Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Scholarly, But Very Readable

Sister Queens traces the parallel lives of Katherine of Aragon and her sister Juana, Queen of Castile. Daughters of Isabella and Ferdinand, the girls were raised to realize that their role in life was to increase the power of the Spanish dynasty and cement relationships with other nations. Things started well for both girls. Katherine, a favorite of Henry VII, married Prince Arthur in a magnificent ceremony. Juana married Philip of Burgundy, the love of her life. There the lives of the two women began to slide toward tradegy. Arthur died and Katherine married his brother, Henry. This marriage eventually ushered in the break between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. Juana's Philip was consistently unfaithful and power hungry. When, unexpectedly, she became Queen of Castile, he determined to take the power for himself.

I highly recommend this book. Not only are the sisters sympathetically portrayed, but the author addresses some the mysteries of the Tudor period. Was Katherine's marriage to Arthur consummated? While the author doesn't give a definitive answer, she does present a comprehensive review of the evidence. Was Juana mad, or the victim of her male relatives hunger for power? Again, there is no way to say for certain. Juana's behavior was often erratic, but being imprisoned, she had good reason to try to get her own way in small things.

While this book is not a comprehensive history of the Tudor period, it gives valuable insights into many of the leading characters of the day. I particularly liked the interweaving of the sister's stories. It made the glittering dance of kings and queens across Europe much more understandable. In this regard, the genealogy charts were outstanding. It's very hard to remember who was married to whom and where they reigned. My only quibble is that because the marriages were so important, I would have liked to have that date as well as the dates of birth and death. A very enjoyable view of a fascinating period.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Learning to Let Go

In this sequel to Softly and Tenderly, Jade is trying to heal from Max's betrayal. She still doesn't trust him, but she's fallen in love with Asa his two-year-old illegitimate son. Max returns from the Outpost Rehab Ranch in Texas where he has been coaching football for the Randall County rec center team. Now Jade and Max have to figure out how to become a family again or whether it's still possible.

This sequel is a good follow on to Softly and Tenderly. Jade and Max now have to face the problems that drove them apart. The book handles this well, although I still find Jade's inability to let go of her hurt a bit juvenile. Max still comes across so understanding it's hard to believe he's for real. I missed the interchanges between Jade's mama and her mother-in-law, June. Mama is dead, but June is pretty much out of the action. I was disappointed in her major scene. In my opinion, it was too dramatic to be realistic.

I thought the theme of letting go was handled very well. Even when we know we have to move on, it's hard to leave our things, our homes, and our familiar routine. We feel that we're losing so much, it's hard to see the gain.

I recommend this book if you're struggling with change, and particularly if you enjoyed Softly and Tenderly.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Die to a Self-centered Life

In Die Young, Hayley and Michael DiMarco make a good case for turning your life upside down. Die to live more fully. The self-centered life is a kind of death. Once you die to that life as Hayley points out: worry, stress and doubt disappear and you find peace. Dying to your pleasure centered existence leaves the way open to live as Jesus intended.

This is a very important book. It points out how much of our unhappiness is due to the selfish lives we live. My favorite chapter is about stuff. How many of us feel trapped by all the things we have and even more by the things we want. Michael confesses that he loves stuff and uses it as a drug. Buying is supposed to make you feel better, but in the end you're left with stuff. Give up your attachment to things and you have more peace, more time for family, and less stress. I thought that chapter rang with truth.

I found the last two chapters more of a stretch. The book makes an excellent case for submission to God and Jesus Christ. “Thy will be done.” is an extremely powerful prayer. Submission to one's husband, as opposed to defiance, is clearly a good thing, but I felt the discussion was pushing the concept. Cooperation might be a better concept in today's world than submission.

Likewise I found the last chapter on confession rather strained. Confession is clearly a good thing. However, even Michael, in his confession, suggests that building a culture where confession is encouraged is difficult. I think the book makes a laudable try at expressing the importance of confession, but I don't think the answer is clear about how to implement it.

I recommend this book. The confessions of Hayley and Michael that accompany the text are particularly helpful in illuminating the discussion. It makes the book very human.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Useful Bible Reference

The Proverbs in the Bible are one of the most useful sections for everyday use. Most of them have found their way into everyday wisdom. However, the arrangement in the Bible is not conducive to easily locating the proverb you want. Other reference books, such as Bartlett's Quotations can be used to find a specific proverb, but the proverbs are not necessarily presented in the most current Biblical translation.

Dallas has categorized the proverbs so that they are easily found under key words. While the categorization may not be perfect, it provides a good start for locating the proverb you want. I was also pleased to note that Dallas uses the New King James Version of the Bible. It's, in my view, a good translation for preserving the essence of the Bible as intended by the authors.

I think this is an excellent reference. It can be used by lay people and is also a handy reference for sermon preparation and for Bible study groups. I highly recommend this book as an addition to your library of Bible study tools.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Case for Literal Bible Translations and the Excellence of the ESV

The Bible is a literary book filled with poetry, metaphor and flowing prose. Ryland makes the case that these qualities should be maintained in translation and that a literal translation does this best. The Bible is a book to be read aloud and savored , as we savor good poetry. It shouldn't be treated as a throwaway dime novel and the poetry and prose relegated to the standard of informal communication.

Ryland traces the evolution of the literal translation philosophy of the Bible from Tyndale through the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version. I found the history of translation fascinating. Translation isn't easy under any circumstances, particularly when the translators try to be true to the exact meaning and wording of the original author and also try to make the text accessible to a modern audience. I think he does an excellent job of showing how the ESV committee tried to maintain this standard.

At the other end of the spectrum from literal translation is dynamic equivalence. Ryland's examples make a good case for how much of the literary quality of the Bible is lost in this style of translation. No matter how good the editor or interpreter, it's very difficult to maintain the quality of the original if too many additions and substitutions are made. Personally, I find it degrading and arrogant to assume that a translation must be aimed at the lowest common denominator, in this case a sixth grade reading level, and that the general public can't be trusted to interpret poetry or prose metaphors.

I highly recommend this book. I learned a great deal about the history of English Bible translation and came to appreciate the qualities of the King James Bible and it's successor, the ESV. If you have any interest in the history and quality of the Bible you're using, this book is a must read.

