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Roman Games-Bruce MacBain

In Book Reviews, historical fiction, mystery on November 22, 2010 at 12:18 am

Detective Thriller In The Reign Of Domitian

One of the emperor’s main snitches is dead–murdered–and Domitian wants to know who to kill for the crime.  While he may choose many men of the Senate who had served with Verpa to investigate the crime, he chooses Pliny The Younger to conduct the investigation, despite the fact that he’s not a trained crime investigator but a vice prefect.  Pliny is a man who has spent his adult life dealing with the law, but he’s more of a probate lawyer than any policeman.  But he’s got a lot of people to suspect: Verpa was disliked by many, including his concubine, fellow senators, his slaves, and even his son, who like all Roman males from good families stood to inherit a fortune when his father died.

Roman Games, by Bruce MacBain, is an interesting story about life in Roman times.  His descriptions make the reader feel like they can imagine being in Rome during the rule of Domitian.  In addition, the story is full of well-written characters.  Pliny transforms from a bookish man of the law to a man bent on finding the murderer and exposing the reasons for the crime.  What he finds in his investigation is not only the motives for Verpa’s murder but a conspiracy that stretches all the way to Domitian himself and involves senators, those closest to the emperor, and even the Vestal Virgins. Rome will forever change because of it.

MacBain weaves a tale that stretches from the lowly slaves who tend to every Roman need through the Senate to the seat of power in the Roman empire itself.  A murder mystery/detective thriller at its heart, Roman Games has the added layer of life in Rome, which makes it unique and quite interesting.
-Alexandria

Roman Games was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, through NetGalley.


The Gargoyle-Andrew Davidson

In fiction on November 15, 2010 at 12:10 am

A Haunting Story

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson is a touching love story of a man horribly burned in a car accident and a woman who comes to him in the hospital claiming they were lovers in medieval Germany when she nursed him back to health the first time he was burned.  Full of flashbacks and painful descriptions of a life considered lost but then found anew, Davidson’s story is one that stays with you long after you finish it. 

The narrator, a nameless man who is the center of the story, is a lost soul before the accident.  Born to a mother who died in childbirth and an absentee father, he bounces from relative to relative, through meth users and extended family members who don’t want him around.  By the time he enters adulthood, he’s good at two things:  sex and doing drugs.  He has to choose one to make a living at, so he becomes a porn star.  By the time of the accident, the narrator is in his early thirties and a coked up mess.

The accident changes his life, and for many months after he comes out of the coma from his massive third-degree burns, he thinks of little else but ending it all.  The life he’d been forced to leave behind, one of health and excess, is gone to him forever.  He has nothing to live for.  But a woman named Marianne Engel visits him one day and begins to tell him the stories that will make him fall in love with her.  A sculptor, Marianne tells him that she has lived since the middle ages and knew him then, the first time she nursed him back to health from burns.  Marianne’s constant caring of him continues when he is released from the hospital and into her care.  It’s then that he realizes that she is mentally unstable, but he doesn’t care.  Her stories of their love in ages past give him what he’s never had before:  a real relationship and the only real love he’s ever experienced in his life.

The Gargoyle is at times a painful story to read.  The descriptions of the care that burn victims must endure are difficult to get through, and they are plentiful in this story.  The details of what his body experienced in the crash and afterward during his recovery are at times simply too much.  But the reader is rewarded with a love story that is tender and memorable, and even heartbreaking at times.

This story may not be for everybody, but I can promise you that if you read The Gargoyle, it will touch you and stay with you.

The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe From Each Year 1941-2009

In Book Reviews, Cookbooks on November 8, 2010 at 12:11 am

A Walk Through Part Of American Culinary History

The Gourmet Cookie Book is a collection of cookie recipes from each year between 1941 and 2009.  As a cookbook, it stands out simply due to its sheer number of recipes.  But this cookbook has an interesting twist to it:  in some ways, it’s also a history book that examines the tastes of Americans in the past 68 years.  The editors combine recipes with information about the time each one was published to create a cookbook that educates about American culinary history as much as it shares great recipes and teaches how to bake.

Particularly interesting are the recipes themselves, not only because the cookies sound delicious, but also because the editors printed the recipes as they were printed in Gourmet Magazine.  The reader quickly realizes that it was commonplace  in the early years this book covers to know what temperature to bake cookies at and how much of important ingredients, for example flour, are needed to make cookies.  The recipes are startlingly vague on these details compared to recipes of today, which spell out each and every ingredient and step in minute detail.  To enable people who don’t have the baking acumen, the editors have included the specifics we modern cookie makers have come to depend on for those recipes.

