Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Coming of Age in South Korea in the 70’s

Getting ahead in the South Korea of 1978 depends above all on family connections and education. We see this clearly in the opening section. Sunam wants to please his family and get a comfortable life. Education is the answer and the most prestigious group to help him succeed is The Circle. He may not like what he has to do, but he listens to his mentor, Juno, because he wants the life style.

The main characters in this novel, Jisum and Namin, personify this conflict but in radically different ways. Jasum is the daughter of a wealthy business man. She has all the opportunities for success in a prestigious university, but money means little, and she becomes an activist. Namin is the opposite. Her family is poor. She and Jisum became friends when she won a place in Jisum’s private school. Now Namin and Jasum are both at university, but Namin is only interested in studying, hoping to better the life of her family. Both young women become involved with Sunam and The Circle for an intriguing plot.

The setting is unusual. I enjoyed learning about South Korea and the tensions that drove the young people in the 70’s. The characters are well done. The women, Jisum and Namin, are better developed than the male characters. However, the story is mostly about them, so the lack of definition in Sunam’s character is understandable.

The plot and the tension between the characters is well done and keeps you reading. Although the writing is good, it isn’t literary fiction quality. However, since this is the author’s first novel, it may improve. I enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who wants a different type of historical fiction.

I received this book from Random House for this review.

Devastating Crime Against a Mentally Challenged Young Woman

Cherry Walker was a lovely human being. Although mentally challenged, she was kind and loving and trying hard to make a life on her own. Kim Cargil, an abusive mother, left her young son, Timmy, with Cherry for days on end, often not calling in to tell her when to expect her. Cherry didn’t mind. She loved the boy, but then the courts became involved. Kim was about to lost custody of her son. Cherry was supported to testify. She was terrified and with good reason. Kim had no intention of allowing her to testify.

In this true crime novel, we meet a frightening killer. Kim abused her husbands, her children, and was ultimately convicted of killing Cherry. She is presently on death row in Texas.

If you enjoy this genre, this is a good book. The story is told in reporting style. The facts are prominent, but beneath we get a sense of the characters. If you want a more character driven novel, you may not enjoy the facts only style, but in a way it makes the horror that more apparent.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it if you enjoy true crime, or a detective novel that emphasizes facts above delving into the characters’ minds.

I received this book from Kensington Books for this review.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Inside a Commune through a Child’s Eyes

Green has always lived at Foxlowe. The crumbling old house is a little scary, but the fields are beautiful. Nine adults and three children live at Foxlowe. The founders, Richard, whose house it is, Freya, the leader, and Libby, are the main adults. Freya is the most powerful, meting out punishment and keeping the Family together.

Inside the Family, she tells them, life is safe. Outside is the Bad. People outside are corrupted by money and power, not in the family. Green and the other children know no other world. Theirs is a world steeped in Family and the trappings of pagan religion.

But the Family crumbles. In the second part of the novel, Green is out in the world struggling to understand how very different it is. Since she can barely read or write, it’s a significant shock to be outside. At the very end, we find out what happened to drive the Family apart. It’s a horrifying story.

The book is filled with strange settings, child abuse, and pagan religion. For the first part of the book the child’s view and the eerie setting suck you in, but when Green joins the world outside Foxlowe, the story loses some of it’s charm.

I found the book difficult to read. Because the first half of the novel is told through the eyes of a young child, it is told in simple sentences and some of the words don’t make a great deal of sense until you become familiar with the jargon of the commune. For me, the intimations of child abuse were difficult to read. These children were completely under the adult’s influence with no outside interference. Punishment was easy and there as no accounting.

The underlying story of how the mind of a child is affected by it’s up-bringing is interesting. There is a great deal to discuss within the confines of the novel. I think it would make an excellent choice for a reading group.

I received this book from Penguin for this review.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Confronting the Illegal Ivory Trade

Poaching elephants for their ivory is illegal in Asian countries, but with the upsurge in wealth in China the trade is flourishing. Catherine Sohon, in this second book in the series, is in China to try to capture Nigel Lofty, a major figure in the trade. Her first encounter with Nigel leaves her in the hospital, but when she teams up with her college roommate, Ling Ru, the pair uncover a smuggling ring dealing in not only Ivory, but exotic animals.

The best part of this book is the information about the illegal ivory trade and the trade in exotic animals. I also loved the descriptions of elephants in the wild. However, the writing in other parts of the book didn’t come up to the level of the descriptions. My major criticism was the use of dialog to lecture about the ivory trade. At one point, Ling Ru and Catherine are trying to sort out a shipment of exotic animals. There is ivory in the hold and a tiger on the loose, but Catherine still finds time for a lecture. That sort of data dump cuts into the action.

The book was fast paced, aside from the lectures, but some of the action seemed unrealistic. The story was based in modern China and Hong Kong, but some of the action scenes seemed pure fantasy.

I recommend the book if you love animals, particularly elephants. The mystery is interesting, but the animals are the major focus.

I received this book from Random House for this review.  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Eat Right for Great Skin

Organized by the season from spring to winter, Wendy Rowe, internationally known make-up expert, gives tips on how to eat right to have healthy, glowing skin. Each season features foods appropriate to the season, a discussion of why they help to improve your health and skin, and recipes for how to use them. If you’re familiar with healthy eating, you'll recognize the foods. I particularly love avocados. I tried her recipe for guacamole, and it’s great.

The book opens with Wendy’s tips for staying healthy: avoiding stress, maintaining a good digestion, quitting sugar, and eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, among other suggestions. All of these ideas can be found in other books about health and wellness, but Wendy’s succinct presentation is helpful for recalling the importance of these ideas.

