Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An Eerie Scandinavian Mystery

A brutal murder in the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia bears an eerie resemblance to the murder of an archivist in a college library in Trondheim Norway. In both cases the corpse has been flayed and the head cut off. Eventually, the similarity of the crimes leads investigators, Felicia Stone form Richmond and Odd Singsaker from Trondheim, to work together to solve the mystery. The case in complicated by a rare book from the 1500s apparently covered in human skin that might have belonged to the first serial killer.

The novel is dark with graphic descriptions of the murder victims. That coupled with the description of the mendicant monk in the 1500s who wrote the rare book makes for a very eerie setting. Although the moving between countries and centuries is interesting, it does make for a rather disjointed presentation in the early chapters. When the detectives begin to work together, the narrative follows a more straightforward course.

The plot contains many clues as well as red herrings. If you like to try to solve the mystery along with the detectives, you have plenty of information to work with.

The novel contains a great many characters. In the early part of the book we get detailed thoughts from many of them. I thought the author spent too much time giving us the thoughts of minor characters thus distracting from the plot, but it did give a more rounded picture of the people involved in the story.

The writing seems stilted at times
, but it's difficult to know whether this is the translation, or the author. Once you get into the story it's not bothersome, but it is a little off putting in the beginning.

If you enjoy a dark mystery, a serial killer, and graphic descriptions, this is a book you'll enjoy.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

An Inviting Victorian Mystery

Charles Lenox, formerly a detective now a member of Parliament, agrees to help an ailing friend, Lord John Dallington, with a case. Although Charles is making a name for himself in Parliament, he misses detective work. The note from Dallington asking for his help makes him realize how much.

To his chagrin, Lenox misses the client at Charing Cross, but continues to support Dallington, whose illness keeps him confined to his rooms. Assisting Dallington leads to his involvement in the murder of a country squire. The case at first appears straightforward, but as clues accumulate, Lenox realizes that the case could involve the highest levels of government and society.

The author does an excellent job of pulling you into the Victorian era. From the descriptions of London and Parliament, to the details of Lenox's house and the rules of society, you feel immersed in another time.

The characters are well drawn. You can't help but like Lenox when he marvels at his baby daughter. The secondary characters, detectives, homeless men, aristocrats and shopkeepers, contribute to the realistic background.

The plot moves rather slowly, but I found it enjoyable giving me time to savor the delights of Victorian London. However, if you like a fast pace and lots of violence this is not the book for you. If you like historical fiction combined with murder, you'll enjoy this book. I did.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Southern Cozy Mystery with Spice

Piper Prescott, newly divorced, put everything she got from the divorce into an upscale spice shop in Brandywine, Georgia hoping to turn her life around. It's the grand opening and a major attraction is the most famous chef in town. He makes wonderful meals, but he also has a temper. He agreed to prepare a roast and demonstration the preparation for Piper's opening, but she's not quite sure he'll show.

On the morning of the opening, she goes to the Tratoria, his restaurant, to retrieve some Juniper berries she gave him to use to prepare the roast for the cooking demonstration, and finds the chef on the floor in a pool of blood. Now the question is who killed him and the new police chief thinks Piper is a likely suspect.

This is a typical cozy mystery: female character trying to turn her life around; forced into sleuthing to clear her name; sexy police chief who seems to have it in for her; troublesome teenage daughter; dumb ex-husband; but an interesting setting in a small Southern town.

Piper could be a strong character. She's gutsy, wants to make a success of the shop, and not be beholden to her rather dim ex, CJ. However, her internal monologue is rather excessive. She makes stupid errors, like finding the knife outside the Tratoria, dropping it, and then not admitting what she's done. This leads to all sorts of misunderstandings with the new police chief, who acts incompetent.

I thought the author tried to hard to give Piper a reason to become involved in the murder. The dropping of the knife is transparent. Unless you enjoy banal dialog, it doesn't lend much to the plot. On the positive side, the plot move along. However, the author doesn't make enough of the interesting small town. The spice shop is a good setting, but in my opinion, the author could have done more to exploit it with information about spices and perhaps a few recipes.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries with a romantic element, you may like this one.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Finding Yourself, Becoming a Writer and Romance

Samantha feels awkward around other people. She's never quite sure how to respond to them so she hides behind quotes from her favorite Jane Austen characters. She worked hard to put herself through college and thought she had found a way to escape from Grace House, a home for orphans. She wants to be on her own. But when she gets fired from her job, she lands back at Grace House.

Luckily a scholarship to allow her to attend graduate school is still available. Now Sam decides to take the challenge and apply to the Medill Journalism School at Northwestern University. However, there are strings attached. Mr. Knightly, whose foundation grants the scholarship, wants her to write to him. He won't write back, but she has to keep him abreast of how she's doing. The letters provide an outlet and also chart her progress in learning to keep from pushing people away and make friends.

I enjoyed the book. If you feel awkward in social situations, or are interested in becoming a writer, you'll appreciate this book. Sam's insights about herself are things I can relate to,
and I suspect others can also.

Although reading letters, can become wearing, the author did a good job of providing long stretches of description and dialog as part of the letters which provided a change of pace that kept me reading.

My one disappointment with the book was the ending. After Sam's struggles, I thought it wrapped things up too neatly. It wasn't a bad ending. You could see it coming, but it seemed weak after the tone of the rest of the book.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Humility: An Important Characteristic of Leadership

The character of our founding fathers and leaders like Abraham Lincoln is what made the United States great. This book is a cautionary tale for today.

The founding fathers, particularly George Washington and James Madison, recognized that it's not the arrogant individual who can make a country. It's the man who sees greatness in himself, but uses that greatness in service of the greater good of the country. The chapters on George Washington and James Madison were well done. Bobb clearly know the history of the country and has chosen his quotations from Washington and Madison well.

I was delighted that Bobb included a chapter on Abigail Adams. Too often women are overlooked in the making of the country. I've read several biographies of Abigail Adams. She was more than a helpmeet to John Adams she was a political thinker in her own right. I thought
Bobb did a good job portraying the contribution of a woman to the political thinking of the revolutionary period.

My favorite chapter was the one on Lincoln. He faced challenges worse than what we face today and rather than treating them with personal arrogance, he put his trust in God. Bobb has collected an excellent selection of Lincoln's writings. I highly recommend reading this chapter.

The chapter on Frederick Douglass was equally enlightening. He was someone who suffered extreme hardship under slavery, but was able to turn his experience to the common good rather than being embittered.

