Friday, December 28, 2012

Good Start, But Doesn't Live Up to It's Potential: Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

Nora Hamilton wakes from a drugged sleep to discover that her husband, Brendan, hung himself during the night. Why did he take his own life? Nora has to know. Her mother-in-law and even the police chief hint that it could have been because of problems in the marriage, but Nora can't/won't believe it. Small things happen. Her sister finds the two wine glasses she and Brendon used on the last night. One of them contains the residue of a drug apparently the one used to make her sleep. She finds a bottle containing the drug in a drawer of Brendan's desk. The prescription is for ten days earlier, but why did he need a drug to help him sleep?

Brendan was a police officer like his father and the police have been like a family, but now Nora begins to fear them. The deeper she goes the more dark secrets she uncovers about the her husband's family, the police force, and the town. The constant threat of snow and the white wilderness, where it's easy to lose your way and freeze to death, provide an eerie background for Nora's search for answers.

The opening scene that draws you in. The descriptive language brings you into the snowbound countryside and gives the story a suitably feel of menace. The plot grips you in the opening, but gradually it drifts into complexity with side plots that do eventually lead to the conclusion, but distract from the main action.

Nora is not a likable character. She's driven by events and does little except drive around her wintery world from one dangerous situation to another. The police seem unrealistically evil and the inciting incident, that happened 25 years ago, not important enough to account for so many deaths.

The writing becomes more flawed as the book progresses. There are awkward sentences and in some cases the events seem to be out of context. This is primarily a problem of editing. I'm surprised the problems weren't caught. I did read an ARC, but I would have thought the obvious errors would have been eliminated before a bound galley was released. However, that may still happen before publication.

This is a good book to read if you are in the midst of a snowstorm, but curled up by a warm fire.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Good Message -- Charming Romance

Molly Hatfield feels responsible for her crippled brother, Donny. When a fire destroys their home in the mining town of Dobson Creek, Colorado, they travel to Cactus Patch in the Arizona Territory where Molly hopes to become the heiress of the Last Chance Ranch. Although she doesn't particularly like ranching or cows, Molly hopes the ranch will provide a secure home for Donny.

One of the stipulations of becoming the heiress is that she must sign an agreement that she'll never marry. This doesn't bother Molly. Her primary concern is Donny's welfare, until she meets Dr. Caleb Fairbanks. Molly has always been overly protective of Donny, but Caleb sees a need for the young man to become more independent and so their stormy romance begins.

I enjoyed the book. Molly and Caleb and interesting characters, but in some ways Donny is the focal point. I thought the author's message was excellent. Both animals and humans need the freedom to grow so they can maximize their abilities. It takes several painful experiences, but Molly finally sees the wisdom in Caleb's treatment of Donny and it frees her to be in love.

This is the second book in the series about Last Chance Ranch, but can be read as a stand alone. I enjoyed both books, but I thought the tension in the first book was more realistic. Still it's a good read.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mouth Watering Pictures, Tasty Food: Not Just for Teens: Teen Cuisine: New Vegetarian by Matthew Locricchio

Whether you're a vegetarian, or even a cook, Teen Cuisine: New Vegetarian is a book you'll enjoy. What grabbed me first was the quality of the book and the pictures. This book could be displayed in your living room. The pictures are so tempting you find yourself wanting to try the recipes.

I have to admit I'm not much of a cook, so the recipes laid out in simple steps are perfect for me. They will also be good for teen cooks, or other novices. Recipes are laid out in three sections: On Your Mark, Get Set, and Cook. If you follow the steps exactly as presented, it's hard to make a mistake, and you end up with gourmet dishes.

The commentary on each recipe is interesting. I particularly liked the sections on Waldorf Salad and ketchup. I never actually thought about making ketchup, but the recipe is so well laid out I plan to try it. Another valuable feature is the Chef's Tip. The tips give useful information on how long it will take to prepare the dish, for example should you start some parts an hour or so before doing the rest of the preparation.

I did try a couple of recipes and can recommend the red, white and blue cheese potato salad and the smart bars. Both were delicious. I highly recommend this book for teen cooks, or anyone else who likes vegetarian food.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Revenge Kidnapping

Eight years ago, the Piper successfully kidnapped children for profit, throwing the city of San Francisco into panic. Each of the children was returned to the parents after the ransom was paid, except for the last kidnap victim. A reporter, Scott Fleetwood, was contacted by the Piper. Thinking he was working with the kidnapper, Scott played a dangerous game that ended with the kidnapped boy, Nicholas Rooker, dead. Now the Piper has one of Scott's twins. He wants to make Scott suffer. He wants revenge.

The plot of this book is full on action. The story opens with the kidnapping of Scott's son and the tension mounts as ransom attempts are made and the Piper's demands become increasingly hard to meet. He doesn't always want money. The twists in the plot will definitely keep you reading. In fact, it's important to read quickly so that you don't stop to question the character development.

The characters, particularly Scott, are eaten up with guilt for what happened to Nicholas. He'll do anything to save his son. You can feel his pain. The role played by the FBI agent, Shiels, is more difficult. He too feels guilty, but mostly he blames Scott. However, Shiels, too, made mistakes and blaming Scott seems a great deal like shifting the blame. I didn't like the character. I thought he was a bumbler. He wants to capture the Piper, but his desire to blame Scott and his failure to trust him lead to some bad decisions.

If you enjoy suspense, this is a book for you. The writing is clear and the story moves along at a good pace. However, I would not recommend it for character development. Not only is Shiels a difficult character, but some of the other characters, particularly the agents, are so poorly developed as to be caricatures. The mother, Jane, is not really believable. She's upset, but I would have expected the tension to create more angry scenes between husband and wife. Still it's a good read.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Journey to Embarthi to Protect the Magic Sword, Eirian: The Call of Eirian by C. Aubrey Hall

The Journey to Embarthi to Protect the Magic Sword, Eirian

Orphaned by the murder of their parents, the twins, Diello and Cynthe, now homeless are journeying to Embarthi, the home of their Fae mother. When their parents were killed the twins discovered that their simple life hid many secrets, the most important that the powerful sword, Erian, was hidden on the farm. Now the twins are keepers of the sword and are trying to reach Embarthi, and they hope safety.

This book is a delightful fantasy filled with Fae, Faelins, goblins and other magical creatures. The twins journey through a wintery landscape where they must contend with the threat of starvation and the fear of being discovered by the goblins who killed their parents in order to gain possession of the magical sword.

If you like fantasy, this is a fun book. The characters are well drawn and the setting imaginative. I particularly liked the fact that the boy twin, Diello, is given a major role. It should make the book more interesting for boys.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Must Have Resource For Both Beginner and Advanced Self-publishers

If you've written a book, or are thinking about it, this book is a must read. The authors describe the process of writing and publishing including tips on writing your book, formatting for publication, using a variety of publication avenues, and getting your book to readers. They even include a section on how to build a social media platform.

