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The Lemonade Stand Cookbook: Step-by-Step Recipes and Crafts for Kids to Make—and Sell!

Kathy Strahs. Burnt Cheese, $23.95 (130p) ISBN 978-0-9969112-1-4

Cookbook author Strahs (The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook) offers a blueprint for entrepreneurial kids interested in starting up their own lemonade stand businesses, tackling stand design, advertising, and sales. Recipes are also key, of course, and Strahs includes a baker’s dozen of beverages: “classic lemonade” (along with cranberry and mango versions), a berry smoothie, iced teas, watermelon aqua fresca, and a few cold-weather drinks (cocoa, hot apple cider). Directions for various sweets and snacks are also included, as are packaging and craft ideas. Photographs of (and testimonials from) children appear throughout; a polished design and Strahs’s thorough approach make this a fresh spin on a quintessential summer activity. Ages 7–9. (Booklife)

Reviewed on 05/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Simply Dirac

Helge Kragh. Simply Charly, $7.99 trade paper (122p) ISBN 978-1-943657-09-4

Danish historian of science Kragh (Entropic Creation) synthesizes the biographical and intellectual in this concise and considered presentation on Paul Dirac, one of the most important theoretical physicists of the 20th century. Dirac’s interest was in quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics, so to render him “simply” is quite a feat. Nevertheless, Kragh strikes the right balance with the material, situating Dirac in relation to his intellectual environment while speaking to his achievements. A physics background is not necessary for understanding the material, but the subject matter is not the most accessible and there is a lot here that readers may find daunting. Kragh covers Dirac’s successes, including his rendering of q-number algebra for quantum mechanics and his theorizing on antimatter, as well as his misses, such as his still-unproven speculation on monopoles and a seemingly failed evolutionary twist to physics in which constants such as gravity change over time. However, Kragh walks the reader through this uncertain terrain by highlighting Dirac the man and what typified his thought. Although not as famous as some of his contemporaries, Dirac’s life and accomplishments are further illustrated through his personal and professional relationships with luminaries such as Einstein, Heisenberg, and Schrödinger. Kragh goes some way to giving Dirac and his legacy the attention they deserve. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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One More Cup of Coffee

Tom Pappalardo. Object Publishing, $12.99 trade paper (154p) ISBN 978-0-9983278-0-8

These hilarious shorts are a perfect snarkfest, combining people watching and café criticism with abundant humor. Pappalardo visits coffee emporiums in Northampton, Amherst, and other towns in western Massachusetts to sample brews ranging from fabulous to putrid and to jot his impressions of baristas and customers. He ranges from local coffeehouses to Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks locations, going so far as to reference the noncontroversy of the 2015 red holiday cups; he even experiences coffee in his local public library. In one riff, he rails against the ludicrousness of far-distant coffee pickup counters; elsewhere, he visits a Dunkin’ Donuts dominated by painful country music. Pappalardo’s enjoyment of doughnuts, pie, and other comestibles adds delight to the collection, as does his recording of overheard conversations and scenes. This collection is good for a consistent supply of laughs, regardless of whether readers live in Massachusetts or drink coffee. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Bustle in the Hedgerow

Ben Miller. Krac, $15.99 trade paper (440p) ISBN 978-1-494403-72-0

FBI agent Jack Byrne, the hero of Miller’s twisty cat-and-mouse thriller, has become a national celebrity after the publication of his book about his role in solving the high-profile murder of an NFL star’s daughter. Though Jack’s work for the Child Abduction and Serial Murder Investigative Resource Center has been fulfilling, he’s nonetheless tempted to enter politics after Senator Montgomery Johnson, the majority leader, asks him to run for a soon-to-be-vacant seat in Virginia. After a timely surprise meeting with President Harrison Sullivan, Jack agrees to do so. Meanwhile, there’s a series of murders that he would normally investigate. A sadist, who comes to be known as the Playground Predator, has taken the lives of two nine-year-old girls, leaving cryptic notes on the bodies written in Serbian and Thai. Sections from the perspective of the murderer ratchet up the tension en route to a nail-biting climax. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Pearl and the Carnelian

Annabel Fielding. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, $5.99 e-book (419p) ASIN B01LXWRXAI

This uneven first novel looks at the dark side of a naive socialite’s political zeal during the interwar period in Britain. In 1934, Lady Lucy Fitzmartin, 19, raised in a rigid English home, is writing society articles for a newspaper, but her ambitions are much greater. She becomes involved with the British Union of Fascists, a movement to form a British alliance with Hitler’s Germany in order to avoid a war between the nations. Meanwhile, Lucy becomes smitten with her new, exotic young lady’s maid, Hester Blake, whose own ambition is to see grand houses and travel the world. They begin a romantic relationship, dangerously unacceptable at that time. Lucy becomes more entrenched with the Reich by writing inflammatory articles, spying on a friend, and attending violent protest meetings. Despite a plot featuring blackmail and betrayal, the conclusion is rather tepid, and the novel’s readability suffers from numerous misplaced commas; however, the author effectively captures the era’s political ferment. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Soul Mender

R.S. Dabney. Red Pen Warriors, $14.99 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-0-692-47201-9

