Monday, March 31, 2014

Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption by Claire Diaz-Ortiz and Sammy Ikua Gachagua

Thoroughly engaging, this book will inspire you on many levels.  The story is real-life and each chapter is either narrated by Claire or Sammy as the tale goes back and forth between their different perspectives.  We get to know two very different yet very similar souls.  We also begin to understand how other cultures behave and value things.  Claire is a twenty-something American looking to find her own way in the world.  Her friend Lara accompanies her as they travel the world.  Sammy is a Kenyan orphan living day to day.  When their paths collide, a love grows that can not be put out.  This is by no means a romantic love but rather the love of a woman for a child.  Sammy sometimes calls Claire his big sister, his aunt, his mother, or just his guardian.  Whatever the title, they care deeply for each other as family members.  Readers also learn about the charity organization Hope Runs, which is active in the story.  A part of the book’s proceeds even go towards the charity.  In the middle of the book, there are some full-color photos of international travels for both Claire and Sammy.  Well written, this story will make you think twice about the meaning of life and it will make you want to make a different in the world.  At the end of the book, you will want to climb your own mountain, whether it be physical or symbolical.

"For Such a Time" by Kate Breslin

Mirroring the story found in the Book of Esther, this book changes its setting to Germany in WWII.  Hadassah has forged papers that state she is Aryan (her blond hair and blues eyes help).  However, she still ends up in the ghetto.  As a child she loves is torn from her, a brave SS soldier takes Hadassah—her Stella, her fake Aryan name—to work for him as his secretary.  Bald, emaciated, and wearing prison garb, the soldier Aric gives Stella a wig and food and new clothes.  Slowly, Stella is nursed back to health.  In Aric’s home, Stella meets a one-eared Jewish boy named Joseph, whom she begins to love as her own child.  Joseph is also involved in a secret note-smuggling effort that involves Stella’s uncle Morty (to no surprise, this nickname is short for Mordecai).  One Stella’s secretarial duties begin to take speed, she is heartbroken and torn as she must write notes for Nazi and even type up deportation lists for Jews who will meet their fate in Auschwitz.  As one may suspect, Stella and Aric develop a romance.  There is emotional tension as Stella hides her Jewish identity and Aric must cope with the monster the war has turned him into.  Drama ensues when Aric’s fellow soldiers hit on Stella and try to woo her away from Aric.  The climax of the book involves a train to Auschwitz, and I will not spoil the ending.  What I did like was how there was an author’s note at the back of the book explaining what was and was not fictionalized.  There is even a section in the back that defines some Jewish and German vocabulary.  There is no swearing in this book, and while the violence is not written graphically, allusions to crematoriums and shootings are there.  In terms of romance, that is not graphic either.  Stella and Aric do not go any further than kissing in the book; and Stella is honorable in that she does not sleep in Aric’s bedroom when not married to him, insisting, “I am not your mistress.”  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

“Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek” by Jill Osbourne

This is a fun children’s book about an ordinary girl turned extraordinary.  Riley Mae is a normal kid that loves her friends, her family, and playing softball.  One day, her father’s business associate stops by to chat, and he catches Riley Mae having fun trying on the shoes.  At that point, it is decided that Riley Mae will make the perfect spokesperson for the girls’ athletic shoe line.  While that is fun for a bit, Riley Mae soon realizes the responsibility and time-commitment of being a full-time spokesperson.  It is even ironic how she misses softball games in order to take pictures wearing softball shoes.  There is some mystery in the book, and things get scary for a bit—but not too scary for kids.  There is no swearing, graphic images, or perversion in the book.  There are Christian undertones in the book as things like Christmas and Easter ham are mentioned.  Riley Mae goes to church on occasion, and we follow her as she helps out the little children.  There is charity as Riley Mae tries to provide sustenance for a girl who can’t afford food.  Overall, the story was engaging and interesting. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

“Summer of Joy” by Ann H. Gabhart

This story follows a young teenage girl’s family as day-to-day drama ensues.  The girl’s father is a preach and part-time journalist.  Given the family’s poor state of financial affairs, she works after school with her father on the local newspaper.  The preacher is divorced and plans to remarry a young blond woman.  The two are madly in love, but things get a bit complicated when the protagonist’s English teacher starts hitting on and stalking her father’s soon-to-be new bride.  More drama comes in when a minor character gets a visit form a long-lost grandson.  This book has a lot of “country talk” and a lot of Christian undertones.  While the back cover did not allude to it, there is a big Christmas theme in this book.    

