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Bonnie Toews "Heart Tugs ... at the crossroads of humanity" (Mount Albert, Ontario Canada)
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When Rome Falls: A Novel of World War II
When Rome Falls: A Novel of World War II
Price: CDN$ 5.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Heart-Stopping Spin on Rome's WWII History, Aug. 6 2013
A.R. Homer is a master of WWII fiction. This story brings Rome's wartime tragedy alive. What has been a fascinating study for the author evolves into another historic glimpse infused with lifelike characters set in circumstances of war, spies, suspense, love and betrayal amid Vatican politics and a rollercoaster plot. His pace marches from the beginning in a style and voice that has become uniquely his own.

The Allied invasion of Italy is imminent. Italy has abandoned its partnership with Germany and signed an Armistice with the Allies. Himmler has ordered the roundup of the city's Jews just as the Gestapo is engaged in suppressing Rome's Resistance activities at the same time as allied prisoners interred in Italian prison camps have been set free. When the Wehrmacht cross these "escaped" prisoners running loose in the Italian countryside, they ship those captured on trains to slave labor camps in Germany. This is the historic set up that unfolds as three recaptured Allied officers jump from the prison freight train trundling north.

"Jay Mack" or John MacPherson, an American major, is designated the new leader of a hidden POW organization sheltering escaped Allied prisoners. Hiding with him are GI Buck Nolan and British RAF pilot David Lawrence in the home of Maria, a woman Jay comes to love as he coordinates a growing network of Italian citizens to harbour these POWs through contacts organized by a priest, the gentle Father Francesco. When Maria is betrayed to the Gestapo, Jay is devastated. Now he and his bunk mates are assigned to live with Adriana, a rich woman in Rome's upper class who gathers information for the Resistance from her lover, a German envoy. While her daughter Vittoria makes bombs with her lover Renzo -- a survivor of the Gestapo's round-up of city Jews -- her son is a runner for the Resistance. All of them are endangered by a spy planning havoc to protect the Nazis' retreat when the American Army finally enters the city.

The suspense is chilling, the emotional twists riveting. What I admire most about A.R. Homer is how he weaves historic fact into spellbinding intrigue and human drama. His novels appeal to every type of reader, including those addicted to romance, history buffs who hunger for authentic, detailed descriptions as well as action fans. He is another literary prince in the thriller genre.

Crucible of War
Crucible of War
by J. M. Hochstetler
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.24
24 used & new from CDN$ 14.23

5.0 out of 5 stars A breathtaking rendition of the American Revolution, Jan. 8 2013
This review is from: Crucible of War (Paperback)
I did not think J.M. Hochstetler could keep her readers rivetted through seven books in her American Patriot series, but she is doing it with such stunning storytelling that her characters are becoming bigger than life just as Margaret Mitchell achieved with Scarlet O'Hara and Rhett Butler in GONE WITH THE WIND -- and the star to play her magnificent heroine Elizabeth Howard aka the spy Oriole should be Kiera Knightly. The role of the dashing Jonathan Carleton aka the Shawnee Indian Chief, White Eagle, who has betrayed his British masters, could catapult a young actor's career. Today's military wives can relate to Elizabeth and Jonathan's longing to be together and despair at parting.

Here is an opportunity for Americans to become re-acquainted with their nation's agonizing birth and the stout-hearted people who made it possible. The British had become greedy and corrupt and those who dared to dream of freedom and self-determination rebelled against King George's tyrannical rule. As Britain's repression of the colonies became too intolerable to bear, those who stood up to the king sacrificed everything.

This is what Americans need to remember. Their birthright took a miracle in the scope of the Bible's David (Patriots) overpowering Goliath (Britain). By all logic, the rebels should have lost, but a spirit infused the rebels with tenacity, cunning and daring beyond their hope and dreams. As devout Christians, they fought with intractable fierceness and won their freedom. J.M. Hochstetler has captured this period magnificently. Her battle scenes rage, her love trysts wrench your heart. And her writing achieves literary pinnacles.

Book Four or the CRUCIBLE OF WAR begins with Brigadier General Jonathan Carlton rejoining General George Washington's army at the moment when their cause seems the most hopeless. In a last desperate effort, the American force crosses the Delaware on Christmas night 1776 and overcomes the British outposts at Trenton and Princeton before vanishing into the mountains surrounding Morristown. By the summer of 1777, Elizabeth Howard and her Aunt Tess have moved to Philadelphia to continue their mission to gather intelligence while waiting for expected British retaliation against the Patriots. The American forces retrench at Brandywine Creek where Carleton is ambushed and almost captured. Washington decides to send him north to the upper Hudson Valley where his archenemy British General John Burgoyne is marching on Saratoga. As decisive battles loom, treachery tears Elizabeth and Carlton apart again, only this time their chances to survive look completely hopeless as Part Four ends in climatic suspense. I can hardly wait to read Book Five, VALLEY OF THE SHADOWS, to find out what happens next.

