Monday, March 31, 2014

A Serial Killer and a Copycat

London is terrified by a serial killer who bludgeons young women to death and sets them on fire. The police, including the elite squad let by Superintendent Godly, is having trouble finding the killer when another murder is committed. On the surface it looks like the work of the Burning Man, but is it?

Rebecca Howorth, a privileged young woman is found dead in circumstances that look like the work of the Burning Man. To most of the squad, it appears that the serial killer has taken another victim, but DC Meave Kerrigan isn't sure. There is a superficial resemblance, but something is off. She feels her inferior position on the squad, being female and having an affinity for the psychological side of crime, so she's loath to say too much about her ideas.

The Burning starts slowly with Maeve unsure about her theory of the murder. Chapters alternate between Maeve's observations and thoughts and those of Louise, Rebecca Howorth's best friend. However, after the midpoint of the book, the action picks up. It ends as a very satisfying mystery.

In the beginning, I did not like the character of Maeve. She was too needy, wanting recognition by her boss, Superintendent Godly, on whom she had an obvious crush. She was extremely self-absorbed, always wondering how she was being observed by her colleagues, particularly Godley. After the midpoint, she gained confidence and the action speeded up. I ended up liking her.

The plot is engrossing, if you like who done-its. It wasn't hard to figure out that Maeve was right and it was a copycat killing, but the author had several suspects to choose from. I enjoyed the ending.

I recommend this book if you like a good mystery.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Three Search and Rescue Teenagers Encounter a Serial Killer

Alexis, Ruby and Nick joined Portland Search and Rescue (SAR) looking for a way to belong. Alexis wants an extra curricular activity to help her get into college. Nick wants to be a hero like his father. Ruby is incredibly bright, interested in crime and forensics, and wants a way to use her intelligence. Each is in some way is a misfit.

On their first real mission, searching of an autistic man who has wandered into the woods, they find the body of a teenage girl. The police aren't interested in having help from three teens. They're convinced that the murder is an isolated incident, but Ruby is convinced that it's a serial killing. When the police seem to be fumbling, the three teens decide to search for the killer.

The book presents authentic information about Search and Rescue operations. The author provides the information without becoming heavy handed. This should work well for teenage readers.

The characters come across as real. I liked the way the author devoted individual chapters to each teen and to the killer. Seeing the action from different perspectives gave the story depth. I particularly liked Ruby. She is
bright, but has trouble relating to other people. Although not a typical teenage problem, it does affect very bright adolescents. They feel out of place with both their peers and with adults.

I highly recommend this book for middle school teens. Adults could also enjoy the mystery, particularly is they wanted insight into some special teenagers.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Dead Surgeon, Three Wives, and a Mystery

Dr. John Taylor, a respected physician, who specializes in facial reconstruction for children, is found dead in his hotel room. At first it looks like a simple heart attack, but when the police find two puncture holes in his shoulder, the verdict is wrongful death. When it turns out that he had three wives, and the first wife was orchestrating the menage-a-quatre, murder is likely.

Samantha Adams, a new detective, is assigned to the case. The case consumes her leaving little tume for her live-in boyfriend. He's trying to complete his doctoral dissertation, although not very diligently, and resents Samantha's total involvent in her job.

The plot carries this book. It's hard to imagine how an aging doctor with a busy practice had time to have three wives. It keeps you reading just to understand how he did it. The author presents the point of view of each wife in different chapters. This has the virtue of getting to know their thoughts about their life and their husband, but they do sound alike in many chapters. I realize it's not easy to differentiate the wives when we're in their heads, but it becomes more disconcerting as the book wears on to have them sound so similar.

If you're a murder mystery fan, the identity of the murderer is easy to guess. The author tries to insert red herrings, but in order to be true to the psychology of the wives, she has to drop a lot of hints. I was disappointed in the ending. I felt the author could have done a more creative job of figuring out how it was possible for the murderer to kill the man. It seemed very unlikely that it could have been accomplished the way it was described.

This in an enjoyable book if you concentrate on the unusual character of people who could willingly become involved in a situation like this. I can't recommend it as a mystery.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Words Matter on Estillyen

Messages from Estillyen brings together the two previous works by William E. Jefferson: The Point: The Redemption of Oban Ironbout; and Redemption: Twelve Readings from the Monks of Estillyen. In Messages we have the story from The Point with the readings from Redemption interspersed with Hollie and Godwin's experience on Estillyen. I think this is a more successful book than either by itself.

In The Point, a young couple Hollie and Godwin Macbreeze journey to the beautiful island of Estillyen on a month long pilgrimage to hear the lectures on redemption. Hollie is facing a difficult diagnosis and is more interested in the lectures than Godwin. He is fulfilling a boyhood ambition to see the cottage on the point that he calls My Cottage Rare. He drew a picture of the cottage when he was a child from a photograph made by his grandfather, and it has haunted him ever since.

