Friday, January 31, 2014

From High Tech to the Paranormal

Gabriel Blackstone is a gifted thief. He and his partner hack in to computers and steal secrets for which they are well paid. But Gabriel has another talent. He has the ability to be a “remote viewer.” This talent allows him to see into other people's minds. He gave up on this talent after a bad trip, but now his ex-girlfriend, Frankie, asks him to use his talent to find her husband's son.

Reluctantly, Gabriel takes on the quest. When he finally agrees, he meets two sisters, Minnaloushe and Morrrighan Monk. The sisters function as solar witches and enmesh Gabriel in their world. He knows one of the them killed Frankie's stepson, but he's fascinated by the women. Personal desire takes over and Gabriel finds himself in a situation from which he will be lucky to survive.

If you enjoy paranormal novels, you'll enjoy this one. The author builds a compelling world and backs it up with facts about remote viewing, alchemy and memory palaces. I found the plot interesting and the characters well developed. Figuring out who killed Frankie's son is rather trivial, although the author tries to hide the identity with red herrings.

The blend of technology with ancient arts is fascinating and the book is
atmospheric. I recommend it if you enjoy paranormal adventure with a background of mystery.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

If You Write a Book, You Need The Frugal Editor

Whether you're looking for a traditional publisher or plan to self-publish, The Frugal Editor will be indispensable. The book covers all the topics a writer needs to successfully edit a book as well as a helpful section on the publishing industry. Reading this book is like having a friendly editor sitting at your elbow cheering you on and telling you what you need to know to succeed.

The book covers the topics you need to get your book through the final stages of preparation before looking for a publisher. Using the tools provided by Word is one of the most helpful sections. Carolyn makes a very important point: you can't rely on the program to do all the work. You have to use it intelligently. Although all the tips are based on Word, other programs such as Libre Office and Open Office, which are free, have most of the same capabilities.

The grammar section is excellent. It doesn't contain all the grammar rules, but it hits the ones you're most likely to have trouble with. Even if you're an excellent grammarian, which I'm not, you can find some useful gems.

An extensive section focuses on how to find an editor and what you can expect from the one you hire. Finding someone you can work with is probably the most important thing you can do for successful editing. For me this section was worth the price of the book.

Even if you've published several books, the tips in this book can be helpful. If you're starting out, they are invaluable.

When the book is ready to go, grab a copy of The Frugal Book Promoter. These tips could help you make sales.

A Family Steeped in Blood

Countess Elizabeth Bathory was one of history's most prolific and well documented serial killers. The House of Bathory is based on her life. The book alternates between telling the chilling story of the Countess and a modern horror story in which a psychiatrist, Dr. Betsy Path and her patient, Daisy Hart become involved with a scion of the family living in the ancestral castle.

The Countess was infamous for her nighttime activities in which she murdered young girls and bathed in their blood as a way of keeping her youthful complexion. Betsy, Daisy, and Grace, Betsy's mother, become involved with the present Count who wants something Daisy's father took.

The action moves from present day Colorado to Slovakia. The author alternates chapters between the events of the past and the present day story. While this can be difficult for the reader to follow, I had no problem with the style. I think it helps that the chapters are short. You don't forget one story thread while reading another.

I enjoyed this book because of the historical detail. I had heard of the Countess, but reading the novel made her environment come alive. I didn't find the modern story as compelling. I didn't feel connected to the characters. This could have been due to moving between the time periods.

If you like historical novels laced with horror, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Murder on a Bus Tour in the Rocky Mountains

Susan Cantwell is on her first solo trip as a tour guide on a bus tour of the Rocky Mountains. She left her overbearing family and teaching job in New Jersey to try to become her own person. On the tour, she gets more than she bargained for when the passengers start to die. One of the passengers, a handome detective named James Alston, has been hired by the bus company because of a series of identity thefts. Together they try to solve the first murder before more occur.

This novel is reminiscent of a country house mystery where there are a limited number of guests from which to choose the murderer. Unfortunately, for anyone who reads a lot of mysteries, it makes it rather easy to guess who-done-it.

