Sunday, December 29, 2019

End Game - A Review

End Game


Rachel Dylan

Short Summary: 
He saved her life;
she saved his life;
they had fallen in love.

The story was more involved than that simple summary. This faith-based romantic thriller was an alphabet soup of police agencies working to solve multiple murders in the Washington DC area: NCIS, JAG, Army CID, Seal Team 8, FBI, CIA, the Arlington Police Department, and the Arlington DA’s Office. Each had a role in bringing a group of criminals to justice - and they wanted to do it before any other innocent person was killed.

As expected, Rachel Dylan has created an exciting and complex story worthy of the genre. The author has indicated that there will be future stories in this series; this reader hopes that the series brings back many of the same characters from the various federal agencies in future volumes, they worked well together as a team and some friendships were just beginning.   

The book would be a welcome addition to a church or public library. It would be enjoyed by those familiar with the author or genre.  

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Seconds To Live - A Review

Seconds To Live 

Susan Sleeman

Deputy U.S. Marshal Taylor Mills, assigned to the WITSEC detail in Portland, OR, must work with FBI Agent Sean Nichols, assigned to the RED (“Rapid Emergency Deployment”) team from Seattle, WA, to identify and apprehend a hacker using the alias of Phantom. Phantom’s crime - hacking the WITSEC database containing the names of thousands of individuals being offered protection by the U.S. Marshals Service. Phantom’s first target appeared to be Dustee and Dianne, twin sisters. Dustee had a nasty habit of not following the WITSEC rules designed to protect their charges, and now the twin’s lives were in danger.

Solving the clues would take the technical IT and forensic skills of both the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI’s RED team. The plot has enough twists and turns to keep most readers of faith-based romantic thrillers happy and engaged. The romantic component was a bit more than what this reader usually likes, but the book still is easily a 5-star read.

This book could easily find a home in many reader’s personal libraries, a local public library, or the church library.


This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Manga Classics: The Count of Monte Christo - A Review

Manga Classics:
The Count of Monte Christo

Alexander Dumas

At some point in the past I chose to read the huge book that is The Count of Monte Christo by Alexander Dumas. Manga Classics has designed an adaption of the original book - and, at 400+ pages, this manga book is also large. 

Manga is unique - it is intended to be read starting from what we westerners would call the “back” of the book. Reading then proceeds toward the “front”. At first, this may seem a bit discomforting, but it quickly becomes second nature and the story moves along. The artwork (except for the covers, all artwork in my review copy is black and white) makes the story understandable and enjoyable to one who has long ago forgotten the plot and themes developed in Dumas’ original. I tried to discover whether the paperback version of the book included color images, but could not locate a copy to answer this question. 

The story is one of revenge - as Edmond Dantes and his family are driven to ruin by those who would seem to be friends. It would take decades for Edmond to be in a position where he could exact the revenge, and occasionally offer the forgiveness, which his betrayers required. As the editor of this version notes in his postlude, the story in its original is complex. He and his team of artists have worked hard to translate the story into this modern format for the 21st-century reader. The editor makes it clear that the story has been carefully “trimmed” to combine the main flow of the story. He includes a brief essay outlining the “Rules of Trimming” used by the team as they made their decisions on what to include and what to exclude from the original story. In the same essay, he explains how the artwork was developed - both for the characters and for the settings. This included travel to the sites used in the book so the art might better represent the actual scenes rather than merely an artist’s imagination. I particularly liked the two-page “Character Relationship Guide” that is used to assist the reader in piecing together the many individuals that play a part in Edmond Dantes’ story. I expect this guide would also help a reader as he or she makes their way through Dumas’ original work.

For those looking for a new and enjoyable way to enjoy classic stories, Manga may provide one means to do so. You do lose the author’s original insight and nuances - but … this reader enjoyed the new journey through the old material, perhaps others will as well.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Camera Never Lies - A Review

The Camera Never Lies

David Rawlings

David Rawlings writes fiction that is as revealing as it is fictional. On the surface, the book is about a man, one David Whiteley, whose family, whose job, and whose reputation, stand on a precipice - one that will crumble beneath his feet if something does not change. Beginning with the death of his grandfather and the unexpected camera left to him at his grandfather’s death, life begins to unravel.

But this camera is special. The resulting pictures have exceptional clarity, and they often reveal more truth than the photographer is planning for. Ultimately the question becomes, what will the photographer respond to that truth. And that is the question that David faces as he retrieves his prints from Simon, the owner of the camera shop around the corner from his work as a mental health counselor. 

The author has the very nice ability to ask both David Whiteley and the reader to answer the same two questions: Are we willing to have the truth revealed; and how will we respond to the truth. The answers do not come easily and the cost of difficult truths is often less than the cost of hiding that truth.

David Whiteley finds The Camera Never Lies. Are we willing to look at our lives with the same clarity?

