Monday, December 26, 2016

A Historical Romance with and Appearance by Mrs. Lincoln

At the start of the story, Isabelle Larkin exemplifies all the attributes that the society of 1875 felt most desirable. She was a well-brought-up young woman who, although she did not agree with her mother, did what her parent and society demanded. She was engaged to Gregory, a young man looking to start a career in politics helped by Isabelle’s family connections. Isabelle felt she was lucky and doing the right things for a successful life.

However, Isabelle’s path is not to be smooth. She witnesses Gregory commit a murder and refusing to marry him is now in fear of her life. She finds refuge in Bellevue, a sanatarium, the same one Mrs. Lincoln was committed to by her son. The two women become supportive of each other and Isabelle finds the courage to face Gregory’s misdeeds.

The book is primarily a romance although the events are driven by the murder. Isabelle is not in a position until the very end to try to figure out the secrets behind the murder, so the book is not really a mystery. The historical background is accurate. Bellvue was a real sanatarium in the 1800s and did house Mrs. Lincoln.

I found the characters rather flat. Isabelle seems unable to decide to act for herself until the end making her seem a weak character. However, this may be due to the author’s feeling that that would be what the period required.

The writing was fair. I dislike dialog used to convey information. This happened fairly often with Isabelle. The historical detail was well done, but I couldn’t get interested in the characters. If you enjoy historical romance, this is a quick read.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Little Known WWII Story in the Mountains of North Carolina

Stephen Robbins, the alcoholic manager of the Mountain Park Hotel in Hot Springs, North Carolina, has a new responsibility. His hotel has become an interment camp for German merchant marine officers and men whose ship was unable to get away from the US before war was declared.

The officers and men are allowed freedom to conduct classes and build a replica of a German village. After the first attempted escape, Stephen manages to keep things relatively calm in spite of his cousin Roy, the local sheriff. He and Roy have been enemies for a long time.

Add to the mix, a well known photographer, Anna Ulmann, who arrives to take pictures of the Germans. Stephen tries to resist her charms, but as pressure mounts on the camp, they become partners and a romance ensues.

The descriptions in this book are wonderful. I believe the author loves the North Carolina area. He uses the background perfectly to support the story.

Stephen is a well drawn character. He struggles against loneliness and alcoholism. Being very intelligent, he is different from the backwoods characters that are part of the background in the mountains.

The book is well written. The prose draws you in to the story and paints a vivid picture of this little known segment of American history.

I received this book from Turner Publishing for this review.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

More John Berger’s Philosophy of Life than Art Criticsm

John Berger was born in 1926. He is well known as both an artist and writer, particularly an art critic. This book is a collection of essays written over the past 60 years. They were not originally intended for a single volume, being published in a variety of venues.

Instead of the historical discussion of landscapes I was expecting, the book presents the landscape of Berger’s thoughts. He does discuss art. One of my favorite essays was on Cubism, but he also discusses writers who influenced him, and politics, among other things. The political essays have a definite left slant because Berger was a Marxist. If you find that offensive, those essays can be skipped. The rest of the book is well worth reading.

I enjoyed the book. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I was fascinated by the way Berger sees the world. I particularly liked his admonition to trust your own instincts when it comes to art. You don’t have to follow the dictates of the critics.

I recommend this book if you want an adventure in seeing the world through the eyes of a story teller and artist.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A True Story of American Heroism

“It doesn’t get better.” This was the slogan adopted by the members of Red Platoon. They were under no illusions that life would get better at COP Keating. Their hope was that they’d be able to leave and not in a metal box.

COP Keating was a terrible place to defend. Situated in a valley, it was surrounded by cliffs that allowed the Taliban to harass them with almost no injuries to themselves. In fact, skirmishes were an almost daily fact of life. Finally, the army was ready to shut down the camp, but before that happened, they were attacked by a large force. Because the camp was being shut down, it was partially dismantled. This put the defenders at a severe disadvantage.

The novel is primarily a blow by blow description of the attack. If you like exciting war stories, you’ll like this one. However, before the attack begins the author describes the conditions in the camp and how the men occupied themselves. I found that particularly interesting. The men were well described. You felt you got to know them.

Red Platoon is a true story of heroism. I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not a fan of military stories, this one will tell you what it’s like for our forces located in hard to defend areas. It’s a glimpse of how much we owe them for their service.

I received this book from Dutton for this review.  

How Much Should You Sacrifice to Live Someone Else’s Dream?

Living as missionaries in Nepal is a struggle for Lauren and her son Ryan. It’s not their dream. They are there in support of Sam who believes he has a calling from God to minister to the tribes in this poverty stricken land. Lauren tries to be a good wife and adapt to the power failures and the loneliness of living in the native area where she has no support systems.

Although Lauren believes it is her duty to support her husband. He has a calling and he’s doing God’s work, but Sam’s driven approach to Christianity is not hers, She believes in the softer, loving aspects of God. As Lauren struggles and Sam is gone for three weeks at a time, thirteen-year-old Ryan is hurting. He’s living far from friends, and hates Nepal. Being a teenager, he gets deeper and deeper into his unhappiness while his parents, because of their own struggles, fail to help him.

This is a powerful story highlighting two ways to see God and the consequences to a family ripped apart by their divergent concepts. The characters are beautifully drawn. Sam believes in his mission so strongly that he can’t see what it’s doing to his family. Lauren tries to be a loving mother, but her own needs push her away from being able to help her son. Ryan is a frustrated teenager caught is a world he doesn’t understand and hates. Why would a loving God put him in this situation?

I highly recommend this book. It’s beautifully written and will make you think about the costs of zealotry.

I received this book from Handlebar for this review.

