Friday, October 30, 2009

Kabul24 by Henry O. Arnold and Ben Pearson

The reports of arrests and kidnappings of Westerners in the Middle East are truly horrifying. I've often wondered why people travel to areas of unrest and put themselves in jeopardy. After reading Kabul 24 I have a better understanding of the dedication and faith of those who choose to answer a call from God and serve oppressed people. Kabul24 by Henry O. Arnold and Ben Pearson documents the kidnapping of twenty-four people who worked for Shelter Now International (SNI). The eight Western missionaries and sixteen Afghan coworkers were helping Afghan refugees rebuild their lives following decades of war.

There was nothing unusual about the Friday that changed their lives. It was the third of August in 2001 and it was blistering hot. Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer visited an Afghan family they had befriended. The women brought a Christian movie and a crowd of friends and neighbors joined the family to watch it. Their intent was not to convert the family but simply to share the gospel story because the family expressed a desire to learn more about Christianity. But Dayna and Heather were arrested by the Taliban that day for infringing on Sharia Law and eventually the others in their group, Peter Bunch, Katrin Jelinek, Margrit Stebner, Georg Taubmann, Silke Duerrkopf and Diana Thomas were taken into custody as well. Sixteen Afghan men were also arrested and held separately. They had been under no pressure to convert and they remained committed to their own Islamic faith but the Taliban accused them of converting to Christianity. They were held in a section of the prison separate from the two Western men, beaten and tortured. The hostages were denied the basic rights we take for granted. There are shocking descriptions of their interrogations and the prison conditions but they never lost hope and their faith and devotion is truly inspiring. The incident preceded the 9/11 attacks.

The source material for the book included raw film footage of interviews with the SNI hostages, Eberhard Muehlan's "Escape from Kabul" and letters and court documents. The amazing story is very well written and reads like a novel. There are black and white photos included. It gave me a chance to learn first hand about a different culture from the safety of my home and it made me thankful to be living in the United States. It's an inspirational and thought provoking account of real faith and answered prayers. A definite page-turner, I highly recommend it.
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (September 29, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1595550224
Paperback: 320 Pages
Price: $14.99


Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake provides a fresh new look at love and loss, life and death in the early days of World War II. It's a powerful treatise on the side effects and emotional turmoil of war that touches everyone. The story jumps between the residents of a small town on Cape Cod who believe the war doesn't affect them and a female radio broadcaster in London who tries to convince them it does. Eventually their lives intertwine in surprising ways proving that no one goes untouched in wartime.

The story follows the lives of three women in the early 1940s. The very proper Miss Iris James is the postmistress in Franklin, Mass. Iris is all business but one day she does the unthinkable and doesn't deliver a letter. The fragile newcomer in town is Emma who marries Will Fitch, the local doctor. Iris and Emma listen to Frankie Bard on the radio. Frankie is an American war correspondent in London. She's working with Edward R. Murrow broadcasting her impressions of the war to the people back in the U.S. When America is drawn into the war, the lives of these three women come to a head.

Although Blake appears to have done her research on the war years, this is not a story about battles and soldiers. It's a story about the people at home, their attitudes and how the war effects them. The story doesn't always flow smoothly and it unfolds slowly. I didn't really become involved until I read several chapters. Once I did I enjoyed the book. The situations are emotional, but I found it hard to connect with most of the characters. It might be due to the head-hopping which is disorienting to me. At times, the author switches the point of view from one character's head into another, sometimes in the same paragraph, making it tough to get attached to them. The book is called The Postmistress but I thought Frankie was the focal character and easier to relate to. She gives readers a good view of the atrocities happening in Europe - the bombings, death and the refugees. Despite the flaws, the story is thought provoking and captivating in parts. The author does bring the time period alive and she captures the war atmosphere, the desperation of the refugees and the attitudes and complacence of the Americans. It's well worth a read.

Publisher: Putnam Adult (February 9, 2010)

ISBN: 978-0399156199

Hardcover: 336 pages

Price: $25.95

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Grin of the Dark - A Macabre Tale by Ramsey Campbell

Remember the demonic creature in a clown suit in Stephen King's "It." Master of horror, Ramsey Campbell takes a different but equally chilling approach and uses the eeriness of clowns to create a psychological mystery in his novel The Grin of the Dark.

Campbell's cleverly crafted plot is more psychological page-turner than horror story. There's none of the violence that is usually found in the horror genre. The unrelenting sense of impending dread provides the chills. The sinister atmosphere and malevolent presence in cyberspace raises goose bumps and the first person narrative style immerses you in the madness.

Simon Lester is a film reviewer who is left jobless after a stint with a controversial magazine comes to an end. He works at a gas station and is forced to move in with his girlfriend and her young son. Her parents take every opportunity to remind him he's not worthy of her. Finally things start looking up. A former professor hires him to expand on his thesis and write a book about silent film star, Tubby Thackery, whose outrageous antics used to cause riots in his audiences. Research proves difficult as Simon embarks on a journey that exposes him to some surreal scenarios and e-mail exchanges with a snide film buff. Disturbing events take place as Simon delves deeper into Tubby's life. Is he being persecuted or is it his imagination? The reader is never quite sure because the only perspective is Simon's and the unreliable narrator is obviously losing his grip on reality.

