Book Review: The Alliance by Scott Klug

thealliance

I am a fan of Dan Brown.  I just finished “The Inferno” a few weeks ago.  I read it in a few days.  So when this book came across my desk (i.e. my gmail account) I had to give it a try:

For Father Pete Farrell, it begins with a horrifying phone call. The Archbishop of St. Petersburg is found hung upside down in the world-renowned Hermitage museum with his throat slit in what appears to be a ritual murder. Missing are priceless relics from an international exhibition. Left behind is a cryptic warning written in a mixture of ancient languages. 

The one-time Special Forces soldier turned Jesuit Priest knows he can’t solve the crime alone. He cobbles together an unlikely alliance including a Rabbi, Buddhist Monk and Sufi mystic. But what first appears to be a simple case of stolen antiquities is so much more. At the heart of the theft is the malevolent director of a mysterious Russian lab dedicated to harnessing the power of the occult, and his protégé, a demonic Tibetan monk. 

The four men of faith come face to face with an ancient evil, and uncover a sinister conspiracy whose tentacles stretch from Stockholm to Singapore. What they confront on a sacred Tibetan mountain shrouded in legend and myth will rattle all of them to their core. 

Put The DaVinci Code and Indiana Jones in a blender. The Alliance is a fast- paced page thriller certain to entertain students of world religions, archaeology and adventure. At its heart is a former Green Beret turned Jesuit Priest with an expertise in the black market trafficking of ancient treasures. When you stare down evil, a few prayers can help, but so can a well-aimed sniper rifle. 

Like the Dan Brown books, I am so happy I have a Kindle, so I can quickly look up places, people, events on wikipedia.  These types of books appeal to my historical/conspiracy theory side.

I love the spiritual aspect of this book.  It is way more spiritual or religious than the Dan Brown books.  And it involves more faiths than just the Christian/Catholic theme in the DaVinci Code and other books.

I loved reading about the Eastern faiths, particularly Buddhism.  I spent a great deal of time “going down the rabbit hole” of wikipedia, reading about the Dali Lama, and the different principles of that religion.  And I now want to go to that area of the world.

This is definitely darker than the Dan Brown books, but I wouldn’t put it in the “horror” genre.  Just be prepared for the occult as well as the other religions.

The characters are amazing.  It sounds like a joke, a priest, a monk, a rabbi and a Muslim walk into a bar…but it works very well.

But I really appreciated their relationships with each other, and how they were able to put their differences aside for the greater good.  You almost hope that other men of their ilk could do the same.  Then we might not have the problems we do now on the planet.

I didn’t expect the twists and turns that the book takes.  Very refreshing, very realistic.

Overall, a great read.  Well worth the $1.49 it is going for now on Amazon.  I love books that make me learn, that make me think, and this definitely did both.

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Amanda’s Favs for 2013 Part Two

Here is the second part of my favorites list.

These are books that I have read and haven’t reviewed. Most I get from my monthly Kindle Lending Library allotment. Some are series I picked up when the first book was offered for free.  Some of the larger press books come from my weekly library run.

Favorite zombie book:  Apocalypse Z:  Darker Days by Manel Loureiro translated by Pamela Carmell.  I found apoczthis series a year ago, and I have already pre-ordered the third installment.  I have to wait til May!! Very well written, I love the European take on things.  A page turner.  Definitely recommended.

Honorable mention:  The Zomblog Series by T.W. Brown and The Remaining by D.J. Molles.

Favorite self-help book:  Invisible Scars:  How to Stop, Change or End Psychologicalinvisscars Abuse by Catharine Dowda.  I left an abusive marriage nearly five years ago.  He never once hit me.  But the verbal and emotional abuse has caused deep wounds that I am still healing.  What I liked about this book in particular is that it gave me a name to put with some of his behavior.  That I can name some of the abuse I suffered is extremely helpful.

Favorite history book:  Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff.  I reviewed his new book this year, Frozen in Time and just had to go and read this book.  

Favorite romance/erotica:  Entwined with You by Sylvia Day.  I love me some Crossfire series.  Much more realistic than “Fifty”, deals with deeper issues on the part of both characters.  Can’t wait for the fourth one.  And I think I would love to see this one made into a movie more than “Fifty”.

draculaFavorite paranormal romance:  Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta.  So not what you think of when you think “paranormal romance”.  And not a typical romance either.  I loved it.

