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Saturday, July 23, 2011

An Interesting Book, I Swear

Blood Oath (Nathaniel Cade Series #1) by Christopher Farnsworth

In this story, there are worse evils threatening our country than terrorists and biological weapons.  And, for over a century, the President of the United States has had a vampire protect us from this evil.
This vampire is Nathaniel Cade; he is forced by a blood oath to always and completely follow the presidents' commands. 

Blood Oath is a legal/government thriller with some sci-fi mixed in.  Blood Oath (Nathaniel Cade Series #1)A fair part of this book is spent helping us learn about the characters we'll be involved with as is usual for the first book in a series.  I think the author does a good job of keeping this interesting by using flashbacks and a mix of story lines.  There is also enough left out to leave us wanting to know more.  I thought the idea of the president having a vampire who helps him protect the country was such an intriguing idea.  The plot is interesting with a few unexpected turns (unexpected by me at least).

I was excited to read this book.  I think I had very high hopes.  I did like the book, but I didn't absolutely love it liked I hoped.  I think it is very similar to a lot of the bestsellers out there by Patterson, Griffin, Clancy, Cussler, and the like.  So there's a few swear words, no biggie.  I guess I had a little problem with the woman putting up with rough sex to get what she wanted.  But at the same time, I don't think that's uncommon in most books of this type and it's not a big part of the book.

I came to like the main characters and the relationship between Cade and Zach.  When I began this book, I did not know it was going to be a series, but I think I will read the next one, The President's Vampire, which just came out this April.  Blood Oath was a good story with interesting likable characters that leave you asking questions you're looking forward to being answered.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Saints Alive!

Adventures with Sister Philomena, Special Agent to the Pope Series  by Dianne Ahern
Book 1  Lost in St. Peter's Tomb
Book 2  Break-in at the Basilica
Book 3  Curse of the Coins
Book 4  Secrets of Siena

My family is only on Book 2 right now, but we have really liked this series so far.  Riley and his younger sister Delaney are staying with their aunt, Sr. Philomena, for the summer.  Riley is not pleased at all with the idea of spending his summer in a rural convent outside of Rome.  He's certain this summer will be the most boring summer of this life.  But, on the second day of their stay, the kids must rush to the Vatican with their aunt.  Sr. Philomena must meet with Pope John Paul II!  Riley and Delaney learn that their aunt is not a stereotypical nun.  She is a nun, who is also serves as the pope's special investigator.

Each story not only holds a mystery that Sr. Philomena must solve (usually with the help of Riley an Delaney), but it also provides information about different saints.  The reader learns about the saints' lives without it being very obvious because they are receiving the information as they progress through the mystery.  And, the information they learn about the saint can give them clues to help them solve the mystery.  We have found these books informative while entertaining.  It's a great combination.  Color illustrations are plentiful and each chapter has a theme picture for each page.  My child has enjoyed trying to guess what the picture will be.  I would recommend these books for early elementary readers or as a read-aloud.

I wasn't able to get these books through my place of employment, but you can order them from Fiat Catholic Books.  Just click on their picture logo at the top right of my blog, or go to

Could Nellie Bly be my Next Amelia Peabody?

The Alchemy of Murder (Nellie Bly Series #1) by Carol McCleary

A fellow co-worker pointed out a book to me she thought I would like.  It was called The Illusion of Murder, a book about Nellie Bly investigating a murder in Egypt during her trip around the world.  She knew I loved the Amelia Peabody mystery series about a woman in the late 1800s who goes to Egypt and becomes an archaeologist.  I was excited to read the book.  Before I started, I found it was actually the second in a series, so I started with the first.

The Alchemy of Murder (Nellie Bly Series #1)This mystery series is very interesting because, as the name implies, Nellie Bly is the main character.  (Nellie Bly was a female newspaper reporter who did remarkable things, such as infiltrate a mad house by pretending to be a patient in order to report on the conditions inside, called for equal pay for equal work for women, conducted news investigations in Mexico, traveled around the world in 72 days, and more.)  In the first book, Nellie has tracked a murderer from New York to Paris, hosting the World's Fair.  There, she enlists the help of Jules Vern, and in turn gets help from Dr. Louis Pasteur and Oscar Wilde.

Most of the book takes place in the seedy parts of Paris, thus there is quite a bit of vulgarity in the book.  It's not necessarily unwarranted because it is certainly characteristic of the setting, but not a tale for the squeamish.  I enjoyed most of the author's portrayal of the real-life characters.  I think most of their actions seemed to follow what's known of their personalities, though I'm not a real expert on them, especially Jules Verne, so I can't stay for sure how much they may have "acted out of character".  There is probably always a delicate balance to maintain when using real-life people in a fictitious story.

I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as the Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters for a few reasons.  The real-life people portrayed by Peters are secondary characters, so I think it is easier to have them following their perceived public personality and actions.  I also love these books because the setting is made very real without the blunt expression of vulgarity.  Hints, innuendos, and the like make known to the reader what is true without plopping the ugly truth right before their eyes.

