“If We Survive” is an action-filled novel about five Americans who go down to a Central American country to help repair a schoolhouse for a village. The book begins at the point at which the project is complete and they are all set to return to the US. Then disaster strikes without warning – hence the title.
What I particularly enjoyed about this book were the different personalities of the American team – one sympathetic to the revolutionaries, one a spoiled brat, one idealist who thought he could just talk everyone into getting along, one young woman with an almost otherworldly calm, and a terrified teenage boy who had come on the team to get away from his bickering parents. And then there was their Hans Solo, the I-don’t-care-about-anyone-but-myself pilot. Teens and adults alike will enjoy this book.
“It was a church project. Or a church-slash-school project, to be more precise. The villagers here were too poor to buy the wall material themselves, and the local men were too busy working for their daily bread to take time to put the schoolhouse back together. So our church had taken up a collection for the cinder blocks and tools and mortar and so on, and then called for volunteers to come down here for a week or so during the summer break and slap the thing back up so the kids could get some kind of education. Grove High put up posters about the mission too, and Principal Hagen mentioned it during an assembly. In the end, some of us joined up in the name of Christian outreach and some of us came to get the Public Service credits we needed for graduation. Some of us had our own reasons too. Well, I guess all of us had our own reasons, when it comes down to it.”
Have you ever run into an old college friend many years later? You might find that you can pick back up that friendship instantly, or you may find that you no longer have anything in common. “Safely Home” is the story of a friendship between Ben, a business student, and his Chinese roommate, Li Quan. Ben shares his faith with Li Quan, who also becomes a follower of Jesus before returning to his homeland.
Fast forward 20 years. Ben travels to China, attempting to help his company expand their business, and lives with Li Quan. By now, it is Ben who has no faith, and Li Quan tries to lead him back to God. The story deals a lot with the daily persecution that Chinese believers endure. How far would you be willing to go in living what you believe?
Excerpt from chapter 2:
Is this the day I die? Li Quan asked himself the familiar question as he wiped sleep from his eyes. Why couldn’t he be courageous, like his father and great-grandfather?…
He’d asked himself the question every day since he was Shen’s age. Every day the answer had been no. But his father had taught him, “One day the answer will be yes, and on that day you must be ready.”
It was on a Sunday his great-grandfather Li Manchu had been beheaded. And it was also on a Sunday his father, Li Tong, lying in a beaten lump, had died in prison. Here in the cold predawn outside Pushan, it was another Sunday.
Sam is just an ordinary guy that wants to fit in and have everyone forget that he’s the pastor’s kid. Jennifer is a girl suffering from schizophrenia whom Sam saves from a group of bullies. From that point on, Sam is her best friend and hero.
The story is told alternately from Sam’s and Jennifer’s point of view. Both of them struggle with their fears and demons. The phrase “do right – fear not” pops up many times throughout the story. There is much for them to fear, both from people they can see and presences they cannot see. Sam makes some bad decisions, and then struggles with how to get himself out of the situation. The story reminds us that we’ll encounter spiritual warfare in life, but have to keep struggling to do what’s right.
The book would be great for a discussion group. There are some suggested questions by the author at the end of the book.
Jennifer dropped her voice and leaned toward me. “I said your name last night,” she confided to me as if it were her great secret.
“You…what? What do you mean?”
“I said your name,” she repeated, even softer than before. “When the demons came to my house.” …
“Demons, huh?” I said. I hoped maybe Jennifer was making some kind of joke, but I didn’t really think she was. “You get those a lot around your place?”
She nodded. “They come in at night. When no one else can see them. They change everything.”
“Shoofly Pie” introduces us to forensic entomologist Nick Polchak, aka “the Bug Man”. Nick’s whole life is devoted to studying and understanding every type of fly or insect. His dream is to discover some unknown insect. His adoration of bugs tends to put people off a bit, but it’s hard not to admire a guy so devoted to his line of work.
Into the story comes Kathryn, who has lost a dear childhood friend, supposedly to suicide. But she can’t bring herself to believe he would take his own life. So she hires the Bug Man to investigate, much to the irritation of the local police chief. I loved Nick’s clever ways of questioning people, and getting to the bottom of things. If you enjoy this book as much as I did, there are five more Bug Man mysteries!
Bug Man novels include:
1 – Shoofly Pie
2 – Chop Shop
3 – First The Dead
4 – Less Than Dead
5 – Ends Of The Earth
6 – Nick Of Time
This novel tells the tale of Muri Pond, who has not seen her Native American father since she was five, then hears of his passing. She and her two children drive out to his shabby desert home, which is lined with a fence made of discarded oven doors. The story is told from the viewpoint of Muri, but every so often, the author lets you see into the mind of Joseph Pond, her father. What I enjoyed most about this story was how God met both Muri and her father at whatever point they were at in life.
Josh Warren is still young – in his early 30’s – but life is not turning out the way he had hoped. He’s a disappointment to his parents, who expected him to choose something more prestigious than being a tow-truck driver. While out with his truck, a drunk runs him down, leaving Josh in a permanent state of chronic pain. He collects disability, and waits for the injury settlement from the insurance company
A woman contacts Josh, claiming their short fling resulted in the birth of a daughter – Savannah, and she wants money. He wants to meet the little girl, but the mother says no. Josh’s family is embarrassed about the whole situation, and says the child probably isn’t his anyways. Meanwhile, the little girl is living with a mother who abuses alcohol and drugs, and drags her along to the park to panhandle.
Life often leaves us feeling powerless to change the situations we find ourselves in. Like Josh, sometimes all we can do is pray fervently to our heavenly Father, and leave things in His hands. God works some things out in a way that makes us happy in this lifetime, but other issues won’t be fixed this side of heaven.
“At Home In Mitford” is the first book in the Mitford series. In this book we are introduced to Father Timothy Cavanaugh, the rector of Lord’s Chapel in the small town of Mitford. After having read the book version, and having listened to the audio version many times, I wish there really was a Mitford!
Father Tim is single and 60-ish, with his share of quirks. We see into his mind, and agonize with him in his social anxieties, and the constant worry that he’s not meeting the needs of his congregation. He is surrounded by a host of unique and lovable townsfolk, including Emma, his snappy secretary; Percy and Velma, who own the diner; Dooley, a young boy he ends up raising; Hoppy the local doc; Sadie Baxter, the oldest person in town, and Cynthia, the rector’s new neighbor.
There are a number of story-lines that run through the book, and you will surely find yourself drawn into many, if not all of them. The combination of fantastic characters and entertaining events makes for a book that you will read with great relish, then reach for the next one in the series.