This Blog is a companion to my author's Blog and my writing practice Blog. As a writer I try to read regular to improve my own writing and learn. You can learn a great deal about me from what I read and what I think about what I read. If you wish to purchase one of this books please use the link provided. At that point if you are looking for the book in a different format or price point you can search it there. I will still get credit. Please don't use the links Facebook piggybacks onto my posts there. I receive no compensation from them. You can also click on the Pico's Book Shop ad to access Amazon and search for any book you like.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Dark Frigate

By Charles Boardman Hawes
5 Stars

This was a classic book that was recommended reading for my children's homeschooling literature course. My daughter hated the book. I don't believe the problem was the story line. This book was published nearly a hundred years ago and it was set even earlier. For young people, I would say the language and expressions are difficult because that is not how people talk today. She might enjoy the book more now as an adult although it really isn't her favoured genre. I liked the story a lot. Action, adventure and great characters. I liked Shakespeare as well.

The hero of the story is a dashing young sailor named Philip Marsham. He gets himself into a bit of hot water at the beginning of the story and has to flee London. He ends up finally shipping out of another port with a companion he met along the way on the Rose of Devon. That ship picks up survivors from a sinking ship off Newfoundland. They turned out to be pirates who took over the ship. Marsham was forced to join them or die.

I recommend the book but not for children. Sure some of them would like it but the majority will react like my daughter did. It is a good book. Sad that the author only lived long enough to write two books.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Soul Catcher

By Alex Kava
4.5 Stars

I read this book in snippets of spare time between everything else I worked at this week. It's a best selling thriller and it lived up to its billing.

The good and the great was that it was well written and hard to put down. It didn't drag anywhere. I didn't spot any lapses in the narrative where something didn't seem to make sense. A good mix of predictable and unpredictable. The characters were all very real and human. Even the villians had understandable motives. Maggie O'Dell is the heroine and she works as an expert criminal profiler. Her partner R. J. Tully clearly is secondary which works fine for me. She gets to deal with the autopsy of an FBI agent who happened to be a friend and several young women apparently killed by a serial killer. The cases are all linked to Reverend Joseph Everett a charismatic religious leader/nut job.

There wasn't much that I disliked. The first, I'm not sure is the author's fault. The back of the novel cover finishes with "Maggie realizes the only way to find out is by using her own mother, a member of Everett's church, as a pawn in a deadly trap." That didn't happen in the copy I read. Her mother was definitely a pawn by not because of anything Maggie did or didn't do.

The climax was dramatic and surprising but I felt the heroine came off as a helpless spectator. I don't know why but I didn't come out of that completely satisfied as a reader. I found the villains to be a little over the top whacked out, but in all honesty that is more personal taste than anything else.  Don't let it put you off reading the book if this type of story is your cup of tea. Definitely an adult book though. I wouldn't recommend this for younger readers.

Saturday, 21 February 2015


By Dr. Robin Cook
5 Stars

This book was a New York Times bestseller so my expectation were very high. It did not disappoint. The story is about a Russian immigrant, Yuri Davydov, who once worked in the Soviet Union's biological warfare program. He's not a happy man because the American dream is just not happening for him. He along with some American neo-nazis plan a bio-terrorist attack in New York. The hero is Jack Stapleton, a basketball playing, cycling nut, medical examiner. That's my kind of hero.

There is a whole list of things I really appreciated about Dr. Cook's writing. First off the entire plot was believably written. His research was obvious and detailed. There was disturbing violence both on and off stage but all of it was important to the development of the story. No killing anyone to prop up a sagging chapter. Last to be mentioned, there was no graphic unnecessary sex scene. I'm not against sex but I truly think a really good writer doesn't need to throw that in if it isn't needed. I've read too many books where it wasn't needed and they threw it in anyway.

I was gratified to find an atrocious spelling error that the proofreaders missed. Sorry if you read the book you'll have to find it yourself. There was a point in the story where Yuri yanks the telephone wire out of the wall to prevent his wife from potentially making a call for help.  Later he is making calls from home without there ever being a mention of two phones or anyone repairing the line. Maybe there is a sentence in there that didn't register that explained that.

