which is a violation of the Chronos policies. They intend time travel to be used solely for observation. He believes that it should be used to change things for the “better.” The problem is, who gets to decide what is better?

A major portion of this story revolves around the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which I am already familiar with, having read Erik Larson’s great book, Devil in White City, a non-fiction account of the fair and the serial killer running amok during the fair. I was happy to see that Ms. Walker gave a shout out to Larson’s book in her acknowledgments.

There are plenty of scenes that made my head hurt (not literally) because of obvious issues that time travel would cause, especially making short jumps around current times. At one point, during the Fair, there would have been two of Kate’s grandmother present at the same time. They had to be very careful not to run into each other. Don’t think about that too hard. As I said, it will make your head hurt.

I won’t provide spoilers, as I try to always keep from that. But the main plot of this story revolves around efforts to restore the time line after Kate’s grandfather manages to kill her grandmother, which makes her parents “disappear.” Her dad did not actually disappear, but he did not know who she was, as she was not actually her dad in the new time line. Her mother, however, never existed in that time line, because Saul (her grandfather) killed her grandmother before her mother was even born.

The only reason teenaged Kate managed to continue to exist was that she was under the protection of the Chronos key she was carrying at the time of the time shift.

That’s probably enough explanation. Now I need to get my hands on the second volume of this story.

TTFN, y’all!

The Sound of Paper, by Julia Cameron

The reason that I came across this book was that someone shared one of Julia Cameron’s exercises in a blog that I read, and I found it intriguing.

The Sound of Paper is not just about writing. It is about artistry of any kind. In this book, the reader will find a number of brief “essays,” each followed by an exercise that begins with “Try this.” A lot of the exercises involve making lists. I like lists, so I found them both interesting and helpful. The essays are all less than three pages, making them quick and easy reads. Most of them begin with an exquisite description of the setting surrounding the author at the time, many of them being in Taos, New Mexico.

The settings include beautiful mountains, but they also include such things as desolate drought conditions and smoke from out-of-control fires. And each setting is then brought into a circumstance or condition in which artists might find themselves.

I learned a lot about myself from reading this book, not all of it good. I learned a lot about being an artist. I’m still debating whether I truly am an “artist,” but I think I am. I believe that my inner “artist” has been stifled for a long time, and am planning to draw him (or her) back out.

This book could easily be read as a sort of “devotional” book. It’s not about God or the Bible, but Julia believes in God and references the Bible a number of times. But it’s set up in those short essays/exercises that could be done one a day, or, perhaps one in several days, depending on how long it takes to get through the exercises.

I’m keeping this book on my shelf, because I believe it would be worth going back to, from time to time.

TTFN, y’all!

The World As I Remember It: Through the Eyes of A Ragamuffin, by Rich Mullins

“I hope you see the faithfulness of God in everything He has made. I hope you learn to trust that all of this is His care sworn to you. But mostly, I hope you know Jesus through whom God has wildly and ferociously loved us. I hope you know and that you become sacramental to your neighbor who God also loves passionately. I hope you leave them little doubt about His love and the victory Jesus won over hate and death.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book, but I knew Rich Mullins wrote it, so I wanted to read it.

It turns out that this book is a collection of articles that Rich wrote for Release Magazine, between 1991 and 1996. Because of that, there is little continuity, as Rich seemed to be writing whatever was on his mind.

It begins with a welcome by Rich’s manager, Jim Dunning. This is followed by “A brief glimpse into the life and music of Rich Mullins.” I’m not sure who wrote that bit. One thing that struck me in this section was Rich’s belief in the connections during communion. “He said if we believe in the communion of the saints, then it is not only communion with the saints that are still in the Body, but also with the saints of old.” it’s one of the reasons that Rich loved singing the old hymns that people have sung for generations.

The book proceeds from there to the articles, which are grouped chronologically. Rich writes about faith and life, in various scenarios. There are many topics, but all fit into the scope of how faith and life work together. I’ll provide some quotes that I highlighted while reading.

“I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people who were willing to be nuts and bolts, who through their explanation of it, held it together so that I could experience it and be compelled by it to obey.”

“And Jesus Christ is, for me, the evidence of God’s unreasonable and unsolicited attentiveness, His unearned favor, His incomprehensible love.”

Concerning the faith we had when we were children: “When we were little, we gave ourselves over to faith. Now we are big, and too heavy to rise above our own understanding.

“When we were kids we sang for the joy of singing, we colored and cut and pasted for the fun of doing it. We ran for the love of running and laughed and got scared and saw the world as a real place full of real dangers and real beauty and real rights and wrongs.”

I love this one: “Faith is not a denial of facts–it is a broadening of focus. It does not deny the hardness of guitar strings, it plucks them into a sweetness of sound.”

“I hope you see the faithfulness of God in everything He has made. I hope you learn to trust that all of this is His care sworn to you. But mostly, I hope you know Jesus through whom God has wildly and ferociously loved us. I hope you know and that you become sacramental to your neighbor who God also loves passionately. I hope you leave them little doubt about His love and the victory Jesus won over hate and death.”