I reviewed this book as part of the Crossway Reviewer Program.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beginning Information for Landscape Photographers

The four small books contained in the Landscape Photography: Four Seasons are full of information for the beginning landscape photographer. The information is clearly not at the level of the professional or advanced amateur. For example the Spring book details the type of camera required by a landscape photographer. I assume anyone who has been involved with photography for awhile would have this equipment and perhaps more than one camera.

However, some of the discussions are more advanced. The section on filtering in the Fall book is useful. I learned about neutral density filters and got some helpful hints on how and when to use them. The discussions of photographing in various weather conditions are valuable. They're probably not news to anyone who's been doing landscape photography, but for the person starting out, they're extremely useful.

The books are small. They could be carried by a photographer who wants to have the information available in the field. I think this is part of the beauty of the packaging. For simply reading about various techniques, the packaging, four small books in an overall cover, is not optimal, but for using the books separately, it works.

I recommend the books for someone wanting to learn more about landscape photography. They're easy to read and contain valuable hints. I plan to use them when I do my next landscape shoot.

I reviewed the book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

Four Traditional Romances

With the mill closing, the town of Smitten is out of business. Not all the townspeople are enthusiastic about moving. Four ladies have a vision. The name translates to romance, so turn Smitten into a tourist resort aimed at honeymooners and other lovers. After all, the name fits.

The plot of this book drew me. Having lived in a small town that tried to redefine itself as a tourist destination, I felt a kinship with the town's problem. The idea is interesting, but the four ladies highlighted in the novellas are not. I was very disappointed by the vapidity of the four heroines.

The novellas rely on the traditional romance idea of misunderstanding between the girl and her guy. This can be handled well, or poorly. I found the ladies in the novellas straining to misunderstand their chosen guys. It wasn't a fun read.

If you really love traditional romance, and don't mind how mindless the heroines are, you may enjoy this book, otherwise give it a miss.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Intersection of Nightmare and Reality

Rats - vermin with a crazed blood lust race through Central Park. An elderly woman, leading a group of campers, suffers a stroke and is eaten. A little girl full of rat trivia witnesses the rat assault, and another more deadly attack. Rats fall from the trees sated with the blood of three people strung up in bags in the Ramble in Central Park. The opening has all the aspects of a nightmare. Reality intervenes in the police investigation of the murder and near murder of the three people.

Mallory and her partner Riker are charged with the identification of the victims and in the process discover the intersection of fifteen year old crimes in the Ramble with the new victims. It's payback time.

The intricate plot keeps the reader moving through the investigation. The bonus is the imagery; rats turn up throughout the narrative keeping alive the idea of monsters. The psychology of the investigators and the criminals also intersects; who is crazy?

This book is not for squeamish readers, but it has many rewards. The proliferation of characters are well drawn, and the subplot of their place in Mallory's background is used perceptively. I enjoyed the book although the images often verged on nightmarish fantasy. Carol O'Connor is a master of her craft. This is a book well-worth reading.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Month that Changed the World

On December l, 1941, America was a divided country. The war in Europe and the Japanese incursions in the Far East seemed far way. The America First Committee urged citizens to stay out of the war, and many agreed with that sentiment. Then came December 7, 1941 and America would never be the same. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed the isolationist country into one completely focused on winning the war.

Craig Shirley uses a unique format to tell the story of the month of December 1941. We are treated to a comprehensive selection of items from the newspapers of the day. Not only, do we learn about the battles and the public reaction to them, we hear about what people were doing for recreation, how much things cost (a truly amazing difference from today.), and stories of individual heroism both in the military and on the home front. It's hard to imagine the devastation of losing two sons on the same day in the Pacific, but that was the plight of more than one family.

I highly recommend this book if you love history. It's also a book that brings home how much our country today resembles the country prior to World War II. There are many stories in the book that should make us all stop and think about our beliefs and where we're going. The challenges are not so different.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gentle Love Stories

Three young women, friends living in the same community, face challenges preparing for their weddings. Rose Bender, recently engaged to her best friend Luke Raber, begins to wonder if she's made the right choice. Luke seems distant, not the ardent suitor she dreams of. Naomi Fisher is a successful matchmaker for everyone except herself. Naomi thinks she has resigned herself to life alone, but her sister's approaching wedding makes her question her decision. Priscilla King is preparing for the perfect wedding she's dreamed of since she was sixteen. She and Chester Lapp are very much in love, but as things go wrong with the wedding preparations, they begin to question God's plan.

I loved this book. The authors did a skillful job using the same setting to tell the interwoven stories. The plots are interesting, but it's the characters that keep you reading. The young women are genuinely likeable. Their problems feel real and the resolutions are satisfying.

I recommend this book if you're a fan of Amish stories, or just love a good romance.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze program.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Occult Western

Lucas McCade, superstar rodeo cowboy, has retired and taken a job in Oklahoma at the Falling Star Ranch. His wife is delighted, but his teenage son, Connor, isn't pleased. He's missing his friends and his plans for playing for the Texas Longhorns. The McCades settle in. The ranch is lovely, and they've found a church, but something is ominous. Not everyone is who they seem and evil hides even in the sanctuary of the church.

The plot is interesting, combining all the elements of a western with the occult. I thought I would enjoy it, but the structure of the book left a lot to be desired. The characters are cliches; the superstar who is a regular guy, the rebellious teenager, the beautiful girl and her disturbed counterpart.

The setting is interesting, but there is way too much description. Every time we meet a new character we have to hear what he or she is wearing, etc. I found that too much description slowed the story and didn't add much to the understanding of the characters.

I can't recommend this book. It purports to be a Christian book, but there are many too many curse words, and the Christian element, for me, is thinly veiled. The book starts realistically enough, but ends with what one can only describe as unrealistic melodrama.

I reviewed the book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Monday, November 7, 2011

An Interesting Prequel

Running from depression and alcoholism, Anna Pigeon takes a bus all the way to Arizona where she gets a job as a seasonal employee at Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Her job, picking up the human excrement on the shore of the lake, is unpleasant and difficult. When Anna disappears, her co-workers surmise that she's hurried back to New York. The truth is rather different. Anna has been kidnapped and thrust into a deep, rocky hole. Her struggle to escape is the subject of the early chapters.

I have read many of the Anna Pigeon novels and loved them. The descriptions of the national park settings are well done and the characters interesting. In this novel, the description of Lake Powell and vicinity is delightful, but the characters left me cold. With the possible exception of Jenny, Anna's roommate, I found the characters unlikeable. The motivation for their bad decisions was unclear, even at the end of the book. I finished reading feeling unsatisfied.

