book reviews

3 Great Books from NetGalley

NetGalley has become my go-to source for books I want to read, second only to the library. Here are the latest three I read from them:

  • Four Rabbi Small Mysteries–reminiscent of the Grantchester Mysteries, but with the Jewish religion.
  • Livia Lone–a great new female detective, in the spirit of Taylor Stephens’ Vanessa Michael Munroe
  • Out of Bounds–Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie with Police Scotland, attached to the Historic Case Unit, tries to unravel a twenty-year-old unsolved mystery with roots not only in other ancient crimes but a fresh one.

Four Rabbi Small Mysteries: Friday the Rabbi Slept Late, Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry, Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home, and Monday the Rabbi Took OffFour Rabbi Small Mysteries

by Harry Kemelman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New York Times bestselling author Harry Kemelman’s “Four Rabbi Small Mysteries” (Open Road 2016) is four connected novelettes featuring hyper-moral, highly-religious Rabbi David Small and his community of worshippers. As the author says:

…a rabbi is one who is learned in the law and whose basic function is to sit as a judge in cases brought before him, it seemed to me that he was the ideal character to act as an amateur detective by searching out the truth. 

Rabbi Small is a Talmudic scholar from the 1950’s. He loves to read his holy book and researches everything related to it. His shoulders are stooped even at his young age from constantly bending over the books he loves. When he is hired to serve a growing Jewish community, he takes it upon himself to do so authentically rather than as a figurehead that many religious communities might consider more normal.

“In the old days, in the ghettos of Europe, the rabbi was hired not by the synagogue but by the town. And he was hired not to lead prayers or to supervise the synagogue, but to sit in judgment on cases that were brought to him, and to pass on questions of law.”

Rabbi Small resolves family issues, answers non-religious questions, and addresses the lives of his congregants by applying Talmudic scripture. As he says:

“I’m sure the Talmud doesn’t deal with automobile cases.” “The Talmud deals with everything,” said the rabbi flatly.

When there’s a murder in his congregation, he thinks nothing of using his knowledge of the Talmud (as well as his native logic and common sense) to address issues of guilt that ultimately lead to the murderer and saves the reputation of an innocent man. This cements a budding friendship with the local police chief, Hugh Lanigan. The details of Jewish life, rights, and habits in the 1950s are often shared with readers through discussions between Rabbi Small and Chief Lanigan:

“But apart from that, the philosophical basis for our disapproval of suicide is somewhat different from yours, and that in itself permits greater flexibility.”

“In our religion, emergencies always supersede ritual.”

“…how does the good man who suffers get recompense and the evil man who prospers get punished? The Eastern religions explain it by reincarnation. The wicked man who is prosperous merited his prosperity by his virtue in a previous reincarnation and his wickedness will be punished in his next reincarnation. The Christian church answers the question by offering Heaven and Hell.” He [Rabbi Small] appeared to consider, and then he nodded his head briskly. “They’re both good solutions, if you can believe them. We can’t. Our view is given in the Book of Job, which is why it is included in the Bible. Job is made to suffer undeservedly, but there is no suggestion that he will be recompensed in the next life. The suffering of the virtuous is one of the penalties of living. The fire burns the good man just as severely and painfully as it does the wicked.”

I’ve always been fascinated by religious culture–this fiction-based-in-fact is an easy way to learn:

Snatches of conversation reached him: talk about business, about family and children, about vacation plans, about the chances of the Red Sox. It was hardly the proper conversation for men waiting to pray, he thought, and then immediately rebuked himself. Was it not also a sin to be too devout? Was not man expected to enjoy the good things

Overall this is a delightful if somewhat meandering journey through the clever mind of a reluctant religious leader. The mysteries are cozy, the plotting clever, and the main characters exactly who you’d want to hang out with. If you enjoyed The Grantchester Mysteries–the adventures of vicar Sydney Chambers–you’ll enjoy this.

–received from NetGalley in return for an honest review

More cozy mysteries:

My Winter with Berger and Mitrie

13 Tips for Cozy Mystery Writers

Murder in White Lace

Livia LoneLivia Lone

by Barry Eisler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With a description like this:

“Eisler combines the insouciance of Ian Fleming, the realistic detail of Tom Clancy, the ennui of Graham Greene, and the prose power of John le Carré.”

…what thriller reader wouldn’t grab Barry Eisler’s new thriller, Livia Lone (Thomas & Mercer 2016).  Sure, I admit, I thought it was over-the-top, but it persuaded me to request a copy from NetGalley–and I wasn’t disappointed. Not even once.

While Livia Lone has a regular job as detective st Seattle PD, her passion is to find the sister she has been separated from since being kidnapped from their Thailand village and brought to America as sex slaves.  Livia has always been strong-willed and aggressive so she survives, even thrives, despite horrific odds, but her sister Nason is not that person and Livia commits her every breath to finding Nason. To give you a sense of how conniving and accomplished Livia is at seeking the truth, read these passages:

“She checked the mobile phone she’d left on the rug alongside the mattress to corroborate that she’d been in all night. Not that it would come to that, but she’d put away enough rapists based on cell phone metadata to know not to take the chance. No messages. Good, everything.”