The only thing I didn't like was that near the beginning the description was at times a little more than necessary. Maybe I'm an impatient reader because I did at times have to stop myself from skipping on ahead.  That was not an issue once the story gathered momentum Otherwise this book is topnotch. I would not dock any points and give it full marks. If you're thinking about reading it, it is worth the time. It is believable to the point of being disturbing, but that is the point of it.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Homeless Bird

By Gloria Whelan
5 Stars
Historical Fiction
Teen to Adult

I'm not sure historical fiction is really the proper classification for this because the culture that is depicted in this story still exists and the problems are still real as well. This book comes from my children's homeschooling curriculum and is one of my favourites.

The heroine of the story is Koly who turns thirteen at the beginning of the story. She lives in India and with the economics and culture of the day. It's time for her to be found a husband. The parents arrange a match with another family but there are ulterior motives on the other side of the exchange. Koly is married and not long after widowed. She is positive and does her best to make the most of her situation. Things reach their darkest when she is abandoned in a temple city, left to pray at the temples and live on charity.

Koly has skills though and great resilience. As is my habit I won't give away the entire story. She overcomes all the adversity and the book is brought to a very happy conclusion. Highly recommended. You'll enjoy the book.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015


By Tamara Hart Heiner
3.5 Stars
Young Adult

I've had this book in my Kindle library for quite some time. Just didn't get to it because when I'm on my computer I'm usually doing things other than using it as an e-reader. Recently I added a tablet to my list of possessions and I can now read ebooks during those bits of time that in the past I used to read hard copy books. This book has the distinction of being the first I've read on my tablet.

I “met” the author on She was running the novel review group I participated in there. She did provide valuable input that I took into consideration when editing my own first novel. This book was up for review there and I did give my two cents on the beginning of it. I don't recall how many chapter reviews I did and I honestly can' tell if anything I said was incorporated into the final product.

Somehow or other I was made aware that it was being offered for free on Amazon for a short promotional period of time. That's when I downloaded my copy. It has been quite awhile.

This book is clearly aimed at the female young adult audience. That might make my review a little harsher than it should be but as an older male these are my impressions and thought.

Our heroine is Jayne Lockwood. She is in highschool and has a special gift or curse depending on how you look at it. When someone is going to experience an untimely death, she is able to “see” that happen. For her this causes a great deal frustration and confusion. She tries to prevent these deaths to no avail and does not understand it all. Without giving away the storyline, I will just say the book is about her figuring it all out.

What I like about the story is that it does portray the story from the perspective of the heroine in a way that makes sense according to her age. I think it realistically shows highschool life, part-time work life and interaction between young friends. There is a lot of dialogue in the book and I would identify that as one of the author's strengths. Overall I think the book is well written.

What I didn't like. I found by mid book the teenage angst thing started to weary me. I found that her female friends did not have distinctive enough personalities. For me they started to blend together. If the tags and situations were removed I would have had trouble at times telling Dana, Meredith, Beth and Gabby apart. The male friends were much easier to distinguish. Finally I'm not sure that she fully capitalized on the scenario. The book reads a bit like a romance instead of a suspense thriller.

I don't think the target audience for this book would be particularly bothered by the things I didn't like and since I still liked the book in the end I recommend it.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Escape From Warsaw

By Ian Serraillier
5 Stars
Historical Fiction
Teen to Adult

This is another book from my children's Sonlight homeschooling curriculum. I only have a few more of them to complete. Actually I finished reading them I just have to compose my reviews.

This is a fictional account of a Polish family, the Balickis based on actual accounts from people who survived this period of time. It is a story of a family separated and finally reunited. The family starts out in Warsaw which is overrun by Nazi Germany. They were liberated by the Russians. By that time the family was spread across Germany, Switzerland and Poland not knowing whether they were all yet alive.

I have one objection and I don't think it was the author's fault or choice. The book was originally called The Silver Sword referring to a small piece of jewellery that appears throughout the story and has great symbolic significance. I think the original title was better than the one later foisted on the book. The didn't really escape Warsaw as much as left.

That aside the book is very good and there are important lessons throughout the book. I enjoyed the story a great deal and recommend it.


Friday, 13 February 2015


By Darian North
5 Stars

I wrote the core of this review quite a long time ago. The book came to me through a friend who does a lot of reading. She gave me a bag full of what she said were good books that she culls from her library because she needed to clean house. There were a number of really good books in that bag and there are reviews from several of them that will appear here.

