Friday, May 31, 2013

Archeology, Philosophy, Mystery, and the Atlantis Myth

Nicholas Pedrosa leaps at the chance to join an archaeological dig on Santorini although he is only marginally qualified for the position. It appears to be the experience of a life time, but when he arrives things are more complex than he envisioned. His first encounter on the island with his new colleagues is at the funeral of his predecessor, Benja. His death appears to be an accident, but was it?

Nicholas is both drawn to and repelled by his boss, Marcus Huxley. He can't figure out who Huxley is and why he selected him as a replacement for Benja before Benja died. The archaeological dig is going slowly. There is opposition from outside archaeological sources, the military government and the local people. The workers have a love hate relationship with the dig. They want the work, but fear uncovering the lost city.

Nicholas can't escape the parallels between the lost island of Atlantis and the city they are uncovering, but is it only his imagination? Huxley won't give him a straight answer and his distrust grows daily.

This is an engaging book although the plot seems rather fragmented. We start the book thinking we're dealing with a murder mystery, then the book veers toward the growing distrust between Nicholas and Huxley and the way the other staff members seem mesmerized him. Finally the book makes a third turn and we're drawn further into the Atlantis myth.

Unless you enjoy philosophy and character exploration, you may find this one tough going. I enjoyed the discussions of the Atlantis myth and found the ending fascinating. However, the middle of the book was mired in the deteriorating relationship between Nicholas and Huxley. It takes some perseverance to get though it. However, the ending is fascinating and does pull together the themes of the book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Unlikely Romance Amid the Luxury and Depravity of the Ottoman Empire

Each night Ahmed Kadir starnds guard outside the palace of the sultan's favorite sister, the Sultanes Esma, waiting for her discarded Christian lover who he must drown in the Bosphorous. Ahmed, a Janissary, hates his enforced idleness. He wants to return to his Kapikulu calavary regiment, but his prowess has earned the envy of the sultan, so he is banished and sent to guard the sultan's sister.

Esma falls ill. No one can help her. She sees the faces of dying men and smells rotting flesh. Her physician urges her to confess or at least share the thoughts troubling her. Ahmed, who shares her secret of the drowning lovers, seems the perfect person to confide in. In a reverse Scheherazade scenerio, she calls him to her each night and tells him stories of her life.

The best part of this book is the description of the Ottoman Empire; the luxury, depravity, and political machinations. The rich detail draws you into the time and makes the area come alive.

The characters, however, and not believable. Esma is a historical character and her depravity well documented. The turn around from drowning her Christian lovers to telling a man the secrets of her heart seems a bit far fetched. I also find it difficult to believe that a man was allowed into her bed chamber each night. I think it more likely, considering the sultan's dislike of Ahmed, that he'd use the information to have him killed.

One of the themes of this book is the desire for freedom. The Esma and her ladies are secluded in the harem, but they long to be free and able to compete with men. This is an admirable theme, but I find it hard to couple with the era and the Ottoman Empire where the spoiled harem women never left the luxurious palaces. I can believe that a slave girl from the Serbian plains would have trouble adjusting to the lack of freedom, but with the others including Esma it's more of a stretch.

If you enjoy historical novels with good background, this is a book for you. If you expect characters that are realistic in the context of the time, give it a miss.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Satanism and Murder in Rural France: The Devil's Cave by Martin Walker

When a beautiful woman is found floating down the river in St. Denis, Inspector Bruno and the town are shocked. The naked woman had apparently been participating in a black mass. Although it is not apparent at first whether the woman was murdered, or a suicide, Bruno investigates the case.

The Devil's Cave, a tourist attraction outside town, is the next location for a satanist ritual. While this second manifestation brings increased tourism to the town, not everyone is happy. The mayor is worried that St. Denis will become known as a haven for satanic practices.

Bruno continues his investigation with some help from his ex-love, Isabelle, now in Paris working for the Brigadier. When the dead woman is identified, she turns out to have local roots. The investigation becomes more intense involving the Defense Ministry, an impressive new hotel, and a local aristocratic family.

This second book in the Chief Bruno series is a good read. Bruno and the collection of characters that inhabit the area are the best part of the book. The life of the village, particularly Bruno's romantic attachments, keep the story moving. The real show stealer is Bruno's new puppy. I look forward to watching him grow up in the next books in the series.

