Monday, October 29, 2012

Relentless (the Dominion Trilogy #1)

By: Robin Parrish

Grant Borrows’ life has just taken a drastic left turn. There’s another man in the world wearing his face and living his life. What’s more, the man he sees in the mirror is a stranger.
Somehow, he’s been Shifted —his whole life fundamentally altered, in the space of a single breath. But the changes don’t stop at skin-level. Inexplicably, he’s able to affect objects around him by simply thinking about them. And as he soon learns, he’s become the central figure in a vast web of intrigue that stretches from an underground global conspiracy to a prophecy dating back over seven thousand years, that tells of his coming. Enemies and allies find him at every turn, but one thing they all learn very quickly is that you don’t want to push Grant Borrows too far…
Can destiny be undone?
The players are ready. The game is in motion. And the pace is Relentless.

I downloaded this book quite some time ago - far enough back that I have no idea what drew me to the book, other than the price (free). I had put off reading it because I didn't want to get caught up in a trilogy and my experience has taught me tat very few trilogies have individual books that can stand on their own. I finally decided to bite the bullet and dive into Relentless about a week ago.
Wow. Just- wow. . .

Starting at chapter one, this book was hard to put down. Once I got into the flow and the characters, it became downright impossible. My number one complaint about really good books is that they end too quickly - not so with Relentless. It could have ended several times before the final word was placed, but the momentum was too great, and the story too compelling to be cut short. This was a book that demanded to be given the proper attention, from the author as well as the audience, and I'm so glad that Parrish delivered!

Grant Borrows has a problem, but he isn't aware of it yet. In fact, he's not even aware that his name is Grant Borrows. He becomes aware of his problems on his way to work one day when he sees a man that is identical to himself in every way - right down to the brass bracelet that his grandfather made in World War II. Suddenly, grant is thrust into a world where he doesn't know who to trust, including the face in the mirror. What do you do when your world is violently torn away from you and given to someone else? You find out why. That is what Grant does and he takes us along for the ride of a lifetime!

Parrish laid a solid foundation in the first chapter, and then constructed a nearly perfect building by developing his characters succinctly, thoroughly, and completely. He explored almost every area that I was curious about, and the places that he wasn't as thorough weren't that important to the story - I am just insatiably curious.
The writing in this book is about the most solid I have ever seen, third only to DekKer and Peretti. I was sucked into a world that I never saw coming, and the whirlwind it created was astonishing.

I HIGHLY recommend this book! Anyone who likes to read can find something to draw them in with Relentless. I am now on the lookout for more of Parrish's work. If Relentless is this good, there has to be more out there!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hostile Witness

By: Rebecca Forster

Some secrets aren't uncovered. They are unleashed...

Josie Baylor-Bates returns to the practice of criminal defense when her friend's sixteen-year-old daughter, Hannah, is arrested for the brutal slaying of her step-grandfather-a California Supreme Court justice. Although all evidence points to Hannah's guilt, her family's disturbing relations may play a more significant role than anyone could guess. As Josie unravels a circle of secrets, she discovers a shocking truth that could save her client-or destroy them all..

Another Amazon free find, and another really good book. Josie Baylor-Bates is a lawyer with a troubled past that comes back to haunt her. After getting a client off of a murder charge, the client kills again, proving their guilt and proving Josie's abilities. It's a national story that haunts her for years. When an old college roommate shows up at her door needing legal help, Josie has no idea that Pandora's box is about to be opened with her agreement to serve as counsel. Josie finds herself in the midst of more controversy than she ever imagined and, perhaps most troubling, she isn't sure of her client's innocence.

I admit it: I used to watch Matlock as a kid. With the recent passing of Andy Griffith, this book has taken on a whole new level for me. The story is compelling, and it's very well written, but the nostalgia of legal thrillers is what really made this book great in my eyes.  Forster has either done her research well, or she is really good at faking it because the courtroom scenes had a feel of realism. I could feel Josie's passion in her cross examination and I could her her fist hitting the bar as she made her arguing points.
There was more coarse language than I felt appropriate. Yes, I realize that is how most people speak in today's society, but I don't see the need to move the story along. To me, crude language detracts from the telling. I am more enamored with an author who can tell a tale and bring across passion without resorting to colorful language.
Any sex scenes involved were not the focus, nor was an inordinate amount of space devoted to them, which is another mark of a quality writer. You don't need sex to sell a story, and Forester uses just enough to add color to the relationships.
The writing was exquisite, and the story itself fantastic. I had it figured out at one point, then Forster made me question everything I thought I knew. In the end, - well, I'll leave that up to you to find out.