This is a book I was really impressed with. The writing and the storytelling are both excellent. Once I started reading I could not stop. It is still in my personal library and is one of those books where I want to go back and study how the author put scenes together.

At 17 Thea Auben was raped and beaten almost to death. She has a son as a result of this. This is a story about her. Her main helper character is Jack Verrity, currently her landlord a former cop/police detective. Her son David runs away to search for his father and the truth with the help of some mysterious Internet friend. There is lots of twists, turns, danger and surprises along the way. Definitely for an adult audience. I think this is probably the best book I've read in quite a long time. Recommended? Definitely.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Under the Blood-Red Sun

By Graham Salisbury
5 Stars
Historical Fiction
Teen to Adult

This is a book from my own personal library. It came as one of the books I got with a children's literature course I was following. It ranks amoung my favourites.

Tomi Nakaji is the hero of our story. He's a young Japanese-American boy growing up in Hawaii at the time of Pearl Harbour. His father is a poor fisherman. He lives with his mother, younger sister Kimi and grandfather on the property of one of the richer white residents who employ his mom as a maid. His friends are a mixed bag of youngsters who love baseball and play together as the Rats. The characters of the book are all richly portrayed.

Tomi's world explodes with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. His father and grandfather are arrested and interned. His mom is temporarily unemployed. They struggle together. Tomi's friends the Rats are loyal. I won't go into a great deal of detail but I cannot understand anyone not enjoying this book and being moved by the story.

This book comes highly recommended. You'll love the characters and how they deal with the issues. It will also teach a little bit of American history at the same time.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A Wanted Man

By Lee Child
5 Stars

This book review is a promise kept. Some time ago on my old author's blog I took Lee Child's name in vain. A sister had told me that my main character from my first book reminded her somewhat of Lee Child's iconic Jack Reacher, so I wrote a brief comparison based on information I was able find on the Internet. At that time I did say that I intended to read one of his books. The comparison I wrote is available here:

I found this book at the local library. I have regular access there so I may review more books from that source. I was in no way disappointed by the book. It was a great read. I can see where people may see some similarities between my character and his.

Jack Reacher gets picked up as a hitchhiker and get embroiled in a mess involving the CIA, the FBI and some bad guys. It's a great story and I won't spoil it by giving it away. If you like thrillers and suspense I doubt you'll be disappointed.

As a writer I noticed a lot of repetitive sentence structure. Not something your average reader would notice. I'll give the author credit though. It appears to be technique rather than stylistic flaw. I give the book full marks and a hearty recommendation.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Hurricanes Over London

By Charles Reid
5 Stars
Historical Fiction
Teen to Adult

My children picked this book up from the second hand shelf at Value Village. It's a short book and I got hooked on it this weekend. I was favourably impressed. The hero of the story is a young boy named Jamie Davis who finds and reads his deceased grandfathers World War II journal. The story is a mix of past and present. I liked the way Jamie got to know his grandfather from the journal, learned about some history and got involved in a restoration project at the museum. I don't want to give away the whole story. What impressed me was the evident research put into the story. Charles Reid deserves a great deal of credit for creating an interesting story teaching some Canadian and world history at the same time.

I would say this story is clearly aimed at teenage boys and that is probably who would appreciate it the most. An old guy like myself can still enjoy though.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Bread Winner

By Deborah Ellis
5 Stars
Historical Fiction
Teen to Adult

My children have recommended a number of books they read from their homeschooling library. I am slowly working my way through them. The Breadwinner is another of these books. They are all good, thought provoking and have important educational value. I enjoy them but to read them all one after another is emotionally draining. All royalties for this book incidentally are donated to Women for Women in Afghanistan. It is a fictional account based on the stories shared with the author in the refugee camps.

Our heroine is Parvana, who is a young Afghan girl, living in Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Women and girls are denied education and even the right to go out of the home without male accompaniment or escort. Her father is thrown in prison and to enable the family to survive Parvana gets a haircut and pretends to be a boy so she can work and provide for the family.

We get to go along with Parvana as she encounters horror and humanity along the way. For me it is difficult for me to comprehend this kind of oppression of women so it was quite educational. The message the book gives is very important.

The book ends in a rather open ended way. Afghanistan's problems are not resolved. Parvana's family is not all reunited. It does end on a hopeful note and I think it is an effective end.