If you're a beginner, the first chapters on how to get your book ready for publication are probably the most immediately important. However, I suggest reading the entire book so you have a roadmap of where you're going. Don't let some of the more technical chapters frighten you, once you get into the process you'll realize how valuable these chapters are.

My favorite chapter for the advanced self-publisher is the on how to convert your file. There are many different ways to go depending on your goals for distribution, and your level of experience. Some conversion methods are easier than others. Amazon Kindle tries to make it as easy as possible for fiction books. I found the caveats for nonfiction authors extremely useful. This chapter is worth the price of the book.

The text of this book also showcases how to use the features of ebooks, particularly Kindle. It's extremely helpful to be able to click on a link in the book and visit the website, or page under consideration. I was impressed. The website for APE also has very useful information.

I highly recommend this book for all writers. Even if you plan to use a traditional publisher this book can give you insight into the publishing industry and considering the changes that are happening every day, you may want to eventually consider self-publishing.

APE How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasake and Shawn Welch

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What is the sublime? The Sublime from Antiquity to the Present by Timothy M. Costelloe

Philosophers from Longinus to the postmoderns have tried to answer this question. It has been defined as inherent in the object, or in the mind and reactions of the observer. It has been seen in nature, art and oratory. Some of the best philosophical minds, Kant, Burke, Hegel, and others have tried to define it. This book brings together a collection of essays that shows the breadth of the concept.

The first chapters of the book present the philosophical discussions on the subject. I was fascinated by Longinus' treatment. I'd read the Greek philosophers, but was unfamiliar with his work. The collection of essays gives a broad overview of the changing concept of the sublime giving the reader access to the entire historical perspective in one volume.

The second section of the book is a series of essays on particular aspects of the sublime ranging from religious perspectives, architecture, American understanding, Dutch literature and the fine arts. Each author brings a slightly different perspective. I found each one fascinating, but my favorite was architecture. I found the following story very descriptive of the idea of the sublime experience. Boulee wanted to place Newton's sarcophagus at the bottom of a dome pricked with holes so the light could shine through like twinkling stars. Thus the viewer could experience the quintessential sublime scene in the presence of Newton's body. This story relates the concept of the sublime to infinity and the intense feeling produced by being in the present of the sublime.

For anyone interested in the concept of the sublime, this is an excellent book because it presents so many diverse philosophical and practical discussions. It's very readable. Each chapter in addition to the philosophical perspectives presents illustrations of the sublime. I particularly enjoyed the concrete discussions relating the concept to art, architecture and nature. It's an excellent choice for both specialists and for readers simply interested in the concept. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Study of the Humanity and Diety of Christ Jesus: The Man Christ Jesus by Bruce A. Ware

The question asked by the author, Bruce Ware, is how can we understand that Christ lived as a human man while still the son of his father and thus a diety. Ware does a good job of addressing this issue on several fronts: Increasing in Wisdom, Growing in Faith, Resisting Temptation, and Living as a Man. The essential argument in all cases is that Christ was fully human and filled with the holy spirit. It wasn't easy, any more than it is for any human to resist temptation and growing in faith and wisdom was not made that much easier by his divinity. He still had to grow as any human does. Ware argues that Christ had to be fully human for his accomplishments and his sacrifice to be understood.

The chapters devoted to each of the questions are readable, informative, and make a good argument. At times, I thought he pressed the analogy farther than the evidence supported it. This was particularly true in the chapter on “Living as a Man.” I accept that in the historical context and in the context of the Old Testament prophesies, Christ had to be a man. To give twelve reasons for this seemed to be overkill.

For me, probably the best analogy in the book was likening Christ to a king who has gone out among his people not telling them of his kingship. He retains his kingship, but he also functions as a man and this is the way his subjects see him. I think this is an excellent description of Christ Jesus the man.

This is an excellent book for a discussion group. While Ware's arguments are cogent there is room for disagreement. He also presents discussion questions at the end of each chapter. They seem to me to be good start to discuss not only this book but the relevant sections in the Bible.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

Monday, December 3, 2012

If You Love Rock Harbor, You'll Love It Even More at Christmas

Bree and Kade long for a baby, but seems impossible after her miscarriage. Lauri, Kade's sister, has become involved in the mystery of a boy who died parachuting into Little Pine Lake. Hilary wants Zoe to be told that Laurie is her birth mother. Many human problems await resolution as the Christmas season approaches, and as usual, Samson, Bree's rescue dog, is there to save his people.

This novella is a very short trip to Rock Harbor, but it brings those who love Rock Harbor up to date with all the happenings. Because it's so short, it will only be a taste for those new to the series, but hopefully, it will make them want to them to continue.

This book is a heart warming way to start the Christmas season.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Neither a Compeling Mystery nor an Absorbing Family Drama: The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black

Clare Porterfield, a professional photographer, returns to her childhood home in Galveston after the death of her only daughter. Clare is caught up in remorse. Did the famous picture she took of her daughter lead inexorably to her death? Clare is also caught up in remembrance of her own childhood. After she and her best friend, Patrick, started a fire in which a girl lost her life, she was sent to live with her Grandmother. Now she wonders if that was the only reason. Galveston seems to be filled with secrets about her family and earlier secrets about the Carraday family who own the big house across the alley.

The author has a captivating ability to bring you into the area she's describing. You can actually feel the heat, dampness, and decay in Galveston. That's the best part of the book. I couldn't be sure whether the author was attempting to write a mystery or a family saga. In neither case, did she catch and keep my attention. The solution to the mystery is predictable in the first fifty pages.

As a family saga, it lacks the participation of most of the characters. Clare's mother is almost a ghost in the story. Patrick doesn't show up until very late in the book. Will Caraday, owner of the big house across the alley, is a presence, but we never get to know him. Everything is seen from the outside.

I loved the portrayal of Galveston., but if you're reading the book for the mystery, or insight into a dysfunctional family, the novel disappoints. I enjoyed the book, but wouldn't recommend it unless you're especially interested in a story set in Galveston.

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Unique Look at the Relationship Between Writer and Editor: Good Prose, The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd

Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd have been partners in writing and editing for over thirty years. They came together when Todd was an editor at the Atlantic Monthly and Kidder was trying to find his place as a writer. I found it interesting that Todd chose to work with Kidder through so many revisions because Kidder was so willing to rewrite. That is an interesting insight into their success. Successful writing is attained by rewriting.