I highly recommend this book. It's a good historical overview of several people who were instrumental in the formation of the United States, but it's also a look at the problem of arrogance versus humility. All these people were extremely able, articulate people. They had pride and ambition, but they used it in the service of the greater good for their fellow man. It's a lesson for our leaders today.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

A Brief Introduction

There is no more important subject for Christians than ethics. Although short, this book gives a good overview for both students and lay people interested in the subject.

The opening chapter treats moral relativism. For me, this is one of the most important chapters in the book. Although the manifestation of a morality can vary from culture to culture, the underlying premise doesn't. I like the author's example: giving the finger to someone in our culture may not seem the same as showing the bottom of your foot, but in their respective cultures they both indicate a lack of respect for the individual.

The book surveys the important cultural sources of ethics, predominantly the old testament and the ten commandments, and Christ's teachings in the new testament, particularly the sermon on the mount. The book also touches on enlightenment ethics, focusing on Kant, and ends with a brief summary of Evangelical ethics, focusing primarily on authors alive today. It ends with a useful chapter on how the Bible can and should be used in moral decision making.

I highly recommend this book if you're interested in ethics. It's easy to read and offers much food for thought about ethical and moral issues and the historical background. While billed as a student guide, I think anyone interested in ethics would find the book well worth reading.

I reviewed this book for Crossway Publishing.

Monday, December 2, 2013

International Intrigue

Nicky Thorneycroft wakes up with a bad hangover unable to remember the blonde woman he spent the night with. It could have been his ex, Claire, but he's recently broken up with her, so he'd like to know who the mystery woman was.

He's an executive recruiter in Luxemberg. A candidate for the position of VP to work the REE, Russian, Eastern Europe, recruiting is expected. Nick is tasked with being her contact and bringing this desirable prospect into the company. It's particularly important because the company is on the verge of a merger and wants to be able to show that they have a business presence in this area. Nick is enchanted by the prospect, Kate Novakavich, and decides to find out if she was the mystery woman.

Set in Luxembourg, but with a background of the election campaign in Russia, this is a fast paced thriller. If you like action, you'll enjoy this quick read. Possibly because the book is so short, I felt that the characters were not well developed and at times the plot became confusing. This led to an unsatisfactory ending
. Not all the plot lines are resolved. We get a conclusion, but it seems there is much more to the story.

The a short read is fast paced, and keeps you wondering what will happen next. Nick is a sympathetic character, so you can't help but root for him to solve the mystery of who was in his bed.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Psychological Mystery

Yvonne, a fifty-year-old geneticist, is in the dock charged with being a co-conspirator in murder. She's married to a good man, has two grown children, and is at the top of her profession: how did she get here? A casual sexual encounter turns into an affair and the affair changes her life.

I thought at first it was incredible that a woman like Yvonne would have casual sex with someone whose name she didn't even know, but the author was clever. Revealing her history over the course of a few chapters, it no longer seemed like such a stretch. That's the beauty of this novel. By giving the psychological history of the characters, the author makes us believe in events that seem quite foreign.

I did have a complaint with the detection methods. If you're an avid mystery or thriller reader, you'll see several flaws in the narrative that immediately derail the story. However, if you can accept that the detection was done to the standard of the time, you'll find the outcome surprising and quite believable.

I enjoyed this novel. I thought I wouldn't because the sexual adventures seemed so out of character for the protagonist. However, the author buys you in and the ending is quite surprising. I recommend this book if you like well written psychological mysteries.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

A Glimpse of Life at Los Alamos During the Manhattan Project

The wives were not usually scientists, although a few were. They followed their physicist and chemist husbands to an unknown destination to work on a project their husbands couldn't discuss. In spite of the hardships, they formed a community, raised their children, supported their husbands, and in the end felt part of a great undertaking, whether they believed in the good of the outcome or not.

This is a fascinating book showing a piece of history that doesn't get reported in most accounts of the Manhattan Project. I had read about the Los Alamos project from the standpoint of several of the scientists, but I had never really though about what it would be like to be one of the wives. This book draws the picture of the diverse group of women who followed their husbands to an outpost in the desert and learned how to cope with a life style that was much different from the academic backgrounds most of them came from.

The book is written in first person plural, a unique choice, but one I found appropriate for describing the diversity of this group of women. For the first few pages I did wonder why the women were living in the same house, but after I realized that it was the author's way of telling the story of a large group, I got more comfortable with it.

If you enjoy history, are fascinated by the Manhattan Project, or wonder what it was like to live in a community of women in the 1940s, you like this book: I did.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Blizzard that Turns a Town from Cozy to Horror

In the small New England town of Coventry, the residents are hunkered down for a blizzard. Being New Englanders, blizzards are a fact of life. Some of the characters feel cozy sitting by a fire, sipping wine, watching a movie with their family. Other characters are out in the blizzard and like Officer Keenan they experience the growing horror of the storm first hand. When the storm is over, eighteen people are dead, but no one is quite sure why they died. Twelve years later another storm is approaching and apprehension increases. The things that were in the first blizzard are back and so are the dead.

The horror in this book is a building sense of fear of what is out there in the storm. It's not gory horror, but it can make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, particularly if you're alone during a power failure or snowstorm.

I enjoyed the book, but found some problems with the presentation. There were a great many characters. The author tries to give the feeling of a small town caught in a terrifying situation. It works well in the opening chapters, but bogs down in the middle when the second storm is approaching, and the author tries to bring the us up to date on the characters lives during the past twelve years. The ending, however, is eerie and frightening.

If you enjoy horror stories you'll like this one. But if you really want to feel the full impact, I suggest reading it at night during a snow storm.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The War on Christmas as a Christ-centered Holiday

Everywhere at this time of year we begin to see the war on Christmas raging. Nativity scenes are banned from public places and people greet each other with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Atheists want nothing to do with a Christian holiday, but even some Christians worry that the origins of Christmas are more pagan than Christian. In order to be politically correct, we are losing the meaning of this beautiful holiday as the birthday of Jesus.

“The War on Christmas” features short chapters that explain the origin of Christmas as a Christian, not a pagan holiday. Hodge gives a fascinating explanation of how the pagan gods, Jupiter and Saturn, stem from a Judeo-Christian tradition, being descendents of Noah. I had never heard this before, but it makes sense when you think about the origin of the names.

The book is beautifully put together with gorgeous illustrations and extra-textual material. It would make and excellent gift book for someone this Christmas. I particularly enjoyed the short chapters. It could almost be used for meditation of the meaning of Christmas reading a chapter a day.

