Thursday, March 25, 2010

book review: Buried Alive by Roy Hallums

Title: Buried Alive: The True Story of Kidnapping, Captivity, and a Dramatic Rescue
Author: Roy Hallums
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, January 2010, hardcover, 256 pages.

ISBN-10: 1595551700
ISBN-13: 978-1595551702

There are some books which you almost dread starting because you know really bad things are going to happen in them. Buried Alive: The True Story of Kidnapping, Captivity, and a Dramatic Rescue is such a book. In it Roy Hallums (with Audrey Hudson) tells the story of his 2004 kidnapping by a group of Iraqi insurgents from an office in Baghdad, the 311 days of his captivity, and his eventual rescue.

The book lived up to all my fears. It is a grueling account of man’s inhumanity to man. But it ends up being much more than a portrayal of humanity at its worst, in large part due to Hallums himself.

From the beginning I was struck by Hallums’ ability to perceive details during his captivity and recall them later. Because he is forced to wear a blindfold throughout and lives months in an infrequently lit underground bunker, he has few visual memories. But he does recall smells, sounds, sensations of pain, and the chain of events in excruciating detail. The fact that he is able to keep track of day and night and document the passage of time using things like the call to prayer of the mullahs and the drone of planes overhead is testimony to the mental toughness of the man.

I was also struck by Hallums’ humanity. During the telling he rarely expresses any bitterness toward his captors. His compassion toward fellow kidnap victims is often evident as they invent ways to communicate (despite the ever-present demand they remain silent). He listens to their fears and concerns and tries to comfort them when they’re hurt from beatings or worried sick about their families. Of course, his main anxiety is for his family in the States and how they are coping with his disappearance.

The narrative in the book goes back and forth between what is happening to Roy and what his family is feeling and doing. We are taken from the early days of their obeying FBI orders to remain absolutely silent about his disappearance, to their attempts to advocate for him as precious time passes and he still hasn’t been found. Such a dual telling gives the story depth and gets the reader even more involved in the situation.

The book accomplishes more than just telling a tale of courage and survival. It illustrates the worldview gap that exists between western and middle-eastern cultures. It helps us understand why many governments refuse to pay ransom and how paying it ends up making life more dangerous for all foreigners in the Middle East. It also helps us understand the apparent indifference of governments in such cases. Though the family is greatly frustrated by the silence of the U.S. government concerning Roy’s case, it is just such secrecy that, in the end, leads to Hallums' rescue.

The book disappointed me in one area, however. The jacket notes promise, “…Hallums’ story of suffering is tempered by his faith and his survivalist perspective.” On the strength of that, I was looking for evidence that Hallums’ faith supported him during this whole ordeal (and I expected it to be religious faith – judging by the kind of books that Thomas Nelson usually publishes). It wasn’t there – or if it was, it was so subtle I missed it. Of course, if another kind of faith is meant, i.e. a faith in people, or faith that he would be rescued – that is in evidence all over the place.

On every other front, though, this is a truly remarkable story. The fact that Hallums had the guts to relive it in order to tell it in book form is testimony to what an extraordinary man he is.

Watch a short video of Hallums' rescue.


black and white

Mallards in winter


Next week: ENVIRONMENT (Clean Air, Clean Water, Pollution, Garbage, Ways to Save Energy,...)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

book review: Beguiled by Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand

Title: Beguiled
Author: Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand
Publisher: Bethany House, February 2010, Paperback, 336 pages
ISBN-10: 0764206281
ISBN-13: 978-0764206283

Rylee Monroe loves her job as a dog-nanny and -walker for the residents of the Charleston neighborhood that’s on the right side of the tracks. But what really keeps her going is the fact that her grandma, Nonie, the person she loves most in all the world, needs her and her dog-sitting income.

