Monthly Archives: August 2011

Book Review – The Loser List

The Loser List  – The Battle for Middle School Status!

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author: H.N. Kowitt
Format: Paperback

Danny Shine wasn’t at the top of Gerald Ford middle school’s social ladder, but he certainly wasn’t a bottom feeder either that is, until he has an argument with one of the tough girls.  As pay back, she retaliates by adding his name to the “Loser List” posted on the girl’s bathroom wall.  His status falling rapidly, Danny chooses a desperate measure – sneak in to the girls bathroom and erase his name.  Unfortunately, he’s caught and winds up in detention stuck with all the bad kids including a gang called “The Skulls”.  To survive, Danny uses his artistic skills to make fake tattoos for The Skulls.  Suddenly, he finds himself accepted into their group and Danny must choose between status and the types of friends he will be associated with.

Told in “Dairy of a Wimpy Kid” style complete with juvenile cartoons depicting friends and events, author H.N. Kowitt  weaves a good message about staying true to your real friends while not being too preachy by keeping the plot fun, fast, and entertaining.  I appreciated Kowitt’s insights into the pressures kids face and especially enjoyed the depiction of the table clicks that form in the lunch room – bullies, “couples korner”, tech geeks, cool table, wannabees, jocks, drama nerds, slackers, etc.

I let my eleven-year-old read it as well and he finished it that same day.  He said he liked it better than Diary of a Wimpy Kid series – wow, high praise from him.  He is already asking me when the next one will be available.

Reluctant readers will surely be engaged by this story and while enjoying it, they will likely learn a thing or two along the way.

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Book Review – The Little Book of Spicy Hot Appetizers, Dips and Sauces

The Little Book of Spicy Hot Appetizers, Dips, and Sauces – Turn up the heat in the Kitchen!

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author: Megan Jones
Format: Kindle

I’m always on the lookout for a good cookbook, especially when it comes to authentic spicy food from around the world!

“The Little Book of Spicy Hot Appetizers, Dips, and Sauces” by Megan Jones is exactly what its name implies.

A good cookbook, in my opinion, is one that accurately informs the reader how to duplicate the dishes created by the author.  An even better book educates the reader on why certain ingredients were chosen and explains the cooking process such that one can go beyond the recipe with an understanding of how different variations might affect the desired outcome.  Jones does just exactly this.

Along with a variety of spicy recipes, Jones provides a generous background on the history of spicy foods, their ingredients, impact on the cultures they came from, health benefits, and interactions with other elements of the meal both food and drink.  Through this information, I clearly understood what each ingredient “brought to the table” (pun intended!).

No matter how hot or mild you like your food, this book has a recipe for you.  The Little Book of Spicy Hot Appetizers, Dips, and Sauces is $2.99 on kindle.

Note: A complementary copy of this work was provided in return for a review.

Book Review – The Hunt

The Hunt – A Nice Twist to Vampire Lore

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author: Linell Jeppsen
Format: Kindle, Paperback

Orphaned and terrified after witnessing the brutal slaying of his family at the hands of two vampires, Raphael prepares for his life to be taken next.  In a moment of weakness, however, the female vampire decides instead to turn Rapheal in to a half-breed – an unheard of atrocity in vampire society.  Not having the wings and other physical characteristics of a full bred vampire, Raphael does, however, inherit their longevity, strength, and special powers after being turned.  As the centuries pass, Raphael grows in influence making enemies of some while the very future of the vampire race hangs in his hands.

Linnell Jeppsen’s “The Hunt” takes an interesting twist to vampire lore chronicling the plight and downfall of full blooded vampires as a distinct race whose evolution has stalled threatening their extinction.  Told through multiple story arcs both in the past and present, all threads converge to a climactic and satisfying ending.

The most enjoyable arc for me and the one I choose to highlight in my summary, is Raphael’s story.  The sacrifices and hardships he endured while carrying the responsibility given him by the vampire king along with the dialogue, emotions, relationships, and descriptions were more engaging and real to me than those in the present day between Brian and Holly – two humans used by Rapheal’s enemies to exploit his weakness.  None-the-less, all arcs work well and compliment one another to move the story forward.

I enjoyed “The Hunt”.  It is a quick read and the rotation among the various stories kept the action and suspense moving nicely.  For those who enjoy vampire novels, this will make a nice addition to your collection at $3.99 on kindle.

Note: A complementary copy of this work was provided in return for a review.

Book Review – The Second Messiah

The Second Messiah – Secrets Which Shake The Faith Or Make It Stronger?

