Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Clever Setting for an Unusual Mystery

Detective D.D. Warren isn't sure she made a good decision when she agreed to give a lecture at the Police Academy Writer's Conference. Her husband, blood splatter expert Alex Wilson, assures her that it'll be fun and easy. D.D. isn't so sure. How can she keep a group of mystery writers listening while describing how the police work a case.

Being D.D. she comes up with a good idea. She'll tell the class about one of her cases and challenge them to figure out the three truths and a lie embedded in the presentation.

The case features a severed leg, glitter, and a shoddy motel room. This unusual case is the perfect vehicle to illustrate police procedure and still keep the audience guessing. Following the course of the police investigation it's very difficult to guess the ending until, as in real police work, all the clues are in.

This novella is a quick read. D.D. is a character you can empathize with, particularly her fear that she won't be able to keep her audience listening for the full fifty minutes. Because the story is short, it's a good way to meet D.D. and get interested in reading her longer novels. The author includes the first chapters of her new book scheduled to come out on February 9th. I know I'll be looking for it.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Negative Self Image Can Rule Your Life

Lizzie is a fat girl. She thinks she's unattractive although friends tell her she's beautiful. Lizzie, who also goes by the names Elizabeth and Beth as she grows up, tries and does change her weight, but through it all she believes she's a fat girl no matter what the scales and the mirror say.

This collection of related short stories traces Lizzie from a teenager to adulthood. As a teenager, she's needy, trying to win approval by being everyone's friend and confident. Even into adulthood she remains insecure because she can't escape her fat girl image.

The book paints a poignant portrait of someone with severe self-image problems. However, I found it difficult to like Lizzie or to get into the story. Perhaps this was due to the short story format. I found the first chapter where Lizzie, the teenager, follows her sexually-active friend's lead, interesting. The second chapter turned me off. It is told from the point of view of a drunken would-be song writer who is looking for someone to confide in late at night. He chooses Lizzie. The other stories continued in this pattern. I enjoyed some, but couldn't get into the others.

I can't recommend this book as an enjoyable read. However, if you suffer from self-image problems, or know someone who does, it may be worth a look.

I received this book from Penguin for this review.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Traditional Southern Recipes with Modern Flavor

I grew up in the North and only got exposed to real Southern cooking a few years ago when we moved South. I loved the flavors, but many dishes seemed too calorie laden for everyday fare. I was pleased to discover Whitney Miller's latest cookbook. It contains typical Southern recipes, but with additions that make them more palatable to people watching their calories.

I particularly enjoyed making the Olive Oil Biscuits. They're delicious, and they use olive oil which is more heart healthy than lard or even butter. Other recipes I enjoyed are the tomato gravy. I love tomatoes and this coupled with biscuits makes an easy lunch or light supper.

The recipes are easy to make and best of all the author uses a relatively small, typical list of ingredients. There are are a few recipes that require new spices, but when interesting, I'm eager to give them a try. The recipes requiring additional spices come from Whitney adding touches to traditional recipes from her trips to other countries and sampling their cuisine. I think she's done a great job blending new flavors with traditional recipes.

The cookbook contains all the sections you'd expect from breakfast to dinner with desserts and recipes for condiments, like catsup and roasted barbecue sauce. The pictures in the book, particularly those of her family,are fun. However, I like the pictures of the finished dishes and the steps used in preparing some some of the food.

This is a great cookbook for everyday use. Several of the recipes have become favorites, and I'm sure more will when I have time to try them.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.  

A WWII Spy Novel with a Mystery

In the days leading up to WWII, David Ashby, a WWI hero ,fears that the daughter he left behind in Germany is being indoctrinated in Nazism. He kidnaps the child and brings her to England. He recruits Hilary Bowker-Brown, an aspiring novelist who has bought property on the Cornish coast, to keep the child safe.

His estranged wife, Christina, daughter of a high ranking German general, wants her daughter back and is willing to involve the Abwehr to accomplish it. However, Burghardt, head of the Abwehr in Bremen turns the tables and sends her to England to reclaim the child with the help of a sleeper, an agent who was introduced many years ago to England and is now being awakened to assist Christina. But who is the sleeper?

The plot centers on the kidnapping and the efforts of both sides to claim the child. While it makes an interesting start for the action, I found it a little hard to believe that so many resources would be used to reclaim a child, no matter now high ranking her grandfather.

The characters are realistic. Ashby and Hilary are complex characters. Janes does a good job of using their fears and desires to drive the plot. As usual with a Janes novel, the detail is excellent. If you enjoy realistic WWII novels you won't be disappointed in the setting.

For all the good qualities of the novel there are problems besides the unrealistic premise. The novel starts slowly. The action doesn't pick up until fairly near the end. However, the final scenes are fast paced. There is also a great deal of concern about sexual behavior that doesn't seem relevant to the major thread of the novel.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Psychological Suspense with a Paranormal Flavor

Twenty-two-year-old Bibi Blair has published her first novel. She's engaged to a Navy Seal and has parents she likes. There are troubling scenes from her childhood, but basically, life seems perfect until sitting at her computer she experiences what appears to be a stroke. Her mother drives her to the emergency room where, after a battery of tests, she's diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. The doctor tells her she has a year or less to live, but Bibi's a fighter. She tells him, we'll see about that.

From that beginning, the novel moves into psychological suspense. At times what happens seems weird, but the author deftly moves the action along so that you can see why things occurred. The plot is filled with action, but after the middle when Bibi researches what's happening, it drags in places. There are plenty of twists to keep you guessing, however, the twist at the end is something of an anti-climax.