Logan Woods’ job on the newspaper’s crime beat is perfect for feeding his real passion – writing his first book of true crime stories. But so far the pièce de résistance — the Robin Hood Burglar — has eluded him. Meeting Rylee and hanging around with her helps in that department. She and that burglar seem to run with the same crowd. He has to make some hard choices, though, when detective Nate Campbell suspects her of the crime. It’s a good thing Rylee’s godfather and his dashing son are lawyers and seem eager to help.

In Beguiled Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand have collaborated on a fictional tale that lives up to both of its monikers. It’s a hearty main course of suspense served up with a generous side of gooey romance (or maybe it’s really the other way around).

I was prepared to dislike the characters – especially the main female. Rylee is just too pretty, smart, and the embodiment of everything trendy and hip (she runs all these designer dogs on inline skates, for crying out loud). But somewhere in the early going, I started liking her. The book became compelling after that.

Though the story is a romance of the emotional x-ray variety (with lots of potential for nausea as we get many moment-by-moment accounts of how he affects her, she him) some of those first-love encounters of the book were epiphanies that gave their relationship a sense of authenticity – this scene describing their feelings after an early date, for example:

“They had crossed out of clearly defined territory into the shadowland of … something else.
[…] The easy camaraderie of their lunch conversation was gone, replaced by acute awkwardness. Giddy constraint. Happy with the new development but afraid to stay too long in each other’s presence. They both needed to retreat so they could ponder what had just happened.” p. 132

Gist and Bertrand’s writing style is brisk. Taking little time for description and backstory, the authors plunge us, scene after scene, into full-strength action. The dialogue is smart, realistic, and captures these 20-somethings in living audio.

Thematically the book is pretty light. Both Rylee and Logan come from backgrounds of Christian faith and their scrapes with danger test the strength of their beliefs, but not to any earth-shattering degree. Rylee has issues with the past and these threaten her relationship with any many who would get too close. Of course underlying the story is the idea that romantic love will triumph. Can it – even to the tune of challenging Logan’s six-figure book deal?

All in all, Beguiled was a pretty decent read – and fast too. The suspense elements made it hard for me to put down. Let’s hope Gist and Bertrand decide to collaborate on more tension-filled escapades in the future.

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Available now at your favorite bookseller from Baker Publishing Group. I received this book from the Graf-Martin agency for the purpose of writing a review. The opinions expressed are my own.
 
From Amazon.ca



From Amazon.com



Deeanne and Mark talk about co-writing Beguiled

Sunday, March 21, 2010

share your ten favorite classic poems

Sherry at Semicolon is doing another survey (she's the one who put together the survey of top 100 hymns some months ago). This new survey is of favorite classic poems ('classic' being poems that have passed the test of time and are currently in the public domain - published before 1910).

Read about how to be part of her project here. Deadline for votes is this Friday - March 26th. (I've dusted off my old poetry text book from high school and am finding that I will have to do some paring to get my list down to 10!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

round

The spider's circle game
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Next week: BLACK and WHITE (Black and White Photos, Black and/or White things, Things with Little Color,...)

Friday, March 12, 2010

book review: Hunter's Moon by Don Hoesel

Title: Hunter's Moon
Author: Don Hoesel
Publisher: Bethany House, February 2010, papberback, 384 pages
ISBN-10: 0764205617
ISBN-13: 978-0764205613

When C. J. Baxter decides to come home to Adelia, New York for his grandfather’s funeral, he is aware there will be a lot to face. You don’t just break with the family when you leave for college and stay away for seventeen years without there being some fallout. One of the things he’s sure will bite him is the ire of his people because of the fiction he has written. Everyone in town reads his books to see if they can guess which incidents or people his latest tales are based on.

However, C.J. and at least some family members know there is one secret he has never shared. Politically ambitious older brother Graham sure hopes he keeps quiet about it, especially now that his campaign for a senate seat is in high gear.

In Hunter’s Moon Don Hoesel delves into the life and psyche of the Baxter family through its returning prodigal. C.J.’s visit home revives disturbing incidents from the past, breathes life into old relationships, and exposes an ambition so ruthless no price is too high to pay to have it realized.

