Friday, 26 December 2014

Review: 'Kwanzaa: An African-American Celebration of Culture and Cooking' by Eric V Copage

Kwanzaa: An African-American Celebration of Culture and Cooking by Eric V. Copage, 1991, William Morrow and Company, $25.00, hardbound, 356 pages. Cover: nice. Category/Genre: cookbook. Where we got it: borrowed it. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble. 


This book is a cookery book, but it's also an introduction to the cultural holiday of Kwanzaa. If you're interested in celebrating, you may like to know that Kwanzaa doesn't take the place of Christmas; it falls from December 26 – New Year's Day, so you can celebrate both if you want.

In case you don't know anything about this holiday, this book offers a bit of history along with a guide to help you celebrate Kwanzaa the way its creator first conceived it. How you celebrate is strictly up to you, however, and there are some other ideas included on how to personalise your Kwanzaa celebration.

If you're already familiar with Kwanzaa, you still might find this book useful, as there are over 125 recipes from people of African descent from all across the globe in it. Even if you've been celebrating for years, you're likely to discover some new recipes here.

Next each recipe is the recipe's country of origin and a bit about the person who contributed the recipe. You'll find appetizers, soups, salads, main dishes, side dishes, vegetables, breads, beverages, and desserts. Plus there's an index of mail-order sources and a list of suggested menus.

Countries included are: Kenya, South Africa, Antigua, Barbuda, and the United States (with heavy emphasis on the US).

Recipes include: 'Spicy Matoke: Beef and Plantain “Cake”' from Kenya; 'Antigua Fruit Salad with Lime-Nutmeg Dressing' from Antigua and Barbuda; 'Conkies: Individual Cornmeal and Raisin Puddings in Banana Leaves' from Barbados; and 'Mavis's Pineapple-Papaya Punch' from the US.


If you like this one, try: Suggestions? 

Friday, 19 December 2014

Review: 'The Litter of the Law' by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

The Litter of the Law by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown, Illustrated by Michael Gellatly, 2013, Bantam, $7.99, softbound, 292 pages. Category/Genre: mystery. Cover: very nice. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million.


This series is a bit unusual in that a cat named Sneaky Pie Brown helped write it. Perhaps because of that, there are a good deal of animal characters (one of whom reportedly looks astonishingly like Sneaky Pie Brown), all of whom can talk to each other but who are not understood by humans. The animals' antics are surely one reason this series is so popular – it's a New York Times bestseller – but the human characters are also interesting, and the mystery is intriguing.
Mary Minor 'Harry' Haristeen and her husband, Fair, have a farm and a number of animals – not the least of whom are Mrs Murphy, the grey tiger cat; Tee Tucker, a corgi; and Pewter, a grey cat who loves eating more than just about anything else in the world. It's these three animals who do the most to help Harry when she's trying to solve a mystery, although they also enlist help from the other animals: crows, a possum, horses, a fox, and others.

In this installment, Harry, Fair, and their brood come across a scarecrow – a familiar sight in farmland, especially in October – but what isn't familiar is the attention the scarecrow is getting from the local crows, who are pecking at the scarecrow as if it's some sort of delicacy. Which, it turns out, it is, at least to crows. The scarecrow is actually a murder victim dressed up.

This grisly discovery is only the start; as Harry digs deeper, she uncovers an insidious plot that she and the other inhabitants of Crozet find both horrifying and enraging. But it's only a matter of time before the perpetrator realises Harry is getting too close and decides to cut his losses . . .

A good, quick read, The Litter of the Law will no doubt satisfy both those new to the series and those who are steadfast followers of Mrs Murphy and her gang of animal sleuths. If it were up to us, though, we'd opt for a bit less of the talk of crops and more from the animals' points of view. All in all, well done, and there's a handy reference guide at the beginning so you won't get lost amongst all the characters.


If you like this one, try: Wish You Were Here, by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown; and The Cat Who . . . books by Lilian Jackson Braun. 


Friday, 12 December 2014

Review: 'The Wreath Book' by Rob Pulleyn

The Wreath Book by Rob Pulleyn, 1988, Sterling/Lark, hardbound, 144 pages. Cover: not bad. Category/Genre: how-to. Where we got it: borrowed it. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble. 


This book, filled with colour photographs, gives you all the information you need to make the over 100 wreaths in the book, plus any of your own invention. Handy tools are listed, and you're told how to make a base and attach materials. It does take a few hours to learn, so be prepared.

These wreaths are for the holidays, but they're also for any other time of the year, and for every room in the house.

Among the different types of wreath highlighted are 'collection wreaths' for teen rooms; culinary wreaths for the kitchen; quilted and appliqued wreaths for a sewing room; edible wreaths for a party table; and a moth-repelling wreath for a closet door. Plus there are 'Childhood Memento' wreaths for using discarded toys and 'Wearable Wreaths' for brides, hats, and jackets.

