Friday, July 31, 2009

Reviewing: "The Container Gardener’s Bible" by Joanna K. Harrison and Miranda Smith

Broken into four sections, this book is designed to teach you everything you every wanted to know about container gardening. The first section is about design and how to come up with a workable design for your gardening area. Before it gets to that though, the section opens with a multi page history lesson on containers which may tell you far more than you every wanted to know. After six pages of history, the book moves into “Why use a container?” There are multiple reasons and not just because of space limitations.

After answering that question in detail, the first section moves through various areas of design, types of planters and pots, colors, single species plantings as well as seasonal single species, formal, informal, etc. Pictures are frequently used to illustrate each idea with text explaining what was trying to be achieved, the setting or location of the containers, type of containers, plants involved or showcased, as well as tips on little extra things you can do to pull off the look. Your personal space, whether it is a balcony, roof top terrace, passageway, sunken garden, etc. plays a huge role as it is part the design and such scenarios are addressed in great detail. Attracting wildlife and being “green” are dominant themes throughout the book and are present here with several pages devoted to aquatic life as well as other ideas.

The second section is devoted to “Seasonal Planting” and starting with page 70 begins with “Spring Planting Ideas.” Tulips, Daffodils, Rosemary, Hyacinth, are all common but this book showcases ways to use them differently. Words won’t really describe how. Like virtually everything in the book, the pictures are what do the idea justice.

After moving through the four seasons with splashes of color everywhere it is time to do the same in “The Kitchen Garden.” No, this isn’t all about a few herbs that can be grown in a windowsill though that is covered. Instead, this third section of the book is about growing fruit and vegetables “…in containers and hanging baskets that will look attractive, taste good, and be far more economical than pricey store-bought produce.” (page 87) So along with herbs and strawberries planters, there are ideas for growing lettuce in a hanging basket, chard and rhubarbs in various pots, fruit trees in pots, and plants that can serve as living aromatics among other ideas.

Of course, buying the best plants is a waste if you don’t know anything about “Preparation and Planting.” Starting with things to consider when buying containers and pots, this fourth section of the book takes readers through everything they need to know about the many choices out there. The right potting mix is as important and again, going “green” or organic is the focus before detailed instructions on how to plant and trees in a variety of containers and locations. Watering, fertilizing, grooming and dealing with pests are just some of the other topics in this thirty-three page section.

A detailed plant directory featuring photographs and information on each plant follows. The information is broken in to mini sections by types of plants such as perennials, annuals, bulbs, climbers, grasses, bamboos, etc. Detailed info that has also appeared in the book earlier is listed here in a quick and easy reference guide.

A glossary, a world wide hardness zone map and a multi page index bring this 191 page book to a close.

Recently released, this book is not only a book of colorful big ideas; it is also a book of day to day practical advice. It helps both the novice gardener get started as well as the seasoned pro see things in a new way. With something for everyone, this book full of colorful photos, tons of information, and practical ideas makes a great gift as well as a personal resource.

The Container Gardener’s Bible: A Step-By-Step Guide To Growing In All Kinds Of Containers, Conditions And Locations
Joanna K. Harrison and Miranda Smith
Quarto Publishing (Rodale)
ISBN# 1594869588
192 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple ©2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Saturday Meeting of MWA-SW

JUMPING INTO THE DIGITAL PUBLISHING WORLD: A WRITER'S TOOL KIT Doris Booth, CEO and WritersEducation. com speaks to writers on how to SUCCEED AND NAVIGATE within the soaring electronic and declining traditional book industry. The electronic book industry is growing by triple digits. The good news for writers is that this new animal is content hungry.

MWA-SW meet monthly on the first Saturday at Texas Land & Cattle, 812 South Central Expressway, Richardson, TX 75080 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. The $5.00 door fee pays for our free coffee/tea and use of the room. Stay, eat lunch and mingle/network.

For more information, Call Jeannie Furlong @ 214-663-1708 Info.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reviewing: "Tilt A Whirl" by Chris Grabenstein

Sea Haven, New Jersey is an eighteen mile long barrier island consisting of motels, beach houses, bait shops, etc. For twenty-four year old Danny Boyle it is home and he works part time as an unarmed summer cop who helps with the influx of tourists in the muggy summer months. He just never expected to work a murder scene.

But, that is exactly what quickly happens because Danny also serves as the driver for John Ceepak. Ceepak used to be a military policeman, spent time in Iraq, and has been forced to deal with some really bad guys on more than one occasion. War is hell and Ceepak has lived it and has the memories. Ceepak is the man you want to follow into battle and is the man you want on your side. He lives by “The Code” that few these days can understand let alone follow.

The blonde girl, about thirteen years old, wearing a blood soaked dress and screaming as she comes up an avenue towards The Pancake Palace early one morning is a reminder that few live by Ceepak’s code. She is Ashley Hart, the daughter of Reginald and Betty Hall Heart. Betty Hall used to be on the local TV as the bubbly weather person. Reginald Hart was a businessman and real estate developer who did some rather unorthodox things and was very wealthy. Now, he is very dead having been gunned down on the Tilt-A-Whirl ride while sitting next to his daughter. The fact that the ride at the Sunnyside Play Land wasn’t even open yet this Saturday morning isn’t going to matter to the media or scared tourists. The fact that a crazed killer is wandering around the area is a chamber of commerce disaster and Chief Cosgrove wants it solved fast. He puts Ceepak and by extension his driver, Boyle, on the case. Murder is just the start of a twisting tale that ultimately leads to a horrifying conclusion.

