Where books are chronicled from beginning to end, and never stop being read.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Tom T's Hat Rack

Tom T's Hat Rack by Michele Spry
The idealistic tendencies of childhood slowly disappear as an individual grows up and becomes exposed to the harsh realities of adulthood. Fortunately, there are moments that take us back, before the erosion of social norms, to a time when "be nice" and "behave" were not a huge cultural revolution but just rules to live by.

Tom T's Hat Rack by Michele Spry gives the reader one of those moments. In the story, fourth grader Shelby Summers, a fairly well adjusted child, is on vacation. She spends a lot of her time at Tom and Kim Tucker's home while her parents are at work. They watch over her and the families become quite close. As an only child of two working parents, she considers Mr. and Mrs. T her pseudo grandparents. It's a clear introduction to the adage, "it takes a village to raise a child".

"Shelby hopped off her stool and gave him a big hug. She and Mr. T were nearly inseparable, and they'd seen each other almost every single day for the last ten years."

At first glance, it seems as if Shelby is going through the motions of an overly sappy young girl. But as the book progresses, some pertinent issues come to light. And it becomes apparent that there is an underlying depth of reliance and motivation that tightly bonds the characters. Mr. T represents absolute faith within his young protege, when he includes her in a secret project, ostensibly giving credence to Shelby's own development.

"...'That is dedication and commitment, two great qualities you have, Shelby.' ... Shelby swelled up with pride and had a huge smile on her face as they headed up to the checkout counter to pay for their materials."

I found myself feeling a bit sorry for Shelby's character. Though she's positive and helpful, she witnesses the experience of Mr. and Mrs. T's struggle with Mr. T's cancer. Aside from school, she does not generally have much exposure to other children her age. She seems so much more responsible and adult-like because of the circumstances within her environment.

All in all, Shelby is a wonderful culmination of the dedicated adults who surround her and take their time to impart wisdom and love.

Spry portrays a simple story of diligence, perseverance, and "paying it forward", that lures the reader to subtly experience a more complex and valuable sense of poignancy. There is something jaded and, oftentimes, arrogant in the adult human psyche. It is inevitable that children grow up. But certain principles should remain intact. For the betterment of society, for the betterment of the individual.

Michele Spry is a Partner in Education with Midway Heights Elementary School in Columbia, MO. She wrote this book while on vacation in Montrose, Colorado.

Tom T's Hat Rack by Michele Spry, illustrated by Peggy A. Guest, 2013 ISBN 978-0-9887782-3-8

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Meanwhile, Back At Cafe Du Monde...

Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde... by Peggy Sweeney-McDonald
Some traditions never change. For years, Cafe Du Monde in Louisiana has been one of those institutions where you can witness a bit of the eclectic and sample the delights of southern fare all at the same time.

Peggy Sweeney-McDonald has gone a step further with her story-telling cookbook, Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde: Life Stories about Food. The reader will find a wealth of stories ranging from quirky fun to heartwarming experience.

"I love stories, always have, and in reflection, I recognize how many of them revolve around the comfort of a meal."
-Missy Crews, Event Producer and Miss Louisiana 1980, Baton Rouge.

Each local personality from business owners, to actors, to writers has added his or her two cents. Even the pictures alone contain a vivid story from various generations, lovingly displayed throughout the book.  It is set forth, simply and movingly, with a touch of creative sparkle from Sweeney-McDonald.

"If I were a food, I would be 85 percent cocoa dark chocolate... all of the pleasure with none of the guilt!"
-Janet Daley Duval, Actress and President of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival.

But, of course, what would a cookbook be without the delightful recipes that contain its namesake? Even if one doesn't hail from the South, the reader will feel a connection as they read the small, personal anecdotes associated with each recipe. The sincerity of the food and the recipes don't just warm your body, it warms your soul.

"He had a string of bakeries in the southeast, and all but the New Orleans bakery failed in the depression... I started out as a delivery driver, waking long before dawn to deliver warm pies to the customers on my route. I worked every station in the factory from dough, filling, fry duty, and wrapping. I'm a few decades into the position I call 'passe-par-tout.' The literal translation is 'all-purpose' or 'key for all locks,' which means when the dough man doesn't show-up... I make dough."
-Drew Ramsey, Owner, Hubig's Pies, New Orleans.

