Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reviewing Children's Book: "Davey BigHead: Dream Big"

Self published through Amazon’s Book Surge Division, this children’s book tells of Davey’s experiences at his first day of school. Davey has a very big head that is far out of proportion to the rest of his body. He can’t get on the bus because his head is too big. He gets caught in the jungle gym, is quickly out in dodge ball, and gets found easily during hide-and-go-seek after school all thanks to his giant head. His first day of school wasn’t very good. That night he has a great idea.

On his second day of school, he asks to play soccer and is told yes. Davey gets a uniform and before long is having a blast as his giant head is perfect for a soccer goalie. With cheers raining down on him along with the soccer ball, Davey leads his team to victory.

This is the start of a series, according to author Peter J. Hayden, and it is a very good start. Unlike many books published by Book Surge, the illustrations here are done very well and feature colorful pictures with many details. The text does not clash with the illustrations underneath it and serves to complement the artwork. This book is actually well made and in all appearances comes across as a children’s book from a traditional publisher. Marketed at kids of ages 9 to 12, the book appeals to a lower age range as children in the targeted group may find it way too simplistic for their reading level.

Teaching a message of acceptance and embracing differences, the book works well on a storyline level as well. Davey suffers setbacks and on his own figures out a way to succeed. Something that isn’t always easy to do.

Sure to be a hit with kids, it is going to be a pleasure to incorpate this book into my classes this fall.

Davey BigHead: Dream Big
Peter J. Hayden
Book Surge Publishing
ISBN# 1-4392-2972-4
26 Pages

Material provided through Bostick for the author for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reviewing: "Strangle a Loaf of Italian Bread" by Denise Dietz

Ellie Bernstein likes to clip coupons and watch police shows when she isn’t doing her things as leader of a local chapter of “weight winners” or reading a complex mystery novel. That is, when she isn’t helping out her boyfriend, Lieutenant Peter Miller of the Colorado Springs Police Dept. These days find her also babysitting a dog for one of her diet club members.

Rachel Lester has to be out of town and Ellie is in charge of the dog named “Scout.” While the dog and Ellie’s own cat are getting along despite her initial concern, Ellie is a bit bored. September has been very slow on the crime action front and she wants something to happen so that Peter has to consult with her. She’d also like the coach of the Broncos to consult with her on why they just lost to the Chicago Bears.

She soon gets her wish, at least on the murder front, when waitress Sara Lee is found dead in the alley behind “Uncle Vinnie’s Gourmet Italian Restaurant.” Peter tells her some details and admits to not having a suspect. It certainly isn’t for want of trying to find one.

“Everybody liked Sara Lee. And that’s all I am going to tell you.” (Page 31)

Clearly, someone didn’t. Clearly, Peter needs help whether he knows it or not. Before long, in between thinking about food and how to link movie star Kevin Bacon to anything and everyone, Ellie gets to poking around the case. Her methods aren’t always orthodox, but are always highly entertaining as she solves more than one case bugging the Colorado Springs Police Dept.

This is the fourth installment of a highly entertaining series. It features not only Ellie and Peter, but the other characters familiar to readers such as Ellie’s brother Tab and her overbearing mother. The various storylines weave together slowly with the main focus being on food in various delectable forms. Ingredients and recipes are described in the text with an additional recipe at the end. Like some series, at least one ongoing storyline is left hanging wide open at the end to entice readers into picking up the next book. Despite that, the overall read is enjoyable with plenty of fun characters, romance, and murder to keep almost any reader who likes the cozy style of murder mystery entertained.

Strangle a Loaf of Italian Bread: An Ellie Bernstein / Lt. Peter Miller Mystery
Five Star Mystery Series
Gale/Cenage/Five Star
May 2009
ISBN 978-1-58414-76909

E-book version provided direct by the author for my objective review.

I also strongly recommend the very good novel "Eye of Newt" and I am still awaiting another one in that series. I refuse to accept the idea that it is one and done.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reviewing: "Wool Pets" by Laurie Sharp

Needle felting is using wool fibers and shaping them to create an object like a butterfly, kitten, rabbit, etc. The basics are wool, a barbed needle and a foam pad, though in the materials section, the author explains in words and pictures that it can be a bit more complicated than that. For example, the basic felting needle is “…a long, sharp, three-or five-sided barbed instrument.” (Page 6) Needles come in a variety of gauges and vary in the number of sides and locations of the barbs.

