Friday, January 31, 2014

The Power of God's Names

The Power of God's Names by Tony Evans
Harvest House: 2/1/2014
Trade Paperback, 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9780736939973

In his exciting new book, bestselling author Dr. Tony Evans shows that it's through the names of God that the nature of God is revealed to us. Who is God in His fullness? How has He expressed His riches and righteousness? How can you trust His goodness? As you get to know the names of God and understand their meaning, God's character will become real to you in life-changing ways.
By studying and understanding the characteristics of God as revealed through His names, you will be better equipped to face hardship and victory, loss and provision, and all of the challenges life throws at you.

My Thoughts:

The Power of God's Names by Tony Evans is very highly recommended for Christians who want to deepen their relationship with God by trying to understand His nature.

The Power of God's Names is a study guide for Christians who desire an in-depth introduction to many of God's names. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10)  Evans points out that in Scripture, a name often means more. It can represent purpose, authority, makeup, and character. This is the case for the names of God.  God's names reflect His character and His capacity. If we can understand the nature of God through His names, we can learn to identify and understand which name relates to our particular situation and God's promises for us. "I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power." Isaiah 52:6

This would be a wonderful small group study as well as an individual resource that could be used for years to come. Evans shares a plethora of Biblical insights and descriptions to help readers become more aware of God's names and the power behind them.

In The Power of God's Names Tony Evans provides a detailed study of the names of God and presents it in three parts: The Foundational Names of God, The Compound names of God, and The Incarnational names of God.  This is an invaluable study resource for anyone who desires a more intimate, personal relationship with God.

The chapters in the book are organized as:
Part 1: The Foundational Names of God
2. Elohim: The Strong Creator God
3. Jehovah: The Relational God
4. Adonai: The God Who Rules
Part 2: The Compound Names of God
5. Jehovah Jireh: The Lord Our Provider
6. Jehovah Tsaba: The Lord Our Warrior
7. Jehovah Shalom: The Lord Is Peace
 8. Jehovah Rohi: The Lord My Shepherd
9. Jehovah Nissi: The Lord My Banner
10. Jehovah Mekoddishkem: The Lord Who Sanctifies
11. Jehovah Rapha: The Lord Who Heals
12. Jehovah Tsidkenu: The Lord Our Righteousness
13. El Elyon: The Most High God
14. El Shaddai: Lord God Almighty
Part 3: The Incarnational Name of God
15. Immanuel: God with Us
Appendix 1: Jesus from Genesis to Revelation: From cover to cover, the Bible offers us insights into Jesus’s character and purpose. These descriptions from the 66 books of the Bible aren’t actual names, but they give us a deeper and clearer glimpse into the one who has come as Immanuel to be the living fulfillment and manifestation of God’s names.
Appendix 2: An Extended List of the Names and Titles of God
Scripture Index

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Harvest House for review purposes.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Kept

The Kept by James Scott
HarperCollins: 1/7/2014
Hardcover, 368 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062236739

In the winter of 1897, Elspeth Howell treks across miles of snow and ice to the isolated farmstead in upstate New York where she and her husband have raised their five children. Her midwife's salary is tucked into the toes of her boots, and her pack is full of gifts for her family. But as she crests the final hill, and sees her darkened house and a smokeless chimney, immediately she knows that an unthinkable crime has destroyed the life she so carefully built.
Her lone comfort is her twelve-year-old son, Caleb, who joins her in mourning the tragedy and planning its reprisal. Their long journey leads them to a rough-hewn lake town, defined by the violence both of its landscape and of its inhabitants. There Caleb is forced into a brutal adulthood, as he slowly discovers truths about his family he never suspected, and Elspeth must confront the terrible urges and unceasing temptations that have haunted her for years. Throughout it all, the love between mother and son serves as the only shield against a merciless world.
A scorching portrait of guilt and lost innocence, atonement and retribution, resilience and sacrifice, pregnant obsession and primal adolescence, The Kept is told with deep compassion and startling originality, and introduces James Scott as a major new literary voice.
My Thoughts:

The Kept by James Scott is a dark, desolate, atmospheric, and extraordinarily well written novel. 
I very highly recommended The Kept.

