Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Heartwarming Story of a Hero Dog

Mama Lucca, a Marine dog, worked the front lines with her handler identifying IEDs before an unlucky soldier stepped on one. That day Mama Lucca wasn't lucky. She found the explosives, but severely wounded her foot. This is the story of the tremendous love between a man and his dog.

The book covers Mama Lucca and Rod's career from training through the accident. The story is hard to put down. Working dogs and their handlers have a special relationship. This comes through clearly in this beautifully written, compassionately told story.

I highly recommend this book. It's a testimonial to the courage of the men and their dogs risking their lives on the battlefield to save the lives of others. If you love animals, don't miss this book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Christmas, A Little Romance, A Little Paranormal, and a Serial Killer

Transplant recipients are being murdered in a gruesome way. Mason gets the case and asks Rachael for help. She's not sure she wants to become involved, but how can she refuse when she's a transplant recipient herself. She's been trying not to dream because of the horror of seeing people murdered by a serial killer. This time is different. This time she doesn't see through the eyes of the murderer, but rather the victim.

The killer is harvesting the organs donated by Mason's brother. Since Rachael has his corneas, she's a potential victim. Mason is so concerned he takes her and his whole family to a five star ski resort for Christmas hoping the killer won't know where they are and will be caught before they get back.

This is the second book in the series. I think it's one of the best. Rachael is at her cynical best. Mason is falling hard for her, and the boys are great characters – not to mention Myrtle, the blind bulldog. The juxtaposition of the gorgeous scenery, Christmas festivities, and murder is a great combination. It definitely keeps you reading.

For an enjoyable winter read, I highly recommend this series.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Write Publishable Drabbles

Crafting a Drabble is different from writing a novel or creative non-fiction. At 100 words, each word must count. Flowery description, body movements, or the weather use unnecessary words. Kechula, a multi-published micro fiction author and editor, shares his techniques in this self-study guide.

Efficiently telling a story in 100 words is the key to writing a Drabble. The chapters present methods for eliminating words and writing clear sentences. Topics include: tell don't show, hook the reader, and add a twist. Kechula includes his published micro fiction to illustrate the ideas. Questions follow the text to allow the reader to practice. The answers are given at the end of each chapter. A final series of 165 practice questions allows you to test your ability to understand and apply the concepts.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in writing micro fiction and taking advantage of the opportunities for publication in contests and on-line and print magazines. Although Kechula's book is a comprehensive guide to writing micro fiction, it does not guarantee you will be published. Telling a good story is key, but if you have a story, this book will help you hone your technique.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Profile of Moral Courage in Hitler's Germany

Deitrich Bonhoeffer was a remarkable individual. Born before WWI he experienced the horrors of war as a child. He was deeply religious choosing to study theology and became a Lutheran pastor as well as a noted academic. During WWII he played a major role among the Germans trying to overthrow Hitler.

Bonhoeffer's family was deeply engaged in the conspiracy to end Hitler's control of Germany. Deitrich remained on the edges until having received a safe haven in New York during the war, he realized that his place was in Germany, and he became an active conspirator.

I haven't read Eric Metaxas' full version of Bonhleffer's life. However, the abridged edition is very easy to read. In fact, it reads rather like an action novel. The book contains passages from his letters as well as passages from his sermons and other theological writing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Bonhoeffer was a very complex individual. His growth in theological ideas as well as his burgeoning desire to play an active role in freeing Germany from the grip of Hitler and the Nazis is extremely moving. I highly recommend this book. While you may not agree with his theology, reading about the struggles of this extraordinary individual will give you an idea of how some people in Germany were devastated by the terrible atrocities of Hitler's government and tried to fight against it.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.  

Highlights from the Civil War

Rather than a comprehensive history of the Civil War, McPherson presents a series of essays featuring: Lincoln as a political strategist and Commander in Chief; the Mexican War and California's entry into the United States as a free state; contrasts between commanders, notably McClellan, DuPont, Grant and Farragut; and the horrors of Reconstruction in the South.

Other chapters deal with philosophical questions such as: Liberty; What is a Just War; How the objectives of anti-slavery and winning the war came together to produce the Emancipation Proclamation.

Several of the chapters, such as the ones on “Mexico, California and the Coming of the Civil War”, and “Death and Destruction in the Civil War” critique the books of other historians. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on how California entered the United States as a free as opposed to slave state. I had never read some of that history. It is fascinating and adds another dimension to the tensions leading to the conflict.

I highly recommend this book. Whether you're a Civil War scholar, or just enjoy reading history, this is a book that will captivate you. The discussions of liberty, just war, and what Lincoln's legacy means for our times are well worth reading for anyone looking at today's political situation.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Drowned Girl and the Attorney Suspect

Detective Sargent Krug and his young partner, Casey Kellogg, of the Santa Monica Police Department, are assigned the case of a young girl found in the bay, but it's not a simple drowning. The autopsy reveals that she was severely beaten before being dumped in the bay and there are needle marks on her arms. Suspicion falls on a young attorney, David Farr. He had befriended the girl and spent a weekend with her.

Krug likes Farr for the killer and sets out to prove it, but Kellogg isn't so convinced. He goes along with his partner, but the circumstances and perhaps the fact the he identifies with Farr, make him question his partner's decisions.

If you enjoy police procedurals, this is a good story with plenty of twists including a missing twin brother and an uncle who has been seen around the girl's apartment, but can't be located. I found it easy to guess what was going on and it made me wonder how the cops could have missed obvious clues. The answer is in the characters. Krug wants Farr to be guilty. I found that aspect of the characters difficult. Krug seems too hard, although he is a good cop and could be right, and Kellogg is too easily swayed.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Special Gift for Christmas

The meaning of Christmas shines through this collection of stories. These are not tales of Santa, elves and reindeer. These stories by well known authors illustrate the deeper meaning of Christmas. They range from sentimental to humorous. In these twenty stories there is something for everyone.