I highly recommend this book as an antidote to all the secular trappings of the season.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Marketing.

Haunting and Terrifying Glimpse of an Alternate Reality

After a terrible accident, Emma wakes up unable to remember anything including her husband Declan. Although she recovers physically, she still has terrible nightmares and is haunted by memories at the edge of consciousness that she can't quite grab. Declan is attentive and loving, but Emma feels uncomfortable as though there is something she doesn't understand. Is Declan what he appears to be?

In Emma's world, women are owned by men, their bodies subject to the whims of their husbands. It's a terrifying reality. The author makes the world so real you feel as though it might actually happen. I found the book haunting my thoughts even after I finished it.

Emma is a sympathetic character. I couldn't help but like her and hope for the best. The book is filled with mystery and suspense. As Emma tries to find her past, the tension increases until the startling and unsettling climax.

If you like mystery and suspense with a touch of social problems and fantasy, you'll love this book. I enjoyed it and highly recommend it. It paints a frightening picture of women's role in a nation facing serious population decline due to a lack of women and low fertility.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Thriller with a Moral Question

Treasury agent, Alex LaDuca, is facing the most important decision of her career. She has so far survived the battle with the Dosi drug empire, but she begins to wonder whether her luck will continue. Added to her problems and her joy is her romance with Eric, the handsome Broadway actor. Eric hates to see her in danger, but it's Alex's job. Would she be able to walk away from it, even to please Eric? She also struggles with an underlying moral question: when is assassination justified? She knows the Yardena Dosi will kill her if she can, but is it morally acceptable for Alex to plan to assassinate Yardena?

The story moves from the underworld of New York to Honduras and finally Panama. Although there is action, a great deal of the plot is fleshed out through Alex reading government documents and in conversation. I found the style of presentation interesting, but if you want lots of action, you're apt to be disappointed.

I found the characters likable and realistic. The love affair between Eric and Alex is well done. You can't help rooting for them to be together.

This is the final book in The Cuban Trilogy, but I found it readable as a stand-alone book. The backstory is necessary, but the author manages to work it in without becoming tedious. I enjoyed the book and recommend it if you like a thriller with a moral question.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

International Intrigue With a Bit of Romance

Sam Wingo is on a secret mission to deliver a cargo to a destination in Afghanistan. When he arrives, instead of the people he expects to meet, men identifying themselves as CIA relieve him of the shipment. Sam knows something's wrong and believes he's been set up, but who will believe him?

King and Maxwell are driving through a storm, trying to decide where to go for some R and R. When a teenager waving a gun runs across the path of their car, their vacation dreams are put on hold. The teenager is Tyler Wingo, Sam's son. He's just learned that his father was killed in Afghanistan, and he doesn't believe it. In fact, the next day, he calls to hire King and Maxwell to find out what happened to his father.

This book is an action packed adventure ranging from Afghanistan to Washington, DC. The action starts slowly with King and Maxwell trying to help Tyler, but speeds up by the middle of the book and from there it's a race to the end. Some of the plot is quite far-fetched, but in a quick read it isn't bothersome.

I enjoyed the characters. King and Maxwell have a stuttering love affair which drives lots of repartee. I can't say it feels realistic, especially when Dana, Sam's ex-wife comes on the scene, but it's fun. My favorite character is Edgar, the clueless computer genius. His inability to understand the real world of human relations is amusing.

If you want a fast-paced, international adventure with a little romance and comedy thrown in, you'll enjoy this book. It would make a great beach read.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Look At the Story of Joseph in Light of the New Testament

The story of Joseph is one of the most beloved in the Old Testament. Bauchman brings new insights to the interpretation of the story by using the New Testament and Christ's teaching to enhance the understanding of the story.

Bauchman's goal in the book was to be mindful of the gospel and to try to understand the characters and the lessons of the story through the character of Christ. The characters in the Joseph story are very human. They are all flawed human beings in need of redemption. By looking at them in light of the perfection of Christ we can see the lessons of the story even more clearly.

Baucham does an excellent job of breaking down the story of Joseph by chapters and giving new insights through the comparison with

the writings from the new testament. I learned a lot from reading the book although I was familiar with the Joseph story. It fleshed out the meaning of the story and made me look at some of the parts differently.

I recommend this book if you love the story of Joseph. By reading the book, I think you will find even more depth to the lesson of Joseph's trials and unshakable belief in the Lord.

I reviewed this book for Crossway Publishing.

Ordinary is Boring – or Maybe It Isn't

Most of us lead ordinary lives: going to work, playing with the kids, cooking meals. It all sounds pretty tame, but beneath the surface God is working, and God is extraordinary. Kelley illustrates this premise with the story of Saul, a young man doing his job, chasing his father's lost donkeys. Little does he realize that he is on a collision course with the prophet Samuel and destined for national importance. Not all of us are Saul, but with God working through us none of our lives are unimportant.

I particularly enjoyed the first three chapters of this book. They challenge you to think about your life and how you view the mundane tasks of living. As the author points out, Chesterton said that a mark of strength is the ability to do the same thing over and over. The weak man is the one constantly searching for something new. Finding contentment in our lives is one of the most rewarding things we can do.

The final chapters off specific suggestions for viewing parts of our lives, husbands and wives, children, money and work. While these chapters were well done, I didn't completely agree with his theology. I thought at times it was a stretch. However, other readers may not feel this way. I recommend this book if you think your life is boring. You may be surprised.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

I have a copy to give away. If anyone is interested, please put your email address in the comments section. If several people respond, I will have my husband draw a name to see who gets the book. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Tension Filled Family Saga Set in the Bordeaux Wine Region

Aurelian Laverzac ruled his family with an iron fist. His four sons, now adults, grew up in competition for their father's interest, for women, and for the vineyard. Two of the brothers found their own satisfying careers, but the other two are locked in a struggle to see who will control the vineyard. It is Aurelian's wish that the vineyard remain in tact and not be split between the boys. Underlying the turmoil is a secret. Jules, the youngest son who has the feel for wine making, was adopted by Aurelian under mysterious circumstances. Because the family loves Jules, this has never been a problem, but when control of the vineyard is at stake will the secret become an issue?

If you enjoy family sagas, or soap operas, you'll love this story. The characters are engaging from Aurelian to the four sons to the women in their lives. All the characters feel true to life and make you want to continue reading.

