Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just Deserts

JUST DESERTS (Hetta Coffey Mystery Series)
Jinx Schwartz
Treble Heart Books
August 18, 2011
ISBN: 978-1936127771
325 pages
$ 12.95
Kindle Edition
349 KB
ASIN: B005SZ171I
$ 0.99

Living on a boat can be full of adventure. For Hetta Coffey in JUST DESERTS, her boat life is sidelined when blisters are discovered on the bottom of her small yacht. She thoroughly enjoys living this way but unfortunately, she has to occasionally work in order to pay the bills and especially when her boat requires expensive and possibly extensive repairs.

Fortunately being a well-qualified civil engineer, Hetta only has to make one phone call to be assigned a job that pays well close to where she is currently located. She is assigned a job in Mexico for a mining company that currently is experiencing labor/union issues and is in desperate need of being updated, especially in the area of safety standards.

Hetta discovered that being located in northern Mexico is problematic and decides to search for a home on the other side of the border in Arizona. She temporarily rents a luxury house and enjoys her time alone in this home until she is visited by a local coyote and numerous friends. Between being a host for her friends, and the local problems of smuggling people, drugs, materials for a dirty bomb, and terrorists, life is far from boring.

JUST DESERTS is the fourth novel in this Hetta Coffey series by author, Jinx Schwarz. She also wrote an outstanding young adult novel, LAND OF MOUNTAINS, which was based on her own life growing up in Haiti.

JUST DESERTS is a little slow at the beginning. Hetta experienced too many problems to be the spunky character with a sense of humor. It is difficult in any series to continually develop the characters without reviewing too much for loyal readers. This particular novel did have Hetta asking many questions about the mining company and the area with no easy answer. The coyote character was reassuring and added humanity regarding this part of the country.

For anyone who has not read any of Jinx Schwartz novels, you are missing a masterful storyteller who tells a memorable and enjoyable tale.

Brain Stem

Robert W. Walker
Kindle Edition
Amazon Digital Services
April 15, 2010
$ 0.99
410 KB

If a healthy baby was subjected to brain surgery at birth, could that affect the child for life? What if part of their brain was exchanged with Einstein’s brain? Would the child be a genius? How could you insure that this child would have values and ethics to balance their intelligence?

Dennis Spears, nicknamed Ice, is a police detective who focuses on doing the right thing, even if it
contradicts orders from his superiors. The apparent suicide of a medical student who was serving her
residency at a mental hospital though just doesn’t feel right to him. Joanna Peters seemed to be the
perfect woman so why would she commit suicide? While he is examining the body, she seems to be
alive, but for only a second. Why? Dennis is certain that he did not imagine this. Unfortunately, the
rest of the police force thinks that he needs a break from his stressful life.

Dennis is plagued with nightmares as he begins to investigate into Joanna’s death. Coincidentally, the
setting for his dreams seems to be the mental hospital where Joanna worked. He has not visited or seen
these buildings before, so is this a premonition? Why would he dream of a place he had never visited?

BRAIN STEM is only available as a Kindle book through Amazon. The author has recently only had his novels as Amazon Kindle exclusives. He recently published his 50th novel.

BRAIN STEM is a medical thriller. It’s fast-paced and definitely a quick read at an economically low-price. The characters are believable even if some aspects are a little far-fetched. The story is fairly simplistic with completing a single plot line. There were some setting changes in the story that were abrupt. They needed either an introductory lead or markings to let the reader be aware of the change.

Overall, BRAIN STEM is an easy, quick, thriller featuring the very enjoyable character of Dennis Spears. I look forward to reading more books with this character.

The Prague Cemetery

The Prague Cemetery
Author: Umberto Eco, Translator: Richard Dixon
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade
November 8, 2011
ISBN: 978-0547577531
$ 27.00
464 pages

Have you ever read a book the reminded you of a bunch of old men kibitzing about the world? That
is my reaction to THE PRAGUE CEMETERY.