Friday, December 16, 2016

An Inside Look at the Bush White House

Alberto Gonzales, attorney general and close friend of George W. Bush, gives a fascinating insider perspective on the Bush administration. The book opens with the terrifying events of 9/11. Gonzales personal account relives all the uncertainty and distress of that fateful day. Remembering it from the perspective of an outsider glued to the television, I found his account very moving.

Being the first Hispanic Attorney General, was a tremendous achievement for Gonzalez, who came from a background of poverty. Much of the early part of the book recounts his family background, education, and meeting with Bush. I found this autobiographical account interesting and would recommend it to any young person looking to have an important role in government.

Gonzalez was present at many of the important and controversial times in the Bush administration. In recounting his involvement in the decision making process, particularly that surrounding the response to the 9/11 crisis, he gives a picture of how the government works behind the scenes.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in the background of the Bush years. The book is well written and very informative.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for this review.

A Devotional for Those Who are Suffering

Joni Tada knows about suffering first hand. After suffering a diving accident as a teenager, she has been a quadriplegic for almost 50 years. While the suffering hasn’t been pleasant, it hasn’t dimmed her faith in God. In fact, it has strengthened it.

The daily devotionals consist of a short reflection with often a Bible reference and a short prayer. They cover topics such as fear, hope, suffering, disappointment and others. The reflections are short, perfect for anyone with limited time, or for someone who has difficulty reading for extended periods.

Joni draws extensively on her own background particularly depression and chronic pain. I enjoyed the book. It is uplifting to read the reflections even if you’re not dealing with a serious illness or other life crisis.

I recommend this book for anyone living with a serious handicap. It would make a wonderful gift for a year’s worth of reading.

I received this book from Handlebar for this review.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Practicing Gratitude can Change Your Life for the Better

After completing a study of gratitude, Kaplan decided to put some of the principles to work in her own life. She started keeping a gratitude diary. Writing down something to be grateful for every day helped her see the bright side of even unpleasant things.

Kaplan began by trying to show gratitude with her husband and members of her family. Her conclusion is that giving thank yous can improved your relationship with your loved ones. Kaplan started from a very good point. She has a thoughtful husband she loves and great kids, so it’s not surprising that good became better. However, even in less perfect situations, it seems worth a try. It may at least change how you view negative encounters.

Her research extended to organizations where gratitude is the company norm. Campbell was one company that used it and found it very effective. She also explored gratitude and how it relates to money and possessions. The exercise was interesting. We can be grateful for money and possessions, but by themselves they don’t change our lives. Sharing can bring more happiness than simply have a few dollars.

The book is well written. The author interleaves experiences from her life with research and discussions with experts. I enjoyed the book and recommend it, particularly in this Christmas season.

I received this book from Dutton for this review.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Consequences of a Deal with the Devil

Siobhan Russo’s mother disappeared six years ago leaving her and her younger sister, Jesse, in the care of her Nanna Edith. When she sees the face of the nun who committed suicide in front of thousands of people, she knows it’s her mother, and she’s devastated. At the service for her mother, a priest, Father Jakup, shows up. He has a sealed message from her mother urging Siobhan to pursue a quest to learn about the devil’s prayer.

The quest leads Siohban to monasteries in Europe, to find ancient books, learn their languages and copy them. This was for me the best part of the book. The descriptions of the monasteries are excellent and their role in the history of thirteenth century Europe is very well done. The book even contains some pictures of the monasteries in an appendix.

The novel itself while interesting has some gruesome scenes. It also has twists that keep you following Siohban’s quest wondering where it will lead. I enjoyed the book, but would caution reader who don’t enjoy violence that it can get a bit rough.

The history throughout the book was well researched. Sometimes the history became so dense that it seemed to take over the story, but that’s a minor criticism.

If you enjoy books with occult tales, secret passages, and ancient writings, you’ll enjoy this book.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Fantasy Adventure with Goblins and Human Teens

Hop, the goblin, is having a rough day. The battlefield is strewn with bodies. He’s been hiding under one of them but now the battle is over and he has to get away. The goblin army is on the run, and he doesn’t want to be caught by the victorious Hanorians.

Billy Smith is also having a rough day. It’s his first day in a new school. Billy has been in lots of new schools, and he hates it. He feels insecure and unlikable. True to form he embarrasses himself in front of Lexie, the only cute girl who is ever paid attention to him. When he tries to get to know her, he makes another mistake and becomes the enemy of Kurt Novac, the school’s star quarterback. Lexie and Billy end up running from Kurt and the three of them fall into a cavern, a goblin cavern.

The book is reminiscent of Tolkein, but written for middle grade students. The characters, Lexie, Kurt, and particularly Billy are people young readers can identify with. Many middle grade students long to be heroes but see themselves as clumsy and insecure as Billy. The goblins are delightful characters. Hob tries to remain in the background, but finds he can’t when the issue of the Goblin Crown becomes important.

I recommend this book for middle grade students. It’s filled with magical creatures, wizards, giants, bats, and, of course, goblins. The story is fast paced, and the characters are well drawn.

I received this book from Turner Publishing for this review.  

A Christmas Story for Those Who are Hurting

Sophia, an elementary school music teacher and director of the children’s choir at St Margaret’s Catholic Church, isn’t feeling much like Christmas. She’s just gotten the word that her teaching position will be eliminated at the end of the school year. Lucas, accompanist for the choir, is in love with Sophia, but afraid to tell her and be rejected.

Alex, a boy who sings in the children’s choir, isn’t feeling much like Christmas, either. His father, a member of the National Guard, has been deployed to Afghanistan. Alex hasn’t heard from his father in a while, and he misses him. It won’t feel like Christmas without his father.

Each story is told in a chapter from the point of view of the affected person. All fit together because of their interactions in St. Margaret’s. When the novel opens, the choir is rehearsing “Christmas Bells” a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose house is located not far from the church.