Favorite YA romance (paranormal):  Significance Series by Shelly Crane.  Very sweet, very intriguing.

 

Favorite YA romance:  Fight or Flight by Jamie Canosa.  Very heart-rending.  Extremely emotional.

Favorite mash up:  The Fridgularity by Mark A. Rayner — humorous, apocalyptic, with a technology twist.   Loved it. fridge

And my total for this year is 152 books.  And counting…

Book Review– America’s Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One by Burton Yale Pines

ww1

The author of this book kindly sent me a physical copy of his work.  I read it over the summer, and now that it has been released, I can post my review.

I am a history buff.  Mainly focused on the U.S. Civil War era and WWII.  But I am always up for learning more about other periods in history.

Interestingly, my great grandfather fought for the U.S. during this war.  My husband’s grandfather fought for Italy.

Prior to reading this book, I had absolutely nothing but a vague knowledge of the WWI.  I did read Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo in high school, but it mainly dealt with the individual horror of war, and not the actual actions.

I also am a fan of Metallica, and their epic song One is about WWI.  I had an awesome A.P. history teacher in high school that screened the music video for us.

This book helped me to see the bigger picture of that war.

Here is the synopsis:

Entering World War One against Germany was America’s greatest blunder of the 20th century. America had no reason to join the 3-year-old struggle. By sending two million doughboys to the Western Front, America shattered the battlefield stalemate, allowing Britain and France to impose a devastating peace on Germany, thus igniting toxic German cries for revenge. Absent America’s entry into the war, the exhausted combatants would have sought a peace of compromise. There would have been no victor, no vanquished, no Versailles Treaty, no German demands for revenge, no Hitler and surely no World War II and even no Cold War. The tale of how America stumbled into war is told by America’s Greatest Blunder. It chronicles America’s journey from sensible neutrality to its war declaration. It then describes how legions of doughboys won the war, giving victory to Britain and France – thus launching the young century on its course of decades of unprecedented violence.

I do have to mention that having no prior knowledge of anything regarding this time period in history, I had to go back and read up on it.  That helped tremendously, but if you already have a working knowledge, you should be fine.

The author has a way of engaging the reader in a very unique manner.  He explains things like he is sitting there having a conversation with you.  I loved it.  It helped me to make connections that I might not have with regards to which nation did what and when.

It is not a dry, rote rehashing of timeline and dates, it is specifically organized to prove his point.  And it is effective.

I particularly enjoyed the glimpse of what America was like in the early 20th century.  The progressive movement, the isolationism.  I was amazed to read about the propaganda employed throughout the war.

I also think that the author made his case.  He provides convincing evidence that had America not entered the war on the side of the Allies, the horrors of the 20th century might have been prevented.  Both sides were heading toward a stalemate.  And had America stayed out, the belligerants might have been forced to a more equal compromise, rather than the harsh peace imposed upon Germany.

The author clearly spells out the groundwork that lead to WWII, and the systemic murder of millions.  It also helped me to understand the reluctance of America to engage in WWII until we were outright attacked.  I understand how fathers who fought in WWI wanted to spare their sons from the horrors of war.

Overall a great read that furthered my interest in this time period.  I’m probably going to read more about it, thanks to this book.

If you love history as much as I do, give this a try.  You will not be disappointed.

My great-grandfather Manuel Amaya

My great-grandfather Manuel Amaya

Book Review: It Never Was You by William E. Thomas

itneverwasyouimage

This is another book I reviewed for I Read a Book Once.com.

This is book number 2 in the Cypress Branches Trilogy, following  Pegasus Falling.  As before, this author does an excellent job in hijacking emotions.  Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Harry Williamson is an ex-merchant seaman, a successful businessman and a loving family man. When he disappears from a ferry in the middle of the Irish Sea, his grieving family are left with more questions than answers. 

Who on earth is Mary Robinson? 
Why did Harry leave her a small fortune in his will? 
Had he been unfaithful to his beloved late wife, Lesley?

As they delve into his past, they discover he’s been harbouring a secret which threatens to tear apart the very 
fabric of their family history. 

