Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mostly Suspense; Some Romance

Sadie receives a phone call from an unknown voice saying her twin sister, Amelia, is going to kill her grandfather. Then she hears the shotgun blast. Was it Amelia, or one of her others making the call? Amelia has been in psychiatric care since she was a child diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, technically Dissociative Identity Disorder. Sadie can't bear to think that Amelia, or one of the others as actually killed her grandfather, but she now must go back to Slaughter Creek and find out.

Once there, she meets Jake, now the local sheriff. During high school they were an item even planning to get married, until something terrible happened in Sadie's family. She fled Slaughter Creek and hasn't been back. Now she's faced with working with Jake to find out if her sister did commit murder.

The problems of mental illness intertwine with the investigation of the murder. While it made a good story, I found places that didn't well represent the actual problems of multiple personality disorder, let alone other mental health problems. I also felt the investigation was unrealistic. Jake is basically a one man show as investigator with Sadie helping him. I would have thought that a family member, even one trained in counseling, would have been kept at arms length during the investigation to avoid any conflict of interest.

If you like suspense and romance in that order, I can recommend this book. It moves rapidly and has an interesting, if unrealistic, plot. The appeal of the story is the mystery and action. While Sadie and Jake muse about each other, the romance is secondary.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Made Me Want to Spend a Week at Stone House

Chicky falls in love with Walter. He convinces her to leave Stoneybridge in Ireland and come to New York with him, promising that they will always be together. Forever turns out to be a couple of months. Chicky is left alone in New York with no friends and no job. Luckily she finds work at Mrs. Cassiday's boarding house. Chicky doesn't want to go home and confess what a mess her life turned out to be, but Mrs. Cassiday finally convinces her and to her amazement, she loves being back. She loves it so much that she makes arrangements to buy Stone House from Miss Queenie Sheedy. Thus starts the plan to turn Stone House into a select hotel.

This is a delightful, sunny story that makes you feel good inside just reading about Stone House and all the marvelous characters, guests and staff, that help to make the hotel a reality. The book is actually a series of short stories all tied together by the theme of preparing Stone House to become a hotel and welcome guests. Each story is complete, but they build on each other to compose the picture of the hotel and its guests.

I highly recommend this book if you're a fan of Maeve Binchy, or if you just want to curl up and take a journey of the imagination to Stone House on the coast of Ireland.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Much Philosophical Musing, Not Much Mystery: The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Cmith

A valuable painting has been stolen from Munrowe House. Duncan Munrowe, the owner, asks for Isabels help, not to solve the mystery, but to be supportive and give him someone to talk to. In this book, Isabel goes about her daily life; taking care of Charlie, her son; listening to concerts by her musician husband, Jaime; worrying about what Grace, Charlie's sitter is teaching him; and helping Cal, her cousin, in the deli. During each of these activities she ponders the philosophical implications of people's actions.

The book is a very gentle read, unfortunately it can become rather boring unless you're riveted by Isabel's daily life. I thought the whole book was uncommonly like Isabel's thoughts on page 59, “It would be fascinating to have some sort of printout of the thoughts of other people – a stream-of-consciousness report. It would read, she suspected, like a badly constructed novel, by an author who had no sense of the flow of narrative.” I have to admit that at times this quote struck me as perfect for the book. The mystery was the interesting incident that kept me reading, but there was very little about it other than Isabel's thoughts about the characters and discussions with Duncan.

I recommend this book if you like the Scottish setting. It's done very well with many passages describing the beauty of the area. However, if you're looking for a serious mystery, or even a good cozy, this isn't it.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

An Important Message: The Reason by William Sirls

During a severe thunderstorm, the Cross in front of St. Thomas' church is struck by lightening. The parish is poor. There's no money to replace the cross. Three doctors from the local hospital volunteer to help. Macey, a pediatric oncologist, puts up a sign to enlist other volunteers, and Kenneth, a carpenter working on the hospital's new addition, volunteers. When everyone is in the house except Kenneth, the blind pastor, and his son, Charlie, who is mute, the cross is miraculously repaired – better than new. This is only one of the series of miraculous events that take place in the community. Although some of the characters find it difficult to accept what's happening, the answer is “Only Believe.”

I have mixed feeling about this book. I think the message is wonderful. Paul says, “know that all things work together for good to those who love God.” Some of the characters in the book, like all of us, find this hard to understand at times, but this story reminds us that the answer is to “Only Believe.” This book is well worth reading for that message.

I did have trouble with the characters. They seemed to function in the service of the message, but lacked the spirit to make the story come from them, as opposed to acting on them. This may have been what the author intended, but I thought the story could have been much more riveting with stronger characters. These characters were almost too good.

