Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fifteen Minutes by Karen Kingsbury: A Review

Fifteen Minutes by Karen Kingsbury

1.      Biographical Information

Kingsbury, K. (2013).  Fifteen Minutes. Howard Books (division of Simon & Schuster).

ISBN 978-1-4516-4705-1

2. Summary

Zack Dylan is a good Christian young adult (age 23) who has spent his life on a horse farm in Kentucky.  He’s engaged with Reese, a girl who works as an equine therapist (using horses to treat children with developmental issues).  They are completely committed to each other.  Zack lives with his two parents, Grandpa Dan, and two younger siblings, his brother Duke and his sister AJ, who has Down syndrome.  Zack’s family is going through financial difficulties, and this is a motivational factor for him to try out for Fifteen Minutes, an American Idol/Voice-type show.  His genre is country, not gospel or Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), but he will use Fifteen Minutes as a platform to share the Gospel.  Zack also insists Fifteen Minutes will not change him.  Needless to say, his time on the show does change him.  He soon attracts the attention of the judges and of a fellow contestant, Zooey Davis, who while only 18 has fallen hard for the handsome Zack.  He doesn’t encourage Zooey’s attention but doesn’t discourage it strongly either.  Their relationship gets confusing for Zack: sometimes friendship, sometimes romantic.  Reese and Zack’s family can only watch as his appearances on Fifteen Minutes shift him into someone slowly being corrupted by fame.  Also watching is Chandra Olson, one of the judges and a former Fifteen Minutes winner.  She is haunted by what success has done to her.  Chandra believes she is now in the prison of fame and regrets going on Fifteen Minutes, which was responsible for much tragedy in her life.  Another judge, Kelly Morgan, has drifted from her Christian upbringing and become obsessed with staying and looking young, and her marriage has come undone. While Kelly has an open affair with a womanizer ten years younger, her husband and children are waiting, as is her father, a pastor dying of cancer.  Zack’s slow descent affects everyone in his circle, some for good, some not. However, what in the end is the cost of Zack’s Fifteen Minutes, and will he find his way back home (metaphorically and literally)?

3.      Comparison of Characteristics

Fifteen Minutes falls squarely within the boundaries of Christian fiction.  The story centers on how Zach has wandered away from his love of Christ to compromise his beliefs and principles and how, after a ‘dark night of the soul’ where he loses the girl he loves and becomes a stranger to his family, he finds the only really important thing in life is his relationship with Jesus Christ.  Similarly, while Kelly does not end up returning to her Christian roots, she does appear to be drifting in that direction.  Kingsbury also stays strictly within boundaries when it comes to the Zack and Zooey relationship. It is a very tame romance and Kingsbury does have Zack and Zooey come dangerously close to indulging in the pleasures of the flesh but pulls back. There is kissing but it stops before it can go into actual sex.  Some readers may be surprised at how strong the near-seduction of Zack is, but his stopping before it can go deeper reaffirms the Christian view of no sex outside marriage.

4. My Reaction

In a case of ‘he doth protest too much’, every time Zack said a variation of ‘Fame isn’t going to change me’, I smirked.  When that gets repeated a lot, you KNOW fame IS going to change him.  Fifteen Minutes starts a bit heavy-handed in its portrayal of the almost saintly Zack (perfect soul, perfect body, and perfect voice) to where you almost want him to fail.  Reese too starts out as a girl who finds it rational to give up an opportunity to work in London, doing what she loves, to stay with her man (especially since he pleads for her not to go).  However, as the story moves you start to see how Zack could begin to shift so quickly and how fast the show took over his life.  The major characters become real: Zack’s realization that he’s strayed from his core beliefs, Reese’s realization that Zack isn’t who he thought he was, Kelly’s that being ‘perfect’ isn’t as important as being ‘good’.  The minor characters still annoyed me (AJ and Grandpa Dan were one-dimensional and only there for emotional reaction and moralizing), and there are questions about Zack’s intelligence.  Why didn’t he tell Zooey he wasn’t interested in the beginning?  Why didn’t he seek what is called an ‘accountability partner’ (someone he can turn to when facing temptations)?  Fifteen Minutes mentions at least one contestant who wasn’t changed and remained Christian, though he was mentioned at the end.  This both undercuts Kingsbury’s idea (fame corrupts even the strongest and show-business is no place for real Christians) and makes me wonder if the other character was so open and true, why didn’t Zack turn to him?  However, by the end Kingsbury manages to have us genuinely care about the characters because they start becoming real.  We see this especially in Kelly’s journey because her problems (failing marriage, difficulties with disapproving and dying parents, balancing home and work) seem more realistic than Zack trying to be a superstar and forgetting his Lord.  It wasn’t a bad read, apart from a clunky beginning.

