Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Love and Loss: the Bond Between Sisters: The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic

Magdelena and her sister Jadranka were raised by their grandparents on Rosmarina, a small island off the coast of Croatia. Magdelena loves the island and has no desire to leave. Although the one boy she was interested in leaves the island, she decides to stay. Rather than marry someone else, she chooses to be a teacher. Jadranka was never happy with island life. When her cousin, Katarina, invites her to visit New York, she jumps at the chance. At first all seems to go well, but then Jadranka disappears. Unable to believe her sister would just walk away with no communication, Magdelena travels to New York to find her.

The is a well written book, but it moves very slowly. Although the disappearance of Jadranka and subsequent search for her are interesting, the constant flash backs to the grandparents days on the island slow the story. The island setting and characters are beautifully portrayed, but I thought too much time
was spent following the characters' daily lives.

The novel is primarily a character study examining the bond between sisters. The pace is slow with an emphasis on the characters' thoughts and descriptions of the island. At first I found it interesting, but it begins to wear as the plot develops.

I recommend this book if you enjoy a character study with lots of description. If you're looking for a fast moving, absorbing plot, this isn't the book for you.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Murdered Gill: Hamilton and Burr for the Defense

The mysterious death of Elma Sands created a furor in 1800s New York. The young girl disappeared from the boarding house where she lived with her cousin and her husband. The body was recovered days later from a well, dug as part of the Manhattan Water Project, the brain child of Aaron Burr. A young carpenter, Levi Weeks, was immediately arrested for the crime. He lived in the same boarding house as Elma and had shown interest in her, but did he kill her?

Not only is this a fascinating criminal trial but it gives a compelling picture of New York in 1800. Conditions for the poor were dreadful, yellow fever periodically decimated the population, and political rivals wrote scurrilous articles about each other. Burr and Hamilton, although both served under Washington, were bitter rivals, each believing the other a blackguard. However, both were attorneys, two if the best in New York, and being in debt to Levi's older brother, Ezra, they found themselves on the same defense team. It's a fascinating dynamic.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It moves smoothly though New York City history, the details of the murder, and subsequent trial. If you like historical murder mysteries don't miss this one.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Human Wolf Pack Trolls for Victims

Quinn Lighthorn, acted as a bounty hunter for the FBI until his problems with anger management landed him in a clinic for psychiatric evaluation. He's been released from the clinic to help the FBI locate two agents who went missing on an assignment to discover what's going on at Safe Haven. Safe Haven's business is to buy up insurance policies from the terminally ill in hopes of being able to collect quickly at a profit.

Quinn signs on as an intern and during his first morning witnesses the murder of one of the policy holders. He wasn't supposed to view it as murder. The setup was to make appear to be an unlucky accident, but Safe Haven is trying to finance a more lucrative policy, knowing this Quinn believes that the accident was in fact a murder.

I found the book difficult to get into. Quinn is not an engaging character. He seems too withdrawn from the action. If he didn't like what was going on and felt at risk there was no reason to stay, but then he becomes involved with one of the policy holders. I found the
twist unbelievable. Quinn is a new hire, and this is a very important policy. I saw no reason why they would trust him. This is an example of the author forcing the characters to act in the service of the plot, and for me, it didn't work.

Each chapter starts with a quote about the behavior of wolves. These are interesting factoids, and I'm sure the author believed they gave insight into the motivations of the characters. However, they broke the stream of action from one chapter to the next and became more annoying than enlightening.

I wish I liked this book better. The idea of the plot is good, and the writing is clear. My problem is that the characters are driven by the plot instead of driving the action. Quinn isn't an attractive character, and the other staff at Safe Haven appear to be caricatures based on the behavior of the wolf pack.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Runaway Bride Ten Years Later: Chose the Wrong Guy Gave Him the Wrong Finger by Beth Harbison

Quinn is at the church ready to walk down the aisle to marry Burke, the love of her life, when Burke's brother, Frank, asks her to step outside. He has something important to tell her. Burke has been playing around with another girl. Devastated, Quinn runs back into the church,walks down the aisle, and smacks Burke effectively ending the wedding. Then she goes off for a weekend in Vegas with Frank, but that isn't the happy ending of the story.

Ten years later, Dottie. Burke and Frank's grandmother, is getting remarried. Quinn, who now owns a bridal
shop, is making the wedding dress and Frank and Burke are back in town to help Dottie clear up the farm in order to sell it. The boys aren't sure they want the farm sold. Quinn isn't sure how to deal with her old beaus, and Dottie is hoping for a second happy marriage.

This is a fun romance. Middleburg, Virginia, in the middle of horse country, is a beautiful setting. The characters are like people you know. This gives the book a cozy feel. Getting to know Quinn and her men is a good way to spend a quiet weekend.