Bibi is a great character. She has grit and determination. You can't help but like her and hope that she succeeds in riding herself of brain cancer. Her parents, and her fiance also seem real and are likable. Some of the characters she meets when researching what is happening become more like fantasy characters, but if you've been drawn into the action they seem reasonable.

If you enjoy psychological suspense with paranormal elements, you may enjoy this book. If you get into the plot, it works, but some of the action in the middle is slow. I enjoyed the book, but it's not one that will scare you.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Problem is Forgiveness

When five bodies are found in a sweat lodge, Mort Grant doesn't expect to be involved. The sweat lodge is in Enumclaw, outside of his territory, but when one of the murder victims turns out to be the brother of Larry's dead wife, Mort takes a role in the case.

Mort and Larry have been friends for years. A strong bond formed between them, each understanding how devastating it is to lose a beloved spouse. Now Larry has lost the connection to his dead wife. Forgiveness is a issue for Larry. His wife's killer confessed, but forgiveness is much harder.

Mort's daughter, Allie is back. She wants to be part of the family. Since she runs an international crime cartel, Mort and his son don't want her near the twins. Although Mort still loves his daughter, he can't forgive her for what's she's become.

Lydia plays a supporting role in this novel. Mort asks for her help in locating Allie. She has to agree, although it raises the possibility of returning to her role as the fixer.

This book focuses on Mort and his family. He's involved in a typical police case where they search for clues and witnesses to solve the murders. The case is interesting, but doesn't have the fast action of the other novels in the series.

I enjoyed the book because of the psychological exploration of the problem of forgiveness. What can searching for forgiveness or failing to give it do to a person? The novel illustrates this problem well.

I received this book from Alibi for this review. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Delicious Recipes that are Good for Your Brain

The recipes in Rebecca Katz's new book are amazing. If you think healthy food is tasteless, try these. The recipes range from salads, main courses, desserts and soups to salad dressings, snacks and anytime foods like salmon scramble, one of my family's favorites. I've tried several of these recipes, and I know I'll keep using them.

The book also has a excellent section on the research into the relationship between the brain and food. The author pulls together a number of sources and makes them easy to understand. The topics range from stress, anxiety and depression to memory, cognition and learning. I try to keep up on brain science, but I learned a lot from this overview.

Another excellent section is the Culinary Pharmacy. Katz lists foods ranging from things I'm familiar with like almonds and potatoes to more unusual foods like quinoa and allspice. The entries list which mental functions are helped most by the food and gives a short paragraph on why the food is good for your brain.

I highly recommend this cookbook. The recipes are easy to prepare, don't take much time, and best of all they're delicious.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for a review.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Prophet Jeremiah's Early Life

The story opens when Jeremiah, an unruly twelve-year-old, invades the stall of an idol seller. He destroys some of the idols and calls on the people to return to the worship of the one true God and not put their faith in idols.

Josiah, the king of Judea, knows Jeremiah well because he is often involved in escapades that call the Jews to worship the true God, but start riots that cause Jeremiah to be brought before the king.

Although this book is categorized as a novel, it is much more of a history of the time of Nebuchadnezzar when Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were powers in the Middle East. The history is well researched and there are numerous footnotes. As a history, it is well done.

As a novel, the book leaves much to be desired. The characters are described and there is dialog, but they are primarily used to tell the history, either in their thoughts, or in description by the author.

I can't recommend this book as a novel, but if you enjoy history, particularly biblical history, you may enjoy this book.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for a review.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More Romance than Mystery

Lydia Bancroft is fascinated by the mysterious man who visits her reading room. He appears every day and reads for awhile but hasn't asked for a library card. In fact they haven't spoken.

Lydia's father's death changed everything for her and her mother. With no money, Lydia is forced to work in the library, but her mother hasn't given up on getting her a good marriage. All seems well when Jason Avondale proposes, but Jason has secrets.

Sebastian Marks, the mystery man from the library, also has secrets. He grew up in extreme poverty and now runs a gambling hall. Reading gives him escape from his life, and he has become fascinated by Lydia.

Lydia and Sebastian become friends when he steps in to keep Avondale from hurting her, but their secrets keep them from the closeness they desire.

This book is described as a mystery, but the mystery is very much in the background. The heading of most chapters is a news story from the Courier newspaper about the beatings and murders that take place around the gambling clubs. However, there is no attempt to solve the crimes. They form a background and lend support for why Sebastian feels insecure courting a lady of good character. The story focuses almost completely on the romance, although the author does bring the threads together at the end.

If you enjoy a period romance, this is a good one. However, don't expect a traditional mystery where the characters work to solve the crime.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for a review.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Meeting Your Double Can be a Nightmare

Average people dealing with normal problems find themselves living a nightmare. Tess and her ex-husbland, Nick are trying to co-parent their daughter. The relationship is uneasy but fairly cordial. However, when she sees him on a street in Boston, she thinks he ignores her, and it makes her furious.

Frank is battling alcoholism and the loss of his dream of being a crime reporter. He thinks he may have found an out when he meets his violent double in his own home.

When it turns out that Nick is in New Hampshire not Boston when Tess saw him, she wants to investigate. Her friend Lili agrees to help her, and it becomes even stranger when Lili also finds that she has a double. Their search leads them to an elegant townhouse on Beacon Hill where events begin to spin out of control.

If you like ghosts, paranormal, and horror movies, you love this book. Seeing your double can be frightening, but when evil surrounds you, it becomes a nightmare from which you can't wake.