My favorites were Riders of St. Nicholas, a humorous tale of cowboys left behind to take care of the ranch while the rest of the ranch staff rides off to enjoy a Christmas celebration. I also liked Pearl Buck's Christmas Day in the Morning. This is a sentimental story of milking cows on Christmas morning.

The book is illustrated with wood cuts that add an extra dimension to the beauty of the tales. These stories can be enjoyed in private, but they can also be read aloud for the enjoyment of the entire family.

I highly recommend this collection. It can be a special Christmas gift for your family, or for friends. It is a very lovely book.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

A Philosophical Exploration of Santa's Existence: Does Santa Exist? by Eric Kaplan

Tammi tells the author, Eric Kaplan, that her son, Schyler, can't be friends with his son, Ari, because Ari would tell Schyler that Santa doesn't exist. This causes Eric to be concerned that Tammi is sacrificing the children's friendship for a belief. Can people hold different beliefs and remain friends? Is it important that a belief be based on reality? The question then becomes: Does Santa Exist?

To answer this question Kaplan takes us through an abbreviated course in philosophy from the ancient Greeks, to medieval Jewish philosophers, and Buddhists. On the way we pass through neuroscience and folklore. The book contains some attempts at comedy to explain philosophical ideas, but I thought they generally fell flat.

I didn't dislike the book, but I did feel that Kaplan took a rather circuitous route to get to the conclusion. The book is not difficult to read. If you enjoy philosophical discussions, you will like this book. However, I can't recommend it. I felt it was rather pretentious,
showing off the author's grasp of philosophy to come up with an answer that was intuitively obvious from the beginning.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

This Life is Not Your Only Chance

The premise of the book is that we, and all of creation, are part of the living God. Each lifetime is devoted to learning. We can die and choose to come back to learn the things we left unfinished, or couldn't face in this life time.

This is an interesting premise and Mike Dooley makes a good case for it. His case is not all that different from that made by some of the major philosophers and religions. In fact, the early chapters read much like philosophy.

I'm not sure I believe all that Dooley says, but some of his ideas are beyond question. We all have the power to affect our own lives in the here and now. We don't have to be victims. If we see ourselves as powerful, we will be able to overcome obstacles. Trials are not to break us. Trials are to show us that we can over come adversity.

One of his major themes is that the way we see ourselves is withing in our power to change. This is a good message. Whether you believe the dead have seen this and are giving you insight, or whether this rings with truth for today, it's an excellent message.

The book is comprised of a number of chapters on topics such as the idea that dead people have moved on to another reality, dreams can come true, dead people were ready to go, but we, the living, may not be, and life is more than fair. Each chapter ends with a letter from a dead person to someone dear to them. Most of the letters are from young people, but they ring true for people at any age.

I enjoyed the book. I'm not sure the dead are telling us these things, but certainly the premises make sense. We do make our own reality by the way we deal with the adversities and successes that come our way. I recommend the book. It will give you a lift.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Transplant Recipients, Romance and Serial Killers

Angry because the police are not doing more to find her brother, Rachael de Luca, blind since childhood, stomps out into the street and is promptly hit by Detective Mason Brown's car. She is shaken but unhurt, still he feels responsible.

Mason is having a bad day. Immediately after hitting Rachael, he receives a text from his brother, Eric, returns to his apartment, and watches his brother commit suicide. That isn't the worst; Eric left a suicide note confessing to killing thirteen young men. Mason can't bring himself to accuse his brother. He hides the evidence and to atone gives Eric's body for organ transplant.

Rachael receives the corneas. Now she can see, but at the price of terrible nightmares in which she appears to enjoy killing young men. In spite of Eric's death, the killing hasn't stopped. Now Rachael and Mason team up to find who is committing these murders.

Cynical, sassy Rachael is a great character. You can't help, but love her independence. Mason is a good foil. He's a sexy hunk, driven by guilt, and at bottom a good cop. The interplay between these two makes the novel worth reading.

The plot, based on stories of transplant victims who take on the characteristics of their donors, is interesting, but seems to go well beyond the actual stories. The novel has a number of twists that keep you guessing. However, I was disappointed in the ending. I felt there was too little buildup to justify the final unveiling of the murderer.

I recommend this book if you like romantic thrillers. It's the first book in a series, so you may get hooked.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Comprehensive Examination of Prayer

In the second half of life, Thomas Keller and his wife realized how important prayer was for them. Both were diagnosed with serious illnesses. When he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, his wife asked him to pray with her every evening. Perhaps because of the timing, they realized the importance of praying regularly at night and have been doing it every since. Their experience is an excellent introduction to this useful volume.

Keller points out that prayer occurs in all cultures. It may differ in presentation, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians pray differently, but they all pray. Even atheists have admitted that they pray. Prayer is a facit of most people's lives. From this perspective, Keller examines the various aspects of prayer.

In Part One, Desiring Prayer, he discusses the need for prayer with an delightful illustration of Flannery O'Connor's struggle with prayer. Part Two, Understanding Prayer, discusses the many varieties of prayer both in religious and non-religious traditions. Part Three Discusses how theologians like Augustin, Luther, and Calvin taught about prayer and the methods they used. Part Four, Deepening Prayer, uses illustrations from John Owen, C.S. Lewis and others to discuss meditation and the experiential aspects of prayer. Part Five, Doing Prayer, is about learning how to pray. I thought one of the best parts of the book was the last chapter which is a guide for daily prayer.

I highly recommend this book. It not only gives a broad overview of the history and cultural differences of prayer, but it leaves you with a plan for your own spiritual development through daily prayer.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

A Thoughtful Way to End Your Day with Prayer

Christoph Blumhardt (1842 – 1919) was a German Lutheran theologian. He didn't publish these prayers when he was alive. They were spoken prayers shared with his friends, including Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Emil Brunner, Karl Barth and others. Because the prayers were spoken, we can feel the author's voice in the beautiful language. I love the feeling of peace reading these prayers gives you.

