Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Search of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: Zealot by Reza Aslan

Aslan has two major purposes in Zealot. One is to present a historical picture the conflicts in the Holy Land at the beginning of the First Century CE. The second is to use the historical perspective and the gospels to tease out the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth.

I thought he did an excellent job with the first purpose. Aslan makes the period come to life. The conflict between the Jews and the Roman overlords is well described as is the ambiguous role of the high priest and other wealthy Jews. I didn't realize that during the period there were numerous messiahs wandering the land healing the sick, performing miracles and claiming to be the Son of God. According to Aslan, the title Son of God referred to a ruler rather than the actual son of God. The people were so distressed under the rule of Rome that they were looking for someone to wrest their homeland from the grasp of the overlords.

The second purpose, to find the historical Jesus by searching the available documents,
was less satisfactory. Aslan seems to have made a decision in the beginning that the gospels were primarily propaganda written to enhance the Jesus myth. In his analysis, he uses only the Synoptic Gospels and Q. He discarded John's Gospel feeling that it tracked Paul's view of Christ's teachings rather than the Jewish version. For the Jewish version, he relies on James' letter believing that Jesus' brother would have a clearer idea of what he stood for than the other gospel writers who hadn't known him.

I found the book very readable and would recommend it to anyone wanting to understand the political climate in the Holy Land before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. However, I would recommend taking Aslan's pronouncement about the historical Jesus with a grain of salt. Jesus is presented in a variety of ways in the gospels. Aslan's portray of a rabble rouser who had designs on becoming King of the Jews is one way to read the gospels and does make sense in light of the political situation, but it is only one interpretation. I recommend additional reading about the time and some of the scholarly work on the gospels before embracing Aslan's interpretation wholeheartedly.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rosemary Cottage: A Place to Grieve; A Place to Find Romance

Amy Lange returns to Rosemary Cottage on North Carolina's Outer Banks. It was a place she shared with her brother Ben, but Ben is no longer with her. He drowned in the ocean near the cottage in a surfing accident.

Curtis, a handsome Coast Guard Officer, is trying to come to terms with the death of his sister, Gina, run down by an out-of-control speed boat. When he meets Amy, he's attracted but he tries to keep his distance. He has custody of Gina's one-year-old daughter, Raine, but Ben was the father. Curtis fears Amy's parents will try to get custody, and he can't let Raine go.

I enjoyed this book. In most respects it's a predictable romance. Curtis and Amy are obviously made for each other. However, the book has more than romance. Although both deaths were originally considered accidents, as Amy and Curtis look into the circumstances, it becomes apparent that something else was going on. Add to this the excitement of Coast Guard rescues, and it's hard to put the book down.

Amy and Curtis are lik
able characters, but Raine steals the show. She is a delightful one-year-old that you can't help but fall in love with. Else, her surfing aunt, is another great character. Couple the great characters with the romantic cottage and the beauty of the outer banks and Rosemary Cottage makes a great beach read.

I reviewed this book for Booksneeze.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Clever Why-Done-It

A robbery in Ludovoic Degroof's exclusive jewelry store is a mystery. Nothing was taken. All the jewelry was dissolved into a bath of aqua regia, a solvent used to separate gold from base metals. The mystery intensifies when an envelop is discovered bearing an unusual square composed of Latin words.

Assistant Commissioner Van In suspects that revenge is the motive. However, Degroof wants the investigation halted. Van In is sent on enforced leave, but when Degroof's grandson is kidnapped, he's suddenly back in charge assisted by the very attractive Deputy Martens.

Degroof now wants no expense spared to find his grandson. The abductors have made an unusual demand. Van In is convinced Degroof knows the identity of the kidnappers and hopes to use that information to find the boy.

Usually, I don't like mysteries where we know who the perpetrators are, but this one is very cleverly done. You know who, but all the fun is finding out why. The characters, particularly Van In and Martens, are well drawn. They are obviously interested in each other which makes for romantic repartée.

If you like a good mystery, I highly recommend this book. The plot is fast paced and the characters actually do detective work to solve the mystery.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Very Long Fantasy

Nora, a disillusioned grad student, goes to the wedding of a friend, wanders off on her own, and finds herself in an alternate universe. At first she's not sure it's an alternate universe. The gardens she walks through are magnificent, the owner of the house is beautiful and intelligent, and all the people she meets are gorgeous. That's not to mention the parties. Things, as it usually turn out, are too good to be true. Nora finds she can't remember things. She wonders what's happening to her mind. Some of the people turnout to be less beautiful than they appear on the surface.

Accidentally she wanders across the boundary of her kingdom and meets people who inhabit the next kingdom. They tell her in no uncertain terms that she's dealing with a group of bad people who use magic to get what they want. One of the men, a magician, offers to help her if she needs to escape. She is sure she never will, but life if full of surprises.