Hoesel’s considerable storytelling skill made the book a pleasure to read. Though it begins slowly, the foundation laid by the detailed description of the town, the Baxter family and C.J.s reaction to the disintegration of his personal life sets us up for the story’s complex situation and web of relationships. Gradually C.J. reveals the secret that has haunted his life. Incident by incident we get to know the various members of his family. As we come to realize what they are really like, tension escalates. By the final suspense-filled scenes, the book is impossible to put down.

Hunter’s Moon has many characters and the author’s clear vision of each one makes for a satisfying read in the people-watching department. Besides the conflicted C. J. we see a lot of his ambitious older brother Graham, his friend Dennis, his aloof and disapproving father George, his old flame Julie and the kind and arthritic Artie. Hoesel does a great job of exploring family dynamics during mass scenes like family dinners and get-togethers, as well as pitting family members against each other in tense one-on-one encounters.

Family secrets and the way they affect all involved is one of the themes the book explores at length. C. J. comes to see that his self-image has been shaped by one such, but so has it affected his opinion of and relationship with others. The possibility that he could choose to forgive is a new concept for him and one which he fights whenever it comes up.

C. J. is also a recent convert to Christianity. If there is one area where the book stumbles, in my opinion, it is in its treatment of his faith, especially early on. Through the first chapters when he is scheming about how to handle things with his ex-, then reconnecting with his family and attending his grandfather’s funeral service there is not a whisper of any spiritual faith. The first hint of it is announced, via his thoughts, when he includes his “newfound faith in God” in a list of topics he wishes he had the nerve to discuss with his former (and now married) girlfriend (page 124).

What "newfound faith in God" I asked myself when I read that. For an author who has been so brilliant at showing (versus telling), this felt like an awkward lapse when there had been lots of opportunities to show this new set of beliefs in operation early on (as he struggles with his attitude toward his estranged wife, reconnects with his family, and attends the Catholic – he now attends a Protestant church, though he was once an altar boy – funeral service of his grandfather).

When C. J. does mull over aspects of his faith he appears a reluctant convert, more critical than believing (doesn’t like to confide in his men’s group [p.131] and prefers attendance at the bar to being in church [p.209] - where he takes issue with his denomination's beliefs [p. 210]), though repeated references to the buzzword “grace” seemed the author’s way of telling us C. J. had bought into something deeper than the trappings of any organized church. It stayed buried pretty deep though, failing to make too much of a difference in his drinking, gambling etc. lifestyle habits.

The book’s ending is more believable in the faith department, with C. J. making decisions and growing in ways that feel consistent with his character and organic to the story. There are some other nice touches, too, like the way bit-player Sister Jean Marie feels a need to pray during the exact time our hero is in some major trouble.

My quibble aside, the book really is a great read. Its delve into relationships especially within the family is realistic and instructive. Its exploration of the dark side of a family’s life and how things can escalate to the unthinkable is guaranteed to keep you reading way past lights out.

Sample first pages of the story.


Available now at your favorite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I received this book free from Graf Martin Communications Inc. for the purpose of writing a review. The opinions I express are my own.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

kindled reading

Guess what I did today?! I installed the free Kindle App on my i-pod touch, bought the Kindle version of a book from Amazon.com, and with those two actions I have entered the digital reading era. Who knew it would be so easy (and inexpensive!).

accidental photography

Happy to be home

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Next week: ROUND (Circle, Sphere, Curves, Moon, Clock, Coins,...)

Monday, March 08, 2010

book review: The Rose Legacy by Kristen Heitzmann

Title: The Rose Legacy
Author: Kristen Heitzmann
Publisher: Bethany House, original edition 2001, republished 2009, paperback, 415 pages.
ISBN-10: 076420713X
ISBN-13: 978-0764207136

When I got the fresh-covered but 10-year-published book The Rose Legacy from Bethany House to review, I wondered, why the resurrection? Then I read this first book in the Diamond of the Rockies series by Kristen Heitzmann, and I understood.