I recommend this book for anyone who is struggling with the question of why God lets bad things happen to good people The story makes clear that God has a plan for each of us and whatever happens we need to believe and understand that God acts because he loves us. 

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Pageantry and Brutality of the Renaissance: The Deadly Sisterhood by Leonie Frieda

The Renaissance was a time of contradictions: sumptuous courts, exquisite art and architecture, classical works of literature, but also greed, malice and murder. It was a time when political disputes were often solved by the dagger. Women as well as men played a significant role in this turbulent time: Lucrezia Burnabuoni, who helped her son Lorenzo d'Medici rule Florence; Caterina Sforza, who tricked her husband's assassins into letting into the fortress of Ravaldino where she held them off and overcame the rebels; the sisters, Isabella and Beatrice d'Este, first ladies of the rival kingdoms of Mantua and Milan; Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI; and more. A colorful cast of characters skilfully brought to life.

This well-researched book reads almost like a historical novel. The setting has all the elements of romance and intrigue, and the ladies who ruled the Italian peninsula were strong women whose lives were full of political intrigue, violence, and romance. The author does an excellent job of showing them to us as real people with loves, hates, and fears.

It does take concentration to read the book. I found the Italian names confusing in the beginning, but I gradually got used to them. There are a great many characters with the same or almost identical names. However, it's worth the trouble to sort them out.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy history, or even if you love a good story. This is not an easy, light book, but it is well worth reading.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Amusing Characters, Disappointing Mystery: A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

Ruth Galloway, a plump, working archaeologist, is shocked to learn that a classmate at university, Daniel Golding, has been killed, burned alive in his house. After his death, she receives a letter telling her that he had made a great discovery and that he's afraid. Ruth is mulling this over when she receives a phone call from his department chair, Clayton Henry, inviting her to Pendle University where Daniel taught to authenticate the bones from his dig. Then Ruth begins to receive threatening letters.

DCI Nelson is also headed to Blackpool for his holiday to visit his mother. He tries to convince Ruth not to go, but when Cathbad, her Druid friend, decides to accompany her; the decision is made. She, Kate, her eighteen-month-old daughter, and Cathbad set out for the north and danger.

The characters in this novel are delightful: archaeologists, policemen, Druids, and the most entertaining, Kate. I thoroughly enjoyed their antics. Kate is probably the best addition to the cast of characters for a long time. Her twoishness adds a refreshing touch to the book.

I was not thrilled with the mystery. The setting, a university that sponsored the archaeological dig, is interesting. I always enjoy the details about an archaeological dig. The secret of the bones is well done. However, as a mystery it fails. Things happen. The Blackpool police chase after clues, but no real detecting takes place. Nelson grinds his teeth because he can't be an official part of the action, and Ruth wrings her hands.

I felt the ending was rather a cheat. I like mysteries where you can try along with the detectives to discover the killer. In this book, the killer is so far off stage it's a shock when the identity is revealed.
I can recommend this book, if you like amusing characters and archaeological puzzles, but if a serious mystery is what you're looking for, give this a miss.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Love, Family and Forgiveness: Moon Over Edisto by Beth Webb Hart

Julia is preparing for a New York art show when a person from the past arrives on her doorstep. Marney was her best friend in college, spending summers on Edisto Island with her family, but things have changed. One summer Marney and Julia's father became lovers, married and had children, leaving Julia, her sister, Meg, and her mother devastated and uncomprehending. Now Marney's back. She has lung cancer and wants Julia to come home to Edisto Island and take care of the children. Can Julia summon enough forgiveness and love in her heart to return to the place of the betrayal for the sake of the children?

The setting and characters in the book are wonderful. You fall in love with Julia from the first page. She has worked hard to build a life for herself after her father's betrayal. Now that life is threatened. She struggles to leave the past behind, but can she cut herself off from the children?

The setting in the South Carolina low country is magical. You feel the heat, see the reflections on the water and hear the children's joy in being outdoors, fishing, swimming and playing. The author also describes the food. My mouth was watering over some of the meals. I wanted to go there, right then and be part of things.

I highly recommend this book. A talented and beautiful woman struggles with the demons from the past. You can't help but get involved in her pain.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Darker side of Edwardian Conventions

Rowena, Prudence and Victoria were brought up as sisters, although Prudence is the daughter of their governess. Sir Philip encouraged all three girls to be independent and question the conventions of upper-class life. He didn't expect them to lockstep though the traditional d├ębutante role expected of upper-class girls. His death changes all that. They become the wards of their uncle and move to his grand house, Summerset Abbey, where his wife plans to drag Rowena and Victoria into their traditional roles. For Prudence, she has other plans. Prudence is not Sir Philip's daughter. Therefore, she should be treated as a servant. This change of circumstances is very difficult for all three girls, but particularly Prudence and Victoria. Rowena hates the new responsibilities thrust on her and does a poor job of helping the younger girls cope. She is completely unable to stand up to her uncle and can't protect them, or herself.

