Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Better Off Read



Page, Nora. Better Off Read. New York: Crooked Lane Books, 2018.

A library with a 75-year-old librarian who still drives a bookmobile (and speeds while doing so)? The set-up for Nora Page's new series features that implausible scenario. The mayor of Catulpa Springs, Georgia,somewhere just north of the Florida state line, wants to do away with its tree-damaged library, its bookmobile, and its librarian. An antiquarian book collector and library friend's death turns suspicion to the man's neighbor. Cleo doesn't believe it and sets out to investigate. Not even Rhett Butler the cat could redeem this book. Far too many characters appear too quickly without sufficient development to sort in the reader's mind. A low-level officer related to one of the characters seems to be the main police officer investigating rather than police detectives or the man referred to throughout the book as "Chief." The conversation-intensive narrative likely appeals to a younger audience while the septuagenarian librarian tries to draw older readers. Unfortunately as someone who recently dealt with aging parents, I question how a town could afford insurance to allow an elderly woman known to speed to drive a bookmobile. While the story does improve as the book goes on, it fails to redeem itself and leaves the reader dissatisfied. I received an advance review copy from the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation of an honest review.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Bats in the Belfry



Lorac, E. C. R. Bats in the Belfry. Scottsdale, Arizona: Poisoned Pen Press, 2018.

Bruce Attleton and Mr. Debrette disappear about the same time. Friends and family believe Attleton went abroad, but his luggage and passport turn up in a London studio called the Belfry. Inspector MacDonald investigates. Searchers find a mutilated body in a cleverly disguised location. Although slight doubts about its identity surface, it turns out to be Attleton. Blackmail, affairs, imposters, and more add to the plot. While the book itself suffers from being dated in writing style, the mystery's plot could probably still do well as a movie. It commands the attention of the reader. I received an advance electronic copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Best Cook in the World



Bragg, Rick. The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma's Table. New York: Knopf, 2018.

Rick Bragg relates family stories as he shares some of his mother's recipes. His mother, like most Southern cooks of that generation, did not follow recipes. She cooked by eyeballing things and getting the ratio correct based on practice. The family stories needed editing. They failed to draw me in, partly because of excess verbiage and lack of action verbs. Most recipes can be found in other Southern regional cookbooks. In the electronic advance copy, the recipe's conclusion often bumps into text following it, making it difficult for readers. The distinction between the recipe and stories about the recipe needs more separation as well. Perhaps his identification of his mother as the best cook in the world elicits the most contentious point of the book. Why? Because my mom in the neighboring state of Mississippi earned that honor. I received an advance electronic copy of the book through NetGalley with the expectation of an honest review.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables



Reid, Catherine. The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables: the Enchanting Island that Inspired L. M. Montgomery. Kerry Michaels, photographer. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2018.

Catherine Reid and Kerry Michaels produced a book which Anne of Green Gables enthusiasts everywhere will welcome. The book's focus is on the landscapes (gardens, woods, lakes, etc.) inspiring Montgomery's settings for the Anne series. Readers see the birch wood in varying seasons. They encounter gardens which inspired the Barry's garden of the books. They see the "Lake of Shining Waters." Gorgeous flower photographs appeal to the eye. The author includes excerpts from the books as she adds details. For academics the author's analysis needs improvement, but fans of the book will treasure the book anyway. Recommended for fans of the series.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Macbeth



Nesbo, Jo. Macbeth. London: Hogarth, 2018.

This retelling places Duncan has chief police commissioner in a once-important industrial city infested with drugs, organized crime, and corruption. All the major players have roles in the police leadership. When Duncan dies, Macbeth, the head of the SWAT team, succeeds him as commissioner. The Norse Riders fill the role of a gang. The setting did not work for me. I'm not a fan of gritty noir novels, and this take on the classic Shakespeare fit the category. I received an advance electronic copy through the publisher via NetGalley with the expectation of an honest review.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide



Beidler, James M. The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide: How to Find Your Ancestors in Archived Newspapers. Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2018.

