Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Zodiac Cooks by Penny Thornton

The Zodiac Cooks: Recipes from the Celestial Kitchen of LifeIt’s not a combination that people easily think of – cooking and astrology. In fact, I wondered how an entire book could focus on this. The answer – the topics work very well together, especially in the hands of world-famous astrologer Penny Thornton.

Penny, based primarily in the U.K., has been an astrologer for more than 30 years, with her best-known client having been Princess Diana.  She’s been involved in cooking for many years, too, and her knowledge shines through in this book. She had a regular segment on the Food Network here in the U.S., where she spoke of astrology and cooking. It turns out that since the Middle Ages, there’s been a belief that planets and signs influence not only humans but other living creatures, food, and plants.

The Zodiac Cooks takes readers on an exploration of all 12 signs, with information not only on each sign and their personality traits, but also insight into their behavior in and out of the kitchen, what foods they may like or dislike, what table décor suits them, and what to do or not do in their kitchen. And then there are the recipes — all 130 of them.

It was a joy to read and identify with so much about my sign of Aquarius, and it was equally enlightening to read what my friends in other signs relate to in the culinary world.  And please – don’t just focus on particular signs, because you’ll miss some wonderful recipes throughout.

Some of the ingredients are out-of-the-ordinary – star anise, quail, lavender, elderberry, coriander, and venison, for example. Recipes include a pear and almond tart, ginger cake, white chocolate and raspberry mousse, and Swedish meatballs with dill noodles and lingonberry sauce, plus new takes on more standard fare. A few British favorites are naturally included: Shepherd’s Pie and Yorkshire Pudding, for example. Each recipe sounds delicious, and the photography makes your mouth water in anticipation.

What a perfect birthday or holiday gift for someone who loves cooking, astrology, or both. And what a great way to get insight into, and then prepare a meal for, a special someone in your life! This unique book by such a well-respected astrologer combines two worlds into one fascinating reading and culinary journey.

For more information on Penny, her astrology forecasts, and her book The Zodiac Cooks, visit her website Astrolutely.com.

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The Naturalist – by Andrew Mayne

61preix-mvl-_ac_us218_Don’t panic. I’m about to drop the word “science” into this review. If you’re anything like me – curious and intrigued by science but totally clueless on some levels – this could be a slight turnoff in a novel. Don’t let it be! You’d be missing out on an intelligent yet easy-to-read thriller.

The Naturalist focuses on Dr. Theo Cray, a scientist/professor who unwittingly gets drawn into the murder of a former student while he’s studying frogs in a remote area of Montana. The bad news – this comes about because he’s considered a suspect or at the very least, a person of interest. Local authorities soon shift the identification of the killer to a bear. Case closed. Or is it?

It’s not just any bear. Perhaps it’s a super-bear, something unnatural, extremely dangerous and powerful.

Theo begins investigating on his own, sometimes ethically, mostly unethically. Before long, he begins to suspect a serial killer is on the loose as he ties several other mysterious murders to this killer. But is the predator something unnatural?  The delicious secret of this book is that author Andrew Mayne lets readers in on information that even those working the case don’t know yet (with the exception of Theo, of course).

Small chapters make it easy to read and also encourage the “Just one more chapter syndrome,” where the reader knows he or she should quit, but it’s just too tantalizing and the urge to go on is too strong.  For me, after the first chapter, there was no turning back.  I let the roller coaster ride take over. Think Michael Crichton or Dan Brown – it’s that kind of excitement.

The Naturalist is the first in the series, with the second Theo Cray book, Looking Glass, due out in March 2018.  I’ve read Andrew Mayne books in the Jessica Blackwood series (non-scientific and dealing with the FBI and the world of magic). This series is equally as spellbinding.

I only discovered him a few months ago, but he’s quickly become one of my favorite authors. Give this talented, high-ranking, best-selling author a try!

 

 

 

 

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Between Two Banks by Wajdy Mustafa

betweentwobanksThis  book was originally written in Arabic by author Wajdy Mustafa, while he was in the midst of serving a Syrian prison sentence that was politically related. It was passed, in a rough form, from one prisoner to the next, as they waited eagerly for their turn at reading the haunting and captivating pages.

After his release, Mustafa was able to publish the work in English as well. It is a testament to the fact that love is love in any language, and its joys and sorrows are something anyone – anywhere – can relate to.

At the heart of the story is a forbidden love between a married woman named Julia and Selim, a young man she is tutoring in French. But there are many sub stories and characters, each with their own tale to tell – so much so that only careful reading will keep the changes in point of view and tense from becoming confusing. But it’s well worth paying close attention. The reader comes to know each character and is eager to find out more about their life and how it intertwines with the main characters. It’s impossible to divulge more information, because as mentioned, it’s complicated – but highly intriguing.

The book is at times poignant and beautiful, and at other times deliciously mysterious. As in his previous book, Levant Fever, Mustafa sets his story in Syria and Lebanon, giving it a unique glimpse into a region normally thought of as only hostile and dangerous. The author proves once again that good storytelling, the universal human condition, and the power of words can touch the heart and keep the pages turning.

