Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Medium Facilitates Meetings Between Souls and People Still on Earth

I have always been fascinated by how a medium facilitates contact between souls and those people left on earth. This was my first book by George Anderson, and I found the format very educational. The book contains nine sessions between either relatives and a departed family member, or in one case between a spirit still residing on Earth and the person close to her.

The book is structured in two parts. First, the story of the living individual is told. This usually includes their relationship with the departed soul. This is followed by an almost verbatim transcript of Anderson's interaction with the spirit. The first section reads smoothly; the readings are somewhat harder to follow because of the repetition.

For me, the most interesting parts were when Anderson comments on how much he learned from a particular reading. In this regard, one of the readings is very unusual in that he is interacting with a spirit who has decided not to cross over yet.

If you are interested in how readings with a medium operate, this is an excellent introduction. It also makes you question your beliefs about the afterlife. The series of readings in this book highlight some of the more unusual facets of the interaction between the here and hereafter.

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

A Shining Relic Takes Teens on a Time Travel Adventure

In happier times, the Carson family discovered a tarnished star in an antique store. They purchased it in the hopes of putting it atop their Christmas tree. Now it's Christmas, the star is shiny, but all is not well in the Carson family.

Jim, the father, was seriously injured in a convoy in the Middle East. Physically, he's better, but suffering from PTSD. His outbursts are putting a strain on the family to the point where his wife feels she must get away for awhile, and on Christmas, he checks himself back into the hospital.

Teenagers, Tim and Martie, are devastated. They want their family back. As they sit watching the Christmas tree, the star at the top draws them. Tim gets it down and writing appears. Martie thinks it will give them a great adventure and as they hold the star it transports them to Valley Forge in the winter of the American Revolution. This is the first time travel adventure. In others, they visit a wagon train and ride on a hospital ship, the H.M.S Brittanic, learning about history and about themselves.

This is a good novel for middle grade students. The characters are empathetic. Students will be able to identify with their problems. One of the major themes of this story is the problem of PTSD, how disruptive it is and how to understand and cope with it. The author portrays the father's struggles in a sympathetic light that will resonate with teens.

Another plus for the story is the historical background in the time travels. It's a good way for teens to get a feel for history. The story has a Christian background that would work well in a church school. It would also make a good read aloud experience for parents and children.

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Murder and Destruction in Alsace

The Alsace region is steeped in the history of both France and Germany. It is also a region where belief in witchcraft is rife. Benjamin Cooker is looking forward to introducing his assistant Vergile, to the wines and sumptuous food of this region, but almost immediately they are met by a death while touring the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. This unpleasant start to the trip is rapidly followed by an attack on Benjamin's car and the wanton destruction of vines at several local vineyards. The police are stymied, but Vergilie is sure that he and Benjamin can solve the puzzle.

Benjamin Cooker and Vergilie and delightful characters. Benjamin appears quite straitlaced while Virgilie has all the energy and enthusiasm of youth. Benjamin, as usual, plays a significant role in solving the mystery, but this time Vergilie goes off on his own. I was delighted to see him getting more individual attention in the novel.

The descriptions of Alsace are wonderful, as are the descriptions of the wine and food. I love reading these books. They're better than a travelogue. You are transported to an exotic region and steeped in culinary delights. In addition, you can learn a great deal about wines, how to select them, and how to pair them with a meal.

If you enjoy a good mystery coupled with wonderful scenery and delightful cuisine, not to mention the wines, you'll enjoy this trip to Alsace.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dark Deeds from WWII End in a Present Day Murder

Aimee Leduc is following in her father's footsteps as a detective, but since his death, she takes only technical cases specializing in computer crime. When Soli Hecht, a Nazi hunter friend of her father's, asks for help, she is unable to refuse. Besides, she's in a precarious financial state and needs an infusion of cash.

The task is to decode an encrypted Israeli military file which turns out to be a photo in occupied Paris showing a cafe. One of Soli's requirements is that Aimee deliver the decrypted file to a member of his synagogue, but when she tries to deliver the photo to the elderly woman, she finds her strangled with a swastika carved in her forehead. Now Aimee is caught. She has to solve the murder.