The plot is fast paced and cleverly written taking advantage of the idea of doppelgängers with a new twist. The characters feel like real people which makes the horror stronger. I enjoyed the book, but unless you're a hard core horror fan, I wouldn't suggest reading it when you're alone on a stormy night.

I received this book from St. Martin's Press for a review. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Farmer's Christmas

Even on Christmas Eve, a farmer's work continues. Casey lives on a farm with her animal and equipment friends. They're all looking forward to Christmas: decorating the farm, making cookies, putting up stockings, and preparing for the celebration.

On Christmas Eve Casey still has to feed the animals, and when a fence needs mending she has to take care of it. On top of all the work, Casey feels ill and falls asleep before the preparations for Christmas are complete. It could be a very disappointing Christmas, but Casey has good friends on the farm.

I love stories about farms probably because I grew up on one and live on one. If you don't live on a farm, it's hard to envision how much work has to be done every day to keep the animals fed, the equipment working, and the fences mended. This is a good book for children. It shows them a different way of life, unless they live on a farm.

The book has a good message about the importance of friends and family. The illustrations are cheerful and the text is easy for older children to read, or to read to younger children.

I highly recommend this book for part of your Christmas collection.

I received this book from PR by the Book for a review. 

Love and Challenges for a Single Mother

When she was seventeen, Ally made a mistake. Now she has a beautiful daughter to show for it. While taking care of her daughter, Ally managed to finish college, get a graduate degree and is now teaching at Brown. Amid all the responsibilities of teaching, including a difficult boss, and taking care of her daughter, Ally hasn't much time for romance, or sex.

One day she's feeling completely frazzled with responsibilities when Jake, a student, comes into her life challenging her to have some fun. Ally is attracted, but sends him away afraid of how it might affect her daughter and perceptions of her on campus.

Ten years later, her daughter is grown up struggling to make her own way when surprise, Jake shows up as her daughter's date.

This is a book you'll enjoy if you like romantic stories without too much explicit sex. Ally is likable. If you're a single mom, you'll empathize with her dilemma of raising a daughter, being a professional, and putting her sex life on hold. Jake is the kind of almost too good man you'd love to know, and Lizzie has her own rebellious charm.

The plot is a bit thin. There are no major catastrophes. Instead the challenges revolve around a single mother trying to let go of her grown daughter. and the daughter trying to find her own way.

I received this book from Dutton, Penguin-Random House for a review.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Tangled Web of Murder Confronts Liska and Kovac

Detective Nikki Liska misses her partner Kovac. With her sons growing up, she feels the need to be at home more so she transferred to the cold case unit. Here she catches a case she doesn't want. Thomas Duffy, a decorated sex crimes detective, was killed 25 years ago. In spite of the best efforts of the police, his case remains unsolved, and Nikki fears it may stay that way.

Kovac has a new partner. Taylor is green and Kovac resents the time it takes to bring him up to speed. They catch a case Nikki would love to have. A professor and his wife were hacked to death by a killer wielding a Japaneese samurai sword.

A third complication in this novel is Evie Burke. She has the perfect life, but she's hiding an old secret, and it may be catching up with her.

This was my first experience with Liska and Kovac. Although not working together, their paths continue to cross. Nikki's tough and Kovac is a typical old school detective. They work well together.

The complex plot follows the three threads weaving back and forth until pulling them together at the end. I thought the author did a masterful job keeping me interested in all three plot lines. The twist at the end came as a surprise, but the author had cleverly left clues, so I wasn't shocked by the ending.

I highly recommend this book if you're a fan of detective stories where the detectives interview suspects and look for clues to solve crimes.

I received this book from Penguin-Random House for a review.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Death Greets the New Manager of Java Jive

When his father dies, Pete is left trying to manage Java Jive and hold down his regular job. Recruiting his ex-girlfriend, Juliette, as the new manager seems like a perfect solution. Juliette had her own café before her fiancé ran off with her cash and forced her to close.

Juliette is experienced, but she's not totally ready for the fact that some of the staff, particularly the cook, just don't want her there. She's planning to get around the staff problem when the cook turns up dead, and she's afraid that she's the primary suspect.

The plot is amusing and fast paced. It's fairly easy to figure out what's happening, but there are twists that keep it amusing. The setting in a coffeehouse is realistic and makes a good background for the unusual characters that populate the novel.

Although the antics are amusing, I found Juliette too adventurous and naïve. She jumps to the conclusion that she must be the principal suspect and drags Pete along to help her solve the mystery before the police do. I did love Gertie, Pete's grandmother. She is a completely delightful character who makes you glad you're reading the book.

The book is a fast amusing read with a mystery that takes some thought to unravel. If you enjoy the Evanovich books, you'll enjoy this novel.

I received the book from Alibi for a review.

The Jesse Tree" A Christmas Tradition for Your Family

Written by ten-year-old Theresa Seidltz, Countdown to Christmas tells the story of her family's Christmas tradition. Each night from the first of December, the family sings, Come of Come Emmanuel, reads a Bible story, and hangs an ornament on their small tree. The ornaments bear the likeness of the person the story is about. As the family progresses through the Bible from Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Sarah, Saul and David, and Jesus, the tree becomes adorned with the people who helped shape Judaism and Christianity.

The stories in the book are short, each being one page. They're suitable for an adult to read to younger children, but older children could read them for themselves or read them aloud to younger brothers and sisters. Each story is accompanied by a drawing introducing the characters. At the end of the book, the family places the final ornament for Jesus and sings Silent Night. The paper ornaments are included in the book and could be used for many years.

