Wednesday, September 30, 2009

To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield

David Powlett-Jones returns from three years experiencing the horrors of trench warfare during World War I. Injured and suffering the after-effects of shell-shock, he turns to teaching. He finds a job teaching history at Bamfylde School in Cornwall, England.

Driven by his experiences, David soon finds that he is not as interested in teaching history as it has always been taught at Bamfylde; a dry complilation of dates, battles and rulers as he is in opening the eyes of his students to the reality of war. He believes that there is rarely a reason for war, and that the damage is so severe that only as a last resort should it be contemplated. The boys he teaches are quite interested in this viewpoint, and David becomes a popular master with them. His theories find opposing views among some of the other masters, however. The chief of his opponents is Carter, who teaches science and heads up the student Cadet Corps. He vehemently opposes Powlett-Jones, and tries to thwart his teaching style however he can.

As David heals, he also finds love. He marries a nurse, Beth, and they are blessed with twin daughters. David's happiness is short-lived, however, as Beth and one of the daughters are killed in a car accident. Following this, David's life is one of depression, and only teaching and the need to provide for his surviving daughter pulls him through the next decade.

When the headmaster who hired David retires, several candidates for headmaster are considered. David is one candidate, while his nemesis, Carter, is another. The decision is made not to choose either internal candidate for fear of creating havoc at the school. An outsider is chosen. Unfortunately, this outsider is a dictatorial rule-follower, who ruins morale and brings the school close to chaos. When he dies, David is chosen to be the new headmaster.

This coincides with his new relationship. He remarries to Christine, and they have a son. Now in his 40's, David has finally found resolution to many of his questions and concerns, and is in a stable period. But, the drums of war are starting to beat again. David is faced with the prospect of World War II, and readying his students to face another world convulsion.

I can't thank Sourcebooks enough for reprinting the R.F. Delderfield novels. All of them are wonderful reads, engrossing and comforting at the same time. To Serve Them All My Days is an interesting look at not only one man's life and his reaction to war, but a glimpse into the world of British education and the society that had to face two world wars within forty years. It is difficult to comprehend today the amount of death and destruction that was everyday life for most of the world during this time period. This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction or for anyone interested in a great read.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

31 Hours by Masha Hamilton

Carol wakes up, sure that her son, Jonas, is in trouble. He is grown and living on his own, but Carol still feels that tight maternal connection that she believes will always let her know if he needs her. She tries repeatedly to call him, but cannot connect with him. She calls his friends, but no one seems to have seen him lately. She goes to the apartment of his new girlfriend, Vic, but although she catches her coming home, Vic hasn't heard from him either. She is busy working on a new dance show and hasn't been home much herself, so hasn't thought much of Jonas's silence. Carol even contacts Jake, Jonas' father whom she has been divorced from for years to try to get his help. They try to reassure each other, but end up convincing each other that something serious is going on.

Carol is right that Jonas is in trouble. Jonas is still in Manhattan, but has traveled far away in his mind. He is in a new apartment, a temporary waystation set up by Muslim extremists to house those recruits the night before they commit terrorist attacks. Jonas is there praying and purifying himself. Tomorrow morning he will strap on a vest filled with explosives and enter the subway to set it off. He doesn't want to die, but wants to make a statement that the violence worldwide must end. He is convinced that his sacrifice and the deaths of others will make his point.

The reader meets other residents of New York City. There is Mara, Vic's little sister, who considers Jonas like a big brother. Mara is the only child left at home, which means she is left to deal with her parents' breakup and her mother's withdrawal as she grieves about it. Mara decides to ride the subway to her father's new apartment to try to talk him into coming home. We also meet Sonny, who makes his living in the subways, panhandling and getting by while homeless.

Masha Hamilton has created an intriguing story. The tension rachets up with every page, as the reader realises that this is really happening, and wonders if Carol and Jake will find Jonas in time to stop him. The author is adept at setting the atmosphere of a busy city. Her real forte though is character development. Each character, no matter how large or small their part in the story, is fully developed to the point that one feels one could pick them out of a crowd. She makes us feel what each is feeling. It is impossible to put this book down without finding out what happens next. This book is recommended for all readers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Tom Loxley, an Indian-Australian professor, is less concerned with finishing his book on Henry James than with finding his dog, who is lost in the Australian bush. Joining his daily hunt is Nelly Zhang, an artist whose husband disappeared mysteriously years before Tom met her. Although Nelly helps him search for his beloved pet, Tom isn't sure if he should trust this new friend.