Hollie and Godwin both enjoy the lectures, but Godwin also finds the cottage and meets Oban Ironbout. It changes life for both of them and for Hollie.

In Redemption the readings given in summary form in the Point are produced in full. The twelve readings are done by the monks in various settings around the island. I enjoyed the descriptions of the settings almost as much as the readings. Estillyen would be a place I'd like to visit.

The readings are done by the monks. One monk, the reader, presents relevant scripture passages, the other takes the role of a doubter, or Satan. The readings emphasize the relationship between the medium, the word, and the message. Words gain importance because of who says them. Christ's words are important because of the concepts they express, but most of all because he says them.

The combination of The Point and Redemption in one volume that knits the story of Oban Ironbout together with the readings on redemption has more impact than either book alone because the story is an example of what the readings are about.

I recommend this book. The story is interesting and the readings draw you in because the language is perfect for the setting. You feel as if you're present at the readings with Hollie and Godwin.

A Glimpse of Veterinary Practice in a Small Town

Eden Falls is not the place Dr. Cyrus Mills wants to settle down, but when he inherits his father's veterinary practice, he decides to give it a try. Cyrus is an introverted veterinary pathologist who has never treated live animals. Now he's faced with not only difficult cases, but difficult owners. In spite of the drawbacks, and the winter weather in Vermont is one of them, Cyrus begins to enjoy what he's doing.

His new life is complicated by a rival veterinary practice, Healthy Paws, that wants to put his practice, Bedside Manor, out of business. There's also Amy, an attractive waitress at the cafe, that he wants to get to know better. Each time he and Amy seem to be getting together either one of his cases, or a tall, dark stranger come between them. Altogether, Cyrus has his work cut out for him in his new role.

The story is told from Cyrus' point of view. He sees himself as bumbling and inept in human relationships. His descriptions of himself often become highly amusing. The book is filled with other attractive characters: Charlie, who tries to set Cyrus up with her mother who happens to work for the rival practice; Gabe, the computer whiz who enjoys hacking into places where he shouldn't be; and Dr. Lewis, Cyrus' partner,
who offers good advice on life and treating animals.

I enjoyed the book particularly the description of the unusual cases Cyrus deals with. It is quite unlikely in a real veterinary practice that he would see this many hard to diagnose cases. However, they provide momentum for the story because you want to know if he'll solve the mystery and cure the animals.

Although this book is a follow on to The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs, enough background information is provided to make this book standalone. However, if you enjoy this book, you'll probably want to go back and catch up on Cyrus' early history.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Romantic Historical Novella set in Texas

Desperate to escape the man who is trying to force her to marry him, Elli Korpela leaves Finland and sails to the United States as a mail order bride. Although she is unsure of her decision, she travels to Austin, Texas to meet Nathan White, her future husband. As soon as she sees his niece, Hannah, she knows she's made the right decision. They marry. Although Nathan tells her that he's only looking for someone to care for his niece, attraction builds between them.

Then Elli's past seems to catches up with her when she's attacked in their new home. But is it Elli's past, or workers taking out their frustration on Nathan, the new foreman at the quarry?

Although this is a novella, it's filled with action and romance. The characters come alive, and you can't help hoping that Elli and Nathan will become a complete family. The setting is interesting although there is only a glimpse of the Butterfly Palace that was featured in the first book in this series.

If you like historical romance with some mystery, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booklook Blogger program.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Murder and Romance in the Amish Village

The Amish Village is a tourist destination in Middlebury, Indiana where people come to sample the delicious and creative Amish products and enjoy the quiet of the Inn. Quiet that is until one morning, Hannah, an Amish girl who works at the Quilting Bee, finds Ethan, the owner of A Simple Blend dead of an apparent heart attack.

The police are convinced it's a heart attack although there are BB holes in the front window. Amber, manager of the Amish Village, isn't so sure. She and Hannah think it looks more like murder and should be investigated. The police politely decline, so Amber and Hannah start their own investigation.

The setting for this book is delightful. The small shops and interesting shop owners provide a background that makes you feel at home. Both the Amish and English characters are well drawn and likeable. Hannah and her family are very typically Amish and provide a contrast to Amber, the career woman. Romance is provided by Amber's next door neighbor, Tate, and Hannah's good friend, Jesse. Both are gentle romances, not complex but heart warming.

I enjoyed the book. The mystery
wasn't particularly engrossing until the ending which seemed rather extreme. However, the characters make the story, so the resolution of the mystery is believable. Although I usually don't comment on editorial matters. This book had some mistakes that editing could have fixed. In one place, the author starts calling Hannah, Amber. In some of the dialog it's difficult to follow who is speaking. However, if you enjoy the characters and setting these problems don't detract too much.

