Friday, November 27, 2015

Delicious Recipes that are Good for Your Brain

The recipes in Rebecca Katz's new book are amazing. If you think healthy food is tasteless, try these. The recipes range from salads, main courses, desserts and soups to salad dressings, snacks and anytime foods like salmon scramble, one of my family's favorites. I've tried several of these recipes, and I know I'll keep using them.

The book also has a excellent section on the research into the relationship between the brain and food. The author pulls together a number of sources and makes them easy to understand. The topics range from stress, anxiety and depression to memory, cognition and learning. I try to keep up on brain science, but I learned a lot from this overview.

Another excellent section is the Culinary Pharmacy. Katz lists foods ranging from things I'm familiar with like almonds and potatoes to more unusual foods like quinoa and allspice. The entries list which mental functions are helped most by the food and gives a short paragraph on why the food is good for your brain.

I highly recommend this cookbook. The recipes are easy to prepare, don't take much time, and best of all they're delicious.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for a review.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Prophet Jeremiah's Early Life

The story opens when Jeremiah, an unruly twelve-year-old, invades the stall of an idol seller. He destroys some of the idols and calls on the people to return to the worship of the one true God and not put their faith in idols.

Josiah, the king of Judea, knows Jeremiah well because he is often involved in escapades that call the Jews to worship the true God, but start riots that cause Jeremiah to be brought before the king.

Although this book is categorized as a novel, it is much more of a history of the time of Nebuchadnezzar when Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were powers in the Middle East. The history is well researched and there are numerous footnotes. As a history, it is well done.

As a novel, the book leaves much to be desired. The characters are described and there is dialog, but they are primarily used to tell the history, either in their thoughts, or in description by the author.

I can't recommend this book as a novel, but if you enjoy history, particularly biblical history, you may enjoy this book.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for a review.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More Romance than Mystery

Lydia Bancroft is fascinated by the mysterious man who visits her reading room. He appears every day and reads for awhile but hasn't asked for a library card. In fact they haven't spoken.

Lydia's father's death changed everything for her and her mother. With no money, Lydia is forced to work in the library, but her mother hasn't given up on getting her a good marriage. All seems well when Jason Avondale proposes, but Jason has secrets.

Sebastian Marks, the mystery man from the library, also has secrets. He grew up in extreme poverty and now runs a gambling hall. Reading gives him escape from his life, and he has become fascinated by Lydia.

Lydia and Sebastian become friends when he steps in to keep Avondale from hurting her, but their secrets keep them from the closeness they desire.

This book is described as a mystery, but the mystery is very much in the background. The heading of most chapters is a news story from the Courier newspaper about the beatings and murders that take place around the gambling clubs. However, there is no attempt to solve the crimes. They form a background and lend support for why Sebastian feels insecure courting a lady of good character. The story focuses almost completely on the romance, although the author does bring the threads together at the end.

If you enjoy a period romance, this is a good one. However, don't expect a traditional mystery where the characters work to solve the crime.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for a review.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Meeting Your Double Can be a Nightmare

Average people dealing with normal problems find themselves living a nightmare. Tess and her ex-husbland, Nick are trying to co-parent their daughter. The relationship is uneasy but fairly cordial. However, when she sees him on a street in Boston, she thinks he ignores her, and it makes her furious.

Frank is battling alcoholism and the loss of his dream of being a crime reporter. He thinks he may have found an out when he meets his violent double in his own home.

When it turns out that Nick is in New Hampshire not Boston when Tess saw him, she wants to investigate. Her friend Lili agrees to help her, and it becomes even stranger when Lili also finds that she has a double. Their search leads them to an elegant townhouse on Beacon Hill where events begin to spin out of control.

If you like ghosts, paranormal, and horror movies, you love this book. Seeing your double can be frightening, but when evil surrounds you, it becomes a nightmare from which you can't wake.

