Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer Romance in the Adirondacks

Katherine Osborne, a young widow, has been running the Osborne orange groves since the death of her husband. Exhausted by the strain of money problems and crop failures, she agrees to return to her family's camp in the Adirondacks for the summer. The return, however, comes with strings. In exchange for a loan from her father to get her through harvest, she agrees to accept her mother's social obligations. Unfortunately, her mother's idea of social obligations is to find her a husband, preferably her best friend's son, Randy. Katherine, however, has other ideas including a relationship with Randy's cousin, Andrew.

On the positive side, this book has a Christian theme of forgiveness and wonderful locations: the central Florida citrus groves, and Racquette Lake in the Adirondacks. It makes a wonderful escape for summer reading. Some of the characters, although stereotypes, are fun to read about. Mama and Mrs. Clarke, Randy's mother, are particularly amusing.

On the negative side, Katherine, Randy and Andrew are also stereotypes and rather boring. Andrew spends so much time ruminating about Katherine you wonder how he managed to find time to eat and sleep. It's rather tedious. It's also hard to imagine Katherine having the gumption to run a citrus grove when she can't seem to stand up to her domineering mother.

I can recommend this book only if you like light Christian romance. The writing is pedestrian and the dialog stilted. However, it has amusing moments.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Not in the Same League as Downton Abbey

Unable to find a position as a secretary, primarily because of the ways she speaks, Grace Campbell becomes a housemaid at a magnificent house on Park Lane. Here she meets Bea, one of the daughters of the house, who has recently suffered the pain of a disappointing love affair, and Edward, the son of the family. As many young men of his social position, he's gambling and spending too many late nights with his friends. Michael, Grace's brother, is also in the city. He becomes involved with Bea when he rescues her from a riot at one of Mrs. Pankhurst's rallies. Then war comes to these privileged young people and changes their lives forever for good and evil.

On the positive side, this novel is well researched. The setting is realistic and historical events are accurate. On the negative side, it's extremely slow. The characters are not particularly interesting. The author tries to inject some suspense by giving glimpses of what went wrong with Bea's romance, but it isn't enough to keep a reader's interest.

As with Tolstoys's famous novel on war and peace, the characters become stronger, or weaker, during the war and as a result more interesting, but it's a long slog to get to the war scenes. I can't recommend this book unless you're fascinated by the period. It isn't even close to the delightful period works like Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, July 27, 2012

One of the Worst Things a Teenage Girl and Her Parents Have to Face

“You're pregnant.” These are words no high school girl, or her parents want to hear. It's a life changer. Sandy made one mistake. One night with Brad and she found herself two months pregnant. Then comes the problem of what to do: have the baby?; have an abortion?; give the baby up for adoption? It's never an easy choice. It's also a choice that can follow you for your entire life, as Sandy learns.

On the positive side, this is an excellent topic. It brings home the problems of teenage pregnancy in the best of families. For that reason it's worth reading. It takes courage to make a choice about your unborn baby. It also means you will live with that choice for the rest of your life.

On the negative side, the characters are stereotypes. Sandy is a good girl – she only did it once. Brad is the boy who doesn't want to take responsibility, although he says he does. The parents are too good to be true. The mother is a strict Southern lady who is basically supportive of her daughter, but wants her out of the house. We are hardly able to glimpse the father. He acts the heavy and then disappears. The only real character is Linda, the aunt. She takes Sandy in and forces her to think like an adult.

I found the first part of the book too predictable and with the stereotypical characters it wasn't a good read. The second part of the book where Sandy has to deal with the ramifications of her choice in later life is much better. It moves swiftly and the characters are more realistic. I don't think Whitelaw does justice to female characters. Sandy and her mother were just not real. However, he does better with plot, so it's a good read and the theme is excellent.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Love Blossoms at St. Alcuin's Abbey: Remember Me by Penelope Wilcox

Father William brought trials and ultimately understanding to St. Alcuin's. In Brother Tom's words, “it was a bit like lightning making a direct hit on the house – we learned a lot, and so did he.” Continuing the story from “The Hour Before Dawn,” William has fallen in love with Abbot John's sister, Madeline. They struggle against this illicit passion, but it wears them down. William agonizes over his vows and his very real love for St. Alcuin's and Abbot John, but Madeline has his heart.