“Don’t stop reading. Don’t stop listening. There are many things that are too amazing for all of us, many more that empower us beyond what we can understand.” (I will never stop reading, and if I go blind, I will listen to audiobooks.)

“But, if we still ourselves, if we let Him calm us, focus us, equip us for the day, He will remind us of our Father’s prodigal generosity and about the pitiful weakness of greedy men. He will remind us (as He reminded the devil) that ‘Man does not live by bread alone,’ though He may call us (as He called His first disciples) to give bread to the hungry (presumably because man cannot live long without bread). He will remind us about the cares that burden common people, the illusions that blind those the world calls ‘lucky,’ and the crippling effects of worry. He will give us hope–hope that stretches us (where worry bent us) and faith–faith that sustains us (where greed smothered us) and love–love that is at the bottom of our deepest desires, the loss of which is at the root of all our fears.”

“How is it that we can accept that Moses saw a bush that burned and was not consumed, yet we doubt that God can love in a rage and never cool?”

And finally, Rich quoting his uncle’s response to his determination to live a life of poverty (and I’m sure that Dallas Willard would agree): “If you’re really concerned about the poor, becoming poor isn’t going to help them, it’s just going to ease your own conscience. If you’re really concerned about the poor, go out and make a fortune and spend it on them.”

Rich Mullins was, still is, one of my life heroes. I’m thankful that I got to see him twice in a concert setting. Both times, as many others have experienced, he came out on stage in a white t-shirt, blue jean shorts, and barefoot. Both times, he quietly left the stage at the end of the “show” while the audience worshiped, singing “Step by Step.”

There will never be another Rich Mullins. Nor does there need to be. We already have one. God decided that he needed Rich in heaven more than we needed him here. It’s not my business to understand that. But, in a sense, we still have him here, because we still have him. We have his liturgy, his legacy, and his ragamuffin band.

TTFN, y’all!

Gassed, by Carley Eason Evans

I’ve known Carley for at least a decade, now (I think), and have followed the evolution of her as an author all the way from her first novel. Gassed is her best work, so far.

My knowledge of WWI is slim and sketchy. I always seem to remember what sparked that war, the infamous assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, right? But I don’t know much more than that.

But while this book is set during that war, and events surrounding it. I don’t think it’s really about that war. This book is about humanity and love. That’s what I got out of it, at least.

We follow the life of a young soldier named James Allen Lawton. As the book begins, he is already suffering from the results of a mustard gas bomb that hit his group of soldiers. He was unable to get his mask on quick enough, and is temporarily blinded.

But then we flash back. Back to his childhood, back to his entry into this war. Back and forth we go as we explore the life of this young soldier, and what made him the person he is.

His mother died during childbirth, so the entirety of his youth is spent with only a father, who did the best he could to raised his son. My favorite chapter in the book is the one where his father, at some considerable expense, bought young James Allen a ukulele for his birthday. James Allen didn’t quite know what to do with it, at first, but eventually learned to play it well, and then graduated to guitar, at which he excelled.

His experiences in the war are heart-rending, as he meets and loses companions in the horror that is war. As I read this book, I was reminded of the opening themes of all of the Fallout video games. “War. War never changes.” Eventually, James Allen decides that he would rather not even know the names of the other men with whom he is serving, because they probably won’t be around very long, anyway.

After James Allen is hit with the mustard gas, he is transported to a medical unit. James Allen’s injuries are serious enough that he is given an honorable discharge and sent back to the States, where he is placed in a rehabilitation hospital where a number of people are being treated for various illnesses.

Earlier in the book, there is a seemingly random chapter about a young girl named Julie, growing up with a somewhat abusive mother and a father who loves her dearly. Eventually, the father dies of what was then called “Consumption.” We know it now as Tuberculosis. Unfortunately, Julie is infected with it, as well. Her mother, not caring in the least for her, dumps her at the doctor’s office and leaves. The local doctor cares greatly for Julie and pays for her to be placed in the same hospital where James Allen winds up.

James Allen and Julie meet, soon after he arrives, although he cannot yet see her. They become friends, and she leads him on walks through the outdoor surroundings at the hospital, describing the scenery to him. She always wears gloves and a mask, for fear of infecting him.

Within a few weeks, he recovers his sight, and continues to fall for Julie. Even though she is dying, he asks her to marry him, to which she agrees.

That’s as far as I will go in telling the story. Too many spoilers, already, I guess. But I was captivated by the character of James Allen, and then by Julie, as well. As I stated earlier, I believe this to be Carley’s best novel, so far. The only criticism that I might have at all is the placement of the final chapter. I wonder if it might have been better to end with the previous chapter, that concludes with james Allen finally singing the song that he had been trying to write for Julie.

Read this book. I think it deserves to be a best-seller. I can even see it as a movie. Maybe Ryan Gosling plays james Allen, and Rachel McAdams could play Julie. I know. They’ve already done The Notebook together. But still . . .

TTFN, y’all!