The 'Scented Wreaths' use items such as potpourri, cinnamon sticks, and fraser fir; the 'Herbal Wreaths' use elements that are often insect-repellent or fragrant; and there's a shell wreath, as well. Pulleyn also suggests putting a wreath on a table as a centrepiece.

In addition to all the wreaths, you'll learn how to make and use bows; cleaning and preserving techniques; and how to make a wreath with meaning (Pulleyn lists common plant and flower meanings, both secular and religious).

A lot of the projects look like fun, and wreaths can be made as gifts, too.


If you like this one, try: Suggestions?  

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Maccabee on the Mantel by Abra Liberman Garrett and Four Day Weekend, Illustrated by Ivan Escalante, 2013, Viper Comics, $14.99, hardbound, 18 pages. Cover: very good except his beard looks like it's part of his armour. Category/Genre: religious. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon.


This book comes with a plush toy Maccabee (a Jewish warrior), who features prominently in the book.

The book is meant to teach children a bit about Hanukkah and to help them celebrate this Jewish holiday. The basic story of Hanukkah is told in very simple, rhyming verse, along with clean, breezy artwork. The Maccabee (which means 'hammer') toy is to be a friend and companion to remind you that miracles do happen.

Several suggestions for games to play with the Maccabee are given, and readers are encouraged to give their Maccabee a name (first, middle, last, and Hebrew). There's a page of Hebrew blessings, as well.

This is a clever book, and a fresh way of introducing religious history to Jewish children.


If you like this one, try: Suggestions? 

Friday, 28 November 2014

Review: "World-Building" by Steve Gillett

World-Building: A Writer's Guide to Constructing Star Systems and Life-Supporting Planets by Steve Gillett, 1996, Writer's Digest Books, $16.99, hardbound, 198 pages. Category/Genre: writing reference. Cover: atmospheric and appropriate. Where we got it: bought it. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble.


The purpose of this book is to help you create a sense of wonder in your speculative fiction by using real science. Gillett begins by delving into the astronomical, such as variables (like season change and tidal action) that affect planets, and some of the differences between stars and planets. He also helps the reader understand and calculate astronomical scales. He goes into the details of creating a planet, and here provides some variations, as well. He also takes a look at the Earth and some possible variations, and here he includes information on a planet's colors, the atmosphere, the ocean, plate tectonics, and more. 

In addition, Gillett discusses Earth's earlier days, other planets, suns and stars, and more exotic possibilities for the planets you create. Also in the book are references and a resources guide.

An interesting book. If you want to write science fiction set on different planets, World-Building is a great way to get you started. 

If you like this one, try: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card, The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier, Space Travel: A Writer's Guide to the Science of Interplanetary and Interstellar Travel by Ben Bova with Anthony R. Lewis, and Aliens and Alien Societies by Stanley Schmidt. 

Friday, 21 November 2014

Review: "Aliens and Alien Societies" by Stanley Schmidt

Aliens and Alien Societies by Stanley Schmidt, 1995, Writer's Digest Books, $17.99, hardbound, 226 pages. Category/Genre: writing reference. Cover: evocative. Nice artwork. Makes you want to open the book. Where we got it: bought it. Where you can get it: Amazon.


This book covers just about everything you might want to know about creating aliens and alien societies. It starts with a couple of basic questions (what are aliens, and why would you want to write about them?), then moves on to achieving plausibility in your writing. Astronomical and biochemical essentials are explored, as well as the importance of making your aliens fit their environments, creating alien cultures and languages, and how aliens might interact with humans. 

Schmidt also goes into alien motivations, and gives some samples for the reader to study. He closes the book with a discussion of more exotic possibilities before giving an extensive list of references and a glossary. Schmidt peppers the text with examples from both his own and others' writing, and whets the reader's interest for more. If you want to write about aliens, you'll want this on your bookshelf. 

If you like this one, try: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card, World-Building: A Writer's Guide to Constructing  Star Systems and Life-Supporting Planets by Steve Gillett, The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier, and Space Travel: A Writer's Guide to the Science of Interplanetary and Interstellar Travel by Ben Bova with Anthony R. Lewis.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Review: 'Let Them Eat Stake' by Sarah Zettel

Let Them Eat Stake, by Sarah Zettel, 2012, Obsidian, $7.99, softbound, 308 pages. Category/Genre: mystery/paranormal. Cover: quirky. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million.


This is the second in a series about chef Charlotte Caine and her Manhattan restaurant, Nightlife. Charlotte caters to both 'daybloods' (humans) and 'nightbloods' (vampires); human herself, she's dating Brendan Maddox, a warlock, and is binterested in vampire Anatole Sevarin. 

But Charlotte's love life isn't the only thing that's complicated. She's catering the first witch/vampire wedding she's ever heard of, and her executive chef, Oscar, is not only refusing to work for the wedding, he won't let any of his staff work for the wedding, either. 

Then Oscar is discovered dead. Charlotte takes it upon herself to find out who's responsible, and puts herself in harm's way in the process. One thing she is sure of: the possession of a certain powerful artifact may be at the heart of what's going on. 