Told at a fast pace, this is a read that quickly pulls the reader into the quirks of location and character. Both elements quickly come to life for the reader as back story is skillfully woven into dialogue and the occasional flashback. In a departure from most mysteries, the story is told in the first person from the Danny Boyle’s perspective while the real protagonist is Ceepak. This allows readers to get deeper into the Ceepak character because he is being observed while also getting a good idea of Danny’s character. It also works with the other characters that are never cardboard cutouts and instead are usually realistic and sometimes a bit quirky.

As some have noted, the cover does not remotely do justice to the book. Hot pink in background the cover prominently features a rollercoaster and not the ride depicted in the book. Though, there is a rollercoaster ride at the mythical Sunnyside Play Land so there is a vague link. While the design created by Michael Fusco seems very wrong, it does bring glances and inquires from folks when the book is out in public. More than one neighbor came over to see what I was working on now because they had spotted the cover as I sat reading on my apartment porch. Sometimes they came over at the most inopportune times.

The bottom line here is this is a book that fires on all cylinders and takes the reader on a very good ride. Sometimes funny, sometimes dark, this is a novel that quickly becomes riveting and one of the best I have read in a very long time. Start of a series, this is a very good one and a book you simply have to read.

Tilt-A Whirl
Chris Grabenstein
Carol & Graf (Avalon Publishing Group, Inc.)
ISBN# 0-78671-781-5
Trade Paperback
330 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Reviewing: "The Duchess To The Rescue: A Bones & The Duchess Mystery"

At first Bones thinks it has to be a joke. Bones used to be a cop in the small town of Ephesus, Pennsylvania. He got fired for doing a good thing for a homeless woman. He’s made the local police and especially the police chief look weak by solving cases with the help of The Duchess (Verity Buscador). But, this really takes the cake.

Arrested while eating at the Broad Street Hotel, Bones is quickly transported to the local jail. He is accused of hit and run with his car and spray painting graffiti around town. Most of the graffiti makes fun of Police Chief Hunsicker and it is no secret that the two men don’t get along.

Clearly Bones needs the help of The Duchess to prove that he didn’t do any of it. The case looks bad because his car is damaged, there are empty spray paint cans in the backseat area of his car, and he has no witnesses to prove that he is innocent. Good thing her mom, Quintessa, is a lawyer. With mom handling stuff in the courtroom and The Duchess working the teen graffiti artist angle, it won’t be long before the real person who did all of it will be identified.

As in the other books in the series, Aspergers and the role it plays in the life of The Duchess and those that care about her is discussed in the course of the solving the mystery. While the Aspergers is always present, it does not dominate the story. Instead, issues familiar to kids of feeling alone, bullying, and other things are at the forefront of this book. The truth can be a heavy burden and once again The Duchess sees things clearly while the adults in her world do not. The result is another strong mystery for readers in the targeted age group of forth to seventh grade readers that provides a good moral and a good tale.

The Duchess To The Rescue: A Bones & The Duchess Mystery
Alexandra Eden
Allen A. Knoll, Publishers
ISBN# 1-888310-55-3
122 Pages

Book provided by the publisher in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Reviewing: "Hose Monkey" by Tony Spinosa

Mid February 2004 finds Long Island, New York cold and dreary. So too is the life of former NYPD Detective Joe Serpe. His life is a wreckage of shattered dreams and hopes. His fifteen year marriage has collapsed with no hope of reconciliation. His former partner committed suicide during a police corruption investigation that took both of their jobs and ended any chance of having a career in law enforcement. Then, there is his brother, Vinny, a firefighter who died running for his life as Tower One fell. Vinny had been the only one to stand by him while his life crumbled and it was Vinny who took him into his home where he had no other place to go but the streets. Vinny’s home became Joe Serpe’s with Vinny’s death and his voice still plays daily on the outgoing message on the phone answering machine. Joe Serpe’s existence has shrunk down to living as a ghost of his former self while he delivers home heating oil by day and drinks Vodka heavily each night.

Also dealing with loss is Bob Healy who lost his wife Mary to pancreatic cancer. His period of loss has been shorter, only six months, but it is just as painfully deep. He’s trying to adjust, not only to her loss, but to doing all the things she used to routinely take care of which includes getting the heating oil delivered. He also was the lead Internal Affairs Detective on Serpe’s case.

By coincidence or stroke of luck, Joe Serpe ends up making a delivery to Healy’s home. That visit rekindles bitterness between the two men as well as long unfinished business. At almost the same time a mentally handicapped coworker of Joe’s is killed. The local police figure it to be the work of gangs. Joe disagrees and before long Joe Serpe and Bob Healy are in contact and soon grudgingly working together to find justice for the dead while trying to bury their burdens from the past.

You may not have heard of Tony Spinosa. If you have heard of Reed Farrel Coleman the author who has a slew of awards for his Moe Prager series (“Walking The Perfect Square” and others)

then you will be interested in his pseudonym Tony Spinosa. This book is a far different book than the Moe Prager series though familiar themes are again present here.

Grittier in all aspects, this first novel in the Joe Serpe series features tough language, graphic violence and a man at the proverbial end of the line in many ways. Joe is just going through the motions of a bare existence that is empathetically painful for the reader. His depression and anger at the world fueled nightly by Vodka figuratively drips off of the pages in the first half of the book.

Guilt is a powerful motivator and Joe has plenty to feel guilty about. Love is a powerful motivator as well and that works on Joe almost as well as the guilt does. Once Joe begins to come alive as a human being again along with being an investigator, he becomes a threat to others. Readers quickly learn just how good a cop Joe was back in the day.

