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Death at Chinatown (Emily Cabot Mysteries) (Volume 5)
Death at Chinatown (Emily Cabot Mysteries) (Volume 5)
by Frances McNamara
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.88
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3.0 out of 5 stars This is a good bit of material in such a short novel and ..., October 18, 2014
Death at Chinatown by Frances McNamara, is less a murder mystery than it is a commentary on racism in the late 19th century. This is the fifth in the Emily Cabot Mystery series and perhaps the weakest of the five.

Dr. Mary Stone is one of two young Chinese women who have recently graduated with medical degrees in the United States and are headed by to China to open a clinic. While in Chicago, Dr. Stone is accused of murdering a Chinese herbalist. Ida Kahn, the other Chinese doctor works with Emily Chapman to prove that Mary is innocent of murder. Emily Chapman is married to yet another doctor and is heavily conflicted about her role as a mother, amateur sleuth, wife, and teacher. Add to this a visit to Chicago by a Chinese dignitary, Viceroy Li, and a local threat on his life from Chinese revolutionaries in America you end up with a somewhat convoluted story. This is a good bit of material in such a short novel and seems to confuse the reader. Is this a social commentary on immigration or a murder mystery or a social commentary on the role of women in an evolving society?

A visit to Chinatown in any American city is an unforgettable experience. I can still remember my visits to Chinatown in San Francisco as a teenager in the early 1960’s. The sights, sounds, and smells were so memorable that I can still remember them. Trips into the shops and stores were a feast to the eyes, not to mention the easy access to fireworks. They were outlawed even then and made to trip even more rewarding. The point is none of this is adequately conveyed in Death at Chinatown to the reader by Ms McNamara. It wouldn’t take a lot of effort to pull the reader in to an exotic environment, but alas it doesn’t happen.

Death at Chinatown is a okay read but lacks the magnetic draw to grab the reader. I have to give Death at Chinatown 3 stars.

(I was provided a free copy of this book to review and in no way impacts my review)

Peace to all.

The Golem of Hollywood
The Golem of Hollywood
by Jesse Kellerman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.56
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars While I’ve enjoyed some of Kellerman’s stories, July 28, 2014
This review is from: The Golem of Hollywood (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Jonathan, and son Jesse Kellerman’s Golem of Hollywood is a pleasant surprise. While I’ve enjoyed some of Kellerman’s stories, I’ve not made an effort to read each one as they appeared. There’s no particular reason for this other than I tend to grab books that strike my curiosity. However, when I read the brief marketing blur for Golem, I knew that I would have to read it.

As others have or will point out, Golem is a complex story for a mystery. At 550 pages the book is a full read meaning that there is a tremendous depth to the story and the characters that fill it’s pages. The Kellermans do a fantastic job of threading the story through one scene after another. However, after and interesting opening, the story bogs down with a little too much character development. It eventually becomes interesting again, and in the end is worth the time it takes to read it. While I wouldn’t call the ending disappointing, it seemed pretty obvious with a little thought.

Detective Jacob Lev is a tired and worn out L. A. cop who is a partially recovered alcoholic. After waking with a woman in his house that he cannot remember from the night before he reports to work only to learn that he has been unceremoniously reassigned to the Special Projects squad. His first case deals with a head discovered in an abandoned house far into the hills surrounding Los Angeles. As the story progresses Jacob Lev pursues the mysterious case and in the process discovers himself.

A tightly told story that may drag a little, but carries the reader on a fulfilling ride.

West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776
West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776
by Claudio Saunt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.07
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping history., July 5, 2014
It is interesting to think about what was happening on the North American continent while the colonists were trying to throw off the yoke of British rule along the Eastern Seaboard. So much of American history education around the year 1776 (at least what little is being taught) is focused on the thirteen colonies and completely ignores the rest of the continent. In most classrooms, both public school and colleges, it’s not until the Louisiana Purchase that attention is turned west. Before that point, the continent is darker than dark Africa in the minds of most everyone.

