Monday, September 15, 2014

Walking on Water by Richard Paul Evans

I am sure that fans of Richard Paul Evans already finished his 5 book series THE WALK.  Despite the last book Walking on Water being published in spring, I did not get a chance to read it until last week.  For those unfamiliar with the series, it tells of fictional Alan Christoffersen's walk from Washington state to Key West, Florida after his young wife's death.  As Alan relays in the first book, he needed to get as far away from their life together and his grief as possible, and he believed the walk was a way he could escape.  What he discovers along his journey is a chance to feel again through the people he meets.  It is a slow journey, often interrupted by crisis and illness, but in the end Alan knows he will be able to face life just as he has faced every length of the trip --- one step at a time.  

What I enjoyed most about the series were the little quips, some of them pithy and some of them humorous, that begin each chapter.  These quotes are supposedly lifted from the journal that Alan keeps as he travels.  I also liked the short chapters of each book; only a few pages long, reading them reminded me of eating potato chips.  You hardly noticed that you'd just finished another one, and of course, you just had to dip in for another one! Can't read just one!  What I didn't like about this particular book is that at times it almost read like a Florida map with motel/restaurant advertisements down the side.  While the first half of the book had a very serious story line about Alan's father, the second half just seemed to list where Alan walked, ate, and slept.  The previous books provided lots of local color filled with interesting people with their own side stories.  This volume seemed to alternate between rushing to the big Key West finale and crawling there.  Now that the series has finished, I will give a highly recommended rating to new readers. I think any reader who starts now will easily move through all five books, getting much more out of Alan's story than those of us who had to wait months between each book.  I was able to get all five books at my local library and I am sure that most libraries have purchased THE WALK series.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Butterfly and the Violin: A Hidden Masterpiece Novel by Kristy Cambron

The Butterfly and the Violin, Kristy CambronThe German concentration camps sent millions to their deaths. For those who weren't killed immediately upon arrival, each day at the camp destroyed a little more of their souls.  The Butterfly and the Violin tells a powerful story of how music and art kept a few of those souls strong despite the horror around them.  For Adelle, a young Christian Austrian the war brought prestige to her father who embraced the Nazi world.  But his daughter, a talented violinist, nicknamed the Butterfly by another in the Austrian Orchestra, sees that world for what it is and she sacrifices everything to help a Jewish friend.  Found out, Adelle is abandoned by her parents to a sentence of "re-education," in reality a trip to Auschwitz.  There she is set aside with other women prisoners who know music to form an orchestra.  While the Nazis want the music to entertain themselves and to calm the lines moving to the gas chambers, If they refuse to cooperate, they will most certainly die themselves, but each woman struggles with their decisions to comply to the Nazi orders.  With help from others, Adelle sees that the violin music she plays is not done to please the Nazis, but is her way to search for  God amid what appears to be the devil's playground.

The Butterfly and the Violin is skillfully told with a modern day search for information about a missing painting of a young violinist alternating with snippets of Adelle's story.  Both story lines will keep readers fascinated as each new page mixes beauty, pain, and acknowledgment that God can be found anywhere.   I received an ecopy of this title from NetGalley for my honest review.

Special note:  When I get an ecopy of a book from Netgalley, I only have access to the files for 45 days.  I had many books to read this summer and somehow this book got overlooked.  I knew I had downloaded it and needed to get it read, so a few weeks ago I started the book.  I got hooked right away and within a few hours I was almost half done.  As I sat at the service station getting four new tires on the van, totally engulfed in the book, I accidentally shut down my Nook.  When I tried to reopen the book, I got the message that the "lending period" was over!!  I could not leave this story unread, so we actually stopped to see if perchance Walmart had the book in their Christian book section.  No such luck.  I ordered a copy online and my Amazon prime account took over a week and a half to get the book.  It was worth the wait and I now have a hard copy to share with the library.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Nowhere to Turn by Lynette Eason

As always Eason has supplied a heart racing, suspenseful read in her latest title Nowhere to Turn. As the book opens, Danielle Harding has finally found the courage to flee her abusive husband, taking her 11 year old deaf son and the contents of her husband's home safe.  Having contacted a safe organization, Danielle is ready to assume a new identity, but within hours of leaving, she learns that her husband, a FBI agent, has been killed along with another agent under suspicious circumstances.

