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.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Lost Khmer Temple, Greed, Drug Addiction and Love: The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay

This adventure tale set in 1925 takes us from Seattle, Washington to Shanghai, and finally the jungles of Cambodia. Irene Blum has always believed her future as the curator of the Brooke Museum was assured when the present curator retired. However, the trustees had different ideas and appointed a man with academic credentials. Wild to prove her worth and establish her reputation, Irene undertakes an expedition to Cambodia to find a lost Khmer temple and bring back ten copper scrolls detailing the Khmer history.

The expedition is financed by Henry Simms, a wealthy collector who has been like a father to Irene. He wants to find the scrolls before he dies of cancer. He gives her introductions and arranges for her to meet the other members of the expedition. At first it seems an ill assorted crew including Simone, a drug addict, Louis, an expert on the Khmer temples, and Marc, a nightclub owner from Shanghai. Together they head out to find the scrolls and also end up facing their true desires.

This is a marvelous book. The author describes Indochina so well you actually breathe in the heavily scented air and feel the slippery sweat on your skin. The characters are marvelous. Each of the four principles is well drawn, but Irene is a standout as a courageous woman, capable of leading others and finding her real strength even if it means giving up her desire for prestige.

I highly recommend this book. The tension will keep you reading. The plot is fascinating and not unraveled until the very end, although the clues are provided throughout. I didn't want it to end. In fact, the ending made me wonder whether there will be a sequel.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Reporter's Quest: Hell or High Water by Joy Castro

Stuck in the life and style section of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nola Cespedes dreams of becoming a real report covering crime stories. Her break comes when the editor assigns her an investigative story about how sex offenders cope with reintegration into society and having to register. Taking the story plunges Nola into an underworld that becomes increasingly dark and threatening.

On the positive side, the scenes of New Orleans are vivid, full of the life of that city in the post Katrina world. The book is worth reading for a glimpse of the recovering city. Nola is an interesting character. She takes us into her life and makes it come alive. I wish the other characters were a bit more well drawn. They were more like a background for Nola's ruminations.

One of the major negatives was Nola's reporting skills. Her interviews read like an information dump with little interaction between her and the subject. They just didn't feel real. In fact, much of the book felt as if Castro had started out to write an article about sex offenders and turned it into a novel.

I found the ending not quite in line with the opening. When we spend as much time in a character's head as we do with Nola it seems a bit like cheating to have a whole set of motives come out at the end. However, it did wrap the story up in a satisfactory finale.

The book was an interesting read, particularly the glimpses New Orleans life and the way the Latinos see the city. It's worth reading for that aspect. Shifting tenses back and forth to try to give an illusion of immediacy is a bit disconcerting. However, there are many good parts to the book, particularly if you're interested in New Orleans.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

An Amusing Romp Through Hampton Court Palace: The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart

The Maharajah of Pindur is dead under scandalous circumstances. Princess Alexandrina, his daugher, otherwise known as Mink, is now an orphan with only her faithful maid Pooki to sustain her. Forced to sell her home because of her father's habit of living well beyond his means, she luckily receives a grace-and-favor house at Hampton Court Palace. The grace-and-favor residents are a lively group of eccentrics. Mink is settling in well when the detestable General Bagshot is murdered. He died after consuming three slices of a pigeon pie made especially for him by Pooki. Now Mink is forced to uncover the murderer to save the faithful Pooki from the hangman.

Stuart blends humor, mystery and glimpses of history for a delightful romp through Hampton Court Palace. Each of the lively residents at Hampton Court has a motive for wanting the General dead. Mink must find which one cared enough to actually send the General to an untimely end. In addition, Dr. Henderson, the local General Practitioner is infatuated with Mink which provides a romantic subplot.

I enjoyed the book. The mystery is subtle and hard to figure out. For me, this is a plus in a mystery. The humor is generally enjoyable although at times it's a bit over the top. Although it takes time to solve the mystery, the characters are so delightful that it is all enjoyable reading.

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