West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776 by Claudio Saunt is a bold and original attempt at correcting this According to Saunt, on the West Coast the Spanish were busy establishing settlements in what would become California. To the north, the Russians were busy grabbing land away from the tribes that inhabited the land. The great American land grab was on. Also, during the years 1775-1776 the Lakota’s discovered the Black Hills in what is now South Dakota. What often isn’t mentioned, of course, is that the Crow Indians were already there and had to be run out. The Lakota still feel so strongly about the unfairness of their losing the Black Hills, that they’re still trying to get the area back.

Saunt also includes the beginning of the Cherokee Tragedy that culminated years later in the Trail of Tears. In 1776 land speculators initiated an attack on 36 Cherokee towns in what is now Western North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. That event is commemorated with historical markers in North Carolina about Rutherford’s Trace. Many of the family names of members of Rutherford’s army are still present in Haywood County, North Carolina. In fact, I live on land that was part of that land grab.

There are other areas that Saunt investigates but this will give you an idea of the scope of his coverage. Suffice it to say that the research for this effort must have been enormous.

One annoying question, of course, that most Americans avoid regardless of how rotten they believe Native Americans were treated is what should be done. Should we give it all back?

I highly recommend West of the Revolution.

Peace to all.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2014 11:48 AM PDT

The City: A Novel
The City: A Novel
by Dean Koontz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.79
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating Koontz, July 5, 2014
This review is from: The City: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Dean Koontz’s The City is yet another step forward for this author who has continued to develop and avoid becoming stale. Though many readers from his early days feel that Koontz has lost it, he has accumulated new readers that seem to love his edgy stories. This is the mark of a serious writer; one worth of your time to become familiar with.

The City introduces us to Jonah Kirk who at 57 begins dictating the story to us. We are introduced to Pearl very early in the tale and are told that she will continue to appear. Pearl tells Jonah that she is the soul of the city and watches over her residents. It’s funny because I have often thought that cities such as New York, Chicago, L. A., and San Francisco, et al, are all unique even though they share the designation of a megalopolis. How is that? What makes them distinctive even though they are so much a like. Koontz tells us that at least one city has a soul. Could they all, by logic, have one and that is what makes them unique?

While Jonah is a piano prodigy, a lot of the book is about his love for his mother and the difficult and threatening relationship he has with his father. It is the characters of The City that drive this story. The City is less about the supernatural and seems to be more grounded in the here and now. Regardless of that fact, die hard Koontz readers will enjoy The City.

I can highly recommend The City.

Peace to all.

I Heard My Country Calling: A Memoir
I Heard My Country Calling: A Memoir
by James Webb
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.30
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5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing and engaging, June 26, 2014
I Heard My Country Calling by James Webb is the nonfiction read of 2014 so far. The year isn’t half over yet, so who knows what’s coming down the pike. Webb’s account of his life, family, education at Annapolis, his tour in war ravaged Vietnam is honest and to the point. There is an economy of words in I Heard My Country Calling which I’m sure is the result of his having written Fields of Fire.

I approach most memoirs with a great deal of care and skepticism. However, there is a strain of honesty running through the book. This is especially true as he covers his years at Annapolis and during his time in Vietnam. In Vietnam, young Webb won a Navy Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart as a result of his combat experiences. Webb is also honest as he discusses his early life and his relationship with his family. As a Navy brat I can readily identify with the hardships of the gypsy like life style that he endured and also how a young son can miss his absent father. Having said that, there is an inevitable independence that results from having to rely on yourself and being forced to make new friends with every move. I also understand his admiration for his mother. My mother held the family together making sure each move was handled with the utmost efficiency. His mother performed the same tasks over and over again.

Webb also served his country as Secretary of the Navy as a Republican and in the U. S. Senate as a Virginian and a Democrat. Certainly, his service to the United States has proved his honor and personal commitment to his country.

This is a very enlightening read and I highly recommend it.