The plot is fast paced and cleverly written taking advantage of the idea of doppelgängers with a new twist. The characters feel like real people which makes the horror stronger. I enjoyed the book, but unless you're a hard core horror fan, I wouldn't suggest reading it when you're alone on a stormy night.

I received this book from St. Martin's Press for a review. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Farmer's Christmas

Even on Christmas Eve, a farmer's work continues. Casey lives on a farm with her animal and equipment friends. They're all looking forward to Christmas: decorating the farm, making cookies, putting up stockings, and preparing for the celebration.

On Christmas Eve Casey still has to feed the animals, and when a fence needs mending she has to take care of it. On top of all the work, Casey feels ill and falls asleep before the preparations for Christmas are complete. It could be a very disappointing Christmas, but Casey has good friends on the farm.

I love stories about farms probably because I grew up on one and live on one. If you don't live on a farm, it's hard to envision how much work has to be done every day to keep the animals fed, the equipment working, and the fences mended. This is a good book for children. It shows them a different way of life, unless they live on a farm.

The book has a good message about the importance of friends and family. The illustrations are cheerful and the text is easy for older children to read, or to read to younger children.

I highly recommend this book for part of your Christmas collection.

I received this book from PR by the Book for a review. 

Love and Challenges for a Single Mother

When she was seventeen, Ally made a mistake. Now she has a beautiful daughter to show for it. While taking care of her daughter, Ally managed to finish college, get a graduate degree and is now teaching at Brown. Amid all the responsibilities of teaching, including a difficult boss, and taking care of her daughter, Ally hasn't much time for romance, or sex.

One day she's feeling completely frazzled with responsibilities when Jake, a student, comes into her life challenging her to have some fun. Ally is attracted, but sends him away afraid of how it might affect her daughter and perceptions of her on campus.

Ten years later, her daughter is grown up struggling to make her own way when surprise, Jake shows up as her daughter's date.

This is a book you'll enjoy if you like romantic stories without too much explicit sex. Ally is likable. If you're a single mom, you'll empathize with her dilemma of raising a daughter, being a professional, and putting her sex life on hold. Jake is the kind of almost too good man you'd love to know, and Lizzie has her own rebellious charm.

The plot is a bit thin. There are no major catastrophes. Instead the challenges revolve around a single mother trying to let go of her grown daughter. and the daughter trying to find her own way.

I received this book from Dutton, Penguin-Random House for a review.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Tangled Web of Murder Confronts Liska and Kovac

Detective Nikki Liska misses her partner Kovac. With her sons growing up, she feels the need to be at home more so she transferred to the cold case unit. Here she catches a case she doesn't want. Thomas Duffy, a decorated sex crimes detective, was killed 25 years ago. In spite of the best efforts of the police, his case remains unsolved, and Nikki fears it may stay that way.

Kovac has a new partner. Taylor is green and Kovac resents the time it takes to bring him up to speed. They catch a case Nikki would love to have. A professor and his wife were hacked to death by a killer wielding a Japaneese samurai sword.

A third complication in this novel is Evie Burke. She has the perfect life, but she's hiding an old secret, and it may be catching up with her.

This was my first experience with Liska and Kovac. Although not working together, their paths continue to cross. Nikki's tough and Kovac is a typical old school detective. They work well together.

The complex plot follows the three threads weaving back and forth until pulling them together at the end. I thought the author did a masterful job keeping me interested in all three plot lines. The twist at the end came as a surprise, but the author had cleverly left clues, so I wasn't shocked by the ending.

I highly recommend this book if you're a fan of detective stories where the detectives interview suspects and look for clues to solve crimes.

I received this book from Penguin-Random House for a review.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Death Greets the New Manager of Java Jive

When his father dies, Pete is left trying to manage Java Jive and hold down his regular job. Recruiting his ex-girlfriend, Juliette, as the new manager seems like a perfect solution. Juliette had her own café before her fiancé ran off with her cash and forced her to close.

Juliette is experienced, but she's not totally ready for the fact that some of the staff, particularly the cook, just don't want her there. She's planning to get around the staff problem when the cook turns up dead, and she's afraid that she's the primary suspect.