This is a good book, and we look forward to trying the rest of the series. There's some humour, and the characters are interesting; what's more, the combination of vampires and chefs is an unusual pairing for a mystery. 

If you like this one, try: A Taste of the Nightlife, by Sarah Zettel.  

Friday, 7 November 2014

Review: 'The Iron King' by Julie Kagawa

The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa, 2010, Harlequin Teen, $9.99, softbound, 363 pages. Category/Genre: fantasy. Cover: cool. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million. 


This book is the first in a series about a teenage girl named Meghan Chase, whose four-and-a-half year old brother, Ethan, is kidnapped by the fey and replaced with a changeling. Meghan, along with her best friend, Robbie (who is not what he seems) sets out to find her lost brother, travelling to Faeryland, also known as Nevernever. 

Along the way, Meghan travels through the treacherous Wyldwood, which is disappearing due to human disbelief. She also meets Grimalkin, a Cait Sidhe who comes to her aid in return for an unnamed favour. It is dangerous, Meghan learns, to owe the fey anything . . . 

There are two Courts of fey: the Seelie and Unseelie; the Seelie are the Summer Court and are ruled by King Oberon and Queen Titania. The Unseelie are the Winter Court and are ruled by Queen Mab. Mab's youngest son, Ash, has hunted Meghan, but the two of them are attracted to each other. 

Then Meghan discovers there's a third Court of fey, the Iron Fey, and things really start to get interesting . . . 

This promises to be a good series, and the idea of the Iron Fey is intriguing and unusual, bringing the world of Faery into the modern age. 

Note: strong language.

If you like this one, try: The Iron Daughter, by Julie Kagawa. 


Friday, 31 October 2014

Review: 'Discount Armageddon' by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire, 2012, DAW, $7.99, softbound, 352 pages. Category/Genre: fantasy. Cover: sexy. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million. 


The first in a new series by the author who gave us the October Daye novels, Discount Armageddon is a new take on the urban fantasy. 

Verity Price is part of a family of cryptozoologists -- people who study, and protect humanity from, creatures whose existence has yet to be proven by science: 'monsters' such as yeti and dragons (although dragons are said to be extinct). 

Verity has a job waitressing at Dave's Fish and Strips to pay the rent -- but she really wants to be a ballroom dancer. Officially, she's in New York to document and assist the city's cryptid community. And she's doing fine at that -- until another cryptozoologist shows up. His name is Dominic DeLuca, and he's part of The Covenant, a group who believe that all cryptids should be destroyed. Verity's family broke from The Covenant generations ago and have been in hiding from them ever since. 

Then someone starts killing cryptids -- and it isn't Dominic. Add to that the fact that there may be a dragon under the city, and you have a recipe for disaster . . . especially as Verity and Dominic start to fall for each other. 

Apart from the cool fight scenes in this book, there's a lot of information on the various cryptids Verity meets, as well as a lot of humour. Particularly where the Aeslin mice are concerned. There's a group of them living in Verity's apartment, and they thrive on rituals and shouting 'Hail!' at every opportunity.

Note: strong language and sexual situations. 

If you like this one, try: Midnight Blue-Light Special, by Seanan McGuire; and the October Daye series, starting with Rosemary and Rue, also by Seanan McGuire.  

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Review: 'Murphy: Gold Rush Dog' by Alison Hart

Murphy: Gold Rush Dog by Alison Hart, Illustrated by Michael G Montgomery, 2014, Peachtree, $12.95, hardbound, 176 pages. Category/Genre: historical fiction. Cover: excellent. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million. 


The second installment in the Dog Chronicles, Murphy takes us to Nome, Alaska, 1900, where abused sled dog Murphy escapes his cruel master, Carlick. All Murphy wants is a home, and maybe bacon. 

Then Murphy finds Sally and her mother, who are just arriving in Alaska. Murphy instinctively befriends the pair, and the trio become a family. 

But life in Alaska is hard; while Sally delivers mail to earn enough to stake a claim, Mama struggles to provide for the family by typing in an office. The family has no house, only a tent on the beach -- but when the snows come, they will need a house, or they will have to leave Alaska. 

Desperate to stay in Alaska, Sally takes Murphy and goes to stake a claim, facing deadly predators and storms. If she can only find enough gold to buy a house, the family can stay. But Carlick and the claim jumper he works for have other plans . . . 

This is an exciting book with history woven in, all told from a dog's point of view. More history is included in the back of the book, as well as a list of books for further reading. The black and white illustrations add further interest and are a pleasure to look at. 

For ages seven to 10. 

If you like this one, try: Darling, Mercy Dog of World War I, by Alison Hart. 

Don't forget the other stops on the tour:

Today: The 4th Musketeer

Friday: Sally's Bookshelf .

Monday, 20 October 2014

Friday, 17 October 2014

Review: 'A Local Habitation' by Seanan McGuire

A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire, 2010, DAW, $7.99, softbound, 387 pages. Category/Genre: fantasy. Cover: atmospheric. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million. 