I reviewed the novel for the Thomas Nelson Booklook Program.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Clever Plot, But a Forced Implementation

Ana works for her father at the Dictionary. Just before the release of the third edition, his most significant work, he disappears. Ana is distraught. She has just broken up with her lover Max, and now her father is missing. Alone and frightened, she turns to Bart, a friend and co-worker. Bart is entranced by Ana. He can barely believe his good fortune. His friend Max is out of the picture, and Ana has turned to him.

The story is set in a future where people have become so dependent of their Memes, a device that sounds like a smart phone, that they use it to look up the words they can't remember. As the story progresses people increasingly forget words and start talking nonsense. Word Flu is gaining epidemic proportions. Communication is failing and civilization is rapidly disintegrating.

The plot is clever focusing on people's increasing dependence on personal machines to think for them. However, the story moves slowly. The book is written as personal journals kept by the principals, but as with many personal journals, the writers ramble. It becomes boring. The first chapters are particularly bad, and it isn't helped by Bart's tendency to throw in references to Hegel. About halfway through, the pace picks up, but by then you may have stopped reading.

I found the main characters unlikable. Ana is incredibly self-absorbed. I wanted to shake her and say get over it. Bart is more fun, but his tendency to be pretentious in his journal entries was off-putting.

The novel is set in a era of very advanced technology, at least as far as personal devices are concerned, but the rest of the setting is rather common place. I would have expected more advanced technology in other aspects of the world.

I can't recommend the book unless you particularly enjoy urban speculative fiction. As I noted in the beginning,
I liked the idea, but felt the implementation didn't do it justice.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Although the title of this book is The Romanov Sisters, the book covers the whole family. A great deal of time is spent on the Tsaritsa, Alexandra, and on Alexis, the Tsarevich. I believe Rappaport intended to treat the girls as individuals, but they are so closely tied they come across as a group.

Alexandra had very strong views on how children should be raised. She was a very private person often pregnant or ill, so she kept the girls close to her. The sisters grew up in an English style nursery environment without the pomp of the Russian court. They had little contact with the outside world or other children. 

I found the lives of these girls fascinating and a little sad. They seemed like lively children with great potential, but their lives were cut short before they had a chance to experience life outside the walls of the palace.

In addition to the Romanov family, the author discusses their English and German relatives, and the character of Gregory Rasputin. Rappaport seems to give Rasputin the benefit of the doubt. If the book is to be believed, he did have a beneficial effect on Alexis' hemophilia. However, Alexandra's reliance on him, and her own very private nature, did the family irreparable harm.

I recommend this book. If you're interested in the history of the last Tsar and his family, you will enjoy this glimpse of of their private life. It's well written, informative and easy to read.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Time Travel Story With a Budding Teenage Romance

Ethan is fishing alone when the air seems to become more liquid. He closes his eyes feeling that something strange is happening. When he opens them, he sees a naked girl walking along the river bank. Worried about her, he gives her his sweatshirt and watches her walk away toward town.

The girl is Prenna, a visitor from a future time. The world in which she lived is dying. Her brothers and many others have been killed by a plague. Their world is filled with social and economic unrest. They have some to be saved, blend in with the world of 2010, and try to discover whether there is some way they can change the course of history.

The group from the future lives under a stringent set of rules that includes no intimate contact with members of the 2010 generation. The elders spy on them and punish them to make sure they obey these rules, but the attraction between Ethan and Prenna is strong. They become friends and soon they are trying to solve the mystery of how to change history.

The story moves rather slowly. It takes time for Ethan and Prenna to get together and then more time slowly unraveling the mystery of why the world went so terribly wrong. It takes a long time because the romance becomes paramount. The teenagers go to the beach, drink, play cards, and generally get to know each other. This slows the action since their interactions are awkward and without real emotion.

I wasn't impressed with the characters. Ethan is too perfect. He's ready and able to do anything to save Prenna. She is very introverted and afraid when the story opens, but she overcomes it to try to save the future. In fact, she becomes quite assertive making decisions that sometimes appear quite stupid.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend it if you enjoy time travel stories. It appears to be set up as part of a series, so perhaps in the other books the pace will be faster.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Saga of the Hilton Family Reads Like a Novel – or a Soap Opera

The Hiltons: A Family Dynasty opens with Zsa Zsa Gabor's deposition. Her daughter Francesca is contesting Conrad Hilton's will. The issue of whether Francesca is Conrad's daughter is a theme that runs through the book and keeps us wondering until the end how it will be resolved.

The Hiltons in addition to being enormously successful in the hotel business, primarily due to Conrad's vision and energy, were well known personalities who led personal lives that rivaled those of the movie stars to whom several of them were married. In addition to Zsa Zsa, who was briefly married to Conrad, an extensive list of Hollywood personalities like Natalie Wood, Joan Collins and Eddie Fisher make appearances.