The suspense is all the more brutal because it builds slowly through the excellent use of atmosphere, dialogue and internal monologue. The macabre story is dark but also has some genuinely humorous moments. Deliberately misspelled words, doubled consonants and anagrams add a unique twist. That being said, The Grin of the Dark is not an easy read. Parts of the story are confusing and the detailed descriptions sometimes become repetitious. Lester is not a particularly likeable protagonist and the end of his tale is predictable. But ultimately the story is extremely convincing and well worth a read.

Publisher: Tor (July 2008)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-1939-5
Pages: 400
Price: $25.95

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Experiment - A Novel by Richard Setlowe

I'm still at the beach and thinking water so here's one of my all time favorite novels about man and the ocean. The Experiment - A Novel by Richard Setlowe

There have been many stories about men who live under the ocean, including comic book hero, Aquaman, who made his first appearance in 1941 and later became part of the "Justice League of America."

But the one that sticks in my mind is about Harry Styles, a most credible and incredible hero. For those who haven't read THE EXPERIMENT by Richard Setlowe, Harry is the protagonist, the aquatic astronaut in this medical science fiction thriller.

Aerospace engineer, Harry Styles, is thirty-six years old; he has a wife, three young children and a home in Los Angeles, California. He also has terminal lung cancer. The family is enjoying a barbeque one afternoon when Harry decides to give his eleven year old son a snorkel lesson. The two submerge to fill the boy's face mask. Harry surfaces, choking and fighting for breath, and ends up back in the hospital.

He's close to death when Dr. Karl Steinhardt approaches him. The researcher in respiration and oxygen assimilation offers him a chance to participate in an experimental operation. He's developed an artificial gill and he needs a volunteer to test it on. Harry's lungs would be replaced by gills. Harry is told he will never regain consciousness; never know if the operation is a success. But he also knows that no experiment is a complete failure, science will learn from this. He's fascinated and yet horrified at the same time, but he takes the chance to make his mark on science.

Against all odds Harry awakes and finds himself enclosed in a huge glass prison, able to breathe only underwater. As his family becomes more alienated from a man who must spend his days submerged Harry tries to deal with the loneliness of his new silent life. The haunting conclusion both moves and terrifies and will stay in your mind for some time to come.

Setlowe makes the fantastic believable because he's populated his tale with characters who struggle with real issues. They're vulnerable people with emotions that communicate feelings readers will identify with. The detailed descriptions of Harry's illness and his family's grief are heart wrenching. This thought-provoking plot touches on science, ecology, spiritual issues, moral dilemmas and most importantly what it means to be human. It's a terrific story that moves swiftly but is told with great depth. And it's one that will remain with you long after you turn the last page.

Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston; 1st edition (April 1980)

ISBN-13: 978-0030417450

Pages: 299

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

I'm Bugged - How to get through a Nor'easter

I'm in beautiful Ocean City MD and in between Nor'easters I whiled away an hour in the book store - like I don't have enough books on my TBR list. I picked up a copy of Asimov's Science Fiction and lo and behold, there was Jeff Carlson on the cover. If you read my previous post you'll remember I reviewed his post-apocalyptic novel Plague Year. I loved the book so I was forced to buy the magazine and read his short story, A Lovely Little Christmas Fire.

"It's a sprightly tale in which two intrepid bug-hunters must dampen the holiday spirit of some “macho” termites as they all make an unholy mess of the holiest of Christian holidays."

It seems Carlson likes to write about bugs. I like to read about bugs. They seriously creep me out, even more than Zombies do. Actually, I like Zombies. There's not much that bugs me. Get it.
Anyway, I enjoyed the story. Pick up a copy of the December 2009 issue. It's all good.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Plague Year by Jeff Carlson

I just finished an awesome sci-fi thriller that resonates because it's so believable. If you like post-apocalyptic fiction pick up a copy, you won't be sorry.

Nanotechnology gone awry is the terrifying and all too believable premise of Plague Year, a post-apocalyptic novel by Jeff Carlson. This high-energy thriller is book one of a trilogy that recounts the tale of a chilling doomsday scenario. What is nanotechnology? Simply put it's the engineering of tiny machines. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. A human hair is about 25,000 nanometers wide. The benefits of nanotechnology are limitless, the dangers unthinkable and when humanity is forced to take to the hills - literally - it may very well mean the end of the world.

A rogue scientist unleashes nanotechnology designed to fight cancer. But the tiny medical robots destroy other cells as well and they spread at an alarming rate killing everything under an elevation of 10,000 feet. Cam Najarro, a ski bum, along with a small group of survivors are camped on a California mountaintop in the High Sierras. In order to survive they make trips below 10,000 feet to forage for supplies but exposure to the machine plague is dangerous and they can't remain below for long periods of time. When they exhaust their supplies, they cannibalize the weakest members of their group. Their situation is looking bad when a survivor from another mountain camp shows up. Hollywood traveled through the valley and barely made it through the plague zone to find them. He's looking for others to join his camp. There are mixed opinions and some choose to stay put. Out of those who decide to make the trek to the other mountain, only Cam and Sawyer survive and at a terrible cost to their health. Sawyer claims to know something about the plague and this new camp has a radio but no one is picking up their transmission.

