Monday, January 27, 2020

Microphones and Murder - A Review

Henery Press offers another great cozy - the perfect one for a computer nerd.

Liv Olsen has left her job as a production assistant for true crime podcaster Mara Lancer who had told her she did not have enough “oomph” to have her own podcast. Liv left her job, sold all she had of value to buy the tools needed to have a legitimate podcast, and had arrived in Santa Maria to investigate the disappearance of 23-year-old Amelia Clark 10 years previously. She had come to Santa Maria at the request of former Detective Leon Ramsey to put fresh eyes on the only case he had open - he wanted it solved before he died. Sadly, that was not to be. He passed in the midst of his first interview with Liv and her step-sister/peon, Camry. Though he would not live to see the crime solved, it was the first push Liv needed to jump on the case.

Liv and Camry could not move forward by themselves - it would take a team consisting of family and friends to keep the case moving and to keep them safe.

The book provides an interesting look at the life (albeit, fictional) of a podcaster. While weaving in brief hints at the technology needed for a successful podcast, the mystery moves forward at a nice clip holding this reader’s interest from the first page. Though most of the plot takes place in Santa Maria, we learn little about the town itself. This lack of detail made me think the community was fictitious until a Google search showed that Santa Maria did lie on the coast 150 miles north of Los Angeles in Santa Barbara county. A bit more detail may have made the place worth visiting, the lack of detail did not make the place worth visiting. Perhaps that was the author’s intent.

What is provided is a good cozy in a setting that was new to me. Those familiar with California or the coastal region north of Los Angeles would find this an interesting read. The surprise ending just adds additional worth to the book. Cozy lovers and public libraries are encouraged to add this book to their collections. This reviewer will be looking forward to the next book in “The Podcasting Mystery Series” from Erin Huss.
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.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Snoopy First Beagle in Space - A Review

Peanuts and Charlie Brown were among my goto Sunday comics back in the ’60s and ’70s. The local paper placed the cartoon on the front page of its full-color section of the paper. My dad would grab the front section; I would grab the weekly comics from the Sunday paper. And there was Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and friends, on the top of the cover of that precious section. Though I no longer receive a paper copy of our local paper (I do subscribe to a digital copy) and no longer have access to Snoopy and the gang, he is still among my favorite strips.

Though a large section of this collection of strips does pick up the theme of Snoopy in space, it certainly does not represent the entire collection. The entire gang is here. The ARC that I received did not indicate the original dates of the included material; thus there is no way of knowing whether they were pulled randomly from available strips or represent a particular year or sequence. As can be seen, color has been added to what may have been B/W strips when originally presented. 

It was fun (and I found myself laughing) to watch this group of kids, dogs, and birds (yep, Woodstock is here too) interacting, teasing, and, occasionally, helping each other. I great gift for those who love Charlie Brown or to introduce him to those unfamiliar with his contribution to 20th-century culture. I now want to go back and examine others in this 14 book collection.

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, January 21, 2020

Collision of Lies - A Review

Collision of Lies 


Tom Threadgill

The accident had occurred three years ago. Benjamin Reyes was one of the 17 children who had died on the Cotulla school bus that had been hit by the freight train. Along with the tanker cars that exploded, not much had been left for identifying the remains except for a few bits of DNA.

And yet his mother had received the text message, “Help me, Mom.” It had to be a wrong number or a terrible prank - Enzo and Marisa Reyes son had died three years ago. But each time San Antonio Property Crimes Detective Amara Alvarez tried to verify the “prank”, more questions arose. At first, she was alone in looking at the evidence, then she was joined by Homicide Detective Jeremiah “Starsky” Peckham, the Chief Medical Examiner Douglas Pritchard, and others. Eventually, the case would involve the Texas Rangers, the FBI, the CIA, and even the White House.

Tom Threadgill has built a thriller that grows on the reader chapter by chapter - each adding another, albeit small, piece to the puzzle. The kind of book that those enjoying international mysteries will not want to put down. Written by an explicitly Christian author, the book is not quite as clearly Christian; not offensive, but not explicitly so. I will be looking for the next book from this talented writer following the life of a, now, newly minted homicide detective.
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, January 20, 2020

Who Is Jesus? - A Review

The book provides a nice set of 66 devotionals centered on the various names given to Jesus in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Each entry is one or two pages in length and consists of five elements: 

  • IN TEN WORDS OR LESS: A “nutshell” glance at the name or title.
  • DETAILS, PLEASE: A longer explanation, incorporating information from throughout God’s Word.
  • ADDITIONAL SCRIPTURES: One, two, or several other key scriptures.
  • WHAT OTHERS SAY: A memorable quotation from a pastor, theologian, or Christian author.
  • SO WHAT? An inspirational or devotional thought as a personal takeaway. 