Written in a third person tough guy style far different than the Moe Prager series, this complex intriguing read blends plenty of mystery, violence, and the beginnings of a romance into a hard hitting story.

Hose Monkey
Tony Spinosa
Bleak House Books (Big Earth Publishing)
ISBN# 1-932557-18-0
292 Pages

My sincere thanks to the staff of the Irving Public Library in Irving, Texas who sent a copy of the book to my local library in Plano, Texas. Interlibrary loan is a wonderful thing.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reviewing: "Nightwalkers: A Novel" by P. T. Deutermann

It began with “The Cat Dancers” and now in this fourth book, Cam Richter needs a break. “Hide and Seek Investigations” is doing well and the events of “The Moonpool” case are finally beginning to fade somewhat. Cam is tired of living in Triboro and tired of the tedium of the usual cases the company has going. Unlike Sharon McCone in “Burn Out” (written by Marcia Muller) he isn’t depressed or anything like that. Cam Richter has always done best when he has had a challenge and these days he needs a new challenge and a change of scenery.

He may have found both with his purchase of “Glory’s End.” A sprawling antebellum plantation of 700 acres located on the banks of the Dan River in North Carolina that also happens to be home to a Civil War massacre. History that hasn’t ever changed for some of his neighbors and is just as powerful today as then. Their ways are very strange to Cam and he has to adjust to their expectations as well as changing a few of his own.

Cam has another problem that takes a higher priority over the home renovation project. Renovation of the plantation home could take years. He won’t have that time if ex-con Billie Ray Breen follows through on his often made threats to get even. Billie Ray Breen unfortunately survived the shoot out with Cam years ago and the nasty piece of work is getting early release from prison.

Before long, “Glory’s End” becomes the site of a psychological and occasional shooting war as Cam deals with the past in more ways than one. Vendettas are an age old theme of the human race and its literature and that idea is worked well here.

This fourth in the series sheds little new light on the Cam Richter character or for that matter any of his team from “Hide and Seek Investigations.” Instead, much like what James Lee Burke often does in his Dave Robicheaux novels, the primary focus is on the past. The past becomes a character in its own right and that certainly is true here. “Glory’s End” officially established in 1838 has had a long and storied history as has the surrounding North Carolina and Virginia countryside. There is literally blood in the land and the land still draws blood in this modern age. Deutermann brings that Civil War past to life and pays homage to it while at the same time not celebrating the heinous aspects of it.

Along the way, he populates the book with a complex mystery that is obvious only in a couple of spots, plenty of action and intrigue, along with fully formed realistic characters engaged in their lives. The result is another very good book in a series that one hopes is not ending but branching off into a new direction for Cam and his dogs.

Nightwalkers: A Novel
P. T. Deutermann
St. Martin’s Press
June 2009
ISBN# 0-312-37241-8
311 Pages

Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Library System.

If you haven't read this series, start with "The Cat Dancers."

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

MOONDAY: The 40th Anniversary of the First Moon Landing!



The National Space Society of North Texas



The 40th Anniversary of the First Moon Landing!
Sunday, July 19, 2009—1:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Door prizes will be awarded every half-hour (from 1:30-5:00) in addition to the special prizes given during auditorium presentations.

Visitors will receive a "space kit" with space flight-oriented posters, mouse pads, Moon maps, stickers, puzzles, and other items, while supplies last.

1:30-2:15: Marianne Dyson, former NASA Flight Controller and author of space-themed books including Home on the Moon for middle-school readers, presents "Next Step: The Moon" for families (see

2:30-3:15: Craig Nelson (see will speak about his newest book, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon. Both he and Marianne Dyson will be available to sign their books thoughout the day.

3:30-4:15: Ron DiIulio, Planetarium and Astronomy Lab Director in the Department of Physics at the University of North Texas, presents "How to Find a Fallen Star" about the origins of the solar system, and awards an actual meteorite from outer space to one lucky audience member.

Chaz Hafey, Astronomy and Physics Lab Coordinator for Brookhaven College, fascinates students of all ages with actual lunar soil and rock samples provided by NASA. The program, at 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00 p.m., is free—but space is limited, so call (214) 350-1651 for a reservation.

The Dallas Area Rocket Society (DARS) will give a model rocket- building class at 2:30 p.m. for students age 10 and up. The $25.00 fee includes the model rocket kit, two rocket motors and a one-year membership in DARS which provides students a launch venue for their rockets. Call (214) 350-1651 to enroll.

And many more exciting presentations.

Go to or call (214) 350-1651 for more information.

Frontiers of Flight Museum
6911 Lemmon Avenue
Dallas, Texas 75209

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reviewing: "Don't Look Twice" by Andrew Gross

Lieutenant Ty Hauck returns in this sequel to “The Dark Tide” with a bang. It has been a year since those events and much has changed. Hauck has become something of a media darling. His relationship with Karen has become increasingly problematic far beyond the different worlds they inhabit. Then, there is his 13 year old daughter, Jessie who is moving into adolescence and Ty is experiencing the culture shock that hits all fathers. He has all that and a lot more on his mind on a routine Saturday morning when he stops to pick up a few things at the local Exxon station.

A routine morning until the gunman, seemingly targeting Ty Hauck at first, opens fire sending bullets into the Exxon station. In the aftermath, while Jessie and Ty survive, the man in line behind them was shot twice in the chest and killed. The dead man was a federal prosecutor by the name of David Sanger working out of Hartford, Connecticut. Ty and his team from the Violent Crimes Unit of the Greenwich Police will soon be working a wide ranging investigation that leads far from the initial shooting with the help and hindrance of the FBI.

