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.