The setting is wonderful. Wine making has always interested me. The book is factual on the details of wine production and adds color to the story. I thoroughly
enjoyed the Laverzac's. It's a good book to curl up with on a winter night – with a glass of good red wine – and enjoy a time in France.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Story for Your Children : A Christmas Tradition for the Family

Sam is excited about Christmas. He likes the toy train, but he is most excited about the sparkle box his mother has placed on the mantle.

The Sparkle Box is a marvelous story for children. The illustrations are excellent. The bonus is that the whole family can become involved in filling the sparkle box, which is contained at the back of the book, with notes about what they did for those in need as a gift for Jesus.

I think this is a wonderful idea. Too often we forget about the real meaning of Christmas. The Sparkle Box gives you an excellent idea of how to remember to help those less fortunate. It also reminds us that it is Jesus' birthday. I highly recommend this book as a gift for the whole family.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Three Generations of Secrets

Leonie, the newest member of the wealthy Cantoni family, never expected to live in a gorgeous Italian villa. When Guido Cantoni proposed, she jumped at the chance although she has never been sure he loved her. She is a model daughter-in-law, wife and mother. In addition, she has taken over primary management of the family's faucet factory. She should be happy, but Leonie has a secret.

Each generation of the family has secrets from Bianca, the grandmother's madness, to the marriage of her son and daughter-in-law and now in the third generation Leonie and Guido have their secrets. Although the secrets are known by most members of the family, they handle them by not speaking about them. The Cantonis present the facade of a distinguished, wealthy family, but behind the facade the secrets linger and hurt.

I enjoyed this book, a gentle romance with hints of mystery. Leonie is a delightful character. She grows throughout the novel as she struggles to come to grips with her secret and gradually learn the secrets of her in-laws' lives. The Italian setting is gorgeous. It will make you want to visit Italy, perhaps stay in the Hotel du Lac, or visit a grand villa.

I recommend this book if you enjoy gentle romance.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Mediocre Halloween Mystery

Harry Haristeen and her animal friends are back. Out driving with Fair, her husband, they find a scarecrow in a field that turns out to be a dead body. The body is close to the vegetable stand run by Hester Martin, an eccentric cmiddle-aged lady. She's planning a Halloween Hayride and Harry and her pals are involved in the set up. Everyone seems eager to be frightened, but a little wary because of the murdered man dressed as a scarecrow.

Usually, I love the Sneaky Pie Brown series. However, this book was not up to standard. The mystery looked interesting at the start, but there was no investigation. Things kept happening until the result was forced on the characters. In fact the mystery was so simple I figured it out from reading the list of characters in the beginning, not all the details, but who-done-it.

The characters seemed flat. The animals had a less interesting part than usual. Mostly they bickered with each other, more accurately Pewter and Tee Tucker bickered and Mrs. Murphy tried to be the peace maker. They weren't as much fun as previous books where they were continually outguessing the humans.

I thought there were too many long dissertations on social issues. I don't want a text book on social issues when I'm reading a mystery. Building them in as part of the motivation is fine, but long paragraphs become tedious.

I found the writing, particularly the dialog very stilted. Using tags like “the middle-aged lady said” or the “intelligent cat thought” seemed poorly done. I'm sure the author could have done better than these cliché tags. They were very annoying.

I wish I could recommend this book, but I can't unless you're a serious fan of the series. It's not up to the standard of the previous books, only interesting if you want to keep up with the happenings in Crozet.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Friday, November 1, 2013

From Naughty Boy to Wise Monarch: The Heir Apparent by Jane Ridley

Queen Victoria was not pleased to be pregnant with her second child so soon after the first. This unfortunate start dogged Bertie, Albert Edward who later became King Edward VII, for the rest of their relationship. He was raised in a cold regimented way. Prince Albert thought he should be segregated from his peers and made to study on a rigorous schedule. He was constantly criticized by both parents. It's amazing that he didn't grow up to be a bitter man.

Instead of focusing on his ill treatment, Bertie hit back at Victoria in other ways. As soon as he was of age, he abandoned the domesticity treasured by his parents and became a gambler, man-about-town, and womanizer. His mother and sisters selected his bride, the lovely Danish princess, Alexandra. Although Bertie was fond of her, it didn't stop him from having numerous affairs with both lowly women and wives of his friends. Ridley hypothesizes that it was a way for him to express his rage with his mother and sisters.

The middle of the book focuses on his relationships with the various women in his life. It's a delightful gossipy read. Bertie comes across as very human and not quite the debauched satyr as he is often depicted.

The final chapters of the book are devoted to his rule. While it was only 9 years they were fruitful ones for Britain. Bertie turned out to be a hardworking monarch and structured the constitutional monarchy used in Britain today.

The book is extremely well researched with many quotations from letters from the principals as well as quotes from intimates of their circle. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It gave me a different view of the relationship of Victoria and Albert. Their treatment of the oldest son was in many way horrific. Ridley portrays Victoria as so wrapped up in wanting Albert to herself that she couldn't stand the competition from her children. From the quotations, it appears to be true, but it is different from the way I pictured their relationship.

I highly recommend this book if you're interested in the history of Britain specifically the Victorian Era leading to the reign of Edward VII.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Jazz Age and the Invention of The Great Gatsby: Careless People by Sarah Churchwell

Careless People is a well researched look at the jazz age as experienced by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their contemporaries. The author theorizes that the events and people Fitzgerald experienced in 1922 and beyond, before the publication of the book in 1925, shaped the plot and characters. In particular, the author thinks the Hall – Mills unsolved double murder was the basis for the murder in Gatsby.

The book also details the riotous life the Fitzgeralds lived in Great Neck. The interesting people, like Ring Lardner and the newspaper man, Swope, are two of the many characters that make this a particularly interesting section. The bootlegger Max Gerlach, from whom they obtained liquor, and the array of criminal bosses is fascinating reading. It does appear that Gerlach was the prototype for Gatsby's boss and helps to give substance to the background of the book.

I am less certain that the prominence given to the Hall – Mills murder investigation was helpful. I love reading a good murder mystery, but this one was not particularly interesting. With so much space given to recounting the facts of police incompetence and publicity seekers who came forward with outlandish stories, it seemed to me that the author went overboard trying to prove her thesis. I believe reading about the murder could have influenced Fitzgerald. The facts as presented have some resemblance to Gatsby, but not enough to have so much of the book devoted to them.

The ending chapters become much more of a biography of the Fitzgeralds. It's interesting reading, but I found the opening chapters far more helpful, giving shape to an era.