(Kent, pg. 5)

The entries are devotional and practical in nature - not scholarly, per se. Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version, but the devotional entries would work as well with any modern translation. The layperson should be satisfied with the book as a month’s or two for daily devotions.  However, the preacher should see the book as a starting point while planning to consult more material (dictionaries, lexicons, encyclopedias, etc.) while preparing a sermon or teaching material. The book will likely find a place in the church library for general use by the congregation.

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.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

In Plain Sight - A Review

Within Plain Sight

Bruce Robert Coffin

Portland ME is supposed to be a quiet place, but tonight was going to be the exception. The discovery of a decapitated body of a young woman was upsetting to more than one police officer. Tracking down the person responsible for the crime would mean working with the city’s homeless and poorest as well as it’s most powerful and well-to-do. Portland Police Detective John Byron would have a busy two weeks tracking down clues and suspects - so the right people would end up in jail and the innocent would be free - not an easy task.

Not a cozy mystery, more like Criminal Minds than a Hallmark mystery, the book is a well-written and tightly integrated mystery worth time spent reading. There were nights I really wanted to continue reading, but sleep and other responsibilities called. On the other hand. There were nights I chose to read rather than worry about tomorrow.

It is the fourth in a series of books featuring Detective John Byron, though that was not revealed until reading the “Acknowledgments” at the very rear of the book - though reading previous books in the series may have added to better understanding some characters, this reader felt like nothing was missed by not reading the earlier books. Instead, knowing that there are more books provided an invitation to discover the characters’ earlier history. A great read for the lover of crime mysteries and it would easily find a place on the shelf of most public libraries.
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, January 14, 2020

Faithful Theology - A Review

This text is the first in a series urging the reader to do theology, rather than to just study it. This book consists of a series of essays focused on various topics discussed in most theology textbooks. The book does not claim to be a comprehensive systematic theology text, but it centers more on the practical issues of theology. As the publisher writes in their introduction, “Each chapter looks at 1 of 5 crucial components for constructing good theology: revelation from God, tradition from the past, worship, wisdom, and experience of brokenness, with case studies illustrating how doctrine is developed from each of these important sources.”

I found the first chapter of interest. The author takes what might be termed a general understanding of inerrancy, in that the scriptures teach no errors. This stands in against what I might call a particular understanding of inerrancy: “the words found in the original autographs are the very words God intended.” Because we have no original autographs of scripture, it may be said that the more practical understanding of inerrancy may more closely align with the general understanding suggested by the author. This dichotomy will need to be explored further.

I see no hints as to the topics to be covered in future volumes. The finished book will contain both a “General Index” and a “Scripture Index” - though these were not included in the Advanced Readers Copy sent to me for review, so I cannot comment as to their completeness. The book is not designed for general reading, but as a scholarly text. As a textbook, it would be helpful for each chapter to include a series of five or six questions designed for further thought or study - either for general consideration or formal response. Certainly, a good teacher could develop these for himself or herself; but for the independent learner, these additions could be helpful.

As a matter of honesty, the author of this book, Graham A. Cole, is Dean of my alma mater - Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. However, he had no connection with the school at the time I attended or with me in the years since. This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are mine alone.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Collateral Damage - A Review

The first two chapters gave the appearance that I was reading a military thriller - a genre I tend to avoid. I was wrong.

Chapter three opens in a South Carolina field with the discovery of a mass grave. That grave would lead to the involvement of the FBI, the CIA, the Army CID, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and numerous local authorities, into an international manhunt for men so evil even those accustomed to various crimes would be offended. As a reader, I wanted these people caught before they could bring more pain into their world - only the cooperation of the various agencies would bring the guilty to justice.

Though the focus was on the crime, it also presented the reader with a better understanding of PTSD as experienced by those in the military. As I have said before, a book that deals with serious topics (even books of fiction) should also provide pointers for those dealing with these issues either directly or indirectly to additional help. Sadly it did not. Hints that help exists, yes; but no links to websites or phone numbers to reach out for support.

