Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spying in Hitler's Berlin

Having completed her S.O.E. spy training. Maggie Hope is being sent to Berlin on her first mission; the first woman dropped behind enemy lines. The simple mission, deliver radio crystals to a resistance group and plant a microphone in Clara Hess' study, is complicated by Maggie's background and character. Clara Hess is her mother, and Maggie's curiosity and desire to help the war effort encourage her to remain in Berlin at the end of the mission.

The book is filled with accurate historic detail including the Naxi's euthenasia of defective children, and the shipment of Jews to “work” camps. Maggie isn't the only one in Berlin working to expose the murder of children. Her sister, Elsie Hess, a nurse in the hospital the children are being transported from, discovers the activity and teams up with Maggie to expose it.

Characters from the previous books, David, John and Hugo have their own subplots making this a more complex book than the previous novels in the series.

I enjoyed this book. The plot moves smoothly between London and Berlin contrasting the wartime activities in the two capitals. While the plot is resolved at the end of the book, there are still unresolved issues that lead to what I am sure will be a fourth novel.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Question of Trust

District Attorney Jack Hillard has regained, at least to some extent, the trust of his wife, Claire. He's back with his family, after an affair with Jenny Dodson, and trying to make no mistakes, but he can't seem to avoid them. First, his son Michael betrays his trust by getting it off with Celeste, a Jenny look alike, in the living room. Michael is too intoxicated to take her home, so Jack steps in. He accepts her story about an abusive father and agrees to let her sleep it off in his car. Celeste repays his thoughtfulness by accusing him of rape. At the same time, Jenny shows up and again he feels the attraction. Jack was getting his life together and now it's falling apart. He asks Claire if she can trust him, and she's equivocal. Does he deserve her trust? Will he be able to win it back? Does he want to?

I enjoyed this book, particularly the courtroom scenes, but I had problems with the characters' motivations. Jack seems incapable of seeing when he's making a mistake. Any father who takes his son's teenage girl friend home alone late at night is asking for trouble. Jack reasons that Claire needs her sleep, and he doesn't want to burden her with Michael's betrayal, but is this reasonable in a man who has just gotten back in his wife's good graces after having an affair?

His next mistake is going off with Jenny and spending the day talking. You can't blame Claire for finding trust a little hard to come by, but Claire also seems to be less than honest. She wants to keep Jack, apparently at any price, but is this a mature response?

Jenny also wants Jack and she's manipulative. You wonder why he doesn't see it. The story moves quickly, but I kept wondering why the characters were so blind. Trust is a major issue for all of them, but their actions put them in positions where trust is difficult

I can recommend the book, if you enjoy courtroom drama, but not for character development and plot.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Kidnapped Child Is Found and A Family Struggles to Put Their Lives Back Together: Where You Can Find Me by Sherl Joseph

Caleb is back. He was kidnapped after his eleventh birthday. Now he's home as a fourteen-year-old and carrying all the emotional baggage of his capture and mistreatment. His family is thrilled to have him back, but the stresses they've experienced during his absence are exacerbated by the return. The parents have difficulty connecting with each other. Caleb finds it impossible to talk about his ordeal, and the reporters won't leave the family alone. They are in a state of seige in their own home.

To break away and start over, Marlene, the mother, decides on her own to move the children to Costa Rica where her husband's mother lives in a run down hotel in the cloud forest. Although the family has left their old home behind, they can't run away from the emotional trauma that divides them. Caleb, particularly has trouble adjusting. He had formed a loving relationship with Jolly, the man who rescued him from the abusive pedophile who kidnapped him, but it isn't a healthy bond.

This is a book filled with pain. The characters have been through a devastating experience and are trying to come to terms with it. The three years spent searching for Caleb effectively tore the family apart, and they seem unable to come together again. Although they feel it's a miracle Caleb is back, his return from the horrible experiences of his kidnapping are as hard for the family to deal with as his absence.

This is not an easy book to read. The author has captured the tortured emotions of the estranged parents extremely well, so well in fact that the scenes in the book are very painful. The content, which focuses on pedophilia, is likewise difficult to read. If you choose to read this book, be prepared for a wrenching experience.

