Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: 'The Abbot's Agreement' by Mel Starr

✰✰✰✰✰ Things are not as they should be at tranquil Eynsham Abbey. On his way to Oxford, Hugh de Singleton, surgeon, happens upon the mutilated body of a young Benedictine novice. At the nearby abbey, Hugh learns of a lad who has been missing for four days. Upon further examination of the body, Hugh discovers 'twas not the plague that did him in, but murder. To Hugh's dismay, the abbot commissions him to uncover the culprit in exchange for a Bible. Although the abbot only asks for his best effort, Hugh soon questions his decision to accept. The investigation takes several complicated twists and turns as Hugh seeks a killer and uncovers a sinister secret hidden within Eynsham Abbey.

The Bottom Line: The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon are one of my favorite mystery series. In the 7th installment, Hugh's character continues to evolve as both his family and his responsibilities grow. Like the previous books, this is written in the first person in the form of a journal. This quick read touches on darker topics than previous books, and author Mel Starr includes plenty of red herrings to keep readers guessing. My only complaint is that this installment is too short; I'm already looking forward to the next one. Readers of medieval mysteries and Christian fiction will want to give this series a try. Those new to the series will find ample backstory included without having to read the books in order. A glossary of medieval terms and maps are included.

Details: The Abbot's Agreement (The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon) by Mel Starr. Paperback published by Lion Fiction in 2014. 256 p. ISBN: 978-1-78264-109-4 NOTE: I received a free copy from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review: 'The Last Snake in Ireland' by Sheila MacGill-Callahan

✰✰✰½ Soon-to-be saint Patrick had a problem on his hands. The snakes of Ireland were out of control and bothering everyone. So Patrick used his magic bell to summon all the snakes, and he sent them away to far off lands. Unfortunately, the oldest, most clever snake refused to go. The snake was everywhere Patrick went. Soon it was very clear, the snake must go. But how? Patrick comes up with a surprise plan to best the sneaky serpent. However, don't count the snake out too quickly. It seems the snake has a surprise for Patrick as well.

The Bottom Line: Author Sheila MacGill-Callahan cleverly weaves together two legends (see the Author's Note at the end of the book) to tell an old tale with surprise ending. Will Hillenbrand's colorful, mixed media illustrations in pastels, watercolors, and egg tempura will delight both children and adults alike. Recommended for story time for kids in grade school.

Details: The Last Snake in Ireland: A Story about St. Patrick written by Sheila MacGill-Callahan & illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Hardcover picture book published by Holiday House in 1999. 32 p. ISBN: 0-8234-1425-6

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: 'Mrs. Kennedy and Me' by Clint Hill

✰✰✰✰ He was the agent assigned to protect her; she was the First Lady. Mrs. Kennedy could have anything she wanted, and she chose Secret Service agent Clint Hill to protect her. Initially, Hill was disappointed in his assignment as he envisioned tea parties and trips to the ballet. However, Hill soon discovered that protecting Mrs. Kennedy was a welcome challenge. She loved water skiing, tennis, and horseback riding. She traveled a lot and spent as little time as possible at the White House. As a spontaneous and adventurous woman, she loved keeping everyone on their toes.

Former Secret Service agent Clint Hill kept his silence for nearly half a century before deciding to tell his story. As Hill explains, Secret Service agents protect their charges during the best and worst of times. Mr. Hill had the privilege of protecting Mrs. Kennedy from 1960 – 1964, a time when she experienced both joy and tragedy. Together, Mr. Hill and Mrs. Kennedy formed a professional relationship based on trust. This is a book about that relationship and a close-up look at the former First Lady’s daily life. Along the way, Hill includes interesting tidbits about everything from Mrs. Kennedy’s travel itineraries to descriptions of her iconic dresses to information about Secret Service protocol. Hill, also, provides insight into the events of “that day in Dallas” when President Kennedy was assassinated.

The Bottom Line: Clint Hill’s personal account of the years he spent protecting Mrs. Kennedy as her Secret Service agent is both engaging and very readable. It is obvious that Hill was very fond of his charge and would have done anything for her. The writing style reflects Hill’s dedication and loyalty to his charge and his job. If you are looking for rumors or scandal, you won’t find it here. Hill’s book reads like a tribute to the former First Lady. Enthusiastically recommended for history buffs and fans of biographies.