No Good Like It Is
No Good Like It Is
by McKendree R., III Long
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.55
14 used & new from CDN$ 8.89

5.0 out of 5 stars RIVETTING WESTERN SAGA HITS ALL THE BUTTONS, Oct. 8 2012
This review is from: No Good Like It Is (Paperback)
McKendree Long is so immersed in the historical period he writes about, his dialogue feels authentic, to the point that his characters seem channelled through living historical figures. An author with an ear this good -- who can create conversations written so it doesn't interfere with the story -- is a gift. For example, the way the protagonist (Rebel Captain Dobey Walls) and his sidekick (Sergeant Major Jimmy "Boss" Melton) -- two Texas Rangers -- talk to each other becomes what I call short tongue common to the south and west: "Are you finished?" becomes, "Through?" Or, "This isn't working, so we'd better try something different" becomes, "Ain't no good like it is." Hence, the title of the novel. Throughout the story, the author grabs us and drops us into history -- we live during and after the American Civil War, we shiver in fear through its gruesome battles, we identify with the powerful need to survive at all cost, and we admire the courage and the stamina of the South fighting against the better-equipped hordes of troops from the North. We learn hands-on details of the weapons used -- a Spencer carbine or Colt shotgun, for instance -- and, with Jimmy's demonstrations to the increasing stragglers following the two men, could fire every gun handled in the story. As we witness the depravity of scoundrels and cowards on both sides, we share Dobey and Jimmy's sense of justice and understand their swift execution of it. In lighter moments, our favorite "rescue" meal becomes ham, beans, corn mush, honey and buttermilk biscuits. What drives Dobey is his determination to find his mother and crippled brother when the war is over. What drives Jimmy is his devotion to protect his captain and best friend. This author's style is sparse and action-oriented -- like a Clint Eastwood movie. While the reader is propelled from the Fort Pillow Massacre to confrontations with murderous Home Guard, bootleggers, Yankee deserters and Confederate Cherokees, our two heroes even find time to fall in love with courageous frontier women like themselves. As a western saga, I love it. Does Dobey find his mama? I'll not tell.

Under An Afghan Sky: A Memoir Of Captivity
Under An Afghan Sky: A Memoir Of Captivity
by Mellissa Fung
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.68
14 used & new from CDN$ 6.93

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courage and Resilience, June 18 2011
Mellissa Fung is a correspondent for the CBC's The National. Recently she investigated the reasons behind veteran Steve Dornan's protest against Veterans Affairs Canada and her persistent on-air questions showed the disconnect within the Review Board whose members have no veteran or combat medical background. I'm sure that broadcast helped Steve win his nine-year fight to claim his disability pension.

But, in October, 2008, Mellissa was on assignment in Afghanistan. She left the safety of the Canadian base to pursue stories about the local people. As she left a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, young armed Taliban men snatched her from her interpreter, stabbed her in the shoulder and hand, and carried her off into capitivity for 28 horrifying days. They took her blindfolded somewhere into the mountains and forced her to live in an underground hideout with only one hole to access it. The area tunneled out left little room to stand or lie down. One of her captors raped her. She expected to die there but fervently prayed for release every day. During those 28 days she survived on cookies and juice the kidnappers brought her to eat.

In "Under the Afghan Sky: A Memoir of Captivity," Mellissa recaptures her ordeal but, in an interview following the release of her book, admits that writing about what happened to her wasn't the cathartic exercise she hoped it would be. The images and smells are stamped on her memory forever.

What is amazing is the dogged determination she demonstrates throughout her captivity to survive the rancid dirty conditions of the hole and to remain an independent human being. Her spirit gains respect from the young leader of the group and they exchange unexpected views about their beliefs in God as she continually repeats the rosary while her kidnapper lays down his mat and prays to Allah. In the aftermath of her release, she is left pondering whose God was answering their prayers.

Through the isolated despairing days, she shares thoughts about her family, her upbringing, her friends and dear love for another journalist. I smiled when I read how she eavesdopped on adult conversations as a child because she wanted to know more than what she was told. I had done the same thing, so perhaps this is the first signal of a journalist in the making.

What also stands out is her sense of guilt for putting all those she loved through the worry of her capture. She determined that the kidnappers were expecting to negotiate a ransom for her release. No money was ever exchanged but eventully she was exchanged for the release of one kidnapper's mother after a raid on his home near the Pakistan border by Afghani Police.