The novel is also a traditional boy meets girl romance. Susan and James are the only young people on the bus tour and predictably they find each other interesting. This is enhanced when they work together to solve the mystery of why the passengers are being murdered.

The novel is a quick read. If you like your mystery laced with romance, you may enjoy this book. If you're a serious mystery fan, give it a miss.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Soulmates and Doomed Love: Windwalker by Natasha Mostert

Justine Callaway, a freelance photographer, takes a job as caretaker of a once beautiful house now sinking into ruin. She took the job trying to escape from the terrible sadness of her brother's death. While exploring the house, she finds a locked armoire, opens it and finds a man's clothing. Fingering the corduroy jacket, she feels a connection to the person who wore it.

Adam Buchanan, the owner of the jacket, killed his brother thereby destroying the Buchanan family. Although someone sees him commit the murder, he is able to escape and is now living in Southeast Africa. Adam sees a photo of Justine in a magazine, is convinced they're soulmates and becomes determined to find her.

This book is filled with beautiful descriptions of the Buchanann house and the South African desert. For me, these were the best features of the novel. The characters start out interesting and the plot is well designed for suspense. However, moving between the two very different environments and lifestyles, the story loses focus. There are too many plot lines that peter out. An example is the Watcher from the prologue. He seems like a character that could have an impact on the story, but he drifts out of the action after a brief appearance halfway through the novel.

This is not a typical romance novel, nor a ghost story. Justine and Adam believe they are soulmates. They yearn for each other, but their meeting ends in tragedy.

My disappointment with the book was the ending. I felt the author tried to tie up loose ends and make the ending happy, but after all the angst and mystery it felt false. If you enjoy a tale of star crossed lovers, I think you'll like this book, but if you're looking for a traditional romance, it's not for you.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Kidnapping, Murder, and the Legend of a Victorian Murderess: The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths

Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist, uncovers the bones of a notorious Victorian murderess, Mother Hook, on a routine dig near the walls of Norwich Castle. A television program Women who Kill wants to film the find. Some members of the production company think Mother Hook was innocent of murdering her charges, others see her as a wicked hag killing children to sell their bodies to the Resurrectionists, men who collected bodies to sell to medical schools for dissection.

While Ruth is involved with the television production, DCI Harry Nelson, father of Ruth's daughter, Kate, becomes in involved with the death of a baby and the kidnapping of two others. The atmosphere is charged with tension. The focus is on the mothers and their anguish as the police search for the missing children.

The theme of children abducted and killed is threaded through the story from the opening scenes discussing the guilt or innocence of Mother Hook to the heart rending agony of the mothers while their children are missing. I thought Griffiths did an excellent job tying the murder and abductions together with the larger picture of the Mother Hook legend. The tension kept me reading wondering whether the police would find the children in time.

I enjoyed this book very much. There was more police presence and detection in this book than some earlier books. I found that a good contrast to the academic atmosphere surrounding Ruth and the television production. If you like a good mystery with interesting characters and the beautiful Norfolk scenery, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Family Secrets and God's Promises: A Promise Kept by Robin Lee Hatcher

When Allison married Tony she was sure God promised that her marriage would be forever. Now she's divorced and living alone in the mountain cabin in Idaho willed to her by her Aunt Emma. Tony is an alcoholic. When Allison put her foot down, he walked out. Now she's wondering if she did the right thing and wondering why God didn't keep the promise he made.

Looking through her new home, she finds her aunt's diaries in the attic. Growing up, her aunt, a commercial photographer, seemed to have it all together, but now Allison finds that she had her own struggles. Getting to know her aunt as a young woman and finding her secrets helps Allison come to terms with her own life.

This is a warm and very special story. Robin Lee Hatch bases it on her own life and struggles with an alcoholic husband. Because of this, Allison's struggles ring very true. The characters are realistic. The setting is lovely. You can't help but enjoy the Idaho mountain scenery and the towns people. I loved Gizmo, her little dog. He add much needed comic relief.