Book Club Notes: Overall, the group enjoyed this quick read. Ratings ranged from 3.5 to 5 stars. Our discussion focused on Mrs. Kennedy's quest for privacy in contrast with her active lifestyle. It was interesting to learn how little time she actually spent at the White House. This is a fascinating close-up into the life of one of America's most famous women. Highly recommended for book clubs with a focus on history and biographies. Check out these reading group questions from Simon and Schuster
Details: Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin. Paperback published by Gallery Books in 2012. 344 p. ISBN: 978-1-4516-4846-1

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review: 'Blood on the Water' by Anne Perry

✰✰✰½ In the twentieth William Monk mystery, Monk witnesses the spectacular explosion of the Princess Mary, a pleasure boat. With pieces of debris and bodies everywhere, Monk and the River Police rush into action. Soon it is clear that this was no accident. Before Monk can begin his investigation, the case is handed over to the Metropolitan Police. Although a man is quickly caught, tried, and sentenced, Monk discovers that the defendant was somewhere else at the time of the blast. Now with the case back in his hands, Monk must sift through the twists and turns of the investigation before he or others end up dead.

The Bottom Line: With international intrigue and lots of courtroom scenes, this complicated mystery is a page-turner. Having not read the previous books in the series, I was missing some of the backstory of the characters; however, this did not deter from my enjoyment of the novel. Recommended for fans of mysteries and historical fiction.

Details: Blood on the Water: A William Monk Novel by Anne Perry. Hardcover published by Ballantine Books in 2014. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-345-54843-6 NOTE: I received a free copy from Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review: 'A String of Hearts' by Laura Malone Elliott

✰✰✰ Sam has a crush on Tiffany, the most popular girl in class. With Valentine's Day coming up, Sam has a plan to win Tiffany's attention. All he has to do is make the perfect Valentine. With the help of his best friend, Mary Ann, Sam creates a beautiful Valentine. Will Tiffany like it? Sam soon finds out that sometimes it's easy to overlook what you already have.

The Bottom Line: Laura Malone Elliott's sweet, classic story highlights the value of friendship and telling others what they mean to you. Meanwhile, Lynn Munsinger's charming watercolor illustrations bring the story to life. Recommended for kids in grades 1 & 2. Also, recommended for teachers and librarians planning a Valentine themed story hour. The book includes a brief summary of the holiday as well.

Details: A String of Hearts written by Laura Malone Elliott & illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Hardcover picture book published by Katherine Tegen Books in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-000085-1

Monday, February 2, 2015

Book Review: 'Double Trouble Groundhog Day' by Bethany Roberts

✰✰✰✰✰ There's always double trouble when twins are involved. Gregory and Greta Groundhog are no exception. When Grampie Groundhog decides it's time to retire from forecasting the weather, both twins want the job. There's only one way to settle drawing straws. Gregory wins. However, when he loses his glasses, he can't see his shadow. With reporters waiting, the pressure is on. How will Gregory make his prediction? Read this charming picture book with your little ones and find out.

The Bottom Line: Celebrate Groundhog Day with this adorable book. Whether you read it at bedtime or storytime, children are sure to enjoy it. Lorinda Bryan Cauley's colorful watercolor and colored pencil illustrations perfectly complement the story. Highly recommended for seasonal reading for kids ages 2 - 7.

Details: Double Trouble Groundhog Day written by Bethany Roberts & illustrated by Lorinda Bryan Cauley. Hardcover picture book published by Henry Holt and Company in 2008. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-8050-8280-7

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review: 'The Great Eight' by Scott Hamilton

✰✰✰✰½ Start the New Year with this inspirational read by Olympic champion and cancer survivor, Scott Hamilton. To his adoring fans, Hamilton has always seemed like the most positive person in the world. However, this wasn’t always so. Hamilton has struggled through countess setbacks including childhood illness, cancer, a brain tumor, and personal challenges to come out a winner. By sharing his stories, Hamilton reinforces the idea that happiness is a choice we are faced with everyday. Hamilton describes how through commitment and repetition, anyone can change. In this book, he shares the secrets to combating negativity. Each chapter reveals a step on the road to finding happiness, fulfillment, and a positive attitude.

The Bottom Line: Hamilton is a champion both on and off the ice. Written with honesty and humor, Hamilton shows everyone simple ways to lighten your mood and make a positive impact on others as well. While this book is short and a bit repetitive, I still highly recommend it. Much of what Hamilton writes about is commonsense; however, his use of ice skating analogies makes the material fresh. The ideas are easy to understand and the language is accessible. No matter what stage of life you are in or what challenges you are facing, everyone can benefit from Hamilton’s ideas.

Details: The Great Eight: How to be Happy (even when you have every reason to be miserable) by Scott Hamilton. Paperback published by Thomas Nelson in 2008. 183 p. ISBN: 978-0-7852-3090-8