The second in the October Daye series, A Local Habitation finds October 'Toby' Daye on what she considers a milk run: going to Tamed Lightning (a fae County) to find out why her liege's niece, January, isn't returning his calls. Toby takes with her Quentin, a page, so he can learn from her. 

But the pair soon find out that the 'milk run' isn't as simple -- or as harmless -- as all that. There's a murder at Tamed Lightning soon after they arrive, and it isn't the first. 

No-one's talking, however. It takes some time for Toby to even find January, and even she acts like she's hiding something. To complicate matters still further, January doesn't trust Toby to be who she says she is. Her phone calls to her uncle, she says, have never been returned. 

Still more unsettling is the fact that neither Toby nor Quentin are able to read the dead's blood; as Daoine Sidhe, they should be able to gather memories from it by tasting it, but they get nothing. And the night-haunts, who normally take away the bodies of dead fae, aren't taking these. 

This is a good mystery with fascinating characters and McGuire's fluid storytelling. The fae in this series are based on real legends, but have McGuire's stamp all over them. 

If you like this one, try: Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire; Midnight Blue-Light Special, by Seanan McGuire; and for young adults, The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa -- this one's less urban fantasy, but the fae are well drawn, and there's an interesting twist to the story.      

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Review: 'Can I Come, Too?' by Brian Patten

Can I Come, Too? by Brian Patten, Illustrated by Nicola Bayley, 2014, Peachtree, $16.95, hardbound, 29 pages. Cover: very good. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million. 


One day, a little mouse decides to have a big adventure: she wants to see the biggest creature in the world. 

First she finds a frog -- he isn't the biggest creature, but he wants to see who is. So he comes along. Then they add a kingfisher to their party. And on it goes, with bigger and bigger animals joining the group, until finally they go to where the river ends and find the one who is truly the biggest creature in all the world. 

A well-told story, this book has artwork that's as descriptive as the text. The animals' expressions and the way they seem to move across the page bring them to life. Children and adults alike will enjoy reading Can I Come, Too?, and every kid will wonder up until the end who the biggest animal is.

If you like this one, try: Suggestions?   

Monday, 6 October 2014

Peachtree Blog Tour: 'Can I Come, Too?'

Don't forget the other stops on the tour:

Monday (today):
Green Bean Teen Queen

Tuesday:
Geo Librarian & Kid Lit Reviews

Wednsday:
Chat with Vera

Thursday:
Blue Owl & The Fourth Musketeer

Friday: 
Sally's Bookshelf.

We're doing Can I Come, Too? by Brian Patten and Nicola Bayley. Enjoy some of the artwork below:








Friday, 3 October 2014

Review: 'The Wild Ways' by Tanya Huff

The Wild Ways, by Tanya Huff, 2011, DAW, $7.99, softbound, 424 pages. Category/Genre: fantasy. Cover: interesting, but not spectacular. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million.


Charlie Gale is part of the Gale family, those who can alter reality with the charms they weave. Charlie is a rare Wild Power, the extent of whose powers are as yet unrealised. She's wild in other ways, too; she has sex with her married cousin, Allie, and travels between worlds. 

When Charlie finds out a selkie rookery is endangered, she sets out to help, with the aid of Jack, a 14-year-old Dragon Prince who's finding it hard to be a normal teenage boy. But helping the selkies isn't going to be easy; Charlie's Auntie Catherine, another Wild Power, is against them. 

The second in a series, The Wild Ways can be enjoyed without having read the first book -- but we wouldn't recommend it. Huff doesn't explain certain things, at least not to our satisfaction, and one would hope she explains them more fully in the first installment, The Enchantment Emporium. Still, this proved an entertaining read, and you might do well to pick up the first one just to have more of Huff's writing to read. 

One thing we liked about this book in particular was the use of selkies as a focal point in the plot; selkies are seldom, if ever, used in modern fiction, and Huff's take on them suits the old legends. 

Note: strong language.

If you like this one, try: The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Review: 'Charlie Bumpers Vs the Squeaking Skull' by Bill Harley

Charlie Bumpers Vs the Squeaking Skull by Bill Harley, Illustrated by Adam Gustavson, 2014, Peachtree, $13.95, hardbound, 176 pages. Category/Genre: mainstream. Cover: appropriately spooky. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million. 


Halloween is fast approaching, and Charlie Bumpers and his best friend, Tommy Kasten, don't want to take their little sisters Trick-or-Treating. Fortunately for them, school mate Alex McLeoud asks them to come to his house for a Halloween sleep-over to go Trick-or-Treating and watch scary movies.  

Unfortunately for Charlie, he doesn't do well with scary movies. But rather than admit this to his friends, he allows his older brother, Matt, to experiment on him with a 'de-scaring' technique. 

On the school front, there's going to be a Halloween costume contest Charlie desperately wants to win. But he has no idea what to go as this Halloween. 

Filled with humour and realistic situations and problems, this book is sure to please any kid between the ages of seven and 10 -- and probably some who fall outside that range, as well. 

