Friday, January 30, 2015

How Faith and Determination Won the Battle of the Bulge

By Christmas 1944, the Allies hoped and believed that Hitler was beaten, and the war would soon be over. Then in a surprise attack in the Ardennes, Hitler amassed a large force with the intention to move through to Antwerp and cut the Allies off from their main supply lines. The Allies were unprepared, but the 101st and 82nd Airborne Corps were close by and were
immediately ordered to the area to stop the advance. The heart of the battle took place around the little town of Bastogne.

Corsi recounts the battle at Bastogne that was the final turning point in the war. The Americans were rushed to the area without complete provisions, or winter clothing. However, they were determined and had faith that they would hold the line. This is best illustrated by General McAuliffe's, quote. When asked to surrender, he sent back the answer, “Nuts.”

This is a well researched book that is accessible to the average reader. I liked the inclusion of quotes and stories from the men who fought the battle and later reported on their impressions. These glimpses of the battle from a personal point of view made it come alive for me.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy history, or if you have heard about the Battle of the Bulge and want to know more about it.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A View of 19th Century Spiritualism: The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

During the 19th and early 20th centuries Spiritualism was the rage. Wealthy people held seances in their parlors. Poor people contacted mediums to try to talk to dead relatives. Alessandra, a poor peasant girl, had a gift for contacting the dead, and also performing telekinesis. She starts with helping peasants in her village contact dead relatives for a bit of food or a small coin and moves on to giving demonstrations of her abilities across Europe. In this, she is helped by Tommaso, a youthful admirer, and a Jewish Psychiatrist, Camillo Lombardi, who starts as a skeptic and becomes one of her greatest admirers.

The story is based on the true story of Euspai Palladino. She, like Alessandra, had a remarkable ability to levitate tables, and although tested many times was never completely discredited. I found the story fascinating. If it were a biography, it would have been very good. However, as a novel it leaves something to be desired.

Tommaso is a very bland narrator. The chapters are short, and his voice comes across as more reportorial than real. The best parts of the book are the descriptions of spiritualism, the precautions taken during séance investigations, and the descriptions of manifestations during seances.

I felt this book would have been better as non-fiction, but it was an enjoyable read,
and the facts about Spiritualism, and the attempts to discredit mediums were well researched.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Family, Food, and Love

Pam Anderson is a cookbook author and writes the Blog, Three Many Cooks. Her daughters join her on the Blog and in this book providing different types of recipes. Pam started as a Southern cook. Her daughters, Maggy and Sharon, have branched out into different types of cuisine, but the family's love of food and using meal-times as a time of connection flows through all three women.

The book is a series of vignettes telling the stories of the three women both their love of and difficulties with family and their experiments in a variety of cooking techniques. I love the chapter on Pam's father and his desire to make perfect lemon chicken. Another favorite was Sharon's chapter on sisters. It's almost paradigmatic that sisters will be rivals, but this chapter showed how beneath the conflict there's a great deal of love.

My favorite chapters, as a woman who has always watched her weight, were the chapters on how Pam lost 40 pounds and Sharon's chapter on wishing her thighs didn't touch, but realizing that with her DNA and love of food it was probably a vain hope.

Each story is followed by a recipe featured in that chapter. The recipes sound wonderful. I loved reading them, but since I'm not much of a cook, I will probably not try many of them.

If you love food and family, you'll love this book. Meeting Pan and her daughters was like meeting new friends. I was sad when the book ended.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

This Book Will Challenge Your Concept of God

Nancy Abrams, after being an atheist for her whole life, set out to discover a god she could believe in. The search started because Abrams has an eating disorder. After joining a Twelve Step Program, she realized that belief in a Higher Power helped her overcome her addiction.

Abrams' husband is a well-know scientist who was part of the team that developed the concept of the universe filled with dark matter and dark energy. With this background, Abrams set out to discover a god that was compatible with science, as she understands it. Her concept is that God didn't create the universe, or the planet Earth. In fact, God didn't exist until human beings developed the capacity to think. God is an emergent property of human consciousness. This is a fascinating theory and one that no matter what your religious beliefs, or even if you're an atheist, is challenging to read and worthy of debate.

