BOOK REVIEW: The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

Review by Ryder Islington

William Paul Young has managed to upset the Christian apple-cart with his novel, The Shack.  When Mackenzie ‘Mack’ Philips takes three of his children on a camping trip in the mountains of Oregon, tragedy strikes.  His youngest child, Missy, is abducted, and after untolled hours of investigation, only two pieces of evidence are found:  A ladybug stick pin is found at the campsite, and Missy’s dress, covered in blood is found in an old abandoned shack.

The Great Sadness engulfs Mack, and though his wife, Nan, still calls G-d Papa, Mack’s anger drives a wedge between him and The Father.

Four years later, during a nasty ice storm, Mack finds a note in the mailbox:  Mack, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together.   –Papa

Mack wonders if he that fall he took on the way back from the mailbox did something to his brain. Is this note some kind of sick joke? Or is it from Missy’s abductor?  Mack has to know the truth, and if it really is from the Almighty, Mack has some choice words for Him. In a borrowed Jeep, with his wife and kids visiting relatives, Mack packs up his courage, and a revolver, and heads back to the shack.

And so begins the journey, as Mack comes face to face with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu, the Holy Spirit.  Mack’s fury knocks up against three entities who challenge all of his preconceived ideas of church, religion, faith, forgiveness, love and eternity.

Can you imagine G-d as a large African-American woman who loves to cook, laugh, and drink wine?  Welcome to The Shack, where Papa cooks greens, hugs heartily, and doles out large portions of truth.  Where Mack must face his own childhood, as well as the recent loss of his baby girl, both festering sores that need a balm to be found only in the heart of The Father.

This story tackles a big question:  How can a loving G-d allow unspeakable pain in the lives of the children he claims to love?  I found it irreverent and blasphemous, and all the things found in Jesus by the religious leaders of his time. 

It challenges the beliefs drilled into members of Christian churches worldwide.  Its theme is simple:  We are loved.  My eyes were opened to magnificent truths by this story.  I cried the first time I read it.  And the second time, too.

If you only read one novel this year—or ever—make it this one.

PLOTTING MURDER: Tips on writing Thrillers and Mysteries


I watched a movie the other day about a writer who was working on a screenplay about a serial killer. He got into his research so deeply that he began killing teenage girls. While he held them hostage and told them they were going to die, he paid close attention to their reactions and after anchoring them in the bottom of the lake, he visited them daily to see how the bodies would deteriorate. The movie wasn’t all that great but I watched the whole thing anyway. I found his research methods fascinating.

I kinda understand. I’ve gotten a lot of information from police officers, FBI agents, psychiatrists, family counselors as well as countless books on the subject. I’ve struggled for just the right word, the perfect description. I called a mechanic once to ask how I might kill a character in a vehicle and make it look like an accident. Hope THAT conversation wasn’t taped by some governmental agency.

I went to a sporting goods store and talked with a salesman about hunting knives with gut hooks. And took pictures of a few of them. Those pictures are my screensaver, constantly reminding me of my serial killer’s weapon of choice.

My friend and I have spent hours discussing the subject of murder. Once, when we were walking in the park, we plotted to kill a character that otherwise wouldn’t let his daughter get married. Other walkers gave us a wide berth.

Another writer spent a couple of hours with me discussing the pros and cons of killing with a knife as opposed to other methods. We were sitting in the waiting room of a hospital while her husband was with the doctor. Everyone in the waiting room became very quiet while we talked, but when we looked around, they all diverted their eyes and whispered to each other.    Discussing murder over lunch is commonplace among writers and we often get the strangest looks, even when we explain we’re plotting to kill characters, not real people. Of course, they’re real people to us, but since we created them, we have the right to kill them if we want.

You need someone to bounce ideas off of. Preferably, someone who reads the genre and is willing to give you honest feedback. Join writer’s groups on-line. Find others in your area with an interest in writing and see if you can form your own group. 

Read the genre. Not just one or two books, but dozens. Go to the library and find the newest, most popular books in the genre you want to write, or if you can afford them, buy two or three.

