Total Pageviews

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Language of Flowers

I definitely owe a big thank you to the person in my book club who suggested Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers (#357) as our January selection.  I probably would never have picked up this book on my own otherwise.  It's well worth the short time it will take you to read it.

We meet Victoria Jones just as she is about to age out of the San Francisco area foster system.  She's been considered unadoptable since she was ten, but she's now considered an adult at eighteen.  She's placed in temporary transitional housing to help her get started on her own, but Victoria isn't about to follow the system's rules now.  It's failed her her entire life, so why start now?  She soon finds herself homeless and out on the streets, an angry young woman with limited skills, no contacts and no means of supporting herself.  That is until the day she meets Renata, the florist, who hires her as hourly labor.  Victoria does have one deep pool of knowledge that can help her here; she understands the Victorian language of flowers, and the arrangements she creates are magical and fraught with meaning.

The story of how Victoria manages to turn her life around, gradually accepts that she can love and be loved and become part of a family from her past as well as her future is eloquently told through the language of flowers.  I suspect that there are many, many girls and young men like Victoria all over this country, and this novel does a service by illuminating the uphill battle many of them have to fight every day just to survive.  What is even more remarkable to me is that some of them, like Victoria, can even succeed and help to pull others out and up with them.  Her story is hard to put down.  Highly recommended and so is Ms. Diffenbaugh for trying to make a difference to these young people's lives through her Camellia Network to support their transition from foster care to independence.  Take a look for yourself at her website:  Camellia Network

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Magic of Christmas

Still in Christmas reading mode with another collection of holiday-themed novellas, The Magic of Christmas (#356).  There are twelve days of Christmas, after all, and they don't start until Christmas Day itself, as Twelfth Knight illustrates in Stobie Piel's  medieval tale of a hunt for Yuletide treasure, so there's still plenty of time to catch up with your holiday reading under the tree.

Again, there's no heavy lifting in the stories in The Magic of Christmas, and if sex and sizzle is more up your alley than sugarplums and childhood innocence, this might just be the volume for you.  There's a romance set in a California gold miner's camp, a cranky elf who has to regain his Christmas Spirit, and an old woman's yearning to be free of her two thousand year old burden, as well as the tale of the knightly quest.  Frankly, I much preferred Sugarplums and Scandals for its less explicit treatment of holiday romance, but that's just my taste.  All of these novellas do have a magical theme, so be prepared to suspend belief on all levels.  Merry Reading!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sugarplums and Scandal

It's almost Christmas, and that means plenty of hustle and bustle.  What better way to relax than with a Christmas book?  In this case, Sugarplums and Scandal (#355), a collection of five short stories all containing a little touch of the supernatural.  And the best part of this kind of book is that you can take it piece by piece, as you're sure to be interrupted with holiday tasks to do or errands to run.

There's a modern Santa who may be committing medical insurance fraud, a murder at an eighteenth century English country house, family secrets revealed in Seattle, a do-gooder who's being menaced at Christmas time, and a vampire romance among these holiday tales.  But my favorite is a ghost story by Suzanne MacPherson that isn't a conventional romance at all, but a truly touching story with a strong sprinkling of humor.  All's well that ends well in each and every case.

These are stories guaranteed to make your Yuletide bright, so sit back and let yourself de-stress!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Shades of Gray

I recently received Shades of Gray (#354) in a GoodReads First Reads giveaway.  And no, it's not that book!  This Shades of Gray by M. J. Simon has only one shade of gray, and it's a malevolent ghost, at that.

In this unusual paranormal romance, Paige Malone, best-selling true crime author, is finally persuaded by her best friend Riley to come back to the shores of Lake Michigan to settle near her.  Riley's found the perfect house for her overlooking the lake.  There are only two problems with the property; handsome Irishman Duncan O'Connor has waited five years to buy this property for himself to house his studio and art gallery, and the place is haunted.  Since Paige has already signed the paperwork, she and Duncan settle into an uneasy truce.  When Paige moves in, the odd happenings begin.  Romantic purple prose mysteriously appears on her computer, and Abigail, the stray dog she has adopted, is uneasy in the house.  When the activity increases and becomes dangerous to both Abigail and Paige, her friends rally around to discover what or who is behind the occurrences at the house.  What they find is totally unexpected.