I highly recommend this book. It's a good way for families to be together to enjoy the religious aspects of the Christmas season. It's also a good time for parents and children to talk about the Bible stories and what they mean in their own lives.

I received this book from PR by the Book for a review.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Readable Look at Brain Function

Dr. Amens is a practicing psychiatrist who was one of the first to use SPECT scans in diagnosing and treating patients. SPECT scans were originally intended for research purposes. Using these scans to diagnose patients mental problems was innovative and controversial. I found it fascinating because when I did research in the mental health field there was always the nagging feeling that the diagnosis categories were too broad. It would have been helpful to have a basis on which to make specific treatment suggestions. However, much as I admire Dr. Amen for using this technique, I recognize that it isn't perfect.

The book is written at a level that makes it relatively easy for the average reader to understand brain function. The SPECT scans included make clear where the brain defects are located and are a useful adjunct to the text.

Problems with the brain come in a variety of guises from ADD, to anxiety, Alzheimers and schizophrenia. In addition there are brain injuries such as concussion and problems stemming from tumors and other abnormalities. Dr. Amen goes into each of these areas, explains which parts of the brain are affected and suggests treatment plans. Although he does use psychoactive drugs, he also uses talk therapy, natural substances, and understanding your life's purpose.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about brain function. Some of the exercises may even be helpful in giving you a better understanding of your personality and functioning.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Crumbling Old Mansion Hosts a Family Tragedy

The Altons are a happy family. Momma and Papa are devoted to each other and to their four children: the twins, Caroline and Toby, and the younger children, Kitty and Barney. They're looking forward to their holiday at the family's Cornwall estate, Black Rabbit Hall, but all too quickly tragedy strikes and the holiday turns into a nightmare.

Years later, Lorna and her fiance, Jon, visit Black Rabbit Hall in search of a place to have their wedding. Jon is not convinced that the crumbling old house is a good place to bring their friends and families, but Lorna falls in love with the place.

Instead of the once happy family, the house is occupied by an old woman, who reminded me of the housekeeper in Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. In spite of feeling the strangeness of the house, Lorna accepts an invitation to stay and get to know the place. She stumbles on clues to the family tragedy and gradually, the place becomes even more terrifying.

If you like Gothic romance, this is a good one. The story is told in two time periods. Caroline narrates the earlier story and Lorna is the main character in the later events. I enjoyed the mystery, but I felt the telling was too drawn out. We hear a great deal more about Caroline and her siblings than seems necessary for the action. 

Lorna behaves in ways that don't seem realistic. In the first place, she accepts an invitation from a frightening woman she scarcely knows. Then trapped in a creepy old house, she persists in searching for the secrets of the house and the family although the atmosphere becomes more and more sinister.

I recommend this book as a romantic mystery, but it has flaws, It's too long and the characters are often not believable.

I reviewed this book for Penguin.

Wicked Women and Wicked Good Women of the Bible

Women helped to form the Judeo-Christian culture, and the Bible is filled with their stories, both good and bad. (Wicked can mean both very bad and very good. Sometimes that's confusing.) However, in the stories from the Bible there's no confusion about who was evil and who was good. The stories range from Eve in the Garden of Eden and Jezebel, the wicked queen, to Deborah, Ruth and Esther.

The author tells the stories in narrative form giving thoughts and actions to the characters. Of course, no one can know today what these women thought, but reading the stories like a novel is fun, and it makes you wonder about the underlying basis of the stories. I couldn't help thinking about the role Adam played in getting them expelled from Eden.

At the end of each story the author goes into a short description of the culture of the times. I found these very interesting, and they added depth to my understanding of the context of the Bible stories. There is also a section giving questions that can be used in group Bible study. However, reading and thinking about these questions can also provide greater depth to the stories, even if you're doing it on your own.

I highly recommend this book. The stories are well chosen to display the importance of women in the Bible, and the narrative presentation is easy to read plus it raises additional questions about these women and their role in the Bible.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Love of Books, Some Romance, and Redemption

Lucy Ailling loves her job. She works for Sid, one of the most respected antique dealers in Chicago. Most of her work centers on keeping Sid's inventory and meeting customers, but Lucy has a side line. From her earliest childhood, she has lost herself in books feeling that they are more her friends than the people she knows. Now she finds old editions and sells them from Sid's shop. The problem is that some of the editions may not have the provenance she provides.

At the opening of the story, Lucy meets James, a promising young attorney. They become romantically involved, and through James, Lucy meets his grandmother, Helen. When Lucy's sideline begins to unravel, Helen hires her to be her companion on a trip to England where Helen must deal with her own secrets. Visiting some of the sites famous for the Bronte novels and the places where the Bronte sisters lived, a friendship is born and both ladies realize that they must redeem past mistakes.

The book is filled with sensual descriptions. If you want to experience England through the senses, you'll enjoy this book. I found the Lucy's character somewhat bland. She's very focused on her conman father and the gift he gave her for the love of books, but he gave her other gifts as well, and Lucy isn't very good at distinguishing helpful from disruptive. James is a good foil for Lucy, He's kind and loving, but I didn't feel that his personality added much to the story except to put Lucy in touch with his grandmother. Sid, while being a good role model, seems to leave Lucy too much to her own devices thereby setting the stage for the problems that follow.

I enjoyed the book because I love literature and because it was refreshing to read a romance that didn't require numerous bedroom scenes.

I reviewed this book for Thomas Nelson.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Romantic Problems Continue for the Sexy McBroom Sisters

Frankie, the oldest, is in love with Franklin and doing everything she can to have the first baby, but when she discovers that he has a wife, all bets are off. Tommie, the youngest, is still with Blue, but he seems to be in love with his ex-wife which strains their relationship. Livy is smarting from her husband's affair. Now when they have sex, it's on her terms and steamy.

