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.