The best part of this novel is the WWII history and the scenes of Paris. The author has researched the era and the sections of Paris that appear in the novel giving the story a feeling of realism. The plot is interesting in that it integrates past and present in solving the mystery. However, while I enjoy puzzles, I found too many in this book and that detracted from the main plot.

Aimee's character is another problem. She's obviously smart and able to solve complex problems, but the author has also made her a superwoman capable of tackling strong men and saving herself in extremely dangerous circumstances that call for incredible stamina and skill.

If you enjoy mysteries with their roots in WWII, you may enjoy this one. However, some of the character's actions can be hard to relate to the real world of Paris.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Use and Misuse of an Unusual Gift

Frank House, born Franz Haus, has a remarkable gift. He can often see what will happen in the future. During WWII he used this gift to help General Berg win engagements, but as he watched the barbarity of some of the Nazi troops, he regretted his part in the killing. After the death of his family, he escaped to Switzerland and then to the United States.

Parker House, Frank's grandson, is a fledgling attorney in a low level firm. His gift, which is the same as his grandfathers, is starting to show making him an object of interest to a more prestigious law firm. As Parker struggles with career decisions and a new romance, Frank is experiencing deep regret for his WWII actions, and now an outside group seems interested in finding him.

The theme of this book is how God's gifts can be used and misused. Frank and Parker are good people, but at times the pressure to use a talent for evil is too great to withstand. We see both men struggling with this and learning to use their talent responsibly.

Although billed as a thriller, this book has none of the action associated with that genre until the end. However, it is a satisfying read. The story is told in the alternating voices of Frank and Parker and moves from WWII to the present. I enjoyed both characters and thought the author did an excellent job moving between characters and time periods.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for this review.  

Friday, July 22, 2016

Death Follows a Remarkable Archaeological Discovery

Dr Anlon Cully, a wealthy scientist, is enjoying a relaxing evening at his home near Lake Tahoe with his friend Pebbles, the bartender at a local restaurant. He tells her about a call he received from Matthew Dobson, his uncle Devlin's archaeological research partner. Devlin is dead after suffering a fall when climbing a mountain in New Hampshire.

Anlon is the heir and Dobson wants him to come East immediately to sort out Devlin's affairs. Although he'd rather stay in his comfortable Tahoe residence, Anlon agrees to go and invites Pebbles to go with him. Not only has Anlon inherited his uncle's house and it's contents, he also finds that he has been left several stones that appear to have unusual powers. When Dobson, too, is murdered, finding out what the stones mean becomes critical.

Mysteries with an archaeological background fascinate me. This book has a good plot with just enough real mythology to make it seem real. The settings in Tahoe and New Hampshire are authentic and add a layer of believability to the story.

However, the characters are poorly developed. Anlon Cully is a famous scientist. As such you would expect him to be able to figure out much of the background surrounding the stones. However, Anlon stands back in amazement as Pebbles takes the lead in unraveling the mystery. I found this unrealistic.

The dialog is often used to provide an information dump rather than conversation. In some cases this is justified when retelling the background myths surrounding the stones, but the author doesn't restrict the information dump to those occasions which makes many of the interactions seem too formal.

If you enjoy an archaeological mystery, this one has an interesting underlying story. However, the action often plods and the characters sometimes detract from the reality of the situation. There is a twist at the end, but it's fairly easy to see it coming so the ending is something of a let down.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

In the 1880, a Talented Actress Turns Detective

Lily Long is an actress like her mother, and like her mother,who was killed by a lover, she has a problem with men. One night after a performance, she arrives back at the hotel where the troop is staying and finds her husband beating up her surrogate mother after stealing Lily's savings.

Furious that she's been treated this way, Lily wants to do something to help other women. When she sees an ad from the Pinkerton Agency looking for female detectives, she's determined to try to for the position. Unfortunately, the Pinkertons think she's too young. Undeterred, Lily comes up with a scheme to showcase her talents and prove to the agency that she would be a good operative.

Lily is a spirited lady who doesn't give up easily. The historical setting is accurate and the plot has several twists. The ending is difficult to guess. I enjoyed the novel. If you like a historical mystery novel that is more mystery than romance, this is a good choice. Although there is a romantic interest, there are no sex scenes. It's just a good read with the emphasis on plot.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.  