The story tracks and intertwines the lives of the three sisters. In addition to sexual adventures, there's stalking, death threats, and cheating. It makes for a lively, fast paced read. If you enjoy romance that has more than just bedroom scenes, you'll enjoy this book. The sisters are all different. The author has managed to make each one a realistic character.

The author has included some culture references that make it seem like he's working too hard to raise the book above the level of a quick read. For me, it didn't work. The story is about the sisters. He does a good job portraying them and how they react to the difficult situations in their lives. You may not agree with how they solve their problems, but it works for them.

I reviewed this book for Dutton.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Churchill in War and Peace

Churchill was a man uniquely suited to the role he played in WWII. He was a warlord and a statesman, a unique combination that gave him the personality to lead his nation through one of the worst periods in world history. The question this book seeks to answer is: What made Churchill that way?

Three periods of Churchill's life are the focus of the book: war, empire and peace. In the section on war, the author highlights Churchill's experiences during the Boer War and the war in the Sudan. Here he saw the horror or modern warfare against the traditional tactics of earlier generations. It gave him a dislike for scientific warfare, but also the realization that the challenge must be met. He also realized that more than a soldier he had to be a statesman to affect the outcome of world conflict. This section was my favorite and has lessons that we can help us today.

Churchill believed in democracy. People should be allowed to rule themselves, but he was also a staunch supporter of the empire. The empire gave Britain status in the world that Churchill was loath to lose. 

In peacetime, he was less successful in leading the country. Being a firm believer in constitutionality, he disliked Socialism. Although it cost him political office, he staunchly criticized Socialism believing that it was bad for the country.

This is an excellent book. Not only does it present a comprehensive look at the events that formed Churchill and how he used his experiences, it gives us lessons for today that we should understand. I highly recommend the book.

I reviewed this book for Booklook Bloggers.  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Social History of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut

Kara Cooney called her book, The Woman Who Would be King, a social history because she takes the liberty of imagining what Hatshepstu thought and felt. The book isn't fiction. It's a well researched narrative about the reign of a remarkable woman by an Egyptologist who has studied the period extensively.

A woman pharaoh was unknown in Egypt before Hatshepsut. Other women had ruled for more or less extensive periods of time as regents; however, she ruled as the senior pharaoh with her stepson, Thutmose III, for twenty-two years. The period of their joint reign was marked by prosperity and extensive influence in the ancient world. There is no indication that she denied power to Thutmose III, rather it appears that they had a mutually agreeable arrangement.

In addition to the portrait of Hatshepsut, Cooney gives a detailed picture of what life was like for a royal princess. It reads almost like a good novel and enhances our understanding of Hatshepsut without taking liberties with her thoughts or feelings.

I thought Cooney did an excellent job of pointing out where she was taking liberties with the historical record. Her ideas about Hatshepsut's inner life make the book more readable, but she also gives the reader a chance to view the facts. The book has extensive notes that allow the interested reader to go more in depth and to test Cooney's conclusions.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy reading about ancient Egypt. It's very well written. The pace is good. You may find it hard to put down.

I reviewed this book for Blogging for Books.    

An Intimate Picture of Mark Twain's Family in His Later Years

Twain's End is a novel, but based on extensive research done by Lynn Cullen. Mark Twain was an exceptionally talented writer, but his real life persona, Samuel Clemens, was far from the kindly old man telling marvelous stories. In fact, he was irritable, crotchety, and difficult. He was also a womanizer.

The story is told largely from the point of view of Isabel Lyon, his longtime secretary, whose extensive diaries gave Cullen the picture of the Twain household. Lyon came to work for Twain when his family was in tatters. His wife was fragile and ill, his daughters and his finances out of control. Isabel managed to turn things around and fell in love with Twain. When his wife died, she thought that marriage might be in the offing. Twain, however, had other ideas.

Twain was fond of young girls. One of his special favorites was Helen Keller. He supported her through a crisis in her writing career and enjoyed her company. I found the portrait of Keller and her relationship with the Macys one of the most interesting parts of the book. Her original teacher, Annie, Sullivan, was married to John Macy. Together the three of them formed a literary partnership.

If you enjoy well researched historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. The characters from Twain to Helen Keller present an intimate portrait I would never have suspected. The character of Isabel Lyon is based on her diaries where she is clearly unhappy, hoping for more of a relationship with Twain than he offered. I found her thoughts circled constantly on the same topic and made it difficult to like her, although I felt sorry for her.

The settings from Twain's mansion to the streets of New York capture the flavor of the era and enhance the picture of the characters and their lifestyle.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Search for the Secret to Eternal Love

Elia, a lit student, is infatuated with Cameron Beck's masterpiece, Secrets of Odysseus. The book is a compilation of poems Beck wrote to his mysterious muse, but no one knows who she is. Elia is determined to find out. She desperately wants to know what love is and Cameron seems to have the answer.

In a coffee house one night before the end of term, she thinks she hears Beck read a new poem. The poem is left behind when the poet vanishes. Elia rescues it and now is determined to find Beck. The search leads her to a remote Caribbean Island. The islanders have befriended Beck and resent the stranger's intrusion, but she persists.

This love story is told from several perspectives. Elia is the protagonist in the present day, but we also see Cameron. In the past, we see him and his lost love. Usually, I find stories told in two time periods don't work well. However, in this case with the secret of lost love as the thread holding the story together, it works well.

