Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Eastern Europe!

Jankowski, Tomek. Eastern Europe!: Everything You Need to Know About the History, People, and Places of a Region That Shaped Our World and Still Does. Williamstown, MA: Steerforth Press, New Europe Books, 2013.

This is a highly readable history of Eastern Europe from medieval times to near the present-day. The author has done an incredible amount of research and provides the reader a look of the region as a whole and by country within that region for several periods of history. I read an e-galley version of this book on my Kindle, and there were formatting issues present in the book. Severalsentenceswereruntogetherlikethis -- often for 1.5 lines or so, making it difficult to read. There was text that was in languages other than English, but it was always translated later. One of my biggest issues with reading non-fiction in electronic book format is that end notes are not very accessible. Such was the case here. I have sometimes seen publishers who provide hyperlinks in the text to the end notes, but this one, at least in its e-galley format, did not do so. The author did insert humor into his narrative from time to time. I found his comment regarding bibliographies (with the bibliography) entertaining. The book is well-indexed. Of course, it is almost impossible to use that index in the electronic version of the book without additional formatting which was not present in the e-galley. This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation that a review would be written.

A Nantucket Christmas

Thayer, Nancy. A Nantucket Christmas. New York: Random House, 2013.

I'll have to admit that this book got off to a bad start when the author inaccurately described the winter months of the Nantucket area in the opening paragraphs. It's the story of the daughter of a divorced couple as she tries to come to terms with her father's new wife. While the story was somewhat heartwarming, the writing was somewhat dull. The setting itself and the subplot of her little boy and his love for a lonely pup were the best parts of the book. I received an advance e-galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley with the expectation of a review being written. Hopefully the description error will be corrected in the final version.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Vanishing Evangelical

Miller, Calvin. The Vanishing Evangelical: Saving the Church From Its Own Success by Restoring What Really Matters. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013.

Calvin Miller, a well-known author, takes a look at the decline in membership in Evangelical churches and recommends an increase in intellectualism and the arts to restore its vitality in the 21st century. Miller seems to treat the subject fairly. I am impressed by the amount and variety of popular works of the day as well as literary works such as those by Jane Austen that he uses to make his points. He encourages his audience to read the Bible regularly and in an organized plan such as those that emphasize reading the Bible through in a year. He encourages reading a Psalm and a hymn each day. He encourages his readers to study the lives of martyrs and great heroes of the faith rather than spending their time reading the latest materials available in their local Christian bookstore. Miller did a very good job pointing out how Christianity was in the early 20th century, drawing examples from the reaction against liberalism and from the religious debates that were quite popular and well-attended that pointed out denominational differences. While he is not necessarily encouraging a return to the way things were done in that era, he is encouraging a return to the intellectualism that accompanied the era. This should be a popular book with those in Evangelical churches, particularly lay leaders and clergy. This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Advent of Murder

Ockley, Martha. The Advent of Murder. Oxford: Lion Fiction, 2013. (Faith Morgan Mysteries ; 2)

It's almost Christmas in Little Worthy, and Faith Morgan, the local vicar, has it busy just trying to keep the Christmas pageant together. In fact, that's what she's doing as she happens upon her former colleague Ben Shorter and his investigation team on the property of a parishioner. It seems a body has been found on his property under suspicious circumstances. Faith finds herself helping the police with the investigation, asking questions as she goes about her business and just being observant. Some persons who still don't know that she is the local vicar mistake her for a cop because she still has that "aura" about her person. This is a great follow-up to the previous installment in the series but would work well as a stand-alone for those who have not read the previous installment. The writing and characters are stronger than  in the earlier installment as well. While this is technically a work of Christian fiction, Faith is not "preachy." Her caring acts for parishioners and for those who are in need speak for themselves. Although the setting of this story is around Christmas, it can be enjoyed any time of the year. This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bran New Death

Hamilton, Victoria. Bran New Death. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2013.

