Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An Eerie Scandinavian Mystery

A brutal murder in the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia bears an eerie resemblance to the murder of an archivist in a college library in Trondheim Norway. In both cases the corpse has been flayed and the head cut off. Eventually, the similarity of the crimes leads investigators, Felicia Stone form Richmond and Odd Singsaker from Trondheim, to work together to solve the mystery. The case in complicated by a rare book from the 1500s apparently covered in human skin that might have belonged to the first serial killer.

The novel is dark with graphic descriptions of the murder victims. That coupled with the description of the mendicant monk in the 1500s who wrote the rare book makes for a very eerie setting. Although the moving between countries and centuries is interesting, it does make for a rather disjointed presentation in the early chapters. When the detectives begin to work together, the narrative follows a more straightforward course.

The plot contains many clues as well as red herrings. If you like to try to solve the mystery along with the detectives, you have plenty of information to work with.

The novel contains a great many characters. In the early part of the book we get detailed thoughts from many of them. I thought the author spent too much time giving us the thoughts of minor characters thus distracting from the plot, but it did give a more rounded picture of the people involved in the story.

The writing seems stilted at times
, but it's difficult to know whether this is the translation, or the author. Once you get into the story it's not bothersome, but it is a little off putting in the beginning.

If you enjoy a dark mystery, a serial killer, and graphic descriptions, this is a book you'll enjoy.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

An Inviting Victorian Mystery

Charles Lenox, formerly a detective now a member of Parliament, agrees to help an ailing friend, Lord John Dallington, with a case. Although Charles is making a name for himself in Parliament, he misses detective work. The note from Dallington asking for his help makes him realize how much.

To his chagrin, Lenox misses the client at Charing Cross, but continues to support Dallington, whose illness keeps him confined to his rooms. Assisting Dallington leads to his involvement in the murder of a country squire. The case at first appears straightforward, but as clues accumulate, Lenox realizes that the case could involve the highest levels of government and society.

The author does an excellent job of pulling you into the Victorian era. From the descriptions of London and Parliament, to the details of Lenox's house and the rules of society, you feel immersed in another time.

The characters are well drawn. You can't help but like Lenox when he marvels at his baby daughter. The secondary characters, detectives, homeless men, aristocrats and shopkeepers, contribute to the realistic background.

The plot moves rather slowly, but I found it enjoyable giving me time to savor the delights of Victorian London. However, if you like a fast pace and lots of violence this is not the book for you. If you like historical fiction combined with murder, you'll enjoy this book. I did.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Southern Cozy Mystery with Spice

Piper Prescott, newly divorced, put everything she got from the divorce into an upscale spice shop in Brandywine, Georgia hoping to turn her life around. It's the grand opening and a major attraction is the most famous chef in town. He makes wonderful meals, but he also has a temper. He agreed to prepare a roast and demonstration the preparation for Piper's opening, but she's not quite sure he'll show.

On the morning of the opening, she goes to the Tratoria, his restaurant, to retrieve some Juniper berries she gave him to use to prepare the roast for the cooking demonstration, and finds the chef on the floor in a pool of blood. Now the question is who killed him and the new police chief thinks Piper is a likely suspect.

This is a typical cozy mystery: female character trying to turn her life around; forced into sleuthing to clear her name; sexy police chief who seems to have it in for her; troublesome teenage daughter; dumb ex-husband; but an interesting setting in a small Southern town.

Piper could be a strong character. She's gutsy, wants to make a success of the shop, and not be beholden to her rather dim ex, CJ. However, her internal monologue is rather excessive. She makes stupid errors, like finding the knife outside the Tratoria, dropping it, and then not admitting what she's done. This leads to all sorts of misunderstandings with the new police chief, who acts incompetent.

I thought the author tried to hard to give Piper a reason to become involved in the murder. The dropping of the knife is transparent. Unless you enjoy banal dialog, it doesn't lend much to the plot. On the positive side, the plot move along. However, the author doesn't make enough of the interesting small town. The spice shop is a good setting, but in my opinion, the author could have done more to exploit it with information about spices and perhaps a few recipes.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries with a romantic element, you may like this one.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Finding Yourself, Becoming a Writer and Romance

Samantha feels awkward around other people. She's never quite sure how to respond to them so she hides behind quotes from her favorite Jane Austen characters. She worked hard to put herself through college and thought she had found a way to escape from Grace House, a home for orphans. She wants to be on her own. But when she gets fired from her job, she lands back at Grace House.