Though coming from a faith-based publisher, I had a hard time calling the book a faith-based thriller. It certainly was not anti-faith but did not weave an underlying theme of faith into the book. Even with that said, the book may find a place in some church libraries. It will also belong in most public libraries serving the general population and on the shelves interested in the unintended casualties of war. It serves as a stark reminder that we need to pray for those living in war-torn areas, whether they are directly fighting or merely trying to live in areas affected by war.
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, January 10, 2020

Statue of Limitations - A Review

Statue of Limitations appears to cross multiple genres:
  • Cozy Mystery
  • Legal Thriller
  • Romantic Thriller
  • Art Mystery
But into whatever genre the reader decides to place this book, it easily rates 5-stars.

Athena Spencer had returned home with her son after the breakup of her marriage - whether that was a good thing or not remains to be seen. She stays behind one night at her father’s garden shop to work on her secret blog where she discloses her family’s secrets to the world, but she is disturbed by a sound in the back of the shop. A quick search finds her face to face with Case Connelly who quickly claims to own the “The Treasure of Athena”, a statue standing in the middle of her father’s garden center. Athena and Case will spend the greater part of the book trying to verify the owner of the statue and saving the garden center and the other shops of Little Greece located in Sequoia MI.

Murder, theft, kidnapping, and lies, will define a variety of people (both good and bad) from the community of Little Greece; but they all contribute a great story that held this reader’s interest from beginning to end. I enjoyed the few hints on how to preserve a flower arrangement put into the appendix which made the book practical as well as entertaining. Anyone who has received a bundle of unarranged flowers as a gift will appreciate the suggestions included here.

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, January 2, 2020

Get Coding 2 - A Review

Get Coding 2 

David Whitney

This book is aimed at the middle school child who wants a gentle introduction to coding. It accomplishes that goal - but little else. The writing style is suitable for the child in 5th through 8th grade. It may be a bit much for younger children (unless very talented). Older teens might feel like they are being talked down to. Some adults may find the presentation helpful (this reader did) if they can overlook the obvious tone of the book aimed at younger readers.

All the code needed to complete the five projects discussed in the book are included in the book and online. The reader could easily just copy and paste the code if they are visual learners. As a tactile learner, this reader found it better to actually type in the code presented in the book.

Basic descriptions are given for the formats of each statement, but few details are given for the meaning behind the statements. To truly understand the language, the student will need another resource or a knowledgeable instructor. I first ran into this with project 1 when trying to create a tic-tac-toe board on screen. For example, the layout is created using HTML and CSS. The need for a second style statement (see page 29) to create three rows of boxes of three boxes is still not clear to me. Also, the browser gave different output than shown in the text before adding the second style (the book has nine horizontal boxes, Chrome produced nine vertical boxes). Adding the second style statement corrected the problem - but it left me confused.

The book is great for playing around with code, but not for learning to code. I would give the book 3-½ stars, but will round up to four, given the book’s intended audience.
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.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Way Of The Brave - A Review

An exciting story of men and women ascending and descending Denali (nee Mt. McKinley), the tallest mountain in North America. Even during the summer months, the mountain is subject to snow squalls, avalanches, and ice falls - and this group of men and women will face all three during their time on the mountain. It is a dangerous place to be.

The three men (Orion, Jake, and Ham) arrive with the intention of climbing Mt. Huntington. They never quite make it, The gals (Jenny, Aria, and Sasha), however, have their sights on something higher, Denali. They reach their goal, but on their way down tragedy strikes. The men are called into action to rescue them; that is when things start to go bad.

This all results in a sit on the seat of your pants thriller as the six try to find ways off the mountain. The reader gets a glimpse of what is needed to climb a mountain as big and treacherous as Denali. The reader was often forced to hit Google to define terms which are probably well known to experienced climbers, but less so to us laypeople who do not know the difference between a hillside and a mountain. Google answered many of my questions, but not all. This reader could be helped by providing a prefix or web page containing both a glossary of climbing terms and tools that might not be familiar to the average reader and a detailed map of Denali and environs showing the relationship of various geographic landmarks used throughout the story. Google was a help but left holes in my understanding. If the author and/or publisher provided access to additional resources, my enjoyment would have been greatly enhanced.

And did I mention the bomber … ?

This faith-based romantic thriller would be a welcome addition to a church or public library. It would be enjoyed by those familiar with the author, mountain climbing, or genre. It would easily receive 5-stars with the addition of supporting material (indexed by chapter to assist those reading either a hard copy or an e-book). Without the supporting materials, it remains a 4-star book.

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.