Sunday, March 25, 2012

An Intriguing Legal Thriller -- The Last Plea Bargain

The Last Plea Bargain is another great legal thriller by Randy Singer.

Jamie Brock became a prosecutor mainly because of the senseless murder of her mother several years ago.  She has approached her job in a no-nonsense sort of way and is known for her unwillingness to make deals.  She is driven by a sense of justice, has never plea-bargained a case, and has no intention of every doing so.

Her mother's convicted murderer is about to receive his capital punishment, and Jamie is hoping for a sense of closure.  At the last moment, though, he receives a stay, and Jamie's world starts to spin out of control.  A high-powered defense attorney -- with connections to the killer's case -- is himself indicted for murder.  During his brief stay in prison, the attorney manages to clog up the entire county legal system.  As things go from bad to worse, Jamie has to question the values she stands for, as well as the reputation of her own father.  She finds herself unsure of who to trust -- and the question of trust includes her trust in God.  Is there any way for true justice to win out?

This is the third book I've read by Randy Singer (and I have several others in my to-be-read pile).   Besides being an author, Singer is a veteran trial attorney and a pastor.  In each of his books, I get caught up right away in his intriguing story and complex characters.  I have seen his work compared to that of John Grisham's.  I can only speak for one or two I've read of Grisham's, but with the Christian perspective Singer writes from, I would say his are much better.

Check out the video to get a little feel of the intrigue of The Last Plea Bargain.

I had the privilege of receiving the following set of questions and answers from Randy Singer and enjoyed learning more about him and his writing.  Hope you enjoy them too.

Randy, you bring a unique perspective to your writing because you are also an attorney and a pastor. How do you juggle these three things and still have a life?

Who said I had a life?

But seriously, it helps that these three things all draw on common skill sets. For example, principles of powerful story-telling are important for a pastor, lawyer and (obviously) writer. I’m a little ADHD and like being able to go from one thing to another. It’s like crop rotation—keeps things fresh. And, to be honest, writing is more like relaxation for me than a job. It gives me a break from the pressures of the other "real life" jobs and lets me go into a world where I get to control things! (aka "God complex")

On the practical side, there are three principles that help me juggle. One, I try to stay focused on the big stuff. It’s not that I do the little stuff second, I try not to do the little stuff at all. Second, I stay focused on what I can do well and let others worry about the stuff that is out of my control. And third, I’ve learned to get comfortable with the fact that I will always have stuff in each of these areas that does not get done. As long as the ball is moving forward, I’m satisfied with that.
Ultimately, I thank God that, in His grace, He allows me to do three separate things that I love. My prayer is that I might bring glory to Him in all three arenas.

The Last Plea Bargain is loosely based on a case you tried. Can you briefly share with us some of the details of that case and why it is special to you?

In 2002, Donna Somerville was indicted for the murder of her husband, Hamilton Somerville, Jr., in Orange County, Virginia. Hamilton Somerville was heir to the DuPont fortune. The prosecution alleged that Donna Somerville had poisoned her husband with a lethal cocktail of hospice drugs and the case drew national media attention, including a front-page story in Vanity Fair and a Lifetime movie, Widow on the Hill. Donna Somerville was found not guilty in the criminal case in 2004, but I represented the daughters of Hamilton Somerville in a wrongful death civil case against their step-mother which had a very different outcome. That litigation, and the tension between seeking justice and extending forgiveness, played a large role in the writing of The Last Plea Bargain.

Your main character, Jamie Brock, originally appeared in your novel, False Witness. Why did you decide to bring her back, and will we see more of Jamie in the future?

Readers will often ask me whether I’m going to bring back one character or another. I make a mental list of the characters mentioned the most often, realizing that those characters must have resonated with the readers in some way. Jamie is mentioned a lot. In addition, in False Witness, we saw her as an idealistic and persistent law student. Given her intriguing backstory and motivation for going to law school (her mother was killed in a home invasion and Jamie wanted to become a prosecutor), I thought it would be fun to follow her as she matured into a tenacious but conflicted prosecutor.