Believing that she is finally safe, Dani and son Simon return home, ready to embrace their hometown and to enjoy life as they never could before.  When her brother-in-law's concern for her welfare starts to take a romantic edge and quickly appears obsessive, Dani realizes he is as much a danger as her husband ever was.  Then someone's breaks into the house, trashing everything.  As bits and pieces fall together, it is clear that her husband Kurt was a dirty agent and that someone dangerous wants something he had.  Feeling even more hopeless than she did the day she first ran, Dani again contacts Operation Refuge and Adam Buchanan once again makes keeping mother and son safe his top priority.

Nowhere to Turn is book two in the Hidden Identity series and does follow No One to Trust but can easily be read as a stand-alone.  You won't have all the details of Adam's life, but the essential backstory is provided.   Fast paced and well developed, Nowhere to Turn starts with an unbelievable chase scene that will have you gasping for breath and you will never feel Dani is safe until the last page.  I received a copy of this book for review purposes from Revell.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

FaithGirlz Big Book of Quizzes: Fun, Quirky questions for you and your friends

9780310746041Big Book of Quizzes is put together by the Editors of Faithgirlz!  When I saw this title was available for review from BookLook, I was curious.  Could it hold its own against magazines,  books, games, and apps from the pop culture, or would this be a "preachy" publication with the guise of entertainment?  I'm delighted to say that Faithgirlz has done a good job and I look forward to passing the book onto my preteen granddaughter.  First off the graphics are young and vibrant.  The first set of quizzes and activities focus on the reader -- her personality, how she judges herself, her take on technology, etc.  The second chapter looks at school, learning style, gossiping and money habits all wrapped in some fun quizzes.  Of course, there is a chapter on best friends, boys, and other "bafflers." I especially liked the quiz on being a good friend -- give too many C answers and you'll end up with the Little Miss Meanie rating, along with some sound advice on how to change.  The last section is for faith and family.  With realistic reminders that it isn't always easy being part of a family, the authors put together quizzes on family closeness, gratefulness, and being a good sister.  All have the right mixture of light-hearted tone and seriousness.  The last two quizzes Got Spiritual Stumpers? and How do U Connect With God? ask questions and give responses that may just help preteen girls as those tough questions about God and faith begin to pop up among their peers.  Some of the questions in this book would make fun "sleep over" talk, while others are probably meant to done alone and pondered.  Altogether I think this is a fun book and Faithgirlz should keep up the effort to provide alternatives to the pop culture.

I received a copy of this book form BookLook for my honest opinion.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Bookseller: (Hugo Marston Mystery #1) by Mark Pryor

Ever request, borrow, or buy a book and then not remember who recommended it or how you decided to put it on your "to read" list?  It happens to me quite frequently and The Bookseller by Mark Pryor is one of those titles.  It was there waiting for me at the library a few weeks ago and I honestly don't know if I saw the book on Bookpage, another blog, or a Nook list.  Set in Paris, this mystery follows U.S. Embassy Security head Hugo Marston as he tries to ascertain why his bookseller friend has disappeared.  "Disappear" isn't quite the right word because Marston actually saw the old man being forced onto a boat.  When another man takes over Max's bookstall the next day, claiming to have no knowledge of Max and when the police dismiss Hugo's concerns, saying that others along the river say that Max left of his own accord; Hugo knows he is on his own to find answers.  His quest is further hampered when the U.S. Ambassador reminds Marston that they have no jurisdiction here and Marston should step away (although I am sure the Ambassador knew just as readers know that there is no stopping the former FBI agent turned security head).
Despite Hugo's mysterious love interest, a missing rare book, and another that Hugo purchases without knowing its true value, this contemporary mystery moved slowly for me.  Even finding out that Max had a connection to a group of Nazi hunters does little to add excitement. I thought the Paris setting, especially the historic bookseller district would be fresh and interesting, but mostly the book read like a typical television crime show.

