Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Taskforce is Faced by a Deadly Threat from ISIS

It's a test. The Lost Boys, recruits to ISIS from a reform school in the US, are tasked with beheading hostages. At least one of them gets a taste for it. Seeing the performance, senior officers in ISIS realize the potential of the killers. They're from the US with US passports and can infiltrate the West easily.

All that stands between the West and chaos is the Taskforce and Pike Logan's group. No longer a member of the Taskforce, Logan has his own group headed by himself and Jennifer, his lover, that finds terrorists on a for-profit basis.

The book toggles back and forth between the Taskforce based in Washington and Pike's group. Because of this split, the action is fragmented. However, it works to increase the tension. Although the fact that there is a terrorist plot is evident from early in the novel, we don't learn the target until very late. For me, this detracted somewhat from the plot, but did keep the suspense high.

The characters are stereotypes. Pike Logan is the brilliant operative who likes to go it alone. Jennifer is the beautiful associate. The other members of Pike's group are strong men with plenty of testosterone. The fact that they are stereotypes works well in this sort of novel where the focus is on the action and daring of the characters rather than on character development.

This is the 8th Pike Logan novel, but it is perfectly understandable as a standalone and the author doesn't waste too much time on back story.

If you enjoy a thriller with current politics as the background, this is a good one.

I received the book from Penguin Random House for this review.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Missing Person and Murder with an Undertone of Family Love

Detective Manon Bradshaw, thirty-nine and longing for a family, is looking for love from men she meets on dating sites and immediately takes to bed. When Edith Hind, the beautiful daughter of a physician to the royal family, disappears from her Cambridge apartment, Manon knows this will be a big case.

Miriam Hind, Edith's mother, thinks about her family and how, if not perfect, they are what she has, and she's grateful. She's particularly concerned about Edith, but believes she'll make the right decisions. Then Edith disappears and the family is thrown into disarray.

As the investigation turns into weeks, it becomes clear that Manon and Miriam have to consider the possibility that Edith is the victim of murder. The two women grow close as the case progresses. Manon sees something she wants, but Miriam knows how difficult it is to get and keep a family together.

This is a good mystery, fast paced with plenty of twists, and a surprise ending. If you enjoy British mysteries, this is a good one. The added benefit is the well-defined characters. Manon and Miriam are two sides of a woman's life: Manon the career woman who wants a family, and Miriam who has a family she loves and knows how difficult it is to keep it together.

The secondary theme of the book is family love and how love requires tolerance and understanding. I enjoyed the book, the mystery is well done and keeps you guessing, but the theme makes the novel special.

I received this book from Random House for this review.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Back at the Monestary, Sister Eve Finds Murder

Sister Evangeline Divine, better known as Sister Eve, is back at the Pecos monastery for a conference on Sister Maria de Jesus de Agreda, the Blue Nun who bilocated from Spain to visit the Jumano Indians converting them to Christianity. The conference promises to be particularly important when Dr. Kelly Middlesworth, the opening speaker, tells Sister Eve that she has new information that may help in getting sainthood for Sister Maria.

Kelly's brother, Anthony, is a monk in the Pecos monastery. He found Sister Maria's writings at the pueblo church and took them to show Kelly on the understanding that she wouldn't tell anyone else. Kelly didn't keep her word, and Anthony was furious.

The night before the conference Sister Eve is praying when Anthony stumbles into the chapel. He found Kelly dead, and he's distraught thinking he caused the murder. Sister Eve knows he isn't guilty, but now she has to prove it before the police arrest Anthony.

The plot is fairly complex. While we don't know who killed Kelly, a number of people, including her brother had the chance. Although the author tries to hide the identity of the murderer, it's fairly easy to figure out early in the novel, so unless you like reading about Sister Eve's adventures, this removes some of the fun of trying to solve the mystery yourself.

I found the early part of the book with everyone stumbling over each other in the middle of the night and making a hash of the murder scene unrealistic. The action picked up when Sister Eve left the monastery to try to solve the mystery on her own.

I can't recommend this book. The author throws in too much backstory bogging down the action and the characters are rather thinly drawn. The subplots, particularly that involving Sister Eve and a handsome detective, are well done, but they can't carry the novel.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for this review.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Path For the Republicans to Win in 2016

From an analysis of the 2008 and 2012 elections, Morrissey found that the result was decided by voters in a handful of counties. The amazing fact is that if 100,000 voters had switched their votes in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Colorado the result would have been different.

