Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Presumed Guilty" by James Scott Bell

Prominent pastor arrested for murder of porn star!

It sounds like a headline in a cheesy tabloid. Author James Scott Bell uses it as the basic premise of “Presumed Guilty.”

In this tense mystery, mega-church pastor Ron Hamilton is accused of the murder and the media is conducting a trial by public opinion. When it seems everyone has lost confidence in the clergyman’s innocence, only his wife is willing to stand with him.
She is a fighter, willing to pursue answers, no matter where they lead. But can she hope to win this battle? When even she begins to succumb to the pain of the accusations and circumstances, Ron seems to be lost.

The relationships in this story are deeply built and deeply tested. The people are imperfect. The issue of trust is explored from many sides and the facets held up for inspection like a diamond in a jeweler’s loupe.

How can a book by an award-winning Christian writer rival a detective story by any successful secular writer? With a well thought out story told beautifully by a master of the legal thriller. Investigative details, legal points and human nature are nicely balanced in this easy-to-read yet gripping adventure.

Bell has a gift for the English language which is well-demonstrated in “Presumed Guilty.” He shows us the pastor’s situation, the wife’s pain, the dark secrets threatening to tear their comfortable world apart. If you thought “seedy” met “suburbia” only in “Desperate Housewives,” think again. This is a deep, rich tapestry of layers, and each is peeled back in turn.

If you like an excellent mystery, with realistic characters rather than caricatures, you’ll enjoy “Presumed Guilty.” If stories of relationships are more your style, the web spun by Bell will suit you nicely. Fans of the well-written word will find cause for applause here as well. There is enough procedural information to suit fans of police stories, enough law to please the most die-hard “Perry Mason” fan.

"Presumed Guilty" is published by Zondervan and is available at most bookstores. For more about James Scott Bell, visit his website at

Copyright 2007 Mary Beth Magee

Movie Review - "The Ultimate Gift"

When the cast list contains James Garner, the movie has a head start in my book. So it was with "The Ultimate Gift." Although his character dies early on in the flic, his presence is felt via videotaped messages.

Garner's character (Red Stevens) is the grandfather of Drew Fuller's character (Jason Stevens). This is a story of one man making a difference in a loved one's life, even from the grave. The script is based on the book of the same name by Jim Stovall. If you've fallen in love with the book, please be forewarned this movie is not a word for word adaptation. Instead, it starts with the same main characters and travels its own route to get to the conclusion

Jason has been spoiled and pampered his entire life. Red uses an unusual bequest to try to make a difference in the young man's perspective. That bequest is delivered in stages, as Jason completes tasks described in monthly videotapes from his dead grandfather in the office of attorney Ted Hamilton (played with crusty authority by Bill Cobb). Also on hand is the wonderful Lee Meriwether as Hamilton's trusted secretary, Miss Hastings.

Along his road to redemption as a human being, Jason meets a number of people. Most influential in his revamping are Brain Dennehy as his grandfather's longtime friend and partner and Alexia and Emily, a mother-daughter duo played by Ali Hillis and Abigail Breslin, respectively. Jason will learn life lessons from them and others. (You wouldn't expect less, would you?)

Watching this obnoxious young man become a decent human being is a wonderful transformation. Going through the lessons with him is an inspiration. Fox Faith Movies has delivered a great family film (the PG rating reflects a bit of violence - not graphic and it certainly was in keeping with the movie's theme). This is not a sermon, but it certainly packs a strong message.

My only regret is James Garner's announcement that this is his last movie. At 79, he's entitled to retire, but I will miss that charming southwest drawl. And he couldn't have picked a more impressive message to deliver as the capstone to his distinguished career.

"The Ultimate Gift" will be out on DVD soon. If you missed it in the theater, so yourself a huge favor and get it. You won't be sorry.

Movie Review - "Facing the Giants"

"Facing the Giants" looks like a football film on the outside, but it is far more than a simple sports flick. There is enough football to satisfy the jock types, but also enough relationship storyline to satisfy the romantics and a good solid message underlying the whole thing.

A thoroughly enjoyable film, suitable for the whole family, this movie offers humorous bits just where they're needed and delivers the drama when it's appropriate.

The characters are genuine and very identifiable as people in the real world. None of them are perfect, but all are well-rounded. There are no big name stars here, just a group of people who earnestly believe in what they are trying to accomplish. In my opinion, they accomplish it admirably.

Take a football team from a private high school in Georgia (where football is nearly as sacred as it is in Texas) and give them a history of losing seasons. Add a coach (filled with self-doubt, as played by Alex Kendrick)) who is assisted by two of the biggest malapropism spouters (JT Hawkins and Brady Owens) in recent filmdom. Mix in restless parents, teenage angst and backstage machinations. Top with the coach’s wife, a woman desperate to be a mother (played by Brooke Taylor with elegant simplicity). Stir thoroughly and serve with a topping of struggle. Garnish with faith and serve to any fan of family friendly films.

