Sunday, March 27, 2011

EXPIRATION DATE by Sherril Jaffe

What if you knew when you were going to die? For a while it didn’t matter but now… Now the time’s drawing near and there’s so much more still to live for. And what if your mother’s even more full of enthusiastic life as you approach your expiration date?

Sherril Jaffe’s novel Expiration Date tells of that all-important year in the lives of Flora (almost 60) and her mother Muriel (84). Muriel’s life is delightfully ordered and organized. There’s bridge, with all its attendant rules. There’s dinner, preferably not alone, since that would remind her too much of the absence of Jack after his long illness. And there are trips to San Francisco to spend time with Flora. Just at the time when her life should be winding down, Muriel starts to step out; and however many times the Angel of Death approaches her, she seems to escape unscathed. Meanwhile Flora’s expecting the angel’s visit before her next birthday; but according to her vision, Mother dies first, so maybe Muriel’s staying alive just to cheat the prediction and save her daughter’s life.

Flora’s husband Jonah is a rabbi. His flock includes several elderly people and relatives. They’re familiar with death in its many guises, and Jonah is familiar with the literature, continuing a conversation with rabbis through centuries who’ve left their stories written down to continue the tale. Yes, a time is decreed for each. And no, that doesn’t mean we can’t change the outcome.

Bridge sticks to the rules. Faith bends them. And love fits in between. Approaching ends make the present day more poignant, more needing to be filled. And these characters fill their present quite delightfully, while musing on the past and keeping a constant eye out for the future. Expiration Date tells their story beautifully—a masterpiece perhaps of tell-don’t-show, emotions revealed in thought and story carried forward by contemplation. The game of bridge defines a rigid code where truth lies in well-defined conventions somewhere between speaker and word. Family ties have a code of their own, born of tradition and memory. And love’s simple rule, to touch and be touched, by the world and the people in it, fills Sherril Jaffe’s novel with beauty, humor and hope well-told, then delightfully, wonderfully shown once the code becomes known.
Disclosure: I was given a bound galley of this book by the publishers, The Permanent Press, in exchange for an honest review.
— Sheila Deeth

Product Details:
Hardcover: 200 pages
Publisher: The Permanent Press
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-57962-215-2
Publication date: April 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

THE SHAPE OF MERCY by Susan Meissner

I’ve reviewed quite a few books over the past few years. Some I’ve had a lot of fun reviewing, some were more sober endeavors. But I haven’t actually feared reviewing any of them.

Until now.

Why fear? Well, because of the two things I think people fear most: the unknown and failure. I don’t know how to best approach representing this incredible story, and, regardless of the approach I choose, I’m certain I’ll fail to do the book justice.

So, you’re going to have to work with me here. Please be patient.

The Story. Lauren Durough is a young well-to-do university student in covert rebellion against her heritage. Abigail Broyles is an elderly well-to-do retiree in covert rebellion against her legacy. Interposed between them is Mercy Hayworth, an innocent victim of the horrific 17th-century Salem witchcraft trials. Okay, so how does that work? At the marvelously skillful hand of author Susan Meissner, it works exceedingly well.

Abigail retains Lauren to transcribe Mercy’s diary, a precious family heirloom. Lauren is to approach her task wrapped in a cloak of ignorance; that is, she must promise not to research the events surrounding the trials until she’s completed the transcription. Mercy Hayworth must be allowed to speak for herself, unfettered by historiography. Also woven into this cloak, though, is the real reason Abigail has selected Lauren as the transcriptionist, as is the effect the words of a simple girl from a distant era will have on her own self-perception.

An intriguing cast of supporting characters push and pull at Lauren throughout the story, adding their own contemporary thematic hue to the faded brown ink of Mercy’s ancient journal. Through it all, Lauren will either mature into her future or collapse under her past. There’s no other option.

The Writing. As writers, we’re encouraged to keep our readers on the edge, to force that next page turn, anything to breathe new life into the tired cliché “I couldn’t put it down.” There are techniques to do that, such as ending scenes and chapters with mini-cliffhangers, dangling questions that simply must be answered now. And gadgets like that have their place.

But then there’s writing like Ms. Meissner’s.

You know quality prose when you’re not sure you want to turn the next page, but find yourself compelled to do so—not because of a dangling question, but because the titanium thread binding the storyline blurs the distinction between pages, and so you go on. You have to. And you will.

