Critical Reaction



by Todd M. Johnson

Published 2013

This book was provided to my by Bethany House free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.  And, luckily for them, I liked it!

So this is a thriller about a young attorney, Emily, who gets a desperate call from a long-lost friend, Kieran.  Kieran is in the middle of a lawsuit – he is suing his employer, a nuclear energy company because, while at work, there was an explosion and he inhaled…  something.  The company is being super sketchy about the details.  With the help of Emily’s semi-estranged father (who is also an attorney), they begin to gather evidence for their case – and find out that this whole thing is way bigger than they suspected.

Let’s be honest – I don’t know anything about nuclear energy, nuclear bombs, or anything else that begins with “nuclear.”  So I’m not going to try and review this book based on its factuality.  It read logically and that’s important to me.  What the company was doing, how they were doing it, why they were doing it – all of that made sense, so even if the science is whack (which what do I know?  Maybe it’s spot on!), the story hangs together pretty well.

However, this this whole second level involving these Native Americans and the way the nuclear energy is impacting the environment and all of these things and that part got rather fuzzy.  In the end, it seemed to distract rather than add to the plot, especially when they’re all dashing about bareback on half-wild mustangs without bridles through the desert at night.  I was actually more mentally critical of those kinds of details than I was on the nuclear stuff, although maybe that’s because I’ve spent more time on horseback than I have developing nuclear bombs.

The relationships in this book irked me a bit.  Emily and her dad have this strained relationship because he was super busy when she was little etc etc etc and then when her mom got sick and eventually died he just ignored poor Emily…  I honestly end up feeling more on the dad’s side, because he’s been working to reach out to her and show that he’s sorry for things in the past and, up until this point where she has to have his help, Emily’s been basically ignoring him.  I’m so sorry that your dad was so busy taking care of his wife whom he loved devotedly that he didn’t have time to listen to how you did on a college exam.  From my perspective, Emily seemed a bit too demanding and unforgiving as regards her dad.  Throughout the book, this whole relationship is kind of a big deal, but then it sort of fizzles out in the end and we’re left to more or less assume that the rift has been healed and all is well.

Emily and Kieran, of course, fall in love.  However, this is also just background.  There are no quiet conversations about the future, no scenes in which the characters profess to love each other, nada.  We basically know they’re in love because Emily’s dad keeps thinking I’m not sure it’s a good idea for Emily to be in love with Kieran when so much is uncertain.  It would have been nice to have just a smidge more of the love story, or to have no love story at all instead of just a vague insinuation of one.

HOWEVER I felt that this book was paced excellently.  There were definitely times when I could barely put it down.  I was reading this in tandem with The War that Ended Peace and that was working super well.  I’m way more inspired to read ten pages of non-fiction when I know another chapter of a thriller is waiting for me as a reward.  The chapters were short and snappy (my favorite kind) leaving me always thinking that I could read just one more before turning out the light.  The courtroom scenes are good.  Sometimes those can drag a bit, but these were very well done.

The author also does a good job of telling us what the “bad guys” are up to – just enough information to add to the tension.  There is also another plot line following another character who was involved in the explosion and his story also paces well.

This is a Bethany House book, but there is zero religion, other than a few desperation prayers.  No idea what the religious affiliations of these characters are.  That’s fine, and I appreciated that the Bethany House label did guarantee that this was just a good thriller with no cursing or sex – I hate it when thrillers seem to think that the only way they can build tension is by f*ing everything in sight.

Overall, this book is getting a 4/5.  I would have boosted it to a 5, but the ending was a bit of a cop-out.  There was SO MUCH BUILD UP and then whoops!  Epilogue!  Everyone’s happy.  Awww, happy feelings.  The end.  It was a very abrupt ending, and I just felt a little bit gypped after I had invested so much into the characters and their lives.  Still, the pacing was good, the story was gripping, and the whole thing a great deal of fun.

World War II: The Axis Assault, 1939-1942



Editor: Douglas Brinkley
Chapter Introductions:  David Rubel

Published:  2003

So this book is a “New York Times Living History” book, and I’m having trouble finding out if these are actually a thing, or if just happens to be this one and Volume II of World War II.  Regardless, this book was pretty nifty.

Basically, the book is divided into parts and the parts are divided into chapters.  Each part is some big stage of the war (or leading up to the war), and then the chapters are events that were part of  that stage.  In each chapter, there is a brief introduction of the event, then a copy of an article from The New York Times that covered that event, and then some other primary document – a transcript of a speech, a copy of a letter, a series of telegrams, etc.  While obviously you are still getting some biased information (someone is deciding which primary documents you read), it was still super interesting to read some of these documents for myself, especially speeches given by FDR, Hitler, and Churchill.  I’ve always been down on FDR, so I enjoyed reading this speeches and picking them apart on my own.  ;-)

The newspaper articles are interesting as well.  We read them with the 20/20 (sort of) vision of looking at the past, so it’s intriguing to read articles that were written when the person writing didn’t know what was going to happen next.  There are loads of pictures as well, and this was, overall, just an excellent way to get an overview of the war, and to be reminded that when history is happening, the future is uncertain.  I have Volume 2 on my shelf and am looking forward to reading it.

Between Shades of Gray



by Ruta Sepetys

Published 2011

This is a story about a Lithuanian girl named Lina who, in 1941, is arrested by the Russians and sent to a prison camp.  This book is journal from the years she spent there, suffering from exposure, starvation, and brutal treatment by the Russian soldiers.  While this book is a work of fiction, the author’s parents (or at least one…  the back cover is a bit vague…) were Lithuanian refugees, thus leading to the author’s desire to give this often-forgotten story a voice.

THE STORY IS VERY SAD.  Sometimes this sounds stupidly obvious, but it’s true.  There’s not a lot of happy moments in this book.  People die.  People wish they were dead because their lives are so horrible.  This is a story of injustice, of prejudice, of desperation, of despair.  There is not happy ending, just a vague epilogue that implies that Lina and her brother eventually are freed.

For me, all prison camp stories end up being compared to The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, one of my favorite books of all time.  And most fall short because they lack the same sense of hope that ten Boom’s story gives.  I think that it is because ten Boom tells her story from a place of faith: even though terrible things happen to her and her family (and when she is rather old, too – at an age where you sit back and assume that your life will continue to be just as adventureless and peaceful as it has been for the last six decades or so), ten Boom has already realized that most valuable of secrets: man can destroy your body, but not your soul.  Lina realizes this as well, and is able to find joy and escape in her drawing.  However, Lina never takes that next step – in which one must realize that only God can truly protect and keep that soul safe.  Thus, where ten Boom’s story is full of the confidence and true joy of someone whose soul is secure, Lina’s tale never loses the desperation of one frantically trying to cling to that soul herself.

Still, it is an excellent read, poignant and thought-provoking, and an excellent reminder of the evils of which man is capable.