Jamie takes a pretty hard stance against plea bargaining. How rampant is plea bargaining in the legal system and is it necessary?

Most people don’t realize that about 90% of the criminal cases in our country are disposed of by plea bargains. A plea bargain is when the defendant pleads guilty to a crime, frequently in exchange for a lighter penalty.

This book asks the question: What if the defendants in a certain jurisdiction banded together and decided not to plea bargain, insisting on a full jury trial for every case? It would overwhelm the system. There wouldn’t be enough prosecutors or public defenders or available court dates. Even the defendants who lost would be able to claim ineffective assistance of counsel or the lack of a speedy trial on appeal. The system would be thrown into chaos.

That’s what happens in The Last Plea Bargain. Jamie Brock is staring down defendants who have found a way to wreak havoc with the system. Who is willing to compromise? Who will blink first?

While plea bargaining is part of the overall plot, at the heart of the book are the issues of justice and mercy. How does Jamie learn to balance those two?

Justice without mercy is legalism. Mercy without justice is license. Only when we realize the need for justice tempered with mercy do we have a fair and equitable result.

It takes courage to pursue justice. You have to stare evil in the face and demand accountability. It is easier to let evil have its day. So, if we cling only to mercy, then there is nothing to stop the advance of true evil. We live in a constant state of spiritual warfare. And God is a God of justice. We should be irate at injustice in the world and willing to risk our own lives to stop it.

But passionately seeking justice is just one step away from vengeance. And Scripture tells us not to take revenge into our own hands. Romans 12:19. Instead, we should leave room for God’s wrath, not trying to overcome evil with evil but overcoming evil with good. Romans 12:20-21.

How do we draw this line? I believe a lot of it has to do with motivation. Are we mad because somebody hurt us or disrespected us? Chances are, that’s vengeance. On the other hand, are we striving for justice for others, or devoting ourselves to a just cause? Chances are, that’s seeking justice.

What do you hope readers walk away with after reading this book?

First, I want readers to be entertained. If the story isn’t compelling, nothing else matters. So my primary goal is that readers will find it impossible to put the book down and, when they turn the last page, shoot me an email asking how long it will be until I finish another.

Second, I want to present readers, in the context of story, with compelling characters on both sides of the death penalty debate, so that readers might draw their own conclusions. And third, I want readers to walk with my characters down that thin line that separates the lust for revenge from the hunger for justice. And…hopefully, to learn which side of the line they might be walking on.

Okay, Randy, what’s next?

I’m working on my next book tentatively entitled Rule of Law. It will come out next spring. It’s the story of another flawed protagonist. He is a former college quarterback who got caught up in a point-shaving scandal, served time in prison, and then went to law school and became a lawyer. He finally gets his first job but ends up at a firm where somebody is killing off all the firm’s lawyers, one-by-one (even lawyers who try to leave the firm). It’s a story about loyalty and trust, honor and betrayal.

At the same time, I’m working on a longer-term project (one that’s been on my desk for a long time) which will give readers a front-row seat to the two most important trials ever—the trial of Christ and the trial of Paul in front of Nero. The story is told from the perspective of Theophilus, Paul’s court-appointed advocate, and may be the most important book I’ve ever attempted.

(An advanced reader copy of The Last Plea Bargain was provided free of charge by Tyndale House Publishers for my honest review.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Delightful Debut! -- Sixty Acres and a Bride

Regina Jennings has released her debut novel, Sixty Acres and a Bride, and I found it a delight to read.

Rosa Garner leaves her native Mexico to join her mother-in-law Louise as she returns to the family ranch in Texas.  In the summer of 1878, the two widows find themselves in a desperate situation when they discover that back taxes have mounted up on the property and they have just three short months to come up with the money for the taxes or face losing the property.  Rosa tries to follow the instructions Louise gives about the proper way for a lady to behave in this unfamiliar culture.  But no matter how hard she tries to avoid it, the lively and beautiful young woman manages to attract unwanted attention. 

