Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Upcoming reviews this week!

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I've been so busy with my business and the kids going back to school that I have not been able to post my latest reviews. Here are some reviews that are forthcoming this week:

The Passage by Justin Cronin (3 Stars)

This one started off great, but then the book jumped one hundred years into the future and lost my interest. I finally finished this on audio but I don't think I'll be reading the next one in the series.

The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana

This book definitely kept my interest, and the author provided an interesting glimpse into Damascus, Syria. She was very melodramatic in her storytelling, but I enjoyed it regardless.


Guess which book I'll be recommending? Yes, the Marriage Bureau for Rich People was a pleasure to read. Nothing felt contrived and the character development was wonderful. I loved beginning each chapter, it was like opening a new gift. I would read anything by this author.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Review: Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan Green

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Murder in the High Himalaya is one of those rare non-fiction books that elicited a myriad of emotional responses from me. I love mountain climbing and had for years heard rumors of the Tibetan plight. Yet, I had no real idea what exactly their hardships were outside of knowing the Dalai Lama was exiled and the Chinese occupied their otherwise peaceful country.

Jonathan Green compiled an incredible amount of data from the few witnesses willing to come forward and confirm the murder they witnessed on Cho Oyu. He brings the stories of the survivors, the deceased, and the witnesses together in alternating stories, weaving a timeline of events.

From this book, I was able to grasp the extreme hardships these peaceful people go through to leave Tibet, go to India, and meet their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Pilgrims die, they lose limbs, are imprisioned, beaten, tortured, threatened, separated from their families, and murdered. Despite the hardships of little food, water, clothing, and shoes, ane experience, a few make it through the Himalayas. Sadly, most do not make it.

I listened to the audio version of this book. While listening my emotions varied from sadness to hope, anger to tears.

At the center of the story the main focus bounces from a young nun names Kelsang and her best friend Dolma to American mountain guide, Luis Benitez. Luis and a few other westerners risk their careers and lives to get the story out. Romanian journalist Sergiu Matei had the wisdom to break out the camera and start filming once he heard gunshots. He smuggled the footage out of the country and refuting the Chinese press release on the incident, proved the coverup with irrefutable evidence.

The stories of the Tibetan refugees and pilgrims were heartbreaking but I sincerely appreciate the effort of Jonathan Green, and all of the climbers who came forward as witnesses to such a cold blooded murder of a young nun.



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: The Clouds Beneath the Sun

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Set in the early 1960's, The Clouds Beneath the Sun revolves around Natalie Nelson, a freshly minted Ph. D. Suffering the loss of her mother, rejection of her father, and the breakup of her married boyfriend, Dr. Natalie Nelson heads to Africa to join an archaeological team digging in a Kenyan gorge. This digging season proves to be the most intense the experienced team has ever had. Two team members raid the ancient bural grounds of the local Massai tribe in order to have modern bones for comparison to the bones they have discovered. One of them is murdered. From there, problems arise in many forms: criminal, moral, and political; with romance and natural dangers thrown in for good measure.

I truly enjoyed The Clouds Beneath the Sun. The story never felt rushed or contrived. At over 450 pages, the author took his time to develop the story and the characters, as well as the believable setting. Although most of the book takes place either in the camp or in Nairobi, some of the best and most memorable parts of the book take place in the bush, at a secret lake, saving wildebeests, and over Christmas break in Lamu. Massai culture is touched upon, but certainly not a strong theme in this book.

Almost 4 stars for me!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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After hearing so much about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I finally picked it up. I am so glad I did. If you've ever heard the words, "The plot thickens" I have seen no finer example than in this book. The details spanning generations are skillfully woven together.

Lisbeth Salander is a fascinating character and central to the story. She is a ward of the state, a brilliant computer hacker, a justice seeker, and so much more. Working alongside Mikael Blomkvist they seek to solve the forty year old mystery of the disappearance of a young woman from a wealthy family.

The story is fast moving, intriguing, and never dull. I'm so glad I'll be able to jump right into the next two books in the series and see the movie. I am saddened though that the literary world lost such an amazing author before his time.


Review: The Good Son by Michael Gruber

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I was incredibly disappointed with The Good Son by Michael Gruber. The book description sounded like a fascinating, but the more I read the more unlikely the story was. Furthermore, I found absolutely none of the characters to be even plausible. Most especially, I felt that Sonia Laghari was so detached, so unmotherly, and so unreal that it became irritating to read about her.

