Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Rather Tepid Ghost Story

As a child, William Bellman makes a mistake. Proud of his well tuned slingshot, he kills a raven. From then on the ravens watch him, as does a mysterious man, Mr. Black. William sees him at funerals. His presence frightens William. He would like to come close to the man perhaps speak to him, but the mam eludes him. This changes when William's successful life is derailed by a personal tragedy. Then he and Black make a rather strange bargain.

As a ghost story this doesn't work for me. The first part of the book is quite cheerful. It details Williams successful life running a mill, marrying, and raising children. The mysterious Mr. Black makes appearances, but, while upsetting to William, there is nothing particularly eerie about them.

This story is primarily a character study of William and how he deals with his life after the unfortunate killing of the raven. If you like a story with a good plot, this isn't the book for you. The plot is very thin and the characters, aside from William, come across as actors in his drama without much substance of their own. I wanted to like the book. Ghost stories are great fun, but this one didn't give me chills.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Chilling Firsthand Account of the History and Politics of the Mideast

Chris Mitchell lives in Israel and has been reporting on the conflicts between Israel and the Muslim Middle East for years. This makes him uniquely qualified to give a picture of the major political trends in the area. Although I had read about the desire by the Muslim extremists to eliminate Israel, gain control of the Middle East and ultimately the world, his accounts of the battles he's witnessed, and the interviews with leaders in Israel and scholars who have studied the Middle Eastern conflict made it very real and rather frightening.

Mitchel intertwines the historical and political analysis with a discussion of the Biblical prophecies and the relevant passages from the Muslim literature. The facts of the Jews return to Israel and the subsequent conflicts with the Muslim countries make it seem that the prophecies of Isiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah are coming true in out times. It's fascinating reading.

Reading this book, Christians may wonder what they can do to help. Mitchell answers this question by discussing the World Prayer Conference. We can all pray for the survival of Israel. It is commanded by the Bible and Mitchell makes a good case that
with so many people praying, God must be listening.

I highly recommend this book. It is well written and gives an account of the Middle East problems that you will find hard to ignore.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

The Quiet Queen: Elizabeth of York

Daughter of Edward IV, sister to the princes in the tower, wife of Henry VII, mother of Henry VIII, and grandmother of Elizabeth I: Elizabeth of York is a pivotal character in English history, but it's hard to get a sense of who she was. After her father, Edward IV, died, she, her siblings and her mother were in fear of their lives with Richard III was first guardian of the realm and later king. In spite of fearing Richard, it isn't clear that she would have rejected marriage to him after his wife Anne Neville died.

It is clear that she schemed to place Henry VII on the throne in the hope that he would marry her. This is one of the most interesting sections of the book from the standpoint of seeing Elizabeth's character. Once Henry had secured his position, he didn't want to owe his throne to his queen, they married. From that time much of the evidence about Elizabeth is by inference from her relationship to Henry. She was a wife, mother, and supporter of her husband.
She was overshadowed by Henry's formidable mother, Margaret Beaufort, but there is little historical evidence as to what she thought about it.

Weir does a commendable job of bringing this quiet queen to life. The early part of the book gives us a picture of Elizabeth as a young woman unsure of her future and capable of plotting to achieve the status of queen. She becomes a much more shadowy character after the wedding. Weir tries to give us a picture of her life by detailing her wardrobe, the places she visited with Henry, the events she took part in, and her role in bearing the royal children. However, too often Weir had to assume what Elizabeth would have thought. Unless you're fascinated by the customs of the royal house in the 1400's the middle of the book can become rather tedious with long lists of clothing and household supplies.

The end of the book is much more interesting from the aspect of historical events. The pretenders caused Henry worry about the security of his throne. This was particularly true of Perkin Warbeck. I found that section well done, but again, the emphasis was on Henry and what Elizabeth might have felt had to be inferred.

I recommend this book if you enjoy the history of the Tudor period. The book is very well researched and Weir does a good job of showing us the person, Elizabeth, but she didn't have a great deal of primary material to deal with aside from account books and a few letters. However, the book is fascinating reading particularly in terms of understanding the early environment of Henry VIII. The title is particularly apt: Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World. The emphasis necessarily is on Elizabeth's surroundings as much as it is on her.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saving a Neurologically Damaged Horse: Alex, the West Nile Horse by Katie Klosterman

Training any horse takes patience, skill and love. Training a neurologically damaged horse draws on even great reserves of patience, caring, and ingenuity. When Katie saw Alex he had just survived West Nile Virus, a disease that affects the brain. Most horses end up being put down because they are so impaired after being infected with the disease, but Alex is a survivor.