At the end of the book Wendy discusses common skin ailments like psoriasis, eczema, oily skin and more. In addition to discussing what the conditions are and what causes them, she discusses foods that can help to control the problems. She also gives recipes for making your own scrubs and cleansers. The final part of the book discusses her skin care routine and gives a section on plants, like ginger, aloe vera, and cinnamon, that can be used to treat ailments,.

I found this a very helpful book. The recipes I’ve tried are delicious,and the information about skin care is valuable. The pictures are beautiful showing young women with perfect skin. I do wish some older women had been featured to show what the routine can do for women older than twenty-somethings.

I recommend the book if you’re looking for healthy recipes and a good way to take care of your skin.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Riveting Story Exposes Abuses in the Fashion Industry

Over two-hundred people are killed in a terrible fire in a clothing factor in Bangladesh. Cameron Alexander, General Council of the Presto Corporation, is upset by the horror of the fire, but when he sees a young girl lying on the ground with a pair of pants covering her face, pants that were destined for Presto stores, he knows there’s trouble ahead.

The pants were being manufactured in a factory that Presto’s supply chain was not supposed to use. At first Cameron thinks his company is in the clear, but as he begins to explore the company’s supply chains, he realizes that something is dreadfully wrong. Something he must acts on to preserve the corporation.

This book is a novel, but it also exposes the abuses in clothing factories in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Jordan. The story is interesting. Cameron is a driven character who tries to act for the best, but finds that he must cross lines that could lead to serious consequences for himself and for Presto.

The exposure of working conditions in third world countries is very well done. The novel keeps you reading, but the investigation of the clothing industry is the most interesting part of the book. It is almost as if the novel was written for the purpose of exposing the dreadful working conditions.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it if you enjoy a good story with believable characters. The descriptions of the terrible conditions in the factories that produce our clothing are sobering. It’s good to know what is happening to the people who produce our luxuries.

I received this book from Booklook Bloggers for this review.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Dog Witnesses the Last Days of the Messiah

Barley lived with a woodcarver and his wife. He dearly loved the old couple who had rescued him as a pup, but he could also remember a young boy who played with him before he was rescued. When Duv and Adah, his owners, are murdered, Barley finds himself on the streets again. Ultimately he arrives in Jerusalem during the last days of Jesus.

The story is told through Barley’s eyes. He’s a wonderful character, loving, wanting to have a family and help his people. The first chapters are slow. We meet Adah and Duv. Barley dreams of his young boy and the tenor of the book is comfortable. However, when Barley gets to Jerusalem, the tenor changes. Some of the scenes he witnesses are quite violent.

The setting is well done and believable as are the characters Barley interacts with. Although the pace is slow in the first half of the book, it picks up at the end as Barley witnesses the violent end of the Messiah.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it. Although it’s an adult book, the writing is clear and simple as befits the story told by the dog. Unless there is an objection to the violent scenes, this book could also be enjoyed by young adult readers.

I received this book from the Lifuse Publicity Group for this review.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Family Struggles to Recover from Tragedy

Nine-year-old Abby thinks her father, a preacher, has all the answers until tragedy strikes. The family is on vacation enjoying the beach. Josh, her four-year-old brother, is tired. Matt, her older brother, volunteers to carry him, but John decides to carry Josh himself. As they walk along the road to their cottage, a car burst on them striking John in the legs. Josh goes flying, hits his head on the pavement, and is killed. The family is stunned. They can’t believe what happened.

When they return home, the tragedy remains with them. John retreats from the family and God. With John unavailable, Matt begins a destructive course of action that leads to more tragedy. Abby watches her family dissolve around her, not knowing what to do. Her mother, Renee, knows they need to move on from this tragedy, but she, too, is stuck.

This is a beautiful, sad, emotional story told from the viewpoint of nine-year-old Abby. She is a thoroughly believable character. She watches what goes on around her, not really knowing how to interpret it. It’s a reminder that when tragedy strikes, parents need to be mindful of how their behavior is affecting the children.

The story is one of faith. John, the father, travels a long road to come back to his family and regain his faith. It makes you want to cry, but it is also a heart warming story of how the family sticks together in this dark period.

I highly recommend this book. It’s well written. The setting draws you in and serves as a good background for the characters. However, the best part of the book is the light shown on a family in tragedy and recovery.

I received this book from Shiloh Run Press for this review.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Detective and a Forensic Investigator Held Together by a Secret

A copy editor is found hanging above the assembly line in the processing room of the Cleveland Herald, the cities largest newspaper. The death was meant to look like a suicide, but Maggie Gardener, forensic investigator, has her doubts, so does Jack Renner, the detective assigned to the case. Maggie is nervous about working with Jack again. They share a secret, and she’s not sure she trusts him. Jack operates as a vigilante bringing criminals who avoid the system to justice. Maggie wants him to stop, but how can she make sure that happens?

Maggie and Jack are good characters. The tension between them is palpable. Sometimes Maggie seems over the top in trying to figure out whether Jack is keeping to his promise to avoid his vigilante activities, but that's not unreasonable. Jack is tough. He likes Maggie and wants to protect her, but he doesn’t like being constrained.

The setting in a major newspaper is realistic. I enjoyed envisioning how newspapers operate almost as much as I enjoyed the mystery. The plot is good and well fleshed out. There are twists to keep you trying to figure out what is happening, and the resolution is realistic.

I recommend this mystery if you like fast paced action, an interesting setting,
and realistic characters.

I received this book from Kensington Publishing Corp. for this review.