Well-known genealogist James M. Beidler discusses newspapers as a genealogical source. He covers most types of newspapers. Religious newspapers were omitted from separate treatment although a few titles showed up in a geographic sample in the book. He does an excellent job relating available databases, even acknowledging ethical questions about business practices of some. Beidler, best known for his German genealogical research, includes international newspapers, not limiting the discussion to the United States. The book's greatest flaw lies in the format of the otherwise excellent bibliography. It does not employ a recognized style manual such as Evidence Explained or Chicago Manual of Style. Since one chapter included information on citing newspapers following the recognized genealogical citation manual Evidence Explained, this surprised me. Beidler's work will become the most-cited "how to" guide on newspaper research in the genealogical community in the near future. All genealogy libraries with methodology collections should purchase a copy. I received an electronic advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Death by the Sea



Bridge, Kathleen. Death by the Sea. New York: Lyrical Underground, Kensington, 2018.

Liz Holt returns to Indialantic, Florida where her father runs the Indialantic by the Sea Hotel. We meet an odd assortment of characters who appear to find little to do other than drop names of old movies. (How many old titles can be fit into the book? Hundreds, it seemed.) Robbery appears to be the motive when a wealthy guest turns up dead about 40% of the way into the book. This installment failed to make me care about the amateur sleuth, detective, or any other character. I felt the author simply tried to show off her knowledge of old movies. I looked forward to a mystery set in this locale but came away disappointed. Other readers may find it more appealing. I will skip future installments. I received an advance reader's copy through NetGalley with the expectation an honest review would be written.

Portrait of a Murderer



Meredith, Anne. Portrait of a Murderer. Scottsdale, Arizona: Poisoned Pen Press, 2018.

This really wasn't much of a mystery. It's more of a charcter study. The father dies. One of his children committed the murder. We know which one it was and how it was done. He's just trying to hide it from his siblings. I really disliked the entire family. It simply did not resonate well with me; however, persons who like to see character drive the story may enjoy it. It's labeled as Christmas crime. Just because the murder happened at Christmas when the family gathered does not make it a "Christmas" story. This one could occur at a family reunion any other time of the year. This is based on an electronic galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation of an honest review.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Murder, She Knit



Ehrhart, Peggy. Murder, She Knit. New York: Kensington Books, 2018.

In this promising start to a new series, widowed Pamela Paterson invites her husband's former colleague Amy Morgan who recently took a job with a local college to her home for the weekly knitting group meeting. When Amy doesn't show up, Pamela assumes something came up at the university. Later that evening while looking for the cat's bowl, she discovers her friend's body in the shrubbery with a knitting needle poking out of her body. The needle seems to point to someone in the group, but Amy made some controversial decisions during her short time chairing the department, supplying suspects outside the frame of the needlework circle. Pamela doesn't think police always ask the right questions and begins to investigate with the help of neighbor and fellow knitter Bettina.

The conclusion of this one caught me a bit by surprise although I confess to coming up with no solution of my own. The clues were present, but not obvious. I'm a bit baffled why the police did not interact with Pamela more and warn her about sleuthing. I loved the cat who adopted Pamela and look forward to Catrina's becoming more comfortable around her pet human. The main characters and setting were well-developed. I look forward to the next installment of the series and to seeing how the characters develop over the course of the series. I received an advance electronic galley from the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation of an honest review.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

From Jerusalem to Timbuktu



Stiller, Brian C. From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2018.


When the subtitle discussed "the spread of Christianity," I expected the title to be more focused on a history of missions. Instead this book organizes itself around topics and then highlights a few places around the world under each. It is specifically focused on Pentecostal missions with the Nazarene tradition being emphasized. This limits the audience for the book. I disagree with the author's interpretation on several theological points. While the book does contain some historic content, the non-chronological arrangement makes it unhelpful as a history of missions. The content organization reminded me of sermons with specific points with illustrations drawn from specific missionaries or global settings used to engage the audience. This book is probably most useful in an introduction to missions course, a Pentecostal church missions group study, or in a theology of missions course in a Nazarene institution. This review is based on an electronic galley received by the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation of a review.

