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A Novel of Suspense

The city of Lehigh, West Virginia, faces the insidious threat of a sadistic cult bent on eliminating all "unpretty" things in the world.

A bomb goes off at the Conklin Art Gallery, killing eight people associated with a unique Michelangelo exhibit being shown there. The only person who may have seen the bomber is Hummingbird Collins, an aspiring artist who works down the street from the gallery. But she soon starts receiving ominous cassette recordings of a rambling madman who reveals his plan to rid the world of "unpretty" things.

This madman -- known only as Number 26 -- leads a cult known as the Michelangelus Movement, which has kidnapped and tortured people for use in their bizarre artistic experiments over the past dozen years.

When Hummingbird breaks her frightened silence, she enlists the help of Detective Buck Barnes, her brother, and an old family friend, Ready Robinson, a former pro-football player who entered the priesthood after ending his NFL career. But when Hummingbird is abducted by the cult, her friends must discover where she's been taken before she becomes another addition to the leader's horrific replication of Michelangelo's masterpiece -- Last Judgment.

A Note from the Author
Not long ago I visited a bargain bookstore (yes, I'm cheap!) and saw a beautiful coffee-table book on the life and work of Michelangelo Buonarroti. I was instantly transfixed, so much so that I bought the book on a whim, brought it home, and immediately began churning through its pages. It was here that I first discovered Michelangelo's scary beautiful masterpiece, the Last Judgment. This violent, graphic painting adorns the altar wall of the world-famous Sistine Chapel in Italy.
If this painting were a movie, it would be rated NC-17 on the basis of nudity and violence alone. Yet it also breathtakingly depicts an artist's interpretation of literal events described in the pages of Scripture itself. It achieves an impression on the viewer that is both repugnant and holy. This apparent juxtaposition of values was fascinating for me -- and it sparked within me an exploration of the concept of God's presence in art, in suffering, in beauty and ugliness, in life, and in eternity.
The result, as you can guess, was Unpretty, the book you now hold in your hands. (Hey, I'm a novelist! What else did you expect?) It is my hope that you found this book both entertaining and thought-provoking and that it helped you (like Kinseth) to consider where you belong in Michelangelo's terrifyingly beautiful painting of the end of the world.
Writing this book raised many questions for me, and I'd like to share a few of those questions with you. Even though neither of us may have all of the answers, I hope you find it worthwhile at least to think about the questions.
May God bless and keep you,

1. Which character in Unpretty is most like you? Why?
2. If you were casting a movie of this book, whom would you pick to play the main characters? Why?
3. In your opinion, what is the role of art in religion?
4. From what you know about Michelangelo's Last Judgment, do you think it is an appropriate decoration for a church wall? Defend your answer.
5. It has been reported that all societies of man -- from the most primitive to the most technologically advanced -- harbor a widespread fear of snakes. Michelangelo tapped into this fear repeatedly in his depictions of demons. To what do you attribute this near universal fear?
6. How would you define the term unpretty?
7. When have you felt unpretty? What did you do about that?
8. How do you define beauty? Be specific.
9. Why do you suppose humankind is drawn to beauty? How do we pursue beauty in modern life?
10. What is God's role in the creation of beauty? His responsibility?
11. Jonathan Shelby believed that even in the depths of torture and captivity, God was somehow watching over him. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
12. In our world today many justify brutality and violence as a means to achieve a beautiful outcome. Do you agree or disagree with that perspective? Explain.
13. Ready Robinson's "Urban Monk" is largely a fictional construct. Still, if you were to create "Vows of the Urban Monk," what would you include?
14. Hummingbird Collins struggled to overcome a paralyzing fear of unknown threats to herself and to her family. If you could have spoken to her at that time, what advice would you have given her for combating her fear?
15. Would you say that fear is a positive, negative, or neutral emotion? Is it a sin?
16. How does faith influence fear?
17. What is God's responsibility when we are suffering?
18. What questions about God did this book raise for you?
19. Michelangelo stirred controversy by blending Greek mythology (Minos, Charon, the River Styx) with biblical descriptions of Christ's Last Judgment. Do you see Jesus's second coming as a mythological idea or a future-historical certainty? How does that view affect the way you live today?
20. Where do you belong in Michelangelo's painting of the Last Judgment?
For Further Reflection
To dig more deeply into the spiritual themes explored in Unpretty, get a Bible and check out the following Scripture passages:
  • Psalms 139
  • Romans 8:15-28
  • Romans 8:37-38
  • Hebrews 4:15-16
  • Nahum 1:7
  • Psalms 23
  • 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Photo Credit:

Sharon Carter Rogers is the pseudonym for a former English teacher who now works full time writing fiction. Her debut novel, Sinner, released from RiverOak Publishing (an imprint of David C. Cook) in 2007. Unpretty from Howard (2009) was her second book.

More books from this author: Sharon Carter Rogers