Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Time Traveler's Guide To Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

In this meticulously researched and eminently readable book, historian Ian Mortimer takes the reader on an exhaustive tour of all the facets of life in Elizabethan England.  There are twelve chapters on such topics as the landscape, the people, religion, character, basic essentials, what to sear, traveling, where to stay, what to eat and drink, hygiene, illness and medicine, law and disorder and entertainment.  Following these chapters is an extensive section of notes with further explanations and details of research material.

While the history is sound and well-researched, the reader will be delighted to gain such extensive knowledge in such well-presented, easy to read and understand prose.  The author understands how to keep the reader's interest and each chapter is full of tidbits the reader will take away.  For example, the average man in these times was 5' 7", and even the animals were on this smaller scale with an average sheep being only 45 pounds as opposed to several hundred these days.  Elizabeth loved hunting and animal baiting.  Shakespeare was the son of a glovemaker and grew up in a stinky tannery.  Mortimer covers the historical discoveries, the role that religion played, how people were kept in order, the explorations, the battles and loyalties, and many other topics. 

Ian Mortimer has BA, PhD and DLitt degrees in history from Exeter University and an MA in archive studies from University College London.  He was elected a Fellow Of the Royal Historical Society in 1998, and was awarded the Alexander Prize (2004) by the Royal Historical Society. (book jacket).  His full name is Ian James Forrester Mortimer and is the author of several popular novels based in this time period, including one reviewed here recently, The Roots Of Betrayal

This book is recommended to two categories of readers.  History lovers will be pleased with the intricate detail and well-researched material contained here.  Historical fiction readers will be interested to see how well the novels they read match with the everyday reality of life in this time period.  This book is highly recommended for both groups.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

Duke and Jerene Johnston are the best of the best society has to offer in Charlotte, North Carolina. Duke is a Southern gentleman, a lawyer and former city councilman known for his relation to the famous Civil War general who spared North Carolina from Sherman's March To The Sea. Jerene is an old style Southern lady, the kind who puts on a designer dress and full makeup to go outside to pick up the newspaper and who has iron control of her emotions. She is the head of the Jarvis Trust, an organization set up to safeguard the art her family brought to Charlotte and donated to the museum.

They have four children. Annie is the rebel, a real estate broker who is riding high on the real estate boom. Bo is the first son with all that means in a Southern family; after a successful high school and college career, he has become the pastor of a Presbyterian church in nearby Stallings. Joshua is the gorgeous one, a clothes salesman who doesn't have career aspirations and is gay, although that is never discussed at family gatherings. Jerilyn is the baby of the family, and determined to win her mother's approval, whatever that takes.

Barnhardt sets up this family as what seems from the outside to be a successful group who have it all, then methodically peels aside the family deceptions and oversights to reveal the secrets that have been kept, sometimes for decades. The book is laid out in biographical chapters, one devoted to each character. In it, all secrets are revealed as are the relationships that keep the family going. The writing is humorous, tragic, surprising and magnificent as the family and the Southern society they live in are stripped for all to see.

Wilton Barnhardt is a faculty member in the Creative Writing program at North Carolina State University and knows his material well. Residents of the area will nod their head in recognition of the characters and the culture he depicts. The reader will be entranced, reluctant to get off the wild wonderful ride that he has created. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and Southern fiction fans.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Prophecy by R.T. Kaelin

Fans of R.T. Kaelin's novel, Progeny, (count Booksie's Blog among the biggest fans), will be excited to read the second installment in the chronicle of Terrene and the battle between the gods that control it.  The god of Chaos has decided to take over the land, and has gathered several gods to work with him.  Opposing him are the gods who strive for balance.  Both groups use the mortals of Terrene to work out their conflicts.

Key to the battle are the champions of Terrene, the White Lions.  They were instrumental in saving the world the last time the gods collided.  A prophecy says that when needed, the original White Lions and their children, The Progeny, will reunite and fight again.  The characters from the first novel in the series, Nik and Kenders, are back.  In the first book, they found that they were progeny.  In this second one, they begin to come into their legacy and develop the skills and abilities that will help them in the immense battles to come.  They are accompanied by their adoptive brother, Jak, and other characters, such as Sabine and Helene, girls they saved in the last tale, and others who fought with them.