Experience has shown that the more strident blurbs on a book or in the promotional copy, the weaker the book and that is certainly the case here. Following the same tired formula of the previous book with this character, this is another paint by the numbers thriller despite the promising beginning. It doesn’t take too long to meet the newest vulnerable widow who had no idea her husband had hundreds of thousands of dollars in a secret account. Ty Hauck is, of course, attracted to her and her family while the last widow he romanced seems to be moving on with her life. There are other comparisons but it becomes tedious to list all the way this book follows the same format of "The Dark Tide".

Formulaic with its clichéd and shallow characters, teasers at the end of each very short chapter, frantic pacing encouraging readers to ignore the shallowness of this extended short story, the resulting read shows virtually zero improvement over the previous book. Fans of the author’s work as co-author to James Patterson through a number of novels may appreciate this read. Those looking for something beyond clichéd, shallow characters and an actual story of any depth, will not.

Don’t Look Twice
Andrew Gross
William Morrow (Harper Collins Publishers)
March 2009
384 Pages

ARC received through the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mini Review: "Asian Texans" edited by Irwin A. Tang

Lost in much of the discussion and exploration of the history of Texas is the role of the Asian culture in Texas. Charting the history of The Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, and others in Texas, Editor Irwin A. Tang puts the past and the recent present into interesting perspective. Thanks to his team of more than 20 researchers and writers and a five year effort, the resulting 404 page book is a comprehensive and detailed accounting of an often overlooked area of Texas History. Heavy with facts and figures, the work is dry at times, but consistently highly informative.

Asian Texans: Our Histories and Our Lives
Edited by Irwin A. Tang
The it Works
March 2008
ISBN# 978-0-9679433-7-4
402 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reviewing: "Landscaping With Fruit" by Lee Reich

Growing your own vegetables and fruits has come back into favor in the last year thanks to the bad economy. Instead of focusing primarily on beauty in the landscape a lot of folks went in a new direction and began planting with the idea of growing food. As the author notes in the introduction, one can plant fruit producing plants that also provide beauty in the landscape.

After the introduction, the book is essentially divided into two parts though that organization is never expressly stated by the author. The first half of the book is all about the technical details. The second half is all about the various plants. Of course, various plants are discussed and there are photographs of them in the first section, but the overriding material is regarding landscape design and placement of the plants as well as how to maintain them.

The first chapter covers “Landscape Design Basics.” As implied by the title, it is how to figure out how one yard looks better that another(and not just because everything is alive and thriving), how to figure out what you have, what you want, how to use different plants to achieve different goals, etc.

“Considerations In Planting” follows with topics on weather, your local soil, types of sunlight in your area, etc.

This leads directly into the chapter titled “Growing The Plants.” Spending money and effort on planting is doomed to failure if you don’t know what will grow best, how to care for your soil, prune and protect against pests of all types, among other topics.

Various plans for several different layouts are found in the next section titled “Home Landscape Plans.” Starting on page 61, you are led through “A Patio Fruitscape,” and “A Modular Backyard” and a very neat design for “A Children’s Garden” (which also appeals to adults as a retreat) and many others.

Starting on page 73 is the “Guide To Fruiting Landscape Plants.” The plants were selected for landscaping in temperate climates which the author interestingly defines as “… having distinct winter and summer seasons.” (P.73) After an overview table listing the name of the plant, what it usually produces in terms of quantity, zones it lives in according to USDA and AHS, landscape use, prominent ornamental qualities, ( types of bloom, leaf, color, etc.) among other categories, the book moves into very detailed descriptions of the plants. Along with much of the info listed in the chart being repeated here there are photographs of the plants and plenty of growing tips. Nearly forty plants are listed and include several varieties of cherries, currants, kiwi fruit, pear and others. There are also suggestions for fruit trees in pots using various types of citrus, as well as fig, kumquat, and others.

A list of suppliers, reading resources, zone maps and eleven page index bring this very helpful book to a close.

Despite the photographed lusciousness of many of the plants in the book, which would indicate a heavy need of water, many plants such as the “Russian Olive” ( Pages 162-163) prefer it drier with low humidity. So, while not specific to Texas readers, this book does feature plants that will work here as well as various other places in this country. Be sure to read all the info for each plant so that you can make a good decision as to what fits best in your landscape.

Comprehensive and detailed, 191 page book provides a wealth of good advice in how to incorporate fruit bearing plants your landscape. While it might be trendy among some right now to do so, this book will show you what to do to keep fruit coming from your landscape long after the fad has passed.

Landscaping With Fruit
Lee Reich
Storey Publishing
ISBN# 978-1-60342-091-4
191 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Reviewing: "Williams-Sonoma: New Flavors for Soups--Classic Recipes Redefined"

With recipes by Adam Ried, this colorful book is organized by four sections labeled for each season of the year. The forty-four soup and a few stew recipes are organized that way to take advantage of what should be in stock and of the highest quality at that time. After an intro that pushes using locally grown produce, organic when possible, and seasonal importance along with being bold in flavors and providing texture in the soup, “Spring” kicks off the recipes.

It begins on pages 16/ 17 with “Leek And Asparagus Vichyssoise” and includes a full color picture. Like others cookbooks from Williams-Sonoma each recipe has detailed directions, an extensive list of ingredients, a serving count, and some general tips along with directions on how to serve the completed dish. That same formula continues through other recipes in this chapter such as “Artichoke And Onion Soup With Green Garlic” (Pages 22-25), “Caramelized Onion Soup With Cheese Croutons” (Pages 28-29), “Chilled Sour Cherry Soup With Tarragon” (Pages 40-41) and others.