I found Hostile Witness to be a very well written effort, and it makes me want to find more of her work. I highly recommend Hostile Witness if you enjoy legal thrillers, or just plain old good writing.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Right Ascension

By: David Derrico

Humanity's position of political and technological dominance within the galaxy is suddenly shattered when a sleek alien vessel arrives unexpectedly at Earth. Admiral Daniel Atgard and the crew of the Apocalypse embark on a mission to find these enigmatic aliens, but the focus of the mission quickly turns from finding answers to exacting revenge. Meanwhile, a belligerent species of reptilian warriors, seeking to avenge a previous defeat at the hands of the human-controlled United Confederation of Planets, takes this opportunity to plan an all-out assault on Earth. Faced with overwhelming odds and the terrible knowledge of mankind's most horrifying secret, Daniel must choose between honor ... and humanity's very survival.

I don't like science fiction novels. It's an odd thing to me. I like both Star Trek and Star Wars, but the thought of reading about adventures in space doesn't appeal to me in any way. With that in mind, I have no idea what I was thinking when I downloaded Right Ascension to my Kindle. Perhaps I wasn't aware of what the book was about. I think it may have been during a time that I was simply downloading titles that sounded good. "Right Ascension" doesn't sound like science fiction, but then again, I don't think I was concerned about that because I wasn't anywhere near that genre on Amazon.com.  In any event, when I flipped the first digital page and saw the date set in 3040, I'm pretty sure I let out an audible groan. I decided to give it a chance, however, and soon I was in the midst of an intergalactic firefight. . .

. . . And I was hooked.

Derrico brings you right into the middle of the story where you are introduced to a cast of characters so diverse, yet so identifiable, that you can't help but turn the page.  The story follows Daniel, Admiral of the Apocalypse, as he witnesses incredible tragedy that threatens to destroy the whole of humanity. In his search for answers, he discovers more than he barganed for and now he must face the cold reality that mankind, perhaps, deserves the fate that is inexorably drawing near.  Can Daniel face his internal demons and come to grips with the truth that casts a cloud over all he holds dear?

While the story idea is far from original, Derrico masterfully weaves a tale that drives the reader forward. Yes, it was predictable in parts, and it was even somewhat anti-climactic (though that may be a byproduct of my reading habits: reading it in half-hour chunks of time), the story is eloquently told. I wasn't impressed with the planets, or the fights, or the "Earth is gonna die" parts of Right Ascension - I am incredibly impressed with Derrico's storytelling ability. If he can tell such a predictable tale and it is this good, I can't wait to see what he can do with a quality piece of originality!

If you like sci-fi, you'll probably enjoy Right Ascension. Personally, I would recommend this book to anyone, and I am on the lookout for more works from Derrico. It's that good.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Third Murderer

By: Jack Flanagan

A professor's murder at a small New England college and a forgotten manuscript lead recently retired school teacher, Richard MacKenzie, and his wife, Morgana, through a labyrinth of secrets, deceptions, and murder. Will revelations about Morgana's past hinder the ongoing investigation about the professor's death, and damage her marriage? Will Richard be able to save his brother's job? Will the killer be found before he strikes again? Everything depends on Richard. Who said retirement is like a walk in the park?

Another Amazon Kindle find for me, and another really good book. Flanagan creates an intricately woven tale of murder, deception, and innocence in The Third Murderer. Richard MacKenzie is trying to enjoy retirement when news of a death at his alma mater requires his presence as the deceased is a man that his wife, Morgana, dated many years ago. After the funeral, the local Sheriff, who also happens to be Richard's younger brother asks Richard to help him out because the death was ruled a murder, and the newly elected Sheriff has no idea what he is doing. Richard decides to help Kyle out and he and Morgana find out more than they wanted to know - when another murder takes place. This time the victim is a dearly loved professor. Can Richard and Morgana sort through their emotions to find the killer?

Flanagan creates a well thought out story with characters that are instantly recognizable and identifiable. I immediately liked the character of Richard, and I identified with his relationship with his wife.  As the story progressed, I found myself liking certain people more and other characters less. I got wrapped up in the story and I didn't want to put it down at all.

The Third Murderer is in first person so it reads like a commentary, and I must say, Richard is quite funny.  Since Richard and Morgana are married, there is some sexual material, but it is done with a class and panache such as I have rarely seen.

