Monday, August 31, 2015

An Unusual Take on the Story of Creation

A shipping container filled with the bodies of young women washes up on the shore of an island between worlds. John the Collector is called to see what's in the container. Surprisingly, he finds one of the young women alive, badly broken, but alive.

During the healing process, the young woman experiences the story of creation in the presence of Mother Eve. It's beautifully told and although the young woman feels unworthy to be a witness, she loves the experience.

The question that hangs over the early part of the story is the identity of the young woman, and why she feels so unworthy. It's a question that will keep you reading as she gradually recovers her identity.

I have mixed feelings about the book. The story of creation is beautifully written, but it you're a biblical purist shifting the blame for the fall from Eve to Adam may be unsettling. The description of the island and the healing of the girl are fascinating. I wish we had more than a few glimpses of this unusual place. The other problem I had with the story stems from the blurb that made me select the book. It said the girl was special because her DNA connects her to every human. I was disappointed that this was not pursued in the book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Noteworthy View of the Political and Social Background of the Holocaust

Many books have been written about the political factors leading up to WWII and the Holocaust, but The Black Earth is remarkable in the way it pulls history, social conditions, and political theory together to create a picture of the factors allowing the Holocaust to happen. 

One factor was Hitler's severe racial hatred. His plan was always to exterminate the Jews. Another was the destruction of the identity of the state in areas like Poland and Eastern Europe. When the state was dissolved, citizens lost their identity as members of the larger group, and there was no organization to protect them. Snyder recounts the history of how this came about as part of Hitler's plan and the devastating consequences.

However, the book also has a hopeful section. The author recounts numerous stories of non-Jews hiding Jews, or helping them escape. It reinforces the idea that people to people contact is important in enabling people of all political and religious groups to show compassion to those in need.

The final chapter is something I believe everyone should read. We like to think we have put the Holocaust behind us, but there are factors in the world today which could tip the balance and return the world to something resembling that terrible time. When people fear global catastrophe, they can become rapacious trying to secure their own survival with radical action and become less amenable to political solutions. It's something for all of us to think about.

I highly recommend this book. It puts into perspective much of what led to the Holocaust and cautions us against complacency.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hurricane Katrina Changed Lives Forever

The devastation and heartbreak caused by Hurricane Katrina are in the past, but the people affected by the tragic events are still living with the aftermath. The Zimmer's house was gutted by the storm. They were forced to move in with their daughter and her son, Teddy, in Chicago. The hurricane changed their lives, but being forced to live together changed them even more.

The Zimmers are only one of the families whose stories are told in this collection of short stories. However, their's is the thread that holds the collection together. It's a story of bravery, and growing, and giving in. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting this family.

The collection of stories captures the triumphs and tragedies that resulted from this terrible event. The author does an excellent job of making the people come alive. Although I'm not familiar with the Gulf Coast. I felt that I came to know the area and the people.

I usually prefer novels to short stories, but the combination of short stories with a continuing set of characters made the book very satisfying. I think the vignettes showing how lives were affected at various positions on the socio-economic spectrum was a very effective way to bring the story of what happened to people after Katrina to life.

I highly recommend this book. If you're a survivor of the hurricane, it's a must read. If you love well done glimpses of people's lives, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

An Action Packed Thriller Involving Illegal Arms Trafficking and a Deadly Conspiracy

When Jackie Burlingame, arrives at Wyatt Storme's cabin in the Colorado Rockies, Storme isn't pleased. He doesn't like Jackie and being offered a thousand dollars to make a simple delivery smells. Storme wants nothing to do with it until he realizes that his good friend, Matt Jenkins, may be involved and in trouble.

Storme enlists his buddy, Chick Easton, to keep the delivery under surveillance and assist if necessary. It becomes necessary and Chick and Wyatt find themselves involved with crooked politicians, mobsters, and a deadly conspiracy.

If you like a book with plenty of action, this is it. Storme and Chick are in it up to their necks from the first page. There is no let up in the action, and it keeps you turning the pages.

However, the book isn't just action, the characters are well done. There are sassy, humorous exchanges between Chick and Storme and between Storme and his sexy, newscaster girlfriend that are fun to read. The plot is very complex and with all the twists it's hard to figure out what's happening until it all comes together at the end.

I recommend this book if you like hulking heroes, a little sex and plenty of action.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Victorian Mystery

Veronica Speedwell is an unusual young woman for Victorian times. She collects butterflies, going on extended expeditions to strange places to find her specimens and collecting romances along the way. She has never known her parents being brought up by two spinsters to whom she is not related.

Veronica attends the funeral of her last adopted aunt. Now she's on her own and eager to get started with her life, but when she returns to the cottage she shared with her aunt, she finds a man rummaging through her things. Undeterred, she plans to pursue her journey, but narrowly escapes being kidnapped. A mysterious German baron befriends her and takes her to stay with his reclusive, naturalist friend, Stoker. Stoker and Veronica immediately begin a verbal sparring match that is rather delightful to listen to.

Before the baron can tell Veronica what is going on, he's murdered. Now Stoker is stuck with his difficult roommate and together they decide to try to solve the mystery.