I of course highly recommend this particular book and give it a full five stars.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

God's Smuggler

By Brother Andrew with John & Elizabeth Sherrill
5 Stars
Teen to Adult

This book belongs to my daughter. It may have been part of her homeschooling curriculum but didn't take the time to ask her. I of course picked it up and read it myself. I think this has to rank amoung the most inspiring true story Christian books around.

The book is an autobiography with a little outside help. It tells the life story of Brother Andrew. I identified with the story very early on. He grew up in Holland and his memories of the Second World War echoed some of the stories I heard from my own parents. He talked about the men of the village hiding in the nearby swamp to avoid the Razzi. My father's family built a room in the manure pile so the men could avoid these same people. They didn't want to get pressed into Nazi service.

He served in the Dutch military after the war and became quite disillusioned. On his return he heard religious leaders speaking at various meetings and was eventually inspired to become a missionary. He went to England to be trained but was not hired on. He struck out on his own audaciously seeking to spread the gospel behind the iron curtain. In his travels he met Christians, spoke to them, encouraged them and smuggled bibles by the car full.

The book is without a doubt an inspiring tale of faith. It is a well written tale easy to read and I say that as a critic. I'm not always impressed with “Christian” books. As a Christian this is one of my favourite books. It is highly recommended of course.

Friday, 6 February 2015

What the Night Knows

By Dean Koontz
5 Stars

I came by my copy of this book from a used book pile at a Christmas charity give away. There weren't many titles there for an adult audience. I've read a Dean Koontz novel in the past and was impressed with his writing and his storytelling, so I picked it up. I like thriller/suspense but I'm not a fan of supernatural, but I knew what I was getting into. In all honesty, I will read books from established successful authors outside my genre on occasion, because I believe I can learn from them.

The hero of the story is John Calvino, a police detective, whose family was brutally murdered when he was a boy. The murderer's rampage ended, when the then fourteen year old Calvino, put a bullet in his head. Alton Turner Blackwood, the murderer has returned from beyond the grave to get revenge on our hero. Calvino's goal is to save his family from a seemingly inevitable fate. Since this is a review and not a spoiler, I'll leave it at that.

This was a best seller and deservedly so. Dean Koontz is an excellent storyteller and this one does not disappoint. The characters are all superbly developed and come to life as the story moves along. It's rich with symbolism. The suspense begins building from the start and builds to a fever pitch for the climax. You don't have to warm up to the story. It'll pull you in right away. He only leave Melody as a loose end at the end of the story and I kind of like it. She might be worth a story of her own as antagonist. I think the whole thing comes to a satisfying conclusion.

What I especially appreciate is his masterful use of what I call “off camera”. There are places I don't take my readers and he does the same. He wants your spine tingling not your stomach turning. There is no unnecessary eroticism in his scenes like I've seen from other writers either. Hats off to him. I feel some writers use those “tools” to prop up a lame scene. I've no doubt he can write that kind of stuff, he just doesn't and doesn't need to.

I give this five stars but I do have a minor criticism. I hate his first little paragraph. It comes off to me like “Long, long ago, far, far away...” He still gets his five stars and I'll get over it. Highly recommended.

My copy of the book contained an attached novella called Darkness Under the Sun. It further explores the origins of Alton Turner Blackwood and introduces another young hero named Howie Dugley. This goes back to the time before the nightmare for John Calvino began.

I won't give away the storyline but its adds to the novel above, deepens the antagonist and broadens the whole story. It is a separate story in its own right and has it's own satisfying conclusion. It refers back to the main story though so it really doesn't stand by itself. I don't recall seeing this ever done before by an author and found it most interesting. Something for me as a writer myself to file away for the future.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Road From Home

By David Kherdian
5 Stars
Historical Fiction

This is another book from my children's homeschooling library. There are quite few good books that we purchased for the Sonlight curriculum. I have found a lot of them not only educational but well written as well.

The young heroine of the story is Veron Dumehjian and it is written in first person. The back book cover calls it a diary but in reality it is written as a fictionalized autobiography. The real life Veron is the author's mother. How much is real and how much is fiction is impossible for me to distinguish.

