(written in collaboration with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings)
“The Shack” becomes a journey of self-exploration as Mack, a less than stellar father, confronts his grief and guilt after immeasurable pain involving the murder of his young daughter. He flounders for some time after her unsolved death, going through the minimal motions of living, until one day he receives a letter (supposedly from God) which draws him to a shack in the woods near where his daughter may have met her end.
What happens in “The Shack” may challenge the reader’s beliefs on several levels. It has certainly been a controversial book, both embraced as a life-changing work and denounced as a slam against Christianity and the Bible in its non-traditional depiction of the Holy Trinity.
To non-believers interested in the basis for the phenomenon surrounding this bestselling novel: while some would say that it is theology based, one cannot assign “The Shack” to any particular church or doctrine. It has overlapping spiritual themes, borrowing from (and occasionally attacking) many philosophies. “Where tragedy confronts eternity…” the tagline on the front cover, seemed overly dramatic, but for the most part, the book did not sink to unrealistic phrasing and platitudes. The overall message is love for all, forgiveness for all, no matter what.
An earlier version of “The Shack” was written by Young as a Christmas present, printed at an office supply store and handed out to his family and friends. Jacobsen and Cummings heard about the book, helped rewrite it and arranged to have 10,000 copies printed. First self-published in 2007 and sold out of Young’s garage in 2008, “The Shack” now has over 20 million copies in print, making it one of the biggest bestsellers in history. Young, Jacobsen and Cummings have since parted ways, with Young retaining rights to the book and Cummings and Jacobsen in control over what will happen with the movie, just released.
Readers may love the book for its themes of acceptance and spirituality in the face of awful circumstances, while others may hate it because it doesn’t follow a particular religious doctrine or that it disparages some age-old, deeply held beliefs.
Now that “The Shack” is back on the bestseller list, it is sure to enliven conversation about God. Who is He/She? What does it mean to believe in God? How is that demonstrated? Do the events in the book unfold in a way that is true to what has been taught in your place of worship? I doubt that readers who believe in a Higher Power could remain neutral about “The Shack.”
Please visit www.wmpaulyoung.com for information about the author.
…and the prize goes to…
Readers all over the world choose their next book based on the award winners announced by various organizations during the recent year. Here is a list of ten popular awards for recent novels in the adult category to receive applause and/or rave reviews from colleagues in the genre or from readers who loved the books.
Have you read any books on the list? If so, let us know what you enjoyed about them in the comment section.
Agatha Award given to mystery and crime writers, in 2015 cozy subgenre:
“Long Upon the Land” by Margaret Maron
Christy Award for excellence in Christian fiction 2016:
“The Five Times I Met Myself” by James L. Rubart
Edgar Allen Poe Award awarded by the Mystery Writers of America 2016:
“Let Me Die in His Footsteps” by Lori Roy
Goodreads Choice Awards chosen by readers 2015:
“Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee
Hugo Awards awarded for the best Science Fiction or Fantasy 2016:
“The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin
Macavity Award given to favorite 2015 mystery by Mystery Readers International:
“The Killer Next Door” by Alex Marwood
Man Booker Prize literary prize for best 2015 novel translated to English language: “The Vegetarian” by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith
National Book Award for fiction given to U.S. authors 2015:
“Fortune Smiles: Stories” by Adam Johnson
Nebula Awards presented by Science Fiction Writers for 2015 work:
“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik
Pulitzer Prize in Literature administered by Columbia University 2016:
“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Congratulations to all the winners!
I buy over 100 books a year from brick and mortar stores, and am given loads of free books at the conferences I attend, so I have piles of novels and a few weighty works of non-fiction sitting around the house. (This is the reason for the free drawings we hold for subscribers at NBR)
Soooo…what draws me to pick up a particular title at the bookstore if I’m not already familiar with the author? On any given day, I preselect the genre by wandering into category areas of the brick and mortar store, whether indie or big box store. Then, I am drawn to:
1) The color of the spine and cover
2) The artwork and text on the cover
3) The blurb on the back cover
Notice that #1 is not about the author or the concept of the book. The initial interaction is not about the cover text. If you don’t pick the book up, you’ll never read that part anyway. Marketing people discovered years ago that the eye is drawn to bright splashes of color when choosing a product – any product – and that reds and yellows are seen first, then blues and greens. The rest of the artwork on the covers is set off by that color. Think of it as the backdrop for showcasing the information being delivered by the artwork and the text.