Each prayer is accompanied by a scripture reference. This makes them perfect for meditation and devotion at the end of the day. There are 365 prayers making this devotional perfect for a year's worth of worship. Often it's difficult to find time in the evening to speak with God, but these prayers make it easy. Sometimes words don't flow, but these prayers and scripture give you a way to start.

I highly recommend this devotional. It would make a wonderful gift or an addition to your own collection of devotionals.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Worried About Your Loss of Civil Liberties? – Read This Book

In Suicide Pact, Judge Napolitano traces the loss of our civil liberties, not just from the most recent incursions by Presidents Bush and Obama, but throughout the history of our country. In high school, most of us heard of the acts that curtailed our freedoms at least the names of the acts should be somewhat familiar: Alien and Sedition Act; Lincoln's suspension of habeaus corpus and use of military courts rather than civilian; Wilson's Overman Act; Franklin Roosevelt's imprisonment of the Japanese during WWII; and more recently Bush's Patriot Act.

When you see all these incursions into our liberty discussed in a single book, it makes you realize how much we citizens have abdicated our responsibilities because of fear, or because of political advantage for the party we support. This book is well researched. The cases are discussed by a legal scholar, but are easily understood by a general audience.

The book is not a condemnation of a single party. Napolitano is even handed in showing the depredations into our liberty by both parties and by some of our most revered presidents. I highly recommend this book. It's a wake-up call.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Scientific Basis for Miracles

The first part of Eric Metaxas book on Miracles, gives a detailed scientific explanation, although written for the general reader, of how miracles are possible. This section pulled me in. I've read a lot of science about the cosmos, but this section was one of the best I've read. Eric points out how amazing it is that the Big Bang occurred and even more amazing that there is life on this planet at all. When you've finished the section you have to agree with him; it is amazing.

Metaxas uses the scientific information to argue that instead of being a closed system, the solar system is open to the point that an outside force, which could be called God, is able to act on human events. This is his explanation for how miracles are possible. I have to admit that first reading the scientific data and them having it used to discuss the miracle of Jesus Christ and his resurrectionis very persuasive.

The second part of the book presents stories of miracles from conversion miracles like those experienced by C.S. Lewis and Charles Colson to angelic miracles and miracles of inner healing. He makes the point that miracles can change your life. His life was changed by a miracle. He makes it very believable.

I highly recommend this book. Whether you're a Christian or a skeptic, this book will give you something to think about.

I reviewed this book for Dutton.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Spy Thriller in Which Ian Flemmng Becomes James Bond

It's WWII. The allies, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, are meeting in Teheran. Flemming is attached to the British delegation. His friend, Michael Hudson, works for the Americans. Flemming receives a message from Turing at Bletchley that there is a Nazii spy in their party who plans to assassinate the three leaders. Flemming takes it seriously, almost pays with his life, and takes on the soubriquet of James Bond.

If you like spy novels with a historical twist, this is a treat to read. Ian Flemming starts as an unsure youth in boarding school, trying to emulate the heroic deeds of his dead father. He hates being assigned to a desk job when the action seems to be elsewhere, but before the end of the book, he gets more action than he was prepared for.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Flemming/Bond is a character you can empathize with. The period is well described. I found myself caught up in Persia during the Second World War. Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin make appearances, but the action is focused on Flemming, a reluctant hero, and the lady who helps him detect the spy.

I highly recommend this book if you like historical novels and especially spy thrillers. It keeps you guessing.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Concussion Victim, a Missing Child, and Complex Police Investigation

Nicky's car sails off the road. It's like flying until she ends nose down at the bottom of a steep ravine. She's injured, but she has to help Vero. The climb to the top takes all her strength, but she has to find Vero. When she reaches the top, a motorist spots her and calls the police. She tells him she has to find Vero; she's just a little girl.

Sargent Wyatt Foster of the North County Sheriff's Criminal Investigation Division gets the case. The first job is the unhappy one of looking for a young child. The police pull in all available personnel and use dogs, but there is no sign of Vero.

Foster visits Nicky in the hospital and learns from her husband that this is her third concussion since they moved to their new home in the wilds of New Hampshire. Thomas says that Vero isn't real. She's the result of his wife's repeated concussions. Foster isn't convinced, and the investigation begins.

The novel moves back and forth between Nicky's viewpoint and Foster's investigation. The author does an excellent job of bringing us into the distorted world of Nicky's damaged mind. Contrasted with these chapters is the straight police investigation led by Foster. It keeps the tension high and highlights the twists in the plot.

I highly recommend this book if you like a good thriller. The pace is fast and the ending unexpected.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Arson, Mystery and Romance

Rachael DeLuch, self-help book author, is having trouble using the L word (love) with her detective, Mason Brown. He finally told her he loves her, but she can't quite get it out. They're together in a car; she's almost ready to say it when Macon spots a house on fire, leaps out of the car, rushes into the burning house and rescues two children.

The arsonist, a woman who was jilted by her lover, takes out her frustration about losing the man in her life by setting fire to his house with his wife and children in it. She's looking for the perfect man, and when she sees Mason rescue the children, she fixes on him as her soul-mate, but she doesn't count on his attachment to Rachael.

Rachael is a great character. She's independent, full of colorful language, and after being totally self-reliant realizes how much she cares about other people including Mason's nephews, even if they do mess up her house. Myrtle, her blind bulldog, is another great character. She's also self-reliant in spite of her blindness and navigates her world with aplomb.

This book is part of a series, but the author brings you up to speed on the past without indulging in long stretches of backstory. This is the first novel in the series I've read, and I had no trouble following the characters' background.