Weston, the one man whose attention she enjoys, is lost within his own world of hurt and guilt.  He appears interested at times and then seems to run away.  When the deadline for saving the family property approaches, Rosa knows no other way to help but to follow her mother-in-law's plan to ask for Weston's help.  That strategy seems to backfire and creates even bigger problems for Rosa, leaving her feeling very much alone in her strange new home.  Will she ever find the real love she longs to have?

Regina Jennings wrote this first book with a style that is engaging to read.  Her characters came alive right away and drew me into their story.  She revealed details of the characters' back stories over time, just when they were needed to develop the plot.  Faith and Biblical lessons play an important role in the story.  If this book is any indication of what Regina has to offer, I look forward to reading more.

(This book was provided free from Litfuse Publicity Group for my honest review.)

You can see what other reviewers think about Sixty Acres and a Bride here.

About the Book

She's Finally Found a Place to Call Home... How Far Will She Go to Save It?

With nothing to their names, young widow Rosa Garner and her mother-in-law return to their Texas family ranch. Only now the county is demanding back taxes and the women have just three months to pay.

Though facing eviction, Rosa falls in love with the countryside and the wonderful extended family who want only her best. They welcome her vivacious spirit and try to help her navigate puzzling American customs. She can't help but stand out, though, and her beauty captures attention.

Where some offer help with dangerous strings attached, only one man seems honorable. But when Weston Garner, still grieving his own lost love, is unprepared to give his heart, Rosa must decide to what lengths she will go to save her future. Read an excerpt:

About the Author
Regina Jennings is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in English and a history minor. She has worked at The Mustang News and First Baptist Church of Mustang, along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She now lives outside Oklahoma City with her husband and four children.
Learn more about Regina by visiting her website,

Click here to purchase Sixty Acres and a Bride.

Celebrate with Regina by entering to win a Kindle Fire and coming to her Author Chat Party on 3/27!

One fortunate winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire
  • Sixty Acres and a Bride by Regina Jennings
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends 3/26/12. Winner will be announced at Regina's Author Chat Facebook Party on 3/27. Regina will be hosting an evening of chat, fun trivia and more! She'll also be giving away some GREAT prizes: gift certificates, books, and some beautiful silver jewerly!
So grab your copy of Sixty Acres and a Bride and join Regina and friends on the evening of March 27th for an evening of fun.

Don't miss a moment of the fun. RSVP TODAY and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 27th!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Vulnerability Invites Romance (and a book give-away)

This is the final guest blog from Sandy Ralya, author of The Beautiful Wife.  If you haven't read her book, I would recommend you check it out for more great insights.  The book has an accompanying mentor guide and prayer journal for personal or group study. 

When I signed up to review the book, Litfuse Publicity Group provided me with a second set (The Beautiful Wife and companion materials) to use as a give-away.  If you're interested in receiving the books, comment below this post; include your email address.  I'll randomly select a winner sometime after 5 p.m. this Wednesday, March 7.

Vulnerability Invites Romance

It has become second nature for women to defend themselves. For untold generations, women have been hurt, taken advantage of, and diminished in their value. With the advent of the Women’s Liberation Movement, women came out swinging against the injustices they’d endured and, in the process, they lost something of great value—their vulnerability.

There is something so inviting about vulnerability.

Vulnerability is armorless.

Vulnerability draws others in.

It invites others to look deep inside.

This invitation to look inside is exactly why so many avoid vulnerability at all cost.

It’s dangerous.

If you offer vulnerability to your husband, what will he do with it?

Hurt you?

Take advantage of you?
Think less of you?

These risks overshadow vulnerability’s beauty until you consider the consequences of a life lived defensively.

Living defensively is like living in a fortress—walls built up and weapons ready. The face behind the wall is tense, scanning for threat.

A life lived on the defense is a life spent without rest, joy, or freedom.

Many women dwell behind walls that inadvertently keep their husbands out, and they wonder why they do not feel known.