I recommend this book to anyone who is a Fitzgerald fan, or loved Gatsby. It's also a great source of historical information on the jazz age and worth reading just to experience the riotous living under Prohibition.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Unique Career for the Heroine

Camile is a landman. For those unfamiliar with the term, her job is to convince landowners to lease their land to gas and oil companies to drill wells to extract the gas and oil. Being a landman isn't an easy career choice. Camile found herself in the business because her uncle, owner of J&S, an oil and gas company, paid for her education and helped take care of her mother after her father died. She feels that she owes him, but wants to stop living out of a suitcase and put down roots. She's been promised a job in the main office in Houston after she signs the Sweet Olive residents, but after she comes to Sweet Olive she begins to doubt that she'll ever get out of the mode of being sent to wherever the company needs her.

In Sweet Olive, Camile, who would love to own an art gallery, finds a community of artists. Most of them are primitives, but Lawrence is an exquisite glass artist and Ginny's whileygigs are unique. Camile comes to love these people which creates problems for her with her uncle. They don't want to sign gas leases and that's all he's interested in.

Sweet Olive is a unique love story. The setting is unusual. Louisiana is beautifully described. You can't help but want to visit the artists in the close community. Of course, there is a handsome attorney representing the artists, but he and Camile seem to get off on the wrong foot.

The characters, particularly the artists are delightful. I loved Ginny and the children and Camile is a spunky heroine trying to find herself. If you enjoy romance with an unusual setting, I think you'll like this book.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Inheriting a Sugarcane Plantation Brings Troubles and Romance

When her father dies, Charley Bordelon is surprised to inherit an 800 acre sugarcane plantation in Louisiana. She knows nothing about raising sugarcane. Her father wasn't a farmer either, but he mortgaged everything he had to buy these 800 acres.

Charley is a widow with a preteen daughter. She badly needs a fresh start and the only option is the sugarcane plantation. She settles in with her delightful grandmother, Miss Honey, and her other relatives. The one blot on the horizon is her half-brother. He has been in trouble most of his life; now he's back, and he resents that Charley got the whole inheritance.

Learning the sugarcane business isn't easy, particularly since no one wants to help her. Charley struggles against the odds and the desire to give up, but eventually finds help and a surprising romance.

The unusual characters and the lovely setting make this book a delight to read. I enjoyed the descriptions of farm life, but they could be tedious to someone with no background in farming. I also found the plot rather slow even when Charley finds romance. She does a great deal of talking to herself about her troubles and it becomes repetitious. However, the setting and characters make it worth the read.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

An Unfortunate, Probably Accurate, Look at our Judicial System

A drive-by shooting leaves a drug dealer and a young mother dead. Alex Torricelli, a cop, gives chase. He manages to grab the driver of the car, but the shooter gets away. The police arrest a black drug dealer, but is he guilty?

The US attorney is looking for a capital murder case to impose the death penalty. This is the chosen case and Judge David Norcross is put on the spot. The star witness is the sixteen-year-old driver of the car. He's been in and out of trouble all his life and is strongly connected to the gang responsible for the shooting. The question is whether he's telling the truth. If he's lying, and innocent man could be sentenced to death.

In this highly emotional novel, we see the trial from all points of view: the judge, the attorneys, the cops, the defendant, and some of the witnesses. The author has done an excellent job of bringing these diverse characters to life. It's the highlight of the novel.

The setting is very well done. The author is, after all, a US district judge. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the trial from so many points of view. I do have one criticism, however, the ending, although the author did a good job of foreshadowing, seemed contrived. Still, it's an excellent read. I highly recommend it if you enjoy courtroom drama.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Former Catholic on the Problems of the Catholic Church

While some people may find this book offensive, I thought it had interesting points. The author opens with a diatribe about God. He seems very angry and disillusioned with the Church. If you find it offensive, skip it.

The second section of the book presents a history of the Catholic Church, mostly it's mistakes. However, the section is factual and gives an overview of the Church evolving over time. I don't think anyone can deny that the Church has made terrible errors, but now it appears to be trying to reform itself.

In one section, the author lets up on his criticism and acknowledges that many good people and relief organizations sponsored by the Church have done a great deal of good. It's a needed section to give some respite from the continual criticism.

The book is described as being humerus. I didn't find it amusing. I found it informative and a rather dismal picture of a huge bureaucracy trying to manage itself

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

A Girl on the Run in the Battle Between Good and Evil

Bethany Barkley, an attorney, meets with Ken Kirkland. He's convinced his mother was manipulated into leaving her fortune to what he considers a religious cult, the Planners. He holds Bethany responsible because she prepared the will. Bethany knows she acted in good faith, but when she arrives home she finds Ken dead on the kitchen floor with two bullets from her gun in him. The police are sure she's responsible. When Bethany starts receiving text messages directly related to the crime she panics and starts to run.

Her best friend Annabelle was recently murdered by a hit and run driver. As she struggles to evade the authorities, Bethany starts to believe there is a connection between herself and Annabelle's death. She plans to retrace Annabelle's steps to find out what really happened. As she finds more information about what Annabelle was involved with, she realizes that she's caught in a centuries old struggle between good and evil.

I found this book very slow in spite of the chase scene and the plots twists. The major character is remote, hard to feel attached to. The plot hinges on this character. If you can't relate to her, the book loses a great deal of immediacy. I did enjoy some of the other characters, the Judge, the Mathematician, the Builder, and other member of the Garden, the force for good. However, since they only put in infrequent appearances, it wasn't enough to carry the story.

Another problem for me was the author switching from past to present tense on a chapter by chapter basis. Since all the action was taking place at relatively the same time, I found the constant shifts jarring and could see no reason for them.

The book has a religious theme, but it's not heavy. If you enjoy searches for ancient artifacts and secret organizations, you may enjoy this book. I found it rather slow.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program

Friday, October 11, 2013

Too Busy? This Book Can Help: Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

If you feel like you're racing on a wheel like an out of control gerbil, always saying yes to requests for help, never feeling like you have time for yourself, this book is for you. While Kevin DeYoung doesn't have all the answers, he asks the right questions. I was particularly impressed with his generosity in sharing his own experiences with being too busy.