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author: Glenn Meade
Format: Kindle, Paperback

After unearthing an ancient scroll in the Qumran region near the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, an archeologist team speeds across the desert to share their find.  En route, their vehicle crashes into a military transport and is immediately engulfed in flames.  First on the scene are a couple of Catholic priests who are able to help save two teenagers from the crash; the remaining archeology team is killed and the scroll is lost.  Years later, Jack Cane, son of the original archeologist who perished in the fire, discovers a similar scroll – this one makes reference to Jesus the Messiah, the only such direct and documented evidence of Jesus from that time.  The scroll is truly of historical and biblical significance.  But like its predecessor years earlier, it too is lost and a professor is found murdered.  Jack suddenly finds himself accused of the murder.  His life and credibility on the line, the young archeologist races to find the scroll and uncover its secrets.  Only the scroll, a newly elected pope, and a truth that could shake the very foundations of the Catholic faith can save him.

Glenn Meade’s “The Second Messiah” echoes a number of themes found in Dan Brown’s work – centuries old secrets held by the Vatican and questionable foundations of the faith.  One can surmise from the title what the controversy involves but this in no way detracts from the intrigue, pace, and theological questions the book raises.

I will admit the beginning did not grip me as much as say The DaVinci Code, and it wasn’t until a few chapters in that things started to move along rapidly.  Once started, though, the pace is quick and events unfold over just a few days.

Meade takes the reader into the Vatican, its archives, secrets, politics, and history as well as into the city buried under modern day Rome which were my favorite elements of the novel. I don’t think “The Second Messiah” packs quite the punch to the Catholic faith as say the DaVinci Code did.  However, it certainly takes on the Church’s bureaucracy, wealth, politics, and practices contrasting them with those of Jesus and the life he lived.  Would Jesus approve of the modern church and live a life of wealth in the Vatican surrounding by priceless works of art, hoarding secrets in a centuries old archive, and wear the robes of a king having those who greet him kiss his ring?  All are good questions this book asks the reader and the church to reflect on them.

Note: A complementary copy of this work was provided in return for a review.

Book Review – Escape: The Prisoner and the Sun Book #1

Escape (The Prisoner and the Sun Book #1) – Could Not Put It Down!!

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Author: Brad Magnarella
Format: Kindle

With trowel in hand, Iliff labored daily in his underground prison to repair the ever increasing fissures forming on the prison walls  Not knowing any other existence than the confines he lived within, a strange old man approaches him and tells him the unbelievable – that there is life beyond the walls.  Not only that, there is something called a sun.  Journey to the sun – the old man tells him.  It is life’s true quest.  At first, Iliff thinks the old man is crazy, but the truth of the man’s words slowly seep into Iliff’s brain.  If there are walls, there must be something beyond the walls – it only makes sense.  But is it worth risking everything and all you know to leave especially if there is no way to come back?

“Escape – The Prisoner and the Sun Book #1”, by Brad Magnarella, is a one of the best books I’ve read this year.  I really enjoyed this book and honestly could not put it down.  I suppose if falls in the fantasy genre with some magic, trolls, and talking stags.  But these are not what anchor the story.  It is Iliff and his journey to find what life really is – not the prison he was confined to.  Is Iliffs journey an allegory for life? What of his relationship with Troll – what does it represent?  Will he reach the sun and what significance is it?  If he returns to his prison and tries to convince others of the outside world, will they look upon him as they did with the old man?  All these questions and more were eating at me as I devoured the pages wanting to know the answers.  As I read Escape, I was reminded of “The Allegory of the Cave” in Plato’s classic – The Republic.  Would Iliff suffer a similar fate?  As I neared the end of the book, my excitement built but so did my dismay as it would soon be over.

So why only 4.5 stars and not 5?  Because this is only book one in a trilogy.  I never did get my answers from the end of book one so hooray, more for me to enjoy!  But would it meet my expectations and resolve all these questions satisfactorily?  If yes, this is easily 5 stars, if not still a good solid 4 stars.  Given the strength of book one, I’m optimistic.  At $0.99 on Kindle this is one heck of a deal.  Definitely one of my favorites this year.

Book Review – Fire Season

The Fire Season – Battling Nature’s Fury

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author: VH Folland
Format: Kindle, Paperback

At sixty years old, Matt is a crop dusting pilot who owns a private airstrip and loves to restore vintage airplanes.  Living in the beautifully forested valley of Brooke’s Vale, Matt and his friends share a passion for flying and their small community.  During the fire season, threatening lightening storms set fire around the region and all hands, even civilians, are called to help either fight the fire or help with evacuation efforts.  Matt does the best he can, but after witnessing the deaths of a family trapped by the fire his depression grounds him.  Once the winds change, however, and Brooke’s Vale is threatened Matt will have to find inner strength to save those he loves.