Intense and honest, humorous and poignant; I’ve yet to read a book that I’d recommend more highly than The Shape of Mercy. Bruce Judisch   

Product Details:
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press 
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400074568

Sunday, March 20, 2011

THE GRANDFATHERS on DVD, a motion-graphics film

The Grandfathers is the third in a documentary series about the Saint family’s multi-generational association with a stone-age tribe in Ecuador. The first is titled End of the Spear and the second is Beyond the Gates of Splendor. Although this film is part of a series, it stands alone as a fascinating study on a culture few of us can know or understand.

Five missionaries are murdered deep in the Amazon jungle by the Waodani, a primitive culture believed to be the most violent on earth. They used spears to war on one another and violent deaths were very common in their society. However, the sister of a murdered missionary returns to live with the Waodani and ultimately most of them are converted to Christianity, nearly ending the violence.

Many years later, after his aunt dies, the now adult son of one of the murdered missionaries returns to Ecuador to take care of her effects. His wife and their two teenage children accompany him, meeting the Waodani people and ultimately living with them for an extended period of time.

Imagine the shock of the grandson when he learns that the elderly man he befriends is one of those who killed the grandfather he never knew. Yet, the grandson chooses to adopt this man as his grandfather. Surprising, too, is that this man is married to a woman who tells them her husband is the murderer of her father, mother and brothers…all before the tribe’s conversion to Christianity.

In this film, you’ll hear of the extraordinary event these people witnessed after murdering the missionaries, leading to their ultimate conversion. As so often happens, God drew good out of evil.

The Grandfathers is a fascinating tale, worth watching for the amazing sights, but even more so for its inspiring story.

Our thanks to The B&B Media Group, Inc. for providing us with a review copy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A River in the Sky is the latest in a series of Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters. In it the author weaves another exciting tale for her archaeologist heroine. This time, Amelia is off to foil a German plot and rescue her son, Ramses, who ultimately ends up rescuing her.

Like Ms. Peters' other books that follow this heroine, the novel is sprinkled with light-hearted banter about, and with, Amelia’s irreligious husband ... famous as the “Father of Curses.” This time the pair are off to Jerusalem instead of Egypt, where they manage to thwart a conspiracy and successfully solve the murders relating to it.

An enjoyable read, filled with Peters’ usual archaeologic intrigue, crime, murder and mystery.
— Gail Lewis

Product Details:
Hardcover: 307 pages
Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061246263
ISBN-13: 978-0061246265

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


SHEILA DEETH — Author/Reviewer

Sheila Deeth grew up in the UK and has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Mathematics from Cambridge University England. She started her career writing computer code, moved on to testing and breaking code, and now writes short stories, poetry and novels.
She is the author of several Christian books available from, two ebooks published by Gypsy Shadow, and one novel coming soon from Now living near Portland, Oregon, Sheila loves the bookshops and coffee-shops of the Pacific Northwest. She’s a voracious reader, writes reviews of almost everything she reads, and enjoys interacting with other readers and writers through the internet.
Read her review of The Ringer below.

THE RINGER by Jenny Shank

A semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Jenny Shank’s The Ringer is proof that such competitions really can bring the best of the best to the public eye. The story centers around lives affected by a police killing—a situation perhaps too easily read about in the paper. But these characters are no paper cut-outs, and when they’re used, by friends, the media, the department, as means to an end, they stand up and stand out. Jenny Shank’s writing makes the reader stand up and listen too, to a mother wondering what she could have done differently, and how she can best protect her kids; to a father wondering what really happened, and why memory and fact never quite coincide; to friends and relatives trying not to burn out or take over while offering support; and to children who play baseball.

The simple solutions of a child out to protect, or hit back, or be noticed, are no less complex in the end than those of adults who try to hide or comprehend. What happens next keeps happening, inexorably. And two families, from opposite sides of town, from different cultures, still meet on the same side of the field. Just as in life, even the cultures aren’t simple in The Ringer. Instead, they’re sympathetically portrayed, and filled with real division, history and complexity. There’s mystery and ethical conundrums in a tale as deep as human life. And the price of a life, or a life lost, in the end might be read in the “seasons to set [the] clock right.”