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Flight for Safety" by Karlene Petitt

After reading a horribly perverse book by one pilot, I thought to myself, maybe a book written by a lady pilot would be better.  Boy was I wrong.  Equally full of drinking, swearing, and disturbingly graphic perversion, this book was no better than the other.  I started the book thinking that maybe things would be different.  That maybe I’d find a book solely about flying and find a role model worthy of looking up to.  Instead, about a third of the way through, I was confronted with a sex-scene.  I do not like reading these sort of things in books.  I would think pilots were the upper echelon of society and worth looking up to.  What I wouldn’t give for just one positive role model in the aviation community that does not promote drinking, swearing, cohabitation, and casual sex.  Books like these make me almost not want to fly anymore. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"A Heart's Rebellion" by Ruth Axtell

Within just the first few pages, I got a very Pride and Prejudice impression.  Set in the 1800's in England, this book follows Jessamine and her friend Megan through their London season.  For those that don't know, a season is a time where young single ladies go about town and attend balls.  They do this in hopes of meeting eligible bachelors and finding a husband.  This may seem very old-fashioned and even archaic.  However, the way Axtell writes her story, we do not see any of the characters as weak or "less-than."  Instead, we get inside the minds and hearts of two young women who just want to be loved.  We meet the suitors through their eyes.  We learn who is good and who is bad...sometimes too late.  This book also covers topics such as provocative dress, flirting, being drugged, being attacked, and more.  It will teach young women a lot about life, but I do not recommend it to very young readers.  Whether in 1800 or 2000, the rules of life and love have not changed much as the human is still human throughout the years.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

"Daughters in Danger" by Elayne Bennett

Exceptionally written, this book chronicles the severe pressure facing girls and young women in our day and age.  Several case-studies are given of na├»ve ladies who were severely beaten or lost their lives or who were kidnapped.  There are even stories of dating-gone-wrong and how psychology comes into play.  Alcoholism, drug-use, sororities, fraternities, and social media are also analyzed in depth.  Violence from men is studied, as is the skewed view of gender roles in the media.  The author argues that women are all too often given conflicting messages.  They are told they have to act a certain way, dress a certain way, do their hair a certain way, earn a certain salary, have a certain job, and so on.  Yet, rarely are they told how to be safe.  Likewise, the author touches upon the lack of manhood in modern America.  She discusses how many young men lack career-focus and stay at home.  She compares the 1950s to the 2000s and notes the similarities and differences, as well as crimes-against-women statistics.  The reader also learns how schools are helping and hurting youngsters today and how even the most secular schools have philosophical agendas.  This book did have some Catholic undertones in it, but I did not feel they were forced or that the author was coming off as preachy.  Overall, this book was very interesting and was a much needed eye-opening read.

"The Last of the Bush Pilots" by Eric Auxier

With loads of cursing and swearing and dirty scenes, this book was definitely too R-rated for my liking.  And that’s a shame since I really enjoyed the author’s other book “Code Name: Dodger.”  As a new tour-guide pilot dreaming of flying commercial jets, DC finds himself stuck.  One day he finally caves into his friend’s suggestion that he log hours in Alaska, where he can get a good pilot job.  When DC comes to Alaska, we see the beauty and devastation of nature.  There are even some interesting scenes that involve eagles, salmon, and baby bears.  However, DC also has a girl that he lives with intimately.  After he goes to Alaska, he forgets about his girlfriend and starts seeing an exotic Alaskan native, who is too awfully perverted for me to even describe.  Eventually he realizes that he should not have let go of his girlfriend, but he finds this realization too late.  Not once did I see any positive, strong female in the book.  The check-rider Holly was as close as it came to a strong woman, but even she got inebriated and perverse at one point in the book.  Overall, this book was not my cup of tea.  I found it incredibly sexist, where women were just seen as sex objects throughout the entire book.  This review may not be promoting the book, but all my reviews are free.  I am under no obligation to give people good reviews.    

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

“What I Wish My Christian Friends Knew About Judaism” by Robert Schoen

Well written and brutally honest, this book gives a good introduction into basic Judaism for readers of all backgrounds.  Despite the catchy title, I would argue that Christians aren’t the only ones who could learn from this book.  The author takes us back into both Biblical times and modern synagogues.  We read about the difference between a rabbi and a cantor, what “observance” is, and what the various denominations within Judaism are.  The Sabbath and High Holidays are discussed in detail.  Religious life events such as weddings, bar / bat mitzvahs and funerals are included.  The modern state of Israel, including historic events in Israel’s history, is reviewed.  There is even a pronunciation guide and suggested reading list in the back of the book.  Above all, what I enjoyed most about this book was that it promoted peace and understanding amongst various people groups.         

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

“Code Name: Dodger” by Eric Auxier

Meet Justice who likes to be called Justin.  He’s a Brooklyn orphan living out his teenage years searching for meaning.  With a solid group of friends and an even more solid skateboard, days just seem to fly by for Justin.  However, one day, all of that changes.  After a run-in with some suspicious characters, Justin is mysteriously sent away from the orphanage.  He isn’t sent to juvie as he fears—read the book to find out about Justin’s shenanigans—but is rather sent with a mysterious man for a psychological experiment.  The plot gets even more interesting when the reader realizes Justin is involved in the CIA and is helping to take down his father’s killer.  Emotions flare as Justin snoops around in CIA files he isn’t supposed to see and makes a serious father-son connection with his CIA guardian.  This book is fast-paced with plenty of adventurous action.  While there are some fight scenes, they are not too graphic or scary for the average reader to tolerate.  In terms of romance, Justin is a great role model for young men.  He is not a womanizer, and he treats the young women he is attracted to with respect and care.  When it comes to drugs and gangs, Justin is also a good influence because he avoid those things he deems “stupid.”  There are a few cuss words in this book, but it is not overdone; and there are no f-bombs.  In terms of font, it is a nice size.  It’s big enough to not strain the eyes but not so big as to feel like a book for the visually-impaired; it’s just right.  Also, a portion of this book’s sales goes towards charities for orphans, which is nice.   