Throughout history there have been numerous conspiracies. THE PRAGUE CEMETARY is about the
multiple conspiracies against the Jews, Italians, French, Catholics, and the Freemasons with everyone
constantly spying and working one group against the other. During the late nineteenth century in this
Piedmont area overlapping parts of France and Italy, it appears that no one is loyal to anyone and
everyone wants to end on the side of the victor. No one knows who that will be. So many change
identities as frequently as their clothes and spend their time developing plots complete with forgeries
and murder.

For the main character, Captain Simonini who is also Abbe Dalla Piccola, his main focus is on the
unification of Italy. However, this character of Simonini/Piccola is flawed in that he has a split
personality and neither of the individuals is aware of the other so they are suspicious of the other’s true

Early on, Captain Simonini meets with a psychologist in France named Froide. He has interesting
perspectives about his childhood and his dreams. (Sound out the psychologist’s name.)

Between the split personality and the bigotry, the main character whether Simonini or Piccola is not
likeable. As a reader, you feel no connections with this unethical rambling individual. His encounter
with others are usually the same types of people. This aspect quickly becomes drudgery through the

When you read a novel that is translated into English, I always wonder at the balance between the
author and the translator. Can a translator turn a mediocre story into literature or can they take a gem
and turn it into a drab story? Both obviously are possible. That could be the problem with this book.

When you anticipate a book to be outstanding before you read it, are you setting yourself up for
disappointment? When you read a novel and are absolutely spellbound by the rhythm and the
author’s magical approach in utilizing the language and imagery that is an author that is masterful in
telling a tale. That was how I felt years ago when I first read Eco’s THE NAME OF THE ROSE. His other
books have been enjoyable, just not quite at the level though of the first. Unfortunately, THE PRAGUE
CEMETERY is one that I would not recommend for most people. For those who thrive on historical
intrigue, this book is for you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Christmas Cantata

Mark Schweizer
St. James Music Press
November 10, 2011
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-0984484652
$ 9.85
96 pages

When someone finds an old score of music written in an open score, most musicians would avoid it and
not play through it. Open scores are very demanding and most organists shy away from playing
through this music. Fortunately for St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, their organist and head law
enforcement official is the type of person that plays through this music and chooses it for his church
choir for their Christmas Eve service which is three weeks away. However, Hayden Konig is open-
minded enough to notice the unique beauty in this particular Christmas cantata, written by an unknown

In St. Germaine, North Carolina, as Christmas is quickly approaching, it seems like the spirit of Christmas
missing since everyone is just plain crabby. Hayden does notice the mood quickly changing as the choir
learns and discovers the beauty of the message and the music within this cantata. He also begins to
investigate the history of this piece and why it was not premiered during the Christmas of 1942. Who
was this talented, although unknown, composer? Who in the congregation remembers what

With this crimeless mystery, the intertwining of the present day investigation with the events of the
same parish community of St. Barnabas during 1942 makes this a short intriguing novel. Although a
predictable ending, the story was reassuring of the purpose of our celebrations of Christmas.

With this being the tenth book in this series, there is much time spent on the many characters from the
previous novels. This can work as a standalone, but the reader is greatly missing out on some
delightful characters without having read this series.

Although short, this newest Mark Schweizer novel will not disappoint any reader of this musical series.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mercury's Rise

Ann Parker
Poisoned Pen Press
November 1, 2011
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-1590589632
$ 14.95
250 pages

Just when you feel that your life is coming together and settling down, who shows up? Of course, your deserting husband appears back in town wanting to get back together.

After hearing his story about what happened, Iris Stannert is extremely hesitant to go back to Mark Stannert. She already has a new man in her life and has succeeded in being part-owner of the Silver Queen Saloon in Leadville, Colorado. For a woman in the summer of 1880 to achieve in this western town, this is rather amazing. However, it is not without a cost. For Iris, the cost was sending her five-month old son to live back East with her sister, Harmony.

Her immediate plan is to visit Manitou, Colorado where her sister will meet her with her son who she has not seen in over a year. Traveling by stage, Iris shares the carriage with the Pace family, a father, mother, nanny, and the three children. When Mr. Pace guzzles down his wife’s medicine, Iris is victimized by being vomited on as the man dies in front of her due to what appears to be a heart attack.

