Friday, March 27, 2015

Makes the Wars of the Roses Come Alive

In this second novel in the Wars of the Roses Trilogy, Henry VI is suffering from an illness that left him in a senseless state and unable to govern. The Duke of York is Protector. He is married to Cecily Neville making him a supporter of the Nevilles. Her brother Richard, Earl of Salisbury is one of his closest advisers.

Early in the novel the problems arising from the power of the Nevilles is demonstrated by the Battle of Heworth Moor. Northumberland, although he is married to a Neville, hates the influence they wield. He orders his son, Thomas Percy, to attack Salisbury at a wedding and kill them all including the bride. This incident sets the stage for the rest of the novel.

The Wars of the Roses were violent. Men didn't scruple at killing even members of their own family because of perceived slights, loss of estates, or being out of favor with the powerful ruler. I thought the author did an excellent job of showing what the period was like. It made the times come alive for me.

The historical detail in this book is excellent. The author obviously knows the period and keeps close to the facts. Where he does deviate, he describes the reason for it in the Historical Note at the end of the book. I highly recommend reading it.

If you enjoy historical fiction this is an excellent choice. However, it was a violent period so be prepared for descriptive violence.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Tale of Two Civil War Ladies

Cinnamon and cream describes two young girls, one a slave, the other her mistress. As children they are playmates, but when they grow up, Jule, a slave, realizes that she will never have the same opportunities as her mistress, Julia.

Julia Dent is the daughter of a Missouri slave holder. She falls in love with Ulysses S. Grant and vows to follow him so they can always be together. After the Mexican War, Ulysses leaves the military, and they have hard times, but as the Civil War approaches, he returns to uniform and leads the Union troops. Although married to a Union general, Julia can't give up her belief in slavery. She takes Jule with her whenever she can, but in spite of their long term relationship, she can never treat her as an equal.

The lives of Julia and Ulysses S. Grant are well documented historically and portrayed accurately. I did feel that too often we were just reading history without the emotional content of a novel. However, to be true to the Grant's story the author couldn't go too far from the historical account.

Little is known about the real Jule. She was mentioned in a few places in Julia Grant's papers, but her story is almost completely fiction. I thought the author did a good job bringing Jule to life. She was in many ways more real than Julia. The story of the two girls highlights the problems of slavery. Even slave owners, like Julia, who tried to take care of their slaves couldn't see them as people with the same needs they had. Julia found it almost incomprehensible that Jule would want freedom, the right to marry and have her own family.

I enjoyed this book. The beginning where we meet the two girls was delightful. The middle recounts battles and Julia moving around to be with Ulysses and is somewhat boring unless you're interested in Civil War history. It's also the portion of the story where we hear little about Jule. The ending wraps up nicely, so if you get bogged down in the middle, keep going the ending is worth it.

I reviewed this book for Dutton.  

A Book for Mothers to Share With Their Daughters

We all want the best for our children and that includes living the way God wants us to live. In today's rushed world, it's sometimes hard to find either the time or the words for mothers to talk to their daughters about moral issues and life lessons. All Mascara is Not Created Equal is an opportunity to open the discussion with a beautiful book.

The book intersperses humerus tips like the idea the movie star's mascara is different, to practical tips like be an informed voter, to religious tips like listen to God; he's pretty wise. The book is worth reading from cover to cover then selecting topics to discuss with your daughter. It's a beautiful gift to give your child.

This book will be featured on a Blog Tour from March 23-27. For more information see #WomenGetRealBlogTour .

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Baking is About More than Creating a Cake

Eaden's Grocery Chain sponsors a contest looking for a new Mrs. Eaden since the original Mrs. Eaden recently died. Kathleen Eaden, the wife of George, the first owner, was photogenic, a wonderful baker, author of a cookbook, and an asset to Eaden's Grocery Chain. The new Mrs. Eaden will have a larger than life image to live up to. Five contestants are eager to try: Jennifer, the wife of a dentist faces an empty nest; Vicki, a stay at home mother misses teaching; Karen, a bored housewife looks for a challenge; Claire, a single mother wants a better future for her daughter; and Mike, a widower raising two children wants some recognition for his role.