The authors tell their story in first person narratives then use this experience to discuss the mechanics of writing. The section on Narrative is excellent and should be read by both fiction and nonfiction writers. How to select the material, pace and most important when to cut scenes for clarity apply to both types of writing.

The section on Being Edited and Editing is a must read for anyone seriously interested in writing for publication. By giving the view of both the editor and the writer, it's possible to see the dynamics operating on both sides. Both want a successful product, but when it's your baby that's being torn apart it's hard to see this. Likewise, it's hard for the editor to know how and when to push to get the best possible product.

I found the section on The Problem of Style liberating. The chapter in addition to discussing various styles, like journalese and propaganda, discusses traditional rules of writing: when to use them and when to break them. That discussion is worth the price of the book. Sometime writers try too hard to slavishly follow the rules and end up losing their distinctive style.

I highly recommend the book for both nonfiction and fiction writers. It gives wonderful insight into writing and editing and is the story of a special friendship.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

A New Understanding of Jesus, Meshing History with Theology

In this monumental work, Sweet and Viola illustrate Augustine's contention that “In the Old Testament, the New is concealed, in the New, the Old is revealed.” Through careful scholarship they show that from Genesis to the prophets the Bible points to the Logos, the Word made flesh and how the New Testament is the realization of that action. I was particularly impressed with their discussion of the creation account in Genesis as a foreshadowing of the life of Christ.

This is not a book to read quickly. It must be savored and read, preferably, with the Bible handy to read the original words in context. The authors have a myriad of quotes in each chapter. They can be simply skimmed as evidence for their thesis, but it is much more revealing to read the actual words.

I was very impressed with the book. I have read other books that reveal the similarities between Moses' life and Christ's, but this is the first book I've read that puts it all together. I highly recommend Jesus, a Theography. It analyzes the Old and New Testaments together and gives us a much broader understanding of the truth of God's word.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

What Price Will a Struggling Artist Pay For Success? The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro

Claire is a talented artist who has been black balled by the art establishment in Boston. Her lover, Isaac, a well known artist, was blocked. To help him, Claire painted a picture in his style for a show at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). The picture was a sensation. With all the stress of publicity, Isaac left her. When she tried to claim the picture was hers, the art world closed ranks with MOMA leaving her outside.

She's become a Degas expert, painting reproductions for Suddenly she's offered another chance. Aiden Markal, owner of a prestigious art gallery, offers her the chance to copy a Degas and earn a show at his gallery, but the Degas turns out to be the one stolen from the Gardner Museum in the famous 1990 heist. Now Claire has a choice. Should she take the Faustian bargain and work for Markel, or turn it down? And what price will be demanded in the end, if she agrees?

I found this book interesting on several levels. The Gardner Heist and all the information about art forgery was fascinating. The author wove the details into the plot very well, so it never felt as if she was trying to give a tutorial.

The main character interested me because of the choice she made. It's a fascinating question, How much should you pay for success? Claire is clearly driven by ambition, but she is also concerned about the ethics and legality of what she's been asked to do. Did she make the right decisions? I'm not sure. I think each reader will have to answer that question for himself.

The book doesn't live up to it's publicity as a thriller. It's more of a mystery, but it's enjoyable if you don't expect fast action and you're interested in the details of the art scene.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Rich, Liberal, New Yorkers: A Family in Turmoil: The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

It's the Fourth of July, a year since Leo Frankel, a journalist, was killed in Iraq. Now his family is gathering for the Memorial. It's been a difficult year for everyone. Each family member brings their own trauma. His parents are planning to separate. His sister, Clarisse, is desperately trying to have a baby. Lily is angry at the world and the war that claimed her brother. Noelle, who has become an Orthodox Jew living in Israel with her four sons, is angry with her husband who has been fired again. Thisbe, Leo's wife, plans to move in with her lover, but worries about what the family will think. As the weekend progresses, tension increases. Old resentments are aired, as are memories of Leo, leaving everyone feeling tender and abused.

Henkin's prose is sometime mesmerizing. You actually become part of the family drama. As with real people, the characters can become annoying, irritating and loveable. The characters, particularly the sisters, are so well drawn you feel you know them. I had more trouble with the parents. The book starts with their decision to separate, which sets the tone for the weekend. However, I had trouble with the strength of their motivation. It seemed weak for seventy-year-old people who have been married for forty years, presumably happily.

The characters are strongly liberal, Jewish, and from New York. This may turn some people off. It's a world that many of us don't inhabit. However, dysfunctional families all have many traits in common. This one is not an exception. You are drawn in as you experience their trauma. This is a book you'll enjoy, if you like well-written family dramas.

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Gentle Mystery with Roots in World War II: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Fifty years ago, Laurel witnessed a horrible tragedy. Her beloved mother stabbed a man who entered their farmhouse yard and killed him. Laurel knew her mother intended to kill the man, but she couldn't believe it until now.

Fifty years later, Laurel's mother is dying. Now Laurel wants to know what really happened all those years ago and most of all why. She begins a quest and enlists her brother Gerry, who was a baby at the time, to find why her mother killed the intruder.

The story is told through several characters. Laurel tells the story in the present, but interspersed with that we have stories from her mother and her mother's friends from WWII. It is a credit to the author's talent that she is able to weave the time periods together and keep the reader anxious for more.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys mystery and romance. The book is well researched and gives an accurate picture of the hardship faced by ordinary people in Great Britain during the blitz. At first I didn't like moving back and forth between the time periods. It seemed to slow the action. I wanted to know why the murder occurred. However, the back and forth movement became rhythmic and gave me a chance to know the characters. Once in they flow, I found it an excellent way to tell the story.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Parenting is Not for the Weak Hearted: The Best Advice I Ever Got on Parenting by Jim Daly

Nobody ever said it was easy to raise the next generation to be responsible, productive members of society, but this book offers some helpful suggestions. Children are people who expect to be treated with respect and love.

This does not mean that we have to let them rule the family. I love chapter two in this book. It discusses the nine myths of parenting. I think we all feel guilty at not giving our children more that we had, not suggesting that they can be greater, but that doesn't mean pushing them into endless activities and giving them opportunities that perhaps they don't want all designed to make them more successful than we were.

Children need love, limits, and respect. If we can give them these three things, they will find their own ways to succeed in life using the talents God gave them.

This is an excellent book for parents. The chapters deal with different perspectives on child rearing, but they are all excellent. It's a great book to discuss with your spouse, or in a Christian group dedicate to parenting. I highly recomment it.

I reviewed this book for Worthy Publishing.  

Marriage Isn't Easy, But This Book has Great Suggestions: The Best Advice I Ever Got on Marriage by Jim Daly

Whether you've been married a long time, or are a newly wed, you realize that marriage isn't romance. That does not imply that marriage can't have romance, but there's more to it. Marriage is a partnership. Respecting and loving your partner is the basis of a good marriage.