Tom has preoccupations other than his book and Nelly and his missing dog, mainly concerning his mother, who is suffering from the various indignities of old age. He is constantly drawn from the cerebral to the primitive--by his mother's infirmities, as well as by Nelly's attractions. THE LOST DOG makes brilliant use of the conventions of suspense and atmosphere while leading us to see anew the ever-present conflicts between our bodies and our minds, the present and the past, the primal and the civilized.

About The Author

Michelle de Kretser was born in Sri Lanka and emigrated to Australia when she was fourteen. She was educated in Melbourne and Paris and has worked as an editor and a book reviewer. The Hamilton Case, her second novel, received the Commonwealth Writers Prize (SE Asia and Pacific region), and the Society of Authors’ (U.K.) Encore Award for best second novel of the year. It was also first runner-up for Barnes & Noble’s Discover Award in Fiction, and a New York Times Notable Book.

The Lost Dog is her third novel. It was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and received the 2008 Christina Stead Prize for fiction.

Giveaway Rules

1. The giveaway starts Saturday, September 12th and ends on Wednesday, September 23rd at midnight.

2. There will be five winners, who will be chosen with a random number generator.

3. For one entry, leave a comment. Your email MUST be in the comment to be included. Comments without emails will not be used in the giveaway.

4. You can get another entry by doing any or all of the following; follow this blog, twitter about this giveaway and post the twitter in your comment, or link to the giveaway on your blog.

5. Winners will have three days to respond with mailing addresses after email notification. After three days, another winner will be chosen to take the place of anyone not responding.

6. Winners must live in the U.S. or Canada, and have a street address. Hachette doesn't mail to P.O. boxes, sorry.

Good luck! I'm excited about this book!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The De-Valuing Of America by William Bennett

In The De-Valuing Of America, William Bennett gives his perspective of his long government career. Bennett was the Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, and what was known as The Drug Czar under President George H.W. Bush. Bennett was known for his strong opinions and his ability to create programs that worked towards the outcomes he wanted to occur.

When it came to drugs, Bennett felt it was a major misservice to our young people to just throw in the towel and say that there is no way to stop drugs. He focused on interdiction and making drugs more expensive. As he traveled throughout the country, he found that parents wanted the government to intervene, and that improving the drug issue would also improve street crime, lack of student motivation and other ills that are often called endemic. During his tenure, in July of 1989, The National Institute of Drug Abuse released it's ninth National Household Survy on Drug Abuse. From the book:

The estimated number of Americans using any illegal drug on a "current" basis had dropped 37 percent: from 23 million in 1985 to 14.5 million in 1988. A survey of high school seniors recorded record significant drops in their overall use and tolerance of drugs. Drug use was down everywhere: in inner cities, in rural and suburban areas, among blacks and whites, rich and poor.

Bennett also held views on education that were not in the mainstream of educational thought. He believed that different standards for children of different races or cultures was reverse discrimination, and set those with lower standards up for failure in later years. He disliked the trend of multicultural education, if it came at the expense of the canons of Western civilization. He was not a fan of teacher unions.

I've had this book for quite a while, and finally decided to read it. It was interesting to me to read his viewpoints and his championing of conservative tenets, and to hear his take on this period of history. This book is recommended for fans of history and political science.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In The Footsteps Of Mr. Kurtz by Michela Wrong

In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz follows the history of Mobutu Sese Seko, president of Zaire. The Mr. Kurtz in the title is, of course, Joseph Conrad's character from The Heart Of Darkness; a European who came to conquer the African Congo but instead found failure and madness.
Mobutu was a young scholar and military leader when he took over the reins of the newly independant Zaire. Unlike many African leaders who reign for short periods of time, Mobutu reigned for over thirty years, and took a vibrant, thriving economy to ruins in the process.
Michele Wrong follows and tries to understand what went wrong. The biggest part of the problem was the sheer amount of money that Mobutu and his family and friends took out of the country. Hundreds of millions of dollars were diverted from trade, aid, and thriving businesses to their secret bank accounts. While Mobutu was a master manipulator of people and understood how to do that, he was bored by economic concepts and ignored what his policies did to the country.
Wrong covers all the areas in this tragedy. Those who had thriving businesses but were not African had their properties confiscated. Aid meant for refugees was diverted, and by the time Mobutu left, the average life expectency had fallen to the mid-fifties and diseases that had been reined in were once again rampent. Trade with other countries had dried up, as no one could count on contracts being honored. One of the richest countries in resources was left with a crumbling infrastructure and everyday services such as phones or electricity worked on a hit-or-miss basis.
This was an interesting book. I found the history itself interesting, as well as the blame that could be apportioned to international agencies like the IMF, which continued to give huge loans to Zaire when it was evident they would not be repaid, or the governments of Belgium, France and the U.S., which provided help to Mobutu regardless of his actions under the theory of "better the devil you know". This book is recommended for those interested in the history of Africa, or in reading how the best of plans often go astray.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


