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.