Friday, December 31, 2010
Dundurn Press, 2010
Hoshowsky's second book of true crime examines twelve Canadian cases that remain unsolved, but that are still considered solvable, with the oldest case dating back to 1967. Most of the cases have some Toronto connection, so in this sense the book doesn't represent the whole of Canada well, but the author is based in Toronto and likely most familiar with the cases he's chosen to include. In addition, he'd have the best access to local police and family members and friends of the victims by focusing on Toronto-related stories.
The goal is admirable: to solve these crimes by providing known and new information and jogging readers' memories surrounding the reported events. Some of the cases are undoubtedly well-remembered by the public (think Sharin' Morningstar Keenan, Nicole Morin, and Nancy and Domenic Ianiero - the latter with a Mexican venue, but involving Canadian victims), others have receded in memory (Ingrid Bauer and Veronica Kaye, for example). The final case in the book documents the mysterious instances of feet washing up on west coast shores in recent years. The stories are well-researched and presented, though some stories are necessarily longer than others, since more information is available about them. There is some repetition throughout the book, possibly because each story stands alone and does not need to be read in the order in which it appears. Weblinks designed to aid in the solving of cold cases are also provided.
I recommend this book to avid true-crime readers, and hope the author is successful in seeing his book used as a tool by ordinary citizens who may have crime-solving information to share with police. This is a much- needed addition to Canadian crime collections.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Monarch Books, 2009
Recently released as a movie as well, Faith Like Potatoes, tells the story of Angus Buchan, his wife Jill, and their ministry, Shalom.
Of Scottish descent, but originally from Zambia, Angus and Jill accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour two years after settling in Greytown, South Africa in 1979. Ten years later they felt God calling them to full-time ministry, with Angus preaching and training others in evangelism, and Jill providing aid to orphans and widows. They also felt it was important that they not ask for financial support, but that their farm operations sustain the ministry.
While the movie is inspiring, it is also a good lead-in to the book, which provides many more stories of God's faithfulness and miracle-working power. Angus describes himself as an "ordinary" person, but through him many extraordinary things have been accomplished to the glory of God. After reading this book, I am encouraged to be a better Christ-follower, more often found in prayer and in God's Word, and living out more fully the love of one of His servants.
Recommended reading for all who want to be serious about their faith.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop: 'tis the season to be deadly: stories of mistletoe and mayhem from 17 masters of suspense
Vanguard Press, 2010
Each year, for the past seventeen years, Otto Penzler, owner of the legendary Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, has commissioned an original story by a leading mystery writer. The requirements were that it be a mystery/ crime/suspense story, that it be set during the Christmas season, and that at least some of the action take place in The Mysterious Bookshop. In most cases, the authors also make reference to the store's owner, Penzler himself.
Now, all of these stories have been collected in one volume. Contributors include Lawrence Block, Mary Higgins Clark, Ed McBain, Anne Perry, and Donald E. Westlake. Some of the tales are humorous, others suspenseful or even mystifying. I enjoyed some more than others, but all were well-written, as would be expected, and I got a kick out of the different ways the authors chose to include the bookshop and its owner. I am also inspired to try some of their other stand-alone work.
A great read, and an excellent choice for the mystery reader on your gift list.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Minotaur Books, 2010
M.C. Beaton is back in fine form with this latest installment in the Agatha Raisin mystery series. When John Sunday, terror of the local Health and Safety Board, is murdered, there is no shortage of suspects. The man has been the bane of all who delight in Christmas - from Agatha's own minister, the Reverend Bloxby, to ladies in the nearby village of Odley Cruesis where the stabbing takes place.
The murder takes Agatha out of her depression as she seeks to determine its perpetrator. When the killing of Sunday is quickly followed by that of Miriam Courtney, a local would-be socialite, the plot thickens. The violent hanging of Sharon, one of Agatha's employees, by biker-gang boyfriend, Jazz Belter, results in the hiring of Simon Black, detective-in-training. With his help, and that of Agatha's able assistants, Toni and Patrick, the hunt for the Sunday and Courtney killer(s) is on.
Appearances by Raisin regulars Roy, Charles, James, and Mrs. Bloxby add to the fun, and readers will enjoy the addition of Black as a love interest for Toni and foil for indomitable former-PR queen, Agatha. Agatha has all her usual insecurity, angst, and ill-humour, as well as intelligence and rough charm.
An easy-reading romp through the Cotswolds, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. A satisfying Christmas mystery.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Kensington Books, 2010
This book is a Christmas anthology, and also includes the stories The Dangers of Gingerbread Cookies by Laura Levine, and Gingerbread Cookies and Gunshots by Leslie Meier.
Story one: I was somewhat disappointed that this was not a full-length Fluke novel as the murder had to unfold and resolve so quickly. In this story, Ernie Kusak is the neighbour who gets on everyone's nerves with his loud music and noxious Christmas lights during the holiday season. It's not much of a surprise that he turns up dead near a platter of Hannah's gingerbread cookies. But who killed the multi-million dollar lottery winner? - His ex-wife, Lorna? Another neighbour who'd had run-ins with Ernie? And does the framed lottery ticket in Ernie's bathroom have any link to the crime? I enjoyed the story, but the wrap-up happened too quickly for my liking.
Story two: When Jaine Austen visits her parents at Tampa Vistas for the holidays, she's in for more of the usual: her parents' bickering, showing her off to the neighbours, and overindulging her cat. What she doesn't expect is the death of resident eligible bachelor, retired plastic surgeon, Dr. Preston McCay. Who done it? - One of the several ladies he's strung along? His much younger fiancee? The community handyman? Doc Wilkins? All of them have a reason, and it's up to Jaine to sort out the suspects. I enjoyed this story enough to put Levine's Jaine debut on my reading list, though I did find the addressing of the reader throughout somewhat distracting.