If you like a fast paced mystery with a dollop of romance, you'll enjoy this book. The plot is fast moving; the villain is a woman you'll love to hate; and the unfolding romance between Mason and Rachael is satisfying. I recommend this book if you like a good mystery with more plot twists than violence.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Quirky Trio Travels Across Australia

After Millie Bird's father dies, she tries to understand death to the point of keeping a record of dead things. Millie's mother has trouble adjusting to being a widow. One day she takes Millie to a department store and leaves here there. Millie is sure her mother will return, but as the days wear on it looks less and less likely.

In the department store cafeteria, Millie meets Karl the Touch Typist, an escapee from a nursing home. Karl helps Millie escape from the department store security staff. Millie doesn't want a foster family. She wants to find her mother. She and Karl set off across Australia with Millie's neighbor, Agatha, to locate her mother.

The characters are a strange crew. Millie is the most attractive. You can't help but feel compassion for a seven-year-old abandoned by her mother. Karl is trying to live a full life in his last years. Agatha is my least favorite character. She is reclusive, spending her time before the trip in her house yelling at passersby. I couldn't relate to her.

The book explores the themes of death, loneliness, and disappointment. If you can get by some of the oddities of the characters, the author has a good grasp of the issues. I recommend reading the Acknowledgements at the end of the book where the author explains how she came to write the book. She lost her mother in freak accident when she was a child. This tragic experience is what makes Millie such a sympathetic character.

I have mixed feeling about the book. I enjoyed the opening scenes with Millie and Karl, but I felt the story
deteriorated when Agatha joined them in the search for Millie's mother. If you like quirky characters, you may enjoy this book, but it's not for everyone.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Chilling Encounter in a Blizzard in the Tetons

Britt and her friend, Korbie, set out for a spring break camping trim in the Tetons where Korbie's family owns a luxurious cabin. Britt has been training for a trek through the mountains. Her ex-boyfriend, Calvin, is Korbie's brother. He loves to hike the Tetons and Britt wonders if that's the reason she is so committed to this hiking trip.

The girls set off in sunshine, but as they drive into the mountains, a blizzard forms. They abandon the car and set off to find shelter. Two handsome men are already in the cabin they discover. Korbie is all for flirting, but Britt senses something is very wrong. She met one of the men when she was getting a slurpie before they left. He was friendly to the point of flirting, but now he's cold and distant, trying to shove her out the door.

The mood of this novel is very dark. The author does a good job using the blizzard to heighten the tension between the girls and the men in the cabin. The plot is filled with twists and the suspense keeps you wondering until the very end.

While the focus of the book is on the danger and the blizzard, there is also a romantic interest. Calvin is already at the family camp, and Britt is hoping he'll come looking for them when they don't show up. I enjoyed the book. It's a YA novel, but it can also be enjoyed by anyone who likes a fast paced thriller.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

A Deranged Sniper and Danger for Kay and Her Family

Kay Scarpetta and her husband, Benton Wesley, are enjoying a peaceful morning. They're headed for a vacation in Florida to celebrate Kay's birthday. The mood changes when Kay discovers seven shiny pennies with the date 1981 and Benton sees a flash of light that might come from a camera lens or a rifle scope.

The mood becomes darker when Jamal Nari, a local music teacher, is killed by a sniper not far from Kay and Benton's house. Kay goes in to work hoping she'll be finished and able to make the plane to Florida, but the case is complicated. Marino thinks it's related to two deaths in New Jersey, and Kay has the uncomfortable sensation that she is somehow involved in the killings.

If you enjoy Scarpetta novels, this is a good one. It's fast paced with twists that keep you wondering what will happen next. The opening chapters focus on Kay's work as medical examiner with plenty of medical detail. In the later chapters the pace picks up, and we hear more about ballistics and begin to get a clue about who the killer is.

I enjoyed the book. I like the combination of facts with an intricate plot. If you enjoy medical thrillers, this is a book for you.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Magical Adventure Reminiscent of The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings

Ven Polypheme and his friend Char are off on another adventure with their mermaid friend, Amariel. Ven is adventurous for a Nain. Most Nains prefer to remain at home, but Ven is hungry for adventure. In this fourth book, he and Char travel to the bottom of the sea, a place usually shunned by Nair. He is searching for the Tree of Water that is supposed to exist somewhere in the sea.

Their first obstacle is to be able to breath under water. They are about to let an old fisherman cut gills in their necks when Madame Sharra shows up. She gives them stones to allow them to breathe under water and another dragon's scale. These devices will prove important on their journey.

The book is a magical fantasy that will delight young readers, and perhaps some not-so-young readers who are reading it with their children. The book is filled with hair-breath escapes from fantastical creatures and beautiful descriptions of undersea life.

The series is based on Ven's journals. He is traveling the world recording the natural wonders, human knowledge, and all things magical. Since this is the fourth book, readers may want to go back and read the first three. However, it's not imperative. The author presents information that allows the reader to catch up with
the story and the adventure is basically standalone.

I recommend this book for young adults and for anyone who enjoys a good fantasy with lots of action and magical scenes.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book. #TheTreeofWaterTour. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fathers and Sons: Jealousy and Murder

John Carey run his publishing company with the hand of a tyrant setting his sons against each other in a contest to see who will be the heir apparent. Charles, the elder, is charismatic and good at identifying best selling books. Philip, the younger, is overshadowed by his brother and resents it. When Charles produces a son, Peter, in spite of his unhappy marriage, the child becomes the focus of his grandfather's attention.

Unfortunately for the Careys, they draw the attention of Englehardt, an investigator for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He has his own problematic relationship with his father and becomes obsessed with the Careys, particularly Philip. Add to this mix, Clayton Barth, whose father was driven to suicide by John Carey and you have a prescription for tragedy.

