Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Leisurely Romance: A Serving of Scandal by Prue Leith

Kate McKinnon is planning to do exceptionally well at her first catering job with the Foreign Office. She does and in the process impresses Oliver Stapler, Foreign Secretary, who starts to use her same catering firm for his dinners. Kate is raising her son Toby alone after breaking up with the boy's father. Oliver is married to a woman who is far more interested in her horses than his career. Gradually, they find that they're interested in each other and the problems begin.

On the positive side, the opening chapters of this book give the reader a glimpse of the world of high level catering. Kate is a likeable character and her world which includes her Indian friends, who own a restaurant, is fascinating. Oliver, likewise, is a sympathetic character. He's trying to balance his life between his home and the problems of the Foreign Office.

On the negative side, not a great deal happens until the middle of the book when Kate and Oliver realize that they are attracted to each other. What I missed in the book is a striving by either character to reach some goal aside from coping with the pressures of everyday life. However, the book is fun to read and a relaxing way to spend an evening.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Well Reasoned Explanation of the Resurrection

Thomas Miller, a surgeon, discusses the evidence for the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ in a reasoned, scientific way. In each chapter, he examines the evidence in detail and then draws conclusions. The evidence ranges from the textual reliability of the gospels, the importance of the empty tomb and the grave clothes, to the eye-witness accounts and how reliable they are. His chapter on the medical aspects of the crucifixion, while rather gory, is excellent. For me, it complete answers the objection that Jesus didn't die, he simply swooned and came to later in the tomb.

I found the book very readable and full of well presented information. I particularly liked the chapter on whether the resurrection was really necessary. For me, the most telling evidence was the character of the disciples. These were fishermen and laborers. They worked with their hands and had a concrete reality. Miller argues that a spiritual resurrection wouldn't have been sufficient to turn these frightened men into ardent preachers who willingly faced death to bring the gospel to as many people as possible.

I highly recommend this book. Whether you agree with the author or not, he presents a wealth of evidence and cites other authors to allow you to understand his arguments and decide for yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. If I wasn't already a believer, it would have convinced me.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nine Arguments for Christians to Use Against the Ideas of Atheists: God's Not Dead by Rice Brooks

Rice Brooks has written an extremely useful book for believers, and for non-believers who want to know more about God. In nine chapters, Brooks addresses the most critical debating points about God's existence: naturalistic vs. theistic worldviews; faith vs. reason; the reality of the existence of good and evil; instantaneous creation of the universe; Darwinian evolution vs. an intelligent creator; the purpose of life; the Resurrection; scripture as history, not fiction; and the Grace effect.

Each chapter tackles one of these nine issues. Rice's points are buttressed by numerous cites to other authors. I also found it an excellent device to include arguments for Dawkins, a well known atheist, and the answers formulated by committed Christians to his points. The chapters on the Resurrection and the historical accuracy of the scripture are particularly important. I won't go into all the arguments, but those two chapters are well worth reading for anyone. Some of the other chapters deal with philosophical arguments, if you're not familiar with the philosophers, it may take a little longer, and perhaps some additional study, to become easily conversant with the arguments.

One of my favorite parts of the book was a testament by Dr. Augusto Cury. Dr. Cury is a well known psychiatrist and author. As a committed atheist, he decided to study the man, Jesus Christ. What he discovered brought him to a sincere faith in Christianity. He believed that Christ didn't fit the characteristics of someone who would want to be the leader of a revolution, no neurotic need for control and power over others. Jesus' responses to the dreadful events as his life approached the cross were unbelievably calm and forgiving. Jesus was a very unique man to exhibit the characteristics he did. This study convinced Cury that this was no ordinary man. His analysis is well worth reading.

I highly recommend this book. It's an easy, relatively quick read. However, for those who are interested there are many references that allow for further study.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Systematic Approach to Branding: Branding Pays by Karen Kang

In this world of social media, branding is something that everyone needs to be familiar with. For example, if you're a blogger and you want others to follow your posts, you have to decide on the focus of your blog and advertize your expertise through your posts. If your posts cover too many diverse topics, people will stop coming to you for specific information.

I like the five step approach presented by Karen Kang, particularly the first step. Having a goal is probably the most important thing you can do to effectively brand yourself. From there the other steps follow naturally, particularly identifying your audience. What do you want to say and who do you want ot say it to are critical if you want to position yourself as someone of importance in your field.

This book focuses the examples on the business world, but since the steps are clearly explained, it's easy to translate from the business environment to blogging, or other personal services. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to create a brand that will convince your audience to listen to you.

I reviewed the book for PR by the Book.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Calling Us To Focus on Christ

As Elyse points out in her introduction, we need the scripture everyday to bring us closer to Christ and make our souls feel full. There are too many days when it's easier to carry on with the demands of family, friends, and work and neglect the gospel. This devotional makes you want to spend at least fifteen minutes with this book and the gospel every day.

The devotional covers the first eight chapters of the book of Romans. Elyse recommends that you read the entire book before starting, but even if you don't, each day's reading will bring new insight into the richness of Romans. I loved the way she wrote each chapter taking context into consideration as well as discussing the words of the chapter. It makes the words of the gospel more meaningful.