Alex is a Saddlebred with good breeding. He was destined for the show-ring, but didn't make it and ended up in a barn in Arizona where he contracted West Nile Virus. When Katie saw him he was emaciated with matted hair, definitely not looking like a showhorse, but there was something about him. She purchased him and began the training that while ultimately successful was a test of love and endurance.

If you love horses, you'll enjoy this book. The training methods are interesting and sometimes unique. If you have horses you may find some of them useful, but more that that, it's a story of faith and the special relationship between a human and a horse.

I highly recommend this book. It's well written and shows the sacrifices an owner makes to take care of a special horse.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Thrilling Conclusion to the East Salem Trilogy

Sinister shapes gather around Tommy Gunderson's house where he, Dani, Quinn and Cassandra Morton are holed up. With them is Tommy's Aunt Ruth, and Reese, a boy who escaped from St. Adrian's Academy. Because of the danger, Dani and Tommy decide to send Reese away with Dr. Julian Villanegre and Frank Gardner. Before the three reach the airport, the monsters cause a car crash. Julian and Frank are killed, but Reese manages to escape. He returns to Tommy's house. Now Dani and Tommy have to decide whether he's a spy, or they can trust him.

The demons seem to be attached to St. Adrian's, but Dani and Tommy are not sure how. Quinn believes that contamination of Tommy's pond is due to chemicals Linz Pharmaaceutical is manufacturing and planning to distribute. Tommy and Dani know that they must try to get more information by getting into St. Adrian's and Linz, but it's a dangerous mission.

Fatal Tide is an outstanding ending to the trilogy. I liked it better than any of the other books. Tommy and Dani have resolved their differences and their love is blossoming. Quinn and Cassandra are strong characters who risk their lives to help. Reese, is a frightened boy, who is trying to decide who he can trust. Their interactions very realistic and add depth to the novel. I love Tommy's interest in gadgets that end up saving their lives. 

If you haven't read the first two books
of the trilogy, I recommend that you start. This book can stand alone, but it is much better read as part of the set.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stephen Hawking: A Brilliant and Playful Mind

Like most people, I view Stephen Hawking as a great scientists and as a determined individual who overcame a debilitating disease, ALS. In this book, he reveals himself as a witty and warm human being.

Hawking's parents were considered rather eccentric. They kept to themselves, but they cared about their children and devoted time to their development. I found Hawking's memories of his childhood illuminating. His fascination with machines and how they work obviously carried over into his fascination with how the cosmos works.

At Oxford, he didn't work very hard. It was the socially acceptable thing to do. The diagnosis of ALS changed that and caused him to start working at his research, realizing that time might be short to make the discoveries he envisioned.

Some of the most interesting chapters focus on the work he did with Roger Penrose, Richard Feynman and others. The descriptions of the work are a bit technical, but not hard to understand. The book ends with chapters on the possibility of time travel and imaginary time, a topic he thought he didn't cover well enough in “A Brief History of Time.”

The book is short and easy to read. It gives a delightful picture of the creative mind behind Hawking's discoveries. If you enjoyed a “Brief History of Time,” you'll want to meet the man behind it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Warm and Wise View of the Catholic Church: Off the Cuff and Over the Collar by Bishop John McCarthy

On every page of this book you feel Bishop McCarthy's love for his church and for people. However, he recognizes that both people and the church have traditions and practices that drive them apart. I thought he did an excellent job giving his ideas on major social problems: divorce, homosexuality, bullying, sexual abuse of children by priests and the issue of celibacy of priests. Not everyone will agree with his suggestions, but they are worth reading and will make you think.

In the second part of the book, Bishop McCarthy discusses some of the traditions and practices of the Roman Catholic Church giving the history as well as discussing the practice. This section is worth reading whether you're Catholic or not if you're interested in an elucidation of some of the practices of the church that seem arcane to outsiders.

A third section of the book discusses how the church operates. How is the church financed; what do cardinals do; how are bishops chosen; and other topics? Again this is a good section for those people who have wondered about how the church operates. I didn't realize the severity of the priest shortage. It is interesting to see how the church is trying to solve this problem.

I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for both Catholics and non-Catholics who want to learn more about the Roman Catholic Church and have their horizons broadened by well-developed discussions of a number of social ills.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Relationship Between the Bible and Near Eastern Myths

As archaeologist have uncovered more and more of the Near Easter Civilization: Egypt, Babylon and Canaan; Bible stories have been found to resemble the myths and stories of the region. The question becomes important for the understanding of the Old Testament. Currid makes the case that the myths apparently stem from the same root, but where the pagan myths recount the adventures of a plethora of Gods, the Old Testament focuses the stories on the one God. In fact, he goes so far as to say that the way the stories are written is turns the pagan's beliefs against them. He also makes a good case that while the pagans wrote the stories as myths, the Old Testament writers present them as history.