I found the first chapters of the book fascinating. Abrams does a good job of explaining the science behind the present theory of the universe. Her discussion of the evolution of our concept of God through various civilizations was equally well done. I had a harder time with the latter chapters of the book where she tackles the questions of whether there is a spiritual world, an afterlife, and whether God answers prayers. I felt she was stretching the limits of her theory.

However, this book is worth reading. It will inspire you to define your own beliefs, or perhaps to adopt hers. I recommend it if you like challenging new theories.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reminiscent of Jurassic Park

Dr. C.J. Cameron, a respected expert in reptiles specifically crocodiles, and her brother, Hamish, are invited to a VIP tour of China's latest extravagant theme park. The Great Zoo of China houses dragons that have been collected from all over the world to represent the myths of many countries. C.J. has been included because her mentor, Dr. Bill Lynch, was killed working at the zoo. His death is a precursor to the problems that arise when the dragons are turned loose.

The book is filled with fast paced action and bloodshed. If you like a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, you'll like this one. The plot is clever, but very reminiscent of Jurassic Park with different animals. The major thrust of the plot is a chase scene in which C.J. plays a major role making instant decisions and coming up with solutions.

The book has a great many characters. Most of them are not well developed, but it doesn't matter because Reilly kills them off at a rapid rate. The book is gory. If you have a problem with bloodshed you may not enjoy it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Friday, January 23, 2015

International Intrigue Based on Secrets from American History

In 1913 Philander Knox stated that 33 states had ratified the 16th Amendment to the Constitution giving the US the ability to collect income taxes. However, the ratification was problematic. In the 1930's the antagonism between Andrew Melon and FDR came to a head just before Melon died. He challenged FDR to follow the clues he had laid out to learn about two great secrets from America's past, one relating to the ratification of the 16th Amendment. FDR died before he undertook the quest, but now other people are on the trail of the secrets.

A tax-evader, Anan Wayne Howell, has written a book setting out the case that the 16th Amendment wasn't properly ratified. A number of people are interested including Kim Young Jin, the discredited son of the late Korean dictator. The Treasury Secretary and the President are concerned enough to put the Magellan Billet, run by Stephanie Nelle, on the case. Cotton Malone, Stephanie's best agent, comes out of retirement to take on the assignment with startling results.

If you like action laced with liberal doses of history, you'll enjoy this book. I thought the author did a good job interspersing the historical mysteries with the action in Europe. The author's notes go into detail about the historical underpinnings of the story. It's quite fascinating. I recommend reading that section after you finish the book.

The characters are predictable. Malone is always on the brink of danger doing what seems to be impossible, but coming out unscathed. Stephanie Nelle is a serviceable character, but not one you can get close to. This book rests more on plot than character, but the plot is interesting.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Loneliness, Dispair and a Murder

Anna, newly divorced, lives with her angry teenage daughter. Neither is happy in the tiny New York apartment. The daughter blames Anna for the divorce, and Anna is desperately lonely. One night she attends a singles party, goes home with a man who at first appears attractive, and pushed beyond her endurance by his sexual advances bludgeons him to death. She has no memory of the crime and goes on with her life.

Detective Bernie Bernstein catches the murder case. He is estranged from his wife and special needs son and locked out of his house. One night he attends a singles party where he meets Anna. They develop a relationship that is important to both of them. However, much as Bernie tries to ignore it, the murder is there in the background.

This is a very dark tale of a woman damaged by divorce, trying to remake her life. The murder is no secret to the reader from the first pages, but the development of a sustaining relationship and how it is affected by the murder make a good plot.

The writing is good, but I found the characters sad and depressing. The opening chapters in which we see Anna in her dreary life are the worst. Once Bernie enters the scene, things pick up for her, but the lurking fact of the murder is never far from the center of the story.

If you like a psychological mystery, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed the book for Net Galley.   

Coming of Age Story Driven by a Crime

It's 1989 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One evening on her way home, Lindy Simpson is raped on the street near her house. Although no arrests are made, the crime changes Lindy and the other residents of the street.

The narrator is one of the suspects in the crime. Although he isn't arrested, the rape impacts him deeply. He is infatuated with Lindy. It's one of the central facts of his adolescence. Lindy is his ideal. The girl next door who seems to have everything. As they grow up, their lives entwine and then grow apart, but Lindy is always important to him.