Since true romance involves being known and desired, to invite your husband to romance you must take the risk of being vulnerable, tearing down your defensive walls.

For instance, when you get hurt, do you retaliate in anger, or are you vulnerable with your husband and admit your feelings?

Retaliating in anger may satisfy your thirst for justice, but it won’t give you the increased romance and intimacy you want.

No one approaches a fortress when arrows are flying from it—unless they are prepared for battle!

It takes more courage to admit your feelings of hurt than to defend yourself. It requires you to trust God to keep you safe when you expose your hurts, and to heal you if your husband is not gentle. The good news is that God promises to do all these things and more in Psalm 91:

. . . The Lord says, "I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name."

You must come to recognize what triggers you to defend yourself rather than to admit your pain.

Perhaps it’s a fear that your needs won’t be met or that you’re not valuable.

When the triggers come
, remind yourself that God loves you and He’ll defend and protect you if you put your trust in Him.

Shooting arrows of anger over your walls doesn’t provide your husband the safety he needs to know, desire, and pursue you.

Allow God to protect you and go before you, leveling your defenses and making way for your husband to romance you.

Do you offer your husband vulnerability?

Special Note:
If you are in an emotionally or physically abusive marriage, exposing your vulnerability could be damaging to you instead of healing. I urge you to seek the help you need. Contact the Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or call your church and ask to be referred to a reputable Christian counselor.

Sandy Ralya is the founder and director of Beautiful Womanhood, a marriage mentoring ministry based near Grand Rapids, Mich. Her marriage testimony was the focus of a popular three-day interview on FamilyLife Today, TV's Walking by Faith, and Time Out for Women. Sandy is a sought-after speaker, presenting Beautiful Womanhood seminars to hundreds of women each year at MOPS groups, women's retreats, and church leadership conferences across the country and in Canada. Sandy and her husband Tom have been married since 1980, and have a growing number of grandchildren.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Romance Blooms with Showers of Confidence

Here is a third guest blog from Sandy Ralya, author of The Beautiful Wife

Romance Blooms with Showers of Confidence

Men are highly sensitive to signals of doubt because doubt plagues them.

If you continually give off signals of doubt, you will confirm the fear of inadequacy that lurks deep within your husband. If a man believes he doesn’t have what it takes to please you, there’s not much chance he’ll attempt romance.

"A wise woman builds her house, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands" (Proverbs 14:1).

Doubting your husband and his abilities tears away at a man; conferring confidence builds him up.

A confident man is grateful to the one who believes in him.

Do you have confidence in your husband, or do you find yourself regularly second-guessing him? Do you struggle with doubt when it comes to his abilities?

He needs to be supported by your confidence in him
          at home
          in the workplace
         and in his dream for the future.

At home, I wanted Tom involved with the discipline of our children but was rarely pleased with his methods. I thought he was too strict and should be more understanding. Instead of communicating clearly with Tom about my concerns, I undermined his authority by smoothing things over with the kids behind his back.

My actions conveyed a lack of confidence in my husband.

I sabotaged our parenting and our marriage.

Our kids learned their parents weren’t always on the same team, so if they worked on the more lenient parent, they might get their way. Tom felt hurt and angry.

Doubting my husband didn’t open any doors to romance!

The media constantly broadcast fear and doubt concerning the future. Against this tidal wave of doom and gloom, it’s difficult for a man to confidently believe that God has planned a hopeful future for him.

When my husband was going through a job transition a couple of years ago, it became apparent he was struggling with doubt over his ability to succeed in a new venture. He was really down one day when he commented, "Most men don’t make a job change at fifty." I asked, "Who says?"

He rewarded me with a smile from ear to ear.

Tom’s words weren’t so much a statement of fact as they were a question—he was asking me if I believed he could successfully make a job change at fifty. 

A wise wife counteracts the media’s message of fear with a daily dose of confidence.

Inspiring confidence in your husband is like pouring water on dry, thirsty ground.

What seeds of potential lie dormant within your husband, waiting for the showers of your confidence?

