Friday, January 30, 2015

How Faith and Determination Won the Battle of the Bulge

By Christmas 1944, the Allies hoped and believed that Hitler was beaten, and the war would soon be over. Then in a surprise attack in the Ardennes, Hitler amassed a large force with the intention to move through to Antwerp and cut the Allies off from their main supply lines. The Allies were unprepared, but the 101st and 82nd Airborne Corps were close by and were
immediately ordered to the area to stop the advance. The heart of the battle took place around the little town of Bastogne.

Corsi recounts the battle at Bastogne that was the final turning point in the war. The Americans were rushed to the area without complete provisions, or winter clothing. However, they were determined and had faith that they would hold the line. This is best illustrated by General McAuliffe's, quote. When asked to surrender, he sent back the answer, “Nuts.”

This is a well researched book that is accessible to the average reader. I liked the inclusion of quotes and stories from the men who fought the battle and later reported on their impressions. These glimpses of the battle from a personal point of view made it come alive for me.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy history, or if you have heard about the Battle of the Bulge and want to know more about it.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A View of 19th Century Spiritualism: The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

During the 19th and early 20th centuries Spiritualism was the rage. Wealthy people held seances in their parlors. Poor people contacted mediums to try to talk to dead relatives. Alessandra, a poor peasant girl, had a gift for contacting the dead, and also performing telekinesis. She starts with helping peasants in her village contact dead relatives for a bit of food or a small coin and moves on to giving demonstrations of her abilities across Europe. In this, she is helped by Tommaso, a youthful admirer, and a Jewish Psychiatrist, Camillo Lombardi, who starts as a skeptic and becomes one of her greatest admirers.

The story is based on the true story of Euspai Palladino. She, like Alessandra, had a remarkable ability to levitate tables, and although tested many times was never completely discredited. I found the story fascinating. If it were a biography, it would have been very good. However, as a novel it leaves something to be desired.

Tommaso is a very bland narrator. The chapters are short, and his voice comes across as more reportorial than real. The best parts of the book are the descriptions of spiritualism, the precautions taken during séance investigations, and the descriptions of manifestations during seances.

I felt this book would have been better as non-fiction, but it was an enjoyable read,
and the facts about Spiritualism, and the attempts to discredit mediums were well researched.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Family, Food, and Love

Pam Anderson is a cookbook author and writes the Blog, Three Many Cooks. Her daughters join her on the Blog and in this book providing different types of recipes. Pam started as a Southern cook. Her daughters, Maggy and Sharon, have branched out into different types of cuisine, but the family's love of food and using meal-times as a time of connection flows through all three women.

The book is a series of vignettes telling the stories of the three women both their love of and difficulties with family and their experiments in a variety of cooking techniques. I love the chapter on Pam's father and his desire to make perfect lemon chicken. Another favorite was Sharon's chapter on sisters. It's almost paradigmatic that sisters will be rivals, but this chapter showed how beneath the conflict there's a great deal of love.

My favorite chapters, as a woman who has always watched her weight, were the chapters on how Pam lost 40 pounds and Sharon's chapter on wishing her thighs didn't touch, but realizing that with her DNA and love of food it was probably a vain hope.

Each story is followed by a recipe featured in that chapter. The recipes sound wonderful. I loved reading them, but since I'm not much of a cook, I will probably not try many of them.

If you love food and family, you'll love this book. Meeting Pan and her daughters was like meeting new friends. I was sad when the book ended.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

This Book Will Challenge Your Concept of God

Nancy Abrams, after being an atheist for her whole life, set out to discover a god she could believe in. The search started because Abrams has an eating disorder. After joining a Twelve Step Program, she realized that belief in a Higher Power helped her overcome her addiction.

Abrams' husband is a well-know scientist who was part of the team that developed the concept of the universe filled with dark matter and dark energy. With this background, Abrams set out to discover a god that was compatible with science, as she understands it. Her concept is that God didn't create the universe, or the planet Earth. In fact, God didn't exist until human beings developed the capacity to think. God is an emergent property of human consciousness. This is a fascinating theory and one that no matter what your religious beliefs, or even if you're an atheist, is challenging to read and worthy of debate.

