Book Review: Unlimited

Unlimited by Davis Bunn starts off with a bang: Simon Orwell has just had an accident on a hot dusty road in Mexico. He is carrying some sort of apparatus with him. something highly valued, though damaged, and he’s escaping from the man who deliberately caused the accident.

He had been on his way to see his former MIT professor with whom he had helped work on the apparatus. But when he finally makes his way to a safe place, he learns not only that the professor has been killed, but the emails from him were sent after his death.

Simon ends up hiding out at an orphanage run by the professor’s dear friends. Some of those friends see Simon as a danger who needs to leave ASAP. Others, particularly the orphanage director, Harold, see Simon first as a desperate soul in need of help, and secondly as the man who could finish the professor’s research.

Simon had come for only one reason: to apologize to the professor for a former betrayal. Wracked with uneased guilt, with no confidence in his own potential, Simon is at loose ends. But when Harold shows him some of the professor’s further research on the device, a source of free energy, Simon begins to tinker with it and then to believe he can fix it. While Harold is thrilled, he is more concerned with the weight on Simon’s soul and his reclamation.

There are others, though – some lurking in darkness, like the man who caused the car accident, and others lurking behind fake smiles and assurances, who want the apparatus for far different reasons.

Bunn does an excellent job keeping the reader in suspense throughout the book on several fronts: whether the apparatus can be fixed and made to work as intended, whether the wrong people will get their hands on it and hurt people in the process, and whether Simon will respond to the truth Harold is sharing with him and living out before him.

Parts of the story are true, especially the fact that Harold is a real person, a former NASA engineer, who retired to establish orphanages in India and to lecture on principles of success. Honestly, what I read about the latter online, that “internal powerful forces that can propel [people] from ordinary to extraordinary…You can begin now to illuminate your path to future unlimited greatness and Dr. Finch wants to show you how” made me a little uncomfortable and wary. What was presented in Unlimited was fine but I wouldn’t endorse the rest of his teaching without knowing more about it.

This book was made after the 2015 movie of it, rather than the movie being made after the book as is usually the case. I had not heard of the movie and couldn’t find it in any of the usual rental places. I did look it up on Pureflix and found it there – we aren’t members, but it may be worth a trial membership to see it.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

Book Review: The Thirty-Nine Steps

39 stepsThe Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan opens with thirty-seven-year-old Scotchman Richard Hannay bored with life in London in May of 1914. He had been a mining engineer in Rhodesia and came to England, but has no friends and nothing to do. He’s on the verge of finding something else to do with his life when he’s accosted at his door by an American from a neighboring flat pleading for his help.

He lets the man in, a Franklin Scudder, who tells him what seems a fantastic tale at first. Scudder has just faked his own death. He’s sort of a free-lance spy who had come upon a secret on international intrigue, a plot to kill the Greek premier, Karolides, when he comes to England, which will set off a series of negative political repercussions. When Hannay suggests Karolides can be warned not to come, Scudder objects that Karolides is needed for the meetings he is to attend. What Scudder wants to do is hide out in Hannay’s flat until June 15, when he can get to the appropriate authorities.

At first Hannay thinks Scudder must be insane, but the more he talks, especially when he brings up Karolides, whom Hannay had just been reading about, Hannay believes him and agrees to let him stay. Meanwhile Scudder changes disguises to look like a British officer.

Hannay enjoys having the company for several days and notices Scudder scribbling in a notebook from time to time. When Hannay has to go out for a meeting, he comes home to find Scudder stabbed to death in his flat.

And that’s just the first chapter.

Shocked and disconcerted, Hannay investigates his flat for clues and considers whether to call the police. No one knows him in London, and he knew little enough about Scudder to make the whole situation seem fishy, concluding that he would probably be suspected for the murder. It was three weeks until the June 15th meeting, and Hannay decides to take Scudder’s notebook and take on his task.When he leaves his flat he notices a face in a neighboring window watching him.

On the run both from the police and the men who were after Scudder, Hannay’s journey takes him into all sorts of places and situations.

I liked that Hannay is presented as a fairly ordinary man. He has a few talents that come in handy, but in general he’s just a “regular chap” trying to do what he thinks is the right thing. He says he is “no Sherlock Holmes,” but he uses his wits and powers of deduction a fair bit.

I am an ordinary sort of fellow, not braver than other people, but I hate to see a good man downed, and that long knife would not be the end of Scudder if I could play the game in his place.

All this was very loose guessing, and I don’t pretend it was ingenious or scientific. I wasn’t any kind of Sherlock Holmes. But I have always fancied I had a kind of instinct about questions like this. I don’t know if I can explain myself, but I used to use my brains as far as they went, and after they came to a blank wall I guessed, and I usually found my guesses pretty right.