The plot is fast paced with plenty of gripping moments, but I didn't feel that it hung together. There were too many unbelievable elements, starting with the opening scenes where Anna finds herself at the bottom of a hole.

If you're an Anna Pigeon fan, I recommend this book because it fills in Anna's early history. If you're looking for a believable plot and well drawn characters, I'd give this one a miss.

I reviewed the book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Astonishing Tale of a Boy's Visit to Heaven

During a life threatening operation, Colton Burpo has an amazing experience. He visits heaven, meets Jesus, members of his family, and sits near God. It all sounds too good to be true, but I doubt a four-year-old could make it all up. His descriptions of heaven are eerily like those in the Bible, particularly Revelations.

I found the story fascinating. Did Colton really visit heaven? We can't know for sure, but he believes he did, and his parents, after much questioning and hearing his tales, believe that he did. Personally, it makes sense to me to believe that he did visit heaven. It's much like Pascal's Wager, we are more likely to get to heaven if we believe and accept Jesus as our savior. It also helps us to be better people here on earth.

This is also a very warm family story. It made me happy to see how the family interacted. The parents obviously love their children very much. I felt they treated Colton's revelations sensibly and were moved by them, but not moved to exploit their child.The scene where Sonja, Colton's mother, hears that he met the daughter she miscarried is extremely moving.

I highly recommend this book. Even if you don't come away believing, you will experience the warmth of this remarkable family.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Importance of All Work

Work, all work, is an important ingredient of God's plan for a Christian's life. Tom Nelson address the issue that some Christians find difficult. God's work seems to be only that done on a Sunday. Nelson makes the point that all work is important. You are doing God's work whether your calling is to become a pastor, or a missionary, or whether you are called to be a guidance counselor or manager. For me, this is a very important concept. No matter what kind of work we're called to do, we're doing God's work when we do it well.

This book should be read by everyone, particularly people who feel that their work isn't important. Nelson makes it very clear with case histories and Bible stories that everyone has a role to play, and we are all doing God's work. The book is very readable. I enjoyed the chatty style that brings you into Nelson's own life. For a relatively short book, it contains many valuable insights.

I recommend this book. It can be used in vocational counseling as well as read by anyone for a better understanding of God's plan for work in our lives.

I reviewed this book as part of the Crossway Publishers review program.

Family Secrets in an English Country Village

Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge interviews a dying man who confesses to a murder. Rutledge is intrigued and tries to find out more about the murder, but before he can, the young man himself is found floating in the Thames. When it becomes evident that the murdered man gave a false identity, Rutledge is assigned to investigate. The trail leads him to a small fishing village where the man grew up. The villagers are surly, clearly wanting Rutledge to go away. The reasons are unclear until Rutledge discovers that another murder was committed before WWI, or was it suicide?

I loved this book. I'm a fan of English mysteries and this is a good one. The plot is full of twists keeping the reader guessing the identity of the murderer until the very end. The book is filled with interesting characters and the scene is suitably forbidding. In addition to murder, the village has a secret that makes them shun outsiders.

I highly recommend this book if you like English mysteries. The unveiling of the connections between the characters keeps you turning the pages. All in all a very satisfactory mystery.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Christian Parable of Forgiveness

Jonathan Rush is an angry man. He is a successful business executive, but his anger is out of control, and he's tried to kill himself. The source of his anger is his mother. He doesn't know who she is, but he knows she abandoned him when he was four. He doesn't even know her name. This is the story of how he found her and why she gave him up.

I very much enjoyed this book. The story is fast paced. You can't help turning the pages to find out who Jonathan's mother is and why she gave him up. As he searches for answers, Rush has to reevaluate what he thought about the woman who gave him birth. Can he forgive her? Can she forgive herself?

I highly recommend this book. It illustrates how unresolved issues from childhood can affect your adult life. Although the story is fiction. It is based on two true stories. For me, it makes the point clearly that forgiveness is important. For anyone with issues with his or her family, it's a must read.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mystery and Romance on a Texas Ranch

The kidnapping of Eden and Clay's daughter five years ago tore them apart. Eden in on the verge of agreeing to marry someone else when Clay appears in her life. They're still married because he didn't sign and return the divorce papers, and he has news about Brianna, their daughter. He received a postcard telling him that she's at Bluebird Ranch in Texas, a ranch that specializes in giving foster children a ranch experience.

The story is fast paced. Eden and Clay are likeable characters, and we want to know what really happened to their daughter. It keeps you reading trying to discover which girl is theirs. I enjoyed the story and felt the Christian background was handled very well. I also loved the setting.

I did find the opening hard to believe. I don't think lawyers just lose track of divorce papers even if they have health issues. This opening bothered me and kept me from enjoying the story until Eden and Clay arrived at the ranch. From that point on, it was very well done.

I recommend this book if you like romance, and mystery with a Christian flavor.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Smorgasbord of Options for Promoting Your Book

The Frugal Book Promoter answers the question that most of us ask after writing a book. How do I get readers? The question is particularly important for self-published authors and authors who have little to spend to help their publisher promote their book. The book publishing industry looks particularly daunting when you're trying to break in. So many authors, so many books, what can I do to get noticed?

Carolyn Howard-Johnson gives excellent advice on this dilemma. It feel like you have a knowledgeable consultant sitting in the room with you. The book is filled with classic techniques, such as writing releases, query letters, obtaining interviews, and much more. My favorites, however, are the chapters on the new techniques: blogging, using social media, taking advantage of the tools offered by Amazon, and your web page.

My favorite chapter is on why writers worry. Writers worry about many things including plagiarism, pirating of ebooks, being sued, and the big one: success or rejection. I think that once an author gets by these hurdles the rest becomes, if not easy, at least a mountain it's possible to scale.

I highly recommend this book. If you've written a book, it's got wonderful suggestions on what to do next. If you're afraid to let your book see the light of day, Carolyn's discussion of worries will make you less afraid. In the long run, this book will save you money and sleepless nights.  