This book has a very complex plot divided roughly into three parts: Peter Carey's childhood, the competition between Charles and Philip, and finally Peter as a young man falling in love and taking over the company. Personally, I have reservations about books that have an extensive backstory. The whole first section of this book is devoted to setting up the rivalries that culminate in the tragedy of the middle and end.

The characters are interesting. Patterson does a good job of illustrating the rivalries between brothers and the problems of tyrannical parents preferring one child over the other. However, because of the considerable attention paid to backstory, the book is very long and the writing uneven. Some sections are almost literary in quality; other parts are reminiscent of a romantic thriller.

If you enjoy a family saga, this may be your book. However, it has enough short comings that I have trouble recommending it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Development of a Psychic

When Nancy Myer was a child, she knew she had the ability to see things that other people couldn't. As she grew older, she was helped to come to terms with her gifts by her understanding parents, particularly her father. After his untimely death from a heart attack, her father continued to be her support in helping her use her psychic gifts.

Ultimately, Nancy began to use her psychic ability in police work. Although it was painful for her, she was able to get into the thoughts of both murderers and victims and help the police solve crimes.

I found the description of how Nancy's psychic abilities functioned extremely interesting. She clearly has an ability way beyond the normal. Her life history is also fascinating filled with loving family, trials, and her growth toward becoming a mature psychic investigator.

I recommend this book if you're at all interested in psychic abilities, or even a warm family story. This book has everything: love, tragedy, and mystery. It is also well written which makes it easy to read and enjoy.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Dark Historical Mystery

It's Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair. Rosalind Perry hasn't come to enjoy the World's Fair. She's come to try to find out what happened to her sister. Her plan is to obtain work as a maid in Sloane House, one of the greatest Chicago mansions, and the house where her sister worked before she disappeared.

Rosalind is successful in finding a job as a maid at Sloane House, but finding out what happened to her sister is more difficult. The class structure in Sloane House is rigid. She's at the bottom, and the other servants are unwilling, or afraid, to answer too many questions about her sister. In addition, to the difficulties of her job, Douglass, the son of the owners, is paying more attention to her than she finds comfortable. His best friend, Reid, heir to a silver fortune, sees the problem and tries to protect her, but the issue of class is always present.

The book portrays the world of Chicago during the World's Fair in all it's glamour, danger an injustice. It makes the era live. Likewise, the issues of class are well illustrated in the interactions of the characters. The Sloanes don't consider their servants real people. The servants are there to serve them and when their usefulness is over, they
forget about them.

Rosalind, Reid, and Douglass are rather stereotypical. I found Rosalind a strange mixture of bravery and naivete. She continually thinks about how frightened she is and then takes terrible risks. Reid is also an unsettled character. His family is part of the nouveau riche. He's trying to do what his father wants and marry into high society, but he's not sure the glamour is for him.

The ending or the book is much darker than I expected although it follows well from the plot and characters. Personally, I think the ending is worth reading through some of the less interesting parts of the book. If you enjoy historical mysteries, this is a good one.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson BookLook Bloggers program.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Christmas Letter that Goes Terribly Wrong

Angela is writing her traditional Christmas letter. As with most Christmas letters, her's is usually filled with a smiling family and all their achievements. This year is different. Things seem to be going wrong. Her husband is withdrawn, her daughters are having a variety of troubles, and her son has an imaginary friend that he prefers to real people. She is frustrated and lets of steam in her Christmas letter. She never intended to send it, but when she's called away on
an emergency, her husband sees it on her computer and sends it.

The family is not pleased with having their troubles exposed to the world. The situation is chaotic. As the problems of the various family members surface, the book becomes a drawn out saga of the family coping with challenges and tragedy. In the end, the family members change in positive ways, but it takes a long time to bring about the resolution, perhaps because there are so many characters whose stories contribute to the family dynamic.

The book is well written and life on a sheep farm in Australia is fascinating, but it is quite long, If you enjoy family sagas, you'll enjoy meeting the Gillespies. The book is filled with moments that any family can recognize, although perhaps not as dramatically. I enjoyed the book, but unless you're up for a long visit, this is not a book I'd recommend.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

When the Police and the Press are Forced to Work Together

Catherine O'Brien is none too pleased when her partner, Louise, calls her back to work. She'd planned some fun time with her husband, Garin. Now she's faced with a difficult homicide. Jonathan and Susan Luther are found dead in their home by their son, Chad. He'd be a suspect, but he's so broken up they can hardly get any information from him.

Feeling angry that the press are stalking this kid, Catherine lets loose and earns the presence of a reporter, Jane Katts, as part of their team to see how the police investigate a murder.

Catherine is sincere if lacking in tact. She feels her responsibilities as a police officer and wants to protect the family of the murder victims. Louise is beautiful and far more tactful. She uses her skills to keep Catherine from being summarily dismissed from the case. Jane is a prototype hard hitting reporter. She cares about the story – the victims, not so much.

I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between the three women. The mystery was not captivating, but I kept reading because the interactions between the women were so engrossing

The resolution and indeed most of the clues didn't come into the story until the last third of the book, so the interaction of the police and press had to carry the story. I thought the author did a good job, but if you're looking for more action and mystery you may be disappointed.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

More Travelogue the Detective Story

Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Mary Russel, board a cruise ship to take them from India, where they had their last case, to Japan. Watching the passengers board, Holmes recognizes the Earl of Darby, who he believes is a blackmailer. Later this presumption is borne out when a young woman goes missing after the ship has sailed. Holmes believes that Darby was blackmailing her, and she decided to take her own life when she saw him on the ship.

Once in Japan, we have extensive, well-researched, travel by Holmes and Mary through rural Japan in the 1920s. During this trek the plot is revealed.

This is a very slow paced mystery. In fact, the actual detective work doesn't start until two-thirds of the way through the novel. I'm rather torn about this because the shipboard details and the travels through rural Japan are interesting and well written. However, if you're looking for fast paced thriller or even a fast paced cozy mystery this isn't it.

