Friday, April 30, 2021
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Roy Ballard is an insurance fraud videographer / investigator in Austin, Texas. He’s funny, flippant, cynical, and carries some criminal baggage of his own. Years back, he was arrested for assault (punching his old boss out for disrespectful comments about a woman). Right at the end of his probation, he was stopped for DWI, and the policeman discovered unprescribed pills in the car. So, Ballard has a record.
His usual jobs are investigating people who file fraudulent claims for workman’s compensation. Like the ones who claim a back injury but can hoist 80-pound bags of cement at Home Depot. He has sufficient work to support himself and then some.
He’s tracking and watching a restaurant dishwasher who supposedly hurt his wrist when he sees something, or someone, who shouldn’t be in the home. It’s a little girl, and Ballard is convinced she’s the little who was abducted less than a week ago. The case suddenly becomes personal; Ballard’s own daughter was abducted from the back seat of his car years before.
The police investigating the kidnapping write Ballard off because of his own past. He gets help from a good friend, Mia the bartender, whom he persuades to becomes a business partner in his fraud investigations. And Jessica, a server at the restaurant where the suspect works, helps, too.
Gone the Next is the first entry in the seven Roy Ballard mysteries by Ben Rehder, and it’s a gradually gripping mystery punctuated by Ballard’s wisecracks and general cynicism.
In addition to the Roy Ballard stories, Redhder has also written 13 novels in the Blanco County series, one of which, Buck Fever, was a finalist for the Edgar Awards of the Mystery Writers of America. He’s also written two standalone novels, The Chicken Hanger and The Driving Lesson.
Gone the Next is a story that also provides factual background on child abductions and kidnappings. And Rehder does a great job of keeping the reader guessing about what happened to Ballard’s own child as well as the case he’s investigating.
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Earlier this month, I went to a place I hadn’t been in more than a year.
I had an appointment at the Apple Store at the mall. The goal was to fix the battery drain on my wife’s iPhone after the most recent operating system update. Apple has its store procedures down to a fine art. Make an appointment, arrive a few minutes early to get your temperature taken, stand where designated outside the store until a rep checks you in, stand where designated in the checked-in line, and then a rep comes and gets you for your appointment. In this case, he diagnosed the problem and offered a solution (reset the phone).
I had to make another appointment for the fix. Fortunately, it was for only 90 minutes later. I had some time. And I succumbed to the siren’s call of the mall’s Barnes & Noble store. I hadn’t been in a bookstore since pre-pandemic times, but I was more than two weeks past my second vaccination shot, I was wearing my mask, and I was expert in maintaining social distancing (and giving the evil eye to others who weren’t).
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Monday, April 26, 2021
Historical fiction takes considerable work. Good historical fiction is similar to writing two books simultaneously – the story being told and the period of history the is set within. The finished story has to pass muster with people familiar with the era. And it has to tell a good story.
The year is 1744. John Russell has a farm in the Virginia colony’s Shenandoah Valley. John’s wife has died during an attack by Indians (pioneers would not have used the term “native Americans), accidentally hit when another target was intended. He’s now rearing his young daughter alone, and he knows she needs a mother. But he is still grieving his deeply loved wife.
It’s the time of the Great Awakening in the colonies. Preachers like George Whitefield are crisscrossing the land, preaching repentance and revival. John has a profound Christian faith, and the sermons of the revival resonate with his heart.
With his cousin Roy, John travels to Philadelphia for supplies and, he hopes, to find a wife. The roundtrip journey will last several months, and friends and neighbors in the valley have given him a list of needed supplies.
Abigail Williams is the daughter of a Philadelphia merchant. She’s in her early 20s and is fascinated with herbs, plants, and what uses they can be put to. The merchant’s bookkeeper tells them about John Russell, and soon introductions are made. And now a young woman who has only known city life is getting married and setting off to live on the frontier, with all its implied dangers and opportunities. The Russells depart Philadelphia the same day they are married.
Much of the story is about the trip. But it’s also a story of faith, and how a young woman learns she is not the believing Christian she thought she was. She worries about her faith, or lack of it, and what she faces as the wife of a frontiersman. John worries about her faith as well, and whether he can overcome the loss of his first wife.
Tagawa tells fascinating story, one filled with historical detail and figures worked well into the narrative, so well, that it doesn’t seem like fiction at all. With the Russells, the reader experiences scoundrels, storms, the importance of folk medicine, the making of soap, religious conflicts, and colonial travel.
A biology teacher by career, Tagawa has also published The Heart of Courage (another historical novel), the novel A Twisted Strand, and Sam Houston’s Republic, a Texas history curriculum. She lives in south Texas.
