Thursday, December 31, 2015

Review: Smuggler's Lady by Jane Feather

Synopsis: Her auburn hair tucked into a severe chignon, dressed in a shabby brown bombazine, Merrie Trelawney was the picture of dowdy widowhood and sober respectability. No one would guess that those demurely lowered eyelids hid a sparkle of pure adventure. Or that the white hands so modestly folded in her lap could handle a sword as well as any man. Certainly, no one would suspect her of being the notorious leader of a smugglers' band who called themselves, "The Gentlemen"... Lord Rutherford, who had just inherited some property in this godforsaken corner of Cornwall, looked upon the local gentry with distaste. The men were pompous and stuffy; the women - that Merrie Trelawney, for example - were utterly insipid. How that auburn-haired church mouse had managed to best him in their verbal sparring, was completely beyond him. But if she thought that he was finished with her, she was sadly mistaken. Something about her struck a false note. And though he was not in the habit of seducing country widows, it might make an interesting change at that.... (from the back of the book)

Review: Lord, this was awful. The premise sounded fun, but it was so disappointing.  The Heroine, Merrie, was suppose to be this intelligent and daring adventurer pretending to be a dower widow - and yet, she ditched the facade willy-nilly, making it seems like a contravenes of the author and not a part of her character. The Hero, Rutherford, was ridiculous. First, making him the heir to a Dukedom was over-kill. Dukes (or their Heirs) aren't in the habit of running off to Cornwall - they have flunkies and lackeys for that sort of thing. And they don't go to war, either. It was utter nonsense to think his parents would risk losing their only heir by sending him off to fight for King and Country.
As for their interaction, it was stupid. He was all “I love her” after about five minutes and she was all “he’s so hot”. Given that they started banging about one week after they met, I’m thinking it wasn’t love, but lust.  The conflict between them, particularly at the end, was over-done, drawn-out, and annoying. It made no sense. Her objections to the marriage seemed contrived - and ludicrous to think someone wouldn't find out about her lack of wealth and position eventually.  She was suppose to be this headstrong woman with a mind of her own, but she came off as snobbish, ornery, contrary, and weak because the Hero could talk her into anything just by kissing her. Lame.  He came off as naïve and a bully.  As for the secondary characters, they were flat, annoying, and felt like set-pieces as a high school play instead of real people. In particular, the heroine’s brothers felt like puppets, only there to bring the couple together, to be discarded once their job was done. In the end, I was barely able to finish this and only managed it because I skipped through as much nonsense as I could. Don't waste your time on this twaddle.

Bookmarks: 5 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-8217-5401-7
Date Finished: 12-28-2015
Pages: 460

Review: A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan C. Bradley (A Flavia de Luce Novel, Book 3)

Synopsis: In the hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey, the insidiously clever and unflappable eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce had asked a Gypsy woman to tell her fortune—never expecting to later stumble across the poor soul, bludgeoned almost to death in the wee hours in her own caravan. Was this an act of retribution by those convinced that the soothsayer abducted a local child years ago? Certainly Flavia understands the bliss of settling scores; revenge is a delightful pastime when one has two odious older sisters. But how could this crime be connected to the missing baby? As the red herrings pile up, Flavia must sort through clues fishy and foul to untangle dark deeds and dangerous secrets. (from the back of the book)

Review: Once again, I "read" this by listening to the unabridged audiobook, performed by the talented Jane Entwhistle. As with the previous two, it was marvelous. Bradley's story combined with Entwhistle's voice acting make this story alive, sparking, intriguing, and delightful. Miss Flavia once again finds herself in the midst of murder (her favorite) and, much to the outward annoyance and inward amusement of the local constabulary, sets out to solve the mystery herself. To avoid spoiling the story, I won't go into the details, but I will say the mystery wasn't as tight as the previous two, and had some rather odd bits and far-fetched answers. But to be honest, I don't read it for the mystery - at least, not the murders. I read it because Flavia is just my sort of person, because Bradley's other characters have depth, charm, and intrigue enough, and because watching Flavia grow is fascinating. I'm eager to see how the young miss gets on in the next adventure!