I didn't enjoy this book. I found Nora too unhappy and listless to be an attractive heroine. She does get some guts later in the story, but for me it was too late. The book is very long. It feels as if we're following Nora around looking into an alternate universe, but not much exciting is happening.

If you really love fantasy, you may enjoy this book, but it will take a long time to get through it. If you enjoy books with a fast moving plot, this is not for you. Give it a miss.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Fairytale Life

Hugette Clark, the youngest daughter of W.A. Clark, the Copper King, lived a reclusive life. The fabulous amount of money inherited from her father allowed her to live exactly the way she wanted which included having two homes and three apartments that she didn't visit for over 20 years or more. One, Bellosguardo, was kept ready for an immanent visit for nearly forty years.

She collected dolls, paintings and musical instruments. She paid for doll houses built to her specifications and gave away large sums of money to people she liked, sometimes to people she didn't know.

Empty Mansions is a sensitive portrait of a very private woman. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her childhood in the immense mansion in New York City, about her time with her adored mother, Anna, at Bellosguardo near Los Angeles, and her interest in art and music.

The story becomes bizarre when in her 80s with several cancerous tumors on her face she is taken to Doctors Hospital. She's cured, but refuses to leave the hospital preferring to remain there with a private duty nurse rather than resume life in her beautiful homes.

Predictably her death set off a scramble for her fortune. The family is convinced that the nurse, attorney and accountant exercised undue influence in having her sign a will cutting them out and setting up a foundation for the arts at Bellosguardo. It will be interesting to see it how it plays out.

I highly recommend this book for several reasons. It gives a well researched picture of one of the great American fortunes, it provides a glimpse of the remarkable Gilded Age, and it paints a portrait of a strange, reclusive woman.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Teenage Romance, Horses and Murder: Silent Harmony by Michele Scott

Vivienne Taylor is the new scholarship student at Fairmont Riding Academy, a top-level school that prepares equestriennes for the Olympics. Vivienne is a very talented rider, but she's the scholarship student and the in-crowd isn't about to give her an easy time. The boys have a wager about who will have sex with with her first and the girls exhibit typical teenage bitchiness.

Vivienne has a special talent. She communicates with horses. All horses that is, but the horse she's been assigned. Harmony is beautiful, but completely silent. She belonged to the school veterinarian who died just before Vivienne arrived. Could the death have something to do with Harmony's silence?

This book is aimed at young adult readers. I didn't find the sexual element out of place considering today's teens, but some people may be offended by it. The mystery is fair, but the author spends so much time on the romantic problems of the teenagers that the solution to the mystery seems rushed at the end.

The story is told from three points of view: Vivienne and two of the boys, one of whom is very interested in her. I found following three points of view took away from the intensity of Vivienne's story and solving the mystery.

Although it's a horse book, I found the emphasis more on teen romance than horse activities, although we do get more at the end. I also found some of the horse related scenes misleading. In the first scene, Vivienne's mother, a veterinarian, treats a horse that has apparently eaten or drunk something poisonous in the pasture. She decides the horse and two other horses on the property are being abused and decides to rescue them. Generally, horse rescue is not as easy as making off with the horses in the middle of the night. Legal actions are usually required. Simply taking the horses can be construed as stealing. I don't want to ride this too much, but I think it gives the wrong idea about the complexity of horse ownership and horse rescue.

If you love horses and read everything about them, you may enjoy this book, but it has a number of drawbacks that keep it from being one of my favorites.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

The Author Falls in Love with Catalan and a Special Cheese: The Telling Room, by Michael Paternitt

Ambrosio, a Catalan farmer, has a dream. He wants to recreate the family cheese. A big, bluff, creative character, he finally succeeds, bringing his father to tears. The cheese becomes famous. People around the world want to taste this fabulous cheese. Ambrosio expands his business beyond his capability to manage it, and the result is predictable.

I enjoyed Ambrosio's story and the feel of the life on a farm in Catalan. The story of cheese making was fascinating. That part of the book is an excellent read. It has heroes and villains, a great story.
Unfortunately, the author decided to tell his own story along side the primary story. He found the cheese when he was a young MFA graduate doing editing for a deli. He traveled to Spain, met Ambrosio and became involved with his life. It's a story he wants to tell. The problem for me is that telling his story takes away from the drama of Ambrosio's story.

The author worked on the book for a long time and apparently collected a great deal of information on the history of Spain, Catalan, and cheese making among other topics. Unfortunately, he insists on putting all the information in the book. Much of it is in footnotes, but instead of putting the footnotes in a Notes section at the end, he intersperses them throughout the text. Yes, you can skip them, but their presence on the page makes the book choppy. It's even worse if you read all the footnotes as you go along. I tried that.