After an introduction that also discusses what to use as a foam pad and the types of wool, the book goes into basic techniques starting on page ten. How to properly “needle,” “roll the wool,”“making flat shapes,” and sculpting are covered in two pages of text and numerous photographs. The photographs, like all the ones in this book are done by Kevin Sharp, the author’s husband, and are fairly close in detail.

The patterns begin on page 13 with “Bug Magnets.” Patterns for “Bumble Bee” and “Lady Bug” are used with the “Bumble Bee” result much more realistic looking. That is quickly followed with a “Penguin & Chick “pattern, a “Butterfly Pin” one, and a “Bunny” pattern. Each of the twenty patterns in this book ranging from a “Border Collie” (Page 74), to a “Cat” (Page 80) to a “Giraffe” (Page 104) feature a close up large and in color picture of the finished item with detailed step by step instructions along with numerous pictures during various stages of the construction process. They range from the simple such as the previously mentioned “Bug Magnets” to the complex “Mermaid” found on pages 110-117 or the “Gnome Girl” on pages 118-125.

A gallery of a few more pictures, a list of resources and a brief author bio that includes a plug for her website and business brings this 128 page book to a close.

This a fun book full of interesting patterns and techniques and one sure to entertain and enlighten creative folks. The numerous pictures taken by her professional photographer husband add a level of detail and helpfulness to the book.

Wool Pets: making 20 Figures with Wool Roving and a Barbed Needle
Laurie Sharp
Creative Publishing International
ISBN# 1-58923-385-9

Material provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cookbook Review: "Back of the Box Cooking" by Barbara Greenman

If you are tired of saving recipes off of boxes, this book is for you. It features 500 recipes from over fifty brands in a hardback spiraled book format. These recipes are ones consumers requested the most from companies.

The thirteen chapters cover every meal time, snack time and desert. Each contributed recipe is just as it would be on the box so the directions are short and there isn’t any nutritional information. Nor are there any pictures. Color and flash are missing here as all you get are recipes and lots of them.

Also included in the 352 cookbook is information on the homepages for the various companies as well as a multi page index.

Edited by Barbara Greenman, the cookbook is a delight to use and an excellent way to reduce some kitchen clutter.

Back of the Box Cooking
Edited by Barbara Greenman
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers
ISBN# 978-1-57912-780-8

Material provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Reviewing: "Mad Mouse: A John Ceepak Mystery" by Chris Grabenstein

“Mad Mouse” is the second in the series after “Tilt a Whirl” and features another interesting and dangerous case for police officers Danny Boyle and John Ceepak. It is late August and a few weeks after the events of the previous novel. Sea Heaven has returned to normal and much of the media attention has finally moved on to other targets leaving Danny to contemplate what the coming end of the summer means. The new police chief intends to hire one of the summer cops as a permant officer and Danny is hoping to move up.

In the meantime, it is time for the old gang of Danny, Katie Landry, (who Danny is hopeful will become a very special friend) Jess Garrett, Olivia Chibbs, Becca Adkinson and Harley Mook to meet. Every August 30th in honor of “National Toasted Marshmallow Day” the group gets together in an annual party ritual. It dates back to when they were teens and they still get together even though the friendships amongst the group are far different now then when they were kids. It should have been a simple late night party at the beach.

It was until the sniper opened fire.

At first, despite Becca’s serious eye injury, it appears that the attack was nothing more than an idiot with a paintball gun. Later investigation and subsequent attacks prove that bullets, along with paintballs are being fired at the group. And it just could be that Danny is the main target.

Being a tourist spot means that the local politicos want this to be kept quiet. The FBI already spent time in Sea Heaven working the Tilt a Whirl case and the local economy can’t take another visit from the FBI and media scrutiny. John Ceepak and Danny Boyle don’t care about that. They just want to end the escalating carnage.

Featuring the same quirky characters, flashes of humor, plenty of action, and another twisting mystery, “Mad Mouse” builds upon the strong foundation of the first book. Everyone is back, and while little more of Ceepak is revealed, readers really get a strong sense of who Danny Boyle was as a teenager and how far he has come in two novels. While the books should be read in order, it is possible to read this one first as there is a minimum of references to the first book.

