Tag Archives: Book Reviews

The Spyglass File by Nathan Dylan Goodwin: A Book Review

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book to review.

The Spyglass File by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

This is my favorite Morton Farrier genealogical mystery so far! I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because this novel is the lengthiest in the series. Or maybe it’s because the World War II setting allowed for one of the characters to have lived long enough to meet Morton and fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. It might even be partly because of the book’s title, The Spyglass File, which has a double meaning – I took it to be a cute name for another mystery, but it is much more than that. It’s a critical part of the story – even more so than it would seem to be when it turns out to be a document.

The Spyglass File is a book that I couldn’t put down, because with every page I read, I wanted to find out more.

As The Spyglass File opens, the reader meets a very different Morton Farrier. He is a bumbling caricature of himself, apparently because he is becoming more consumed with the need to unravel his own family tree. When Barbara Binney asked Morton to find her birth parents, against his better judgement, Morton accepted the case.

It took a bit of time for him to regain his sleuthing confidence and he felt like this case should be fairly simple and straight forward. Barbara had already met with a social worker, knew her birth name – Christina Finch – and the name of her father – William Smith. Finding out the truth turned out to be much more complicated!

As with the previous book in this series, The America Ground, I love that the stories of the past are being told in much more depth. In fact, the first three chapters of The Spyglass File take place during the early years of World War II, setting the stage for what is to come in the life of Elsie Finch. We don’t meet up with Morton and the present day until chapter 4.

Because so much of this book takes place during wartime England, Elsie’s career as a WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) sergeant was a fascinating, but grim, view into the frightening times of Luftwaffe air raids striking England on an almost daily basis and the military efforts to monitor and deflect those attacks.

Elsie, who is the main character in this story, led a more than interesting life, beginning with her short, unhappy marriage to Laurie, killed in action at Dunkirk, through the war years and dropping from sight.

It isn’t until Morton places the final pieces in the puzzle that the reader understands everything that has happened and why.

Nathan Dylan Goodwin has written his best novel yet – definitely a 5 star read! To purchase this book, and/or any of his other works, visit his website for details. I’d recommend buying the whole series, which is also available in e-book format.






Referencing for Genealogists: Sources and Citation by Ian G. Macdonald – A Book Review

While looking online for another book, I stumbled upon a pre-publication notice for Referencing for Genealogists: Sources and Citation by Ian G. Macdonald. It went on sale just last month.

I surmised that this little manual would focus on citing UK-based genealogical resources and, for the most part, that is what it does. However, Macdonald’s book is definitely not in an Evidence Explained-type format, whereby one looks up the type of record for citation examples. There is actually a fair amount of related text in this book.

Although only containing 144 pages, there are 18 chapters in this book and the chapter topics aren’t always quickly identifiable to American readers. I’ve added some commentary to those that aren’t:

1. Introduction – covers definitions or primary and secondary sources, why citations are important and when they need to be used. I like that one section is devoted to plagiarism. One other section of the introduction was interesting, as there are a couple of paragraphs devoted to the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ concept of the Genealogical Proof Standard, identified as “not much seen outside their circle” and criteria for its success is called “unclear.”
2. The Materials We Use and the Places We Find Them
3. Creating Individual References: Principles
4. The ‘Harvard’ Style – This chapter discusses MLA and APA citation styles, as well as Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained. Macdonald describes the Evidence Explained  style as “more prescriptive than European taste typically prefers” and that she “eschews generic approaches and specifies a way of creating a reference for almost every imaginable source. . .making it difficult to use and that some would describe as an exercise in pedantry. . . though. . . it is a classic.”
5. Using Our ‘Harvard’ Style in the Digital Age
6. Using ‘Harvard’ Style for Secondary Sources
7. Cloud Sourcing
8. Referencing for Genealogical and Archival Sources – defines nominal, material and procedural records
9. Nominal Records – having to do with people
10. Material Records – having to do with things
11. Procedural Records – having to do with procedures that enhance smooth running of society and businesses
12. Other Primary Records: Guidelines
13. Images
14. Maps
15. Using the Referencing Principles in Your Own Writing
16. Working with Software
17. Future Citation – touches on social media, DNA analyses and newly created types of records
18. Endpoint: Or a New Beginning

