Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Coming of Age as a Saint

Review: The Kevin Kirk Chronicles: My Mom's a Mortician, Funeral Home Evenings, Early Morning Cemetary, and The Final Farewell by Patricia Wiles

Kevin Kirk is that perenially endearing character: a young boy on the verge of life. Young Kevin does have a cross to bear. In My Mom's a Mortician, his parents have moved the family to a small town to manage a funeral home—and it will be Kevin's home as well!

This story of the way Kevin copes with, and eventually comes to terms with sharing his house with dead bodies, even as he discovers his goal in life and makes friends in a new town, is a most entertaining read. I was so pleased with it, I immediately went out and bought the other three books in the Kevin Kirk Chronicles. I was not disappointed. 

In Funeral Home Evenings, Kevin's family life expands to include the couple who work at the funeral home. Meanwhile, his goal to become a National Geographic naturalist seems closer than ever as he joins a special science class. To his horror, however, every step forward becomes a misstep, while his spiritual development begins to conflict with his dreams. 

Kevin's life as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints becomes more apparent in this second book. (The book's title is a play on the practice of "family home evenings" in the Church.) As with the first book, Kevin grows through the guidance of the adults in his life, for a satisfying story arc, and a promise of more to come.

Early Morning Cemetary (another play on a Church practice, "early morning seminary"), sees Kevin and his friends approaching adulthood in their community by way of exploring graveyards and making tombstone rubbings. 

At home,  the young couple who work for the funeral home want to renovate a delapidated house so they will have their own home in which to raise their child. Kevin and his father work to find a way to help them afford this purchase. Unfortunately, just as they seem to have it worked out, a figure from their past arrives with claims on their attention, love—and funds.

Hints of religious bias rise in this novel, adding to Kevin's burden. His growth is driven by these struggles, including an unwelcome guest, a series of items that go missing, and the accusation that Kevin is the thief.

In the end, The Final Farewell sees Kevin making a choice between his long dream of becoming a National Geographic naturalist, and taking the expected step for young adult in the Church, serving as a missionary. I am still reading this one, so I will say no more than it has been a worthwhile journey, a Gentile traveling with young Kevin through his Chronicles, as he finds his spiritual balance, becomes a young adult and an upstanding Church member, and reveals a few of the processes by which that faith guides his growth. 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A River Runs Through It

Review: River Run (Forensic Geology Series Book 5) by Toni Dwiggins

Cassie Oldfield and Walter Shaws, the forensic geologists we met in Badwater, Quicksilver, and Volcano Watch (reviewed here in December 2013's Truth as Solid As Rock) and again in Skeleton Sea (reviewed here as Hematite and Franciscan Melange in May 2015) are back again with a mystery set in the awe-inspiring canyon walls that tower above the Colorado River.

There are many ways to die on the river, as this novel states from the outset. Our geologists, in the area to supply their expertise for a documentary film about the Colorado, are tapped to help solve the puzzle when a fishing party of four is lost from a raft found adrift on the river. Grand Canyon Park rangers hope they can narrow the search area based on a baggie of rock chips left on the raft, and recover the lost rafters alive.

The mystery deepens when the raft party leader, Reid Lassen, is found alive. He was the only one of the four in his party wearing a PFD (personal flotation device). Reid's an old geologist friend of Walter Shaws, but Walter had been told he was dead, decades before. And he can't help with the search for the other rafters, because he's got amnesia. So Cassie and Walter go back to searching for rock sources, including one for a new specimen found in the cargo pocket of a rafter who didn't survive. 

Every new specimen serves only to widen the search area. And time is running out for survivors who have yet to be found.

The action of the novel switches breath-takingly from geology to techniques of river rafting and suspicions of eco-terror. It's exactly like a raft trip through Class Ten rapids on the Colorado: terrifying, engrossing, thrilling, and exciting at turns (and sometimes all four simultaneously.)

As with the other novels in the series, River Run succeeds in making the science accessible and integrating the experience of field geology with the needs of ordinary people. In this story, these are all the water-using groups along the river's run: park rangers, rafters and canyon hikers, ranchers and farmers, communities and resorts.

Read it as a mystery; read it as a thriller; read it as science/fiction in the best sense of that term—but read it!