Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Scholarly Study of Police Special Operations Groups

Good cops do go bad. The question is why do young men and women who start with high ideals of community service succumb to temptation and turn into bad cops. The author, Soctt Silverii, spent most of his career in SWAT Teams, special operations groups or SOGs. Other special operations group involve undercover work for drug trafficking and other high risk areas. Silverii brings an insiders knowledge to the study of why good cops go bad.

Silverii's thesis is that the idealistic young cop is assigned to a SOG often because he or she is such a good cop. Then through a series of transitions the cop transfers his allegiance from the general police force to the SOG. Because of the nature of work in the SOG the cop is exposed to temptations and often encouraged to participate in activities he or she knows is wrong, but helps to bond with his group. The group effectively becomes the standard.

Silverii bases his analysis on interviews with cops from across the country. It's fascinating to read what they think about being in a SOG means and how it changes you. He believes that they talked to him, rather than other investigators, because of his background in the SOG.

He also give an extensive overview of police history in the United State. I found it fascinating, and it helped to explain how the police have evolved over time.

If you're interested in the psychology of closed groups, or police specifically, I recommend this book. The writing is scholarly. I believe it is based on his doctoral dissertation, and it reads that way. However, anyone familiar with social science research will not find that a problem.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Murder, Mystery and Mischief at a Paranormal Conference

Emily Castles is bored by her office job, but when she agrees to attend the Belief and Beyond Conference to try to detect a murder before it happens, she gets more than she bargained for. Perspicacious Peg believes she has received a psychic message that Edmond Zenon, a famous skeptic, will drown when he performs his walking-on-water stunt. The anticipation is increased because Edmund has offered 50,000 pounds to any psychic who can prove the paranormal exists. With all the psychic activity and an offer of a large cash reward, there's plenty of room for mischief.

The book is a fun read. The setting in Torquay at the Hotel Majestic is a good back drop for the psychic conference participants including those out to prove the paranormal exists. Emily is an intelligent young woman who manages to keep her head as more bodies are discovered. Madame Nova, Perspicacious Peg, and Dr. Muriel to name a few are delightfully eccentric characters who add color to the plot.

The early chapters of the book are a little slow; introducing main characters and setting up the scene at the conference. However, after Edmund performs his trick, the pace picks up and Emily is kept busy finding the connections between the murder victims.

If you're looking for good escape reading, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Devotional Bible with a Study Guide

The Spiritual Renewal Study Bible has become one of my favorite resources. Each book starts with an overview of the history and setting. I found this very helpful in understanding the context of the book. Following the overview is a section on the Spiritual Renewal Themes of each book and Essential Facts. The three sections give a comprehensive view for studying the book.

I particularly enjoyed the character profiles which examine the problems and spiritual rewards of each person. There are also a series of devotionals highlighting the keys to spiritual renewal and devotionals on the scripture. Using these in addition to the study of each book gives a comprehensive look at what the book is saying to Christians.

I highly recommend this Bible for anyone interested in serious Bible study. Whether you belong to a Bible study group, or work independently. This Bible gives many resources to increase your spiritual awareness.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Book Look Blogger Program.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Everything You Need to Know for Everyday Cooking

The New Family Cookbook is a treasure. Not only are the recipes mouth-watering, it's filled with helpful information on other aspects of cooking. The book opens with a section on Kitchen Tips followed by sections on how to measure, choose knives, and use cutting boards. Although I've cooked for a long time, I learned something from reading them.

The recipes range from appetizers and salads through main courses and desserts. I particularly like the section on casseroles. It's an area where I'm always looking for new recipes because they're easy to prepare and keep well. Each section has numerous colored pictures of the dishes. I think I could gain ten pounds just reading about all the delicious desserts. In addition to pictures of the dishes, many recipes have an illustrated section on how to prepare the dish. I find it helpful to know exactly what to do step by step.

Another helpful feature is the designation of the recipe as fast, or it gives you the preparation time. When we're all so busy, it's helpful to know which recipes can be prepared quickly, particularly if you get off work late and have to fix supper.