If you like this one, try: Charlie Bumpers Vs the Teacher of the Year, by Bill Harley; and Charlie Bumpers Vs the Really Nice Gnome, by Bill Harley. 

Don't forget the other stops on the tour!

Friday: The Late Bloomer's Book Blog .

Monday, 22 September 2014

Peachtree Blog Tour September 2014 Continues

Don't forget to check out all the stops on the tour! 

Monday: Picture Books to YA & The Write Path

Tuesday: Geo Librarian & Kid Lit Reviews

Wednesday: Kiss the Book

Thursday: Blue Owl  

and Friday: The Late Bloomer's Book Blog .


Saturday, 20 September 2014

Review: 'Pies and Prejudice' by Ellery Adams

Pies and Prejudice by Ellery Adams, 2012, Berkley Prime Crime, $7.99, softbound, 291 pages. Category/Genre: mystery/fantasy. Cover: attractive. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million. 


Ella Mae LeFaye Kitteridge bakes pies for a living -- but they're not ordinary pies; they have magical effects on the people who eat them. Owning a pie shop where she can sell her wares has long been a dream of Ella Mae's, but she has problems, too. 

For one thing, her childhood bully, Loralyn Gaynor, is trying to sabotage the open house where Ella Mae is supplying desserts. For another, Ella Mae's longtime crush, firefighter Hugh Dylan, used to date Loralyn -- and he may still have feelings for her. 

But none of that compares to the fact that Ella Mae's rolling pin is used as a murder weapon against Loralyn's fiance. Now Ella Mae must get to the bottom of the mystery before she's locked up. 

Filled with descriptive prose and colourful characters (most notably Chewy, Ella Mae's Jack Russell terrier, and Ella Mae's aunts and mum), this is the start of a promising new series. 

Includes pie recipes.

Note: strong language. 

If you like this one, try: Peach Pies and Alibis, by Ellery Adams; Pecan Pies and Homicides, by Ellery Adams; and Sugar and Iced, by Jenn McKinlay.  




Thursday, 11 September 2014

Review: 'Stanley's Garage' by William Bee

Stanley's Garage by William Bee, 2014, Peachtree, $14.95, hardbound, 26 pages. Category/Genre: mainstream. Cover: great. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million. 


Another installment in the Stanley series, this one takes a look at Stanley the hamster's garage. Stanley busies himself helping his friends with their various car issues, from filling up the tank to changing a flat tyre to radiator problems. 

The artwork is clear and colourful, not to mention pleasing to the eye, and the text is simple and straightforward. Kids will love seeing all the different characters in their interesting cars, and will even learn a little bit about vehicle maintenance. The story also teaches about colours.

If you like this one, try: Stanley's Diner, by William Bee; and Stanley the Farmer, by William Bee. 



Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review: 'The Lord of the Rings, Part One: The Fellowship of the Ring,' by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings, Part One: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1994 (originally published in 1954), Del Rey Books, $7.99, softbound, 458 pages. Category/Genre: fantasy. Cover: didn't care too much for this one overall; although the artist clearly has skill, most of the cover is taken over by unsightly shades of green and gold. Other covers are available, however. Where we got it: bought it. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million.


Along with elves, dwarves, and humans, this book features a people Tolkien created: hobbits -- short, round, hairy-footed folk who love a good meal and fireworks. Young Frodo Baggins has been given a magical ring by his cousin Bilbo. Along with the ring, which is treacherous to its owner, comes a great responsibility neither Bilbo nor Frodo foresaw. This ring is the One Ring of Sauron the Great, the Dark Lord. Sauron must not get the ring again, or Middle-earth is doomed. 
     
So Frodo, under the advisement of Gandalf the wizard, leaves with his servant Sam and his two friends Pippin and Merry to protect their home from the ring's evil. Along the way they are tracked by Black Riders -- fearsome wraiths under Sauron's power. They also meet Strider, a.k.a. Aragorn, who Sam in particular at first distrusts; but it turns out Strider is a friend of Gandalf's and intends to help them any way he can.
     
So begins the dark journey to destroy the ring. The characters experience both heartache and joy, and it is these unforgettable characters, coupled with Tolkien's descriptive writing, that will keep you turning the pages. If you've never read this one, now is the time; if you have read it, you might consider reading it again. When we first read this book in high school, we were impressed. Our return to it was not a disappointment. 


If you like this one, try: The Lord of the Rings, Part Two: The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien (duh), The Lord of the Rings, Part Three: The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien (duh again), and The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.  


Review: 'Proof of Intent' by William J. Coughlin and Walter Sorrells

Proof of Intent by William J. Coughlin and Walter Sorrells, 2002, St. Martin's Press, $6.99, softbound, 370 pages. Category/Genre: courtroom thriller. Cover: a little lackluster. Where we got it: gift. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble.


When defense lawyer Charley Sloan is called to the home of his client Miles Dane at four in the morning, he finds Miles' wife has been beaten to death. Getting Miles off the suspect list isn't going to be easy; not only did he call his lawyer before he called 911, but he has a reputation as a troublemaker.To make  matters worse, Miles' home office has three walls devoted to weapons, one of which is missing. 
     