The plot is amusing and fast paced. It's fairly easy to figure out what's happening, but there are twists that keep it amusing. The setting in a coffeehouse is realistic and makes a good background for the unusual characters that populate the novel.

Although the antics are amusing, I found Juliette too adventurous and naïve. She jumps to the conclusion that she must be the principal suspect and drags Pete along to help her solve the mystery before the police do. I did love Gertie, Pete's grandmother. She is a completely delightful character who makes you glad you're reading the book.

The book is a fast amusing read with a mystery that takes some thought to unravel. If you enjoy the Evanovich books, you'll enjoy this novel.

I received the book from Alibi for a review.

The Jesse Tree" A Christmas Tradition for Your Family

Written by ten-year-old Theresa Seidltz, Countdown to Christmas tells the story of her family's Christmas tradition. Each night from the first of December, the family sings, Come of Come Emmanuel, reads a Bible story, and hangs an ornament on their small tree. The ornaments bear the likeness of the person the story is about. As the family progresses through the Bible from Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Sarah, Saul and David, and Jesus, the tree becomes adorned with the people who helped shape Judaism and Christianity.

The stories in the book are short, each being one page. They're suitable for an adult to read to younger children, but older children could read them for themselves or read them aloud to younger brothers and sisters. Each story is accompanied by a drawing introducing the characters. At the end of the book, the family places the final ornament for Jesus and sings Silent Night. The paper ornaments are included in the book and could be used for many years.

I highly recommend this book. It's a good way for families to be together to enjoy the religious aspects of the Christmas season. It's also a good time for parents and children to talk about the Bible stories and what they mean in their own lives.

I received this book from PR by the Book for a review.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Readable Look at Brain Function

Dr. Amens is a practicing psychiatrist who was one of the first to use SPECT scans in diagnosing and treating patients. SPECT scans were originally intended for research purposes. Using these scans to diagnose patients mental problems was innovative and controversial. I found it fascinating because when I did research in the mental health field there was always the nagging feeling that the diagnosis categories were too broad. It would have been helpful to have a basis on which to make specific treatment suggestions. However, much as I admire Dr. Amen for using this technique, I recognize that it isn't perfect.

The book is written at a level that makes it relatively easy for the average reader to understand brain function. The SPECT scans included make clear where the brain defects are located and are a useful adjunct to the text.

Problems with the brain come in a variety of guises from ADD, to anxiety, Alzheimers and schizophrenia. In addition there are brain injuries such as concussion and problems stemming from tumors and other abnormalities. Dr. Amen goes into each of these areas, explains which parts of the brain are affected and suggests treatment plans. Although he does use psychoactive drugs, he also uses talk therapy, natural substances, and understanding your life's purpose.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about brain function. Some of the exercises may even be helpful in giving you a better understanding of your personality and functioning.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Crumbling Old Mansion Hosts a Family Tragedy

The Altons are a happy family. Momma and Papa are devoted to each other and to their four children: the twins, Caroline and Toby, and the younger children, Kitty and Barney. They're looking forward to their holiday at the family's Cornwall estate, Black Rabbit Hall, but all too quickly tragedy strikes and the holiday turns into a nightmare.

Years later, Lorna and her fiance, Jon, visit Black Rabbit Hall in search of a place to have their wedding. Jon is not convinced that the crumbling old house is a good place to bring their friends and families, but Lorna falls in love with the place.

Instead of the once happy family, the house is occupied by an old woman, who reminded me of the housekeeper in Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. In spite of feeling the strangeness of the house, Lorna accepts an invitation to stay and get to know the place. She stumbles on clues to the family tragedy and gradually, the place becomes even more terrifying.

If you like Gothic romance, this is a good one. The story is told in two time periods. Caroline narrates the earlier story and Lorna is the main character in the later events. I enjoyed the mystery, but I felt the telling was too drawn out. We hear a great deal more about Caroline and her siblings than seems necessary for the action. 

