Archive for June, 2015

Review: Last Stand at Lighthouse Point

Book Reviews | Posted by Shannon
Jun 22 2015

Frank Denton knows that he’s unlucky. So when it becomes gradually obvious that he has made more powerful enemies than he quite realized, and he’s about to lose his job, and he’s running out of money again … it only makes sense to leave.

Drake Sanders knows he’s lucky. With a beautiful woman he’s ready to marry, with good work at good pay, he has all the happiness he needs. So when a mysterious informant draws his reporter’s eye to a long-ago crime, when enemies seen and unseen go to the farthest lengths to end him … the only thing to do is to stay and fight.

Tiffany Summersby hates to lose, whether the title of valedictorian or a beauty pageant. While investigating a bizarre murder at the Magnum Point Lighthouse, she becomes entangled in something far more sinister than she had ever guessed. And there’s no question but that she’s in it to the end. Whatever the end may be.

Last Stand at Lighthouse Point, written by George Duncan, is a spiritual thriller by way of a mystery. Much as Frank Peretti did in This Present Darkness, Duncan seeks to create a vision of the spiritual war that surrounds us, the battlefield – larger and more ancient than human life – on which human dramas play out. Both books glimpse behind the curtain, to the story behind the story.

Duncan employs a large, convincing cast of characters, in which women are surprisingly prominent. Male-dominated casts are more common, and while I don’t object, it was interesting to read something more female-oriented. Duncan reinforces his characters – and, indeed, the whole novel – with a wealth of detail.

All the detail creates a sense of realism, a strong present-day atmosphere. Yet I came to feel that some of it was extraneous. The novel would have benefited from a firm editor – to cull the unnecessary, perhaps condense certain scenes, and to correct the typos and other minor errors.

Last Stand at Lighthouse Point confronts the hardest question posed to Christianity: Why does God allow so much suffering? so much evil and cruelty? How does a just God permit such terrible injustice, or a loving God permit so much pain?

Here – I’m just going to be blunt – Last Stand at Lighthouse Point departs from orthodoxy. The novel’s answer is that God is not really in control, and on those grounds it holds Him blameless for the world’s suffering (not everyone would). As a rule, Last Stand is reverent towards the Bible, but in this it opposes the Bible’s clear vision of God’s sovereignty and power – not laid down as a doctrine, but arching over everything like the sky. It is foundational, flashing into words again and again. “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him”; “Surely the LORD’S arm is not too short to save”; “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

The belief in God’s absolute sovereignty is as universal among His people as the belief in His love and His justice; the resulting struggle to reconcile them is as old as the Bible. Job, the Psalmist, Habakkuk, Jeremiah – they all questioned what God did and allowed. The ultimate reconciliation has to lie with God; “You are Yourself the answer,” as C.S. Lewis said.

And all other answers – even the best ones, rational and sympathetic and tightly constructed – they do not, by themselves, entirely satisfy. The idea that God doesn’t permit innocent suffering because He can’t help it doesn’t satisfy. What kind of Creator loses control of His own creation, and is there really any comfort in the notion that rather than living under the power of God, we live under the power of a web of spiritual laws?

In all other respects, Last Stand at Lighthouse Point shows a charismatic theology. And the novel is other things, too: a story of spiritual warfare, a thriller that achieves genuinely effective moments, a southern mystery.

Express Review: Power Elements of Story Structure

Culture, Writing | Posted by Shannon
Jun 13 2015

Regular readers of this blog – and I appreciate you both, by the way – are no doubt saying to yourselves, “What is an ‘express review’? There has never been an ‘express review’ here before!” And you are absolutely right.

An express review, briefly put, is not a real review at all, but would like to be one when it grows up. It is – and this is the defining quality – too short. I never wrote short reviews until I joined Goodreads, and it is that, and not a shortened attention span due to excessive video games, that has led to this abbreviated review.

So here is my express review of Becky Miller’s Power Elements of Story Structure, which luckily is longer than its own introduction.

But not by much.


In this brief instruction book, Becky Miller examines the ‘bare bones’ of a story – beginnings, middles, and endings, and the basic elements of tension, plot, backstory, and foreshadowing. She carefully defines and explains each of these, and then advises authors how to create them.

This book is spiced with excerpts from contemporary novels and (what is more fun) fairy tales, used for illustration of various points. Becky also weaves in quotations from a plethora of authors, all interesting enough to make the bibliography she provides at the end noteworthy.

A few writing exercises are included. I didn’t do them, actually, but they did make me stop and think. In fact, I paused, throughout the book, to consider it and (I admit it) to evaluate both my most recent manuscript and my newest effort.

Power Elements of Story Structure is written with great clarity and lucidity, cutting a clean line between the lowest common denominator and esoteric heights. Most helpful to new writers, but interesting to any writer who enjoys the study of his craft. I finished wanting to read the next book, Power Elements of Character Development.

And the story of the monkey and the crocodile.


The End.

And that, readers, is an express review. But the question remains – what happened to the monkey? I hope he didn’t get eaten, but fairy tales are vicious like that, sometimes.

From the Office of Cooking Experiments

Culture | Posted by Shannon
Jun 05 2015

The Office of Cooking Experiments, in its ongoing quest to save amateur cooks from themselves, is pleased to present the latest installment of our cooking guide, tentatively titled Been There, Cooked That. We are also considering Been There, Done That, Sorry to Say. Or maybe just Sorry. One-word titles are all the rage, and Sorry is usually what we say after our experiments. Once or twice we’ve even had to say it to the fire department. We make mistakes so you don’t have to, that’s our motto.

Where were we? Ah, yes. The cooking guide. First of all, amateur cooks …

Crockpots are good; crockpots are our friends. What’s so great about crockpots, you ask? We’ll tell you: You just throw the stuff in and leave. The food cooks itself. Actually, the crockpot cooks it, but in practical experience, there is no difference. With crockpots, you can forget for whole hours that you are cooking and nothing will be the worse for it. This is not true when you are using the stove or the oven, as the fire department made clear to us.

– Caveat: The pitfall of this is that crockpots cook slowly; we believe this is why some people call them “slow-cookers”. Sometimes crockpots cook too slowly. When this happens, and for some reason you cannot wait, such as the natives are rioting, you can pull out the crockpot and finish the food in the oven.

– Caveat on the Caveat: If you do this, do not put the lid of the crockpot into the oven. The handle may melt and drip over the food, and that could ruin it.

A little peppermint extract goes a long way. The good news is that those tiny little bottles of extract are a better value than they look. The bad news is that if you don’t know this and you dump half the bottle into your hot chocolate, your hot chocolate will have the refreshing minty taste of mouth wash. And the little bottle of extract will be a bad value after all.

Baker’s chocolate is unsweetened. This was one of the greatest disappointments of our experiments, even worse than the time we destroyed an entire dish of chicken with red pepper. Chicken is, after all, just chicken, but chocolate is chocolate. And chocolate should be sweet. Baker’s chocolate looks like it should be so good, like Godiva or some expensive chocolate with an Italian name. But no. Instead, biting into one of those perfect squares of chocolate, you get …

No. We cannot contemplate it.

You, the amateur cook, will also grow sadder and wiser in the ways of the kitchen. But like us, you will also learn what not to do, until finally you no longer have to say sorry to your family, or at any rate to the fire department.