The Society, by Micheal Palmer M.D.

The Society

Unraveling the Mystery section, part 2.

A gritty crime procedural set in Chicago, this book is all about a new character, Willard “Will” Grant. He’s nice, he’s caring, he’s the face of the anti-insurance-company movement in Chicago, and he’s the suspect in a serial killer case: a killer who targets head health executives. The plot is extremely complicated, to the point that even the back cover summary is somewhat misleading. The main point to remember: the author is out to make managed care look bad, in every way, so don’t expect any sympathy for the insurance bureaucracy that has to deal with all the laws and legal ramifications.

The good: from a writing perspective, this book is the best yet (and its #5 that I’ve *started* reading. The rest were put down before page 10, in case you were wondering where all those reviews are). The romantic relationship is at least acknowledged to be full of mistakes, and there are few major plot holes. The pacing and action are right one track, with enough humor and clues mixed in to make each scene worth its page space. The details are handled deftly but subtly, and even the gristly parts are toned down enough that you need a good imagination to get anywhere bad.

The Bad: I have a good imagination, for one thing. For another , Mr. Savage is a really liberal person, and the worldview gets annoying to hear about after awhile. The man can really write well, and its easy while reading to skip over these inappropriate parts at first, but as you will see, it really adds up. A sprinkle of foul language (largely contextually understandable), two torture scenes, six detailed deaths, three or so detailed planned deaths, countless ugly surgical procedures gone wrong, heart rending stories of death by bureaucracy, four extra martial affairs (not detailed but still), and seven instances of leering/harassment. By the end, the cumulative effect made me sit back in surprise at how much foul content I had just ingested.

Skip Micheal Savage. Its a real let down at the end. Anyone know of a good medical/big city mystery writer? I’m coming up real short on this series….

John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait, by William J. Bouwsma

John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portraitr

This book purports to be an overview of John Calvin’s life from a fresh perspective, taking into account Calvin’s historical and theological influence on the modern world. Unfortunately, the book lives up to neither expectation. I’m working on finding a good in-depth Calvin biography. This is the worst sample I’ve found.

The good: Good explanation of some of he errors that histroians of Calvin’s life have been prone to, that introduction. Accurate overview of the events in his life, part of the first chapter. And blatantly secular humanist worldview is (while claimed to be neutral), open and obvious. Otherwise, um, the writing style is nice?

The bad: Bouwsma spends the entire introduction talking about how many historians have ignored or abused John Calvin’s memory in favor of their own agendas. Then he spends the entire book making Calvin out to be a caricature worthy of modern political cartoons. To this author, Calvin might as well have been Erasmus’s long lost twin brother who went off his meds and spent his life depressed, craving a father figure he never found in the papacy. The level of scholarship is pretty sad: both of the author’s main contentions fall flat.

The first contention of “A Sixteenth Century Portrait” argues John Calvin was a humanist, and that he agreed with Erasmus on every point (“Erasmus this” and “Erasmus that” gets really old by chapter two. The title really should have been “Erasmus, a 16th Century Portrait”). The logic behind this accusation is Calvin’s practical applications in his sermons. Applying the gospel to everyday life does not a humanist make. John Calvin’s practical streak was entirely bent on bringing the light of G_d’s Word to the people where they were, not on some academic plane but at home or in the marketplace.

Second, the author tries to argue that Calvin’s theological bent was a result of severe depression. The evidence cited is Calvin’s letters to a close freind back home, which are full of sorrows and complaints about his life in Geneva. No doubt, Geneva was a trial for John Calvin, and his calling there brought him little worldly pleasure. Its entirely possible to complain and rant about trials in one’s life and still be a very happy personality. Many college students, for example, feel called to complete their degree and use it in a career for G_d’s glory: this doesn’t preclude them from arguing about the high cost of textbooks, or complaining when a professor is perpetually late. Calvin may have been a weak vessel, but theological works and venting to friends are not evidence for a depressed soul.

Finally, its worth noting that the author also tries to make passing psychological evaluations of Calvin, his need for a father figure in G_d driving his break with Rome, etc. These are superficially made and unfair to Calvin as a person, historical importance aside.

Overall: You know you’ve hit rock bottom as a writer when your entire set up for the character of your book is based on someone else. Calvin was a complex but important historical figure who deserves more than a broadly stroked comparison: I was sorely disappointed by this book.