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-385-34346-6
Date Finished: 12-28-2015
Pages: 415
Audio Hours: 10 hours and 47 Mintues
Read by: Jane Entwhistle

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review: Answers for Atheists, Agnostics, and Other Thoughtful Skeptics: Dialogs About Christian Faith and Life by E. Calvin Beisner

Synopsis: Christians and non-Christians struggle with vital questions about God and themselves. Honest questions deserve honest answers. And in an age when people often have little acquaintance with Christianity, the answers must be especially clear and understandable--no religious jargon, just straightforward truth. In this unusual book, frank dialogs between a non-Christian and his Christian friend move intriguingly from topic to topic, covering such pertinent questions as: Is there a God? How do we know? So, why does evil exist? Why should modern man believe in the Bible rather than evolution or in miracles rather than scientific law? What are the evidences for Christianity? If Christianity is true, why has so much evil been done in its name? Can God really forgive me for what I've done? Answers for Atheists presupposes no prior understanding of Christian vocabulary or beliefs but concisely explains each new term or teaching as it comes into the dialog. Invaluable both for the unbeliever looking for answers and for the believer who wants to learn how to better answer friends' questions--and his own. (from the back of the book)

Review: Written as a conversation between two characters (Jim, a Christian, and Dave, a Non-Christian), this is intended to help Christians learn how to intelligently, compassionately, and logically answer questions about the facts of Christianity - the reasonableness and validity of the Bible, Evolution vs. Creation, and why Faith makes sense. This is a lofty and noble goal. However, while it contains large quantity of information, the conservation format comes off cheesy and unrealistic. It's sort of like rehearsing a conversation in your head - it never goes as planned in real life. Real people don't respond the way Dave did - with mutual respect and inquiry. Mostly, people believe what they want and aren't open to logic. Add to that elementary arguments with glaring holes and you have an unhelpful book for study - although most of those holes have been adequately explained in more modern Apologetic books (see Lee Stroble's Case for Christ). The list of books in the back is a helpful place to find resources for further study, but again, in the 20+ years since this was published, academics has moved on and much of those are either out-of-date or out-of-touch or don't address current controversies. I will note that this book was written in 1985 (with a 1993 revised edition) and was written for missionaries in the former Soviet Union. I gather it was useful for that purpose but for those of us in America during the 2010s, not so much. Not a bad source if it's all you can get, but with many other, much better, books on Apologetics out there, this one is not worth the time.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-89107-700-6
Date Finished: 12-22-2015
Pages: 191

Aquisitions: Loot from a First Time Visit to Used Book Store

We recently returned from a trip to Florida, to visit my Dad. Every time I've been down there, in the last few years, I've attempted to visit a used book shop I found near his house. But as it was always closed when I could go, I was constantly thwarted.

Until this time.

Black Sheep Books in Jacksonville, Florida was marvelous! I found far more books than I intended, and many more I was forced (by my dear Husband) to leave behind.

Here is what I purchased:

Battletech Books: I collect them, having played and greatly enjoyed the table-top game. They are rare in used shops, so you can imagine my happy dance to find this stack sitting in  pretty little row on the shelf. For the record, there are sixteen!

The Red Pyramid: The first book in the Eygptian Mythology series by Rick Riordain. Now, I just need to find the next two, in paperback and I'm set.

E.E. "Doc" Smith: Smith is an older author, from the 50s - 70s, and I greatly enjoy his science fiction works. He is another difficult author to find - people who own him tend to keep him - so I did a little jig when I saw these and snapped them up!

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: I have most of the original 56 Nancy Drew - but not this one. And although this is from the second printing (where they condensed the stories slightly) I bought it anyway. And I found several Hardy Boys that I was missing, so now I have first 9, as well as a dozen or so more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Review: The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin

Synopsis: It is a time of celebration in the Pingkang Li, where imperial scholars and bureaucrats mingle with beautiful courtesans. At the center is the Lotus Palace, home of the most exquisite courtesans in China... Maidservant Yue-ying is not one of those beauties. Street-smart and practical, she's content to live in the shadow of her infamous mistress-until she meets the aristocratic playboy Bai Huang. Bai Huang lives in a privileged world Yue-ying can barely imagine, yet alone share, but as they are thrown together in an attempt to solve a deadly mystery, they both start to dream of a different life. Yet Bai Huang's position means that all she could ever be to him is his concubine-will she sacrifice her pride to follow her heart? (from the back of the book)

