Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An Amusing Who-Done-It

Agatha Raisin, private detective, is looking for a case. Things have dried up in the dogs, cats and missing children business; let alone murder. She gets her wish when Glroia French, a rather unpleasant widow, is murdered in Piddlebury. The police want Agatha to keep out of the case, but when Jerry Tarrant, head of the parish council in Piddlebury, hires her to investigate, she eagerly trots off to the village. Gloria's murder is only the beginning and before the murderer is apprehended, Agatha, too, has become a target.

This is an enjoyable mystery. The characters are interesting, not only do they solve crimes, but they have difficult interactions with each other, some of which get resolved in the book. The English villages are a delightful setting at least when no one is being poisoned.

The plot is good up to a point. I thought the early part of the book was very clever, but after the murder was apprehended, the story continued with characters who were only tangentially connected to the action. Finally, there was a third part to the story where difficulties among Agatha and her staff were resolved. If you're a long time reader of this series, the epilogue may be interesting, but this is my first book, and I felt the last two sections were padding the page count.

If you like cozy mysteries with a fast pace and an interesting setting, you may enjoy this book and the series, but if you're a serious mystery reader you may want something with more meat. This is a very light story. Too many times things are solved by serendipity.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Book to Savor – and Read More than Once

Life is full of small and large moments many of the most important with our children, parents, and grandparents. Wilson asks us to savor these moments. We are here to love and be loved. Death looms, but after a well lived life it should pose no threat. If there were no end, life would lose much of it's sweetness.

This book is filled with wonderful moments: carrying Fatty, his two-year-old son with a penchant for throwing up at inconvenient moments, across Europe; recording the stories of the grandfather, an Air force pilot who flew in WWII; and driving in the snow over a mountain pass at night. Life is meant to be lived.

Life is a story, is the theme of Wilson's book, and he illustrates it through stories of his own life and those of his parents and grandparents. Stories have beginnings, middles and endings. Instead of looking ahead to the end with dread, he challenges us to embrace our own stories, look at our many blessings and most of all live.

I highly recommend this book. Whether you're a Christian or not, this book speaks to the human condition: the love we have for our families, the joys we share. Don't plan to read this book and put it away on a shelf. It asks to be read more than once and savored.

I reviewed this book for Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Disappointing Psychological Thriller

Without her son to brighten her life, Marta has stopped taking her medication. She desperately loves her son, but it's not so clear about her much older husband and his domineering mother. Hector, her husband, rescued her after her parents died in an accident. He married her, and since then she has led a very restricted life trying to be a “good wife” following the precepts set out in How to Be a Good Wife, a book given to her by her mother-in-law.

Without her pills, she begins to have either memories of her past, or hallucinations. It's unclear which. Marta lives in a state of helplessness and frustration. We wants to find out about the memories, but can't seem to make adequate plans to do so. Perhaps she is the victim of a plot to keep her from remembering and finding out the truth.

I found the first part of this book very slow going. We learn about Marta and her husband, see her walking through her day, and learn about her love for her son, but the narrative plods. In the second half of the book the pace quickens, but by then I'd lost interest in the characters. Since the story is told through Marta's skewed perceptions some of the interactions with other are rather two-dimensional.

I didn't enjoy this book. I found the ending disappointing after all the tension leading up to Marta trying to find the truth. I think if the author had been cleverer, she could have provided a satisfactory ending no matter whether Marta was mad or a victim.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pax, an Amazing Dog, and the People Who Need Him

An abandoned puppy, Pax finds a home with Rick, an aspiring big league pitcher. Their bond is strong and instantaneous. Then comes Francesca. Rick sees her at the ball game, asks her out, and after they've known each other for a week, asks her to marry him. Pax approves, and the threesome seem on the verge of realizing their hearts desires. Rick will be in the Braves starting line-up. They're trying for a baby, and Pax had a family to take care of.

WWII intervenes. Rick is called up. Francesca takes a wartime job in a wire-making plant, but are they doing enough? Francesca sees an ad for the K-9 corps that trains dogs for the military. After much soul searching, they enlist Pax.

