Saint Ben – by John Fischer (1993)

Saint Ben


Remember that one friend you had as a kid that was like no other friend? He or she liked weird things, said what they really thought, and did stuff that everyone else would be embarrassed to do. You were drawn to this friend because he or she was so genuine, but you felt traditional and ordinary in comparison. You made an odd pair, but the friendship worked. Such is the friendship of Ben and Jonathan in the story “Saint Ben”.

Ben is the new preacher’s kid. Jonathan is the choir director’s son. The two boys develop a tight friendship, and are soon inseparable. They work on building miniature houses, delivering newspapers, and promoting the 1958 Edsel car. In his spare time, Ben comes up with pranks to liven up church, and Jonathan is his accomplice. You’ll laugh at the crazy things the boys get into.

I loved the conversations that Ben and Jonathan had throughout the book. Their chats go from trivial things to deep matters and back again. The serious and the silly are blended together perfectly. If you’re looking for a book about friendship in the 1950’s in a small town, this is your book.

Gray Mountain – by John Grisham (2014)

Gray Mountain


The latest Grisham novel begins in Manhattan, where Samantha Kofer is a lawyer in a mega firm, working 90 hours a week. Then the recession of 2008 hits, and the job is gone. She finds pro bono work in the small Appalachian town of Brady. Instead of just doing paperwork in an office, she is now meeting the actual clients – ordinary people who find themselves in desperate situations and need her legal expertise.

I enjoyed reading a Grisham novel with a lead female character, which Mr. Grisham has only done one other time that I can think of (The Pelican Brief). Samantha is someone that everyone affected by the housing crash of 2008 can identify with. You share her sense of dread as she watches things fall apart, her despair as she loses her job, her anxiety as she job-hunts, her resignation to a less glamorous lifestyle, and her adjustment to a new way of life.

Although this is not Mr. Grisham’s best novel (The Testament, Runaway Jury, and Sycamore Row are my favorites), it is certainly a book you will enjoy from cover to cover.

Over The Edge – by Brandilyn Collins (2013)

Over The Edge


This novel by Brandilyn Collins highlights the issue of Lyme Disease. The main character, Janessa, is married to an influential medical researcher, Brock McNeil, who believes that the condition is easy to treat, and that there is no such thing as Chronic Lyme Disease. Then Janessa is bit by a tick that is purposely placed on her while she sleeps. Almost overnight she becomes so ill that she can’t take care of her daughter. Her husband doesn’t believe she really has Lyme Disease. Janessa struggles to find someone who can properly diagnose her.

The descriptions of how the tick bite is affecting Janessa’s body are so vivid that you can almost feel them yourself. It doesn’t seem that one tick bite could turn a person into an invalid, but the story is very true-to-life. In fact, the author herself has struggled with Lyme Disease, not once but twice. That is why this book is so compelling. If you’re looking for a fast-paced medical thriller to read, look no farther than “Over The Edge”.

Black Ice – by Linda Hall (2007)

Black Ice

Lenore Featherjohn runs a bed and breakfast place in the small town of Fog Point. In the middle of a snowy, icy winter, she discovers a teenage girl dead by her back door. She is afraid the police will blame one of her grown sons, so she moves the body. Lenore isn’t the only one in town trying to cover up something. An elderly man with Alzheimer’s has helped keep a secret for years. A minister’s wife pretends to have faith, while secretly doubting the existence of God. An adopted girl is quietly searching for her birth mother. Two news reporters are lying about who they are. There is deception from one end of town to the other end!

I loved the variety of characters the author created for this mystery. At first they all seem unrelated, but as the story progresses, you can see how everyone’s coverups are woven together like a spider web. Everyone is wearing a mask, projecting the illusion that they have their life together. Little by little, the truth is revealed, and more than one mystery solved. This is a fine novel that moves along at a good pace, and keeps the reader’s attention from the first page to the last.


They Shall See God – by Athol Dickson (2002)

They Shall See God


One little girl was a Jew, the other little girl a Christian. They played together, laughed together, and considered themselves to be sisters. Then came the day they were witnesses to a terrible crime. Their friendship was never quite the same.

The book began with Kate and Ruth as adults, one having gone into the ministry and the other raising a family and running an antique shop. Each of them thought the other walked away from the friendship, so when they met again, they both had chips on their shoulders. But they put aside their differences because of a common fear: the man they testified against in court as children had been released from prison.

The story did seem a bit disjointed at first as it jumped around between about half a dozen characters. But as it progressed, the pieces began to fit together. The book is about getting along with people of different religious beliefs, working to put a friendship back together, and finding out the truth about a crime, no matter how much time has gone by.