If you're struggling with divorce, or trying to understand how God is working in your life, even though it may not be what you expected, this book will introduce you to the secrets of two other women struggling with similar problems. It can change your outlook. I highly recommend this book.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

An Aristocratic Mid-Eastern Teenager Caught Between the Past and Her Present in America: The Tyrant's Daughter by J. C. Carleson

Fifteen-year-old Leila, her mother, and seven-year-old brother, Bastian, escape from their oil-rich Mideastern country when her father, the ruler, is assassinated by his brother, the General. In America, Leila is faced with a foreign world. The palace is replaced with a one-bedroom apartment. No body guards surround the family. Her brother adapts quickly to his new surroundings, but her mother plots to return to power in their homeland.

In the high school, Leila finds herself surrounded by bouncy, bright Americans who find loud music and sexually suggestive dancing amusing. Leila, on the contrary, hears gun fire and can't forget her conservative, veiled upbringing. She makes friends, but these friends bring up uncomfortable ideas. Was her father responsible for the bloodshed in her country? She becomes friends with a boy from the opposition, giving her a glimpse of what her father's policies did to people.

Although this novel is targeted at a young adult audience, it can be equally interesting for adults. The author did an exceptionally fine job showing how Leila reacted to the cultural differences between her country and the United States. It also shows how ordinary people get caught up in international intrigue and the cost this entails for their families.

I highly recommend this book. The characters, particularly Leila, are well drawn, as is Amir, her friend from the opposition. Some of the American teenagers seem one dimensional, but that is appropriate since they are seen through Leila's eyes. It is only as the book progresses that she is able to see that Emmy, her best friend and supporter, has her own serious problems to deal with.

The bonus material at the end is well worth reading. The author explains how she got the idea for the book, and Dr. Cheryl Benard , RAND Researcher, presents a personal view of women caught up in international politics on the Mideast.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A CEO Talks About Success in Business and Life

Joseph Slawek, the CEO of FONA (Flavors of North America), believes that three parables in the Bible hold the secret for success. He focuses on Mathew 25 and the parables of the Ten Virgins, the Bags of Gold and the Sheep and the Goats. He uses these three parables to develop the ten best practices for success including: tell the truth, plan ahead, use your talents, and express gratitude to God and others.

These are clearly excellent principles for life by as well as for fostering a business. Slawek gives examples from his life to show how these principles have helped him achieve success. The stories are interesting and can provide inspiration particularly for young people seeking for how to become successful in life and work. The only criticism I have is that these stories turn the book into more of a memoir than a management text. However, they are inspirational, and I think that's what the author was striving for.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone looking for good concepts for managing their life and business.. The management concepts are not unique, they're fairly standard management techniques. However, tying them to the Gospel is unique and gives the practices additional relevance for Christians.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mystery and Deceit in Charlemagne's Empire

A lady ahead of her time, Theresa wants to be a scribe. Her father, taught her to read and write. For the past several years, she has been working as an apprentice parchment maker. She knows as much or more about parchment than Korne, the master parchment maker, but because she is a woman, he is reluctant to admit her to the guild. When she takes the test to join the guild, Korne gives her a rotten cow hide to work with. The test ends with catastrophe. Theresa flees Wurzburg and begins a series of harrowing adventures.

Her father, Gorgias has a secret that is behind many of the family's trials. He is protecting a codex. When he believes the original is lost, he starts to rewrite it from memory. The mystery of the codex ties Theresa's father to Charlemagne and could affect the fate of the empire.

This historical accuracy in the book is excellent. The author manages to bring the period of Charlemagne to life. This was the most excellent part of the book.

The characters are intriguing. Theresa and Gorgias are talented scribes, but they must fight against enormous odds with little to defend themselves.

My problem with the book was the length. I like long historical novels, but I felt this one spent too much time on Theresa's travels and left the important mystery in which Gorgias was involved in obscurity. The solution to the mystery came toward the end of the book. By then I'd forgotten it was important. I think the novel could have been more cohesive by moving back and forth the between the main characters more often.