Longfellow was also experiencing tragedy when he wrote the beautiful poem. His story and that of his family are told in interleaving fashion with the modern stories. The novel illustrates the wonder of Christmas where hearing the bells and feeling the spirit of the holiday can ease suffering.

This is a lovely book. The Christmas theme shows the beauty of the holiday where suffering people can begin to see the light of hope. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it as a treat for the holiday.

I received this book from Dutton for this review.  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

An 1900’s American Dream

Annie Wood, a maid, arrived in New York with her wealthy, titled, English lady and her daughter, and a dream of becoming a lady’s maid, a higher status position. Annie’s employer is staying with the Friesen family where the servants appreciate a rigid hierarchy that makes the lady’s maids, who are Annie’s traveling companions, comfortable.

Seeing the excitement in New York and making friends with Danny and Iris, brother and sister employed by Friesen family, Annie longs for better opportunities. Danny and Iris feel the same way, and spurred by an unpleasant incident between Annie and a member of the staff, the trio escapes from the Friesen mansion and takes to the streets. Nothing goes as planned. They’re robbed and with no place to go are taken in by the Tuttles who run a bakery.

Danny and Iris elect to stay with the Tuttles, but Annie sees a chance to better herself. She applies for a job at Macys and is accepted. Here her talent for altering and designing clothes blossoms as does her love for a Sean, who is a salesman for Butterick Patterns.

This is an American Dream story. Annie typifies the immigrants from Europe and elsewhere who saw a better future in America and were willing to sacrifice for it. Annie and Sean are likable characters. Their romance is engrossing, particularly since both remain committed to waiting to start a family.

There is a villain who pursues Annie and a myriad of colorful characters. I particularly enjoyed the background on New York at the time and the details about the fashion industry.

If you enjoy Christian historical romance, this book is well done. I recommend it.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Darla Cavanaugh Investigates a Hate Crime at Ole Miss

Darla Cavanaugh and her husband, Dr. Stephen Nicoletti, are on the verge of adopting a baby girl from China, but Darla must leave immediately or the adoption won’t go through. A call from Mississippi Governor, Wilson Burnett, derails her plans.

An Afro-American student and Burnett’s adopted daughter, who was just inducted into a previously segregated sorority, has been found hanging from a tree on the Ole Miss campus. This immediately appears to be a hate crime, but as Darla and her partner Rita Gibbons investigate the case becomes more complicated.

Darla and Rita are enjoyable characters. Darla is all business, but Rita provides some comic relief. She’s a red-neck and proud of it. I love the way she punctures the pretensions of the society girls in the sorority.

The setting is well described giving a good background for the question of whether this was a lynching, or a crime with a different motivation. The complications of the segregated sorority, a white supremacist group, and the governor’s political enemies, provide a number or twists. I was not surprised by the ending. It’s not easy to guess, but the author provides enough clues that you feel satisfied by the outcome.

I recommend this book if you enjoy mysteries with believable female detectives.

I received this book from Alibi for this review.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nine Principles for Improving Your Health

Effortless Healing is a well researched book written by a qualified health practitioner. Dr. Marcola has had success treating patients with his nine principles for health. The principles include information on: drinking water, eating veggies, burning fat for fuel, exercise, the sun and vitamin D, your biome and your gut, sleep, going barefoot, and avoiding some health foods. It’s all good advice, but I wouldn’t use the adjective “effortless” to apply to much of it. If you’re familiar with Interval Training, which Dr. Mercola suggests is a good form of exercise, you know it takes a great deal of effort and desire to keep at it.

While I agree with most of what Dr Marcola says, I do caution the reader to get additional sources. Many medical studies are cited, but like most medical studies, they are correlational. This type of study allows you to see two or more factors appearing together, but you can’t say what the underlying cause is.

I also have a problem with arguing from how wonderful the diet of our ancestors was. Contaminated food and water have been available for a very long time. I agree that we are doing things to contaminate the soil, water, and air, but we also have increased longevity well beyond what most people could expect throughout history. Because we're living longer, we're also seeing more age related diseases. 

I enjoyed the book, but I don’t think Dr. Marcola makes the case for effortless health. Like most things worth having, it takes work and dedication.

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

The First Tume Aaron and Shoshana Work Together

The Samson Team is in trouble. A mission was poorly executed and now they’re saddled with Shoshana, a disgraced agent. Because of their past errors, the team has been given a task outside the Mossad. If they fail,they can be disowned.

The task is to kill a former Nazi living in Argentina. It seems a relatively simple hit, but when Shoshana, through her psychic abilities, perceives another plot shaping up, the task of the Samson Team becomes more complicated.

This short story tells of the first time Shoshana and Aaron worked together. I liked both characters and could see why Taylor decided to keep them in the series although he originally planned to kill them off.

If you’re a fan of Taylor and the Taskforce, this is a must read. It’s also a good introduction to the series. The writing is good and the action keeps you on the edge of your seat.

I received this story from Dutton for this review.  

Bullying, Loss, Freedom, and Friendship

Bullying by Hollis is the terror of Robert’s school days. The start of eight grade is worse than ever, Hollis decides to flush him down the toilet. Robert has an unlikely rescuer, Nathan, the new boy in school. The incident results in parents being called to school to deal with the problem. Robert’s parents are willing to back off, but Nathan’s dad is having none of it. Bullying is wrong and he calls the principal on it.

From this beginning, Robert and Nathan become fast friends. They stick together through personal loss and all the angst of teenage boys growing up and learning about the world. Robert is timid, but Nathan prizes freedom. He wants to fly like the kites his father makes.