One of the best parts of this novel is the depiction of what life was like in 1989: no Internet and no mobile phones. Teenagers talked on land-line phones with their friends for hours. It paints a picture of growing up in a different time.

The writing is good, but I felt the narrator lapsed into memories that weren't directly related to the story line, and it lessened the impact of the story he was telling. The mystery of who raped Lindy runs through the story, but the most important part is how the crime affected everyone's life.

I recommend this book if you want a glimpse of life in the late 80'
s and early 90's, or if you want to relive part of your own adolescence.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Take off on Stoker's Dracula

Charles Maddox's latest case is to vet the credentials of a wealthy Austro-Hungarian nobleman who offers a gift to the Bodleian Library. Oxford is eager for the gift, but doesn't want to be embarrassed later, so Charles is sent to visit Freiherr von Reisenberg in his castle.

The castle is lavish and the scientific achievements of von Reisenberg are astonishing. At first Charles is overwhelmed, but as days pass the atmosphere in the castle weighs on him. Like the original Count Dracula, von Reisenberg doesn't seem to eat. He stays away from the sun, and there are no mirrors in the castle. In addition there are rooms that Charles is not supposed to visit. As the days wear on, he feels that something is amiss and investigates. His searches get him into trouble, but finally he is able to reach London.

Back in London the Great Exhibition is opening, and the news is rife with the violent murders of young women. Charles is again involved in the investigation.

The chapters about Charles' investigation are interspersed with chapters from Lucy's journal. She is a young woman from Vienna who helps her father with illusions. Although at first the two parts of the story seem unrelated, Shepard manages to wind it all together at the end.

This book follows the plot of Dracula closely including the rather archaic language of Bram Stoker's original. Although true to the period, Shepard's prose feels pretentious and somewhat out of place. The digressions to explain what a character is thinking do not feel natural. I think the story could have been carried without having to resort to stylistic devices from an earlier era.

If you're a fan of the Charles Maddox series, you'll enjoy this book, but I wouldn't suggest starting here. There are many unexplained background occurences that make clear the main character's motives that are not fleshed out in this book. While I'm glad the author didn't spend time on long background sections, it does make it difficult to understand the relationships between the characters.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

A Search for the Loch Ness Monster and a Deteriorating Marriage

A trio of bright, young, Philadelphia socialites travel to Scotland during WWII in search of the Loch Ness Monster. Hank and Ellis, best friends, are unable to serve in the armed forces. Hank has flat feet and Ellis is color blind. Unfortunately, Ellis' father, the Colonel, doesn't believe in the color blindness and thinks his son is a coward. After one blow up, Hank and Ellis decide that the way to redeem Ellis in his father's eyes is to photograph the Loch Ness Monster. The Colonel photographed the monster years ago, but people thought it was a hoax. Now Ellis wants to both one up his father, and get back in his good graces.

Maddie, Ellis' wife, is the third member of the trio. She's not anxious to go to Scotland during the war, but when Ellis and Hank push ahead with the trip, she has no choice but to go along. In Scotland, all three are shocked by the conditions so different from their privileged life in Philadelphia. Maddie accepts the primitive conditions, but Hank and particularly Ellis are resistant. They not only earn the enmity of the locals, but Ellis and Maddie's marriage starts to disintegrate.

The characters are both the best and worst part of this book. In the early chapters, Maddie, Ellis and Hank are believable living the fast life of the wild society set. However, in Scotland Ellis begins to disintegrate. The change is almost not believable. Maddie, likewise, changes a great deal, but in a more positive way. The story is told from her point of view, and this is perhaps why the portrayal of Ellis is so black.

The Scottish characters, particularly Meg and Anna, the girls who work at the Inn where the trio is staying are good characters. They're believable and give depth to the novel.

I found the search for the monster a bit of a stretch, particularly at the end. The book is easy to read and gives a view of Scotland during WWII that is well done. If you want a bit of romance and adventure with characters that grow and change, you may enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Return to Wolfe and Archie in the Old Brownstone

Returning home from a satisfactory poker game at Saul Panzer's, two bullets slam into the wall near the brownstone narrowly missing Archie. Shortly after, Wolfe and Archie receive an anonymous phone call telling them that the caller plans to murder Archie in revenge for one of Wolfe's cases.