I recommend this book if you like big, well researched historical fiction.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Not Just for Homemakers

Whether you are a stay-at-home Mom with toddlers, a working mother, or anyone in a stressful life situation, this book can bring God closer and open you to ways the gospel can help you in your situation.

It's hard to think of many situations that are more stressful than being a pastor's wife with three small children, a husband with health problems, and living in the Mideast where Christians are regularly killed for their faith. Gloria knows what she's writing about. In one of the early chapters she laments that she doesn't have time for devotions, but then realizes it's not the time you have to read the Bible and meditate on Jesus' words, but how you integrate God and Christ into your everyday life no matter how busy you are and whether that business is washing diapers, supporting your husband, or leading a worship group.

This is a very readable book. the examples come from real life experiences and as such draw you into an understanding of how to let the gospel into your everyday life. Her experiences are so much the same ones we all deal with: sibling rivalry, friends, ailing relatives, it's a long list. I highly recommend this book for anyone dealing with stressful situations, particularly homemakers. It will make you feel you're not alone. God and Christ are there to help you.

I reviewed this book for Crossway Publishing.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Allegory and Courtly Love in Medieval Poetry

The Allegory of Love is a scholarly book, but I think it can be read with enjoyment by anyone interested in medieval poetry. The first two sections discuss of courtly love and allegory. These sections are primarily theory. If your main interest is the poetry, I believe they can be skipped with no diminution of understanding. Lewis, in fact, doesn't make use of them in much of his analysis of the poetry. The major area where he sticks close to them is in his analysis of the Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Lorris. Here understanding allegory is quite important although Lewis gives the relevant overview in his analysis of the poem.

The next sections discuss the poems from the Romance of the Rose, through Chaucer, Gower, some of the lesser poets, and Spencer. I found his analysis enlightening and easy to understand. My favorite chapter was the chapter on Chaucer. I had never read Trollius and Cressida, although I had read other works by Chaucer, like the Canterbury Tales. I found Lewis' analysis of Cressida very compelling and psychological. For me it was worth the whole book.

Some attributes of the book that will be hard for the general reader. Lewis uses Greek and Latin words in chapters one and two. He doesn't translate the words or all the passages he cites in Latin. He also uses the old English versions of the poems, which can take some thought to decipher. Still, I found the effort well worth it in understanding medieval poetry.
Although much of the writing is scholarly, Lewis' humor peeks through. I encourage you, if you're interested in medieval poetry, to not be put off by the scholarly. The analysis of the poems is extremely well done and well worth reading.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Small Town Secrets

The town of Hidden Falls is assembling to honor their favorite social studies teacher. Ted Quinn is a mainstay of the community. He's touched the lives of students and parents alike. Everyone wants to honor him with this dinner, but Quinn isn't sure he likes being the center of attention. As his friends, students and former students gather and Quinn realizes the role he must play, he becomes convinced that this is not his kind of party.

I enjoyed this first episode. Quinn is a sympathetic character. You can't help but like him. The townspeople are well drawn, and we get glimpses of the secrets underlying their lives. However, the number of characters introduced in the first episode did seem a bit overwhelming. We barely learned their names before we were introduced to another person.

I recommend this book if you like taking your fiction in small doses. However, the serial format isn't for everyone. If you want to give it a try. The first episode is available free at Amazon.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Hitman Who Kills to Exact Justice

Not your typical hitman, or in this case a hitwoman, the fixer kills to help people denied justice. She works by strict rules and won't accept a hit if the client's intention is evil. The client may even find himself facing a police investigation. However, the fixer makes a mistake. Agreeing to kill a neuroscience researcher who has killed a gorilla, her cover is blown. Now the person who ordered the hit wants to control the fixer and hasn't the same scruples.

Mort Grant, Chief of Detectives for the
Seattle PD, is tagged with solving the death of the neuroscience researcher. In his investigation, he comes in contact with psychologist, Lydia Corriger. Lydia joins forces with Mort to solve the killing. As they search for the killer, they discover the dark underbelly of the university world.