I can only recommend this book if you love Spain and cheese. If you do, it's a book to read slowly and savor. If you're looking for a good story, it's there, but you have to wander through the author's life to find it.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Compelling Psychiatric Cases and the Ethics of Treatment

Christine Montross presents a series of cases from her psychiatric residency and early clinical practice that raise issues not only of treatment, but the physician's response to treating patients. Several of the patients we meet in this fascinating book are not very likable: the woman who swallows light bulbs and other dangerous objects to relieve stress, the young mother who is afraid she'll murder her baby son, and the woman whose seizures are psychological in origin rather than physical. Each of these patients presents a unique aspect that requires sensitive treatment and forces the doctor to examine her own motives in providing care.

I highly recommend this book, if you have an interest in psychiatry or mental health. The cases are unusual enough to provide interesting reading, but for me the most important part was how the doctor felt about her diagnoses. Seeing a patient leave the hospital wondering if they are at risk for a psychotic break is harrowing, if you care about your patients. It is equally frightening to send a woman home when she feels that she may kill her baby. The question for the doctor becomes did you make the correct diagnosis and what harm will result if you didn't.

I was particularly impressed by Montross' desire to get as much information about the diagnosis and it's repercussions as possible. The book is replete with citations and quotes from journal articles. The is an exceptionally well written and more important well researched book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Reluctant Witch on a Quest to Save the World

Stacey is turning 29. It's the time for a witch to come into her full powers and Birdie, her grandmother, is convinced that she will be chosen as the Seeker of Justice. Birdie and her sisters have planned a ritual celebration for Stacey's birthday, but the news that one of the four magical treasures, the cauldron, has been stolen changes the focus. Stealing the cauldron is serious. It controls the world's food supply. Without it famine will spread and signal the end of the world.

The council agrees that Stacey should have the title Seeker of Justice, if she can retrieve the cauldron, and her mother will be freed from prison. She's been there for years for killing a man who tried to kill Stacey. However, Stacey has competition. Birdie's school rival, Tallulah, believes her grandson is the true seeker. The council agrees that they should both look for the cauldron. Whoever finds it will become the Seeker of Justice.

This is a fun read. Stacey and the Gerahety girls, her grandmother and aunts, are zany and amusing. The quest is exciting and filled with magical spells and adventure. If you like fantasy, this is a book you'll enjoy.

It's the fourth book in the series, but I found it was easy to read as a standalone. It's an enjoyable read with a twist at the end.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Little House on the Prairie - - A Collaboration?

Laura Ingalls Wilder's stories of life in the west in the late 1800s have captivated children and adults for generations. Laura was a farm wife in her sixties, not a professional writer, when the first book, “Little House in the Big Woods,” was published during the depression. It was a difficult to sell any books leading people to wonder whether she wrote the book by herself, or with the help of a collaborator.

Rose Wilder Lane, Laura's daughter, was a published author. She hadn't lived on her parents farm for years, but just before the depression she went home for a visit. Her parents were getting older, and she wanted to make sure they had the resources to care for themselves before she returned to her life in New York. The depression hit in 1929, and Rose couldn't escape.

Laura had done some writing, mainly articles for rural newspapers. Rose encouraged her to write about her early life. The result was “Pioneer Girl.” Although glad her mother had tried to tell her story, Rose was shocked by how much work it would take to turn the pages into a salable product. This began the sometimes uneasy collaboration between mother and daughter.

The author has painted a detailed and sympathetic portrait of this mother and daughter. Her narrative, based on letters and diaries from both Laura and Rose, shows a sometimes stressful, but ultimately productive collaboration.

One of the best parts of the book is the description of life during the depression and later during the early years of the New Deal. The daily life of farmers caught in these difficult times coupled with the incredible heat and dust storms is frightening. I highly recommend this book if only for this picture
of the plains during these difficult years.

If you loved Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, you'll love this intimate portrait of her and her daughter Rose.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Horrifying Account of the Damage Done to a Young Girl by Being Kidnapped and Tortured

Reeve LeClaire was kidnapped at age twelve and held prisoner for four years by a sadist who raped, tortured and starved her. She was lucky to be rescued. Now at twenty-two, she's trying to put her life back together. She's still very fragile, but when another young girl is rescued from a similar situation, Reeve agrees to mentor her.

But Tilly Cavanaugh's rescue is only part of the solution. Three girls have disappeared from Jefferson in the last few years. Now that one has been found, hope rises that the other two will be rescued. Reeve inadvertently learns from Tilly that more than one person was involved in her kidnapping. This knowledge pits Reeve against a monster who controls not only the girls, but their keepers as well.

This is a frightening book. You can hardly imagine how terrifying it must have been to be a the mercy of a sadistic torturer, but Norton does an excellent job describing Reeve's pain and fears. You don't want to read this book alone at night with the lights out.

The book is fast paced. The novel moves from the news events surrounding Tilly's return to the hunt for the kidnapper. The investigation takes Reeve from a terrified victim to a victorious survivor. You can't help but like her and feel a kinship with her suffering.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery, but it's more than that. It's a sensitive psychological portrayal of a very gutsy young woman.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.