The Mysterious Affair At Styles

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Wealthy Emily Inglethorp dies late one night, and the cause of death is found to be strychnine. Lieutenant Arthur Hastings asks his friend Hercule Poirot to help with the investigation.  Poirot pieces together the events leading up to Mrs. Inglethorp’s murder and figures out who killed her.

This book is enjoyable.  Agatha Christie does a good job of keeping the reader guessing.  Poirot is an engaging character, and I like the interaction between him and the other characters.  There are a number of people who would have a motive for killing Emily Inglethorp, particularly her considerably younger second husband Alfred Inglethorp and her stepson John Cavendish.  The way Poirot gets the information he needs to find out who committed the murder and why is interesting.  I also like the setting, England during WWI.  The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920, and is written in the style of detective stories at the time.  The story is told in the first person, the events take place in a large, isolated country manor, there are a half dozen suspects hiding things about themselves, and there are plot twists and red herrings.

I watched some of the Miss Marple mysteries that were on the Masterpiece Mystery! TV show a long time ago, but this is the first Agatha Christie book I’ve had the opportunity to read.  I want to read more of her books as I’m able.

 

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The Ultimate Deception-Ray Comfort

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The author makes some good points about Christianity and salvation in his book The Ultimate Deception.  I agree with the idea that people tend to become disillusioned when they realize that being a Christian doesn’t equal a problem free existence or mean things will always go well, and I can understand why that happens.

I think the author is sincere in his desire for people to understand God loves them.  He states he believes Jesus is the way to eternal life, and I am in agreement with him there.  However, there are flaws in his approach.  First of all, the author seems to think church attendance equals salvation or makes you a Christian.  It does not say anywhere in the Bible that church attendance is what saves us.  I think church is important.  You need to connect with other believers, but it is not what saves you.  Salvation is a free gift from God.  Jesus died in our place to fulfill the law of sin and death, and we are no longer under the curse of the law.  Salvation isn’t something that has to be earned or that we can earn.  If that was the case, there would have been no reason for Jesus to die and rise again.

Secondly, the author seems to think making mistakes equals condemnation.  While I agree that obedience is important, it should be God’s love that motivates us to be obedient, not fear and condemnation.  There is no condemnation for those in Christ; death is defeated by Jesus’ work at the Cross.  We have to learn to follow God’s path, and that is a process.  He doesn’t take away His gift because we mess up and have things we need to allow Him to change.  Being a Christian doesn’t equal perfection or mean we won’t make mistakes.  Christians are still imperfect humans.

Finally, the author appears to take it upon himself to decide whether someone’s salvation or conversion experience is real or not.  He has no business doing this, particularly with people he doesn’t know personally.  That is between the individual and God.  I sort of wonder where he got his statistics about church attendance and backsliding.  Yes, obedience is important, and there are consequences for disobedience, but the purpose is to get us back on the right path, not condemnation.

I don’t know the author and haven’t discussed his views with him, which is why I use the terms “seems to” and “appears to”.  It is possible that part of the problem is poor editing or poor organization of the material. There is nothing wrong with sharing your beliefs with others.  However, what happens after that is up to the person.  I don’t think a militant approach accomplishes anything or motivates people in a positive way.  You can’t force others to believe the way you do, and that applies to anyone.  It’s also probably wiser to talk about your beliefs with people you know and have established a relationship with rather than approaching strangers.

I did like The Ultimate Deception in spite of the issues I mentioned, but it’s not something I will go out of my way to read again.

The Silver Music Box

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In The Silver Music Box, Johann Blumenthal, a Jewish silversmith and jeweler, makes a silver music box for his son Paul before leaving to fight for Germany in World War I.  The box is passed to Paul’s daughter Margarethe, and then later to a young woman named Lilian Morrison, who goes on a quest to find out where the box comes from and uncovers unexpected information about her past.

This is a touching historical novel that starts during World War 1 and continues through World War II and into the 1960s. The Blumenthal family, after living in Germany for generations, loses their business because they are Jewish.  They lay low for a while and make plans to immigrate to Cape Town, South Africa but run into some obstacles.

The Silver Music Box is engaging and well-written.  The author captures the horror of the Holocaust very well, but there is underlying hope also.  The book moves through the different time settings smoothly, and that can be a challenge. The settings-Germany, Cape Town and London-are interesting, as is the historical setting.  I realized a lot of Jews immigrated to the Netherlands, U.S. and other countries to escape the Holocaust, but wasn’t aware there was a Jewish community in Cape Town.

The constant throughout the story is the music box.  The music box is the key to Lilian coming to terms with the unexpected information and meeting members of her biological family.  I like the parts of the book focusing on Johann and Paul better than the part focusing on Lilian.  I understand her pain and confusion at finding out things aren’t what they seem, but she isn’t very likable.  However, this doesn’t detract from the overall story. I would recommend The Silver Music Box.  It is worth reading for the historical content alone.

Playing with Fire-Tess Gerritsen

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In Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen, musician Julia Ansdell visits an antiques shop in Rome where she finds and buys an unusual piece of music, the Incendio waltz.  This music seems to adversely affect Julia’s young daughter, Lily, and Julia discovers the music is connected to a Jewish family in Italy that suffered the horrors of World War II.  Julia also faces some pretty challenging personal issues.