An interesting feature at the end of the cookbook is a list of kitchen equipment that they recommend along with the price. This section is followed by a shopping list giving recommended ingredients. Altogether, this is an excellent kitchen reference. It would make an excellent shower or wedding gift, or a present for someone setting up their first apartment. However, the book isn't limited to new cooks. Even cooks who have been at it for years will find interesting tidbits of information scattered among the recipes.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stage Magic and Real Magic

Reve is happily married to a magician. Together they have perfected an act that has received acclaim both is Las Vegas and in the country. Their three daughters are growing up and Reve thinks life is almost perfect until she accidentally shoots her husband during one of their magic acts.

Although she is not found guilty of the murder, Reve finds life difficult without her husband. It becomes worse when a stalker starts sending pictures of the children. Fearing for their safety, she returns to her childhood home, Hawley Five Corners. This is a strange town that was apparently abandoned by the residents, including her ancestors, under mysterious circumstances. Although she feels safe there, the feeling doesn't last when the man who murdered her husband finds them and the stalking begins again.

The stage magic from the opening chapters of the book turns to real magic when Reve and the girls move to Hawley Five Corners. Reve has always known that she has a special talent. She can disappear. In fact, all the women in her family have special talents. However, once she is living in Hawley she learns the history behind these talents.

If you like books that rely on a mysterious backstory, you'll love this book. The evens in Reve's life move forward, and as they do she learns the history of her family. The only problem with this is that there are long passages of backstory. If you prefer lots of action, you may be disappointed.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Comprehensive View of Queen Victoria's Life

Queen Victoria was a complex woman. One of the strengths of Wilson's biography is that through the use of her letters and journals he is able to show us the internal life of the Queen.

Victoria was married, presumably happily, to Prince Albert. They produced nine children, and his death left her prostrate. Albert was a strict Victorian husband treating Victoria often as a child and using severe methods to raise the children. Although Victoria loved Albert, her love for her children was less pronounced. Her relationship with her heir, Bertie, was particularly fraught with unpleasantness.

After Albert, she engaged in two relationships that could be described as scandalous. She spent many years with John Brown, Highland John, and may have been married to him, but if so the record or such an alliance has been destroyed. Her later relationship with Munshi, her Indian Secretary, paints the picture of a lonely old woman taken in by a successful conman. However, seeing Victoria in these three relationships makes her more of a real person.

The author is adept at bringing the political situation into the biography. He shows how Victoria both shaped events and was shaped by them. For me, this was the best part of the book.

I did learn some interesting things about Victoria's childhood. She believed that she had a lonely childhood, but using her journals, the author shows that she grew up with the stepbrother and stepsister, the children of her mother's first marriage.

This is a long book and the writing is often scholarly to the point of dryness. However, if you're interested in Queen Victoria or the Victorian Age, it's well worth reading.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Science Fiction that Relies Heavily on Physics

Ye Wenjie, a young astrophysicist, suffered during the Chinese Cultural Revolution seeing her physicist father killed by an out of control group of young students. For awhile she buries herself in the forests as part of the Construction Corps, sawing down irreplaceable old trees. This experience like the Cultural Revolution convinces Ye Wenjie that humanity is not redeemable.

Her father's past as a famous physicist follows her into the Construction Corps. Before she is convicted, she's whisked away to a remote antenna station to serve as a technician. She intends to spend the rest of her life there, but events push her into the forefront of a new revolution, one to discredit science.

The book moves back and forth between Ye Wenjie's experiences and Wang Maio's. Wang is an applied physicist working on nanomaterial. He is drawn into the investigation of why so many famous scientists are committing suicide. At first he doesn't see how he fits the mold, but as the investigation progresses he gets caught up in the three body problem.

This is one of the best science fiction books I have ever read. The background relies heavily on physics which makes it fascinating. The author does an excellent job of weaving real concepts into his story. If you enjoy physics, this is a must read.

Wang and Ye are good characters. Wang grows as he faces the looming catastrophe. Ye is an enclosed woman who hides deep secrets. However, my favorite character was Da Shi. Unlike the scientists, he is a pragmatic observer who doesn't worry about theory. He looks at life. His common sense is one of the most refreshing parts of the book.