The goal of the book is to chronicle the Turkish genocide of the Christian Armenian minority in that country. We see it all through Veron's eyes. The story begins in Azizya, Turkey. In 1915 the family is forced out of their home and marched east to exile or death. Stragglers are shot and even those who survive suffer horribly. With the help of family, friends and sympathetic or bribed strangers, she survives to return to her childhood home to live with relatives because he immediate family has all been lost. She maintains a positive outlook as she moves from one tragedy to the next. After the First World War the Greeks and Turks go to war and young Veron is once again caught in the middle. She is finally evacuated from Smyrna to Greece where she agrees to marry an American-Armenian through a family arrangement. The book ends with the engagement celebration and young Veron looking forward to a new life in America.

I have four more books from this program that I would like to review. So far they've all been educational and excellent. I will take a break from them for awhile though. They all deal with man's inhumanity to man and I find that it weighs me down. I will finish them just not right now. I think the lessons that these books teach are very important.

The books comes highly recommended in my view. The message is powerful. You rejoice and mourn with our heroine as the story progresses.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Runescape - Betrayal at Falador

By T S Church
3.5 Stars
Teen to Adult

This book is based on Runescape, which is a multi-person role playing game (mmorpg) online that my children were introduced to by other children. I created a character myself just to see and understand better what my children were doing online and ended up enjoying the game myself. You don't have to play the game to enjoy the book but I found that it made understanding the fantasy world this story is set in a lot easier.

The story begins in the city of Falador the headquarters for the white knights. Kara-Meir mysteriously arrives there in the first chapter and is discovered by Theodore, a squire of the white knights. They are the first of the group of friends that become the heroes of the story. They are joined by Castimir a young wizard, who was a boyhood friend of Theodore, Doric, a tough dwarf, an old man called the Alchemist and Gar'rth, a mysterious youth. They are pitted against the evil Sulla, Lord of the Kinshra bent on destroying the white knights and building his own empire, Jerrod, who is a werewolf and a mysterious traitor hidden amoung the white knights themselves.

First off I think the story is first rate and it is a worthy read. A word of warning though, the first four or five chapters are a slog. When my son bought the book I started reading it and put it down after the first couple of chapters. My son did the same thing. My daughter was more persistent than either of us and told us that she thought it was a good book. She did agree that it was difficult to stay with it at the beginning. It's important for an author to grab the reader's attention and keep them turning the page. I can't put a finger precisely where the issue is but it isn't just me. I feel disconnected from the story and the characters until I get further into the book. Once I was finally into the story, it became difficult to put down. I'm deducting a whole star because of the beginning. I would encourage readers not to give up though. It is worth ploughing forward.

I'm not a great fan of fantasy, although if it is well written, I will enjoy it and recommend it. I do recommend this book.

I have a couple other minor criticisms that account for the other half star I deducted. I notice picky little things that don't make sense. One is a plot hole as we writers call it. Theodore sustains a stab wound to his side in battle at one point in the story. It's bad enough for something to be made of it at the time. It never gets mentioned again. I think he must have spontaneously healed because he isn't hampered in any immediate adventures.

The other picky point is more of a logic issue in my mind. A great deal is made of Kara-Meir's mysterious origins. There is speculation that she might be the daughter of Justrain a former knight who spied on the Kinshra and vanished. Her leadership and daring is important to the white knights and she is a heroine when the war is over. When the traitor reveals himself, he confirms the fact that she is indeed the daughter of that knight and this information is not passed on to her. It's a simple oversight that could have made the ending more satisfying.

This is T.S.Church's first novel. It's a good book and I am tempted to hunt down and read the sequel.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Wolf at the Door

By Jack Higgins
5 Stars

This is a “new” book in my personal library. There is a book exchange outside of the Family Resource Centre in Sackville, New Brunswick. My wife likes to go through it looking for appropriate reading material for members of the family, usually my youngest son. I spotted this book by Jack Higgins and claimed it with great haste. Back in the seventies as a youth I read his first blockbuster The Eagle Has Landed and several others since then. He's a master storyteller and after reading it for enjoyment, I plan to try to dissect some of what he does as an author.

I recognized the writing style immediately, lots of short rapid fire scenes. This is a thriller/suspense novel and he grabs the reader by the seat of the pants and pulls you right along. The structure of the book did initially fake me out. It starts out with a coordinated attack on a group of already popular characters from the author's previous books. I assumed that Sean Dillon was the protagonist. Ivanov and Lermov were obvious antagonists but they have some PIRA mastermind running the show.