What unfolds is the heartbreaking story of a quiet, middle class merchant seaman and his unexpected, tragic relationship with a beautiful and exuberant waitress from the Liverpool docks as they struggle to reconcile their feelings for each other with the ever changing attitudes of post-war Britain. 

The follow up to the acclaimed Pegasus Falling, It Never Was You continues Thomas’s epic and panoramic saga of how ordinary people coped with some of the most extraordinary and devastating events of the 20th century.

I read the first book, Pegasus Falling in a few days.  The characters, the writing and the emotion packed into that book absolutely enthralled me.  Here is the link for the review of Pegasus Falling.

As it was billed as a “trilogy”, I expected book two to pick up where book one ended.

Not so.  This book starts in modern day as Harry’s children are attempting to figure out what led to the death of their father and why he bequeathed part of his estate to a woman they have never heard of before.

Then there is a jump to the past.  Harry is a merchant seaman during WWII.  Harry rescues three other seamen before collapsing and nearly dying in the frigid water.  You learn just enough about two of the rescued seamen to hate them.

Then the character of Mary is introduced.  Her ordeal is tragic.  I had always heard about the class divisions in the U.K., but this book illustrates it perfectly.

Mary meets Harry, and the love story begins.

But can their passion for one another survive the class differences so prevalent during this time period?

Hampering their efforts to maintain a solid relationship, Harry is scheduled to be out at sea for a long period of time.

During one particularly long voyage, Harry meets Lesley, who was prominently featured in book one of the trilogy.  They seem perfect for each other.  Of the same class and education, they get along famously and begin an affair.  But when their ship docks, they agree to part as friends.

Reuniting with Mary, they both visit the hometowns of the other party and their class differences stand out starkly.

And here is where the emotion comes in.

While visiting Harry’s parents, Mary learns of a particular harrowing ordeal in her fiance’s past.  This ordeal also featured someone prominent in her past as well.  Up until this time, she had no idea that this person was known to the both of them.

This information sets in motion complete chaos in their relationship.

Mary and Harry don’t effectively discuss the common piece to both of their pasts.  Harry makes assumptions and ends up hurting Mary very deeply.  Mary makes assumptions as to Harry’s desires and makes the decision to effectively cut off ties.

The end of the book leaves more questions unanswered.

The way this book was written, you already know some pieces to the puzzle.  You know that one of the prominent characters from the first book eventually met and married Harry but it is unknown how their relationship evolved.  Hopefully this mystery is answered in the next book.

The strong emotion that featured prominently in the first book is back.  Again, Mr. Thomas had me crying toward the end of this book.

My only criticisms are again with the language.  As an America, I am not accustomed to reading dialogue that features English accents.  Mary’s “scuse” vernacular was very difficult to follow at times.  I could decipher most of the slang and the idioms used, but it was difficult at first.

I enjoyed learning about a place in the world that I don’t know much about.  I knew there were class differences that plague virtually every society since the dawn of time, including my own family, but I didn’t know how dramatic the differences were until I started reading about Mary and Harry.

It is unlike any other “historical fiction” type novels out there as it weaves in elements from the first book without it being a continuation of the story featured in the first.  I love how known characters from the first book pop up in the second.  I also loved seeing another dimension to a featured character from the first book.

You do not have to read Pegasus Falling to enjoy this book.  It can stand alone as a novel.  But I do recommend reading it in order to get familiar with the writing style of Mr. Harris, and to understand fully the characters that show up in the second installment.

Again, I will be eagerly awaiting the final installment.

Aside

Book Review: Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff


frozen in time 
This is a book reviewed for ireadabookonce.com, and possibly the most widely known author I have reviewed.  I was thrilled to review it.

I am a huge fan of anything that is about World War II and survival under the most trying circumstances.  This book was right up my alley.  Here is the synopsis:

Frozen in Time is a gripping true story of survival, bravery, and honor in the vast Arctic wilderness during World War II, from the author of New York Times bestseller Lost in Shangri-La.

On November 5, 1942, a US cargo plane slammed into the Greenland Ice Cap. Four days later, the B-17 assigned to the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on board survived, and the US military launched a daring rescue operation. But after picking up one man, the Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a severe storm and vanished.