Story three: Lucy Stone is many things - wife, mother, grandmother, and part-time reporter. When local boy Nemo Anderson disappears, it hits Lucy and the community hard. Lucy had met the boy and his mother, Ocean, and knows something of the unconventional life they must lead with Ocean's partner, Rick. As the police conduct their own investigation, Lucy conducts a search for answers, praying all the while for the boy's safe return. Was there really a large black woman in a puffy burgundy coat, who drove Nemo away in a white SUV, or were the lad's mother and guardian in some way responsible for his vanishing? This was my favourite story in the anthology. Not only did Meier include recipes (as did Fluke), but the plot unfolded at an appropriate pace and came to a satisfying conclusion.
Monday, November 15, 2010
I enjoyed Karon's Mitford series very much, as well as her first Father Tim novel; alas one doesn't always get equal excellence. While the story and substory are both solid plot lines, this reader experienced some confusion in keeping track of minor characters. This was not helped by the interspersing of current-day plot with journal entries from the past, nor by the fact that Father Tim 1 was published three years ago, and I've read a lot of other books in between.
Readers will enjoy the Irish setting of this novel, as well as the Irish characters. Father Tim and Cynthia have finally made the trip to Sligo and look forward to various jaunts around the Irish countryside. A mishap waylays their plans and they must stay closer to the B & B. This is a boon to the inn's owners, who are going through a variety of struggles and could use the pastoral support. This also gives Tim and his wife the chance to read through an old journal, which chronicles the story of Dr. Fintan and wife, Catherine, who settled in the area in the late 1700s and experienced their own struggles. Both stories wrap up satisfactorily at the end of the book, with Tim and Cynthia promising to return. Perhaps number 3 in the trilogy will be set in Ireland as well. This reader would like that. But she'd also like the author to produce it a little more quickly in order to maintain a better sense of who's who.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009
Sex, drugs, rock 'n roll. There you have them - the key elements of your standard celebrity bio. And Mackenzie Phillips - best known for playing Julie on the sitcom, One Day at a Time - writes about enjoying a plethora of all three, but especially the drugs. Daughter of John Phillips, most notably of the Mamas and the Papas, it was almost inevitable that Mackenzie herself would succumb to the snare.
It's been said - and rightly so, I think - that every girl seeks her daddy's love and approval. But John Phillips was a self-centred man - a man bent on pursuing hedonism to the utmost, as Mackenzie well describes. While she yearned for a close relationship with him, what she often experienced was abandonment. Deeply into the drug subculture, Phillips used narcotics and women freely and without care, and allowed his children to live as they pleased, without any boundaries or rules. When he invited Mackenzie, age 10, to learn how to roll joints for him and his friends, she was a willing participant. Maybe by being useful, she would get more attention. Maybe by emulating him, she would enter more fully into his world. It wasn't long before she was using drugs herself. It wasn't long before her life would enter a downward spiral that would take years to exit.
After reading about many of Mackenzie's escapades, I laughed out loud at her description of herself as "a good girl" (p. 78). It's amazing how we can deceive ourselves, and evident how desperately Mackenzie wanted to be accepted. What's more amazing is that even after years of self-abuse (including drugs and presumably unprotected sex with multiple partners), incest and rape, Mackenzie is still alive to tell the story.
It's a story she writes in order to set out the truth so that she herself might become "real and whole." It's a fascinating, ugly story, full of insanity, bad choices, hopelessness and despair, interspersed with periods of sobriety and well-being. It's a cautionary tale for those who might think the drug life is linked to freedom and fun when it is anything but.
Mackenzie's book sparked a lot of controversy when it first appeared. People don't like to talk about incest. Family members and friends didn't want to believe that Papa John could be quite that depraved. But I believe Mackenzie is right when she says that under the influence of drugs a person will do anything. And so perhaps the best service the book provides others is to encourage discussion of this taboo topic. As the author says:
- "If nobody ever rocks the boat, if real stories of love and incest and survival are kept behind the closed doors of therapists' offices and judges' chambers, then current and future victims are destined to do what I did, to weather it alone, to blame themselves, to hide behind drugs or whatever other lies and oblivion they can find. It happens, it happened to me, and the desire to preserve my father's legacy is not reason enough for silence." (p. 188)
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Arrow Books, 2006 (copyright 1935)
I always thought of Heyer as a romance author, but when it came to my attention that she'd written some mysteries, I decided to give one a try. Death in the Stocks appears to be the first in the Inspector Hannasyde series, and what a mystery it is, though I did crack the case well before the author concluded it.
When playboy and businessman Arnold Vereker is found dead in the stocks on a village green, it's a great shock to the local bobby, who has never before had to deal such a serious crime. After going to Vereker's cottage and meeting the victim's careless half-sister, it's no doubt a relief to pass the case on to his superiors.
Enter Hannasyde, a Superitendant from New Scotland Yard. Calm, cool, and logical, nothing could have prepared him for the Vereker relations who, except for their cousin and legal representative Giles Carrington, are a bunch of eccentric, unlikable, and corrupt individuals. Uncertain and distrustful of one another, they seem to think the murder is a game and one of their own its chief participant. Indeed they make it difficult not to suspect them of either acting alone or in collusion, and for the most part, the reader could care less about what happens to any of them.
The New York Times is quoted on the book's cover, "Rarely have we seen humour and mystery so perfectly blended." I don't know about that, but at the end of the day - thanks largely to Hannasyde and Carrington - the fact is I rather enjoyed the mystery. I think I am getting into these older British whodunits, and as the contemporary authors I enjoy don't write fast enough to keep up with me, it's good to discover "new" talent.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Written by a veteran reporter, this is Di Vincenzo's first full-length book.Want to know the best time to write poetry? The best month to climb Mount Kilimanjaro? The best time of day to take melatonin? It's all here, along with much more. Each topic is covered in short order, with some points having the added value of additional tips, strange but true, or the this-just-in type facts you'd expect from a seasoned journalist.