The Edwardian period is beautifully described. The history is accurate as are the customs and the dialog. I thought the author did an excellent job of bringing the period to life. Many portrayals of the Edwardian period, like Downton Abbey, tend to show the luxury and beauty of the period. This book shows the luxurious life style, but it also shows how difficult and unfair life could be even at the top of society.

The characters are well drawn. I loved Prudence and Victoria. Prudence is a good person caught in a trap not of her own making. Victoria very much wants to be her own person and make her own way. She's trapped not only by her class, but her asthma. Rowena is a weak person. She doesn't want to be, but she vacillates and is unable to carry out the plans she knows are right. She drifts; as a result, others suffer. While I didn't like all the characters, I thought the author did a good job of bringing them to life.

I highly recommend this book if you like historical fiction, particularly of the Edwardian Period. This book is a treat.

I reviewed the book for Net Galley.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Second Visit to Nidergeard

Eight years after their first visit to Nidergeard, Daniel and Freya have been called back to save the city. Niedergeard was captured by Gar's troops. It is now in ruins. They have been summoned to find the Carnys and blow it so the sleeping knights can be awakened and the final battle joined.

Eadleston is missing. No one knows why the city fell. The first task Freya is asked to undertake is to search through the ancient documents to try to understand what happened and why. In this she's joined by Aunt Vivienne, a delightful character, who knows the underworld and can recognize the right information when she sees it.

Daniel is also there to help, but his concentration is on becoming a hero, killing Gar and any of his henchmen that get in the way.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first book. I thought the young adults were much less attractive than the children. Freya is practically incapacitated by fear and anxiety. Daniel is trying to be so macho he comes across as a loser.

The setting is interesting, but the plot is very diffuse. There are at least three major threads and a couple of minor ones. I found it difficult to see exactly where the story was heading. I can't recommend this book unless your a fan of the “Ancient Earth Trilogy.” I hope the third book will resolve some of the plot lines and bring the story together.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mystery and Romance with a Holocaust Background

Stacey Dutton, a young New York Advertising copywriter, finds an old suitcase discarded on the sidewalk behind the Apthorp, a vintage apartment building built by John Jacob Aster. The suitcase is a perfect centerpiece for the advertising campaign for Steinbach & Company, makers of high quality luggage since 1847. Sol Steinbach loves the idea of featuring a suitcase that played a part in the Holocaust because he is also a survivor of the death camps. Now the mystery starts. Who owned the luggage? What's it's story behind its travels?

The suitcase dates from the end of World War II. Two young Jewish doctors have their papers revoked and must flee Germany or face the concentration camps. A wealthy German family helps them make their escape and the suitcase travels with them.

The book toggles back and forth between the story of the advertising campaign and the fate of the young doctors. The author does this very well. There's more action in the WWII sections including the romance surrounding the young doctors. In the present day sections, the mystery of who owned the suitcase and how it got to New York predominates. Both sections are well done, but the chapters in the WWII section have more immediacy.

The characters in the WWII sections are also the most interesting. The characters in the present day section seem more like vehicles serving the story. However, they make a good counterpoint to the intensity of the WWII characters and move the story along rapidly.

I recommend this book. It's well written and will hold your interest to the last page.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Teenage Romance and A Mystery: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

When Duncan Meade arrives for his senior year at the Irving School, an exclusive boarding school, he's preoccupied with several things: the tragedy paper assigned by his English teacher, where his room in the senior dorm will be, what surprise was left by the senior who occupied his room last year, and his interest in Daisy, another senior. His room assignment is his first disappointment. He has the least desirable room on the floor, and his surprise, a stack of CDs, isn't much better. Duncan starts to listen to the CDs and is immediately caught up in Tim Macbeth's story.

Time is an albino. He feels uncomfortable around other people and spends much of his time alone. However, on the way to Irving, he met Vanessa, also a senior at Irving, and fell heavily for her.
She, of course, is involved with the most popular boy at school. And so the story unfolds toward the tragedy.

The book does such a good job of portraying teenage angst that at times it's hard to read. The author is able to show that these kids are really hurting whether the circumstances justify it or not. The characters are believable, but rather different from the typical boarding school students. I particularly enjoyed meeting Tim, the albino.

