Friday, July 24, 2015

Book Review: DANIEL THE DRAW-ER

Title: Daniel the Draw-er
Author: SJ Henderson
Publisher: Createspace (Self-published)
Pages: 142








Daniel the Draw-er is a charming book for children that holds appeal for grownups too. Written as the first person present tense account of Daniel, the book is sure to appeal to readers.

Nine-year-old Daniel is a remarkable voice. He has just the right mix of naiveté and the ability to see through the pretense of the adults around him. He makes observations about adults, how they are supposed to be smart, but aren’t always. How they are always making pronouncements about what is or isn’t healthy for children.

Even as he speaks of big things, he remains a child, his childishness seen through the little details, the way he drinks straight from the carton and wipes his milk moustache on his sleeve.

Still childlike enough to want a superhero’s cape, he is still mature enough to fight his own battles, although from the grownup’s point of view, he can be difficult at times. Set fire to one kitchen and everyone freaks out.


Daniel has only one friend at school. Annie.  Even as his mother pesters him to make new friends, he insists that Annie is the only friend he needs. Annie, his best friend, smells of peanut butter and wears her brother’s old jeans. Immediately you get a word picture of the character. You don’t need any extensive descriptions after that.


Daniel has a great imagination. He draws machines with awesome powers. One of his creations is a robot named Pi-zzabot who bakes a pizza and does your Math homework too. Or a bear with octopus-like tentacles on the lower half of his body.

When the tip of his pencil breaks off, he begins to draw with a pencil he finds in the attic. What he doesn’t know is that this pencil is magical, so anything he draws with it comes alive.

His find is so awesome that Daniel cannot bring himself to share it, not even with Annie. And so there is a rift in their friendship. Annie moves on to other friends, and Daniel is left to mull over and regret his selfishness.

Of course, it is a children’s story, and everything works out well in the end, with assorted fantastical characters joining in the good fight against big bully Bucky Thomas on behalf of Daniel.

And of course, the magic pencil also has a magic eraser attached to one end, so some troubles can just be erased out of existence.

The characters, as seen through Daniel’s perspective, appear eccentric and amusing. Young Daniel describes Tommy, his sister Lila’s latest boyfriend as having just enough hair on his chin to make it look like he’s super-glued a caterpillar there and smelling of microwave burritos and cat litter.


Daniel’s observations on most girls are amusing. He has a delicious tone of irony when Lila corrects his English and he tells us that Tommy needs the correction more. After all, it is Tommy who refers to Daniel as a draw-er, when artist is the right word.

He expresses a wry opinion on his mom’s cooking skills, particularly her infamous meatloaf, Dad’s toys in the attic, and Lila’s crazy attempts to make herself look pretty.

About Dad, who is officially least favourite parent, he says, Never mind him. We both know Mom’s the one in charge.


I read this story out loud to La Niña and El Niño  and both gave it a delighted thumbs up. They giggled through the reading, particularly when Pi-zzabot and Mr Whiskers, the cat, came on the scene.

Of course, I exercised parental discretion when reading Daniel’s observations out loud, toning them down suitably to suit the ears of my wee ones, and omitting passages that might shock them. Or give them ideas.

There was one place where Daniel rolls his eyes on hearing his mother’s words. 

That sort of behaviour, fellow-parents, you will agree, must be nipped without mercy.





Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Book Review: FREEZER BURN

Title: Freezer Burn
Author: Gayle Carline
Publisher: Echelon Press
Pages: 282









Freezer Burn by Gayle Carline was a cosy fireside mystery that I quite enjoyed reading.

Peri (short for Periwinkle) Minneopah is a 50-year-old private investigator. On one of her assignments, she finds a severed hand, all shriveled up, in a client’s freezer, and finds herself embroiled in her first murder investigation.

The hand, belonging to Marnie Russell, a homeless girl, sports a ring worth $1.5 million, a ring that belonged to an old movie star. The body of the girl isn’t found until much later.

As Detective Skipper Carlton, with whom Peri is in a relationship, begins to investigate, ably assisted by coroner Blanche, Peri latches on to the investigation unofficially, convinced that it is her case too.