Of course, they have the White Lion at their side.  Broedi, a giant hillsman, was their guide, the man who taught them what they were and started their training.  In this book, we meet some of the other surviving White Lions.  There is Tobias, whose gift is visions of the future, and Wren, who can speak with nature.  We also meet new allies of different races.  Klin is an Acadian, who is a master of the magic strands and becomes Kender's main teacher.  Okollu is a mongrel, a half-man, half-wolf.  His race is part of the Sudashian army committed to winning Terrene for the god of Chaos, but he becomes an ally of the opposing side instead.

The war rages on, with the outcome uncertain.   The forces of good are vastly outnumbered and very late to the game.  The forces of evil have been making their plans for months and are ready for battle.  Each side has advantages and weaknesses.  Alliances are made and broken, loyalties and strategies change daily.  In the midst of war, family relations remain strong and even love finds a way to break through.  Which side has the strongest weapons and the best chance of survival?

Kaelin has successfully moved the story of The White Lions and their Progeny forward in The Prophecy.  The characters are developed more fully while more of the background to the world of Terrene is explored and explained.  The web of connections is intricate and the new characters and races are skillfully introduced.  Under it all, the beat of coming war and disaster is always felt, impelling the storyline forward.  This book is recommended for fantasy fans who will be left waiting impatiently for the third and concluding volume in this series.  This novel is another masterful job by R. T. Kaelin, who is gaining a name as a fantasy author to be aware of. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Down And Out In Beverly Heels by Kathryn Leigh Scott

A year ago, Meg Barnes had it all.  Veteran of a hit TV series, she had a lovely home in Los Angeles, cars, designer clothes, and a new husband, Paul, she loved immensely.  But what a difference a year makes.  Paul calls her one day and tells her he has been kidnapped and to pay the ransom when she gets instructions.  She sends everything she owns but Paul is not returned.  Then the truth starts to emerge.  Paul is a con man, and he has taken not only all of Meg's money but that of her friends and anyone else he could convince to invest in his real estate schemes.

Meg leaves town, but is now back, trying to get reestablished in her life.  She has no home, no possessions, and is determined to not let anyone else know how desperate she is financially.  She is living in her car, showering at her gym, getting meals by volunteering at Meals on Wheels.  She finally lands a new acting job, and things start to get better in a small way.  The worst part is that those who know her seem to suspect that she was in on Paul's plans and not a victim herself.  Even her lawyer, Sid and his wife Carol, her best friend in LA, seem to be suspicious of what Meg might know.  Sid brings in a FBI agent, Jack Mitchell, who also seems to think Meg is no innocent in what has occurred.

Meg decides that in order to clear her name and get her life back, she needs to find Paul.  There are clues around that she starts to follow, and in turn, she realizes that she is being followed by some shady characters.  Meg and her new friend, Donna, become detectives and try to locate Paul and bring him to justice. Can they find him before everything explodes?

Kathryn Leigh Scott has written a sprightly mystery which would be characterized as a cozy mystery.  She knows the world she writes about, the backlots and acting stages of L.A., having been on the series Dark Shadows herself.  The reader is treated to an inside look at the acting industry as well as the way a resourceful woman can survive without money.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Birdman by Mo Hayder

Detective Inspector Jack Caffery has just caught his first murder in his new posting.  A young girl has been found buried on a construction site.  At first, it's believed it might be a medical student's prank gone wrong, as Jack is told the body has been autopsied.  However, this was no professional autopsy but one of butchery.  The corpse is made up heavily just like a doll, and the body was mutilated in addition to the autopsy.

Things get worse.  By the next day, four more bodies are found on the site.  Jack has definite ideas about the killer, but not everyone in the department shares his ideas.  There are those who want this to be an easy case, perhaps a drug deal gone wrong.  Instead, it is what every department fears, a case of tracking down a serial sexual sadist. 

Jack has personal issues to work through in addition to his professional ones.  He is haunted by his childhood and a trauma that occurred then.  He is currently attempting to extradite himself from a romantic relationship that isn't going anywhere, and he also finds himself attracted to a witness in the case.  Can he put aside his personal feelings and catch the killer before he strikes again?