Merry Wynter has inherited a castle in upstate from New York and is leaving New York City after a bad experience. When she arrives in Autumn Vale, she finds a town full of quirky characters, and at least one person who believes her uncle was murdered. She had only come to take a look at the property and try to fix it up after it had not sold on the market. She discovers that someone has been digging giant holes on the property. Another man has gone missing as well; she finds irregularities regarding her uncle's business adventures with this man. In the midst of this her best friend from the city (Shilo) comes out to lend a hand and falls in love with the local realtor. This initial installment is a bit light on the mystery as characters are being introduced and such, but it's very readable. This is also not one where everything is wrapped up neatly at the end. The reader still has questions about what will happen, motivating the reading of additional books in the series. I felt there were a couple of questions that probably could have been answered for the reader without ruining the rest of the series that left me with an "incomplete" feeling at the end. I just kind of kept looking for the additional couple of paragraphs that would answer those little things. This review is based on an electronic galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation that a review would be written.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Game, Set and Murder

Flynn, Elizabeth. Game, Set and Murder. Oxford, UK: Lion, 2013.

In this promising debut, Detective Inspector Angela Costello investigates the death of star tennis player Petar Belic whose corpse is found on court 19 at Wimbledon just before the event begins. There are plenty of suspects to go around with varying motives. Having been a tennis fan for years, I loved the setting. I liked our newly minted Detective Inspector and the ease with which she assumed her new role in her first investigation.  I loved the ending which I thought was quite a change from many mysteries and actually follows a conclusion that would probably happen from time to time in real police procedurals. I'm looking forward to additional installments in this series. This review is based on an advance e-galley received by the publisher through NetGalley.

The Vicar's Wife

Swartz, Katharine. The Vicar's Wife. Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson, 2013.

The story set forth by author Katharine Swartz has a modern story and a back story. The back story involves a woman who became the vicar's wife in a small seaside village of England in the 1930s, continuing through World War II. The modern story involves a family, and specifically the woman of the family, which purchases the vicarage when the church moves the vicar into a more modern facility. The family includes a man (Andrew) who grew up nearby in England, but has spent the last 16 years of his life in New York City. His wife Jane was the manager of a non-profit in New York City and really has no desire to fit into the community in England. Her children embrace life in the village, although a few are initially hesitant. While she's trying to paint a pantry, she discovers an old shopping list belonging to the former vicar's wife and becomes intrigued by it. She wants to learn as much about the woman who wrote that list as possible. I liked the historic story more than the modern story, but primarily because I just didn't really like the character of Jane that much. I loved her husband and kids and even the other locals, but I never really identified with Jane, probably because I can't imagine even considering doing the horrible things she did to harm her family because of her own selfish desires. This review is based on an electronic galley received by the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The King's Grave

Langley, Philippa and Jones, Michael K. The King's Grave: The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2013.

Philippa Langley was behind the discovery of King Richard III's body under the car park in England. This book gives an account of Richard's life, showing differences in the real Richard III and the Tudor version of Richard III, as well as the account of the discovery of his resting place. The authors alternated between the two portions of the story, and that particular arrangement did not work well for me. I was far more interested in the events leading up to the discovery and the archaeological dig and testing done to determine this was indeed Richard than in a reconstruction of his life which has been the subject of numerous other histories. I felt that more details of the dig itself and of the testing and results could have been presented if the authors had left parts of the story of Richard which had no bearings on the forensics presented in the volume to other histories. I was quite interested in the DNA analysis and was disappointed that there was not more on that presented in the book and that there was no appendix presenting detailed findings of the mitochondrial match. Although I was disappointed in some aspects of the book, it was interesting to read about the discovery and understand a little more of what drove the team and of the cooperation they had from others to make the discovery. This review is based on an advance e-galley received from the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation that a review be written.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Testimonies and Secrets

Mennel, Robert M. Testimonies & Secrets: The Story of a Nova Scotia Family, 1844-1977. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013.

This is the story of the of the Crouse and Eikle families of Lunenberg, Nova Scotia over more than a century as revealed through family documents and other records. The author did a great deal of research on the families, and it is well-documented for the most part. I was excited about the genealogical story, but the direction that the author took in telling the story of one family member left me wishing that I had not read this title. Furthermore, I found this book difficult to read because of the formatting problems with the e-galley which I received from the publisher through NetGalley. I find it difficult to believe that an academic press accepted the work of an author who failed to capitalize proper nouns, words beginning sentences, etc. I'm not sure why those things were not present in this work. There were other formatting issues in the book as well. It made me distrust the quotes I was reading simply because I didn't know if the finished product would properly transcribe direct wording and the like. The genealogical charts that were supposed to be near the end of the book were also missing from the e-galley. As mentioned, this was received as an advance e-galley by the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation that a review would be written.