I highly recommend this book. It's the first book in a trilogy. The other two books are not available yet. If you like reading really good science fiction, you'll love this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

1844: A Turning Point in American History

The presidential election of 1844 was a hard fought contest that solidified America as a nation stretching from coast to coast. The annexation of Texas was a major issue in the election. Henry Clay, the Whig nominee, worried that bringing Texas, a slave state, into the union would tip the balance of power and potentially lead to a breakup of the union. Polk, on the contrary, did not fear annexation and as president brought not only Texas, but Oregon and California into the union.

The presidential election was not the only momentous occurrence in 1844. It was a turbulent time for religion also. The Millerites believed the end of the world was upon them. The Mormons were facing persecution that resulted in the death of their leader Joseph Smith.

Families were heading west looking for better opportunities. This is also the story of wagon trains and John C. Fremont's exploration of vast tracts of the West.

If you enjoy history, this is an excellent book. It highlights an era that always seems to be glossed over in the history of America, but in fact it was an era that changed the character of America for all time. John Bicknell has done an excellent job of bringing the events of 1844 to life. I liked his presentation. Instead of concentrating on dry facts, he brought in some of the people in the era, like Fremont's wife, Jessica. The story of Fremont's campaign reads almost like fiction. Likewise the stories of the wagon train bring real people into the story. They faced hardships and tragedy, but also had fun. Moses, a teenage boy going West with his family, enjoyed the adventures, particularly hunting.

I recommend this book. It shows that many of the controversies, like immigration, that trouble the nation today were also an issue in 1844. The picture of our past can help us understand who we are today.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

An Inspiring Story of Courage and Helping Others

Stacey and Erik heard the most dread words any parents can hear. Their twelve-year-old daughter, Jessie, had an inoperable brain tumor. The family was devastated praying to God to heal Jessie. They couldn't think of anything else to do.

Bit Jessie was a very special little girl. Instead of focusing on her own plight, she noticed that some of the children fighting cancer had to stay in the hospital and couldn't go home the way she could. She wanted to help them – to make them smile. From this desire was born the concept of Joy Jars, jars filled with toys and goodies that were passed out to hundreds of children during Jessie's short life.

If you're a parent, this is a very hard book to read. It could have been written as the perfect family faces cancer together, but Erik's book is more honest than that. The family has many crises. There were strained relationships between grandparents who wanted to help and the parents who were carrying most of the burden. Reading it, you realize that Jessie's slogan, Never Ever Give Up, has a special meaning for parents, too.

If your family has a child fighting cancer, I highly recommend this book. Even if you are lucky enough to have healthy children, this book makes you realize how lucky you are, and encourages you to do what Jessie did – help others.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Wealthy Family's Dark Secrets

Mable Dagmar wins a scholarship to an elite woman's college in the East. Her roommate, Genevra Winslow, is all the things Mable, short plump and bookish, wishes she were: tall, slender, blonde beautiful, and most of all wealthy. Genevra or Ev ignores Mable until the trauma of her cousin's death pulls the two together.

Ev invites Mable to spend the summer at Winloc, the Winslow compound on the shores of Lake Champlain. Here Mable falls in love with the Winslow traditions, their way of life, and Ev's older brother. She desperately wants to be one of them. However, as the summer rolls on, Mable senses dark secrets under the perfect facade. Her investigation uncovers more than she's prepared for and puts her in personal danger.

If you enjoy a glimpse of the lives of the wealthy, you'll love the setting of Winloc and the traditions of the Winslows. At first it seems idyllic. I loved the descriptions of the setting and the shabby cottages that allow the Winslows to feel as if they're roughing it.

The plot, however, is predictable and slow moving. The first half of the book is devoted primarily to Mable longing for what Genevra was born to. She is almost a voyeur when it comes to her roommate. There is a hint of bad things, but not much happens until the rather rushed ending. I found it unsatisfactory.

Mable, for me, is a very unpleasant character. She desperately wants to have what someone else has and will go far, including digging up family secrets, to achieve it. Although the book covers an extended period of time with events in which the characters could change, I didn't see that they grew much. It was a major disappointment, since the author spent so much of the novel focused on the two girls.

