Review: “Disgrace Of The Unicorn’s Honor: Andy Smithson #3” By L.R.W. Lee


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This eBook was provided to me by the author. While I received the book at no cost to myself, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Here we have the third installment of Lee’s middle grade fiction series about Andy Smithson, a young man who is able to transport, although not at will, between his home in Texas and a magical land called Oomaldee. In this land, Andy has discovered his destiny, which is to break a curse over the land. He also has very strong ties to the King, which is explained more in this book.

Along with Andy and the King are Mermin, a speech-impaired magician; Alden, Andy’s best friend in Oomaldee; Hannah, a beautiful young lady who has caught Andy’s eye and not just for her looks; and of course, a whole case of supporting characters.

The primary protagonist is Abaddon, a bitter soul who prefers the form of a seven-headed dragon, although he is able to assume other forms. Abaddon has the ability to turn humanoid creatures into a cross between humans and vultures, and this merry band of fowl-brained henchmen do most of the evil lord’s dirty work.

The story picks up with Andy back in his homeland with his mom and dad, where he learns more about Oomaldee and his mundane world ties to the magical world. While enjoying a family trip to Schlitterbahn Water Park, Andy’s dragon friend Daisy comes to retrieve him, from the middle of the crowded water park, causing quite a commotion.

Once  back in Oomaldee, Andy learns Abaddon, who is still injured from his battle with Andy in Book Two and unable to shapeshift, has been transforming a lot of Oomaldee citizens into the vulture creatures. Knowing he must eventually battle Abaddon again, Andy is preoccupied with another task: breaking the curse.

Having read a potion recipe for curing wounds, Andy discovers unicorn horn is a powerful healing agent. Not coincidentally, there are three unicorns in the north part of the kingdom. So Andy, The King, Mermin, Alden, Hannah and a handful of The King’s men (but alas, no Humpty Dumpty, although there are a few runny / running egg gags in the series) set out to find the unicorns in the hopes the magical beasts will gift a horn to them for breaking the curse.

Complicating manners is a mysterious orb appearing only to Andy, the orb in the guise of his mother. She encourages him to get a unicorn horn for her too, to save her life (explained earlier in the book, but it’s a spoiler, soooooo…). Now Andy must choose between saving the kingdom and saving his mother.

A seven-headed monkey wrench in the works is Abaddon, who eventually captures the traveling party, but has allowed Andy, Alden and Hannah to travel and find the unicorns so that he might have a horn to heal himself. Throw in some helpful dwarves, pungent treasure-loving trolls, and other typical traps, both magical and non-magical, and there’s plenty to keep our heroes occupied.

Will Andy get enough horns to free the hostages, break the curse and save his mother? If he has insufficient horns and has to choose, what will he choose? And is this a love triangle I see starting to form? I’m sure that will cause some drama as we move along too.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Lee has really grown as a writer from her first book, and I’m pleased to see she has at least seven books planned for the series. The plot is developing at a reasonable pace, the characters are slowly fleshing out, and the book remains true to the middle grade age group it’s intended for, both in pacing, appropriate violence level, and vocabulary.

I’m glad Lee allowed me to review this book, and I look forward to the future installments.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Melt: The Art Of Macaroni And Cheese” By Stephanie Stiavetti & Garrett McCord


I received a copy of this book via NetGalley, with thanks to Little, Brown & Company for making it available. While I received this book at no cost to myself, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

That said, I love macaroni and cheese. The cover of this made me hungry, and I’d just eaten. How could I not like a book about macaroni and cheese when I already have an inclination toward loving such a book? Then again, maybe with high expectations, a book might not be able to meet them.

I must confess I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. While I’ve cooked some variations of macaroni and cheese, both stove top and as casseroles, I really couldn’t fathom what else might be out there. I honestly expected a basic macaroni and cheese dish, followed by slight variations: different cheeses, different meats, maybe some vegetables, perhaps some panko or other breadcrumbs. Something like that, and that’s all.

Boy, was I ever wrong. Try some of these recipes on for size:

  • Buffalo Mozzarella Caprese Pasta Salad
  • Paneer, Pineapple and Cucumber Pasta Salad
  • Toma Macaroni Egg Rolls With Spicy-Sweet Dipping Sauce
  • Szechuan-Style Udon With Piave And Radicchio
  • Penne With Etorki Cream Sauce And Asparagus
  • Pumpkin Stuffed With Fontina, Italian Sausage And Macaroni

Get the idea?