I must make mention here that every recipe I have attempted from this cookbook, thus far, has been sensational. Some of my personal favorites being, Hosea's Wine Bottle Buttermilk Biscuits, Four-Generation Olive Salad, Fifteen-Bean Soup, Tequila Shrimp, and Grandma Tute's Pecan Kisses.

The cover of this book calls to readers of all ages and speaks for itself with plates of beignets dusted in powdered sugar and a cup of coffee, all waiting to be consumed.

Sweeney-McDonald has created an intensely gratifying cookbook, that relegates and encapsulates her story along with many others. The food and the people converge within the pages of Cafe Du Monde to create an exquisite and memorable experience.

Peggy Sweeney-McDonald grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She is a graduate of Louisiana State University and was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority. She and her husband reside in Los Angeles, California.

Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde by Peggy Sweeney-McDonald, photography by Troy Kleinpeter, 2012 ISBN 978-1-4556-1660-2

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lords Of Dyscrasia

Lords Of Dyscrasia by S.E. Lindberg
For years, the movie industry has inundated us with some of the most graphic, disturbing, horror-laden tales of terror on the silver screen. It would be quite a rare occasion for a story to cause a deep stir in a desensitized mind. But once in a while, a story is constructed that motivates the mind and gets the wheels once again turning in anticipation.

Such is the Lords Of Dyscrasia by S.E. Lindberg.

Lindberg depicts an intensely savage and volatile world within the pages of Dyscrasia. It is a persistent plague that invades the blood and changes the human genome forever. Doctor Grave desperately seeks to save the long bloodline of his sick queen.

"The lifeless embryos exhibit the disease explicitly. The stillborn mutants present eldritch traits, all unique and terrible. Beaks and downy feathers adorn the avian ones. Translucent, soft-shell exoskeletons wrap the invertebrate insectan type, which are always infected with worms."

The disease has sunken into every crevice of daily life. It is no longer an aberrant anomaly, it has become an accepted form of life. Yet there is an unspoken hope that still exists.

"Anyone who could conquer this disease, which is rooted in the fabric of the Land, must be likewise terrible. Perhaps there will be a hero, a warrior who will vanquish dyscrasia, only to usher unforeseen horrors into this world—horrors that will make us all suffer so much we will wish dyscrasia to return…"

Endenken, the leader of a dying culture, wrestles with his own personal demons. Expected to abide by the traditional rules of his people, he must make difficult decisions in a world strife with the disease. His decision will mark the beginning of an end.

"Their blood was sacred. They had few left to carry it. And it was Endenken’s turn to inherit the burden... And the masked grotesqueries swarmed him now, their human frames transfigured by ornate markings and hollow eldritch skeletons."

The gruesome tale continues and illuminates the struggle within the bonds of humanity. An edict of the soul resounds throughout the pages of this nightmarish other-world with spots of dark humor. Lindberg has created an alternate reality that forces the reader to expand the limitations of their imagination.

We must further open our own minds and perhaps even edify our own traditional definitions of religion, belief, and faith.

The illustrations contained are morbid works of art, continuing to tell an epic that is both compelling and fascinating. Even the cover provides a sense of expectancy.

S.E. Lindberg lives near Cincinnati, Ohio. He works as a microscopist, and has spent two decades practicing chemistry.

Lords of Dyscrasia by S.E. Lindberg, 2011 ISBN 978-0-615-39286-8

Friday, May 17, 2013

A War Hero Returns

A War Hero Returns by Johnny Ray
Letting the trenchant views of a war seasoned expert mingle into civilian life would prove to be a herculean task, indeed. But every so often things come together in the most unlikely way to prepare an individual for a different kind of war at home.

In A War Hero Returns, the main character, Suzan Mercer returns after eight years of serving in Afghanistan as a CIA operative. She is shocked to discover that all the land bequeathed to her upon her father's death has been stolen by her mother, who has an onset of Alzheimer's, and sold off to a developer.

"Home, a funny word to her, considering her mother had sold her place, her legacy her dad wanted her to keep forever."

She finds herself being propelled to fight against the man whom she believes to have tricked her mother into selling her property. As she continues convincing herself of the abuse of power that one man, Matt Harris, had exercised over her sick mother, she realizes just how far gone her mother's condition has become.