The writing grabbed me early on and held me throughout the book. Hannay got into various scrapes, building up the suspense of how he would get himself out of them, whether he’d make it to the authorities he needed to in time, whether he’d get in to see them, whether they’d believe him. The suspense lasted right up to the last page. After I finished the book I went back over some of the political stuff to get a better grasp of it,  but even without that I had picked up enough to follow and enjoy the story. I also loved the Britishness of it and Hannay’s way of expressing himself.

Buchan wrote this while he was recovering from an ulcer. One day while visiting him where he was convalescing, his daughter counted 39 steps in the building, and Buchan decided to use that as a vital clue in the book. He wanted to write a “‘shocker’…where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible.” It’s one of the first “man on the run” type stories. He went on to write four more Hannay novels. This book was made into several films, one of them by Alfred Hitchcock, which I planned to look up until I read that all the films varied greatly from the book.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Robert Powell and read a number of sections in the Kindle version. I’d gotten the Kindle version on sale some time ago, but Hope’s review encouraged me to move this up on my TBR list. I quite enjoyed the story!

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: Unspoken by Dee Henderson

UnspokenI’ve mentioned before my history of reading Dee Henderson novels. Her latest is Unspoken, which involves a survivor of one of the most famous kidnappings in Chicago. Charlotte Graham was kidnapped at sixteen and found four years later but has never said a word about it to the police or much of anyone else in the eighteen years since. She has a new life and profession and tries to keep a low profile.

But her grandfather, who is evidently wealthier than most of the population, has died and wanted her to manage his estate, part of which is a massive amount of valuable old coins. That brings her to Bryce Bishop, a dealer in coins who has his own respectable family business in Chicago. Bryce had been bored and prayed for God to shake up his life a bit, and Charlotte’s coins, the way she offered them for sale, and the woman herself have certainly answered that prayer.

Charlotte has decided she is single for life, so at first she is uninterested in anything but a business relationship with Bryce. The time they spend together leads to a friendship and interest on Bryce’s part. It’s a while before she feels free enough to disclose anything about her past, and she does so in stages. She describes herself as “at best a messed-up Christian” because she can’t reconcile how God could love her and yet let this happen to her, and how He would have forgiven her kidnappers if they had repented.

As Bryce and Charlotte work through their issues, a well-known investigative reporter decides it is time to write a book about the case. Not only will the book open old wounds for Charlotte, but it opens the door for danger as well. There is a reason she hasn’t said anything to the police about her abduction, and this reporter’s book could not only jeopardize her privacy but also the safety of her loved ones.

Paul and Ann Falcon from Full Disclosure are characters in this book as well, as friends of Bryce. You don’t have to have read that book to understand this one, but it was fun to “see” them again.

As always, Dee had done a wonderful job with the story, the suspense, the characters, and the spiritual issues in a natural way. I can always count on her books to pull me right in and keep me interested all the way through. This one did get a little boggy in places with all the detail about coins: I understand some detail was needed to be authentic, but I could have used less in places. But overall I loved it!

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

The Tenth Plague: Book Review and Author Interview

The-Tenth-PlagueIn The Tenth Plague by Adam Blumer, Marc and Jillian Thayer have just adopted a new baby boy, and a friend has invited them to  a Christian-themed resort for some rest and time together as a new family.

When they arrive, however, the retreat is in upheaval. A company planning a new Bible translation is having meetings at the resort, and a throng has arrived to protest. Someone rigged the water system to dispense what appears to be blood from the faucets. What seems an odd prank is soon discovered to be the first in a series of events based on the Biblical ten plagues of Egypt, some of them resulting in fatalities. Marc calls on a friend, a retired homicide detective, to help with the investigation as the plagues escalate.

Gillian, meanwhile, runs into someone who has hurt her deeply in the past. She thought she had put it all behind her, but the old anger and hurt rush back in like a flood,  and she wrestles with the need to extend forgiveness.

The Tenth Plague is a sequel to Fatal Illusions, Adam’s first book (which I reviewed here), but you don’t have to have read the first book to understand and enjoy the second. Both books are tremendously suspenseful and feature realistic, everyday Christian people trying to discern and apply God’s will in their circumstances. I enjoyed them both very much!

Here is an interview with Adam:

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What was your inspiration behind The Tenth Plague?

 One day I was reading the book of Revelation and came across 22:18–19. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (ESV). My mind began playing the “what if” game. Would God really bring a biblical plague on someone who tampered with His Word? I chatted with a few theologian friends, and the plot emerged from there.

How does this novel compare with your first novel, Fatal Illusions?

Though the plot, of course, is different, the two novels share a number of similarities. Both are set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where I live. I like to write about average folks like Marc and Gillian Thayer, a pastor and his wife who face unexpected, even threatening, events. Of course, there’s another really bad killer who wants to do them harm, and their retired homicide detective friend, Chuck Riley, once again comes out of retirement to help them. I also like to weave in a historical event that somehow relates to the present day. In Fatal Illusions, it was the killer’s obsession with Houdini; in The Tenth Plague, an old mine disaster plays an important role. The past always plays an important role in the present—a running theme in my novels. Overall, I like to write about redemption: how biblical truth offers the answers to the complicated issues of life. Stories, like parables, present some of the best ways to illustrate biblical truths.