One thing I really like about the recipes is they are described in such a way as to identify why the various ingredients work together, and not just the pasta and cheese. Additionally, they will offer alternatives for the ingredients, especially if they include a hard-to-find cheese. The directions for the recipes are also very detailed, again, giving a lot of detail as to why each step should be performed the way it’s described.

Another valuable asset of this book is its appendices, where various types of cheeses and pastas are described in detail, noting which ingredients, sauces, cheeses, etc., blend well with them and why.

Overall, I absolutely loved this book. It not only hit a home run with a universal comfort food, it has given me many ideas on how to adapt other recipes based on the ideas I learned here. I definitely am going to get a hardcopy of this book to add to my cookbook collection.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Dukkha: Unloaded” By Loren W. Christensen


I received a copy of this book from YMAA Publishing Center in exchange for an honest read and review. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

That said, YMAA is essentially just keeping a junkie addicted with what they’re giving me. Here I am, a martial artist, who respects the author for his real-world martial arts training advice, and they are offering me the third book in this series, having already provided me with the first two books? Yeah, please!

As noted in previous reviews of “Dukkha: The Suffering” and “Dukkha: Reverb”, I am a fan of the characters Christensen has created, especially Sam Reeves. Authors are always told “Write what you know.”, and Christensen takes this advice literally. He is a martial arts instructor, Vietnam veteran (Tip of the cap to all vets), and a retired law enforcement officer. Not surprisingly, Reeves takes on all those roles, although his LEO career is still active. This allows Christensen to breathe life and depth into his protagonist in a way that many authors can only dream of.

But it doesn’t stop there. Christensen has also created believable characters in Reeves’s and “sister” Mai as well as their father Samuel. Granted, a lot of what Samuel does can be perceived as superhuman, but hey, we all have to have goals, right?

OK, enough about all that, let’s get to the book.

As if you can’t already tell, I loved this book. It’s great to see the author still has some new ideas and circumstances to throw his protagonists into. He’s certainly not a one trick pony. While Sam was in Vietnam visiting family and making a dent in the human trafficking there, some hate crimes started cropping up around Portland. Just as Sam returns, the victims are Mark, Sam’s boss who also happens to be gay, and Mark’s partner. While Sam certainly would have wanted to stop the crimes, it suddenly became very personal.

Things are complicated enough for Sam without one minor detail: while in Vietnam he realized he never wanted to carry or fire a gun again. So now he has to track down the people responsible for these violent hate crimes, and he only has his bare hands, and whatever improvised weapon he can find, to assist him.

Of course, every well-rounded novel needs a little romance, and Christensen doesn’t disappoint. Naturally the biggest emotional tension is between Sam and Mai, the latter beginning the novel still in Vietnam. Will they continue to grow together, or will the distance make them drift?

So yeah, I really enjoyed this novel. Hearing even more books are in the works makes me nearly, yeah, I’ll admit it, giddy. It’s so refreshing to read a novel with genuine action scenes that I can picture while still maintaining the realism only a season veteran of violence can bring to the page.

If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, stop now, go get them, and read them. Then read this one. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Venom Of The Serpent’s Cunning: Andy Smithson # 2” By L.R.W. Lee


I received a copy of this ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review. Even though it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

In May 2013, I read and reviewed the first book in this series, “Blast Of The Dragon’s Fury”. While I certainly enjoyed the story and Lee’s writing, I was very critical of grammatical and simple word choice mistakes. My concern was the target audience, middle grade students. As that age group is just starting to really explore and choose books that meet their specific interest areas, it was imperative to me the book not have so many errors. We certainly wouldn’t want the students presuming something like “calvary” being a group of soldiers mounted on horseback, rather than the correct “cavalry”.

I really appreciate the way Lee handled my critique. I have had authors take me to task for such criticism, but Lee met it head on, making sure I got a copy of the second book. She handled it all with great professionalism, and I commend her for that.

That said, I had no such problems with this book, so kudos to Lee for that. I certainly experienced fewer speed bumps, as it were, making the book a quick, smooth read.