I highly recommend this book. Too often the focus of sermons is on self: self improvement, self knowledge, etc. These are good things, but perhaps first we should concentrate on understanding the gospel and Christ's love for us, so that we can better understand and help others.

I highly recommend this book. If you do read it all the way through, the way I did, you'll probably want to go back and read it a day at a time. There is much to ponder.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Romance, a Moral Dilemma, a Family Secret

Heartbroken after the death of his parents, Sid leaves his home in Georgia and travels north to Pennsylvania to be with his aunt and uncle. On the eve of the Civil War, he's leaving behind his sweetheart, Catherine, and his whole way of life. In Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, he's exposed to his aunt and uncle's involvement in the Underground Railroad. Helping people is good, but this is in direct conflict with the law. He misses Catherine, but there are other girls in the north who challenge his allegiance to his almost fiancée. He is also faced with the mystery of why his father ran away from Wilkes Barre. Was it is Southern identification, or something else?

I enjoyed this novel. Sid is a sympathetic character. His life is in upheaval. His ideals and the underlying story of his life are being shaken to the foundation. His struggle is something anyone can relate to. The other characters are equally well drawn. We can understand his aunt and uncle's worries about how he will act when he learns about their involvement with the Underground Railroad and their delight at having family back in the north.

The historical perspective is accurate, except in one instance where the author indicates she took license with the facts to improve the drama. I recommend reading the historical notes at the end of the book for additional information on the period.

This is an excellent book for both young adults and for adults interested in the Civil War era.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tales of Authors, Advice for Writers., and Personal Reminiscences: Lord of Publishing by Sterling Lord

Sterling Lord's Memoir is full of stories, glimpses of the publishing world, and a look at the life of an agent. I enjoyed the book very much, particularly the stories about some of the writers. It was also interested to hear first hand about how agents get their clients, and how they negotiate deals. It was nice to hear that even agents as well respected as Lord sometimes had to send the book out to 20+ editors before getting an acceptance.

The one problem I had with the book was that the text was so unfailingly upbeat and full of successes. That made me favor the chapters on Kerouac and Breslin. While they were filled with success, they also showed the problems of dealing with some writers. More drama here. At the end of the chapter on Breslin, I realized why the book is so consistently upbeat. Lord says that in every sale you have to generate optimism. I'm sure that's what made him so successful. He goes on further to say the when you have a triumph or a disaster, you have only about ten minutes to deal with it before the next problem. (The is a paraphrase of his words at the end of Chapter 8.) After that I got more comfortable with the style of the book.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in the publishing world, particularly how agents deal with clients and manage to sell manuscripts. It's a very enlightening read.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Good Message But Repetitious: The Diamond Life by Tony Scott

Tony Scott uses the analogy of the diamond to show how God shapes each life through the trials that beset all of us. His message is that if we let in the holy spirit we will be able to bear and grow with the trials life sends us. We must trust God to not give us anything we can't bear through our understanding that he is always with us.

This book has an excellent message, but each chapter has basically the same ideas. In one way, this is valuable because it makes those ideas hit home as you read the book. In another way, the repetition can mean that the reader begins skipping through the book looking for new ideas.

I recommend this book if you're searching for your meaning in life and wondering why God sent trials to you. It will give you good ideas for making your life the best it can be by trusting in God and allowing the Holy Spirit into your life.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A New Look at the Plath Legend: An American Isis by Carl Rollyson

As the first biography since the Ted Hughes files were made available, this is an important book for those interested in Plath, the person or the poetess. The book presents a new version of some of the perplexing incidents in the Plath legend. I've read several biographies and the diaries, but this is the first book that made me understand how driven she was. The world of the 1950s is brought to life giving a good backdrop for Plath's struggle for acclaim. The author manages this by giving data on her work and life rather than trying to psychoanalyze her. That said, the book had some things that turned me off.

My major irritation was the author's constant comparison of Plath to Marilyn Monroe. This seemed quite a stretch. The women didn't know each other. The solid data point is a dream Plath had where she conversed with Monroe. I appreciate that the author may have seen the likeness because he had also done a biography of Monroe. However, the reader was left questioning why these facile comparisons made it into the book.

The final chapters were probably the most illuminating. Several biographers have said that Plath met with a man the weekend before she died. Now it turns out that the man was Ted Hughes. This makes perfect sense. It seems to be another place where their understanding of each other wasn't accurate enough for Hughes to know that Plath need medical intervention.

I also enjoyed the appendices by people like Elizabeth Compton who hadn't spoken before. Her interview gave weight to the understanding of what occurred at Green Court.

I recommend this book if you're interested in Plath, particularly if you can overlook the Monroe references. I thought it was a reasonable, balanced approach and did provide new information to the general reader.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Great Atmosphere; A So-So Mystery: A Cold and Lonely Place by Sarah Henry

Troy Chance, a reporter, is covering the building of the Ice Palace on Flower Lake outside Lake Placid when a body is found frozen in the ice. Troy knows the person. Toblin Winslow was the boyfriend of one of her roommates, Jasseymn. Her boss at the newspaper asks her to write a piece about finding the body. At first, she declines feeling she's too close to the situation, but when the reporter assigned the task ends up writing a possibly actionable piece and implicates Jassemyn; she gets involved.