The countryside around St. Denis is beautifully described, as are the food and wine. I felt as if I was having a vacation in a delightful French village. I recommend this book if you like mysteries in which the characters and the setting are as important as the mystery.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

A Romantic Romp through Vegan Cuisine in Los Angeles

An influential food critic is visiting the vegan restaurant where Clementine Cooper has taken over for the chef who is ill. She hopes it will make her reputation, but instead it's her undoing when the critic finds butter in her squash ravioli. Although Clementine was sabotaged by a jealous co-worker, she is fired and no other vegan restaurant in LA will hire her.

It's a low point for Clementine. She has no job and she's trying to recover from the breakup with her long term boyfriend, Eric. With the help of her roommate, Clementine pulls herself together and opens a vegan cooking school. However, there's another blow coming. She has always wanted to open her own restaurant in an attractive space across the street. She's devastated to learn that a steak house is moving in. She confronts the handsome, millionaire owner, Zach Jeffries. She wants to dislike him, but her body says differently. Why can't she fall for a cute vegan chef instead of a carnivore like Zach?

This is a fun book. Clementine is a gutsy lady that you can't help rooting for. The action is fast paced with lots of romantic turmoil, but for me the best part was a glimpse of delicious vegan dishes. It'll make your mouth water. If you want a fun read for the beach, try this.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Prep School Incident Haunts the Team's Lives

Rob Carney, a champion sculler, receives a scholarship to the prestigious Fenton School. He thinks he'll be showing his prowess as a sculler, but the school has a different idea. He is slated to be part of their star rowing team, the God boat. Rob has reservations about being part of a rowing team, particularly since the captain, Connor Payne, a millionaire legacy at the Fenton School, is as driven as Rob to win races, but Connor's goal is to win the traditional Warwick race with the God boat. He and the coach intend to force Rob to become part of the team.

When the story opens, Carney, now a freelance documentary filmmaker, is returning from a shoot in Africa. His life has two emotional issues: he's breaking up with Carolyn, his partner of five years, and he has received a letter from John Perry, a rowing team member from the Fenton God boat, urging him to come to the Fenton reunion. It's been fifteen years, but he and John are still haunted by what happened after the Warwick race.

Although the story toggles back and forth between the adult Carney and the fifteen-year-old, the author does a good job of weaving the time periods together through the emotional issues that span the two eras.

The book moves slowly. The rowing scenes ring true, as do the interactions between the team members, but the action is measured, like the sport of rowing. The author tries to hold the tension by referring to the inciting incident that haunts the characters. However, the book drags because of the constant self-examination of the major character.

I found the book hard to get into. If you love character driven stories about how incidents in the teen years affect adult life, you'll enjoy this book. If you're looking for action and adventure, give it a miss.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Brief Introduction to Pope Francis' Background and Beliefs

Although not widely known outside Latin America, Pope Francis has long been well regarded by the hierarchy in the Catholic Church, illustrated by the fact that he was almost elected pope instead of Benedict the XVI. The book gives a brief history of his early life and finding his vocation. The section on his interaction with the dictators in Argentina is particularly useful since that period of his life has come under criticism.

Francis is the first Jesuit pope. Since most people know little about the history of the Jesuits, Escobar includes a chapter on the origins of the order. I didn't realize that there had never been a Jesuit pope. It makes perfect sense when you realize that the rules of the order include the provision that anyone who attains the rank of bishop is no longer under the order's jurisdiction.

Escobar discusses how the conclaves used to elect the pope are structured and gives insight into the two recent conclaves: the first where Benedict the XVI was elected, and the second where Francis became the choice.

I found Part III discussing the challenges Francis faces to be one of the most interesting parts of the book. As a Protestant, I am familiar with some of the more publicized challenges like the pedophilia scandals and the Vatican leaks, but the challenge of drawing lapsed Catholics back to the church is an equally great challenge.

The book ends with a series of quotes by Francis that Escobar believes sum up the pope's beliefs. This book is well worth reading if you are interested in finding out who the new pope is. I'm sure there are, or will shortly be more comprehensive biographies that focus on Catholic doctrine and theology, but for the average reader this is an excellent introduction.

