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Book Review: “In Sheep’s Clothing,” by Susan May Warren

1247812Genre: suspense; Christian; contemporary; romance

Plot Summary: [from goodreads] On the run from the murderer of her best friends, missionary Gracie Benson is all alone in Siberia. What she doesn’t know is that she has in her possession a medical secret that will save millions of lives — or cost her’s. Trying to keep her alive is an FSB agent, a man pursued by his own demons, including a killer who destroyed his father’s life. He and Gracie find themselves in a decades-old mystery of betrayal and Cold War secrets. Only with the help of their friends — a group of Americans and Russians committed to freedom — can they outwit the old guard . . . and save Gracie’s secret, as well as her life.”

My Book Review: One of the things I often look for in a book is a setting in an exciting far-off place with a little intrigue, mystery, and suspense.  Of course, some romance along for the ride doesn’t hurt, either!  This book has all of those elements and it was an entertaining read.  One of the things that made it interesting was that the author has had past experience in being a missionary in Russia with some exciting adventures of her own, just like the heroine Gracie Benson she writes about.

Although I wouldn’t consider Warren’s writing style the best I’ve ever read, I did enjoy the plot twists. The pace kept moving and kept me interested to find out what would happen next.  I also loved reading about Russia (ehnd verking on my Rrrussian ehccent!).  The Cold War has always intrigued me and although the story is set in the modern day, it doesn’t escape the effects of that era.

e24f5c8ea9477d8016e3c1681a56cd1cOne thing I didn’t like was how the romance part of the story develops so quickly over the course of 2-3 days between Gracie and FSB agent Viktor. For the longest time Gracie fights her attraction (but doesn’t do too well of a job of it).  This is for the reason that Viktor is not a believer in Jesus and as a missionary she doesn’t believe in being unequally yoked.  That makes sense to me as a Christian.  It’s really hard to maintain a relationship when two people don’t believe the same fundamentals.  I realize that most of Warren’s audience will probably be Christian, but for anyone who isn’t this teaching comes across as arrogant if not explained well.  I felt the book missed an explanation.  To top things off, SPOILER ALERT Viktor eventually comes to faith in Christ and so –how conveniently- can begin dating Gracie.  This is just too gift-wrapped and bow-tied for my satisfaction.  It’s like we’re all so happy he’s a follower of The Way so he can kiss Gracie.  I would have rather it hinted that he and she *might* follow through on a relationship sometime in the future, once the chaos of the plot was over.  It would have been more believable. END OF SPOILER.

There also seemed to be an awful lot of unnecessary characters peppered throughout (in the form of Viktor’s friends), but I was glad to see that the sequel picks up with them. There is actually a trio in the series Mission: Russia”:

  1. “In Sheep’s Clothing
  2. “Sands of Time”
  3. “Wiser Than Serpents”

I enjoyed the action of this first book enough to want to go through with the rest.  So, if you like a bit of drama and romance, I think this will peak your interest!

I also recommend…

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Posted by on November 11, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Prisoner of Zenda,” by Anthony Hope

2636473Genre: classic; adventure

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] “Anthony Hope’s swashbuckling romance transports his English gentleman hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, from a comfortable life in London to fast-moving adventures in Ruritania, a mythical land steeped in political intrigue. Rassendyll bears a striking resemblance to Rudolf Elphberg who is about to be crowned King of Ruritania. When the rival to the throne, Black Michael of Strelsau, attempts to seize power by imprisoning Elphberg in the Castle of Zenda, Rassendyll is obliged to impersonate the King to uphold the rightful sovereignty and ensure political stability.”

My Book Review: This story became an immediate favorite years ago when I first saw the old 1952 film version (starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr) when I was 15 years old.  I was staying at my grandpa’s and watched it over and over.  There was something about the swashbuckling adventure full of danger, intrigue, cloak and dagger, and romance that really had me at hello.  In fact, I believe it was one of the first titles I ever entered into my To-Read notebook that I wanted to make sure I read the novel of someday.  It’s been years for me to get around to it, and I was a little bit afraid that the book would let me down in comparison.