The art on the covers
Authors and publishers alike stay up nights, hoping and praying that the colors, the design, the font, the size of every tiny piece of graphic on the cover – all go together in a way that will entice you to pick up the book. Is there a person in the artwork? How about guns? Or beaches? Or cats? Is the setting implied somehow? Is the artwork dynamic, garish, or calming? Is the artwork representative of the actual content inside the book?
The publisher’s blurb on the back cover of today’s novels reveals something about the lead character and contains just enough about the plot to make us want to know more. If the book seems a little different, inspirational or more exciting than the norm, we feel compelled to plunk down money and take that book home. If the book is even better than the blurb promised? We tell our friends.
The following books exceeded the promise of the back cover. My thoughts are in bold type.
“John Rain kills people. For a living. His specialty: making it seem like death by natural causes. But he won’t take out just anyone. The job must be an exclusive. The target must be a principal player. And he’ll never murder a woman.” – Rain Fall by Barry Eisler.
This was the debut novel for the bestselling author. Excellent hit-man thriller that was made into a movie in 2011. Eisler drew from his own time as a lawyer in Tokyo for the exotic backdrop. The Rain series continues to be successful.
“Former army homicide investigator Paul Brenner has just gotten used to the early retirement forced on him after the disastrous end of his last case when his old commanding officer asks him to return for one final mission: investigate a murder that took place in wartime Vietnam thirty years before. Brenner reluctantly accepts out of curiosity and loyalty…and maybe a touch of boredom. He won’t be bored for long.” –
Up Country by Nelson DeMille. The book delivers far more than a chilling murder investigation. It is based on DeMille’s own experiences in Vietnam and takes a look at war and its aftermath. Haunting. Reviewed here on NBR.
“First a dead stranger. Now a missing police chief. Did Cade run off to elope…or has he met with foul play?” – Southern Storm by Terri Blackstock Nobody in her right mind would think that Cade had eloped. The blurb seems purposely misleading. Thank goodness for Blackstock fans that the book was better than the blurb.
“Times are a-changin’ in Pickax, giving Jim Qwilleran some newsworthy notes for the Qwill Pen. A new senior center is in the works as well as a frisky production of ‘Cats.’ And a local mansion…” The Cat Who Had Sixty Whiskers” by Lilian Jackson Braun.
This was the 29th book in the gentle ‘Cat Who…’ series. Fans buy the books no matter what’s on the cover. Mom bought every one. The series is reviewed here on NBR.
Now for the two covers for Rain Fall. The original cover is the red one. It popped into my view at a conference, piled next to stacks of books by other authors. The more recent cover is the blue one on the right (same book, different title) designed after Eisler regained the rights to his books and changed titles and covers. If you don’t already know who Barry Eisler is, which one would cause you to buy the book?
Do you choose a book based on the blurb? Is it the art on the cover itself that helps you decide? Let us know in the comments below. J
*note: I buy lots of ebooks as well, but that’s for another post.
“The Rising,” by Lynn Chandler Willis, is the story of a baffling event that nobody – detectives, medical personnel, bystanders – can explain. A young child is found in an alley, apparently beaten to death. The crime scene is checked by a detective, and the lifeless, bloodied body is delivered to the hospital by ambulance.
After thirty minutes of testing for respiration, pulse, and brain wave activity, the ER physician pronounces the boy dead and has him moved to the morgue on a gurney. And yet, the next day, that same little boy walks into the morgue office with no bruises and no blood, wearing the toe tag on his foot, and asks to go to the bathroom.
The Homicide Detective covering the case, Ellie Saunders, saw that the boy was dead. Everybody at the hospital saw that the boy was dead. And, now thirty hours later, he’s not.
Saunders and her partner are called in to investigate the (now) assault. The child does not know who he is or what happened to him and the hospital is labeling this a Lazarus Syndrome case – very rare and usually only linked to people who have ‘come-back-to-life’ after an hour or two. Unheard of after this long.