Each chapter is devoted to a participant, including chapters about the original Mrs. Eaden. Each woman uses baking not only to feed her family but to release tension and find an outlet from her problems. The stories are the kind most women can relate to and perhaps find some clues to how to deal with a problem of their own. The contestants all believe that the first Mrs. Eaden was perfect. They don't see how they can live up to her image. However, as Kathleen's story progresses it's clear that her life was far from ideal.

I enjoyed the scenes at the baking competition. Although this isn't a recipe book, it contains hints about making bread, cakes, biscuits and puddings. Since the novel takes place in the UK some of the measurements are unusual, as are the dishes, but there a plenty of hints on how to work dough and create fillings that are helpful.

If you enjoy baking, this is a delightful book, but it's much more. It's an exploration of the problems that beset women and how they can find an outlet in baking. As Kathleen points out, baking is about love.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Good Historical Background on Renaissance Italy, But too Long

The Visconti ruled Milan for generations. Now the last Visconti duke is dying without a legitimate heir. The Sforza, another noble family related to the Visconti, are waiting to be invited to rule the city. The city fathers don't like it, but the other choice is annihilation when Sforza attacks the city.

The old duke, however, is not childless. He has a son, Niccolo, by a noble woman. The child is only a baby and the duke fears that his enemies will have the child killed, so he entrusts the boy to Archdeacon Onorio. Unbeknownst to the duke, Onorio is a secret Druid. The Druids made their home in Milan many years before. They worship their goddess, Bellsama, who later evolves into the Virgin Mary, in a temple constructed near the foundation of the cathedral that is being constructed.

Niccolo grows up wanting to be a sculpture, and succeeds in becoming an artist. His closest friend is Lorenzo, a young commoner, who is a paid killer for the Sforza. Lorenzo's sister Maria becomes the mistress of an aristocrat, but is then abandoned. Niccolo falls in love with Angelica, but it is another doomed relationship because she, too, is a commoner, and he is a noble. The lives of these characters growing up form the basis of the story.

I enjoyed the amount of historical detail in the book. I hadn't realized that the Druids had so much influence in Italy. The descriptions of their rites and their study of alchemy and magic are fascinating, but this much detail detracts from the plot. The story moves back and forth in time, which also tends to be confusing.

I recommend this book if you enjoy historical novels and have an interest in renaissance Italy. If you like lots of detail you'll enjoy this book, but if you're looking for a briskly moving plot, you'll be disappointed.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Stop on the Underground Railroad, Ghosts, Murder, and a Love Story

Lee Seymour is twenty-seven and feels like she's finally grown up. She has a job at Safe Haven, a Cambridge rehabilitation center for addicts, and she lives with her grandmother, Clara, in the old Harden House. Harden House was a stop on the underground railroad for runaway slaves in the 1850's. Today Clara with the help of Lee and her cousin Bonnie, is preparing the house for inclusion in the Harriet Tubman Network to Freedom National Park. Besides Lee and Bonnie, Clara is helped in this endeavor by Trina Collins, a recovering addict from Safe Haven, and Michael Ennen, a dropout from the Harvard architecture school.

The history of the house is told in the diary of Sarah Harden, a teen-ager in the 1850s. Her father,an abolitionist, welcomed runaway slaves to their home. Because the authorities were becoming more watchful, her father built a safe room, a place to hide the slaves that wasn't apparent from a tour of the inside of the house.

In addition to the history of the underground railroad, the house has a ghost that Lee can feel. There is romance between Michael and Lee and between Sara and a runaway slave, Silas Person. Tragedy stalks the house in both the 1850's and the present. Silas was murdered and his body buried in an unfinished tunnel in the cellar. Clara is also dies and the question of murder arises.

The book is told as two separate, intertwined stories. The modern portion is narrated by Lee; the historical portion,by Sarah's diary. I found the historical portion very well done and accurate. I felt it was better than the modern section. Lee is not an attractive character. She has a prickly personality and believes she's a liberal when in fact she harbors prejudices that she doesn't understand.

The story moves quickly. The only problem is in moving back and forth between the centuries. I found the writing good. It was an easy book to read. If you enjoy historical novels with a tinge of romance and murder, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Searching for Atlantis from Plato's Description to Modern Technology

People have been fascinated by Plato's descriptions of Atlantis in the Timeas and the Critias since they were written. The descriptions are tantalizing because Plato in the Critias gives a very explicit placement for the sunken island, including measurements and geological features. Since there are apparently no sunken islands in the Atlantic outside the Pillars of Hercules matching Plato's description, many people have concluded that Plato invented the tale to make a philosophical point.