This is a wonderful book for anyone looking at their long-term marriage and wondering how to make it better and for anyone starting out. The book is a series of chapters by people who have been through the goods and bads of marriage and are offering advice from their perspective. You don't have to take all of it, but it's a perfect way to think about how to make your marriage all you want it to be..

I recommend this book for individuals, and for groups looking to improve marriage relationships. It will make you think and give you excellent examples.

I reviewed this book for Worthy Publishing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Power of Secrets

Secrets can destroy relationships and lives. Sophie Caldwell has returned to Hickory Ridge. Growing up as an outcast orphan, she longed for acceptance. Now she's the owner of the newspaper, but will the town accept her. The mystery of her family, who and what she is still haunts her.

Ethan Heyward, an architect, has built the lovely resort of Blue Smoke above the town of Hickory Ridge. Ethan is successful and seems to have it all, but he carries a secret that eats into his soul.

Ethan and Sophie are immediately attracted to each other, but their secrets are like a wall keeping them apart, each afraid to allow the other into their hidden pain. As Sophie struggles to make the newspaper successful. Ethan struggles with his relationship with his irascible employer wondering whether he should stay in Hickory Ridge now that the resort is complete.

This is the final book of the Hickory Ridge Trilogy, however, it can easily be read as a stand alone novel. The author does a good job of introducing characters from the two previous novels without long descriptions of what happened before. The setting is delightful presenting a picture of a lavish resort and it's effect on a small town in the late 1800s. The characters are well drawn. Sophie's and Ethan's struggles with their pasts are realistic and the desire to know their secrets draws you into the book.

I highly recommend this book for readers of historical fiction with a Christian background.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Motorcycle Gangs, Race Horses, and a Crumbling Mansion Provide Plenty of Action

Jack Haliday is working undercover to expose a gang dealing in drugs and arms led by Gunner, the leader of the Nomads motor cycle gang.

Shane West is having a difficult morning. On his way to the stable to exercise the young horses he trains, he finds Krebs, one of the stable hands, slacking off as usual and fires him. Krebs, a nasty customer, plots his revenge.

Vic Deveraux has ridden horses for the West Stable for many years, but he's getting old. When he causes a serious accident on the track because he can't control his horse, Shane offers him an easier job. Vic's pride is hurt. When he encounters Krebs and his partner Riviera, he's ready to fall in with their scheme to kidnap Shane, hold him prisoner in a crumbling mansion frequented by the Nomads, and demand a ransom.

The author weaves together the two plot lines for an action packed finish at the old mansion.

The book is an enjoyable read, if you like plenty of action, some of it rather nasty. That's the positive side. On the negative side, the characters are rather one dimensional. Krebs is so evil you expect to see horns and a tail. I have to admit there wasn't much time for character development in the very intense action environment. However, it you prefer books where the characters actions and beliefs drive the plot, this isn't for you. The characters are primarily in the service of the action.

I give the book five stars for action and three stars for character.

I reviewed this book for Acorn Book Services through the Net Galley program..  

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Year to Savor Chesterton

A Year With G. K. Chesterton is an excellent companion piece to The Quotable Chesterton. Kevin Belmonte, the editor of both works, has brought together snippets of Chesterton's work that will make you want to find the longer original works and dig in.

The book is designed as a devotional to be savored over the course of a year, but once you get to know Chesterson's delightful wit and the breadth of his scholarship you may find yourself sneaking in more than one piece. I had trouble putting the book down. I became fascinated, particularly, when Belmonte quotes for the same work on successive days.

The only problem I have with the book is that I would like to have the cites for the quotes used to expand on the scripture passages. It would make it much easier to track down the sources. I recommend this book highly for either the person familiar with Chesterton who wants a daily bite, but it is also good for anyone wanting to become familiar with this thinking. It's a real treat.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Striving to be Free

Tessa, sold at an early age to a woman who trains beautiful young girls in the skills of being a hetaera, longs for freedom. She has a luxurious life supported by Glaucus, one of the leaders of Rhodes, but she is basically a slave subject to Glaucus whims. One night, having had enough, she storms away from a dinner where Glaucus entertains his friends. Later he accosts her, they struggle, and Glaucus is accidentally killed. Horrified, Tessa sees all her dreams of freedom vanishing, but with the help of Simeon, Glaucus' steward, and Nikos, who she believes is a newly acquired slave, she continues to fight to attain her freedom.

The setting is beautifully done. The Isle of Rhodes, the people, the architecture and the politics all come alive. The historical detail is excellent. For me, the characters were not as well conceived as I would have liked. Tessa doesn't trust anyone. While this is understandable, it seemed that the author carries it too far. When people try to help her, she pushes them away hard. I suppose this could be psychologically accurate, but it seemed a little overdone.

The plot surrounds keeping Glaucus' death a secret so that Tessa can accompany him to Crete and gain her freedom. I found keeping the death a secret in a house full of servants with his wife in the same house a bit far fetched. However, the book is well worth reading for the historical detail. I recommend the book for anyone who enjoys historical novels with a Christian undertone.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Action, a Biblical Mystery, Strange Humanlike Creature, and Romance: The Blood Gospel by James Rollins

Dr. Erin Granger is working a dig in Caesarea when she's called away to examine some ancient ruins discovered during an earthquake at Masada that left everyone, except one boy, dead. She teams up with a special forces unit, led by Sgt. Jordan Stone, that is examining the find. A strange priest, Father Korza, arrives at the site and attatches himself to the team.

Examining the ruins they discover that they are on the track of a centuries old book, the blood gospel. However, they're not the only ones looking for the book. A strange, humanlike, group with supernatural powers, the strigoi, are also after the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure. The characters are appealing. The supernatural foes, and friends, are fascinating, and the hunt takes them to fascinating locals. The book is a little long, but if you enjoy this sort of fiction, you'll want it to last. This is a great book for reading during a snowstorm when you can just curl up and enjoy. 

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program. 

Something for Everyone: Fast Action, Romance, Kinky Sex: Havoc by Carolyn McCray

A militant Islamic sect has stolen Rinderpest, a dangerous biological weapon. A special forces team is searching for the thieves. Unfortunately, Brandt, the special forces leader, kills the thief before being able to extract the location of the Rinderpest. As he's dying, the thief says something that links Islam and Judaism. Trying to understand the connection, Brandt solicits help from Dr. Rebecca Monroe, the finacé he left when he married the mother of his child. She is a paleo, DNA, archaeologist and an expert in ancient Judaism and Islam.
Rebecca is being targeted by another sect. Led by Aunush, a violent woman, and the lover of the sect's Master. The sect tries to eliminate Dr. Monroe. When they fail, they start tracking the special forces team. The race is on to find the Rinderpest and the secret of the first tablet Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.