The opening establishes the tone for the remainder of this notable debut novel set in 1897:
"Elspeth Howell was a sinner. The thought passed over her like a shadow as she washed her face or caught her reflection in a window or disembarked from a train after months away from home. Whenever she saw a church or her husband quoted verse or she touched the simple cross around her neck while she fetched her bags, her transgressions lay in the hollow of her chest, hard and heavy as stone. " Her sins, she tells us, castigating herself as she approaches her home, are anger, covetousness and thievery. Of her husband she notes, "It was as if he had turned piety into a contest and Elspeth lagged far behind."

But as Elspeth nears her home after being gone for months, she realizes that something is amiss. "It was then that the fear that had been tugging at her identified itself: It was nothing. No smell of a winter fire; no whoops from the boys rounding up the sheep or herding the cows; no welcoming light." (pg. 5) There should be noise from Jorah, her husband, and their five children: Amos, fourteen,  Caleb, twelve,  Jesse, ten,  Mary, fifteen, and Emma, six. The ominous quiet portends the unthinkable disaster that awaits her. Her whole family has been slaughtered. Before she can fully process what has happened, her middle son, Caleb, who was hiding in the pantry, mistakenly thinks the killers have returned and accidentally shoots her.

After Caleb tends to her wounds, Elspeth survives and the two take an awful trek over frozen land and through blizzards to try and find the three men Caleb saw who killed their family. The brutal weather is as much a character as the brutal men they are seeking to find as they head toward Watersbridge, a lawless town beside Lake Erie. 

Both Caleb and Elspeth are fueled by their need for revenge, but at first only Elspeth knows that there may have been a reason for the seemingly senseless slaughter. Their quest marks the end of innocence and his childhood for Caleb, but is fueled by other emotions for Elspeth. While you learn to care for Caleb and try to understand Elspeth, it is also clear that nothing good is going to come from their search. Clearly it examines how actions always have consequences and vengeance is best left to the Lord.

In The Kept by James Scott, we are presented with historical fiction in a literary novel with writing that transcends the ordinary. This is truly an extraordinarily well written novel.
But it is also a dark, violent, and hopeless tragedy. I'll be the first to admit that it might not appeal to some readers.  The tension is palatable and the dread steadily increases without relief. It is a relief to finish The Kept, if only to release the tension and melancholy that will threaten to overtake you, but it is a novel that will stay with you for a long, long time. 

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.


James Scott was born in Boston and grew up in upstate New York. He holds a BA from Middlebury College and an MFA from Emerson College. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, American Short Fiction, and other publications. He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and dog. The Kept is his first novel.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

To Sir, With Love

To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite
Open Road Media,  re-released 1/14/2014
eBook, 184 pages 
ISBN-13: 9781480457515

This classic schoolroom drama of a black teacher in London’s tough East End who triumphs over bigotry and ignorance to change the lives of his students forever was hailed by the New York Times as “a book that the reader devours quickly, ponders slowly, and forgets not at all” With opportunities for black men limited in post–World War II London, Rick Braithwaite, a former Royal Air Force pilot and Cambridge-educated engineer, accepts a teaching position that puts him in charge of a class of angry, unmotivated, bigoted white teenagers whom the system has mostly abandoned. When his efforts to reach these troubled students are met with threats, suspicion, and derision, Braithwaite takes a radical new approach. He will treat his students as people poised to enter the adult world. He will teach them to respect themselves and to call him “Sir.” He will open up vistas before them that they never knew existed. And over the course of a remarkable year, he will touch the lives of his students in extraordinary ways, even as they in turn, unexpectedly and profoundly, touch his.
Based on actual events in the author’s life, To Sir, With Love is a powerfully moving story that celebrates courage, commitment, and vision, and is the inspiration for the classic film starring Sidney Poitier.
My Thoughts:

To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite has been recently re-released by Open Road Media and is highly recommended for the intelligent narrative as well as the historical perspective on racism. 