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Death Comes in through the Kitchen



Dovalpage, Teresa. Death Comes in through the Kitchen. New York: Soho Crime, 2018.

Stupid San Diego journalist gets involved in a virtual relationship with a Cuban food blogger and thinks he is going to marry her. He arrives in Cuba with a wedding dress. She doesn't meet him at the airport, and when he arrives at her place, she's dead. The story goes downhill from there. The Cuban authorities think he's a government spy. He discovers his beloved is also seeing another man. He has no rights because he's in Cuba during a time before the United States resumed relations with the country. The dead girl is not who she appeared to be. The book falls flat, fails to engage the reader, and wastes paper or bandwidth. I received an advance reader's copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and that is the only reason I kept reading it.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Foreign Bodies



Edwards, Martin, editor. Foreign Bodies. Scottsdale, Arizona: Poisoned Pen Press, 2018.

Martin Edwards offers short stories in translation in this volume. Normally I'll discover one or two real duds among a few gems and mostly mediocre to slightly above average offerings. Nothing really hit me as being a "dud" or even below average in this collection.  "The Kennel" by Maurice Level became the first "standout story." I enjoyed the twist at the end. The introduction compared his work to Guy de Maupassant and Edgar Allan Poe. Perhaps that is why it resonated so well with me. I usually enjoy short stories by both of those authors. Told in the form of letters, "The Stage Box Murder" by Paul Rosenhayn provides the story of a murderer who lacks the cleverness he thinks he possesses. Although I guessed it, I still loved it. "The Mystery of the Green Room" by Pierre Very makes a statement about reading's importance, drawing heavily from The Mystery of the Yellow Room throughout. The author also mentions Poe's "The Purloined Letter." I received an advance copy from the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation of an honest review.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Seven Dead



Farjeon, J. Jefferson. Seven Dead. (British Library Crime Classics). Scottsdale, Arizona: Poisoned Pen Press, 2018.

A petty thief gets a scare when he chooses Haven House for his first household robbery. He discovers the bodies of seven persons in the house. He runs, slowly losing the silverware he picked up. He's pursued by a free-lance journalist, Thomas Hazeldean, as well as a member of the local law enforcement. Haven House was entrusted to the uncle of a young girl to manage until she is able to inherit. Both are missing from the house but were seen at the home during the day. Inspector Kendall is put on the case which leads him and Hazeldean to France and ultimately to the South Atlantic in pursuit of the criminals. This is an early work from the golden age of detective fiction as the genre developed. It's plot, while still engaging, is more simplistic than some. Hazeldean's character needed further development. Most cozies and police procedurals stick with one jurisdiction, but this one takes the reader to different locales, similar to what a thriller might do. It's an enjoyable read. These remarks are based on an electronic advance review copy provided by the author through NetGalley with the expectation an honest review would be written.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Toad Who Loved Tea



Kermani, Faiz. The Toad Who Loved Tea. Kibworth Beauchamp, Leicestershire: Matador, 2018.

Tungtang the Toad sets off from Muddy River to town where she discovers a tea shop and discovers she loves it and can't get enough of it. However, the tea shop receives complaints because of muddy tables, missing tea, and missing pastries. Will the owners figure out what is happening? Will the toad continue to enjoy tea? You'll need to read this delightful book for children to find out. I received an advance electronic copy from the publisher through NetGalley with expectations of an honest review in exchange.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Winterhouse


Guterson, Ben. Winterhouse. Illustrated by Chloe Bristol. New York: Holt Books for Young Readers, 2018.