This is the story about how a musical piece connects the Ansdell, Todesco, and Balboni families, and the part a prominent family in Italy played in the Holocaust. The characters are well-developed, the settings (Massachusetts and Italy) are wonderful, and the historical setting is interesting.    The author moves between the present and World War II smoothly, and it can be tricky to move between different time periods.  The characters are fictional, but the historical events are accurate.  Most of the information about World War II involves Germany or Poland, so it is interesting to have a story set in Italy during World War II.  One doesn’t hear a lot about what happened in Italy during World War II, and part of the reason for that could be that the Jews had been in Italy for centuries by this time and were well integrated into Italian society.  However, the anti-Jewish propaganda eventually spread to Italy and the same horrible events that occurred in Germany, Poland and elsewhere took place in Italy also.

I love the Rizzoli and Isles books by Ms. Gerritsen, but this is an excellent stand-alone story that isn’t part of the Rizzoli and Isles series.  I would recommend Playing with Fire.  The historical setting alone makes this book worth reading.

A Monster Calls

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In A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, with the help of a tree-shaped monster, young Conor O’Malley deals with his mother’s terminal illness, an uptight, overbearing grandmother, a father who has remarried and moved far away, and being bullied at school.  This book is inspired by an idea by author Siobhan Dowd, who passed away from cancer at a young age.

A Monster Calls is sad, inspiring and redeeming.  Sad because of Conor’s circumstances, but inspiring because of the good messages concerning dealing with grief honestly and that action is more important than thoughts, and redeeming because Conor accepts the truth and begins to move past his grief.

The writing is imaginative and the author deals with the subject matter in a sensitive way.  Conor is a character with lot of challenges, and understandably a lot of anger about what is happening to him.  The author does a good job communicating his conflicting feelings, such as how he doesn’t want to lose his mom but wants it to be over too.  His grandmother is not likable, although I did understand her better by the end of the book.  The father is a jerk in a lot of ways. I wanted to smack the school bullies but there are consequences for their behavior.  Conor still has a lot to deal with at the end of the book, but he is on the right path.  A Monster Calls gives the reader something to think about, and there is underlying hope in spite of the sad circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kora by Marina Epley

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Young servant Kora lives in a society with only upper and lower classes, where you are either a Master or servant.  Kora wants a better life than being a trash picker and requests to be sold to a Master in Central City.  A man named Gabriel buys her, and Kora’s plans to improve her circumstances are complicated by what she has to deal with in Central City.

Pros:  The writing itself is good, and the plot and setting are interesting.  This is a dystopian story along the lines of The Hunger Games, although The Hunger Games is superior.  In fairness, though, The Hunger Games is at the top of the dystopian fiction list.  It’s not likely other books in that genre will surpass The Hunger Games series, although there are probably some that are as good or nearly as good.  I like the concern Kora has for the other servants, particularly Tanya.

Cons:  Kora spends a lot of time complaining about her circumstances.  I understand that her situation is not good and get why she would respond that way, but I think in this case show and not tell applies.  There is nothing wrong with wanting a better life or wanting to get away from a bad environment, but I think it works better when the character makes a definite plan about what to do and then follows through with it.  It doesn’t make sense for Kora to run off to a place she has never been and isn’t familiar with, and there are consequences for that.  She ends up in a worse situation than before.  Also, Kora is too unsure of what she wants.  Stories are better when the characters learn something through what they experience and become better for it.  Wreck is really a strange character too; one minute he’s kind and helpful and the next he’s this psycho.  The relationship between Trent and Kora is one-sided and therefore frustrating.  She likes him so much and he turns out to be a jerk.  There is a lot of violence too.

Overall I like this book; there is a lot of potential.  However, it’s not something I’ll go out of my way to read again.

I received a free eBook copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and appreciate the opportunity to read and review Kora. I am interested in checking out some of the author’s other work.

Frankly Speaking

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In Frankly Speaking, the first book in the Frank Rozzani series, private detective and former police officer Frank Rozzani investigates the disappearance of 16-year-old Maggie Bullock.  He receives help in the investigation from his friends and associates Clifford “Jonesy” Jones and Anita Velasquez.  In the process, they discover a baby selling and human trafficking ring.

Frankly Speaking is engaging and well-written.  The writing style is a tribute to pulp fiction from the 30s, 40s and 50s.  The setting is great (Florida is beautiful) and the plot keeps the reader’s attention.  The author does a good job of conveying the garbage that has been known to occur in megachurches.  However, he balances this with the idea that people are imperfect and make bad choices when dealing with life challenges-especially when large amounts of money and power are an issue.  The author has a good understanding of how detectives operate; the storyline is realistic.

Frank, Jonesy and Anita are likable if somewhat flawed characters the way they interact is enjoyable.  The affection Frank has for his dog, Lucy, is sweet, and so is the relationship Frank has with Lucy’s vet, Nancy Rafferty.  The reader can relate to the pain Frank deals with as a result of the tragedy that led to his move from Syracuse, New York to Jacksonville, Florida.  There aren’t a lot of details revealed in this book, but this likely changes as the series continues.  Jonesy, who is a lawyer, is portrayed as a surfer dude, and his surf shop being used as a front for a law firm is clever.  I like how Anita, a detective with the Jacksonville Police Department, resists the powers-that-be and helps Frank and Jonesy with their investigation.

The other characters add to the story.  Pastor Rick Worthington isn’t likable, but he makes an effort to turn his life around after some pretty serious mistakes as a young person.  He sincerely cares about his congregation and wants to help a young man who shares his issues with him.  Stanton Cobb, who works with the Bullocks, is despicable, but he gets his just reward.  William Robert Drake, a Jacksonville police detective and Cobb’s great nephew, isn’t likable, but he tries to make things right when he finds out about the human trafficking ring.

I recommend this book, and want to read the rest of the series when I get a chance.