Originally written in 1959 and set in the post WWII tough East End of London, To  Sir, With Love is a nonfiction account of a well-educated 28 year old man from Guyana who stumbles upon his teaching career by accident when he cannot find another job due to his skin color.  Braithwaite accepts the teaching position, but makes it clear that he "did not become a teacher out of any sense of vocation; mine was no considered decision in the interests of youthful humanity or the spread of planned education. It was a decision forced on me by the very urgent need to eat; it was a decision brought about by a chain of unhappy experiences which began about a week after my demobilization from the Royal Air Force in 1945." (Location 448)

After being jobless for 18 months, "Disillusionment had given place to a deepening, poisoning hatred; slowly but surely I was hating these people who could so casually, so unfeelingly deny me the right to earn a living. I was considered too well educated, too good for the lowly jobs, and too black for anything better."(Location 607)
He finds himself at Greenslade Secondary School in charge of 40 students. His initial encounter with the students is not what he expected: "I felt shocked by the encounter. My vision of teaching in a school was one of straight rows of desks, and neat, well-mannered, obedient children. The room I had just left seemed like a menagerie.... Was it the accepted thing here? Would I have to accept it too? "(Location 161)

The majority of the children could be generally classified as difficult with a disregard for authority. They are poorly fed, clothed and housed. They face a multitude of difficulties in an environment that is lacking in every way, however, as Braithwaite points out, they are, as a majority, white. He has faced numerous difficulties and hurdles based on his skin color. Certainly these children can be taught to overcome their limitations.

Braithwaite is very blunt and, well, insulting, in some of his descriptions and this is especially noticeable at the beginning of the book. For all his difficulties endured due to racism, clearly sexism was also a prevalent part of the times. I had to take into consideration the time in which it was originally written and place it in a historical context.

If you have seen the movie, it is impossible to read the book To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite without picturing Sidney Poitier and hearing the song sung by Lulu.
While there are many similarities, there are many differences too. The book is set in the late 1940s while the movie, released in 1967, changed the setting to the 60's. The book also deals openly with questions of race and the overt prejudice Braithwaite felt in Great Britain. The timeline for some events in the book is changed around for the movie. In comparison to the sombrer tone of the book, the movie feels light-hearted.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Open Road Media via Netgalley for review purposes.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Culling

The Culling by Robert Johnson
The Permanent Press: 1/24/14
Hardcover, 256 pages
ISBN13: 9781579623517

Carl Sims, a young virologist, discovers a plot hatched by a group of international scientists to cull, in a matter of weeks, two-thirds of the world's population - some 4.5 billion people, by releasing a deadly virus that kills two-thirds of those it infects. Their goal is to reduce Earth's population from an unsustainable seven billion to two billion. What is he to do? Try to stop the conspiracy, or join it?

Horrific, yes, but what if this culling could prevent the extinction of some forty percent of our planet's flora and fauna? Or if he was certain it was the only way to prevent an even larger human die-off, incurring significantly more suffering, by the end of this century? Or if he were convinced it represented the only hope for humanity surviving at all? This is at the heart of this thriller, for these viruses do, in fact, exist.

Most everything that plagues mankind today - the highest concentration of atmospheric CO2 in 3 million years, escalating extinction rates, habitat loss, fishery collapses, climate change, polar and glacial ice thaws, arable land loss, desertification, aquifer depletions, ocean acidification, unprecedented air pollution, looming famine and social unrest - stems from over consumption which, unchecked, will lead to Earth's sixth mass extinction event.

My Thoughts:

The Culling by Robert Johnson had all the earmarks of a great novel choice for me.
Deals with a plague/virus/outbreak - check
Main characters work for the CDC - check
Action packed and includes sound scientific facts - check
A team is exhuming the graves of flu victims in Alaska - check
Sadly, despite all it had going for it, The Culling needed culling for me  - a so-so novel

In The Culling by Robert Johnson 27 year old Dr. Carl Sims is a buff doctor with the CDC who aspires to work with the lethal Biosafety Level 4 viruses (Ebola and Marburg) but is still in level 2. His lover and fellow CDC employee, Dr. Angela Varella (28) tries to tell him to tell him that this is because every other virologist at the CDC has more seniority than he does, but he resents this fact. Angela leaves the CDC for a job with an evil pharmaceutical company while Carl is called off to assist Dr. Jenna Williams in Guangdong Province, China, where there is a reported outbreak of influenza.

What Carl doesn't know is that his being requested by Jenna Williams to assist her is not a coincidence. Jenna knew Carl's father who headed the world wide campaign to encourage people to just have two children in order to stop global overpopulation. Soon Carl's an unwitting part of a global conspiracy. He must untangle the facts before he succumbs to what he is trying to stop.