The novel is filled with the joy of friendship and the tragedy of loss. The characters are very well conceived. Hollis gives you someone to dislike and Nathan is someone you’d like to have for a friend. I enjoyed the book. The juxtaposition between everyday life, friendship, and tragedy is a heavy mixture. It keeps you reading.

I highly recommend this coming of age story. The setting is well done and the characters come to life.

I received this book from Penguin for this review.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Queen Victoria Comes to Life as a Real Woman

For a scholarly biography, this book reads more like fiction than a dry historical text. Victoria was a head-strong, decisive woman who enjoyed life and took her job of ruling the British Empire very seriously. Although this book covers her role as a monarch, it also shows her as a woman who was madly in love with her husband, Prince Albert, gave birth to nine children, and as an elderly widow had a relationship with another man, John Brown.

I have read several biographies of Queen Victoria, but this one is my favorite. I particularly enjoyed seeing the difficult relationship she had with her mother and her mother's lover. Some biographies skim over her early life, but getting a good look at how Victoria was treated by the pair who wanted to remain in power is illuminating.

The book is quite long, around 500 pages, but it's so well written and entertaining it keeps you reading. Another bonus in this book comes from the author's use of previously unpublished sources. Victoria kept extensive diaries and copies of her correspondence. Her youngest daughter, Beatrice, came into possession of these documents and was horrified. She felt they presented her mother in a bad light, so she rewrote as much as possible and destroyed parts she felt were particularly bad. However, before the archivists gave the material to Beatrice they photographed the pages. The author was lucky enough to get permission to use this material in the biography. The result is that Victoria is much more real than the picture of a chubby, stern-faced, woman dressed in black.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.  

Murder in the Open House from Hell

Sam Turner feels more secure as a real estate agent. Her boss Everett Sweet seems to think well of her. When he assigns her an open house in Arlinda's most exclusive neighborhood, she thinks she's arrived. She evens dreams of selling the house during the open house, although Everett says no one in the agency has been able to do that.

Sam arrives at the home full of plans, but nothing comes off the way it's supposed to. None of the potential customers are interested in buying the house. One brings a dog with fleas, another wants to be sure the new owner will take care of the trees on the property line, and a couple steal all the precious objects setting around. However, the worst comes when Sam decides to bake cookies and finds a finger in the refrigerator, which leads to a body in the back yard.

The characters are the best part of this cozy mystery. Arlinda abounds in zany residents, and Sam fits right in. She tries hard, but everything she touches seems to have a hilarious hidden problem. The mystery is hard to guess. The author drops clues along the way, but it takes until the end of the book to put them all together.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries this is a good one.

I received this book from Net Galley and Random House for this review.  

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Joys and Challenges of Renovating a House in a Foreign Country

Frances Mayes discovered a rundown villa, Branasole in the Tuscan town of Cortona and fell in love with the house and the area. Purchasing a house in a foreign country can be difficult. Buying one that is is need of significant repair is a challenge.

Although nervous about her purchase, Frances went ahead with it and grew to love the house and the area. I enjoyed the discussion of how she found workmen to make the house livable and return it to something like it’s former glory. It wasn’t easy or cheap, but it was rewarding.

The prose is lyrical. I love the descriptions of Tuscany. It made me want to visit, if not to buy a house, at least to stay for an extended period. The descriptions of the food and wine make you want to go the kitchen and try some of the dishes. Fresh produce is available in quantity and learning to cook the special dishes of the area sounds intriguing.

This book is not just about renovating a house and falling in love with an area. It’s also the story of how Frances recovered from a mid-life divorce and how facing the challenges helped her grow. I
recommend this book if you enjoy the Italian countryside and food.

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Murder and Romance in Maine’s Blueberry Barrens

Kate Mason grew up in the blueberry barrens. Her mother owns the land, but since she’s in jail, it falls to Kate to keep the blueberry business flourishing. Unfortunately, with limited funds, she was unable to rent honey bee hives. The bushes didn’t get pollinated and there aren’t enough berries to sell.

Drake Newham is grieving for his brother and sister-in-law who were killed not far from Kate’s blueberry farm. Left with his two nieces, he decides to come to Maine to try to solve the puzzle of his brother’s death. The authorities are convinced it was murder-suicide, but Drake can’t believe his brother would kill his wife.

Kate’s and Drake’s lives converge when he rents a cottage near her home. He also needs a nanny for his nieces, and Kate is eager to get the work. As the pair work together to solve the mystery, their attraction grows.

As a romance, this is a good book. The characters are realistic, and their love grows in a natural way. I did think the story was told from too many view points. Kate and Drake are the main focus of action, but we also have Claire, Kate’s twin sister, Luke, her husband, and even the killer as main characters in different chapters.

I felt the plot was more complex than necessary and detracted from the love story. Not only is there a killer trying to clean up after the murder of Drake’s brother and his wife, but Paul, Kate’s uncle, is out of prison and poses a threat to Claire and possibly Kate. In addition there is a stalker, who has targeted Kate. I think the book would have been stronger if the plot were less diluted.

The Maine scenery is beautifully done. I thought the descriptions were one of the highlights of the book. If you enjoy romance and suspense, try this book.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for this review.

A Luxury Hotel Near the Grand Canyon Hides Bribery, Intimidation, and Murder

Jacob Smalls, a travel writer, is feeling down. He’s divorced and now he's lost his very attractive travel writer girl friend, Jewel Rider. He’s always known that Jewel is fickle and not above using her beauty and wit to get sources to give her information.

This time she seems to be after a story about Gus Greenbaum’s luxury hotel near the Grand Canyon. Gus is a gangster known for bribery and intimidation. Jacob thinks Jewel may be getting in over her head, so he follows her to the Grand Canyon on a publicity trip to Gus’ hotel.

