Friday, September 16, 2011

Sanctus by Simon Toyne


The blurb:
The certainties of modern life are about to be shattered by an ancient conspiracy that has been nurtured by blood and lies.

A man climbs a cliff face in the oldest inhabited place on earth, a mountain known as the Citadel, a Vatican-like city-state that towers above the city of Ruin in contemporary Turkey.  But this is no ordinary ascent.  It is a dangerous, symbolic act.  And thanks to the media, it is witnessed by the entire world.

And few people understand its consequence.  For foundation worker, Kathryn Mann and a handful of others, it's evidence that a hopeful, new beginning is at hand.  For the cowled and secretive monks who live inside the Citadel, it could mean the end of everything that they have built -- and they will break every law in every country and even kill to stop it.  For reporter Liv Adamsen, it spurs the memory of the beloved brother she has lost and begins the next stage of a journey into the hart of her own identity.

Reviewers have compared Sanctus to Dan Brown's DaVinci Code.  They both delve into the mysteries and possible abuses by organized religion -- particular sects of the Catholic Church.  They also share an accessibility and a fastpaced style.  Sanctus draws you into the mystery from the very start. The book opens with an errant monk who somehow escapes knowing the secret of the powerful group and his very public repudiation of the sect.  The monk seems to be a good person, we sympathize with him and wonder what it is that the group is hiding in the inner sanctum, what is the secret that gives these monks such long live, good health and power?

Toyne keeps the tension quite high as we learn about the sect's hierarchy, politics, and ruthless policies.  Aside from the brothers, there are guards with guns who patrol the area to make sure that no strangers and no unauthorized brothers enter the secret areas.

The more interesting characters include the escaped brother, Samuel; Inspector David Arkadian, the police investigator who is assigned to his mysterious death; Father Thomas, the tech genius who is the expert in the preservation of ancient documents and is friends with the rebel brother Athanasius and the escaped brother Samuel; Athanasius who after brother Samuel's death has begun to question the practices and secrets in their order; Liv, a journalist who finds herself a part of this unusual and dangerous mystery.

I love thrillers and couldn't put Sanctus down.  I enjoyed the layers of mystery, conspiracy and the underlying mystical/religious slant.  It's fast-paced, complex, and very satisfying.

ISBN-10: 0062038303 - Hardcover $25.99
Publisher: William Morrow (September 6, 2011), 496 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
In December 2007, Simon Toyne quit his job and moved to France for six months, hoping to fulfill a long-held desire to write a thriller.  After a sleepless night crossing the channel on a storm-battered midnight ferry, he and his family abandoned the eight-hour drive to their new home and instead started looking for a hotel.

It was the eerie sight of the sharp spire of the Rouen Cathedral piercing the predawn sky that immediately struck Toyne's imagination and gave birth to the fictional Citadel of Sanctus.

Toyne has worked in British television for twenty years.  As a writer, director, and producer, he has worked on several award-winning shows, one of which won a BAFTA.  He lives in England with his wife and family.

NOLO Employment Law: The Essential HR Desk Reference

Employment Law: The Essential HR Desk Reference
Employment Law: The Essential HR Desk Reference by Lisa Guerin, J.D.

The blurb:
If you're a human resources professional, it's important that you have quick access to the information you need to do your job. Enter Nolo's latest quick reference guide, Employment Law: The Essential HR Desk Reference, the all-in-one, easy-to-read guide every HR pro should have handy.

From Absenteeism to Zero-Tolerance Policy, read entries on topics such as:
  • Bereavement Leave
  • Class Action
  • Ergonomics
  • Hostile Work Environment
  • Minimum Wage
  • Privacy
  • Stock Options
  • Trade Secret
  • Whistleblower
  • ...and much more

    In usual Nolo fashion, Employment Law combines legal and practical information that can be used in real-world HR situations. Real-life case references, statistics, trends, and even pop culture references help to illustrate each entry's summary of the law. Let this guide, the latest in Nolo's Quick Reference series, give you easy and affordable access to the information you need.

  • Review:
    I've used several NOLO books and have found them to be consistently useful, informative and well researched. Generally, these NOLO resource books are helpful both to laypersons and lawyers.

    The Employment Law: The Essential HR Desk Reference seems to target HR professionals more than lawyers. The Desk Reference isn't arranged according to topic but instead covers main concepts and terms in alphabetical order. The terms are covered carefully and with some of the most recent case law to give the reader/user a fuller understanding of each topic. But the HR Desk Reference should be used for a better understanding of the concepts and recent jurisprudence and should be relied upon hand in hand with specific advice from a lawyer.

    I'm not a HR Professional and requested the book in order to get a better understanding of the concepts in employment law and HR - from an employee and small business owner's point of view. I found the book helpful for my purposes. Considering that Employment Law: The Essential HR Desk Reference is sold for $49.99, while it is useful, I feel that the other NOLO publications that I've read and used offer better value.

