Saturday, March 31, 2012

Scholarly, but a Difficult Read

The 1500's were a tumultous time in Europe. The Imperial power under Charles V fought with France under Francis I for dominion. The Italian peninsula was a battleground and the Papacy was not safe from the depredations of war. All these factors impinged on Henry VIII's divorce, not the least of which was that Charlie V was the nephew of Queen Catherine, being the son of her sister Juana, the mad, and Philip of Burgundy.

Although many of the characters in Henry's drama, Cardinal Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, Queen Catherine, and others, appear in the book. The Italian story of Henry's divorce is really the story of Gregorio Casali. He served as England's ambassador to the Vatican. It was his role to convince Clement VII to grant the divorce. Set against the upheaval in Europe and particularly on the Italian Peninsula this was no easy task. However, six years later, it was concluded after Henry was already married to Anne Boleyn.

The book is packed with interesting information if you're a student of this period of European history. Ms. Fletcher's ten years of research is well represented. However, for the general reader, wanting a story, this is not the book. The text is dense and full of Italian names. This can be quite confusing to an English speaking audience, particularly since so many of the names have the same of similar components.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it for anyone interested in further information of the political situation leading to Henry's divorce and the changes in England.

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

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sisters' Rivalry in the Ballet: The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

Kate Crane is a principal dancer with a New York City Ballet Company. She's tough, out-spoken, and needy. After a neck injury, she discovers her sister, Gwen's, stash of Vicodin and starts to develop a habit. She's just broken up with her boyfriend and her parents, at Kate's request, have taken her sister home to recover from what are apparently psychotic breaks. Kate thinks she did the right thing, but can she ever be sure? She has felt for many years inferior to Gwen as a dancer. Did she want her out of the way?

The book is devoted to Kate's thoughts: coming to terms with her past, her relationship with her sister, and perhaps most of all, her devotion to ballet. In the story, she questions all of these things and eventually comes to a resolution.

The action centers around a prominent New York ballet company and gives us a glimpse of what it means to be a featured dancer. I found the details very well done. It's obvious that the author knows what she's writing about.

If you're interested in the ballet, this is a wonderful book. You feel that you're living the life of a ballerina. However, I found the angst about her relationship with her sister overdrawn and tedious. Sibling rivalry is a reality, and I can appreciate Kate's emotional problems, but I thought there was too much emphasis on her inner demons and not enough action.

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

The Thin Line Between Good and Evil

Jagger Baird has lost his faith in God. He lost his arm when his best friend and his friend's family were killed by a drunk driver. Trying to recover from the trauma, Jagger moves his family, Beth and Tyler, to St. Catherine's monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai where Moses received the ten commandments and the Israelites turned to the worship of the golden calf. Jagger thinks, with Beth's love, he may be finding his way back, but then strange and violent things happen.

I thought this book was excellent. It's filled with violence and high-tech weaponry, but underlying the fast moving story are many of the essential questions of Christianity. What does it mean that grace is given to us by God and cannot be earned by good works? A very difficult question. The book doesn't answer it, but it does give an interesting illumination.

I particularly liked this book because it wasn't all action and violence, although those scenes were very well done and some may want to read the book for the action. The book also portrays two different ways of dealing with God's promises. Is he the vengeful God portrayed in some chapters of the Old Testament, or is he the loving God of the New Testament, or some amalgam of the two? The book doesn't answer the question, but it makes you think.

If you like high-tech adventure and violence, this is an excellent book. It can also be read for the author's understanding of our relation to God. I highly recommend it.

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

High Body Count

Cyril Landry is a warrior. He fights for his country and believes that what he's doing is right. In reality he's a trained killer and he seems to have no emotion about committing murder. When the story opens, he and his team have just killed a house full of beautiful people. He's not sure why they're targets. When killing a young girl, he forms a bond with her. Now he wants to know why killing them was necessary.

Jolie Burke is a homicide detective. She's been assigned the case of the local sheriff who allegedly commits suicide after a failed attempt to get a good resolution to a hostage situation. But Jolie wonders whether it was suicide. As she follows the clues, the case quickly unravels.

These disparate characters, the cop and the killer, follow the same clues eventually making them partners. The trail leads them to the highest levels of government and for Jolie starts to unravel family secrets.

I found this book interesting and frustrating. The plot is very complex. Following the two main characters often leads to what feels like disjunctures in the narrative. For example, we learn that Jolie's niece is call her about something that's troubling her, and in the next chapter Jolie is acting on it. It makes you feel like you've lost part of the narrative, but on rereading, I found that it was just a jump.

I can't really recommend this book unless you like lots of hidden motives and, of course, killing. I found the body count exceptionally high even for a thriller. I liked Landry, but it was rather a stretch to watch him kill people so quickly and easily. If you really like cold-blooded killers, you'll love this one.

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

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Wedding Dress for the Right Bride

Charlotte is getting married. The wedding should be perfect. She owns a bridal shop. She's an inspired bridal consultant, but she can't seem to plan her wedding, or choose a dress. On an impulse, she buys an old trunk at an auction. The trunk is in need of repair. Now that she has it, she doesn't know what to do with it. It's welded shut, so she can't open it. When her wedding plans collapse, possibly because she spent a $1,000. for the trunk, Charlotte pulls herself together and goes on with her life.

Three other women have been involved with the wedding dress Charlotte finally unearths from the trunk. Through flashbacks and Charlotte's sleuthing, we meet the ladies and find how they interact with Charlotte's story.