I reviewed this book for Thomas Nelson.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Art Forgery, Romance and Murder

Coleman owns and edits an art magazine. Her cousin, Dinah, has a print gallery. Although born in the South, they're making their way in the New York art world. There are some clouds on the horizon. Coleman believes that one of her writers is stealing her ideas and selling them to another publication. Dinah wants a bigger gallery in a better location, but her husband Jonathan, who is also her backer, want to keep her close to home.

Enter Heyward Bain, a millionaire who wants to start a print museum. Soon very expensive prints that haven't been seen for years start appearing at auction. Then the supposed seller is found dead. Coleman believes he's been killed because of his connection to the prints, but the police don't believe her. Being Coleman, she has to find out what happened. Dinah agrees and their zany detecting begins.

This is a fun novel and very fast paced. The author has done a good job with the New York art world setting and even takes readers on a side trip to Britain. The characters are amusing if not particularly realistic. They remind me of characters in a sitcom.

The novel has several plot lines. They all converge at the end, but I felt that some of the rationale was stretched to accommodate the revelations. Still the book is fluffy and fun. I recommend it for reading at the beach or on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sophie's Twelve Step Program for Love Addicts

After a breakup with her boyfriend, Eric, Sophie retreats to the New Jersey house she inherited form her grandmother. She knows she's acting crazy: sending drunken emails, cyber-stalking his new love, driving by his apartment; but she can't seem to stop. Then her friend, Annie, ends up on her lawn in a stolen police car after a major drinking bout.

Annie is sent to AAA by the court and begs Sophie to come with her. Annie hates the meeting and refuses to participate, but Sophie loves it. She confesses all her behavior giving it an alcoholic twist and feels much better. The AAA meeting makes her realize she's an addict, addicted to love. Maybe a twelve step program can help love addicts, too, and Love Addicts Anonymous is born.

The book is hilarious, if you've ever gone slightly (or more than slightly) nuts after a breakup. Sophie and Annie are very lik
able characters and easy to relate to, although I would have liked to see more of Annie. The women who end up sharing Sophie's house as a love retreat are a wild crew. I enjoyed each one.

Love Rehab is light reading for a rainy afternoon. If you've ever been in love, or been dumped, you'll rap with these zany ladies. It's a fun read.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Angels, Demons, Futuristic Weapons and Redemption

A battle is raging at St. Catherine's Monastery. Jagger and the monks are surprised by a troop dressed in outlandish costumes and armed with advanced weapons like Cobras that follow the defenders into the tunnels under the monastery firing like machine guns. The Clan is another group of immortals, but unlike the Tribe, they are bent on destruction. They have invaded St. Catherine's because the archaeological expedition has uncovered a relic they want, the Judgement Stone, a fragment of the first tablets containing the ten commandments that Moses destroyed. This fragment of stone lets the person touching it see demons and angels and the blue threads that indicate a believer in contact with God.

The Tribe watches the encounter. They aren't after the Judgement Stone, Nevaeh has a different objective. She wants to capture Beth, Jagger's wife, to find out the secret that would lead them to salvation. Nevaeh believes that Ben, the former leader of the tribe, was able to die because he got the secret from Beth and she wants it.

This fast paced, high-tech, thriller presents a battle between good evil. The Clan are determined to do as much damage to earth as they can. Jagger and Owen must decide how to deceive them and recover the Judgment Stone. At the same time, Jagger worries about Beth's safety and the Nevaeh's obsessive desire to find the secret of salvation.

This is an excellent sequel to “The Thirteenth Tribe.” Jagger, Beth, Tyler and Owen are characters you'll love and identify with. That combined with the fast moving plot makes this a must read. If you enjoy action and adventure with a Biblical background, this is not one to miss. I loved the Thirteenth Tribe, and I think The Judgment Stone is even better.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Lizard Kind is on the Prowl

A long distance truck driver, the Lizard King, sates his lust by killing lot lizards, young prostitutes who frequent truck stops. Cassie Dewell, a young police officer, is been forced to take pictures of her partner, Cody Hoyt, planting evidence in a murder investigation. Cody is already on the edge. His drinking got him fired from other law enforcement jobs. This is the end of the road for him. Danielle and Gracie, teenage sisters, are supposed to visit their father in Omaha for Thanksgiving, but Danielle can't resist the temptation to visit her boyfriend in Montana.