Review: I picked this book up solely because it was not based on a ranch, in Regency England, or somewhere in the Scottish Highlands. No, it's based in the Tang Dynasty, around 850 A.D. Lin does a fine job of creating real characters and setting them in a rich world. I wish she had given more details about life during this time, as it would have added more to the story. Aside from that, my only complaint is how neatly the love story over came what felt like a larger obstacle. But Lin's way of handling that included a mild gender comment and didn't detracts from the overall story. Worth reading this one, and I plan to read any others of her's I can get.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-373-77773-0
Date Finished: 12-19-2015
Pages: 378

Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton

Synopsis: In the summer of 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton began an ambitious project —to single-handedly create a photographic census of New York City. The photos he took and the accompanying interviews became the blog Humans of New York. In the first three years, his audience steadily grew from a few hundred to over one million. In 2013, his book Humans of New York, based on that blog, was published and immediately catapulted to the top of the NY Times Bestseller List. It has appeared on that list for over twenty-five weeks to date. The appeal of HONY has been so great that in the course of the next year Brandon's following increased tenfold to, now, over 12 million followers on Facebook. In the summer of 2014, the UN chose him to travel around the world on a goodwill mission that had followers meeting people from Iraq to the Ukraine to Mexico City via the photos he took. Now, Brandon is back with the follow up to Humans of New York that his loyal followers have been waiting for: Humans of New York: Stories. Ever since Brandon began interviewing people on the streets of NY, the dialogue he's had with them has increasingly become as in-depth, intriguing and moving as the photos themselves. Humans of New York: Stories presents a whole new group of humans, complete with stories that delve deeper and surprise with greater candor. Let Brandon Stanton and the people he's photographed astonish you. (from the online description)

Review: After reading the instagram account of HONY and finding it funny, moving, heart-rending, and educational, when I saw this book on sale for $10, I might have strained something trying to buy it so quickly. Worth every cent twice over. Stanton has an eye for capturing the inside of people through his photos, and for eliciting emotions from them that connect us all. You see people every day and they blend together, but to Stanton, each person is a Cosmos. I see people differently after reading this book. Each human has a life and story as rich as my own, and Stanton reminds us all of that fact - and hopefully, knowing that pushes us all to be kinder to those around us.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-250-05890-4
Date Finished: 12-15-2015
Pages: 428

Friday, December 18, 2015

Review: Corrie's Christmas Memories by Corrie Ten Boom

Synopsis: A collection of Christmas prose written or told by Corrie Ten Boom. This includes the scriptures of the Christmas story,  a Christmas parable, and a Christmas message by Corrie's Father, Casper Ten Boom.

Review: Ten Boom's The Hiding Place remains a most favorite book, so of course, I picked up this volume when I found it at a thrift store. It was sadly disappointing. While Casper Ten Boom's message was excellent, the remaining items (scriptures exempt) this felt cheesy and trite, and more of a way to cash in on Miss Ten Boom's name. But of course, any money Miss Ten Boom made went directly back to helping people. I doubt same could be said for the publisher.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-8007-0822-9
Date Finished: 12-12-2015
Pages: 64

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (Re-read)

Synopsis: "If you care for journeys there and back, out of the comfortable Western world, over the edge of the Wild, and home again, and can take an interest in a humble hero (blessed with a little wisdom and a little courage and considerable good luck), here is a record of such a journey and such a traveler. The period is the ancient time between the age of Faerie and the dominion of men, when the famous forest of Mirkwood was still standing, and the mountains were full of danger. In following the path of this humble adventurer, you will learn by the way (as he did) -- if you do not already know all about these things -- much about trolls, goblins, dwarves, and elves, and get some glimpses into the history and politics of a neglected but important period. For Mr. Bilbo Baggins visited various notable persons; conversed with the dragon, Smaug the Magnificent; and was present, rather unwillingly, at the Battle of the Five Armies. This is all the more remarkable, since he was a hobbit. Hobbits have hitherto been passed over in history and legend, perhaps because they as a rule preferred comfort to excitement. But this account, based on his personal memoirs, of the one exciting year in the otherwise quiet life of Mr. Baggins will give you a fair idea of the estimable people now (it is said) becoming rather rare. They do not like noise." (from J.R.R. Tolkien's own description for the original edition, quoted by the online description)