Havoc is primarily a chase scene with lots of action, murder and mayhem. An added benefit is the romance between Rebecca and Brandt. Their attraction is still alive and consumes a great deal of their thoughts. To this was one of the weak points of the novel. While the pair are being shot out of submarine torpedo tubes and throwing themselves out of moving vehicles, they're thinking about each other and what went wrong with their romance.

If you love action, biblical mysteries, a broken romance, and strange assassins, you'll enjoy this book. It's not one of the best, but it's a fast read.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Living with the Knowledge that Heaven is Real

Colton Burpos' unique experience of traveling to Heaven and meeting Jesus changed life for Todd and Sonja as much as it did for their son. In this devotional, they discuss the many ways their life has gotten better, and how they have been able to help people understand what will happen when you go to Heaven.

Each of the short chapters focuses on how Colton's parents have dealt with his experience. I particularly enjoyed the chapters about how the family adjusted. With Colton getting so much publicity it would be easy for the other children to become resentful. Todd and Sonja talk realistically about how they give the other children additional attention when they're home and build them into the speaking engagements.

This book repeats much of the information in Heaven is For Real, but the emphasis is now on how do you live with what Colton learned. The chapters are short devotionals that can be used to meditate on what knowing about Heaven can mean in your life. I particularly enjoyed the ones dedicated to the importance of guiding young children. Colton brought back Jesus' message that he loves children. The Burpos have understood the message and focus on children's ministry, an area that is too often relegated to second place in our churches.

I highly recommend this book. The realization that Heaven is real changed the Burpos life. It can change yours also.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Romantic Thriller with a Horse Farm Background

Rachael Parker is trying to rebuild her life after a serious accident ended her riding career. She has returned to the family farm she inherited in the Poconos and is trying to make a business of training horses, but someone doesn't want her on the farm. Her sister Sarah is also having problems. Her husband, Troy, is drinking too much and has become abusive.

Police Chief Mike O'Connell becomes involved with the sisters' problems when he answers a domestic violence call and meets Rachael who tried to protect her sister. Mike is drawn to Rachael from the first moment, but she's prickly and he's still blaming himself for failing to stop a serial killed from almost killing a friend's fiancé.

The setting in the book is interesting, but I would have liked to see more of the horse farm operation. The Poconos are beautiful mountains. I think the author could have used them to increase the ambiance of the story.

I wasn't impressed with the characters. Both Rachael and Mike are agonizing about their pasts. It gets old after awhile, particularly since it seems to occupy a good portion of their thoughts.

The plot was much to easy to figure out. The Watcher is supposed to add an eerie element to the story, but very quickly we figure out who he is and why he wants to kill Rachael. Because it's so easy to figure out, I thought the novel went on too long with not much new happening.

I didn't read the first book, “She Can Run,” but I don't think it's necessary to understand the present events. The author brings them up constantly. At some point, you just want to tell Mike to get over it.

If you like romantic thrillers, you may enjoy this book, but I can't recommend it highly.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Warriors for Christ: Soul's Gate by James L. Rubart

The fulfillment of a prophecy made thirty years ago over Reese is being fulfilled. Four people have come together to become warriors to fight for healing, strength and renewal in the name of Jesus Christ. Each of the participants has a deep wound that keeps him or her from fully opening to others. Through training that involves entering the souls of those needing healing through the soul's gate, these four are able to bring healing to each other and open themselves to help others.

Although this book is primarily fantasy and science fiction, it has a good message. We need to heal each other through prayer and be willing to listen and help others to realize their potential. The characters are well drawn and interesting. We care about what happens to them and cheer at their successes. The book has plenty of action. In fact it can be read on two levels, as an allegory or as an action adventure story. In either case, it's an enjoyable read.

On the negative side, the author has several tricks of writing that stopped the story flow for me. His characters don't walk, stride, stroll, amble or trudge. They shuffle. People wearing slippers shuffle; teens wearing unlaced high-top sneakers two sizes to large shuffle; very old people often shuffle. Vibrant young healthy warriors for Christ, it seems to me, should have other modes or propelling themselves across the floor. The other problem is the inconsistent capitalization of proper names. Sometimes Reese is written with a capital letter, but in the same paragraph it may be written, reese. I found this confusing. Possibly the copy I received is an ARC (Advance Reader's Copy), but I don't think so.

I recommend this book for the message of healing and particularly if you like fast paced fantasy and science fiction.

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Excellent Theme, But the Characters Don't Live up to the Challenge

Beth Borzoi makes a mistake. She tries to help her friends get enough money to pay a vet to save their horse's eye by stealing a show saddle from one of the ranch hands. They decide to reward her by allowing her to ride a champion racehorse they don't own at night in a dark field. All goes well until a gray wolf attacks the horse. As a result of the attack, the horse has to be put down. The owner brings a lawsuit which threatens to ruin the Borzoi's and take their ranch. Beth prays for a miracle, but although she can apparently heal animals, her prayers seem less successful when trying to save her family.

The theme of this book is excellent. God does listen, but he chooses how he will respond to our prayers. Sometimes the miracles that happen aren't what we expect, and we find them difficult to understand and deal with. The is an excellent message. However, I found the characters poorly conceived to carry off the strength of the theme. Beth is twenty-two years old. She's lived on a ranch all her life, is an excellent horse woman, and wants to become a vet. The idea that someone with this background would leap on a strange racehorse in the dead of night in a field she is unfamiliar with is not only strange, it's unbelievable. On top of that, I found it amazing that she would steal a saddle and give it to some supposed friends who haven't been taking care of their horse the way they should have. Throughout the book, I found this unbelievable quality in the characters. Rose, Beth's mother, seems to be unusually harsh not only with her daughter, but in the way she treated her father. Some of the minor characters, like Wally who loves to dig holes, were delightful, but the main characters simply didn't ring true.

I found the book hard to enjoy because the characters were so jarring in relation to an excellent message. I also felt that the book left too many things up in the air at the end, possibly because the author had no good way to tie up the threads of the plot. To avoid spoilers, I won't go into specifics, but everything seems to turn out well for Beth while leaving the main issue of how the family would save the ranch completely up in the air. I can recommend the book for it's message, but the poorly drawn characters detract from it.

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Spies, Intrigue and Romance in Windson Castle during WWII: Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia Macneal

Maggie Hope is now a full fledged spy. She made her appearance as Mr. Churchill's Secretary in the first book in this series. Although she flunks out of spy training, Mr. Frain is there to use her talents as a spy in the Windsor castle household. Frain and his MI5 colleagues are concerned that the Nazis plan to assassinate the king, abduct Princess Elizabeth, and put the Duke and Duchess of Windsor on the throne.