The book is told from Mary Russel's viewpoint which means that we see little of Holmes deductive abilities. I admit I became rather tired of reading about Mary's discomfort on the ship and in the travels in Japan. If you've read the other novels in the series, you may find this one interesting. I found it slow, and I couldn't get interested in the rather sketchy portrayal of Holmes. What I love are his deductive abilities and these were hardly in evidence.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Christian Wisdom From an Indian Mystic

Sundar Singh as a young man was a devout Sikh. He read and memorized the holy books and sought out Sikh priests and hermits, always searching for wisdom. After his mother died, none of it felt satisfactory and he became distraught. Then he had a vision of Christ. It changed his life. His father unable to accept Sundar's embrace of Christianity, instead of the family's Sikh religion, threw him out. After attempting unsuccessfully to conform to the Christian community, he became a Sadhu wandering the mountains, valleys and jungles of India bringing his tales of faith to remote villages.

Wisdom of the Sadlu is a very moving book. The first chapters give an overview of Sundar's early life and how he became a mystic. The later chapters contain parables, and interviews between Sundar and a Seeker in which he explains his vision of God.

This is a wonderful book that gives a perspective on Christian beliefs and God's love from the perspective of a different culture. I highly recommend this book for Sundar's insights and the beauty of his vision.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Amusing Romp with the Algonquin's Favorite Ghost: Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker, a member of the Algonquin Round Table where famous authors in the 1920's met for lunch, loves the hotel, particularly the bar, so much she doesn't want to leave although she's been dead for more than 40 years. She is, however, lonely. Other members of the Round Table have passed through after death, but none of them have stayed.

A famous writer, Ted Schriver, who interviewed Dorothy when he was young, is living in a room at the Algonquin where he is dying of a brain tumor. Dorothy sees an opportunity to recruit someone to share the pleasures of the Algonquin bar after he dies, but Ted isn't ready to agree.

Norah Wolfe works for a television interview show, Simon Janey Live. The show is about to be canceled, but Norah thinks there's a chance to save it. She has always felt a special connection with Ted Schriver. If he could be convinced to come on the show and discuss the plagiarism scandal that ruined his career, it could be the segment they need to keep the show going.

These amusing characters come together in the Algonquin each trying to get what they want. The plot isn't particularly suspenseful, but their antics are diverting. If you enjoy the authors of the Round Table, particularly Dorothy Parker, you may find this book fun. Several other member of the group also make cameo appearances.

I recommend it if you're looking for a fast paced, amusing look at the ghostly antics in the Algonquin Hotel.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Difficult Questions for Christians

Three of the most difficult questions for Christians involve hell, judgment, and holy war. Does God send people to hell because he likes to torture them? Does God's judgment mean that most of us, even people who have never heard of Jesus, will not be saved? Why does God allow so much violence on earth?

These are tough questions, and I suspect that most of us have pondered them. What they boil down to is: If God is a loving God, how can the things the Bible tells us about him be true? In this book, Butler takes a hard look at these questions and using the Bible and other sources presents well reasoned arguments for why God is good, and the negatives we fear are not real.

This is a very helpful book. It's well written and draws you into Butler's arguments. He uses episodes from his own life and his questioning of the gospel to make his arguments easily understandable. His style makes the reader feel comfortable with having doubts. It shows him that he is in good company,
and that his faith can be strengthened by wrestling with the hard questions.

I enjoyed this book. If you are having doubts about Christianity, this is an excellent book. The arguments are presented clearly there is no talking down to people who are not clergy. I highly recommend it.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mystery and Danger in Vatican City

Alex and his brother Simon grew up in Vatican City. Their father was a Greek Catholic rather than a Roman Catholic. His main desire was to reunite the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and he believed that the Shroud of Turin could be instrumental in bringing that about. Now Alex is a priest in the Greek church; and Simon, a priest in the Roman church, but because of their father, the Shroud is important to both of them.

Alex has been working with Ugo, a curator in the Vatican, to mount an exhibit about the Shroud of Turin. Simon, who has been stationed in Turkey, is due back for the opening. Instead of coming to Alex's apartment as expected, Simon calls and asks Alex to meet him at Castel Gondolfo. When he arrives, Alex finds his brother soaking wet, standing beside Ugo's body. This begins a time of mystery and danger that threatens Alex's life.

This is a well researched novel. Life in Vatican City is described in illuminating detail. It gives you a taste of what it's like to live in an enclosed community. The research on the Shroud is historically accurate and forms a sound basis for the mystery.

The book is not a fast paced thriller. It relies more on character development and scholarly research. I found that fascinating, but if you're looking for lots of action, you may be disappointed. I enjoyed the book, but I did find the ending somewhat unsatisfactory. It took a long time to resolve the plot lines, and I felt the ending was forced. The buildup led me to expect a more compelling resolution.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

A View the Crises that Shaped C. S. Lewis' Writing

During his early life, C. S. Lewis was a confirmed atheist. While at Oxford he struggled with the problems of materialism, meaninglessness and anomie. Eventually, after much soul searching he became in his words a reluctant convert to Christianity. From this beginning, and probably because of it, he became one of the foremost apologists in the twentieth century, one who uses rational argument to defend Christianity.

His works such as Mere Christianity, and Surprised by Joy still bring many readers to the Christian faith, the author being one of them. He attributes his embrace of the Christianity, eventually becoming a pastor to reading C. S. Lewis while he was a student at UC Berkley.

Lewis' scholarly works are not the only ones that bring people to Christianity. Cootsona points out that Lewis turned to writing fiction, primarily the Chronicles of Narnia, because he
believed that other scholars were more capable of making academic arguments. Engaging the imagination was another way to continue the apologetic task. From the number of people who love the Chronicles of Narnia, he seems to have been correct.