 What was one of the most important lessons you learned during the writing of this novel?

The power of the collaborative process. I had a fairly strong first draft, but I was stuck. A novel editor provided a creative springboard and helped me see where my true story lay. Without her help, I doubt this story would have seen the light of day.

 What part of writing this novel took the most work?

 This novel required a ton of research. From an old mining tragedy to autism, from adoption law to anthrax, from pheromones to the Oklahoma City bombing, the research for this one required much more than I ever expected. I’m so thankful for technology and ease of access, thanks to the Internet. Without Google and so many resources at my fingertips, I’d probably still be researching this story.

 So far, what has been your favorite work experience in life?

 During one summer between years in high school, I worked at a library, a book lover’s paradise. Granted, a lot of the work involved stocking shelves, but being surrounded by so many fascinating books and interesting authors was pure heaven. I was born a die-hard book lover, and I’ll probably die one too.

Consider the qualities that make you unique. How do these qualities come out in your writing?

 I love suspense fiction and history, so a blending of the two always seems to come out in my writing. In high school, I won awards in calligraphy; Gillian Thayer, my female lead, is into calligraphy in a big way (it’s her job). I’ve always been intrigued with how one’s past impacts his or her present and future. This is a recurring theme in my novels because it’s part of who I am. Now that I think about it, what I write is inseparable to some degree from who I am.

 Introduce your plot summary and main characters. What is your favorite part of the story?

Water turns to blood. Flies and gnats attack the innocent. Marc and Gillian Thayer’s vacation resort becomes a grisly murder scene, with a killer using the ten plagues of Egypt as his playbook for revenge.

When their friend turns up dead, Marc and Gillian put their vacation on hold, enlist the help of a retired homicide detective, and take a closer look at the bizarre plagues as they escalate in intensity. Meanwhile, a stranger is after the Thayers’ newly adopted baby. Will they uncover the truth behind the bitter agenda before the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn son?

 My favorite part is when the firstborn son is revealed and the novel culminates in the tenth plague. This is the most suspenseful and action-packed part of the story, with several key characters in jeopardy. I had a blast writing it.

 One of the main themes of The Tenth Plague is confronting and dealing with your past. What can readers take away from this theme, especially in a novel that deals with religion and death?

 Both the villain and my heroine, Gillian Thayer, grapple with heartbreaking real-life issues from their past. But how they respond shows two very different paths. My hope is that readers will see the stark contrast in the context of biblical truth presented in the story. The bottom line is that God is enough, and He offers the solution to every problem of life. This is another repeated theme in my stories. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my latest project.

Some content used by permission of Kirkdale Press

Tenth Plague Forgiveness

The Tenth Plague is available in e-book format only from Amazon and Vyrso. You can read an excerpt here.

Thanks to Adam for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: True Light

I never used to read suspense novels, but once I was looking for Christian fiction my mom might read, and she liked suspense, so I looked in that category. It was then I first discovered Terri Blackstock through her Newpointe 911 series… and I was hooked. Not only were her stories suspenseful, but her characters were so real I felt I knew them, and the struggles they faced and the wrestlings they endured in their Christian lives were real as well.

I have to admit, though, that I wasn’t looking forward to the Restoration series, about a time when all the power in the world goes off all at once. And that had nothing to do with Terri — I knew the stories would be good. But it had to do with my knowing what an awful, miserable time I would have of it if such a thing really happened. I’m afraid I like my creature comforts all too well, and I knew I would encounter such attitudes by characters in the book. But because it was Terri, I bought the books.

I just finished True Light, the 3rd book in the series. The previous books dealt with the struggles with meeting basic needs through the main characters, the Branning family. This book primarily focuses on Mark Green, a friend of the family who has been distantly interested in their oldest daughter, Deni. Deni had been engaged to someone on the fast track to a career in Washington, DC, but through the changes she goes through and the difference in perspective she acquires as she matures, she breaks off the engagement in the last book. She and Mark are interested in each other, but cautious for various reasons.

Mark’s father and brothers were evil men, and many of the townspeople attribute to him the characteristics of his family, even though he has shown himself to be faithful, inventive, helpful and caring. When a young man is shot over a deer he just killed, every man who brought a deer home that morning is questioned. Mark happened to have been one of the men, and in many people’s minds that and his family associations convict him. The rest of the book deals primarily with his relationship with Deni, the prejudices against Mark, the greed of people, the strain on the police department with the increase in crime and lack of manpower, and Mark’s wrestlings with thoughts of revenge versus forgiveness toward the people who wrong him. There are some powerful sections as well as keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat sections. It gives one much to think about. I highly recommend this series!