Semper Fi

James Madison: A Life Reconsidered
James Madison: A Life Reconsidered
by Lynne V. Cheney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.81
90 used & new from $8.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Entertainingly informative, June 26, 2014
James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney is a great examination about this often over looked patriot and President. I read A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor when it was published in 2007. I was very delighted that A Life Reconsidered caught my eye in a bookstore. I ordered it from Amazon and have enjoyed reading it.

Lynne Cheney is a wonderful author. It is clear after reading James Madison that she is and expert historian, author, and researcher. This work doesn’t read like a typical historical book. Cheney is great at introducing the various players that were intimates with the Madison’s and developing them for the reader. She provides enough information to provide context by avoids the minutia that can kill the readers attention.

We see the type of person that Madison was by his behavior at Princeton. Repeatedly warned by his father about the need to economize due to crop failures at home, young Madison asked the faculty to allow him to cram two years of study into one so that he could relieve from his father the cost of his education. They agreed. During the next year young James ruined his health by driving himself to exhaustion so he could graduate early. This behavior is not what we’re used to hearing about college students today.

Much of the book is devoted to the writing and ultimate passage of the Constitution of the United States. I was vaguely aware of some of the difficulties from earlier reading. However, Cheney seems to add a depth of illustration to her coverage. I found myself enthralled and disheartened at the same time. What we read in the headlines today about the shenanigans taking place in Washington today is very similar to what the framers of the Constitution had to put up with. Politics is a dirty business for all times.

Mrs. Cheney has produced an admirable book about a crucially important character in the early life of this country. I highly recommend.

Peace to all.

World War I: The Definitive Visual History
World War I: The Definitive Visual History
by R. G. Grant
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.30
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complete coverage, June 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
World War I: A Definitive Visual History published by DK is a very timely book. June 28, 2014 marks the centennial of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. By August 6 of that same year the dominos had fallen with first one country and then another declaring war of each other. At that point the blood bath had begun and the hounds of Hell were released.

This book, similar in size to coffee table books, is a marvelous study of the entire tragedy. Full of pictures and easy to read text makes World War I and informative addition to your personal library. I especially like the use of the before and after tool. Each major event includes a “before” it happened and then looks at how things changed as a result of that event. Also of great interest are the pictorial studies included. The one that comes to mind is the full-page depiction of the weapons used in trench warfare and identifying which country they belonged to. I have to agree with another reviewer that states the book is organized in many ways just like a museum and this makes the whole book very informative and useful.

This book is also very complete in the material covered. I cannot think of any aspect or area not covered between the covers. The soldiers, their uniforms, food, weapons, living conditions just to name a few are all fully covered. The battles are explained as are the relationships between the combating countries.

World War 1: A Definitive Visual History is a great book and certainly worth the cost of purchasing it. I highly recommend.

Semper Fi.

Gutenberg's Apprentice: A Novel
Gutenberg's Apprentice: A Novel
by Alix Christie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.51
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read, June 25, 2014
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I jumped at the chance to read and review Guttenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie. As a librarian, bibliophile, and avid reader what could be more interesting than reading about the development of the first printing press, even if it is a fictional account.

Peter Schoeffer (a historical figure) is the main voice in Christie’s book. Peter is young and a man of letters who is a trained and talented scribe. An orphan who was raised by a kind and reasonably successful merchant, Peter is called home from his place of work and offered the opportunity to work with Guttenberg. Christie’s depiction of Guttenberg isn’t necessarily a positive one. Guttenberg, his funder, and his crew of loyal and colorful workers are under a constant threat from a number of points. Taking on the printing of the Bible might have been an overly ambitious project even from the point of view of 2014. The church was always a threat to shut down the project. Then there was the interference from Guttenberg himself. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight we know that the Bible was printed and that the work of this small crew and one visionary changed the world. The invention of the printing press may be the most single important event in the history of man.

