LaHaye and Jenkins are following the commercial success and critical failure of the Left Behind series with The Jesus Chronicles. Mark's Story takes place over at least 30 years, from Christ's death to the martyrdom of Paul. It includes scenes taken directly from the Bible and embeds them in a narrative web that moves forward-to include the history of the early church-and backward, as Peter relates his stories about Jesus to Mark, who writes them down. The novel emphasizes telling rather than showing and could use more character development and scene-setting to draw the reader into the story.
When Pilate hears reports that Jesus' body is missing from the tomb, he fears a Jewish uprising may be in the works. He orders an ambitious centurion, one who hopes to marry Pilate's servant, to discover what has happened to Jesus. Meanwhile Pilate's wife, plagued by nightmares, orders the servant to find out the truth about Jesus. The novel takes place over the two months following the resurrection. Bunn and Oke weave a romantic, action-filled story that highlights the human reactions-fear, confusion, anticipation, doubt, skepticism-to Jesus' death and the events following. It's a moving novel that shows Christ's power to change hearts.
Don Locke sets this novel in 1960 and wonderfully brings to life that era. In 1960, I was only slightly younger than Davy, Locke's 8-year-old main character, and this book echoes my memories of a time when paper boys collected money from subscribers, the Good Humor man dished out ice cream on a stick, and goofy men in clown suits entertained children on local TV. The plot revolves around the neighborhood's reaction to the arrival of the street's first black family and the strife that causes. Seeds of Christian faith begin to sprout in Davy's heart-and he begins to see his family through wiser eyes.
Melvin Starr's medieval mystery is great reading. As workers drain the castle cesspit, they discover human bones, and it falls to Hugh de Singleton-a Paris-trained surgeon practicing in England-to discover the identity of the bones and the murderer. In between surgeries, described with great specific detail, de Singleton pursues leads throughout the countryside in villages nearly emptied by a recent occurrence of the plague. His travels take him several times to Oxford, where he seeks guidance from his teacher John Wyclif. De Singleton's faith motivates his desire to heal his patients through medicine and bring evildoers to justice.
Winners: Patricia Coble was the 2008 grand prize winner in the Wordclay Short Story Contest for her wonderful collection of short stories, Legogote: Tales from the Bottom Township, inspired by her memories of being a missionary child growing up in South Africa. Nate Wilson's Dandelion Fire received a glowing review from the popular website Mugglenet, which called it "a thrilling adventure with a spiritual journey at its heart."
Wisdom: CLC Publications has re-issued C. John Miller's Repentance: A Daring Call to Real Surrender (1975), written "as a single letter from my heart to yours." With pastoral concern Miller diagnoses the problem and shows the way home: "To be near God and to have God near us is the whole purpose of human life. But without sincere repentance there can be no face-to-face fellowship with the Father of Lights. An unrepentant heart is self-satisfied, proud and cold. God resists such a heart. . . . But the Lord cannot resist the broken heart that has experienced true repentance."