He is an unwilling recruit until Keller Nicholson, an abused boy, bonds with him. They become an unbeatable team and go to Europe: Pax as a scout: Keller as his handler. With the war over, things are different. Rick is badly wounded. His dream of being a major league pitcher and Francesca's of having a child are dead. Keller retrains Pax to be a family pet, but doesn't want to give him up, neither do Rick and Francesca. So starts the heart-warming --
heart-breaking story of three people adjusting to their new life and the end of their dreams.

I loved this book and highly recommend it. Pax, the wonder dog, is almost too good to be true, but having had dogs, I know it's possible. The adjustments the other three make, and have to make, keep you routing for them and can leave you in tears.

If you love dog stories, or about people finding their way out of tragedy, you'll love this book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Akhenaten, Karatoum, and an Archaeological Dig in the Sudan

The wreck of the Beatice, a brig carrying Egyptian antiquities, foundered off the coast of Spain in the 1800s. Among the artifacts was the sarcophagus of the fourth dynasty pharoah, Menkaure. Jack Howard and Costas dive to discover the location of the wreck. They find it and to their surprise the sarcophagus contains a plaque depicting Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti. This find sets the stage for an adventure that uncovers more interesting artifacts from the reign of Akhenaten. That's one part of the story.

The other part of the story concerns the 1884 British relief expedition struggling to reach Karatoum to rescue General Gordon. Major Mayne, a sharp-shooter is sent ahead of the expedition to try to convince Gordon to leave his post, an action he is very reluctant to take. This story is lightly tied to the Jack and Costas adventure mainly through Gordon's interest, and that of other British army officers, in the Egyptian antiquities.

The book is actually two stories, the adventure story and the story of the Karatoum relief expedition. Personally, I found the story of the Karatoum expedition the most interesting. It is well researched and presents a clear picture of the suffering experienced by the expedition moving up the Nile against the current.

The adventure story is the usual adventure story where high tech is used to search for ancient ruins. I found this story interesting, but not as well done as the Karatoum portion. I would rate this story three stars and the Karatoum adventure five stars. This averages out to a rating of four stars for the book. I recommend this book only if you enjoy the coupling of an adventure story with an historical novel.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Reminiscent of Kennedy and Clinton Naughtiness

Jamie, a na├»ve 22 year-old intern at the White House, accidentally meets the President in a hallway near the oval office. He's having a panic attack; she's available; and a bit of groping ensues. Jaime wants someone to love her – even like her – so it's heady stuff when the President wants to cuddle.

I found the first half of this book uninteresting. Jamie comes across as an immature character with a selfish outlook. The groping scenes with the President and her confession to her girl friends seem juvenile. I couldn't see what interested him about her.

The second half of the book was better. Interoffice politics and jealousy combine to bring the affair into the open. The FBI and worse the newspapers get involved. It is fast paced and interesting enough to keep you reading.

The ending like the beginning is a disappointment. Everything is wrapped up neatly, but there isn't much character growth or even understanding of the situation. I can't recommend this book unless you were fascinated by the Lewinsky scandal and want to revisit something close to it. The book, particularly the first half, is not particularly well written and the characters are stereotypes or, in the case of the President, flat.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

An Accessible Approach to Reformed Apologetics: Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphant

Although Oliphant characterizes his book as a translation of Van Til's Reformed apologetics, it broadens the scope and makes it more accessible to a general audience. In fact, he is responsible for making it more Christ-centered and proposing the name change from presuppositional apologetics to convenantal apologetics. Like other reviewers, I find this term much easier to understand and makes clear our covenantal relationship to God.

Chapters one through four lay out Oliphant's methodological approach including the basic biblical content. While these chapters are interesting and important, I found the last three chapters where Oliphant demonstrates his method in three imagined dialogues to be the most interesting. It's easy to read a lot about method, but to see it put into action is most instructive and most likely to give the reader an understanding of how to use the material. Chapter five focuses on the atheistic objector and the incompatibility of the coexistence of God and evil. Chapter six takes on the Darwinian controversy and addresses Dennett's and Dawkins issues with human origin. Chapter seven was to me the most fascinating. It was a dialog between a Muslim and Oliphant. Oliphant arguing that the Muslim God is not the same as the Christian God and that the Christian God is greater.