For a short but accurate overview of John Calvin’s life from a theological perspective, see “Five Leading Reformers”, by Christopher Catherwood. It includes Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Cranmer, and Knox.

Management: Meeting and Exceeding Customer Expectations, 9th ed. by Warren R. Plunkett, Raymond F. Attner, Gemmy S. Allen

Management: Meeting and Exceeding Customer Expectations

I had to use this textbook for a principles of management class. Bought it for the term, sold it at a profit, and will be buying another copy for the next management class of my own volition. My expectations for textbooks, especially business ones, are pretty low. This one met,and actually exceeded those as a textbook. Its well worth it for either a beginning class (ie, required textbook, so you’re going to buy it regardless of what I say), or or a high level class requiring case studies (yes, I said that: I’m voluntarily buying the thing next term). The telecourse guide is helpful, the website blah, the videos double blah.

THE GOOD: It covers every imaginable phrase, concept, and topic within the realm of basic management. Every word you could possibly need for a degree is covered in here with encyclopedic precision. Every theory gets its own table or illustration or graph. The student may get very little on the reality of business (memos, financial statements, and other real-life applications are not the point here), but the theories are solidly packed in: this may be boring, but its what you need for an intro business class. And lets face it, the book is designed to be an encyclopedia for future classes. One extremely useful insert: the case study that fronts every chapter, usually on some well known brand. Each chapter then refers back to that company in all its examples. This really drives the plethora of words home, and helps keep all those facts straight. Also, the book comes with a telecourse guide that can be useful to review for a multiple choice test: itself-tests were invaluable.

THE BAD: The book doesn’t stop with a plethora of words (which we do need): it goes on to a plethora of media. This book comes with a telecourse guide, website, and videos. While I always take notes for my own memory benefit, read the telecourse guide before exams and you’re good. Works for the test, not for remembering anything later (again, as an 01 class, where the point is to teach you these words for long-term use in other classes, this is a bad thing). In addition to the telecourse guide, the book offers a website with more tests (the answer key is screwy), and a series of videos to go with the chapter readings. Said videos had little redeeming value, being poorly done, formulaic, unrealistic, and teaching nothing new while pratting on about this or that wonderful brand, The videos were also over two hours a week of time. Taken together, this is waaay too much time to be spending on one class. Its just over the top.

Also, it has these politically correct inserts every so often about ethics and including women and the environment and all that jazz. These inserts are boring and entirely irrelevant to real life or the theories. I’ll happily overlook thsoe for the quality explanations and definitions, let alone the really good case studies.

THE LOWDOWN: All in all, great book. If you’re taking a higher level class and need some help with terms or case studies, its well worth the investment. I’ll be taking my own advice on this one in the next term. for the record. The telecourse guide is worth buying if you don’t want to take notes, and as a review in print of the tests. The website, skip. The videos, skip. The book, buy on Amazon (about $30 used international edition).

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Mertz

Crocodile on the Sandbank

Plot: This book is the first in the Amelia Peabody Mystery Adventures written under the pseudonym Elizabeth Peters. Our heroine, Amelia Peabody is an uptight victorian feminist who discovers the wonders of Egyptian Archeology. The book begins with Amelia inheriting a fortune from her father. This financial freedom allows her to see places which she has only read about, leading her to Egypt. There she encounters the rest of the players in this mystery, Evelyn Forbes, brothers Radcliffe and Walter Emerson, and Lucas (Evelyn’s distant cousins). Evelyn becomes Amelia’s travel companion as they navigate through Egypt. Upon reaching their first stop in Cairo, Amelia and Evelyn meet the Emerson brothers, who are a pair of archeologist. Quickly a romantic love-interest blooms between Walter and Evelyn, but just as quickly Amelia and Radcliffe loathe each other. Amelia and Evelyn eventually join the Emerson at their archeological site. Although Amelia and Radcliffe do not get along, they each have a mutual respect for the others love for archeology. However, things get complicated when Evelyn’s distant cousin, Lucas, shows up unexpectedly and propose marriage to her. As the romantic entanglements develop, a mummy suddenly begins nocturnal visitations, frighting the workers and halting the excavations. Amelia is called upon to support her friend and to solve the mystery of mummy harassing the camp.