Luckily a scholarship to allow her to attend graduate school is still available. Now Sam decides to take the challenge and apply to the Medill Journalism School at Northwestern University. However, there are strings attached. Mr. Knightly, whose foundation grants the scholarship, wants her to write to him. He won't write back, but she has to keep him abreast of how she's doing. The letters provide an outlet and also chart her progress in learning to keep from pushing people away and make friends.

I enjoyed the book. If you feel awkward in social situations, or are interested in becoming a writer, you'll appreciate this book. Sam's insights about herself are things I can relate to,
and I suspect others can also.

Although reading letters, can become wearing, the author did a good job of providing long stretches of description and dialog as part of the letters which provided a change of pace that kept me reading.

My one disappointment with the book was the ending. After Sam's struggles, I thought it wrapped things up too neatly. It wasn't a bad ending. You could see it coming, but it seemed weak after the tone of the rest of the book.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Humility: An Important Characteristic of Leadership

The character of our founding fathers and leaders like Abraham Lincoln is what made the United States great. This book is a cautionary tale for today.

The founding fathers, particularly George Washington and James Madison, recognized that it's not the arrogant individual who can make a country. It's the man who sees greatness in himself, but uses that greatness in service of the greater good of the country. The chapters on George Washington and James Madison were well done. Bobb clearly know the history of the country and has chosen his quotations from Washington and Madison well.

I was delighted that Bobb included a chapter on Abigail Adams. Too often women are overlooked in the making of the country. I've read several biographies of Abigail Adams. She was more than a helpmeet to John Adams she was a political thinker in her own right. I thought
Bobb did a good job portraying the contribution of a woman to the political thinking of the revolutionary period.

My favorite chapter was the one on Lincoln. He faced challenges worse than what we face today and rather than treating them with personal arrogance, he put his trust in God. Bobb has collected an excellent selection of Lincoln's writings. I highly recommend reading this chapter.

The chapter on Frederick Douglass was equally enlightening. He was someone who suffered extreme hardship under slavery, but was able to turn his experience to the common good rather than being embittered.

I highly recommend this book. It's a good historical overview of several people who were instrumental in the formation of the United States, but it's also a look at the problem of arrogance versus humility. All these people were extremely able, articulate people. They had pride and ambition, but they used it in the service of the greater good for their fellow man. It's a lesson for our leaders today.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

A Brief Introduction

There is no more important subject for Christians than ethics. Although short, this book gives a good overview for both students and lay people interested in the subject.

The opening chapter treats moral relativism. For me, this is one of the most important chapters in the book. Although the manifestation of a morality can vary from culture to culture, the underlying premise doesn't. I like the author's example: giving the finger to someone in our culture may not seem the same as showing the bottom of your foot, but in their respective cultures they both indicate a lack of respect for the individual.

The book surveys the important cultural sources of ethics, predominantly the old testament and the ten commandments, and Christ's teachings in the new testament, particularly the sermon on the mount. The book also touches on enlightenment ethics, focusing on Kant, and ends with a brief summary of Evangelical ethics, focusing primarily on authors alive today. It ends with a useful chapter on how the Bible can and should be used in moral decision making.

I highly recommend this book if you're interested in ethics. It's easy to read and offers much food for thought about ethical and moral issues and the historical background. While billed as a student guide, I think anyone interested in ethics would find the book well worth reading.

I reviewed this book for Crossway Publishing.

Monday, December 2, 2013

International Intrigue

Nicky Thorneycroft wakes up with a bad hangover unable to remember the blonde woman he spent the night with. It could have been his ex, Claire, but he's recently broken up with her, so he'd like to know who the mystery woman was.

He's an executive recruiter in Luxemberg. A candidate for the position of VP to work the REE, Russian, Eastern Europe, recruiting is expected. Nick is tasked with being her contact and bringing this desirable prospect into the company. It's particularly important because the company is on the verge of a merger and wants to be able to show that they have a business presence in this area. Nick is enchanted by the prospect, Kate Novakavich, and decides to find out if she was the mystery woman.

Set in Luxembourg, but with a background of the election campaign in Russia, this is a fast paced thriller. If you like action, you'll enjoy this quick read. Possibly because the book is so short, I felt that the characters were not well developed and at times the plot became confusing. This led to an unsatisfactory ending
. Not all the plot lines are resolved. We get a conclusion, but it seems there is much more to the story.

The a short read is fast paced, and keeps you wondering what will happen next. Nick is a sympathetic character, so you can't help but root for him to solve the mystery of who was in his bed.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.