Sonia was one of the two main characters, yet I found it impossible to get inside her head and understand how she can be so robotic in words and actions. Even Annette, another character in this book, remarks that she has never known anyone like her.

I read the first two-thirds of the book in hardback, and finished the final third by listening to the audio version. I'm glad to see that this book has appealed to so many people and is getting great reviews at Amazon and LibraryThing, but unfortunately, it was just not a good read for me.

The only part of the book that I really found interesting was when Theo, Sonia's son, joins the mujahadeen and later goes back to Afganistan. I also found the Pashtun tribal culture to be very interesting.

Review: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was recently recommended to me and I'm so glad I read it. It's full of charming characters in very uncharming circumstances. Set during Mao's cultural revolution, the narrator and his friend are deemed intellectuals due to their middle school education and their parents occupations. They are sent to a remote mountain village in China to be "re-educated" by the peasants. While living in house on stilts, their life is never portrayed as dull despite the times they were living in.

This book follows their quest for banned literature, storytelling, and their affections for the little Chinese seamstress. I started reading this book initially, and then managed to get the audio version, and reader B.D. Wong uses his voice in such a magical way that it only added to the storytelling.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: The Hole in our Gospel

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A couple of months ago I read The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. Normally I would have moved on to my next non-fiction Christian book but this one caused a change in me - a real change. This book made such an impression on me that I found it difficult to get engaged with any other book.

The only part of the book I found distasteful was Mr. Stearns repeatedly (especially in the beginning) talking about how successful he was prior to becoming CEO of World Vision. I think that part could have been edited down significantly. The rest of the book though brings tremendous insight into what we can be doing today to alleviate hunger, poverty, disease, and the biblical basis for such actions.
If you've been on the fence about getting more involved financially or through volunteering to better the lives of the less fortunate that share our planet, this is the best starting place I have found. If you don't know where to start, this book will guide you.

The end of the book contains excellent reference material including Q&A with Richard Stearns, What are you going to do about it? (A guide to taking action), recommended books & movies, a 5 part study guide, notes, scripture index, and a general index. Midway through the book there are also several candid pictures of people featured in his stories.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is a book that caught my attention back in 2002 when it was released. At the time, although I was interested I couldn't fathom reading this book. It just seemed too unfair what happened to Susie Salmon, the main character. Yet, this book carried a lot of interest for me. I wondered how the author could write a book about a girl who gets brutally raped and murdered on her way home from school and yet keep her in the book as the main character despite her death.


Author Alice Sebold did an amazing job with this. Susie Salmon goes on to her "heaven" which does sound heavenly. Her family and friends are left to deal with her death. Each person handles her death differently and it's the interactions of the friends and family members that keep the book interesting.

From Heaven, Susie looks in on both her loved ones and her killer. Although this is not a *must read* in my opinion, it was a short read. Despite it's horrific beginning, the pieces come together at the end in a nice, happy way.

I look forward to renting the movie soon, which was released to DVD on April 20, 2010.

Excerpt can be read here:


DVD Trailer:


Friday, June 4, 2010

Review: Buddha's Orphans by Samrat Upadhyay

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Buddha's Orphans is a circuitous story that takes the reader through the end of one generation to four generations later of a Nepali family. Focusing most strongly on the cultural expectations imposed by Nepali famlies on their children, you can feel the world changing through each generation. The second theme of the book focuses on the strong (and not so strong) bonds of family. A sprinkling of politics is thrown in as well.

Most of the book focuses on Raja and Nilu. Raja is abandoned by his mother in a city park while she goes on to drown herself. Raja, an orphaned infant is turned away at the local orphanage. The poor street vendor, Kaki, rejected by her own son, sees raising Raja as a way to correct any mistakes she's made in the past with her grown son, and struggles to raise him despite her very precarious economic situation.

From this point, Rajas life takes twists and turns through life, but by his side from childhood is his friend and true love Nilu. Their story together takes center stage throughout most of the book. The youthful love bonds that these two created were believable and I found myself reflecting on the crushes/close friendships I had with boys when I was a child.

Ultimately, can Raja's birth mother's mistake ever be rectified through future generations? That is the question the author works towards up until the final chapter.

The book does have some awkward sexual situations. Nothing really gets steamy or sensual. The author glosses over most sexual situations with simple to the point language.

