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Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Christmas Candle

The Christmas Candle

Review of The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado

Overview from Imagine a Victorian England village in the Cotswolds where very little out of the ordinary ever happens . . . except at Christmas time.
This year, Edward Haddington, a lowly candle maker, is visited by a mysterious angel. That angel silently imparts a precious gift—a gift that’s bungled and subsequently lost. The candle maker and his wife, Bea, struggle to find the gift.
And when they do, they have to make a difficult choice. Who among their community is most in need of a Christmas miracle?
Join inspirational author Max Lucado and experience anew the joy of Christmas.

My Review:

Today’s review will be somewhat short due to the Christmas season. And appropriately the story centers on Christmas.
It begins in the 1600’s in a village called Gladstone located in England. I’m not sure if it is an actual village but that is the village it is set in nonetheless.

One year the candle is blessed by an angel and as the candle maker and his wife attend church one evening, the wife is touched by the story of a woman in village who has money worries. She gives her the candle and tells her to light it and pray.

The woman does that and the next night at the Christmas Eve service, as is tradition; the woman stands up to make an announcement when the minister invites the congregation to share their blessings. The woman announces that a distant uncle has died and left her the money she needed and then some.

She later thanks the candle maker and his wife for the miracle. Since that day every seventh year (at least I think it is the seventh) another candle is blessed by angel and another candle maker in the same family distributes one candle that creates the Christmas miracle.

One year however, in 18 something or other, the candle that is blessed gets accidently mixed in with other candles the candle maker has made. This leaves the candle maker and his wife confused. Add to the fact that most of the town has come to them begging to be chosen. What will they do?

The answer might surprise you as it did me. The story was a charming one though it was a bit short. Perhaps it should be called a novella. It is a great story to read as you lounging around still couch bound from your turkey or ham coma. Short and sweet in another words. A great story to read as you finish up your holiday.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Innocent in Las Vegas

Innocent in Las Vegas: A Humorous Tiffany Black Mystery (Tiffany Black Mysteries, #1) 

 Review of Innocent in Las Vegas by A. R. Winters

Overview from Cupcake-loving croupier Tiffany Black is determined to leave her job at the casino for good. She's one small step away from acquiring her Private Investigator license, and has her eye on the prize.
Accepting her first real case - investigating the murder of casino-mogul Ethan Becker - should be exciting. Instead, things spiral out of control and Tiffany finds herself in over her head, as she confronts secretive suspects, corrupt casino henchmen and her mysterious, ex-Special Forces bodyguard.
Tiffany's poker-hustling Nanna and pushy parents want her to find a nice man and settle down, but Tiffany just wants to track down the real murderer before he finds her first...

My Review:

I head back to the mystery genre this week and this time to what I think could be classified as Cozy Mystery. It’s the first in series, but aren’t they all?

If you’re wondering why I am doing so many lately it’s because I have so many of them on my Nook that I either got on Free Friday or for very little money (one was $1 for a 12 all in the same volume) that I am trying to get to them all. But I am trying to mix them in with other genres so that we don’t get too bored.

Our main character is Tiffany Black, a young lady who works at a casino by night and is studying to be Private Investigator by day. She is about to get her certification when she is offered her first case.

An old acquaintance from high school named Sophie has hired her to investigate her husband’s murder since the police seem to have already concluded that she did it. Of course it does not help that the murder weapon was found in her bedroom. Talk about a smoking gun.

Against her better judgment, Tiffany takes on the case and soon finds that there are many people involved who would rather leave the case as it is with Sophie as suspect #1 and they are also willing to kill Tiffany to see that it remains that way.

The mystery itself is unique, refreshingly so. But there was another aspect of the story that I didn’t like that sort of cropped up at the end that I wasn’t sure I would like. I suspect that the author is intending to go in the direction of a future love triangle and well, I am not sure that I want to read another one of those. I don’t know about you but I am really getting sick of love triangles.

I like the character of Tiffany Black. She is relatable and reminds me a little bit of Stephanie Plumb, the bounty hunter from one of Janet Evanovich’s novels. She is also funny and she makes the story a breeze to read as it is told in her voice. I literally read it in a few days even though I was also working those days. It went so fast I could hardly believe it when it was over.

Still not sure yet if I will continue with the series though but if I do, it will probably be a while before I get to it with all the other mysteries I have to read. I would recommend it to anyone who would like a light Cozy that doesn’t take much effort to read.