This is an excellent book for providing a basic understanding of the similarities of literature in the ancient Near East. It's a short book, easy to read, and filled with engaging examples. I enjoyed the book very much. However, I found that making the same argument in relation to each of the stories, while interesting, didn't always provide a lot of new information. It rather made the same point in a number of different contexts.

The similarities between the Old Testament and other Near Eastern myths can't be denied and it has led some people to question whether the Old Testament was inspired by God, or whether it is a borrowed collection of old stories. I believe Currid has made a good case for the Old Testament being different from the other myths of the Near East.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

A Realistic, but Tough Novel to Read

Janie Ryan is born to an alcoholic, drug abusing teenage mother. To Iris' credit she decides to keep the baby, but what a life she brings her into. Janie comes home from the hospital to her grandmother's council house, but this arrangement doesn't last long. A huge fight between Iris and her mother puts mother and baby on the street on a cold night. Frankie, Iris' brother, is close to her, but he won't take sides when their mother is involved.

Mother and baby find a short respite in a woman's shelter, but then move on to a house in one of the worst districts of Aberdeen. Here her mother meets up with Tony Hogan. Hogan has money and gives the family treats, but he's also a violent drug dealer who abuses her mother. The small family moves through a succession of B&Bs and council properties as Janie becomes a teenager and like all teenagers fights with her mother. The ending is moving and full of hope, but will Janie truly be able to overcome her background?

I found this book very realistic and very hard to read. Janie is an attractive character. She loves her mother and sticks by her when things are difficult. (Although there is one scene in which as a young child she is taken into care and develops an attachment to the woman in charge to the point of wishing she could stay there always
.) Iris is a typical self-centered addict. Her redeeming virtue is that she loves Janie and tries to protect her although it means taking more abuse herself.

The book doesn't really have a plot. It is the odyssey of a mother and child through the bottom levels of society. The interest is sustained by rooting for Janie to succeed and not turn out like her mother.

I recommend this book if you want a realistic look at poverty in England and that translates into similar situations in the US. However, it's a hard book to read because it is so realistic.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An Intimate Glimpse of Families Wrenched by the Civil War

From the Lincolns and the Grants to the Loughridges and Erskines, families suffered during the civil war through the loss of family members, property, and jobs. Ural tells the story of the Civil War chronologically, but intersperses the descriptions of political maneuverings and battles with the letters and stories of real people. Soldiers wrote letters home and wives and families responded sometimes bravely, sometimes with complaints and a plea to come home.

The book is filled with human interest. The Loughridge girls sending kisses to their father and begging him to come home on a furlough. The search for a nameless soldier who died clutching the picture of his three children. He turned out to be Amos Humiston. But perhaps the most devastating chapters are at the end where Ural describes the murderous attack on Seward and the death of Lincoln.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Civil War. I've read several books about the War Between the States, but this is the first book to let me clearly see the families and the struggles on the home front. Some of the stories of the slaves who ran away to join the Union Army are also troubling. The family of one soldier was turned out of their quarters in the bitter cold of November. All of them died.

I highly recommend this book for the excellent historical research, but also for the human feelings. It is definitely a book worth reading and the illustrations are excellent. I was particularly pleased that in the conclusion, Ural told the stories of what happened to the families after the war. There were some marvelous success stories again showing the resilience of humans.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Salem Witch Trials: Accusers and Accused

Although by the end of the witch trials in Salem, many women and a few men were accused, Roach has chosen to focus on six women who were involved in the earliest accusations: Tituba, the slave who actually did perform some magic in the Parris house in the hopes of aiding the two girls who were apparently possessed; Ann Putnam, whose daughter Annie and her maid Mercy Lewis were active accusers and suffered fits; Rebecca Nurse, who was
accused by Ann Putnam and hung as a witch. The other three women were Mary English, Mary Warren, and Bridget Bishop.

The early chapters focus on the background of each of the women. I found it fascinating to know who they were before they became involved in the rather sordid business of the witch trials. This section is written as though it were fiction, but it's well researched. The middle of the book focuses on the trials. It contains verbatim testimony and descriptions of the actions of the women both inside and outside the court room. The final section parallels the opening giving the history of these women after the trials.

I found the book fascinating. Roach was able to make the women real. The accusers were as terrified as the accused. The accounts of the way the witness were led to name the witches and the way the court browbeat the accused women into confessing is astonishing. It's an excellent picture of life in the small, litigious, community.

I recommend this book if you're interested in the history of the witch trials, or if you want a picture of life in colonial America. It's well worth reading for both reasons. I did find the middle rather tedious, not because of the skill of the author, but because the trials were so similar. Roach did try to break it up with some fictionalized sections to relieve the tedium. Her fiction sections are one of the highlights of the book.

I reviewed the book for Net Galley.