Soon the mystery thickens and Peri finds herself in danger, even getting assaulted by a suspect and finding herself in real and present danger, true to murder mystery tradition. Her life is threatened more than twice.

The pace does not slacken as Peri’s investigative talents come to the fore. Multiple suspects leave us readers equally clueless about the identity of the perpetrator. There are a number of characters that flit about, but none that you ever suspect, as a reader.

There are plenty of subplots in the story. While the Marnie murder investigation is on, Peri must juggle her PI surveillance cases, one particularly interesting episode with Mr Cheaver, besides best friend Blanche’s daughter’s romance with a Goth saxophonist and concerns relating to menopause and a possible pregnancy, not to mention home pregnancy testing kits that just won’t do their job.

The story is written from the third person point of view of Peri. So everything we read about is that which was actually experienced by Peri. Except for Chapter 1.
Chapter 1 functions as a Prologue whose meaning becomes evident much later.

The dialogue is realistic and credible, but the manner in which the two leads are just one degree from talking about sex almost all the time is annoying. Too much word space is given to Peri's Naughty at Fifty exploits. The way she keeps offering and suggesting sex to Skip as a way of prying information out of him is irritating. The overactive libido almost caused me to give up reading halfway through. Thankfully, it petered out as more aspects of the case become evident.

I loved the pop culture references to James Cagney, The Big Sleep with Raymond Marlowe and Sherlock Holmes. At one point, Peri watches Jessica Fletcher looking for clues on Murder, She Wrote. Peri certainly seems to get a lot of inspiration from the television.

Peri is an unusual character. For one, she is 50, not young and nubile, and she has the gumption to opt for a career transition at 50, after decades spent cleaning people’s homes. Peri gives her new career her all, using her curiosity and intelligence in a manner that might have been wasted in her cleaning career.

I also liked the solid friendship that existed between Peri, Blanche and Skip, though the fact that a respectable police officer would share details of crime scene investigations with a PI didn’t sit well.

I do wish the author had given her a nicer name than one routinely mispronounced as menopause. If the repeated references to menopause are meant to be funny, I, for one, am not amused.

The fact that the heroine is 50 years of age gives the author the opportunity to discuss issues such as menopause and age and she makes good use of the opportunity, without disrupting the flow of this cosy mystery.


As a reader, you find yourself sitting back and reading, totally relaxed, willing the author to tie up all the loose ends for you.

This one is certainly entertaining, while it lasts.





Friday, July 17, 2015

Book Review: THE CENTURION'S WIFE

Title: The Centurion's Wife
Author: Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Pages: 378









The Centurion’s Wife by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke begins six days before Passover, at a very tumultuous time in Biblical history when Jesus has been turned over to Pontius Pilate and the rabble is clamoring that He be put to death.

Leah, the strong heroine of this tale, is the granddaughter of a close associate of Pontius Pilate’s father. Reduced circumstances have brought her to Pilate’s palace at Caesarea to work as a slave. Yet she is happy that her spirit is free. But not for long. Pilate prepares to marry Leah off to a centurion, Alban. Alban himself wishes to marry Leah only to further his own career in Rome.

As Leah prepares for a marriage bereft of love, greater things are afoot. Jesus is crucified and unrest begins to brew, as Jesus’ body disappears from His tomb, and His followers claim that He is the Messiah. Pilate, fearing revolt, agrees to Leah’s marriage with Alban, on condition that Alban solve the mystery of the disappearance of Jesus’ body.

Anxious to save her husband from banishment in the event of a revolt, Claudia Procula, Pilate’s wife, asks Leah to infiltrate the ranks of Jesus’ disciples and find out the truth.

As Alban and Leah make their own investigations, at first unknown to each other and then together, getting closer to the truth, they have no idea how completely the truth will transform their lives.

As romances go, the leading pair don’t meet until well into Chapter 19, and when they do, it is a meeting fraught with anxiety. After all, it is a marriage of convenience for Alban and a stranglehold for Leah.