A Southern Soap Opera

In Softly and Tenderly, Jade describes her life as living in a Southern soap opera. It's a very apt description of this book. Jade is caught in the middle of some of life's most difficult challenges. Her mother is dying; her in-laws are torn by infidelity; and her husband has an illegitimate child he hopes she'll raise. As if things weren't bad enough, he's also addicted to pain killers, and someone runs into one of her stores and destroys it.

Although the novel deals with a plethora of difficult issues, it does it with sensitivity and caring. Throughout her ordeal, Jade is still able to cling to her faith and find comfort in Jesus. I enjoyed the characters. Beryl, Jade's mother, is a aging hippie who has managed to lead her own life, right up to the end. Her mother-in-law, June, is another interesting character. She's led the rich sheltered life of the wife of a successful attorney, but now she has to deal with his infidelity and her own dark secrets.

I recommend this book if you like romance. It's a fast read, the characters are enjoyable and while it could become maudlin, it generally avoids that pitfall.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Good Message for Young Women

Larissa D. Jean speaks directly to young women wondering if marriage is in their future. The message is excellent: God has a plan for everyone, however it takes patience for the plan to be revealed because God's timetable is not ours. Larissa shares her personal experience of waiting for a godly husband with candor and humor.

I liked the books message. Larissa openly shares herself with her readers and gives good advice, always acknowledging that it's not easy to wait patiently. I loved the section on her bridesmaid experiences. I only wish they had been filled in with more details. I thought that section of the book was short changed and if done well would have made the narrative sparkle.

I also liked the workbook section at the end of each chapter. It allows the reader to make the book her own. However, there were some problems with the book. It was very repetitious. The author gave essentially the same advice in each chapter. I also felt that more detail on the author's experiences would have given us a better picture of her and let us get to know her better.

I recommend this book for young women worried about getting married. It provides a look at how a godly young woman finds the patience to wait for God's timetable.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Christian Thriller

Ward McNulty has a special gift. He can see other people's souls. He uses this gift to great advantage in solving his father's murder and uncovering the larger criminal scheme that led to his death. It also helps him to save his own soul. The plot is fast paced taking Ward from Jacksonville, Florida to Columbia where he almost loses his life to members of a drug cartel.

I enjoyed this book. It's a quick read. The plot is interesting, and you find yourself rushing ahead to find out what will happen. There are several twists it's hard to see coming. I have to admit that because of the time sequencing of the chapters, it wasn't hard to figure out who the villains were, but still it kept my interest.

The character development was less satisfactory. The minor characters were sometimes sketched in. A longer book might have allowed their stories to be told without resorting to having the major characters fill in the back story with long narratives.

If you like thrillers, I recommend this book. My only reservation is that the religion is a bit on the mystical and fantasy side, but it works well with the plot.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Excellent Advice for Anyone in A Management Position, or Who Wants To Be

The 360 Degree Leader is an excellent resource for anyone in management, or those still striving to get there. Maxwell covers all the bases with fast paced anecdotes and easy to understand advice. One of the most difficult things to do in an organization is learn how to be a manager at the level you're at. Many new hires expect to become CEO within the next few years, but few have any understanding of what that entails. Maxwell gives anyone in the organization a blueprint for what to strive for. The most telling piece of advice is to become a person that other people want to follow.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Having worked in industry and in large volunteer organizations, I can say that his advice is dead on target. Not everyone can have the top title, or any title for that matter, but everyone in the organization can help move the organization forward by leading from the position they're in. Leadership doesn't depend on a title. It depends on how well you can make others follow your direction.

I highly recommend this book. Everyone with a job, or just starting out should read it. In fact, it has a lot to say if you're a family member. Leading is something that should be pervasive in your life.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Interesting History: Mediocre Fiction

Tides of War explores London society and the English forces during the time of the Peninsular War. James and Harriet are recently married, but he has to rejoin his regiment in Spain. Will that impact their marriage? The Duke of Wellington and his wife Kitty are leading separate lives with more or less enjoyment. We see these characters and many more responding to the conditions of society during the Peninsular War when men were absent and women had more freedom.

The book does a good job of telling the story of the Peninsular War from the standpoint of the troops. We see the battle for Badajoz from the standpoint of one of the soldiers. Very interesting portrayal of how battle affects reasonable men. During the same period, we see how women begin to feel their power and exercise their options both in business and love when their husbands are away.

The major problem with the novel is that we follow too many characters. Sometimes it's hard to remember who they are. The author cuts back and forth between characters in a chapter which can be disconcerting. The historical detail is excellent, but the characters don't come to life. The problem with the characters may be that there are too many of them, so we don't become an advocate for anyone.

I recommend this book for the historical context, but it's not a novel for light reading.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Intimate Portrait of a Great Woman

Catherine The Great, Portrait of a Woman, is an apt title for Massie's biography of Catherine the Great. The biography moves from Catherine's difficult childhood through her disastrous marriage to Grand Duke Peter when she becomes Grand Duchess and into her era as Catherine II.

I knew about Catherine's achievements as an Empress, but what I found most interesting in Massie's biography was his portrait of her as a woman. The hardships she endured under the Empress Elizabeth are almost impossible to imagine. We think of a Grand Duchess as someone who has power, wealth and status, but Catherine was a virtual prisoner. The Grand Duke Peter was uninterested in her, possibly because of physical problems. The Empress Elizabeth feared that she was a spy largely because of her German heritage. This left the fifteen-year-old Catherine virtually alone.

I particularly liked the way Massie wove Catherine's memoirs into the book. Recounting the political and personal situation in her own eyes was very moving. Throughout the entire book, I felt that we were viewing history through Catherine's eyes. It was very effective.

I strongly recommend this book. Even if you know the history of Catherine's reign, this will give you a comprehensive view of her personality and the background that made her great.  

Long on Promises, Short on Performance

Holly Oaks has been the home of Adelaide's family from before the Civil War. The house has seen a lot of tragedy. During the Civil War, Susannah Page, Aldelaide's great-grandmother, was rumored to be a Union spy after hiding Union soldiers during the battle of Fredericksburg. Adelaide’s daughter, Caroline, ran away from home as a teenager and hasn't been home except to leave Sara with her mother. More recently, Adelaide's granddaughter, Sara, has died. Sara's husband, Carson, and her two children are still living at Holly Oaks, but is this the right place for them after Carson marries Mariella?

