Saturday, February 25, 2012

Death of a Kingfisher by M.C. Beaton

Opening sentences: 
"It is a well-known fact that just when a man reaches his early thirties and thinks he is past love, that is when love turns the corner and knocks the feet from under him.

That was what was about to happen to Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth.  But on a particularly fine sunny day when the mountains of Sutherland in the northwest of Scotland stood up blue against the even bluer sky and not a ripple moved on the surface of the sea loch in the front of the village of Lochdubh, he was blissfully unaware of what the fates had in store for him."

The blurb:
When Scotland is hit by the recession, Police Constable Hamish Macbeth notices that the Highland people are forced to come up with inventive ways to lure tourists to their sleepy towns. The quaint village of Braikie doesn't have much to offer, other than a place of rare beauty called Buchan's Wood, which was bequeathed to the town. The savvy local tourist director renames the woods "The Fairy Glen," and has brochures printed with a beautiful photograph of a kingfisher rising from a pond on the cover.

It isn't long before coach tours begin to arrive. But just as the town's luck starts to turn, a kingfisher is found hanging from a branch in the woods with a noose around its neck. As a wave of vandalism threatens to ruin Braikie forever, the town turns to Hamish Macbeth. And when violence strikes again,the lawman's investigation quickly turns from animal cruelty to murder.

Death of a Kingfisher, the latest Hamish Macbeth mystery is one of my favorites. M.C. Beaton brings back the usual cast of characters, including Hamish Macbeth's old love interests, and introduces new characters that add much to the series.   Hamish's new constable, Dick Fraser,  formerly of Strathbane, was sent to to Hamish's small police station in Lochdubh and was "marking time until his retirement."  Described as a "lazy, grey-haired man, but with an amiable disposition, and since he'd arrived in Lochdubh a month ago there had been no crime at all, which suited him very well."  With Dick's overall lack of athleticism, it is a surprise to Hamish that Dick seems to know quite a lot about things that happen in the village and characters in it. Dick also has a photographic memory, which soon comes in handy.

Another character new to the area, the elderly and wealthy widow, Mrs. Colchester, who purchased a hunting lodge from the estate of Lord Growther proves to be an important character.  Mrs. Colchester is angered by the fact that Lord Growther's Buchan's Wood, which is adjacent to her home, was left to the town of Braikie and has been converted into a tourist attraction called "Fairy Glen."  It's easy enough to see why she'd find the busloads of tourists and sudden commercialization hard to swallow. Buchan's Wood is an idyllic spot with all sorts of flora and fauna, including graceful kingfishers. 

The old Buchan's Wood, newly rechristened Fairy's Glen is managed by the beautiful, strawberry blonde Mary Leinster.  Mary has won over Mrs. Colchester with her ability to predict the future and the rescue of Mrs. Colchester's grandchild.  But when a kingfisher is found dead and hanging in Fairy's Glen, Macbeth soon finds himself investigating all sorts of strange happenings in the area.

M.C. Beaton's storytelling skills soon have us trailing along as Hamish Macbeth investigates the kingfisher's death, theft, murder, and possible blackmail in the quiet Scottish village.  Those who enjoy a good mystery and detective cozy will surely find Death of a Kingfisher a delightful escape.

ISBN-10: 0446547360 - Hardcover $24.99
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (February 22, 2012), 256 pages.
Review copy provided by Net Galley and the publisher.

About the Author:
M.C. Beaton lives in the Cotswolds with her husband. In addition to the Hamish Macbeth series, she writes the Agatha Raisin mystery series.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fixing the Housing Market: Financial Innovations for the Future by Franklin Allen, James R. Barth, and Glenn Yago

The blurb:
Since the ancient Greeks, financial innovation has enabled more people to own homes. Today, responsible financial innovation is the best tool available for rebooting crippled housing markets, improving their efficiency, and making housing more accessible.  In this book, three leading experts explain why and cover everything decision-makers should know about housing finance.

The authors first clarify how housing financial products, services, and institutions evolved through the past two centuries, culminating in the era of securitization and the "mortgage meltdown."  Next, they assess housing finance systems in today's mature economics, highlighting benefits and risks associated with each leading mortgage funding structure and products. They also assess housing finance in emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

Building on these insights, the authors identify important financial innovations that can facilitate a more stable and sustainable financing system for housing - providing better shelter for more people, helping the industry recover, and creating thousands of new jobs.