The story of a growing love between two mature adults is told with simplicity and beauty. Not being children, they have to weigh the choices already made in their lives against this new overwhelming love. I think this story is one of the most beautiful and painful of the Hawk and the Dove Series. I've loved all of them, but this one made me cry.

If nothing else, this book is worth reading for Abbot John's homilies on the Eucharist, remember me. I always find so much more than a good story in Wilcox's books. They make you think about your faith and other people and how all our lives and choices affect each other.

The characters in this novel are very real. Wilcox has a tremendous insight into the difficulties of life in a community. The setting is beautiful and the details of medieval life very well done. I highly recommend this book.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Humorous and Very Honest Look at A Woman Who Follows God's Call

Marcia is a delightful character. She's comfortable as a middle class housewife with her 100 year old house in New Jersey, but her husband desires more direct contact with the mission field. He returns from a trip to Guatemala full of zeal. Marcia isn't so sure. Throughout the book, I loved the way she talked to God and bargained with him. She wanted a sign before she'd agree to her husband's plans. I thought the most arresting incident was when they were trying to decide whether to take the pastor-ship at a Vermont Church. At this point, Marcia loved Guatemala and wanted to go back. A northern adventure wasn't on her radar. She said to God, all right, I'll know this is the right move if I hear someone speaking Spanish. Not a high possibility in Vermont, but it happened.

I enjoyed this book. It's an easy read. Marcia is committed to her faith and obviously has a special relationship with God, but the book is more than a testimonial. It gives a good picture of the problems of the Mayans in Guatemala. They're people, delightful people, but they have so little.

I highly recommend this book. It will open your eyes to the good work done by Christian missions. It will also allow you to meet an extraordinary woman with a special relationship with God. I hope I would be as willing to follow the dictates of the Lord.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Murder in the World of Investment Banking: A Fatal Debt by John Gapper

Dr. Ben Cowper, an attending psychiatrist, has a dilemma. He admitted Harry Shapiro to the Episcopal Hospital psychiatric ward because he believed the ex-CEO of Seligman Brothers, an investment bank, was contemplating suicide. Harry and his wife, Nora, are a major hospital donors. When Harry wants to be released Ben's boss forces him to agree although he's not sure Harry isn't still a danger to himself. Nora promises to hide Harry's gun, and Ben tries to convince himself that it's a good resolution until the new CEO of Seligman Brothers, the man who forced Harry out, is found dead on the Shapiro's living room floor.

The plot is timely with all the problems experienced by Wall Street Banks in 2008, but the pace is very slow. Ben is not a charismatic protagonist. He makes bad decisions then agonizes over them. He wants to respect patient confidentiality, but goes chasing off trying to be an investigator and breaks the rules about dealing with patients and their families. His constant internal agonizing makes the story drag. I felt it would have been a better mystery with less psychiatry and more investment banking.

I didn't enjoy the book. The plot is good, but the characters are poorly drawn and generally uninteresting. As a mystery, it failed.

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

Saturday, July 14, 2012

An Exploration of the Literary and Historical Context of Shakespeare's Life and Plays: The Life of William Shakespeare by Lois Potter

Very little is known about the background and facts of Shakespere's life, or about how he came to write his plays. However, there is a rich fund of historical detail about his time and the people who were involved in dramatic pursuits. The author uses these sources to give us a fascinating look at historical context in which Shakespeare worked and the people who might, and probably did, influence his creative efforts.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have been fascinated by Shakespeare from my undergraduate years when I did my thesis on Hamlet. This book, although intended as a text book for scholars, is very readable. The information is fascinating. I was struck by the opening where we learn where Shakespeare's parents lived and who their neighbors were.

I found the author's analysis of the plays extremely interesting. Instead of concentrating on the literary merits, she talked about how the play may have come to be written, who might have influenced the development, and whether there were people who might have been prototypes, or have used similar ideas or language in their productions.

I highly recommend this book if you love Shakespeare and want to know more about his life and what influenced his work. You don't have to be a scholar to understand and enjoy the book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Prog

Exciting End to the Chivies Trilogy: The Kingdom by Bryan M. Litfin

Teo and Ana are safe for the moment staying in a seaside convent at Lido di Ostia, not far from Roma. They have risked much to recover the lost books of Deus and his son and in the process fallen in love. Now Teo must leave Ana at Roma and journey back to Chivies on a mission from the Papa.

In this final installment, Teo and Ana face danger not only from the fiends with powers of the underworld, but dangers from the weather as well. The armies are massing for the final battle. The underworld seems poised to win using the dark arts of the High Priestess and her companion, the Iron Shield.