Elia is a delightfully naive character. She is desperately searching for the meaning of love, but she is also capable of determination to see her adventure through to completion. Beck is a more nebulous character. We glimpse his total infatuation with his lover, but in the present day he is more subdued yet willing to part with his secret to the right person.

The characters who inhabit the island: Isabella, the island matriarch, Fatty, the medical doctor with a drug habit, Paco, the cantina owner, and Falcon, the pilot, are extremely well drawn. Each is unique and each fits the setting perfectly. They were some of the best parts of the book.

If you enjoy an adventure wrapped in a romance, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.   

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Family Devastated by a Historic Tragedy

On the day the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Amaterasu took her grandson, Hideo to school. She was supposed to meet her daughter Yuko at the cathedral later. They were estranged because of what Yuko chose to do.

Before Amaterasu set off to meet her daughter, the bomb exploded. The residents of Nagasaki called it “pikadon” a bright flash that changed their lives forever. Yuko was at the center of the blast. There was no hope of finding her, but Amaterasu and her husband, Kenzo, searched for Hideo. They never found him.

Now Amaterasu is a widow living in the United states when a badly scarred man arrives at her door claiming to be her lost grandson. Amaterasu finds it hard to accept that this man is her grandson, but his arrival triggers a flood of old memories.

The is a beautifully written book. The descriptions of Nagasaki both before and after the bombing make you feel that you can see the city. The characters are compelling. Although I couldn't feel warm about Amaterasu, I thought her character was well done.

The plot moves back and forth between the present and life before the bombing. In the early days we get to know Yuko and her relationship with Amaterasu. The mother-daughter relationship drives the story. Often I find a story that moves between time periods is better in one era than the other. In this case, I thought the author did a good job tying the past to the present and gradually revealing the problems that created friction between Amaterasu and her daughter.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy family stories set in tragic circumstances.

I reviewed this book for Penguin.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Case Studies in Branding Showing Big Successful Companies

While this book presents standard business ideas about branding and is well written and interesting, it does little to help small business owners learn how to brand their product. The book opens with a standard section on the principles of branding: create a demand, determine a strategic direction, deliver the core benefits of the product, and maintain a long-term vision. This section is followed by sixteen case studies showing how the business leaders of successful companies used the principles.

The book is well written and entertaining if you're interested in how companies like Amazon, Victoria's Secret, and Starbucks succeeded, but like so many case study books, these stories are very individual and driven by the brilliance of the company founder.

Aside from the principles, which can be found in most marketing textbooks, I didn't find much to help the struggling small business. In fact, I think it would be rather daunting for a small business to compare itself to Frito Lay, for example.

I recommend this book if you're interested in reading about success stories, and you may glean some useful ideas for your business, but this isn't a manual for how to improve your brand. You have to take the ideas and work to create what's right for your business.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Detailed History of FDR From His Early Political Career to the Fall of France During WWII

Although FDR left no detailed memoir giving the reasons for his political decisions, Daniels has captured his words and used them in the context of events to give us a picture of what FDR thought. The book opens with a brief view of Franklin's early life, but the concentration is on his political career. While I had read several biographies of Roosevelt, this is the first one to go in depth about his early office holding. I found it instructive in light of his later political ideas including the New Deal.

I also found it fascinating to read about how FDR was able to control the information about his polio and was able to act as normal as possible. It's enlightening to see how he about how he overcame his affliction.

On the positive side, this is a very detailed, perhaps definitive, look at FDR. Because there is so much detail from quotes to actions to what other historians have said about him, it is a sometime difficult book to read. However, if you're interested in a comprehensive history, this is it.

On the negative side, because the book is crammed with historical detail it is sometimes hard to read. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you're interested in becoming immersed in FDRs life.

The book ends before the US enters WWII. Although the transitions seems rather abrupt when you've been following the history closely, it leaves you wanting to go more in depth into the next segment of FDRs career.

If you enjoy history, this is an extremely well done book. I highly recommend it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Family Tragedy Intersects a National Emergency

Wes Avery, a tail gunner during WWII, is a good man. He loves his wife and daughter and works hard at his Texaco Station not far from McCoy Air Force base near Orlando, Florida. His wife, Sarah, has not been the same since her hysterectomy. Now with an approaching hurricane, she is withdrawing from reality and popping pills.

His daughter Charlotte is in her senior year of high school. She's caught up in being selected as a member of the homecoming court and falling in love with Emilio, a Cuban refugee boy. Avery likes the boy well enough, but Sarah doesn't want Charlotte associating with him. This creates tension in the family and raises the specter of the family secret.

As if the approaching hurricane weren't enough, Avery notices the buildup of aircraft, including U2 stealth aircraft, at McCoy. This is the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Everyone is worried, but it affects Sarah especially.

The description of Florida at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis is excellent. For anyone alive at the time, it will bring back memories; for younger people, it provides a glimpse of what life was like at the time.

Wes Avery, the main character, is well done. He's struggling with a family situation he doesn't understand, trying to manage his gas station, and keep his fear for his family in check. The other characters, Sarah and Charlotte, felt sketchy. Sarah is a fairly typical wife and mother caught in the trap of too many pills and a harrowing time. Charlotte makes only fleeting appearances except for the beginning and end.

I enjoyed the book for the glimpse of history and recommend it for that reason. Some of the plot didn't work for me. The family secret seemed to be dragged in at the end, and the conclusion wasn't satisfying.

I reviewed this book for BantamDell.

Friday, September 25, 2015

How Relevant is the Bible to the Israeli-Palestinian Problem Today?