I am quite taken with this book. I will be looking for more of Flanagan's work, and I suggest you look for him as well. It will be well worth your time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Project Cyclops

By: Thomas Hoover

“A high-tech launch site, a missing nuke, and Arab terrorists with nothing to lose . . .”
In the sun-dappled waters of the Aegean, ex-agent Michael Vance pilots the Odyssey II, a handmade replica of the sailcraft of the ancient hero Ulysses. Out of nowhere, a Russian Hind gunship with Arab terrorists at the helm fires upon the tiny ship below. The terrorist's destination is a tiny Aegean island where a U.S. aerospace corporation carefully guards the Cyclops 20-megawatt laser launch facility. But the company security force is no match for the firepower of the Arab invasion and the launch site is quickly overrun. With helpless horror, the executives can only watch as renegade technicians convert the launch vehicle into a ballistic missile that can deliver their stolen thermonuclear warhead to any city in the U.S.
Left for dead amid the smoking ruins of Odyssey II, Michael Vance washes up on the occupied island – and becomes America’s only hope.

Another of my Kindle free finds on Amazon.com (it's still free as of the last time I checked (today)), Project Cyclops is a suspense novel unlike any I have read before.  Though it was written in 1992 and is somewhat dated in technology as a result, Hoover weaves a very convincing tale. A terrorist has gained control of a nuclear device and a vehicle that is capable of placing it anywhere he chooses. One lone, barefoot man stands in his way. This lone sailor becomes the world's only hope.

The writing in Project Cyclops is solid. The story is believable and the characters are likable. The plot is hardly new, but Hoover's take on it is decidedly original - at least, it is to me.  As this is a mainstream novel, I was expecting the usual unnecessary sex scene, however I was delighted to see that Hoover didn't try and sneak one in. Instead, he left the integrity of the story and the characters intact. Aside from some over-zealous profanity (from the good guys as well as the bad guys), this was quite a well balanced story.

Project Cyclops continues to restore my hope that you can, indeed, find quality books for free from the Amazon Kindle store. This is one of those books that I intend to keep in the library and read from time to time. I highly recommend Project Cyclops to anyone who enjoys a good diversion.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Healing Your Church Hurt


By: Stephen Mansfield
BarnaBooks, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishing

"After everything that happened, I could never go back"
Is that how you feel?  Or have you heard it from others? The stories are all too familiar: The church we once loved broke up or our favorite pastor was fired, or people left when the worship style changed.  The former pastor had an affair or our kids didn't fit in at youth group or we had a major life crisis and no one from the church showed up to help. And so it goes.
Stephen Mansfield has been there.  Though he is now a New York Times bestselling author, a popular speaker, and a consultant who advises leaders around the world, Stephen was also a pastor for twenty years.  And he loved it for most of those two decades . . . until he learned how much a church can hurt.  But then he also learned how to dig out of that hurt, break through the bitterness and anger, stop making excuses, and get back to where he needed to be with God and His people.
If you're ready to take the tough path to healing, Mansfield will walk you through it with love and understanding, showing you that something good is waiting on the other side of even the deepest church hurts.

I needed this book!  This is an issue that I have had to deal with on more than one occasion and, in reading through this book, I realized that I still had hurt from two churches ago that I needed to deal with.  Mansfield says at the very beginning that he isn't here to be a counselor.  He plainly states that he isn't going to nurture, he is going to guide and teach skills to help overcome the hurt inside - and he does this job very effectively.

First off, I will warn you that this isn't a book that will hold your hand and empathize with you and tell you that everyone is out to get you, and that you are justified in being hurt and angry.  Neither does he tell you to simply "get over it".  Instead, he walks you through the process of healing, step-by-step.  There are things that we who are hurt need to realize and accept, and one of those things is our part in our own hurt.  Mansfield starts the book off by sharing about a boy whom he named Timmy (ostensibly to protect him) and Timmy's fondness for candy bars.  He uses this anecdote as a springboard to launch into one very crucial aspect of our church hurt that we MUST come to grips with and eradicate: holding on to the hurt itself.
We often feel justified in our pain by reliving the hurtful incident over and over again, deepening the wound and never allowing it to truly heal.  We must first let go of the pain that we hold on to.  That is step one.

Mansfield writes Healing Your Church Hurt from the perspective of experience.  His "been there, done that" style reinforces the truth that we are not alone in our pain and, reveals the reality that, if he can overcome it, so can we.  His refreshing and engaging style mesh perfectly with the content of this book and it adds up to a book that I highly recommend to any and everyone that is dealing with scarring from fellow believers.  There were many times that I saw myself in what he was describing and it caused me to rethink my 'right' to be hurt.