The Shenandoah Road brings colonial history and the Great Awakening alive by telling the story of ordinary people living in tumultuous times.
Sunday, April 25, 2021
Saturday, April 24, 2021
years, a new generation of writers ask the eternal questions: how many words
for a novel? How about a novella and a short novel (and what’s the difference)?
Lincoln Michel at Counter Craft has some answers.
Samuel Sey at Slow to Write is a Black man who is the Community Liaison at the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. He asks (and answers) provocative questions, provocative meaning “countercultural.” And this past week, he asked several in different posts, including “What if a White Police Officer Accidentally Killed Me?”
The death of Prince Philip in Britain rather unexpectedly raised a perennial question asked in the country on a regular basis, even if the rest of the world (especially Americans) think it’s a dumb idea. And that question is, is it time for the British monarchy to go? Jeremy Black at The Critic has a response. (My own response: yes, it is, if you want to destroy tourism forever.)
More Good Reads
Writing and Literature
How the American Civil War Gave Walt Whitman a Call to Action – Mark Edmundson at Literary Hub.
Resurrecting Edgar Allan Poe While Continuously Disappointing My Mother – Mindy McGinnis at CrimeReads.
O'Connor or Robinson: The Gargoyle and the Cathedral – Jessica Hooten Wilson at Church Life Journal.
Writing, Still Writing – Jen Bannan at The Millions.
How is a sonnet like the suburbs? Both are places of possibility – Elizabeth Lund at Christian Science Monitor.
On the Places and Poetic Forms of the Black Southern Poet – Khalisa Rae at Literary Hub.
A Poem for the 457th Birthday of Shakespeare – Susan Jarvis Bryant at Society of Classical Poets.
I’m Over the American Homer – Benjamin Myers at Front Porch Republic.
Life and Culture
You Have to Read This Letter – Bari Weiss.
Taborian Cultural Competence – Steve Willis at Front Porch Republic.
A Theology of Free Speech – Brad Littlejohn at The Gospel Coalition.
A Pitch for the Christian Faith – Andrew Wilson at Think Theology.
Reparations: A Critical Theological Review – Kevin DeYoung at The Gospel Coalition.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Journalism – David Deavel at The Imaginative Conservative.
The American Revolution: John Paul Jones' 1778 Raid on Whitehaven – Andrew Zellers-Frederick at All Things Liberty.
Death at Antietam: Friends to the End – Carl Schoonover at Emerging Civil War Blog.
The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond – Ella Roberts
Painting: Young Man Reading, oil on panel (ca. 1650) by Jacob van Loo (1614-1670).
Friday, April 23, 2021
Thursday, April 22, 2021
Attorney Eric Ward finds himself in one of the most gruesome mysteries yet.
Ward and his colleague Sharon Owen are defending a man charged with being the “Zodiac Killer.” Three women have been tortured and murdered. But the evidence assembled by the police is sketchy, and how the police identified and captured the defendant is sufficient for the judge to throw the case out. No forensic evidence tied the man to the killings; what little there was could have been planted by police. Even the place of death has never been found.
Ward and Owen are more than professional colleagues; they are increasing involved romantically. As a favor, Owen asks Ward to represent in settling a family trust dispute involving a cousin. And both Ward and Owen have their hands full warding off journalist, including a struggling one who wants to write a book about the murders.
Public opinion is outraged. So is police opinion. The Newcastle police learn that the former defendant plans to stay in the area, and Detective Chief Inspector Charlie Spate is put in charge of the team that will track the man’s every movement. Spate is on watch when he has to choose between helping his colleague/girlfriend Elaine Start get home after a drunken party with friends or stay and keep an eye on the suspected killer. He opts to help his girlfriend; and the killer disappears. Then there’s another murder.
The Zodiac Murder by British author Roy Lewis is the 17th of 18 mystery novels in the Eric Ward series. Originally published as Design for Murder in 2010, it has all the hallmarks of its predecessors – a gripping story, solid plotting, and well-drawn characters. It also has both Ward and Owen making some really stupid and potentially fatal decisions.
Lewis is the author of some 60 other mysteries, novels, and short story collections. His Inspector Crow series includes A Lover Too Many, Murder in the Mine, The Woods Murder, Error of Judgment, and Murder for Money, among others. The Eric Ward series, of which The Sedleigh Hall Murder is the first (and originally published as A Certain Blindness in 1981), includes 17 novels. The Arnold Landon series is comprised of 22 novels. Lewis lives in northern England.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
While the sonnet may be the poetic form most closely associated with romance and love, poet James Tweedie uses it for a wide array of other themes and subjects as well – daily life, daydreaming by a river, a Christmas memory, travels through Scotland and Ireland, the beauty of a sunset, and even a pandemic disease like the Black Death.