The three Hilton sons and their wives are featured. Nicky Hilton's disastrous marriage to Elizabeth Taylor is discussed in detail as is his father's marriage to Zsa Zsa. The fallout from these marriages followed the men for years: Zsa Zsa in a constant battle with Conrad; Nicky feeling guilt for his abusive treatment of Elizabeth.

The lives of these amazing characters keep you turning the pages. The marriage problems of the male members of the family read like a novel, or a soap opera. However, even more interesting is the chronicling of Conrad's experience building a hotel empire. Even the business sections are filled with interesting characters and suspense. If you like stories of big business, you'll enjoy this part of the book.

I recommend this book if you find the Hiltons fascinating, or if your interest is in how a major corporation was born.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Plot Moves from Mystery to Kinky

Michael Bevan attends an auction he would normally avoid because he noticed some valuable Japanese scrolls in one of the lots. The bidding is fast and furious with his friend and fellow book dealer, Gareth Hughes, bidding for the lot because he discovered a rare first-edition Colette with an inscription by Hemingway. A third bidder gets into the action, an unsuccessful book dealer, who is obviously bidding for someone else.

The mysterious third bidder wins the lot. Before the tough-looking henchman can collect the books, Gareth makes off with the Collette. Michael accuses him of it at a pub later that evening, and they come to blows. Unfortunately, the next morning Gareth's body is found and nearby the murder weapon belonging to Michael.

I chose this book because I thought reading a mystery in which the main character is an antiquarian book dealer would be unusual and interesting. The opening chapters of the book used the book dealer theme well, and I enjoyed them. However, the dirty books played more of a role in the second half of the novel, and the action got rather kinky before the end.

I enjoyed the book, but I would caution any reader who is squeamish about kinky sex to steer clear of it. On the positive side, the book is filled with odd characters that are fun to read about and the plot moves swiftly. I will be interested in seeing more books in this series.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Amusing Tale of Teens with ESP

When homeroom 10B lined up to get their flu shots, they got a bonus. They began to hear each other's thoughts. At first, they feared they were going crazy, but if everyone who got the flu shot could do it, something else was going on. With the help of their leader, Pi, who wants to be exceptional, they figure out that it was the flu shot.

While it sounds cool to be able to read someone else's thoughts, in practice, the teens discovered things they didn't want to know: secrets about their parents, about their boyfriends or girlfriends, and their teacher's backgrounds.

The narration is a bit strange in the beginning because the class is writing the book as a group. It has the advantage of moving from one student to another as they experience the good and bad aspects of ESP, but it also adds confusion to the story, because you're never really sure who's talking. I enjoyed the characters: Mackenzie, who is worried her boyfriend, Cooper, will find out she's been cheating on him; Tess, who has to listen to her best friend, Teddy, enthuse about another girl; Olivia, who is burdened with an obsessive, over-protective mother; and many others.

I found the plot interesting for the first few chapters. The book is a fun read with an unusual plot, but I can't recommend it too highly because it does become repetitious.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Physics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, and Theology

The Romance of Religion is witty, easy to read. It exposes the reader to difficult theories of philosophy and theology, not to mention physics and metaphysics, and makes it easy to understand. The point is to show us that religion is not for the faint hearted and that pagan philosophy, the old testament and present day physics, which is closer to theology than most people realize, point to Christianity.

Christianity is not dull. It's not something for the cynic to turn up his nose at. Christianity is real. It's a call to each of us to accept Christ and strive to be all that we can be. It calls us to love, but not erotic love. It calls us to search for the beauty in truth and see love and service in everyday life.

I loved this book. It was fun to read. It's not a book that hits you over the head with religious precepts. Longenecker pulls you into his vision using examples from today: romance novels and heroic films. It's not filled with jargon. The points are clearly made in everyday language. He makes even the difficult concepts of philosophy come alive. I highly recommend this book if you want to experience a view of Christianity that is alive and part of the world we live in.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson BookLook Blogger Program.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What Obedience to God Can Mean

Living in a country where the right to worship is protected, it's hard to fathom how different it is in countries where Christians are persecuted for their beliefs. However, what these Christians face is not so different from what Christ tells his followers in the New Testament. He warns his disciples that when they go out to spread the word of God's love, they will face persecution. Being a follower of Jesus in many countries can mean exactly that.

The book is a challenge. If you are a true believer, are you willing to spread the word of God and be faced with persecution. It's a hard challenge to answer, but Christians in many countries face that challenge on a daily basis.

This book chronicles Ripkin's journey to other countries to find what people are doing to respond to the call to witness to others to bring them to Christ. It contains many amazing examples of Christians willingly facing persecution and will give you a new view of Christianity today. I believe every Christian should read this book. It will give you a different view of what it means to follow Christ.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.