Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta

When I received this book I knew it was part of a trilogy, however, I did not know until I finished that it was in essence a very long chapter one, not a standalone work. I personally am not a fan of series that don’t make each work a complete tale within the whole of the overarching story. If an author is worried about bringing readers back, they should not default to the cliff-hanger, “tune in next thursday,” gimmick, but strengthen the work they already have. A great story, a well-crafted world, will bring the audience back again and again.

The pace of this work was much slower than those of my most recent reviews. This gives the reader time to completely understand the feelings and mindset of Julia, as we see everything from her point of view, and her perception.

However, we are told the tale by future Julia, looking back on everything that happened. I thought this was a neat twist on the “unreliable narrator,” as Julia gives us no reason to doubt or rethink anything that is happening, until she herself throws out a “what if” or “perhaps” into our reading.

The action doesn’t really pick up until about the last sthird of the book, and while I liked the opportunity to get such an in-depth look into Julia’s mindset, I felt it work was so focused on character development, it didn’t allow itself to just relax and tell the story.

An interesting read, just be forewarned that you must invest in the trilogy as a whole to complete the story.

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach

As a fan of the mecha genre, I am always drawn toward stories that incorporate some sort of suit, just to see what variation they do upon the theme. Fortune’s Pawn does not disappoint. My only quibble? I now want my own Lady Grey!

The thing I enjoyed most while reading Fortune’s Pawn was Ms. Bach’s unique descriptions. She perfectly captures the image she is trying to paint in our minds, but with an unexpected simile or metaphor. It really pulled the reader in and made the world the author created an immersive experience right off the bat.

I also liked the way in which Ms. Bach built her characters throughout the book. We get a fully rounded picture without slowing down the pace of this fast-moving book for any lengthy exposition.

And fast-moving indeed! The reader is kept at a relentless pace, which is great for building the atmosphere of the story and conveying the world in which Devi lives and operates.

I enjoyed the character of Devi, but toward the end of the book, something seemed off. While she is supposed to be a strong-willed, give no quarter character, she came across more as head-strong, which is at odds with our first introduction to this decorated officer. We are introduced to an unconventional, yet perfect military officer, and since her whole life’s goal depends upon her performance on Caldswell’s watch, I expected more crisp, perfect military performance. It feels like her character gets off track somewhere.

As there are two more books in the trilogy, which I look forward to reading, perhaps they will finish out Devi’s tale in a way that reconciles all parts.

Nevertheless, a fun read!

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.

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Stopping Words That Hurt by Dr. Sedler

Do you truly understand the power of words?

I thought I did. My hobbies, my career, my goals – all relate in some fashion to the use of words, written or spoken.

And then, Stopping Word That Hurt. It has been a while since I read a work that challenged me, pulled and stretched, and at the end of reading, I felt I had not only expanded my mind but my Self through reading it.

Dr. Sedler has been both teacher and counselor along his career path, and this shows in the way he does not talk down to his reader, but speaks directly to them, in a firm tone of authority. There is no hedging in his demeanor, no gray area in his text. His chapters have a stark clarity about them, like the crisp contrast you see through a properly calibrated microscope. It took me a little bit to get used to his style, but once I did, I completely enjoyed the book.

“There is something about putting words in writing that creates hesitation and even fear in people. We call it accountability.” – pg 42

Accountability – that is the core theme of Stopping Words That Hurt. As children, we are taught that gossiping and careless words are hurtful, and that we should watch what we say, but do we truly understand why? What’s the harm in tossing a little “aside” to the audience? And how binding are the words we speak on ourselves or others?

To answer, let me share with you a new Bible insight I learned during my reading of the book. Dr. Sedler brings up the story of the Fiery Furnace, a favorite of Sunday Schools everywhere. But he focuses on something I had always overlooked. King Nebuchadnezzar built his statue and commanded all people of his entire nation to bow down to it. The entire nation of Babylon. Now honestly, if three guys didn’t bow down, how was he to know? Well, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were already set apart because they, along with Daniel, had become high officials in Babylon through the Lord’s favor. There were those who were jealous of their success. So they murmured, they gossiped, and when they had enough people to support them, they went to the king with their accusations. We know how the end of that story turned out. That’s a pretty cool “extra” to add to your Bible story, but have you ever caught what happened next? After they were saved from the fire, King Nebuchadnezzar declares all who speak against God will be punished. Some time passes, and the king happens to speak out in pride against God, and is stricken to live like an animal until he repents. His punishment came as a fulfillment of his own decree. I had never seen that correlation.