I thought this was a terrific book. The characters were interesting and the plot intricate enough to keep you reading to find out what happens next. The author does an excellent job of telling the stories of the three brides without losing continuity by moving back and forth in time.

I recommend this book for anyone one who loves weddings, or as a gift for that special bride.

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

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Touch of the Paranormal

On his twenty-first birthday Sean Corrigan receives the diary of an uncle he didn't know he had. Uncle Michael fled the US to avoid a murder charge. With his father's encouragement, Sean goes to Ireland to try to discover what happened to his uncle. In Ireland things become very strange. Sean has dreams that seem to relate to another time. He half remembers the people he meets. His cousin Anne tries to help him understand that things are not always what they seem. Some people can actually remember their past lives and the people you meet in this life may have been with you before.

I found the book very intriguing. The setting in Ireland was well done. You felt you were there. The descriptions of the Troubles when Ireland was fighting for independence made you think. I did find all the discussion of reincarnation a bit too much. For me, a taste of it would have been interesting, but in the second half of the book, Fox got rather carried away describing the philosophy of reincarnation. It bogged down the action.

If you're interested in Irish history and like Irish authors, you'll enjoy this book. However, if you find the idea of reincarnation disturbing, give it a miss.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program: Until the Next Time by Kevin Fox.  

The Triple Threat Club Under Attack

Cassidy, Alison, and Nicole plan to meet for supper at a favorite Mexican restaurant, but one member of the Triple Threat Club fails to show up. She's the victim of a ruthless killer. The remaining members are devastated. They want justice for their friend. They want to help catch her killer, but the local police aren't interested in their help. When they try to convince the Portland police differently, their careers are put in jeopardy.

The police believe they have the killer. The two remaining members of the club are settling into mourning their friend when the killer strikes again. Is the killer trying to eliminate all three of them? With the remaining members of the club unable to search for the killer, a quirky investigator, Ophelia, becomes the newest member of the team,

I enjoyed this book. The death of one of the members of the Triple Threat Club is devastating. Wiehl writes convincingly about what it means to lose a special friend. It may make you cry. My disappointment with the book was the emphasis on friendship as opposed to crime detection. It was interesting, but not as fast paced as the previous books.

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

International Intrigue and Domestic Secrets

After struggling with two demanding jobs, two toddlers and a house that's falling apart, Dexter, Kate's husband, lands a lucrative job in Luxemburg. Kate has dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom. Her job as a field agent for the CIA and even her current desk job seem too fraught with danger for her young family. Feeling that she's making a good decision, she quits her job and the family moves to Europe. Then the problems start. Dexter's job has some mysterious aspects. One of the other expat moms forces a friendship that Kate isn't sure she trusts. Deceptions multiply, Kate's instincts as a spy lead her to investigate her friends and eventually her husband.

The novel is filled with puzzles and intrigue. If you like thrillers you'll enjoy trying to figure out this one. I particularly liked the setting. Pavone made the expat experience with the attendant travel to European cites come to life.

I did, however, have some problems with the book. The story is told predominantly through Kate's thoughts. As she becomes increasingly distrustful of her environment and questions her decision of quitting her job, her thoughts turn into many paragraphs of angst. I found it boring and didn't think the character rang true. This was particularly the case when there were so many hints that something wasn't right. I would have expected an ex-CIA agent to have been more alert and suspicious.

Many of the details were off, as though Pavone was trying too hard to create suspense and misdirect the reader. However, it is an interesting read, particularly if you love spy novels, but be prepared to wade through a lot of internal dialog.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program: The Expats by Chris Pavone.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Relationship Between the Bible and the Founder's Beliefs

The American Patriot's Bible is a wealth of information on the founding of the nation ranging from the Revolution through the Civil War and paying tribute to more recent great Americans. This Bible makes it very clear that the men who founded our country and those who fought to keep it free and guarantee the rights of all men were Christians who used the Bible to express profound thoughts.

Not only are interesting articles interspersed throughout out the Bible text, but many pages have inserts giving quotes that relied on those passages. I found these extremely interesting. Many of them I had never heard before, but it made me realize how well our ancestors knew the Bible and how important it was in their lives and thoughts.

I am particularly happy to have the King James Version. For me, it's closer to history. I highly recommend The American Patriot's Bible. It would make a wonderful gift for anyone interested in the relationship between our founding fathers and their reliance on Christian principles. This Bible is a magnificent work and can become a family heirloom. I will treasure my copy.

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

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Romance and Intrigue in WWII London

Instead of starting her Ph.D. in mathematics at MIT, Maggie Hope finds herself in London trying to sell her paternal grandmother's house. When one of Mr. Churchill's secretaries is murdered, Maggie is convinced to take the job. She doesn't want to be a typist even for the Prime Minister. She wants to be one of the Private Secretaries, but she's told that post is closed to women. The job turns out to be a prelude to romance, intrigue and murder, but Maggie, as Churchill says, just “Keeps Plodding On.”
I enjoyed the book. The characters of Maggie and her friends are amusing. The picture of war torn London is interesting and makes you feel the tension of the era. The book is not really a mystery. The author gives the game away in the Prologue. However, it moves quickly with lots of action and small mysteries that make it fun to read.

The ending was a bit over the top. There was a great deal of action, but Maggie seemed to be taking too much of a leading role in winding up all problems. I recommend this book if you want an escapist afternoon. If you're looking for a serious mystery, this isn't it.

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