The best part of the book was the atmospheric setting. The author did an excellent job of making the cold and loneliness of the Adirondacks in winter come alive. The atmosphere of Lake Placid and Saranac, where ski bums mingle with tourists, was very realistic. I could feel as if I had been there.

The characters and mystery are not as strong as the atmosphere and the minor characters. Tory manages to get extremely involved with the family of the dead man. Without really intending to, she's set on the course of solving the mystery. It was almost solving the mystery by accident.

The minor characters are well drawn. This is another plus for the book. They added color and texture.

At times the writing became rather pedestrian giving us information about the setting we didn't need. I think anyone living in the United States and probably other parts of the world is familiar with McDonalds and Wendys.

I recommend this book if you like atmospheric mysteries. It's probably best if it's snowing outside and you're wrapped up in a warm quilt by the fire.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.   

A Short Introduction to the Heist Society and the Gallagher Girls: Double Crossed by Ally Carter

Macey, a Gallagher girl, and Hale, a thief, meet at a high society party that turns into a hostage situation. They have to cooperate to get out, and Kat, a thief and Hale's special friend, is there to help save the day.

The novella is very short, but it's an entertaining read. It introduces some of the main characters of the two series and draws you in to wanting to know more about their lives. If you like it, you'll want to read the main series. I recommend it for teens and anyone who like a light crime/spy story.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  You can also get a free copy now for Amazon Kindle.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Good Addition to the Hangman's Daughter Series: The Beggar King by Oliver Potzsch

Jacob Kuisl receives a letter from his brother-in-law in Regensburg saying that is sister Lisbeth is dying. Kuisl immediately leaves for Regensburg to see whether he can help his sister. When he arrives, his hope is shattered, and he finds himself a prisoner charged with the murder of Lisbeth and her husband.

Meanwhile in Schongau, Magdalena, his daughter, and Simon, the local doctor who is also Magdalena's lover, become embroiled in a nasty fight with one of the members of the town council. They, too, take off for Regensburg. There they become involved in a plot to save the city and to try to save Jacob from death.

As with the two previous novels, this novel is well plotted. The characters continue to be interesting and the setting is well done. I particularly liked the descriptions of Regensburg, and I highly recommend reading Potzsch's tour of Regensburg at the end of the book.

I did feel that this book was more violent and somewhat less realistic than the previous two, which I enjoyed very much. However, the book is still well worth reading as a continuation of the series.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Excellent Advice if You Want To Get and Stay Married: How to Choose a Husband by Suzanne Venker

The choice of who to marry and the choice to stay married are two of the most important decisions any woman, or man for that matter, can make. Venker points out that making a marriage work takes a fulltime commitment from both husband and wife. Feminism has told women they can have it all. Men are the problem that they keep women from fulfilling lives. This is simply not true. The mature person recognizes that life is a series of tradeoffs. If you want something you have to work for it. Nothing comes magically.

Venker discusses the biological evidence that men and women are not identical and interchangeable. Their physical and chemical properties are different. Women want to have children and care for them. Men want to be fathers. They want to protect the women and children. This is actually a very workable arrangement. Role reversal typically doesn't work.

I recommend reading this book with your eyes wide open. Venter is not engaged in bashing feminism. However, she does point out the limitations of extreme expressions of feminism in getting and staying married. Marriage requires commitment. It's not something that should be entered into lightly with the idea that if I don't like it there's always divorce. She points out that commitment is lacking I our society, and it is straining the marriage relationship to the breaking point.

I encourage anyone who is thinking about getting married, or who is married already and wondering if it will work out, to read this book. At the worst it will make you think. At the best, it may give you a better marriage.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

A Must Read for People Who Love Books: Reading Between the Lines by Gene Veith, jr.

Reading and the ability to read with discernment are probably the most important things an educated person and a Christian can do. Reading allows us to enter other worlds and learn about cultures and historical times we have no chance of visiting. However, reading should be done with selectivity and understanding.

Veith presents a comprehensive view of the forms and history of literature, in a small easily readable book. He discusses nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, explaining what constitutes good or great literature in each category. From there he goes to discussion of tragedy, comedy, realism, and fantasy. I found the discussion fascinating. I'd read the Greek tragedies, but I hadn't put together the way the Greek rules for tragedy and comedy were melded into the tragedy and comedy we are familiar with today through the intermediary of the Christian mystery plays.

The final section for me was worth reading the book. Here Veith discusses literature through the ages from the Middle Ages through the enlightenment and romanticism to modernism and postmodernism. These sections put literature into the context of history and show how the forms have evolved. I hadn't really understood modernism and post modernism before in the contest of their evolution, but now I feel comfortable with the terms.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves to read. Although Veith clearly shows the relationship between the Bible and literature, this book is not strictly for Christians. The history of literature is tied in with the Bible and the significant role religion played in history. It's important to understand this connection in order to appreciate the various forms of great literature from the Greeks to the present.

I reviewed this book for Crossway Publishing.