Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review of a Beguiling Romantic Mystery!

Chick Lit is not my favorite genre, but I did enjoy A Bride in the Bargain by Deanne Gist when I reviewed it last year. So, when given the opportunity to review Ms. Gist’s latest novel, Beguiled, one she collaborated on with mystery writer J. Mark Bertrand, I was expecting good things. (And, it doesn’t hurt that mystery is my favorite genre when reading for sheer escapism). 
Riley Monroe is a dogwalker in the charming city of Charleston, South Carolina. Though she once hailed from the old money that now pays her bills, Riley is content to live meagerly in order to afford a quality nursing facility for her grandmother that raised her. Her Nonie is all the family she has since her dad walked out at age 5 causing her mother to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills, a few days later, in grief.
Riley values her client’s trust and is dependent upon their steady income to take care of Nonie. So, when a series of break-ins begin in the homes of her clients, she is angry and a bit paranoid, especially when she returns from walking a dog to discover the burglar is upstairs committing his crime! The peculiar thing about this criminal’s mode of operandi is that he only takes one item, (of lower monetary value-- but high on the sentimentality scale-- compared to other items in the home), and then donates his item to charity. Obviously, this guy is trying to make some sort of statement.
A local reporter, Logan Woods, dubs this dude the “Robin Hood Burglar” and begins to snoop around, trying to get into his head. One of the obvious connections is the beautiful dogwalker, Riley, who just happens to have keys to nearly every mansion that has been burglarized.  The police have noticed the connection as well and begin to wonder if the Robin Hood Burglar may be a she rather than a he. After all, this struggling young woman used to be one of the very elite that she now works for...could she be harboring some resentment about how life has turned out for her? Logan Woods doesn’t think so, at least not when he’s around the girl, the occasional red-flag eclipsed by her beauty and innocent personality. 
For the most part, Beguiled offers a good read, providing a nice balance of romance and mystery. The characters flesh out and the authors let the story unfold at a pace that keeps the reader turning pages. I will say that I did not care for the first several chapters of character development, in which the descriptions of the opposite sex, when encountering one another, were littered with unrealistic, rather gratuitous adjectives that were a bit over the top (not licentious, mind you, just quixotic). Frankly, I don’t think total strangers, no matter how attractive they are to one another, notice every little rippling muscle and toffee flecked glimmer of the eyes that the author’s felt necessary to include. Those descriptions felt forced and as if they were solely threaded in to attract a certain female audience that lives on the shallow side of vain. These descriptions, along with designer “name dropping”, kept me from believing the characters for who they were and made me feel like I was being advertised to: this is a cool and relevant book with beautiful characters, all wrapped in a clean-cut Christian package!  Thankfully, that changed as the book progressed, which made the the early encounters seem that much more unnatural.

I know my little blog doesn’t stir much dust in the realm of the world of publishing, but it is my hope that someone at Bethany House publishing will read this and take note that it’s readership doesn’t need to have character’s cheapened in such a way. 
Overall, Beguiled is an intriguing mystery that causes you to care about the characters as you try and connect the dots to figure out what all the subtleties could mean. I know a collaboration must offer it’s own unique set of challenges but the authors really complimented one another well and I hope they will consider another book together, down the road!

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At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.