Fixing the Housing Market: Financial Innovations for the Future is clearly the work of experts in the field and in economics. It is the joint effort of Franklin Allen, James R. Barth, and Glenn Yago. Franklin Allen is a professor of Finance and Economics at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. James Barth is a professor of Finance and a Finance Fellow at the Milken Insitute whose research focuses on financial institutions, capital markets, and regulatory issues. Glenn Yago is Senior Director at the Milken Institute and founder of the Institute's Financial Innovations Lab.

The book opens with a broad explanation of the current state of the global housing crisis, an overview of financing for housing, the economics of housing and financial innovations in financing. The writing is clear and persuasive, illustrated with charts and graphs, and carefully supported with citations.

I found the chapter on Building Blocks of Modern Housing Finance particularly fascinating and informative. The book compares U.S. homeownership to homeownership in Europe from 1890 to the present through an examination of a range of factors such as but not limited to cultural values, low rents, conservative mortgage lending, and amount of support for "social" rental housing. The book covers various U.S. laws, U.S. government institutions and government owned or supported institutions, their creation and their impact on the ability of Americans to purchase homes. The chapter also shows risks unique to the U.S. housing market and the reasons for these vulnerabilities.

I'm not an economist. I'm interested in the housing market and the mortgage crisis as a homeowner and an investor in real estate. I read the book to get a better understanding of the mortgage industry, the various government programs that help shore up homeownership, and to learn more about financing for real estate projects. Fixing the Housing Market was extremely helpful as it provided me with a fuller understanding of financing home purchases and government programs on homeownership. Highly recommended!

ISBN-10: 0137011601 - Hardcover $34.99
Publisher: Pearson Prentice Hall; 1 edition (February 24, 2012), 208 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher.
ISBN-10: 0137011601 - Hardcover $34.99
Publisher: Pearson Prentice Hall; 1 edition (February 24, 2012), 208 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher.

About the Authors:
Franklin Allen is a Nippon Life Professor of Finance and Professor of Economics at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, co-directs the Wharton Financial Institutions Center.  He has led several key academic organizations, including the American Finance Association and Society for Financial Studies.  Allen is co-author of Financing the Future and Principles of Corporate Finance.

James R. Barth is the Lowder Eminent Scholar in Finance at Auburn University and a Senior Finance Fellow at the Milken Institute.  His research focuses on financial institutions and capital markets, both domestic and global, with special emphasis on regulatory issues.  He was a presidential appointee and served as chief economist of the Office of Thrift Supervision and previously the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.  He recently served as leader of an international team advising the People's Republic of China on banking reform.  With Glenn Yago, he co-authored The Rise and Fall of the U.S. Mortgage and Credit Markets.

Glenn Yago is Senior Fellow/Senior Director at the Milken Institute and founder of the Institute's Financial Innovations Lab.  An authority on financial innovation, capital markets, emerging markets, and environmental finance, he has contributed to the democratization of capital in underserved markets and on behalf of entrepreneurs in the United States and worldwide.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Time with Bess Crawford - a Charles Todd Readalong

I'm signing up for Book Time with Bess Crawford, a read along of the new Charles Todd mystery series set in Edwardian England during World War 1.  The lead character, Bess Crawford, is a nursing sister - a volunteer nurse - who is based in France for part of the War.  She had spent much of her early years in India as her father is the well respected Colonel Crawford. 

If you're fond of mysteries and the time period (think Downton Abbey), you'll probably enjoy the series as well.  

In fact, the New York Times published an article a few months ago that mentioned the ways in which  publishers have met the strong popularity of Downton Abbey with an upsurge of books of similar period of Edwardian England and style.   The latest Bess Crawford mystery, A Bitter Truth is among the books recommended.

Here's the full list:

Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison
What the Butler Winked At by Eric Horne
Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd
Into the Silence by Wade Davis
The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy by David Cannadine

This read along is set up by Book Club Girl and follows this schedule:

March 26th - A Duty to the Dead discussion
April 30th
- An Impartial Witness discussion

May 1stA Bitter Truth paperback goes on sale
May 29th
A Bitter Truth discussion (May 28th is Memorial Day)
June 5th - An Unmarked Grave – the new hardcover goes on sale
June 25th
An Unmarked Grave discussion
June 28th
Book Club Girl on Air Show with Charles Todd to Discuss the Entire Series

If you'd like to learn more or want to sign up, head over to Book Club Girl's blog.