I found this book difficult to get into. Jacob is not a compelling character. He seems a bit mean following Jewel with the idea of possibly taking over her story.

The interesting part of the book is reading about the Grand Canyon and the environmental challenges posed in keeping the Canyon as a beautiful, natural spot as opposed to the desire of entrepreneurs to make money on the natural beauty.

I can’t recommend this book highly. But if you enjoy reading about the problems of keeping a natural location intact for everyone to enjoy, you may like
this book.

I received this book from Alibi and NetGalley for this review.

Juliette and Pete are Pulled into a Case of Missing Young Women

Things are going well for Juliette. Her romance with Ryder is heating up and the coffee house, Java Jive, is doing well. Then Ryder is promoted to Homicide. Juliette hates it that he will be hunting dangerous killers. It becomes personal when her neighbor Chelsea, a college student, goes missing and Ryder is assigned to the case.

Tensions become higher when Kira, a Java Jive employee, goes missing during her shift. Ryder is preoccupied with his case and definitely wants Juliette to stay out of the latest disappearance, but Kira is an employee and Juliette and Pete become involved with looking for her.

Of the three Java Jive mysteries, this is my favorite so far. Pete and Juliette and becoming closer. It seems like they belong together. The romance with Ryder turns sour, but since Pete is there it isn’t such a blow to Juliette.

The plot is one of the best. It’s hard to unravel the events to find the murderer. The author does a good job of giving just the right amount of information to move your suspicions from one character to the next.

I love the coffee house setting. You feel like you’re a part of the warm, family atmosphere of Java Jive. If you like cozy mysteries, this is a good one.

I received this book from Alibi and Net Galley for this review.

Maggie Dove Encounters Witchcraft and Murder

After solving one murder, Maggie and her friends, Agnes and Helen, have opened their own detective agency. They know little about being detectives, but that doesn’t deter them. Since both Helen and Agnes have other jobs, the task of keeping the agency running falls to Maggie.

She’s alone in the office when Racine Stern, a daughter of one of the richest families in town, seeks out their services. Her sister, Domino, is planning a visit. Racine wants to pay the agency a thousand dollars if Maggie will undertake to convince Domino not to come. Domino is involved in witchcraft and other unsavory activities. Racine is afraid for herself and her invalid mother if Domino and her husband, Lucifer, come to stay.

Maggie is a strange character to be running a detective agency. She’s a Sunday school teacher who has been immersed in grief for years over the death of her daughter. In this novel, she starts to come out of her shell, but she’s still quite rigid in her beliefs. She turns down Racine’s job because she thinks the prodigal should be welcomed home. Her partners are not so sure. In fact, Agnes is furious.

The plot is focuses on dysfunctional family relationships, witchcraft and finally, murder. I find it a little difficult to see the very proper Maggie involved in stalking a killer, but the author makes it reasonably believable.

If you like cozy mysteries this is an interesting one with an unusual heroine.

I received this book from Alibi and Net Galley for this review.  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Holmes and Watson Search for a Stolen Secret Weapon

It’s a busy time at 221B Baker Street. First Lucy James, Holmes daughter from a brief affair, comes to the flat with a newspaper telling of the death of a banker who was involved in a German assassination plot. Holmes foiled the plot, but now the banker has been murdered.

The second visitor is Inspector Lestrade. He stumbles into the flat badly beaten having been grabbed right on Holmes doorstep. He needs Holmes help to find a super weapon that has been stolen. He believes the Germans have it.

Holmes takes the case, and he and Watson travel to German to try to recover the weapon. Lucy also arrives in Germany, an actress with the D’Oyly Carte Troupe, and is instrumental in helping to solve the murders.

The novel takes place in the arms race building up to WWI. Both Germany and Britain were looking for the weapon that would give them the ultimate advantage. I found the historical detail quite accurate and the description of Germany at that time was well done.

I didn’t think the characters did justice to the original Holmes and Watson. For Holmes there is an astonishing lack of the logical deduction that he is famous for. Lucy is an interesting character, but she seems to steal the show from the men. Her logic is good often quoting Holmes about not drawing conclusions from insufficient evidence.

I can’t recommend this book. It’s a convoluted mystery that is hard to follow at times, and if you’re a serious Sherlock Holmes fan, you may be disappointed.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Teenage Boy Outdoes the Police in Finding a Killer

Stacey Shaw is leaving work late. After an unpleasant encounter with a co-worker, she gets to her car only to find it won’t start. Things were going well. Her husband, Michael, will soon be home, and she’s excited about the baby. Michael calls while she’s in the car, but not wanting to disturb him, she doesn’t tell him it won’t start. She decides to walk home through the park, but never reaches the other side.

Jack Stratton wants to be a policeman. He was a foster child, dumped by his mother. It makes him feel like he’s no good. To relieve his feeling of inferiority, he wants to help people.

A boy in the neighborhood where his foster mother, Aunt Hattie, lives, is arrested for Stacey’s murder. This is one person Jack doesn’t want to help, but Aunt Hattie convinces him to try. Unfortunately, this puts Jack in conflict with Detective Vargas, the detective investigating the case, and nearly lands him in jail.

If you enjoy Jack Stratton novels, this is a must read. Seeing Jack as a teen, gives you an enhanced idea of his character. Jack and his friends, Chandler and Kelly, are well fleshed out characters. The author makes the teenagers come to life and the dialog is realistic.

The plot will keep you guessing and rooting for Jack. He’s up against a detective who doesn’t want assistance from a teenager and is ready to toss Jack in jail to prove it. The scenes between Jack and Detective Vargas felt very much like a contest between good and evil.