Since the book is only 168 pages long and couldn't possibly cover everything a body might ask, Di Vincenzo has left himself ample opportunity to delve into the subject further with additional volumes or revised, updated revisions.
A great idea, and includes a list of useful sources at the back of the book. You'll refer to this one again and again.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Servant Publications, 2001
Bart Campolo is the president of Mission Year, a U.S.-based Christian service program that recruits people to serve in outreach teams that live and work in inner-city neighbourhoods. Though this book was written several years ago, the proof of the program's success is that it continues to attract recruits who choose to sacrifice comfort in order to dwell and perform community service in inner-cities across America. While the program originally sought the participation of young adults 18-29, it has expanded to include those over this age, as well as married couples.
In thirty relatively short chapters (the book is under 150 pages), Campolo shares stories from the trenches. Though there is hopelessness, danger, and struggle in inner-city living and outreach, there is also hope and freedom in Christ, and the reader catches glimpses of God's love at work here as His kingdom expands bit by bit. We see followers of Jesus who live in groups of five or six building relationships with their neighbours, sharing Christ's love for them in real and practical ways, and learning how to live together in authentic community. The stories are exciting and inspiring - sometimes saddening and maddening - and invite involvement whether it be through going, giving, or praying.
I would love to see Campolo write a new book with the stories that have taken place in the years since this was published.
For more on Mission Year, please visit the website.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
William Heinemann Ltd., 1929 (reprinted 1970)
George Abbershaw is invited to a weekend party at Black Dudley, a gloomy old building set in rural Suffolk. The good doctor is a logical, level-headed man, who has fallen headlong in love with the beautiful Margaret Oliphant, who, at his request, is also at the gathering.
When Wyatt Petrie, the event's host, tells the story of the "Black Dudley Ritual Dagger" and the group decide to reenact the ritual, mystery and tragedy ensue. One of the party is killed, and it isn't long before the rest are taken hostage by a dangerous and determined crew, who claim that something valuable has also gone missing. Our sleuth Abbershaw sets out to solve the crime and protect his girl.
Although this story was written almost a century ago, it has not lost its appeal for modern readers. Told in the style of the great mystery writers, and Allingham's most celebrated book, the author succeeds in creating three dimensional characters, weaving an intriguing plot, and introducing several red herrings along the way. In the end, we have a satisfying whodunit that leaves the reader eager for more. Since I have just learned that one of the story's main characters appears in 18 more of Allingham's novels and stories, I think it's safe to say that I'll be seeking out more of her work.
Highly recommended for lovers of the genre.
Friday, October 8, 2010
The Mend Mark is an innovative and distinctive bracelet designed to reflect the scars and nail holes of Jesus. When worn, the band resembles the deep holes of the nail driven into the wrists of Jesus during his crucifixion. By bringing the story of Jesus’ life and death to constant awareness by wearing a bracelet, Mend Mark is meant to powerfully remind wearers of the ultimate act of love Jesus made for all of humankind.
Harrison’s mission is to remind all to remember Christ’s love in both his life and death. But more than only a poignant recollection, the Mend Mark is meant to inspire and motivate wearers to live a life of service. Harrison strives to bring people together around the simplicity and power of love as lived by Jesus. But this is no example of passive love. The Mend Mark calls individuals in all walks of life to love with a profound sincerity and commitment great enough to change a neighborhood, a community, a world.
Harrison leads this call to love and sacrifice by example and joins hands with each Mend Mark bracelet purchaser to take the first step in global change. A portion of each bracelet sold goes to support Living Water International, an organization combating the clean water crisis victimizing over one billion people worldwide. Each $5,000 given will result in one well drilled, providing a community with clean water.
But wearers should be prepared to be seen. Unique in its design, the Mend Mark is sure to be noticed and gives wearers an opportunity to share the story of the profound love of Jesus for each and every person. “It was important to me that the design was simple and generic enough that the observer had to ask about it to know what it meant. But I also wanted it to appear distinctive enough that it sparked curiosity,” reveals creator Hunter Harrison. “I wanted it to require the wearer of the product to engage in conversation about the love of Christ (and hopefully show that love to others) instead of just letting the product talk for them.”
Launched in late 2009 after a year and a half of packaging, material, and design development by Harrison, the bracelet has been sold across the United States, Canada, and the UK and has been featured in retail stores as well. The Mend Mark bracelet movement has grown to further fame after being worn during performances by American Idol winner Lee Dewyze, Idol runner up Siobhan Magnus, Decifer Down, Israel Houghton & New Breed, Pillar, and Finding Favour, to name a few. Says Harrison, “I want it to be more than just another bracelet; I want it to represent a movement.” Based on the way things are going, a movement is exactly what it is becoming.
Order online for $9.99 at http://www.mendmark.com/.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
I won this gift-book on my friend Faith's blog. The title interested me since I live not far from an Amish community, have been reading a mystery series set in Amish Pennsylvania (Tamar Myers' PennDutch books, which are becoming tedious and repetitive), and have a curiosity about the Plain people that I thought this book might address.
The book is a compact size and printed on high quality paper. Each section begins with information about the Amish culture, faith, and practice, and is followed with a selection of proverbs based on a theme. Facing pages have gorgeous photographs that depict Amish life, crafts, and cookery. The themes covered include - but aren't limited to - time, money, children/family, and handling adversity.
Some of my favourite quotes from the book are:
Laziness travels so slowly that povery soon overtakes it.
Bibles that are coming apart usually belong to people who are not.
Parents who are afraid to put their foot down usually have children who step on their toes.
A person who gets all wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package.
You cannot be truly a son of God without resembling the Father.