I highly recommend this book. It is very readable, although I admit some parts need a bit of study, and gives an excellent overview of the present state of Reformed apologetics.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

Woody Johnson: Finding an Identity Despite a Dysfunctional Family

Crazy Rich is the story of the highly dysfunctional Johnson family, the ones who brought you the band-aid, Modess, and Johnson's Baby Powder along with other medical innovations like sterile surgical dressings. While the book tells the tales of the many Johnson problems: multiple divorces, drug addiction, and alcoholism to name a few; the focus is on Woody Johnson, a member of the third generation, who found an identity apart from the family as the owner of the Jets and major bundler for the GOP.

Although the focus is on Woody, the book begins and ends with him plus an internal chapter, Woody's Secrets, recounts his accident prone adolescence, there are plenty of tales of the rest of the family, from Robert Wood Johnson, the General, who forced all his family members out of the company to maintain personal control to his brother Seward, Sr. who in his old age married his chambermaid, Basia, and left her his millions much to the chagrin of his children. The court battle that resulted titillated Princeton when I lived there.

I recommend this book. It has many outlandish tales of Johnson escapades, primarily dysfunctional marriages and bitter divorces, but it also tells the story of a family who revolutionized health care. The three brothers of the first generation were very good business men, ready to capitalize on a good idea. Robert Wood Johnson in the second generation kept the company together with an iron hand. Perhaps this is what the company needed. The family needed to branch out into other pursuits, but generally were unsuccessful in doing so. This is what makes Woody Johnson's story the most interesting in the third generation.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Romance and Tragedy at the Circus: Queen of the Air byDean Jenson

Leitzel grew up wanting to be like her mother, Nellie, a famous trapeze artist. She loved performing and when she got the chance to join her mother's act, she quickly out paced her. Alfredo Codona, also grew up in the circus. His parents were both trapeze artists. As a baby his father took him flying in his act in a pouch attached to his waist.

Leitzel's introduction to the circus was at the top in an act in which her mother was a star. Alfredo's family had a small circus that traveled from town to town around Europe. However, he was a serious aerialist and made it into the larger circuses as a member of the Flying Codonas. The book makes it clear that while the life of a circus performer was hard. These two loved the attention and loved flying high above the crowd.

The pair came together as King and Queen of the combined Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus. They fell in love, married, but didn't live happily ever after. Their union led to tragedy both for themselves and those close to them.

I enjoyed this book. I learned about circuses large and small. If you're fascinated by the circus life you'll love this book. I thought the main characters were well portrayed. The author gives enough of their early life that you can see their intense desire to excel in the big top. The picture of life in the circus is not all glamor. It was a hard, demanding life, but if you craved stardom and were good, it had many rewards.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vi
ne Program.

The Frances Osgood, Edgar Allen Poe Romance

Left in New York by her philandering husband, Samuel Osgood, Frances, an accomplished poet, tries to find a way to support her daughters. She's told by one editor that her poetry isn't commercial. He wants something like Edgar Allen Poe's, The Raven, currently the toast of New York. Frances resents the suggestion that she should emulate Poe and produce tales of horror, but when she meets him at a salon, she is drawn to him. Their romance begins.

The novel uses the historical facts to weave a story that might have been. I very much enjoyed the opening of the book and the glimpse of literary New York in 1845. I thought the author did an excellent job of creating the atmosphere. However, the second half of the book read like a typical romance novel. Frances is constantly worrying about her relationship with Poe and what people will
say. Mrs. Poe changes the equation by inviting Frances to become a visitor, if not a friend. This is a documented fact, but I thought the author veered from an interesting friendship into one of Poe's horror stories.

If you enjoy historical fiction, you'll like the scene in this novel. However, I would take the relationship portrayed between the major characters, Frances, Poe and Mrs. Poe with a grain of salt. It's fun to speculate, but I think this novel veers off course.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.   

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Cyber Thriller Where Machines Take Control of the World

Jonathan Hawke is a hacker/writer. He worked for the Times until one of his hacking schemes sent his best friend to jail. The Times fired him. Now he's on his own as a free lancer. He is having trouble supporting his family, but he has a lead on a story. Jim Weller, a technology genius has been thrown out of Eclipse, the company he created. In retaliation, he's starting an advanced security firm. Hawke has the story, but Weller isn't telling him anything until one morning in New York strange things start to happen. The elevators aren't working. Jonathan is scalded by the coffeemaker, and the repairman for the copier has his finger nearly taken off.