I recommend this book if you like a good mystery where the clues have to be teased out and don’t just fall into the hero’s lap.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

A Presidential Election from Hell

Erica Sparks, top news anchor at GNN, is struggling to be both a star journalist and a perfect mother. She knows she’s not succeeding very well when her boss tells her that her ratings are slipping and she has to do something about it. Likewise, she always seems to be disappointing her daughter, Jenny.

It’s the season of the presidential election. Erica is attending an appearance of both candidates, Fred Buchanan and Senator Mike Ortiz. Erica is positioned near the entrance. The Ortiz’s stop to speak to her, and Erica notices that Mike constantly looks at his billionaire wife, Celeste, for approval. This raises Erica’s suspicions that something isn’t right. When the Buchanan’s arrive they also pause for a moment. A man bursts through the crowd, drops a satchel, and suddenly there’s an explosion that kills the Buchanans and several bystanders.

Erica’s instincts are thoroughly aroused. She has to find out what bothers her about Mike Ortiz. It turns into a twisted tale that results in the deaths of the people helping her. Now Erica feels she must find the answer.

The second book in the Newsmakers series is filled with intrigue and violence, particularly at the end. I thought this book was better than the first book. Erica is more comfortable as a journalist and takes risks to unravel a mystery that affects the whole country.

The theme of the plot is how outside interests try to control a presidential election and ultimately the country. It was very pertinent at this season with the presidential election underway. I recommend this book if you enjoy a good political mystery. The characters are engaging. The book is fast paced, and it’s hard to guess the underlying motivations until the very end.

I received this book from Net Galley and Thomas Nelson for this review.  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

An Insecure Artist Finds Love and Family in Italy

Emily Price works as a restorer. She loves to fix things, but in her heart, she wants to be an artist. Her paintings are technically well done, but she seems unable to capture the essence of the subject.

She is working on a restoration assignment when Chef Benito Vassallo comes into her life. The attraction is immediate. He’s in the US for a short time and is trying to revitalize his aunt and uncle’s restaurant. Wanting to spend more time with him, Emily volunteers to be part of the project.

The remodeled restaurant is a success, but now Ben must leave. When instead he proposes marriage, she says “Yes,” and begins a new and frustrating life in Italy.

Emily’s character is sensitively drawn. She’s very talented, but she can’t quite accept her gifts. When Ben comes into her life she has trouble accepting that he loves her and wants to be with her. Ben is almost too good to be true in the first half of the book. He’s charming and considerate, the kind of lover any woman would be glad to have. When he returns to his native environment and work in Italy, he becomes more human.

The plot is a subtle character study. Although you know what must happen, you keep reading to find out whether Emily will be able to grow into her new family, or the dream will disappear.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a gentle love story with characters you won’t forget.

I received this book from Net Galley and Thomas Nelson for this review.

Life in the Country is Not as Quiet as Promised

When Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Flo Armstrong, take a house in the country, Lady Hardcastle tells Flo that the country is quiet. They will get a good rest after their adventures in the Orient. Flo is skeptical. When on their first morning, they take a walk and find a body hanging from a tree in the woods, Flo appears to be proved right.

The police believe the death is a suicide, but when Lady Hardcastle, shows them that the log from which the suicide supposedly jumped is several inches below his feet, they are forced to revise their opinion. That doesn’t mean they’re on the right track to find the killer, so Lady Hardcastle and Flo feel it’s their duty to help them out.

If you enjoy historical mysteries in an English country village, this is a good one. Fannie and Flo are eccentric characters and their dialog is amusing. I thought their exchanges were the best part of the book. In fact, all the characters are somewhat eccentric. Flo, as the narrator, gives us her view of them, and it is not always complementary.

The plot was a bit of a disappointment. The solution to the first murder is fairly obvious. However, the police do little to solve it, and Flo and Lady Hardcastle seem to happen on clues without doing a great deal of detecting. However, the setting was well done and the characters interesting, so I recommend it if you enjoy British mystery novels.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.  

Easy to Make Delicious Southwestern Recipes

If you enjoy Southwestern food, this is a cookbook you need to add to your collection. The recipes include appetizers, breads, soups, salads and main dishes. There are also desserts and rice and pasta dishes. Before each section, the author discusses some history of the recipes. Knowing where the recipes originated was very informative.

The book opens with a short discussion of ingredients and preparations. The section on chilies is excellent. I’m not a particular fan of really hot chilies, so it was helpful to know how to choose the more mild ones. There is also an extensive discussion of how to parch fresh chilies. It seems quite easy when described by Jane, but I suspect it takes some practice.

My favorite Southwestern food is guacamole. I checked out the recipes, of which there are several. My favorite is Perfect Guacamole. It’s delicious and Jane has a good tip at the end. Sprinkle some ascorbic acid mixture on the guacamole to keep it from turning brown.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy Southwestern food.

I received this book from Turner Publishing for this review.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

An Informative Guide To A Little Known Region Producing French Wines

The Faugeres appellation refers to the wines produced by a collection of seven villages. I’m familiar with several of the wine growing regions in France, but I had not come across Faugeres. Apparently, many people in the United States are also unfamiliar with these wines. I selected this book because I wanted to learn more about this region.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book is beautifully written and very informative. Starting with a description of the region, it makes you feel that you are taking a trip through a beautiful and interesting area. In addition, the author describes the history of the region.

Each village is discussed not only from the scenery, but from the the wines that grow there and how they differ. It’s a very comprehensive treatment telling not only what wines are produced by each chateau, but also how the winemakers approached the task of making fine wines.

If you’re interested in wine, I highly recommend this book. It made me want to visit the region, walk the hills,
and sample the wines.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

The Importance of Mind in Shaping our World

The author’s thesis is that beliefs are the key to understanding how we view the world and how they shape the way we act. Mind is amazing and complex. Beliefs are formed by the mind, and they in turn shape our actions, and the way we view the world. Understanding how we form beliefs, is the primary investigation in this book.