Mad Mouse: A John Ceepak Mystery
Chris Grabenstein
Carol & Graf (Avalon Publishing Group, Inc.)
ISBN# 0-7867-1936-2
Trade Paperback
323 Pages

Book provided by the author in exchange for my objective review. By the way, if you haven't read "Tilt A Whirl" you really should. Check it out!

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Friday, August 07, 2009

Reviewing: "Gone Tomorrow: A Reacher Novel" by Lee Child

“Gone Tomorrow” is the thirteenth novel in the Jack Reacher series and this one opens in a subway car in New York City. There are five passengers in the subway car with Jack and only one of them gives him any cause for concern. Twenty years ago when Jack was in detached duty with an Israeli army captain he learned the list of suicide bomber characteristics. The female passenger he is watching fits every single one of them.

But, Susan Mark, that female passenger was not a suicide bomber. Moments after Jack started talking to her, she pulled a gun and quickly committed suicide. According to one of the detectives who came to the resulting crime scene, Jack pushed her to do it by approaching her. Maybe he did. Or maybe, something or someone else caused it.

As long time readers know, once involved in something Reacher isn’t going to let it go until he decides it is over. A succession of suits from various governmental agencies arrive to ensure the cooperation of the NYPD, Jack, and anyone else involved. The bad guys have other ideas. With all of these people involved and telling Reacher to go home and forget about it, once knows that Reacher is just going to keep pushing with violent repercussions for everyone.

This latest Reacher novel is another good one despite the author’s need to constantly remind the readers of the freedoms lost in the wake of 9/11 tragedies. A drum that he has beat before to great effect and does tone down some in this novel while making the same points he has in recent novels. Much of the storyline is back dropped against the modern scourge of Al Quada and the fact that at one time they were our friends when they were fighting the Russians in the eighties. As he has done before, Lee Child has taken current political events and dropped Jack into the thick of a part of it.

While Reacher was always a taciturn fellow, he seems to be even more withdrawn in this book. Dialogue as a result is limited with most of the prose concerning action scenes or scenes where Reacher contemplates events while riding subway cars and trains or standing outside of various locations. As in the recent reads, he once again befriends a member of local Law Enforcement and before the final epic battle, spends some quality private time with her.

Oh, the sacrifices one must make for his country.

Still this is one of the better Reacher novels of recent memory. “Gone Tomorrow” is full of misdirection while moving forward at a rapid pace and only features one rather ridiculous plot coincidence. Though, as recent real world history has shown, just about anything is possible.

Gone Tomorrow: A Reacher Novel
Lee Child
Delacorte Press (Bantam Dell)
June 2009
ISBN #978-0-385-34057-1
421 Pages

Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Reviewing: "The Scarecrow" by Michael Connelly

Last seen primarily in “The Poet,” Jack McEvoy returns in this novel which is both a mystery and a lament to the world of newspaper publishing. It’s been a lot of years since the celebrity success of his book on the poet serial killer and Jack is on the wrong side of 40. The LA Times has seen its best days and the latest round of staff cuts have included Jack. They will give him one break which at the same time is a bit of an insult. He can leave now or he can train his replacement, Angela Cook, for the next two weeks and collect another paycheck. Beyond that his options are few and he knows not much else.

“Death is my beat,” I whispered to myself. “I make my living from it. I forge my professional reputation on it.” ( P. 25)

In a final one finger salute to the management of the paper, he comes up with a plan. Contacted by a family member of Alonzo Wilson, who claims he didn’t do the murder he was arrested for, Jack decides to write about the case. With Alonzo being sixteen, living in the projects and dealing drugs, the story of how society created a killer almost writes itself. That is until Jack realizes the kid is innocent and was used by a serial killer as a scapegoat.

Society did create a serial killer. Not the teenager, at least not yet, but someone else who can use the internet and the digital world to track potential victims and those that would hunt him. Nothing and no one is safe from his online reach.

With frequent heart felt observations about the demise of newspapers, author Michal Connelly, aims a spotlight at what is happening today. Much of the early part of the book is spent on a tirade against what is happening in the newspaper industry today and unfortunately, it comes across as a whine and not a rallying call to save anything. It also serves to tell readers what they already know, if they are paying attention, and slows down the development of the story.