Frozen in Time tells the story of these crashes and the fate of the survivors, bringing vividly to life their battle to endure 148 days of the brutal Arctic winter, until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen brought them to safety. Mitchell Zuckoff takes the reader deep into the most hostile environment on earth, through hurricane-force winds, vicious blizzards, and subzero temperatures.

Moving forward to today, he recounts the efforts of the Coast Guard and North South Polar Inc. – led by indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza – who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck’s last flight and recover the remains of its crew.

A breathtaking blend of mystery and adventure Mitchell Zuckoff’s Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II is also a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our military personnel and a tribute to the everyday heroism of the US Coast Guard.

This book reminded me of Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resiliance and Redemption”.  Much like that book captivated me, this one did as well.

I grew up in the northeast, so I know cold.  But not this type of cold: “Cold in Greenland is almost a living thing, a tormenting force that robs strapping men of strength, denies them rest, and refuses them comfort.  In time, it kills like a python, squeezing life from its victims.”

Mitchell Zuckoff paints such a vivid picture of the landscape.  The ice, the snow, the crevasses.  The day to day torment of living on a glacier with a thin skin of aluminum to block out the wind and cold.

This book is absolutely thrilling.  From the dual stories of the men marooned on this barren wasteland alternating with the push for an expedition to find artifacts, both stories are equally compelling.

I honestly feel that these types of true stories should be required reading in high schools.  The strength and fortitude exhibited by the soldiers in WWII helps to illustrate just how much has been sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy now.

The “greatest generation” is truly that.  I will always read books of this nature, and I look forward to Mr. Zuckoff’s sequel to this story, the one where the ending includes the team bringing the Duck home.

I give this book four stars for the way the information is presented and weaved into the story from today.  Mr. Zuckoff’s writing is impeccable and draws the reader in and keeps them interested throughout.  Although the reader knows that some of the crew survived from the very beginning, the reader just wants to know how, and what their lives were like after.

Highly recommended for those who have an interest in history, aviation, or a tale that takes place in one of the most inhospitable locations on the planet.

Book Review: Pegasus Falling by William E. Thomas

© Rglinsky | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Rglinsky | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

I initially wrote this review for ireadabookonce.com.  You can see the post on that website here.

This is an amazingly powerful book.  It is part of a trilogy, and the second part is due this spring.  The book is written by William E. Thomas, who was recruited into the Parachute Regiment in the British army during WWII.  He was a decorated soldier during his numerous drops into enemy territory.  According to the “about the author” section, Mr. Thomas began his writing career after he retired from a civilian position as a lab technician.  In 2006, Mr. Thomas was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and now resides in a care center.  His family is promoting his literature.

Here is the plot summary (from amazon.com):  “Arnhem, 1944. Captain Stanley Adam Malcolm Parker – Sammy to his friends – and his platoon have fought bravely, but it was always a losing battle. The bridge was unwinnable. After he and his men are forced into cattle trucks and transported across Germany on a three day journey without food or water, Sammy lashes out at an SS officer with brutal and devastating consequences…for him and his German opponent.

Instead of spending the rest of his war as a POW, Sammy is sent to a concentration camp.

Spared an immediate death, Sammy discovers firsthand the full horror of the final solution. Amongst the desperation and destitution of the camp, he encounters Naomi, a Jewish housewife from Dresden. Having seen her family murdered, Naomi has learned to survive by making the most unimaginable of sacrifices. She is the woman who Sammy comes to depend on to survive himself.

But when the camp is finally liberated, the couple are separated and Sammy embarks on a journey across a continent devastated by war and wracked by ongoing tensions to find out what happened to the woman he loves.”

Initially, I was confused about the characters and the timeline.  There are different chapters, but from one paragraph to another many months may have passed.  It was difficult at times to figure out the ‘when’ and ‘where’ and ‘who’ of a passage.  But as the book continues, the reader gets used to this type of formatting and begins to look for the “clues” to the time frame and character with each new paragraph.  If I would change anything about this book that would be it:  making the chapters more succinct and clarifying the characters.