This makes a lovely book to give as a gift, or to keep on your coffee or end table. The author's grandfather was raised in an Old Order German Baptist Church in Pennsylvania, and she has written Amish Peace as well as two novels in her Lancaster County series.
Friday, October 1, 2010
After reading She Walks in Beauty, I was anxious to read another novel by Siri Mitchell. Chateau of Echoes tells the story of Frederique Farmer, a youngish widow and accomplished chef, who has purchased a castle in Brittany, France and turned it into an inn. She is, however, not overly keen on having guests, preferring to run, work in her garden, and experiment with food.
When Robert Cranwell, a popular American author, persuades Frederique to let him stay at her inn, she agrees against her better judgement. Cranwell's presence and the intimacy he assumes provoke her at every turn as he encourages her to move on with her life and open herself to new relationships. But as Frederique's feelings for Cranwell turn to affection and possibly love, she is perturbed to see that he's developed what appears to be more than a friendship with her assistant, the beautiful researcher, Severine. And as strange things begin to happen, Frederique fears for her own safety.
The story alternates between the modern-day plot and the story of Alix, a girl from medieval times, whose journals Frederique found on her property and turned over to the university. This sub-plot takes us back to a time when marriages were pre-arranged in order to strengthen status, position, and loyalties, and when women weren't typically valued as persons. The Alix- Awen story has a mystical feel to it, which is enhanced through the telling of traditional tales, including references to King Arthur and the Holy Grail.
At first I wasn't sure what period the "modern-day" section was set in. Mitchell's language conveys a more historical and formal feel than the 2002 date that is later clarified. This causes confusion for the reader, especially in the beginning. This fact is less important as the reader comes to care about the characters and to hope for a happy romantic ending. Mitchell has done a considerable amount of research on Brittany, France, and medieval times. Her love for her subject shines through. I was satisfied with the story's conclusion, though of the two books, I have to admit a preference for She Walks in Beauty.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
McClelland & Stewart, 2010
A few months ago I told you about Terry Fallis's book, The Best Laid Plans, and said that I was looking forward to the sequel. It can be challenging for an author to follow up a well-received first novel with an equally successful second, but Fallis does not disappoint. I was pleased to see that his second book is just as well written, just as hilarious, just as fulfilling.
Now that no-nonsense political newcomer Angus McClintock has brought down the government and has a clear opportunity to return to academia, he must decide whether or not to run for office again. Of course, there wouldn't be much of a story if he didn't. Bring back Daniel Addison, his trusty aide; politically savvy octogenarian Muriel Parkinson; Muriel's granddaughter (and Daniel's love interest), Lindsay; and the two punky Petes, and you've got the makings of a terrific tale. Add in Emerson "Flamethrower" Fox, the mud-slinging Liberal candidate for Cumberland-Prescott; a visit from the American President and his alcoholic wife; and the collapse of the Alexandra Bridge over the Ottawa River, and let the political games begin!
Fallis leaves this reader hoping for another book in the Addison-McClintock series. There are still plenty of roads for the story to travel, and many plans yet to be laid.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Bethany House, 2010
It's been a while since I've read any historical fiction, perhaps even longer since I've read any historical romance. What a beautiful reintroduction to the genre. Mitchell's writing - fluid, authentic to the period, creating vivid images - is as true a treat as any I've enjoyed.
Set in the Victoria era when debuts were fashionable, our heroine, Miss Clara Carter, is seventeen years old, her debut a year away. That's good, because she's not looking forward to it at all. She has a bright mind, an excellent tutor, and hopes to study medicine at Vassar College. Alas and alack, the man her father and aunt (her mother is dead) have their sights set on, returns earlier than expected from his European tour, and Clara's debut is moved up to the current season.
Franklin DeVries is a handsome and charming man, the heir to the DeVries fortune. As a result, he is very popular with the ladies, though it is Clara's best friend, Lizzie, who is her chief rival to win his affections. But when Clara meets and gets to know Franklin's brother, Harry, she is no longer confident that it's Franklin's affections she wants. Still, she wants to please her elders, and to get back for them the money they feel was stolen by the DeVries family.
To sway the odds, Clara's father, a physician whose methods are questionable, puts pressure on a respected journalist. Clara is feted in one newspaper, but mocked by reports in The Tattler. As the debut season progresses, Clara wonders why it appears that someone is out to get her, why her father seems to have detractors, and whether she can find happiness in a society so beset by competition and show. Is there no more meaning to life than the bondage of class?
Mitchell creates an excellent picture of the Victorian era, highlighting the dark side of society life (especially for women), as well as the situation of the poor in New York City. Clara is a likeable character with whom the reader strongly identifies, and the plot, though happily resolved at the end (as all good romances are), will pull at your heartstrings (as all good romances do).
I took my time reading this practical guide for Christian parents who want to "get it right." And I really feel that I need to read it again straight through, taking notes, and spending time answering the questions at the end of each chapter.
What I gleaned from this book tells me that Mark Matlock, its author, is a very wise parent indeed. He challenges the reader to ask herself what story she subscribes to (God's or the world's), how she defines success, and what her true goals are for her children. As I personally responded, I have to admit that, at times, I didn't like my answers. A lightbulb went on as I recognized my shortcomings and need for personal change.
After sharing what he calls "broken strategies" for competing with the world's story, Matlock tells us how do demonstrate wisdom, teach decision-making, deal with failure, and evaluate entertainment. Very helpful skills indeed.
I recommend this book to Christian parents, no matter where you are on your parenting journey. It's not a long book (only 143 pages), so try to read a chapter each day, rather than drag it out as I did for my first reading.
Oh, and don't forget your highlighter and notebook. You'll need them.
[Note: this book was provided for review by The B & B Media Group. The review is always my honest response.]