Jenny Shanks’ novel takes readers from the shock of unexpected violence, through the pain of unexpected loss, through betrayal and sorrow that follow both, and out onto the baseball field. Though I don’t know the game and probably never will, I know the players and feel excitement and fear for the team, and I want them to win. I want the people to win too, on both sides of the divide. And even if winning is complex and never complete, I’m taken to a place where I can stop and say okay; life does go on, and a different hope survives. The Ringer is a complex, compelling, convincing book, gritty and beautifully sympathetic, well-researched and well-plotted, and highly recommended as a really good read.

Disclosure: I was given a bound galley of this book by the publishers, The Permanent Press, in exchange for an honest review.
Product Details:
Hardback: 349 pages
Publisher: The Permanent Press (March 2011)
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-57962-214-5

Monday, March 14, 2011


In 1954, Malcolm Taylor, a noted foreign-affairs journalist, kissed his daughter at the front door, said goodbye, and promised to come back. He didn't.

In 1967, Kristin Taylor, a budding novice journalist, followed her father's trail to find out why.

So begins a gritty and heart-rending tale of integrity, faith and perseverance in two war-torn countries: Vietnam and the United States.

In Saigon, Kristin meets up—or rather, is forced into reluctant collaboration—with Luke Maddox, a photojournalist who irks Kristin in just about every way imaginable. And she reciprocates. Little do either of them know that Kristin's determination to follow through on a story her father had begun the previous decade and Luke's hidden past are intertwined. Finally, her self-imposed assignment, an exposé on a secret war within a war, threatens to explode both of their worlds, which have now become one.

Professionally, Kristin excels in her honest portrayal of a conflict gone so wrong, endearing herself to the men she has come to respect and love. Personally, she doesn't do so well in shielding her emotions from the horror engulfing a nation she has also come to love. From the trauma of a blood-spattered field hospital, to the heat of battle at a forward fire base, to the precious and precarious existence of a Saigon orphanage, Kristin learns the hard way how to survive physically, mentally and emotionally in an environment man was never meant to endure.

Her love-hate relationship with Luke comes to a head, then Kristin is forced to return to the States. Like most veterans of that conflict, part of her she leaves in Vietnam, part of Vietnam she brings home with her. And life is never again the same.

Ms. West delivers an honest, compelling, and very well-written tale of war and the aftermath of war. But it's not a mere blood-and-guts story. It's one of hope. She shows us how love and faith have curious and unexpected ways of sprouting even in the most barren soil. Yesterday's Tomorrow will leave you very satisfied at its conclusion, but don't expect the path to be strewn with rose petals. Few paths to meaningful destinations are.

As an endnote, Ms. West is represented by Rachelle Gardner of the Wordserve Literary Agency. Neither Ms. Gardner nor Wordserve are known for tolerating mediocrity. In Catherine West, and Yesterday's Tomorrow, they've advanced their excellent reputation.

This is a review of an ARC of Yesterday's Tomorrow. The book is due to be released through online outlets in March 2010 by OakTara--another pretty good outfit, I might add.
— Bruce Judisch
Product Details:
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: OakTara (March 15, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 160290278X
ISBN-13: 978-1602902787  

Saturday, March 12, 2011


In order to review this book, I read it all the way through in a single morning rather than one page a day throughout Lent. However, its insightful comments make it a perfect daily devotional, and I found myself stopping to ponder many of Sheila Deeth’s commentaries…all of which follow a Biblical story. Her excellent writing skills help her convey creditable messages, and enable her to say so much in so few words.

The Bible narratives are quickly recognizable and presented in descriptive ways that will have you creating mental pictures of each of them as they provide you with new insights. Ms. Deeth’s present-day observations after each Biblical focus, carefully link them to the reality of modern day-to-day life.

Brief and to the point, I highly recommend you take Shiela Deeth’s spiritual journey through “Easter! Creation to Salvation in 100 words a day.” She has a special way with words, and I found myself easily relating to her childhood memories and to the questions she raises about where the focus of our faith ought to be. Each page also carries an appropriate, attractive illustration. 

Lent has just begun, and there’s still time to participate in this thought provoking daily devotional. For a terrific value, check out the eBook.
— Gail Lewis

Product Details:
Perfect Paperback: 50 pages
Publisher: Lulu
Language: English

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

GATEKEEPER by Ruth Crews

In the middle of page 28 of Gatekeeper, the author plants this deceivingly benign snippet of advice:

“Most of your life will not allow you to use sources for proof or inspiration.”