One unforgettable scene has to do with a “death crawl,” an exercise where one player crawls across the field on hands and toes while carrying another player on his back. If you can sit still through this scene, check your pulse – you may be dead!

If you judge a movie on how many special effects there are, how many things get blown up, how many four-letter words get thrown about and how many people get butchered - you'll hate "Facing the Giants." If you like a story with struggles, disappointments but above all, hope - you'll like it. This is a movie you can watch with you parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, a date or a spouse.

Produced by Sherwood Pictures, “Facing the Giants” is now available on DVD at many outlets or by ordering from Sherwood Pictures at

(Expanded from a review I originally wrote Sept, 30, 2006 for

© 2007 Mary Beth Magee

"When The Nile Runs Red" by DiAnn Mills

“When the Nile Runs Red”
DiAnn Mills
Published by Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL
ISBN-13: 978-0-8024-9911-0
ISBN-10: 0-8024-9911-2

What do you like best in a book? What are the characteristics you look for in deciding to purchase one or check it out of the library? Do you look for action? Romance? Adventure? High drama? Well-drawn characters?

Then take a look at “When the Nile Runs Red,” by DiAnn Mills. This prolific Christian author delivers a well-told story of life in the southern Sudan filled with all of those elements and more. She gives us a trio of complex leading characters, savage yet elegant scenery and a storyline right out of the headlines.

Meet Paul Farid, an Arabic Muslim from a wealthy family. Attractive, educated, well-spoken – Paul is on the road to success. His trip is detoured when he becomes converted to Christianity and realizes his past behavior toward the people of the south is at odds with his new faith system. Paul’s actions, and his fortune, are now dedicated to helping the people he previously worked to destroy.

Dr. Larson Farid, Paul’s American wife is more than his life partner. She is also his co-laborer in the desperate villages of the southern Sudan. As a medical doctor, Larson works to heal bodies damaged by the ongoing violence. As a woman, she teaches other women skills to minimize the health hazards around them. As a Christian, she ministers to spirits thirsting for Truth.

The third part of the equation is Colonel Ben Alier, the military man bearing both physical and spiritual scars from the constant warfare in which he lives. Ben leads the Rhino Batallion, fighting for freedom and peace in southern Sudan.

These three form an unlikely yet highly effective team as they work to build a better life for those in southern Sudan. Success seems to be close at hand with the signing of a peace treaty and appointment of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement leader John Garang as vice president to the national government. Is their work done?

Mills has taken a national tragedy to a personal level in “When the Nile Runs Red.” Rather than a simply relating a sweeping story of global events, she brings us the impact of those events on individual lives. Her characters are imperfect humans, struggling to be their best and offer their best to others in a world where the price for lack of vigilance can be betrayal and the result of failure is death. No cardboard fillers here – the people are multi-layered, deep and realistic. They trip and fall; they persevere and endure; they question along the way.

This book is very much like a funnel, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the lives of the characters. I found it difficult to put down at the end of a chapter (I tend to do my recreational reading “a chapter now, a chapter later.”) and wanted to keep going.

There are elements of romance, adventure, political intrigue, mystery and travelogue within the pages. Although the book continues the story of characters first introduced in “When the Lion Roars,” prior reading of that novel is not necessary to enjoy “Nile.” Neither is having an in-depth understanding of the political environment of Sudan. Mills puts everything in context as the story progresses.

As a reader, I especially enjoyed her descriptive passages. I have never traveled to Africa, yet I could see and feel and taste and smell the land she describes in this book and I am left with a longing to return to a place I haven’t physically been yet.

I also appreciate her careful plotting. Reading about people who never make an error is boring – let’s face it, Christians make mistakes, too! These were people I could easily meet in any world – they just happened to be in Sudan and the story grows naturally out of their actions. Few things turn me off on a book as thoroughly as a forced plot. You won’t find that here.

As a Christian, I appreciate the underlying faith of this book. Beyond that, I appreciate Mills and Moody Publishers putting their faith on line and using income from the sale of “When the Nile Runs Red” to support aid efforts in the southern Sudan.

I’m a firm believer in libraries – I have a library card and I use it. This time, though, I don’t want you to use your library card. More than simply urging you to read “When the Nile Runs Red,” I urge you to buy it to read it. You’ll be providing humanitarian aid as well as giving yourself a good read! (By the way, it would make a great Christmas gift for the readers on your list!)

For more about author DiAnn Mills and her earlier books, visit her webpage at

© 2007 Mary Beth Magee