Tuesday, October 29, 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Jazz Age and the Invention of The Great Gatsby: Careless People by Sarah Churchwell

Careless People is a well researched look at the jazz age as experienced by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their contemporaries. The author theorizes that the events and people Fitzgerald experienced in 1922 and beyond, before the publication of the book in 1925, shaped the plot and characters. In particular, the author thinks the Hall – Mills unsolved double murder was the basis for the murder in Gatsby.

The book also details the riotous life the Fitzgeralds lived in Great Neck. The interesting people, like Ring Lardner and the newspaper man, Swope, are two of the many characters that make this a particularly interesting section. The bootlegger Max Gerlach, from whom they obtained liquor, and the array of criminal bosses is fascinating reading. It does appear that Gerlach was the prototype for Gatsby's boss and helps to give substance to the background of the book.

I am less certain that the prominence given to the Hall – Mills murder investigation was helpful. I love reading a good murder mystery, but this one was not particularly interesting. With so much space given to recounting the facts of police incompetence and publicity seekers who came forward with outlandish stories, it seemed to me that the author went overboard trying to prove her thesis. I believe reading about the murder could have influenced Fitzgerald. The facts as presented have some resemblance to Gatsby, but not enough to have so much of the book devoted to them.

The ending chapters become much more of a biography of the Fitzgeralds. It's interesting reading, but I found the opening chapters far more helpful, giving shape to an era.

I recommend this book to anyone who is a Fitzgerald fan, or loved Gatsby. It's also a great source of historical information on the jazz age and worth reading just to experience the riotous living under Prohibition.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Unique Career for the Heroine

Camile is a landman. For those unfamiliar with the term, her job is to convince landowners to lease their land to gas and oil companies to drill wells to extract the gas and oil. Being a landman isn't an easy career choice. Camile found herself in the business because her uncle, owner of J&S, an oil and gas company, paid for her education and helped take care of her mother after her father died. She feels that she owes him, but wants to stop living out of a suitcase and put down roots. She's been promised a job in the main office in Houston after she signs the Sweet Olive residents, but after she comes to Sweet Olive she begins to doubt that she'll ever get out of the mode of being sent to wherever the company needs her.

In Sweet Olive, Camile, who would love to own an art gallery, finds a community of artists. Most of them are primitives, but Lawrence is an exquisite glass artist and Ginny's whileygigs are unique. Camile comes to love these people which creates problems for her with her uncle. They don't want to sign gas leases and that's all he's interested in.

Sweet Olive is a unique love story. The setting is unusual. Louisiana is beautifully described. You can't help but want to visit the artists in the close community. Of course, there is a handsome attorney representing the artists, but he and Camile seem to get off on the wrong foot.

The characters, particularly the artists are delightful. I loved Ginny and the children and Camile is a spunky heroine trying to find herself. If you enjoy romance with an unusual setting, I think you'll like this book.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Inheriting a Sugarcane Plantation Brings Troubles and Romance

When her father dies, Charley Bordelon is surprised to inherit an 800 acre sugarcane plantation in Louisiana. She knows nothing about raising sugarcane. Her father wasn't a farmer either, but he mortgaged everything he had to buy these 800 acres.

Charley is a widow with a preteen daughter. She badly needs a fresh start and the only option is the sugarcane plantation. She settles in with her delightful grandmother, Miss Honey, and her other relatives. The one blot on the horizon is her half-brother. He has been in trouble most of his life; now he's back, and he resents that Charley got the whole inheritance.

Learning the sugarcane business isn't easy, particularly since no one wants to help her. Charley struggles against the odds and the desire to give up, but eventually finds help and a surprising romance.

The unusual characters and the lovely setting make this book a delight to read. I enjoyed the descriptions of farm life, but they could be tedious to someone with no background in farming. I also found the plot rather slow even when Charley finds romance. She does a great deal of talking to herself about her troubles and it becomes repetitious. However, the setting and characters make it worth the read.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

An Unfortunate, Probably Accurate, Look at our Judicial System

A drive-by shooting leaves a drug dealer and a young mother dead. Alex Torricelli, a cop, gives chase. He manages to grab the driver of the car, but the shooter gets away. The police arrest a black drug dealer, but is he guilty?

The US attorney is looking for a capital murder case to impose the death penalty. This is the chosen case and Judge David Norcross is put on the spot. The star witness is the sixteen-year-old driver of the car. He's been in and out of trouble all his life and is strongly connected to the gang responsible for the shooting. The question is whether he's telling the truth. If he's lying, and innocent man could be sentenced to death.

In this highly emotional novel, we see the trial from all points of view: the judge, the attorneys, the cops, the defendant, and some of the witnesses. The author has done an excellent job of bringing these diverse characters to life. It's the highlight of the novel.