Pros: The author takes a humorous and fun tone more then scary or mysterious. She takes each of the characters to the extreme, making them humorous and silly. There is really nothing objectionable found in this book, with possibly one exception. There are references to Evelyn’s soiled reputation and a brief question about what it was like having it soiled. But I expect that unless you know what is being discussed, a young reader may miss it completely.

Cons: Its not a serious book. so if you are looking for serious book on archeology and its adventures, you have come to the wrong place. Some readers may find, particularly male readers, Amelia’s feminism to be offensive or at least distasteful. Throughout the book you will find Amelia bullying other men and making references to how women are treated as second class. I personally find this feminist trait to be a character enhancement of Amelia, but you may not.

Overall: Its a fun story and well worth the read.

Chicken Soup for the Mothers Soul

Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

Contents: This book is a collection of short stories composed by four authors from readers who have sent them in, or just stories they have found.

The stories are in ten different sections “On Love,” “A Mother’s Guiding Hand,” “A Mother’s Courage,” “On Motherhood,” “Becoming a Mother,” “Special Moments,” “Miracles,” “Letting Go,” “A Grandmothers Love,” and “Thank You Mom.” (As you may have noticed, this book is directed toward women, but men will like it too, I think)

I love this book, it was a great read. The stories are so inspiring and funny, a few are sad, but inspiring at the same time. It makes you look at your mother, and grandmother, in an entirely new fashion.

One story in particular concerns grandmothers, and how they seem to have all the time in the world for their grandchildren. They don’t brush them away, or skip pages when reading a book, and are willing to read the same book repeatedly. That made me look at the way I treat my four-year-old cousin in an entirely new way. I have been trying to make sure that taking a few minutes to read a book does not become a frustration in my busy day, but a time to teach and spend time with him.

Most of these stories include something happening that shows the child just how much their mother loves them. This, I think, brings out the point that underlines all these stories; you must spend time with your children if you want a lasting relationship. One mother sent love notes with each of her children, every single day, without fail, even when they grew older and said they did not need them. All her children took that little action of love with them for the rest of their lives.

You only have one life to live, so live it in a way that brings glory to God and joy to others.

Dialogue of Chivalry of Duke Finnvarr de Taahe, by Etienne de l’Isle

Full Text

This is one of those times when I fall in love with the internet all over again. I wandered onto this great website, and found a typed version of this 12th century “dialogue.” It should be a must-read for all history majors at college. I learned a lot about chivalry and the 12th century in general; most of the following I learned by reading this 19-page work.

STORY: A recounting of an evening spent in the hospitality of the Duke Finnvarr de Taahe. This being the 12th century, the Duke and his fellow peers are peers by virtue of personal merit/selection by a committee of other peers and the king (not, as most people now understand it, by ancestry). These educated elite gather in one another’s homes and at tournaments to have fun and take pleasure in educating themselves. The evening, as recorded by a scribe of de Taahe’s entourage, is unusual in that the peers spent all night talking about the problems of their society and ways to fix them. Most of their concerns are about the knights and peers who are supposed to set the example for society; pride, trying to appear all-knowing instead of knowledgeable, arrogance, over-competitiveness, and putting appearances over substance. Most of which sound like modern social problems.

BAD: Well, being a typed version, there are a few adjustments of translation. I don’t know if this was originally in Olde English or Latin or even French, but the transliterator mixes a few modern colloquialisms, so certain points of accuracy could be in question. Otherwise, nothing else objectionable. However, some parts may be confusing for the un-medieval-Europe-literate; especially since no background information is given for the characters or even the placement of their story into a particular era or country. I figured it out from reading other works (“The Troubador’s Song”, and especially “Henry II”). If anyone has more specific research on this work, please enlighten me, but my estimation is that these are Irish people (or possibly Britons, from Brittany aka France), 12th century, and they’re talking when King Henry the Younger (III) is reigning (possibly his brother Richard aka the Lionheart: it’s hard to tell as their reigns were intertwined).