If you want a beach read, this is a good choice, but don't expect too much in terms of exciting plot or well developed characters.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Find Your Life Story by Writing a Memoir

Memoirs come in a variety of flavors: travel, spiritual, food, legacy, and others. Although each has a unique focus, they share the need for story. Vignettes can be sad, funny, or poignant, but they need the structure of story to captivate the reader.

The first chapters of the book give a plan for starting a memoir and finding the story buried in your reams of material. After this section, the authors devote a chapter to each type of memoir from travel to legacy. At the end of each chapter, you will find exercises to help you use the information in the chapter, writing prompts and a short section on publication.

The second part of the book is devoted to publishing. Sarah Jane writes about what agents do. After reading her section, I think anyone would be fortunate to find an agent like her who not only tries to sell your book, but helps you over the rough places while you're writing it. Several editors discuss what they do and how to edit your work. Finally, they include a section on self-publishing which is valuable if you want to give your descendents a real book, but aren't looking for a traditional publisher

If you plan to write a memoir, this is an excellent way to start. The book is crammed with information on writing memoir and on publishing. Although you may need other references along the way, this one combined with a good critique group can get you started in the right direction.

I also recommend this book for fiction writers. Although the information isn't new, seeing it from a slightly difference perspective may give you ideas for improving your writing.

I didn't choose this book with the idea of writing a memoir, but after reading it, I'm thinking about starting one. Writing a memoir, like any writing project, is a lot of work, but the payoff is learning more about yourself, finding your story, and having a gift to pass on to your descendants.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reminiscent of Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Cristie

Amory Ames' wandering husband, Milo, returns unexpectedly from Monte Carlo. At the same time Gill Trent, her ex-fiancé, arrives to ask a favor. Gil wants Amory to accompany him to the Brightwell Hotel where his sister Emmeline and her fiancé Rupert are on holiday. He knows that Amory's marriage to Milo is less than ideal and hopes that she will be able to convince Emmeline to end the engagement. He also has feelings to Amory, but is too much of a gentleman to act on them openly.

Amory realizes that she's playing a game that could lead to a scandal by going off with Gil, but she wants to help Emmeline, and she wants to think about her disintegrating marriage. Milo, however, is not one to give up gracefully and soon they are all ensconced at the Brightwell. The holiday starts well enough, but when Rupert is murdered and Gil is the main suspect, Amory feels she must do something to solve the crime no matter who is guilty.

This is a delightful mystery. It reminded me of Dorothy Sayers' Have His Carcase which also takes place a a seaside hotel in the 1930s. The hotel, situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean, is elegant without being ostentatious. This was the era when wealthy holiday makers wore evening dress to dinner and danced to the strains of a live orchestra hired by the hotel for the season. I would love to have visited the Brightwell. Until the murder, it sounded quite the perfect place for a holiday.

The book features a number of interesting characters from the elegant playboy, Milo, to the very unhappy Hamiltons, and mismatched Rogers. Amory is typical of the wealthy women of that era. Brought up in a household where emotion was frowned upon, she has trouble recognizing it in other people which leads to some amusing encounters, particularly with Gil and Milo.

The plot has several threads and ends with a twist that I didn't see coming. I throughly enjoyed the book and highly recommend it if you like mystery served with more than a dash of romance.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The World of the Queen of Fashion: Elsa Schiaparelli

Elsa Schiaparelli was born into a wealthy Roman family. She was a difficult child to manage, always wanting to be noticed, which often involved dangerous antics. Although young girls from well-to-do families were expected to find husbands to take care of them, Elsa again went her own way choosing to marry a charming conman, Dr. Kerlov, although he used several other names. The marriage didn't survive, but learning to live by her wits gave Elsa skills she needed to succeed in the competitive world of couture fashion.

This is a wonderfully comprehensive biography of Elsa from her early years through her success in the couture business and into her old age. My favorite parts were her early years getting insight into how her youthful development led to her ability to succeed in a difficult world. I also enjoyed the descriptions of her fashion experiments. There is no question that she was extremely creative, using feathers and man-made fabrics that other designers eschewed and making them a sensation. The pictures in the book are abundant and do a good job of showing her creations. It's much easier to understand the scope of her work when you can look at the dresses.