Although I enjoyed the book, I couldn't get into it until after the first chapter. I felt the author spent too much time in Quinn's head going over and over the same ground. It may be realistic. She was contemplating a life changing step, but I got bored with the emoting and wanted to see what the outcome would be. However, the book does pick up after the first chapter and by moving back and forth between ten years ago and the present, we got to know the characters well and understand their motivations. If you like romance and beautiful settings, this is a great book. The title says it all.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Fast Paced Thriller with a Medical Background

Leaving the hospital late at night, Dr. Matt Newman is kidnapped. His quick thinking lets him escape from the trunk of his car and get away from the kidnappers. Unfortunately, his chosen hiding place is reached by crawling up an unstable stack of crates. When the kidnappers leave, he starts to come down, falls, and sustains a serious head injury. This is the start of his nightmare.

Instead of treating him like a victim, the police accuse Matt of murder because a dead woman was found in the trunk of his car lying on top of his wallet. No one believes in his innocense except his attorney, Sandra Murphy, and his missionary brother. His girlfriend, Jenny, pushes him away, the hospital puts his new position on hold, and the police are out to get him. When Matt hits bottom, he begins to look at God's promise.

This is a fast paced thriller it's hard to put down. I kept reading because I wanted to know how Matt could have gotten himself into this situation. Although the answer is hard to figure out, the author leaves enough clues throughout the book that you don't feel cheated at the end by a solution that comes out of left field. The characters are realistic and the budding romance is a plus.

If you like thrillers with a touch of romance and a medical background, this is a book for you. I highly recommend it.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

A Great Overview of Wedding Photography

Digital Wedding Photography for Dummies is an excellent overview of all the skills required to be a wedding photographer. These include not only taking pictures and printing them, or making them available of DVD. It also goes into how to handle clients, set up you business and use social media to get your business recognized.

If you're already an experienced photographer, the photo sections are a good review, but are too simple for a serious photographer. Basically, they tell you how to use techniques to get the mood you want, but it requires a great deal of practice, as the author points out. Likewise, photo editing is discussed in terms of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. I enjoyed the discussion. It was a good review, but having used both programs, I know you need a great deal more information to make them work the way you want.

The sections on building your business: writing a business plan, researching the requirement for getting your business registered with the proper authorities, and learning how to write a contract, are excellent. Again, this gives you a start and places to look, but a great deal more work is required to bring the business to fruition.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on dealing with clients. I love the idea of bringing your clients into the decision making process, but not letting them take over and delay the final product. It's a section well worth reading.

This book is not only good for wedding photographers, or aspiring wedding photographers, it could also be used by anyone who plans to photograph an event. Since the wedding covers skills from portraiture to photo journalism there's something that applies to almost any event where a photographer is required.

This is a great basic treatment of the subject. If you want to get your feet wet, this is the way to do it.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Celebration of Earth

Our world is both magnificent and terrible. These poems celebrate both aspects. I delighted in the lush images of places I've loved seeing them through the eyes of someone who loved them, too: Santa Ana winds, poppies, the plains of Kansas. There are also harsh poems like “Trash Tree” that show us the dark side of ourselves and the world.

My favorite is “The Man I Love and the Writing Spider” because it's so close to my own experience. I watch the spider build a web of silver threads delighting in the intricacy, but when it leaves the web and wants to come inside, it becomes the enemy. I want to squash it, but I'm grateful when some braver person rescues it and gives it another chance at life or death.

The poems not only invite you to relive sensuous experiences, but they make you think about the world, how important it is, and how we need to care for it. The book is a wonderful gift for Earth Day. A good time to meditate on the magnificence of the world.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Rather Slow PI Novel

Greg Olsen, an Iraqi veteran, is accused of killing his girl friend, Camille Bowman. Michelle Tompkins, a friend of both Olsen and Bowman doesn't believe he's guilty and hires Clayton Guthrie and his female Puerto Rican assistant, Rachel Vasquez, to investigate the crime.

Much of the action in the book involves surveillance and educating Rachael in the need for patience and close observation. A potential witness, Ghost Eddie, is found, but disappears. As we follow Guthrie and Vasquez in the search for this elusive individual, we meet a number of interesting characters, and see some unusual settings., however, it didn't hold my interest.

The procedural aspects of the novel like the unusual characters and settings are interesting. However, the character development is poor. The focus of the book is on the activities of Guthrie and Vasquez, including a great deal about Vasquez's difficult home situation. Since this doesn't directly relate to the crime, it gets boring and encourages you to skip to the more interesting parts. We hardly meet Olsen and Tompkins, the characters closest to the crime. 