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
After learning that a principal prematurely ended Bolger's author visit, in which he was reading from this book, I knew I had to read it. Click here for my blog post on the banning.
When the brave Sir Fartsalot dines with the King, he is on a quest to quell the Foul West Wind. By the end of dinner, thanks to young prankster, Prince Harry, he is also on the hunt for the monstrous Booger. The King decides that Prince Harry could learn a lot from travelling with the knight, and the two set off on their great adventure. Along the way they encounter (among other things) a jester, a fortune teller, ogres, princesses, a two-headed giant, and a very hungry roc.
The humour is gross, as befits the intended audience - primarily boys, grades 4-6, though one non-traditional princess sets an appropriate tone for girls. And the book has a message: Prince Harry learns that pranks don't always turn out the way you plan, and can end up hurting people you care about.
A fun spin on the traditional knight's quest, Bolger only offends those with the most tender sensibilities.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
The Writing Academy, 2008
This collection of 366 devotionals contains true stories about the challenges and delights of writing, and offers a daily encouragement, short prayer, and inspirational quote to help writers as they journey along. Though some entries were better written than others, I still thought the book worthwhile overall. In reading the experiences of others who pursue the craft, one finds hope that one's words can mean something to others, that one's words will reach the right readership, and that publication is possible despite the obstacles.
A good gift for the writer in your life or to treat yourself.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
by Shane Peacock,
Tundra Books, 2010
You may remember that after young Sherlock's last adventure, he had taken early leave from the detection business. With the apparent return of the "Spring Heeled Jack," a fictional character from the Penny Dreadful thrillers, whose exploits played out in real life London about 30 years earlier and now threaten again, Sherlock is brought out of retirement. The Spring Heeled Jack has red eyes, super human strength and agility, breathes blue fire, and wears a black and green suit with bat-like wings. A terror to all who see and are attacked by him.
When the Jack attacks Beatrice Leckie, an old friend, and daughter of the local hatter, Sherlock reluctantly becomes involved. As he observes, investigates, and makes deductions, the suspects multiply. Could it be his own companion, Sigerson Bell? The politically ambitious Alfred Munby or the popular Robert Hide? Who is Malefactor really? Is it he, Sherlock's arch enemy, who is wreaking havoc and terrorizing the people of London, bringing chaos and possibly murder, as he has suggested he would? Does Beatrice herself, or her friend, Louise, have something to do with the case? And what does Sherlock's old love interest, Irene Doyle, know? She is, after all, far too close to the hoodlum Malefactor, and she is greatly changed.
With plenty of action, mystery, and red-herrings, and set during the time of England's first Jewish Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, when there was much social unrest, Peacock rushes the reader along at a dizzying pace. As this case resolves with typical Sherlock Holmes flair and the fever-pitch of last-minute revelation, the reader is left waiting breathlessly for the next installment in the series.
Henry Holt & Company, 2006
This book contains the personal philosophies of famous and "average" men and women from all walks of life. The collection includes, for example, essays by Isabel Allende, William F. Buckley, Jr., Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, as well as those written by a lawyer in Brooklyn, a woman who sells advertising for the Forth Worth Yellow Pages, and a man who serves on the parole board for the state of Rhode Island. The editors profile stories that reflect guiding principles and values, not those that would focus on pious platitudes, dogma, or narrow prejudice, so you will find here people who believe in Barbie, or that it's important to "be cool to the pizza dude," or that one ensures prosperity by feeding the monkeys on one's birthday. There are those who believe in God, those who don't, and those who believe in the sun. In other words, expect an eclectic, diverse set of beliefs that will challenge you to think about your own.
The editors offer guidelines for writing out your beliefs and maintain a website where you can submit your personal essay. There you can also read other people's essays - both from the original 1950s series and those that have been more recently penned. There's already a This I Believe II, so who knows? Maybe your essay will be published in an upcoming volume as well.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
I read this book on the recommendation of my friend, Faith. You can read her review of the book here.
William Kamkwamba was born into a poor farming family in Malawi. He is very matter-of-fact about the conditions of life for himself and his countrymen, and invites no pity, even when describing the effects of famine that ravaged the country, killing many of its people, early in the new millennium. Death by starvation was a daily threat for his own family, where just a handful of food had to feed several mouths and was available only once daily.
Given the lack of income during the famine period, William's parents were unable to continue paying his secondary school fees, and he had to stop attending. Always curious from a young age about how things worked, forever taking things apart and putting them back together, William was determined to continue learning on his own. Taking full advantage of the local library, which was stocked with books from America and elsewhere, he read up on subjects of a scientific nature, including physics and electricity. Discovering instructions for building a windmill and recognizing how its addition would help his family, he spent hours scouring the scrapyard for pieces he could use in its construction. With the assistance of a cousin and very good friend, he was able to assemble a working windmill that provided light to the family home and powered a small radio.
While initially ridiculed by former classmates and fellow villagers, William's efforts came to the attention of news reporters and important people in the scientific community. As a result, he was able to participate in a scientific conference and gain sponsorship to continue his education.
William remains passionate about helping the people of Malawi and Africa use their intelligence, skills, and drive to better their country and continent. He has already been involved in the addition of several more windmills to his own village and been able to send relatives and friends to school to further their own educations. Now in his early twenties, William maintains a website worth looking at. His rags to "riches" story is inspirational and proof that if you set your mind to something, you can accomplish much, no matter what obstacles may stand in your way.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
13-year-old Delrita loves the uncle who shares her parents' home, but chooses to avoid developing friendships out of fear that people will make fun of him. Uncle Punky, you see, has Down Syndrome. As a result, his appearance is different from that of "normal" people, and he has some behaviours that are unusual for a 35-year-old man. For one thing, he absolutely adores clowns. He is also extremely patriotic, has a habit of chucking chicken bones behind the television set, and shouts "bang!" when anyone says "amen."