If you are dealing with pain that was caused by fellow believers, if you refuse to step foot in the door of a church because you have been burned by 'those hypocrites', or if you have shut yourself out of typical church settings for fear of enduring more pain at the hands of those who should be helping to heal, you need to read this book.

I firmly believe that every Christian should read this book.

I received this book for free as a part of the Tyndale blogging for books program.  I was not required to write a positive review as a condition of receiving the book.  I honestly loved it.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Hunger Games

By: Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.  The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games.  But Katniss has been close to dead before -- and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The Hunger Games.  The first of a series of novels penned by Suzanne Collins.  By now, if you don't know about The Hunger Games, you have been stuck under a rock -- or you are just really out of touch with the culture of today.  My wife came home from work with a smile and told me that a co-worker had just read The Hunger Games as a part of a program called Read To Succeed.  The premise is that the book is passed to you to read, free of charge. The only catch is that after you have read the book, you pass it on to someone else who can continue the chain.  My wife read the book, and then she passed it on to me.  I have been wanting to read the series because it sounded like a decent premise and the story has taken the Nation by storm.
This review may irritate some people.
I just thought I would give fair warning.

The story follows Katniss Everdeen as she goes from being a single girl, on the outskirts of an impoverished district in the Nation of Panem, who is trying desperately to keep her family fed after her father died in a mining accident, to a player in a game.  A very brutal game where there can only be one winner, and everyone else ends up dead.  The Hunger Games are little more than a thinly veiled reminder that the Capitol controls everyone, and they can do anything they desire -  including watch you die, solely for their entertainment.  The Gladiatorial-esque Hunger Games pit one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts against each other in the hopes of having a good show of death, destruction, and carnage.  Katniss uses skills that she has picked up, while hunting for food, as a defense and then eventually to attack those who would kill her.  She must survive.  After all, she promised her little sister that she would return.

As far as the plot itself goes, it's original, and the setting is believable enough, that I find the buy-in to be relatively easy.  There were times I found myself eagerly turning the pages to see what would happen to Katniss and the boy tribute, Peeta, from District 12 as they faced challenge after challenge. Collins was able to weave the plot through enough twists and turns that it was almost unpredictable. . . Almost.  Unfortunately, it seemed that there were a few times that she found herself written into a corner, so she pulled out a deus ex machina to get the story moving again.  Though the story was compelling, it felt like it was written for a specific age group, and that group was not mine.  Some of the character emotions and actions felt contrived to me, and that took away from the story.  There were a couple of times I actually rolled my eyes - not at the characters actions, but at the way they were written.

The character development was quite well done.  She gives you a full background on the major character, and just enough of a background on the minor characters - just enough to make you like them, then, well, the Games must go on, right?
That brings me to the inevitable deaths that occur within the Games themselves.  This is, after all, the entire point of the Hunger Games (within the story, not the novel itself).  They were not too graphic, but they were enough to get the vivid image of a death taking place.  My only complaint is that the final kill was anti-climactic.  There was plenty of build-up, but the payoff just wasn't there.  It was like blowing a huge bubble and it deflating instead of giving a satisfying "pop!"

I don't believe that The Hunger Games lives up to the hype surrounding it. It is a quality story, and it can teach a few lessons (not the least of which is that you never really know what you are capable of until you are put to the test), but it just doesn't live up to the billing.  I haven't read Catching Fire or MockingJay yet, so I obviously don't know how The Hunger Games will fit into the trilogy itself -- however, I am intrigued enough to seek out the other two books and see if Collins can bring the story to the levels that Hollywood will push it to.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Muffin Man

By: Brad Whittington

   John Lawson, sheriff of the quiet Hill Country town of Bolero, Texas, attempts to quell a feud between the local megachurch and a construction contractor, but it escalates from picketing to vandalism to arson.
The case is derailed by the unwelcome return of John's free-wheeling bipolar father, who arrives in the same red Mustang he drove away twenty-four years ago when he abandoned the family.
But ultimately it is the muffin that his overzealous deputy bags as evidence that threatens John's ordered life, possibly beyond repair.

This is an AMAZING book! Perhaps it is just that I am coming off of two horrible books into this one, but I doubt it. Whittington has written a fine example of what books are supposed to be: witty, engaging, and a story that compels you to turn the page. Granted, Whittington is no DekKer, but this book makes me want to search out more of his work.