Saunders becomes obsessed with finding the boy’s family as well as the person that hurt him so badly. She is horrified at the fact that anyone could have done this to the child, and (without giving away the plot) wants to protect him from further insult or injury. Roadblocks are placed in Saunders way at many turns and as this unusual story unfolds, we are drawn into not only the investigation, but an exploration of faith vs science.
The supporting characters are fully fleshed out; a likably wacky morgue attendant, an assortment of interesting colleagues, quirky locals, caring as well as flirtatious doctors, reluctant witnesses, a supposedly lost love, an outspoken aunt, and an estranged preacher father. Saunders herself is complex, mostly in control of her actions and emotions until the case triggers memories of her troubled past. Those memories drive her to bend a few rules in her tenacious pursuit of the truth.
Willis’ depiction of the child is perfect. She draws on her considerable research with her own delightful family, but there’s another layer here that many writers miss when creating the children in their books. The child’s relationships and personality develop in a natural way through “The Rising,” revealing a combination of shyness, intelligence, appropriate language and reactions. Johnny Doe puts up with the adults’ questions for a bit and then his attention turns to trucks and coloring. Spot-on writing that will tug at your heart and remind you of a child you know. Willis also taps into an understanding of the unspoken messages that children reveal in their play, and makes that a part of the mystery that Saunders must solve.
Along the way, Saunders must come to terms with her own loss of faith and how it has impacted her decisions. Discussions with friends and family are not always welcome. Then, two parallel storylines merge nicely with the Johnny Doe case and Willis brings us home with an action packed, satisfying ending.
It’s easy to see why “The Rising” won the 2013 Grace Award for Excellence in Faith-based Fiction in the mystery/romantic suspense/thriller category.
By the way, Johnny Doe’s fictional situation is an actual medical condition – Google ‘Lazarus Syndrome’ and read the real-life case studies.
Please visit www.lynnchandlerwillis.com for more information about Willis’ other books and upcoming events.
Dani Pettrey’s debut Christian novel, “Submerged,” is set in the world of Alaskan dive rescue, a frequently dangerous profession. The book opens with what may be an engineered plane crash into the sea, off the coast of Tariuk Island. Cole McKenna’s team attempts a harrowing rescue, with a tragic outcome.
When one of the deaths turns out to be the aunt of a former girlfriend, Bailey Craig, life gets complicated. Aunt Agnes owned a popular Russian-American store in Yancey, where McKenna and his family have a dive shop. Bailey reluctantly returns to Yancey to sell her beloved aunt’s business, knowing that her own dicey past will be painful to relive once she sets foot there. She vows to take care of the estate and leave as soon as possible. But, her position as a Professor of Russian Studies uniquely qualifies her to help with a murder investigation that may be tied to sunken treasure and so much more.
As romantic suspense dictates, Cole and Bailey are drawn to each other again, afraid to trust, but now ten years older and wiser. Their interaction is aching and intense; yet as they are forced to work together to solve the mystery of the ‘why’ of the plane crash, we hope that Bailey comes to understand what true forgiveness means.
There is a noisy, active family support system for Cole that Bailey envies and never had – dumped on her aunt’s doorstep, unwanted by her mother. The dialogue flies back and forth as people drift through rooms at gatherings, interrupting each other, teasing each other – as it would be for any large family and their close friends who depend on each other and know each other so well. Pettrey captures that verbal chaos beautifully.
The book is a tight read with plenty of dialogue to advance the story and the action scenes. My ebook version seemed to be missing a few scattered transitional sentences that would have clarified when some scenes were ending, but those small omissions did not keep me from enjoying this multi-layered story of a Christian family caught up in some challenging circumstances. Cole’s faith is more developed than Bailey’s and Pettrey manages to convey that without getting preachy.
“Submerged” won the 2013 Holt Medallion for Best First Book and the Colorado Romance Writers 2013 Award of Excellence in the Inspirational Category.
Readers who enjoy Dee Henderson’s books involving the O’Malley family might also enjoy Dani Pettrey’s ‘Alaskan Courage’ series. “Submerged” was followed by “Shattered,” “Stranded,” and “Silenced.” “Sabotaged” will be released in 2015. The personable McKennas are featured in each of the books.
For more information about Dani Pettrey and her work, please visit www.danipettrey.com.