While the whole book was interesting and gave good advice, I found two chapters particularly important. Chapter three about the manifestations of pride should be read by everyone whether you're crazy busy or not. DeYoung makes the point that too often we're not doing things because we want to, we're doing things because we want people to like us, or look up to us. Doing good things to feed your pride isn't a good use of your time. Doing things to be of service because you want to, and you want to serve God makes a tremendous difference. You may be busy, but you'll be doing things for the right reasons and the craziness will go away.

The other chapter I especially liked was Chapter Four about setting priorities. I think setting priorities is one of the hardest things to do. Some of us feel that putting our own needs first is wrong, but it isn't. You can't serve others if you are so strung out wanting to get everything done that you can't give proper attention to the task at hand. It's a way to turn in a shoddy performance. It's all right to be able to say 'no' sometimes.

I highly recommend this book. It's short and easy to read, but it's packed with ideas that you'll remember for a long time, particularly if you learn to manage your time and serve God for the right reasons.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Romantic Sleigh Ride Uncovers Murder: A Plain Disappearance by Amanda Flower

It's Christmas. Timothy takes Chloe on a romantic sleigh ride to get her alone to give her his special present. They stop at the Gundy barn, a long vacant structure. Timothy gives Chloe the present, but before they can climb back in the sleigh, Mabel, Timothy's dog, uncovers the corpse of an Amish girl, Katie Lambright.

Police Chief Rose, asks Chloe and Timothy, an Amish man who has left the church, to help solve the murder since she can't get information from the closed Amish community. As they begin to investigate the murder they discover unsavory things about several members of the Amish community, including Katie's parents. Billy, a friend of Timothy's, is also suspected because he's been using the barn to store auto parts and rolls of duct tape. When Billy disappears, the question is whether he's the murderer or another victim.

I enjoyed the book. The setting is lovely and appears to be faithful to the Amish traditions. I'd love to visit Appelseed Creek. Chloe and Timothy are delightful characters. He's very understanding of the her and her impetuous actions to solve the murder. She is intrepid, a strong character with her own demons.

They mystery is fairly easy to solve, but keeps your interest. My criticism is that the ending seemed rushed and not quite believable, but it doesn't detract too much for the enjoyment of the story.

I recommend this book if you are fascinated by the Amish and particularly if you enjoy mysteries.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

An English Country House Weekend, A Disfunctional Family, and Murder: Ten Lords a Leaping by C.C. Benison

Tom Christmas, Vicar at Thornford Regis, has arranged a fund raiser for his church that he fears may end his life and that of several parishioners. He has agreed to parachute out of an airplane as part of the Leaping Lords display. The lords jump from much higher and do stunts on the way down, but no one expects to see two of the lords start to fight like schoolboys.

Although not killed in the jump, Tom sprains his ankle badly and so becomes a weekend guest at Eggescombe Hall, the site of the fund raiser. The two lords who engaged in fisticuffs are also members of the party and before the weekend is over one of them is found dead in the labyrinth, one of the attractions at Eggescombe Hall.

Ten Lords a Leaping is a very English mystery. There is much more talk than action, so if you're a fan of thrillers, this is not your book. The characters, however, are delightful from Max, the rather pompous ten year old heir, to Margarite, the dowager countess.

I enjoyed the book. The setting is wonderful and very well described. The plot has many twists and a myriad of relationships among the characters. However, it is a very leisurely read, don't expect to whiz through it. 

I reviewed this book for Amazon Vi

Bertie and Jeeves are Back: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks

Woody, one of Bertie's pals is in trouble. Amelia, the girl he loves, doesn't want anything to do with him because she thinks he's been flirting with other girls. Her father feels the same way because he doesn't have enough money. Bertie and Jeeves to the rescue. They connive to become members of the house party at Amelia's family estate. The estate is in financial difficulties and Amelia's father is looking for a good marriage either for Amelia or her cousin, Georgiana, to put things right. Georgiana's perspective bridegroom is a member of the party as are his parents, but somehow she doesn't seem very enthusiastic. Bertie thinks she's quite a girl, but, naturally, she couldn't be interested in him.

I enjoyed the reappearance of Wooster and Jeeves. Faulks has done an admiral job creating a book very close to the originals. A serious connoisseur may find fault, but it's a fun read. Some of the scenes are hilarious, others not so much. I think American readers will have trouble following the cricket match. I did.

I recommend this book if you're a Wooster and Jeeves fan. If you're not, it's a good time to get acquainted.

I reviewed this book for Amazon Vine

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Victorian Town, Horses, and Romance: Country Roads by Nancy Herkness

Julia, a painter celebrated for her horse pictures, gets a flat tire on her way to Sanctuary, West Virginia. She's alone and frightened. She's escaped from her controlling uncle because he tells her that her new paintings are not good enough to sell. At her wits end, she searches out a critic who supported her first pictures. She has to know if the work is any good. It's her life.

She's rescued by Paul, a handsome attorney. Immediately there are vibes. He makes sure she gets to the gallery with her pictures, but he can't leave her there, and the two become involved.

This is a very typical romance. Paul and Julia set eyes on each other, immediately feel the tingle, and then problems set them apart that have to be resolved so they can be together. If you like romance, this is a gentle one.

Julia is an interesting character. She's escaped from a domineering older man, her uncle, and immediately falls in love with another domineering man, Paul. I suppose that's psychologically accurate behavior, but she wants so much to be her own person, I was a little surprised she leaped into bed so quickly.

The town of Sanctuary is a wonderful setting. It is beautifully described and welcoming. It makes you want to visit and perhaps stay for awhile the way Julia did.

I recommend this book if you like romance. There are horses and its an interesting sub theme, but doesn't overshadow the romance. Likewise the discussion of Julia's creativity and paintings is iteresting and makes the character more alive.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Abortion Clinics are the Focus of Murder

Reverend Jimmy Aldridge, beloved by his congregation, is killed in a drive by shooting when picketing an abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi. Darla Cavanagh, the widow of one of Misissippi's football greats, is on leave recovering from his death. The sheriff asks her to return to her job as detective and take over the investigation of Reverend Aldridge's murder.

Things are not as straightforward as they seem. Darla is saddled with a partner who is not only an Elvis impersonator, but intent on assuring that Dr. Nicoletti, the doctor running the abortion clinic, is found guilty. As she follows the trail of the money found in Reverend Aldridge's glove compartment, Darla realizes that the reverend had secrets to hide from his congregation.

This is an entertaining mystery. Darla, Dr. Nicoletti, the sheriff, and others are amusing characters. The setting is true to Mississippi and gives rationale for the behavior of the characters. That was well done.