As you read each page, you live with her fear: Will she be murdered? How will they kill her? When? Yet the closer she comes to death, the more she challenges her kidnappers with persistent questions. She refuses to succumb to their bullying threats. And in that spirit of resistance, she gains their respect and also finds the grace to forgive them and to see them as flawed simple human beings caught up in their own troubled world of which she represents the "invader."

In such isolation, Mellissa has time to think and reflect, not only on why she is a journalist- specifically a war correspondent-but also on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. In her Acknowledgements, she writes: "And to the members of the Canadian Forces-those who've come home, those who haven't, and those who continue the mission in Afghanistan-and their families, you are all the true heroes. You inspire and remind us every day that the world can be a better place. We cannot thank you enough for your sacrifice."

Mellissa, it is only through courage like yours that our armed forces are recognized for the earnest and dedicated purpose each soldier brings to this mission's mandate: to help create a safer and better world for those under repression. Our soldiers interact with the local people. They see the poverty and despair you capture on camera. Often, the political outcome is not why our men and women serve. For most, it is for this loftier ideal that they are prepared to sacrifice their lives for others.

And the correspondent who tags along with them is there to give public recognition of their military service and in Mellissa's case to bring her viewers closer to the victims of such wars: the why behind the political rhetoric.

Her concluding memory is of a little girl in a pink and black scarf that she observed outside the refugee camp the day she was taken hostage. She writes: "And I hoped I would be able to come back someday, to what might be a better, safer place, not just for me, but more importantly, for children like her."

This is a five-star read, one that everyone can experience up close and personal.

Deadly Ties: A Novel
Deadly Ties: A Novel
by Vicki Hinze
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.32
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars BLOCKBUSTER WINNER, Feb. 16 2011
This review is from: Deadly Ties: A Novel (Paperback)
Each year, nearly half-a-million women are trafficked around the world for the purpose of sexual slavery. Against this background, Vicki Hinze has fashioned a potpourri of depravity and trials of faith only she could juggle. DEADLY TIES, Book Two of her Crossroads Crisis Center series, is a roller-coaster thriller of violent twists and breakneck turns - from murder and abuse to human trafficking in an international conspiracy. DEADLY TIES is also a cross-over story that dares to examine a heinous crime most Christian fiction chooses to avoid because it is too horrible to think about. Not facing Americans forcing Americans into human bondage for servitude doesn't make it go away. Only a short time ago, a party of three was arrested in Chicago for human trafficking. Can we continue to pretend it doesn't happen any longer?

Vicki tackles this question by reeling us in to her novel like a patient fisherman with characters trapped in human dilemmas, thwarted love and quicksand adventure: a perfect formula for a riveting movie that, in the end, reveals the true drama of forgiveness in the pursuit of justice.

I'm not going to summarize the story because I don't want to spoil the reader's suspense. You have to read DEADLY TIES to experience its impact, but I think Publisher's Weekly sums up Vicki's gift best: She has a talent "for transforming the unlikely into something beautiful." Truly beautiful, I would say. And worthy of a Christy Award.

Sir Seth Thistlethwaite and the Soothsayer's Shoes
Sir Seth Thistlethwaite and the Soothsayer's Shoes
by Richard Thake
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.50
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.75

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the funniest, most exciting books for children in years, Sept. 25 2010
With Sir Seth, ten-year-old Mighty Knight extraordinaire, and his best friend, Sir Ollie, on the case, you think that nothing can go wrong! But when the Soothsayer's Shoes are stolen by the wicked Prince Quincy of Poxley, it's up to the two boisterous boys to save Sir Shawn Shrood and Lady Sheri-Sue's famous truth-saying, soothsaying shoes. As they dive deeper into danger, the boys team up with a cast of unlikely heroes--including a flying, saber-toothed sloth, fire-breathing Bog Bats, and a trio of mischievous Bog Runners--to help Prince Quincy see the light and clear the Poxley name.

According to Michelle Izmaylov, best-selling author of "Dream Saver" and "The Galacteran Legacy" as well as editor-in-chief for FutureWord Publishing's Science Fiction/Fantasy and Future divisions, this is one of the funniest and most exciting children's books she has read in a long while. Her favorite scene was the one in which Edith-Anne, Sir Seth, Sir Ollie, Shasta, and the Bog Runners slip down the underground tunnel on the "berry, berry slippery" bat-oil beads. "In general, Swish, Swoosh and Bruce were really funny, although all of Thake's characters leap off the page. Readers connect with each in turn, which is difficult to accomplish in such a short book and demonstrates the author's true talent."