In this book, Andy Smithson, the titular character, returns to Oomaldee for an unknown reason. Waiting for him are many of the same cast of characters from the first book: King Hercalon, his sorcerer sidekick Mermin, Andy’s friend Alden, and all the other castle staff who’ve come to love Andy.

Unfortunately, the vulture men are also back, including Razen, now a trusted adviser to the king. This position certainly causes Andy some pause during the story, not sure if he can trust Razen or not.

As the story progresses, Andy learns the king’s deep dark secret as well as the true cause of the curse that haunts the kingdom. The theft of a magical stone, which has kept both the king and Mermin healthy and immortal, causes both of them to become very sick. And away goes Andy, Alden and a cast of supporting characters, to fight the evil Abbadon, who is aided by the spirit of the king’s sister, Imogenia.

Will they be able to defeat Abbadon again, especially when the evil dragon is unlikely to underestimate Andy again? Will they accomplish their mission in time to save the king and Mermin? What lessons will Andy learn along the way? I guess you’ll just need to read it and find out. 🙂

Much like the first book, I really enjoyed this for the lessons it is trying to teach the young readers. Such lessons are honesty, accepting fault when you make a mistake, and acceptance of things you cannot change, while conversely being very determined to change those you can.

I like the way Lee fills in the story with other details, such as a game played in Oomaldee called Oscray. While it doesn’t have the magical elements of a game such as Quidditch, it’s still an egg-cellent game and is easy to visualize due to Lee’s narrative.

Overall, I was very pleased with this book. I can’t wait for the next installment!

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin …” By Molly Knight Raskin


Via NetGalley, I received a copy of this galley from Perseus Books Group / Da Capo Press. While I received it at no cost to myself, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

That said, I loved loved loved this book.

I imagine that most people outside of computer geekdom are probably not familiar with Danny Lewin or Akamai Technologies. But if you enjoy quick-loading websites with video streaming that doesn’t constantly lag, or if you are able to hit CNN and get regular updates when a huge breaking story hits, then you have Lewin to thank.

The story starts with Lewin as a gifted teenager, raised in a Jewish family. While he is in high school, Lewin’s family moves to Israel, where Lewin finishes his secondary education. Following high school, he tries out and qualifies for the most elite group in the Israeli special forces. The experiences he gains serves him well throughout his life, especially in the tenacity, determination and endurance necessary to excel.

Eventually Lewin takes a leave from the military to follow his educational dream: a post-graduate stint at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There Lewin finds an advisor and mentor in Tom Leighton, one of his instructors at MIT. Lewin is quickly identified as someone who has a lot of potential and ability, and people begin expecting great things from Lewin.

The roots of Akamai Technologies began when Lewin wanted to enter a contest at MIT for startup business ideas, primarily because he and his family desperately needed the cash prize to survive. Lewin’s concept was to tackle a huge issue on the Internet at that time: speed of delivery for content. When something became suddenly popular or breaking news hit the web, servers often buckled and crashed under the load. Lewin’s idea was simple in concept: devise a set of algorithms to distribute the load to cached copies of popular websites located on servers spread out over the country and, eventually, the world.

There begins the majority of the story, talking about how Akamai came to be, their meteoric rise and eventual leveling out with the dot.com crash on NASDAQ.

The book also covers Lewin’s eventual death, likely as the first victim of 9/11. Based on reports from flight attendants during the initial part of the hijacking of the first plane, Lewin was killed trying to stop one of the hijackers.

Which of course, leads to one of the big questions in the book: Can Akamai handle the huge media crush during and following 9/11, especially when they are still coming to grips with the loss of one of their founders?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was even more enjoyable because I’m not only a math geek, I’ve been involved in computers since I was nine (more than 35 years). But even if that wasn’t the case, it was still a great story about a young man who who driven from his teenage years to make a difference, which he certainly did in his 31 years.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Noah’s Rainy Day” By Sandra Brannan


I received a copy of this galley via NetGalley from Greenleaf Book Group. While it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

When I agreed to read this, I didn’t know it was the fourth book in the series. But sometimes, it can be good to pick up a book several books into a series so you can see how polished the book is. If it’s sloppy and ugly by the fourth book, chances are you don’t want to pick up the first three.