“Summer” section kicks off rightfully so with a soup using tomatoes in “Summer Vegetable Minestra With Orzo And Arugula Pesto” (Pages 48-49). If that doesn’t appeal, there is the “Grilled Vegetable Gazpacho” (Pages 54-55), “Lobster And Sweet Corn Chowder” (Pages 60-61) or the “Tomato- Bread Soup With Toasted Garlic Oil” (Pages 62-63 which really means adding at the end toasted garlic smothered in oil) among many others. Zucchini, the afore mentioned garlic, and tomatoes are frequent ingredients in these recipes.

The “Fall” section kicks off on pages 80 and 81 with the “Pumpkin Soup With Sweet And Spicy Pumpkin Seeds.” If that doesn’t appeal the following recipe is “Mussels In Yellow Curry Broth With Thai Basil” (Pages 82-83). Tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms are the primary ingredients for these recipes along with turkey and ham.

Pages 112-173 kick off “Winter” with “Kale And Roasted Sweet Potato Soup With Lamb Sausage.” Beans and cheeses are primary here with recipes such as “Cheddar And Hard Cider Soup With Fried Shallots” (Pages 118-119) and “Chicken And Hominy Soup With Ancho Chiles “(Pages 132-155) among others.

The book moves to a close with a section on fundamentals aimed at making stocks and broths of various types and cooking dried beans, nuts and seeds and other tips. That is followed by a multi page easy to use chart listing various ingredients and their seasonal availabilities. A multi page glossary and index follow bringing this 160 page book to a close.

Like other books in the series, each dish is lovingly photographed and often rather complex. Those with strong cooking skills won’t be intimidated but those with weak skills or very finicky eaters in the family may wish to consider other books in this area. Screams of “Yuck!” and “Oh, that looks so gross!” from my sons while examining this book do not bode well for the future use of the book in my kitchen.

Servings or proportions are noted, but it would appear based on the extreme close up photography that the portions are small. It is also worth noting that this recently released book contains absolutely zero nutritional info. So readers concerned with fat intake, sodium, etc, will have to examine the ingredients for each recipe to determine suitability. In a few recipes, suggestions are made for using a low sodium broth or stock as part of the soup base. With the rising problem of obesity in this country and so many people watching their diets for such important needs, it is surprising that cookbooks are still being published without such very important information. One hopes that is something that Williams-Sonoma will rectify in the future.

Other than that dietary concern, overall the 160 page cookbook is done very well. Filled with numerous recipes that will take you in many different ways the cookbook does live up to its title very well. Whether it works for you and your family depends on your abilities in the kitchen and the taste buds involved.

Williams-Sonoma: New Flavors for Soups—Classic Recipes Redefined
Recipes by Adam Ried
Photos by Kate Sears
Oxmoor House
February, 2009
ISBN# 0-8487-3271-5
159 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Reviewing: "Holy Smoke: A Bones & the Duchess Mystery" by Alendra Eden

This second adventure finds Bones and The Duchess (Verity Buscador), soon working together again to solve a suspicious fire at the local church. Ephesus, Pennsylvania is a small borough with around six thousand folks. Their all volunteer fire department is pushed to the max by the blaze at The Christian Fellowship Church. Because of recent events involving the missing girls’ case (“To Oz and Back”), Reverend Sterling Ringer hires Bones to find out who started the fire. As a condition of being hired, Bones has to get The Duchess to help.

He, like many others in the borough, believe that The Duchess actually was the one that solved that case. That reputation, along with doing the right thing, is what caused Bones to lose his job with the local police in the aftermath of that case. Unemployed and still living at Broad Street Hotel run by The Duchess’ grandparents the case means he is available and will get paid – if he can get the Duchess to help. The Duchess already is sure who did it but Bones isn’t sure and before long the two are investigating suspects and working the case

Aimed at readers in the 9 to 12 year old age range, this is the second novel in the series featuring The Duchess. A bright twelve year old with Asperser’s syndrome who sees things in a different way than most. While the actual syndrome is quite broad, her situation is very narrowly defined. Therefore, her situation is only occasionally apparent as the story moves forward.

She is joined by this novel by Danny, the adopted son of the Reverend and his wife. His behavior could be interpreted be readers as classic ADHD though it isn’t spelled out directly as it is for the Duchess. It is noted in the story that he isn’t mediated because it is a small town and folks are understanding of him.

With a theme of forgiveness and understanding, this is an interesting tale is an enjoyable second installment in the series. It works well for the targeted age group though more advanced readers may find it some what lacking. Read as a stand alone or as part of the series, the tale is a good one.

Holy Smoke: A Bones & The Duchess Mystery
Alexandra Eden
Allen A. Knoll Publishers
ISBN# 1-888310-46-4
117 Pages

Book provided by the publisher in exchange for my objective review. The also enjoable and first book in the series is "To Oz And Back."

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Reviewing: "Loser's Town" by Daniel Depp

Former stuntman David Spandau now works as a private investigator. His view of Los Angeles and the machinations of Hollywood is a cynical one filled with black humor. That might be part of why his wife, Dee, left him. Or the fact that being a stuntman was the one job he truly loved and that just isn’t possible anymore. The spirit is willing but the body just can’t do the job anymore. Somehow he still does get on the horses to do rodeo work from time to time along with the private investigator work. Though he is thinking seriously about leaving Los Angeles once and fore all as the private investigator work is numbing him to what is good in life.