I reviewed this book for NetGalley.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Family Secrets and an Unforgettable Love Story

Clementime Evans puts in an appearance at her grandmother Addie's, ninety-ninth birthday. She's been working long hours expecting to make partner in a large Manhattan law firm, but the effort has taken it's toll. She's dealing with a broken engagement and other evidence that her life is falling apart. Seeing her grandmother reminds her of the extraordinary love affair between her grandparents, but even there she finds something disturbing when a guest alludes to a family secret. Clementine's curiosity is aroused, and she begins a quest to discover the secret.

The story is told in the alternating voices of Clementine and her grandmother Addie. Clementine's story takes place in the wealthy sector of Manhattan. Her grandmother's story ranges from WWI society in Britain to the plains of Kenya. The historical locales are realistic giving a glimpse of what Africa and Britain were like before the world wars.

The characters are sympathetic. You can't help wanting to hear their story, and what a story it is: an intense
love affair, murder or suicide, and complex family dynamics. I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a family saga combined with an unforgettable love story.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Broken Engagement, A Stolen Child and A Demonstration of God's Love

When Katherine died in childbirth, Amelia promised to care for her daughter, Lucy. Although she's the heiress to the great estate of Winterwood, Amelia knows what it's like to lose both parents and vows that Lucy will never know the lack of a mother. Becoming Lucy's mother is complicated by her fiance, Edward Littleton's, refusal to allow Lucky to remain at Winterwood once they're married.

Amelia comes up with a plan. She'll ask the baby's father, Captain Graham Sterling, to marry her. It will be a simple business arrangement, but nothing is simple when the plan changes so many lives, not the least Edward's and that of her aunt and uncle.

Both Amelia and Graham struggle with faith. Does God hear? Will he be there and help? Neither is confident of God's promise until the trial of recovering Lucy leads them to rely on God and understand they cannot control everything.

I recommend this fast paced romance. The characters, Amelia and Graham, are likeable and well drawn. The Winterwood setting is lovely. With the mystery of the kidnapped child and the budding romance between Amelia and Graham, this is a book you'll find hard to put down.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

When Murder Stalks Your Colleagues, Who Can You Trust?

Prosecutor Mia Quinn is on the phone with her friend and colleague, Colleen, when the unthinkable happens. She hears a shot. When Colleen doesn't answer, she thrusts the phone at the son telling him to try to talk to her and after calling the police rushes to Colleen's house where her friend is bleeding to death. Mia arrives too late. Detective Charlie Carlson picks up the phone Colleen was on and hears screams on the other end. Whatever's happening it's in Mia's house, and it's her daughter.

From the heart-stopping opening to the exciting conclusion, this book it's hard to put down. The characters are sympathetic. Mia, a recent widow, is trying to raise her two children and hold on to her job in the District Attorney's office – not an easy task. Charlie is the kind of police officer you love. He doesn't mind taking chances, and he's there when you need him. After Colleen's death, Mia is tapped as the lead for the murder investigation, and Charlie is the detective assigned -- an excellent combination for a contentious partnership.

If you want a mystery that keeps you guessing right to the end, this is a winner. Although the search is on from the first pages for the killer, it comes as a surprise at the end. However, there are enough clues that the solution is not out of the blue. A well done mystery.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Fictionalization of John's Gospel Plus Commentary

Lee Harmon's John's Gospel: The Way it Happened is a three part presentation of the gospel story. In the fictionalization portion, Matthew, a young rather discouraged Jewish Christian of 28, refuses to transcribe John's words. John knows his life is coming to an end, and he wants to share his perceptions of Christ. A gentile neighbor, Ruth, agrees to transcribe the words and the fictional portion begins. It follows the structure of the gospel with discussion by the three participants.

The fictional account is interspersed with the selections from the gospel that are being discussed. This is useful. It allows the reader to refer back to the original text without having to read with an open Bible.

The third portion of the book is Lee Harmon's discussion of the theology and history surrounding the work. He has obviously done a great deal of research. Presenting his conclusions as he goes through the gospel story is good in one way, bad in another. It's good because it allows the reader to look into the history and theology at the appropriate point in the gospel. It's not so good because it breaks the train of the fictional narrative.