"When the door opened, reality set in. Her mother must have lost it. Paint drippings covered the floor, and half-finished paintings hung on the wall. The room looked completely ruined, and thus needing to be gutted and refurbished. The smell of paint fumes caused her to fight the urge to vomit... Present tense, her mother talked in present tense. Her father died over three years ago."

Suzan also finds that she has a finite amount of time to deal with Matt.

"She remembered her training in the CIA which taught her to focus on remembering details. They used her to do the unexpected. No one would ever expect an operative to be an Afghanistan woman walking the streets. Her training would serve her well, now when she needed the skills the most."

As the story progresses, things seem to take on a life of their own. The more that Suzan uncovers, the deeper the secrets go. Nothing is entirely as it seems. And with the usual sense of irony, fate, in it's own dogmatic manner, is not without a touch of humor. Suzan and Matt share a deep attraction to each other.

"...pure raw sex on the spot... Although she still considered him a predator, he remained a predator with a brain."

Johnny Ray's persuasive storytelling has an underlying sense of gusto. There is a sense of cloak-and-dagger with a twist of exploits around the world. The reader will be subject to a tale laden with adventure, betrayal, loss and romance.

On a side note, Ray's choice of cover was a bit confusing. Perhaps it is to symbolize the frustration and operational secrecy within the occupation of the main character, but more than naught, it reminds me of a misbegotten Marilyn Manson poster from the mid-90's. That said, it does not take away from the story inside. As a matter of fact, it may even enhance it, as the reader may not know what to expect upon first viewing the outside of the book.

Johnny Ray won the Royal Palm literary award for best thriller.

A War Hero Returns by Johnny Ray, 2013 ebook

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This Can't Be Normal

This Can't Be Normal by Diana Estill
When one experiences a moment of introspection and delves deeply into his or her past, there can only be something similar to an implosion within the general zeitgeist of a time that can never be repeated. It is the mind's own ceremonial expungement of the past that stubbornly holds on. This can be something that happened anywhere from five minutes to fifty years past.

Such is the humorous and dramatic sequence of events that makes up This Can't Be Normal.

The author, Diana Estill, grants the reader a peek at certain pieces of her life as only she can narrate. Don't be fooled, this is not a run-of-the-mill, sappy, lesson learned autobiography. It is a quirky, detailed compilation of life stories that holds elements of tribute, community, reinvention and epiphany.

"And even after I’d turned around, I had to travel a long distance in the opposite direction before I could make another U-turn and retrieve my disgruntled passenger. What if he thumbs a ride with a trucker, gets picked off by some nut case, and I have to explain my way out of a murder rap?"

As the story unfolds, Estill offers a special look at her own family and friends, that causes a touching moment for the reader, allowing everyone into intimate parts of her own life for a short period of time.

"Hubby squinted and looked at the recipe card. 'Yep, it says two cups.' He blended the ice cream and then gave me a bowl filled with what looked like frozen baby poop... I studied the disaster and made a face. Then I scooped a teaspoonful of his creation into my mouth. It tasted like chocolate spinach with a mild fruitiness and a hint of Bermuda grass."

This book is a scathingly honest articulation of a southern woman and her insight into the layers and layers of the soulful dynamics of married life, child rearing, and social interaction; all wrapped up and, to a large degree, depicting emotional nuance.

Estill, by far, holds an incredible voice within her writing. The central theme remains concrete, whilst the story continues to multiply and jump from one scene to the next. This Can't Be Normal is a quick read, full of simple, engaging stories that beset meticulously complex meanings. The essential affection and altruism within the average American family is not lost here. It is celebrated.

This Can't Be Normal by Diana Estill, 2013 ebook

Friday, May 10, 2013

Blood Pressure Down

Blood Pressure Down: The 10 Step Plan to Lower  Your Blood Pressure In 4 Weeks Without Prescription by Janet Bond Brill
For years, society's love affair with poor dietary habits and very little exercise has contributed to a rapidly growing problem in the United States. One of the leading causes of preventable death in the U.S. is a sudden and silent killer called High Blood Pressure. Going beyond the national data that nearly two-third of the nation is obese or overweight, any sort of solution often goes ignored.

Why, you ask?

Because people live their lives accordingly. Not only are people busy, often over-worked, dealing with the stresses of a bad economy, freewill is something built into human DNA. So when human beings are faced with an overload of statistical data, restrictions, and this-is-for-your-own-good guidelines, it is natural to rebel.

The key to functional success with long term goals is not deprivation. It is knowledge.