The story, written from the third person viewpoints of Leah and Alban, comes alive as Alban attempts to piece the truth together through his conversations with key witnesses from the Bible, including Caiaphas, Joseph of Arimathea, the tribune, besides many unnamed ones, such as the guards at the tomb, the centurion who pierced Jesus’ side etc.

I liked the character of Leah. Unattractive by Roman standards, she is a woman who yearns for her own desires, and fights against that which is imposed on her.

Alban’s character is based on the centurion whose favoured servant was healed by Jesus. He is an ambitious man who dreams of advancing his career. He is a Gaul, an outsider in a region teeming with strangers and possible enemies. 

Seeing through Alban’s eyes, we learn how he traverses the course from doubts to accepting Joseph of Arimathea’s words, It would mean that four thousand years of prayers have been answered. We also get glimpses of the story as we know of it in the Gospels.


Both the leading characters are plagued by doubts and fears and it is amazing and gratifying to see the transformation that belief in God works in their lives.

Herod too comes alive in the authors’ capable hands. A man who seemed to lick the words as they emerged gives us an impression of a man who lives to indulge his senses and who cares for none but himself.


The authors capture well the sense of intrigue and uneasiness that plagued the palace and the surroundings in those difficult times. “This province has more problems than there are fleas pestering a donkey’s hide!” The ego clashes, the petty thrusts for power, they are all visible here. It is a time when Parthian bandits are creating unrest while Herod plays politics to ensure his position.


The authors have conducted tremendous research into the history and milieu of the time. The writing is dreamy and imaginative, aspiring to heights of glorious description. Even the minor characters, Linux, Dorit and Hugo begin to grow on you. 

When we read the Bible, it is sometimes hard to remember that the minor characters were all real people, with real fears and failings. Christian fiction based on the Bible helps bring these to light.

I found the pace a little slow at first but it began to pick up a few chapters down the line, and I found myself intrigued by the whole premise and the manner in which the authors had captured it.

The conversations between some of the soldiers were a delight, particularly the down-to-earth language some of them employed. May they be plagued by pestilent sores.


The authors bring out well the sense of unease that prevailed particularly in the days following Christ’s crucifixion. It is a time in which as one character put it, “I mistrust what I cannot understand.”   

               
Snatches from the New Testament are fleshed out remarkably well. Mary Magdalene and other characters walk across the pages.

The authors’ own faith shines through whenever those who believe in Jesus get together. Mary Magdalene and the other early Christians constantly pray for others’ needs. It was heartening to read of the simple yet tenacious faith of the early Christians, who were driven by their love for Christ alone, shorn of any doctrine. They were people who knew how to pray, to a God who promised to listen.

Leah’s conversations with Mary Magdalene as the latter describes the story of how she went to the tomb and found the Lord gone, the substance of Easter devotions, are portrayed beautifully.

Hinting at the Biblical adage, Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free, Joseph of Arimathea asks Alban, “What if the finding causes your entire world to be shaken to its very core? What if you indeed find the answers you seek, and everything you held as important, everything that shaped your world, all comes crashing down? What if you do discover the truth, and the truth shatters your life?”


That’s just the kind of cataclysmic change that comes over both Leah and Alban. I recommend that you read this investigation into the Resurrection story.


(Christian Book Distributors provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.)




Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Book Review: RENALDO

Title: Renaldo
Author: James McCreath
Publisher: Booksurge Publishing
Pages: 582





Even though it is cricket that evokes frenzy in India, I have always been partial to football. Marriage has made me even more aware of the nuances of the game as the Husband is a diehard football fan. If football (or soccer) can do that to a non-sporty person like me, imagine what it can do to its fans.

The game undoubtedly arouses passions and sentiments as fierce and wild as war does. This is particularly evident in Latin American countries where the sport is far more than a game.
It is a religion.

Author James McCreath has effectively captured the fervor of the beautiful game in his book, Renaldo. The book is a football lover’s delight. It is like soaking up the passion, elegance and beauty of a live football match in all its raucous, colourful glory.

Renaldo traces the fortunes of the fictional Newton’s Prefects FC, which having once slipped from its glory days, has begun to regain lustre, with its victory in the finals of the Argentine Premier League against Talleres FC.