Against the backdrop of the slow collapse in newspaper publishing, Connelly has weaved together a good mystery using the classic clich├ęd pieces of the super smart computer guy who is a killer (which is told in the opening thereby killing much of the possible suspense), that nothing is safe online from a hacker or nefarious forces, and that a romance interrupted but meant to be can be rekindled. Each of the elements is a bit hackneyed and yet they all work together fairly well in the novel. After a rocky start, the reader is pulled into the fictional world and despite the author’s occasional heavy handed allusion to reality in the form of references to his own writing career; the overall read is a good one.

Simply put---It isn’t Bosch. But, it will do.

The Scarecrow
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown And Company (Hatchette Book Group)
May 2009
ISBN# 978-0-316-16630-0
419 Pages (Additional 14 page preview of the October release of the latest Bosch —NINE DRAGONS)

Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Reviewing: "Quick Food: Gourmet Recipes in Just 30 Minutes"

At over 700 pages, this recently released paperback cookbook from Reader’s Digest boasts at containing over 300 recipes blending home style cooking and ethnic cuisine. Most are listed as easy to make and all are supposed to be made within thirty minutes. Fresh ingredients, not canned or frozen, is paramount here in most recipes with something available to serve the most finicky eater.

After a brief introduction, Chapter One opens with “Snacks and Starters” featuring “Smoked Salmon Dip” (Pages 18-19), “Sausage and Tabbouleh Wraps” (Page 28-29) and “Tuna Pastry Pies” (Pages 36-37) among others. With each recipe, the directions and ingredients are on the left page with a full page color picture on the right. Separate preparation and cooking times are listed which combined add up to thirty minutes, along with portion size and cooking difficulty level. Extra tips are few and far between because most info is included in the straightforward directions.

Chapter Two is on “Salads” and starts on pages 88 and 89 with “Smoked Chicken And Avocado Salad.” That is quickly followed by the “Arugula, Pancetta, And Tomato Salad” (Pages 90-91) and “Italian Sausage, Artichoke, And Asparagus Salad “(Pages 92-93) and many more. While many of the recipes in this chapter are labeled as “Level 1” meaning they are the simplest to make, they involve cooking meats and or vegetables first and then adding them to a salad. Therefore, if you like your salad relatively plain and simple, most of these recipes won’t work for you. Beans and nuts also pay a prominent role in many of these salads as well.

“Thai Tofu And Mushroom Soup” kicks off the “Soup” section starting on page 150. A hearty “Tomato, Vegetable And Bean Soup” (Page 158-159) and a “Hot And Sour Chicken Soup” (Pages 174-175) follow among many others.

Chapter Four is on “Pasta.” Of course, spaghetti is in here but this time it is as “Spaghetti With Mint, Garlic, And Olives,” (Pages 196-197) or “Spaghetti With Peas, Crisp Bacon, And Parmesan” (Pages 198-199) or “Spaghetti With Butter And Sage Bread Crumbs” (Pages 200-201) and several other variations. Recipes for fettuccine, angel hair pasta, penne, macaroni, and others are included.

“Noodles” is the theme of the next chapter with “Chicken Udon Noodle Soup” (pages 270-271), “Chile And Lime Shrimp Noodle Salad” (Pages 276-277) and “Warm Black Bean Lamb And Rice Noodle Salad” (Pages 280-281) among others. Many of the recipes here could have been included in the salad section. If you are really into noodles, you will love this section because they seem to have the topic well covered.

Chapter Six begins on page 318 with “Grains.” Risotto is the main ingredient here though there are a few rice recipes such as “Rice With Herb Pesto And Feta” (pages 352-353) and “Brown Rice Salad” (Pages 354-355). A noted earlier, there are recipes in this Chapter such as “Tuna Couscous Salad” (Pages 364-365) which easily could have appeared in the salads chapter section instead of here.

“Seafood” comes next and opens with “Spicy Mussel Soup.” (Pages 370-371) followed by the eye opening “Salt And Pepper Squid.” (Pages 372-373) There is also “Sea Bream With Fennel And Onions” (Pages 388-389) and “Cod With Potatoes” (Pages 394-395) among many others.

Chapter Eight is all about “Poultry.” Whether it is “Chicken With Asparagus And Prosciutto” (Pages 428-429) or “Grilled Chicken With Garlic, Lemon And Parsley” (Pages 431-432) or something else, chicken is prominent here. Duck is also occasionally included such as in “Duck And Green Onion Yakitori” (Pages 462-463). Also briefly mentioned are quail and turkey.