Meanwhile the U.S. capital has been set up in Leadville, Colorado, which at 10,150 feet is the highest incorporated city in the United States. The best minds in nanotechnology are there working on a cure. Ruth Goldman, a researcher aboard the International Space Station thinks she can develop an ANN (anti-nano). She's brought to Leadville but she discovers that not everyone is interested in stopping the plague. The politicians and the military want to use it as a weapon of mass destruction.

This thought-provoking sci-fi thriller is one of the most realistic looks at a post-apocalyptic future I've read. The premise is original and highly entertaining. Carlson paints vivid descriptions of the devastation and what it means to live above 10,000 feet elevation. He's assembled a rich cast complete with all the weaknesses and flaws that make them human. His characters are a microcosm of humankind at its best and worst. I love the way they pull the reader right into the story and reveal the back history as the plot develops. The science is plausible and detailed without slowing the pace. The story kept me on the edge of my seat until the last page. I'm looking forward to reading Plague War, the second book in the trilogy.

Publisher: Ace; First Printing edition (July 31, 2007)

ISBN: 978-0441015146

Paperback: 304 Pages

Price: $7.99

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Microbe by Bill Clem

In Microbe, Bill Clem combines science, history and an adrenaline-pumping plot to create a frightening science fiction thriller that is all too plausible. Government cover-ups, assassination, greed and alien virus make this one suspenseful adventure.

Continental Oil is the first company to drill a new site off the coast of Delaware. They hit something and they assume it is a sunken ship but the men become ill and only hours later they are all dead. Charlie Parson is fishing off the coast of Lewes and one of the men in his party boat pulls up a deformed fish covered with green phosphorescent gunk. Five miles away another boat pulls in a net of dead fish numbering in the thousands.

Across the country, in Scottsdale, Arizona Justin Flannigan, a private practice internist is sitting in his office at the local hospital. He's getting ready for morning rounds when there's a knock at his door. His visitor is John Singleton, a former colleague who he used to work with at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. He has a strange question for Justin- do you believe in UFO's and government conspiracies? Intrigued, Justin agrees to join the investigation in Delaware. No one can identify the disease and an old man comes to Justin with an incredible story. Back in the forties, Retired Colonel Billy Riordan, of the U.S. Armed Forces, used to be the Commander of the 33rd Prd, Pathological Research Division. He claims to know something about the mysterious virus that is becoming more deadly by the minute. Can Justin believe him or is it just the ramblings of an eccentric old man?

The Andromeda Strain is one of my all time favorites, so I eagerly anticipated reading a book with a similar premise. I wasn't disappointed. Microbe is every bit as exciting, minus the scientific overload that tends to bog down a story. The book is heavy on plot as opposed to characterization - and the plot is tight and fast moving. Clem uses short action packed chapters to keep the pages turning - and turn they did. I finished the book in record time.

I'm looking forward to the sequel, Pathogen, which is due to be released in early December. We'll be seeing more of Justin Flannigan who will face an even deadlier menace this time.

Publisher: Vision Books (August 15, 2007)

ISBN: 978-0979580819

Paperback: 232 Pages

Price: $12.95

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham

Many women, myself included, have bought into the Superwoman myth, the idea that you can have it all. Yes, women today have more options than ever before, so why are we less happy than at any other time in history? We're stressed because the demands of juggling job, home and family leads to feeling unfulfilled and unappreciated.

Marcus Buckingham's latest book provides a message for women who need to overcome the negative and toxic emotions that control their lives. In Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently Buckingham says it's possible to strengthen the positive emotions in work and personal lives so that you really can have it all. The key is to choose the options and activities that make you feel the most fulfilled and eliminate as many of the others as possible. Buckingham doesn't advise you to give up your cubicle and go in search of some elusive goal. His advice is practical, useful and easy to incorporate in your own life.

The author has done his research and he has the data to back up the premise that we're working harder and enjoying it less. The book is easy to read and filled with the inspiring stories of other women to let you know you are not alone in the way you feel. There are helpful lists, charts, graphs and chapter summaries.

Don't be put off by the fact that a man wrote this book for women. Marcus Buckingham is a best-selling author, speaker and consultant. His concept "that people will be dramatically more effective, successful and fulfilled when they play to their strongest skills rather than attempting to improve their weaknesses" is changing the way the world approaches life and work.

Take The Strong Life Test: Discover the Roles You Were Born to Play: measures individuals against nine different life roles - advisor, caretaker, creator, equalizer, influencer, motivator, pioneer, teacher, and weaver - and reveals the role you were born to play.

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (September 29, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1400202362
Hardcover: 288 Pages
Price: $29.99