Some people think the ghost of Susannah hovers over the house. Adelaide think it's the house itself that is the source of tragedy. At the core of this conflict is finding out what Susannah really did. This is where the Civil War part of the story comes to life when Susannah's letter to her cousin come to light. I thought the letters were the best part of the book. I had hoped for more intertwining of the Civil War. In fact, I think Susannah's story would have made a better novel.

I found the plot disjointed. The story seems to be about both Marielle coming to terms with life at Holly Oaks and Adelaide settling her doubts about whether the house is the problem, or whether it's the ghost of Susannah.

The characters are thin and not really believable. Marielle never comes to life as a new wife struggling to find a place in the first wife's home. Adelaide is inconsistent. She is the one person at the beginning of the story who knows the true story of Susannah Page, but somehow she forgets this in the middle and starts to believe in the ghost. Pearl, Adelaide's friend, is completely unbelievable. Her rudeness is something I find it hard to believe anyone would tolerate.

The book in an unfortunate blend of modern romance and historical fiction. Neither comes across as very well done. I can't recommend the book. If you love Christian fiction, you may enjoy it, but if you're looking for historical fiction or traditional romance, try something else.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Fascinating Story of Daniel

Although a fictional account, the story closely parallels the Bible story and fills in the gaps. When the story opens, Daniel and his three friends are captives in a train of Jews bound for Babylon and service under Nebuchadnezzar. The journey is fraught with hard ship including an attempt on Daniel's life by Prince Zeriah. Daniel survives and becomes a trusted seer in the service of Nebuchadnezzar. Although in service to a foreign prince, Daniel never wavered in his faith and in the end was rewarded.

I enjoyed the book. It tells the biblical story of Daniel and fills in the blanks to make the fiction more appealing. The prose in the story seemed rather stilted, but perhaps that was because the author was telling a Bible story.

I found the story interesting. I think the author succeeded in his goal of making Daniel and his friends more real to us. The history and the background were realistic. If you like Bible stories, this is a good read.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Book Sneeze Program. 

A Rich Tapestry of Colorful Characters

Joe Patterson's dictum about what the public wants to read could be used to describe his family's saga. “Love/sex, Money and Murder – in that order.” abound in the pages of The Magnificent Medills, although murder is confined to newspaper reporting. The book teems with colorful characters from Joseph Medill the patriarch and founder of the newspaper, to the two cousins, Bert Patterson and Joe McCormick, who kept the paper going, and the unforgettable Cissy Patterson. In addition to the family, historical personages from both the United States and Europe put in appearances. Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt are featured. Famous writers appear, particularly in Cissy's Parisian period: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and many others. It's a marvelous picture of the newspaper world and the super rich from before the Civil War through the Jazz Age and up to the modern era.

I loved this book. The story moves quickly from the lives of the Medills through the history of their newspapers enterprises, particularly the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News, and takes us into the politics of the day. It's a book that's hard to put down.

I highly recommend the book. The combination of engaging characters most of whom where very successful, in business at least, coupled with a fascinating glimpse of Chicago history is a winning combination.  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Good Advice for Readers and Non-readers

Reading is one of God's most valuable gifts. Unfortunately many people don't take advantage of it. In this book Tony Reinke tries to tell non-readers how to do it without making them feel guilty. The book has excellent ideas: make a plan for what you read, read while you're waiting for appointments, and most important read with your children.

One of my favorite sections dealt with the selection of books for children. Choose books that are appropriate for their age and that can help them understand the Christian world. However, and this advice I liked best, if the book is one that you don't think they're ready to handle on their own, read it with them. I know many parents weren't happy about the Harry Potter series. Trying to keep your kids from reading a book that has that much hype is like trying to keep them from eating candy. However, if you read it with them, you can answer their questions and discuss points that you don't agree with. Great advice.

I particularly liked the way the author added quotations from theological books and books on Christian living. I found his quotes on point and they made the text more interesting.

This was a fascinating read for someone like me who reads books all the time, but I wonder if it will be used by non-readers and readers who feel uncomfortable tackling hard books, like the classics. Here the author's advice comes in handy. Give books as gifts. Give this book as a gift. Read with others. Read this book in a group. Reading is so important, I hope lots of people take Reinke's advice to heart.

I reviewed the book as part of the Crossway review porgram.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Special Gift

Set in St. Alcuin's Monastery in the 1300's, The Hawk and The Dove Trilogy is a perceptive portrayal of human relationships. The abbot, Father Peregrine, and his aide, Brother Thomas, are the main characters, but the monastery is peopled with other unforgettable characters whose trials in living the prescribed life of a Benedictine monastery are beautifully portrayed.

The three volumes trace the history of Father Peregrine from his taking on the role of abbot until his death in the third book. The first book introduces us to him. Peregrine was the son of a nobleman who felt a call to God. A graceful, talented man, he is beaten severely and become a cripple. Instead of making him bitter, it opens him to the suffering of others, and as abbot his understanding of the trials of the brothers engenders a love the continues throughout his life.

I found the third book, The Long Fall, particularly poignant. Dealing with infirmity and impending death is never easy. Both Brother Tom and Father Peregrine face the ultimate dissolution of their earthly friendship. It both serves as a model for how to deal with impending bereavement and, since the brothers are not perfect, allows us to feel less guilty for the way we approach the end of life with our loved ones.

I highly recommend this book. It's not a book for just Catholics, or even Christians. The author has a sensitivity that allows her to portray the delights and sorrows of human love in a way that leaves one feeling better and with more understanding of people and relationships. It is a beautifully written, warm, and perceptive book, one you won't be able to read just once.  

A Very Dark Novel

The Thirteen Hallows are ancient artifacts. Apart they have power, but when brought together the power is heightened and can become deadly. The demons have been waiting for the chance to reassemble the hallows and gain the power. For many years, the hallows have been guarded by thirteen children of the blood of the original keepers. They received the hallows at the end of WWII. Now the keepers are being killed. One of the keepers convinces Sarah to take the the broken sword and keep it out of the grasp of the dark man and his mistress. The book becomes a chase scene through Wales, Britain and history.

I was fascinated by the book because I love history and fantasy. The authors do a good job of entwining the legends of the Thirteen Hallows of Britain with the story. I found that fascinating.

However, the book is filled with grisly murders and sex. Although the hallows are based in a culture of blood sacrifice, I found the murders in the opening of the novel unwarrentedly explicit. I felt the authors were looking for sensationalism instead of telling the story. The number of characters was also disturbing since their only contribution to the story was to die in a horrible fashion.