The ode to carnivores continues in the next chapter on “Meat.” The chapter opens with “Beef Fillets With Tomato Pesto and Prosciutto “(Pages 488-489) soon followed by “Beef Sirloin With Tomato And Olive Sauce” (Pages 494-495) and “Beef Steaks With Mushrooms And Sweet Potatoes” (Pages 496-497) and others. Numerous pork, lamb, and veal recipes are also included.

“Eggs And Cheese” also known as Chapter Ten begins with “Pan-Fried Eggs With Potatoes And Tomatoes” (Pages 552-553). Recipes for “Florentine Pizzas (Pages 560-561) and “Egg And Bacon Pies” (Pages 566-567) among others soon follow. None of these are the simple scrambled eggs and toast variety.

Chapter Eleven is on “Vegetables.” These include “Thai Vegetable Green Curry” (Pages 596-597), “Tomato, Garbanzo Bean, And Olive Pilaf” (Pages 600-601) and “Spicy Lentils With Spinach” (Pages 610-611) among others. Beans of a variety of types play a dominant role here along with a variety of nuts and grains.

“Desserts” is the final chapter and begins with “Chocolate Chip Puddings” on pages 644-645. A “Quick Tiramisu” (Pages 674-675) which uses coffee and sweet sherry follows among other delectable treats.

A six page index brings this colorful book to a close.

It should be noted that the thirty minutes claim is a little misleading for some of the recipes because it does not take into account total cooking time nor the occasional use of a prepared pizza dough or other base. Speed of meal preparation is important to many people and was used as a marketing tool here. The fact that some of these recipes take longer than 30 minutes is not necessarily a negative if you plan accordingly.

While this is a well done cookbook full of intriguing recipes, it does have a huge drawback. The book contains zero nutritional information. While the prevalence of fresh ingredients is clearly more healthful than use of canned, frozen, or prepared materials, the lack of nutritional information severely impacts its usefulness for those of us who must monitor such information.

Quick Food: Gourmet Recipes in Just 30 Minutes
Jenny Fanshaw & Annette Forrest
Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
ISBN# 978-0-7621-0981-4
704 Pages

Material provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Reviewing: "Pilikia is My Business" by Mark Troy

Written by 2002 Shamus Award Nominee Mark Troy, this fast paced and suspenseful novel revolves around Hawaii based private investigator Val Lyon. An ex cop, ex-con, and former pro basketball player, Val Lyon doesn’t tolerate idiots and has little patience for those who don’t do the right thing. Her latest case brings her to the office of Brian Magruder who used to work in the Honolulu Public Defender’s Office before going out on his own.

Part of the wealthy and politically connected Magruder family, Brian is a bit of a black sheep of the family as he has gone his own way. Among his many clients is Jean Pfeifer whose case has turned into a media firestorm. Jean claims that her ex-husband, Jason “Jock” Pfeifer abused their son, Nathan. Jean has stopped the visitations and has hidden their son in an effort to protect him from further abuse from his father. She faces contempt charges and jail time unless she brings Nathan back out of hiding and lets him see his dad. Something she isn’t going to do.

This strikes a chord with the media and the viewing public causing a media firestorm with Jean and her attorney at the center of things. Numerous groups get involved making Jean and by extension Nathan part of their agendas. That also ratchets up further the media scrutiny. Brian Magruder initially just wants Val to be part of the security team, and to protect Jean at a public rally the next day. With emotions running high on all sides, something is sure to go bade and it does. Soon, a simple body guard job morphs into a case involving death threat, blackmail, extortion and a missing child as well as the beginnings of a romance between Val and Brian Magruder.

While occasionally reminiscent of the Stephenie Plum type character because Val is also a woman with a sarcastic wit, Val is a much better character. Not only does she have a deeper and more complex background, she also learns from what happens and takes precautions as opposed to Stephanie who makes the same fundamental mistakes in book after book after book. Val is an evolving character over the course of the novel and one that builds quickly on experience.

That fact, coupled with a steady pace, plenty of twists and turns, and characters that come alive for the reader, it is no wonder this book was a Shamus Nominee. It is a very good one.

Pilikia is My Business
Mark Troy
LTD Books
ISBN# 1-55316-533-0
Trade Paperback
245 Pages

Material provided by the author in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2009