Most mysteries and suspense novels I've been reading lately would be classified as cozy or Christian. Pryor's book is neither and was definitely written for the general crime book audience.  It is not as violent as a Patrica Cornwell or Michael Connelly novel but it would bear a PG 13 rating for language.  I have some reading friends who may really latch onto this series which now numbers four books, but it may be awhile before I see Hugo Marston in action again.  I do see that Pryor has written a nonfiction title about a 25 year old cold case he prosecuted, and while I don't normally read true crime, it might be interesting.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini

The SpymistressJennifer Chiaverini is best known for her quilting fiction series, Elm Creek Quilts.  The varied characters, changing settings, and quilts, the "thread" that connected them all is what kept me coming back for each new book. Somewhere along the way, I did miss a few, but I always liked Chiaverini's work, possibly because she is a Wisconsin author.  So when she veered into historical fiction with her book Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, I was delighted that our bookclub chose it.  While fascinated by the relationship between Mrs. Lincoln and her black dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, I thought the book itself lacked something.  That same "something" is missing in her next Civil War novel, The Spymistress.  Again, Chiaverini has selected a relatively unknown woman, someone whose impact has slipped through the cracks of history.  This time the heroine is Elizabeth Van Lew, a Virginian who sided with the Union and became a Union spy, often risking her safety and spending her own money to care for Union prisoners of war.  Again, Chiaverini has done impeccable research and that shows in the writing. Then what is lacking?  Perhaps I am being too picky, but I have to admit my book club friends agree.  While Elizabeth is a fascinating person, this narrative doesn't capture her.  Others commented that they felt like they were reading a history book, not historical fiction.  Now, I actually like reading nonfiction and especially history, so I would have prefered IF the author had chosen to write this as nonfiction, sticking to the facts and letting the readers in on her lengthy research.  There are some controversies over Elizabeth's activities, her demeanor and habits.  In good quality nonfiction, the author shares that.  If there are disputes over events, all of that is shared, too.  Those variance of opinion can be interesting and I would have been more drawn to that than the novelization of her life.

I guess my bottom line is, if I am reading historical fiction, even with real people in it, I want to be taken to that place.  I want to be a witness to everything that is happening.  I want to "feel" the people and the voice given to them by the author should ring solidly true.  The story, the characters, and the history need to share importance.  The consensus of our book club was that in The Spymistress, the character voice was weak and the history was a little too heavy laden.  Obviously, well researched, much of it done right at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, The Spymistress may be a successful read for some, but  for me, I wish Chiaverini had tried her hand at nonfiction, trying a style similar to that of Killing Lincoln or The Assassin's Accomplice.  While one book club member (this was her first Chiaverini book) said she would not read another, I know that I will because I have been entertained by her writing many times in the past and I hope to be again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sky Zone by Creston Mapes


On his website, Creston Mapes says he writes the kind of books that he likes to read - "tension-filled thrillers."  I've just finished his third book in the Crittendon Files, Sky Zone which is the second Mape's book I've read this summer, and I must agree that Mapes' stories are "tension-filled." I certainly hope there are more Jack Crittendon stories to follow and I really, really wish I didn't have to wait.

With a family to feed and another Crittendon baby on the way, Jack had to find work asap when the newspaper where he worked folded. (In the previous book, Jack uncovers a scandal which leads to his paper's demise).  While his wife leaves behind her time as a stay-at-home mom, Jack takes a part-time at the Festival Arena in town. There Jack strikes up a friendship with a co-worker, Shakespeare, who shares his survivalist views with Jack. Even Shakespeare admits his fears are way out there, but even so, he wants his family to be prepared for the worst.  Both men are scheduled to work the rally for controversial presidential hopeful Martin Sterling and his supporter, a well-known Christian musician when minutes before Sterling's arrival, the arena coordinator learns of rumors of a terrorist threat.  Suddenly what should have been a busy day ushering and general security work becomes a life and death challenge.

What I like best about Mapes style (beside the intense suspense) is that he so realistically interweaves the personal back story of Jack's family into the action of the story.  Nothing seems forced or contrived.  Even the minor characters add much to both the thriller genre and the message behind the book.  I had said in my review of Poison Town that I hoped Jack's young reporter colleague would take a prominent role in future books, so I was delighted to see him appear as one of the press covering candidate Sterling.  Now I will add that I sincerely hope that new friend Shakespeare follows into the next book.  I am sure some people will shake their heads at the term "Christian thriller."  I know I was skeptical of the genre at first, but if you are willing to give it a chance, then I recommend Mapes' Crittendon Files.