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.