The Last Sin Eater – by Francine Rivers (1998)

The Last Sin Eater


This novel is about a community of Welsh immigrants who settle in the Appalachian Mountains during the 1850’s. They carry along their unique customs, including the designation of one person to be their sin eater. The sin eater lives apart from everyone, but is summoned when someone dies. Food is placed on the corpse, the sin eater eats it, then declares that he has taken on the sins of the dead person, and that person can now continue on to heaven.

The main character in the story is 10-year-old Cadi, a girl who lives under tremendous guilt for a sin that she thinks may be unforgivable. No one is supposed to visit the sin eater, or even look at him when he comes to eat sins. But Cali is desperate to find the man, in the hopes that he can eat her sin now, instead of waiting until she dies.

What I loved about this book was the thought that everyone is in search of a way to get rid of their sins. Some people think that performing enough good deeds will cancel out their bad deeds. Others think that if they perform certain rituals, their sins will vanish. Still others count on prayers by others to get them out of purgatory and into paradise. The truth is that the God and Creator of earth has given us a way to be free of every sin, without the need for a sin eater.



Rilla Of Ingleside – by L.M. Montgomery (1921)

Rilla Of Ingleside


This is the last book in the “Anne Of Green Gables” series. It almost doesn’t belong in the series, for two reasons. First, the author wrote this book to portray what life was like for young women in Canada as they went through the years of the Great War (World War I). The book has a totally different tone than the other books, which are light-hearted and humorous. Secondly, the main character of this book is not Anne, but her 14-year-old daughter Rilla.

The story begins with Rilla being a pampered child who knows nothing of war. As the men-folk are recruited to fight in Europe, Rilla learns about the places and politics of countries across the ocean. Everyone at home is expected to contribute to the “war effort”, and this is what changes Rilla from a child into a caring, lovely young woman as she waits for the men she loves to return home.

This book has been printed more than 20 times over the years. I purchased the 2010 unabridged, restored version published by Viking Canada. Your local public library probably has a copy you can check out. If you’re not able to locate a printed copy, you can download it from Amazon. They have several e-book versions for Kindle, one being free (as of the writing of this review). The story is also available to purchase as an audiobook, with Barbara Caruso as the narrator.

The Hunted – by Fred Stoeker and D.W. Smith (2006)

The Hunted


Many of us have a dream vacation that we talk about for years, but never actually do. In this novel, four college guys have been having pizza and football parties, and going on rafting expeditions for 15 years. They’ve been talking about the ultimate rafting trip for years, and finally arrange a white-water rafting expedition in an extremely remote part of Thailand.

The trip is a disaster from beginning to end. Nothing goes right, and the four-some ends up running for their lives. Each one of the guys is at a different place in their spiritual life, but each of them feels the presence of God as they go through this terrifying experience. The book contains just the right balance of action and thoughtful conversation, both with each other and with God.

“My pastor said later that I was confusing the will of God with the world of man… He said that every person makes choices in life, and every person is tested by this world, that the hand of God is there for those who know to reach for it.”

Double Blind – by Brandilyn Collins (2012)

Double Blind


Let’s say you’re a person suffering from deep depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome. You’ve tried handling on your own, thinking it would eventually go away with time. You’ve gone to psychologists, but all the talking doesn’t help. You’ve been on a variety of medications, but are no better. Life is becoming torturous. What would you be willing to do to get your mind back to normal again?

In this novel, the main character – Lisa – has reached the limit of her endurance. She cannot go on with the terrible depression that has been plaguing her. She agrees to have a chip imbedded in her brain that will program her to be happy again. At first this cutting-edge surgery seems like the answer to her depression, but it isn’t long before an odd side effect begins. Has she traded one demon for another?

Although the storyline seems a little fantastic, the book does a great job of making you consider how much technology should play a role in our lives. When is it good, and when does it become counter-productive? Lots of food for thought in this novel. Discussion questions are at the back of the book, should you want to use it for a book discussion group.

The Splitting Storm – by Rene Gutteridge (2004)

The Splitting Storm


“The Splitting Storm” follows the prequel “The Gathering Storm”. The novel begins with Mick Kline, FBI special agent, trying to determine who killed his brother Aaron. There doesn’t seem to be any motive for the murder, and there are no leads in the case. But Mick is not a man to sit back and wait for someone else to solve the case.

I enjoyed the psychological aspect to this novel. The mind is an infinitely complex organ, one that can be used for brilliance or for great harm. The story reminded me that while we can try to guess what’s going on inside someone’s head, only God truly sees the pain each person has been through, and what thoughts are in their mind.
Excerpt from page 93:

Mick’s jaw tightened at the thought. Guilt for simply being alive beckoned him into deeper sorrow. Aaron had always been the good son. The son of integrity. The man whom everyone looked up to. Including Mick, through it took years for Mick to admit it. Mick owed so much to his brother, and now the most he could do for him was find out who took his life. It would do nothing but provide justice, which was obsolete to a man who no longer breathed.