We meet Daniel Holley halfway through the book, we go back in time and go through his story. We learn who he is and his motivations. By the time we get through his story and we watch his well coordinated plan go awry, we can't help but like him. I'm watching the remaining pages dwindling thinking, “If you want me to be satisfied with the ending, you better not kill this guy off.” I won't spoil the ending but my hats off to a master storyteller. That was a great way to end the book. Makes me want to read more.

I of course heartily recommend this book. He is one of the truly great writers alive today. I know he's eighty-five but I sincerely hope he writes a bunch more.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Artemis Fowl - The Lost Colony

By Eoin Colfer
5 Stars

I finished reading this book for the, I don't remember how many times, a couple days ago. Too many other things to do before writing this review. The copy I read resides in my son Sheldon's library. It is the last of the series that he has in his possession. I will have to buy him the rest of the series, if I'm going to continue reviewing the stories.

Our hero Artemis Fowl starts out this story trying to help the fairies instead of trying to steal something from somebody. There are a number of different families of fairies in the stories, Holly is an elf, Mulch is a dwarf and Foaly is a centaur. These families all moved underground after their last battle with humankind except for one. Demon warlocks used their magic to drop their entire island of Hybras out of time. The spell is deteriorating though and there is a risk of them all being wiped out. Artemis is trying to figure out how they can be saved and intends to present his information to Foaly. Other factors however come into play.

This story introduces a few new characters important to the story. There's No1 who is a demon warlock imp. Qwan a demon warlock. These are the new good guys. We have a couple of new bad guys to deal with. Abbott is a demon who has his own personal agenda, which could end up destroying his species. Billy Kong is a security man who ends up being big trouble as well.

This story also introduces another new wrinkle. Artemis has to match wits with Minerva Paradizo another child prodigy like himself. She starts out as a rival and then becomes a love interest. The story doesn't dig too deeply into that but it does add another wrinkle to Artemis' character. How that plays out in the future of the series I don't know.

Again the book is fast paced and is written with a delightful humoristic style that I find appealing. I give the book a full five stars again and highly recommend it.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Artemis Fowl - The Opal Deception

By Eoin Colfer
5 Stars

Just continuing a complete review of all the books my son Sheldon has in his library from this particular series. He has the first five and this is the fourth in the series. I have read the first six but we have no copy of the sixth in the series – yet.

Artemis Fowl starts this story off without any of his fairy memories. He agreed in exchange for help from the fairies to have them all scrubbed from his mind so he would no longer be a threat to their underground existence. He of course has reverted to his criminal behaviour something he appeared to be progressing out of in the last book. He and Butler are on their way to steal a painting. Holly Short, Foaly and Commander Root have to deal with an escaped convict. Their retrieval effort goes awry with Commander Root being killed on an explosion blamed on Holly.

Opal Koboi the pixie genius villianess of The Arctic Incident made an impossible escape and is plotting revenge on all those who defeated her then, including the unaware Artemis and Butler. Our heroes including Mulch Diggums who has to escape from a prison submarine have their hands full.

The book is written in the same humorous style as the preceding books and is an enjoyable adventure. It's no secret that I'm a fan. Still I think it is deserving of the five star rating.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Parallel Journeys

By Eleanor Ayer
With Helen Waterford and Alfons Heck
5 Stars

This is another book from my children's homeschooling library. Like many or these books that I've chosen to read and review the contents are not only educational but also quite disturbing. With the recent 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz it does talk about a time that we would be wise not to forget.

The setting of the book is Nazi Germany and tells the story of two people alternating between the two stories. It is a powerful contrast. Helen Waterford was a young Jewish woman from Germany. Her family escaped to Holland before the Second World War began. Her and her husband Siegfried were once again subject to the Nazi boot when Holland was overrun. They tried hiding but were eventually captured and sent to the concentration camps. Helen survived her husband did not. Her story is harrowing and horrible.

Jews were not the only people sent to the concentration camps and here is where I identify with her. As a Sabbatarian Christian I have no doubt that had the Nazis found me I'd have been there too. I do have one advantage in that I look like a typical Dutchman and therefore would have had an easier time escaping detection. I don't know if there is enough of the hero in me to have been a part of the underground although I have a dear friend now passed away whose family was part of that effort.