Maggie, understandably, isn't thrilled in moving from a secretarial position to becoming a governess, but she agrees. She enters the castle under the pretext of teaching Princess Elizabeth maths and becomes a friend and confidant of the two princesses. In the spy business Maggie is not only a novice, she lacks understanding of people's character and motives. Her subsequent success in solving the mysteries in Windson Castle is astonishing to say the least.

The book is a quick, easy read. It's slow in many parts. The opening where Maggie flunks out of spy school is particularly boring. Although a murder takes place at the castle, Maggie isn't equipped to handle the investigation, so she waltzes around the outside wondering about people, she agrees at the end, she doesn't like.

I can't recommend this book for lovers of historical fiction. It's too light on historical detail and too heavy on the way the castle looks. However, if you want a light romance and a glimpse of royals, you may enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Well Researched, but Presents Primarily the Political Jefferson: Thomas Jefferson the Art of Power

Statesman, scientist, philosopher, farmer, aesthete, lover: Thomas Jefferson is endlessly fascinating. In this biography, Meacham concentrates on the political Jefferson and how Jefferson developed his vision of what the United States should become. We learn about his early life, but it fairly cursory. The majority of the book is about his political achievements with some slight divergence into this romantic life.

I was disappointed that we were given so few glimpses of Jefferson the scientist and farmer. His inventions are fascinating and shed a more complete light on the man who was also an eminent statesman.

The Sally Hemings controversy seems to always intrigue biographers. Meacham votes for the current explanation endorsed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. He quotes their report in the notes and gives references for dissenting opinions. He relies heavily on Madison Hemings account of events, particularly on what happened in France between Jefferson and Hemings. Although interesting, Madison's account seems to have some discrepancies which is unsurprising in a primarily oral history. I suggest that interested readers follow the notes and other sources to reach their own conclusions.

I enjoyed the book, but had reservations about the use of one line quotes. I read many of the notes, and I encourage anyone interested in scholarship to do the same. Jefferson was a brilliant multifaceted individual. Although the biography does a good job of presenting the statesman, it doesn't really to justice to the other facets of this complex individual.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ambitious Review of Philosophy in a Christian Context: Philosophy: A Student's guide by David Naugle

David Naugle presents a review of philosophy: metaphysics, philosophical anthropology, epistemology ethics and aesthetics in a slim volume of slightly over 100 pages. The book is designed as an overview for the beginning student in philosophy and obviously requires a great deal more information and study to bring the intricacies of philosophy to life.

The book is well written. He states his position as primarily Augustinian and canonical Trinitarian thesism. In this framework he discusses the major philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Kant and Hegel. While the book is necessarily sketchy in reviewing these major philosophical trends, it does give useful information and a way to view philosophy in a Christian context.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. However, I had an extensive undergraduate grounding in philosophy. I would recommend the book to anyone who wants to put Christian philosophy in the context of the other major philosophical schools. I particularly enjoyed the final chapter in which Naugel discusses the vocation of Christian philosophers. You can disagree with his point of view, but it has a great deal of merit and is well worth reading.

I reviewed this book for Crossway Publishing.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

An Epic Battle Between Good and Evil: Fallen Masters by John Edward

A dark cloud is rapidly heading for earth. Scientists and religious leaders are meeting to try to decide how to counter the unimaginable cataclysm they see approaching. In the anticipated battle, each of the main characters is called upon to use their talent to fight either on the side of good or evil.

The battle is not confined to earth. The Other Side is heavily involved. Both good and evil are represented among the departed. The fallen angels encourage evil in the world. The Fallen Masters are people who have done exceptional good on earth. Each is paired with a living person to influence them to use their talents for good.

On the positive side, the story presents a dilemma many of us see: the increased presence of evil in the world. The characters are interesting and the plot involves a looming catastrophe which involved each of the characters.

On the negative side the book is too long. The action breaks down in the middle where there is a long section on what happens on the other side. It completely broke the rhythm of the book for me. The characters may be interesting, but there are too many of them. Instead of following a few characters we leap back and forth between numerous stories. It gives the book a choppy disjointed feel.

In the beginning, I enjoyed the book. I was intrigued by the characters and the looming disaster. However, as the book plodded along, I lost interest. The outcome was a foregone conclusion and it took forever to get there. I can't recommend this book. The theme is excellent, but the writing isn't up to the challenge.

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

Saturday, September 29, 2012

An Abusive Mother-Daughter Relationship: The Chocolate Money by Ashley Prentice Norton

Babs is the chocolate heiress, too much money, too little restraint and a penchant for hurting people. This is not the kind of mother a sensitive child like Bettina needs to help her mature. She treats Bettina like a small side-kick which includes allowing her to attend inappropriate adult parties, and tells her in explicit detail about her sex life. Babs often seems to forget about her daughter, but when she turns her attention to the child, it often ends up badly for Bettina. In one especially horrific scene, Babs accuses Bettina of being a sneak because she's surreptitiously drinking a soda in her bedroom. Purporting to look for other evidences of Bettina's sly behavior, Babs strips her naked and then proceeds to pull all her clothes from the closet and dump them on the floor, but the most abusive act is destroying Bettina's most prized possessions, a photo of Brooke Shields and a napkin she touched.

Not everyone will enjoy this book. It contains a lot of strong stuff from teenage drinking to explicit sexual details. It is an upsetting and very sad book. I found the most tragic part that Bettina loved her mother and wanted to be with her, even if it meant being abused. Unfortunately too many abused children react exactly this way trying to be perfect so the abusing parent will pay attention to them.

I found the book well written, but difficult to read. The details of these wealthy people's lives are extremely ugly. The story proves that having money is no guarantee of happiness. I can recommend this book only if you can take the shocking details. However, it is a good study of child abuse in an affluent setting where you wouldn't expect it, which only proves that there are disturbed people at all social levels.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Book for When We Wonder Whether God is Listening: "Oh, God, Please Help Me with my Doubt" by Leighann McCoy

When we want something, we pray to God and expect our prayers to be answered, but what if they're not? Is God listening? I think the best part of this book is the section on unanswered prayers. None of us is on the level of God or Christ. We know what we want in our immediate time, but we don't know his plans for us in the future. This is an excellent section to read and reread when we doubt God.

This book is very easy to read. Leighann has a conversational style that draws you in and makes you want to keep on reading. She shares herself with you and makes you feel not so alone in your troubles. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who wonders whether God is listening when we pray.

The book would work well in a prayer group. The author presents discussion questions at the end of each chapter. However, it can work equally well for solitary study. Meditating on the questions can also work when we talk to God privately.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book. 