This is an excellent overview of Lewis' life and writing. The first chapters are the most philosophical and somewhat difficult to follow, but Cootsona intersperses Lewis' philosophical writings with his own reactions. This makes the book very readable and gives the reader insight into how Lewis' arguments affected the author's embrace of Christianity.

If you're unfamiliar with Lewis' writing, this is a good place to start. If you've already read him extensively, this overview will help to put the whole body of his work into perspective. I enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Danger and Secrets in Tudor England

Queen Mary is dead and Elizabeth is on the throne. Brendan Prescott has been living in Basel with Walsingham who is teaching him to be a spy. Now it's time for them to return to Elizabeth's court. Almost as soon as they arrive events take a perilous turn. Elizabeth is the target of a poison attack in which Kate, Brendan's love, is almost the victim.

Brendan expects Elizabeth to task him with finding the poisoner, but instead she sends him on a secret mission to Vaughn Hall. Lady Parry, one of her favorite ladies-in-waiting, is missing. Brendan fears that he is riding into a trap, but his mission is to protect Elizabeth so he goes with only the company of Shelton, his supposed father.

This is an action packed and well researched historical novel. If you like stories of Tudor England, you'll enjoy this book. It's the third book in The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles. I hadn't read the two preceding books, but the author presented enough background information that it wasn't hard to get into the story.

Brendan and Shelton are likable characters. Brendan is believable as the POV character, which is a nice change from so many female POV characters in historical fiction. The setting is well done. You can feel you're in Tudor England.

The history is accurate, but since this is fiction, the author takes liberties which make the facts into a fast paced novel with surprising twists.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Clever Con, A Drug Lord, A Little Romance and Some Violence

Kate is in a tight spot. It appears that Nick Fox is up to his old tricks. He's stolen a Matisse from the Gleabery Museum of Art in Nashville. He says he didn't do it, but they have a video with his face clearly visible. Then come robberies in Turkey, Germany and France. Kate knows it can't be Nick. He's with her, but who wants to incriminate him? And why?

The third installment of the Fox and O'Hare novels is as action packed and hilarious as the previous two. In fact, I liked it better than “The Chase.” I thought the con was more fun. The sexual banter between Nick and Kate reaches a new height when they pretend to be married.

The cast of characters includes old favorites, Willie, Boyd, and Tom, and, of course, Kate's dad, Jake. He's one of my favorite characters and lives up to his role in the previous exploits.

If you're looking for a fun read, this is it. The series is well done, if you're in the mood for escapist fiction. I'm eager to see what they do next!

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Portrayal of the Bloomsbury Group Focused on Vanessa Bell

The Stephen siblings, Thoby, Adrian, Vanessa and Virginia, later Virginia Woolf, live together in a rambling house in Bloomsbury. Their parents are dead and Vanessa and Thoby have taken on the role of quasi parents for the younger two. Virginia is very difficult suffering from the mental illness that eventually led to her suicide. Only Thoby can get her to eat. She constantly wants attention from Vanessa and doesn't want to share her with others. After Thoby's death, this becomes a serious problem when Vanessa weds Clive Bell.

The siblings social life centers on Thoby's Thursday at-homes. The group consists primarily of Thoby's Cambridge friends. However, Vanessa and Virginia are central characters: Vanessa for her charm and organizational ability; Virginia for her pungent comments that set a discussion on fire.

The story of the siblings is told primarily from Vanessa's point of view through journal entries, postcards and letters. I found much of it, particularly the journal entries, tedious. There is too much detail about the mundane aspects of everyday life to make the journals interesting. Although most of the entries are Vanessa's. There are a few letters for Lytton Strachey urging Leonard Woolf to marry Virginia. I found these interesting.

The book is crammed with characters, most of them famous. Sometimes it's hard to keep up with the names and relationship to the Stephen siblings. Luckily, the author included a list of characters at the beginning. Unfortunately, since most of the characters put in a limited appearance, it becomes a bit like name dropping.

The focus of the book is on the intertwined lives of the sisters, but from Vanessa's perspective. I didn't find her a particularly compelling character. Some of her journal entries have vivid phrases which seemed out of character. I associate vivid word pictures more with a writer like Virginia than a painter like Vanessa. The book portrays Virginia in a harsh light. Since she was suffering from what was probably a bipolar disorder, I'm sure she was difficult to live with. Their relationship was not helped by the underlying competition which seems to be an aspect of many sister relationships.

If you're fascinated by the Bloomsbury Group, you may enjoy this novel. It starts slowly and only comes to life near the end, so be prepared for a fairly boring several chapters.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Searching for His Father

Jonathan Sweetwater loves his beautiful wife and two attractive children. He's living the corporate lifestyle, always on a jet to somewhere often with the CEO of his firm. One afternoon, missing his children, he arrives home early and finds a scene that devastates him. He thinks he's found his wife in bed with another man.

Instead of confronting his wife and dealing with whatever the situation turns out to be, he decides that he can handle it better if he knows more about his father. His father was a famous six times married liberal senator. Jonathan hasn't seen him since his ninth birthday party. He had no relationship with his father who is dead, but now he thinks he might be able to understand the man and as a result himself if he meets the wives.

Jonathan is an engaging character. His angst and trying to get to know his father at this late stage carry the novel. The other characters fade into the background. The wives are stock characters, except for Alice, Jonathan's mother. His wife and children are sweet, but not well enough developed to become real people for the reader.

I felt the plot was thin. Jonathan is obviously upset about the scene with his wife, but he takes a rather convoluted way to deal with it. I found the link between his wife's infidelity and getting to know his father a stretch. The ending is predictable from early in the novel, but it's predictability is not important, it's what Jonathan learns.