I found this book difficult to get interested in. The plot when it finally evolves at the end of the book shows a great deal of promise, but getting to it is long and drawn out. I put the book down several times and had to force myself to finish it. If you really love PI novels, you may enjoy this one, but it's not one of my favorites.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Girl Astronomer

Hannah Price spends hours each night searching the heavens in hopes of discovering a comet. In the 1840s women were not expected to become astronomers. Rather thy were expected to marry, have children, and take care of their husbands. This is particularly true in the rigid Quaker community where Hannah grew up.

Although Hannah's father supports her desire to study the heavens, he wants her to settle down, find a husband and have a normal life. Unfortunately, the man Hannah is attracted to, Isaac Martin, is a dark skinned sailor. He wants to learn about celestial navigation, and Hannah agrees to teach him, but the relationship is frowned upon by the community and leads to Hannah's expulsion from the church.

The book is based on the life of Maria Mitchel, an astronomer in the 1800s whose scientific discoveries parallel Hannah's. However, Hannah is her own person. One of the ironies of the story is that Hannah can't see the good in Mary, her beloved twin brother
Edward's fiancée. The Quakers, likewise, can't see the good in Isaac, the dark skinned sailor Hannah falls in love with.

This book touches many themes: the rights of women, the rigidity of the religious community, the act of judging another without understand who they are. These themes are all woven into the story with care. I enjoyed the ideas, but the pace was very slow and the minor characters not well fleshed out.

This is a book for anyone interested in history and women's issues. However, it's not a quick read. If you enjoy a novel that takes it's time building to the climax, you'll enjoy this book, if not this may not be the book for you.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Celtic Ruins, Past Life Regressions and Spirits

Seduction is a tale that spans centuries. Victor Hugo, an exile from Paris, while on the Isle of Jersey becomes involved in the Victorian passion for spiritualism. The Ouija Board calls up spirits, but are they good or evil? A hundred and fifty years later, Jac L'etoile receives a letter from Theo, a friend she met when they were troubled teens at an exclusive sanitarium. He has a home on Jersey and invites her to investigate the Celtic Ruins. Malachi, Jac's therapist, cautions her against the visit.  He is an expert on past life regressions and knows
Theo and Jac have a special bond that he fears is dangerous for her.

The story moves from Victor Hugo's journals to the exploration of ruins on Jersey. Theo has heard of the journals, and he wants to find them. Jac, an expert on mythology, is more interested in the Celtic ruins, but she gets caught up in Theo's quest. The Isle of Jersey's rugged coast line and caves make a striking backdrop for the search for the journals.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters are intriguing. I couldn't help being entranced by the mysterious bond between Jac and Theo. M.J. Rose skilfully weaves the story back and forth between Hugo's journals and the present day. It's a hard book to put down. If you like stories with a paranormal flavor, don't miss this one.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Psychological Thriller that Explores the Lives of Child Murderers as Adults

Bel and Jade aren't friends. Jade's family is poor; the children, one step away from being taken by social services. Bel's family owns the manor house. They spend one summer afternoon together and life is never the same. They're very young, inexperienced in child care. Through a series of coincidences and bad decisions, a small child, they agreed to take care of for a few hours, dies and the girls are labeled murderesses.

Now they're adults. Their names are changed. No one is supposed to know their history, but again coincidence throws them together at a seaside resort terrorized by a serial killer. Neither of them plans to meet, but they're thrust together again with tragic consequences. Although not explicitly stated, the underlying question concerns the success of the rehabilitation programs that readied them to enter society as adults.

This is a skillfully crafted novel. The present is interspersed with descriptions of the old crime. Trying to discover what these girls did to be labeled murderesses at eleven keeps you reading. The fear the girls experience as they try to keep from being identified by the people they live and work with is realistic.

My problem with the book is that there is too much coincidence. The girls make choices, but it seems that the hand of fate draws them together. The scene where one of the girls makes herself known to the other didn't feel real after all the soul searching she'd done about not being found out. However, the story is compelling, skillfully told, and the characters are realistic. I recommend this book if you want a novel you'll find hard to put down.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Family Ties Are Not Just Biological

Brooke's's husband is dead leaving her alone to raise her two children. Owen is divorced. His wife had an affair with his partner hurting him deeply. Hunter, a teenager, was abandoned by his mother. Now the grandmother he's been living with is ill. He's always been in trouble, but now he has no where to turn.

Brooke is particularly sensitive to abandonment. Her father left when she was small, and she grew very attached to her mother. Her mother lived with her after the death of Brooke's husband, but she moved out wanting to have her own life giving Brooke another abandonment.

Abandonment is an issue in this story, but so is forgiveness. Owen is struggling with the issue with his ex-wife. Brook thinks she hates the father who abandoned her, but each of these characters is hurting themselves because being unable to forgive makes them act in ways that are destructive for themselves. Being unable to forgive hurts the person more than the object of their hatred.