What does your husband dream of doing?
Let your husband know that you believe in him. If you don’t, who will?

Breathe words of confidence into your husband today and watch as he stands taller with every word spoken.

That said, pray about which ones to encourage. If your husband’s dreams take him in a direction that worries you, consider your concerns. Are they rooted in selfishness or fear? Turn to God and give Him your worries.

Conferring confidence invites your husband to romance.

Could your love-life benefit from showers of confidence? 

Sandy Ralya is the founder and director of Beautiful Womanhood, a marriage mentoring ministry based near Grand Rapids, Mich. Her marriage testimony was the focus of a popular three-day interview on FamilyLife Today, TV's Walking by Faith, and Time Out for Women. Sandy is a sought-after speaker, presenting Beautiful Womanhood seminars to hundreds of women each year at MOPS groups, women's retreats, and church leadership conferences across the country and in Canada. Sandy and her husband Tom have been married since 1980, and have a growing number of grandchildren.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Trust Leads to Romance

Here is another guest blog from Sandy Ralya, author of The Beautiful Wife. She again shares advice for us "less-than-beautiful" wives.

Trust Leads to Romance

What stirs the embers of romance deep inside you?
   Loving Words
   A Night Out?

Maybe you haven’t thought about romance lately because of busyness, fatigue, disillusionment, or hopelessness.

I’ve been there too.

But romance with the man you love may not be as elusive as you might think.

Though we all desire romance—every woman longs to be noticed, pursued, and adored—few of us realize that…our words and actions may serve as stumbling blocks rather than invitations for the man in our life to woo us romantically.

If this is true, then we’re sabotaging the very romance we desire. Reminds me of the saying,  “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

Do you like what you’re experiencing in regard to romance?  If not, ask yourself if you’re more likely to trust OR control your husband. You’ve seen the controlling type. Most women on TV sitcoms struggle with control. They walk all over the men they’re with and it bothers us.

It’s easy to detect control in others, but are you guilty of similar actions?

Let’s look deeper and find out.
   Do you correct your husband?
   Do you instruct your husband?
   Do you improve your husband?

Do you correct your husband’s pronunciation or perhaps the telling of a story when you know he’s got the facts mixed up?

When you correct your husband you’re telling him he did something wrong. In this position you’ve become his mother. And that’s a romance killer if there ever was one.

Do you instruct your husband when he drives, performs tasks, or helps out with the kids?

When you instruct your husband, you’re sending the message, “You don’t know how to do this.” In this position you become the teacher who highlighted his ineptitude. Exposed, he’ll either shrink or strike back, rather than pursue.

Do you improve your husband?

In the past, I’ve tried to improve Tom’s appearance whenever possible. Once, when dressing for dinner at an elegant restaurant on vacation, I wore a vintage cashmere jacket with pearls and heels while Tom wore an improbable, wrinkled ensemble worthy of an episode of What Not to Wear. Yet, I didn’t say a word! (Some of you may be appreciating the restraint that required!) If I’d shared my fashion-improvement advice with him, I would have sent the romance-spoiling message, “You could have done better.”

In what areas do you try to improve your husband?

When we correct, instruct, and improve, we justify our actions by saying we’re just trying to help when, in reality, the measures we employ have more to do with fear—the fear that we won’t get what we want or we’ll get it too late.

Whenever our actions are borne of fear, the results we experience will be disappointing at best!

Give your fears to God and trust your husband with new words and actions…Inviting him to romance.

Sandy Ralya is the founder and director of Beautiful Womanhood, a marriage mentoring ministry based near Grand Rapids, Mich. Her marriage testimony was the focus of a popular three-day interview on FamilyLife Today, TV's Walking by Faith, and Time Out for Women. Sandy is a sought-after speaker, presenting Beautiful Womanhood seminars to hundreds of women each year at MOPS groups, women's retreats, and church leadership conferences across the country and in Canada. Sandy and her husband Tom have been married since 1980, and have a growing number of grandchildren.