Saturday, August 1, 2015

An Amateur Detective with Synesthesia

Mack Dalton, owner of Mack's bar, has a unique neurological disorder, synesthesia. She can taste or see things she hears. Seeing things can be perceived as a tactile sensation, and smells and tastes are accompanied by sounds or a physical sensation. Mack has developed a talent for using her unique abilities to help solve crimes. Her boy friend, Duncan Alright, is a cop who has used her talents in the past. In fact, their crime solving as a team was so successful that the newspapers have started following her as a major news story.

Mack is in hiding from the press when she receives a letter from an unknown admirer. He plans to set her a series of tests. If she doesn't pass one of her friends from the Capone Club, her bar patrons who help solve crimes, will die.

In addition to the trials by the unknown admirer, Mack and the Capone club are involved in solving the cold case murder of Tiny's sister. This is a straightforward mystery and not difficult to figure out.

The book is fast paced with a dose of romance between Mack and Duncan as well as the two crimes. While I found the use of synesthesia as a talent for a detective interesting, Mack's character was not otherwise memorable.

For me, the major flaw in the book is the cliff hanger ending. Although the club solves Tiny's case, the series of trials remains open with a new murder and trial at the end of the book. Perhaps looking ahead to find out about this case will sell books, but it's a turn off for readers who want a resolution.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Friday, July 31, 2015

French Wine, a Missing Woman, and the Mob

Jules Landeau is a private investigator, although both his father and grandfather were in the mob. He's mostly playing it straight, but his knowledge of the criminal underworld helps when an ex-con, Eddie, hires him to search for Tanya, his missing girl friend.

Jules is reluctant to take on the case. Eddie is newly released from prison, and he's an unpleasant character. But Jules is a sucker for a Jersey boy who wants to find his lost love. After searching through Chicago's North side, Jules realizes that the case is not as simple as finding the girl. A valuable French wine and a dirty Jersey cop complicate the case. After plenty of twists, Jules succeeds with a surprising ending.

If you like stories featuring tough investigators, the mob, and a convoluted plot, this is your kind of book. The Chicago background is a perfect setting for the hunt for the missing girl.

I enjoyed the book, but thought there were almost too many characters. Once Jules leaves Chicago for New Jersey the plot twists come fast and more characters complicate the action. Although I found the subplot with the expensive wine engrossing, it seemed like a detour from the major action until about halfway through the book. The other problem with the book for me was that the character motivation seemed thin. This was particularly true of Margot and Doug, the owners of the wine.

I recommend this book if you like a fast paced mystery with plenty of twists.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A New Approach to the Theory of Evolution

Darwin's theory of evolution explains much about how humans and other animals change over time. However, even Darwin felt that his theory was incomplete. He wrote that he was convinced that Natural selection was the main but not exclusive means of modification. Lamarck, a contemporary of Darwin's had a theory that internal factors were responsible for modification. He believed that modification was based on what an organism's environment required and how the organism related to that environment.

Although not espousing Lamarck's theory, the present book stresses the importance of internal factors, particularly in the evolution of humans. The authors believe that today's environment for humans is safer than in the past, and therefore humans have more opportunity to effect changes in themselves. His chapters on why we die and on mind-body medicine are interesting in this context.

The book, although presenting complex concepts, is relatively easy to read. The authors use analogies, such as a card game for how the information cycle allows for internal processes to bring about changes and help the organism maintain it's present status. It also helps to have some passing familiarity with information theory, although the authors do a good job of explaining the concepts.

The concepts presented are not a way to negate Darwin's theory. They are rather a thought provoking set of ideas designed to enhance the theory. I recommend this book. While it may not be factually accurate, in fact it is based on theory not research, it is well worth reading for the ideas.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Comprehensive View of Autism Past and Present

The diagnosis of autism is on the rise and such a diagnosis terrifies parents. This book puts into perspective what the diagnosis means and how autistic people can realize their potential. Autistic people range from the genius level to being barely able to cope with self-care. However, each child has potential, and the parents and teachers need to find ways to bring out their special gifts.

The story of autism is a long one. Autistic people have always been with us. I particularly enjoyed the stories of Cavendish, the Wizard of Clapham, and Paul Dirac. Both men exhibited autistic tendencies, but made significant contributions to science. High functioning people with autistic tendencies in the past were considered eccentric. Low functioning autistic people ended up in asylums.