My problem with The Culling by Robert Johnson is on two levels.

First all the characters are unsympathetic. Carl is annoying. His friend, Dr.
Stuart Chew is even more annoying. Dr. Jenna Williams and Dr. Angela Varella are annoying. And they do very foolish things by "accident" that I simply can't accept. By the time we get to the culling conspiracy I'm sort of secretly leaning toward supporting it.

All the overpopulation
information Johnson includes at the opening are well-known facts for me, known for many, many years. My lifetime also includes a period of time when lots of scientific facts for a new ice age were also being released (naturally this predates the current global warming facts). Maybe, just maybe, Johnson needs to look at a wider picture in order to have a better idea how complicated the overpopulation issues are, beyond simply only having two children. (For the record - 2 children.) It does not help the novel that we know early on that Carl accidentally impregnated Angela.

I can't help but feel that this novel has been written before in variety of different ways that were all more successful as novels. By the end, the message I though Johnson was trying to convey felt muddled and incomplete. It's not that it is bad; it just isn't as good as it could be.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of The Permanent Press for review purposes.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why Are You So Sad?

Why Are You So Sad? by Jason Porter
Penguin Group: 1/28/2014

Trade Paperback, 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9780142180587

Have we all sunken into a species-wide bout of clinical depression?
Porter’s uproarious, intelligent debut centers on Raymond Champs, an illustrator of assembly manuals for a home furnishings corporation, who is charged with a huge task: To determine whether or not the world needs saving. It comes to him in the midst of a losing battle with insomnia — everybody he knows, and maybe everybody on the planet, is suffering from severe clinical depression. He’s nearly certain something has gone wrong. A virus perhaps. It’s in the water, or it’s in the mosquitoes, or maybe in the ranch flavored snack foods. And what if we are all too sad and dispirited to do anything about it? Obsessed as he becomes, Raymond composes an anonymous survey to submit to his unsuspecting coworkers — “Are you who you want to be?”, “Do you believe in life after death?”, “Is today better than yesterday?” — because what Raymond needs is data. He needs to know if it can be proven. It’s a big responsibility. People might not believe him. People, like his wife and his boss, might think he is losing his mind. But only because they are also losing their minds. Or are they?

My Thoughts:

Why Are You So Sad? by Jason Porter is a recommended satirical novel.

In Why Are You So Sad? Raymond Champs is going through a hard time. He is a senior Pictographer at the North American Division of LokiLoki, an Ikea-like store. The novel opens with Raymond in bed, pondering whether we have "all sunken into a species wide bout of clinical depression?" He tries to ask his wife about it but as she is less than encouraging him along these lines of thinking, he decides that what he needs is "an emotional Geiger counter that could objectively measure other people for sadness." But how does an average corporate desk jockey come up with a way to measure sadness?

Naturally, Raymond decides to write a questionnaire. He can have people at work take it under the auspices that it is from management. This would provide him with a random sampling of the data he needs to prove that we are all depressed. He knows that his co-workers are all compliant. "They do as they are told, like sheep waiting for paychecks. Corralled over to meetings that serve no purpose. Filling out forms they never hear about again. Sitting in on career development workshops with box lunches and guest speakers who had just flown in from the middle of the country. It was a natural fixture within the terrain, jumping through unnecessary hoops." And so he writes out his questions, many of them unconventional, sends the completed questionnaire to the copier and has 50 copies made.

Immediately his coworkers start answering the questions he poses on the form and putting their completed forms in a basket marked for them by Raymond's cubicle. Questions include, in part:
Are you single?
Are you having an affair?
Why are you so sad?
When was the last time you felt happy?
Are you who you want to be?
Is Today worse than yesterday?
If you were a day of the week, would you be Monday or Wednesday?
and more....