This book is not terribly long or hard to get through. I found that the movie version I loved from the first followed the plot pretty well, except for maybe some scenes removed to make for better film-length comprehension.  The book was exciting and fun to read, though I probably would have enjoyed it a little more had I read it first before the movie.  Some parts, such as the Granger-Kerr chemistry is better than the book.  But it’s a great adventure in a vintagey, old-fashioned sort of way.  I’m always in the mood for impersonation stories, intrigue, and suspense.  And I think the tale’s a bit of a classic in that a hard, bittersweet decision is made at the end that leaves you sighing and wishing…  Sort of like Casablanca.

If this sounds like a story you would enjoy diving into, just know that it is actually the second in the Ruritania Trilogy.  I’ve read the first book The Heart of Princess Osra (see book review here), but the two novels are more standalone than anything.  In fact, The Prisoner… is much more of an interesting read than the first.  I will be reading the third in the series, Rupert of Hentzau at some point in time, and I understand that particular one is a better connected sequel to PoZ.

So grab this book if you want an escape to the mountains of the fictional country of Ruritania, where old castle walls, heraldry, and swordfights await you!

“This is movie magic at its mightiest!…” Ha, ha! 😀

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Nightbringer,” by James Byron Huggins

untitledGenre: suspense; Christian fiction, fantasy

Plot Summary: A group of tourists are stranded at a reclusive monastery high up in the Italian Alps.  But that’s the least of their worries.  A hair-raising screech in the dead of night lets them know they and the monks are not the only ones at the ancient abbey.  What is out there and what is it looking for?  And who is the mysterious hero in their midst who seems to know more than he’s telling?

My Book Review: I became interested in reading another book by author James Byron Huggins after I finished his novel, “Rora” (see my review of it here).  I hunkered down with this adventure in the winter and prepared to be entertained.

This was an easier read than Rora.  The latter dealt with the hard historical account of the Calvinist martyrs in Italy, while Nightbringer was more in the fantasy/supernatural genre.  Although this isn’t the first or the last Christian novel to deal with the subject of the Nephilim, it was the first I’ve read, and I was entertained with the ‘what if’ of what would happen if the descendants of Anak were still on earth.  Of course, if this were truly the case it would very unsettling, but in fiction it makes for great adventure!

The first third of the story was the most interesting to me, as it was able to keep my interest with it’s mystery. But once that mystery was revealed (too early on), the suspense was dropped.  Unfortunately, I felt the author got himself into a rut in the middle of his story.  I was quickly bored reading about one battle after another with the Nephilim beasts and the descriptions that went on page after page.  In every episode, it seemed Cassius (our hero) was severely wounded worse than he ever had before, then quickly recovered and preparing for his next battle, where he was wounded worse than ever before that… and the cycle would go on chapter after chapter.

I can see guys liking this story perhaps more than I did. It has the action, the battles, the hero that may appeal to them.  But it is not a serious work of fiction, and definitely not literary.  If you are looking for something exciting and light, this is for you.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…:

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Audiobook Review: “A Curious Mind,” by Brian Grazer (Read by Norbert Leo Butz)

22669010Genre: non-fiction; self-help; motivational

Story Review: I picked this audiobook up on a whim while on a trip to my local library.  The very first thing that attracted me to it was the title: A Curious Mind.  I think the word curiosity describes me.  Even when I’m disgusted or repulsed by something, curiosity drives me in further to explore.  I love to learn!  I love anything interesting.

I tend to gravitate toward non fiction when it comes to audiobooks. I don’t have as much time to listen to fiction on audio, I get bored when I do, and I envy the reader because I want to vocally create the story myself.  Non fiction is different.  If it’s interesting it has my attention from the beginning, and I’m an avid note-taker.