Walter Coren owns “Coren and Associates, Personal Security and Investigations.” He asked Spandau to come back early from his vacation to work the Bobby Dye case. Dye is a hot young commodity in Hollywood who got a death threat. At least, that is what Dye says though Spandau is pretty sure the death threat is fake. The more time he spends on the case though the more he realizes that Dye is at the center of something very nasty. The death threat might be fake but the blackmail is very real.

Written by the brother of actor Johnny Depp, it would be easy to try and link the characters and events in the novel to real life. Something he clearly tried to avoid when he wrote in the author’s note:

They are not They.
He, She, or It is not You.
Any resemblance in this book
To people living or deceased
Is purely coincidental
and will merely be taken by the author
as a tribute to his genius.

Also, because some folks insist on doing so anyway and thereby do a disservice to a very good book.

This first novel in a planned series is a dark and twisting read full of deceitful characters, greed, mystery and black humor. The author takes a clichéd stereotype of the broken and bitter stuntman and makes it work in a tale that doesn’t tie everything together in a nice bow in the end. The read isn’t linear either which will annoy some readers as folks appear in the book and then vanish for a number of chapters before reappearing. Much like real life, characters in this novel muddle around in various directions unsure of what is going on and who is responsible. That fact is reflected in the flow of a book that isn’t setup in the usual way these days of hero stuff in odd numbered chapters and villain(s) in even numbered chapters.

For some readers the above are flaws and therefore the book is not a good one. If those sound like flaws to you then probably this isn’t the book for you. The real flaw in the work is in regards to point of view shifts as, on occasion, the author shifts between characters in a clunky way. It isn’t often, but it does stand out when it does happen.

Despite that issue, the overall read is a very good one. Despite his connections, or maybe inspite of them, the work isn’t written in a simplistic easy to film in Hollywood manner. Instead, Spandau is an interesting and all too real character who spends quite a lot of time in his own head thinking which won’t translate easily to the screen. He is a complex man in a complex noirish style tale where nothing is happiness and light. Just like real life, things happen and not everything is easily explained or solved in this book. If you like your book dark and filled with black humor, occasional references to drugs and sex, plenty of street language and an overall attitude that considers everyone as crap, this could be the book for you.

Loser’s Town: A David Spandau Novel
Daniel Depp
Simon & Schuster
March, 2009
ISBN# 1-4391-0143-4
304 Pages

ARC received via the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Monday, July 06, 2009

Barry's Reviews: "The Sunrise Guns" by William Colt MacDonald

by William Colt MacDonald

As alluded to in my review of Son of a Wanted Man, I’ve lately been revisiting my first childhood and getting a head start on the second while I can still enjoy it by watching a lot of B-western films, mostly rented from Netflix but occasionally showing up on Turner Classic Movies. (If you’re similarly nostalgic, the outstanding Old Corral website is a must.) Among the rentals have been entries in the long-lived Republic Pictures series “The Three Mesquiteers,” which depicted the adventures of Tucson Smith, Stony Brooke, and Lullaby Joslin.

As I learned from the credits, the Mesquiteers were created by the prolific western writer William Colt MacDonald. According to a Wikipedia article, two of them originally appeared in the 1929 novel Restless Guns. But it was the 1933 Law of the Forty-Fives, later renamed The Sunrise Guns, that “officially” began the series, which consists of six titles.

The movies tended to emphasize Stony Brooke as the lead character, but The Sunrise Guns features Tucson Smith. The book opens when he and Stony are in the town of Juarez in Mexico, having come there seeking a change of scenery and some excitement. They’re disappointed at not having found any of the latter—until they observe a Mexican approach another man who has just emerged from Big Tim’s Palace. They recognize the other man as Hugo Hayden, wealthy owner of the Double-H cattle ranch. The Mexican tries to pull a gun on Hayden, but the latter knocks him down. The Mexican hurries away, and Hayden hails a passing carriage and rides off into the night.

Tucson and Stony wander along until they come to a disreputable neighborhood and enter a cantina. There they spot Hayden among the seedy clientele, and Tucson notices a man gazing intently at Hayden while he slowly removes a gun from its holster. Tucson draws and fires his own gun, downing the would-be assassin.

Chaos ensues, and the trio bolts from the cantina, initially pursued by the Mexican police. Once things settle down a bit, Hayden explains that he was lured to Juarez by someone wanting to sell a valuable bull. “Lookin’ for a chance to start an argument and plug you,” Stony says. Hayden’s ranch is near the town of Yavapai, where there has been trouble of late. A group of unknown raiders have killed a number of men, settlements have been attacked, and cattle have been rustled. Hayden says he wants Tucson and Stony to join his crew—not as cow-punchers, but rather as bodyguards and investigators.

They agree and have barely entered Yavapai when Hayden is gunned down in an ambush. Tucson and Stony determine to stay on and find out who is behind it, knowing that when they do, they’ll also learn the identity of the raiders’ boss. They’re aided in their investigations by the sheriff and his deputy, Lullaby Joslin.

I’ve barely described some of the events in the first four chapters in a book of twenty-two chapters, a book that is pure pulpy delight for fans of western fiction, especially B-western films. As far as I’m aware, The Sunrise Guns was never filmed as one of the Mesquiteers movies. That’s a shame because it would have been a wild movie. It even has a super-villain type, a man named Roantell who has allegedly come to the region to study snakes. If I point out that he has a pit of poisonous snakes beneath a trap door in his home, that Tucson confronts him in said home…well, you can probably guess that their meeting isn’t a polite tea party.