The lives of these characters converge when the Lizard King snatches the sisters. Cassie and Cody are pulled into the hunt. She's feeling miserable for betraying him. He needs to redeem himself. The tension mounts as the Lizard King approaches his destination. When the searchers finally locate the girls, they find a more bizarre situation than they could have imagined.

I enjoyed this book. The author skillfully weaves the plot threads together. Moving from one group of characters to another heightens the suspense.

The characters are generally well done. The author does a reasonable job of exploring the mind of a serial killer. The older sister, Danielle, is too much the stereotypical self-centered teenager and not really believable. The character I enjoyed the most was Gracie, the younger sister, a true heroine.

The descriptions of the highway and the surrounding area, particularly when the road leads through Yellowstone, give the novel an eerie atmosphere which adds to the tension.

I recommend this book if you like a good mystery, but it's not a book for the squeamish. Some of the material is very dark.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Tribute to the Phases of Motherhood

From the child looking up to her mother, to the young woman giving birth, to the grown daughter watching her mother die; these poems celebrate all phases of that most important mother-daughter relationship. Carolyn Howard-Johnson and Magdelena Ball show motherhood in different, but equally effective ways.

I love the images in Carolyn's poems. They feel warm; pictures you can almost touch. My particular favorite is “Dandelions in Autumn.” I remember the same scene trying to see if my mother, or any other human being who would stand still long enough, liked butter by holding yellow flowers, buttercups in my case, under her chin.

Maggie's poems are starker, more cosmic. My favorite is “Oxytocin Flow.” In recreating the experience of giving birth it evokes memories of the first relationship with the tiny person, “a high pitched croon of terror only a mother could love.” I remember it well.

There are the painful memories too when a mother is the one needing care. The images of “Mother Daughter” are almost too painful.

This is a perfect collection to celebrate Mother's Day, or any day when we ponder our relationship to our mothers and remember being mothers and daughters ourselves.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Pilgrimage to Estillyen: The Point: The Redemption of Oban Ironbout by William E. Jefferson

The beautiful isle of Estillyen is the home to monks, nuns, a myriad of animals and a cantankerous old man named Oban Ironbout. Hollie and Godwin Macbreeze are on a month long pilgrimage to the island to hear the lectures on redemption and, in Godwin's case, to visit the point where Oban Ironbout has a cottage.

Hollie is facing a difficult diagnosis, and understandably, is more interested in the redemption lectures than Godwin. He is fulfilling a boyhood ambition to see the cottage on the point that he calls My Cottage Rare. He drew a picture of the cottage when he was a child from a photograph taken by his grandfather, and it has haunted him ever since.

The book has two intertwined foci: the redemption lectures and the quest to see the cottage. The plot is very simple, but it supports the redemption focus of the book. I found the writing for the lectures acceptable. It's stilted and somewhat archaic, but it fits the subject. This is not the case with the dialog. I found the dialog, particularly the conversations between Hollie and Godwin, stiff.

One of the treats of the book is the setting. The Isle of Estillyen is beautifully described as are all the buildings. It makes you want spend time in such a special spot.

I recommend this book if you enjoy stories with a religious slant. However, as a novel, it doesn't work well. The plot is too thin and the characters act too much in the service of the plot.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing Company.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sensual Romance

Catherine is newly arrived in Chicago after suffering a tragedy in her home town of Santa Cruz, California. She's trying to establish her reputation as a photographer, helped by her friend, Beckett, who is a genius at preparing foods to be photographed. She and Beckett have a job, photographing the food from a new restaurant, the Willowgrass. At the initial meeting, Catherine goes outside to wait for Beckett, trips on the ice, and William catches her. The attraction is instantaneous. Catherine can hardly concentrate on the restaurant shoot when William shows up. They're immediately attracted to each other, but each carries secret wounds from the past that both draw them together and keep them apart.

If you like erotica, this is a book for you. Catherine and William are interesting characters. Their troubled pasts keep you reading to discover their stories. The backgrounds are very sensual
l starting with the Willowgrass restaurant and continuing through William's magnificent apartment.