Alfons Heck was a youth when the Nazis came to power and he joined the Hitler Youth and enthusiastically supported the glory of Germany. He rose in the ranks and had quite a high position of leadership by the end of the war. He was only sixteen at the time. He personally met Hitler and other high ranking Nazi leaders along the way. With the end of the war, he looked for answers. Instead of denying what he had done he set out to speak out. He wanted to truth to be told to help keep this from ever happening again.

Helen and Alfons began touring together with their message and their stories. The result here is powerful, thought provoking and disturbing. I highly recommend it to any of my readers.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Only the Names Remain: The Cherokees and the Trail of Tears

By Alex W Bealer
Illustrated by Kristina Rodanas
4.5 Stars

This book also resides in my children's homeschooling library, again part of the Sonlight history curriculum. It caught my attention mainly because I have several good friends that are part Cherokee. Most prominent would by Kitty Sutton who writes historical fiction related to the Cherokee Nation. I've already reviewed the first two of her books and will probably review the third book at some point as well.

Only the Names Remain is short, 76 pages and the font is not small. There are illustrations sprinkled through it. It is easily read in one sitting. The prose for the literary amoung us, isn't anything to get excited about, but it isn't boring. The subject and the content is riveting enough.

I think the book succeeds in its mission, which is to give a brief concise history of the Cherokee and what happened to this still proud American tribe. My only objection to the book is that it gives the impression that the Cherokee Nation has been completely destroyed by betrayal. The betrayal and cruelty is real but my Cherokee friends still know they are Cherokee. I know they have many leaders who work hard to make sure the next generation knows who they are and about their history.

The book begins in Georgia pointing out place names in what was once the territory of the Cherokee Nation. It briefly mentions what is known of their ancient history and then deals more with the period where they adapted to the arrival of Europeans. It outlines their alliances and enemies both native and European. From there it pinpoints the events that lead up to their forced relocation. Finally it deals with the infamous Trail of Tears itself where one in four died en route. It is a sad and shameful event in American history and I think all Americans should learn about it. I'm not American and never studied American history in school except as it touched on Canadian history. The fact that this was part of Sonlight curriculum, an American based program, makes me think that maybe it is taught extensively. I do wish it discussed where the Cherokee are today but it doesn't take the reader significantly past the Trail of Tears.

As a Canadian I don't believe I'm in any position to hate America for what it did to the Cherokee. All they would have to ask is where the Beothuk are today. We didn't march them anywhere. We just hunted them to extinction.

I do highly recommend the book for anyone.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Artemis Fowl - The Eternity Code

By Eoin Colfer
5 Stars

This is the third book in the Artemis Fowl series and if you enjoyed the first two you're likely hooked at this point. The copy I read of course has been pilfered from my son's library like the others. I do give him credit and the entire family does make an effort to expand his collection every time we visit a used book store. I have read one that my son didn't have. It came through the local library. I also know there are two more books in the series at least that none of has read yet. I hope to be able to help him complete the collection even if it means buying some of them new.

The Eternity Cube starts with our intrepid child genius Artemis Fowl getting his criminal ego badly bruised and Butler suffering a mortal wound in the process. He was trying to make a buck from his pilfered fairy technology through a mini computer called the C Cube. Jon Spiro the villain of the story and his bodyguard Arno Blunt take possession of the technology. Artemis in an effort to save the life of his friend Butler appeals to the fairies for help.

Because fairy technology is in jeopardy they don't really have a choice but to help. Holly, Foaly, Mulch and Juliet are back and take on Jon Spiro in his lair equipped with the latest human security. In exchange for the help that he receives Artemis agrees to have his memories wiped at the end of it all so that he won't remember anything about them when all is said and done.

The end of the book is left open as to whether Artemis succeeds in beating the mind wipe. This book ends with the most obvious lead in to the fact that this is an ongoing series. Between that and the writing off Butler's abilities to a large degree at the end of the book tempted me to deduct half a point from the score. Not quite though, it is a great entertaining read. My feelings about the Butler thing is a little clouded by the fact that I've already read further in the series and I know that is overstating it.

From my point of view the book is highly recommended along with the rest of the series as I've experienced it.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Artemis Fowl - The Arctic Incident

By Eoin Colfer
5 Stars

The books from this series all reside in my oldest son's library. At some point I'm sure he will purchase a copy of all the ones he is missing. I might even help him out on that count. Flogging a dead horse again, I'm not a big fan of fantasy outside of science fiction sometimes. I will review a lot of them because all my children are fans of the genre and I have free access to a lot of them. Maybe I'm kidding myself because when I was younger I enjoyed reading several of Frank Herbert's books.