Although Ms. Crews didn’t feature it as a tagline on the front cover, she could have. And our heroine is about to find out why.

Anna Merritt, a vivacious coed from the southern United States, finds herself on exchange in the archetypal upper-British academic environs of Oxford. Unshackled by even the remotest degree of formality and tradition, Anna plows a ‘primitively colonial’ furrow into the neatly manicured grounds of the ancient and renowned university, and especially into the lives of two fellow students: the spontaneous Eddie Mitchell and the reservedly detached Nicholas Diggs. Inseparable almost from the first day, the trio brave the academic stresses and social pressures of Oxford’s Saints College. But that’s just the beginning.

Everything proceeds as both Anna and the reader might expect, until one fateful day a ‘routine’ tutoring session unexpectedly thrusts her into a position to test the above-suggested tagline. You see, Nicholas Diggs is poised for destruction on his 21st birthday, a mere three weeks away, at the hands of people from whom he would least expect it. Anna’s tutor, the enigmatic Dr. Barney, lays Nicholas’ future in her lap—then promptly disappears.

At the end of the term the three students embark on a whirlwind trip through Prague, Berlin, Paris, then back to Oxford. The trip provides the perfect scenario to help Anna forestall Nicholas’ day of reckoning. Or so she thinks. Anna is aided in her task by the mysterious Mr. Truman, who always seems to be at the right place just at the right time, and only divvies out information to Anna in just the right amounts at just the right times. The question is, does Anna have what it takes to rescue Nicholas, whose dilemma is diametrically opposed to her own inner struggles?

You’ll discover the answer to that question in the pages of a very cleverly written story by a promising new author, Ms. Ruth Crews. Her fresh, perky writing voice pairs wonderfully with her personal experience at the venues in which the story takes place to deliver a fascinating, humorous and poignant coming-of-age tale. You’ll find the repartee between the three friends to be absolutely priceless—especially for those who have visited the UK. Not only do Anna’s Americanisms wage battle with the boys’ British-isms throughout the story, but her right-brained English-major subjectivity clashes with the stodgy, ultra-functional outlook on life to which Nicholas clings so tenaciously. And Eddie? Well, Eddie is Eddie, and he takes shots at everybody.

Ms. Crews sets the bar at a very respectable height with her debut novel. Highly recommended for its genre. Looking forward to reading The Leaving, the second installment in Ms. Crews' “Gatekeeper” series. — Bruce Judisch
Product Details:
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: OakTara (January 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602901678
ISBN-13: 978-1602901674

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Of Love and Evil is book 2 of Anne Rice's Songs of the Seraphim series. It's a quick, easy read—much like a novella. Set in Adobe Garamond, the typeface is easy on the eyes.

Curious about the title, and familiar with the author, I picked it up on the New Release shelf at our local library, unaware that it is a sequel to an earlier book, Angel Time which, admittedly, I’ve not read.

This is the story of former “hitman” Lucky the Fox, or Toby O’Dare, and his efforts to make up for his crimes. Early in the book he is introduced to his son, and temporarily reunited with the boy’s mother. He is made aware that he can now feel love for them, but must suffer by being separated from them.

With the help of an angel—a member of the Seraphim named Malchiah—Toby’s unhappy life was turned around and, with Malchiah’s direction, Toby attempts to answer other’s prayers in atonement for his sins. To do this, he travels back to ancient Rome, where he encounters a ghost and a demon.

Anne Rice doesn’t mention it, but the Hebrew and Aramaic word for God is El. Hence it’s not surprising that many names in the Bible end with “el” indicating they are “of God.” Examples: Samuel, Daniel, Nathaniel, Joel, Ezekiel, Israel, Gamaliel. Also, the four angels named in the Bible have names ending in “el”: Gabriel, Michael, Uriel, Raphael. Perhaps this didn’t occur to Ms. Rice when she chose her names.

From a religious vantage point, the book is hard to categorize. It doesn’t seem to be strongly Christian, but it isn’t a secular thriller either. The book is equally difficult to disparage or recommend. It’s a simple, middle of the road story that’s neither inspiring nor upsetting. If anything, it left me feeling rather bland. Gail

Paperback: 172 pages
Publisher: Knopf; First Edition (November 30, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400043549
ISBN-13: 978-1400043545