Orphan Elizabeth Somers stays lives with her impoverished aunt and uncle. She loves books and puzzles, especially word puzzles. When they announce vacation plans for themselves and a stay at a grand house called Winterhouse for her, she wonders who paid for it. On the train she meets some creepy people who get off at the same stop and go to the same house. They cause problems from the moment they set foot in the door. Elizabeth soon meets the owner of the home who welcomes her. Elizabeth loves puzzles and helps a couple of men place a piece in what must be one of the largest and most challenging jigsaws of all time. She possesses a "magic touch" where when things "seem right" she feels it. She meets a boy about her age who has come alone to Winterhouse for several years and works on a scientific project for the owner. She loves books and libraries and finds a very interesting book in the reference collection she takes to her room for further study, even though she knows she should not. The house contains many puzzles begging for solution. This book will entertain readers in upper elementary to early middle school grades. Readers will want a few word puzzles of their own so parents (and teachers) should prepare for this outcome. The book creates a springboard to discuss good versus evil. I received an advance electronic copy of the book through NetGalley with the expectation of writing an unbiased review.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Vicarage Christmas



Hewitt, Kate. A Vicarage Christmas. (The Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite.) n.p.: Tule Publishing, 2017.

Anna returns home to the vicarage in Thornthwaite, a Cumbrian village, for Christmas. She avoided coming home for many years, but her mother's insistence along with the promise of an important announcement drew her there. On her first night back in town, she bares her soul to a stranger at a pub whom she later discovers is her father's new curate. The two seem drawn to one another. The book is more or less an introduction to a series featuring Anna and her sisters. It presents spiritual truth about brokenness in a non-preachy manner. While a lot of threads are unresolved, future series installments may address these. I received an electronic copy through Smashwords from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Murder for the Books



Gilbert, Victoria. A Murder for the Books. New York: Crooked Lane Books, 2017.

A messy break-up prompted Amy Webber to leave her job at a university library, accepting the position as director of a small town library where her aunt resides. The missing Doris Virts turns up dead in the library's archives. Amy meets dance instructor Richard Muir who purchased the home next to hers. The two begin researching his home's history. A lot of old family skeletons begin to rattle. This first installment felt more like a romance novel than a mystery. Some characters, such as Brad,the lead official investigator, needed more development--and needed to be utilized more in the novel. There were some issues with the plot. For example, a cell phone was confiscated by a "bad person" but in a scene shortly afterwards, the owner was using it once again without an opportunity to get it back. Still the book showed some promise. Those likely to be recurring characters are mostly likeable. One character still has a mystery about him which could become fodder for a future plot. As is the case with most cozy mysteries, readers need to suspend believability for some parts of the narrative. Fun read with a likeable setting. The review is based on an advance electronic copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Somebody at the Door



Postgate, Raymond. Somebody at the Door. Scottsdale, Arizona: Poisoned Pen Press, 2017.

Henry Grayling's dies in his own home a short time after returning home on the train. Mustard gas caused his death. Some of the man's belongings are found along the road, but the payroll he transported was missing. The vicar provides Inspector Holly with a list of persons aboard the train. As he investigates them, he discovers motives for many of them. The solution may be obvious to the reader carefully paying attention to details; however, others may be left guessing until the revelation.This classic crime will appeal to those who enjoy police procedurals. My remarks are based on advance e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation of an honest review.

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Monday, December 04, 2017

The Country House Library



Purcell, Mark. The Country House Library. London ; New York: Yale University Press, 2017.

A well-researched volume featuring essays tracing the history of English country house libraries. Much of the information on contents of these libraries is derived from estate inventories and published catalogues. One essay discusses its counter-part, the town house library, specifically in the context of those who owned both homes in places such as London as well as in the country. The book was interesting but probably bogs down a bit for the average reader due to its academic nature. The book, however, will  interest  persons passionate about the history of books and libraries. The book contains a number of illustrations featuring country house libraries and their features. The review is based on an advance review copy received from the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation of an honest review.

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Your Guide to the Apocalypse



Hagee, Matt. Your Guide to the Apocalypse: What You Should Know Before the World Comes to an End. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2017.

While Hagee begins with a discussion of modern-day events and parallels to passages of Scripture, the latter part of the book is a study of the seven churches in Revelation and their parallels to the seven ages of the church. He concludes we are living in Laodicea--a phrase which brings back memories of an old contemporary Christian song (1983) by Steve Camp. I enjoyed the author's illustrations based on his own family history. This is a readable book encouraging believers in the midst of spiritual darkness. I received an electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley with expectations for an honest review to be published and shared.

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