Dearly Devoted Dexter | by Jeff Lindsay

Dearly Devoted Dexter (#2 in the Dexter series) by Jeff Lindsay
(Vintage, 2010, 400 pages)

Alright, so I’m officially into this series now.  Dearly Devoted Dexter is the second book in Lindsay’s Dexter series.  The Miami police department has recently discovered a new killer in the area.  This one has some serious issues.  In fact, his first victim isn’t even dead.  He has just slowly and meticulously been amputated (by someone who is very familiar with the medical field) so that all that is left is a torso with a head (which now lacks eyelids, lips, teeth, and a tongue).  This behavior leads to the police department calling in the big guns – they have to reach out to DC and bring in an “authorized” individual who has internal knowledge about the disturbing butcher.

The “specialist” from DC quickly strikes up a relationship with Dexter’s sister, Deborah.  In the meantime, Sergeant Doakes has taken to tailing Dexter wherever he goes.  He’s convinced that he will catch Dexter up to no good and he makes sure Dexter knows he’s watching.  Dexter does the only thing he can think of.  He acts as normal as possible, spending more time with his girlfriend and her kids while forcing himself to resist the urge to “take care” of the pedophiles he had previously been scoping out.

Eventually the identity of the butcher becomes known, but even with this information, the amputations and murders continue – it’s up to Dexter to figure out how to stop this man.  The question is can he do it before it’s too late for Deborah’s lover?  Or for Doakes?  Or before he becomes a victim himself?

This book was a little more gruesome than the first but I still enjoyed reading it.  Perfect vacation read, travel book, or something when you just want an easy escape.

The Girl Who Played with Fire | by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
(Vintage Books, 2010, 724 pages)

I have to say I did not know much about the three books written by Stieg Larsson except that he died of a heart attack before they made it into print. I didn’t even know they were a trilogy, so I almost stopped reading The Girl Who Played with Fire when I discovered it was a continuation of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I was intrigued, however, and it did not seem like knowledge of the first work was necessary to follow the story so I plunged ahead. As the story progresses, you do get enough information to understand the situation, although there are a few cryptic references to past events. Unlike the first work, which featured crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist as the main character, the second novel focuses on Lisbeth Salander, the tattooed, computer genius who saved his life and got revenge on a rapist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Here, Lisbeth is the main character, a troubled, socially-challenged young woman who is linked by evidence to the murders of her legal guardian and two journalists who are about to publish a scandalous book about the Swedish sex trade. The police are convinced of her guilt after psychiatric reports emerge painting her as a violent, unstable woman, with links to Satanism, sadism, and psychotic behavior. As their investigation progresses, we learn more and more of Lisbeth’s backstory and the picture doesn’t look good.

The only person who is convinced of her innocence is Mikael Blomkvist, who has reason to believe that her moral code would not allow her to kill someone unless they truly deserved it. Since the authorities are unable to find her, Blomkvist races the investigators to locate her, encountering various “bad guys” in the process, including a giant thug who is incapable of experiencing pain. Suffice it to say that the conclusion of the investigation reveals all and gives shocking details about Lisbeth’s past life and helps to explain her unusual behavior.

Larsson was, of course, Swedish so much of the book is located in that country. Like American books, there are numerous off-hand references to geographic locations that Swedes would immediately know but English readers would be clueless about, but it doesn’t seem to be that much of a problem. I did find the names occasionally confusing and I was always getting the characters named Ekstrom, Sandstrom and Hedstrom confused.

Even so, The Girl Who Played with Fire was a good mystery with just enough edginess to raise it above the average murder who-dunnit and I will probably go on to read the third book. After learning what took place in the first story, however, I’m not sure I want to read the first.

The Social Animal | by David Brooks

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
by David Brooks
(Random House, 2011, 448 pages)

In his day job as a columnist for the New York Times, David Brooks writes about politics and public policy, exploring ways that human flourishing can be promoted at a societal level. In The Social Animal, Brooks zeros in to look at what makes for a satisfying and well-lived life. Through an examination of the last thirty years of neuroscience and psychological research, he shows how the subconscious – the more affective, intuitive, and mysterious side of human beings – is shaped and formed through the relationships we forge and the traditions we are a part of.

Brooks weaves together scientific studies and the narrative of a fictional couple, Erica and Harold, to give a picture of the non-analytic side of everyday life, including decision making, the learning process, raising children, constructing meaning in life, growing old, and many other issues. By drawing our attention to the scope of the brains operations that underlie our conscious and overtly rational thought processes, Brooks helps to show how complex and elusive we really are.

There are two aspects of this book that I found particularly enjoyable. First, Brooks provides all sorts of interesting and unusual scientific studies about human thought and behavior. Some of these are pretty hilarious, in addition to making excellent trivia. Second, the story of Erica and Harold is well told and skillfully integrated with the scientific findings. I found myself fully invested in these characters, and I got caught up in their story in the same way I would get caught up in a novel.

Brooks writes with humor and emotional power while condensing and simplifying a vast amount of research. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in sociology, public policy, or neuroscience – or to someone who simply wants a little more insight into who they are and how they should live.

