"...Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion." ~Madonna

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Mrs. Jeffries Forges Ahead

Cold winter evenings and warm cozy mysteries seem to go together like honey and biscuits. Emily Brightwell has provided us with a series that fits the bill very nicely.

The Victorian Murder Mystery series, set in Victorian England, started in 1993 with The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries and 2011 will see the 28th book, MRS. JEFFRIES FORGES AHEAD.

Scotland Yard Inspector Gerald Witherspoon and his partner, Constable Barnes, have been gaining a solid reputation for solving crimes in London. What Londoners do not know is who is doing the actual detective work that puts the guilty parties behind bars.

Inspector Witherspoon is a warm, friendly and nice, but naive man. His secret weapon is his housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries and her staff.  Mrs. Jeffries is, as her employer, warm friendly and nice, but she is anything but na├»ve. Her ability to run a Victorian house and still solve the same crimes that baffle Scotland Yard is truly amazing.

Helping Mrs. Jeffries is a most unusual group of employees. Smythe is the coachman. He is a tall, muscular man with a rugged face. Throughout the course of the series we learn that Smythe is more complicated than people realize.

Betsy, the housemaid, uses her position to gather information from the shopkeepers and other maids in London. She and Smythe seem to get along especially well. Wiggins is the man of all work and can be counted on to get into some places that would be dangerous for the others. Mrs. Goodge rounds out the staff as the cook. “Rounds out” is definitely the right term to use for Mrs. Goodge because she is constantly baking to feed her sources of information as they come to her kitchen.

These mysteries are not too complicated. In fact the reader may have them solved long before Inspector Witherspoon does. I also felt that the author did not do a good job of convincing us that the action took place in Victorian England. What makes these books delightful is the author’s affection for her characters. The Inspector is not a bumbling fool, just a sweet man who has a staff that does not want to see him hurt or humiliated. Each member of the household becomes an individual as the stories go on.

If cozy mysteries are in your library, make sure Emily Brightwell’s Mrs. Jeffries is on the shelf with them.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Redeeming Love

Most modern plots can be traced back to Shakespeare or the Bible. Francine Rivers has retold the story of Hosea from the Old Testament in her novel REDEEMING LOVE.

In order to live, Angel had become a prostitute. The year is 1850; the place is California and the opportunities for a beautiful woman are few. Raised by a mother who was the mistress of a wealthy man, Angel had only known abuse and cruelty from men.

Michael Hosea is a man who seeks to obey God in everything that he does. When Michael is told by God to marry Angel and to save her from her life as a prostitute,  Michael rescues her from an ugly situation and marries her. Angel only expects the worst of any man and to her Michael is just another man.

As Michael slowly melts her heart, Angel’s feelings of unworthiness cause her to leave him. Several times he follows her to show his unconditional love. Finally she goes far enough away to be on her own. Michael knows that she has to find her healing in the love of God, the same as Michael knows it.

Francine Rivers has a simple writing style. Her main protagonists and some of her lesser characters were well enough drawn to keep my attention throughout the book. Even though I knew how the old story of Hosea and his prostitute wife Gomer tuned out, there were times that I felt Rivers had a different ending in mind.

The character of Angel was well done. Enough of her background is given to show why she hated and feared Michael as a man. The story felt more alive when it centered on her.

I was not as much impressed with Michael. For a man of God, he did some things that I thought were underhanded. For example, I found the fact that Angel was barely conscious during the wedding service to be troubling. Maybe the author could explain some of Michael’s traits by setting the story in 1850.

Francine Rivers started her writing career in the general market. This was her first novel as a Christian author. In this book she wants us to learn the same lesson that the writers of the Old Testament wanted us to learn: God’s love is unconditional and redeeming. Other than that lesson, REDEEMING LOVE is a fairly typical Romance novel.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book REVIEW: Little Bee

Sometimes, if we are lucky, we meet a person in a book who stays in our memories long after the final page. Author Chris Cleave has provided such a person in the title character of his novel LITTLE BEE.

Little Bee escaped a dangerous situation in Nigeria and has spent three years in an immigration detention center in England. The only English people she knows are Charlie and Sarah O‘Rourke whom Little Bee met briefly on a beach back in Nigeria. After leaving the detention center, Little Bee goes to the home of the O'Rourkes and arrives just before Charlie’s funeral. She stays to help the widow and her young son, Charlie, Jr.

The horrific events that had taken place on that beach back in Nigeria and the fact that Little Bee is an illegal immigrant cast a shadow over everything that these two women do. Partly because of the past and partly because they need each other, Little Bee and Sarah form a close attachment.

Little Bee has been busy learning how to be British so that when in a tight spot, she simply thinks of what the Queen would say or do. She also finds that people pay attention if she begins her responses with, “ There is an old proverb in my country...” Some of these are so obviously false that we have to admire her ability to think fast.

Much of the advance advertising for LITTLE BEE promised that this would be a funny book. It is, at times, but many of the situations in the book are far from humorous. Little Bee has been a witness to the horror caused by the big oil companies in her country and the British people who become part of her new life are morally flawed.  It is Little Bee and her fresh outlook that lighten the story. As Little Bee tries to decide how she would explain life in England to her girlfriends back home, we see an interesting new viewpoint on everything from topless models to the taste of tea.

To tell more about the plot of the book would make this review a “spoiler” and I would like you to go along with the surprises. I will admit that the ending was not to my liking at all, but it is one reason LITTLE BEE would make an excellent choice for a book group. Little Bee herself, though, is the best reason for anyone to read this book.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: American Casino Guide 2011

The 2011 version of AMERICAN CASINO GUIDE by Steve Bourie is now available. If you are traveling anywhere in the United States and enjoy visiting the local gambling establishments, you need this book.

Although the guide is full of good advice, the biggest section is a state by state breakdown of the gambling laws and traditions as well as the location and facts on each casino in that particular state.  Besides explaining the types of gaming and the size of the casino floor, the guide lists how many rooms are available and their price range. It provides information on RV parking, restaurants, prices at the buffet, minimum age, and if liquor is served. The phone number and web site are also included.

The first quarter of the book is a collection of articles written by gambling experts. Covering a large range of subjects such as including the best bets in a casino (craps and blackjack, if played properly), how to take advantage of the comp system and how to pick a machine, you'll get the inside scoop directly from those in-the-know. There are also chapters explaining how to play various games and how to tell if your gambling is becoming a problem.

The chapter that shocked me was the one on the Las Vegas resort fees. Casino hotels in Vegas now charge an extra fee to cover the use of things that were once included like the swimming pool, parking, free wifi, etc. This was a heads-up as a reminder to ask questions, because the fees can come as a surprise after reservations are made.

The last quarter of the book is full of coupons. That's right—coupons! These coupons are good for everything from a free day of car rental to free drinks or appetizers. To be honest, most of the “freebies” already come with membership in the casino's slot club, but I did find several that I will be using.

To those of you who rarely go to a casino, let me get a word in about slot clubs. This is a club with no fee for joining or dues once you are a member. All that is required of you is to stop by the promotion booth in any casino, show ID, and sign up. The casino then can follow your playing and reward you. It is the only way to get treated to the free rooms, meals, and cash that are offered as promotions (also known as "comps").

AMERICAN CASINO GUIDE is a good resource for the occasional gambler as well as the seasoned one.  I get one about every five years, but so many states are now adding facilities, that it is hard to keep up. I would hate to be driving through Oklahoma and miss a fun place just off the highway! Now, thanks to the handy Guide, I won't miss a thing!