The characters in this book are believable. They're hurting and the hurts are very human. The story has enough twists to keep it interesting and as it's a romance all is well at the end, if not exactly what we expect.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

A Desperate Desire to Cling to a Way of Life That's Passing Leads to Murder

In the South before the Civil War, the citizens of Greenbriar, Louisiana, are trying to cling to the life they understand. Unlike the other planters, Tom Edmunton, who spent time in the North, is reaching for the future. He is convinced that his invention, a tractor, will lead to a new age in agriculture where slaves no longer work the fields and technology will bring increased prosperity; but not everyone in Greenbriar, Louisiana sees it that way.

Senator Wiley Barnwell hopes to have Tom for his son-in-law. He hauled the tractor to Crossroads, his deceased sister-in-law's plantation, so Tom could escort his wife and daughter to the funeral. That night the tractor disappears and someone stabs Wiley in the chest killing him. Ted Cooper, who was trying to buy Crossroads, was found bending over the body with bloody hands. Tom is convinced that stealing his tractor was the motive for the murder. Cooper feared the machine and wanted to destroy it, but is Tom right, or was there another motive for murder?

The old South comes to life in this historical novel. The plot is full of twists, and the message, trying to cling to a way of life that's passing, is excellent. However, the writing is pedestrian. Conversations often read like information dumps, and the pace is slow. The characters are stock Southerners: the honest sheriff, the dishonest politician, the spoiled beauty, and the beautiful slave.

I can recommend this book if you looking for a historical novel about the South before the Civil War. The murder mystery is an added benefit, and the underlying theme, struggling to hold on to a way of life that's passing, is well done. It is also a cautionary tale for today. 

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Planning Worship to Include Everyone: Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper

Of course, including everyone and pleasing everyone with a worship service is wishful thinking, but this book stresses the importance of knowing who's attending your service and trying to make it an enriching experience for all of them. Perhaps the most important part of the book from this perspective is the final chapters on chosing music for the service, how the choice affects people, and what can be done to encourage their participation. These thoughtful chapters should be read by everyone planning a worship service.

Rhythms of Grace contains much more than a discussion of music ministry, although it's an important part of the book. The first chapters give an overview of worship in the context of the Bible from the Garden of Eden to the coming of Jesus. Another chapter gives a concise history of worship in the church. In a short space, the author manages to convey the changing character of worship over the centuries. The author also includes an extensive discussion of the liturgy which is useful for planning and ordering the worship service. This section is also a useful guide for the laic person who wants to know more about the structure of the service.

I highly recommend this book for anyone engaged in planning and conducting a worship service. It's not a book to be used slavishly to order the service, but it does give a great deal of thought to the meaning of the service and how the elements affect the worshipers. This is also a book that can be enjoyed by the laic person. For me, the most important thing about the book is that it challenges you to use your creativity and think.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Case for Creeds and Confessions: The Creedal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman

The thesis of Carl Trueman's book is that creeds and confessions are a necessary part of Christian worship. He argues against the idea that the Bible is the only source of creeds and confessions believing that creeds and confessions are important adjuncts to scripture because they define the way the church interprets the scripture. Furthermore, creeds and confessions are public documents that allow for discussion and disputation about beliefs.

While I believe that Trueman has a good point about formal worship requiring a formal grounding, I found the book repetitious. He makes good arguments for the necessity for creeds as a succinct statement of faith. He also presents a short history of the Christian church's reliance on creeds as an adjunct to scripture which I found fascinating.

I can't recommend this book unless you are a pastor or lay person looking for illumination of the question of whether the Bible is sufficient or whether creeds are a necessary part of Christian worship.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Racial Tension and Unity in Hope Springs

The Sanders family reunion is underway with new faces and some changes in the family. Stephanie and her husband, Lindel, are back in Hope Springs living in Grandma Geri's house with Janelle and her children. Marcus, a cousin, is the new assistant principal at the highschool and bunking in with Travis. Charlotte, a friend of the cousins, is welcomed at the reunion. She's recovering from a broken engagement and deciding to leave Hope Springs.

Other family members are adjusting to Grandma Geri's death and facing challenges of their own. The town of Hope Springs also faces tension. The unity service Todd and Travis cooperate on once a month receives opposition from both Calvary and New Jerusalem. Instead of bringing the congregations together, racial tensions rise.

The Color of Hope is another warm, wonderful book. I couldn't put it down. The characters are so alive you want to be there, attending the reunion, eating barbecue,  and chatting with the cousins late at night. The underlying story, however, is serious. Racial tensions are alive under the surface, and the attempt to combine the congregations for even one service brings them into the open.

I highly recommend this book. The sequel to Hope Springs can be read and enjoyed as a standalone story, but to fully get to know the characters and town read both. They'll make you want to visit the Sanders and Dillons, attend Sunday services, and stay for dinner.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.