Overall, I enjoyed the book but would liked more focus on Kaki and her first six years raising Raja. She is quite a character, my favorite of the book.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review and Giveaway: The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne

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To say I enjoyed The Last Bridge is like saying I enjoy tragedy. Yet, having survived an abusive childhood I found much of what Teri Coyne wrote rings true to me. She has a gift of portraying the emotions, the situations, and their effects on everyone involved. I quickly became emotionally involved with the story.

In The Last Bridge, Cat, estranged from her family for the past ten years, finds out her mother has committed suicide. Between drinking and flashbacks, Teri Coyne builds a story of Cat's painful abuse by her father and the reactions of the other family members. Not surprisingly, Cat turns to alcohol as her coping mechanism and throughout much of the book she is not sober.

A mystery is set up early, when Cat's mother, before committing suicide, leaves her a note that says, "He isn't who you think he is". Various male characters are introduced leaving the reader wondering who the reference is to and what the answer will reveal.

The Last Bridge is intense and realistic. The storytelling is excellent throughout, until the end where things wrap up just a little too neatly and too quickly. This is not a book I will soon forget, and I hope to read more by this author in the future.

In celebration of the paperback release of this book on May 25th, the author has given me a copy to pass along. I love the new cover! All I ask is that you leave a comment if you are interested in reading this book along with an email address to contact you at. A really cool bookmark is included as well.

Giveaway ends June 9th, random winner will be chosen on June 10th!

Bonus entries:
  • Tweet about the contest (once, post link)
  • Blog about this giveaway (once, post link)
(tiny url link for this contest: http://tinyurl.com/lastbridge)


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Review: Cutting Myself in Half by Taylor LeBaron, Jack Branson, and Mary Branson

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Taylor LeBaron is such an inspirational success story. He lost 150 lbs by creating a mental game he could play with himself called UFG (Ultimate Fitness Game). In the game he gave himself $1 per calorie per day and had to spend them wisely in order to win. For example, if he starts the day with $2000 then he can spend that on 2000 calories.

As a kid he faced difficulties fitting into desks, clothing, and even being teased by classmates.

The writing is completely candid and he shares his personal struggles and their solutions. Although the solutions may not work for all, I think there is a large population of kids who can benefit from this book.

The diet portion of the book advocates low fat, egg beaters, zero calorie soda, whole grains, and high protein, but there is a lot more to this book than diet. There is a plethora of personal motivation in addition to fitness information, family support, and setting goals. I think this book could very easily be used with other diets such as Atkins or Pritikin.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review: Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

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I really enjoyed reading The Secret Daughter but was initially frustrated for the first half of the book where the chapters jumped with years in between. It left me wanting more and wishing the book would slow down. Once Asha arrives in Mumbai on a fellowship to do a story on children living in poverty the novel slows down and becomes rich with detail, especially family connections and Indian culture.

Asha also goes to Mumbai for her own personal reasons. She is yearning to understand her Indian heritage since she left India at the age of one. She also has a secret reason for going, one that she is unwilling to share with her parents; she wants to find her biological parents. The other half of the novel is presented in alternating chapters between her biological parents and her adoptive parents lives.

The harsh realities of poverty and unsanitary living conditions are interwoven with the bonds of love and family, providing an excellent backdrop to the story of how Asha came to be loved and adopted by her American mother and Indian father. The trials her biological parents faced are countered by the vacations, elite schools, and successes of the daughter secretly given up by her mother to an orphanage in Mumbai. The first page of the book provides some hint as to the ending and unlike so many other books about India that end sadly (as is often real life) this one ends nicely.

Overall, I wish the author had taken more time to more fully develop the time frame consisting of the first nineteen years of Asha's life, but the second half makes the book worthwhile. The author also provides a glossary at the back of the book which is very helpful and something I wish more authors using foreign words would do.



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Review: Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show

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Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney by all appearances contained within it's pages the type of story I like best: history, adventure, and a touch of intrigue or politics. I am a patient reader, especially when a book looks so promising. I give such authors time to build the characters, set up the plot, and deliver a great story.


This time I was slightly disappointed, though not through the entire book. The first hundred pages took me probably a week to get through. I was counting on the rest of the story to take flight once the groundwork was laid. The next hundred pages were slightly more intriguing. Once I was halfway through the book I I was finally engaged and read the rest of the book in a day.