It is 1880. Carina DiGratia, a feisty and beautiful Californian, has been betrayed by Flavio, her childhood sweetheart. However, she will make him pay by setting out on her own. She is sure it will be only a matter of time till he comes to fetch her from Crystal Colorado, where she has a job lead.

But things don’t turn out at all as she expects. Even before she gets to Crystal her wagon breaks down. While she’s trying to figure out what to do, a freight hauler comes along. He offers her a ride into town, but not before making room for his rig to pass by pitching her cart over the steep embankment. Trouble only compounds after that when she discovers the house she has paid for is occupied by squatters, and the job on which she has staked her hopes is in a house of ill repute.

Berkley Beck, the town’s only lawyer, comes to her rescue with the promise that he will look into her house problems. As well he gives her a respectable job in his office – along with hand kisses and longing looks. He creeps her out, but what choice does she have? Meanwhile she does retrieve a few things from her wrecked wagon. In fact, the handsome fright wagon driver, Quillan, is suddenly on hand to help her with the salvage effort.

As Carina settles into a room at Mae’s boarding house and her job at Berkley Beck’s, it becomes evident that all is not well in Crystal. “Roughs” rule the night and law enforcement agents seem powerless to stop the beatings and killings.
Carina, the Italian-born belle of the story, charms with her warm, excitable personality. I love the way Heitzmann makes her feel authentic by sprinkling Italian words throughout her thoughts:

“She sounded like Divina, always disparaging, looking for the bad, the weakness in someone. Where was her indole mite, the sweet temper Papa had praised, calling her dolce angelo, his sweet angel?” p. 93.

Her human and womanly qualities, displayed in friendships with other women, homesickness and a love of cooking also won my heart. Here Heitzmann describes the wonderful day she has talked Quillan into getting just the right ingredients for making ravioli:

“Carina thought how it was as much an art as Flavio’s painting. The mix must be just right. Too much flour and the stuffed pillowy pasta would be dry and heavy. Too much oil and they would sag. A poor seal between the layers of dough and the boiling water would ruin the filling. She could feel with her fingers that she had made it just right. The dough had the consistency of fragile skin – elastic yet powdery.” p. 179

Carina grows familiar with the town and its surroundings by going exploring on her mule Dom. Beyond the ghost town of Placerville, she stumbles onto the Rose Legacy, an abandoned mine which, she discovers, has a Quillan connection.

That dark, mysterious and pirate-like character is fighting his own demons.  He realizes Carina may be useful to him in his vendetta with Crystal. Slowly Heitzmann pulls Carina and us into his past history in a chain of events that transfix with their action, emotion and horror. The parts of the story told from his point of view make for tension as we watch a relationship develop between them – one that can best be described as magnetic with moments of repulsion as well as attraction.

The story delves into many meaningful themes, among them forgiveness, dealing with the past, the importance of family and community, and the possibility of faith in God even when those who claim to be His followers have let you down.

The historical setting makes the story timeless. The author’s skill is manifest as she keeps us reading to discover what happens between Quillan and Carina as much as what will be the next tragedy to galvanize the town.

A re-release of Book 2 of the Diamond of the Rockies series, Sweet Boundless, is in hand. If The Rose Legacy is any indication, its new lease on life will be welcomed. I know I sure want to – no, need to — read it.

(I received this book free from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review. The opinions I express are my own.)
 




Friday, March 05, 2010

spring almanac

I love spring, which has arrived on the Lower Mainland about a month early this year.

These magnolia blossoms were threatening to pop on February 19th.
(click on any photo to enlarge)


Crocuses from February 21st.




Under the blossoms - March 1st.


How is spring treating you? 

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I also blogged here today ("Did you believe?" personal reflections on the 2010 Olympics).

Thursday, March 04, 2010

high or low



You are not on a ship.
(Top view of a Vancouver Convention Centre balcony)

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Next week: ACCIDENTAL PHOTOGRAPHY (Photos Taken Accidentally or Unintentionally, Mistakes with Exposure or Focus, Strange Photos)

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