On the home front, Charley is dealing with his alcoholic daughter, Lisa, who called him, drunk, to tell him she's quitting law school. 
     
Charley goes through a lot to get his client off the hook, even though Miles can scarcely afford to pay him. The judge, who loves the limelight but despises Charley, makes things even tougher on the defense attorney, who also gets no slack from the police. 
     
Courtroom thrillers aren't our favorite thing to read, but this one did have interesting characters and an unexpected ending. 
     
Note: strong language and some sexual innuendo.


If you like this one, try: Suggestions? 


Review: 'Cake on a Hot Tin Roof' by Jacklyn Brady

Cake on a Hot Tin Roof by Jacklyn Brady, 2012, The Berkeley Publishing Group, $7.99, softbound, 297 pages. Category/Genre: mystery. Cover: appropriate to the story, but it didn't really catch our attention. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million.


It's New Orleans, and soon it will be Mardi Gras. Rita Lucerno, owner of Zydeco Cakes, is up to her ears in cake orders when her ex-mother-in-law, Miss Frankie, invites her to an important business party. Rita's life is further complicated when her Uncle Nestor and Aunt Yolanda come for a visit without calling first.
     
At the party, Uncle Nestor trades fists with a minor New Orleans celebrity, Big Daddy Boudreaux. Before the night is over, Big Daddy has been murdered, and Uncle Nestor soon becomes the prime suspect.
     
Rita lies to the police at first; then she assumes Big Daddy's widow is the one who told reporters about the fight between him and Uncle Nestor, and proceeds to tell people Big Daddy's widow is at fault as if it were a fact. That was annoying. However, it was, overall, a pretty good read. 
     
This one has lots of New Orleans flavour. 
     
Note: mild language. 


If you like this one, try: The Walled Flower, by Lorraine Bartlett. 

Review: 'The Writer's Idea Book' by Jack Heffron

The Writer's Idea Book: How to Develop Great Ideas for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Screenplays by Jack Heffron, 2011, Writer's Digest Books, $19.99, softbound, 337 pages. Category/Genre: writing how-to. Cover: a little bright, but somewhat inspired. Where we got it: borrowed it. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million.



Heffron suggests prompts to get you writing when it's hard to start. In fact, there are prompts throughout the book, some of which are topics, some of which are not (like creating a writing schedule for the next two weeks). Broad topics include family, travel, work, and plenty more. 
     
Heffron also has prompts for editing your own work, such as reviewing your piece and asking yourself what's at stake for the people involved. He says that sometimes your original idea will lead you to other, better ideas, and that you must learn to forego the original idea in these cases. He also goes over other times in which it's important to let go of an idea -- something that can help a writer as much as keeping a good idea. 
     
Likewise discussed is getting started through improving your draft. 
     
The prompts seem to take up the bulk of the book, so this one's really good if that's what you're looking for. 
     
Note: mild language. 


If you like this one, try: How to Grow a Novel, by Sol Stein. 

Review: 'Just the Facts, Ma'am' by Greg Fallis

Just the Facts, Ma'am: A Writer's Guide to Investigators and Investigation Techniques by Greg Fallis, 1998, Writer's Digest Books, $16.99, softbound, 246 pages. Category/Genre: writing reference. Cover: not a stand-out, but it works. Where we got it: bought it. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble.


From the qualities of a good investigator to undercover work, this book covers a lot of ground. The clientele, autonomy, and functions of both public and private investigators are explored, and in this section, the reader gets the low-down on federal, state, county, and municipal agencies. Crime scenes are examined, both from a police detective's and a private detective's perspective. There are chapters on interrogation and interviewing, surveillance, and tailing, as well as information on sources from where your characters can get data. 

Undercover work, including sting operations, decoy operations, and the physical and emotional danger of undercover work, is likewise dissected. The author also goes into vision and hearing enhancement devices, along with the interpretation of facts. 

Well done. A go-to book for writers interested in investigative techniques.

If you like this one, try: Private Eyes: A Writer's Guide to Private Investigators by Hal Blythe, Charlie Sweet, and John Landreth; How to Solve a Murder: The Forensic Handbook by Michael Kurland; and Police Procedural: A Writer's Guide to the Police and How They Work by Russell Bintliff.

Review: 'How to Solve a Murder' by Michael Kurland

How to Solve a Murder: The Forensic Handbook by Michael Kurland, 1995, MacMillan, $14.95, softbound, 194 pages. Category/Genre: writing how-to. Cover: the art style is a little strange,  but somewhat appealing. Where we got it: bought it. Where you can get it: Amazon, Books-A-Million.


This book has an intriguing format: Kurland first postulates a crime, then uses that example throughout the book to illustrate various forensic techniques. He begins by listing the experts involved in solving a crime -- forensic serologists, crime scene photographers, and so forth -- and briefly describing their jobs. 