I did find the idea that a man might wonder if we are all as a species going through clinical depression intriguing. As Raymond's wife tries to talk him out of his mission, Raymond battles his depression by looking for answers and maybe empathy or camaraderie from others who feel the same way. (There is one scene in a movie rental store that had me thinking that it should have been re-written as an encounter in front of a Red Box because I don't even know of a store location anymore.)  While Why Are You So Sad? is smart and funny, I might find it funnier if I worked in a cubicle for a large corporation.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
The Penguin Group for review purposes.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Norton & Company: 1/13/2014
Trade Paperback, 400 pages

ISBN-13: 9780393347883

In this evocative and thrilling epic novel, fifteen-year-old Yoshi Kobayashi, child of Japan’s New Empire, daughter of an ardent expansionist and a mother with a haunting past, is on her way home on a March night when American bombers shower her city with napalm—an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead within hours and half the city in ashen ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi’s old life will blur beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those considered the enemy: Cam, a downed bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army; Anton, a gifted architect who helped modernize Tokyo’s prewar skyline but is now charged with destroying it; and Billy, an Occupation soldier who arrives in the blackened city with a dark secret of his own. Directly or indirectly, each will shape Yoshi’s journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption.

My Thoughts:

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein is a historical fiction novel focused around WWII. It is recommended, especially for those who enjoy historical fiction set during WWII that focuses on characters living in Japan.

Although The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein opens in America, most of the focus in on Japan, starting just before to just after WWII with a concluding chapter set in 1962. After introducing us to an American couple, Cam and Lacy, the novel mainly follows the Reynolds and Kobayashi families and their interconnected lives. We originally meet them at a dinner party in Japan. The main character is (supposed to be) Yoshi, daughter of a traditional father, Kenji Kobayashi, and his Westernized wife, Hana. Kenji is a builder who works for Anton Reynolds, who is living in Japan with his wife and their son, Billy. Even the American couple play into the interconnectedness when we realize that a ring Lacy gave to Cam before he flew a mission over Japan ends up in Yoshi's possession.

Based around the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, this is a fictional account and none of the characters are based on any real historical figures. Epstein includes many period details, including the use of language which some readers may find offensive.

Epstein does an admirable job developing her characters, but, after the opening chapter with Cam and Lacy, whom I liked, I was then introduced to the characters that would compose the bulk of the novel and none of which I really liked or felt any emotional connection to. Some I actively disliked. I liked Yoshi and Billy, whom we first meet as children, but not enough to carry this novel for me. It might have appealed more to me if Epstein had chosen to carefully follow a couple characters through this time in history rather than jumping from person to person and place to place. The ring appearing through the whole novel didn't work as a unifying element for me at all. It felt contrived and predictable.

There are parts of this novel that work very well. It is notably well written and captures period details beautifully (language use aside). But, I'll have to admit that, in the end, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment was just okay for me. From the reviews out there, though, I may be one of the few people who didn't love The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein.

The paperback edition is newly released this January.

Disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book from the Norton & Company for TLC review purposes.



TLC Tour 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What We've Lost Is Nothing

What We've Lost Is Nothing by Rachel Louise Snyder
Scribner: 1/21/2014
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476725178

In her striking debut novel, Rachel Louise Snyder chronicles the twenty-four hours following a mass burglary in a Chicago suburb and the suspicions, secrets, and prejudices that surface in its wake.
Nestled on the edge of Chicago’s gritty west side, Oak Park is a suburb in flux. To the west, theaters and shops frame posh houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. To the east lies a neighborhood still recovering from urban decline. In the center of the community sits Ilios Lane, a pristine cul-de-sac dotted with quiet homes that bridge the surrounding extremes of wealth and poverty.
On the first warm day in April, Mary Elizabeth McPherson, a lifelong resident of Ilios Lane, skips school with her friend Sofia. As the two experiment with a heavy dose of ecstasy in Mary Elizabeth’s dining room, a series of home invasions rocks their neighborhood. At first the community is determined to band together, but rising suspicions soon threaten to destroy the world they were attempting to create. Filtered through a vibrant pinwheel of characters, Snyder’s tour de force evokes the heightened tension of a community on edge as it builds toward one of the most explosive conclusions in recent fiction. Incisive and panoramic, What We’ve Lost is Nothing illuminates the evolving relationship between American cities and their suburbs, the hidden prejudices that can threaten a way of life, and the redemptive power of tolerance in a community torn asunder.

My Thoughts:  

What We've Lost Is Nothing by Rachel Louise Snyder is an incredible, very highly recommended debut novel.