I had never heard of the name Brian Grazer (Hollywood film producer and self-called ‘storyteller’) before, but I was surprised that I was familiar with some of his films. Some of them include A Beautiful Mind, 24, and In the Heart of the Sea. I wasn’t really sure what his book would be about, but it turned out to detail Grazer’s technique on how he approaches life.  In a word, with curiosity.  It wouldn’t hurt any of us to take a few tips on staying open to learn new things, taking opportunities as we come across them, and being humble and grateful in this world.  There are so many interesting things to learn and people to meet!  I liked Grazer’s reasoning that curiosity leads to success, and his list of benefits stemming from curiosity.

I probably would have appreciated a little more practical advice on how to apply curiosity to one’s everyday life. Not all of us have the leverage or opportunities to meet the kinds of people Grazer has (which have included Princess Diana, Isaac Asimov, and Fidel Castro).  But I took six pages of notes, so I think I enjoyed the book!

Thoughts on the Narrator: The preface is read by Brian Grazer himself, but the rest of the book is narrated by Norbert Leo Butz.  I’d never heard of him, either, but his reading never lost me or bored me.  His voice was clear-cut and stage-practiced.  Since this was non-fiction, I have no idea how he would do performing fiction with voices and dramatic emotions.  I am very picky when it comes to narrators (another reason why I listen to so few), but his was a presentation I could well tolerate.

I think it would be hard to listen to this without at least a pen and notebook. This is for anyone who desires to achieve goals in life!

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Club of Queer Trades,” by G. K. Chesterton

18834844Genre: mystery; classic

Plot Summary: [from Wikipedia:] “The Club of Queer Trades is a collection of stories by G. K. Chesterton first published in 1905.  Each story in the collection is centered on a person who is making his living by some novel and extraordinary means…  To gain admittance one must have invented a unique means of earning a living and the subsequent trade being the main source of income.”

My Book Review: If you’ve come to this blog post thinking you were going to read something on sexual identities, sorry to disappoint.  Once upon a time the word ‘queer’ was used to mean ‘peculiar’.  (I suppose ‘peculiar’ means something else now, too.  We’re so creative as to assign a double meaning to every word that already exists.)

There are ordinary men who lead ordinary lives with their chosen ordinary careers. And then there are others who take a different route in life.  They are the eccentrics, the colorful, and the crazy.  …Or are we, as ordinary citizens, the crazies?

If someone asked you to invent a whole new career that had never been thought of before, do you think you could do it and make money from it? Not merely recycling an existing career, substituting one thing for another, but actually coming up with a line of trade that’s never been done before.  It’s harder than it at first seems.  Of course, there would have to be a market for it.  And in the case of many of the extraordinary tradesmen in this collection of short stories, their careers are kept secret either because of the nature of their work, or because they would be thought insane.

As one would guess, this leads to many bizarre circumstances of ordinaries encountering these oddbodies (or geniuses) in society. The facts are there in front of their noses, but they can’t make sense of them.  It takes a remarkable fellow straddling the best of both worlds to make sense of the mysterious cases brought before him.  It makes for a curious read.

4b4f62db81ff23d0d0a99f7b0870ecddAlthough I usually dislike short story collections, I was glad this was written as it was. I didn’t particularly feel in the mood for a novel-length Chesterton at the time.  Sometimes he’s best taken in ‘doses’ because he can be so thick in his nonsense.  🙂  Really, G.K. was such a Mad Hatter!  Chesterton is never for those wanting a nice little story.  And it definitely isn’t my favorite book of all time.  But I enjoyed reading it anyway, because he picks you out of the mundane and makes you view the world at a different angle.  It gives the brain a good exercise!

I would say my favorite chapter story was “The Adventures of Major Brown”, in which a man is caught in an awfully good escapade, but doesn’t realize how much fun it was until it was over! How often are we the same in life?  We read novels for “escape” or to pseudo-live other “experiences”, but when some adventure happens in real life we are too overwhelmed to enjoy it in the moment.  Then of course, there’s the debate over modern-day video games.  Guys are so eager to play at fantasy games because it feeds something deep in their souls- the need for adventure.  But what happened to living real life?  Life is full of exciting experiences if only we accept its opportunities.