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"In the Shadow of Jezebel" by Mesu Andrews

What's most interesting about this book is that it's not just another story chronicling the life of Jezebel.  Rather, it's a story of those whom Jezebel influences and affects during her life.  We meet Athaliah and her daughter (not blood-related) Jehosheba.  As power struggles shift and slide for who is king and who is queen, political intrigues intensifies.  Then factor in the conflict of which God will emerge the strongest in an epic Israeli-pagan duel of spiritual proportions.  Athaliah and Jehosheba and Jezebel worship Baal.  In an effort to show diplomacy between the pagans and the Jews, Jezebel proposes that Sheba marries the Jewish Temple high priest.  As the marriages progresses, Sheba learns to love and wrestles between which divinity she will devote herself to.  Other characters enter the story, and their personal lives emerge as well.  I will not divulge those details but will say they add an extra dimension of interest to the story.  Helpful in this book is a list of character names and descriptions, a family tree diagram of important characters, and a historical note in the back for where the basis of the story came from.  All I can say is this: prepare for drama.

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Living Gluten and Dairy-Free with French Gourmet Food: A Practical Guide" by Chef Alain Braux

If you have any issues with gluten or dairy, this book is for you.  If you are trying to cut back on carbs, this book is for you.  If you get an upset tummy after dairy products, this book is for you.  Now, you won't start diving into recipes as soon as you open this book.  Rather, you will first gain a physical and nutritional understanding of your body's digestive system.  You will begin to comprehend where stomach issues come from, why they affect certain people, and much more.  Even though the author has advanced education in nutritional science, I like how he includes personal testimonies.  We read letters from people explaining their abdominal issues, their diet, their lifestyles, their improvements, and more.  This makes the book much more personal.  Plus, you will feel better knowing you're not the only one with food issues.  Chef Alain shows you that you are just one of the many people with these concerns.  Autism and mental issues also are discussed in this book, with a detailed Appendix for contacting relevant societies.  After the reader has had a thorough schooling on food education, they get a detailed list of what Chef Alain recommends they stock up in their kitchen.  They also get lists of ingredients to watch out for.  This is nice since not everybody knows what all the "big words" on food labels mean.  Here, you will understand some of these "big words" and know which ones to avoid.  In terms of recipes, you have plenty to choose from.  From breads to pastries to side dishes to soups to salads to meat to fish and more, you will have enough recipes to keep your mind busy and your palate engaged.  While I won't go through all of the recipes in this book, I will say some of my favorites were the Coconut Pots, the Quinoa Cookies, and the Zucchini Soup.  Also, I can say that the recipes are very easy to "adapt."  If you want to use say Safflower oil instead of the recommend olive oil, the recipe turns out fine.  If you want to swap out Oregano for Basil, the recipe turns out fine.   

"The Long Awakening: A Memoir" by Lindsey O'Connor

This book is the story of a woman who went into a coma shortly after birthing her fifth child.  She was out for close to two months, and this is her story.  While the reader obviously knows that the author is fine and alive and well (how could she not be if she were writing the memoir?), the bulk of the book is depressing.  Yes, there is talk of hope, redemption, answered prayers, friendship, help from strangers, compassion, and other great things.  However, a good chunk of the book talks about tears, hospitals, diagnoses, despair, emotional trauma, confusion, suffering, and other depressing topics.  This book does not focus on dreams the author had in her coma or any sort of extravagant near-death-experience.  Rather, it is a collection of the author's memories, her husband's and children's reactions, and thoughtfully events she recalls in between consciousness.  I applaud the author for living through such an ordeal, but I warn readers that this is not a book you want to read before going to bed.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

"A Dad's Prayer for His Daughter" by Rob and Joanna Teigen

This book is full of the prayers and well-wishes of a father for his daughter.  There are Bible verses quoted from both the Old and New Testament as the authors share their encouragement with readers.  Sections on happiness, joy, depression, school, fitting in, clothes, boyfriends, peer pressure, eating disorders, addictions, and more are covered.  Parts of the book read like a letter where the father speaks about what he wishes for his daughter.  Interspersed throughout the book are prayers and letters from other fathers (mostly pastors) for their daughters.  Obviously, this book has religious undertones.  One does not need to necessarily agree with all of them to enjoy this book as it is intended to help fathers pray for (and hence think about) good things for their daughter.