Lorna behaves in ways that don't seem realistic. In the first place, she accepts an invitation from a frightening woman she scarcely knows. Then trapped in a creepy old house, she persists in searching for the secrets of the house and the family although the atmosphere becomes more and more sinister.

I recommend this book as a romantic mystery, but it has flaws, It's too long and the characters are often not believable.

I reviewed this book for Penguin.

Wicked Women and Wicked Good Women of the Bible

Women helped to form the Judeo-Christian culture, and the Bible is filled with their stories, both good and bad. (Wicked can mean both very bad and very good. Sometimes that's confusing.) However, in the stories from the Bible there's no confusion about who was evil and who was good. The stories range from Eve in the Garden of Eden and Jezebel, the wicked queen, to Deborah, Ruth and Esther.

The author tells the stories in narrative form giving thoughts and actions to the characters. Of course, no one can know today what these women thought, but reading the stories like a novel is fun, and it makes you wonder about the underlying basis of the stories. I couldn't help thinking about the role Adam played in getting them expelled from Eden.

At the end of each story the author goes into a short description of the culture of the times. I found these very interesting, and they added depth to my understanding of the context of the Bible stories. There is also a section giving questions that can be used in group Bible study. However, reading and thinking about these questions can also provide greater depth to the stories, even if you're doing it on your own.

I highly recommend this book. The stories are well chosen to display the importance of women in the Bible, and the narrative presentation is easy to read plus it raises additional questions about these women and their role in the Bible.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Love of Books, Some Romance, and Redemption

Lucy Ailling loves her job. She works for Sid, one of the most respected antique dealers in Chicago. Most of her work centers on keeping Sid's inventory and meeting customers, but Lucy has a side line. From her earliest childhood, she has lost herself in books feeling that they are more her friends than the people she knows. Now she finds old editions and sells them from Sid's shop. The problem is that some of the editions may not have the provenance she provides.

At the opening of the story, Lucy meets James, a promising young attorney. They become romantically involved, and through James, Lucy meets his grandmother, Helen. When Lucy's sideline begins to unravel, Helen hires her to be her companion on a trip to England where Helen must deal with her own secrets. Visiting some of the sites famous for the Bronte novels and the places where the Bronte sisters lived, a friendship is born and both ladies realize that they must redeem past mistakes.

The book is filled with sensual descriptions. If you want to experience England through the senses, you'll enjoy this book. I found the Lucy's character somewhat bland. She's very focused on her conman father and the gift he gave her for the love of books, but he gave her other gifts as well, and Lucy isn't very good at distinguishing helpful from disruptive. James is a good foil for Lucy, He's kind and loving, but I didn't feel that his personality added much to the story except to put Lucy in touch with his grandmother. Sid, while being a good role model, seems to leave Lucy too much to her own devices thereby setting the stage for the problems that follow.

I enjoyed the book because I love literature and because it was refreshing to read a romance that didn't require numerous bedroom scenes.

I reviewed this book for Thomas Nelson.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Romantic Problems Continue for the Sexy McBroom Sisters

Frankie, the oldest, is in love with Franklin and doing everything she can to have the first baby, but when she discovers that he has a wife, all bets are off. Tommie, the youngest, is still with Blue, but he seems to be in love with his ex-wife which strains their relationship. Livy is smarting from her husband's affair. Now when they have sex, it's on her terms and steamy.

The story tracks and intertwines the lives of the three sisters. In addition to sexual adventures, there's stalking, death threats, and cheating. It makes for a lively, fast paced read. If you enjoy romance that has more than just bedroom scenes, you'll enjoy this book. The sisters are all different. The author has managed to make each one a realistic character.

The author has included some culture references that make it seem like he's working too hard to raise the book above the level of a quick read. For me, it didn't work. The story is about the sisters. He does a good job portraying them and how they react to the difficult situations in their lives. You may not agree with how they solve their problems, but it works for them.

I reviewed this book for Dutton.