The story: Sheriff John Lawson finds himself in the midst of several crises - arson, familial issues, relationship issues, and a muffin that won't shut up. He must solve the crime while not damaging his chances of re-election, fix the relationship issues while dealing with a sudden resurgence of familial problems, and all the while, a muffin is giving him advice.
Yes, I said that correctly - a muffin. . . Giving advice. . . To a Sheriff. . .

Trust me when I say that this is a GREAT plot!

Muffin Man is incredibly well written. Whittington has obviously been at this for a while and his mastery of the written word is evident, as is his subtle wit. There were many times I laughed out loud during this read, so be warned: your friends and family might think you strange. You may want to read this one alone.
The characters are well thought out and developed. The plot is solid, and the resolve is believable. Again, this is a textbook example of what a quality novel should be.

I have to admit, throughout most of my reading of Muffin Man I was reminded of an old friend of mine. He used to tell a really lame (yet hilarious) joke about a muffin. Please allow me to re-tell it here:
So, two muffins are in an oven. One turns to the other and says "AAHH!! WE'RE IN AN OVEN!" The other muffin turn and says " AAHH!! A TALKING MUFFIN!" - the end. His nickname on a particular message board was 'iamanevilmuffin'. Yes, this book took me down memory lane. I don't expect it to do that for you, but now you have a joke to wow your friends with.

Back to Muffin Man.

If you are a fan of quality fiction, get Muffin Man. I managed to score it for free via Amazon Kindle, but it is WELL worth the price ($13 paperback, $5something Kindle)!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Inheritance

A. Rosaria

One chapter, thank God. Ten minutes that I'll never get back again.

Here's a tip: learn how to spell and learn how to properly develop a character while not being over-descriptive about everything.

Wow. . .

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Liquid Lies

By: Lois Lavrisa

A Compelling Story of Lies and Deadly Consequences
One dead body.
One girl with a deadly secret.
Body count rising.
Can she find the killer before she’s the next target?

Determination.  Determination can be a positive thing. It can drive people to excel at their chosen vocation, it can create heroes out of ordinary people, and it can even help people develop healthy lifestyles that cause them to shed unwanted pounds. However, there is a bad side to determination.  That negative can cause division within families if one sibling is determined to be 'right' regardless of the familial cost. Negative determination can cause companies to go bankrupt due to the CEO refusing to admit a wrong decision.  And finally, negative determination can drive a reader to endure a horribly written book because "I'm going to finish it, at all costs!"
Sometimes it's better to just cut bait than force yourself to be subjected to bad writing. Do yourself a favor, don't read Liquid Lies by Lois Lavrisa. It's that bad.

Liquid Lies follows the story of one Cecelia Coe (CiCi for short) as she muddles through her life on virtual autopilot - haunted by the ghosts of a bad decision.  Without warning, her past catches up to her and she is forced to make a split second decision. The consequences of her choice have unexpected repercussions and she unwittingly finds herself caught in a web of lies that began four years prior.  Can she catch a killer before it's too late?

There, you're welcome. That was infinitely more interesting and well written than the entirety of Liquid Lies.  Lavrisa has successfully defined the word "contrived", but it took her about a hundred thousands words to do it.   The book starts out intriguing and the first few sentences gave me hope that there might be something good once I got past the terrible morass of the rest of chapter one, but that respite never came.
The story itself is interesting: a girl and her best friend, out on the best friend's 18th birthday, find themselves in a bad situation. In the process of defending themselves from assault, a death takes place, and that changes their lives.  The best friend moves to Europe, and CiCi tries to get on with her life while keeping the secret. Fast forward four years and everything comes crashing down when the best friend comes back to town, and with her comes a flood of unwanted memories and a blackmailer demanding money.  This was the point that I figured out what was going to happen and who it was that made it happen - and that was in chapter three.
The dialogue was forced, the plot was pushed, and Lavrisa teetered on the edge of a deus ex machina to finish the tale. I cannot count how many times I exclaimed, out loud (resulting in quizzical looks from my co-workers), "oh, come on!" How can one not find themselves incredulous when they are forced to read lines such as:
"I sucked at finding justice for {character name}. If {suspect name} was telling the truth, then I had to find another suspect." (Ya' think?
"I felt so low that I could walk under a pregnant ant." (That's pretty low.)
"I heard a slap or clap.  Maybe, like all guys, they probably high fived each other." (I loved this one because, well, stereotypes are always a good thing, right?)
"My reasoning had some big leaps of faith and I stretched some logic and facts. But somehow I knew I was onto something big." (I'm sure that if things happen in the exactly perfect way, I can figure this whole thing out.)
""Listen, I don't want you to worry.  I've got the mayor on my side. No one is going to kill anyone, anymore. Got that?""(Got it! I think. . .)
""They'll hurt anyone who gets in their way. It's like they're obsessed. People don't mean anything to them. Its like people are dispensable pawns on their way to get obtain power." (This one obviously eluded the editor. Perhaps this part came at a bathroom break when they had their Kindle read it to them.)
And now for my favorite one:
"The mayor must be under tremendous pressure and might not be thinking clearly at this point. He is so not going to be governor." (This so doesn't need any explanation or, like, anything attached to it. It so speaks for, like, itself.)