This makes an unusual relationship for Iris when Mrs. Pace asks for Inez to check into why her husband died. It just doesn’t make sense. He seemed perfectly healthy. Inez begins to suspects that these mineral springs and special tonics might not be healthy and realizes that she needs someone else to help her investigate, her husband.

Intertwining the death with the investigation of the health spas, as well as her personal issues with her son, sister, husband, and aunt make this an enthralling novel based on real historical events.

This story is a gripping mystery in this series by Ann Parker. Mercury’s Rise is the fourth this Silver Rush series featuring Iris Stannert following Silver Lies, Iron Ties, and Leaden Skies. Mercury’s Rise also works as a standalone novel with sufficient background knowledge of the previous novels without boring those who already know these characters.

Mercury’s Rise is a great historical fiction novel mixing real historical events and challenges with a personal attachment to the wonderful character, Iris Stannert.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Return of Iowa's Bald Eagles

The Return of Iowa’s Bald Eagles
Ty Smedes – Author and Photographer
The Iowan Books Publishing
Soft cover
September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-93486-20-2
248 pages
$ 24.95

What is the first thing that you think of when you hear the words “ bald eagle”? Do you think of its majesty, power, or grace? Do you think of the creature as a predator? Do you feel grateful that Ben Franklin did not win with his suggestion of a turkey instead of the bald eagle?

How do you capture these creatures return? If you’re Ty Smedes, it is magnificently.

The Return of Iowa’s Bald Eagles is about these creatures who have been missing from our state of Iowa and much of the rest of this country for so long. First their population decreased due to hunting and then to the usage of DDT, from the years of 1905 to 1977, not one bald eagle nested in the entire state of Iowa. Since they are now settling and making their homes in our state again, we need to know who they are and how we need to be good neighbors to keep their population growing.

By combining truly outstanding photography with informative and well-researched text makes this book perfect for everyone. The combining of factual information about their locations, growth from infancy to adulthood, as well as their hunting abilities, is superbly documented.

This unique book shows the story of these magnificent creatures coming back to Iowa. The photography rivals anything ever in a National Geographic magazine. It truly balances text with photos that are reflective of the everyday life of a bald eagle with clarity and simplicity.

Once in a while you come upon something that is so outstanding that you are not certain how to review it. That’s my problem with The Return of Iowa’s Bald Eagles. It is unusual to read such a well-balanced book with the pictures complimenting the text and frequently explaining to the reader a lesson about these bald eagles completely through the pictures. The amount of time that Ty Smedes had to take these pictures of the lives of these bald eagles had to be immense.

This book is for everyone and especially for those of us who really appreciate all the magnificence of Iowa.

A concern about this book is that it centers on Iowa only. The pictures, the narrative, this book is for everyone, not just for those in Iowa. This is definitely one book that needs to be available to everyone.

To purchase this book, buy it from this website

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Three-Day Town

Three-Day Town
Margaret Maron
Grand Central Publishing
Hatchette Book Group
November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-446-55578-4
288 pages
$ 25.99

If you are a working judge and your husband is a sheriff deputy, finding time for a honeymoon can be difficult. They have not succeeded in finding time for a honeymoon in their first year of marriage.

For Judge Deborah Knott and Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Bryant the opportunity came when Dwight’s sister-in-law offered to let them stay for a week in her New York City apartment in the Upper West Side. Who could turn that down?

Deborah’s grandmother has asked that she deliver a package to a distant cousin while in New York. She immediately called her cousin, Sigrid, who was puzzled by the idea of the package and asked Deborah to open it. How do you delicately and accurately describe a piece of sculpture that is extremely obscene and politically incorrect? Not in any hurry, the two agree to meet at the next-door apartment where there is a party that night.

When the elusive cousin, Sigrid Harold, who is also a NYPD lieutenant, attempts to pick up the package, it is missing. Unfortunately, the building superintendent is also sprawled out dead in the doorway.

