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.