One of the hardest things about being a working mom is getting home at 5:30 or 6:00 still facing the need to feed everyone. Complicated meals are out due to time preparation, and most moms don't want to feed their families take-out or fast food all the time.
Jane Doiron has written a book that helps with this problem. In Make-Ahead Meals for Busy Moms, she outlines a variety of interesting meals that are easy, nutritious and that will appeal to kids.
The book is broken down into categories of meals. There are sections for Appetizers, Breakfast and Brunch, Dessert, Main Dishes, Side Dishes and Soups. The recipes use standard ingredients, which is appealing. There is nothing worse than starting food preparation at the end of the day and encountering a rare ingredient that isn't readily available. These recipes use common ingredients that would be found in almost any kitchen. They are also mostly uncomplicated, without major amounts of time needed to prepare and cook.
The main thing about all of the meals in the book are that they can either be assembled ahead, frozen ahead or cooked ahead and reheated. Even though the recipes are easy in most cases, the thought of just coming home and popping an appetizing meal in the oven is heaven sent.
I really liked this book and the recipes. One of the first ones I'll be trying is honey-mustard chicken fingers. Jane suggest dipping the chicken in a honey-mustard sauce, then breading it. I know this one will be a huge hit at my house.
I'm also doing a giveaway of this book. I have one copy to give away.
Contest Rules
1. The giveaway starts Saturday, September 19th and ends Wednesday, September 30th at midnight.
2. For an entry, leave a comment with your email address. Those comments without emails in the comment will be eliminated.
3. You can get additional entries by being a follower, or tweeting or blogging about the giveaway.
4. The winner must live in the U.S. and have a valid street address.
5. The winner will have three days to respond to notification with their mailing address. If they don't respond, another winner will be chosen by random number generation as the first one was.
Good luck! This is a great resource for moms and anyone faced with cooking for a family.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Boneman's Daughters by Ted Dekker

Seven young girls in Texas have lost their lives to a diabolic serial killer. Dubbed The Boneman by the media, he kidnaps girls and kills them by breaking their bones without breaking their skin. He seems to be able to steal girls and evade the police at will. The Boneman has taken a two-year break, but he's ready to start again.

Ryan Evans is a Navy intelligence officer. He is back in Texas from a tour in Iraq, where he is captured by the enemy and psychologically tortured. He is made to watch as a Muslim fanatic kills Iraqi children one by one by breaking their bones. Kalid tells Ryan that he can stop the torture anytime. All Ryan has to do is give his own wife and daughter's address so that they can be killed in place of the children. Ryan manages to withstand the torture and escape, only to have a subsequent breakdown.

The Navy sends him home to heal. Ryan wants to use the time to reestablish ties with his wife and even more, with his daughter Brittany. He has been absent for much of her life on overseas assignments. He is shocked when he returns to find that his wife is now in love with another man, and that Brittany has turned against him, believing that he has never put her needs first. They want no part of him in their lives.

Bad as this is, there is worse to come. Ryan wakes one day to find that the Boneman has taken a new victim, and that victim is Brittany. Desparate to find her before she is killed, he finds that the police have misinterpreted the evidence and believe that Ryan himself is the murderer. He is now fighting the clock to try and save Brittany on his own, while evading both Boneman and the police. Boneman seems to be ahead of Ryan at every turn, and holds the key by holding Brittany's life in his hands. Ryan is at his mercy, and must do whatever the Boneman wants to try to save his daughter.

The suspense in this book is mind-altering. The thought of a child being taken is a parent's worst nightmare, and if that kidnapping was done by a serial killer, it is beyond belief. Dekker has created a nightmare character in Boneman that will remain in the minds of readers for a very, very long time. This book is recommended for thriller and horror readers.