Alix Christie does a very good job at setting the physical scene of the story. Her description of the characters is interesting. And the story isn’t just about the printing press. We see Peter’s effort at pursuing his love interest. We see the tension between Peter and his step-father. We are also provided a glimpse at the politics of the Catholic Church, although one wonders how accurate that view is. Christie’s research efforts must have been massive.

Guttenberg’s Apprentice is Christie’s first effort at writing a novel. Though is lacks a certain polish, I found it to be an effort that the author can be proud of. The topic alone should capture the imagination of many readers who devour historical fiction as fast as it can be turned out of the presses.

I can quite easily give Guttenberg’s Apprentice an honest four stars.

Peace to all.

Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World
Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $11.04

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read., May 22, 2014
Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World by Amir Alexander is more historical and social than mathematical. That said, it uses the intellectual war between the Jesuits in Italy and many of the intellectuals in the Protestant countries of Northern Europe.

Beyond the religious differences between the Catholic Jesuits and the reformed Protestants there were other issues. In the early years of the Jesuit organization mathematics was generally seen as unimportant and not really worthy of study or discussion. In time this changed to the extent that Geometry, in it's perfection was added to the Jesuit curriculum at their schools. In other parts of Europe, however, especially those not controlled by the Catholics, infinitesimals held sway. In Catholic Italy many who agreed with this opposing view were considered heretics by the church, including Galileo.

Alexander's book is an excellent study of the two views of mathematics and the intellectual war that went on between the two proponents. In the background, Alexander examines the historical movements of the day including the English Civil War among many others.

Of course, the development of calculus, which made use of infinitesimals ultimately prevailed and "the rest, as they say, is history."

Of importance is a point made by Alexander that is probably a small one but spoke loudly to me. The Jesuit's war on the indivisibles and their final victory, erased a mathematical tradition on the Italian peninsula. Where as the Italian air was alive with intellectual vibrancy in the later years of the sixteenth century and most of the seventeenth century, with the shutting down of Galileo and his followers, that tradition ended. Italy was reduced to the intellectual backwater while Northern, Central, and Western Europe moved ahead. One wonders what how our future will be impacted by traditions established today.

Includes a wonderful Notes section that is very helpful. Also included is a Time Line. Of great importance is a section labeled Dramatis Personae which is an annotated listing of prominent actors in the book. It is divided into The Infinitesimalists, The Anti-Infinitesimalists, Jesuits,The Royal Society, Rulers, Popes, and Other Reformers, Revolutionaries, and Courtiers.

Infinitesimal by Amir Alexander is a terrific read for astronomers, mathematicians, or historians. Very stimulating.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 6, 2014 7:26 AM PDT

Autumn in Carthage
Autumn in Carthage
by Christopher Zenos
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.69
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly good read, May 15, 2014
This review is from: Autumn in Carthage (Paperback)
Autumn is Carthage is my first great surprise read of 2014. Christopher Zenos, who ever he really is, has managed to produce an enthralling read. Largely set in present day Chicago and Wisconsin, the book is a great mix of mystery, suspense, and romance.

Nathan Price is a history professor in Chicago who is preparing to start his sabbatical. He is handed a folio of 17th century documents. One of the documents is a letter from his college friend Jamie. In that now four hundred year old letter is a mention of Carthage, Wisconsin. Adding to the mystery is the fact that his friend has been missing for six months. And how can a town in Wisconsin be mentioned in a letter from 1692?

Nathan Price sets off on an investigation that will change his life in the most fundamental ways. When he arrives in Carthage he meets Alanna and a host of very accepting residents. But what appears to be an Eden like town is only a veneer covering trouble that includes betrayal and murder.

Autumn in Carthage also deals with time travel in an original manner and one that doesn’t seem so “out there.” No heavy machinery needed.

Christopher Zenos has written a well crafted story that will quietly grab you.

I can recommend Autumn in Carthage.

(I was provided a complimentary copy of this novel but this in no way influenced this review).

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