Monday, November 18, 2013

Intellectual Intrigue and Mathematics Make a Deep Mystery

If you like intellectual intrigue then Paul Robertson’s An Elegant Solution is the book for you. Young Leonhard is a math student of Master Johann, the stern Chair of Mathematics at the university in Basel, Switzerland in the eighteenth century. 

By morning Leonhard works for Mistress Dorothea, wife of Master Johann, to pay for his afternoon mathematics lessons. By routine and by accident Leonhard finds himself at the heart of Master Johann’s family intrigue when the local coach driver disappears. 

As devoted as Leonhard is to mathematics and elegant formulas, he is likewise devoted to Nicolaus and Daniel, the highly competitive sons of Master Johann, who have unexpectedly returned to Basel leaving behind prestigious university chairs in foreign countries. Leonhard finds himself inextricably drawn into a mystery of spirals, deaths, and unanswered questions as he seeks to understand what is happening to the quiet town of Basel he knows so well. 

Paul Robertson is methodical as he sets the scene and provides the history surrounding the mystery behind university chairs at Basel. He spends a lot of time describing what young Leonhard’s world in Basel was like, and he is effective in transporting his readers to that same world. On the downside, Robertson takes his time creating Leonhard’s world, and I found myself at 100 pages into his novel still waiting for that pull that would take me completely into the book.

Yet, I found Robertson’s writing, descriptions, and meticulous research compelling because he introduced me to a new world of intellectual intrigue and jealously. And I even found myself not minding the mathematical discussion that gave credibility to his plot. Bethany House Publishing sent me a complimentary copy of An Elegant Solution by Paul Robertson to review.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Beautiful, Touching Novel Brings the Bible to Life

From the first book I read by Lynn Austin, I have been a fan of her captivating way of bringing history to life through beautiful writing and intriguing plots. Return to Me is the first book in Austin’s new series The Restoration Chronicles that tells the Biblical story of the Israelites returning to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity to rebuild their temple.

Beginning with an intense preface, Lynn Austin introduces us to the legendary Daniel of the Lion’s Den who has grown old in Babylonian captivity. As an advisor to Babylonian kings, Daniel introduces Austin’s story of King Cyrus’s unexpected announcement that some Israelites might return to their Promised land.

Although I haven’t read Austin’s other Biblical novels, I was impressed with her attention to historical detail and Biblical knowledge. I loved how she seamlessly wove Biblical text into the narrative to substantiate her story. While many of the everyday details of her characters’ lives are fictional, Austin uses real Biblical people to adroitly capture the essence of the personal and societal conflicts that the returning Israelites faced.

Iddo, like Daniel, grew old in captivity and he could never forget the horror of the exile. Iddo’s children only know Babylon and when they are invited to return to Jerusalem, they decline. Iddo’s one grandson, Zechariah, although young, returns to build the temple with his priestly grandfather. 

Following the joyous announcement, the pilgrims return to Jerusalem to find devastation, famine, and animosity from locals. Austin cleverly tells of their struggles, heartaches, sorrows, and determination to build a temple and restore proper worship of their God. 

While Return to Me was not a heart stopper read, it was a touching, beautiful story of love—love of people for their neighbors and love of a people for their God. Bethany House Publishing sent me a complimentary copy of Return to Me by Lynn Austin to review.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Different Twist and A Great Read

As the fourth book in the Home to Hickory Hollow series by Beverly Lewis, The Secret Keeper introduces us to an Old Amish Order from the perspective of a young seeker, Jenny. Jenny is a young adult who wants to leave her privileged middle class background to join the Amish and convert to their faith. Before joining the Amish church, Jenny must live among the People, learn their ways, and pass her Proving time.

Thanks to an Amish acquaintance, Jenny dives optimistically into Amish life and takes up residence with Rebecca and Samuel Lapp. Jenny loves everything Plain and finds peace and hope in her new surroundings. But, as Beverly Lewis adeptly shows us through Jenny’s story, just running from the past and pursuing a dream does not make a wholly perfect life.

As Lewis does so well, she uses the routine experiences of Amish life to show us how much relationships matter, especially family relationships. While Jenny struggles with her own insecurities, she learns that her Amish friends, despite living a simpler life, also struggle with making their hearts right with God and their families.

Jenny’s is a touching story of courage and hope in the future, and learning to accept our humanity. Bethany House Publishing sent me a complimentary copy of The Secret Keeper by Beverly Lewis to review.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Miner's Lady, A Captivating Read about America's Italian Immigrants

As the third book of Tracie Peterson’s Land of Shining Water series, The Miner’s Lady introduces us to the Italian population that immigrated to Minnesota.  Peterson introduces the Italian culture through the Calarco and Panetta families who emigrated from the same area of Italy. While they have a motherland in common, they stoke an old feud between their families.  Peterson adeptly show us how cultural ties traveled with the people who settled Minnesota. She shows how they brought their strength and resolve, and often how they brought their passions that both help and interfere with their new lives in America.

As a main protagonist, the young woman Chantel Panetta has returned from a long trip to Italy to discover that her younger sister has fallen for Orlando Calarco. Still influenced by the old feud, Chantel is reluctant to support Isabella in her new romance. Slowly though, sisterly affection overrides old traditions and Chantel sees that Isabella and Orlando are right to put the hard feelings of their families behind them.  But resolve, however well meant, does not seem enough to help their parents see the futility of the feud.

Once again it didn’t take long for Peterson to draw me into another intense historical drama, where she shows us the strength the immigrants brought to Minnesota as they labored in the iron mines and their families who worked hard to adapt to a new life in America. She captured well the harshness of God fearing people struggling to choose right while living in the midst of hardened mining towns that encourage vice. With romance mixed with adventure Peterson takes us into the dangers of the iron mines and into the hearts that struggle with harmful traditions.

In my opinion, Chantel embodies well the promise that America gave to many immigrants who found more freedom to think for themselves and embrace a new life that included the best of their old cultures. Bethany House Publishing sent me a complimentary copy of The Miner’s Lady by Tracie Peterson to review.

Monday, August 12, 2013

An Intriguing Mystery Reminiscent of Classic Mysteries

As a fan of Agatha Christie, I wondered what Julianna Deering would deliver in her debut novel Rules of Murder.  This mystery begins with the usual murder to set the story and amateur detective in action. The story takes place on an English estate and the detective is the privileged son of the first murder victim.  

Drew Farthering, and his longtime friend Nick, decide to investigate the strange happenings that seem to entangle people that Drew trusts. With the help of his stepfather’s American niece, Madeline, Drew find clues, annoy the constable, and tries desperately to figure out who would want to destroy the family company.

As the plot thickens, author Deering mixes mischief with wry humor to engage her readers in helping to figure out the motive for the murders. While it seemed that Deering moved rather slowly to develop her characters and story at the beginning of the story, she did an impeccable job revealing clues and making connections that I could follow as a reader. Sometimes I feel mysteries exclude us readers from all the details because it will ruin the surprises in the plot. Deering keeps her surprises while adroitly dropping the hints that draw us into her story and keep us trying to figure out the mystery. Drew’s final explanation of the mystery was the best wrap up for a mystery that I’ve read in a long time.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Rules of Murder, and I’ll be watching for more Drew Farthering mysteries. Bethany House Publishing sent me a complimentary copy of Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering to review.