Galloway, tackles the problem of mind vs. brain. This is a long standing philosophical debate, but drawing on modern science and current developments in psychology, he gives a new focus to the old problem.

Philosophy is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re interested in the mind and human civilization, it’s well worth reading. I found the book fascinating. The author weaves together scientific and religious ideas using examples from the sciences and the humanities. It’s an elegant exposition of the origin
of who we are and how we create the world we live in.

I recommend this book if you are interested in the mind. You may not agree with all Galloway’s ideas, but they are articulate and well presented. I particularly liked the illustrations, and quotations supplementing the text. After reading a number of intense pages, the pictures illuminated the text and were a welcome break. This is Book One. I’m looking forward to Book Two.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.   

Monday, October 17, 2016

An Enigmatic Man with a Mission

The alcoholic piano player living in the basement hears Knottspeed move in. He goes upstairs and is shocked by the Knottspeed’s condition. He’s badly smashed up, lying on a ratty couch under a single blanket.

Knottspeed may be down, but he wants to do things. He co-opts the piano player into becoming his companion and off they go to find food, entertainment and clothes. The whole trip, particularly the scene in the clothing store is reminiscent of the Keystone Kops.

This is the pattern for the novel. Knottspeed co-opts people into helping him achieve his objectives, but he helps them also. He’s a very unique character.

This is definitely a character driven novel. It’s filled with unusual people who interact in unusual ways. The characters are interesting, but I found the plot difficult to follow. Knottspeed has a mission, but it’s not easy to figure it out until the very end. He changes situations and people. His plans may be hard to follow, but people become involved with him, and it changes their lives for the better.

If you enjoy character driven novels, this is an interesting one. It’s not the type of book I usually enjoy so I can’t recommend it. However, it has a particular charm because the story is off-beat.

I received this book from Turner Publishing for this review.  

A Brilliant Physicist Ignored by the World

In the late 1800s well brought up young women were expected to be wives and mothers, not scientists or mathematicians. Mileva (Mitza) Mari was a brilliant child. Teased by her classmates she gained strength from her father, who encouraged her desire to be a physicist. She gained a place at the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich where she studied physics and m
athematics, the only woman in her classes.

In Zurich, she boarded in a house with several other young women, who aspired to be scientists or teachers. For the first time, she had friends and enjoyed life. An impulsive, young man, Albert Einstein, barged into this existence. At first Mitza avoided him, but he drew her into a circle of scientists that she enjoyed, wooed her, and eventually, over her parents objections, they wed. But that’s not the end of the story. Married life was not kind to Mitza.

This fictionalized account of Einstein’s first wife is based on letters between the two and a letter between Mitza and her friend, Helene. Although there is no evidence to support the idea that they collaborated on scientific projects after they were married, the author takes the view that they did and that Mitza was partially responsible for Einstein’s ideas that led to his winning the Nobel Prize.

I enjoyed the book, but found it difficult to accept that Mitza was treated so badly by Einstein, more like a handmaiden than a collaborator. However, the author does an excellent job of bringing the scenes in Serbia and Zurich to life.

I recommend this book if you are interested in the woman behind the man. I reserve judgment on the accuracy of the portrayal, but it’s a well written book that presents a unique hypothesis.

I received this book from Sourcebooks for this review.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Victim or Vigilante

Flora is out for a good time. A guy is buying her drinks, and the band is sensational. Sounds like a typical pick up, but is it?

Flora is not a typical girl at a singles bar. During spring break five years ago she was kidnapped. For 472 days she was kept prisoner in a plywood box, but she survived. Her mother and brother don’t quite to make of her now that she’s back. Flora has changed, but in what ways and how much?

The pick up doesn’t go as planned. The guy is threatening her, calling her a tease when suddenly the hunky bartender appears. Flora thinks she’s being rescued whether she needs it or not, but he has different ideas. He kidnaps Flora, strips her, and handcuffs her in his garage, but Flora is a survivor and he’s the one who doesn’t live through the encounter.

Detective Sargent D.D. Warren is assigned to the case. Flora certainly looks like the victim, but her kidnapper is dead, and D.D. isn’t convinced that Flora didn’t intend that result. She plans to keep a very close eye on the would be victim.

This is a great book. On the surface, Flora is a young woman with a traumatic past trying to get her life back together, but there’s so much under the surface. As Flora’s story unfolds, you feel horror, but also respect for someone who could survive the trauma.

D.D. Warren is a terrific character. She looks at Flora and believes that there is more to her story than the surface facts. D.D. is tough and fair and dealing with her own demons. She’s confined to a supervisory role because damage to her right arm makes her unable to draw a gun. Battling her frustration at being sidelined and feeling that Flora is more complex than she appears gives the story a dramatic tension that keeps you reading.

I highly recommend this book. If you’re a Lisa Gardener fan, it’s a must read. If you’re unfamiliar with Gardener, but love a good mystery. I encourage you to try it.

I received this book from Dutton for this review.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Brainy Detective Fights Crime in Los Angeles

The crime rate in East Long Beach is sky high and the police aren’t having much success. Isaiah Quintabe, IQ, is a brilliant high school dropout trying to do what he can to help his neighbors. He solves crimes for those who can’t pay except with a cake or a casserole. However, Isaiah needs money for his other projects, and his bank balance is getting low.

When his ex-roommate, Dodson, turns up with a case that could pay big bucks, Isaiah doesn’t want to take it, but finally he’s persuaded. Black the Knife, a well-known rapper, is terrified for his life. A big black dog found his way into the rapper’s house and tried to kill him. It’s an unusual murder weapon. Isaiah is hooked, takes the case, and he and Dodson form an uneasy partnership to protect the rapper and solve the crime.

