The Last Photograph – by Stephen Bransford (1995)

The Last Photograph

It’s the tale of two brothers – Gordon the older, and Stephen the younger. From earliest childhood, they were as different as night and day. Gordon was rough and tough, unafraid of anything or anyone. Stephen was thin and gangly, and a frequent target of the bully at school. As they reached adulthood, their paths continued to grow apart. Gordon went off to Vietnam, while Stephen went to seminary to avoid the draft. It seemed that the two of them would never be close as brothers.

Years later the family planned a ten-day hunting expedition. The brother who loved the outdoors and horseback riding led the group, while the other brother spent the majority of his time taking pictures with his camera. But for once, they weren’t fighting or competing with each other.

The story was fascinating. At several points in the book, I remember thinking, this just seems too real to be fiction. The feelings expressed by Stephen were so authentic and raw. The end of the book left me wiping my eyes with a tissue and blowing my nose. I have rarely read a book with such a moving ending. The afterword states that the book is based on events from the author’s life. Barnes and Noble’s bookstore website classifies the book as “autobiographical fiction”. Although there is no way of knowing exactly how much fiction was added to the facts, the book gives a beautiful account of the journey of the Bransford brothers.

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The Crystal Cavern – by Hannah Alexander (2003)

The Crystal Cavern

If you’re in the mood for a good who-dunnit mystery, this is an excellent choice. Sable Chamberlain, a small-town doctor, and a paramedic, Paul Murphy, are looking into the recent death of her grandfather. While they are trying to find out what happened, they are framed for his murder and end up fleeing town on a cross-country bus.

An ice-storm hits, and Jerri, the bus driver, struggles to keep the vehicle on the road. Conditions worsen, and they can’t keep going. Fortunately, they are within walking distance of Sable’s childhood home, so the seven people aboard abandon the bus and hike to the house. There they discover that Craig, a longtime neighbor, is taking care of the house. The electricity is out, but there is a wood-burning stove for heat and cooking.

This is no ordinary house. The basement has an entrance to underground caves with stalactites and stalagmites. Sable and Craig have explored the caves as children, and know them like the back of their hands. The rest of the group see the caves as dangerous. They are trapped in the country house for days as they wait out the storm. Weird things start happening, and it becomes obvious that one of them is a killer – but who is it?

Note: This book was later re-printed under the title “Hidden Motive” .

The Deposit Slip – by Todd M. Johnson (2012)

The Deposit Slip

 

Jared Neaton is a self-employed lawyer who is just short of totally broke. One day a former colleague gives him a tip about a case in his Minnesota hometown that needs a lawyer. He can’t take it himself, he says, because of a conflict of interest. So Jared drives out to talk to Erin Larson, the woman needing legal representation.

Erin’s father has died recently. While going through his security box at the local bank, she finds a receipt for a deposit of ten million dollars. Erin is stunned, as her father was a simple farmer with no money to speak of. She shows the receipt to the bank manager, who can find no record of the deposit or the account it was put into. Where did the $10,000,000 come from, and where is it now?

I enjoyed reading this legal mystery. It had a good pace to it, and kept me glued to the story until the last page. My favorite parts of the book were the courtroom scenes, and the chapters when Jared was in Europe, chasing down the only person who might reveal the truth. It was rather like a Grisham novel with a simpler plot. I appreciated the fact that it was an extremely clean read – no swearing, bedroom scenes, or gore. This novel – which is the author’s first – gets two thumbs up from me!

Thr3e – by Ted Dekker (2003)

Thr3e

Kevin has always been a loner. His childhood was anything but pleasant. But he’s moved on. Now he’s in his late 20’s, and is a grad student, studying for the ministry. Kevin has deep theological discussions with Professor Francis on the subject of good and evil.

One day it becomes more than theoretical. Kevin is driving along in his car when his cell phone rings. The caller claims to know him very well, and says his name is Slater. Slater rattles off a riddle and asks Kevin what it means. He has no idea. Then Slater says he has three minutes to call the newspaper and confess his sin, or his car will be blown up.

This is just the beginning of days of terror. Kevin is being hounded by a lunatic who is obsessed with riddles and numbers that are multiples of three. The local police and the FBI get involved in the case. Slater manages to stay a step ahead of them.

This book is a good psychological thriller. It probably could have been a little shorter (416 pages long), as it felt a bit stretched-out in spots. Nevertheless, it was an exciting read. The book was later made into a movie, but as is often the case, it was not nearly as good as the book.

All The Way Home – by Ann Tatlock (2002)

All The Way Home

This is the story of two little girls growing up in California during World War II who become inseparable friends. Augusta (Augie) comes from German-Irish roots; Hatsune (Sunny) is Japanese. The youngsters go to the same school and live only a few blocks apart. It’s not long before Augie begins to feel more a part of Sunny’s family than her own dysfunctional family. Neither of the girls are bothered by their different skin colors and family background. Their friendship flourishes until the day that Sunny’s family vanishes. Augie grieves for the loss of her friend, but there is nothing she can do.