The sex scenes are HOT. If you enjoy erotica, you'll love it, if not, it's best to try another book. I enjoyed the book. The writing is good; the characters, interesting; and there is a plot which I suspect will lead to a sequel.

I reviewed this book for Net Gallery.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Story of Healing and Forgiveness

In a devastating tragedy, Gabrielle Larson loses both parents. She and a friend arrive on the scene of the automobile accident minutes after it happens and Gabrielle falls into darkness. At fifteen, she finds herself transported from her home in Chicago to a ranch in South Dakota. In this unfamiliar setting, she learns to work with animals, particularly horses, and to love the silence and open space of the prairie. Although outwardly she adjusts to her new life, she can't connect with other people until she meets a blind musician whose music cracks the shell she's built around herself.

Although this story moves slowly and covers a number of years, it is beautifully written. Gabrielle's suffering pulls you into her life as she overcomes the hate and anger that are devouring her. The story is written for young adults, but the theme has meaning for people an any age who are recovering from a tragedy.

I loved the descriptions of the prairies. The author knows the area and presents it in impressive detail. The horses play an equally important part in Gabrielle's story. She can relate to them when she finds it impossible to relate to other people. I have horses and I've seen their gentle presence allow people to open their hearts when they otherwise are unable to.

I highly recommend this book for young adults, or anyone who loves the plains and the animals who live there.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

Boys are Disappearing from South London

After the traumatic events in Cambridge University (Dead Scared), Lacey Flint remains on leave unsure whether she wants to return to police work. She befriends Barney, her unusual eleven-year-old neighbor. Barney is often home alone or running about with his mates late at night. Lacey worries because ten to twelve-year-old boys are disappearing from the neighborhood and showing up on beaches with their throats cut and their bodies drained of blood.

D. I. Tulloch heads the investigation with, as usual, support from D.I. Joesbury. The pressure to find the killer is intense. Tulloch isn't handling it well. She suspects that a woman may be the killer and even wonders about Lacey. D.I. Joesbury is also obsessing about Lacey and trying to resume their relationship.

On the positive side this is a real mystery. The police look for suspects, follow red-herrings, and leave clues for the reader to find. I love this kind of mystery because there are enough clues that you can try to figure out the culprit and in this case it isn't easy.

On the negative side, I thought Lacey and Dana Tulloch were too emotional. With Lacey it was understandable, but it seemed to be too drawn out. With Tulloch, you had to ask yourself, as did Superintendent Weaver, if she was capable of doing the job. The police, in this instance Tulloch, thinking Lacey may be guilty ofNow You See Me), but now it seems strained, particularly since Tulloch was her champion in the first book.
the murders is getting old. It worked in the first book in the series (

I recommend this book if you love a good mystery. The suspense grips you from the beginning and the psychology of the crime is well done.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Modern Ripper Tale

After an interview in which she is once again unable to persuade a young woman, the victim of gang rape, to testify, DC Lacey Flint walks to her car searching in her purse for her keys. As she reaches the car, a blonde woman bleeding copiously stumbles into her and dies in her arms. The next day, an anonymous letter arrives. The killer is re-creating the crimes of Jack the Ripper. He seems to have a bond with Lacey and mentions her in the letter.

The deaths of women mount up, but the connection between them is unclear. As Lacey fills the police in on the Ripper;s crimes, the evidence points to Lacey being somehow at the heart of the case. In fact, DI Joesbury, working with DI Tulloch on the case while he convalesces, suspects that Lacey may be responsible for the murders. The tension escalates as the team tries to prevent another murder and for Lacey it becomes almost unbearable as her past starts to haunt her.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although there are many books based on the Ripper mystery, this one has a fresh aspect. The plot is full of twists and as the clues kept coming, I found the book hard to put down. The characters, Lacy, Tulloch, and Joesbury are likeable. Their reactions under stress are realistic and in each there are hidden depths.

The plot is full of twists. Just when I thought I had it figured out, the game changed again. You can feel the frustration of the detectives trying to solve the rash of baffling murders. If you like a mystery where the clues are there, but well hidden, you'll love this book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.