I basically liked this book.  It has strong characters and a really intriguing plot twist I never anticipated.  The problem is that the book is poorly edited and proof-read.  Spellcheck doesn't correct the homonyms used incorrectly nor does it recognize the many misplaced apostrophes and commas.  These were so common they were downright distracting.  That's a shame, especially since the author has an advanced degree herself.  If you can get past these blemishes, I think you'll find a good yarn to curl up with on a cold winter's afternoon.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Try as he might to avoid it, criminal defense lawyer Andy Carpenter has reluctantly acquired another client in David Rosenfeldt's Unleashed (#353).  As usual, it takes his friend, forensic accountant and computer whiz Sam Willis to persuade Andy to take on the case of an old high school friend and billionaire financial manager who has requested Andy's services.  When Barry Price is killed in a plane crash before he can meet with Andy, it isn't long before Andy finds himself representing Barry's wife on murder charges instead. 

The only reason Sam wasn't on that plane with Barry is that on his way to the airfield that night he accidentally hit a dog.  What kind of dog?  Since this is an Andy Carpenter story, you know it has to be a golden retriever.  Crash is Sam's new good luck charm, and his devotion to the injured dog makes Andy seem neglectful of his own beloved dog Tara.

It isn't long before this murder case goes south for Andy and he finds himself defending Sam Willis for the murder instead.  It's clear that Sam has gotten himself mixed up with something much, much bigger and scarier than a single murder.  Will Andy be able to put the random pieces of this puzzle together in time to stop the sinister players pulling the strings behind Sam's trial?  Even Andy isn't sure this time...

In David Rosenfeldt's latest, he's blurred the line between murder mystery/court proceedings narrative and conspiracy thriller, laced with his trademark humor. A number of unpleasant surprises are in store in this cleverly-plotted tale.  With the introduction of Crash he's also managed to introduce a new canine character to this series.  Even Andy doesn't bake Tara healthful and nutritious dog biscuits, so there's the potential for some doggy one-upsmanship with Sam in future books.  You won't want to put this one down.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Dark Queen

With a title like The Dark Queen (#352) you won't be surprised to learn that France's Catherine de Medici figures as one of the villains of this novel by Susan Carroll.  She's steeped in black magic and implicated in murder and the St. Bartholomew's Eve massacre of French Huguenots in 1572.  Her counterpart here is Ariane Cheney, Lady of the Faire Isle and a daughter of the earth, or white witch. 

Ariane's mother once served Catherine de Medici at court, but ran afoul of her.  Ariane has seen for herself what the Dark Queen's vengeance looks like, and is determined to protect her two younger sisters.  She almost succeeds until the day that a young Huguenot captain serving Henry of Navarre seeks her out on her isolated island.  He has witnessed the death of Henry's mother and is sure that Catherine is responsible.  He needs Ariane's help to prove it, though.  Ariane at first is reluctant to be involved in the matter as she has her own problems fending off the Comte de Renard.  A chance meeting in the woods has led to Renard's relentless pursuit, claiming that Ariane is his "destiny".  Add to the mix a zealous order of witch hunters unleashed on the Faire Isle by Catherine and there's plenty of peril, romance and magic to keep the reader entertained.

If you need to get your mind off your own problems, The Dark Queen is the first book in this series about Ariane, Gabrielle and Miribelle Cheney, promising lots of romantic entanglements and derring-do in sixteenth century France. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas at Harmony Hill; A Shaker Story

I thought when I won Christmas at Harmony Hill; A Shaker Story (#351) by Ann H. Gabhart that this would be an interesting story set in a fictional Shaker community in Kentucky during the Civil War.  Not so!  I mean, the setting is correct, but interesting?  No.

The Shakers are consistently put in the wrong in this Christian fiction while providing free food, medical care, shelter and warmth to a young woman who is it odds with her father because she married a Union soldier and ran off to join his regiment as a washerwoman, which she continually claims as "honorable" work.  (Not in any history of the Civil War that I've read!)  When she can no longer handle the physical labor involved, her husband sends her home to her mother to have the baby.  By the time she arrives home, she finds that her mother and younger brother are dead from cholera, and her older brother has died fighting for the Confederate cause.  Her father is not about to forgive her for any of these things, for which he blames her.  Her sister smuggles a letter her mother had written to Heather, knowing she was expecting a child.  Her mother sends her for help to her Great Aunt Sophrena who joined the Shaker community at Harmony Hill many years ago.  But when Heather arrives, Aunt Sophrena is busy having  her own crisis of faith.  The Shakers do not believe in family life as the world knows it, and Heather is afraid that if she remains with the community that they will take her child away from her once it is born. 