Mo Hayder has written a fascinating murder mystery.  The details are grisly, and this book is not for the fainthearted.  Still, Caffery is a fascinating character, and the unfolding of the mystery will have the reader guessing over and over again as the story winds and twists into surprising locations.  The reader will finish this book ready for more of Caffery's story in later novels.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Essential Nourishment by Markia Blossfeldt

Essential Nourishment is subtitled Recipes From My Estonian Farm.  The author has written the book to provide healthy recipes but also to educate the reader about the benefits of healthy eating and how to integrate food into a healthy lifestyle.  Some of the author's goals for the book include:
  • eat more foods that come straight from Mother Earth
  • find and choose locally grown and raised food
  • cook meals at home with ease
  • reduce your intake of factory-made, processed food
  • learn to savor naturally sweet foods
  • cut back on refined sugar and flour without giving up flavor
  • incorporate healthful oils and fats into your diet
  • avoid refined and hydrogenated oils
  • enjoy plenty of pure water
The book is filled with tons of visually appealing photographs.  Each recipe has a color photograph of the finished dish, and there is artwork sprinkled liberally throughout the text.  The photographs are by Jaan Heinmaa and the original artwork is done by the author.
The book begins with lessons in nutrition and lifestyle changes.  There is a chapter called Nutrition And Nourishment that features articles such as The Art Of Reading Food Labels, Balancing Blood Sugar Levels and Proteins, The Dividing Choice.  The next chapter is Lifestyle and includes articles such as Eating Out, Getting Physical and Work And Profession.
The recipes section includes recipes for breakfast porridges, vegetable recipes, grain, leafy greens, legumes, soups, baked goods, dressings and spreads, salads, fish, seafood and poultry, fruits, desserts and drinks.  The recipes are simple, easy to construct and most consist of only a few ingredients.  The goal is healthy eating prepared simply enough that one can easily make three meals a day. 
This book is recommended to all readers who are interested in a healthier lifestyle.  It gives valuable advice to parents attempting to create a love of natural foods in their children and a way to get both energy and enjoyment from the natural foods of the earth. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine

It shouldn't have been a big deal.  Ivor Tesham is young, wealthy and a rising member of his party in England.  Hebe is his married lover, not morally right but a commonplace sin.  Hebe is willing to fulfill Ivor's fantasies, and for his birthday, they set up an elaborate game.  She will be taken from the street by two armed men, bundled into their limo, and delivered bound and gagged to Ivor for the night's games.

But things go horribly wrong.  There is a wreck and Hebe and one of the men are killed, the other man horribly injured.  The press gets the story, but believes that it was a real kidnapping attempt, one on the famous wife of a wealthy man.  Ivor's name never comes up, and he doesn't come forward since he knows it will end his political career.

The story dies down since the participants are dead as far as the press knows.  Ivor starts to feel safe, but there are still people who know.  Like the man who survived and his family.  The girlfriend of the other man.  Hebe's friend who she used to give her alibis to deceive her husband.  As the weeks and then months and years go by, Ivor learns to live with the past, never sure when and where it will rear it's ugly head, taking him and all he has down with a resounding explosion.

Barbara Vine is Ruth Rendell's alternate name, and her mysteries written as Vine tend to be more psychological than her other novels.  There is always an offbeat twist, and she outlines the events in such a way that the strange happenings seem to almost be the only logical outcome.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The House Of Special Purpose by John Boyne

Georgy Jachmenev is eighty-two, living in England with his wife, Zoya.  They came to England after escaping from Russia in the early nineteen hundreds, after World War I.  Georgy was a simple farmer boy when fate gave him the chance to perform a heroic feat.  As a result, he is chosen as the new companion/protector of the Tsar's son, Alexei.

Times are changing in Russia.  The people are starting to demand change similar to what has occurred in France and other countries with monarchies.  There are rumors that the Romanovs should be the last royal family, that the country should be run by politicians.  As the war drags on and more and more young Russian men are killed, the tension increases.

Life in the royal household is more than Georgy could imagine.  Sumptuous furnishings, wonderful food, and every luxury imaginable.  A wish to one of the royal family is a command to those who serve them.  Georgy is fascinated by this new way of life and by the change in his circumstances.  He owes full allegiance to the family and falls madly in love with the youngest daughter, Anastasia.  Of course, such a love can never come to anything, as she is royalty and he is a commoner.

John Boyne has written an interesting historical fiction.  The reader is given insight into the life of the royals and the way that life changed for everyone as the common folks demanded a change.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.