The book is narrated by an eighteen year old boy named Ben MacCarthy. He and his family are caught up in the plot of an aspiring political candidate. Unraveling the mess and the truth takes time and perseverance. His father runs off with a traveling show leaving his wife and son in near financial ruin. The first half of the book Ben travels the countryside trying to persuade his father to come home. The next half of the book is different but much more engaging.

Along the way, readers are shown the Irish countryside while being introduced to it's folklore. The ending was not what I had expected yet it was very clever and seemed to fit with the overall narrated tone.

Would I recommend this book? If you like novels that unwrap themselves slowly and methodically and you especially enjoy Irish historical fiction novels (1932-33) , and have the patience for diversions, then yes. Page 10 sums it up:

"I ask your forgiveness in advance. We Irish do this digression stunt. We're so damn pleased with our ability to talk hind legs off donkeys, that we assume people like to listen. "

Believe it or not, that is not the only mention of donkeys in this book (see, a diversion).

My husband is Irish and when I read that line to him, he responded that a truer statement has never been made.

Overall, 3.5 stars from me. I wish I could have given this book more because parts of it were great. Yet, considering the amount of time it took me to become engaged with this book, if I had not received this as part of Early Reviewers I would have given up one hundred pages in. I also feel this book might be more interesting in audio book form.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

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This is a rare gem of a book from a female photojournalists view spanning the period from 1963 to 1975. Unlike so many other books written during this time period, this one gets deep and personal for a long period of time. Helen has lost her father and brother to war and goes to Vietnam as a young college drop out. She finds herself in the midst of war and experiences life on a deep level, bonding with soldiers, journalists, the Vietnamese people, and the land. Despite being historical fiction, this novel creates a very personal account of what it might have been like as a female photojournalist during the Vietnam war.

The author opens the book near the end of the time period, and then builds the story leading up to the opening. Near the middle the book falls flat, almost mimicking the way Helen feels about being home. But the novel comes to life again once Helen was back in Vietnam, much the way Helen felt as well.

Author Tatjana Soli does an excellent job of breathing life into the characters and especially Vietnam. Despite the war, Helen finds love, beauty, peace, and a life worth living. The final third of the book was the most engaging because by then most of the characters and situations were well developed. The ending is incredibly predictable, but after investing almost 400 pages of reading, I would not have wanted it to end any other way.

4.5 Stars

Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: Will the World End in 2012 by Dr. Raymond Hundley

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The first time I saw a Nostradamas documentary I was only twelve years old. I still remember it vividly. The writers, directors, and producers did a great job of frightening me and they certainly made quite an impression on my young mind. That was almost thirty years ago.

Then I made it through 2000 when everyone caught Y2K fever. Granted, people weren't thinking the world would "end" they just thought our computers would get awfully confused and unable to even run power plants and cash registers. Guess what, we're still here. Yet, every generation and every milestone seems to bring the question about: Will this be the end, or the end of the world as we know it.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only."
Matthew 24:36

I tend to believe that there is still a lot more contained in revelation that must first come to pass. Assigning a date to the end of the world is foolishness and only creates parnoia.

Author Raymond Hundley has written an interesting book called, "Will the World End in 2012?: A Christian Guide to the Question Everyone's Asking". Written as a true guidebook, he explains the issues that our world faces today, their probability, and his Christian perspective. I learned more than I thought I would, especially about solar storms, volcanoes, and the Hadron Collider. Dr. Hundley keeps the book very down to Earth and highly readable. Some theories were super silly and entertaining like The Web Bot Project and Earth's Alignment with the Galactic Plane.

If you're looking for a guide that can help you to partipate in a dialog with people concerned that the sky is falling, this would be an excellent choice. The book is very light reading, with very few pages devoted to each subject, but presents a broad overview of the read and perceived threats to our planet.

I received this book free of charge from BookSneeze.com.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review: The Red Letters Project

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The Red Letters Project has been one of the more interesting things I've reviewed. It's a 3-CD set of the Book of Matthew that sets all of Jesus' spoken words from the book of Matthew to upbeat, soft rock music.

Although most of the music on the CD's is very enjoyable to listen to, there are some songs that I did not enjoy. For the most part though, I have enjoyed listening to the CD's

The group plans to tour in the near future, which I expect will be a tremendous success.

I also love that the group has put their songs online at http://www.theredlettersproject.com/home.php. About one-third of the tracks are available for online listening, which should give you a good idea of whether or not you would enjoy the music.