Richly illustrated and brimming with humor, action and adventure, the first book of Richard Thake's Sir Seth Thistlethwaite series is one tale children and parents alike won't want to miss!

One Child
One Child
by Jeff Buick
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.06
23 used & new from CDN$ 3.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Five-Star Thriller by a Master Storyteller, Sept. 8 2010
This review is from: One Child (Paperback)
In my hands is an advanced reader copy of this book. I know the whole story, and the story itself is a breathless experience outside of the multi-media experiment where readers get a new chapter each day online, along with news reports and videos that blur fact and fiction.

Frankly, despite this ambitious alternative to the way we read, I remain a book reviewer who prefers the feel of the book in my hands. It's a relief to break away from the computer screen.

At first I read as many pages as I found time, but the other night, I reached a point in the story where I refused to put it down until I finished reading it. My first reaction at the end? Awe. I just put the book down and soaked in the revelation.

Jeff's story crystallizes why soldiers repeatedly volunteer to return to the fighting, what their mission means to them. It's something the public-at-large, through all its debating, doesn't understand because they are not there, in their soldiers' shoes. Now Jeff, like a documentary film producer, takes you there. His diligent research provides you with realistic surroundings and props to bring you into his virtual creation, first through the online interaction of the book's daily events to its critical conclusion, and then in the book itself, where you can hold and savor that experience for as long as you want.

How does he achieve this magnificent work? With master storytelling.

The novel begins in the apartment of a shattered building in Kandahar, Afghanistan. An Afghani holds his 11-year-old daughter, Halima, asleep in his arms, while watching over her younger two sisters beside them. They sleep on the floor under a threadbare blanket. He doesn't know how he is going to feed his daughters when the new day begins. Halima, awakens from a dream and tells him that someday she is going to change the world. Her father, not wanting to discourage her, tells her, "You changed my world, Halima. You made it so much better."

This is plot one, about the Afghan family's survival in a daily struggle to find enough food and water to stay alive in Kandahar.

In New York City, plot two involves a self-made billionaire, who meets an arms dealer and arranges to send defective weapons to the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. This illegal transaction will profit him by $35 million. He's the typical Eastern European immigrant who, as a child, arrived destitute in America and grew up living by his own rules to become one of the richest men in the world. In his worship of money, he has made a business of manipulating the stock market. He's also unforgiving and vengeful, and decides he will achieve the downfall of a Russian competitor who cheated him out of another deal he coveted. To ruin the Russian's reputation as well as cause him significant financial loss, he must hire an ex-CIA black ops operative and his team to crash the U2 concert the Russian is sponsoring in Moscow.

Plot three focuses on an ambitious young trader in the billionaire's company and his wife. Can he be as ruthless as he is brilliant to succeed in the rarified air of engineered wealth? And a journalist embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the young officer assigned to look out for him round out plot four.

Jeff Buick has raised the bar in the thriller genre. Not only does he entertain his readers with an intriguing mesh of thrilling subplots, he also brings them to a new level of understanding about the controversial war in Afghanistan. He represents every viewpoint, from the shadiest intention to the noblest desire. Every soldier who has served will find what they experienced told with great honesty. Every person who believes we should withdraw our troops will find confirmation, except for ONE CHILD.

Through the heavy gloom and deep intrigue that embraces Afghanistan, separate destinies march forward through July and August 2010 to converge one night that shocks the world and changes our perceptions. It all happens in ONE CHILD, an epiphany you can't afford to miss.

The Book of Spies
The Book of Spies
by Gayle Lynds
Edition: Hardcover
21 used & new from CDN$ 1.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Queen of Today's Spy Thrillers, April 16 2010
This review is from: The Book of Spies (Hardcover)
Chilling, breathtaking, moving, twisting, eye-opening, stimulating, nerve-wracking, entertaining, challenging, educating, action-packed . . . when it comes to a Gayle Lynds' spy thriller, whatever you can dream up in a literary ride of extreme fascination is what this author delivers. Her "what if" began with an article she read in the "Los Angeles Times " in 1989. Through the next 20 years plus, the mystery of Ivan the Terrible's lost library percolated in the back of her mind to become an obsession she called The Library of Gold. The more she researched it the more it absorbed her. Like Robert Ludlum's conspiratorial elite who lurked through many of his novels, the idea of such a rich and fabled library lent itself to another tale of hidden wealthy powerbrokers manipulating world events to their advantage.