Three-Day Town is a realistic novel with the crime being solved as you read each page. The characters are very believable.
If you are daily involved with law enforcement and are away from where you work but are in the middle of a crime, wouldn’t it make sense to just team up with the local authorities if they allow it?
Three-Day Town is superb with establishing the setting. Ms. Maron takes into account the lifestyle with the groceries, transportation, life in an apartment, snow, garbage, doormen, etc… that are so much of the everyday life in present day New York City. These details are what everyone loves when they read a Deborah Knott novel.
Margaret Maron is a native of North Carolina and has also lived in Brooklyn. Being that this is the seventeenth book in this series, it amazes me that each novel can be read as a standalone but has enough character development to keep the story interesting and the series invigorating. I am also wondering if Ms. Maron is going to spin-off the Deborah Knott series and begins the Sigrid series. So many questions that were not answered would be perfect for future novels.
Three-Day Town is a perfect quick read during a snowstorm provided that you have no erotic art sculpture.

Gracie Gannon: Middle School Zero

Gracie Gannon: Middle School Zero
Mary Elizabeth Anderson
Rayve Productions Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-877810-73-2
119 pages

“Hey, check out Gracie’s scraggly hair! Looks like she had her little brother cut it.”

What do you do when your friends don’t want to be around you anymore? How do you make yourself fit in with the group? What do you do when people are just mean? How do you handle bullying?

Gracie Gannon has those challenges as she enters middle school. She lives in the wrong part of town now that her dad has been laid off. She doesn’t feel that she can invite friends over to her house since it is small and run-down. Her former friends are making fun of her haircut and her life. She’s extremely shy. Added to that, her parents can’t afford to buy her contact lenses and she dresses like a boy. Her wardrobe is not fashionable at all. One more thing, she hates math.

Life changes for Gracie though when a new student who is deaf is ignored by the other students. Gracie decides to do the right thing and to make friends with her. Through this friendship and the support of her parents and church group, Gracie begins to change her life.

This story shows that things aren’t always as they seem. With issues such as divorce, unemployment, alcoholism, and cancer, the realism and discovering a strategy to effectively deal with real challenges of everyday life, Gracie learns how to journey from conflict to confidence.

For some people, the usage of a church youth group might be uncomfortable but it works perfectly in this concise story. The religious influence actually works well with the story and is viewed as a support for all people.

Mary Elizabeth Anderson has worked extensively as an elementary school teacher. She has written the novels: Taking Cerebral Palsy to School, Ever Wonder What to Do: A Book of Manner, It’s Me Again, God, and Why Did They Build a Fence?. She is also the author of Link Across America: A Story of the Historic Lincoln Highway.

Gracie Gannon: Middle School Zero is for any and every kid, girl or boy, who needs to see how they can become content with their life when there are conflicts.

A Killing Season

A Killing Season
Priscilla Royal
Poisoned Pen Press
October 2011
ISBN: 978-1590589496
250 pages

“ To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die;…A time to kill, and a time to heal…”
Before leaving for the crusades, Baron Herbert had been blessed with five sons and a loving wife all comfortably abiding in his castle in England during this medieval time period.
When he returns, Baron Herbert is injured mentally, physically, and emotionally. He immediately sends for his former Crusading comrade, Sir Hugh for help. Hugh asks his sister, Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal Priory to come. She also sees the value of transporting others with her who have special skills that could assist such as Master Gamel, a physician, Sister Anne, a healer, and Brother Thomas.
The group travels slowly through the cold, wet weather and arrives at the castle just in time to view someone jumping from a window to their death. They quickly discover that was the third son of the Baron to die since he left for the Crusades. Needless to say, life is not cheery in this dismal castle. Added to this, the Baron refuses any physical contact with his family or even his wife and no explanation is given.
Is the castle cursed? Is someone killing his heirs? Did two of the sons choose to die?
Sometimes there is a delicate balance between realism and what readers enjoy. It is difficult to calculate since each reader has their own personal criteria. In a story like this one where the content is depressing but necessary, the reading even though enthralling, can seem like it drags when it really doesn’t. With so much death in the story, it feels like there is no season for the healing.
There is richness in A Killing Season with the language and the authentic voice of the time period. Priscilla Royal masterfully intertwines these within a very realistic story in creating this Gothic mystery. Even though this is the eighth book in this series featuring Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal Priory, the story and characters are easily understood without having read the previous novels. All of Priscilla Royal’s novels are superb examples of life during the medieval time period and I highly recommend all her novels.