The fact that no island can be found has not deterred some Atlantologists. Locations from Crete to Morocco have been suggested. Each site has it pluses and minuses. The author does an excellent job of tracking down the proponents of each site and getting an explanation of why it should be considered Plato's Atlantis.

In the process of traveling from Malta to Spain, the US, and many points in between, he discovers fascinating archaeological investigations. It's clear that in ancient times the area around the Mediterranean was subjected to repeated cataclysms from the explosion of Thera to tsunamis ravaging the coast of Spain. Using ground penetrating radar, archaeologists have been able to locate some of the ancient cities and map them using advanced technology.

I loved this book. I have always been fascinated by archaeology and by the Atlantis story. This book gives a comprehensive view of what some of the most well-known people in the Atlantology field think today. My only disappointment was the ending. I can sympathize with the author. It's hard to decide which theory to believe, however, I felt that he tossed out too much evidence to come to his preferred choice. However, that has nothing to do with the quality of his research.

I highly recommend this book if you're fascinated by Atlantis and love archaeology.

I reviewed this book for Dutton.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Political Intrigue and a Missing Letter from George Washington

Matt Hawkins, an antiques dealer in Savannah, Georgia, buys a box of old atlases. The last one looks uninteresting, but when he opens it to the center, he finds a small leather-bound journal. The journal dates from the Revolutionary War and was written by Caty Greene, wife of General Nathaniel Green, one of Washington's officers.

In the journal, Caty recounts the story of Washington writing a surrender letter addressed to General Howe during the terrible winter at Valley Forge. The letter was never delivered, but General Greene, who was the courier, kept the letter. Caty ends up with it and so has a very explosive piece of history.

Matt shows the journal to Sarah Gordon, a local historian. They decide that it should be authenticated, but this brings the existence of the letter to the attention of politicians. The country is in the middle of a presidential campaign. One of the candidates claims direct descent from George Washington and is using that relationship to move ahead in the polls. The existence of the letter could change the tenor of the race.

Imposters of Patriotism is told from the viewpoint of the present day interspersed with chapters giving Caty Greene's perspective. It is both a historical novel and a romantic suspense story. As the story progresses, Sarah and Matt recognize their mutual attraction. They become partners with Sarah's father in trying to find the original letter. This attraction between the principals is a typical plot line for romantic suspense.

The historical details seem reasonably accurate save for the fact that Washington himself had no direct descendants. That doesn't hurt the story, since it is fiction, but if you're looking for historical accuracy, this is pretty much fabrication. However, the setting is interesting and seems accurate for both time periods.

This is a fun if predictable read if you like historical fiction or romantic suspense. However, if you're looking for serious historical fiction you'll be disappointed.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Illegal Immigrants and a Legal Thriller

Mia Quinn is prosecuting a wealthy man accused of murdering Dandan, a Chineese prostitute who is an illegal immigrant. Mia is sure the man is guilty, but she has an uncomfortable feeling that the jury won't agree. When a single holdout results in a hung jury, Mia is devastated, particularly since her boss, Frank, isn't sure he'll let her retry the case.

Charlie, a police detective, is in her corner. As a team they search for more evidence that Dandan was murdered and did not attack the man, as he claims. In the process of investigating the case, they run into a former client of Scott's, Kenny Zong, who owns a Chineese restaurant. Kenny appears to be deeply involved with a number of illegal Chineese immigrants, but it won't be easy to prove.

In addition to her caseload. Mia's home life is out of control. Her teenage son, Gabe, is experimenting with steroids. Mia has invited Kali and her son Eldon to live with them, but Kali has cancer and her role in taking care of Brooke, Mia's daughter, is putting strain on both her and Mia's family.

As usual with a Lis Wiehl's thriller, the suspense runs through the whole book making you want to continue reading. The court scenes and the legal background are believable and easy for a layman to follow.

The characters of Mia and Charlie are likable. They work well together. I do feel that Mia's character is a bit too over wrought. However, with things going wrong at home as well as at the office that is to be expected.