Brueggemann's thesis is that it is necessary to deal with the human rights issues before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved. He uses the Bible to trace the history of the claims to the land Israel now occupies and tries to draw conclusions about the legitimacy of Israel's claim and the counter claim of the Palestinians.

Although he discusses the conflict in terms of the oppression of the Palestinians and the idea that the Israelis are the chosen people of God, I didn't think he did enough in depth discussion to prove his points beyond a superficial level that most people are familiar with.

The topic is relevant to the political situation today. I was interested to see how Brueggemann would address the fact that Israel is placed in an extremely dangerous situation and that the Palestinians have religious and secular ties to Israel's neighbors.

Although the book makes some good points, I was disappointed in the shallowness of the presentation. For me, the more relevant discussion today is the terrible human suffering wrecked upon the region by ISIS. The book was interesting, but I thought it was naive in the context of the situation in the Middle East today.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Seven Extraordinary Women

The stories of seven women living out their Christian faith in difficult circumstances are awe inspiring. I was pleased that Metaxas picked women who chose to do what they felt called to do as women. They didn't try to be men or compete with men. They used their female strengths: love, giving, mothering, and compassion. They didn't plan to be heroines. They did the work they felt God called them to do.

I was familiar with some of the women's stories: Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa. I hadn't heard of the other women: Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley; Corrie ten Boom, who suffered in a concentration camp for helping Jews during WWII; Hannah More, who worked with Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade; and Saint Maria of Paris, who served the poor in spite of her eccentric ways, marriages, and collisions with church doctrine.

Each woman had a story to tell and Metaxas did an excellent job of bringing them to life in a short biography. I found each one easy to read bringing out the highlights of the woman's life and showing them as real people with severe problems but living out their faith.

I highly recommend this book for both women and men. Everyone can learn from the example of these extraordinary women.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

A Character Study Rather than a Murder Mystery

Georgia, Alice, and Charles have been friends throughout their four years at Harvard. Graduation is almost there when their lives are disrupted by the murder of a classmate, Julia Patel. Rufus Storrow, a professor and house master, is intertwined with the three. He and Georgia, the beautiful daughter of a famous photographer, have an affair, but try to keep it hidden to preserve Storrow's job. Charles, an ambitions, middle-class, young man, has been in love with Georgia since freshman year, but she sees him only as a friend. Alice, a brilliant, unstable girl, has been best friends with Georgia, but she's jealous and after the murder leaks the information about Georgia's affair.

Storrow and Julie Patel were locked in a dispute about what was appropriate for the professor to teach. Because of the disagreement, he becomes the focus of the murder investigation.

The characters in this book are very well drawn and in the beginning pull you into the story. We learn of the murder in the prologue, but it takes well over a third of the book to get to the event. Meanwhile, the author explores the backstory on each of the characters.

I enjoyed the beginning of the book, but quickly got tired of waiting for the murder and detection to start. Even after the dead girl is discovered, the plot goes back to the friends and the professor and we get only small peeks at the process of trying to solve the murder.

Instead of solving the crime. The book continues to cover the lives of the characters for years after the incident. If you're taken with the characters, that may be rewarding, but it your want a resolution to the murder, it's a disappointment

I reviewed this book for Blogging for Books.  

A Victorian Mystery with Delightful Characters

A distraught Lady Jane Grey seeks help from her friend Charles Lennox. Prue Smith, a former of housemaid of Lady Jane's, has been found dead in her new place of employment. Prue's employer believes she committed suicide, but Jane isn't convinced. Charles, an amateur detective in the habit of solving mysteries whether the police appreciate it or not, agrees to take the case.

When Charles visits the dead girl's room, he discovers telltale signs that point to murder rather than suicide. Her employer is adamant that she killed herself and insists that Charles leave the detecting to the police, but Charles is not so easily put off.

There are both positives and negatives in this book. On the positive side, the characters are delightful. Charles and Lady Jane are likable as is Graham, Lennox's loyal manservant. The setting is true to life and showcases both the period and the lives of the characters. I couldn't stop reading it was such fun to be immersed in the period with likable characters.

On the negative side, it you like a mystery that is difficult to solve and has lots of unexpected twists, this isn't for you. The plot is absurdly easy to guess. The facts are laid out in the first quarter of the book. The problem from then on how the author tries to divert your attention. I liked the book, but as a mystery it was disappointing. Luckily, the characters and setting carry the book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Tale of Spies and Heroic Resistance to the Nazi Occupation of Paris

Sumner Jackson, a renowned surgeon, head of the American Hospital in Paris, hates what the Nazis are doing to his beloved Paris. An American, he grew to love Paris after marrying his Swiss wife, Toquette. They and their only child, Phillip want to do everything they can to aid the Allies.

Sumner uses his position in the hospital to smuggle British and French fighters to Spain and then to Britain. Toquette becomes involved in the French Resistance. Living on the Avenue Foch where the other houses had been commandeered by the Gestapo, makes becoming involved in the Resistance an extremely dangerous activity, and the Jacksons and their son paid the price.

Seen through the eyes of the Jacksons from their vantage point on the Avenue Foch, this book shows the horror of the Nazi occupation of Paris in vivid colors. Many of the beautiful mansions that had been commandeered by the Gestapo were used as torture chambers to encourage people to turn in their neighbors and locate any Jews in hiding.

The story is particularly poignant by, in addition to telling the story of the Jacksons, following the career of Gestapo agent Knochen, Dr. Bones. Knochen is a charming, learned individual who loves Paris, but he wants the power to form it in his image. The contrast between the Jackson family and Knochen is startling.