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Driving Grandpa by John Redstand

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There are times when a reader wants to get lost in a heart-pounding romance – a nail-biting thriller – a complicated but exciting mystery. And then again, sometimes simple, easy and down-to-Earth is just the thing. Good storytelling can be found in a book with no major plot twists or high drama, and Driving Grandpa is a prime example of  this. It’s a folksy tale of a grandson (author John Redstand) and his grandpa. The story is based on true events, but author Redstand has fictionalized the many mini stories here, resulting in an entertaining book with a very personal touch. None of the stories, on their own, is particularly powerful or highly dramatic, but put them all together and something magic happens. Love shines through and family bonds are highlighted. Redstand weaves stories of his life helping to chauffeur his grandpa around, after he’s “grounded” from driving. But Grandpa surprises his grandson by actually passing his driver’s license test (we’re not told how, but it’s a cute story). Their stories share life’s joys and challenges, and even though Grandpa is about 90 years old, he’s still “got it.” Some of the stories are simply a slice of daily life in nature. They focus on how the author, who cleans up and changes locks on homes that are being primed for bank sale, blends his job with being part-time driver to his grandfather. Because Grandpa comes with him on his jobs, they turn from routine  into all sorts of adventures and misadventures. Other stories reveal a bit about Grandpa’s time in World War II. There’s even an encounter with the widow of his former friend – and it turns out, she and Grandpa briefly dated before their respective marriages.

Overall, the effect is that grandson and grandfather have a very meaningful time together and one knows it’s a time they will both hold dear. There will be laughter and tears as readers delve into the book, but it will become a memorable reading experience either way. It’s so refreshing to come across a wholesome book that doesn’t rely on violence, graphic scenes or shocking language. I highly recommend this easy-to-read book by a very talented writer.

 

 

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Sex Tells by Darick Spears

Sex Tells

If you’ve read my blog for any bit of time, you’ll know that sexy is not my “normal” genre. But this book was offered to me out of the blue and I decided to give it a try. I put aside my softer, gentler (slightly prudish) side and promised myself not to be offended or shocked.

Well, I didn’t totally succeed there. But I also think I  actually did get the message the author was going for. This is a fast-paced, explicit novel that seems like a simple story of two sex-crazed guys – Ice and Darnel, living the dream of many males – sex with several different and very willing partners.

It is a graphic book, I’ll tell you up front. But dig a little deeper and it’s also a story of the male viewpoint on sexual attraction, the messages we all send out, and the consequences we might have to pay. It’s gritty and fun – definitely representing the attitudes of the young streetwise male. There are many grammatical issues for sure, and the book isn’t exactly “polished”, but maybe in this case, since it’s told from a young male’s perspective, this is excusable – even right. If it were perfect, maybe it would take away from the overall “feel” of the book. It almost seems the target reader should be a very young adult, who can hopefully get the moral of the story about sex from its raunchy side to the possible aftereffects of it.

The author has written other books, including, surprisingly, one called The Diary of a Stay-at-Home Dad (go figure). Read Sex Tells for excitement, but don’t miss the messages along the way. Its shocking ending definitely leaves the door open for a follow-up book and I’ll bet readers will be waiting to find out what happens next

For more information about the author, visit his website, http://www.darickbooks.com or his Facebook page, darickbooks.

 

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Levant Fever – True Stories from Syria’s Underground by Wajdy Mustafa

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This book couldn’t be more timely…or controversial. Terms or phrases that have sadly become part of the world’s vocabulary in a negative and frightening way – Shiites, Muslim Brotherhood (precursor to Islamic extremists), Allah–o-Akbar — are presented here as part of the daily life of the author. He spent a great deal of his life in and out of prison for the “crime” of associating with the wrong people or speaking out against the atrocities around him.

It’s not an easy book to read, with graphic details of beatings, torture and assassinations, not to mention prison conditions that were themselves a form of torture.  Yet this book is something of a history lesson, and while it’s doubtful that most readers will feel much sympathy for those involved, it does provide a better understanding of the conditions in Syria and Lebanon, past and present.

Even though the violence is predominant, perhaps the saddest portions of the book are the author’s childhood memories of playing with friends in a land that was once considered beautiful, at least through the eyes of a child. He also relates very “human” tales of family and love. One can’t help but wonder if things could have been different if generation after generation hadn’t resorted to fighting and brutality. Or is it impossible to break the vicious (literally) cycle of violence?

History buffs and readers curious for some explanations or understanding will surely be very satisfied by this book, powerfully written by Wajdy Mustafa.

 

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IRS Whistleblower by Richard Schickel

whistleblowerThe very idea of the IRS strikes fear in most people’s hearts. And, when reading IRS Whistleblower, those fears could at first be increased. The crimes and abuse by IRS employees at times seem almost unbelievable. But they’re real, and they’re only a part of the secrets revealed by a brave former Senior Revenue Officer, Richard Schickel, who dares to expose what really happens between taxpayers and those who seek to collect from them.

Schickel worked for the IRS for 33 years and has pretty much seen it all. He tells of tax returns or checks being lost by the IRS, but blamed on the taxpayer. A severely outdated computer system renders the IRS highly ineffective technologically, almost unthinkable in this computer age. He also reveals severe security breaches, and outright crimes that IRS employees commit. Schickel tells of a secret system where audits are concerned. And this is just the tip of the iceberg that is this book.

But in spite of this, IRS Whistleblower isn’t a harsh book; instead, it’s eye-opening in its honesty. The best news is that he also offers advice to taxpayers on  how to brave the system, whether it’s something such as  an audit, a letter of payment due or something more serious…and win. In fairness, he also speaks of taxpayer indiscretions such as hiding money from the government, or claiming expenses and deductions that are not allowed. At the back of the book is a  Q & A section that handles most questions readers might have that were not addressed in the main part of the book.

This can’t be described as a fun read, but it is very informative and thought-provoking. An IRS Commissioner is quoted as saying, “We follow the law whenever we can.” Scary words from a government official. Readers owe it to themselves to read this book, to arm themselves against such disturbing thinking should they ever go up against the IRS.

It’s quite a task to present something that is, on the one hand, an exposure of a major institution, and on the other hand, a look at how to apply what’s been learned to better know the in’s and out’s of dealing with that institution.

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