This is not a book for someone who wants in-depth character studies or brilliant insights into the human condition. This is the literary equivalent of the westerns kids watched in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s at Saturday matinees, and on early 1950s television. There is, quite literally, action in every chapter: guns spurting flame and smoke, bullets cutting the air. Reading it, one has the feeling that William Colt MacDonald loved every minute of the writing.

I couldn’t put it down, and wholeheartedly recommend that fans of this sort of adventure find copies of The Sunrise Guns.

That said, let me include the caveat that MacDonald employed some racial stereotyping and epithets most modern readers will find offensive, but which they’ll put into the context of the time he was writing about and the time in which he wrote.

Barry Ergang © 2009

Former Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and current First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, Barry Ergang's work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. He was a 2007 Derringer Award winner.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Food? Really?

Having recieved quite a few books through the Amazon Vine Program since joining it a few months ago, I decided to request something different. None of the books available were right for me, the electronic stuff I wanted was gone, so I went with a food item. At least, they claimed it was a food item.

These granola bars are designed to give one 36% of the recommended daily value for fiber as well as being good for you. They do this by not including “High Fructose Corn Syrup” and by blending other sugars of various types, instant coffee, salt, soy, and a host of other things. Each of the little bars contains 4 grams of fat, 125 milligrams of salt, and 25 grams of total carbohydrate and 2 grams of protein.

And the taste is absolutely hideous.

These granola bars are so soft and gross looking one would think something happened during shipping. They had all the consistency and appearance of something just this side of melted when the package arrived. The chocolate drizzled cross the top of the bar sticks to the inside wrapper and the chocolate on the underside begins to melt to your fingers as soon as you touch it. There is an odd odor to the bar upon opening the package that smells almost like burned coffee.

That same burned coffee smell is carried through in the taste. With all the consistency and texture of wet cardboard covered in chocolate and burned coffee, the product is not a flavor I can appreciate at any level. I have no idea if they do anything regarding fiber as after gagging two down over the course of a week I simply couldn’t force myself to eat any of the remaining 3 in the package.

Not only will I never, ever, eat another one of these willingly again, many folks have told me that these bars are typical quality and taste of what South Beach Living produces. Good to know as I will leave their products on the shelves for those that like them. Based on this one, they aren’t for me.

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2009

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Reviewing: "Baby Shark's Jugglers At The Border" by Robert Fate

October 1958 finds Kristen Van Dijk, aka Baby Shark, once again hard at work as a private investigator. Partnered with private investigator Otis Millet, she still prefers to let her guns do the talking for her. Some folks just can’t be reasoned with other than at the muzzle of a roaring gun. Both Baby Shark and her guns have had a lot of practice in the series so far and this fourth book promises more of the same.

After wrapping up the last pieces of one case, the next one is going to be hard to deal with. Otis has always been very quiet about his past and it comes as a shock that he has a wife. A wife that he never divorced and hasn’t seen in years. Back when she used to be a stripper she went by the moniker of “The Dallas Firecracker” but to Otis she was Dixie. She has a different name now but there is no mistaking the fact that it is her body lying in the Tarrant County Morgue. After identifying the body, Otis wants answers and Lt. Carl Lynch of the Fort Worth Homicide division has few answers. Obviously, it was a homicide considering both her and the male she was with in her apartment took numerous slugs from a Walther PPK, but beyond that Detective Carl Lynch has little evidence and few clues. The Fort Worth Homicide Detective is pleased, at least initially, to have the help of Otis and Baby Shark.

As if he ever had a choice.

In a quest for answers that leads back and forth across Texas and New Mexico, Otis and Baby Shark follow a trail of deceit and treachery. When things begin to turn sideways they let their guns settle the matter in their favor. This latest installment continues the violent series that contains some of the best hardboiled characters written these days. While Baby Shark and Otis have been pretty much fleshed out to this point in the present time of the 50s, the read provides plenty of backstory into Otis long before he met Baby Shark. As such, it explains much of who he is and how he views life. Along the way there is plenty of mystery, action and gunplay to keep readers highly entertained. Coming in September, this is one book you absolutely do not want to miss.

If, somehow, you have missed this hardboiled series, start with the violent and very good beginning in “Baby Shark.”

Follow that up with “Baby Shark’s Beaumont Blues” and then “Baby Shark’s High Plains Redemption.” Simply good stuff.

Baby Shark’s Jugglers At The Border
Robert Fate
Capital Crime Press
September 2009
Trade Paperback
287 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Friday, July 03, 2009

Reviewing: "Burn Out" by Marcia Muller

It is late October and Sharon McCone is hiding out at the ranch near Tufa Lake located in the high desert country of California near Yosemite. Depression has a tight grip on her mind and soul with her questioning nearly everything in her life. Events in the “Ever Running Man” have taken a huge toll and eight months later things aren’t any better. Everything that is except her love for her husband Hy. It was his idea that Sharon come out to this ranch for a break instead of the Touchstone ranch on the Mendocino Coast and so far it hasn’t done any good. The plan remains to rest and think about what she wants to do in the future. Her days running the investigation business and dealing with the bad guys/gals just might be over.

That is until she becomes haunted by the sight of a local Indian girl standing outside a local convienice store. She was a troubled teen, that much was clear, and Sharon honored her own internal promise to stay away from everyone and investigate nothing. One promise to herself that she will regret honoring as that girl was in serious trouble and she could have helped her.