I found the first chapters of the book fascinating. Abrams does a good job of explaining the science behind the present theory of the universe. Her discussion of the evolution of our concept of God through various civilizations was equally well done. I had a harder time with the latter chapters of the book where she tackles the questions of whether there is a spiritual world, an afterlife, and whether God answers prayers. I felt she was stretching the limits of her theory.

However, this book is worth reading. It will inspire you to define your own beliefs, or perhaps to adopt hers. I recommend it if you like challenging new theories.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reminiscent of Jurassic Park

Dr. C.J. Cameron, a respected expert in reptiles specifically crocodiles, and her brother, Hamish, are invited to a VIP tour of China's latest extravagant theme park. The Great Zoo of China houses dragons that have been collected from all over the world to represent the myths of many countries. C.J. has been included because her mentor, Dr. Bill Lynch, was killed working at the zoo. His death is a precursor to the problems that arise when the dragons are turned loose.

The book is filled with fast paced action and bloodshed. If you like a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, you'll like this one. The plot is clever, but very reminiscent of Jurassic Park with different animals. The major thrust of the plot is a chase scene in which C.J. plays a major role making instant decisions and coming up with solutions.

The book has a great many characters. Most of them are not well developed, but it doesn't matter because Reilly kills them off at a rapid rate. The book is gory. If you have a problem with bloodshed you may not enjoy it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Friday, January 23, 2015

International Intrigue Based on Secrets from American History

In 1913 Philander Knox stated that 33 states had ratified the 16th Amendment to the Constitution giving the US the ability to collect income taxes. However, the ratification was problematic. In the 1930's the antagonism between Andrew Melon and FDR came to a head just before Melon died. He challenged FDR to follow the clues he had laid out to learn about two great secrets from America's past, one relating to the ratification of the 16th Amendment. FDR died before he undertook the quest, but now other people are on the trail of the secrets.

A tax-evader, Anan Wayne Howell, has written a book setting out the case that the 16th Amendment wasn't properly ratified. A number of people are interested including Kim Young Jin, the discredited son of the late Korean dictator. The Treasury Secretary and the President are concerned enough to put the Magellan Billet, run by Stephanie Nelle, on the case. Cotton Malone, Stephanie's best agent, comes out of retirement to take on the assignment with startling results.

If you like action laced with liberal doses of history, you'll enjoy this book. I thought the author did a good job interspersing the historical mysteries with the action in Europe. The author's notes go into detail about the historical underpinnings of the story. It's quite fascinating. I recommend reading that section after you finish the book.

The characters are predictable. Malone is always on the brink of danger doing what seems to be impossible, but coming out unscathed. Stephanie Nelle is a serviceable character, but not one you can get close to. This book rests more on plot than character, but the plot is interesting.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Loneliness, Dispair and a Murder

Anna, newly divorced, lives with her angry teenage daughter. Neither is happy in the tiny New York apartment. The daughter blames Anna for the divorce, and Anna is desperately lonely. One night she attends a singles party, goes home with a man who at first appears attractive, and pushed beyond her endurance by his sexual advances bludgeons him to death. She has no memory of the crime and goes on with her life.

Detective Bernie Bernstein catches the murder case. He is estranged from his wife and special needs son and locked out of his house. One night he attends a singles party where he meets Anna. They develop a relationship that is important to both of them. However, much as Bernie tries to ignore it, the murder is there in the background.

This is a very dark tale of a woman damaged by divorce, trying to remake her life. The murder is no secret to the reader from the first pages, but the development of a sustaining relationship and how it is affected by the murder make a good plot.

The writing is good, but I found the characters sad and depressing. The opening chapters in which we see Anna in her dreary life are the worst. Once Bernie enters the scene, things pick up for her, but the lurking fact of the murder is never far from the center of the story.

If you like a psychological mystery, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed the book for Net Galley.