The police offices and the investigation was another area of disappointment. The officers didn't do any of the things you would expect from and investigation. They decided that Sarah was a serial killer and the chase began. I found this unbelievable.

I can't recommend this book. The material on the Hallows of Britain is interesting, but unless you like chase scenes filled with gruesome murders this is not a book for you.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can You Survive Getting Everything You Want?

Mary Lynn and Jackson are living the life they always dreamed of: an historic home in Charleston, social acceptance, money, talented children. For Mary Lynn, something is missing. She is increasingly drawn to the religion of her childhood. On Christmas she attends church and wishes the whole family could share in her awakening. Then an amazing thing happens. Jackson finds Christianity and it takes over his life. It's not the polite church on Sunday religion Mary Lynn has found. When Jackson experiences a conversion, he wants to live the Bible literally. This creates an enormous distance between them putting the survival of their marriage in doubt.

Charleston SC is on of my favorite places. Beth Webb did an excellent job drawing her readers into the setting. Unfortunately, that was the best part of the book. The book starts very slowly with lots of back story. The characters are introduced in their affluent life style, but realistic tension is missing. In fact, the story doesn't take off until after Jackson's conversion and Mary Ann's horror at the change in their social status.

Although I think the premise is an interesting one, how fully must a Christian live their faith, I found the treatment in this book lackluster. The characters weren't particularly interesting, the narrative was fully of flashbacks and internal monologue as well as back story, and the ending while satisfying from the standpoint of resolving the main character's issues felt rushed and unrealistic.

I can't really recommend this book unless you love reading about Charleston, SC.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Justice or Mercy?

Audrey, the pastor's wife, has an unusual empathetic skill. She feels the pain of others physically. Audrey copes with this unusual gift by bringing bread baked by herself and her husband to those in need of comfort. Times turn difficult for Audrey and her family. Geoff, her husband, loses his pastorate, and their son, Ed, loses his scholarship to University. The family copes by opening a special bakery that makes wonderful bread. You can almost smell it baking when you read the book. One of their former parishioners believes the family guilty of vengeful actions against his family. Is he right in seeking justice, or does God rather look for mercy?

I highly recommend this book. It is a powerfully written and inspirational. The story holds your attention from the first pages to the very satisfying conclusion. The characters are well drawn; we can sympathize with people who make mistakes, but ask for and receive forgiveness. The book explores the issue of whether justice or mercy is most important in God's eyes. I thought the story made the case very well. It's a book you will never forget.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chilling Thriller with Satanic Overtones

Something evil has infiltrated East Salem. The ritualistic murder of a teenage girl sets the stage for a frightening series of events that plunge Dani Harris, a forensic psychiatrist, and Tommy Gunderson, a retired football player and wannabe PI, into an investigation of a high school party gone seriously wrong.

I found this book hard to put down. Dani and Tommy make a great team. They're savvy and funny. Dani brings insights about human behavior. Tommy's love of gadgetry brings the use of advanced technology to the investigation. The underlying romantic tension is a bonus that leads to some snappy exchanges. I particularly enjoyed the intertwining of Christianity with the aura of evil. It makes the story more satisfying than a simple murder mystery.

The only criticism I have is that some of the important investigation takes place off stage, and we see only the results. Although annoying to the serious mystery reader, it's not a major concern. The fast pace moves the reader quickly past the point of questioning what happened behind the scenes.

I highly recommend this book if you love a chilling murder that may be only the first manifestation of the evil that has invaded the town. I was sorry to finish the book and am looking forward to the sequels.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Good Sequel, but Requires Reading The Skin Map First

The Bone House caries the adventures of Kit Livingstone and his girl friend Mina into new dimensions. Kit's grandfather is dead. Kit barely escaped with his life thanks to the sudden arrival of Mina, who is now an adept time traveler and begins to direct the action. Kit and Mina are on a quest to find the missing pieces of the Skin Map, but the Burley Men are too, and they don't care who they injure. Will Kit and Mina be able to outwit the Burley Men and complete their quest to find the fragments of the skin map? It makes fast paced reading.

I find the setting and mystery of The Skin Map and The Bone House fascinating. Lawhead has done an excellent job drawing the reader into his settings. However, because of the complexity of his plot, he has too many characters. Jumping between the characters and often between times is disconcerting. It's not a book you want to put down for a few days. You'll completely lose track of who is where.

I recommend The Bone House if you enjoy fantasy. The plot is fun, but it's easy to lose track of the characters, and you must read The Skin Map first. I'm looking forward finding out how Kit and Mina succeed with their quest.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Inspiring Glimpse of a Medieval Monastery During Lent

The privations of Lent coupled with cold rainy weather sets the scene for Penelope Wilcock's sequel to The Hawk and the Dove. The monks long for spring and the return of Father John, the newly elected abbot. Rejoicing follows John's return, but is quickly replaced by dissension and bitterness when an old enemy seeks refuge at St. Alcuin's. The brothers are stressed during this time, each faced by “the hardest thing to do.”

Wilcock has an excellent understanding of the strains of group living particularly when times are difficult. Although the brothers are sworn to the service of Jesus, several find it hard to act as the Lord would act. The way the community struggles with it's problems and finally comes to an inspirational conclusion on Easter is a heartwarming story.

I highly recommend this book. Although the novel is set in a medieval monastery, it has lessons for all of us living in groups whether they are religious groups, social groups, or families. The book has an obviously Christian background, but I believe it is a book for everyone. It's a book I will keep on my shelves. I had not read The Hawk and the Dove, but I'm now inspired to do so.

I reviewed this book at the invitation of Crossway. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fascinating Tales of the Owners and Thieves of Shakespeare's First Folio

Tales of eccentric owners and flamboyant thieves combined with fascinating tidbits about the production and provenance of Shakespeare's First Folio make Eric Rasmussen's book hard to put down. Rasmussen and his team are First Folio hunters. Their mission is to track down and catalog all existing First Folios. From the description of the catalog entry contained in the book, this is extremely painstaking work, but there are rewards. Many of the First Folios have mysterious histories. Valuable books that have been around for hundreds of years have not only been stolen, but the owners have added marginal notes which illuminate how the plays were received as well as what the owners thought of them.