The spelling and grammar errors were rampant throughout Liquid Lies. It was like the editor fell asleep, and forgot where they left off.  More than one time, I had to check and double check that my e-reader wasn't missing something. Thoughts were incomplete and sentences simply didn't make sense.

All in all, I can't believe I actually made it through. It's something I will try not to ever do again.  I've had such good luck with free books from Amazon, I guess it was only a matter of time before I found a dud or two.  I think part of the problem was that I had just finished a really good book and when I started the next one, it was really bad. So bad, in fact, that I stopped after chapter three. I didn't want this one to be another book I started and didn't finish, so I trudged ahead, ignoring my instincts.  Next time, I will listen to my gut and run. . . Screaming.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Voynich Cipher

By: Russell Blake

When a sacred relic is stolen from its subterranean guarded vault, Dr. Steven Cross, amateur cryptographer, becomes embroiled in a deadly quest to decipher one of history's most enigmatic documents - a 15th century parchment written entirely in unbreakable code; The Voynich Manuscript. Stalked by secret societies, and aided by the daughter of a murdered colleague, a trail of riddles catapults Cross from England to Italy to the Middle East, where a Byzantine web of ancient secrets leads him to a revelation so profound it will change the world order.

Another one of my Amazon Kindle free finds, The Voynich Cipher looked like a decent read and, apparently, I caught it at a perfect time as it's now around $3 for the Kindle version. It pays to check Amazon often and to sort by price.

Now that the commercial is out of the way, this book was a really good read.  Lately, I have been finding myself reading through archaeological novels, and The Voynich Cipher just so happens to be another of that genre - though written from a decidedly different perspective. I normally read books by Christian authors, but I have lately been grabbing anything I can from anywhere I can, just so that I can have a diversion at work. This book fit the bill perfectly. Almost too perfectly. I found that I didn't want to put it down. I actually downloaded Kindle for PC onto my laptop so that I could continue reading this book without having to drain my phone battery.

The Voynich Cipher follows the story of Dr. Steven Cross as he becomes entangled in a mystery, wrapped in danger, and delivered by a stunning beauty. Cross finds himself willingly giving up his business and his life to go off in search of an unknown treasure that can only be found after breaking a code that is unbreakable. Along the way, the fires of romantic passion are rekindled and he must decide if the object of his desire is who she claims to be.

As an aside, this book is the second in a series of books involving Dr. Steven Cross - however, I wasn't aware of that until well after reading The Voynich Cipher. You don't have to read the first one to understand this one, but I am going to be looking for the first one because I really like this character.
Blake really roped me in with this story. The plot is believable, the characters connect with you, and the first few chapters pique your curiosity like no other. I dove in and from the moment I finished the first chapter, I knew I was going to enjoy the ride.
That's not to say that it didn't have it's moments of predictability. I did see some of the twists a chapter or two ahead of time, but it wasn't enough to ruin the story, believability, or enjoyment of the book itself.  There was also some sex scenes and references that I could have done without, but again, it didn't ruin anything for me.

Blake is no amateur, and it shows with his writing style. The Voynich Cipher is well paced and everything from the dialogue to the events that play out have a natural feel. Nothing seems forced.  The only real drawback for me was that, though the history seems to be well researched, it seems that Blake should have dug a little deeper into the Bible for information on one character. If Mr. Blake ever reads this, Jesus didn't have any bones broken or crushed.

All in all, I found The Voynich Cipher to be an excellent read. I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Invisible (Ivy Malone Mystery Series #1)

By: Lorena McCourtney

Ivy Malone has a curiosity that sometimes gets her into trouble, and it's only aggravated by her discovery that she can easily escape the public eye. So when vandals romp through the local cemetery, she takes advantage of her newfound anonymity and its unforeseen advantages as she launches her own unofficial investigation.
Despite her oddball humor and unconventional snooping, Ivy soon becomes discouraged by her failure to turn up any solid clues. And after Ivy witnesses something ominous and unexplained, she can't resist putting her investigative powers to work again. Even the authorities' attempts to keep Ivy out of danger and her nosy neighbor's match-making schemes can't slow her down. But will the determination that fuels this persistent, quirky sleuth threaten her very safety?