Wow.

With many other examples Dr. Sedler drives home how words really do hold incredible power, and that we are accountable for how we use them. So then, the question becomes. how are we to interact with others?

“Spirituality is not measured by how well we expose an offender, but by how effectively we assist in the effort to restore an offender.” – pg.47

“When a person falls into a sinful pattern, our greatest desire should be for restoration not consequences. for repentance not persecution, for humility not embarrassment.” – pg. 84

Stop and think a moment. Did Jesus ever shame or humiliate someone into repentance, into a relationship with him? Then why often, does the Church, trying to be Christ’s hands and feet on earth, act like that is the way to reconcile the world? This point gave me many things to think about, and I weigh everything I write or speak much more carefully now.

I’ve not even begun to scratch the depths of the many new insights and truths Dr. Sedler gave me a new understanding on. There’s much more on the topic of gossip and murmuring:

How odd that people spend so much time and energy coveting what is not theirs, and so little time and energy cultivating what is given to them by God! – pg. 77

As well as the power of words of encouragement. Something for you to ponder – why do we give more weight to the critic than the encourager in our lives?

These, as well as many other examples of the way words impact our lives, and how to use their power in uplifting ways, how to avoid and diffuse the negative.

Each chapter has extra verses and reading suggestions for context and further research, and closes with a few questions to think about. At the end of the book is a strong call to reconciliation – I personally found it to be very convicting and it stirred me to action in my own life.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I did!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley

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Le French Book – Mayhem in Margaux

Winemaker Detective #6

“The slow pace, odd characters, and provincial rhythm spoke to her more than American hard-boiled fiction with their bursts of gunfire, bloody pursuits, and plot twists on every page…too many were formulaic, as far as she was concerned.”

This quote explains EXACTLY why I like this series so much. I love mystery stories, but it is true that here in the American mainstream you see a formula employed again and again. Writers use it because it works, but then you train your reader/viewer to expect the surprise, which dulls the reveal just a touch. With these works, I’ve NEVER been able to predict what’s going to be on the next page. The only surety I have about any of the series is that it will be a sumptuous, sensual experience of food and wine and story.

Mayhem in Margaux gives us the human, fatherly side of Cooker. We get to see his family life and interactions. This was nice because up until now, Elizabeth has been a character almost only in name. We’ve seen glimpses of her in the hall, heard Cooker laud her as his wife, but now we get to meet the lady herself. I loved the family dynamic between Cooker, Elizabeth, and Margaux. There was no pretense on the part of the authors, it wasn’t stilted in the slightest. A true portrait of family life, which I greatly enjoyed.

The mystery this time is straightforward in the who, what, and why when we get to the reveal, but in the meantime, we really get drawn into the frustrations of the winegrowers, the heat and fatigue that can wreak havoc on their crop, so we can understand why the culprit did what he did.

I eagerly await the translation of the next in the series!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Le French Book – Cognac Conspiracies

Winemaker Detective #5!

When you find a great series, you can’t help but just go hungrily from one title to the next. The only downside is when you begin to near the end of the currently published or translated works, and have to begin the eager wait for the next!

I’ve said it before in my reviews, and I’ll say it over again – the mark of a stellar author is one that remains true to their style, but also innovates with each new work. And the authors of the Winemaker Detective series have hit that mark each and every time. The new facet they bring out in Cognac Conspiracies is that of extended passages from other viewpoints than that of Cooker. I even noticed the word usage changed depending on the character, as certain words and descriptive styles would show up more often respectively, and it really helped to shift the perspective. I really liked that about this work, it added a layer of interest.

This book also stretched me as a linguist, as I had to stop and look up no less than 3 words throughout my reading. I greatly enjoyed getting to expand my vocabulary and understanding of the world of the book, but I must recommend that readers keep a dictionary close at hand when they pick up Cognac Conspiracies!

I’ve shared before how these books are written from a world-view and style very different from my previous experience, and I’ve enjoyed getting to experience that. However, this particular title seemed a little out of the normal cadence for the authors. My reading felt like the sensation of going down a bumpy road while having a conversation. There was bumpy, wobbling aspect to the voice in this work, but as always, the mystery wrapped with a straight forward, clean ending. I didn’t feel the quality of the tale suffered any, it was just something that gave me pause in my reading.