Another issue was the different phrases and use of the German language throughout the book.  Perhaps being American puts me at a disadvantage here, as most Americans only speak English (and poorly at times).  But I think something is lost when the reader is unable to figure out the communication between some characters.  For example:  when Sammy is first encountering the Germans, almost a full page of German is used. Occasionally a device will be employed to convey the gist of the conversation, i.e. someone translating, but overall I found myself lost during those passages.

Additionally, British spellings and British idioms are used throughout.  The onboard dictionary loaded into my Kindle was extremely helpful, but the majority of times, the term I was searching for could not be found. I enjoy learning these new terms, but sometimes it is difficult to read through, especially when the reader can only understand every third word.  But it did lend a truly interesting tone to the entire book.

This book is a very powerful piece of literature.  It is extremely moving, emotional, and raw.  The story is engrossing, a page turner at times.  I did not expect it to be so romantic, and I am amazed that a man was able to pour that much emotion into the book.  It is at once a testament to the horrors of war, a love story, a history of the Holocaust and the subsequent founding of the nation of Israel.

The love story on many accounts is amazing.  The idea of someone surviving something as horrible as the Holocaust because of the love of another is mesmerizing.  The reader actually aches during the passages that feature separation.  It is also a commentary on different types of love.  Love between man and wife, love between fellow survivors, love between friends.

Overall, I give this book a 4.5 star rating.  I am intensely anticipating the next installment.  The entire work is collectively called The Cypress Branches, and the second part is to be released soon.  I will be one of the first in line (figuratively) for this book.

The Holocaust Comic book

Last Christmas (not this past Christmas), my husband bought me Maus by Art Spiegleman.  It took me until now to read it.

For as much reading as I do about history and WWII, I need to be in a specific state of mind to read about the holocaust.  Ever since I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” when I was in middle school, I have had an interest in this part of history.  But after a high school English class spent an entire semester on holocaust literature, with a subsequent visit to D.C. to visit the museum, it can be difficult to read about the camps, the mass murders and all that goes along with it.

I knew the concept of Maus, but wasn’t sure what I would find. For those uninformed, Maus is written by a man whose parents both survived the holocaust.  The majority of the author’s extended family (both sides) were murdered in the concentration camps.  The book is basically about the author’s relationship with his father and finding out about the past.

At the time the book is written, Mr. Spiegleman’s father is aging.  He has health issues, he doesn’t get along with his second wife (his first wife, and mother of the author, committed suicide when the author was 20).  The author starts interviewing his father, hearing the detailed story of how the elder Mr. Spiegleman survived.

And it is an amazing set of books.  There are two volumes and I read through both in one day.

I do find it difficult to read comic books. I am so used to plain text, and it is hard to concentrate with a page so busy.  But the images in this book help it along, and I think that was the intent.

The entire idea of the people as animals was incredible.  Jews are the mice (maus in German).  The Germans are cats. The Poles are pigs.  The visual presentation was stunning.  I was particularly struck by the way certain concepts were presented visually i.e. when his father is out in public and pretending to be a non-Jew, he wears a mask (since it’s in Poland, its a pig mask).  Little details like that help it hit home…this person is pretending to be something he’s not.  He has to wear a mask to go out in public because it is fatal if he does not.

And the story is a thriller.  The author’s parents managed to hide in various places until March of ’44.  It becomes a page turner when they have to go from house to house to hide.

As with all literature of this sort, it is terribly heart wrenching.  Made me tear up at times.

I appreciate the way these books presented the story in a visual way.  When I heard “holocaust comic book”, I wasn’t too keen on it.  But now that I have read it, I can see the value of this mode of presentation.  Many people aren’t very willing to read about this dark chapter in human history.  Many people aren’t willing to put the time in to read some of the books of this genre, because they are too long or they feel it might be too boring.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer could double as a free weight.  I literally had difficulty holding up the book when I was reading it.  Caused arm strain.  “Maus” on the other hand, consists of two small volumes, but they are packed with emotion.

Also presenting it as a “comic book” of sorts puts the information that is vital to share in a genre where it can be read by people who don’t normally read in general.  I see the benefit of using this format.  People should learn about this time period because remembering the past is the only way to prevent it from happening again.  This format makes this history lesson more accessible.

Maus will stay with me for a long time.  I recommend it to everyone.

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