The background of the plight of people coming to the US illegally, being promised great things, and then made virtual slaves is interesting and informative. The plight of these people draws you into the story and makes you want to help them.

If you enjoy legal thrillers, this is a good one. I recommend it.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.  

Great Coach: Great Advice

Being a coach is not just about winning, although winning is important, it's also about building your players. Dru Joyce is exceptional in both areas.

Dru didn't start out as a couch, or even particularly interested in basketball. His game of choice as a kid was football. Although he loved football, his career didn't start with sports. He worked for many years as a salesman for ConAgra and coached part-time. However, a career working with kids in sports was on the horizon. After some job problems, he quit and started an AAU basketball league which in the first year had 50 teams. This success led to the offer of a coaching job with the winning team at St. Vincent – St. Mary.

Things didn't start spectacularly well for Dru at St. Vincent – St. Mary. His team lost the state championship. This is my favorite part of the story. The team was devastated. Dru was devastated, but instead of giving way to his depression, he began to analyze what went wrong. This analysis let to the excellent advice in this book. He didn't give up, or blame others. He started working to build his team.

If you're a basketball fan, you'll love this book. If you work with kids, I highly recommend it. The advice fits more than sports teams. If you just like a good story, it's a great read.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Classic Easter Stories for the Whole Family

The stories in this beautiful book are not about Easter eggs and cute bunnies. These are stories that get to the meaning of the Easter season. Some of my favorite authors are represented as well as some I was unfamiliar with. Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis, Leo Tolstoy and the Brothers Grimm are a few of the well known authors. The opening poem, Carol of Hope, by Jane Tyson Clement is a very special way to introduce the collection.

My favorite story from the collection was “John” by Elizabeth Goudge. It takes place after the crucifixion and John's guilt is palpable as he worries that all the Apostles ran away, but he is most concerned with his own lack of fortitude.

The stories are illustrated with woodcuts that are as delightful as the stories themselves.

The stories present a wonderful opportunity for all family members from grandparents to children to listen to the stories and think about the real meaning of Easter. I highly recommend this book.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Challenging View of Christ's Message

The Jesus of the Bible is not the gentle shepard portrayed by many churches. In the early chapters, Slaughter hits hard on the “Sunday Christians” and the churches that support this attitude. Christ came to awaken people to the problems of complacency. Slaughter makes the point that if you want to follow Jesus it's a hard row. Jesus said to the rich young man who asked to be a follower that he had to give all he had to the poor before he could be a follower. The rich young man couldn't do it, and how many of us today would be able to?

Jesus did come to start a revolution. Today we can be part of that revolution, or we can remain complacent Christians and miss the opportunities afforded by becoming a follower of Christ. The second part of the book suggests how this can be accomplished. Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg Methodist Church, reports on the ways his church is trying to make a difference by supporting the development of Christian communities in Africa.

This is an excellent book for Christians to read and think about. Slaughter makes the point that apathetic Christians and churches presenting a watered down version of Christ's message have done more to destroy Christianity than atheists and agnostics. I highly recommend this book. It will make you think and, hopefully, act.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Weak Legal Mystery

When he was growing up, Jack Dana's Uncle Harry, a Manhattan attorney, was an important part of his life and remains so after Jack is wounded in Afganistan. After finishing a novel, Jack returns from a vacation in South America to learn that his beloved uncle has committed suicide after being forced into retirement.

Jack is shocked. He begins digging into the facts surrounding his uncle's death and finds there are many loose ends. He's helped in this by Kerry, a young female partner in his uncle's firm, and Scott, a school friend. Things are not as they seem at the law firm, and Jack wants to know why.

This is a poorly written book. It starts slowly with an extensive account of Jack's early life and his relationship with Uncle Harry. Told in the first person, the story drags. These is no sparkling dialog, or interesting description.

Jack is a self-centered, boring character. Likewise, Kerry, who becomes his lover, is predictable and dull. Their motivations are hard reconcile with the plot. Kerry, for example, was Uncle Jack's favorite, but did nothing to defend him when he was being forced out of the firm.

The plot is predictable. The villain is obvious from the early pages even before the suicide. I can't recommend this book. Mystery books that take you through the life of the protagonist before getting to the decisive event are poorly done. I wanted to like this book. This concept is intriguing, but the execution didn't live up to my expectations.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.