He then moves on to how the investigation begins, and gives an example of a preliminary report. There's also a sample of what is called an "exploded drawing," which would be done by a criminalist. An entire chapter is devoted to the medical examiner, and here a standard autopsy form is shown. A cross- section of the muzzle of a rifled barrel is supplied in the section on guns, and there are a few illustrated examples of shell casings and bullets. Fingerprinting, suspect identification, serology (the study of blood), and DNA are all examined, as are footprints. A bibliography and index are included. 

A handy tool for anyone looking to write about crime. We enjoyed this one.

If you like this one, try: Private Eyes: A Writer's Guide to Private Investigators by Hal Blythe, Charlie Sweet, and John Landreth; Just the FActs, Ma'am: A Writer's Guide to Investigators and Investigation Techniques by Greg Fallis; and Police Procedural: A Writer's Guide to the Police and How They Work by Russell Bintliff. 

Review: 'Police Procedural' by Russell Bintliff

Police Procedural: A Writer's Guide to the Police and How They Work by Russell Bintliff, 1993, Writer's Digest Books, $16.99, softbound, 261 pages. Category/Genre: writing reference. Cover: attracts the eye. Where we got it: bought it. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble. 


Part of Writer's Digest's 'The Howdunit Series,' this book explores police from the day they join the force to the day they serve in court as a detective witness. First off, Bintliff gives an overview of the police force, which reveals information about patrol operations, training, certification, and police perspectives, plus information on the station house. There's even a layout of an average police department -- although it has, inexplicably, a dead-end hallway and a room with no label.

Bintliff provides the structure of a police detective division and outlines how these divisions work; he also explains how detectives find solutions to common problems. He looks at burglary, robbery, larceny, assault, homicide, arson, and vice. There's a chapter on arrest and procedure, and one on interviews and interrogations, which includes the use of lie detectors. Courtroom procedures round out the book.

A great book whether you want to write from the point of view of the police or merely have them feature in your novel. 

If you like this one, try: How to Solve a Murder by Michael Kurland, Private Eyes: A Writer's Guide to Private Investigators by Hal Blythe, and Just the Facts, Ma'am by Greg Fallis.    

Review: 'Writing the Paranormal Novel' by Steven Harper

Writing the Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper, 2011, Writer's Digest Books, $17.99, softbound, 265 pages. Category/Genre: writing how-to. Cover: very atmospheric. Where we got it: borrowed it. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million.


In this book, the author goes over the supernatural elements you can add to a story, such as supernatural objects, supernatural people, supernatural creatures, etc. He also talks about creating characters. He explores supernatural powers and the problems they create in writing. 

In addition, arc, plot, and sub-plot are explored, as well as language and dialogue, pacing, and more. Harper also goes over format rules, including exercises. There's a brief section on agents, publishers, and editors.

Harper covers everything from the bare bones of your book to getting your book published. It's excellent. Harper's style is clean and straightforward. 


If you like this one, try: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Creative Writing, Second Edition, by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D. 

Review: 'Intrigues' by Mercedes Lackey

Intrigues by Mercedes Lackey, 2010, DAW Books, $7.99, softbound, 391 pages. Category/Genre: fantasy. Cover: The swords and masks background is pretty cool, but Dallen's and Mags' faces could be a little better done. The overall composition is pleasing, however. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million.


Spoiler Alert!

Though it would be best to read the first of the Collegium Chronicles before Intrigues, it isn't vital. Intrigues, the second book in the series, follows Herald Trainee Mags and his Companion, Dallen, as Mags struggles to fit in with the other Trainees at the Collegium. 

Companions are white, horse-like creatures with blue eyes and a talent for telepathy. The telepathy is called 'Mindspeech,' and some humans have it, as well (Mags does). Companions bond to their Chosen people and are very close to them. 

There are lots of personal issues in Mags' life; all his friends have problems that need sorting, and Mags himself has problems, as well. Most troubling is the vision at the heart of this story: Farseers have seen the king covered in blood, with a shadowy, foreign-born figure next to him. Because Mags is foreign, suspicion immediately falls on him, and he starts being harassed by the other Trainees. 

It will be up to Mags to prove himself innocent -- but how can one prove oneself innocent of a crime not yet committed? Fortunately for Mags, he has Dallen and his human friends, who stick up for him. Still, things are rough, and Mags takes it to heart. 

On the plus side, the Collegium is developing a new sport: Kirball. Kirball will help Trainees get used to what it's like to be in battle, which they will all face one day. The Kirball scenes are lively and exciting, as team members work together using their wits, skills, and Gifts (magical powers). 

Mags is also learning espionage techniques from Nikolas, the King's Own Herald. Nikolas is teaching Mags to be stealthy and not draw attention to himself (a problem when Mags becomes something of a hero and his friend Lena, a Bard Trainee, writes a song about him).  

This is a very entertaining book. One thing we didn't like about it was the fact that, when everything comes to a head and Mags' friends turn on him, the friends never apologise for their part in the fighting, though Mags does.  