His Mostly Sonnets: Formal Poetry for an Informal World includes 37 sonnets. The collection also contains 16 other poems that use traditional forms. Tweedie’s poetry depicts an eternal order underlying a superficially chaotic world, an understanding that sometimes myths – like the romantic view of war – need to be challenged, and that we have much to learn from history.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Monday, April 19, 2021
You’re eight years old. Your father wakes you up in the middle of the night and tells you to get dressed. Soon you find yourself, your four-year-old brother, and three-year-old sister bundled up, [laced in a car, and taken away by two women you’ve never seen before. They take you to a state-run home for orphaned children, and they tell you will never see your parents or your older brother again.
This is what happened to Ariella Palacz. She was living in Paris. The year was 1942. Her family was Jewish. What she will find out years later is that her mother had disappeared from a psychiatric hospital, her father and young-teenaged brother were going into hiding, and she and her two younger siblings were placed in the orphanage in an effort to save them from deportation by the German Nazis occupying Paris.
I Love You My Child, I’m Abandoning You is Palacz’s story of that time and what happened afterward. It is a moving, often disturbing, and sometimes horrifying account of what happened to a Jewish girl and her family during the Holocaust.
Palacz spent several months in the orphanage before being sent south to a foster family. On the train, she discovers her younger brother and sister, but they’re once again separated and sent to different families. She won’t see them again for years. She’s housed with an older couple in a small town south of Paris. They did not know she was Jewish; had they found out, her fate might have been very different. Her treatment varied from cruel to kind. She was raised as a Christian, and attended both school and church, where she was enrolled in catechism classes.
Sometime after the end of the war, her father finds her and brings her home to Paris. He and her older brother successfully remained hidden during the occupation. Her mother was killed by the Nazis; like in Germany, psychiatric institutions were emptied and closed, their patients and inmates sent to the extermination camps. The family’s large number of Polish relatives did not survive; most died in the Treblinka camp.
Palacz tells her story from both a first-person, “this is happening now” perspective that alternates with the years in Jersualem when she’s actually writing the account. Evoking the memories of that time is especially painful, and finds respites in a rare snowfall, a pine tree outside her window, and the beauty she sees in Jerusalem.
In 1970, some 15 years after she marries, she, her husband, and her two children emigrate to Israel. A third child is born there. A woman who had largely rejected her faith or any belief, Palacz eventually convinces herself, and then her husband, to move to Israel. Her account was written in the 1999-2003 times period. A mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, she died in 2017.
I Love You My Child, I’m Abandoning You is the story of one woman, what happened to her as a girl during a terrible time, how she survived, and the psychological scars that time left on her. It’s also the story of human resilience in the face of cruelty and horror.
Sunday, April 18, 2021
Saturday, April 17, 2021
Revolutions are upending the world today, writes N.S. Lyons at The Upheaval. They have come upon the world so fast that we don’t even know what to call them. Everything – everything – is considered a battle for power between the oppressed and the oppressors. Unless we learn how to resist and fight, Lyons says, we are being rushed down the road of chaos. And as of right now, we don’t even know what to call it.
Author Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment) died recently. Henry Chappell at Front Porch Republic has a look at the writer he calls both a myth killer and a myth keeper.
I’m a little wary of anything that lay claims to what the future is going to look like. What I find reasonable a bit thought-provoking is what Justin Poythress at Reformation 21, has to say about what the post-pandemic church will look like.
More Good Reads
Life and Culture
The Most Valuable Resource in the World Today – Chris Martin at Terms of Service.
This Farming Life – Brian Miller at The South Roane Agrarian.
Religious Freedom in the Roman Empire & the United States – Dr. David Kotter at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.
I Refuse to Stand By While My Students Are Indoctrinated – Paul Rossi via Bari Weiss.
Writing and Literature
An Unbroken Grace: Barry Lopez – Fred Bahnson at Notre Dame Magazine.
5 books Dostoevsky considered masterpieces – Valeria Paikova at Russia Beyond.
What Poetry Can Teach Novelists: A Reading List – Caroline Hardaker at Literary Hub.
Inside the Fight for the Future of The Wall Street Journal – Edmund Lee at The New York Times.
What Happened to the Actors Who Were Performing the Night Lincoln Was Shot? – Mariah Fredericks at CrimeReads.
The Red Pickup – Julia Alvarez at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).
Fatherless Time – John Blase.
Shock news: Judas Walks Away From Faith – Stephen McAlpine.
The Gift of True Words – Melissa Edgington at Your Mom Has a Blog.
Into the Sea (It’s Gonna Be OK) – Tasha Layton
Illustration: The Library (1905), by Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954).