5. Comparison to Other Genres

Christian readers I think will enjoy Fifteen Minutes.  It reaffirms the idea that one must stay true to one’s faith, and seeing Zack’s redemption after he slips from his faith is an interesting and optimistic journey. Fifteen Minutes might qualify as a romance since the love story between Zack and Reese is a major part of the plot. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hondo by Louis L'Amour: A Review

Hondo by Louis L’Amour


1.      Bibliographical Information


L’Amour, L. (1953, 1997). Hondo. New York, New York. Bantam Bell, a division of Random House, Inc.


ISBN 0-553-80299-2


2.      Summary


Hondo Lane is a man of the West: stoic, quiet, who comes and goes when and where he needs to.  He has no family and no friends (though he does know people).  In fact, his only real companion is Sam, a dog who goes with him and resembles him in almost every way (for example, he doesn’t like to be petted).  Hondo, who has some Native American blood and both has lived with and knows the way of the Apache, wanders into a small ranch whose only inhabitants are Angie Lowe and her son Johnny.  Her husband has gone but she knows not where or when he will return.  Hondo does not understand how any man could leave a woman, especially one as fit to the West as Angie, with her determination to live on the land, to her own devices.  He is there only one day, but he kisses her before he goes, telling her a woman should be kissed like a woman should at least once.  Angie is full of her own conflicted emotions, seeing in Hondo someone worthy of both her love and Johnny’s admiration.  Hondo, however, has to go, for he has served as a scout to a nearby fort.  He offers Angie a chance to leave, for the Apache are on the attack, but she is rooted to the land and the hope her husband returns, so she declines.  Hondo, back at the fort, learns of a massacre by the Apache and their leader, Vittoro.  In town, Hondo forces a card shark and his associate to stop taking advantage of someone else, and they secretly follow Hondo into the desert despite the Apache.  Killing both in self-defense, Hondo discovers the main attacker was Ed Lowe, Angie’s husband (a picture of Johnny was with him).  Hondo, upset about having killed the husband of the woman he loves, is conflicted.  However, Angie has her own problems, as Vittoro has come to her ranch.  Johnny defends his mother against a ruthless Apache named Silva, and Vittoro, amused that a child could take down one of his great warriors, makes Johnny (or Small Warrior as he dubs him) his blood brother.  However, Vittoro also thinks Angie should have a man, offering one of his warriors.  Angie demurs but after Hondo is captured and brought to the ranch, she claims Hondo to be her husband.  Hondo begins to trail Johnny in the ways of the West, but the Army moves in and orders them out when they take an offensive against Vittoro.  In that battle, Vittoro is killed but Silva takes control.  As they ride out to safety at another fort, Silva attacks, and Hondo spears him like Silva killed Sam.  Angie, who knows by now the truth but knows what kind of man Hondo is, along with Johnny, ride off to the nearest fort, with the idea of going to California and Hondo’s own place.


3.      Comparison of Characteristics


Hondo has every characteristic associated with the Western.  First, the location is the American Southwest, with L’Amour’s poetic description of the desert.  These are figures who are either tied to the land or intimately aware of the importance of the land.  Hondo is the quintessential Western hero: quiet, guarded, with a code that he won’t violate.  We also have Indians who are also antagonists but not the only ones.  Vittoro is wise with his own codes, Silva being brutal and uncaring.  The story also has straightforward characters: Ed and Silva are bad, Hondo and Vittoro are good.  There are few shades of grey with them.  Angie is also heroic: she uses her inner strength and wits to keep the Apache waiting. 