You can listen to the audiobook on Librivox by clicking here.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…:

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Matorni’s Vineyard,” by E. Phillips Oppenheim

serveimageGenre: futuristic; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: Mervyn Amory is a British tennis player on his way to Monte Carlo for a holiday.  He takes a train trip that turns out to be anything but leisurely.  When an Italian spy passes on vital information to him just before he is assassinated, who will Mervyn trust?  Can we trust him?  And who is the beautiful Italian diva who has close ties to the Princess?

My Book Review: It’s been a few years since I’ve dipped into Oppenheim, but I have to say this was much more interesting to me than the last two I’ve read.  It had a flavor of The Great Impersonation, as far as the intrigue and atmosphere go.  It wasn’t hard to read, and provided some fun entertainment.

The best part was that it kept you guessing about who you could trust. I can’t say there were any huge plot twists that maybe the average reader wouldn’t see coming, but yet it keeps one suspecting everyone– even the main character.

I felt disappointed in how the Dictator was treated in the end. SPOILER ALERT: I felt the winners dealt him too soft a hand and they dared to trust someone to continue leading a large European country who had just threatened to pitch the continent into another world war.  Who’s to say he wouldn’t ever try something like that again?  On the other hand, I suppose this type of international dealing is realistic, considering how the world treated Hitler and Germany before WWII. END OF SPOILER. Oppenheim set his book in the 1940’s, which would have made the tale futuristic for readers at the time it was published in 1928.  Of course, the dictator-character Matorni represents Mussolini himself.  Oppenheim also had some of this type of foresight in my favorite of his (The Great Impersonation).

I loved the exotic location set in Monaco. Although the story is not historical, the details feel accurate, as if they were.  There is a romance as a side plot included, but I can’t say it was very believable because of how fast it occurred in such a short amount of time.  But if you want a bit of ‘alternate history’ type genre, this might interest you.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Murder on the Lusitania,” by Conrad Allen

1246500Genre: mystery, historical fiction

Plot Summary: {from goodreads.com:} September 1907. George Porter Dillman sets sail from Liverpool on the Lusitania’s maiden voyage. Hired by the ship’s captain to pose as a passenger, George is in fact a private detective for the Cunard Line. In the first days of his voyage, George only has to deal with a few petty crimes. But then an expensive piece of jewelry is reported stolen and a body is found. Working quickly to solve both crimes, George makes an unusual friend, Genevieve Masefield, and the two uncover secrets aboard the ship that prove explosive.”

My Book Review: This is the first in the George Porter Dillman & Genevieve Masefield mystery series and the first I’ve tried by this author (whose name is not really Conrad Allen, and also goes by a whole slew of other pen names).  I settled in for an entertaining read of sea voyage, adventure, romance, and suspense all set in a historical setting.

Did it satisfy? In a word, no, I’m sad to say.  Although it was somewhat amusing, it really failed to grab me with it’s characters.  The two main characters (George and Genevieve) were hard for me to like.  The mystery plot felt too mechanically churned out.  I was a little dejected to find that although the story does revolve around the historic ship Lusitania, the mystery actually takes place on its maiden voyage instead of its famed sinking.

Content-wise, this mystery is pretty clean. There isn’t much gore, neither is there oodles of romance.  However, there are subtle innuendos made throughout the dialogue of the characters.  It is implied that Genevieve is sleeping her way through high society.  A fortune-hunter pressures a wealthy heiress to sleep with him, while at the same time is cheating with another woman.  None of these situations are implicitly described, but it gave a worldly feel to the novel.

At the end of the day, I’ve decided not to continue on with the series, but this book may be of interest to those who like cozy mysteries in a swanky setting. Would make a fun vacation read!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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