Based on this analysis, Morrissey, identifies counties in seven states that could make the difference in 2015. He chooses counties in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, and New Hampshire. In each case he shows how the county voted in 2012 and 2008, how it voted the past statewide election, the make-up of the county, and income level. In addition, and I thought these were the most interesting points, he reports interviews with the county residents and looks at how the Republicans could change the dynamic in 2016.

For me, the most telling interviews were the ones that questioned how much the people running for office cared about the issues that were important to county residents. One man said that he was always being asked to contribute to the Republican Party, but no one had ever asked him about which issues were most important to him. This underscores the fact that people do care about what is happening in Washington and the State House. They do have valid opinions and not everyone is a low-information voter.

I hope the Trump campaign, and whoever the other Republican candidates are, will read this book and take to heart the valid points being made. The election does not have to be lost.

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

More than the Sport of Horse-racing, a Look at the American South

Henry Forge, a young boy who has just killed a neighbor's bull, runs through the cornfield to escape the thrashing he knows his father will give him. A horse appears in the field ridden by Filip, a black man who works for Henry's father. Filip coaxes the boy on to the horse, but instead of taking him for a ride, he deposits him with his father. Henry insists that he's not guilty. His father knows this is a lie, and it makes the beating worse, but Henry, unrepentant, comes away with a hatred of his father that plays out in the rest of the novel.

The Forges are one of the oldest families in Kentucky. Their long lineage is a tale of corn farmers who own huge tracts of land and slavery. Henry informs his father that he will change all that. He plans to turn the farm into a stable for raising thoroughbred horses. His father, exceedingly angry, tells Henry that he has no feel for his own bloodlines. However, when Henry becomes the owner of the farm, he does exactly what he said. With the help of his daughter Henriettta, a black man named Allmon, and a filly named Hellsmouth, he plans to change the orientation of the family.

This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read in a long time. The words are lyrical and the images vivid. Unfortunately, many of the images have to do with rape, violence, incest and cruelty. All these dark acts are the substance of the story which is essentially about racism. It is not an easy book to read.

The main characters Henry, Henrietta, and Allmon are not likable people. In spite of the excellent writing, they left me cold. The secondary characters are much more interesting, including Ruben, the jockey who rides Hellsmouth.

The setting is vivid and the many threads of the plot are expertly drawn together. If you enjoy a beautifully written novel that gives much to think about, you'll enjoy this book. I highly recommend it.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Political Thriller Based on Chicago Corruption

A tragic accident takes the lives of six children. They are burned to death when an out-of-control tractor-trailer slams into the family van. This horrific accident begins the story of corruption and politics in the world of Chicago and Illinois. The political corruption emerges when the driver of the tractor-trailer confesses that he bought his license from the DMV for a contribution to a political fund-raiser and a bribe.

This view of the disastrous consequences of corruption begins the story of the rise to power of the first African American President. The details of corruption brought about by the quest for money and power come right out of the pages of the newspapers, if anyone is looking. I was fascinated by the detail the author brings to the story. He doesn't give any relief from the ugly facts of how politicians get into office, including the highest office.

This book is fiction, but in many cases thinly veils the actual happenings that you see on the news. Politics is a corrupt game. The people we elect are often not what they seem and their desire is not to do the best for the citizens of the country, but to get their share and enforce their will on the country.

This book is a page-turner. The author gives us characters, particularly Mars Gregory, a man close to, but not really part of events. He watches in disbelief as his partner and the other players do things to gain their ends that at the beginning of the novel he would have found unbelievable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you're a political junkie, it's a must-read. If you want an education in the seamy underside of politics, this book will open your eyes and have you listening to the news more critically.

I received this book from Net Galley for the review.

Mystery and Intrigue in an English Village at the Time of WWI

Esther Aumery is excited. She has a present for Daniel, the grounds-keepers' son, for whom she has a strong attachment. She wakens at dawn to the sound of a cart driven wildly. Looking out the window, she sees a face of pure evil that she will never forget.

Later that morning before school, she and Daniel with the other villagers find a girl dressed in a filthy rags stuffed under a hedge on the main road. Daniel carefully removes the girl from the hedge wraps her in a blanket and makes arrangements for her to be taken to the workhouse, but on the way there she disappears.