I enjoyed the book. It's a quick read with enough tantalizing information to keep you going. I enjoyed the portraits of some of the more eccentric owners, and the chapter on Raymond Scott, a flamboyant thief, who captured the attention of the London media after stealing the Durham University First Folio is fascinating.

However, the book promises more than it delivers. Many of the thieves are unknown, so we're left with condition of the book and Rasmussen's speculation to tell what might have happened. The book is repetitious and the author often digresses from information on tracking the First Folios to his own emotional attachment to the project, He even goes into great detail about a painting he bought thinking it might be Shakespeare. While his musing are interesting, they detract from the main discussion and made it seem that he didn't have quite enough material to fill the book. Still, if you're a Shakespeare fan, it's an amusing read.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Story of a Strong Woman

Brenda Warner, has given us a gift in her memoir, One Call Away. She traces her life history from adolescent, the pretty sister, through her years as a Marine, her first marriage which gave her Zach, a special needs child, and ends with her marriage to Kurt Warner and how they raise seven children while dealing with the public demands of his job as a starting quarterback.

This is a book women should read. Too often we feel alone in our problems. We try to take responsibility for everyone, especially our spouses and children, we feel less than perfect in our body images, and we feel insecure and inferior when life isn't going our way. I loved this book. I think it was very courageous of Brenda to take us into her life this way. Probably the most telling part was her belief in God. God really is a major factor in the Warner's life and Brenda makes it clear how he was able to help her through some very devastating experiences.

I particularly felt close to her experience of her parent's death. It was a horrible experience, but faith and a loving family helped her get through. The other part I particularly enjoyed was the problems the family experienced when Kurt became a star, and they had huge amount of money. When we're poor, we think money will solve our problems. I wish that were true, but in reality it brings it's own set of problems and requires even more of us.

I highly recommend this book. It's a very personal experience and one I'm sure will bring you closer to your own family and to God.

I reviewed the book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Start of a Compelling New Trilogy

Danial, a homeless man, and Freya, a university student, are tied together by an adventure they shared as children. Transported to Nidergeard through a secret passage in the church their class is visiting, they are confronted with an underground world where knights sleep awaiting the call to save the world. Although times are bad, Ealdstan, the wizard who controls Nidergeard, believes that it is not time to wake the knights. Instead, he sends Daniel and Freya on a quest.

The story relies heavily on British Isles mythology. The author does a clever job of winding the tales through the story of the two young people.The plot unfolds on two levels: today and the time when the children were in Nidergeard. This could have been confusing, but it was easy to follow.

The writing is not consistently of the highest caliber, but it only detracts from the story if you notice craft in writing. The struggle between good and evil is well portrayed. If you're a fan of fantasy on the Tolkein variety, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Moving Story Showing the Power of Love

Tucker Mason is an angry young man. Brought up in a mansion, he has all the material comforts and a huge estate to roam in. However, what he most wants in the thing he is deprived of. His alcoholic father barely notices him, unless it's to deliver a blow. Tucker is lucky, however, he has the love and support of Miss Ella, a tiny black woman,who has an intense personal relationship with God. Wrapped in Rain is the story of how he comes to understand and live with the power of love.

I loved this book. The descriptions invite you into the world of Tucker and Miss Ella. The characters are people you'd like to know. They will live in your mind long after you finish the book. The religious tone of the book, while heavy, is perfect for the setting and characters. I highly recommend this book. It's an experience you will remember. It may change your life.

I reviewed the book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Evidence of the Bible's Divine Inspiration

Has God Spoken?, takes the reader on a fascinating exploration of the evidence for the divine inspiration of the Bible. Hanefraaff covers a wide range of evidence: techniques for copying the manuscripts, archaeologist's findings, prophecies, and scriptural analysis. Some evidence is more persuasive than other evidence. However, I found the total package very enlightening.

My favorite discussion was about the discrepancies between the reports in the four gospels. Hanegraaff argues that like any reporters, even today, the authors selected what to tell in their manuscripts. Therefore small details, or differing emphasis, should not detract from their eyewitness accounts. To me, that is certainly a valid reading of human nature.

I did find his constant arguments with Ehrman annoying. It felt as if he were writing the book to refute the ideas of this particular man, and to me, Ehrman's reasoning is a little too precious to be convincing. I would have preferred it if the author had simply made his case without setting up an opponent.

I enjoyed the book very much. I didn't agree with all of it, but it was a good read. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the authenticity of the Bible.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Vivid Colors and Fragrances of Provence, A Mystery, and A Love Story

Eve falls in love with Dom, a man with a mysterious past, and with their crumbling farmhouse in Provence. At first everything is perfection, but as cracks appear in the walls, so too they appear in the relationship. Told as counterpoint to Eve's story is the story of Bénédicte, the last owner of the house. The intermingling of the two stories told against the lush backdrop of Provence weaves the mystery and the love story.

The best thing about the novel is the marvelous descriptions of Provence. The author is obviously in love with her setting. The is both a benefit and curse. While it's delightful to become absorbed in the atmosphere of the hill town where the novel takes place, it detracts from the story being told. The dilemmas of the central characters are interesting, but because of the amount of picturesque writing about the setting, the story drags.

The juxtaposition of the two story lines interleaved every other chapter become wearing after awhile. The chapters are generally short so the reader is often left wondering what will happen with one character while the story moves to the other main character. Leaving the reader unsatisfied at the end of a chapter can draw the reader through the story, but in this instance it leaves the impression of choppiness and induces the reader to skip chapters.

I recommend this book if you love Provence and scenic writing, but if you're more interested in plot, you're apt to be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Monastic Views on 9/11

The aftermath of 9/11 sparked a cycle of vengeance and hatred. Concerned with the darkening of our world, David Carlson embarked on a project to talk to contemplatives about their perceptions of 9/11 and the aftermath. He hoped to find some light in the darkening world of growing tension between Christians and Muslims. He conducted a series of 30 interviews with monks and nuns and found much more than he expected. The views of those cloistered in religious houses ran a large gamut and gave him much to reflect on.

I loved the first half of the book. The description of the monasteries was beautiful. Being in out of the way places the surroundings are exception. Likewise the monks turned out to be exceptional people. They were as disturbed by the post 9/11 world as everyone else and were struggling with how to place it in a spiritual context.