In What We've Lost Is Nothing, Rachel Louise Snyder details what happens to the people over a 2 day period after all the homes on their neighborhood street are burglarized during the day.  The street is Ilios Lane, a cul-de-sac in an area of Oak Park, Illinois, well known for its Diversity Assurance program. When one of the residents optimistically writes that "What we've lost is nothing" in reality it is not quite the truth. The neighbors may have lost things that could be replaced, but what the burglaries really opened the door to were hidden secrets, repressed emotions and attitudes that were all just below the surface.

As the news crews follow the story and the online community is weighing in with their thoughts and opinions, the neighbors find themselves part of a larger discussion. Clearly the neighbors have lost the feeling of security and safety they thought they had in their own homes.  This encroachment on their homes really left them feeling violated. The neighborhood is awash in suspicions, insecurities, and hidden racism. 

Who is to blame? Could the perpetrators be the nearby poor black neighborhoods? Why is one neighbor lying about his vacation? Why was the teenage daughter of a neighbor home? Are the tough-looking Cambodian teens part of a gang? And why don't the parents speak English?

What We've Lost Is Nothing goes on to explore a plethora of emotions and attitudes swirling around the neighbors who are all now victims. The main family Snyder follows is the McPhersons.  Michael feels he should be the one to organize the neighborhood and be a liaison with the police. Susan actually works for the Diversity Assurance program and believes it is a great idea. Their daughter, 15 year old Mary Elizabeth was home during the burglaries. She and another neighborhood teen were experimenting with ecstasy at the time. Mary Elizabeth's brush with fame on the TV news leaves her open to the attention of high school bad boy Caz. The emotional rollercoaster everyone is on is heading for a major crash.

This dynamic debut novel is expertly crafted and smoothly moves from one character to another, carefully revealing the truth behind everyone's words along the way. It could be that Snyder's background as an investigative journalist worked to her benefit in this novel. She presented what we needed to know as expediently and succinctly as possible while also allowing the tension to exponentially build up to the final conclusion. And the conclusion was wholly unexpected but in many ways the novel was leading up to something of that magnitude.

I really enjoyed this novel!

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Scribner for review purposes.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker
Worthy Publishing: 1/21/2014
ebook, 304 pages
ASIN: B00B13A23U

My name is Christy Snow. I'm seventeen and I'm about to die. I'm buried in a coffin under tons of concrete. No one knows where I am. My heart sounds like a monster with clobber feet, running straight toward me. I'm lying on my back, soaked with sweat from the hair on my head to the soles of my feet. My hands and feet won't stop shaking. Some will say that I'm not really here. Some will say I'm delusional. Some will say that I don't even exist. But who are they? I'm the one buried in a grave. My name is Christy Snow. I'm seventeen and I'm about to die.
First in the newest series from Ted Dekker, a master of suspense, whose books have sold 9 million copies, Eyes Wide Open is a raw adrenaline rush from the first page to the last.
My Thoughts:

Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker is a compilation of what was originally a 4 part novel now joined together. The original four parts include: I. Identity; II. Mirrors; III. Seer; and IV. Unseen. In this novel two teens Christy Snow and Austin Hartt are mistakenly/maliciously imprisoned in a psychiatric ward. The procedures for admitting patients to this psych ward are unconventional, as are the treatments that patients must undergo.   Both Christy and Austin are in danger of losing track of who they really are.

This is a fast paced, tension filled novel that is a quick and easy read. Since it is by Ted Dekker there are also Christian elements embedded in the story and especially in the climax. I have enjoyed immensely several novels by Dekker in the past and had high hopes for this novel.

Unfortunately, while I did enjoy the novel, I'm going to have to admit that I simply couldn't suspend disbelief and overlook several facts presented right at the start. Both Christy and Austin are 17 year old orphans. They can't remember their lives before age 13 when they entered the orphanage. Both have a trust fund that gives them $2,000 a month, starting when they turned 17. Gulp. Perhaps it is because I am an adult with adult children, but I simply can't accept these facts about these characters, and make the novel work for me. 