    ISBN-10: 1413313337 - Paperback $49.99
    Publisher: NOLO; New edition (April 13, 2011), 367 pages.
    Review copy provided by the Amazon Vine Program & the publisher.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

    I'd read about The Wandering Falcon and Jamil Ahmad, its 80 year old author in glowing reviews.  Ahmad had worked as a bureaucrat in the remote northwest region of Pakistan and wrote the book over the course of years/decades.  When the book was offered through Amazon Vine, I snapped it up immediately!
    The Wandering Falcon
    The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

    The blurb:
    After decades working in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan, eighty-year-old debut author Jamil Ahmad sat down to write this novel about a formidable, wild place where Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan meet and the people living there, who are constantly subjected to extremes--both of place and culture.

    The Wandering Falcon is an urgent, essential glimpse into a hidden world, with its inaccessible people, which has enormous geopolitical significance and yet remains largely a mystery to us.  Jamil Ahmad was moved after his years living and working among the tribes to reveal their way of life, and here he reminds us why we read, and how vital fiction is to illuminating lives throughout the world.

    Eighty-year old Jamil Ahmad's debut novel is a work of a lifetime.  Working as a civil servant for decades in the northwest tribal regions of Pakistan, Ahmad learned about the area, the people, and their stories.  The Wandering Falcon takes place in this remote area and unforgiving landscape by Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq before it became a battleground.

    Beautifully written, The Wandering Falcon is a short read.  In each of the 9 chapters, Ahmad gives a sympathetic portrayal of life, customs, culture and the ways of the tribal peoples of the area.  The book follows the life of Tor Baz, the Black Falcon.  Tor Baz is the grandson of a sardar (chief). His mother had left her husband to run away with one of the sardar's camel herder.  After the couple are found and killed, the young son is left alive in the desert. The young boy is found by a party of wandering Baluchis and he joins them on their journey. Through Tor Baz, Ahmad introduces different aspects of the cultural and political life of the area.   

    Personally, I found it a fascinating read.  I was particularly affected by stories where the traditional tribal culture would come against the indifference, opportunism, and bureaucracy of local authorities and national governments.  While some stories show life before the national borders were enforced, one also covers the cost and the manner of their implementation.  The Wandering Falcon is an unusual and powerful read, a glimpse into little known and understood cultures and people.

    ISBN-10: 1594488274 - Hardcover $25.95
    Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (October 13, 2011), 256 pages.
    Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher.

    About the Author:
    Jamil Ahmad was born in 1930. He joined the Civil Service of Pakistan in 1954 and served mainly in the Frontier Province and Baluchistan. He was also development commissioner for the Frontier and chairman of the Tribal Development Corporation, and was posted as minister in Pakistan's embassy in Kabul at a critical time, before and during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He lives in Islamabad with his wife, Helga Ahmad, a nationally recognized environmentalist and social worker. This is his first book.

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen

    Welcome to the TLC book tour of Lynn Cullen's Reign of Madness.
    Reign of Madness
    The blurb:
    One of the most famous figures in Spanish history is Juana of Castile, who would come to be known as Juana the Mad.  A fiercely intelligent princess who inherited Queen Isabel's throne, she married a man so beautiful he was called Philippe the Handsome.  But what began as a seeming fairy tale ended quite differently.  After Queen Juana's husband died, she was branded insane and locked away in a palace, unseen by her people, for the next 46 years.  What happened between her fairytale beginning and the locked tower room?  Sweeping, page-turning, and wholly entertaining.  Reign of Madness is historical fiction at its richly satisfying best.

    I was intrigued by the story and knew very little about Spanish history and about Juana the Mad when I began reading Reign of Madness.  I think that this lack of background information made it easy for me to dive into the story, to sympathize with Juana and to find myself staunchly on her side.

    Juana had never expected to become queen of Spain. She was the daughter of Queen Isabela, one of the most powerful queens in Spanish European history and  the mother of Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire but she was third in line to the throne.  Cullen's book is historical fiction and much dramatized,  but I was fascinated by Juana's situation and her reaction to her husband's dominance and manipulation.  His power over her -- from his position as husband and her lack of allies in the Netherlands -- and his emotional and sexual dominance kept Juana from exercising her considerable political power.

    The relationship between Juana and her mother Queen Isabela is even more fascinating.   Juana grew up intimidated by and scared of her mother, the Queen.  But Juana eventually understands her mother's point of view  and the lessons that Queen Isabela  tried to pass on and the attempt to reconcile is heartbreaking.

    If you enjoy historical fiction, intrigue and drama, you will thoroughly enjoy Reign of Madness.  I highly recommend it!

    ISBN-10: 0399157093 - Hardcover $25.99 
    Publisher: Putnam Adult (August 4, 2011), 448 pages.
    Review copy provided by the publisher.

    About the Author:
    Lynn Cullen is the author of the critically praised novel The Creation of Eve, as well as many acclaimed books for children.  She lives with her husband in Atlanta, where she is at work on her next novel.