Review: Star Trek Comic Books

Star Trek: Captain's Log: Sulu, written by Scott and David Tipton, art by Federica Manfredi, colours by Andrea Priorini, colour assist by Chiara Cinabro. 2010, IDW Publishing, $3.99. Not intended for children under 13. Category/Genre: science fiction. Cover: very well done, and we like the Japanese warrior in the background. Cover art by David Messina, colours by Giovanna Niro.

Star Trek: The Official Motion Picture Adaptation, Issue 1, based on the screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, adaptation by Mike Johnson and Tim Jones, pencils by David Messina, inks by Gaetano Carlucci, colours by Giovanna Niro. 2010, IDW Publishing, $3.99. Not intended for children under 13. Category/Genre: science fiction. Cover: also very good. Cover art by David Messina, colour by Giovanna Niro.  

Star Trek: Burden of Knowledge, Issue 1: 'Uncertain Prescriptions,' written by Scott and David Tipton, art by Federica Manfredi, colours by 
Andrea Piorini. 2010, IDW Publishing, $3.99. Category/Genre: science fiction. Cover: excellent. Looks just like the characters; you'll wish the inside looked like this. (The inside is good, too, but the cover really stands out.) Cover art by Joe Corroney. 

Where we got them: the National Fan Fantasy Federation (N3F). Where you can get them: your local comic book store or ebay would be your best bet. Captain's Log and Burden of Knowledge are also available at shop.idwpublishing.com , as is the trade paperback of Burden of Knowledge, which sells for $17.99.


In Captain's Log, Captain Sulu is faced with a diplomatic mission for which, he is told, his talents may be particularly well suited. He is to meet with the Tholians, who are 'quick to anger, easily insulted, and [very] cryptic.' He must not be late, or he will insult and anger the Tholians, who will then react badly. 

Of course, Sulu is waylaid by a ship in distress, making him an insufferable 37 minutes past schedule. Sulu then goes about mending the situation in typical Star Trek fashion. There's no surprise ending, and Sulu doesn't do anything particularly imaginative; still, this reads like a (very short) Star Trek episode.

The art on the inside is good, although Manfredi may be more adept at drawing backgrounds than people (though there are times when she gets Sulu's face just about right). The scene in Sulu's quarters is quite nice, with plants, books, and what looks like a cup of tea. 

Note: mild language. 

The Star Trek movie adaptation hardly tells any of the movie plot; there's no space for it, so if you want to see the entire film in comic book form, you're going to be paying for more than one comic book (unless the publisher releases a graphic novel encompassing all the comic books in one big volume). 
This is to be expected, however. 

Note: As in the movie, there is some violence and mild language. 

Burden of Knowledge, also the first part in a series, has the Enterprise crew hoping to admit the Mygdalians into the Federation. Bones is ecstatic about the prospect, as the Mygdalians are highly advanced medically. Bones, Kirk, Spock, and Lt. Thompson go down to the planet Mygdalus III to talk to the chief facilitator of administrative council, Weis. 

The planet is attacked, and Lt. Thompson gravely injured. The Mygdalians offer to heal him; but there is more going on than they want to admit. 

An interesting premise, and it reads much like a Star Trek episode. 

Note: in spite of the fact that this comic book doesn't have a 'not for children under 13' label, there is a violent and graphic story included after the Star Trek tale. Adults would be well advised to peruse before allowing their children to read this. 

If you like these, try: The Good That Men Do by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin. 








Review: 'The Walled Flower' by Lorraine Bartlett

The Walled Flower by Lorraine Bartlett, 2012, Berkley Prime Crime, $7.99, softbound, 294 pages. Category/Genre: mystery. Cover: pretty nice. Where we got it: publisher. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million.


Spoiler Alert!

Katie Bonner, owner and manager of Artisans Alley in Victoria Square, has a problem: she and her late husband, Chad, saved up for years to buy the Webster mansion with the idea of turning it into a B and B. But Janice and Toby Ryan have just bought the place and are renovating it for the same purpose. 

Then Katie lends a hand with the renovating and uncovers a body. The body happens to be Heather, the niece of Katie's friend, Rose Nash, and when Rose finds out, she enlists Katie's help in solving the murder. 

It won't be easy. Not only is Katie not a detective, she has other things on her mind. Polly Bremerton, one of the craftswomen working at Artisans Alley, has accused another crafter of stealing; and Katie also agrees to become the matron of honour for yet another crafter -- a job which ends up taking much more effort than she imagined. Plus Katie is moving soon and has nowhere to go. 

The mystery deepens when the victim's best friend, Barbie, asks Katie for a secret meeting. Later, another body is found at the mansion: Barbie's. And things heat up at Artisans Alley when Polly is found to have been passing off new dolls as antiques and selling them.   

This was a fine read. Recipes are included in the back. 

Note: strong language. 


If you like this one, try: Thread Reckoning by Amanda Lee; The Long Stitch Goodnight by Amanda Lee; The Cat, the Quilt, and the Corpse by Leann Sweeney, and The Cat, the Lady, and the Liar by Leann Sweeney.