Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Psychological Mystery

Yvonne, a fifty-year-old geneticist, is in the dock charged with being a co-conspirator in murder. She's married to a good man, has two grown children, and is at the top of her profession: how did she get here? A casual sexual encounter turns into an affair and the affair changes her life.

I thought at first it was incredible that a woman like Yvonne would have casual sex with someone whose name she didn't even know, but the author was clever. Revealing her history over the course of a few chapters, it no longer seemed like such a stretch. That's the beauty of this novel. By giving the psychological history of the characters, the author makes us believe in events that seem quite foreign.

I did have a complaint with the detection methods. If you're an avid mystery or thriller reader, you'll see several flaws in the narrative that immediately derail the story. However, if you can accept that the detection was done to the standard of the time, you'll find the outcome surprising and quite believable.

I enjoyed this novel. I thought I wouldn't because the sexual adventures seemed so out of character for the protagonist. However, the author buys you in and the ending is quite surprising. I recommend this book if you like well written psychological mysteries.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

A Glimpse of Life at Los Alamos During the Manhattan Project

The wives were not usually scientists, although a few were. They followed their physicist and chemist husbands to an unknown destination to work on a project their husbands couldn't discuss. In spite of the hardships, they formed a community, raised their children, supported their husbands, and in the end felt part of a great undertaking, whether they believed in the good of the outcome or not.

This is a fascinating book showing a piece of history that doesn't get reported in most accounts of the Manhattan Project. I had read about the Los Alamos project from the standpoint of several of the scientists, but I had never really though about what it would be like to be one of the wives. This book draws the picture of the diverse group of women who followed their husbands to an outpost in the desert and learned how to cope with a life style that was much different from the academic backgrounds most of them came from.

The book is written in first person plural, a unique choice, but one I found appropriate for describing the diversity of this group of women. For the first few pages I did wonder why the women were living in the same house, but after I realized that it was the author's way of telling the story of a large group, I got more comfortable with it.

If you enjoy history, are fascinated by the Manhattan Project, or wonder what it was like to live in a community of women in the 1940s, you like this book: I did.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Blizzard that Turns a Town from Cozy to Horror

In the small New England town of Coventry, the residents are hunkered down for a blizzard. Being New Englanders, blizzards are a fact of life. Some of the characters feel cozy sitting by a fire, sipping wine, watching a movie with their family. Other characters are out in the blizzard and like Officer Keenan they experience the growing horror of the storm first hand. When the storm is over, eighteen people are dead, but no one is quite sure why they died. Twelve years later another storm is approaching and apprehension increases. The things that were in the first blizzard are back and so are the dead.

The horror in this book is a building sense of fear of what is out there in the storm. It's not gory horror, but it can make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, particularly if you're alone during a power failure or snowstorm.

I enjoyed the book, but found some problems with the presentation. There were a great many characters. The author tries to give the feeling of a small town caught in a terrifying situation. It works well in the opening chapters, but bogs down in the middle when the second storm is approaching, and the author tries to bring the us up to date on the characters lives during the past twelve years. The ending, however, is eerie and frightening.

If you enjoy horror stories you'll like this one. But if you really want to feel the full impact, I suggest reading it at night during a snow storm.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The War on Christmas as a Christ-centered Holiday

Everywhere at this time of year we begin to see the war on Christmas raging. Nativity scenes are banned from public places and people greet each other with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Atheists want nothing to do with a Christian holiday, but even some Christians worry that the origins of Christmas are more pagan than Christian. In order to be politically correct, we are losing the meaning of this beautiful holiday as the birthday of Jesus.

“The War on Christmas” features short chapters that explain the origin of Christmas as a Christian, not a pagan holiday. Hodge gives a fascinating explanation of how the pagan gods, Jupiter and Saturn, stem from a Judeo-Christian tradition, being descendents of Noah. I had never heard this before, but it makes sense when you think about the origin of the names.