“She shut off the shredder and carried the bucket over to an oxy acetylene torch next to the fan. She attached a rosebud tip, pulled on a pair of welder’s goggles, fired up the torch, and melted the license plate scraps, keeping the torch moving to make sure she didn’t go through the bottom of the pail. The contractor bag with the wig and other potentially contaminated materials went in next. She scoured everything down with the 6000-degree flame. Billows of black smoke rose from the pail like an evil spirit, but the fan sucked it all away and expelled it, and in seconds, the contents of the pail had been reduced to an undifferentiated, glowing lump.”

The story is told in the past and present. You meet the strong effective adult Livia Lone and see what past events created this woman, now a sex crimes detective. My heart broke hearing how she struggled to take care of her sister against horrible kidnappers who used both girls in unimaginable ways. These acts might have destroyed an ordinary village girl, but not Livia. In fact, they were the seedbed for her current passion to saving other stolen and abused children. I ached to hear how her new American family adopted her only to take advantage of her, not to treat her as a bright shining person she is. I cheered when Livia finally gave up trusting others and took responsibility unto herself, especially for finding her sister. And, I love when we get a peek at Livia’s internal thoughts. They are always so different from the reality around her.

This story is filled with fascinating characters, realistic settings, and a tortured convoluted plot that never lets the reader relax. What the adult Livia lacks in empathy can be forgiven. What she displays in passion, tenacity, and fortitude can be applauded.

Highly recommended.

Note to Barry Eisler: Please make this a series.

–received from NetGalley in return for an honest review

More strong female thrillers:

The Mask

Point of Control

Out of the Blues

Out of Bounds (Inspector Karen Pirie, #4)Out of Bounds 

by Val McDermid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Val McDermid, bestselling Scottish author of 29 novels, does it again. “Out of Bounds” (Little Brown 2016)  follows Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie with Police Scotland, attached to the Historic Case Unit, as she unravels a twenty-year-old unsolved mystery with roots not only in other ancient crimes but a fresh one. Pirie is hard-working, smart, tenacious, quick to connect the clues, and seriously damaged, unable to come to terms with the recent murder of her boyfriend. She can’t sleep most nights without walking herself to exhaustion and can’t work an investigation without going full-tilt, with no regard for her health or career. Despite having little support from her superiors, she manages to unravel enough clues about this murder mystery that she angers everyone involved, especially those who don’t want her to solve it.

The plot is well-paced and believable with a cameo about Donald Trump’s candidacy and a subplot about the Syrian refugees in Scotland that add credibility and timeliness. A few good lines:

“Loaded with gravitas but leavened with approachability.”

“…had described Garvie as ‘one step away from everything going tits-up’.”

“Frank Sinclair was a newspaperman in the same sort of way that T. S. Eliot had dashed off the odd poem.”

Readers get insights into how the Scottish justice system works (for example, adopted children are legally allowed to know their biological parents when they become adults). Like Anne Cleaves’ Shetland, this is a feast of culture. I can hear the brogue between every line I read, as though I’m right there in the Scottish countryside. Why four stars? The dialogue and the narrative were just a little too flippant, snarky, cutesy–you pick the word–for my taste. I fully admit I might be playing Pollyanna here. Just not sure, I’ve been a big fan of everything else McDermid ever wrote. Maybe I’m just in a bad mood.

“The smell of air freshener rasped in her throat, its overwhelming purpose to kill the odour from the ashtray that sat on a table by one armchair.”

“The woman who opened the door was bent almost double. She had to crane her head back to let them see anything more than a thin frizz of unnaturally brown hair.”

I still can’t get enough of McDermid’s Tony Hill series, but this book is a good read while I await the next.

–received from NetGalley in return for an honest review

View all my reviews

More mysteries

Vanishing Point (also by Val McDermid)

9 Tips for Mystery Writers

Brain Storm

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for Summer, 2017. Click to follow its progress.


29 thoughts on “3 Great Books from NetGalley

  1. Hi Jackie – the first and the third I think I could read happily sometime … love the English/Scottishness of books … I learn more about the country and history … let alone the science .. cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve heard of NetGalley, but I’m not much of a reviewer. I use Edelweiss to get ARCs for authors who have the same publisher as I do. Otherwise, I just read my blogging friends’ books and I like to buy those to support you guys!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I heard of NetGalley through Rebecca–a fellow blogger. There are tons of free books and less of the top books but I still get them occasionally. I just snagged Steven Hunter’s latest Bobby Lee Swagger book. Love that guy.


  3. Three terrific reviews, Jacqui. You had me on the first one by referring to Grantchester…those are a bit meandering but in the right mood, a perfect lovely cosy read.
    I’m taken with Eisler’s book and hope he reads your comment for more!
    Finally, McDermid’s 29th books!! I just hold up my hands in surrender! This one sounds great overall although I note your reservations. However, the excerpts quoted were impressive and I particularly liked: “Frank Sinclair was a newspaperman in the same sort of way that T. S. Eliot had dashed off the odd poem.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These three books really pique my interest, Jacqui. Though Kemelman’s name is well known, I’ve never read him. This volume of four novellas sounds like a good start. I’ll love the religious discussions. The book by Eisler concerns a topic of current critical interest, human trafficking. It seems like a must-read for an inside view of crimes difficult to end. The McDermid story also appears to have contemporary overtones as well as a flawed but persistent protagonist, and I usually like a bit of snark. Wish I could read as fast as you do – you keep adding to my must-read list. Thanks for your thorough reviews that really provide significant info about each title.

    Liked by 1 person

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