This is a very typical Nero Wolfe mystery. Goldsborough did a good job capturing Stout's style. As in most Nero Wolfe mysteries, the plot is not hard to figure out, but Archie, Wolfe, Fritz, Saul and the others are such interesting characters that it's fun to be back with them. I did find that Goldsborough has updated the writing style with more emotional content. Archie is quite shaken after being shot at. For me, this doesn't detract from the novel, but it is a change from the original Stout books.

If you like a good mystery, or are a Nero Wolfe fan, this is one to read.

I reviewed this book for Amazon Vine.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Replace the Idols in Your Life with the Glory of God

Matt Papa is a full time Christian and a song writer. The lyrical style of his writing is evidence of his artistic and musical talent. His songs and this book concentrate on seeing the glory of God.

Sin is idolatry. When we worship something other than the glory of God we are indulging in idolatry. In this book, Papa makes the point that even good things can lead to idolatry. If we begin to worship our work, or money, or some other activity or thing that while good in itself comes between us and seeing the full glory of God, we are engaging in idolatry.

Papa makes the point that being told how to live in order to experience the glory doesn't work. We actually have to see the glory within the Bible, and when we do it will change our lives.

This book makes you think about how you're living your life. I recommend this book for anyone examining their life. We all have busy schedules and things that take up our time. Things that
can become ways to avoid spending time with God and spending time with God is what will change your life for the better.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Thoughts on Living as a Disciple of Christ

J. Heinrich Arnold grew up in a small Christian community in Sanerz, Germany and eventually became a leader of the community. This small group tried to live on the basis of Acts 2 and 4 and the Sermon on the Mount. As a leader of the community in later life, Arnold was asked to address many problems of spiritual life and community living. His writings on these topics form the basis of this book.

The writings are divided into three sections: The Disciple, The Church, and The Kingdom of God. Although in each section, Arnold offers advice and consolation on topics pertinent to living in a community and the trials affecting daily life, his focus is on Christ and the cross and making Christianity a living faith.

The book is not designed as a book of meditations, but the writings can be used as a part of daily meditation. I recommend reading the passages from the Bible in conjunction with the relevant passages. At times, Arnold's interpretations differ from modern church doctrine, but in all instances they are worth reading.

I highly recommend this book. It's a collection of writings that will make you think.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Horses Can Heal Humans

If you love horses, you know how delightful it is to be around these gentle animals. I own several horses, but before I read this book, I didn't realize how many ways they are used to heal humans. Hayes reports on horses being used for healing in a variety of programs.

In a maximum security prison in Colorado, prisoners are used to tame wild horses and discover compassion and an ability to deal with their own fear. There are several programs known as Horses for Heroes that help returning soldiers suffering from PTSD deal with their demons. Autistic children have been helped through programs that include horse therapy. Teenagers suffering from emotional or addiction problems find healing in horses, as do people with cerebral palsy and other physical disorders.

In addition to discussing the programs for healing with horses, Tim Hayes recounts his own relationship with horses from being a cowboy in Idaho to teaching natural horsemanship in New York City. For those people unsure about getting on the back of a horse, natural horsemanship emphasizes ground work. You can become a friend of a horse and gain all the benefits of the interaction without having to ride. Although once you get to know your horse and realize how gentle
they are, you'll want to take the next step and ride or drive.

This book is a tribute to the amazing relationship between humans and horses. Too many people today miss out on the wonders of dealing with nature because of their city lives and reliance on electronic devices. I recommend that everyone read this book to become familiar with the joy of horses and learning to live with nature.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Trying to Make Amends Before Dying , Kenny Discovers a Murder

Kenny Drummond, diagnosed with late stage brain cancer, wants to make amends to the people he thinks he's hurt before he dies. One of these people is Callie Barton. He hasn't seen her since grade school where she helped him deal with the loss of his mother and his father's manic depressive episodes.

The problem is that he can't find Callie. She appears to have vanished. There is a strong suspicion that she was murdered by her husband, Jonathan. Having discovered the murder theory, Kenny is on a crusade. He breaks into Jonathan's home and from there he's on a campaign to find what happened to her.

