Book Reviews

One stop page for my latest book reviews.  Hey, it’s my opinion . . .

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

What if anyone in Hell could take a bus trip to Heaven and stay there forever if they wanted to?

In The Great Divorce C. S. Lewis again employs his formidable talent for fable and allegory. The writer finds himself in Hell boarding a bus bound for Heaven. The amazing opportunity is that anyone who wants to stay in Heaven, can. This is the starting point for an extraordinary meditation upon good and evil, grace and judgment. Lewis’s revolutionary idea is the discovery that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. In Lewis’s own words, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.” (Description from

I loved this book.  Before I go further, I confess to considering C.S. Lewis as one of my favorite authors and I consider this to be on of his MUST READ books.  The Great Divorce is one of C.S. Lewis’ stories where you could gather meaning from almost every word.  Even Lewis’ description of Heaven and Hell reveal something about how people respond to both places. 

In The Great Divorce we see people who decide for whatever reason not to proceed to Heaven.  For example, when at the foothills of Heaven on of the Bright Spirits who is assigned to meet one of the bus passengers tells him “Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith.”  We can learn from this that as Christians we should be sure that what we accept as truth agrees with God’s Word. 

In another encounter in the book, one of the bus passengers has a lizard which represents lust and the Bright Spirit is trying to convince the passenger that the lizard must be killed.  The bus passenger has allowed keeping his lizard alive to consume him and it has become more important to him than anything else.  This is such a great example of how we must be careful to not put other things above our relationship with God.

C.S. Lewis teaches meaningful lessons in The Great Divorce which are clearly illustrated and easy to understand.  Even though the book was written many years ago, the lessons are still relevant to what we face today.  My recommendation?  A MUST READ.

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“I do not look at myself. I have given up myself”…”And that was how everything began.” “I’m not trying to make any point. I am telling you to repent and believe.” “I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed here at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land of answers, not of questions, and you shall see the Face of God.” “We know nothing of Religion here: we think only of Christ.” …”Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into Glory” …”Damnation will spread back to their past and contaminate the pleasure of sin.” “We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke! There is no need to go on pretending one was right. After that, we begin living.” “We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly.”

From The Hobbit

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

The hobbit-hole in question belongs to one Bilbo Baggins, an upstanding member of a “little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded dwarves.” He is, like most of his kind, well off, well fed, and best pleased when sitting by his own fire with a pipe, a glass of good beer, and a meal to look forward to. Certainly this particular hobbit is the last person one would expect to see set off on a hazardous journey; indeed, when Gandalf the Grey stops by one morning, “looking for someone to share in an adventure,” Baggins fervently wishes the wizard elsewhere. No such luck, however; soon 13 fortune-seeking dwarves have arrived on the hobbit’s doorstep in search of a burglar, and before he can even grab his hat or an umbrella, Bilbo Baggins is swept out his door and into a dangerous adventure.

The dwarves’ goal is to return to their ancestral home in the Lonely Mountains and reclaim a stolen fortune from the dragon Smaug. Along the way, they and their reluctant companion meet giant spiders, hostile elves, ravening wolves–and, most perilous of all, a subterranean creature named Gollum from whom Bilbo wins a magical ring in a riddling contest. It is from this life-or-death game in the dark that J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterwork, The Lord of the Rings, would eventually spring. Though The Hobbit is lighter in tone than the trilogy that follows, it has, like Bilbo Baggins himself, unexpected iron at its core. Don’t be fooled by its fairy-tale demeanor; this is very much a story for adults, though older children will enjoy it, too. By the time Bilbo returns to his comfortable hobbit-hole, he is a different person altogether, well primed for the bigger adventures to come–and so is the reader. Description from

My review:
I decided to read The Hobbit because the movie is coming out soon and it looks like it will be great. Let me just say that if you haven’t read The Hobbit yet it should be on your “must-read” list. While it is true that Tolkien originally created The Hobbit for his children, it is a story that will appeal to all ages. The narrative has a simple and easy to read style. There is a little violence in the story, but not so much that anyone over the age of 7 can’t read the book.

If you are looking for a great book to read as a family, I recommend The Hobbit. Some discussion points for families are: Does Bilbo change and/or develop as a character? How does Bilbo relate to other characters in the book? Do you find the characters likable? Are the characters creatures you would want to meet?” There are so many other things to discuss in the book as Bilbo Baggins continues on his journey and in the process is transformed from a homebody to a great adventurer.

Julie Collins Series by Lori Armstrong

Book #1 - Blood Ties

Nominated in 2006 for a Shamus Award for Best First Novel by the Private Eye Writers of America.

Julie Collins is stuck in a dead-end secretarial job with the Bear Butte County Sheriff’s office, and still grieving over the unsolved murder of her Lakota half-brother. Lack of public interest in finding his murderer or the killer of several other transient Native American men, has left Julie with a bone-deep cynicism she counters with tequila, cigarettes, and dangerous men. The one bright spot in her mundane life is the time she spends working part-time as a PI with her childhood friend, Kevin Wells.