The characters in this book, Veronica and Stoker, are very well done. I loved their verbal sparring and the fact that both were extremely independent. Veronica was quite unusual for a Victorian lady. The plot is full of twists that keep you guessing and the conclusion is quite unexpected. The Victorian setting is well done and makes a perfect backdrop for the action.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you like historical mysteries with a bit of romance, you may enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Romance, Mystery and History

ReneTalbot arrives at her family's Virginia Estate for the annual reunion. This is year is special for Rene. The family is giving the Smithsonian a pamphlet printed by a Talbot ancestor in 1685. The pamphlet was used to guide Huguenots out of France during the persecution by Louis XIV.

A second thread of the story is the story of Catherine, Rene's ancestor who lived during the time the pamphlet was printed.

The third part of the story is a murder mystery. When they were children, Rene and her three cousins stumbled on a murder in the woods adjoining the family estate. When they told the adults, no one believed them, and when they went back to show their parents, the body it had mysteriously disappeared. This experience has hung over the cousins and is still causing them anguish although they are now adults.

This is an enjoyable book. Rene and Catherine are likable characters. The romance is subtle, but gives a nice background to the story. Rene becomes involved with the security guard hired to protect the pamphlet. Catherine has her own romantic trials. She has loved Pierre Talbot since she was a child, but now she wonders if she can trust him.

The two stories are joined together well, but I always find that I care more about one story than the other in this situation and feel the other intrudes. Still, it fleshes out the story of the pamphlet.

My biggest problem with the book is that not all the threads are resolved. I'm sure the authors did this in hopes of selling the next book. However, when you get to the end and a major thread is left dangling, it feels a bit like cheating.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Happens When the Government Controls Every Aspect of Your Life

In Book 1 of the Resistance Trilogy, Tommy and Careen, college students, meet when a drug to help protect the population from terrorism is passed out. The drug is not what it seems and Tommy and Careen band together to fight the web of lies that is causing the population to become unable to do anything but what the government decrees.

In Book 2, Resist, Tommy and Careen are on the run. They've joined the resistance. Their goal is to rescue a group of dissenters that includes Tommy's parents. As they pursue this goal, they meet other people who think as they do and some who are deceptive. Their relationship is tested when they find they can't agree about everything, but they continue to work through their issues and help the other freedom fighters.

This is a fast paced dystopian thriller. The action begins in the first chapter and continues at a relentless pace throughout the book. Although Tommy and Careen are the main characters, other characters, including those behind the evil, have chapters written in their point of view. This provides a vehicle for giving information about what is happening in the enemy camp, things Tommy and Careen can't know.

I enjoyed the book. The characters are likable and the plot has numerous twists. If you enjoy dystopian novels, you may find this trilogy appealing.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

An Immigrant Family Copes with Change

At the start of the summer, Anwar is happy. He moved his family from Bangladesh to Brooklyn and has created a good life for his wife and two daughters. He owns an apothecary shop where he sells beauty treatments and salves that he makes himself. He has a home he renovated in Brooklyn that he enjoys. He loves his family and is proud of his daughters, Ella and Charu. Then changes begin.

He loves his wife, but their romance has grown stale. He remedies it with an affair that he regrets. The girls too are changing. Ella comes home from college to discover Maya, a Moslem cleric's daughter, staying with them. The girls become very close blurring the lines between love and friendship.

Maya tries to poison herself, and Anwar's family experiences terror in their own neighborhood. To escape the problems, Anwar takes his family to Bangladesh. They enjoy being back among family, but tragedy stalks them.

If you enjoy character driven novels, this is a good one. Each of the family members is carefully crafted. During the summer they all grow and change in believable ways. The girls experience the pains of growing up and coming to terms with who they are. Anwar also must face who he is and come to terms with the horrors of the past in Bangladesh.

The settings in Brooklyn and Bangladesh are beautifully described. I particularly enjoyed the description of Anwar's garden that he and Ella loved.

I highly recommend this book. It brings the reader into a different life and describes it beautifully.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

An Amateur Detective with Synesthesia

Mack Dalton, owner of Mack's bar, has a unique neurological disorder, synesthesia. She can taste or see things she hears. Seeing things can be perceived as a tactile sensation, and smells and tastes are accompanied by sounds or a physical sensation. Mack has developed a talent for using her unique abilities to help solve crimes. Her boy friend, Duncan Alright, is a cop who has used her talents in the past. In fact, their crime solving as a team was so successful that the newspapers have started following her as a major news story.

Mack is in hiding from the press when she receives a letter from an unknown admirer. He plans to set her a series of tests. If she doesn't pass one of her friends from the Capone Club, her bar patrons who help solve crimes, will die.

In addition to the trials by the unknown admirer, Mack and the Capone club are involved in solving the cold case murder of Tiny's sister. This is a straightforward mystery and not difficult to figure out.

The book is fast paced with a dose of romance between Mack and Duncan as well as the two crimes. While I found the use of synesthesia as a talent for a detective interesting, Mack's character was not otherwise memorable.

For me, the major flaw in the book is the cliff hanger ending. Although the club solves Tiny's case, the series of trials remains open with a new murder and trial at the end of the book. Perhaps looking ahead to find out about this case will sell books, but it's a turn off for readers who want a resolution.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.