The book is a quick read, the settings lush, and there are some good insights. For light reading, it's a reasonable choice.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Philosophical Quest and a Love Story

In ancient Greece, a young man, the philosopher Plato, travels to Italy because his friend Agathon tells him that he has discovered great truths. Plato is eager to see Agathon, but he has misgivings about the sea journey. His misgivings seem well founded when his ship founders and he barely escapes with his life. After recovering, his search for Agathon takes him to Syracuse to the court of Dionysius I and encounters with the ideas of Pythagoras.

Jonah, a rock star, finishes what may be his final gig with his band. He's so eager to see his wife, Lily, an archaeologist, that he travels practically non-stop from Germany to Italy. When he arrives, Lily has disappeared. This begins his quest to find his wife and rescue her. He is stymied at every turn by people, her Oxford friends, who lie to him and her mother and sister who think he's overreacting.

The combination of a historical novel with a modern thriller is an interesting juxtaposition. Plato and Jonah are following parallel paths but more than 2,000 years apart. Plato's is a quest for knowledge; Jonah's, a search for the love of his life. I found the historical storyline more fascinating than the love story. The premise of the historical portion is that Plato had an experience during his travels that changed him from a mediocre follower of Socrates to one of the world's greatest philosophers.

If you like a romantic thriller, the Jonah/Lily chapters may be more to your taste. My problem with Jonah was that his angst about his loss of his love became tiresome. However, his search increased the pace of the plot.

If you have more than a passing acquaintance with philosophy, you may feel you've found old friends. I also enjoyed the modern interpretation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the characters of Jonah and Lily. Altogether it was a satisfying book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Love, Theft, and Deception

Julie is terrified of being found. Back in Garland, Tennessee she was known as Grace. Now she calls herself Julie, lives in a rented room in Paris, and works as a restorer of antiques. At night she checks the news from home desperate to find out when two young men will be paroled. She's married to one, in love with the other, and she's terribly afraid that they will come after her.

They went to prison for a bungled robbery. At the time she was safely in Prague taking classes and refused to come home to support her husband. She doesn't know what to expect now that they're out, since she was the one who planned the crime

The book starts slowly. We gradually learn who Julie is and why she's so afraid. Her life in Paris is laced with flashbacks that gradually give us a picture of Grace before she fled Garland. After the slow start the novel picks up and the ending is quite fast paced.

If you enjoy psychological thrillers, you may like this book. It is more of a literary novel than your typical crime thriller. T
he focus is on Grace's character development. Teenage romance and the antique restoration business add appealing elements to the novel.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Clever Mystery Aboard an Oil Tanker

The Rossi's son is killed on an oil tanker. According to the reports, he died by falling down a ladder on the Aurora Victorious. The family becomes suspicious because they can't get additional information. In desperation, they hire the Touchstone Agency, James and Julie Raiford, to investigate. Almost immediately the job becomes more complex when Touchstone is contacted by Herberling, another detective looking into the loss of a sister ship, the Golden Dawn.

When Herberlinger is murdered, James decides the events are connected and goes undercover on the Aurora Victorious. Going undercover without backup is dangerous business. Julie doesn't want her father to do it, but he insists and leaves her in charge of the office and the search for more information on Rossi's death.

The book is a fast paced mystery with a plenty of detail about life on an oil tanker. I found it fascinating, I thought the author did a good job of judging how much detail was too much. However, all that detail may not work for everyone.

The plot toggles back and forth between Raiford on the Aurora Victorious and Julie doing detective work. It's a good combination. When you get really tired of learning about life on an oil tanker, Julie shows up with traditional detective work.

I enjoyed the book. It's a quick read with an unusual setting. The ending is particularly fast paced.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Hunt for a Serial Killer Spans Karen Vail's Career

Karen Vail and her boyfriend Roberto, also an FBI agent, are on a plane ready to leave the DC area. They have finally arrested a serial killer who has been murdering women for 20 years, spanning the time from Karen's rookie year to the present. Karen, now an FBI profiler, should be pleased. They got their man, but something feels wrong. Before the plane takes off she and Roberto disembark. Even though it means going against her mentor, Russo, Karen has to follow her feeling.

If you're new to the Karen Vail series, this may be a good place to start, although this is not the first book. The story toggles back and forth between the present and the first appearance of the serial killer during Karen's rookie year when she worked the homicide with her mentor Russo. The story also follows the Greek family who were affected by the killing spree.

Although the story moves back and forth between the present and Karen's earlier career, it's easy to follow. I did feel that the inclusion of the extensive chapters on the Greek family slowed the pace, but they were interesting and relevant. At the end, the pace picks up and it's hard to put the book down before the resolution.

If you enjoy police procedurals, particularly ones with a female protagonist, this is a novel you'll enjoy. Karen and Roberto come across as real people. The plot is strong, and the ending is full of action.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Our Future is in the Children

Children are our most precious possessions, but in today's busy world sometimes we forget. This is a wonderful book for parents, grandparents, teachers, and anyone who loves children – the key word here is loves. Arnold makes the point over and over is in his chapters. Children need love and respect. They want to be seen as people. They want to love you back.

The book is filled with excellent advice about limiting screen time, trying to escape the commercialism of our culture, and dealing with difficult children. In all the chapters, the theme is the same. If you love your children, you'll teach them discipline and give them a moral compass. Loving your child doesn't mean giving in or giving everything he or she wants. Being a parent isn't easy. We're not our children's playmates, although playing with our children is a wonderful thing to do. We are the adults. The children need our strength. It must be very frightening for a young child to think he's the one in charge. If parents don't give them limits with love, they will be at sea.

I highly recommend this book. If you're doing the things Arnold suggests: limiting your child's television and tablet time, giving but in limited quantities, and taking time to be with your child. You're doing it right, and you'll feel reassured. You may even find some additional ways to help your child. If you aren't doing any of the things Arnold suggests, there is always a place to start. Take some time to just be with your child. 

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.