Saturday, October 19, 2013

When Will The Heaven Begin - This is Ben Breedlove's Story by Ally Breedlove

When Will The Heaven Begin?: This is Ben Breedlove’s Story.  Penguin Group (USA). October 2013. 320 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451239648.

Ben Breedlove just wanted to be an ordinary person but that was impossible as he was born with HCM or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  This condition meant that Ben’s heart could stop at any moment.  While certain strenuous activities or foods could send Ben into atrial fibrillation and eventual HCM, heart failure could also happen at any time, including while he was sleeping.  This was an amazing burden for his parents to bear; yet like so many parents with children with special physical needs, they lived with this reality, in fact lived as normal life as one could live under their unique circumstances.  The story of Ben is not about illness but about living with the knowledge that one is blessed with what one has and that eventually passing to another life is okay, in fact, more than okay.  For Ben that faithful knowledge was a product of experience.

Before that special event occurred, however, Ben had to deal with numerous medical tests and curtailment of his eating and play habits as a child.  His parents were shocked to learn of this condition, a thickening of the heart muscle which would worsen over time, and the fact that there was no surgery or medicine that could cure it or even ease.  While he was given medications which could ease the symptoms, he had to learn to live with it.  Ben is depicted as a pleasant child and teen who loved to play tricks on his family, enjoy his friends, and developed a special love for making videos.  Close to his parents and sisters, he was a normal person whose condition kept everyone on alert as to the slightest changes in his physical appearance.  He even tried some less strenuous sports such as wake surfing but after one particular experience of a fractured ankle was unable to continue what he loved. 

As Ben grew older, he began making videos for YouTube on just about every topic of interest to teens such as dating, spirituality, etc.  Eventually he made a video about his own heart condition and the experience he had in which he clearly knew he was on his way to heaven.  He knew from that point on that death wasn’t to be feared; instead he actually welcomed it, very aware that he even longed for it as he knew his heart couldn’t hold out much longer.  The video was called, “This is My Story,” Ben’s account of his near death experience told through the use of flash cards.  The questions he ultimately asked on these flash cards, before his untimely death at the age of 18 years old, concerned whether the reader believed in God, as well as asking what “you” are doing with the life you are living.  Potent words from a teen in a poignant condition. 

When it comes to a person’s demise coming at a young age, with the consciousness of its looming presence, each person almost always concentrates on the special qualities of everyday living in this earthly environment.  But Ben’s life laced with compassion and humor is about what each person is doing in this life that has value and purpose and how important it is to consider the afterlife of heaven. No, there’s no fear here at all.  Heaven is described in a highly appealing way and depicted as an appealing experience that should be welcome.  It seems that it can’t be anything other than ‘heavenly.” 

Words cannot fully capture the unique quality of this story about Ben Breedlove.  Only the hardest of hearts could read this book and not be deeply moved.  It is a tribute to the passionate love of life and God that was Ben’s primary concern and his legacy to the world he left, which is awaiting a reunion with Ben in the heaven he so lovingly describes!  Ally Breedlove has written a fitting tribute that is more about her son’s message of love to a hopefully wide audience! Nicely done, indeed, Ally Breedlove!

Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

Just One Evil Act.  Elizabeth George. (Inspector Lynley Series #18) Penguin Group (USA). October 2013. 736 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9783002015692.

Barbara Havers, a British detective, is remarkably distraught as it appears the daughter of her neighbor and friend, Taymullah Azhar, has disappeared.  Azhar believes the girls’ mother, Angelina, has taken Hadiyah but he doesn’t know where.  The police don’t have one clue on which to begin a search and after all it isn’t a crime for a daughter to be with her mother.  Barbara Havers, however, has a most unusual response; she’s hacked her hair and is practically hysterical as she feels so close to the vivacious little girl.  Add to that her immediate superior at work, “the Guv,” has it in for Barbara by capturing her every wrong move; unfortunately Barbara’s spontaneous sleuthing acts and offenses continuously feed the fires of her boss’s anger.  That same boss, it turns out, is Inspector Lynley’s ex-lover, albeit quite a temporary affair.