Though it may not be my new Amelia Peabody, The Alchemy of Murder was a good story.  It took a different path than I thought it was headed for, and had a lot of suspense and twists.  I think those who enjoy historical mysteries, especially mysteries involving real-life events and people, will enjoy this book.  Happy sleuthing!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Andrew Clements Rocks

My sons and I have read and listened to many books by Andrew Clements.  Most of his books are, what I would call, school room stories, meaning somewhat realistic stories about kids and their experiences in school. 

Initially, I had stayed away from his books because I thought my homeschooled kids, would not really enjoy reading about kids in a world they really didn't have much experience with.  I tried reading fantasy books with them.  My oldest just does not like fantasy books.  I tried Andrew Clements, and my boys LOVED his books.   A little later I thought, "What reference point do they have with any of these fantasy worlds I've been reading to them about.  A school room drama or adventure is maybe a bit like a fantasy novel to them, but doesn't require so much abstract thinking [which is difficult for them]."  And, I think they like the idea of imagining, what if that really did happen because it could happen, everything in that story is found in real life--that can make the what ifs even more fun to think about.

There are so many reasons Andrew Clements' books are excellent.
1. The kids involved are good kids.  They may make mistakes, but they learn from them.  They aren't snobby or mean or rude.
2. It's good writing, good literature.  These books can capture kids' imagination without being dopey like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants or even some chapters that are just dumbed down.  Andrew Clements writing gives students a good model for word use, structure, and voice.
3. The teachers/principals model healthy relationships with their students.  The teachers and students often don't agree, causing tension in the story; however, they still act respectfully to each other.  And, when one party has erred, they admit it.  The teachers model the ability to take in other evidence and change their minds, agreeing with the students and sometimes the students change because they look at things from the teacher's perspective.  There are many school books I don't read to my kids because the students and teachers are too disrespectful to each other.  I really appreciate the respect teachers and elders are given in Clements' books.
4. Both girls and boys are included in his stories.  Boy and girl characters both have strengths and faults, sometimes they argue and sometimes they work together, and sometimes they do both, yet they are each strong characters.
5. The stories are creative, suspenseful, funny, warm-hearted.  Just so enjoyable to read.

Some of our favorite Clements books that we've read so far are:
Frindle  (great for kids who may be hesitant to start a longer chapter book)
No Talking (my kids have listened to this book in the car 5 times now)
Lunch Money (inspired my son to try to make his own comic)
Keepers of the School (mystery series!)

I have not read Things Not Seen and the books after, but I really want to.  They seem to be more like science fiction than his more common school room stories, but I bet we will still get to read about a character who world view and self-insight development and grow.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Not a Baker's Dozen (or mine for that matter)

A Dangerous Dozen: Twelve Christians who Threatened the Status Quo But Taught us to Live Like Jesus by Rev. Canon C. K. Robertson, PhD

                   I'm going to list the dozen.
                   A Dangerous Dozen: Twelve Christians who Threatened the Status Quo But Taught us to Live Like JesusThe Apostle Paul
                   Mary Magdelene
                   Origen of Alexandria
                   Francis of Assisi
                   Hildegard of Bingen
                   Thomas Cranmer
                   Sojourner Truth
                   Dorothy Day
                   Dietrich Bonhoeffer
                   Janani Luwum
                   Oscar Romero
                   K. H. Ting

It was nice to learn about some of these Christians who I did not know before.  The author does state that whenever you are making a list like this, there will always be opinions that some person should be on the list instead of one he chose, and that's true.  I don't think you could have had this list without St. Francis of Assisi and Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero are excellent choices as well.  However, I wondered at many of them.  After the chapter, I couldn't answer the question of how they had taught us to live like Jesus.  I just didn't enjoy this book that much.  Has anyone else out there read it?  What did you think?

A Book to Sink Your Teeth Into

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I'm years behind, but I finally read this best seller.  Actually, I listened to the audio book, which uses different actors for the different characters.  It was marvelous--the accents for each character (which I don't think I would have been able to hear in my head if I read it) really added to my enjoyment of the story.  And some of the voices made some scenes very eerie.  The whole audio book is very well done.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and I'm glad I was listening in the car rather than reading the book at night.  I'm sorry I can't remember the young girls name, but she lives with her father who travels throughout Europe.  She begins to travel with him and finally asks about her mother.  He has never spoken of her to his daughter before, but reluctantly begins to tell his daughter bits and pieces of the painful story over many months.  The daughter learns her parents met at an English university where they were both researching historical data on Dracula.  Things transpire and eventually a desparate hunt for Dracula begins again. 