Delrita's parents have moved the family from a more rural setting to a larger town in hopes that Delrita will be able to connect with more young people her age, but Delrita is still reluctant to make friends with anyone. A budding friendship with Avanelle, who has her own secrets, is thwarted by misunderstanding.
When a tragic accident orphans Delrita, she and Uncle Punky go to live with another Aunt and Uncle. Already experiencing the anger that comes from grief, Delrita is further enraged by Aunt Queenie's strict clean-freak ways, and by Queenie's desire that Punky get a job at the local warehouse, where other people with Down have found meaningful employment. Another blow strikes when Punky is hospitalized due to a congenital heart condition. Will Delrita's life be beset by another tragedy?
This book gives a realistic glimpse into the lives of families where one person has Down Syndrome. Wood's brother had Down, so she brings real insight to the subject, allowing the reader to see that such people have much to teach us. She also tells a compelling story of friendship and loss.
Make sure you have tissues close at hand.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
McClelland & Stewart, 2007
When no publisher would take this book, Fallis published it himself. In 2008 it won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and this year it was named the One Book One Community read for the Waterloo Region. While I'd heard of the author's "overnight success" story earlier, it was only when the novel was chosen for the OBOC that I decided it was time to read the book.
As the story opens, its main character, Daniel Addison, is about to embark on life in academia, leaving his post as an aide in the Liberal leader's office on Parliament Hill to become an English professor at the University of Ottawa. Since he will be moving to the riding of Cumberland, a traditional Tory stronghold, he is charged with one last task: to find a candidate to run for the Liberal party in the upcoming fall federal election.
And so the games begin. Unable to convince Muriel Parkinson, a staunch Liberal supporter, to go for a sixth unsuccessful run, Daniel is almost out of time when an unexpected stroke of luck hits. His landlord, Angus McClintock, wants to get out of teaching first year English to Engineering students, and is willing to campaign for the Liberal party in order to get out of it. Of course, that's only because the Conservatives have the riding sewn up and there's no way he can win.
Written with liberal splashes of humour, this political satire is sure to enlighten and entertain. I laughed frequently, and often had to stop to read parts aloud to my husband.
The author's personal experience in the political arena served him well in penning this fantastic tale. I had hoped that a sequel was forthcoming and am delighted to inform you that The High Road will be available this September. I look forward to reading this follow-up to the highly enjoyable original.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Ambrose Video Publishing, BBC, 2010
From the cover: "When he was a small boy Diarmaid MacCulloch's parents used to drive him round historic churches. Little did they know that they had created a monster - the history of the Christian Church became his life's work... In the first of a six part series sweeping across four continents, Professor MacCulloch goes in search of Christianity's forgotten origins. He overturns the familiar story that it all began when the apostle Paul took Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome. Instead, he shows that the true origins of Christianity lie east, and that at one point it was poised to triumph in Asia, maybe even in China. The headquarters of Christianity may well have been Baghdad not Rome. And if that had happened Western Christianity would have been very different."
Please check back periodically for the upcoming review.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Multnomah Publishers, 2004
I'm a big fan of the music and poetry of Rich Mullins, and had wanted to purchase this book for my home collection, so I was excited to find that my library had acquired a copy I could preview.
Now I'm thankful I've saved good money, as I discovered that this book isn't for me. A collection of essays Rich penned for a magazine called Release, the writing is of a style I find difficult to enjoy, though there were times he made me laugh, and I loved these quotes:
- Those who worry are less able to enjoy things than those who hope.
- The will of man will not ultimately prevail against the will of God.
- Faith is not a denial of facts - it is a broadening of focus. It does not deny the hardness of guitar strings; it plucks them into a sweetness of sound.
- When I was a kid in high school it used to be really popular to wear little buttons on your coat that said, Smile, God Loves You. And that would always hack me off, 'cause I go, you know what? God loves everybody. That doesn't make me special. It just means that God has no taste.
Well, I would beg to differ with the last statement. It's not that God has no taste, it's that He doesn't discriminate :)
Anyway, if you like Rich Mullins, you might enjoy this book. Just do yourself a favour and borrow it from the library before you decide to buy it.
Monday, April 26, 2010
W Publishing Group, 2006
One of my co-workers suggested this book to me, and loaned me her copy. She was uncertain of her own response (somewhat manipulated?), and wanted someone to discuss it with. What could I do but read it? :)
The story is told in alternating points of view: the homeless Denver Moore, and the wealthy Ron Hall. We learn about Denver's growing up on a sharecropping plantation, his escape from that life to one of homelessness and violence, and finally what happens when he encounters Ron and Debbie Hall at a mission to the homeless in San Antonio, Texas. We learn about Ron Hall's early life, his marriage to Deborah and their life together, his climb to prosperity, and his unlikely friendship with Denver. While Hall initially sees himself as Denver's benefactor, it turns out that the homeless man has much to teach him about friendship, love, and even faith. When Debbie is diagnosed with cancer, they all travel the valley of death together. Even as faith is tested and tried, friendship and affection are deepened.
At first I found this book quite easy to set aside in favour of other reading. The alternating points of view were disruptive, and the story read almost as fiction. But somewhere around its middle, and for reasons I can't define, the book came alive. From that point on, it was difficult to put down; I was held in its grip.
If you can get beyond the slow start, you'll be rewarded with a satisfying read. Did I feel as manipulated as my colleague? No. But I did come to feel more compassion for the disenfranchised, and a stirring to do something more, out of an authentic faith that expresses itself in love and service.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Simon & Schuster, 2010
Here's another title for those of you who enjoy the no-holds-barred, tell-all, celebrity bio. As for me, I don't need to know every little thing, and there's a lot I could have done without in this book. I didn't need all the sexual detail, I didn't need to know how to make crack, I didn't need to know the twisted details of how suppliers punish the users who owe them. And from a guy who claims that God has had His hand on him and saved him from the brink, I certainly didn't need all the bad language.