I enjoyed Harmon's discussions of theology and history. I can't say he convinced me, but it was interesting to read his conclusions. I did not enjoy the fictional portion. As with any attempt at a fictionalization of a text, the writer must stay close to the original. There's very little room to flesh out the characters. I found the characters in this book stereotypical and the dialog stilted.

I recommend this book if you enjoy speculation on what caused John to write the gospel the way he did. The author, who has written a similar book on Revelations, tries to bring the two Bible books together with interesting results. I thoroughly enjoyed those portions of the book without totally agreeing with them. They do give you food for thought. One thing I did find missing was a good bibliography. The author cites some works in an appendix, but that's not the same as giving a complete bibliography to allow the reader to pursue topics that interest him.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Romantic Comedy of Errors: Tidal Shift by Dora Heldt

Christine and Johann are looking forward to a restful vacation. They've been lovers for a year, but theirs is a long distance relationship. They're looking forward to two weeks together, even if they spend it close to Christine's family. She nervously hopes the proximity won't be a problem.

The first person they meet when they reach Sylt is a woman who looks like Christine's Aunt Inge. This woman, wearing a red hat and without Uncle Walter, can't possibly be Aunt Inge, but it is. Christine and her father Heinz are concerned. Inge wants to change her life. Does this mean leaving Walter. Their attempts to find out go awry in amusing ways.

Johann councils Christine to let her Aunt work things out. If Inge wants to change, let her. But Christine is afraid of change, so afraid that she tries to maintain the status quo in her own relationship. As the vacation progress, the characters become more rooted in their assumptions and more concerned about change: who's doing it and why.

I enjoyed this book. The characters are fun. They go about trying to solve their problems in clumsy ways, but it's all rather endearing. Christine keeps jumping to wrong conclusions about herself and her aunt, but Johann remains calm and steadies her. He is a wonderful, if unbelievable, character. He just calmly lets her pursue her misconceptions and only becomes distressed when she doesn't want to talk about taking their relationship to the next level.

The setting is marvelous. I wanted to go to Sylt and enjoy the views of the ocean, little shops, beaches, and restaurants. If you like a light, amusing novel with a serious theme, you'll enjoy this one.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.   

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Horse Racing, International Terrorism and Murder: Blood and Roses by A.K. Alexander

Two young jockeys are killed; their legs broken before they are shot. The killer believes that too many throughbreds die on the track from broken legs. The killings illustrate the cruelty of man to horses. Holly Jennings and her partner Chad are assigned to the case. Holly is a widow. Her husband, also a police officer, was killed in an explosion. Now she is planning to remarry, but she still wonders about her first husband, especially since his body was never recovered.

The case of the jockeys goes on hold for six months while Holly and Chad work a high profile case. Then the killer strikes again. This time he kills an owner by filing him with a sedative typically used on horses and pin firing is legs, again a techniques used on horse supposedly to make them head faster. The killer believes that this is another demonstration of the way humans hurt horses.

In the background, a group of investors has built a fabulous race track in Las Vegas and is sponsoring a 50 million dollar race. The best colts and fillies in the country will be invited. So the killers and the victims are drawn to the big event, but is the anger at the treatment of horses the only reason for the murders?

I enjoyed the parts of the book dealing with horse racing. They were accurate and well presented. However, coupling horse racing with international terrorism was a stretch for me. I found the ending totally implausible. The author obviously is very familiar with the world of thoroughbred racing, but seems to be less so with the world of police work. If you're interested in horses, or horse racing, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

An Intimate Glimpse of Queen Victoria's Household: Serving Victoria by Kate Hubbard

Life in a palace may sound romantic and exciting, but in Victoria's household, boredom seemed to be the prevalent emotion. Kate Hubbard gives us a view of the household as six of Victoria's intimates described it in diaries and letters. The members of the household range from Sarah Lyttleton, who started as a lady in waiting and moved on to become superintendent of the royal nursery, to Sir James Reid, who became Victoria's personal physician after Albert's death.