4.      My Reaction


I knew of Louis L’Amour by reputation, and Hondo was my first L’Amour book.  I highly enjoyed it and thought it an excellent book.  L’Amour’s story reminds me a bit of the myth of Odysseus, with faithful Penelope waiting for the hero to return as Vittoro brings suitors to raise his blood brother.  I liked the fact that unlike traditional images of Native Americans, they were not all villains (and that Vittoro spoke perfect English).  I liked that L’Amour created extremely poetic turns of phrases.  As Ed and his partner Phalinger sleep before attempting to attack Hondo, L’Amour writes, “Under a quiet sky the planet turned, and horses ate, and men slept, and death waited for morning”.  L’Amour’s writing is sparse, simple, but extremely descriptive and poetic.  We also get brief insights into the minor characters like Phalinger, whom you feel sympathy for because L’Amour has us know he has learned too late the error of his ways.  I felt sad for him, and for Sam when Silva kills him.  L’Amour uses language beautifully and paints the characters in broad strokes but enough to understand what kind of people they are.  If Hondo has any flaws, it is that the ending seems a little abrupt, where the final battle between Silva and Hondo and the troops seems to happen almost as a way to wrap up the story.  Minus that, Hondo is a brilliant story that I got into and that flowed quickly.   When it comes to Westerns, one simply can’t go wrong with Louis L’Amour, whom I think should be the first name recommended for the genre.


5.      Comparison to Other Genres


Fans of Westerns will love Hondo, and I think the book will also appeal to those who like romances.   The story between Hondo and Angie is simple and romantic.  You understand that they should be together from almost the very beginning, and that Hondo would be the perfect father to Johnny.  Hondo could easily be a romance that women could enjoy.  Hondo has a strong hero, a strong woman, and both who yearn for love and each other. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why Casey Had to Die by L.C. Hayden: A Review

It's been a long time since I have written for this site.  Blame school.

Ironically enough, in one of my classes, I was required to read a novel a week...or two.  I therefore decided to reprint my reviews from the class here.

I also am very happy to have rediscovered the joy and ease of reading, ease in that if I took a day to do that, I could finish a book rather quickly.

Being a bit lazy, I don't want to rewrite everything, so a little cut and paste will do.  The others won't have this intro, but will start from the beginning.  Later on, I'll rework these to a better manner.  For now, please enjoy these reviews.

I'm so thrilled to be back and hope to come back more often.

Why Casey Had to Die by L.C. Hayden

1.      Bibliographic Information:

Hayden, L. C. (2006).  Why Casey Had to Die.  Five Star, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning.

ISBN: 978-1-59414-493-6

2.      Summary:

Harry Bronson is a recently retired Dallas detective, whose retirement was not exactly on friendly terms with his superiors.  As much as he wants to really retire and please his wife Carol with a long road trip, he recently has been receiving messages about Casey Secrist, the murder victim on his very first case.  While Casey’s boyfriend was convicted of the murder, Bronson has never shaken the belief that he was innocent.  However, the boyfriend was killed in a prison riot shortly after his arrival, and while Bronson wanted to keep investigating, he was told not to.  Bronson blames ‘following procedure’ for his failure in this case, and from then on he has no problem bucking the system (though he never breaks the law, only bends it when needed).  The sender of these messages, who goes by “S.”, is able to stay one step ahead of Bronson, and may be luring Bronson into a deadly trap as revenge involving the Secrist case.  Bronson suspects that his selection of consultant to a mystery readers’ convention where a ‘crime’ is committed and the participants are asked to solve is part of this master plan.  As such, he isn’t surprised to find that the hypothetical case mirrors the Secrist case.  As Bronson attempts to unmask who ‘S’ is and why he/she is planning this vengeance, he finds that apart from the regular hotel staff, no one is who he/she claims to be.  Once ‘S’ is discovered, Bronson finds the stakes have been raised: Carol has been kidnapped by ‘S’ and ‘S’’s minion, and Bronson is forced to go geocatching, a bit like a scavenger hunt where clues about locations are left for him, which he has to find and collect objects in a race to stop S from killing Carol.  In the end, a dying S reveals the motive behind this elaborate plan, Carol is safe, and while the real Casey killer is revealed, Bronson knows that he is still just outside his reach.  However, for how long?