When the body of a sixteen-year old white girl is discovered in nearby Rapid Creek, Julie believes this victim will receive the attention others were denied. Then she learns Kevin has been hired, mysteriously, to find out where the murdered girl spent her last few days. Julie finds herself drawn into the case against her better judgment, and discovers not only the ugly reality of the young girl’s tragic life and brutal death, but ties to her and Kevin’s past that she is increasingly reluctant to revisit.  (Description from

Book #2 - Hallowed Ground

2007 nomination for a Shamus Award for Best Paperback Original, a Daphne du Maurier Award and won the 2007 WILLA Cather Literary Award for Best Original Softcover Fiction

Grisly murders are rocking the small county of Bear Butte where Julie Collins has spent the last few months learning the PI biz without the guidance of her best friend and business partner, Kevin Wells. Enter dangerous, charismatic entrepreneur Tony Martinez, who convinces Julie to take a case involving a missing five-year-old Native American girl, the innocent pawn in her parents’ child custody dispute. Although skeptical about Martinez’ motives in hiring her and confused by her strange attraction to him, Julie nevertheless sees the opportunity to hone her investigative skills outside her office.

But something about the case doesn’t ring true. The girl’s father is foreman on the controversial new Indian casino under construction at the base of the sacred Mato Paha, and the girl’s mother is secretly working for a rival casino rumored to have ties to an east coast crime family. Local ranchers—including her father—a Lakota Holy group, and casino owners from nearby Deadwood are determined to stop the gaming facility from opening.

With the body count rising, the odds are stacked against Julie to discover the truth behind these hidden agendas before the murderer buries it forever. And when Julie unwittingly attracts the attention of the killer, she realizes no place is safe . . . not even hallowed ground.   (Description from

Book #3 - Shallow Ground

Nominated for a 2008 High Plains Book Award, a Daphne du Maurier Award and was a finalist for the 2008 WILLA Cather Literary Award

Surveillance on an insurance fraud case in Bear Butte County unfolds tragically for PI Julie Collins and her partner, Kevin Wells. The reappearance of a mysterious hole—cause of the fatal accident—brings about the landowner’s unsettling confession; bones were recently uncovered on that remote ridge. Fearing repercussions from their illegal off-season hunting, the hunters reburied the remains and kept quiet.

Now the hole is back, but the bones have vanished.

Were the bones part of an ancient Indian burial ground? Connected to the unsolved disappearance of a Native American woman? The overworked, understaffed sheriff asks for Julie’s help.

But the case opens old wounds, and she finds herself at odds with the Standing Elk family, discovering they withheld information from her in the months before Ben’s death. And Julie’s relationship with Tony Martinez hits a rough spot when she agrees to go undercover in his strip club.

On the wrong side of tribal politics, family disputes, and employee rivalries, Julie continues to dig for answers . . . while the personal stakes climb. In a brutal fight for her life, Julie finally comes face to face with her brother’s killer . . . and realizes not all deceptions run deep.  (Description from

Book #3 - Snow Blind

Won the 2009 Shamus Award, from the Private Eye Writers of America, for Best Paperback
The frigid winter months are mighty slow in the PI biz for Julie Collins and her partner, Kevin Wells — until the duo is hired by a young woman to investigate problems at her grandfather’s assisted living facility, where they encounter lax security, unqualified healthcare personnel and a shady senior volunteer organization.

Julie barely has time to delve deeper into the puzzling case before she reluctantly finds herself in an isolated cattle shelter on the Collins ranch with her father during a raging blizzard and no way to escape him or her bitter memories.

A missing hired ranch hand who is found dead only complicates matters further. In trying to uncover the truth about the man’s death, Julie wrestles with issues that make her question old wounds and her new family loyalties.

Kevin’s reckless involvement with their new client tests the bounds of professionalism, and Julie’s relationship with Tony Martinez is strained, as he deals with power struggles within the Hombres organization, putting them both in danger.

As the bodies and the snow pile up, Julie seems at odds with everyone, leaving her to wonder if she’s being blinded to the cold, hard truths in her life by love…or by hate.  (Description from

My review:
Lori Armstrong is a good writer, and she knows how to build suspense. After reading the first book in this series (which I received as a Free Friday ebook, I had to go out and get the rest of the series. What I liked the best about the series is the very flawed main character, Julie, and her interactions with the people in her life. This girl is really screwed up and she muddles through her relationships with a tough-girl attitude. The author does a good job of maintaining the relationships throughout the series and building on the characters so that I felt like I was getting to know them in great detail. The only negative I have for this series is that there is a lot (I mean a lot) of drinking, smoking, sexual situations and cussing. For me, this detracted from the overall enjoyment of the series. I hate when I read a book that I would hesitate to recommend to others because of the language or situations in the book. While I understand why the author utilized these things in the book (did I mention the main character is one messed up tough girl?) I hated that the tough girl attitude had to be portrayed with so much in-your-face vice. Overall, this series had great suspense and great character development. Any author that can write well enough to make you want to read more about their characters is a great author and I think Lori Armstrong is one worth following.

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