Cognac Conspiracies went back to more of your classic mystery feel, but this was enriched by the multiple viewpoint format. The tale brings to life the business perils that are a reality in the world of spirits, or really any enterprise – but gave the reader something more to ponder by focusing on how different parties react when it comes to dealing with a family business; how to balance generational legacy with profits and market relevancy.

Highly recommended!

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Le French Book – Deadly Tasting

Winemaker Detective Series #4

Most works I have read that deal with World War Two have focused on spies, internment camps, military movements – more political or history texts overall. Deadly Tasting touches on that time period in a fresh way, a look at the reality of the “back-home” aspect we don’t, as a rule, often hear about. We get a taste of the occupation, and the divisions of ideology in the small highways and byways. I thought the way the writers came at the whole subject was intriguing. A brief sketch of the history, underpinning the whole story, but neither dwelling on the past, nor running from it. The reader hears the down-to-earth, pragmatic voice of the people of the region more concisely than in all the previous works, and I really enjoyed the story all the more for it.

Deadly Tasting is like Nightmare in Burgundy in that it is a darker tale, but it is, as ever, tastefully done, keeping focus on the overarching intrigue, rather than the gore of the crime scene and death.

The reader gets to see Cooker acting more like a “typical” detective as he pursues the mystery, looking for clues, questioning those of interest. It is fun to see him in this role, in addition to his typical way of intellectually puzzling out the solution.

An interesting part of Deadly Tasting is how the authors perfectly capture the anxiety and often futile experiences of a diet. It permeates into every part of their tale. It was an interesting framing technique – but often made me wonder the point of it in the story. It all comes back to priorities in writing, from a different background than my own.

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Le French Book – Nightmare in Burgundy

Winemaker Detective #3!

I now have a new favorite line from a book: “I’m buying mustard.”

Once again the authors have shifted a step in where they focus the story, continuing to round out the entirety of their character and his life. This time they focused much more in depth on the places, the people, and their respective histories, with whom Cooker interacts. A prevailing theme was to understand the region through it’s religious history – local superstitions and where they came from, as well as the influence and legacy of the nearby monastery. I found the reaction of the locals to “supernatural” events interesting, as it came across much more matter-of-fact than many other works I’ve read. Many times an unknown phenomenon is either held up as something to be feared, or revered, and in this book, my impression was more “oh, that’s just the annoying neighbor we have to deal with”. It was interesting!

On the other side of that coin though, this was also the darkest, most “mysterious” and “dangerous” of the mysteries in the series so far. The resolution surprised me, as I was not expecting it at all. The tale was a little less of a light-hearted who-dun-it, and delved into some deeper themes. Well-crafted, as always, so an enjoyable read nonetheless.

Nightmare in Burgundy is also the most sensory of the books so far. The reader is treated to lush descriptions of the smell and taste of the food, the wine, and the cigars, while also taken around the area in the plush purr of Cooker’s beloved car. I enjoyed the richness of immersion by the details – something each title has done well, and really draws the reader in.

Another book I’m happy to recommend!

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Le French Book – Grand Cru Heist

Student of Opinions is off hiatus! I have greatly missed getting to read and review, and am eagerly looking forward to burying myself under stacks of new titles.

I have the latest Winemaker Detective Series title coming up, and so I will be doing quick highlight reviews of the works that have been translated since my review of the first book. I love this series!

I will also be highlighting some works I read over the last year. As always, I welcome recommendations as I move forward!

 

Now –

Winemaker Detective Series #2: Grand Cru Heist

Admittedly, it has been a while since my reading of Treachery in Bordeaux, but I was able to get right back into the world of Benjamin Cooker from the first page of Grand Cru Heist. I love books and authors that accomplish that, since the reality is there is always down-time between when works in a series publish.

The first book was more about introducing Cooker, explaining his business, meeting his family. Grand Cru Heist takes the next step, delving deeper into what makes him tick, and showing us how he got to where he is as an esteemed winemaker and reviewer. I really enjoyed learning more about the character in this way – reintroducing him for the new readers without rehashing everything previous readers already have covered. No words or page space wasted – always moving forward in the story. Authors aspiring to the next level in their writing would do well to learn this, especially from such a well done example.