I knew nothing about this book coming into it. I saw it for free via Amazon Kindle and it was a mystery. Kindle, Free, Mystery - they had me at "free". I had just come off of another free book (the previous entry in this review blog) that really surprised me with it's quality, and the pleasant surprise carried over to Invisible. The premise of the book is that a Little Old Lady (LOL) becomes embroiled in a murder mystery involving an innocent young woman. After the death of her best friend and the desecration of a local cemetery, Ivy is suddenly at a loss of purpose with her life. Her recent discovery that she can become invisible opens the doors to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, she CAN still affect change and bring justice to an increasingly broken world. She decides to stake out the cemetery in hopes of catching the vandals, but is instead privy to the disposal of a large object over the side of a bridge and into the river. Soon after, she realizes that she hasn't seen her best friend's renter in a while. The search for Kendra Alexander reveals a deeper mystery. One that goes beyond a few toppled headstones. Ivy finds herself being wooed and hunted all at the same time.

Invisible is, refreshingly, well written. I know nothing of the author, but she is evidently a Christian as there are plenty of references -scriptural and otherwise - to Jesus and the Bible. Ivy draws on her faith to get her through the situations she finds herself in. The pacing is well done, the characters well thought out, and the story itself is quite unique - yet at the same time, standard. The idea of a geriatric crime solver is prime-time tv fodder (Diagnosis Murder, anyone?), but McCourtney breathes a new life into it.

However, I must caution the reader: if you get this book, you will eventually find yourself drawn to the Ivy Malone series. Now I have to get the rest of the books!

Soul Identity

By: Dennis Batchelder

You can't take it with you... but what if you could? Most people believe their souls outlive their bodies. Most people would find an organization that tracks their souls into the future and passes on their banked money and memories compelling. Scott Waverly isn't like most people. He spends his days finding and fixing computer security holes. And Scott is skeptical of his new client's claim that they have been calculating and tracking soul identities for almost twenty-six hundred years. Are they running a freaky cult? Or a sophisticated con job? Scott needs to save Soul Identity from an insider attack. Along the way, he discovers the importance of the bridges connecting people's lives.

Soul Identity turned out to be a real gem of a find. I have been on a kick of finding free eBooks on Amazon and Souls Identity happened to be one of them. Usually, the free books are either so old they are "classics", and therefore bland, or they are so poorly written that giving them away is the only way to boost 'sales' numbers. This book is, refreshingly, neither.

Batchelder puts a new and interesting twist on immortality by suggesting that a person's soul can come back to inhabit someone else after a person dies. It's not so much immortality as much as it is a lineage - but one that doesn't require a specific last name or gene pool. It is truly an interesting concept; that a person can have the same soul as, say, Albert Einstein, Confucius, King Tut, and the Biblical Adam, and not have it revolve around some sort of mysticism or religion is quite an accomplishment. I had no trouble suspending belief and buying into the premise.

I haven't read any of Batchelder's work before, but I intend to find more of his books as this one blew me away.

Soul Identity is a well paced, interesting story that had me swiping from page to page. I actually couldn't read it fast enough. Since the story sets itself up in an unconventional way for a sequel, I must now go and find Soul Intent.

Get this book! It's well worth the price of admission!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Serial

By Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch
Kindle eBook short

I didn't really know what to expect when I downloaded this particular eBook. I knew it was a short story and that it was a 'thriller', but that was all I payed any attention to.
Wow. It was something.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should mention that all I normally read are Christian books - thrillers, mystery, fantasy, whatever. . . They are all by Christian authors. Serial isn't like that, and it was evident when the killer started raping his victim.

I'll grant you that there are plenty of serial killers who do despicable, horrible things to their victims (Dahmer, anyone?), but that;s not something I want to relax to. I'm all for horrific, painful deaths and sadistic twists that make your stomach turn, but I don't want anything like rape to enter the picture.

But, what's done is done.

What really freaked me out with this story is that I had an idea for a book that I have been working on for a while now, and as I read this short, it was like the two authors had heard my thoughts. They were implementing a version of my idea! It was weird.
I can't say what my idea was because that would ruin the book, but suffice it to say I was a bit disappointed.

The book itself wasn't very well written. It appeared to be tossed together, although I liked chapter 2 better than chapters 1 or 3.
Yes, this book is only 3 chapters long. It took me a total of 15 minutes to get through it, and that was with me reading it at work.