A Boy Faces His Demons

When he's five years old, Gabriel Clarke witnesses his father swept away by the river while trying to rescue a kayaker who is about to go over the falls. After that shocking incident, he fears water, particularly the river. Gabriel feels abandoned by his father and grows up fighting the demons that keep him solitary and afraid. He reaches the age of 20 still trying to throw off the fears of his early childhood. Then comes his redemption.

The River is a metaphor for life. It flows on offering challenges and pain, but also great beauty and happiness. It is in meeting the challenges that Gabriel becomes strong enough to finally escape the past and live fully in the present.

I enjoyed this book. The story of a young boy fighting his demons and winning is poignant. All of us have been there in one way or another. The scenes of the river are inspiring. For me, they were the best part of the book.

The book did have some problems. The writing is simple to the point of being clumsy in the choice of words and sentence structure. The story is almost too goody goody. Gabriel has pain, but he also receives a great deal of help from others. In fact, although he fights his demons, he needs outside help to overcome them. Perhaps this is the author's metaphor for God working through our lives.

I recommend this book, it's an easy read and the story is compelling.

I received this book to review from Thomas Nelson through Netgalley.    

Saturday, September 8, 2012

How Moses Foreshadows Jesus: The Lamb of God by Nancy Guthrie

Nancy Guthrie follows the story of Moses through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy showing how the life of Moses foreshadows the life of Christ. It's a fascinating study. For me, this book provided a way of looking at the Old Testament and it's connection to the New Testament in a comprehensive way I hadn't thought about before. I was, obviously, aware of both the story of Moses and that of Christ, but I hadn't realized how many incidents in Moses life paralleled events in the life of Christ. It makes Jesus statement “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46) come alive.

The book offers a personal study guide for a ten week review of the Pentateuch. Each chapter is divided into a personal study guide listing passages from the Bible relevant to the topic of the chapter, a teaching chapter in which the author lays out her thesis, and a discussion guide. Although the discussion guide would be most useful in a group situation, I found it also provided ideas for personal meditation.

The book is very readable, interspersing personal observation with passages from the Bible. The observations from the author make this much more than a simple presentation of relevant passages and explanation. I felt the personality of the author behind the words and that made it much more enjoyable reading.

I highly recommend this book for either personal study, or a Bible study group. It would be excellent for either or both.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.  

The Romance of a Mad Prince: The Bloodletter's Daughter by Linda Lafferty

Because of his increasingly violent behavior, sexual misconduct and gluttony, King Rudolph II, Emperor of the Austro-Hungarial empire, isolates his bastard son, Don Julius, in a remote castle in the Czeck town of Cesky Krumlov. From a window in the castle, Don Julius sees the river and becomes infatuated with a Marketa, a bathmaid. Her father owns the bathhouse which her mother runs, but her father is also the local barber-surgeon. Marketa hates being a bathmaid, scrubbing the locals and sometimes being forced to satisfy their sexual needs. She dreams of being a doctor like her father. Eventually, a relationship develops between the prince and the bathmaid. At first he seems to truly love her, but his violent nature asserts itself and the story ends in tragedy.

The author has found a fascinating true story and done a good job of researching the 1600's in Bohemia. The setting and the manners of local people are very realistic. I enjoyed that part of the book very much.

The novel became tedious after the first two hundred pages. The characters are wooden. They seem more like puppets acting in the service of the story than real people whose personalities drive the action. This may be partly due to the length of the book. It is over 500 pages. Personally, I think 300 pages could be removed to make the story more poignant. The author seems to be trying to tell the story of the downfall of King Rudolph II as well as the story of his mad son, but the connection isn't close enough to make a coherent story.

The book is not well written. It's full of tired description and the dialog is often stilted. I finished the book, but it was a chore rather than a pleasure. I found the ending quite remarkable. I guess the author tried to rescue the book with a happy ending. I can't recommend this book unless you're very interested in the history of Bohemia, that is well researched.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Mystery, A love affair, and a Glimpse of the World of the Borgias

Five years after the murder of his favorite son, Juan, Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, drags Damiata, Juan's mistress, out of hiding and sends her off to gather evidence against the condottieri, believed to be responsible for the murder. Damiata herself is suspected by the Pope, so as assurance for her good behavior he keeps her son, Giovanni, hostage. Arriving in Imola, the seat of Cesare Borgia's army where negotiations with the condottieri are underway, she finds that more horrible murders have been committed. She meets Niccolo Machiavelli, a Florentine diplomat, and together they investigate the murders, hoping to prove the condottieri guilty. Another famous Renaissance personage, Leonardo DaVinci, is also investigating the murders. They join forces trying to determine the significance of the geometric design made by the burial of the body parts at various points around Imola. As the investigation procedes so does the attraction between Damiata and Machiavelli.

The book is well researched and presents a lively picture of the political situation in Italy in the 1500's. War was a constant with the condottieri, professional soldiers, fighting first for one side then the other. At the opening of the story, the condottieri are aligned against the Pope and Cesare, commander of the papal armies, is trying to negotiate a deal. I found it quite fascinating.

The historical characters are not as I had envisioned them. Leonardo comes across as an absent minded professor; Machiavelli, as the young lover. However, it works well enough in the novel.

My main criticism is the amount of pages it takes to solve the mystery of who murdered Juan. To me it was fairly obvious from early in the book, particularly since Damiata consistently flogs the hypothesis that it has to be the condottieri and doesn't listen to anything else. In my opinion, the chase went on too long, but I admit I kept on reading to find how the author would unveil the murderer.

This is a well done book. There's something for everyone: romance, mystery, murder, and history. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or even a good murder mystery.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rather Violent for a Wall Street Stockbroker: The Trust by Norb Vonnegut

Grove O'Rourke, a Wall Street stockbroker, receives a call from his mentor, Palmer Kincaid. Palmer sounds shaky. He says he needs Grove's help. As usual, things are busy on Wall Street, before Grove can respond Palmer is dead. Gove travels to Charleston for the funeral and finds that Palmer has nominated him to be on the board of the Palmetto Foundation. Not only is this a chance to sit on the board of a well-financed foundation, but it's an opportunity for Grove to renew his acquaintance with Claire Kincaid, Palmer's daughter, but something don't seem quite right at the foundation, particularly a grant to a Catholic Charity that rescues abused children in the Philipines.

I started out liking this book very much. Grove is an engaging character and the setting in Charleston is lovely. However, I had some problems with the progress of the narrative. The plot is quite complex and the story slows down as we get all the players on the scene. Although the male characters are well done, I thought the female characters were stereotypes. Grove's boss, Katy Anders, and the FBI agent, Torres, are strident bitches. Claire is a rather anemic character who never really comes into focus for me, and Jojo is not believable.

