Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Reindeer Keeper - Believe Again... by Barbara Briggs Ward

Illustrated by Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda
Published by Wheatmark
Reviewed for Review the Book

One of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. The embrace of the book, its tale of faith and love, yet mixed with sadness and resentment over past loss, touched a chord deep within me. This is a Christmas story, and yet it is a life story. A story of life that goes on through generations, through faith that doesn't fail and love that lives forever. Barbara Briggs Ward knows how to write magic that touches the soul and releases anger and sorrow.

Abbey has grown up without her mother from a delicate age, but she and her father have a wonderful relationship. They live above a funeral home where her father is the funeral director. Abbey helps her father by cutting out all the obituaries for the funeral home file, copies enough for the families, and through her caring mind begins to think about the stories of the lives of those who have passed. Her father is also a caring man, and has befriended a man that seems lonely and without friends. Imagine their surprise when this man dies and leaves a lovely old home and large property to Abbey's father with the stipulation that if her father passes, the property will go to her, and so it does. But this is the prelude to the magic.

Though a perfect Christmas story aimed at adults, primarily those who have lost the child within, or lost their way on the treacherous road of harsh reality, this is also a story for all seasons. This is not a book strictly of religious faith, in fact it is driven by the faith of a child, pure and unadulterated, whether that faith is in a person, a religious deity, or in Santa Claus. As children we have an innate faith and trust, we have an untouchable belief system. But life can change all that through the years. What we need is a reminder and this book provides exactly that.

There are many changes in quick succession in the life of Abbey, but her love for her husband Steve, and the reciprocation of that love is the catalyst for overcoming all obstacles. Life simply is not always smooth and simple, there are always sudden drops, disappointments, and misunderstandings. These are the trials she must overcome, in particular with her feelings about her mother who died when Abbey was young. It's a common enough human feeling in such cases to resent the parent for leaving, and Abby has carried this for too many years of her life. As her family returns home for the Christmas holiday, a magical event happens in her life that changes her entire feeling for her mother and fills her with understanding. It is with this new understanding and the love of her husband and family that she is able to cope with the news she is about to hear. But with newfound strength of heart and faith she is able to accomplish what she sets out to do.

This story brought me comfort. It cloaks the reader with warmth like a down-filled duvet. An impressive debut work of fiction. I highly recommend this book, I just can't say enough about it. I am so thankful I read it. Barbara, you are the believer, and you shared it beautifully.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Run Into Trouble by Alan Cook

Reviewed from ebook version

This book starts off with a bang, a car crash that is an obvious deliberate hit sending the car flying and landing in a field. Quick action is needed for the driver and Drake to escape before the car blows up, but both are groggy. The car is seriously damaged with doors jammed. Drake suddenly notices that the driver is now next to him in the back seat, semi-conscious and must get him out. The only way out is the broken rear window. Pushing the driver out head-first with great effort, he gets the driver fully through when he rolls off the truncated trunk, followed by Drake. With supreme effort Drake drags the driver away, narrowly escaping the fireball as the car blew up, just on the edge of safety where they feel the heat but are not endangered more.

Strangely, as memory reinstates itself, he recalls the driver of the truck suddenly hesitated, backed off just at impact so the crash was not as hard as it would have been, as though it was not meant to kill anyone. What a start to a book about a marathon, a foot race Drake is scheduled to start running the next day! And as we will soon learn, the sponsor will insist he run this race, even providing chiropractic sessions. Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Who would be looking for Drake at this late date of 1969? Though his past was covert, it was a long time ago and he can't make any sense of who might want him dead. The marathon is invitation only, and as he meets with the sponsors from Giganticorp, he learns that the driver's expenses will be taken care of and Drake himself has already been patched up as much as possible with a very colourful face and broken nose. It is at this point he learns that his old partner Melody Jefferson from his undercover agent days is his running partner. Suspicion looms as he thinks about the possible reasons for this. Who would even know about that partnership? Why is it so important that Giganticorp insists on Drake running the marathon in his condition? The whole idea is crazy and someone obviously knows too much confidential information!

I found Alan Cook's technique for each chapter very interesting as a background for the race. Each chapter is another day in the race and begins with the marathon runners, competing in pairs, given very descriptive daily directions for the route. As a Canadian recognizing some of the routes from driving vacations in California in 1959 and 1961, I really enjoyed these tantalizing chapter settings. Soon the iceberg goes deeper when a sudden attack from the ocean onto the beach results in one runner dead, one injured and several homes destroyed.

The daily route and the pacing of the runners provides interest and background to the story, but at what price? Outside threats are keeping Drake and Melody in the race. There seems to be a political agenda to this oddly fast-paced yet sometimes calm story, but is that what it really is? This book was definitely different in its storyline and layout, with as many hills and troughs as throughout the run of the marathon. Thwarted romance, misguided alliances, and a deliberate political red-herring makes for a well-written attention-getting novel, leading right up to a unique ending to one man's tyranny. Alan Cook is a diverse author and has written several novels, two of them winning the American Author's Association Silver Quill Award and chosen as Best Pacific West Book by Reader Views.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Pocket Full of Voices by Alfred M. Albers

Published by Infinity Publishing

I first met John Michaels preparing to go to his high school reunion in Alfred Albers' first book in this series, "Of Ghosts and Magic". After reading "A Pocket Full of Voices", I can see that the character has come a long way. John Michaels is a world renowned magician. Though retired he still performs many shows a year in smaller versions of his original acts. When he receives a call from a Mount Hope City, NJ lawyer, he learns that an old circuit friend, Gary Egan, is in trouble, so it's off to Mount Hope with wife Stella.

Gary is an exceptional ventriloquist, but he has been accused of thefts from celebrities who have attended his shows. The thing of it is that his voice was mimicked from the audience while room numbers were being called out, and this particular voice gives the room number of the attending celebrity, who later reports a theft from their room. Fortunately, Gary is released on his own recognizance and so is able to work unofficially in the background with John on his case, keeping in constant touch with his lawyer(s). John has often used his talents of observation and diversion in investigations.

Alfred M. Albers writes with a clarity of detail not often seen in this type of fiction. He also writes with great humour, especially in this book where Grumpy Perkins, Gary's not-so-dumb dummy, does his schtick. Grumpy has a rather funny sarcastic bent, but very successful for the character. Put together a magician and a ventriloquist and you get a very different take on a suspenseful murder mystery. As bodies begin to pile up, time is running out. Between humour and violence it begins to seem like two opposing sides of a coin. This is not your everyday cozy mystery, it definitely has much more to it, though still somewhat in the cozy murder mystery genre. The camaraderie between the people trying to help Gary, the interaction between Gary and Grumpy, and the increasing pace of the crimes make for a great variation and addition to this series. As always, I really enjoy reading books where I learn something new and this did not disappoint. I am looking forward to more of John Michaels in future books.