While some call this book a sequel to the “Ever Running Man” it isn’t. Instead, this book is the latest installment in a long running series. Those events are alluded to in several places and it isn’t necessary to have read that novel to clearly understand what is happing in this book.

Sharon is on her own for most of this book in a tale of psychology just as much as crime. Author Marcia Muller quickly pulls readers into the world of depression while at the same time creating a first class mystery full of suspects, twists and turns, many clues and plenty of action. The read moves at a quick pace despite the presence of many internal moments as Sharon works the cases of the troubled teen and her own deeply troubled psyche. The result is a very good read and one that will pull you deep inside before finally spitting you out at the end.

Burn Out
Marcia Muller
Grand Central Publishing
ISBN# 0-446-58107-0
309 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Reviewing: "Loitering With Intent: A Stone Barrington Novel" by Stuart Woods

Stone Barrington is back and this time he soon will be in Key West. Having just been dumped by his latest romantic interest the fact that Bill Eggers wants him to go track down the son of a client is a great excuse to get out off New York. Warren Keating needs to finds his estranged son, Evan Keating, so that he can sell the family business. A deal worth millions is at stake and Dad and Son are not on speaking terms. Bill Eggers wants Stone to take the legal paperwork down to Key West, find the son, get him to sign off on everything, get the paperwork back to New York. The whole deal has to be done within the week.

It’s the dead of winter and Stone’s friend and NYPD Detective Dino Bacchetti jumps at the chance to tag along to Key West. Their plan is to find the son quick and get the work done so they can have a few days to just hang out. Getting to Key West is easy enough since Stone has a private plane. Finding the son is easy enough as well. Then, things get weird and difficult.

This is typical Stone Barrington. Plenty of expensive food is consumed, plenty of expensive liquor, Stone gets action with someone of the female persuasion repeatedly in great detail, and there is plenty of mystery and deception to go around. People die, relationships end, and Stone is bummed for a few minutes before something gets him going again. Introspection is a fleeting concern and is thought of much more than birth control or safe sex.

The very limited complexity and subtly in this book reside with the mystery. An apparent twist that Mr. Woods has repeatedly used before and shouldn’t ever again use is used in this novel. Readers familiar with his various series won’t be surprised when the twist turns out not to be a twist after all. Once that happens, it becomes a completely formulaic read as events play out exactly as expected with no surprise for the reader.

No doubt a NY Times Bestseller at some point, the latest fluff from Stuart Woods is typical super stud Stone Barrington. If anything, this novel is weaker than the last several novels in this series and shows that it is possible to backslide just went things were looking a bit better from a reader standpoint. It does serve as a momentary distraction and a quick way to pass the time between books of substance. Not that there is anything wrong with that, per se, but one does miss the meatier books that came from Woods early in his career. Lately it would appear that Stuart Woods is doing the exact same thing as this title with his career and he has shown that he can be a much better writer than that.

Loitering With Intent: A Stone Barrington Novel
Stuart Woods
G. P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Group)
ISBN# 978-0-399-15578-9
293 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Reviewing: "Dead Men's Dust" by Matt Hilton

Joe Hunter used to be in Special Forces working against the terrorists. He did it for fourteen years and was good at it. Those skills don’t exactly translate well to civilian life so he finds himself working on the edge of things and solving problems that require the answer of gun or fist.

His sister in law, Jenny, wants him to travel to the U. S. to find his big brother, John. He abandoned her and the kids years ago and now she has gotten a note in the mail from his current girlfriend asking for help. Postmarked out of Arkansas, the note explains that John is missing and is begging for help. The girlfriend wants Joe to come help and so does Jenny. With the kids needing their dad and plenty of guilt among other factors, John agrees to travel to America and find his wayward brother.

John Hunter is up to his eyeballs in trouble and doesn’t know all of it. He owes money to some very dangerous people for one thing. The bigger issue is that he has several other enemies who pursue him for reasons unknown. But, Joe and a couple of his ex military friends are also on John’s trial and coming to help if they can get to him in time. It will all culminate in a violent showdown in Southern California.

Labeled by some as the poor man’s “Jack’s Reacher” the comparison is simplistic and flawed. Beyond the note of acknowledgement thanking Lee Child and the fact that Joe Hunter is ex-military, the two characters have little in common beyond a nose for trouble. The ability to get one’s self in trouble, no matter the best laid plans, is a requirement for every mystery or thriller character.

Character development and writing styles are massively different as well with most of Joe Hunter written from the first person perspective. Unlike the Jack Reacher character, Joe Hunter is verbose and occasionally guilty of a lack of focus on the issue at hand. One wonders if they were to meet whether Reacher would get annoyed at some point and cuff Joe in the back of the head while telling him to pay attention.

Of course, the major weakness in the novel is the storyline of the talented and crazed serial killer. Every few chapters, readers must immerse themselves into the tortured logic of his reality while he kills and kills again, plots and plots again, and is ever so clichéd and predictable. It is during these stretches that often seen to serve no purpose other that gratuitous violence that the tale bogs down.

Those weak and predictable chapters stand in stark contrast to most chapters featuring Joe Hunter and his quest. With occasionally clunky dialogue, plenty of action and violence, and lots of twists, most of the book goes at a rapid pace. The result is a strong tale in its own right and a book worthy of your consideration.

Dead Men’s Dust
By Matt Hilton
William Morrow (Harper Collins Publishers)
June 2009
ISBN# 978-0-06-171714-7
336 Pages

ARC provided through the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009