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Father and Daughter's Real Life Adventure in the Alaskan Wilderness

James Campabell loves the Alaskan wilderness. He wanted his teenage daughter, Aidan, to experience it, but more than that he hoped the wilderness adventure would help her increase her self-sufficiency and strengthen their relationship.

The adventure has three parts. The first time the pair went to Alaska it was late summer. The task was to help Jim's cousin, Heimo, build a new cabin. The description takes you to a remote location where grizzly bears may wander into your camp, a land with thousands of mosquitoes, and the ever present need to beat the approaching deadline of winter to finish the cabin.

The second adventure takes place in winter. The cabin is finished. Now Jim and Aidan help Heimo and his wife on their trap lines and experience the intense cold. The descriptions make you feel as if you're there trying to stay warm, even if you're reading the book in summer.

The final adventure was my favorite. Aidan and Jim with two friends set off to canoe down the Hulahula. This is the most exciting part of the book where the rapids pose a serious danger to the canoe and immersion in the freezing water can lead to hypothermia and possibly death.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy descriptions of the wilderness, and how special people manage to live so far from civilization. Although the adventures were exciting and kept me turning the pages, the best part was the relationship between Jim and Aidan. While not perfect, it was wonderful to see a father trying to understand his daughter and give her room to grow and experience a unique part of life.

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Mystery from the Fifties in the Barbizon Hotel for Women

In the 1950s the Barbizon Hotel was home to young women trying to make it in New York as models, secretaries, and actresses. At that time, the girls were subject to strict rules about curfew, and men in the rooms, and overseen by a house mother. Today, the old hotel has been renovated as condos, but not all the old residents are gone. Ten of them live on the fourth floor. In their seventies and eighties, these ladies know the stories of the Barbizon including the story of a fight between a maid and one of the residents that ended in a death.

Rose, a former TV anchor, lives in one of the condos with her recently divorced lover, Griff. She desperately wants the relationship to work, but he has ties to his other family, and the relationship is deteriorating. With Griff away a lot, she becomes fascinated by the older residents. The story of the fight impels her to learn more about it even if some of her tactics border on unethical.

The history of the Barbizon hotel is fascinating reading. The story is told from two points of view, Darby, a young woman who lived in the hotel in the 50's, and Rose, who lives there in 2016.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the setting. It made the New York of the 50's come alive. I was less enthusiastic about the characters. Possibly because the novel moves back and forth frequently, the characters felt flat and not well developed. The mystery of what happened in the fatal accident keeps you reading to know what happened and ends with a twist.

I received this book from Penguin for this review.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Credibility of the Chief Justice is Threatened and Nick Heller is on the Case

26892023Nick Heller, private spy, is hired by Gideon Parnell, a legendary DC attorney, to save the reputation of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and he has only forty-eight hours to do it. The Chief Justice is accused of having relations with a high priced call girl, and an Internet scandal sheet has picked it up. In fact, their best reporter has already written the article.

Nick is a tough investigator who likes to work alone and do things his way. Sometimes this leads to unintended consequences, like the murder of the call girl. Nick is a typical larger-than-life PI. You know he'll win in the end, but in the meantime he makes mistakes which makes him a more real, and likable character. I also enjoyed his assistant. She's primarily a computer geek, but he interactions with Nick add credibility to the story.

The plot starts fast, but bogs down a bit in the middle. Nick pursues many avenues to get to the truth. Each segment is interesting, but since the outcome is never in doubt, it gets wearing after awhile. The ending has a surprise twist that I found a bit uncomfortable, but the author did foreshadow it.

If you like tough PI stories with a background of political corruption, this is a good one.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

Life on a New Mexico Ranch after WWII

In the third book of the Kerney the trilogy, Matt Kerney returns from WWII a hero, but with a serious eye injury. Although glad to be home and trying to heal, Matt is often withdrawn and depressed. This affects his relationship with Anna Lynn Crawford, the woman he loves. When Matt's eye is operated on, it solves many of his emotional problems and reawakens a strong commitment between Matt and Anna, but in the hospital he meets a man from the past who wishes him and by extension Anna and her daughter, Ginny, harm.