This book is mainly aimed at the UK audience and it’s an interesting read. I noticed that while Macdonald mildly knocks the 800-page Evidence Explained (which is thoroughly indexed so that citation examples for a multitude of record types can easily be found) as being somewhat overwhelming and unwieldy, Elizabeth Shown Mills’ citation formats pretty much match the format given in his own examples. The main difference between them is that Macdonald’s examples all use UK records.

Would I recommend this book for American genealogists? Well, maybe. It’s available, new, on Amazon for as little as $18.

Referencing for Genealogists isn’t going to replace Evidence Explained as the classic go-to volume. However, if you frequently use UK genealogical resources and would like examples of strong citations of some of those unique records, then this book is an inexpensive guide to keep handy on your bookshelf.

Having said that, I am not particularly obsessed with having every comma or colon in the right spot in my own source citations. While I follow basic bibliographic principles, my belief is that if I include enough detail in those citations that everyone else is able to locate them, I’m not particularly bothered if a bit of info in it is considered in the wrong order by someone else.

If you are a stickler for detail and want to be sure to correctly cite your UK sources correctly, then $18 is well spent. If you already own Evidence Explained and find an example that is close to your UK source and are happy to use that format, save your dollars for some other purchase.




The America Ground by Nathan Dylan Goodwin: A Book Review

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book to review.

The America Ground by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

After having read the first three novels in the Morton Farrier, Forensic Genealogist series, I feel like part of Morton’s own family and was excited to delve into his latest adventure, The America Ground.

I wasn’t disappointed! Once again, Morton has elected to take on an ancient mystery, this time the unsolved murder of Eliza Lovekin on 27 April 1827 in The America Ground, a real place in Sussex, England, that has its own storied past.

By now, Nathan’s style of sliding back and forth between the present and the past makes it easy to follow the story line with all of its twists and turns. However, it seems with each new story, there is a trend to more fully flesh out the past with extra details not only about the story’s characters, but with actual historical events. I am loving the extra depth in Nathan’s stories!

The America Ground begins with a double story line, one of which has been present in the previous novels – the continuing saga of Morton Farrier’s quest to unlock the secrets in his own family tree. Although a few bits are added to our knowledge of Morton’s family, the main focus is on his latest commission. This new story presents an opportunity to solve Eliza Lovekin’s 1827 murder, although Morton’s initial inclination was to walk away.

Eliza Lovekin’s life is intricately intertwined with the history of The America Ground, a small four acres of land laden with hostile fights over its ownership, lasting for decades. As the mystery unfolds, Morton begins to build a picture of Eliza, her family and friends. His biggest piece of the puzzle is how Eliza ended up with an indenture of ownership for a part of the land that makes up The America Ground when no one else did. That surprise is the driving force to solving the mystery of Eliza’s murder.

Although I have become much more adept at picking up and interpreting clues in Nathan’s stories, I was still very surprised at the end when all of the disparate characters, each one of the puzzle pieces, were fit into place. There were some definite surprises once again!

Nathan Dylan Goodwin is a talented author who has honed his writing skills while sharing Morton Farrier’s stories. The America Ground has much more going on below the surface than in his earlier novels. While Morton is edging closer to solving the mystery of his own birth circumstances, his commissioned forensic genealogy cases are becoming ever more complex with each story AND the historical details are adding a richness to the story that makes me forget that the characters are all fictional.

I’m loving all of these books. Once again, I highly recommend The America Ground and each of Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s other novels, as they are an intriguing, fun read.

All of his works can be purchased on his website or Amazon.