The village settles back to normal, but that isn't the whole story. Later, Clary a maid in the village manages to keep Daniel and Esther apart. Esther marries Gervase Lincoln, the owner of Barrow Hall whose young daughter disappeared causing the death of his wife. Daniel agrees to marry Clary believing that she is pregnant. However, the question of who she really is hovers over their lives.

This is a dark book with plenty of intrigue reminiscent of the Brontes. The pace is leisurely spanning the time from before to after WWI. The story moves slowly with a great deal of beautiful description that draws you into the life of the village.

From my point of view the problem with this novel is not the setting or the plot, but the characters. Daniel and Esther seem flat. Many highly emotional events happen to them and around them, but for me they remained static.

I recommend this book if you enjoy long, dark, novels, but if you're interested in good characters, this many not keep you interested.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Way to Make American Churches More Reachable by Everyone

Many Americans, particularly some pastors, think bigger is better. Roberts sees many pastors who believe their role should be to grow a mega-church. Many of these pastors seem to desire the adulation that comes from having a large congregation and being perceived as a leader who can give excellent lessons. But, is that what God wants from his church? I think Roberts' answer is 'No.'

Roberts leads a small church in a Texas town but he has connections with a number of leaders in other countries, particularly the East. He believes that much of what these churches are doing is more in line with God's work than the mega-churches that fill with worshipers on Sunday, but have little carry over into these worshipers daily lives. He believes that pastors should be more interested in making disciples than in self-aggrandizement.

Roberts believes churches should emphasize growing the church through loving relationships that emphasize Jesus. Inspiring others to take up the call to build new churches and supporting this endeavor is more important than building a mega-church. Give other people a chance to be involved in the ministry.

This is a valuable book for anyone looking at churches in America today. I enjoyed the book and think that if more pastors took Roberts ideas to heart and practiced them we would have a more vibrant Christian life today.

I received this book from Handlebar for this review.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sidney Chambers Meets New Challenges in the Grantchester Mysteries #5

In these six interrelated stories Sidney Chambers, now an Archdeacon, and his friends face new challenges. Sidney and Hildegard, his wife, take a nostalgic trip to her home in Germany to find that it's no longer the way she remembered it. Amanda's husband faces problems from his ex-wife, causing Amanda grief. Leonard, Sidney's former curate, has choices to make about his identity and life style.

All the stories are told with a humanity that is reassuring in today's world. Sidney is an imperfect person. He struggles with his desire to take the occasional drink even during Lent and has an affinity for the ladies although he is happily married, but his realization of his own imperfections makes him a compassionate priest. The other characters in the stories are well developed giving the problems a realism that is sometimes missing in Christian fiction.

This is the fifth book in the Grantchester series, but I found it easy to enjoy the stories even though I hadn't read the first four books. However, I do think that familiarity with the earlier books would make some of the character's problems more immediately understandable.

The stories are much like the mysteries of Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers. There is little violence. Most of the stories are character driven mysteries that require Sidney to use his understanding of human nature as well as external clues to solve the crimes.

I recommend this book if you enjoy a good mystery with interesting characters and a minimum of violence.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Murder in a Small Town

Maggie Dove, a Sunday school teacher who loves order, lives in a small town near Tarrytown, NY. She's a widow and is still mourning the death of her beautiful daughter who died 20 years ago.

In her well regulated life, the major source of discomfort is her neighbor, Marcus Bender. He bought the house next door and proceeded to make changes. Maggie doesn't like it, but she can accept it until he insists that she cut down her oak tree. Maggie loves that tree and it makes her wish that her neighbor would just leave things alone, or find somewhere else to live.

It almost feels like justice when Maggie finds Bender dead on the lawn under her oak tree. She scolds herself for her feelings, but things get worse when Peter, her dead daughter's boyfriend who is like a son to her, becomes the main suspect. Now Maggie has to breakout of her comfortable life and do something to find the real murderer.

Maggie Dove is an unusual heroine for a mystery novel. She's elderly and very depressed. In fact, she was so sad in the beginning of the book that I had trouble reading it. In solving the mystery, she does come out of her shell and begin to live, but it takes about half the book to accomplish her transformation.

The author gives a great deal of attention to the details of life in the small town. The description is good up to a point because it gives a picture of what life is like in the town. However, it goes on relentlessly until I just wanted to get on with solving the mystery.