The World According to God | by Greg Johnson

The World According to God: A Biblical View of Culture, Work, Science, Sex and Everything Else
by Greg Johnson
(InterVarsity Press, 2002, 208 pages)

The World According to God is a popular introduction to Christian worldview thinking. Greg Johnson looks at the broad biblical narrative and fleshes out how this narrative informs and shapes human endeavors like government, science, art, work and a host of other everyday activities. He covers a lot of ground in two hundred pages, and his discussion of each cultural sphere is necessarily broad. However, Johnson does a solid job of applying scriptural and doctrinal insights to both high culture and to the workaday world.

Johnson is a Presbyterian minister, and his concerns are clearly formed by the commonplace issues and questions of the people among whom he has ministered. This book is written for laypersons, but it is informed by academic concerns as well. One interesting aspect of the book is the “choose your own introduction” feature. The first introduction is academically oriented and addresses scholarly trends in scriptural interpretation, while the second speaks to Johnson’s targeted audience of laypeople looking to apply scriptural insights to everyday life.

Johnson treats his subject with humor as well insight. I you are interested in the relationship between religion and culture, this is an enjoyable and informative example of an evangelical approach.

When She Woke | by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
(Algonquin Books, 2011, 352 pages)

This novel is a creative re-telling of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  Set in a futuristic world our protagonist, Hannah Payne, has been sentence to be chromed as a result of having an abortion.  The world she lives in is one where religion is prevalent and has been incorporated into the government.  Abortion is considered murder and since Hannah refuses to identify her abortionist or the father she received the harshest punishment.  She is forced to be chromed, meaning that her skin coloring will be genetically altered so that she will be a deep red, and to remain that way for 16 years.  This procedure was developed due to overcrowding in prisons.  There wasn’t enough space or money to house all the criminals, so now they are released back into society and their punishments are visible to all based on their changed skin color.

Hannah’s life is drastically altered due to this procedure.  Not only is she clearly viewed and labeled as a murderer, but the man she loves (and the father of her child) is married and a prominent religious figure so she can’t turn to him, her mother refuses to allow her back in the house, and her sister’s husband refuses to accept her back into their lives.  Hannah is effectively on her own.  Eventually she is taken in by a group known as The Novembrists.  This is a feminist group that takes a stand for women and their right to choose.  They step in and save Hannah and her friend Kayla (also a Chrome) after it is discovered that a group known as The Fist is coming to attack and/or kill them.

The Novembrists set Hannah on the path to freedom.  Thanks to this, she is able discover who she really is and what she wants out of life.  Despite her skin color and the limitations it puts on her, this is the first time in her life where she has the freedom to make her own decisions and it’s a liberating experience.

This book was interesting to listen to and overall I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t say I was wowed by When She Woke.  If you liked The Scarlet Letter you might want to pick this up for a modern interpretation.

V is for Vengeance | by Sue Grafton

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton
(A Marion Wood Book/Putnam, 2011, 448 pages)

Sue Grafton’s V is for Vengeance is the latest adventure of fictional private investigator, Kinsey Millhone. In V is for Vengeance, Kinsey is hired to investigate the death of her client’s fiancée. The fiancée’s death was made to look like a suicide, but was it murder? This novel involves a shoplifting ring, a gambler, a cheating husband, and a gangster all woven into a challenging case for Millhone Investigations.

Sue Grafton’s novels all begin with a letter of the alphabet. Grafton started with A and has now made it through V. Kinsey Millhone is Sue Grafton’s main character in all of the alphabet novels. The cases that Kinsey investigates have all taken place in the 1980s. The time period must present a challenge for Sue Grafton because she needs to make sure that the technology that Kinsey uses fits the time. For example, Kinsey has a telephone, not a cell phone.

V is for Vengeance immediately catches your attention and holds it until the end. The whole novel spins around Kinsey’s explanation of how she got a broken nose on her birthday. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series is varying degrees of good. V is for Vengeance is one of the better books in the series.

Green Market Baking Book | by Martin C. Laura

Green Market Baking Book: 100 Delicious Recipes for Naturally Sweet & Savory Treats
by Martin C. Laura
(Sterling, 2010, 224 pages)

I’m always on the lookout for low-fat and low-sugar sweets recipes since my kids all have a sweet tooth.  This book is really about baking and cooking with natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, brown rice syrup and organic oil and butter. It’s not what I was looking for exactly; nevertheless, it gave me new knowledge and ideas to alter recipes.

The best part of the book is the non-recipe chapters. They are full of great ideas on what to choose and how to substitute ingredients. Here’s a list of sections from a chapter to give you a sense of the content:  Substituting for Refined Sugar, Substituting for Flour, Other Substitutions, and Substituting to Lower Fats and Reduce Calories. There are 100 recipes for naturally sweet and savory dishes in the book. I tried pumpkin muffins and pumpkin gingerbread since I had extra cans from Thanksgiving. They turned out really good. Most recipes are not low in calories. The pumpkin muffin (20 muffins) recipe calls for 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of oil, and the one loaf bread uses 1/3 cup of oil.

The recipes are grouped by seasons.  Each season has two sections: Choosing Produce and Recipes. I spent more time reading the Choosing Produce sections.  Did you know that leeks that are firm and straight, but not too large, are more tender and taste better? I did not. I tried a fennel, potato and mushroom pie; it was delicious. This recipe does have a good amount of cheddar and mozzarella cheese in it ;-).

If you are interested in baking and cooking – using natural sweeteners, seasonal fruits and vegetables, this is the book for you.