If you're interested in WWII and the Nazi occupation of Paris, this is one of the best books I've read. The author uses this true story to present the horror of living in a city controlled by psychopaths who delight in torture and murder. It's not an easy book to read, but I highly recommend it.

I reviewed this book for Blogging for Books.   

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

An Action-Packed Thriller with a Historical Mystery

Karen Vail and her fiancé, Robbie Hernandez, are enjoying a quiet date. Hearing two gunshots, they rush into the street where they stumble across the body of an FBI agent. Karen sees the perp running away, shoots, hits him and causes a major explosion. This incident pulls Karen into an undercover assignment linked to terrorists trying to take over the United States and Europe.

The historical link is the Codex, an ancient scroll that could change the history of Judaism and Christianity. The terrorists want the scroll, but so does the US Government. Looking for the scroll and trying to root out the terrorists take Karen and her team from the US to Europe and to the Near East.

The book is a fast, paced-action thriller. The action sequences are very well done and there are many of them. However, some parts of the novel are disappointing. Karen Vail, the FBI Profiler who has been featured in some of Jacobson's previous novels, is not as forceful as usual. Some of her internal monologues are simplistic and detract from her mission.

I was also disappointed in the role given the Codex. I love historical mysteries and looked forward to this one, but the Codex turned out to be a subplot. We get glimpses of it from time to time, but it plays a minor role in the action.

The part I most enjoyed was Jacobson's discussions of terrorism. It's worth reading the book to become involved in how terrorist networks perform in western countries. The book was enjoyable, but I wish the balance between the historical mystery and the present day terrorist activities had been more equal.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Friday, September 4, 2015

An Understandable Look at Jesus' Greatest Teaching: The Sermon on the Mount

Christians are familiar with the Sermon on the Mount, but this book takes it one step further. Schuller breaks Bible passages down into sections and devotes a chapter to each section. The substance of the chapters is familiar from the Beatitudes, to the Lord's Prayer, but Schuller has brought the sections into everyday parlance.

Each section contains theological theory, but also examples from the author's own life. There are also explanations of what the ancient Hebrews would have understood some of the passages to mean. I found this particularly fascinating. In the section on marriage and divorce. Schuller goes to some length to explain tjat women were considered almost like property. At the time, a husband could divorce his wife for almost any reason from adultery to putting too much salt in his food. If the woman was divorced, she had few options to keep from starving to death, one of them being prostitution. If she was given a Certificate of Divorce, at least she had a clean reputation. This makes sense of some of the ideas in that section that seem out of step with our modern era.

I encourage every Christian to read this book. It's easy to understand, almost like chatting with an old friend. While each chapter discusses different verses from the Sermon on the Mount, the prevailing image is that Jesus is trying to encourage his followers to believe with their hearts, not to blindly follow the law. That's an excellent lesson for today as well.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Using Your Camera Creatively

Familiarity with your camera and lenses to the point where you don't have to think constantly about the technical details, leads to more creative photos. This is what Peterson suggests. Play with you camera and lenses. Lie on your back and look up, climb a tree and look down, use different lenses to capture the same scene and evaluate the differences. He includes an exercise that while time consuming is designed to accomplish this.

In addition to his suggestions for developing an intimacy with your camera, Peterson covers the basics for taking outstanding photos: design, composition, light, and a short section on Photoshop. The text in each section is easily within the scope of beginners as well as more advanced photographers. I found the use of several examples of the same scene taken from different perspectives the most useful part. Peterson discuss each example: what's good, what's lacking, and why he chose to experiment with another perspective. Necessarily, this leads to a certain amount of autobiography, but I found it fascinating. It's instructive to see how a professional thinks about his compositions.

Whether you're a seasoned photographer, or more importantly, a beginner, this book gives you something to think about. Most seasoned photographers should know the contents of the text very well, but the glimpse of how another photographer constructs his shots is illuminating.

I highly recommend this book. I enjoyed it and felt that I learned a great deal. I'm not a professional, rather an enthusiastic amateur, but I plan to try all
his exercises. I'm sure they will help me to feel more at ease with my equipment.

I reviewed this book for Blogging for Books

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Forensic Artist Stalked by a Serial Killer

Gwen Marcey, a forensic artist, spots her dog, Winston, digging in her yard. She races from the house to make him stop. When he relinquishes his prize, she's shocked to discover that it's a human skull with a bullet hole in it. Relying on her artistic sense and forensic skill, she decides it's the skull of a young girl. The local sheriff isn't sure, but when Gwen and Winston find the rest of the body, he knows he has a problem on his hands.

Finding the first body leads to the recovery of the bodies of more young girls on the farms through the rural Montana county. Eerily, the first body reminds Gwen of her teenage daughter Aynslee. The more bodies that are uncovered, it becomes clear that the resemblance is no accident and Gwen and her daughter are in the cross hairs
of a serial killer.

This is a fast paced novel. Although the author includes a considerable amount of forensic detail, it's done in short sections that don't slow the story. The descriptions of rural Montana enhance the feeling of menace, but also show the beauty of the area.

Gwen and Aynslee are strong characters. Although Gwen is experiencing all the maternal trials of teenage rebellion, when it counts, the two are able to rely on each other in life-threatening situations. Beth, Gwen's assistant, and best friend is another strong character. Beth is the source of Christian faith in the book. She isn't preachy, but she tries to help Gwen deal with the need for forgiveness in her divorce.

The ending is a twist, but not all that surprising if you've been following the clues carefully. The author is good at planting her clues.

If you like fast paced thrillers, this is a good one. I recommend it.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.