GOOD: What I loved about this “book” was how closely related the “modern” problems of today and the “modern” problems of the 12th century are. Its easy to forget, when reading history, that at any given point in time, what was happening was “modern” to the people living through it. It seemed like the high point in history, and the low point in culture, for just about every generation. Considering how this election went, it’s a comforting thought that humanity has survived poor leadership before, and will continue to do so for a while yet. This “book” is extremely quotable, with dozens of good stories and examples of proper “gentle” behavior, bad form in manners, and ways that people can recover from the latter and regain honor lost in the heat of the moment. Despite my delight in the similarities of modernity, I must note that the discretion of wording is impressive. No ad hominem (personal) attacks, only examples of poor behavior with the names omitted. No curse words or discussions of lust, torture, or other disgusting things, even when their occurrence is implied. And the ladies are not kept out of the discussion, but they don’t dominate it either (ironicly, for a discussion on chivalry, it was the example of true compatability by the females that most impressed me).

OVERALL: highly recommended. If you enjoy reading history, this will give you a fresh perspective (I recommend reading through W. L. Warren’s “Henry II”, which is about the previous century, for background information on where all these chivalric ideals fit into the big picture).

101 Years’ Entertainment Edited by Ellery Queen (Part 5 of 6)

101 Years' Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories of Over A Century

Part 5 of 6

I’m not big on short stories, mysteries excepted. Unfortionately, this anthology includes a selection of “mystery” stories that are more like horror, or fairy-tales gone amok; so I can’t recommend the whole batch of 50. That said, there are too many stories for one review: this is review 5 of 6, the (more than ten) short stories that are truly great.
• The Purloined Letter, by Edgar Allen Poe, C. Auguste Dupin, 1841. The very first mystery short story, and believed to be the founder of the genre of mystery in general. Exceptional writing, clever (if well-known) premise. Pay attention to the way things are phrased, as many clichés arise from this story even though the method of writing makes them, in this case, sublime.
• The Disappearance of Mrs. Leigh Gordon, Agatha Christie, Tuppence and Tommy. A humourous Detective farce, sibling detectives play Sherlock Holmes while trying to find a missing fiancé. Finally, a good Agatha Christie short story! She’s quite good at the ironic twist bits.
• A Matter of Taste, by Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey. A well known detective is charged with obtaining a special formula by an old scientist, but two Lord Wimseys introduce themselves to at the mansion. Can’t say anything else about this one ‘cause that would give it away, but sufficient to say, its my second favorite story in the whole book (after “The Purloined Letter”), and superior to some of the Holmes stories as well.
• The Avenging Chance, by Anthony Berkeley, Roger Sheringham. A box of chocolates sent to a promineant businessman are full of arsenic; two people are poisoned; a lady is dead, and the culprit is the talk of London. I inheritly dislike this kind of tale (ie, this kind of cliché murderer I’ve already complained about), but the clever mechanisms of the detective make it notable.
• The Problem of Cell 13, by Jacques Futrelle, The Thinking Machine. Not so much a mystery as a philosophical mind-bender. The Thinking Machine is an old man so sure that thinking can solve every problem he’s willing to try the ultimate test: a week in a prison cell, which he must escape using only his wits. The escape mechanism is brilliant political commentary even for today. A must-read.
• The Lenton Croft Robberies, by Arthur Morrison, Martin Hewitt. Not novel today, but this idea is so well presented it must have preceeded the cliché. Many pieces of jewelery have gone missing at Lenton Croft Lodge over the last few years, but the latest one send the owner over the edge and Mr. Croft is off to fetch Mr. Hewitt for some first-rate detecting.
• A Man Called Spade, by Dashiell Hammett, Sam Spade. A man is found dead is his apartment, surrounded by people who hated his brutish ways. The maid is annoying, but everyone else in the story plays their part to the perfect pitch, until each’s secret is found out by Spade in turn. A classic case of whodunit with all the requisite twists and a few new ones.
• The Resurrection of Chin Lee, by T.S. Stribling, Professor Poggioli. Not wholely original, but it says something about the state of immigration in America then and now (my politicial plug of the month: lets ditch the immigrant quotias and just let the qualified people in, okay? This overcrowding idea with keeping refugees out is as unbiblical as it is impractical).
• The Dublin Mystery, by Baroness Orczy, The Old Man in the Corner. A novel idea by one of my favorite old-time writers; a detective who solves mysteries from his table in a high-class London club. Two brothers are to share their weathy father’s riches teased out in rich detail.
• The Crime In Nobody’s Room, by Carter Dickson, Colonel March. A twist on the usual whodunit: an eccentric builder, apartments that look just alike, a newspaper picture that looks just like the original only in sepia, and three neighbors who all had reason to want in on the sceme.

The crème de la crème of fifty detective stories. Need I say more?