Although this is the third book, it's easy to get into. Matt and Anna are strong, well-developed characters that draw you in to their story. The plot is well paced, but sometimes moves hastily from one incident to the next leaving me wanting to know more. The book is well researched. The incidents in the plot are based on historical occurrences in New Mexico. I particularly loved the scenes on the ranch. McGarrity does an outstanding job of making this beautiful area real.

At the end of the book, we come back to Kevin Kerney, Matt's son, to round out the family saga. Although the book is long around 500 pages, the historical context and the interesting characters keep you reading. I recommend this book if you enjoy historical novels, particularly those set in the western United States. It's fascinating to see how much the country has changed something over 200 years.

I received this book from Dutton for this review.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Recovery from a Life Altering Tragedy

Harmony and Trey married at the end of high school. It wasn't in their plans, but with Harmony two months pregnant the only other option was abortion, and she didn't want to consider that. Now they have a beautiful boy and are working hard to finish their college degrees while holding down demanding jobs.

The strains on the marriage are showing when tragedy strikes. Trey's car is slammed by a truck. Trey and the baby, TJ, are killed, but Harmony survives. It's almost more than she can bear. Preston, the firefighter who tries to save TJ is also broken up by the tragedy both because he's drawn to Harmony and because he thinks he should have been able to save TJ. Although it isn't in their plans, Harmony and Preston move toward a relationship.

If you love romance, this is your kind of book. From tragedy, new love grows. Preston and Harmony are good characters. Both are strong and courageous. The way they move toward each other is believable until the ending. Although the author foreshadows the ending, I still felt uncomfortable about it. It seems strained to add a little more angst to the story.

I recommend this book, if you like a good romance with minimal sex and the predictable happy ending.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Treasure Hunt, Kidnapping and Romance

Bran and his former Navy SEAL friends, are living on Wayfarer Island while searching for a 1600's Spanish shipwreck. This is the second book in the Deep Six series. In the first book Bran, a former SEAL with a secret, rescues Maddy, whose father's wealth comes from oil exploration and drilling. They were attracted to each other and now they're pen-pals. Bran loves the emails, but is reluctant to meet Maddy face to face again.

This changes when Maddy decides to take three teenage girls on an overnight camping trip to Garden Key, an island a short distance from Wayfarer Island. She tempts Bran with an email telling him where she is. He's reluctant to go, but is pressured into it by his friends. As he arrives at the island where Maddy is staying, he sees armed men on the beach. Something is obviously wrong. It's another kidnapping attempt on Maddy, but now three teenagers are also in danger.

The book starts well with Bran heading off to see Maddy even though he is conflicted about it. The scene with the armed men, like all the action scenes in the book is well done. However, after the opening, the action slows down and we're mostly left with the romantic standoff between Maddy and Bran. The romance leaves much to be desired. The dialog is not believable nor is the emphasis on their hunger for each other when three teenage girls are being held hostage by armed men.

I found the plot, specifically the reason for the kidnapping attempt, less than believable. While the action scenes are good, the plot, characters, and dialog are poor. I can't recommend this book as a romance or mystery, but if you're into action scenes there are some good ones.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Rules for You; Perks for Me

The opening image of Versailles on the Potomac well sums up the thesis of this book. The aristocracy who lived in Versailles were completely divorced from the people they ruled. They led extravagant lives while the common people starved.

This is to a large extent what the political class in Washington does. They live lives inside the Beltway seldom seeing the people who vote for them and not trying to understand their concerns. Of course, this is not the case with all our congresspeople and senators, but there are glaring examples. Fields tells the stories of several of these elitist politicians: Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Bieden, the Clintons, and the list goes on. Being even handed, Fields also includes a long section on Jeb Bush receiving favored treatment because of his famous family.

Probably the best part of this book is the attention paid to what the Founders wanted for the republic they created. They were against any kind of an aristocracy, they believed people should serve the country because they believed in creating good laws, not to get rich.

Bureaucrats like Lois Learner and political appointees like Eric Holder are not exempt, nor is the press. They also believe in their elitist entitlement.The culture in Washington is so insular that the press parties and plays with the politicians making it difficult to ask the hard questions and be a watchdog on the process of legislation.

The final section of the book gives remedies for this problem: term limits, restraining lobbying, and reducing the size of government. It will not be easy to get the privileged class to forgo their perks, but actions need to be taken so that the average American has a better chance to be understood and helped by our government.

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