Review: I read this book nearly 20 years ago. Recently, a friend sent me loads of audio book files, including The Hobbit. Desperate for something engaging to listen to at work, I turned this on. It was even more delightful that I remember. Hearing it helped me delve into the world - I could almost see the beauty of Rivendell, the darkness of Mirkwood, the heat of Smaug. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movies followed the book more or less faithfully, aside from adding a love story and expanding events only mentioned in the book (such as the Battle of Dol Guldur). I won't extol the merits of this book any longer, as it's virtues are well known and generally agreed upon, but its worth reading and worth hearing if you happen to find an audio copy.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 345-23512-6-125
Date Finished: 12-11-2015
Pages: 287

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Review: Not Good If Detached by Corrie Ten Boom

Synopsis: In Not Good If Detached, Corrie reveals that the secret of "abiding in Christ" is discovered in the difficulties of life, in total dependence on him, and in a consistent daily walk. This collection of thirty devotionals imparts insight from the people Corrie met around the world as well as important lessons she learned from the Lord. "Without Him, I am nothing," wrote Corrie. "Like some railway tickets in America, I am not good if detached."This book was originally published by Christian Literature Crusade in 1957 (from the online description)

Review:  Ten Boom writes in a strange, wobbly style. If I hadn't read her The Hiding Place, I might not have picked this up. It's language and style are dated, and it's a bit cheesy. And yet, she speaks truth. Her humility and love for God shine from the prose. One can't help but feel convicted by her words. She holds nothing back from God, giving all - her life, time, energy, money - all goes to doing the will of God. Most of us don't come close to her love and devotion to Jesus. Worth reading.

Bookmarks:  7 of 10

Awards: None

Date Published: 1957
Date Finished: 12-8-15
Pages: 127

Monday, December 14, 2015

Review: The Rule of St. Benedict in English (1980) ed. by Timothy Fry, O.S.B.

Synopsis: The English translation of St. Benedicts's Rule of Orders, written in Latin approx. between 529-547 A.D.

Review: This is a tight, sharp, clean little work. Benedict is clear and precise, with limited words. His rules seem a bit strict to my modern mind (not a fan of the idea of beating children) but I understand that during the time, this was acceptable and even laudable. My inherent mistrust of humans causes me to ask whether Benedict's rule would work - there is much room for the miss-use of power. The answer, of course, is that each monk should be so devoted to Christ that he exudes the humility and kindness of the Lord. But humans are notoriously prone to self-interest and to the use of religious belief and the name of God to further their own agenda.
That aside, this was a worthwhile read. To understand how the Benedictine monks lived, and to perhaps find wisdom for living ones own life. One doesn't need to be a monk to require advice on how to deal with other humans in a manner pleasing to God. This book offers excellent assistance in that area: worth reading and worth buying.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-8146-1272-9
Date Finished: 12-6-2015
Pages: 96

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Review: Hana-Kimi (For You in Full Blossom) by Hisaya Nakajo (Volumes 2-5)

Synopsis: Mizuki remains mostly undiscovered as girl. She struggles during many adventures, including a near-rape. Sano grows closer to her, discovering she is a girl, but doesn't tell her. With exams, school competitions, summer jobs, and crazy friends, Misuki's life is never boring!

Review: The story gets better as it goes along. It was a bit slow in the first volume, but be the end of the second, the story picked up pace. I enjoyed the addition of more female characters as an interesting contrast to Mizuki. I also enjoy Nakatsu, and his confusion at being attrached to a "boy", not knowing Mizuki is really a girl. The story of the summer job turned out to be more serious than I originally expected - Sano coming to Mizuki's rescue when she was nearly raped added a bit of depth to the story, depth that makes the story better. I'm eager to get my hands on the next volumes.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1421542256
Date Finished: 12-4-2015
Pages: 500+

Monday, December 7, 2015

Review: The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible (Revised Edition) ed. by George Ernest Wright and Floyd Vivian Filson

Synopsis: An Atlas of the Bible, including pictures, diagrams, maps, and extensive writing about the history of the land, people, and the archeological discoveries.

Review: This is a thin, large volume, written in 1956 as an updated edition of the first one published in 1946. This is dense. Riff with technology jargon and complex vocabulary, this is intended for scholars and academics, not your average lay person. That being said, it's an excellent resource for those wishing to learn in depth about that archeology facts behind the bible. I would, of course, recommend getting a more update one. There have been many advanced in the last 70+ years. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

Date Published: 1956
Date Finished: 11-25-2015
Pages: 130

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: The World's Finest Foods: 180 Classic Recipe from Around the World by Ann Creber and Elisabeth King

Synopsis: A cookbook with recipes from around the world.