The CIA becomes involved in vengeance sniper attack on the father of one of its contract agents. In following up the victim's ties to an elite secret book club of the world's most powerful men, they discover a connection between the group's Library of Gold and a terrorist's bank account. To help, they engage Eva Blake, a rare books curator who has been wrongfully imprisoned for her husband's death. They release her. In London, while inspecting one of the "lost" books, she spots her husband alive. He turns on her and tries to kill her. Judd Ryder, assigned by the CIA to protect her, learns his recently assassinated father was a member of the secret book club, and in rescuing Eva joins forces with her in a hunt that takes them from London to Rome, Istanbul to Athens, and even into Afghanistan.

Unlike "The Da Vinci Code," Gayle does not sacrifice pace to burden readers with heavy-handed history--that she contains in her Author's Notes at the end. Instead, she balances character development, plot, action and international settings with fine-tuned precision. In many current suspense and mystery novels, authors have abandoned the omniscient point of view, so it is a treat to return to the thriller master's technique of setting up each chapter from the long view of the camera to pan into the characters so we instantly see them and then of zooming into the close-up of the scene from the character's POV.

In "Book of Spies," Gayle builds characters with idiosyncrasies that evolve from their legends. In this case, her heroine Eva Blake is a museum curator who specializes in ancient manuscripts. To do such work, she must have a retentive memory and an analytic gift. For her to communicate with her husband in Latin phrases is an intellectual game such vibrant minds relish, if only to serve their own egos. That this becomes her instantaneous style of response is not outside the realm of possibility but rather her norm. She has trained her mind in competition with her husband to see Latin one-liners to express what she observes. That she comes from a poor background where she has learned to survive as a pickpocket only proves how clever people with street smarts actually are when inspired to educate themselves by traditional standards. Once, learning karate was unusual for a young woman but even my twin granddaughters take it today. Young people with a goal are environmentally responsible and health conscious. Eva comfortably fits into our modern concept of an ambitious heroine. For Judd Blake, a former military intelligence officer, her quirks are what attract his respect and enhance his curiosity. She is a challenge that unbolts his guarded control. Spies have intellectual powers and skills few of us develop. Gayle engages us to participate in that world between the pages of the "Book of Spies." This novel ties history to greed, power, terrorism and spy chases. I love it! And to top it all off, Gayle has brought back the Carnivore from "The Coil."

Disaster Status
Disaster Status
by Candace Calvert
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.54
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate Status, April 16 2010
This review is from: Disaster Status (Paperback)
Candace Calvert delivers another top-notch drama in the world of Emergency personnel right from her chilling opening scene: Fire Captain Scott McKenna, carrying a child in jerking seizures, bolts through the ER doors of Pacific Mercy Hospital just as farm trucks filled with sick people pull into the parking lot. Immediately the ER doctor and staff are dealing with possible hazardous material contaminating the local water supply because of a plane crash. Into this adrenalin-pumping situation, Candace delivers a conflicted hero -- the fire captain who wants to move away from Pacific Point and tragic memories -- and a spunky red-headed heroine -- the day-shift charge nurse Erin Quinn, whom he won't let past the barricades because she rushed in to help without her badge clipped to her uniform. It's all here: pride and prejudice, action, conflict, authentic medical and firefighting trauma, believable love story that grows slowly as trust develops, humor, flawed characters you want to embrace because they battle the same self-doubts in faith many of us share, and inspiration to hearten your soul and heal your heart. I couldn't put the book down. Candace Calvert has established her niche, and I look forward to her next story in the Mercy Hospital series.

Forget Me Not: A Novel
Forget Me Not: A Novel
by Vicki Hinze
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.99
34 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars CHILLING TALE WITH NON-STOP TWISTS, March 23 2010
This review is from: Forget Me Not: A Novel (Paperback)
A woman who can't remember who she is or what happened to her. A man who can't put his life back together after his wife and son are murdered. Yet, his wife's gold cross necklace connects them. This is the premise for the first of Vicki Hinze's Christian Fiction series set at the Crossroads Crisis Center.

At last Vicki has found her niche, a place where she can combine her passionate faith and pendant for romantic suspense. In FORGET ME NOT, her skill at creating a taut thriller that exposes a terrorist plot shines through in a "forget-me-not" read. When you start this story, make sure you are not going anywhere because once you begin, from the first page to the last, you will not be able to put the book down.

But more than the rollercoaster ride is the story's lasting message of faith, that no matter what abuse or sorrow or shattering experience you suffer, you can endure if you love and trust God. Vicki's Christian heroine whole heartedly relies on God, and that reliance is woven seamlessly into the character's dilemma and search for her identity, after countless attempts to kill her. Seeing the result of her faith wins over a man who has lost everything, including belief in himself. To the non-believer, this may seem impossible, but for those of faith, it is the reality that sustains us day by day.

Congratulations, Vicki. A five-star read.

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