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Online Search - A Review

Online Search 

byEmma Huddleston

The title, Online Search, is a bit of a misnomer. Searching is only one of the topics covered in this 50-page book. A better title might be “A Child’s Introduction to Computers”. The book, whose reading level is for the upper elementary or middle school student, includes such topics as computer history, computer technology, and the role of programming in the development of computer technology (it does not teach programming, per se). The topics covered are similar to those seen in a college freshman computer science course from the late 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century. The book includes a great many pictures and photographs illustrating the topics discussed.

The book would make an excellent Christmas or birthday gift for the inquisitive child. It would be a welcome addition to the elementary school or public library. I expect even some parents would find the content of interest.

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Introducing Practical Theology - A Review

Practical Theology

Pete Ward

Though originally published in 2017, Baker Academic has more recently made Introducing Practical Theology available for more general review. 

The author begins with the very real premise that “... all theology can be practical” (p. 9). Earlier, in the introduction, he points out that

Modern theology has a basic fault line running through it between liberal theology, which prioritizes experience over doctrine, and conservative theology, which prioritizes doctrine over experience. Both the rejection of applied forms of theology and the uncritical acceptance of practical theology as distinct because it starts with practice are problematic because these views situate the discipline solely within the liberal tradition. This is a problem not because I would advocate an uncritical conservative approach. Rather, I argue for a collapse of these two distinctions—the liberal and the conservative—into one another. The distinction is therefore artificial.

Hence, theology, the author argues, is not merely theoretical, but also must influence the life of the church. How this is to be done is not always an easy task; but it is a task that the theology practitioner, the theology student, and all believers will want to undertake. 

The first two chapters seek to define Practical Theology, The author then begins connects Practical Theology to the Gospel and to the lives of believing individuals and communities.

The book then moves onto the “how” of practical theology - chapter 5. “At its heart,” the author states, “[Practical Theology] is a conversation,” a “complex and multilayered” conversation. He examines several of the individual scholars and writers that have contributed to the field. The next three chapters address how practical theology interacts with other branches of theology:

        6. Theological Reflection
        7. Theological Disciplines
        8. Culture

The final two chapters examine the role empirical research plays within the field and how the practitioner will produce Practical Theology - whether it be through living one’s life, writing, preaching, etc. The final chapter is by far the most practical chapter but follows nicely from the preceding chapters.

The book is well-researched - with copious footnotes and a formal bibliography of all quoted resources. As a piece of writing, it is an academic work. Though not stated officially, it could easily have been offered as a Ph.D. dissertation. Though not designed for general reading, the book is not difficult reading. This reader, a semi-retired pastor, found the book interesting.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Dogs Don't Lie - A Review

Dogs Don’t Lie 

Lisa Shay

Kallie Collins is a veterinarian - one trained with a special talent. She has the ability to understand thoughts percolating within the minds of animals around her. And when Stanley finds a bone, the vet is called in to consult with the local sheriff’s department. Then Ariel, another canine, sees a possible murder, Kallie becomes deeply vested in tracking the criminals at fault.

But, like any good amateur sleuth, Kallie cannot work alone. From the sheriff’s department, she forms a friendship with Detective Ben Jacobson. In addition, Kallie pulls in Gracie and Sam, her closest friends, as part of her team of amateur detectives. Together the four will put together a crime involving murder, drugs, and real estate.

As Lisa Shay’s first novel, she has created a cozy mystery that hits many of the right buttons - murder, mystery, romance, and friendships. The author hints at more to come - more that I am looking forward to reading.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Promised Land - A Review

Robert Whitlow has been one of my favorite writers for a number of years - Promised Land did not disappoint. Daud and Hana Hasan are both involved in international careers - Daud working as a security consultant for organizations seeking to expand their presence into the Middle East and Hana working as a lawyer for a law firm serving international clients. Both speak multiple languages and have a cross-cultural background that serves them well.

Daud also occasionally contracts with the CIA using his unique talents. His most recent contact with the CIA has put both his and Hana’s life in danger, both during a business trip to Israel and back home in Atlanta. Things become significantly complicated when Hana discovers that she is pregnant with her first child.

The characters are well-developed, having appeared in Whitlow’s earlier novel, Chosen People. Their spiritual lives will be challenged and grow during the year which is covered in this current book. The dangers represented by those seeking to kill Hana and Daud, the concern they have for their new family, and the irritation seen as the couple seek a new home for their growing family, all add to the realism found in Promised Land.

Fans of Whitlow, Grisham, or Turow will not be disappointed. Promised Land is a legal thriller worth the time spent reading - providing a good story and a bit of insight into the issues which are lived out daily by those living in the Middle East, whether in Israel or the surrounding Muslim communities. It easily earns a five-star review. I can only hope that there are more stories involving these characters in their new home.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.