The setting is very well done. The author is, after all, a US district judge. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the trial from so many points of view. I do have one criticism, however, the ending, although the author did a good job of foreshadowing, seemed contrived. Still, it's an excellent read. I highly recommend it if you enjoy courtroom drama.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Former Catholic on the Problems of the Catholic Church

While some people may find this book offensive, I thought it had interesting points. The author opens with a diatribe about God. He seems very angry and disillusioned with the Church. If you find it offensive, skip it.

The second section of the book presents a history of the Catholic Church, mostly it's mistakes. However, the section is factual and gives an overview of the Church evolving over time. I don't think anyone can deny that the Church has made terrible errors, but now it appears to be trying to reform itself.

In one section, the author lets up on his criticism and acknowledges that many good people and relief organizations sponsored by the Church have done a great deal of good. It's a needed section to give some respite from the continual criticism.

The book is described as being humerus. I didn't find it amusing. I found it informative and a rather dismal picture of a huge bureaucracy trying to manage itself

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

A Girl on the Run in the Battle Between Good and Evil

Bethany Barkley, an attorney, meets with Ken Kirkland. He's convinced his mother was manipulated into leaving her fortune to what he considers a religious cult, the Planners. He holds Bethany responsible because she prepared the will. Bethany knows she acted in good faith, but when she arrives home she finds Ken dead on the kitchen floor with two bullets from her gun in him. The police are sure she's responsible. When Bethany starts receiving text messages directly related to the crime she panics and starts to run.

Her best friend Annabelle was recently murdered by a hit and run driver. As she struggles to evade the authorities, Bethany starts to believe there is a connection between herself and Annabelle's death. She plans to retrace Annabelle's steps to find out what really happened. As she finds more information about what Annabelle was involved with, she realizes that she's caught in a centuries old struggle between good and evil.

I found this book very slow in spite of the chase scene and the plots twists. The major character is remote, hard to feel attached to. The plot hinges on this character. If you can't relate to her, the book loses a great deal of immediacy. I did enjoy some of the other characters, the Judge, the Mathematician, the Builder, and other member of the Garden, the force for good. However, since they only put in infrequent appearances, it wasn't enough to carry the story.

Another problem for me was the author switching from past to present tense on a chapter by chapter basis. Since all the action was taking place at relatively the same time, I found the constant shifts jarring and could see no reason for them.

The book has a religious theme, but it's not heavy. If you enjoy searches for ancient artifacts and secret organizations, you may enjoy this book. I found it rather slow.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program

Friday, October 11, 2013

Too Busy? This Book Can Help: Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

If you feel like you're racing on a wheel like an out of control gerbil, always saying yes to requests for help, never feeling like you have time for yourself, this book is for you. While Kevin DeYoung doesn't have all the answers, he asks the right questions. I was particularly impressed with his generosity in sharing his own experiences with being too busy.

While the whole book was interesting and gave good advice, I found two chapters particularly important. Chapter three about the manifestations of pride should be read by everyone whether you're crazy busy or not. DeYoung makes the point that too often we're not doing things because we want to, we're doing things because we want people to like us, or look up to us. Doing good things to feed your pride isn't a good use of your time. Doing things to be of service because you want to, and you want to serve God makes a tremendous difference. You may be busy, but you'll be doing things for the right reasons and the craziness will go away.

The other chapter I especially liked was Chapter Four about setting priorities. I think setting priorities is one of the hardest things to do. Some of us feel that putting our own needs first is wrong, but it isn't. You can't serve others if you are so strung out wanting to get everything done that you can't give proper attention to the task at hand. It's a way to turn in a shoddy performance. It's all right to be able to say 'no' sometimes.

I highly recommend this book. It's short and easy to read, but it's packed with ideas that you'll remember for a long time, particularly if you learn to manage your time and serve God for the right reasons.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Romantic Sleigh Ride Uncovers Murder: A Plain Disappearance by Amanda Flower

It's Christmas. Timothy takes Chloe on a romantic sleigh ride to get her alone to give her his special present. They stop at the Gundy barn, a long vacant structure. Timothy gives Chloe the present, but before they can climb back in the sleigh, Mabel, Timothy's dog, uncovers the corpse of an Amish girl, Katie Lambright.

Police Chief Rose, asks Chloe and Timothy, an Amish man who has left the church, to help solve the murder since she can't get information from the closed Amish community. As they begin to investigate the murder they discover unsavory things about several members of the Amish community, including Katie's parents. Billy, a friend of Timothy's, is also suspected because he's been using the barn to store auto parts and rolls of duct tape. When Billy disappears, the question is whether he's the murderer or another victim.

I enjoyed the book. The setting is lovely and appears to be faithful to the Amish traditions. I'd love to visit Appelseed Creek. Chloe and Timothy are delightful characters. He's very understanding of the her and her impetuous actions to solve the murder. She is intrepid, a strong character with her own demons.