Monday, September 14, 2009

North Or Be Eaten by Andrew Petersen

Things are dire in Anneira. The king has been killed, and Gnag The Nameless and the Fangs of Dang have taken over the land, ruling it ruthlessly. But perhaps all is not lost. It turns out that, although they never knew it, the royal family is still around. There are three children, the legal heirs. Known as The Jewels of Anneira, they are the land's best last hope. Of course, they are also wanted desparately by Gnag The Fearless, to crush the last vestiges of rebellion from his reign.
Janner is the oldest, the Throne Warden, dedicated at birth to guard the king above all else. His younger brother, Kelmar (known as Tink) will be the new King. Their little sister, Leeli, is a Song Maiden; something that has not occurred in generations. It is decided that the Jewels must flee Anneira, to escape Gnag and meet up with resistance fighters in the Ice Plains. They are accompanied on their journey by their mother, Nia, their grandfather, Podo, sometimes by their uncle Arthur, and by a kindly, portly bookseller, Issac.
The journey is fraught with dangers. There are beasts such as Toothy Cows, dragons, and Horned Hounds. There are also human beasts such as The Stranders, and the Overseer of the Fork Factory, a truly horrendous place where children are imprisoned and set to work. The book follows the journey of the Jewels as they attempt to escape and fulfill their destinies.
Although it all sounds grim, this is a rollicking, exciting fantasy. The tone is light, there are jokes aplenty, and the motto is that there is always a way, no matter how dark things appear. There is love, learning your destiny, and accomplishing great tasks. Andrew Petersen has a fantastic imagination, and the reader is quickly swept up into this magical land. North Or Be Eaten is the second book in a planned triology, but reads well as a stand-alone. I definately plan to go back and get the first in the series, and await the next with anticipation. This book is recommended to fantasy lovers and young adult readers.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel

The Recipe Club follows two friends from childhood through their adult lives. Lilly is dramatic, creative, emotional; determined to live life on her terms and experience everything it has to offer. Valerie is cool, logical and fiercely devoted; excited about intellectual concepts. They meet as young girls. Lilly's father, Issac, is one of the leading psychiatrists in his field, agrophobia. Valerie's mother, Kitty, is a victim of this disease and Issac's patient. The girls experience an immediate connection and become penpals; penpals who send recipes back and forth to illustrate what is going on in their lives.

What is going on is all the wonders of growing up. Boys, education, sex, how to fit in, how to handle not fitting in, dealing with parents, dealing with friends, dealing with romance and sex, dealing with life. Each girl supplies what the other is lacking. They are not really well-matched in temperament, but together they experience and discuss it all. Until. Until a betrayal spends them apart for almost thirty years. Until they have to explore what that betrayal meant and put it in perspective to move forward in their lives.

The Recipe Club is a great book for all women. Light and breezy at times, deep and relevant at others, it charts the waters of female friendships in all their varieties. The recipes are scattered throughout and illustrate each scenario and provide their own interest. The book has it all, Humor, pain, love, hate, the yearning to connect and the need to be your own person. This book is recommended for those interested in learning more about women's lives and how to handle one of our primary relationships, that of best friend.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

God Is An Englishman by R. F. Delderfield

It's 1858, and Adam Swann has just left Her Majesty's service. Not sure exactly what he wants to do with his life but blessed with some capital, a chance encounter with a railway official starts him thinking. He decides that there is a gap in the haulage industry; getting goods from the train to their final destination, and determines that he will fill this gap. It's the perfect time for such a venture. The Industrial Revolution is just starting, and Adam gets in on the ground floor.

Another encounter sets his life story. Henrietta is the daughter of the local factory owner, and his heiress. Charming but spoiled, a wild captivating streak that is quickly apparent makes Adam determined to win her. When he does, and they marry, her father disinherits her, but that doesn't matter. Adam and Henrietta are one of the great love stories. Their lives together make for a stirring story.

I was absolutely thrilled when I heard that R. F. Delderfield's books were being re-released. God Is An Englishman is the first book in a trilogy about these characters. I read this series thirty years ago, and reading it again was just as satisfying this time around. I'd always remembered it as one of those steller series that work their way into your soul, and it didn't disappoint on the second reading. The series is a sweeping historical epic, and the reader gets a birdeye view of English society, the way industry changed the landed vs. landless power structure, everyday culture, and more. The love story is fascinating, and it is a rare reader that wouldn't be mesmerized by the twists and turns of Adam and Henrietta's relationship. I usually end a review with a recommendation for which readers would like the book. I can't do that here, because I can't imagine any reader that wouldn't love this series. This series is, then, recommended for all readers, but especially for those lovers of historical fiction.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Alone With A Jihadist by Aaron Taylor

Several years after 9/11, Aaron Taylor, an evangelical missionary, answered an ad asking for someone willing to be in a documentary that would display a conversation between an evangelical Christian and a Jihadist Muslim. He went to London, and spent two days debating Khalid, a fundamendalist Muslim full of hate and anger against the West. After the conversation, he realised that he did not have answers for all Khalid's points. In particular, Khalid asked why Jesus did not set parameters for setting up a government that codified permissable behaviors and set punishments for those who disobeyed. Khalid saw the Muslim religion as doing both of these things and providing a framework for a religious nation.