If you like ├╝ber secular thrillers, or very short books that don't involve much thought, Serial could be for you. Personally, I may not ever read it again, and that wouldn't hurt me a bit.

I downloaded Serial for free through Kindle. It wasn't part of any promotion, just go to Amazon's Kindle section and set the list order to "price: low to high" and you should be able to find it there for free.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Holiness of God

By R. C. Sproul

How do you define holy? What is holy to you? When something is made holy, how does that affect how you perceive it? More importantly, if God is holy, what does that do to us?

In The Holiness of God, Sproul answers these questions of mine and, in so doing, he blew my mind away time and time again. With the turning of each page I found myself utterly wasted at the thought of what true holiness is and how we respond to it.  Isaiah needed to have his lips cleansed by fire in order to speak to a Holy God; the Seraphim that surround Him cover their feet signifying their created status in the midst of a Holy God; and Paul the Apostle was thrown down and struck blind when God revealed just a portion of His Holiness.

Yet we can't be bothered to speak a simple prayer of thanks for His provision when we eat.

This book truly caused me to take a good, hard long look at what I always thought about God and His majesty, and has forced me to see my own unholiness in the face of a Holy God. Todd Agnew mentioned that this was a free Kindle eBook and I couldn't resist snatching it up - I am so glad I did! The reality of the purity of God simply never crossed my mind before. Sproul has a way of taking the obvious and turning your attention to it in a way that makes it undeniable.

Every believer needs to read this book!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Scroll

By: Grant R Jeffrey and Alton L Gansky
WaterBrook Publishing

Dr. David Chambers, leading archaeologist, has spent his professional career uncovering the facts in the artifacts. His work sets the standard for biblical research in the Holy Land. But surrounded by the evidence, David has sunk into an abyss of doubt. A painful experience with a seemingly unresponsive God has left him without hope. The Old Testament scriptures that used to fill his mind with wonder now drive him to frustration. His unanswered questions have ripped him from both his academic pursuits and the love of his life, his fiancée, Amber. An old friend and mentor reaches out to David, enticing him with the riches described in the enigmatic Copper Scroll. Losing ground with his peers, his love, and his faith, David Chambers has a choice to make. Will he undertake one final dig to unlock a secret that could alter the course of history? Do the mysteries of the Old Testament hold the key to the political turmoil of the Middle East? In a world where faith has been eclipsed by the allure of doubt, The Scroll offers a different journey: a gripping adventure to find truth worth dying for.

I don't know why I got this book other than a weakness for all things historical. Granted I prefer actual history over novel history, but I digress.  The concept of a "treasure hunt" through Israel was intriguing enough and it piqued my curiosity to try out a new author.  I had no idea just what I was getting myself into.
The tag team of Jeffrey and Gansky provided an escape well worth the time investment.

David Chambers is an archaeologist with a problem: though he won't admit it he's still in love with a woman whose very presence reminds him of a past he'd rather forget. An opportunity arises to embark on a ground-breaking new project, but the rub is that it's in a field that he is trying desperately to remove himself from because he has lost his once vibrant faith.  He decides to accept his role in this new project after a visit from his mentor and father-figure, only to find that the former love of his life is involved in the project as well. Not only that, but so is her new love interest - and the new guy is making his presence, not to mention his intentions, known to everyone. The Scroll follows Chambers as he is forced to face his past and consider that what he has known may not be the entire truth - all the while dealing with new challenges as the Arab-Israeli tensions over Jerusalem mount.
The climax is something you can see coming, but you can hardly believe it when it arrives.

Overall, The Scroll is a fairly well written book. Oddly enough, I found a spelling error or two, but I don't count that against the authors or the story, it was simply bad editing.  The storyline is compelling and it certainly became a page turner once I got into the characters.  Jeffrey and Grant developed a quality main character whose struggle can relate to everyone.  The inner turmoil that he feels is basic to everyone as he copes with death, life, change, and love.  The build up toward the end will keep you turning the page as you come closer and closer to the end, however the set-up for a sequel is predictable, and that was the only downer about the entire novel. I'm sure a sequel can be well written, and I am excited to see it when it comes, but The Scroll is perfect as a stand-alone novel.

All in all, The Scroll is a good book. I would certainly recommend it to anyone that likes to read stories that revolve around Israel or archeology. If you want a laid-back, easy read, you might want to bypass this one.

I was given a copy of The Scroll for free as part of WaterBrook Multnomah's book blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.