Blood Pressure Down is the ultimate tool chest that provides a wealth of ideas and information on how to lower blood pressure and take less prescription drugs. This is not a quick fix, or band-aid, or an ultimate cure-all. It gives a straight forward way to understand what is potentially damaging and how to tweak bad habits without going to the extreme.

"When you are buying packaged foods, read and use the information on the food labels to allow easy comparison between brands. Always check the ingredient list for sodium, MSG, baking soda, and other sodium-containing compounds. You will be surprised at the tremendous difference between products in terms of sodium content. Only buy boxes, cans, and bags of food with the words "low sodium" or "sodium free" on the front."

There are sensible nuggets of wisdom that can be incorporated into daily life without ridiculous crash diets.

"...bananas are Mother Nature's sweet blood-pressure-lowering medicine because of their potassium content..."

"Coffee is... linked with reduced risk of developing a number of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Coffee is loaded with magnesium..."

"Eat yogurt..."

"Eat chocolate..."

"...drinking a small amount of red wine daily with food is part of the lifestyle prescription for preventing the onset of high blood pressure."

Of course, everything should be in moderation. But for those individuals needing a little more guidance, the author has produced sample weekly optimal BP-lowering strategies that combine food and exercise, all the way down to guided meal and snack suggestions, calorie counts and mineral consumption. The book also contains delicious recipes for meals, snacks and desserts, with nutritional information broken down so all the reader needs to do is cook, eat, and enjoy.

Brill's clever approach and deft knowledge has taken on both the psychological and physiological factors of a healthier lifestyle to deliver the most comprehensive, sustainable and empowering program. The approach can be personalized to each reader's needs; whether a person is already on a different plan, has a prescription or is under therapy, it is incredibly modifiable.

Never has it been easier than what is laid out in Blood Pressure Down, it's time for every individual to take responsibility and acknowledge when enough is enough.

Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN, is a nationally recognized expert in cardiovascular disease prevention. She has been a nutritionist in private practice for many years.

Blood Pressure Down by Janet Bond Brill, 2013 ISBN 978-0-307-98635-1

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Forth Conspiracy

The Forth Conspiracy by Thomas Thorpe
Human nature gives individuals the drive to complicate simple matters. Further delving into the psychology deeply embedded into our brains comes two instinctual reflexes: one of greed and the other of survival. This is not a scarce concept, but it may be a challenge to moderate.

The Forth Conspiracy, which takes place in the 1830's, presents this on a grander scale.

The reader is introduced to William and Elizabeth Darmon of Kent, the proprietors of Mayfair Hall, a historic landmark, are caught in an incredible complication. A new bill has been introduced into parliament entitled the "Writ of Confiscation".

"...the Writ may apply to any property without a recorded deed on file. That could qualify as abandonment."

Any sort of justification for the State to make in order to seize of property to fund their own coffers is up for grabs. Mayfair, a place that has been handed down through the generations of William's ancestors, is one of the first properties listed for confiscation unless the Darmons can produce the original deed.

William and Elizabeth, along with their relatives Charles and Emily Bagwell, are met with a journey that takes the two men around the world.

"The Deed is within our Reach
When judgement day is at hand
Lion will lie down with lamb 
Who can tell what wealth we gain
From ancient Egypt to Charlemaine

As Abull Hull lies fast asleep
God will save us from his keep
Our treasure is in heaven now
If we but escape Satan's vow"

As the men race against the clock to the Mediterranean, Elizabeth and Emily must continue an embittered battle at home against the imposing Forth family; who wish to lay claim to Mayfair. It didn't help matters that a member of the Forth family had been found dead on their property.

"The Forth's are seeking a map to the deed, which they believe John Forthwait gave to Victoria. I have discovered that Forthwait was actually Steven Rothwild. You must find the map and send it to William at once."

The complex patchwork of clues provides the book with a story full of rich historical detail. Thorpe's astute and knowledgeable tone of the time period, along with his attention to detail lends a winning salvo to a complicated mystery.

The Forth Conspiracy is the second book in the Darmon Mysteries. It stands alone as a genuinely entertaining read.

Thomas Thorpe has written six historical mystery thrillers of the Darmon Mystery series.