Contains: some F bombs at the beginning.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Christmas Train

The Christmas Train

Review of The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

Overview from Disillusioned journalist Tom Langdon must get from Washington D.C. to L.A in time for Christmas. Forced to travel by train, he begins a journey of rude awakenings, thrilling adventures and holiday magic. He has no idea that the locomotives pulling him across America will actually take him into the rugged terrain of his own heart, as he rediscovers people's essential goodness and someone very special he believed he had lost. The Christmas Train is filled with memorable characters who have packed their bags with as much wisdom as mischief...and shows how we doget second chances to fulfill our deepest hopes and dreams, especially during this season of miracles.
Tom Langdon, a weary and cash-strapped journalist, is banned from flying when a particularly thorough airport security search causes him to lose his cool. Now, he must take the train if he has any chance of arriving in Los Angeles in time for Christmas with his girlfriend. To finance the trip, he sells a story about a train ride taken during the Christmas season.

My Review:

Having just moved, I am attempting to get acquainted with people in this new town. I thought I might join a club and since I found a book club in the area I decided to try it, but first I have to read the book. The book assigned is, of course, the one I am reviewing today.

I doubt that there is much to add to the summary provided by the publisher but I will try my best to give it my own spin. Our main character is one Tom Langdon who is looking for a chance to turn his life back into the right direction after splitting up with the love of his life, Eleanor, years ago. He is also attempting to fulfill one of his father’s last wishes by finishing Mark Twain’s alleged goal of taking a train trip across the country and writing a story about it.

Little does he know that Eleanor is on the same train and when they bump into each other on the train, he seems to have gotten his second chance. There is one small problem however. Eleanor aka Ellie wants nothing to do with him in spite of being cajoled into working with him by her boss, the famous movie director Max somebody. (Sorry but I have already forgotten the last name.) The question than is can they survive the journey or will they end the journey with more regrets than they started off with.

My overall impression of this story was positive, despite the fact that it is basically a feel-good drama. It has a nice tone. The story itself is touching and the way that Baldacci creates this Christmas themed story works well. It doesn’t feel too hammy like many other Christmas dramas do.

The characters were likeable and funny, even some of the bad ones, and there is a lot of detail about Amtrak and the trains they use as well as what some of the routes are.

It is a great story to tackle for the holidays and when I say tackle I mean it in the lightest possible way. Sure it is deeper than the breezy summer read but not overwhelming like a lot of other holiday stories are.

I recommend it as a great way to pass the time while you’re waiting in line at the local department store to buy massive quantities of gifts that you really don’t need anyway. It will help keep things in perspective.

Contains: some language

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Spymistress

The Spymistress

Review of The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini

Overview from Born to slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, Virginia, and educated by Northern Quakers, Elizabeth Van Lew was a paradox of her time. When her native state seceded in April 1861, Van Lew’s convictions compelled her to defy the new Confederate regime. Pledging her loyalty to the Lincoln White House, her courage would never waver, even as her wartime actions threatened not only her reputation, but also her life.

Van Lew’s skills in gathering military intelligence were unparalleled. She helped to construct the Richmond Underground and orchestrated escapes from the infamous Confederate Libby Prison under the guise of humanitarian aid. Her spy ring’s reach was vast, from clerks in the Confederate War and Navy Departments to the very home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Although Van Lew was inducted posthumously into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame, the astonishing scope of her achievements has never been widely known. In Chiaverini’s riveting tale of high-stakes espionage, a great heroine of the Civil War finally gets her due.

My Review:

This week’s story is actually based on a true story according to information found inside the book. The protagonist is one Elizabeth Van Lew, an erstwhile Union sympathizer living in Richmond as the state of Virginia sides with the Confederacy and makes Richmond its capital.

Cut off from the country that she loves Lizzie is determined to do what she can to help. It is not long before she gets her chance to prove her loyalty. A group of Union prisoners, some of them civilians, captured during battle are kept in the most deplorable conditions. Lizzie used flattery and home-cooked food to worm her way into the Confederate prison guard’s confidence so that she can tend to their needs at her own expense.

She uses that opportunity to smuggle out messages from the men to their Union counterparts north of the Mason Dixon line. As her usefulness to the Union grows, so does the danger to herself and her family. She must find a way to appear to be in favor of the Confederacy in order to avoid jeopardizing her undercover activities. After all, her life, as well as her mother’s, could be on the line at any moment.

Our heroine is one of my favorite things about this book. She is kind and circumspect as well as courageous. I can’t imagine what it would be like to suddenly find yourself ostensibly living in a new country without having the chance to leave peacefully and join up with the country that you really consider to be your own. Yet Lizzie handles it with grace even when she is threatened by some Confederates who don’t like her politics or her money.

The story of how she not only survives the war but manages also to secretly help the U.S. government is amazing. By the time the Union troops arrive in Richmond, she is recognized as the true hero that she is and is even given a special appointment by the President Grant.

I can’t name anything that I didn’t really like about this story. There was not any bad language, or a lot of sex and only mild war violence. And it was truly a captivating story. I suppose the only reason a potential reader might not like it was if he or she didn’t like Civil War stories or he or she prefers the type of stories that I mentioned earlier.

Have you read this book or any other Jennifer Chiaverini’s books? What did you think?