In the opening chapters, Kenny seems like a nice, rather ineffectual man. However, when he decides to go after Callie's murderer, he changes completely. I found this change hard to take. I understand that the brain tumor could have made him behave differently from his normal personality, but the violence involved in the change seems out of proportion.

The story is told with spare language and a fast pace. It
reads more like a movie than a novel. However, it has the effect of keeping you reading. If you like fast paced novels, this will suit you. I found the story very hard to get involved with, aside from the pace of the action. Kenny's obsession with Callie seems out of proportion as does his response.

I recommend this book if you like fast paces thrillers.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Two Love Affairs and Emily Dickinson

Alice Dickinson, no relation to Emily, plans to write a play about the love affair between Mabel Loomis Todd and Austin Dickinson, Emily's older brother. Alice is English. To understand the atmosphere of Amherst she travels to America. Her friend and ex-lover, Jack, gives her the address of Nick Crocker, his mother's ex-lover and a professor at Amherst College. Under the influence of Emily Dickinson's poetry and the Mable-Austin love affair, Alice has a brief affair with the charismatic Nick.

The stories of the two love affairs are told in alternating chapters. Like many books that try to tell two stories one story is superior to the other. The love affair between Mable and Austin is historically accurate and well written. The chapters are filled with excerpts from letters and diaries as well as Emily's poems. The love affair between Alice and Nick is far less interesting.

I found the characters, Alice and Nick, not believable. Alice's affair seems forced. She's only known Nick a couple of days when she's madly in love with him. I found the whole affair melodramatic. I couldn't get close to either of the characters.

I also found the treatment of Emily Dickinson rather distasteful. I had a hard time believing that the inspiration for her poems was listening outside the dining-room door while Mabel and Austin made love.

If you love Emily Dickinson's poems or are interested in the love affair between Mabel and Austin, you may enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Girl Alone in London

Edie and her mom have been on the run from her abusive father for years. Now they're in London and Edie isn't happy about it. This a foreign country, and she doesn't like it. Her new school isn't any help. On the first day she attracts the attention of the school bully, Prescious. The only person who is kind to her is Imogene, who Edie considers weird.

The plot revolves around the fact that Edie's mother fails to come home from work one morning. Edie doesn't know what to do. She's alone in a foreign country. All she can think of is finding her mother. In this, she's helped by Jermaine, a boy with a terrifying reputation for violence.

Most of the book follows Edie and Jermaine's search through London for her mother. Although the book is relatively short, I thought so much time devoted to a search took away from getting to know the characters. Edie is not a sympathetic character. Although she has plenty of reasons to be unhappy, her disregard for other people shown by her distaste for the one person who befriends her in the new school are distasteful

The ending was predictable from the opening. It emphasized Edie's self-centered response to the situation. She didn't think of asking for help. At the end, she appears to have learned something about relating to other people, but it happened very fast and didn't seem quite real.

I can't recommend this book. It's very short and may appeal to young readers, but it's not well crafted. Perhaps it would be more appealing if the book were longer with more attention to character development.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Paranormal Romance Set in Belle Epoque France

Sandrine Verlaine flees her New York home after her father's death leaving behind the husband whose corrupt business dealings were responsible for her father's suicide. In Paris, Sandrine is surprised to find that her grandmother, a famous courtesan, has left her lovely stone house and gone to live in a hotel. Sandrine's grandmother warns her against going to the house, but Sandrine is drawn to it. There she finds love and discovers a talent for painting, but the house is also filled with the spirit of La Lune, a famous courtesan, whose spirit begins to take over the girl.

The setting in Belle Epoque Paris is historically accurate and well described. I enjoyed the detail and learning about the occult underground that flourished in that period. I was not as enchanted with the characters and the plot. I loved Rose's previous novels centered on Jac L'Etoile and the perfume business. For me, Sandrine hasn't the appeal and the paranormal seems a bit heavy handed.

The grandmother is an interesting character, but I thought her development
hard to reconcile with the self-contained business woman at the beginning of the novel.

If you're a fan of Rose's books, you may enjoy this novel. However, I can't recommend it as highly as her previous books.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.