Maggie is a Christian and finds solace in her religion. If you enjoy Christian fiction, this is a plus, but like the description it can become too much.

For me, the book took too long to get started. I thought the amount of time the author spent setting up the atmosphere was excessive. However, the plot is interesting, and it's difficult to guess who the murderer is.

I received this book from Alibi for this review.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Woman on the Run

Casey Cox is on the run from a crime she didn't commit. Her friend Brent has been murdered, and she's afraid of being accused. After all her DNA is all over his apartment. Casey knows she's in trouble. Brent was investigating her father's supposed suicide and found proof that he was murdered. Now whoever did it is after Casey.

Dylan Roberts is looking for Casey. Brent's parents hired him to find the truth. Dylan is pressed by the local law enforcement officers to find Casey, but the more he looks into it, the more he can't believe she's guilty. It's a race against time. He wants to find her before she's arrested for murder.

I usually enjoy Terri Blackstock's books, but this one was difficult to get into. Casey is terrified getting into all sorts of bad situations, but I found it hard to like her. Dylan is a good character. He seems trustworthy and ready to help Casey, if she will accept the help. His history of PTSD and flashbacks is realistic.

What I didn't like was the ending and the fact that the main plot wasn't resolved. I think books that tease you into the next three volumes by leaving the plot unfinished are cheating. I did like the way the author brought God into the story to help a very troubled young woman.

If you like stories that are told over several books, you may enjoy this one. However, if you don't like being left hanging until the next book, give this a miss.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for this review.

A Desperate Life in a Gilded Cage

Vera Longacre, born to wealth and high society, finds her life as a society matron unbearable. She tells her mother that she's lonely, but it's much more than that. She has money, is a leader in society, and lives at the most prestigious address in Manhattan. But she's married to a cold man who offers her little affection and the teas and charity dinners don't fill her days with pleasure.

When she attended Vassar, she befriended Bea Stillman, a lively young woman who challenged Vera to get out of her perfect rut and live. Vera does. She feels freedom for the first time. The taste is intoxicating, but the consequences are disastrous.

Now married and secure in her position, Vera longs for the freedom of that long ago period, but she buries it under a placid facade and her duties until Emil Hallan, an artist contracted to paint a mural in the building where Vera lives, comes into her life and reawakens her youthful desires.

I couldn't help liking Vera and feeling sad for her until she allowed herself to break from the rigid social structure in which she was raised and reach for freedom. The setting was very well done. It was the 20's before WWII. Wealthy people lived to a code of existence that was founded in the restrictions of the Victorian Era. Vera felt the chains, but couldn't break free until ten years into her cold marriage.

The story is told in alternating chapters: first Vera in her marriage, then in her days at Vassar. Her special friend from Vassar, Bea Stillman, is an interesting character. From the chapters you can't tell whether she likes Vera for herself, or whether she's clinging to someone who might open doors for her later. Vera, of course, is not sure and that's part of her conflict.

I enjoyed the book including the mysteries at the end. If you like a character driven novel set in an interesting time period, I think you'll enjoy this book.

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Fantasy and Mystery in an Alternate World

Irene is an unusual librarian. Her job is to steal books and bring them back to the library, a place located between alternate worlds. The librarians are tasked with finding and retrieving special books that will be kept in the library for the librarians to study.

After successfully completing a difficult assignment, Irene is hoping for some rest. However, her supervisor, Coppelia, has other plans. Irene no sooner sends an email to Coppelia telling her of the successful completion of her mission than she receives a reply telling her to prepare for another top secret assignment and to get ready to receive an inexperienced trainee. Kai, the trainee, turns out to be quite a handsome young man, and Irene begins to think that having him along may not be so bad. On their way to get more particulars on the mission, they meet Bradamant, a beautiful librarian who tries to take over the assignment and the trainee.

The assignment lands the pair in an alternate version of London in the Victorian era with magical creatures and filled with chaos. Here the pair meet Vale, a detective, and start off on a search for the book of Grimm's Fairy-tales that becomes far more dangerous than Irene envisioned.

If you enjoy fantasy liberally laced with mystery, this is a wonderful book. Irene and Kai are likable characters, although Irene seems quite bossy at times, and Kai's background is mysterious. Vale is reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes but stands out as a unique character. Altogether this is a great cast of characters, including the wicked Bradamant.