I don't know much about Sarah Tomlinson, other than that her only other celebrity bio appears to be on the lovely Tila Tequila, but for someone who's supposed to be the professional writer here, there's way too much repetition in this book for me to say it's well-penned. Also, neither she nor the editor seem to have caught Bridges' contradictions. A couple of examples: Bridges says his dad beat him and was "always" drunk, and in the next breath tells us his dad was on his best behaviour when other kids were around and that the house was full "all of the time." He also talks a lot about racism and how people didn't like him because of the colour of his skin, then goes on to share how his love-crazed fans relentlessly pursued him in Chicago. I don't dispute that his father was abusive or that he experienced racial profiling, but the writing could have been more careful.
Then there's this big editorial gaffe: the sentence "Pretty much everything Billy and I did together was a lesson in some aspect of running a drug business" appears on page 154, then is precisely repeated two paragraphs down on the following page.
Ah, well. People aren't going to buy the book for the quality of the writing. They want the dirt, man, the dirt. And they're going to find it here. Bridges' years playing Willis on Diff'rent Strokes were idyllic in his estimation, but he did an effective job of killing him (hence the title) during his drugged-out decade. It's a true miracle that he didn't wind up dead, with an STD, or doing life in prison. He's blessed to have a mother who loved him so fiercely (as I'd hope most mothers love their children), a lawyer who represented him so well (the famous Johnnie Cochran), and eventually the determination to do what it took to stay sober. I wish him well in this new leg of his journey, and do think his story would translate well to the screen.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Chicken Soup for the Soul Publications, 2009
The Chicken Soup brand is known for heart-warming, inspirational stories that tug on the reader's emotions. As a result of that expectation, this book disappoints. It's merely a compilation of songwriters' "hows and whys" of the hits they wrote, and many of the stories provoke no more than a yawn. Chicken Soup would have been wiser to invite submissions from writers sharing how specific songs have impacted their lives in a significant way. That would have resulted in a far more interesting book, one more in character with what the publishing company is all about.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
illustrated by Mark Elliott
Waterbrook Press, 2010
It's not easy to write a good rhyming book, but DeStefano has done an admirable job with this bedtime prayer for children. Short on adoration, but covering confession, thanksgiving, and supplication quite well, the book is suitable for children ages 3-7. The illustrations are realistic, and while the colours are somewhat muted, the pastels capture that soft, winding-down, going-to-bed feeling.
Recommended for reading aloud to your child or grandchild, or as a gift for the special child in your life. Buy it here.
In order to enter the draw to win a free copy of the book, please leave a comment below. The contest ends April 14th. The winner will be chosen and notified on April 15th.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Multnomah Books, 2010
Do start here - or better yet, start with the authors' first book, Do Hard Things: a Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. I wish both titles had been available when I was in high school. As the subtitle for Do Hard Things (DHT) indicates, society's expectations of its youth are quite low, but the writers point out that historically and biblically the teen years are about preparation, about growing into "mature, competent, and responsible men and women who know when and how to have fun." Start Here picks up where DHT leaves off, and deals with getting started, keeping first things first, persisting in the face of challenges, etc. It is also peppered with personal stories from teens who have caught the fire of "rebelution." I found the writing superior and accessible, and was impressed by the authors' evident spiritual depth as well as by the variety of projects and issues teens were tackling. Oops, I guess my low expectations are showing... I stand corrected.
I highly recommend this book and encourage you to visit the authors' website - The Rebelution as well. Get inspired to do hard things for God. Doing so isn't necessarily easy (that's why it's called "hard things"!), but taking the initiative is changing teens' lives, and could just as easily improve yours and cause you to rethink the future - in a good way. I intend to pass my copy along to my teenage daughter, who I am sure will take its contents to heart. You can purchase your own copy by visiting http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9781601422705&ref=externallink_mlt_starthere_sec_0127_01 Also makes a great gift for that special teen in your life!
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
A boy is lost in the forest, and worries about his mother's reaction if he ever finds his way home. After all, she'd warned him repeatedly about the threat of ferocious, wild beasts. But the beasts he meets all seem friendly and helpful and just as scared as he is of running into such dangerous creatures.
While it's true that animals are often just as afraid of humans as we are of them, I think this book does children a disservice in leading them to believe that they'd have nothing to fear alone in the forest. Mountain lions and raccoons, for example, are seldom afraid of humans, can be quite dangerous, and certainly would not be safe to approach.
bottom line: the illustrations are quite charming, but the message less so. What were the author and publisher thinking? Leave this one on the shelf.
illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
Candlewick Press, 2009
Normally Finn likes peaches, but not today. Today Finn is in a foul mood - it's anybody's guess as to why, and isn't that a snafu? Fun illustrations and analogies, along with strong verbs, images, and a positive ending make this an enjoyable read.
bottom line: a good choice to read with your little one
What happens when a flock of sheep go missing and a wolf is the prime suspect? It's a case for the incredible powers of Super Dog! ...Ah, if only the story was as exciting as my teaser would lead to you to believe... I actually found this fairly boring, apart from the funky illustrations.
Bottom line: not recommended
Monday, March 1, 2010
The Barnabas Agency, 2009
While I applaud Moss for his many accomplishments in the business world, as well as for joining AA at the age of 85 and remaining sober five years (and counting), I don't think his essay merits a book that costs buyers $5.99. At 26 pages (many of which have lots of white space), a maximum fee of $2.99 would suffice.
Much of the book is a recitation of Scripture, which any reader with a decent Bible Concordance could easily locate on her own. Furthermore, the simple, step-by-step example of Christian meditation is no more than one could find through a quick google search. Facing pages are blank for "thoughts and prayers," but really, the book does little to evoke either. While I have not researched what other books are available on this topic, I don't advise purchasing this one, unless you have money to burn.
