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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Francis of Assisi: The Life by Augustine Thompson, O.P.

Professor Thompson, I admire your work.

Truly, it would be a treat to sit in a class by this author, and learn from him in person, the way I learned from his book. His style is clear and bold, and teaches without confusing or making presuppositions about the reader. And the way the reader learns about Francis is through a deftly woven story, not just facts slathered across pages and slapped between two covers.

This book is an amazing character study, both in choice of subject and in execution. Even those not primarily interested in the Church, or Francis of Assisi, would benefit from the example of word craft Professor Thompson gives us here, yet I find it highly unlikely that someone could read this book and walk away untouched by the story itself. With the extensive amount of research and material used and cited throughout, all of this is just a solid foundation for the fantastic story within the pages.

The author sets forth his objective in the beginning: to provide a biographical account of Francis of Assisi, unmarred by the lofty tales spun in the religious fervor of his day, or by the clinical examinations of the 21st century historians. With the documents written by Francis and his followers placed in historical context as his guide, the author makes his own judgments and interpretations. He does not seek create his own “mythology”, and even gently refutes that of others, while creating a year by year reconstruction of Francis’s life.

As a result Francis becomes very real. The lofty saint becomes relatable, yet still honored and venerated. The reader grows to respect the Man from Assisi in a new way, understanding why he was so influential, why he deserved the praise of his peers and followers. He becomes someone of integrity and great character, who struggled with very human problems, yet overcame. No longer myths and stained glass, but a real person, who influenced others through his walk and talk.

Instead of legend, you get a legacy, and that is more enduring.

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

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The Trial of Dr. Kate by Michael E. Glasscock III

At just over 200 pages, everything about this book is fast. The characters, their conflicts and resolutions, the relationships that intertwine throughout the book – all of them carry forward at a rapid pace. On the other hand, however, this is also a book that lingers, it takes a while to digest once finished.

Dr. Kate may be in the title, and on the front cover, but she is only a backdrop to a fascinating and thorough character study of her friend Shenandoah Coleman. This is an amusing twist, as Kate’s trial is to determine her true nature and character. We learn much about Shenandoah, from her childhood living outside of Round Rock, all the way through her time as a pilot in the war  and college education, to her current position as a reporter for the Memphis Express. The exposition of her life is done in a mixture of flashbacks and conversations with residents of the town. I felt it was done well, and naturally blended into the overarching plot so as to enhance the flavor. As she is going around town interviewing people, we are able to see varying walks of life and the stories that come with them, without it coming across as contrived.

I appreciated the character creation as well. Each person we meet is distinctive, making this tale stand apart from the generic “grocer, banker, millwright, schoolteacher, doctor” one finds in other stories set in rural towns. A lady doctor, a young man with developmental handicaps, a smuggler who drives a tricked-out car – these are not characters you normally come across in a period piece such as this.

Even so, this is a period piece that is done well, and carries some surprises with it.

In keeping with the unconventional characters, the author made some interesting choices with plot. Every single thread of the story ends in an unexpected twist. A bold choice, which when done right, as Mr. Glasscock has, can be good, and original. But is also quite a shock to any reader who is expecting a certain “Point A to Point B” ride through the story.

Even with the atypical slant to the work, it stays true to itself, and the reader can believe it all. A nice, quick read that I would recommend to those looking for something that breaks the mold.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Dream of Time by Nancy J. Price

This book brings to mind that great line from “The King and I”: “It is a puzzlement!”

Truly, where to begin. This was an interesting premise, played out in a fascinating way.

I love the author’s voice. This is her first novel, and yet there is no hesitation – the reader listens eagerly as Nancy spins her tale. You can tell the amount of research and detail that went into creating the work, as the reader slips seamlessly into the words, never once pausing over a frayed or gnarled plot device. And yet, the author does not overwhelm, or go overboard in her excitement to tell us the tale, feeding us just enough to paint the scene, to continue to deepen the mystery step by step.

Which bring me to my next item of note: the underlying mystery. Our intrepid author wasn’t satisfied with creating a story about a dream-portal time traveler, and the adventures of life in both worlds. We also get a murder mystery to solve! Don’t misunderstand me – this is not an “everything and the kitchen sink” work, where there is too much going on to understand or believe. Instead, we have a well-baked oatmeal raisin cookie of a tale, consistently enjoyable, with the occasional extra surprise. 

Unfortunately, towards the end, I bit down on something hard, and couldn’t quite work myself around to accepting how the tale resolved itself. I liked the unexpected way the dream-side of the main character’s story came to an end, that was a nice touch. Yet, the letter explaining parts of the villain’s motive was kind of anticlimactic, and lessened the impact of everything that had just happened.

Also, we don’t get an answer to the identity of a major character throughout the entire book – the one that’s causing the time travel. We get the when: 1900. The where: San Francisco.  The what:  stop the murderer. But, we never learn WHO it is that causes this transport through time, HOW it is they do so, or WHY they do it. The main character questions this herself, and is influenced by them several times, but it is never brought to light.

I hear there may be a sequel, perhaps even a series in the works, and maybe the readers will get all of the answers then. If there is a follow-up book, I will be sure to pick it up – and hope it is the same fun, if puzzling, type of story the author brings us in this work.

