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.