Everyone is so busy quoting the Bible at each other that they seem to miss the point of Christian behavior all the way around.  I don't think any of the characters is admirable if you can bear to trudge through all the dreck surrounding the "fulfillment of God's Plan" for everyone.  Suffice it to say husband survives, baby is born Christmas Eve and Aunt Sophrena's problem is tied up neatly with a bow at the ending as she shakes off the dust of the Shakers' village.  Ugh.  Anne Perry's A Christmas Hope contains infinitely more profound thought for how a Christian should keep Christmas than this best-selling (!!!) Christian author.  Don't waste your time.

And God Spoke; The Authority of the Bible for the Church Today

Since I stated when I started writing this blog that I would write about every book I read, I intend to include those texts that I read for my Education for Ministry course.  Thus, And God Spoke: The Authority of the Bible for the Church Today (#350) by Christopher Bryan, which is one of this year's two Interlude books assigned to students in all four years of our course work.

Since I think the title speaks for itself, I won't belabor the point, except to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how readable and accessible this book is for the lay reader.  Christopher Bryan teaches seminarians in the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, so he naturally writes from an Episcopal perspective when discussing the Bible and its authority, although the Education for Ministry program itself is open to Episcopalians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians.  He makes salient, thought-provoking ideas seem natural and within reach of any person serious about pursuing the study of the Bible.  For a first year student like me, that means a year devoted to the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible.  Yet he writes with humor and a lot of exclamation points!  Really!!!  He also quotes from some unexpected sources for this work.  My one quibble is that he misspells Jane Austen's name when he quotes from Emma!  Once, I might have thought a typo, but twice is a pattern not picked up by Spellcheck.  Oh, well.  Only God is perfect...

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Christmas Hope

Reading Anne Perry's annual Christmas novella has become a tradition for me.  My book club choose it as our December book because we wanted to read something upbeat.  Yes, it seems counter intuitive that we would choose a murder mystery, but one feature of Ms. Perry's Christmas books is the hope and strong redemptive quality with which she imbues each story.  A Christmas Hope (#349) continues this pattern in satisfying fashion.

Claudine Burroughs is wife to a wealthy Victorian businessman.  Her principle role in life as far as Wallace Burroughs is concerned is to see and be seen at the right parties, and to ease the social connections which will lead to his further success with his even wealthier clients.  Claudine dutifully plays her part, but her heart and mind are centered on the work she does for the volunteer clinic for prostitutes run by Hester Monk. (Thereby tying this story to the William Monk mystery series.)  That is until Claudine attends a pre-Christmas party during which a young prostitute is beaten to death on the back terrace of the host's London house.  Who invited the streetwalker there?  The three young scions of important and connected families found on the scene swear that Dai Tregarron, noted poet, drunkard and womanizer, is responsible.  After all, he's not one of "Them".  But as the first one on the scene to render aid, Claudine senses that something is wrong with the young men's stories.  Is the wrong person being accused?  And can she stand by comfortably and let a miscarriage of justice take place?

Surprising things happen when meek Claudine discovers the courage within herself to prove truth is stronger than the power of societal convention.  As bleak as life is for many in London during this period, one person can and does make a difference with the conviction of why we celebrate Christmas behind her.  Consider this book a Christmas present to yourself.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Zealot - The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

 I read Reza Aslan's controversial book Zealot; The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (#348) at exactly the perfect time.  I've been taking a course on the Hebrew Bible, so many of Aslan's citations were fresh in my memory and this book helped flesh out many of the things I've read and gave vivid examples of how the Jews at the time of Jesus interpreted the scriptures.  To be clear, Reza Aslan is focused solely on what documentation can be found on the historical Jesus.  He separates this from the gospels and apocrypha which were written at a remove of at least a generation, not from eye- witness accounts, and thus from the interpretations of who Jesus and his message was.

I did find much of what Reza Aslan had to say both interesting and intriguing, and for a Christian, possibly unsettling.  If the object of his book is to make people think, he has succeeded admirably.  But I read this as I would any history; that it is written with the facts interpreted to suit the writer's purposes and biases and that the reader must ultimately make up his or her own mind as to what to believe, and not take the contents as "gospel truth" as Aslan himself cautions.

Zealot is certainly worth reading from that perspective.  You're bound to learn something that will lead you to explore further on your own.

By the way, is it just me, or does anyone else think that it is ironic that Reza Aslan's name is the same as Aslan, the Christ figure in C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series?  Just thought I'd put it out there...