The Forth Conspiracy by Thomas Thorpe, 2013 ISBN 978-1-61296-163-7

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Voting Machine: A Temo McCarthy Mystery

The Voting Machine: A Temo McCarthy Story by Dmitri Ragano
Losing a grip on the constituents of Sin City, aka Las Vegas, is a treacherous perch for an able bodied politician hoping to clean up in votes from a crucial swing state. Strange as it may seem, casting a vote has never been so dangerous. The Voting Machine is an unflinching atmospheric murder-mystery.

Temo McCarthy is the main character who has a connection with the murdered voters. The FBI decide to include Temo in the investigation of the mysterious deaths of two voters. Perhaps channeling the naysayer of doom, the book begins with a simple statement from Temo.

"My father always told me that no good deed goes unfinished. Try to do the right thing and sooner or later, it's going to bit you. Of course I hated to agree with anything he said, but in this case he had a point. I was in trouble again."

He obviously has a point.

As the story ensues, Temo finds himself between jobs. The usual kind let-down of "over-qualified" or the castigation of "not enough experience" constantly comes up as he is plagued with feelings of inadequacy. The author's raw emphasis on such a situation gives the reader pause. Most readers will feel an even deeper connection and identify with the plight of the main character.

"I felt more worthless with every passing day. A man who cannot provide for his family is really not a man at all. I hated myself intensely, because that's what losers do. It was just like I had always feared: deep down inside, a loser is always a loser, even if he wins once or twice along the way."

But it doesn't stop there. The plot intensifies as two voters are murdered inside a voting booth without any sort of visible agitation. An investigation reveals something even more sinister, and a simple murder-mystery is turned upside down.

Right or wrong, true vs. false is thrown out the window. There is a sliding grey scale that each character in this book must venture and decide upon. It is a realistic point in certain aspects, such as Brenda with her PTSD and Anabelle's rehabilitation centers. The reader is drawn into a provocative story line that is honest and gritty.

This is the second book in a series of Temo McCarthy stories. I have never read the first book, but The Voting Machine stands well on it's own. I did not miss any character subplots or extraneous references that would have muddled a great book.

Ragano is an exceptional storyteller; it is evident in his eloquent summation of detrimental circumstances that paints an intriguing landscape for heroes and villains alike. It was indeed quite a pleasure to read such a well executed book.

Dmitri Ragano is an ex-journalist and technology consultant in San Francisco and Tokyo. He currently resides in Irvine, California with his wife and daughter.

The Voting Machine by Dmitri Ragano, 2012 ISBN 978-0-615-65940-4

Friday, May 3, 2013

Murder Under The Microscope

Murder Under the Microscope by Jane Bennett Munro
What can possibly be preserved when everything around you is completely altered?

How do you fight accusations from your own peers, including the police?

Jane Bennett Munro has orchestrated the ultimate novel to answer such puzzling dilemmas. In the world of Dr. Antoinette Day, a pathologist at Perrine Memorial Hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho, reputation is everything. Never has it been more crucial to necessitate the preservation of her professional integrity than the present.

The appearance of Dr. Shore, a temporary replacement for a regular resident, begins the rapid decline into strange occurances such as misread reports and missing patient data. The sudden onslaught of murder doesn't help matters. It seems that practically overnight, Dr. Day has become the focus of a police investigation that places her as the prime suspect.

"Oh, no. I broke out in a cold sweat. My knees felt as if they were going to buckle under me."

But her professional life isn't the only thing threatened. Antoinette and her husband, Hal, are thrown yet another twist, they are being stalked within the privacy of their home.

"I opened my mouth to answer, but before I got a word out, Hal took the phone away from me and hung up. I was so angry I was shaking. Hal put his arms around me and held me without saying a word. I buried my face in his shirt front. We stood there like that for a long time."

It is an intriguing tale of murder, deceit and, strangely enough, faith. The author's background lends a deeper perspective into the medical world, illuminating and merging complicated data into an intelligent and appalling story. Munro demonstrates her talents of narration throughout the book.

If there's any downside here, it is that I wish the antagonist who was thought to be the villain, had been given a longer lifespan; after all, I do love a horrible nemesis. Perhaps it was Munro's way of presenting a murderous intent, so deeply hidden, it projected the ultimate sinister unknown presence.

Jane Bennett Munro, MD, has been a hospital-based pathologist for thirty-three-years. She is now semi-retired, residing in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Murder Under the Microscope by Jane Bennett Munro, 2011 ISBN 978-1-4502-9862-9