The book is beautifully put together with gorgeous illustrations and extra-textual material. It would make and excellent gift book for someone this Christmas. I particularly enjoyed the short chapters. It could almost be used for meditation of the meaning of Christmas reading a chapter a day.

I highly recommend this book as an antidote to all the secular trappings of the season.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Marketing.

Haunting and Terrifying Glimpse of an Alternate Reality

After a terrible accident, Emma wakes up unable to remember anything including her husband Declan. Although she recovers physically, she still has terrible nightmares and is haunted by memories at the edge of consciousness that she can't quite grab. Declan is attentive and loving, but Emma feels uncomfortable as though there is something she doesn't understand. Is Declan what he appears to be?

In Emma's world, women are owned by men, their bodies subject to the whims of their husbands. It's a terrifying reality. The author makes the world so real you feel as though it might actually happen. I found the book haunting my thoughts even after I finished it.

Emma is a sympathetic character. I couldn't help but like her and hope for the best. The book is filled with mystery and suspense. As Emma tries to find her past, the tension increases until the startling and unsettling climax.

If you like mystery and suspense with a touch of social problems and fantasy, you'll love this book. I enjoyed it and highly recommend it. It paints a frightening picture of women's role in a nation facing serious population decline due to a lack of women and low fertility.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Thriller with a Moral Question

Treasury agent, Alex LaDuca, is facing the most important decision of her career. She has so far survived the battle with the Dosi drug empire, but she begins to wonder whether her luck will continue. Added to her problems and her joy is her romance with Eric, the handsome Broadway actor. Eric hates to see her in danger, but it's Alex's job. Would she be able to walk away from it, even to please Eric? She also struggles with an underlying moral question: when is assassination justified? She knows the Yardena Dosi will kill her if she can, but is it morally acceptable for Alex to plan to assassinate Yardena?

The story moves from the underworld of New York to Honduras and finally Panama. Although there is action, a great deal of the plot is fleshed out through Alex reading government documents and in conversation. I found the style of presentation interesting, but if you want lots of action, you're apt to be disappointed.

I found the characters likable and realistic. The love affair between Eric and Alex is well done. You can't help rooting for them to be together.

This is the final book in The Cuban Trilogy, but I found it readable as a stand-alone book. The backstory is necessary, but the author manages to work it in without becoming tedious. I enjoyed the book and recommend it if you like a thriller with a moral question.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

International Intrigue With a Bit of Romance

Sam Wingo is on a secret mission to deliver a cargo to a destination in Afghanistan. When he arrives, instead of the people he expects to meet, men identifying themselves as CIA relieve him of the shipment. Sam knows something's wrong and believes he's been set up, but who will believe him?

King and Maxwell are driving through a storm, trying to decide where to go for some R and R. When a teenager waving a gun runs across the path of their car, their vacation dreams are put on hold. The teenager is Tyler Wingo, Sam's son. He's just learned that his father was killed in Afghanistan, and he doesn't believe it. In fact, the next day, he calls to hire King and Maxwell to find out what happened to his father.

This book is an action packed adventure ranging from Afghanistan to Washington, DC. The action starts slowly with King and Maxwell trying to help Tyler, but speeds up by the middle of the book and from there it's a race to the end. Some of the plot is quite far-fetched, but in a quick read it isn't bothersome.

I enjoyed the characters. King and Maxwell have a stuttering love affair which drives lots of repartee. I can't say it feels realistic, especially when Dana, Sam's ex-wife comes on the scene, but it's fun. My favorite character is Edgar, the clueless computer genius. His inability to understand the real world of human relations is amusing.

If you want a fast-paced, international adventure with a little romance and comedy thrown in, you'll enjoy this book. It would make a great beach read.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Look At the Story of Joseph in Light of the New Testament

The story of Joseph is one of the most beloved in the Old Testament. Bauchman brings new insights to the interpretation of the story by using the New Testament and Christ's teaching to enhance the understanding of the story.