I have a suspicion that Eyes Wide Open would work much more successfully as a YA novel with its worthwhile message concerning self-esteem. Even with the message, the characters weren't hitting the mark for me which lessened my enjoyment of the novel. A So-so novel. I've enjoyed many of Dekker's other books much more.
Eyes Wide Open is the start of a new series of novels by Ted Dekker called the Outlaw Chronicles.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Worthy Publishing via Netgalley for review purposes.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Pandemic by Scott Sigler
Crown Publishing: 1/21/2014
Hardcover, 592 pages

ISBN-13: 9780307408976

And now in Pandemic, the entire human race balances on the razor’s edge of annihilation, beset by an enemy that turns our own bodies against us, that changes normal people into psychopaths or transforms them into nightmares.
To some, Doctor Margaret Montoya is a hero—a brilliant scientist who saved the human race from an alien intelligence determined to exterminate all of humanity. To others, she’s a monster—a mass murderer single-handedly responsible for the worst atrocity ever to take place on American soil. 
All Margaret knows is that she’s broken. The blood of a million deaths is on her hands. Guilt and nightmares have turned her into a shut-in, too mired in self-hatred even to salvage her marriage, let alone be the warrior she once was.
But she is about to be called into action again. Because before the murderous intelligence was destroyed, it launched one last payload — a soda can–sized container filled with deadly microorganisms that make humans feed upon their own kind.
That harmless-looking container has languished a thousand feet below the surface of Lake Michigan, undisturbed and impotent . . . until now.

My Thoughts:

Pandemic by Scott Sigler is the third and final book in his Infected trilogy. This is a satisfying, highly recommended conclusion to the science fiction/horror series started in Infected and Contagious.

After the first two books I wasn't sure exactly what direction Sigler could possibly take to bring this series to a conclusion. Although Sigler has a prologue to summarize the story so far for readers it doesn't really do justice to everything we've all been through to reach this point. I never would have guessed the events in Pandemic. If you've read the first two you know you will be reading this one. If you haven't read the first two, then you'll need to get started now. 

Not wanting to spoil the story for anyone, it's safe to say that the alien threat is not quite over and Doctor Margaret Montoya is being called back into action to serve her country. The real question is if she is up for the task. Her marriage may be ending and she's frozen in a depression, obsessively checking out social media for negative comments about her previous actions. She has saved the world once already but may not be up to the new threat.

Sigler understands social media and his astute choice to include it in his novel gives Pandemic a cutting edge, up-to-date feel that can sometimes be lacking in new releases set in present times.  There is one hole is this final novel of the series and that is a main character that we love. There simply wasn't a character to take the place of Perry Dawsey and Dew Phillips - although Tim Feely came close. The narrative is told from the point of view of several different characters, but it was easy to keep track of who was who. Mostly it is all about the strategic maneuvers,  confrontations, and violent conflicts this time around.

Be forewarned that there is a lot of blood and guts and language and horrific actions here so the series is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart. If you can't get through the opening pages (which has a young crew member cauterizing the end of her cut off arm with a blow torch) then it is best to not continue.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Crown Publishing for review purposes.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Small Space Garden Ideas

Small Space Garden Ideas by Philippa Pearson
DK Publishing: 2/3/2014
Trade Paperback, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9781465415868

Perfect for people who have little space to garden, whether a doorstep, balcony, or part of a wall. Small Space Garden Ideas is full of creative ideas for making use of every growing space available. From windowsills and hanging baskets to rooftop containers and vertical gardens, Small Space Garden Ideas shows you how to create a dream garden, through step-by-step projects from start to finish.

My Thoughts:

Small Space Garden Ideas by Philippa Pearson has some great step by step projects/ project ideas and includes all the information you will need to undertake them. It is very highly recommended.

Let's face it, winter is the time of year when gardeners turn to gardening books and plan projects for the coming growing season. In Small Space Garden Ideas Philippa Pearson will give you some great ideas for projects you might just want to undertake this year, especially if you have limited garden space or want to try and take full advantage of the space you have available. All the projects are presented from start to finish including a materials list, tools and equipment needed, step by step instructions, suggested plants and care instructions, and gorgeous photos of the results.
More importantly, however, is all the information you need is presented right by the project. Additionally there is a plant guide to assist in choosing plants at the back and an index. While my garden space is not very limited, there were several projects that I'd love to do.

I love the clever-why-didn't-I-think-of-that idea of starting plants in plastic cups with domed lids and "Shooter Shelves" that turn ordinary plastic gutters into a growing space.

