Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book-Highlights 2016



Reading is pleasure

My pleasure is greatest when not only the writing style is perfect or the story compelling, but when the book widens my horizon and helps me to see our world as it is, to understand people who live in different circumstances than I do, to see the world through different eyes, when it feels real and authentic.

That's what these 15 books do in a great variety of ways.
These are the 15 books that impressed me the most out of the 140 I've read in 2016 so far (we've still 10 more days to read) and will be remembered for a long time.

(The links lead to my reviews.)


Will Patching: Mutilated

is not only one of the best crime thrillers I've ever read.

I learned things I hadn't known about the British atrocities during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya and about body modification and suspension.






Christopher Stollar: The Black Lens

Child abuse and human trafficking happens everywhere at any given time and is a horrible crime we need to be aware of. This excellent novel shows this reality in a very authentic way.


Asaad Almohammad: An Ismael of Syria

This very personal and unconventional book throws some light on the conflict in the Middle East and on life as a Muslim immigrant.







Angela B. Chrysler: Broken

This incredibly honest memoir gives insight in an insane mind and shows the brokenness after child abuse and rape.






Suzanne Chazin: No witness but the moon

This excellent crime thriller reflects the life of undocumented immgrants in the USA.






Zeke Caligiuri: This is where I am

Zeke is in prison and he shows us in a mixture of youth slang, poetry and philosophy that people in prison aren't all monsters but human beings struggling not to lose their mind.





Ryan Rufus: Extra reine Gnade (Extra Virgin Grace)

This books reveals the freedom we find through God's amazing grace.








Christopher Bowron: Devil in the Grass

Satanists are evil, manipulative and power-obsessed and in this gripping novel they literally stop at nothing to reach their goals.





Laila Ibrahim: Living Right

Christian faith and homosexuality - a difficult issue.

Laila describes the hypocritical and dangerous attitude of christians who put law over love.




Anthony Vicino: Time Heist

Sometimes it's worth reading a book not because of the story but just for the way it is written.

This is one of the few science fiction books I really like.





Roger Deloach: Truth
           
This lovely novel is a book for all who know that something is missing in their life, who know that the life to the full promised by Jesus (John 10:10) should be different from what they experience.




Mark Matthews: All Smoke Rises

The unfathomable horror of addiction gets under your skin in his sequel to the even better Milk Blood.






Gregory Brown: Ephesians

This deep, thorough, sometimes challenging Bible study explores Paul's epistel to the Ephesians on over 500 pages.





The Bergh: The Lines (The girl who couldn't come up with an original title

This dark, intense short stories (actually there are two stories) make you feel what depression is like.






Marita A. Hansen: Broken English

Temptation, guilt, child abuse, growing-up in the ghetto within a highly disturbed Maori family are hidden in this very sexy and unsettling novel.



Sunday, December 4, 2016

Digging deeper



.

Six weeks ago Gregory asked me to write a review.

Yes, it took some time to get through this excellent book about Paul's epistel to the Ephesians. This is not a book you just pick up and read through. Some thoughts are so deep I had to let them sink in. Others are challenging and sometimes I even questioned his exegesis (not all being pre-elected). But that is not a bad thing: it makes me search for truth.

I had read this epistel many times before. Some of my favorite verses are from this letter, but this study guide helped me to dig deeper and to see the more holistic picture of the height, broadth, length and depth of God's love.

I probably wouldn't have chosen a "Teacher's Guide" and I generally avoid books for study groups with their forced questions after every chapter, but I'm glad I read this one.


Here's my review:

"If we do not know God's words, if we do not know theology, then we cannot truly worship him".

That's the premise of this excellent study guide. It wants to help us to know God's word.
It is true to the word, easy to read, but difficult to digest, challenging and digging deep.
This is not a superficial overview of the epistel but a thorough exegesis of nearly every single verse.

"Are you being the church and not just attending it?"

What does this even mean for the church as a whole, for your local church and for you as God's child? How can we really be the body of Christ?

We are God's beloved children, citizens and heirs of His Kingdom, part of His body and soldiers in a spiritual war.

Let's learn to live accordingly.

This study guide is meant as a Bible Teachers Guide, but it can also be used in small groups or in private study. I really hope that many Bible Teachers and Students will use it, because many sermons and messages in our days lack this depth of knowledge.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The surgeon is ready...Are you?

Finally there's a publication date for Will Patching's new thriller: 11th December




I just love his writing that flows so effortlessly and doesn't feel written at all.

His books are cruel, graphic and gripping with real characters and I literally can't put them down.
I guess I'm one of his greatest fans. He sure is one of my favorite authors.