Bauchman's goal in the book was to be mindful of the gospel and to try to understand the characters and the lessons of the story through the character of Christ. The characters in the Joseph story are very human. They are all flawed human beings in need of redemption. By looking at them in light of the perfection of Christ we can see the lessons of the story even more clearly.

Baucham does an excellent job of breaking down the story of Joseph by chapters and giving new insights through the comparison with

the writings from the new testament. I learned a lot from reading the book although I was familiar with the Joseph story. It fleshed out the meaning of the story and made me look at some of the parts differently.

I recommend this book if you love the story of Joseph. By reading the book, I think you will find even more depth to the lesson of Joseph's trials and unshakable belief in the Lord.

I reviewed this book for Crossway Publishing.

Ordinary is Boring – or Maybe It Isn't

Most of us lead ordinary lives: going to work, playing with the kids, cooking meals. It all sounds pretty tame, but beneath the surface God is working, and God is extraordinary. Kelley illustrates this premise with the story of Saul, a young man doing his job, chasing his father's lost donkeys. Little does he realize that he is on a collision course with the prophet Samuel and destined for national importance. Not all of us are Saul, but with God working through us none of our lives are unimportant.

I particularly enjoyed the first three chapters of this book. They challenge you to think about your life and how you view the mundane tasks of living. As the author points out, Chesterton said that a mark of strength is the ability to do the same thing over and over. The weak man is the one constantly searching for something new. Finding contentment in our lives is one of the most rewarding things we can do.

The final chapters off specific suggestions for viewing parts of our lives, husbands and wives, children, money and work. While these chapters were well done, I didn't completely agree with his theology. I thought at times it was a stretch. However, other readers may not feel this way. I recommend this book if you think your life is boring. You may be surprised.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

I have a copy to give away. If anyone is interested, please put your email address in the comments section. If several people respond, I will have my husband draw a name to see who gets the book. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Tension Filled Family Saga Set in the Bordeaux Wine Region

Aurelian Laverzac ruled his family with an iron fist. His four sons, now adults, grew up in competition for their father's interest, for women, and for the vineyard. Two of the brothers found their own satisfying careers, but the other two are locked in a struggle to see who will control the vineyard. It is Aurelian's wish that the vineyard remain in tact and not be split between the boys. Underlying the turmoil is a secret. Jules, the youngest son who has the feel for wine making, was adopted by Aurelian under mysterious circumstances. Because the family loves Jules, this has never been a problem, but when control of the vineyard is at stake will the secret become an issue?

If you enjoy family sagas, or soap operas, you'll love this story. The characters are engaging from Aurelian to the four sons to the women in their lives. All the characters feel true to life and make you want to continue reading.

The setting is wonderful. Wine making has always interested me. The book is factual on the details of wine production and adds color to the story. I thoroughly
enjoyed the Laverzac's. It's a good book to curl up with on a winter night – with a glass of good red wine – and enjoy a time in France.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Story for Your Children : A Christmas Tradition for the Family

Sam is excited about Christmas. He likes the toy train, but he is most excited about the sparkle box his mother has placed on the mantle.

The Sparkle Box is a marvelous story for children. The illustrations are excellent. The bonus is that the whole family can become involved in filling the sparkle box, which is contained at the back of the book, with notes about what they did for those in need as a gift for Jesus.

I think this is a wonderful idea. Too often we forget about the real meaning of Christmas. The Sparkle Box gives you an excellent idea of how to remember to help those less fortunate. It also reminds us that it is Jesus' birthday. I highly recommend this book as a gift for the whole family.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Three Generations of Secrets

Leonie, the newest member of the wealthy Cantoni family, never expected to live in a gorgeous Italian villa. When Guido Cantoni proposed, she jumped at the chance although she has never been sure he loved her. She is a model daughter-in-law, wife and mother. In addition, she has taken over primary management of the family's faucet factory. She should be happy, but Leonie has a secret.