I love the "Living Picture Frame." It could easily go on a fence along with the "Air Plant Canisters" project. I love the way both of these planters look and have some real on-the-fence potential. The "Planted Wall" project caught my eye too. I like the "Lampshade Chile Planter" take-off on hanging planters.  The "Slate Box Planter" is another good idea as well as an attractive project.

I know we're going to start another terrarium and/or an aerium for displaying air plants. What I'd really like to try is the "Hanging Ball of Succulents" project or maybe the wicker ball globe of air plants. The bird feeders made from cups, mugs, and bowls along with the seedcake hangers will all be likely be made in some form here and put into use.

Obviously Small Space Garden Ideas by Philippa Pearson is packed full of great gardening projects for small spaces!

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of DK via Edelweiss for review purposes.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Little Failure

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart
Random House: 1/7/2014
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780679643753

After three acclaimed novels, Gary Shteyngart turns to memoir in a candid, witty, deeply poignant account of his life so far. Shteyngart shares his American immigrant experience, moving back and forth through time and memory with self-deprecating humor, moving insights, and literary bravado. The result is a resonant story of family and belonging that feels epic and intimate and distinctly his own.
Born Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad during the twilight of the Soviet Union, the curious, diminutive, asthmatic boy grew up with a persistent sense of yearning—for food, for acceptance, for words—desires that would follow him into adulthood....
In the late 1970s, world events changed Igor’s life. Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev made a deal: exchange grain for the safe passage of Soviet Jews to America—a country Igor viewed as the enemy. Along the way, Igor became Gary so that he would suffer one or two fewer beatings from other kids. Coming to the United States from the Soviet Union was equivalent to stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of pure Technicolor.
Shteyngart’s loving but mismatched parents dreamed that he would become a lawyer or at least a “conscientious toiler” on Wall Street, something their distracted son was simply not cut out to do. Fusing English and Russian, his mother created the term Failurchka—Little Failure—which she applied to her son. With love. Mostly....
Swinging between a Soviet home life and American aspirations, Shteyngart found himself living in two contradictory worlds, all the while wishing that he could find a real home in one. And somebody to love him. And somebody to lend him sixty-nine cents for a McDonald’s hamburger.
Provocative, hilarious, and inventive, Little Failure reveals a deeper vein of emotion in Gary Shteyngart’s prose. It is a memoir of an immigrant family coming to America, as told by a lifelong misfit who forged from his imagination an essential literary voice and, against all odds, a place in the world.

My Thoughts:

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart is a very highly recommended memoir.

Many people only know Gary Shteyngart as a successful writer but in this humorous memoir, Little Failure, he proves he is gifted at whatever form his writing takes. Little Failure follows Shteyngart from his childhood to the present. Born Igor Shteyngar in Leningrad, at age 7 Gary immigrated to the USA with his parents in 1979. He was an asthmatic child and the struggle to handle this looms large in his early life. It was clear to him even before his mother gave him the American/Russian nickname "failurchka" or "little failure" that he was never going to live up to his parent expectations.

What he experienced would be a steep learning curve for any non-English speaking child. He had to try to learn English and Hebrew all in a new, foreign country while simultaneously listening to his parents seemingly fight constantly. Traumatic would be an understatement. Following, always with self-deprecating humor, his struggles in school, with classmates, with women, and on and on, Little Failure offers stories and insight into how Shteyngart views his family and the world around him. He always feels he is "A Little Failure of the first order" as he struggles with the dichotomy that is his life.

What Little Failure does best, beyond being an outstanding memoir, is show that Shteyngart is an exceptional storyteller whether the stories are fiction or nonfiction. Even if you have or haven't read Shteyngart, and/or love or dislike his writing, those who like to read memoirs are going to enjoy this one. It is certainly entertaining, but also emotional, honest, and poignant.   It only helps establish the bond between writer and reader that the chapters open with cleverly labeled pictures from Shteyngart's life that add  a personal touch.

I'm going to have to admit that I started  Super Sad True Love Story and set it aside without finishing it. After reading Little Failure I think it's time to give it another try. He noted that after he completed this memoir, he reread his three novels and was "shocked by the overlaps between fiction and reality." His memoir could give me a new insight and appreciation for his fiction.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley for review purposes.