The author does an excellent job winding Scripture into a thrilling adventure story. The book is hard to put down. There's plenty of action, romance, and the battle between good and evil. I very much enjoyed the book. It can be read as an adventure story, but the inclusion of Scripture makes it so much more.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.  

An Extravagant Character, World War, and a True Spy Story: Agent Garbo by Stephan Talty

Agent Garbo, a Spainard named Juan Pujol, was one of Britain's most successful double agents. Juan was not someone you would pick to have a successful career in espionage. He was the despair of his parents, failing at everything he undertook, until he got he became an agent for the Germans. Juan wanted to spy for the British, but they weren't interested until they discovered that he was responsible for major deceptions that had the Germans fooled, and most important, the Germans trusted him.

Agent Garbo is a well researched, but very readable history. It reads like a spy novel, making it an excellent choice for summer reading. This little known bit of history is one of the most important espionage operations in World War II. Garbo was so well respected by the Germans that he fooled even Hitler about the plans for D-Day and doing so saved innumerable Allied lives.

I highly recommend this book. If you're a World War II buff, it's fascinating reading. If you're into spy stories, this is a very entertaining book.

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

Beach Reads

Accredited Online Collages has an interesting article ( ) on beach reads. Although many of their recommendations are old standbys, it's fun to look at what they suggest. If you haven't read some of their selections, it's a good time to check one out.

Enjoy the sun and surf.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Sluggish Mystery: A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths

Dr. Ruth Galloway arrives at the Smith Museum to attend the opening of Bishop Augustine's coffin. Augustine was one of the earliest bishops and was thought to be buried at the Norwich Cathedral. Surprisingly, the coffin was found under the remains of a minor parish church. Instead of a ceremony opening the coffin, Ruth finds the curator, Neil Topham, lying dead beside the coffin. The cause of death is not immediately obvious, even after the autopsy, but there are a number of clues suggesting murder. When the second body turns up, murder is definitely the order of the day.

I didn't enjoy this book. On the positive side, the mystery is interesting. I did want to find out about the connection between the murders and Bishop Augustine's coffin. However, the book has a great many negatives, including anatomical inaccuracies. The pace is slow. A great deal of time is spent on the characters' backgrounds. I found this particularly irritating because the author insists in writing in the present tense, so all the characters' thoughts are in the present tense. To me it drags out the backstory too much. If it's necessary to tell in detail what happened in the past, I'd prefer description.

The characters are mildly interesting. The author does a good job developing the relationship between Ruth, her daugher, Katie, and Katie's father. However, I felt that all the description took away from the solution to the mystery. The sub-plots are distracting. The have the feel of being added on to give the book adequate length. I really can't recommend this book unless you read the previous books in the series and want to find out how the characters develop.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Truth and Lies

Raleigh Harmon finds herself emmeshed in a tangle of lies. Her mother is in a mental hospital having suffered a psychotic break after learning that Raleigh lied to her about being a FBI agent. Raleigh is feeling depressed and guilty about her role in her mother's breakdown, and then she's forced into a life that is a complete lie. Rather than be suspended because of what happened on the Alaskan cruise, she's offered an undercover assignment as the niece of the owner of a thoroughbred racing stable. Her task is to discover who is fixing races at Emerald Downs. With her whole identity a lie, Raleigh is feeling very alone and depressed. It isn't helped by having Jack Stephanson as her case officer. The assignment is particularly upsetting because, it's not just race fixing. Someone is killing the horses and making them ill. As Raleigh tries to find out who is responsible, she finds herself the primary suspect.

I enjoyed this book. The setting at the track is very realistic and the descriptions of the thoroughbreds are wonderful. The idea of race fixing and hurting these marvelous animals pulls you into the story hoping that Raleigh can find out who is responsible and stop the killing. I did find the early part of the book rather strained. It seemed that the author was trying too hard to make Raleigh a suspect. However, the ending of the book is excellent, full of excitement and redemption for Raleigh.

I particularly liked the underlying theme of the book: truth and lies. Raleigh's struggle throughout the book is to escape the lies she's building around herself. When her life finally comes together and she can tell the truth about who she is and what she's doing, she becomes a much stronger person. It was a very well done transition. I highly recommend this book, if you're a Raleigh Harmon fan, if not maybe it's the time to get to know her.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.