Several parts of the book become rather gossipy, particularly the end. I enjoyed learning about her friends and lovers and how she teamed up with artists of the era, but it's a long book and the gossip became a bit tedious.

If you're interested in fashion, or in how the 30's were affected by the coutures, this is an excellent resource.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Finding God Through Adversity

Lucy and Steve have just received the worst possible news. His brain tumor has recurred, and he has at most a month to live. Lucy is pregnant, and one of the things he most wants is to live long enough to see his baby daughter. They return from the doctor's visit to the house they've recently bought and both love, but while Lucy makes tea, Steve hangs himself in the basement.

Lucy is distraught. It isn't possible Steve wouldn't do something like that. She's in shock, but her problems are only beginning. A cache of old geological maps showing the location of minerals in the African Congo are wanted by Andrew, a man Steve thought was his best friend. Now because Lucy won't agree to sell them, he accuses her of murder.

The plot of this book is excellent. Action, mystery and murder combine to make a page turner. The pace is fast. In addition there's a spiritual component. Lucy begins as an unbeliever, but as her troubles mount she begins to find her way to accept that God is acting in her life.

The characters are another story. Because the plot is so complex and fast moving, there is little time for character development so most of them appear one dimensional. This isn't terrible in what is basically an adventure story, but Lucy is different. I was disappointed in the main character. Troubles keep piling one on top of the other, but each time Lucy is rescued. She is sad, frightened, and tearful for most of the book and never gets a chance to take control of her life until possibly at the very end. I was disappointed.

If you like plot driven novels with a spiritual component, you'll like this book. If you prefer novels with a strong character component, you may be disappointed.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

An Inspirational Journey on The River

In this sequel to The River, Gabriel Clark learns to become a river guide. Jacob Fielding, the man Gabriel's father saved at the expense of his own life, takes him into his family and the into his guide business. Gabriel is still struggling with his fears of The River, but the more he learns the more he trusts himself and feels The River is his true home.

The book is peopled with characters from The River: Jacob Fielding and his daughters Tabitha and Sadie, Ezra Buchanan, Gabriel's mother, Maggie, and Rio, his marvelous dog. The book is a continuation of Gabriel's struggle to forgive, give of himself,
and find love. The plot is very simple, no twists or complex threads, but it you enjoy inspirational reading, this is a good book.

For me, the major problem with the book is that the writing is very simple and sometimes awkward. However, this doesn't distract too much from the description of the wild river and surroundings. In fact, The River is the major character in the book. The other other character including Gabriel are rather one dimensional. They suffer, but it is almost a foregone conclusion that they will succeed. It seems too easy.

The descriptions of white water rafting are worth reading the book for. They are accurate and exciting. If you enjoy the outdoors, camping, hiking, and rafting, you'll enjoy this book. Likewise if you like inspirational books, this is one for you.

I reviewed this book for Thomas Nelson's BookLook Bloggers.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Five Days to Say Goodbye

Mara has Huntington's. She also has a supportive husband and a beautiful adoptive daughter, but Mara doesn't want to be a burden. When her symptoms become more debilitating than she can stand, she decides to take her own life. The date is her birthday, five days away.

Scott has been the foster parent for a young boy, the brother of one of his students, for a year while the boy's mother is in jail. He has grown to love the boy. His wife Laure also loves the boy, but she's expecting their first child and is willing to have the boy go back to his mother. Scott has five days to say goodbye, and he's distraught.

This is a very emotional book filled with love, sacrifice, and pain. The main characters try to get as much from the five days as possible. However, for me, the book had some flaws that made it difficult to read. Mara's sections were often backstory. While this fleshes out Mara's character, it distracts from the tension of the last five days.

Scott is a less well developed character and while his situation is challenging, it doesn't compare to Mara's. I found it believable that a foster parent could become very attached to a child, but Scott's reaction seemed over the top. The boy might be returning to a bad situation, but he wasn't going to die, and it seemed to me that there were alternatives to explore that would give the story a happy ending, or at least a sense of realistic closure.

This is a hard book to recommend. The subject matter, particularly Mara's, is wrenching, and the story moves slowly at times. If you want to savor a novel, you'll enjoy this. The writing is good, but be prepared for
the slow pace.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.