On the bright side, if you have a manuscript to flog, perhaps it's worth taking a look at The Barnabas Agency...
[Note: this book was provided for review by The B & B Media Group]
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Chicken Soup for the Soul Publications, 2009
This is a little different from the traditional Chicken Soup style. As a collection of stories designed to "comfort, encourage, and inspire women," each devotional opens with a Bible verse, includes a story that connects with the verse, and concludes with a prayer. Several cartoon illustrations are scattered throughout the book as well.
While I initially found it difficult to wrap my head around the fact that this was a Chicken Soup book, and thought, "I could write this," as I continued reading, I found many of the stories quite touching. I can't say I'd read it as a daily devotional, but with only 101 stories, it clearly isn't intended to be read that way, despite the book's subtitle.
Convenient to pick up and read when you only have five minutes to spare.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Tyndale House, 2007
Now this is a book worth reading on the subject of female friendship. Much better than the book I reviewed last August. Co-written by friends, Erin and Carrie, the book tackles a variety of subjects, including:
- levels of intimacy
- letting go, and
- growing up
Along the way, each author shares personal stories of friendship successes, challenges, and failures, and each chapter concludes with questions for reflection.
A few highlights:
- I found it helpful to think of the "basket system" of friendship - not all friendships are of equal depth, and once one determines which "basket" a particular friendship belongs in, one better understands its limitations and/ or the expectations one can reasonably have within it.
- Most women have fears, and we all certainly have buttons that others can push. The authors show us how the fear dance works, our own roles within it, and how participating in the dance is unhelpful if we truly want to make and keep our friends.
- The section on conflict and confrontation is particularly helpful for those of us who prefer to avoid either at all costs. Successfully working through conflicts strengthens friendships and enables them to grow deeper.
I highly recommend this book to all women, but especially those who may feel lonely or friendless. It is possible to find friends, keep them, and be enriched through them. Smalley and Oliver show us how.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Angels are fascinating, but much of what we read about them today is based on misconception and myth. A whole industry, no doubt spawned by New Age beliefs, has sprung up around these mysterious beings.
Yet are they really so perplexing? Dr. Jeremiah finds that the Bible has much to say about these agents of heaven, and using only the Scriptures, enlightens the rest of us as to their functions and purposes. We get a guided tour of the various appearances of angels in the Bible, an understanding of what they are, and the differences and similarities between angels and humankind. We spend time with the angels around the throne, angels at war and at watch, cherubim and seraphim, Michael, and Gabriel. We see that angels show us how to worship and how to work. We see their relationship with Christ. We even spend a little time with the fallen angels, but they are not our focus. The main thing Jeremiah wants us to learn is that "angels truly love the Lord ... will always love to serve him" and we should follow their example.
Last year I read Dr. Jeremiah's book, What in the World is Going On?, a fascinating account of prophecy. Angels is somehow less excitingly written, but is definitely informative and worth reading.
This book was provided for review by the publisher, who also provided a copy for me to give away. Posting a comment will enter you into the draw. A winner will be chosen at random on February 10th. Good luck!
Friday, January 22, 2010
Carleton University Press, 1992
Although the intended audience is writers who live in the "boonies," I figured there'd be information of use to those who are more urbanly situated. I was right. The book covers the quest for ideas and how to sell them, the fine art of negotiating with publishers/editors, how to conduct research and interviews, how to organize your thoughts to produce interesting articles, etc. The writing style is informal and easy to read, which is as it should be given the subject matter.
While the book is somewhat outdated in terms of the technology aspects discussed, in expected payment amounts, and a changed market, the aspiring author can still glean much.
I encourage the authors to create a revised and updated version, but in the meantime will keep my eyes open for this one wherever used books are sold.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Tuckamore Books, 2008 / 2009
These fun, rhyming picture books star Oscar Ollie Brown, a boy who can't understand his mother. She says the strangest things: "You must have ants inside your pants," "A frog is in your throat," "Can't you hold your tongue?" "Be a lamb." Oscar Ollie Brown takes all her statements literally, which makes for some humorous interpretations and outcomes. These stories are very reminiscent of Tedd Arnold's Parts and More Parts, which are equally wonderful books. Rhyming is never easy - Valerie and Tedd just make it look so. In terms of text There's A COW Under My Bed! was justifiably nominated for a 2010 Blue Spruce Award.
I'm not so fond of the illustrations by David Jardine, however. While their cartoonish nature is appropriate, the colours are dark, morbid, and macabre, and the representations of characters and situations can only be described as creepy.
I believe there are more Oscar Ollie Brown books to come, and I will look forward to reading them while averting my gaze from the pictures. I can only hope that an alternate illustrator will be selected for the remaining texts, but I fear it's a faint hope indeed.
Friday, January 1, 2010
So here's the list for 2010, in author order:
Guide to Spiritual Warfare by E.M. Bounds
A Tangled Tale by Lewis Carroll
Who Speaks for God? Confronting the World with Real Christianity by Charles Colson
Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz
There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew
How to Be Good without Really Trying: Letting Jesus Live His Life in You by Mike Flynn
Reverend Mother's Daughter: a Real Life Story by Mary Haskett
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
One Smooth Stone by Marcia Lee Laycock
Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions: You Can Learn to Control Your Thought life by Dr. Caroline Leaf
Heaven is Real: Lessons on Earthly Joy from the Man who Spent 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper
The Knifeman by William Rayner
Visioneering: God's Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Personal Vision by Andy Stanley.
Magazine Writing from the Boonies: How to Write for a Living While Buried in the Backwoods by Mark Zuelhke and Louise Donnelly
Just for fun, can anyone guess which titles I own (there are 7)? I'll come up with a prize for the person who comes closest!