Aaron went home to consider what he should have said. He studied religious works but also read history, viewed documentaries and talked with opposed people around the world. At the end, he found that Khalid had changed him irrevocably. The results of his study made him realise that Jesus had no interest in secular matters, including governments, and his followers should not either. The logical extension of this was that Christians should take no part in wars, or any systems that do not reflect the tenets that Jesus believed in. Those included servantship rather than masterhood over others and loving all rather than creating divisions.

This quote demonstrates Taylor's thoughts:

I believe that for too long the word "evangelical" has been synonymous with hyper-nationalism. We've turned the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, into a tribal deity who fights for the U.S. flag. We've made God into our image and transformed Jesus into the defender of American values. Our pastors invoke the name of Christ to bless our troops as they head out for battle. We believe God is on our side because America's cause and God's cause are one. Those who oppose our nation's values are God's enemies; therefore, we have a right to destroy them.

This was an interesting book. The evolution of Taylor's thoughts from lockstep compliance with the normal religious right values to questioning if there is ever a place in Christianity for imposing one country's will on another is fascinating. This book is recommended for Christian readers, and for those interested in hearing more about the rationales often used to justify war and military invasions, and why those rationales might be wrong.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Guernica by Dave Boling

Guernica covers the years from 1893-1940. The reader learns of the Basque people and their culture. This is an agrian society, with farmers and fishermen. The people work hard and love their families and their land above all.
The years before WW II are dangerous ones for this area. Those who want independance are overwhelmed by the Spanish who are allied with the Germans and the Italians. Basques are labeled as troublesome separatists and unloyal to the country. The Basque country is in Spain, and there is a natural struggle between the Spanish government and the Basque people. The forces making their way across Europe in this time frame gave a window of opportunity to those seeking to repress the Basques forever.
The reader learns of two Basque families. One is a farming family, led by the Justo, the strongest man in town. He is married to Mariangeles and they have one child, a daughter named Miren. The other family is a fishing family, but one son is not enamoured of the sea and comes to Guernica to live his life instead as a carpenter. This is Miguel, who marries Miren and finds happiness and contentment with her. They have a baby daughter, Catalina.
Those who have heard of Guernica probably know of it from the tragedy that struck the town on April 26, 1937. The German airforce, to train their pilots prior to the war they knew was coming, and to support Franco and his political party, carried out three hours of horrific air raids on the town. Guernica was almost totally destroyed, with most families losing one or many members and families torn apart. People were killed in the intial blasts, or in collapsing buildings or by overcrowding in the shelters. Almost no family was untouched. There was as much firepower used in this one attack as in all of WW I. It was the first use of modern air warfare, and the opening of the ability to kill hundreds in a quick attack. The other striking feature was that this was not a military attack; instead, harmless townpeople were targeted and shot down as they ran for shelter. The horror of what was done was captured by Picasso, in his famous painting of the same name, showing the world what had been done to Guernica and the Basques who had lived there for centuries.
This is Dave Boling's first novel, and it is incredible to me that such a wonderful novel could be someone's debut. I was immediately attracted to the characters, and they became very important to me as I read. There was dread as I knew what would happen, but I had to continue reading to see what would happen to these brave families. This book is highly recommended to those lovers of historical fiction, or anyone looking for a great read.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bleak History by John Shirley

Gabriel Bleak has unique talents. He can tap into The Hidden, and talk with ghosts. Along with drawing energy from The Hidden, his other talents allow him to make a living as a bounty hunter off the grid. Former Army, the last thing he wants now is to be involved in anything of moment.
But, when your talents are like Gabriel's, there are always those interested in using them. The government is running a program called CCA, which is interested in using the power of those like Gabriel. They have captured various individuals with powers, and run tests on them.
Gabriel is of especial interest. Born a twin, his brother was sold by his parents to the government and has been raised in the program. He is as firmly on the side of evil as Gabriel is on the side of goodness. It will take their combined powers to determine the world's fate. Will they combine and let through Mooloch, who some in the program believe will then block all magic from occurring except for the magic done by the program participants? Or will Mooloch just take over completely?
Gabriel gets caught up in this internal power struggle. He meets his soulmate, but she is captured by the CCA program, for which she originally worked. That means Gabriel must break into the stronghold and save her, but that is also where he will encounter his twin and the decision about whether he will help or fight him must be made.
John Shirley has written a strong contender in the urban fantasy genre. The characters are well-drawn, and Gabriel in particular is an intriguing hero. The plotlines are made believeable and the suspense and horror is well done. This book is recommended for readers of thrillers and urban fantasy.