Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

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.

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


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.

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.

The Ruthless Charmer, Julia London

In author information, Book Reviews, fiction, romance novels, romantic heroes, Uncategorized on November 3, 2010 at 1:33 am

The Bad Reputation Of An English Rake ……..Is So Very Good…

Lady Claudia Whitney is disturbed at the re-appearance of Julian Dane, Earl of Kettering and notorious rake, during her visit to France.  Harboring hidden love Claudia flees, returning to England, unable and unwillilg to trust herself in his presence.  Julian is the unrepentant rake Claudia imagines, with one curious problem of his own.  He has loved Lady Whitney for the last few years.  The memory of tragic events their shared history evokes, and each one’s belief that their love is unrequitted threatens to keep them separated until the fateful party at Harrison Green’s London home.  Julian pushes further than he should with a proper lady of Claudia’s social standing when he realizes her desire matches his own; and when gossip-monger Mrs. Frankton happens upon them in a questionable position, Claudia’s reputation is bound for ruination.  Julian proposes the only acceptable alternative, marriage, and at her father’s insistance, Claudia has no choice but to marry the man she is certain will break her heart.

Julia London nicely brought the couple together in The Ruthless Charmer, however, once together the pair make one bad relationship choice after another.  Honestly, London’s male character has the more level head of the two, and for being a rake, he is quite responsible in his business dealings.  Overall, Julian Dane’s character is ably put together, London writing just enough torment into his soul and swagger in his step to make him tempting.  London also described some very passionate scenes between the newlywed couple worth reading.  Her heroine, Claudia, brings to light the plight of many womens’ sufferings in the early 1800’s through her extensive charity work, which was perhaps the most redeeming quality of Lady Claudia’s character.  Regency romances abound in drama, and The Ruthless Charmer, is no exception.  Readers should be prepared, for London’s drama in this novel is …..ruthless.

Recommendation:  * * * _ _   The Ruthless Charmer offers a smooth English rake for readers seeking that particular poison, but is otherwise an average period romance.


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.

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

Illegals: The Unacceptable Cost Of America’s Failure To Control Its Borders, Darrell Ankarlo

In author information, Book Reviews, nonfiction, social science on October 27, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Talk radio personality Darrell Ankarlo has over three decades in the broadcasting business.  He has been awarded multiple Talkers Magazine Heavy Hundred Awards, two Dallas Press Club Katie Awards, a Billboard magazine Air Personality of the Year Award, and the Scripps Howard Excellence in Journalism Award.  Honored by the White House for his efforts to raise money and support for America’s military with the President’s Volunteer Service Award, Ankarlo lives his patriotism in deed.  Numerous television appearances on shows such as Glenn Beck, Anderson Cooper 360, NBC’s Today, and Paula Zahn Now, among many others, in addition to his previous book, What Went Wrong With America and How to Fix It, showcase his knowledge and experience concerning issues that face our nation today.

In his latest book, Illegals, Darrell Ankarlo investigates many aspects of America’s devastating war with illegal immigration.  Focused primarily on the Mexican border, Ankarlo cites the many dangers American citizens are facing in the Southwest such as increasing crime, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and violence in respect to the overwhelming flow of illegals across our border.  Also, he points out the massive expenses of this influx on our weakened economy and struggling health care industry, and in example after example, clearly shows the flagrant disregard for our nation’s laws by both the Mexican government and the illegal immigrants.

Ankarlo and his team, endangering their own safety, crossed the border repeatedly to expose the corruption and mis-information the Mexican government turns a blind eye to, and the hopeless circumstances which encourage the criminal behavior of its citizens.  In story after story, Ankarlo compassionately reveals the plight of those wishing to escape, while always exposing the truth of their belief that they are above the laws of our land.

In no way against legal immigration, Ankarlo explains the harmful effects America’s failure in securing its borders is visiting upon her citizens.  Interviews with Border Patrol Agents reveal startling facts.  In one six month period, agents at one facility saw more than 600,000 pounds of marijuana come through, all confiscated from illegals crossing our border.  Understaffed and overwhelmed, these men and women do all they can, but the numbers speak for themselves.  More than one million people pour over our southern border annually.  These come looking, perhaps, for a better life, but unfortunately, they remain in poverty, with hardworking Americans paying to provide at least one-third with food and healthcare through our welfare system, and approximately three-fourths living at or below the poverty level.  Simply put, they are not giving back to the country they expect help from.  Information obtained from the Center For Immigration Studies shows that crime is up dramatically in areas with large concentrations of illegal immigrants.  Our strapped for cash schools cannot keep up with the extra steps to teach other languages.  Our debt riddled municipalities cannot provide the additional police officers needed to deal with the increase in crime, so mayors must resort to raising property or sales taxes on the law abiding population.  These are only a few of the statistics cited in the book.

What is America to do?  Ankarlo interviewed police, social experts, senators, and Border Patrol Agents, and lists many options.  In the final chapter, he outlines his own “Ankarlo Immigration Top 30”, an approach this broad believes the vast majority of Americans would support whole-heartedly.  The first step, Ankarlo advises is the necessary sealing of our borders.

Recommendation:  * * * * _ An in depth look at the illegal immigration problem facing the United States of America;  very informative and interesting.  I highly recommend this book.

~Moira Naveen