 Do not read this book while hungry! The detailed walk through so many wines, foods, and pairings left my stomach growling. I feel as though I should have been sitting with a notebook and map, marking what to eat and drink when visiting the places named. Treachery in Bordeaux focused on the process of making the wine, Grand Cru Heist brings us into the act of savoring it.

All of this was framed in a light who-dun-it that was fun to puzzle out. The ending reveal was terrific in tying everything that had happened together, and still bringing some surprises into play.

As with my previous review, I really enjoyed the chance to look into the French mindset from a French perspective. Grand Cru Heist was interesting in that regard especially, as we get to see the thoughts and interactions when dealing with non-French characters. It’s a potent reminder that the world is a bigger place than we often give it credit for, and learning to understand our neighbors is often best started over a great meal.

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The 40 Most Influential Christians Who Shaped What We Believe Today by Daryl Aaron

Anyone hungry for a hefty, satisfying book – something that takes a while to muse over and digest? This is one for you.

I was not familiar with this author before picking up this book, but I am definitely interested in getting to know more of his works. Professor Aaron’s style is clear and direct, and his teaching background flavors his written words. He speaks to his audience in a very relatable manner, not talking down to them, which is something I greatly enjoy when I find it.

I would almost say the introduction is my favorite part of the text, where the professor lays out who he is, what he stands for and believes, and his purpose in writing this book. He speaks in an unfiltered, personal manner, acknowledging that the reader may not agree with his chosen 40, yet, he has reasons for including them; and if we will allow him to guide us through the stops he has set up for us, he will explain. To that end, he also lays out the format of each chapter, the historical context, the person and contributions they made, and the lasting effects they had. In a book such as this, it’s nice to have a map handed to us so we can enjoy the exhibits better.

That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the rest of the work, quite the contrary. Each chapter, each character pulled me in and taught me something new. As Professor Aaron states, you may not agree with all of their theologies, but their overall contributions have indeed shaped us today. Each chapter is stand-alone, focusing on one person or group. There are ties between them, as the real-life people built on the work of those before them, but I see this book at its most effective used as a day-by-day study guide to deeper understanding. This format is something that shows up in the author’s other works, so he is well-practiced in making this style work without making the book seem choppy or disjoined.

The content of each chapter is comprehensive, well-researched, and told based on the source materials of each individual as much as possible. The story the author is trying to create is one of common threads, and a building cohesiveness that has brought us to where we are today, not one of personal opinions or agendas. As a historical book, it hits the mark dead on.

This read was hefty, but absolutely worth the plunge. I recommend it fully!

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley

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Cash Flow Your College by Kayla Grey

Kayla Grey, the talented mind behind the family life blog Renown and Crowned, has just come out with her first book! I have known this author personally for many years, and am excited to see her insights and practical advice in published form.

The first thing the reader notices about Cash Flow Your College is the personal tone and style. The author talks directly to her readers in a conversational way, sharing her story and the steps she followed to get to where she is today. This isn’t a “quick fix” book, but a series of guidelines and tasks the readers can follow and tailor to their own personal journey. It reminds me greatly of another author I have reviewed, Rivka Caroline, whom I also absolutely recommend. This style of writing creates success for its readers, as the authors acknowledge that each person’s journey is different, yet even so, there are similar foundational steps all can take to reach their ultimate goals.

One of the things I enjoyed most were all of the links for extra information and research. Mrs. Grey does not only give her readers advice on what steps they need to take, but also supplies the tools so they can follow through. Many high school counselors or college-prep booklets will only provide the broad, well-known research avenues for their students, but this author goes above and beyond, supplying insights for every step outlined in her chapters.

The chapters are also very well laid out. While this book is only 46 pages long, each section contained enough meat and practical application, that I see myself, and others who would use this to advise college-bound students, breaking it down into a week-long study guide. Each step takes time to complete, and Mrs. Grey asks pointed questions and suggests defined goals that guide the reader to actual results. I especially enjoyed the detail in each chapter, like sitting down with the class requirements for your major and making out a year-by-year plan. Those little steps are so easy to forget as we whiz past in the flurry of prepping everything else, but are so helpful in the long run.

This book is a must for anyone considering furthering their education!

I received a review copy of this book from the author

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