The book begins smack in the middle of the action with the Porteños being chased by a mob of Cordobans for their taunting and insulting behaviour during a particularly intense semi-final match. It is the bravery and cool thinking of Renaldo de Seta that save them from the very real danger they find themselves in.

Seldom have I seen the leading man introduced so well in a book and here the eponymous hero is allowed ample scope to display his talents. Renaldo saves the life of Astor Armondo Luis Gordero (Gordo), astute and wealthy lawyer, investment adviser and political strategist, who is close to the military junta as well as to the business community and high-class society. He is also the chairman and majority owner of the Newton’s Prefects FC. This opens up Renaldo’s fortunes. 

He is introduced to Symca, a 21-year-old rockstar, by Gordo.
Gordo pulls strings, ensuring that Renaldo’s talents can play out on the World Cup stage. The book plays out the 1978 World Cup hosted by Argentina against the backdrop of the politically unstable climate of that time. We also receive a liberally generous dose of the history of Argentina, and Renaldo’s ancestry.

Meanwhile, Renaldo’s brother, Lonnie, once a rugby player at his University, loses interest in the game and becomes more interested in politics. This period sees the political awakening of upper middle class students to the anarchy of the dictators and the military junta. Dissidence is ruthlessly crushed. Those who protest “disappear.”

Slowly Lonnie gets conscripted into Celeste’s cause. But she is a terrorist. Her hold on him is so great that he willingly joins the cause, afraid that he will go crazy if she were to leave him. Trapped under Celeste’s erotic spell, Lonnie accepts and assumes their way of life, turning his back on his own mother.

Lonnie begins to espouse what the state might consider political treason. Celeste believes in using any means, even foul, to hit back at the state and the bourgeoisie. Totally besotted, Lonnie does not realize that he is being used by Celeste and her brothers.

While the brothers are busy with their lives, Gordero manipulates their lives, seeking to gain financial control of the massive de Seta empire. We get a sense of the trap closing in on Lonnie, as Gordo sends hired killers after him.

With the shifting of the story to England, I felt a distinct flagging of interest. At this point, the author takes us back in time to the World Wars and traces the family history of the Russells, the owners and patrons of the Canary Wharf Football Club, leading to the life of the present day owner Reginald Russell, and his beautiful and volatile daughter, Mallory.

It was the only sour point in an otherwise interesting and well told story. 

The author also makes a mention of the ugly side of the beautiful game. He describes how after the match, the fans descend on the field scavenging pieces of the lush green carpet, and also of the violence perpetrated by football hooligans when he says, for this monster was both human and inhuman.


Renaldo defies classification. The novel is epic in its approach, dealing as it does with three generations of the de Seta family and of the tumultuous periods of Argentine history in which their lives played out.

It is a story about football, written in a biographical vein, resembling non-fiction more than the fiction it is. The chapter in which the author describes Renaldo’s feelings towards the stadium and to the prospect of playing there proves his own love for the game.

Reading the book gives you an understanding of the author’s knowledge of football, particularly of the intricacies, which only a die-hard enthusiast, nay, a devotee, might have. I was amazed at the amount of research and knowledge that writing this book must have involved.

The descriptions of the football play, almost minute by minute, are poetry in motion. The author reveals his skill at football as much as his passion in describing the matches. The pace begins to get even quicker. The descriptions of the football matches were so riveting that not once was I tempted to skip them in favour of finding out the final score right away.

Besides football, Argentina too comes alive in his capable hands, with the wide sweep of the pampas, and the beauty of the country leaving a definite impression on our minds.

The women are all strong. Maria, one of the characters, is outspoken, as she fights for her rights against the lawyer. She even makes an impassioned speech, right there in 1905, about how women “don’t have to live under the yoke imposed on them by domineering, arrogant men!” In another instance, she adds, “I want an equal relationship with the man I marry. Partners in life, business and in love.” She is also active in the women’s rights movement.


Much as I liked this book, the indefinite conclusion left me feeling disappointed and undid all the good that the author had achieved.



 (I read a Kindle version of this book on NetGalley.)





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