VH Folland’s “Fire Season” is the perfect novel to be made into a Family or Hallmark Channel movie.  The small town setting in the Vale is unique and the reader cannot help but be immersed by the wonderful narrative describing the natural beauty of the area.  At the same time, life can be tenuous during the fire season because in a moments notice, the isolation of their remote town can be a death trap.  Folland builds this tension throughout and at a wonderful pace.  He also demonstrates great command and love for piloting small craft.  I learned a considerable amount regarding the challenges and dangers of flying a crop duster not to mention the physical toll a pilot undergoes under normal circumstances, but with the additional challenge of cross winds and thermals created from a raging fire storm along with reduced visibility and a smoke filled cabin, it is downright harrowing!

Action, adventure, danger, and heroics abound in VH Folland’s “Fire Season” and readers are sure to enjoy this debut novel.  It is available in Paperback and is $3.45 on Kindle.

Book Review – The Royal Sheikh

The Royal Sheikh – An Arabian Romance

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author: Katheryn Lane
Format: Kindle

Working for the UK firm Pillsby and Spooly to gain her qualification as an architect, Clare McKay learns that the firm is about to go under due to financial difficulties.  As luck would have it, after meeting a fellow art lover at an exhibit, Clare sketches a few concepts for him to how she would have improved the exhibit’s layout to better highlight the subject matter while being consistent with its cultural heritage.  Impressed as well as attracted to Clare, the gentleman invites Clare to his local home to do some design work for him.  When Clare learns the man is Prince Rafiq of Bahir, she realizes her new client and the work he offers may save the firm.  However, her budding romance with the Sheikh threatens to ruin more than just their deal.

Katheryn Lane’s “The Royal Sheikh”, is a light short romance novel that moves quickly.  As with most romance novels, there is some reason keeping our lovers apart – duty to family, career aspirations and responsibility, position or station in life, feelings not shared by one of the parties, distance, personalities, conflicting beliefs, etc.   In “The Royal Sheikh”, however, both parties are very attracted to one another and all things being equal want to be together with none of the above mentioned issues.  The main problems keeping them apart are a series of frustrating misunderstandings regarding each other’s motivations for their relationship – is he just a playboy using her? is she interested in him only to save her firm? and so on.

The novel was entertaining and a good “vacation read”.  I enjoyed Clare’s character – a strong woman making her way in a man’s world trying to make her mark at work while not denying herself a personal life.  A challenging balance for sure and Clare struggles with this but fights for what she believes.  For a different change of pace to the average romance novel, at $2.99 on Kindle, “The Royal Sheikh” is a good find!

Book Review – The Power Behind the Throne: A Royal Thriller

The Power Behind the Throne – A Royal Thriller

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author: Sally Nicoll
Format: Kindle

After decades of serving as the world’s most famous monarch, Queen Elizabeth lies on her death bed days away for succumbing to cancer.  The world readies itself for the reign of King Charles III. But one man can bring down the Monarchy – an American named Jack Hollander – and he doesn’t even know it.  Hunted by a shadow organization, Jack’s family and friends are taken out one by one as he searches for the truth that leads straight to Prince Charles himself.

Sally Nicoll’s “The Power Behind the Throne” is a fascinating look into England’s monarchy, its history, and its importance in England’s geopolitical position in the world.  What would the UK be like without its monarch?  Just another EU country?  Nicoll explores the fragile nature of the royal family and how they act as much more than a symbolic representation of England’s past.  She also illustrates how the monarchy’s power and influence is reliant on the public’s perception.

While some reviewers have commented that their suspension of disbelief had been stretched regarding the shadow organization hunting Jack Hollander and its associated power within the ranks of public officials, this did not bother me in the slightest.  What did frustrate me, however, were the choices Jack made regarding his flip flop feelings toward his girlfriend (she displays her own drastic back and forth feelings as well) and his sudden murderous plot toward his father.  These seemed a bit out of character disrupting the flow of the story.

None-the-less, I found “The Power Behind the Throne” to be an engrossing novel that had me reading “just one more chapter” keeping me up late at night.  The implications and future of the monarchy was fascinating and educational.  At only $0.99 on Kindle, “The Power Behind the Throne” is a bargain worth a look!