I had the honor to beta-read Mutilated. I was enthusiastic and told Will so - and I mentioned some points where I had doubts. Now, two months later, the final version in hand, curiosity took over. I wanted to see what changes he made. Of course I don't know what the other beta-readers said, but he cut out some scenes I thought didn't help the story and put in some others I could not even have imagined. The result? Although I knew what to expect, it was as gripping as the first time and the bigger changes made the story even more intense.
With my pre-knowledge I could appreciate all the finesse in crafting this shocking thriller without being distracted by uncertainty. (less)   

The surgeon is ready...Are you?

Are you ready to read Mutilated, a story about a serial killer who mutilates his victims in a way you can't imagine, and if you do you'll cringe and try to forget the pictures your mind conjures.

This fast-paced action-packed book won't let you untouched, it's impossible not to feel and fear with Doc.

If you like your books well-written, suspenseful, with characters you can relate to, if you love horror that feels real and have a heart for people who are beyond the bonds of the social norm you need to read Mutilated.


Now I'm waiting for the third in this series and of course for the sequel of The Hack.

(updated 12-03-16)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Beta-Reading and First class English

It's more than two months since my last post. I didn't stop reading but for some time I encountered only average books.

Then this month suddenly there were some emails from authors asking me to read their books that have not yet been published.
I must admit it makes me proud. I want to help author's to make their work even better, and it's a big ego-booster when they come and ask me and appreciate my comments.

The varity could not have been greater.

Teddy asked me to beta-read, because Martin suggested to contact me with this stunning mail:
I should have mentioned two things, Teddy. First, Barbara's German but her English is first class.
Second, in her last beta read for me (she's a survivor of two editions of my novel) she noted something like "nice paragraph." She only did that once. She picked out the one paragraph that I thought best.
So my English is "first class"???!!!???


Teddy's quite good at writing sexy scenes and funny dialogues, but she thought it necessary to put some action, mystery and suspense in the mix. I hope Martin and I convinced her not to do it.

***

For the next one I had already been waiting impatiently. I was really excited to be allowed to be a beta-reader for the sequel of Remorseless by Will Patching.

It didn't feel like beta-reading at all: the novel is perfect. It's creepy, well constructed, full of believable strange characters...and there wasn't much to suggest, to comment or to correct. Will is really an incredibly gifted writer. As soon as I know the publication date I'll post more about it.

BTW Remorseless will be free on BookBub on November 3, 2016. Don't miss it!

***
Robert apparently found me on goodreads, had a look at this blog, liked what I read and asked me to read his manuscript.
Pirates, drugs, revenge in 1936.
I made so many hopefully friendly comments that I feared to discourage the author, something I never want to do. But I was wrong, he appreciates my comments and wants to continue the work with me, closing his email: "your forever beta friend".

***

Ok, the last one isn't a beta-read. It's just an ARC, publication date November 1, 2016. I'm not sure if I'll have a review ready by then, because this is deep stuff. I've read about 15 % now of
Gregoy Brown's                                 

"If we do not know God's words, if we do not know theology, then we cannot truly worship him."



and it's amazing. I've read my share of bible studies, but this is something different. There's so much depth in there, he is really exploring all the glorious mysteries hidden in a text I've read uncounted times - and he challenges his readers, not by difficult writing or sophisticated ideas, but by the truth of God's Word.

He told my that The Armor of God is part of this book.

After finishing I'll write another post about it.



Saturday, August 13, 2016

Against prejudices

Some novels are extraordinarily good without a great story, suspense or plot twists. They're good because they're honest, authentic, open your horizon to a different culture or another way to see life and they make you think about the world we live in.They may even help you to understand what's going on.

This week I had the pleasure to find such a gem.

The news focus is on Syria, islamistic terror and refugees. We hear or read the shocking numbers, we see the devastating images and the world is discussing where to put all these people, who will let in how many, how to keep them from coming to the EU, how to make them stay in Turkey.

What we don't see and our politicians seem to forget is that we are not talking about numbers but about fellow human beings, individuals with individual tragedies and traumata.

There is no easy solution. History, religion, foreign interference....have created an atmosphere of prejudices and hatred. Some respond with religiuos fanatism and others loose faith.

One of those who seeing the world as it is can't believe there's a loving God is the author of this book. At least he admits that he could be wrong. Hopelessness is the ruling feeling in his narration. There is no hope without God.