The mystery also has a romance. Darla and Dr. Nicoletti become infatuate with each other, but it seemed forced to me. It ended well, but the beginning seemed contrived.

I recommend this book if you enjoy mysteries. The plot isn't hard to figure out, but it's amusing to watch the actions of the characters. I enjoyed it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Rather Tepid Ghost Story

As a child, William Bellman makes a mistake. Proud of his well tuned slingshot, he kills a raven. From then on the ravens watch him, as does a mysterious man, Mr. Black. William sees him at funerals. His presence frightens William. He would like to come close to the man perhaps speak to him, but the mam eludes him. This changes when William's successful life is derailed by a personal tragedy. Then he and Black make a rather strange bargain.

As a ghost story this doesn't work for me. The first part of the book is quite cheerful. It details Williams successful life running a mill, marrying, and raising children. The mysterious Mr. Black makes appearances, but, while upsetting to William, there is nothing particularly eerie about them.

This story is primarily a character study of William and how he deals with his life after the unfortunate killing of the raven. If you like a story with a good plot, this isn't the book for you. The plot is very thin and the characters, aside from William, come across as actors in his drama without much substance of their own. I wanted to like the book. Ghost stories are great fun, but this one didn't give me chills.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Chilling Firsthand Account of the History and Politics of the Mideast

Chris Mitchell lives in Israel and has been reporting on the conflicts between Israel and the Muslim Middle East for years. This makes him uniquely qualified to give a picture of the major political trends in the area. Although I had read about the desire by the Muslim extremists to eliminate Israel, gain control of the Middle East and ultimately the world, his accounts of the battles he's witnessed, and the interviews with leaders in Israel and scholars who have studied the Middle Eastern conflict made it very real and rather frightening.

Mitchel intertwines the historical and political analysis with a discussion of the Biblical prophecies and the relevant passages from the Muslim literature. The facts of the Jews return to Israel and the subsequent conflicts with the Muslim countries make it seem that the prophecies of Isiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah are coming true in out times. It's fascinating reading.

Reading this book, Christians may wonder what they can do to help. Mitchell answers this question by discussing the World Prayer Conference. We can all pray for the survival of Israel. It is commanded by the Bible and Mitchell makes a good case that
with so many people praying, God must be listening.

I highly recommend this book. It is well written and gives an account of the Middle East problems that you will find hard to ignore.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

The Quiet Queen: Elizabeth of York

Daughter of Edward IV, sister to the princes in the tower, wife of Henry VII, mother of Henry VIII, and grandmother of Elizabeth I: Elizabeth of York is a pivotal character in English history, but it's hard to get a sense of who she was. After her father, Edward IV, died, she, her siblings and her mother were in fear of their lives with Richard III was first guardian of the realm and later king. In spite of fearing Richard, it isn't clear that she would have rejected marriage to him after his wife Anne Neville died.

It is clear that she schemed to place Henry VII on the throne in the hope that he would marry her. This is one of the most interesting sections of the book from the standpoint of seeing Elizabeth's character. Once Henry had secured his position, he didn't want to owe his throne to his queen, they married. From that time much of the evidence about Elizabeth is by inference from her relationship to Henry. She was a wife, mother, and supporter of her husband.
She was overshadowed by Henry's formidable mother, Margaret Beaufort, but there is little historical evidence as to what she thought about it.

Weir does a commendable job of bringing this quiet queen to life. The early part of the book gives us a picture of Elizabeth as a young woman unsure of her future and capable of plotting to achieve the status of queen. She becomes a much more shadowy character after the wedding. Weir tries to give us a picture of her life by detailing her wardrobe, the places she visited with Henry, the events she took part in, and her role in bearing the royal children. However, too often Weir had to assume what Elizabeth would have thought. Unless you're fascinated by the customs of the royal house in the 1400's the middle of the book can become rather tedious with long lists of clothing and household supplies.

The end of the book is much more interesting from the aspect of historical events. The pretenders caused Henry worry about the security of his throne. This was particularly true of Perkin Warbeck. I found that section well done, but again, the emphasis was on Henry and what Elizabeth might have felt had to be inferred.

I recommend this book if you enjoy the history of the Tudor period. The book is very well researched and Weir does a good job of showing us the person, Elizabeth, but she didn't have a great deal of primary material to deal with aside from account books and a few letters. However, the book is fascinating reading particularly in terms of understanding the early environment of Henry VIII. The title is particularly apt: Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World. The emphasis necessarily is on Elizabeth's surroundings as much as it is on her.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saving a Neurologically Damaged Horse: Alex, the West Nile Horse by Katie Klosterman

Training any horse takes patience, skill and love. Training a neurologically damaged horse draws on even great reserves of patience, caring, and ingenuity. When Katie saw Alex he had just survived West Nile Virus, a disease that affects the brain. Most horses end up being put down because they are so impaired after being infected with the disease, but Alex is a survivor.

Alex is a Saddlebred with good breeding. He was destined for the show-ring, but didn't make it and ended up in a barn in Arizona where he contracted West Nile Virus. When Katie saw him he was emaciated with matted hair, definitely not looking like a showhorse, but there was something about him. She purchased him and began the training that while ultimately successful was a test of love and endurance.

If you love horses, you'll enjoy this book. The training methods are interesting and sometimes unique. If you have horses you may find some of them useful, but more that that, it's a story of faith and the special relationship between a human and a horse.

I highly recommend this book. It's well written and shows the sacrifices an owner makes to take care of a special horse.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Thrilling Conclusion to the East Salem Trilogy

Sinister shapes gather around Tommy Gunderson's house where he, Dani, Quinn and Cassandra Morton are holed up. With them is Tommy's Aunt Ruth, and Reese, a boy who escaped from St. Adrian's Academy. Because of the danger, Dani and Tommy decide to send Reese away with Dr. Julian Villanegre and Frank Gardner. Before the three reach the airport, the monsters cause a car crash. Julian and Frank are killed, but Reese manages to escape. He returns to Tommy's house. Now Dani and Tommy have to decide whether he's a spy, or they can trust him.

The demons seem to be attached to St. Adrian's, but Dani and Tommy are not sure how. Quinn believes that contamination of Tommy's pond is due to chemicals Linz Pharmaaceutical is manufacturing and planning to distribute. Tommy and Dani know that they must try to get more information by getting into St. Adrian's and Linz, but it's a dangerous mission.