The middle of the book, however, dragged for me. Instead of the spiritual discussions of the opening interviews, it seemed to me that we were veering into bureaucratic solutions. If I hadn't had a commitment to finish the book, I might have put it down at this point. However, I did finish it and I'm glad I did. The ending of the book, including the author's own dark night of the soul is very moving.

I recommend this book to anyone searching for spiritual understand of the terrible events of 9/ll and the continued terrorism and tension between Muslims and Christians. I particularly recommend the interview with Richard Bresnahan, a potter. His studio is located in conjunction with Saint John's Abbey in Collegevillle, Minnesota. His anger at the terrible events and his love for the beauty of the world are especially moving.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

Coming of Age and Finding Christ at Oxford

A year spent at on a scholarship at Oxford University gave Carolyn Weber more than she expected. She meets a fellow student who challenges her to become a Christian. Although a feminist and wary of men, because of her difficult relationship to the father who left the family, she can't quite put away the attraction of following Christ. As she progresses through the liturgical year, she finds it increasingly difficult to avoid believing and then equally difficult to feel comfortable in her new commitment. Haven't we all been there?

I found the memoir completely delightful. It made me feel young again, exploring great minds, falling in love, and finding a lifelong commitment. As Carolyn struggles with her new commitment to Christ, she has strong colleagues and friends to support and help her. It's particularly interesting to watch her struggle with the fact that being a committed Christian in academia is not easy either in this country or England. You have to admire her resolve.

This book is a gift to all of us who have been young, insecure, and searching. I was very sad to read the last page. It was an echo of my own lost youth.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Conclusion of the Life Support Story

In this sequel to Robert Whitlow's Life Support, Alexia Lindale is again trying to represent a client who is becoming more and more psychotic. Rena Richardson sees, Baxter, the husband she pushed off the cliff, with increasing regularity in her house, although Baxter is confined to a hospital bed. As Rena's mental state deteriorates, Alexia finds excuses for her and tries to act as confident as well as defense attorney. At the same time, Alexia's romance with the Ted, the music minister, is becoming more important to her. In spite of being Rena's attorney, she can't help but be impressed by the way Ted is able to help the paralyzed Baxter.

I love the setting of Whitlow's novels. He makes you see the Southern areas he's writing about. His premise is interesting, and he does an excellent job portraying the increasingly paranoid Rena Richardson. I was less impressed with his portrayal of Alexia Lindale. She still seems incredibly naïve for an attorney. There are numerous places where you want to shake her and say, 'How can you be so blind?'

Two major delights in the novel are the discussion of the music therapy, truly a marvelous treatment of a controversial therapy, and the presentation of Alexia's continuing response to Christ's teachings. These are, in my estimation. two of the best aspects of the novel.

I highly recommend reading Life Support before tackling Life Everlasing. The story really is one long book. I give Whitlow high marks for Christian fiction, but I wish his character development of Alexia had been more realistic.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze program.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Vivid Images -- Moving Poems

Deeper Into the Pond is another successful collaboration between Carolyn Howard-Johns and Magdelena Ball. I my estimation this collection is even more mature and moving than their previous work.

Vivid images in this collection of poems distill the lives of the women who wrote them. They speak to all the stages of life and our roles as women reminding us how far we've come and how much we have to be grateful for. They celebrate aging and our roles as wives, mothers and lovers. Whatever your age these poems will speak to you of times to look forward to or to remember. These are not poems to read once. They will stay with you forever.

If you enjoy poetry, I highly recommend this collection.

The Pineville Heist – Action Packed Thriller

During an argument with his father, Aaron is let out of the car and forced to walk to school. Taking a short cut through the woods, he witnesses bank robbers hiding the money from their heist of the Pineville Bank. When he and his friends decide to recover the money, a dangerous chase ensues that almost costs Aaron his life.

The Pineville Heist is an action packed thriller that will appeal to the young adult reader and to some older readers, too. The story is filled with plot twists that keep the reader turning the pages. The characters are well drawn and will appeal to young readers. The high school setting is one they can identify with. A good choice for teenage readers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Maybe You Can Go Home Again

Tom Crane had a bad day. He lost his job at a prestigious Atlanta law firm. His girl friend deserted him and even took his cat. Tom goes home to his childhood home in Bethel, Georgia. He has work to do. His father died recently and he had to close down the practice, but when he arrives in Bethel, he realizes that things are not as simple as he'd like. His friends, the Pelhams, are very tense when he goes there for dinner. His uncle Elias is urging him toward the faith of his childhood, and there is a mystery in the files of his father's cases.

As usual with Whitlow, the setting draws you in. The main character, Tom Crane, is a likeable person. It's a comfortable feeling book. Almost like living in a small town. I love reading his books for the setting. It makes me want to go to rural Georgia.

The Christianity in this book is more pronounced than that in the Santee series. For some people, this will be a positive; others less so. On the negative side, I found the crime too easy to guess. This ruined the suspense in the remainder of the book.

I highly recommend this book for people who enjoy Christian fiction. It's well worth the read and you'll love Georgia.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Book Sneeze Program.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fascinating Look at a Guilty Client and the Attorney Who Defends Her

On a hike in the mountains, Rena Richardson pushes her husband off a cliff hoping that he's dead. This is the start of an engrossing novel. Although we know Rena is guilty, her attorney doesn't. Alex is a young attorney who specializes in divorce cases, usually talking the woman's side. She's convinced that men are the problem and advises women to make sure they have all the documentation to take their straying husbands to the cleaners in a divorce case. Because of her orientation – the woman is always right – she's blind to the fact that Rena is acting in a rather bizarre fashion.

The interplay between the two women and the juxtaposition of them giving their sides of the story is a powerful presentation. We know who's guilty. We can't help rooting for Alex, but events keep piling on the tension to bring the women into an uneasy partnership.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Moving back and forth between the two characters definitely keeps you turning the pages. Well written, great suspense and a fascinating environment: all these make the book well worth reading.

I was a little disappointed in Alex, the attorney. I thought she was a bit too naive and trusting. I had trouble seeing an attorney who had been practicing for awhile act as she did. However, her specialty makes it understandable, if not completely reasonable.

Like other reviews, I was disappointed that the book had to be continued into a sequel. I thought it could have easily fit into one book. The cliff hanger at the end seemed contrived. Still, it was a great read. It was particularly interesting because of the Christian element using music to come to Christ. I thought that was an excellent treatment. Definitely a book to read.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.