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.    

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Family Divided by Alcoholism

Standing at his ex-wife, Kitty's, grave, Corbin Gage acknowledges that his drinking has disrupted the family and pushed his children away, but he's not ready to give up alcohol. He hoped that his son Rob would join him in his law practice, but Rob has his eye on a job from the biggest law firm in the small Georgia town. His daughter, Roxy, probably the most angry about the way her father's alcoholism pulled the family apart, is an associate in an international law firm in Atlanta. She wants nothing to do with her father.

When Corbin against the advice of his long-time secretary and his children, decides to sue the biggest employer in town, a fertilizer manufacturer, because their dumping of toxic chemicals may have caused several boys to contract non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, both children are drawn into the drama.

This story is a telling picture of alcoholism and the damage it can do to an individual and a family. I thought the author did an excellent job portraying the main character. Corbin Gage is a man desperately in need of help, but not willing to admit the problem in spite of all the evidence.

The male characters in the book seemed more likable than the female characters. Roxy is controlling and overbearing. Her character develops empathy when she meets Peter and falls in love with him. Peter is almost too good to be true. He accepts Roxy and works with her to help her come to terms with her relationship with her father. Likewise, Cindy, Rob's wife, seems quite judgmental. She'd like to keep her son Billy away from his grandfather, but bows to Rob's more humane view of the problem.

This is a good story combining law cases with family drama. It's also a good portrayal of the problems of alcoholism. I highly recommend it.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Case Study of an Unusual Child and a Murder

Grace Blades, a brilliant, lonely child, lives in a trailer-park with her underachieving parents until in a drug and alcohol induced rage, they kill each other. Graces is catapulted into the foster care system which fits her poorly because of her brains and her penchant for being alone.

Fast forward twenty years and Grace is a psychotherapist. Her empathy for people haunted by tragedy makes her exceptionally successful, but Grace has a dark side. When she slips out of her normal life to seduce a man, she meets someone from her past. His murder puts Grace on the run trying to find the killer before she's the next victim.

Grace's early life makes a good case study. The scenes from her childhood and adolescence give a picture of why she lives the way she does and how she has the strength to search for a murderer in spite of the danger to herself. The story is told in alternating chapters of her early life and the hunt for the murderer. The murder investigation is less believable than the chapters exploring her life. I found it uncomfortable to switch back and forth. I barely got involved in her character development before being dumped back into the chase scene in the present.

Grace's character is very well done. I loved Kellerman's Alex Delaware novels and wondered how he would portray a female character. He does an excellent job. Grace is a character it's hard to forget. In a bow to his male character, she mentions Alex a few times as a mentor.

The pace is good, if you get used to the time switches. I enjoyed the book and recommend it if you enjoy fleshed out characters and a good mystery.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Happy Family Ripped Apart

Ava found what she always wanted in the love of her two sons and her husband, Mitchel. She fell in love with Mitchel, a widower, but his son Jack stole her heart. When she gave birth to their son, Sam, she thought her life was complete.

Nothing stays perfect. With the pressures of his job, Mitchel becomes more of a perfectionist and very controlling. He draws away from Ava and becomes more demanding of Jack. He seems to ignore Sam. Ava is concerned, but thinks things can be worked out until one terrible night when their marriage begins to come apart.

The story is told from the viewpoint of each of the main characters in different chapters. While this is an interesting ploy, I found the voices of the characters to be very similar. Ava and Jack were the most easily distinguished. Mitchel's chapters didn't seem to relate well to his personality. I found Ava an annoying character in the opening chapters. She seemed too nervous and too much under Mitchel's thumb. However, as the story progressed she began to stand up for herself and became more interesting.

The story is fast paced and easy to read. It draws you in and keeps you wondering how this family will resolve the crisis. If you like a family story that includes a bit of mystery, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Quirky Family Drawn Together by Food

When Lars wife, Cindy, runs away with a sommelier, he is left with a baby girl, Eve. She rapidly becomes the center of his existence. Being a chef, he makes sure that Eve is given only the finest food. His gift is sensing the flavors of food, which makes him a great chef and gives Eve an unusual genetic heritage. When Lars dies, Eve becomes the ward of his brother and his wife. From there her journey into the food culture begins.

The book is divided into a series of chapters. Each chapter centers around a dish, but don't expect recipes. The food is there as an adjunct to the character of the central person in each chapter. Although the thread of the book runs through Eve's journey from adolescent to adult, she is not the focus of each chapter. The other quirky members of her large family take the role of protagonist.

Although the blurb for the book suggests that it is humerus, I didn't find it at all amusing. It's poignant at some points, but not funny. I did enjoy the character development. This isn't really a coming of age story since Eve is not always the major character, but her development as seen by herself and others is
well done.

The book is darker than I expected from the title and some of the characters use quite colorful language. Although the book is not what I expected from reading the blurb, it's a unique way of looking at a character growing up in an unusual family.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Not a Deficiency -- a Difference

Whether you're concerned about your child, yourself, or your partner being diagnosed with ADHD, this is a book to read. I believe that too many people are being given a catchall diagnosis and being medicated to change behavior that can actually give great advantages if understood and used properly. I find it very upsetting that so many school children are being medicated. Certainly, very active children can be disruptive in a strictly run classroom, but there are ways to structure a classroom to allow them to use some of their excess energy, keep them interested, and make them productive members of the class.

This book covers a broad spectrum of advice and information about ADHD. In the first section, the author explores the myth of what ADHD is including the diagnosis, medication, and learning methods. In the second section, the author discusses the unique abilities of the ADHD individual. The third section covers careers that are suited to the ADHD individual. Too many people diagnosed as ADHD feel that they don't fit into society, but with a little understanding they can find a valuable place. The examples the author gives should help everyone see how successful an individual with this behavior can be.

I highly recommend this book. It contains technical information, but is presented in a way that's easy to read. I wish all teachers and parents would read this book before taking the easy route of medication. This book will give you confidence that it is a behavior pattern that can be dealt with without pills and can bring out the best in an individual.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.