Alright, on to the review. The main character of this series is Liv Bergen who, as of this book, is fresh out of Quantico and ready for her first assignment with faithful bloodhound Beulah by her side. And boy, does it come with a vengeance.

Little Max is flying from New York to California to spend Christmas with his mother, who is estranged from his father and certainly not on good terms with him. Max is accompanied solely by an employee of the airlines and, once the employee is distracted by an argument with his girlfriend at Denver Airport, Little Max disappears. His parents are quite the celebrities, which brings a lot of local and national media attention to the case, only adding to the pressure on the investigative team.

Agent Bergen must work along with agents Streeter Pierce and Jack Linwood, the latter her current beau. Naturally, there’s a little bit of triangle chemistry going on to provide an additional subplot.

In the midst of this storyline is my favorite character, Noah Hogarty, a twelve year-old who would love to be a spy one day. He has a terrific mind for analysis and details, enjoying when his Aunt Liv comes by to discuss cases with him. They even work small cases on their own when mysteries appear.

Noah knows what happened to Little Max and is more than willing to share that information, but he has one sizable roadblock: Noah has severe cerebral palsy. This means he is unable to communicate in an easy manner, relying on cues such as smiling for a yes answer or using the five-finger method of working through the alphabet with his sister. Consequently, Noah can only answer questions if he’s asked. But if they don’t know to ask him……..

As the story develops, the story gets too close to home for Liv, and Noah gets taken by Max’s kidnapper, placing both boys in mortal danger. Will Agent Bergen figure out the clues? Will Noah’s family pick up on the cues he’s trying to give them? Can both boys be returned safely to their respective families?

Overall, I really enjoyed the storyline, especially because of Noah, as I previously noted. As the parent of an adult with special needs, I see a lot of Noah in my older son, even though he doesn’t have CP like Noah does. Following an email exchange with the author, I now know some of the backstory which allowed her to give such detailed depth to Noah’s character, and it’s no surprise he is such a strong character.

My only beef about the book is the location of the kidnapper is just a little too convenient. Sure, it needed to be that way to move the storyline along in the direction the author wanted, but it felt a little forced. It also allowed me to figure out much of where the book was going at only 21% into the book (I read a digital edition, so I didn’t really pay attention to pages). However, none of that works as a spoiler for the story; it just weakens it somewhat.

That said, I would definitely recommend this book to others, and I have already acquired the first three books from Amazon so I can catch up on Agent Bergen’s past stories.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “The Purity Of Vengeance” By Jussi Adler-Olsen


I received an eGalley of this book through Penguin Books’ First To Read program. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give it a positive review.

When I first agreed to read this novel, I didn’t realize it was the fourth book in The Department Q series. So it took me a bit to catch up with the characters and what the author presumes the reader already knows from the previous three books.

Nete Hermansen has an axe to grind. As a youth in the 1950s, she was forcefully sterilized by physician Curt Wad. In the eighties she sets plans in motion to bring about revenge on Wad and others involved in her abuse.

In present day, Detective Carl Mørck gets handed a case he really didn’t want any part of because of the emotional baggage associated with it. The case involves two of his former partners, and the case is also responsible for getting Mørck involved in Department Q. As the detective digs into the disappearance of a lady named Rita, who owned a brothel at the time she vanished, he and his assistants learned that many other people disappeared at the same time.

As the story moves along, you learn more about Wad and his political ambitions, not to mention the evidence he gathers as a means of cataloging blackmail against political adversaries. Eventually the lives of Wad, Hermansen, Mørck and the missing persons, all come together into a nice bit of crime solving for Department Q.

As I noted earlier, I’ve not read anything by Adler-Olsen before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve also, as far as I know, never read any fiction that takes place in modern day Denmark.

About halfway through the book I learned through some online reading that Adler-Olsen’s books are originally written in Danish and then translated to English. That certainly helped explain some issues I had with the book, as it didn’t seem to flow as naturally as I would like following the translation. I particularly was thinking of “The Girl Who…” series by Stiegg Larsson. The translations on those didn’t feel quite so cumbersome.

That said, I liked the way Adler-Olsen built the story. It does flip back and forth between timelines a bit, but considering the way they are tied together, it’s a necessity. Either way, I will likely go back and pick up the first three books in the series to check them out too.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)