The book covers Asperger's work with his “little professors” before the second world war, and the work of  Kanner, a child psychiatrist, who suppressed the knowledge of the autism spectrum proposed by Asperger.

The frightening controversy over whether the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine was responsible for pushing susceptible children into autism is covered in detail, as is the current “neurodiversity” movement. It also explains how the change in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual's criteria for autism led to an expanded diagnosis that had the appearance of an epidemic.

If you have an interest in autism, or are working with an autistic child or adult, this is a must read book. It puts the history of autism in perspective and with the “neurodiversity” movement gives hope that with improved teaching and behavioral management skills autistic people may be able to recognize and use their talents.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Look at Pre-Civil War Charleston from a Different Perspective

The new British Consul, Robert Bunch, was not happy with his placement in Charleston. He hated the weather, detested slavery, found the town provincial, and the people arrogant. He'd been stationed there with the assignment to get a repeal of the Negro Seaman Act. Under this act, British sailors who were Negros were taken off their ship when it was in port and jailed. Britain wanted this law repealed and felt Bunch was the man to do it.

In spite of his dislike of Charleston and it's elite, Bunch had to become not only friendly with them, but a member of their society. He managed this very well, so well in fact that as war approached some in the North distrusted him as a secessionist. His reports to London and Lord Lyons, the ambassador in Washington, were some of the best intelligence they received on the Southern position. However, Bunch was playing a dangerous game,and in the end it almost caught up with him.

This is an excellent book about the Civil War. It is well researched including much of the correspondence from Bunch with the tensions in the South as background. In Bunch's mind and in the mind of Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister, the issue was slavery and the potential reopening of the African slave trade. It is very clear in this book that in fact reopening the slave trade and conquering territory in Central and South America for more land to support their cotton based economy was a major consideration in the minds of many in South Carolina.

I highly recommend this book. Bunch is a fascinating character. Although the book is serious history, the description of his activities makes the book as interesting to read as a novel. If you're a Civil War buff, don't miss this one.

I reviewed the book for Books for Bloggers.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

An Amusing Legal Tangle

Sally Baynard is happy with her life. She's approaching fifty and has a family law practice in Charleston, South Carolina, Her assistant, Gina, is extremely capable and more of a friend than an employee. The only thorn is taking care of her mother who has Alzheimer's. Sally wants to take care of her, but it's not easy.

Then her ex-husband, now a family court judge, calls for a favor. He has a contentious case. The husband and wife want a divorce, but they both want custody of the dog. Sherman is a miniature schnauzer with huge brown eyes. The judge wants Sally to become the dog's advocate. She agrees, but the case becomes more complicated, at least for Sally, when a contested vet bill brings her into contact with the vet. Dr. Borden is single with gray hair, and he cares about his animals. Sally can't help being attracted.

This is an amusing tale. If you're a dog lover, this is the book for you. Sherman makes the people in the story look silly and petty. He's the star of the show. Sally is a good character. She wants to do the right thing and ends up creating problems for herself, but as in most romance novels – all's well that end's well.

If you want a quick romantic read, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Maggie Hope Witnesses the Churchill/Roosevelt WWII Interaction and Averts a Scandal

Again a member of Churchill's staff, Maggie travels with him to Washington, DC for the meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt to negotiate a treaty for the US entrance into the war. The two men get along from the beginning, sharing the worries of the war in Europe and enjoying cocktails (Roosevelt) and Scotch (Churchill).

A young woman who worked for Eleanor Roosevelt is murdered and a scandal is brewing. Maggie becomes involved at Churchill's request trying to avert the bad publicity. Eleanor is also trying to get the president to intervene in the death penalty for Wendell Cotton, a fifteen-year-old black boy. There is a much darker side to the case than first appears.

John Sterling, Maggie's lover, who was spirited out of Germany while Maggie was there on a special assignment, is also part of the Churchill staff. He and Maggie intend to renew their relationship, but their assignments keep getting in the way.

The historical detail is excellent. The interactions between Churchill and Roosevelt appear to be accurate. Likewise the portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt is illuminating. The author has done a good job of bringing this critical period to life.

It isn't necessary to read the other books in the series to enjoy this one, but it helps. The characters have a great deal of past history that motivates them. Although the author brings in some of the past, I think it's better to have read about it. 

The mystery is intriguing, but for me, it took second place to the view of the main characters. If you enjoy a WWII story combined with a mystery, you'll enjoy this book. I think it's the best Maggie Hope
so far.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.