Each generation of the family has secrets from Bianca, the grandmother's madness, to the marriage of her son and daughter-in-law and now in the third generation Leonie and Guido have their secrets. Although the secrets are known by most members of the family, they handle them by not speaking about them. The Cantonis present the facade of a distinguished, wealthy family, but behind the facade the secrets linger and hurt.

I enjoyed this book, a gentle romance with hints of mystery. Leonie is a delightful character. She grows throughout the novel as she struggles to come to grips with her secret and gradually learn the secrets of her in-laws' lives. The Italian setting is gorgeous. It will make you want to visit Italy, perhaps stay in the Hotel du Lac, or visit a grand villa.

I recommend this book if you enjoy gentle romance.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Mediocre Halloween Mystery

Harry Haristeen and her animal friends are back. Out driving with Fair, her husband, they find a scarecrow in a field that turns out to be a dead body. The body is close to the vegetable stand run by Hester Martin, an eccentric cmiddle-aged lady. She's planning a Halloween Hayride and Harry and her pals are involved in the set up. Everyone seems eager to be frightened, but a little wary because of the murdered man dressed as a scarecrow.

Usually, I love the Sneaky Pie Brown series. However, this book was not up to standard. The mystery looked interesting at the start, but there was no investigation. Things kept happening until the result was forced on the characters. In fact the mystery was so simple I figured it out from reading the list of characters in the beginning, not all the details, but who-done-it.

The characters seemed flat. The animals had a less interesting part than usual. Mostly they bickered with each other, more accurately Pewter and Tee Tucker bickered and Mrs. Murphy tried to be the peace maker. They weren't as much fun as previous books where they were continually outguessing the humans.

I thought there were too many long dissertations on social issues. I don't want a text book on social issues when I'm reading a mystery. Building them in as part of the motivation is fine, but long paragraphs become tedious.

I found the writing, particularly the dialog very stilted. Using tags like “the middle-aged lady said” or the “intelligent cat thought” seemed poorly done. I'm sure the author could have done better than these cliché tags. They were very annoying.

I wish I could recommend this book, but I can't unless you're a serious fan of the series. It's not up to the standard of the previous books, only interesting if you want to keep up with the happenings in Crozet.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Friday, November 1, 2013

From Naughty Boy to Wise Monarch: The Heir Apparent by Jane Ridley

Queen Victoria was not pleased to be pregnant with her second child so soon after the first. This unfortunate start dogged Bertie, Albert Edward who later became King Edward VII, for the rest of their relationship. He was raised in a cold regimented way. Prince Albert thought he should be segregated from his peers and made to study on a rigorous schedule. He was constantly criticized by both parents. It's amazing that he didn't grow up to be a bitter man.

Instead of focusing on his ill treatment, Bertie hit back at Victoria in other ways. As soon as he was of age, he abandoned the domesticity treasured by his parents and became a gambler, man-about-town, and womanizer. His mother and sisters selected his bride, the lovely Danish princess, Alexandra. Although Bertie was fond of her, it didn't stop him from having numerous affairs with both lowly women and wives of his friends. Ridley hypothesizes that it was a way for him to express his rage with his mother and sisters.

The middle of the book focuses on his relationships with the various women in his life. It's a delightful gossipy read. Bertie comes across as very human and not quite the debauched satyr as he is often depicted.

The final chapters of the book are devoted to his rule. While it was only 9 years they were fruitful ones for Britain. Bertie turned out to be a hardworking monarch and structured the constitutional monarchy used in Britain today.

The book is extremely well researched with many quotations from letters from the principals as well as quotes from intimates of their circle. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It gave me a different view of the relationship of Victoria and Albert. Their treatment of the oldest son was in many way horrific. Ridley portrays Victoria as so wrapped up in wanting Albert to herself that she couldn't stand the competition from her children. From the quotations, it appears to be true, but it is different from the way I pictured their relationship.

I highly recommend this book if you're interested in the history of Britain specifically the Victorian Era leading to the reign of Edward VII.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.