My Review:

This book is a powerful appeal against prejudices, stereotypes and war. I don't know how much of this narration is autobiographic but I'm sure personal experience, pain and grief found their way into this novel.
Adam's sophisticated philosophical view on politics, religion, psychology and society is far from all clichés. I don't agree with all his views but they become comprehensible.
He gives us insight into what it might mean for an individual to live in exile while their homeland is falling apart.
The Middle Eastern conflict isn't easy to comprehend and with this book I noticed how much more complex it is than I thought. We got used to the images of bombed cities and refugees in small boats trying to find somewhere to live in peace. But while all this arouses compassion and the cry to end the cruelty, the masses seem faceless and islamophobia is thriving. Adam's story is able to remind you that "the Syrians" or "the Arabs" don't exist. Everybody is an individual with his own history and strugles and in case of the Syrians often traumatizing experiences.
The novel is told in small episodes, disussions and memories that mirror Adam's fractured state of mind.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Child abuse and human trafficking

Good comtemporary fiction reflects the world we live in. And this world is not perfect. It is a fallen world. One of the ugliest things in this world is child abuse and human trafficking.

Since I startet reviewing I've read some impressive books about that issue. Reports and statistics can't touch you as can a good story with characters you can relate to.

The two best of all those books until recently were the thriller "The Hack" by Will Patching (author's page) and the autobiography of Barbara Amaya Nobody's Girl (author's page).

Now I discovered another excellent novel about this incredibly evil reality.

My review on goodreads
This excellently written book is suspenseful, entertaining, hurtful, moving, thrilling....and true.

The book compares Zoey's situation with Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Uncle Tom. The methods have changed but slavery still exists.

In the back of the ebook there are some shocking statistcs, reviews from readers who have been victims, information about organisation and an interview with the author Christopher Stollar who talks about his three years of research for this book and about his faith.

Yes, this is a christian book, but unlike other christian novels it doesn't shy away from graphic descriptions of the cruelties. The language isn't "clean" and although there is one christian secondary character it's not at all preachy or evangelistic.



In the interview Christopher Stollar quotes C.S. Lewis:

"The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature."


Christopher Stollar does just that.

We live in this world and we can't close our eyes. This author not only writes about it but is donating 10 percent of the earnings of this book to organizations that battle modern slavery.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Amazing Grace

What is grace?

We know that our redemption is grace, we are re-born and will live in eternity with our Father in heaven. Our sins are forgiven because Jesus died on the cross. He sent his spirit to live within us.

But do we really understand what that means? Have we embraced the whole truth or just got a glimps of it? 

Last week I got two books about grace that widened my horizon.

I had no doubts about forgiveness or that I am "saved" and will live forever in heaven. I knew that the Holy Spirit lives in me because I hear him from time to time. I just wasn't sure about "walking in the spirit" (Gal.5:25) or "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20).

I did not feel it. I could not see this in my life. And I didn't know how to achieve it.





















This first book puts the emphasis on the fact that we live under the new covenant, under grace and not under the law, whereas the second points out that we can not and need not do anything on our own.

 

We are indeed a new creation, Jesus really lives in us 
and He wants to act and shine through us.

We only need to accept and capture this truth.
Grace seen in this light is amazing.



Saturday, May 21, 2016

A week of christian non-fiction

This week I spent my time with christian non-fiction. Lately I hadn't read much of it, because a lot of these books are too superficial or too theoretical to really enjoy reading.

But too authors asked me for reviews, one of them even sent me his Paperback from America. How could I say no?

And in between I had to do the translation of a preaching about showing mercy to others.




So I read three different texts about three different aspects of life as a follower of Jesus.

None of them told me anything I hadn't already read and learned in nearly 50 decades of being a Christian. That doesn't mean that I don't need to read it again and again,

Both books aren't superficial at all nor too theoretical. Both show profound knowledge of the bible and speak of divine truth. The first makes readers aware how to put on their armor and why it is needed, the second  will make every reader marvel afresh how great is our Lord and worship Him because only He is worthy of all our praise.

To make my week complete the sermon emphasized God's mercy and how we can show mercy to the people around us.

Everday life gets so much into focus that I often forget who I am following, what battle I'm in and how God expects me to treat others.

These are only three aspects of Christian life, there are so many more and it is always good to be aware and to engage our mind thinking about things that count in eternity.

Here are my reviews of the two books:


The armor of God

Spiritual warfare is not very popular in our times.
Christians who talk about it are seen as fundamentalist ranking on the same level as Islamists.
There are Christians who suspect demons behind every corner and blame them for ereything that doesn't work out as they think it should.
Others totally ignore Satan and his fallen angels as non-existant.
But "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Eph. 6:12).
What we need is sober-mindedness. We must recognize that Satan is real. That's no reason to live in fear, but we need to be aware of the ongoing battle and we need to be prepared.
If you don't know how this little book is a profound biblically based help.
With its questions at the end of every chapter it is a valuable guide in small groups.
The author sent me a free copy and I'm glad to help spread the word.