Review: This book is part coffee table book, part world tour, and part cookbook. Heavy and large, with gorgeous color photos, it's a feast for the eyes. Each country is introduced with a two-page spread that talks about the influences on the food, the history of the cuisine and what the most popular dining customs are for the county. Including recipes from China, France, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, Spain, Thailand, and the United States, it's like a mini world tour! The recipes I'm most looking forward to trying are Djej M'Qualli (Chicken with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons) from Morocco, Enchiladas de Pollo from Mexico, Yam Kai Dow (Crispy Fried Egg Salad) from Thailand, Carne con Olivas (Beef with Olives) from Spain, Soupa Avgolemono (Egg and Lemon Soup) from Greece, Shashlyk i Plov s Gribami (Shewered Lamb with Mushroom and Rice Pilaf) and Beef Stroganov from Russia, Hun Tun Tang (Wonton Soup), Ningmeng Ji (Lemon Chicken), Cha Shao He Chao Fan (Cantonese Roast Pork Strips and Fried Rice) and Xia Qiu (Crystal Shrimp) from China. I'm hungry just typing all that out! Each recipe includes a list of ingredients, directions, pictures, and a short explanation of where the dish is from and its history. Any ingredients that are essential to the county (i.e. olives or dates or soy sauce) have a small information box talking about the ingredient, like how it is made and it is history. Each recipe also includes "Wine Notes" about the best wine to serve with the dish. I'm excited to get started cooking and bring a little taste of the world to my kitchen.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 1-55670-374-0
Date Finished: 11-25-2015
Pages: 304

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Review: Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle

Synopsis: Taking up where his beloved A Year in Provence leaves off, Peter Mayle offers us another funny, beautifully (and deliciously) evocative book about life in Provence. With tales only one who lives there could know—of finding gold coins while digging in the garden, of indulging in sumptuous feasts at truck stops—and with characters introduced with great affection and wit—the gendarme fallen from grace, the summer visitors ever trying the patience of even the most genial Provençaux, the straightforward dog "Boy"—Toujours Provence is a heart-warming portrait of a place where, if you can't quite "get away from it all," you can surely have a very good time trying. (from the online description)

Review: Hilarious as the first, this second collection of Mayle’s adventures take us through life in the south of France. From his descriptions of local customs and food (oh, the food made me so hungry) to the stories about truffle hunting and dog shows. His vivid descriptions made me long to visit Provence! I’m eager to read his next book.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-679-73604-2
Date Finished: 11-22-2015
Pages: 241

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Review: Hana-Kimi, Volume I by Hisaya Nakajo

Synopsis: Mizuki Ashiya, a Japanese girl living in the United States, watches a program on TV featuring a high jumper named Izumi Sano. She was amazed by his performance and begins following his athletic career. Years later, she does research on him and discovers that he is currently attending Osaka High School. The school is unfortunately an all-boys school and Mizuki convinces her parents to send her to Japan by herself. Oblivious to the fact that their daughter is going to attend a boys school, her parents let her go. To enter the school, she cuts off her long hair, disguises herself as a male, and tries her best to give hope to Sano after hearing that he no longer does the high jump anymore. As she settles in, an accident reveals her identity to Hokuto Umeda, the school doctor, and Izumi Sano. Izumi hides his knowledge of Mizuki's gender and tries to help her keep her secret, though it sure is not easy as many situations land Mizuki in compromising positions that will reveal her true gender. (from the Wikipedia Plot Description)

Review: This is a Manga, my first attempt at reading it, actually. This story was recommended to me by a friend, after I expressed how much I enjoyed the anime Ouran High School Host Club (also a recommendation of hers). Hana-Kimi has a similar premise. It took me a while to get the hang of reading from right to left. I got lost a few times. The story was engaging, but not like Ouran. The same friend told me about a Korean Drama based on the story, and I checked it out. It was hilarious and so cheesy. I might read more of these, but I prefer Ouran. I'm going to check out more Manga, of course, as I enjoyed the reading experience.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-59116-329-9
Date Finished: 11-22-2015
Pages: 178