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

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Reality Ends Here by Alison Gaylin

This work was a fun read, perfect for a lazy afternoon or to pass a long ride.

However, don’t misunderstand me,  this is no candy-coated tween novella – the author shares a few darker moments with the reader, dealing with some of the heavier concepts about adolescence and family. The death of a parent, the pressures of perfection and identity from within and externally that young people, especially those in the spotlight must deal with, manipulation and violence – these are all covered in this work. Yet, they are woven so well into the plot that it is almost sneaky, you don’t realized you are having this discussion with the author until later, when you find yourself mulling over the book once you have set it down.

I enjoyed the quick pace of the work as well, not rushed, but kept you turning the pages. And the plot is compelling – I couldn’t pause, I wanted to know what happened next!

Framing the engaging plot were well-crafted setting and tone. All the little nuances were spot on – in this era of reality tv, the reader has a broad knowledge base that the author builds on, but there are small touches and details without which, I feel the story would have not held the same power. Even for such a short story, the characters were real, and pulled you in, made you care, which I thought was well done.

The story is an interesting premise, and the ending had a few details that surprised me, and made me admire the author’s touch. It would be easy to follow the whole “TV show” framework to the “30-minute conclusion” – the one everyone sees coming and makes everyone happy. The author walks that line, makes you feel comfortable, and then steps off into her own plot deviation at the very end, and it is done skillfully.

I definitely recommend this story – it makes for great conversation starters about the deeper parts of life.

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

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Numbersense by Kaiser Fung

“the discontent of being averaged”- pg 130

I absolutely love this line. In five words, Mr. Fung compresses all the wisdom in his book and drills you with a fast-ball right between the eyes.

Numbersense is impressive. It does exactly what it promises to do – to “clear the fog of ‘Big Data’.” I am quite proficient with numbers and data on a personal scale, house budgets and the like. However, I recently have begun some work in areas that deal with the vast accumulation of data that Mr. Fung is addressing here, in which I have always felt a little out of my depth. That is what initially led me to pick up this book.  Now, 160 pages later, I have new confidence and a new insight on how to approach not only my work, but every aspect of life around me.

First and foremost, this was straightforward read, enjoyable even. Mr. Fung strikes the perfect balance between technical terms and explanations, rewording and illustrating concepts in such a way that I actually felt like I was understanding and absorbing the points he put forth. The reader isn’t talked down or pandered to, which really made me respect the book and its author. Mr. Fung talks to the reader directly, calling them out. By asking questions, making the reader think, and bringing forth examples from the everyday world, Mr. Fung guides the reader in the same manner as any of the other great teachers I have had in my life.

At its core, Numbersense seeks to instill in consumers a healthy “flake-factor” filter for all of the marketing, hype, and “statistics” that are fed to us each day. Wherever we look, we are told to trust certain ratings, to put faith in certain statistics, and value certain “deals”. Numbersense hits the pause button on all of the cacophony trying to get our attention and tells us to ask one question: Why?

Why do we believe them? And should we?

Data, especially “Big Data”, is a good thing, it is how we run the world today. Yet, it is the interpretation of the data that we pay too little attention too, and that is putting us at a disadvantage. In eight chapters, Mr. Fung walks his readers through a new understanding of data interpretation, and gives them tools to go forth into practical application.

I truly believe this book needs to be a staple at the beginning of any business major’s education. My brother is currently in school to become a CFP, and I will be making sure he gets a copy!

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

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The Hero’s Lot by Patrick W. Carr

Well, Mr. Carr, you’ve done it again! I am singularly impressed, and even more eager to read the final installment of this trilogy!

I was very glad to get the chance to read this work, as I have been looking forward to it since I read the final page of A Cast of Stones. The world, characters, and story in this book are well done, carrying forward all the strengths from the previous one, and building upon them.

Once again, we have a “great quest” to follow along with, and therefore the book was heavily travel-oriented in plot, but never became dull or overly verbose. The realities of a group in a hostile land, with a dangerous mission kept the pace moving, and allowed the reader to completely believe each aspect of the tale.

Errol must deal with many new and nearly insurmountable challenges without, as well as wrestle with inner turmoil, yet the novel strikes the right balance between all its different aspects – action, humor, sorrow, anger – that it never becomes too dark, or turn into a “woe is me” tale. I appreciated this, as it made Errol and his companions even more relatable.

The story is told from a few different points of view this time around, and it was well-blended. Each part of the plot was woven strongly, and came together with a flourish. Once again, the crafting of each different land and its peoples was skillfully done, and the journey throughout them was well explained. This was no numbing caravan march, losing track of days and purpose, but instead a true journey. I also greatly enjoyed the description of the battles. The fights were well choreographed, and the reader was treated to actual displays of skill, not just fist-pounding brawls that are so often found in action-oriented tales.

My favorite part, however, was the amazing character development. Without slowing down, or detracting from the plot in any way, each of the caravan members had a moment in the spotlight – just long enough that we understood them, cared about their role in our little band.

This book will be on the shelves July 1st. I completely recommend getting a copy!

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

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