My favorite character was Sarah Lyttleton. She was very sensible and rather retiring. She preferred her own room, a glass of wine and a book, to sitting in the royal salon where, according to her, the conversation was generally banal. Charlotte Canning was another favorite. Rather different from Sarah, she was very beautiful and while she was also bored by the stuffy atmosphere of the court, she tolerated the boredom better than Sarah.

The men were less interesting until after she became Empress of India when she added Indian servants to the household. Abdul Karim was an Indian Muslim who created a number of minor scandals. He was clearly a conman who after stealing and selling one of her brooches, made up a story that he picked it up and it was an Indian custom to keep something he found and say nothing about it. This ruse got him off the hook with Victoria, but angered the rest of the household. At the end of her life, Victoria became very attached to this rogue, possibly because of her disappointment in her children and the fact that her early life had been so reserved.

I enjoyed the book. The picture of people living with a demanding, sometimes petulant monarch, was very realistic. Although it was an honor to serve the Queen, it took a serious toll on families and the courtiers health. The book is rather long and since most of the commentary, at least in the early part of the book, is about how boring life is, it makes the reader yawn also.

If you're interested in Victorian England and particularly how the court functioned, the is an excellent book. I highly recommend it.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Heartbreak and Art Forgery: A Nearly Perfect Copy by Allison Amend

Although Elm Howells has a respected place in the art world and a career as a director at a distinguished auction house, she hasn't been able to concentrate on her job, or anything else, since the death of her son. She desperately wants to have him back, or replace him. Gabriel Cannois is a talented artist, but he's been unable to achieve the recognition he craves from the Paris art world. When you're ambitious and at the bottom even forgery sounds promising.

The characters in this novel are very introspective. It's really more of a character study than a mystery. In fact, they are so introspective that the book sometimes becomes rather boring. After a certain point, I got tired of Elm being unable to concentrate because she misses her dead son. Personally, I found Gabriel a more sympathetic character. He wants acclaim so badly he's blind to how he could be damaging himself.

This book is well written, but it's a slow read. The background is detailed and gives a good picture of the art world these characters live in. If you enjoy character studies, you may enjoy this book. If you're looking for a mystery, give it a miss.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Small Town Secrets and Murder

Although adopted, Sophie has no interest in finding her birth mother. She's happy with the parents she has. Then out of the blue she receives a letter from a man she's never met. He wants her to come visit him because he has something to tell her. When she arrives, the man has died, but in a surprising twist, he's left her his family home, BelleEllen. Now Sophie is curious about the reason for the legacy. As she looks into her parentage, ugly incidents start to happen around her: a man is murdered, her tires are slashed, another man goes missing. Sophie is convinced that all these things are somehow tied to her – tied to who her birth parents were.

The book starts as a typical romantic thriller. Sophie meets a handsome doctor and sparks being to fly at the same time the evil in the town rises to the surface. Personally, I found the characters stereotypical and the plot unbelievable.

On the positive side, the setting in a small Virginia town is well done. The book is a quick read. If romantic suspense is your thing, you may enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Distant Father, Daughters Who Want His Attention, and Murder: The Last Girl by Jan Casey

The family of a prominent attorney, specializing in criminal cases, has been brutally murdered. DC Kerrigan and DI Derwent are assigned to the case. They arrive on the scene to find the mother dead of multiple stab wounds, the father conscious after having been knocked out, one teenage daughter with her throat cut and one daughter who survived but is hysterical. There is a plethora of suspects ranging form dissatisfied clients to the attorney himself, and even the surviving teenage twin.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It's a realistic police procedural, but the investigators are very human. The constant friction between Derwent and Kerrigan relieves tension in the story as it does for the investigators. I enjoyed the glimpses of Kerrigan and her lover, Rob. It would have been delightful to see more of their interaction. I'm hopeful the next book will show more of their lives.

The plot is very complex with suspects turning up, being interviewed and disappearing. There is also a subplot having to do with a series of drug related murders that isn't tied in until the very end. I think these books have the makings of a great series. I'm looking forward to more.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.