The other problem I had with the book was violence. The first half was fine, but the second half is one violent incident after another; fingers being cut off, eyes gouged out, people suffocated by putting foam into their mouths. It's hard to buy a stockbroker as the hero of all this violent activity. However, it you can stand the violence, the plot is interesting and I loved the setting.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Good For Women's Prayer Groups

Leighann McCoy challenges the reader to form an intimate relationship with God through prayer. The book moves from why people find it difficult to pray to an analysis of the Lord's Prayer that Jesus used
to teach the disciples to pray.

The book is very readable. There are many stories from Leighann's life which would make good starting points for a discussion in a woman's Bible study or prayer group. I found the book very comprehensive discussing the best way to form a relationship with God and identifying some of the ways we waste our prayer time. God is not Santa Claus. Presenting him with a long wish list is counterproductive to establishing a good relationship.

I did find one aspect of prayer that could have gotten more attention. Sometimes it's good to just say 'thank you' for all your blessings.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book

Friday, August 24, 2012

Good, But Not In the Same League With Weir's Historical Non-fiction

Two young women almost a hundred years apart are linked by their desire to know the true fate of the princes in the tower. Kate Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard III, is a staunch believer in her father. Although many tales point to his guilt, Kate cannot believe in it. Lady Katherine Grey, sister to the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey, becomes interested in the princes when she too is incarcerated in the tower. The link between the two is tenuous, a series of letter discovered by Katherine in an old trunk. Unfortunately, Weir actually made them up so while it makes a good story, there is no historical precedent.

While the book is an interesting historical novel, I found that it dragged. The story toggles between Kate and Katherine and not until the end is there really a connection in their search for the princes' fate. The ladies were primarily observers. Neither was a mover in historical events. Their fates were directed by others. Therefore, a historical novel on either alone would be rather thin. The retelling of the mystery of the princes in the tower, while interesting, is not as well done as Weir's historical non-fiction on the same topic.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend it for anyone who prefers historical fiction to comparable non-fiction, but if you want to see Weir at her best, read the non-fiction works. I've read them all and they are very well done.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Moral Choices and Betrayal

It's Berlin in 1940. Sigrid Schroeder lives with her mother-in-law and works as a stenographer while her husband is with the army on the Russian front. Sigrid loves the movie theater where she can escape into her own world for awhile, but it is here also that the world comes to engage her. She meets a young Jewish man with whom she falls in love. She also meets a young woman who is helping Jews escape from Germany. Without meaning to get caught up in either the affair or the ring helping Jews, Sigrid does both and it changes her life completely.

This is not an easy book to read. For me, the best part was the description. Gillham paints a stark and very realistic picture of Germany during the second world war. It made me feel as though I could peer into the past and see what ordinary people were thinking and doing.

The reason I didn't particularly enjoy the book was the main character. Sigrid was not likeable. She starts very self-centered. She takes risks, but instead of doing it out of a moral commitment you feel that she'd doing it for a bit of excitement. She doesn't seem to have any compunction about taking a lover and even considers denouncing his family to have him all to herself.

While the description of Berlin is excellent with all the brutality and sexuality of a city in the throes of war, the dialog leaves a great deal to be desired. Sigrid's speech is stiff and she often repeats back to the person she is conversing with. Altogether, I found the characterization in this novel poor. However, it's worth reading for the description of a city at war, and the moral choices and betrayals made by the people in such a dire situation.  

I reviewed this book for Net Galley. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

When the Caregiver Needs Care

Ava believes she has the perfect family. She's planning a wedding for her daughter to a boy both she and her husband love; her son is a football player and doing well scholastically; her husband has a profitable business. They live in a beautiful house. This is all so different from the family she grew up in. Ava gives back by her ministry to the brokenhearted, never believing that she might be one of them.

When Ava's life crumbles, she has trouble coming to terms with her changed circumstances until the unexpected forces her to connect with the family she ran away from thirty years ago.

I enjoyed this book. It shows how God works through adversity to change lives for the better. Ava is an interesting character. She's trapped in her dislike for the family she grew up in. They aren't particularly nice people, but by continuing to be angry with her father and the way she grew up she's holding herself in place, refusing to grow.

The story shows that the unfinished business whether from our childhood, or some other traumatic event can hold us back from fully loving and giving ourselves to the people in our present. It reminds us that even though we're serving God, we need to examine our lives to see whether there are issues that keep us from fully committing to life.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Review of Mormon History, But So Much More: The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield

Mansfield gives an excellent review of Mormon history from the beginning in the early 1800's in the “burnt-over district” near Palmyra, NY, the scene of repeated religious revivals, through the westward movement first to Jackson County, Missouri and finally to Salt Lake City Utah. He gives a detailed account of Joseph Smith's meeting with the Angel Maroni and later with John the Baptist, as well as Peter, James and John.

Although retelling the history is important to get an idea of who the Mormons were, the most important contribution Mansfield makes in this book is telling who the Mormons are today. Mansfield, according to the introduction, has taken time to meet the Mormons and learn first hand what they think about their religion and their beliefs. He starts each chapter with a vignette based, he says, on real life stories. These glimpses of Mormons defending their faith, telling what they believe, and struggling with life's problems are the best part of the book. We can see the real people behind the popular ideas of strange underwear, unusual beliefs, and prophetic visions.

What emerges from this book is a picture of the Latter-day Saints as:
  • People who strive for success, believing that life is a series of tests that must be passed. Their credo is progressing, achieving and moving forward.
  • People who believe that family is important above almost everything else. How many other religions require families to meet once a week to discuss problems and successes.
  • Education is extremely important to Mormons. It begins at an early age and most Latter-day Saints are very well educated, many doing graduate work.
  • Patriotism is inbred in the Mormons. They believe in the free-market system, and more important view, the Constitution as of Divine origin.

When I started this book, I knew a few Latter-day Saints and thought well of them, but I didn't understand their religion at all. I have to admit that I still find their beliefs a bit unusual, but everyone in our country is free to believe what they want from Pentecostals, to Catholics, to Mormons, Jews and all Protestant congregatons.

I highly recommend this book. It's very readable and will give you a much better idea of who these successful people are. At the end of the book Mansfield deals with several problems the Mormons face by becoming more prominent. One is the concern that Mormons are bound by the revelations of Saints in positions of power. I don't think this is a serious concern. I remember the Kennedy election. People painted horror stories of the country becoming subject to the Pope. That didn't happen. I very much doubt that Mormon revelations will guide anyone in charge of the country either in the military or the government to perform acts that are not in the best interests of the nation. Church and State are separate and should remain that way.

I reviewed this book for Worthy Publishing.