A detective and his sidekick is a usual pairing in mysteries, but Isaiah and Dodson are somewhat unique, if only for the setting. Isaiah solves crimes by thinking logically about what he sees. Dodson is a conman. He’s more intuitive and makes a good counterpart for Isaiah.

The story is told in two time periods, the present and scenes from Isaiah’s early life. Although I often find stories told in two different times become boring because events in one time are much more interesting than those in the other, the author does a good job moving quickly between time periods to keep the action going. The introduction of Isaiah’s early life is important to understand his desire to solve crimes and his relationship with Dodson.

The plot features a creative killer who tries odd ways to get to his victim. I thought that was one of the best parts of the story.

I recommend this book if you enjoy a detective who searches for clues and a fast paced plot.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Medical Examiner is Stalked by her Former Husband

Seven years ago, Dr. Annabelle, although she prefers Anna, Schwartzman, left Spencer, her abusive husband. Starting over was a struggle, but she finished medical school and now has a job in Seattle as a medical examiner. She loves helping the homicide team solve cases. Being part of a team makes her feel safe, but when one of the cases brings back the horror of her married life, she panics.

The murdered woman looks like her, and when a necklace exactly like the one she always wears is found around the woman’s neck, she can’t control her fear. The homicide team rallies around her, but Anna no longer feels safe and the coincidences leading to Spencer escalate.

The plot is gripping. Spencer seems to have almost super human powers to frighten Anna. The story moves swiftly from one encounter with his machinations to the next. With that sort of stalker, Anna is justified in feeling panicked. However, I thought her reactions were over the top in some instances. She is always on the edge of hysteria and sometimes doesn’t show good judgment. When confronted by an individual the police want to talk to, she lets her walk away from her office. That keeps the action moving but it, and other instances, seem contrived to keep the story moving rather than enhance the character.

I found the use of technical medical language to be extreme. I doubt even medical personnel think about their lungs in terms of a textbook description. The author apparently did a lot of research, but it isn’t necessary to show it all off in one novel.

If you enjoy a plot that features a medical examiner, you may like this one. It’s not in the same class with Patricia Cornwell’s books, but it’s interesting.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bodies Pile up in an Upscale Consignment Shop

Irene Seligman enjoys her job as Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, but when her mother's latest husband dies leaving her only a mansion in need of repair, Irene comes home to Santa Fe. At first the idea of a consignment shop selling couture clothing seems like a no lose proposition. Her mother has friends who would be willing to sell some of their older outfits, and Irene knows how to run a business.

Setting up the store is progressing well, and Irene is happy to be back in Santa Fe, but on opening day, she enters the back room to find one of her mother's friends dead. Finding the body attracts attention to the store, but when Irene finds herself a person of interest, she's not sure the notoriety is worth it. When another body is found, she worries that her mother is in danger and with one of her mother's friends investigates the killings.

The is a fun cozy mystery. Irene is a strong character, capable of running a store, taking care of her mother, and finding a killer. The author has populated the book with ethnic characters and sophisticated ladies. Although it's amusing for awhile, the antics of these characters becomeannoying by the end of the book.

Scenes of Santa Fe are well done. I thought the setting was one of the best parts of the book, particularly when the investigators go back into the hills to check out a palatial hunting lodge.

If you like cozy mysteries, this is a good one.

I received this book from Alibi for this review.  

A Controlled Serial Killer Almost Outwits the FBI

Dr. Iris Ballard, a former FBI profiler, watched her dearly loved husband brutally murdered and nearly lost her life at the same time. For the past two years, since she left the FBI, she's been teaching at a local college and using her free time to drink. When her episodes become public, even the teaching job is put at risk.

At this low point, Luke Hudson, her former FBI partner, comes back into her life. He's working a particularly ugly case. Young, single mothers are being brutally murdered and left in the woods in the water. This has earned the killer the nickname of the Woodsman. At first, Iris wants nothing to do with the case, but Luke leaves her the files over night. The case intrigues her and in the morning she begs Luke to let her work with him.

This story is psychologically challenging, but rather gory. The killer is a total control freak, not only able to control the young women he murders, but his colleagues as well. Unlike most detective novels, the identity of the killer is revealed about half way through the book. From that point on, the action focuses on catching him.

I enjoyed this book. It's well written. Iris and Luke are characters you can empathize with, and the plot keeps you on the edge of your seat. My only reservation is that it is rather gory, so if that bothers you, this may not be your book. However, if you like a gripping psychological thriller, I recommend this one.

I received this book from Alibi for this review.   

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Town in Turmoil

Mammoth is a sleep little town, but this morning there's an earthquake followed by radio broadcasts that have the residents fleeing. One person, who doesn't think it's so bad, is Billy. He and his friends have targeted the town to rob the local bank. With no people in town this looks like an easy job.

Tori, Billy's daughter, is attending a camp for long distance runners outside of town. The earthquake shakes up the camp, but there seems to be no immediate danger until Billy and his friends show up. They can't get out of town because of all the residents clogging the roads, so they decide to go over the mountain where the camp is located.

The story moves between Billy and his gang, Tori, and the local police trying to figure out what is happening. The chapters are short, but moving back and forth quickly between so many characters can make the book hard to follow.

The novel is character driven and the author does a good job of showing us the character's hopes and dreams and how their perception of the world leads them to act the way they do. However, with so many characters, it's hard to become involved with one and be interested in their development.

I wasn't surprised by the incident driving the plot, it seemed quite obvious from the beginning. The only question was why
it happened. The issue isn't resolved until the end and by then it has become almost irrelevant.

I can't recommend this book unless you enjoy character driving novels that involve lots of characters. I found the book difficult to get into. I think I would have enjoyed it more if he had concentrated on only one of two characters.

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