I received this CD set from Tyndale House Publishers for review.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chronological Guide to the Bible

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For longer than I care to admit I've been wanting to read the Bible in chronological order but I always get distracted when working from a list. Chronological Guide to the Bible offers a very easy way to get engaged with the history, time period, customs, geology, laws, and civilizations that existed during the Biblical time periods. Divided into nine epochs, each period is examined while providing a chronological reading guide. I also think that the authors listened to reader feedback from their Chronological Study Bible and introduced this for people who have a strong preference for one Bible translation over another. This can be used with any translation.
The authors also offer records from non-Biblical sources that either support, add to, or offer a different perspective from the Bible. Combined with Nelson's Complete Book of BIble Maps and Charts, 3rd Edition and a Bible almanac, I'm really getting so much more out of the Bible than in the past.
I received this book from BookSneeze for review.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, Third Edition

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Before beginning a new book of the Bible, I've started a habit of picking up Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts. This book has exceeded my expectations by providing the background information of the period, book, characters, timeframe, and controversies I can expect to read about. The maps and charts help me to visualize the information presented.

If there is a Bible with this included to the extent provided in Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts I would be very interested in purchasing it. At 470 pages, this book is packed with information that visual learners like myself can easily absorb.
For each book, the authors have laid out the following structure:

Author
Date
Themes and Literary Structure
Book at a Glance Chart
Outline

All of this is interspersed with photographs, maps, charts, and diagrams. The authors have done and excellent job of remaining consistent and clear throughout the presentation. I'm gladly adding this to my home library and recommend this to everyone striving for a deeper understanding of the Bible.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me by Booksneeze.com.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Review: The Daniel Fast by Susan Gregory

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I've fasted in the past but normally of a more extreme version where I abstain from all food and drink except for water. When I first reqested this book from Tyndale House Publishers for review I was curious how this could possibly be considered a fast. The recipes seemed too good and the fast seemed too easy. However, I have to honestly say I felt this fast was even more difficult than a water only fast because there are so many choices to make and it's a more extended period of fasting.
However, I came away from this fast truly with a renewed body and a strengthened soul, just like the cover stated.
If you're curious about the Daniel Fast, check out Susan Gregory's blog at http://danielfast.wordpress.com/, or just search google for "the Daniel Fast Blogger".

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: Buried Alive by Roy Hallums

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Buried Alive: The True Story of Kidnapping, Captivity, and a Dramatic Rescue by Roy Hallums is the authors true story of his captivity, torture, and ultimate rescie from a concrete pit in Iraq. He was being held on a $12 million dollar ransom, despite the United States' position of not paying ransoms. Finally, after 311 days he was rescued by the United States military.


As a former Navy Commander, Roy Hallums never gave up on being rescued. His hope turned into reality in September of 2005.

Although the book does not have a strong focus on faith, I am grateful that he wrote this book so readers can understand and pray for those in captivity. I found the book to be a very engaging fast read. I could barely put it down.

Readers looking for an introspective look at captivity from a captives point of view won't find it here, but the author does an amazing job of keeping the story moving along and providing detailed descriptions of his experiences. Although I don't like the glamourization of war, I actually feel this would make an excellent movie.

Included are several photos thoughout the book that provide invaluable insights into his living conditions.

I received a review copy of this book from booksneeze.com.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Review: The Selfless Gene

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Charles Darwins' The Origin of Species has been mentioned by me in a previous review. I've been a Christian for as long as I can remember. I've never been faced with having any doubt in God or the Gospel of Jesus. Yet I've never felt that God and Darwin were in conflict with each other. As I grew up I started to discover that there are muliple camps of beliefs and somewhere along the line I realized that there was a God vs. Darwin line that in the minds of many can't be crossed.

I applaud Charles Foster for his dedication and research regarding this issue. The two most influential books I've ever read are The Origin of Species and the Bible. This book bridges the gap, allows readers to open their minds to the wonders of the creation and purpose of our amazing world. Although the author takes a lot of liberties, I realize they must be taken to explore this subject. For example, he asserts that if Adam and Eve had not eaten the fruit of the tree of life, that Adam and Eve would have died just like any other human. He also goes on to give a very plausible, sensible reason for the increase in the pain of childbirth.

This book is full of fascinating logic, and might be especially helpful for those questioning their faith, or agnostics searching for a plausible explanation of our world.

That's why I like this book. I certainly don't take it as the gospel, but it's thought provoking and might just help open the communication corridors between Darwinists and Christians.