Now begins the intricate and convoluted search for Hadiyah and Angelina, a futile endeavor exacerbated by Angelina’s hysterical appearance and announcement that Hadiyah has been kidnapped in Italy while wandering through a normally very safe market in Lucca, Italy.  Almost everyone in the story has a bit of guilt and a part in this search suggesting questionable guilt as a motive for the kidnapping of the British girl.  Did Angelina and her Italian lover plan to keep Hadiyah’s abduction a secret forever?  Just how many lovers has Angelina had and how are they involved with the kidnapping of her daughter?  Is Angelina’s present lover and supposedly fiancĂ© so jealous that he would plan the kidnapping? Just how involved is the private detective Barbara and Azhar hired, fired, and rehired in the kidnapping? The questions arise like smoke from a raging fire.

The head of the Italian investigation is a vain man who wants to wrap up this case before the British press and police become an interfering pack of wolves.  So he accuses a homeless drug addict who frequently saw Hadiyah in the town square and forces a confession from him.  Inspector Lynley is sent over to be a liaison with the family and British police.  A scurrilous journalist basically bribes Barbara for more fodder for his seedy newspaper, “The Source.” Barbara stays involved even when warned off the case by her boss.

Meanwhile we know that Hadiyah is being held captive with a very strange woman who lusts after the man who brought Hadiyah to her and at the same time has an unbalanced sense of sin and religiosity which she reinforces with a belt of thorns worn under her clothes.  She is obviously so very mentally ill, a foreboding fact that poses a huge threat to Hadiyah who resists all efforts to be “saved.”

These are only a few of the details that intensify and become frighteningly more complex.  At times one feels like one is lost in a maze that has no end, but there’s enough action to hold the reader’s intense concern and attention.  The “who done it” aspect of the finale stunningly reveals a most ironic discovery and no easy ending.  Inspector Lynley is a master detective who quickly earns the respect of his Italian counterpart; Barbara has great sleuthing skills but seems to anger almost all of her colleagues and acquaintances because of her out-of-the-box techniques that may or may not be against the law.  

All in all, this eighteenth book in the Inspector Lynley series is a superb crime thriller destined to please every reader and eagerly anticipate the next Lynley installment from this very talented author!  Thrilling read that this reviewer highly recommends!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rasputin's Shadow: A Novel by Raymond Khoury

Rasputin’s Shadow: A Novel.  Raymond Khoury. Dutton/Penguin Group USA. October 2013. 416 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780525953135.

A strange beginning occurs when a group of miners in Russia after hearing an explosion start to violently attack each other to the death. It is 1916 and the people are extremely unhappy with the famous Tsar Alexander and his family. Then the notorious Grigor Efimovich Rasputin appears with his close companion, Misha, announcing that salvation is coming to the land.  These two men meet in a monastery where both are seeking God for the redemption of their sinful souls.  When Rasputin learns what his friend has invented, the die is cast. Rasputin realizes that his vision of purification is about to unfold through Misha’s secret creation.

The scene then shifts to America to a physicist Sokolov who is a quiet man, deeply in love with his wife.  They live a simple life which is about to spin totally out of control.  For Sokolov has made a grievous error in joining a protest outside the Soviet embassy in New York, not realizing the cameras are turned on and recording the face of every protestor. A Russian diplomat is found dead, having committed suicide or been murdered by being thrown through a high-rise window. Then Sokolov’s wife is kidnapped; but there’s no request for a ransom, and Sokolov knows it is he the criminals are after!

The story switches back and forth between the past when Rasputin was able to establish himself as a healer and set about to heal the son of the Tsar.  Later he will be killed by the Bolsheviks, but his friend Misha’s invention will not die with him.  For his grandson, Sokolov found Misha’s journals which led to a long study of science and the realization of what his grandfather had done.  Sokolov, before he met his wife, set himself to replicating the weapon that will bring chaos to the streets of Brooklyn, New York and have the potential to leash the same upon anyone, anywhere, in the world.  The question is who will find Sokolov first, now that he has gone into hiding!

The police, an FBI agent Sean Reilly, a Korean drug dealer, a Russian mobster, and a Russian agent are all in the race to capture Sokolov.  Dead bodies and shootout scenes abound, with car chases, secretive phone calls and more.  For this machine, which is really what everyone wants – and most aren’t really sure what the key is to this Sokolov character – has the power to alter the personalities of anyone individually or in a crowd, with devastating, bizarre, and savage results.

Rasputin’s Shadow: A Novel is a tautly plotted, intense thriller/mystery and historical novel to rivet every reader’s attention. It certainly would make a phenomenal movie as well but most of all it’s a well-crafted story with several different but interconnected plots.  It’s a tale of evil genius creating a tool that in the wrong hands could actually end the world as we know it.  Superb job, Raymond Khoury!  Highly recommended and worthy of a wide audience!