The author makes the alternate reality come to life. The writing is clear and the plot, although somewhat unbelievable, is great fun.

I received this book from Penguin for this review.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Murder at a Boarding School

Ellie Haskell's alma mater, Sr. Roberta's, has a problem. A silver lacrosse trophy, the Loverly Cup, has been stolen. The timing is particularly bad because Ms. Chips, the beloved games mistress, has retired and Dorcas Critchley, Ellie's friend, has taken the position. Unfortunately, her lacrosse season was not as successful and Ms. Chips, and so the cup is scheduled to go to another school. Being missing, is a blot on St. Roberta's reputation.

Ellie can think of almost any place she'd rather be than St. Roberta's. It's not just that she broke Ms. Chips nose playing lacrosse, she has a secret that makes her dread seeing the school again. However, she agrees to take the case and soon finds herself sharing the guest house with several other old girls one of whom was her nemesis when they were students.

This is an amusing book reminiscent of girl's boarding school novels. The characters themselves bring up the similarity which leads to humorous anecdotes. The book is fun to read because of the unusual characters and Ellie's description of her reaction to events. However, aside from the question of who took the Loverly Cup, these isn't much of a mystery until very late in the book when Ms. Chips is found dead at the bottom of some slippery steps. At first it seems to be an accident, but as Ellie investigates, she realizes it was murder.

I recommend the book for the odd characters and the amusing anecdotes. However, if you're looking for a mystery where you can follow the clues, this will disappoint.

I received this book from Alibi for this review.

Murder, Kidnapping, and the Question of Redemption

Allie Grant is back in town saying she wants to be reunited with her family. It's Mort's dearest wish, but he can't take her back into the family until she gives up her criminal activities. This is not what Allie wants to hear. With her worldwide connections, she sets off to punish Mort by kidnapping one of his twin granddaughters.

At his wits end, Mort calls on Lydia, the Fixer, to find the girl and bring her back. This is challenging because of Allie's connections, but also because she hates Lydia, believing that she has taken Allie's place as Mort's daughter.

Besides his family problems, Mort is faced with a gang war in Seattle and the death of a young boy in a drive-by shooting. Although Mort finds it hard to concentrate, his team takes up the case hoping to get a resolution so Mort can relax.

This novel is probably the most violent of the Fixer series. It makes Allie's character clear, but in a way it seems over the top. We do see Lydia in action, but much of the story revolves around Mort's family and his response to Allie's transgressions.

A sub-theme of this book is redemption. Mort desperately wants to redeem Allie, but can he? He pulled Lydia out of her role as an avenger, but will his problems throw her back into her old life? We see the same theme played out in the gang war. I thought the author handled it well, and it makes the book more than just a thriller.

I received this book from Alibi for this review.   

Friday, June 3, 2016

Hollywood Comes to an Oceanside Community Bringing Glamour and Murder

Tish Ballard, owner of Rest Easy Property Management, is on the inside track when the movie colony invades the town of Cypress Point. One of her clients has rented his house to the female star, Delilah Ward. Tish is primed to dislike Delilah after dealing with a mountain of requests for upscale additions to the rental house and cleaning up after a wild party, but when she meets Delilah, she's taken with her to the point of thinking they could become friends.

Then the unthinkable happens. Tish comes to inspect the house and finds Delilah lying beside the swimming pool with a bullet in her head. At first Spence Breedlove, Tish's high school nemesis, gives her a hard time. This is a high profile case and they need an arrest. They conclude that Tish isn't a person of interest, but then suspicion falls on Tish's brother, Arthur, who has mental problems. Now Tish has to solve the mystery to keep Arthur out of jail.

A quick read, this cozy mystery is filled with intrigue and glamour. The dress, food, and surroundings of the Hollywood crew are described in lavish detail which draws a sharp contrast to the way Tish and her friends live. Although I often find lavish description detracts from the plot in this instance it was necessary to set the scene and contributed to the atmosphere of the book.

Tish is a character that you like most of the time although some of her antics seems ill advised to the point of being not believable. Spence is wooden during the first part of the book, but comes to life at the end. The Hollywood characters are exaggerations, but seem perfect for the novel.

Although this is the second book in the series, it can be read as a standalone because the author brings in any backstory you need to understand the character's actions.

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

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.