A fast paced novel with more than one mystery, this book keeps you guessing not only about who committed the murder, but who the fixer is. The characters are complex. Each has demons that you might not expect. The author, a psychologist, puts his training to good use in defining interesting, believable characters.

The book switches gears about halfway through. The first half sets up the fixer and how her killing works. In the second half, we follow Mort and Lydia as they track a killer with the help of the Chief of Forensics.

If you like a fast paced mystery with plenty of twists, you'll enjoy this novel.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Psychological Trauma of Being A Small Town Basketball Star

Jimmy Kirkus was born into a basketball family. The family has turned out the best basketball players in Columbia City, a small town in Oregon. The town loves basketball, loves having their team win championships, but it puts tremendous pressure on the players, particularly the stars. Jimmy's father, grandfather, and younger brother all suffered from the curse of outsize expectations. Now it's Jimmy's turn.

The family is shattered by alcoholism, death, and wasted talent. None of the Kirkus men seem able to break free of the curse. The book clearly shows how talented youngsters can be destroyed by the pressure to excel in the world of competitive sports.

I found the book very hard to read. The author understands basketball and the pressure put on the players to win. However, I couldn't warm up to his characters. They seemed too broken to be realistic. The opening scene was, for me,
a turn off. Jimmy is shooting baskets after practice. He's alone. He finishes, drops the ball, and instead of leaving rams his head into the brick wall of the gym until he collapses. After that scene, I found it hard to continue reading the book.

However, the book is worth reading. It highlights how a community can put so much pressure on a talented family that the family breaks and is unable to recover.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Haunted Mansion, Conan Doyle and Wilde as Sleuths and Murder

Conan Doyle receives an invitation to Thraxton Hall, a haunted mansion, for a meeting of the SPC, Society for Psychical Research. He accepts the invitation because a young woman, the owner of the mansion, asked for his help. She is a talented medium and in a vision saw herself being shot during a séance. She came to Conan Doyle because she recognized him sitting at the table.

Oscar Wilde can't resist the lure of a beautiful woman and a haunted mansion, so he tags along on the adventure. The mansion is suitably crumbling, filled with strange servants, and boasting a curse. Even the members of the SPC are a rather strange lot bent on antagonizing each other.

If you like paranormal mysteries, you'll enjoy this book. The plot is full of twists and the strange characters that contribute to the feeling of menace. Conan Doyle and Wilde make an irrepressible duo trying to solve the mystery before the medium is in fact murdered. If you object to historical characters being used in this rather frivolous way, you won't enjoy their antics, but if you put aside their real
personalities it is all rather amusing.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

An Amalgam of Mead's Life, Eliot's life and Middlemarch

Rebecca Mead read Middlemarch as an adolescent, a young adult, and as someone approaching middle age. Each time she found attributes of the characters that illuminated her own life. In this book she shares her findings. As she matured so did her understanding of the characters, from believing Dorothea Brooks to be the heroine of the novel to, in her middle years, understanding the enduring love of Mary Greaves and the delight of having a home place.

The chapters of the book parallel the chapters of Middlemarch. In each chapter Mead discusses the characters, her reaction to them, and how the novel influenced her life. She also presents vignettes of Eliot's life. She visits places Eliot lived and gives us a glimpse of how these places have changed today.

I found the book thoroughly delightful. It is more than an overview of Middlemarch, although it contains quotations and descriptions of the characters. It contains letters, reviews, and descriptions of Eliot and the life she shared with Lewes. It fits together smoothly and is enhanced by the author's description of how she felt about the characters and the places she visited in her quest to become more familiar with Eliot.

I highly recommend this book. If you've read Middlemarch, it will give you a perspective on how another reader treasured the book. If you've never read it, you can still understand and enjoy the characters and see more of Eliot herself and her relationship to the book. It gives you a glimpse of the creative process. It may even encourage you to read the book and find your own relationship to Middlemarch.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.