Read them through. Then go back and look at how the book was set up. Count the pages and divide them into quarters. See what happens in the first quarter—the beginning, the second and third quarters—the middle, and the last quarter—the end. Study the characters, the back story, the goals, motivation, conflict, writing style.

If you decide to write a thriller, or a murder mystery, do your research thoroughly.  Unless you’re a killer, or a homicide detective, you probably don’t know enough to write a true-to-life murder mystery, or a thriller involving murder.

Readers of these genres know a lot about the way things are done by the authorities. They are usually big fans of television shows and movies depicting cops, FBI agents, serial killers, profilers, terrorists, etc. They probably read true crime magazines and books, which is another resource for you.

And if you disappoint one of them by not having your facts straight, you may lose that reader forever and also that source of ‘word of mouth’ advertising.

So, if you see someone around town discussing murder and how to get away with it, talk to them about it. It’s probably just a writer doing research. During this process, we don’t actually think of killing people. Honest. You can trust me. Hehehehehe…

BOOK REVIEW: Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

Review by Ryder Islington

The latest Stephanie Plum escapade is filled with the required accidents, explosions, take downs by Stephanie and her robust friend Lula, and moments of indecision involving Joseph Morelli and Ranger. Stephanie has a “lucky” bottle, at least that’s what the will said when she inherited it from Uncle Pip. The question is how to make it work. 

Stephanie’s boss/cousin, Vinnie, is kidnapped for ransom after failing to pay gambling debts.  The ever inept Stephanie, bounty hunter not-so-extraordinaire, feels compelled to save her despicable cousin Vinnie because, after all, she is one of the good guys.

Her on-again-off-again relationship with detective Morelli complicates the plan, which must be kept secret not only because the kidnappers have made it clear that Vinnie will die if cops are involved, but also because Stephanie’s side kick, ex-prostitute Lula and the office manager, Connie, are constantly doing things that are not quite aboveboard. In fact, they are mostly down right criminal. 

As usual, Grandma Mazur causes a ruckus at Stiva’s Funeral Home, the local hang out for the over sixties crowd. She’s the only grandma I know who prefers a wheelchair to crutches, for the sympathy factor, and attends funerals to pick up guys and eat cookies. 

Throw in Mr. Jingles, the not so average protection trained pet, drug dealers, and the mysterious Ranger, a bounty hunter/security expert who manages to push every button Stephanie has, and often leaves her confused and breathing hard, and you have a funny, surprising, fast-paced story, guaranteed to make you laugh out loud in the wee hours of the morning when you should be sleeping. 

Ms. Evanovich has managed to turn out another hit, and boy, does it sizzle. 



I think an introduction is in order.  My name is Ryder Islington and I’m an author.  There are dozens of people running around in my head, doing things I’d never do. Some are killers and some are victims. Some are cops and some are criminals.  Some are children and some are adults.  My plan is to introduce you to each of them, to let you learn their back story, their dreams and their problems. I’m sure you will sympathize with some and hate others. None of them are perfect. Just like you and I, even the best of them have their faults.

 I also intend to post book reviews. Some of the books may not be new to the market, but that doesn’t mean you’ve read them. I hope that if you have a book you love, or if you’ve written a book that you’d like to have reviewed, you will contact me. I love to read, and my reviews are not just posted here. They also go to the local newspapers, not to mention the links, etc., on the net.

 My first book is coming out next spring.  I hope to have an approved title within a couple of weeks. I’d love to share the journey with you, especially if you are unpublished or newly published. There are thousands of writers out there just starting out, and even more who have been on the journey for a while but are not yet published. I want to build a community where we are all able to learn from each other.

 I happen to think we should stick together and help each other. I want you to buy my books. And I want to buy yours. I want your reviews on my website and/or blog, my books mentioned on yours, and your books mentioned on mine. I used to be a competitive person, but now I realize that writing puts you in competition only with yourself. 

I’m always open to questions. I believe in sharing knowledge. There’s enough room out there for all of us, and all of our books. There is not enough room for petty jealousies.  I want you to do well, to be published, to be successful. If I can help you, I will. If I can’t, maybe I know someone who can.

 So, let’s kick this sucker off and see what comes of it!  Stay tuned. This is gonna be fun.