The story hints at a mystery involving Tim, Vanessa, and Patrick. Duncan also had a part in it as a junior. It's one of the things making his senior year hard. I liked the way the author dropped hints about the mystery, but the ending didn't quite justify the buildup.

This is a good, but not great coming of age story. I recommend it, if you enjoy boarding school stories with unusual characters.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

Having Faith Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow

Being diagnosed with cancer is one of the most scary things that can happen to you. Ken Mansfield had it happen not once, but twice. For years, he coped with a very rare form of cancer that was finally controlled. Then when things were going well, he was diagnosed with anal cancer. Throughout the ordeals Ken and Connie were able to keep and renew their faith in God. This is a very moving book.

The story is told in alternate paragraphs first by Connie then by Ken. I particularly appreciated Connie's openness. It has to be extremely difficult to watch someone you love suffer. It shakes your faith in the goodness of God, but Connie keeps on fighting and doesn't let it destroy her relationship with God. Ken manages to keep his trust in God throughout the ordeal. It is extremely moving to read his discussions with his maker.

I highly recommend this book to anyone whether you have cancer or someone close to you does. It is also a book about keeping your faith in God through any of the devastating ordeals that can affect you. It's not an easy book to read, but it's worth the effort.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Awkward Romance In the Over Forty Set: Adulation by Elisa Lorello

Danny Masters, an award-winning screen writer, and Sunny Smith, a stockroom manager, both celebrate their birthdays. He's 45; she's 40. Danny is in an unsatisfactory relationship with an actress who intimidates him. Sunny has no love life. She's divorced, lives alone, and socializes with her two friends, a gay guy and a career girl.

Sunny wants to be a writer and idolizes Danny's writing. For her birthday, her friends arrange for a makeover and tickets to the premiere of Danny's latest movie, Exposed. Surprisingly, Danny and Sunny meet outside the theater. He's immediately interested, but Sunny disappears. The fledgling relationship takes a turn for the worse when Sunny calls Danny a jackass after the question and answer session at the premiere. The rest of the book toggles back and forth between Danny and Sunny, obsessed with each other but unable to get together because of their insecurities.

The whole book reminded me of the first scene where Danny is trying to write a pilot for a TV serial. This is a new area for him. He agonises and worries. Finally, he writes some dialog, realizes it's not very amusing and quits. This book had the same problem. It's not very amusing. The author seems to be trying too hard, and for too many pages, to portray a relationship between two damaged people who are finding it hard, not only to commit, but to get together.

I found the book rather dull. These are two individuals in their 40's who have been married and divorced and are more or less successful. The way they agonized through the middle of the book reminded me more on people in their twenties.

I don't really recommend this book. I thought it would be amusing, but the humor is not evident whereas the angst is. I got tired of the self-absorption after the first five chapters.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Good Opening, But the Ending is Disappointing: We All Fall Down by Simon Wood

Hayden Drake is excited about his new consulting job and teaming up with his college roommate, Shane. Hayden is an engineer doing work on a contract basis for several firms. He's pleased to get a contract from Marin Design Engineering (MDE) because they pay well and seem to give good benefits to their employees, like a day at a Giants game.

His elation doesn't last long when two employees from the company commit suicide, one being Shane. In fact, he's there when Shane jumps off a bridge. The police naturally suspect Hayden. So does Shane's sister, Rebecca. After a rather rocky start, she and Shane decide to work together to unravel the mystery.

The first scenes in this book are very well done. I was especially drawn in to the scene where Hayden tries to keep Shane from committing suicide. However, after Hayden and Rebecca team up to solve the mystery of what's wrong at MDE, the plot becomes rather silly. It's hard to believe that two rational people would continually try to mislead the police when people are being killed all around them, particularly, since there's no good reason to dislike the police, except that Hayden was wrongfully accused of dealing drugs when he was in college.

My major concern with this book is that the author doesn't seem to understand engineering or technology very well. He makes a big deal of having Hayden sign a non-disclosure agreement before starting work at MDE. Non-disclosure agreements are perfectly standard in engineering and contractors have to sign them all the time. This is true in other industries as well.

The author also makes a big deal about drawings being destroyed. Generally engineering firms today work on CAD/CAM machines, so the files are available digitally and can be stored on line, or in some other major storage location owned by the company. Also, the file Shane ships Hayden that starts some of the action could be copied and stored on line. There's no reason to have only on copy on disc. I was very surprised that the technical details were so poor.

I can't recommend this book. There's lots of action, if you like that, but the story really degenerates after the opening and the characters are far from memorable.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.