A familiar science fiction theme—a parallel reality populated by alter egos of the inhabitants of our own—gets a fresh spin in this intriguing variant of a dark fantasy. Since childhood, Riley Dale, an environmental scientist living in Boulder, Colo., has been plagued by visions. Then she unexpectedly crosses over into the world of her imaginings with the help of a magic ring left to her by her grandmother. Partnering with Oz, a drug-addicted ne’er-do-well who represents the other half of her divided soul, and protector Zachary Stone, who’s a serial killer in her own world, Riley travels cross-country to Los Angeles, the terrorist-bombed capital of this alternate U.S., to learn the crucial role she must play in events rocking the parallel world. Dabney’s writing is crisp and confident, and her characters—including both of their personalities—are well-developed. She introduces more subplots than can be resolved by the novel’s end, making this a promising start for a projected trilogy. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hunting in the Zoo: A Detective Pete Nazareth Novel

R.H. Johnson. Hampton, Westbrook, $17.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-5323-0214-5

Johnson’s suspenseful third novel featuring Det. Pete Nazareth of the NYPD (after A Measure of Revenge) places presidential candidate Archer Grande, who boasts that he could “stroll naked down Fifth Avenue, and my supporters would still vote for me,” in the crosshairs of an assassin. Nazareth is half of a team dubbed the Dynamic Duo, after he and fellow detective Tara Gimble amassed an impressive record for “not only closing the toughest cases but also for putting themselves in harm’s way again and again to get the job done right.” New York City’s mayor taps the pair to go after Stone Jackson, an expert sniper who has begun taking out child molesters, starting with the Little League coach who abused him. As Nazareth and Gimble search for Jackson, the killer ups the ante after concluding that Grande is a dangerous demagogue. Unexpected developments ratchet up the tension en route to a dramatic climax. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Flame Eater

Barbara Gaskell Denvil. Gaskell Publishing House, $4.99 e-book (424p) ASIN B01B8SEC3S

This meticulously detailed romantic thriller portrays two flawed families in medieval England whose less moral members are victims of a murderer/arsonist. The families are united in 1485 when heiress Emeline Wrotham marries Nicholas Chatwyn, an earl’s son and the aloof, scarred younger brother of Emeline’s true love, Peter, who was murdered. On their wedding night, the castle is engulfed in flames, and Nicholas is injured. Emeline and Nicholas, who is still recovering from extensive burns, depart for his cousin’s Nottingham home while the castle is being repaired, but an outbreak of the plague sends them away, eventually to London. During their travels, the marriage is consummated, and they become true partners, in love and in adventures. Charismatic and witty, Nicholas is the heart of Denvil’s novel; he works undercover for King Richard, rooting out political threats while maintaining the persona of a lazy drunkard to his disapproving father, whose favorite son is dead. Denvil’s numerous minor characters are as intriguing as Nicholas, infusing vitality and never detracting from the story. Everyday 15th-century life is richly evoked—the clothing, food, travel, habits—providing substance to a winning narrative. Family dysfunction is deftly woven into a mélange of murder, politics, and romance, with a wickedly realistic, often comical portrayal of kinship. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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American Tango

Jennifer Vandever. Melograno, $14 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-9966795-2-7

In her enjoyable second novel, Vandever cleverly meshes strikingly eccentric characters with everyday situations. Rosalind Plumley, a 37-year-old Oregonian, is an artist trapped in a retail job that caters to snobby hipsters. She’s the middle child in a bohemian family and married to a sweet but sad man who has a budding marijuana addiction. Amid her failing marriage and struggles with her neurotic family, Rosalind fantasizes about escaping her life and moving to Buenos Aires. She signs up for a tango class in preparation for her imagined future, and what follows is a story about love and reevaluating your dreams when reality comes crashing down. Rosalind can be amusingly gloomy and the story is seasoned with salty wit—she describes a pair of shoes as appearing to have been “dipped in the shimmery gold powder used to kill off a Bond girl,” and when her liberal mother considers a late-in-life romance, the greatest drawback is that the man voted for Romney. Vandever (The Brontë Project) writes smart, interesting characters who gradually mature in believable ways. Perceptive, bittersweet, and sometimes darkly funny, this is light enough for a quick read, yet it has enough depth to leave a satisfying impression. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Tough Girl: An Olympian’s Journey

Carolyn Wood. White Pine Press (Oregon), $18 paper (306p) ISBN 978-0-9977828-0-6

In this scattered debut work, written after hiking the Camino de Santiago, Wood reflects on the struggles of youth as the root of her courage and strength necessary to push on in later life. Wood, a competitive swimmer in her early years, attempts to relate a life of hard lessons that got her to the 1960 Junior Olympics in Rome and helped her through adolescence in the mid-1960s. However, while Wood thinks fondly of her time in the pool, swimming feels like something she did in between more important life happenings. Wood depicts herself in turn as a daughter in a strained relationship with a mother recovering from cancer, an athlete constantly pushing to be and do better, a lesbian finding comfort in her own sexuality, and a middle-aged woman looking to the next phase of life. Making stops at every trying life obstacle from childhood to late adulthood, she introduces so many charged elements that the novel feels unsure of which story it is trying to tell. The sections on swimming, her mother, and her lesbianism are thought provoking, but this is mostly an aimless journey in the present while dipping into the past, with a number of rhetorical questions that read as though she’s trying to figure out her life as she’s writing it. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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