The chaos escalates. Cars go out of control killing their drivers and any pedestrians in the way. Subway trains collide or come to a halt in the tunnels. New York is out of control and Weller knows what's happening. He starts to tell Hawke, but chaos separates them. Then Hawke's wife calls. She and his son Thomas, are in New Jersey and someone is attacking their apartment. Hawke has to find a way to get to them before something terrible happens to his wife and son.

It's hard to put this book down. The pace is very fast as Hawke races through the lethal chaos of New York trying to get to his family and also trying to find out what's happening. The details of how the electronic devices are being used to destroy the city is quite accurate. It makes you look at your cell phone with new respect and has enough of current events, like the NSA spying scandal, to make the book realistic.

I highly recommend this thriller. If you're a technology fan, you'll find it enjoyable. If you just like a good chase, you'll love it for that reason. This is one not to miss.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Huge Fortune, A False Claimant, and Murder

Vaudeville is the only life Leah has known. She's played many roles and been part of many acting families since her mother died. Sometimes she's not even sure of her own name. When Oliver Beckett offers her the role of the lost heiress to an immense fortune, she turns him down. She's doing well as part of the Darling Family and doesn't want to get involved in something illegal. Then the Darlings decide to drop the members of their act that are not part of their immediate family. Leah is on her own. She tries to find work, but she's getting too old for the child parts she's always played. When Oliver reappears in her life, she is ill and at the end of her rope, so she agrees to help him.

This is the beginning of Leah's transformation into Jessie Carr. The Carr family solicitors investigate her. The family is wary, but she's so like Jessie everyone is taken in. Everyone that is but the person who knows what happened to the real Jessie.

I loved this book. Leah/Jess is a wonderful character. She's tough and smart. You can't help rooting for her. The mystery is intriguing. What did happen to the real Jessie? Leah becomes convinced she's no longer alive, but she has to prove it. The setting at the Carr mansion near Dexter in Oregon is alluring. If you enjoy a good mystery, with a likeable heroine, and an intriguing setting, you'll enjoy this book. I did.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Solitary, Constrained Life: Asunder by Chloe Aridjis

Marie works as a guard in the National Gallery in London. Although most guards are older, often retirees, Marie is young. She's been working as a guard in galleries since she dropped out of university. It's all she wants to do. She comes by the desire through her great-grandfather, who was also a guard in the gallery and narrowly missed stopping a suffragette from taking a knife to Venus, one of the gallery's masterpieces.

On a trip to Paris with her best friend, Daniel, her world starts to unravel. Although she isn't sure where she's going, she begins to walk away from her past.

If you like character studies, you'll enjoy this novel, otherwise, it gets a bit tedious. Marie doesn't do much but contemplate the paintings and try to keep her life as constrained as possible. I did find the descriptions of the visitors to the gallery and the life a guard fascinating, but it wasn't enough to make me recommend the book. The writing is at times mesmerizing, but in the end the lack of plot and a rather dull protagonist makes the book easy to put down.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Genius from Socrates to Hitler and Beyond

Philosophers have been fascinated by what makes a great man. Plato told of Scorates daimon that inspired him. In the Renaissance, inspiration came from God. The cult of genius in Europe in the early 20th century led to the rise of Hitler. Today IQ tests are used to identify genius, but then perhaps everyone has a genius in some area.

Devine Fury charts the changes in the definition of genius from Plato through Terman. The book is packed with information with chapters devoted to the Greeks, the Christianity, the moderns, the romantics, geniology, or how to detect genius, the religion of genius, and today's take on everyone's genius.

I found the book very readable, but I have to admit it helps to have at least a passing acquaintance with the major philosophers. The book is packed the quotations illustrating the philosophical theory under discussion. There are also a myriad of pictures giving the artists' conception of genius. I think it's interesting that genius originally was applied to the arts and only lately became the province of scientists and politicians.

I highly recommend this book if you're interested in the history of genius. I found it fascinating to trace the thoughts about what constitutes genius and whether it resides inside or outside the person, as divine inspiration from the gods or God. It's not an easy book, but it's well worth reading.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.