The reader learns about each decade through the recipes.  The 40s were a time of war and rationing was common, so the recipes reflect that with ingredients like sugar being replaced with honey.  The postwar years of that decade saw a return to the use of sugar now that rationing had ceased.  The recipes from the 50s reflect the feeling in America that prosperity was here to stay.  Recipes for cookies like Palets de Dames containing rum soaked currants and Lace cookies show that Americans tastes had moved past the more rigid days of the decade before.  The 60s recipes show how technology and consumerism were beginning to take hold, even in the realm of cookie recipes.  Ownership of refrigerators and freezers was commonplace by this decade, and the recipes reflect this, with frozen ingredients now becoming more popular.  In addition, the recipes Gourmet offered in this decade were more international, a reflection of Americans’ more global interest.  The 70s are marked by the introduction of the food processor, that device that makes so many baking tasks require merely a push of the finger.  The international flavor of the recipes of this decade continues from the 60s, with recipes for cookies from Portugal, Greece, the Netherlands, and Ireland figuring prominently. The 80s recipes show the decadence that the country was embracing, with cookies such as Bourbon Balls (with real bourbon), rich Pecan Tassies, and Mocha Toffee Bars featured.  The 90s saw more richness and an interest in Italian food, and this is shown in the recipes for biscotti, which became very popular in this decade.  By the turn of the millennium, cookie recipes had become elaborate and detailed.  A comparison to the early years featured shows the recipes of this decade are at least two times as long and detailed, sometimes even three to four times as long.  The classics are still around, and what is old is new again.

The Gourmet Cookie Book is a wonderful cookbook.  I bake cookies each year to give to friends, and I can say that the recipes in this cookbook would be perfect for holiday gifts.  In addition, as an historical look at the eating habits of Americans over the years, the book succeeds as well.
-Alexandria

The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe From Each Year 1941-2009 was provided for review by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, through NetGalley.

We’ve Moved!

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2010 at 10:49 am

The Brazen Broads Book Bash has moved to a new home.  While we loved our home here on WordPress, our new home at Blogger has some extra features we really like.  We hope you’ll come visit us there as we begin a new chapter in our book review blog (you didn’t think we could leave without a bad pun, did you?).

Brazen Broads Book Bash new home:  http://brazenbroadsbookbash.blogspot.com/

Alexandria and Moira
Brazen Broads Book Bash

Demon’s Fall-Karalynn Lee

In Book Reviews, romance novels on October 31, 2010 at 10:10 am

Demon’s Fall is a new novella by Karalynn Lee.  Coming in at just over 70 pages, it’s a short read but an enjoyable one.  The story revolves around a demon named Kenan and an angel named Jahel.  Kenan is an incubus, a creature who seduces humans for their souls, which he collects.  He encounters Jahel in Hellsgate, the area adjacent to Hell proper, at a merchant’s where she’s caged and being sold.  An angel’s soul would be a nice addition to his collection, so he buys her and takes her home with him.  While there, he feeds her and helps her clean up while she tells him why an angel was anywhere near Hell.  She had been there to retrieve the soul of a young women she was charged to watch over who had lost hers to a hellhound in the forest after being chased by a hunter in the employ of her stepmother.  Kenan agrees to help the angel retrieve the soul, knowing that if he helps her it will be easier to seduce her into relinquishing her soul. But while he’s helping her he falls in love with her.  Unfortunately, the forces of Heaven and Hell won’t make being with each other easy, and before they can be together, the world almost ends and they must give one another up.

Demon’s Fall has a great idea behind it.  Lee develops the two main characters just to the point where the reader wants to know more, but the span of around 70 pages is just too brief for a story involving demons and angels and the possible end of the world.  As a result, parts of the story that could have blossomed into wonderful scenes are cut short and the overall effect is that Demon’s Fall is a missed opportunity for the author.  The story seems rushed because it doesn’t follow itself to its natural fullness.  Kenan could be so much more, as could Jahel, and once the threat of the Apocalypse is introduced, the reader is left not only wanting more fullness to their relationship but more to the crisis that may bring about the end of the world.

Every reader has gotten through a 400+ page novel and thought to themselves, “This book needed some serious editing!” Some novels leave the reader thinking that the story could have been told best as a novella and not stretched out unnecessarily to a full length novel.  Some stories work well as short stories or novellas. In this case, this reader wishes that Karalynn Lee had given her story more room to breathe and grow.  It very possibly would have been well worth it.  Read Demon’s Fall knowing that you’ll probably wish there was more too.
-Alexandria

Demon’s Fall was provided for review by the publisher, Carina Press, through NetGalley.