There's no one like Jesus

I didn't learn anything new and I'm not sure that this book could convince anybody of the uniqueness of our Lord Jesus, but it is good to read or hear some things we know again and again.

Blake western examines different aspects, qualities and characteristics of Jesus, always emphasizing that He is so great, amazing and surprising that it is impossible to fully describe or even understand Him.

Not all chapters may appeal to everybody, but sure enough you will find something that really will touch your heart.

For Christians it is a book that reminds us who we are following and what a privilege it is to be in Christ and He in us. Sometimes we forget who is with us when everyday life distracts and frightens us.

This book will lead you straight into worship.








Monday, May 9, 2016

A challenge for Christian life

Two weeks ago I finished a book that really impressed me.

On our church retreat last weekend I felt the urge to tell others about it. I don't talk often about the books I read because people usually aren't interested. But in this case followed were interesting discussions.

Here's my review for Netgalley and Goodreads:

"I just finished this insightful book with tears in my eyes. I would want every evangelical pastor, every Christian youth group leader, every Christian parent of teenagers to read this book.

It's not a common issue for a novel nor is it an easy one. How does it effect the whole family if you learn (in this case by attempted suicide) that your child is homosexual? What about all the values and the right path to salvation you have been teaching them all their live? Is it your fault? What can you do now?

I am a devoted Christian and I must admit that I recognize a lot of Jenn's thoughts and fears, but I got incredibly angry with her pastor and the camp that was supposed to transform Josh and cure him.

This novel shows how easily we can break our children and with them our families by putting too much pressure on them, by expecting them to live according what we feel as right and by putting law over love."

Laila told me she enjoys contact with  her readers and even skyping with bookclubs. Her website: http://www.lailaibrahim.com/

Sunday, May 8, 2016

One year blogging

Time to look back.

I've been blogging for one year now. And I still don't know if this makes any sense. The numbers are disappointing: less than 10 visits daily, sometimes even only 4 or 5. Only when an author twitters or blogs about my review of their book traffic increases for one or two days. That's great and I really feel good when it happens because it shows me that they appreciate what I'm doing.

I've mentioned and recommended 54 books, written about my trip to California and my experiences as a reader and beta-reader, my first efforts as a writer.

It is work and it is fun. Self-reflection combined with the wish to help good authors and some fishing for compliments.

Basically it's just some kind of diary, keeping record of my addiction. Yes,addiction. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Have I become too picky?

Did some really outstanding books spoil me for the average good books? Does reading too much too fast change my view on literature?

Since my last post I've read 10 published books and none of them was worth a blogpost. There was not one bad book among them, I rated them 3 or 4 stars, and I'm sure that some time ago I would have liked them better.

I don't think I made bad choices. Outstanding books are rare. My expectations are high, maybe too high now.

Am I really asking too much?

An outstandig novel needs a good story, an intelligent plot without logical gaps, even if it is placed in a non-existent futuristic world. The plot needs enough twists and surprises to keep me turning the pages in anticipation and longing for the next opportunity to continue when I'm forced to do something else.
I want to read about well-developed characters I can relate to and with whom I can suffer, fear and/or rejoice. I want to know what's going on in their mind. I want life-like dialogues and believable behavior.

But all that is not enough. In addition I want it to be written in a unique outstanding writing style. All these above mentioned 3 and 4 star books are well-written in a way that flows smoothly, doesn't distract from the story, but isn't exceptional, just kind of unremarkable. I love writing with a wow-effect.

Who am I to judge English writing?

I'm just an avid reader. I can't name any criteria why a specific writing is better than others. There's just this feeling when the language reaches my soul, when I want to linger on a phrase because of its beauty, when feelings are expressed the way I feel, when people or situations are fully described in a few sentences...


I don't think I'm asking too much 

There are authors who have got the talent to write the way I love it.
Sometimes it's pure luck when I find one of them.
Probably they are to blame for my actual selectiveness.

This month I had the pleasure to beta-read Chris Brown's new book (I absolutely need to read his first one in this series, Dirty Tiger!)

On Goodreads I met some outstanding writers. I don't think I would have chosen their books in a book store or on amazon.

The first one I discovered was Peter Rosch. His challenging writing in never-ending complex sentences made me translate his book But I love you.

Then there's Mark Matthews. His dark novels about addiction make me experience what his characters go through.

Michael Lewis captured me with a short story. His skillful writing shows in both his untypical  love stories.

The voice of Anthony Vicino's blog made me read all his work although in a genre I don't normally read.

Will Patching is another highly talented author who combines psychological insight with thrilling action.

