Friday, July 14, 2006

The Russian Hill Murders, Almost Friends, & Death in Lacquer Red

I am not by nature a social person; I think I inherited it from my father. We are both of the type where we can take or leave other people; we don't need them to be content. While the rest of my family likes playing board games or visiting other family, I'm pretty happy to curl up in a corner with a good book and not be disturbed. Unfortunately, this is not how the Lord made me to be. I'm currently reading The Purpose Driven Life and My Utmost for His Highest for my nightly devotional, and both are currently stressing the need for community and sacrifice. This sickness I have, whatever it is, makes it easier for me to hide inside of myself. While the pain is often a reason for me not to participate in things, I've often used it as an excuse not to, because I've become comfortable in my hibernation. When Jess was in Louisiana, I was forced to step out of myself and face the world again. It hasn't always been easy, but the rewards have been good. Even still, after a week of overdoing it, I spent much of this week back in bed and slipping into my old habits. But God is using Mia to teach me lessons that books cannot. A couple of nights ago, I woke up feeling very ill. I couldn't get back to sleep, and eventually Jess propped me up with some pillows and I tried reading until the nausea went away. About a half hour later, the door opened and in tip-toed Mia. My focus immediately went from my pity party to my daughter. I tucked her into bed between Jess and I and slid down next to her. Both of us were instantly asleep. I woke up realizing that the Lord had removed my focus from myself to my child and in doing so made me realize just how much time I spend inward instead of outward focused. I have a lot of free time that I could be using praying and thinking about other people that I waste worrying about my own problems and pain.

The Russian Hill Murders by Shirley Tallman is the second installment in the Sarah Woolson series. In this entry Sarah ends up defending a Chinese cook for two murders and representing a young widow whose husband was killed in a fire at a sweatshop. It should surprise no reader of mysteries that of course the cases are connected. Sarah works again with Robert, another young lawyer, and adds a teen-aged carriage driver named Eddie to her circle. This series is written in 1st person which creates problems for the reader. I think the main deficiency in this series is the lack of sympathy for the main character. Sarah is beautiful, wealthy, well-heeled, romantically pursued, educated, and spoiled by her family. Some characters can be all of those things and still beloved by the reader, but Sarah just comes across as headstrong and uncaring of other people's feelings. The criminal is fairly obvious through the book, even if the motive isn't, but it seems a bit foolish that Sarah is the only one to see the clues.

Almost Friends by Phillip Gulley is the next book in the Harmony Friends series. This series has been marked by ups and downs, suffering most when Gulley writes in 3rd person rather than 1st, but it's always been an enjoyable read. I recognize so many people in my church in the stories Gulley tells about his church. The tales of a small town church are heart-warming and laugh out loud funny, but in this installment, Gulley writes with an agenda. When Sam's father suffers a heart attack, he takes a sabbatical from preaching at Harmony Friends. The church hires a young interim pastor, Krista Reily, who inspires with her preaching and even heals the sick! Soon Sam is jealous of Krista's success and wonders about the security of his job. Of course Fern and Dale have to mess everything up. This series does best when telling God's truths through quiet stories of faith in the real world. This story forces the issue of homosexuality into the small town of Harmony, and while that's an issue that many churches are facing today, Gulley portrays it as a black or white issue with the "bad guys" in town on one side and anyone with common sense on the other. That's not how the issue plays out in the real world, and I think that Gulley tries to make the issue too cut and dried in forcing a solution. This isn't an easy issue, and Gulley shouldn't try to make it out to be.

Death in Lacquer Red by Jeanne M. Dams is the first entry in the Hilda Johansson series about a Swedish maid in 1900 South Bend, Indiana. This doesn't sound like an interesting premise for a mystery series, but Hilda is a strong, sympathetic character. When Hilda stumbles upon the body of the next door neighbor, she's drawn into a murder that's implicating foreigners by a police force that wants to quickly hush up the death. Hilda has an overblown sense of justice and wants to prove that the poor Chineseman who's been accused of the murder is not lynched for a crime he didn't commit. She overcomes her fear of Catholics and losing her job to find the truth. Dams does a nice job of writing accurately about the times without making the book feel like a history book. She weaves the prejudices against foreigners and Catholics into the story naturally. It's a very relevant book for the times that we're living through now. The most unbelievable part of the book was Hilda keeping her job when all is said and done, but for that I'm grateful, because it means that there is a sequel.

Is it just me, or does it seem like the hype regarding the comeback careers of Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers, and Burt Bacharach seems produced. Their careers were over before most of this generation was alive, and they certainly don't fit into the Pussy Cat Dolls type group that is hot right now. Sometimes what was old becomes new again through sheer cheesiness, but these guys don't fit the bill. It seems like the only people talking about them are talking heads on TV and programs like American Idol that get them to perform songs no one knows and works up the crowd to make it look like they care. I'm curious who owns their recording deals that suddenly their cosmetically altered faces are popping up all over. They haven't been cool for 30 years; I think it's time for them to return to the cruise ship and perform there.