The second half of the book jumps ahead many years. It is now the 1960’s. The Civil Rights movement is in full swing. Augie and Sunny have gone on with their lives in different parts of the country, unaware of what has happened to the other. Then one day they meet again. Can they pick back up their friendship, or have they changed too much?

What I love about this novel is the way Sunny and Augie see each other’s heart instead of their outward appearance. It’s the way a healthy relationship should be. I also like the way Sunny’s parents take Augie under their wing. It reminds me that we can make a difference in the lives of our kids’ friends. The author weaves together the themes of friendship, prejudice, discrimination, family relationships, and the Civil Rights movement into a wonderful story!

“All The Way Home” is available as a regular book, audiobook, or Kindle e-book.

I’ll Watch The Moon – by Ann Tatlock (2003)

I'll Watch The Moon

 

The year is 1948. Young Nova Tierney’s life is not perfect, but fairly close. She has a caring mother (Catherine) and aunt (Dortha), a 14-year-old brother Dewey whom she adores, and Josef their boarder, who is a father figure to her. School is out for the summer, and she and Dewey study the night sky and the stars. Dewey dreams of some day being able to walk on the moon, even though people tell him it’s impossible.

Then polio moves through the town, and Dewey is one of its victims. He is hospitalized, and Nova vows to watch the moon for him until he is well again. This is the first fictionalized book I have come across that gives a picture of what it’s like to have polio. Until I read this story, I did not fully comprehend how terrified people were of polio. We just take our vaccine, and don’t give the disease a second thought.

In addition to the interesting storyline, the book does a good job of exploring the relationships between the main characters – Catherine and her children, Aunt Dortha and Catherine, Nova and Josef, and of course Nova and her brother Dewey. If you’re looking for action and suspense, this is not the book. But if you’re in the mood for a book about a family that cares about each other, and gets through a crisis together, this is a fine one.

Butterworth Takes A Vacation – by Bill Butterworth (1997)

Butterworth Takes A Vacation

Bill is a teacher who is raising five kids as a single parent. Summer has arrived, and best buddy Edmund invites Bill and the kids to go camping with his family for a week. Past experiences in the great outdoors have not gone well for Bill, but the kids really want to go. Hey, he thinks, it’ll be good to spend some quality time out in nature with family and friends. After all, it can’t possibly be as bad as the last trip, can it? So they camp at Happy Clam Park, but the vacation isn’t quite what Bill hoped it would be.

I laughed myself silly at some of the mishaps they encountered. The story reminded me of the old tv show “The Odd Couple”, with the two friends Felix and Oscar. They have totally different temperaments, and drive each other crazy as they try to share an apartment. In the same way, Bill and Edmund’s relationship takes a beating during the week. They have to decide if they can get past the petty arguments they’re having. This is a good read about friends, faith, and forgiveness.

 
Excerpt from pages 56-57:

Once again I was left with no other recourse… I had to beseech the Lord.

“Dear God,” I started praying in a silent panic, “we really need you here. You are the Wonderful Counselor. You are the Prince Of Peace. You are the Everlasting Father. You are the Bread of Life. You are the Good Shepherd. You are the Great Physician. There are so many profound and wonderful titles for you. I was just wondering… since you used to live in the Tabernacle – do you still remember how to pitch a tent? If so, could you demonstrate right here on the beach, Lord? That’s familiar turf for you right? You helped out Moses in a big way when he was stuck on the beach by the Red Sea. You walked on water in Galilee. You caused the fisherman’s nets to be filled on the sea. Could you just do one more seaside miracle? Could you help us pitch this tent? Please? Amen.”

I stared at the potential tent, still collapsed on the ground, wondering if God would hear my prayer. Maybe we’re in the wrong hemisphere, I thought. I guess you gotta be over in the Holy Land for beach-related miracles to occur.

“Why are you staring at the tent and mumbling?” Brandon asked.

“Nothing,” I answered.

“Well,” he went on, while you were off in La-La land, something very incredible has happened!” His confident smile assured me that he wasn’t kidding.

“What are you talking about?”

Without a word, he turned to his left, pointing to a spot about a hundred feet down the beach. I followed his index finger to God’s answer to my prayer. Another family was pitching a tent that appeared to be exactly like ours. And best of all, they were campers! They clearly knew what they were doing.

“It’s a miracle!” I uttered. “It really is a miracle! I had just prayed to God to help us pitch the tent. Instead of raising it up by himself, he brought this other family onto the beach so we could watch them. We’ll just do what they do, and we’ll have the tent up in no time. This family is from heaven itself!”

“Actually, their car is right over there and the license plate says they’re from Nebraska, but I know what you mean,” Brandon teased. “Anyway, I think you’re right. It’s a miracle. Look more closely at that family. Not only do they know what they’re doing, but they also have a teenage daughter who is fine. There is a God.”

Brandon’s relationship with the Lord was on a different plane than mine, but whether it was tent-pitching instructions or fine teenage girls, at that moment we both had to agree with the New Testament teaching that every good and perfect gift comes from above.