Looking outside the bestseller lists
All these authors and many more are not (yet) on the bestseller lists. I'm lucky (and proud) I have the pleasure knowing them and I'll continue browsing Goodreads for others.

Amidst all the average books out there, there are some jewels. We just have to find them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Sci Fi and I

No, it's not my favorite genre. I just don't like all that technical stuff and fictional stories beyond probability.

But I love Anthony's writing, his unique imaginative style

Sentences like "Not sure who invited it, but an awkward silence joined us." or "A seed of guilt sitting in my gut blossomed into full-blown regret. It sank its roots deep, latching on and refusing to let go..." make me linger to digest properly every single word.


But no time for that. The action is evolving at a breathtaking pace.

The first person POV and detailed descriptions of whatever is going on within Tom allow us to live it all and to relate to our hero.


Anthony doesn't re-invent the genre. It's all there: the flawed hero who needs to save the world, a mighty enemy who wants to seize power. As we are far in the future AI and new technologies aren't surprising. Fans of the genre won't be disappointed.

It took me a while to get the concept of this world, but then I emerged deep into the story, that is until the point (around 80-85 %) where things drifted too far from reality or from what I can imagine as future reality. Might be my lack of imagination. I like books that stick to reality or at least stay within the spectrum of possibility.

This book is clearly meant as the first in a series. In general, I don't like series and I hate waiting for the next. But I'm sure I'll read it as soon as Anthony is ready to publish.

Sometimes it's worth reading a book not because of the story but just for the way it is written.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Haven seekers

I got this book from Netgalley and I did not know that it is the fourth and last in a series.
What a shame that I haven't started with the first one!

This is a really great series about persecution of Christians, keeping faith in times of trouble, patience when healing doesn't occur as we want it, pride and hope.
It isn't preachy at all, instead it is written with very deep psychological insight and suspense.

Yes, it's one of those books that made me cry, although I have not made all the journey together with Marcus, Lee and the others and I had to figure out a lot of the past experiences.

I'll probably have to read the other three, but I'll wait some time.



Why don't exist more books like that where Christians are real persons with real emotions and fears with the only difference that they know where their haven is, well-written with suspense?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Short stories are like a good photo

I feel it's time for a new post, even if nobody seems to read this blog anymore.

The last beta-read took more time and thought than I had expected.
The last two books from Netgalley weren't bad but not worth a blog post.

For a change I decided to plunge into short stories. I've always liked them. I startet with beta-reading some stories but that wasn't very pleasant, I had obviously chosen the wrong author. So I headed over to smashwords where I found an infinite variety of free short stories and startet a download spree.

After reading 30 stories - ranging from "nonsense" to "wow" - an idea came to my mind. I understood what I like a story to be: like a good photo. Novels resemble good movies, short stories shouldn't try to be short novels.


Short stories should be like this photo.
It tell's a story.
We know these people are refugees who finally made it to the shore after surviving a difficult journey hoping for a better life in peace.

We don't know where they come from, if they have lost anybody during the journey, what is waiting for them in this new country.
We don't know what their life was like before.
We don't need to know. This snapshot is a story in its own right.
The rest is left to our imagination.

A novel would probably start with their normal life at home, describe the circumstances that led to the decision to flee, recount in detail the exertions of the journey with a dramatic peak in the storm and the hopefully happy outcome. Some characters and their relations with others would be deeply explored. Nothing wrong with that.

But you can't do that within 10 pages. Some authors try and the result is boring at best.
Good gripping short stories jump into the situation, maybe give you some hints about background, make you feel what the main character feels at this moment and end with a preferably surprising climax.













Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Drug induced insanity

My review on goodreads
After reading The Damage Done and Milk-Blood Mark told me that he was thinking about writing a sequel.
I remember asking him wether his characters hadn't suffered enough for a lifetime. Obviously they had to suffer some more...

This week he sent me an ARC to beta read.

This sequel is as intense as the other two books, I don't know, how Mark does it, but by reading his books he makes me feel what the characters feel. It is thrilling and hurting.

This book is even more "supernatural" than the previous ones and that's probably why it doesn't feel as real. Lilly's state between life and death brings fantasy into the narrative and with that a bunch of doubts.

Nonetheless it's impossible to just close the book and stay indifferent. Just as Lilly's Mom is able to enter the minds of others, this book will intrude into every reader's mind.

I'm not sure if it's possible to fully understand the story without having read the other two.
They are all three awesome, excellent writing combined with insight in the mind and body of addicts, making me feel things I don't want anybody to experience for real.

                                                               But my favorite is still 
                                                               The Damage done, 
                                                               because it feels 
                                                               so awfully real.