The Arctic Incident is the first sequel in the series. The first book was great and this book and story are just as good. That doesn't always happen with sequels. Most of the original cast is back, Artemis the child criminal mastermind, Butler his body guard, Holly Short, Commander Root, Mulch Diggums and Foaly. This time they have to face a threat together.

Protagonists and antagonists from the first book each have their own separate problem to deal with. Artemis Fowl senior is alive and being held ransom by the Russian Mafiya in Murmansk. He survived the sinking of the Fowl Star and has been in a coma for most of the intervening time. Our young hero and his body guard are trying to figure out how to bring him home.

Holly, Commander Root and Foaly have a different problem. The goblin triad is trading with humans and bringing in contraband goods to power outlawed weapons. They assume Artemis is behind it all. They bring him and Butler in for questioning and find out the have the wrong bad guys. Without going into detail they agree to work together. Artemis helps them solve their problem, the fairies help him retrieve his father.

The real culprit is disgraced LEP commander Briar Cudgeon who isn't over his humiliation in the first book. He has enlisted the help of Opal Koboi a genius who is a foil to Foaly. She is a vicious little pixie in her own right. It takes all of our heroes working together to win the day. After that they rescue Artemis Fowl Sr in dramatic fashion.

It is a great read. The same wit and humour I loved in the first book is evident here as well. I highly recommend this book as well.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Year of Impossible Goodbyes

By Sook Nyul Choi
5 Stars

This book was found in my children's homeschooling library. It was part of Sonlight one of the curriculums that we used. It was part of their history lessons. They have a stack of similar books several of which I have read and may offer reviews of in the future. Some of them are straight non-fiction such as this one and others are historical fiction. Both genres are of interest to me.

This is Sook Nyul Choi's story. She was born in Pyongyang during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The story begins when she is ten years old. The Japanese are cruel masters and they live in hopeless fear of them. Sook's mother manages a small factory that makes socks for Japanese soldiers. They toil under the sadistic leadership of Captain Narita whose wife is the school teacher for Sook. She is a match for her husband.

There seemed to be momentary hope when the Japanese surrendered and started going home. They were replaced by the Communist Russians who insidiously turned Koreans against each other. Trapped in the North under Communist rule they risked everything to escape to the south and freedom.

What human beings are capable of doing to each other is absolutely horrifying. There were scenes in the book that almost brought me to tears. Other parts made me angry. The story is not for the faint of heart but it is definitely worth reading. It brings home lessons none of us should forget. It took me a couple of days to come down from the emotion of the story before I could sit down and write this.

It is well written but the power of the story will likely cause you not to notice one way or the other. Definitely deserves the five star rating I give. Highly recommended.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Artemis Fowl

By Eoin Colfer
5 Stars

Peggy the librarian in Finch, Ontario introduced my oldest son to this book and he quickly became a fan of the series. He liked them so much at the time that he collected some of the series as he found them in various used book stores. The copy I read came from his collection. I would not consider fantasy one of my favourite genres but I am a fan of this series myself. Probably the biggest tribute to Mr. Colfer is the fact that I've read this book at least three times already. I've enjoyed it every time.

Artemis Fowl is a twelve year old wealthy genius criminal mastermind. His genius has uncovered the existence of the fairy races living below the surface of the earth. They aren't quite the fairies of the fairy tales, we've all heard as children. Nevertheless our protagonist with the help of his seven foot Eurasian body guard Butler set out to exploit the people. Pitted against Holly Short an officer in LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police), her boss Commander Root and their centaur genius Foaly, have they bitten off more than they can chew? In spite of Artemis being a criminal Colfer succeeds in creating a character we love.

Taking Holly hostage with an eye for fairy gold, it's a battle of wits between the world of mud men and the advanced fairy society below ground. The story is told with wit and humour. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I'm sure there are plot holes somewhere but frankly I was too busy enjoying the story to notice even after the third reading.

Even though it is clearly targeting a younger audience, I would still recommend it to anyone. Personally I liked it better than the Harry Potter series and that is not meant as a diss on J K Rowling. I will likely review more of the series with time. There are at least two new books in the series that nobody in family has gotten a copy of yet. I look forward to reading them all.