This story has beautiful descriptions, interesting historical information, suspense, and a few shiver-inducing moments.  You don't have to be a Dracula fan to enjoy this intelligent book.  I highly recommend it. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rick Riordan Is At It Again

The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
All the man does is write entertaining, high quality books for kids, young adults and 30 somethings who are recapturing their childhood.  In The Throne of Fire we are once again reading the transcript of a recording made by Carter and Sadie Kane.  Carter and Sadie are descendants of the Egyptian Pharaohs, in fact, 2 of the most powerful Pharaohs, and they are also magicians.  The problem is, other magicians think they are outlaws because their father released trapped Egyptian gods back into the world.  He did this to save the world from the return of Apophis, the most evil of all the ancient gods.  Carter and Sadie believe that their father is right, that the old gods of Egypt are the solution to stopping the rise of Apophis, and they are bent on seeing this mission through.  This time they have the help of a few other junior magicians who answered the call they put out with their first message in The Red Pyramid.

The Throne of Fire is another masterfully crafted story from Rick Riordan, who is my favorite author.  As this is the 2nd book in The Kane Chronicles series, we have already met our narrators, Carter and Sadie.  Each character tells about 2 chapters before "switching" with the other narrator.  Riordan varies the storytelling style enough that you really believe you are reading 2 different views of the events.  It's a really cool way to read a story.

At first, I wasn't thrilled with this book.  It took me a while to remember what I read in The Red Pyramid, which is the problem with only releasing 1 book per year.  Once it all came back to me though, I thoroughly enjoyed the 450ish pages of this book and really look forward to the final book, due out next year.  If you haven't picked up The Kane Chronicles, by Rick Riordan yet, give these books a shot.  I think you'll really enjoy them.

I Did Not Get Bogged Down in This Book (b/c it's awesome)

The Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd


You can appreciate this story much more if you know some history of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Britain.  At the time of this story, many people in Northern Ireland are protesting that this land was not given it's independence with the rest of Ireland and still belongs to Great Britain.  Some protesters are using bombs to make their point, but not all.  Many rebels are also being criminals.  The rebels want to be considered and treated as prisoners of war--not criminals.  Bobby Sands started a hunger strike in the prisons to help this status come about and with hopes that conditions in the prisons would improve.

Bog ChildDespite the danger, Fergus and his uncle have crossed the border to collect peat on the Irish side of the border.  While collecting the peat, Fergus discovers the body of a child.  The bog preserves like the sands of Egypt, so it's difficult to know how recently the child may have died or been killed.  Fergus insist his uncles contact the authorities despite the danger this may impose.  Fergus feels a connection to the "bog child" and is eager to help the woman who comes to investigate and enjoys her daughter's company, too.  But Fergus has more to worry about than his gruesome discovery.  His final exams are coming up, Fergus's brother has been imprisoned, and now Fergus is getting pressure to join the fight against Britain. 

This book has so much depth.  The story of Fergus and that of the Bog Child are interwoven wonderfully.  This is a magnificent book, and would make a great book club selection because there are so many things to discuss.  A friend from work has read two of Ms. Dowd's other books and highly recommends them as well.  Unfortunately, Ms. Dowd passed from breast cancer at the age of 47.  She was an amazing woman working hard for human rights and to help bring literacy to those who most needed it.  You can a view a short biography of Ms. Dowd at which lists her community and global work and her success as a writer.  There is also a link to the trust she established shortly before her death.  The website address is .  We are fortunate that she was able to give her readers four phenomenal books.  (Two more teen books: Swift Pure Cry and Solace of the Road and a juvenile fiction book The London Eye Mystery)

Parental note: There are jokes about condoms, physical affection, and a reference to sex.  While this may make it inappropriate for some readers, the subjects are mentioned in a fairly innocent way.

Move Over Encyclopedia, The Orignal Brown is Back in Town

The Innocence of Father Brown  by G. K. Chesterton


I enjoyed this book, even a century after it was written.  It is filled with twelve short mysteries involving the Catholic priest, Father Brown.  I found every story intriguing.  I would have a hard time picking one favorite, but a few of my favorites included the beloved Blue Cross, The Queer Feet, and Three Tools of Death.  I really liked Falling Stars, as well.  I didn't figure out that one at all and I liked how it ended.

Chesterton converted to Catholicism and wrote many good religious philosophy books including his famous Orthodoxy.  Chesterton was also a good friend and encouragement to C. S. Lewis.  Both men are known for their spiritual writing and their great fiction books that still carry a layer of their Catholic beliefs, referring to Narnia and the Father Brown mysteries.  Chesterton has created Father Brown with opposite features one would expect a fantastic detective to display.  (Perhaps like a king that came and turned our ideas of a king and kingdom upside down.)  Fr. Brown's appearance deceives many people, leading them to believe he is insignificant.  But, he always solves the case, while showing mercy and offering holy advice when needed.  The closest comparison I would have for these mysteries is a cross between Agatha Christie's mysteries and Encyclopedia Brown.  The reader is always give clues to help them solve the case along with Fr. Brown, but Fr. Brown always fills us in on the imaginative and complex motives, as found in Christie's mysteries.

This may not be a book to read over a few days, but it would be very nice to keep on your night stand to stimulate your brain or to keep in the car for a bit of entertainment while waiting.  Once you've finished this book, pick up The Wisdom of Father Brown , The Incredulity of Father Brown, The Secret of Father Brown, and The Scandal of Father Brown.