They mystery is fairly easy to solve, but keeps your interest. My criticism is that the ending seemed rushed and not quite believable, but it doesn't detract too much for the enjoyment of the story.

I recommend this book if you are fascinated by the Amish and particularly if you enjoy mysteries.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

An English Country House Weekend, A Disfunctional Family, and Murder: Ten Lords a Leaping by C.C. Benison

Tom Christmas, Vicar at Thornford Regis, has arranged a fund raiser for his church that he fears may end his life and that of several parishioners. He has agreed to parachute out of an airplane as part of the Leaping Lords display. The lords jump from much higher and do stunts on the way down, but no one expects to see two of the lords start to fight like schoolboys.

Although not killed in the jump, Tom sprains his ankle badly and so becomes a weekend guest at Eggescombe Hall, the site of the fund raiser. The two lords who engaged in fisticuffs are also members of the party and before the weekend is over one of them is found dead in the labyrinth, one of the attractions at Eggescombe Hall.

Ten Lords a Leaping is a very English mystery. There is much more talk than action, so if you're a fan of thrillers, this is not your book. The characters, however, are delightful from Max, the rather pompous ten year old heir, to Margarite, the dowager countess.

I enjoyed the book. The setting is wonderful and very well described. The plot has many twists and a myriad of relationships among the characters. However, it is a very leisurely read, don't expect to whiz through it. 

I reviewed this book for Amazon Vi

Bertie and Jeeves are Back: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks

Woody, one of Bertie's pals is in trouble. Amelia, the girl he loves, doesn't want anything to do with him because she thinks he's been flirting with other girls. Her father feels the same way because he doesn't have enough money. Bertie and Jeeves to the rescue. They connive to become members of the house party at Amelia's family estate. The estate is in financial difficulties and Amelia's father is looking for a good marriage either for Amelia or her cousin, Georgiana, to put things right. Georgiana's perspective bridegroom is a member of the party as are his parents, but somehow she doesn't seem very enthusiastic. Bertie thinks she's quite a girl, but, naturally, she couldn't be interested in him.

I enjoyed the reappearance of Wooster and Jeeves. Faulks has done an admiral job creating a book very close to the originals. A serious connoisseur may find fault, but it's a fun read. Some of the scenes are hilarious, others not so much. I think American readers will have trouble following the cricket match. I did.

I recommend this book if you're a Wooster and Jeeves fan. If you're not, it's a good time to get acquainted.

I reviewed this book for Amazon Vine

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Victorian Town, Horses, and Romance: Country Roads by Nancy Herkness

Julia, a painter celebrated for her horse pictures, gets a flat tire on her way to Sanctuary, West Virginia. She's alone and frightened. She's escaped from her controlling uncle because he tells her that her new paintings are not good enough to sell. At her wits end, she searches out a critic who supported her first pictures. She has to know if the work is any good. It's her life.

She's rescued by Paul, a handsome attorney. Immediately there are vibes. He makes sure she gets to the gallery with her pictures, but he can't leave her there, and the two become involved.

This is a very typical romance. Paul and Julia set eyes on each other, immediately feel the tingle, and then problems set them apart that have to be resolved so they can be together. If you like romance, this is a gentle one.

Julia is an interesting character. She's escaped from a domineering older man, her uncle, and immediately falls in love with another domineering man, Paul. I suppose that's psychologically accurate behavior, but she wants so much to be her own person, I was a little surprised she leaped into bed so quickly.

The town of Sanctuary is a wonderful setting. It is beautifully described and welcoming. It makes you want to visit and perhaps stay for awhile the way Julia did.

I recommend this book if you like romance. There are horses and its an interesting sub theme, but doesn't overshadow the romance. Likewise the discussion of Julia's creativity and paintings is iteresting and makes the character more alive.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Abortion Clinics are the Focus of Murder

Reverend Jimmy Aldridge, beloved by his congregation, is killed in a drive by shooting when picketing an abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi. Darla Cavanagh, the widow of one of Misissippi's football greats, is on leave recovering from his death. The sheriff asks her to return to her job as detective and take over the investigation of Reverend Aldridge's murder.

Things are not as straightforward as they seem. Darla is saddled with a partner who is not only an Elvis impersonator, but intent on assuring that Dr. Nicoletti, the doctor running the abortion clinic, is found guilty. As she follows the trail of the money found in Reverend Aldridge's glove compartment, Darla realizes that the reverend had secrets to hide from his congregation.

This is an entertaining mystery. Darla, Dr. Nicoletti, the sheriff, and others are amusing characters. The setting is true to Mississippi and gives rationale for the behavior of the characters. That was well done.

The mystery also has a romance. Darla and Dr. Nicoletti become infatuate with each other, but it seemed forced to me. It ended well, but the beginning seemed contrived.

I recommend this book if you enjoy mysteries. The plot isn't hard to figure out, but it's amusing to watch the actions of the characters. I enjoyed it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.