Fatal Tide is an outstanding ending to the trilogy. I liked it better than any of the other books. Tommy and Dani have resolved their differences and their love is blossoming. Quinn and Cassandra are strong characters who risk their lives to help. Reese, is a frightened boy, who is trying to decide who he can trust. Their interactions very realistic and add depth to the novel. I love Tommy's interest in gadgets that end up saving their lives. 

If you haven't read the first two books
of the trilogy, I recommend that you start. This book can stand alone, but it is much better read as part of the set.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stephen Hawking: A Brilliant and Playful Mind

Like most people, I view Stephen Hawking as a great scientists and as a determined individual who overcame a debilitating disease, ALS. In this book, he reveals himself as a witty and warm human being.

Hawking's parents were considered rather eccentric. They kept to themselves, but they cared about their children and devoted time to their development. I found Hawking's memories of his childhood illuminating. His fascination with machines and how they work obviously carried over into his fascination with how the cosmos works.

At Oxford, he didn't work very hard. It was the socially acceptable thing to do. The diagnosis of ALS changed that and caused him to start working at his research, realizing that time might be short to make the discoveries he envisioned.

Some of the most interesting chapters focus on the work he did with Roger Penrose, Richard Feynman and others. The descriptions of the work are a bit technical, but not hard to understand. The book ends with chapters on the possibility of time travel and imaginary time, a topic he thought he didn't cover well enough in “A Brief History of Time.”

The book is short and easy to read. It gives a delightful picture of the creative mind behind Hawking's discoveries. If you enjoyed a “Brief History of Time,” you'll want to meet the man behind it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Warm and Wise View of the Catholic Church: Off the Cuff and Over the Collar by Bishop John McCarthy

On every page of this book you feel Bishop McCarthy's love for his church and for people. However, he recognizes that both people and the church have traditions and practices that drive them apart. I thought he did an excellent job giving his ideas on major social problems: divorce, homosexuality, bullying, sexual abuse of children by priests and the issue of celibacy of priests. Not everyone will agree with his suggestions, but they are worth reading and will make you think.

In the second part of the book, Bishop McCarthy discusses some of the traditions and practices of the Roman Catholic Church giving the history as well as discussing the practice. This section is worth reading whether you're Catholic or not if you're interested in an elucidation of some of the practices of the church that seem arcane to outsiders.

A third section of the book discusses how the church operates. How is the church financed; what do cardinals do; how are bishops chosen; and other topics? Again this is a good section for those people who have wondered about how the church operates. I didn't realize the severity of the priest shortage. It is interesting to see how the church is trying to solve this problem.

I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for both Catholics and non-Catholics who want to learn more about the Roman Catholic Church and have their horizons broadened by well-developed discussions of a number of social ills.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Relationship Between the Bible and Near Eastern Myths

As archaeologist have uncovered more and more of the Near Easter Civilization: Egypt, Babylon and Canaan; Bible stories have been found to resemble the myths and stories of the region. The question becomes important for the understanding of the Old Testament. Currid makes the case that the myths apparently stem from the same root, but where the pagan myths recount the adventures of a plethora of Gods, the Old Testament focuses the stories on the one God. In fact, he goes so far as to say that the way the stories are written is turns the pagan's beliefs against them. He also makes a good case that while the pagans wrote the stories as myths, the Old Testament writers present them as history.

This is an excellent book for providing a basic understanding of the similarities of literature in the ancient Near East. It's a short book, easy to read, and filled with engaging examples. I enjoyed the book very much. However, I found that making the same argument in relation to each of the stories, while interesting, didn't always provide a lot of new information. It rather made the same point in a number of different contexts.

The similarities between the Old Testament and other Near Eastern myths can't be denied and it has led some people to question whether the Old Testament was inspired by God, or whether it is a borrowed collection of old stories. I believe Currid has made a good case for the Old Testament being different from the other myths of the Near East.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

A Realistic, but Tough Novel to Read

Janie Ryan is born to an alcoholic, drug abusing teenage mother. To Iris' credit she decides to keep the baby, but what a life she brings her into. Janie comes home from the hospital to her grandmother's council house, but this arrangement doesn't last long. A huge fight between Iris and her mother puts mother and baby on the street on a cold night. Frankie, Iris' brother, is close to her, but he won't take sides when their mother is involved.

Mother and baby find a short respite in a woman's shelter, but then move on to a house in one of the worst districts of Aberdeen. Here her mother meets up with Tony Hogan. Hogan has money and gives the family treats, but he's also a violent drug dealer who abuses her mother. The small family moves through a succession of B&Bs and council properties as Janie becomes a teenager and like all teenagers fights with her mother. The ending is moving and full of hope, but will Janie truly be able to overcome her background?

I found this book very realistic and very hard to read. Janie is an attractive character. She loves her mother and sticks by her when things are difficult. (Although there is one scene in which as a young child she is taken into care and develops an attachment to the woman in charge to the point of wishing she could stay there always
.) Iris is a typical self-centered addict. Her redeeming virtue is that she loves Janie and tries to protect her although it means taking more abuse herself.

The book doesn't really have a plot. It is the odyssey of a mother and child through the bottom levels of society. The interest is sustained by rooting for Janie to succeed and not turn out like her mother.

I recommend this book if you want a realistic look at poverty in England and that translates into similar situations in the US. However, it's a hard book to read because it is so realistic.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An Intimate Glimpse of Families Wrenched by the Civil War

From the Lincolns and the Grants to the Loughridges and Erskines, families suffered during the civil war through the loss of family members, property, and jobs. Ural tells the story of the Civil War chronologically, but intersperses the descriptions of political maneuverings and battles with the letters and stories of real people. Soldiers wrote letters home and wives and families responded sometimes bravely, sometimes with complaints and a plea to come home.

The book is filled with human interest. The Loughridge girls sending kisses to their father and begging him to come home on a furlough. The search for a nameless soldier who died clutching the picture of his three children. He turned out to be Amos Humiston. But perhaps the most devastating chapters are at the end where Ural describes the murderous attack on Seward and the death of Lincoln.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Civil War. I've read several books about the War Between the States, but this is the first book to let me clearly see the families and the struggles on the home front. Some of the stories of the slaves who ran away to join the Union Army are also troubling. The family of one soldier was turned out of their quarters in the bitter cold of November. All of them died.

I highly recommend this book for the excellent historical research, but also for the human feelings. It is definitely a book worth reading and the illustrations are excellent. I was particularly pleased that in the conclusion, Ural told the stories of what happened to the families after the war. There were some marvelous success stories again showing the resilience of humans.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.