3.      Comparison of characteristics.

Why Casey Had to Die is in the hard-boiled line of detective fiction, though it straddles between police procedural and private detective.  The name ‘Harry Bronson’ already evokes two ‘tough guys’: Dirty Harry Callahan and movie star Charles Bronson.  The dialogue reveals Harry to be a generally tough guy, pretty dismissive of ‘procedure’.  Bronson uses police tactics, his past contacts, and even has help from the Sheriff (albeit reluctant on both sides). However, since he’s retired and is acting in an unofficial capacity he can also be considered a P.I. The potential suspects are sketched effectively and when ‘S’ is unmasked we do get a genuine surprise.  Hayden gives Bronson a few soft touches.  He is emotional when Carol is abducted, and his great weakness is coffee (many times the omniscient narrator mentions how much he not only loves coffee, but tries to get three teaspoons of sugar when Carol isn’t watching, since she wants him to put two at the most).  The mystery is not about the murder of Casey itself, but about who and why Bronson is being targeted for revenge.  The case involves Casey’s murder, but while that mystery is solved (though the actual murderer was not brought to justice in the novel, suggesting there will be a continuation), the actual crime involves Bronson’s harassment, which does involve another character being murdered.    

4.      Personal Reaction

I enjoyed Why Casey Had to Die more than I thought I would.  When ‘S’ is unmasked, I did have to go back to Bronson’s first meeting with the person who turned out to be ‘S’ and see that Hayden had set up a very subtle suspect that flew under the radar.  Once we do discover who ‘S’ is, it becomes slightly less interesting.  While the story has good pacing when Carol’s life is in danger, something about that scenario strikes me as a little cliché (almost like a damsel in distress).  I don’t respond too well when secondary characters are placed in peril, or when once the actual mystery (in this case, who is the person pursuing Bronson) is solved, we shift from actual mystery to ‘desperate race against time’.  That isn’t to say I thought that ruined the book.  It worked well in the story.  It just felt a little off.  One thing I wasn’t fond of was that a major piece of information that would have led us to look at the actual “S” was not revealed until basically by accident, and for me, not being given this particular clue is a bit unfair.  Granted, Hayden did give us subtle clues about who ‘S’ is, but what I think is ‘the big clue, the definitive clue’ didn’t come my way.  I did think well of all the characters, which were given distinct personalities: Carol’s loving but frustrated wife was a great counterbalance to Bronson’s tough persona being the highlight.  Their scenes read like a real husband-and-wife who love each other and have learned to tolerate their foibles.  All the suspects similarly read as real people: suspicious and innocent when needed.  The physical descriptions were sometimes even amusing. I would recommend Why Casey Had to Die for those who can tolerate some violence and/or danger to characters.  It is not graphic but it is a bit beyond the ‘cozy’ mystery particularly in the threat to Carol.  If a patron can accept the potential killing or maiming of an innocent, he/she will I think enjoy Why Casey Had to Die.  This book is also good if one enjoys a series with the same characters, and one doesn’t have to have read any previous Harry Bronson novels to enjoy/follow this story.

5.      Other Genres

The only other genre that Why Casey Had to Die would fit into would be the thriller.  The story has a stalker and a ‘race against time’ scenario where the reader doesn’t know if Bronson will indeed ‘make it on time’ (technically, he doesn’t). With its Southwest setting and mostly stoic main character, it might possibly enter the Western genre, but that is a major stretch.  While the murder mystery of Casey Secrist is both investigated and a prime motive to the story, it is both the fact that the main character is facing danger and he has to rescue someone he loves ‘before it’s too late’ that could qualify Why Casey Had to Die as a thriller.