Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott

✰✰✰½ Take a trip back in time to the early 1900s and step into the perfumed parlors of the Everleigh Club. Author Karen Abbott takes the reader on a tour Chicago's notorious Levee, a vice district which featured "sporting clubs" for every interest. The Everleigh Club was the most famous and expensive brothel of it's time, and entertainers, royalty, sports icons, and politicians came from all over to sample it's delicacies.

The club was owned by sisters Minna and Ada Everleigh, as they called themselves. The sisters came to Chicago with grand plans and aspired to elevate the industry of prostitution. Their girls, or butterflies as they were known, received health care and a salary. The girls were even tutored in literature and could converse on any topic. The business savvy Everleigh sisters were way ahead of their time.

However, this book is not just about the infamous sisters and their brothel. Abbot explores the role of the Progressive Era reformers in shaping the sexual culture of America at the turn of the century. As the reformers lead by Reverend Bell gained momentum, the sisters always managed to stay just one step ahead of trouble. Nevertheless, their reign ended in 1911 when there was a crackdown on the red-light district, and Chicago was changed forever.

The Bottom Line: Author Karen Abbott invites the reader to take a look behind the scenes at the world-famous club and the women who thrived there. With money, sex, and murder, you're sure to be entertained by Sin in the Second City. With a cast of characters that includes "Hinky Dink" Kenna, Bathhouse John Coughlin, Madam Vic Shaw, Reverend Ernest Bell, and Chicago Assistant State's Attorney Clifford Roe, you can't go wrong. This is a nonfiction book that reads like fiction. It is filled with anecdotes and features a fascinating look at brothels and the Progressive Era at the turn of the 20th century. Recommended for history buffs and those interested in Chicago's underworld.

Details: Sin in the Second City: Madams, Gangsters, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul by Karen Abbott. Hardcover published by Random House in 2007. 384 p. ISBN: 978-1-4000-6530-1

For more information, you can visit Karen Abbot's website or the Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Review: Unhallowed Ground by Mel Starr

✰✰✰✰ Hugh de Singleton, surgeon and bailiff, is back in the fourth installment of the series. Once again Master Hugh is overseeing activities in Bampton in the absence of Lord Gilbert. Hugh and his new bride, Kate, are just settling into married life when he is summoned to the apparent suicide of Thomas atte Bridge. Thomas had been found hanging from a tree with an overturned stool lying nearby.

It seems simple enough; however, Master Hugh is troubled by what he observes at the scene and suspects that a murder has been committed. Having wronged almost everyone in town at one time or another, it comes as no surprise that few mourn the death of atte Bridge. Indeed, Hugh finds that there is no shortage of villagers who would have wanted Thomas dead. Chief among the suspects is Master Hugh's old nemesis, John Kellet. Rumor has it that Kellet is a changed man, but Hugh finds this difficult to believe.

Although it would be easier to simply let the matter rest, Hugh struggles with his conscience and must decide whether to pursue a killer among his friends or not. Alone in his convictions with only the support of his new wife, Hugh must act before someone else gets hurt.

The Bottom Line: Unhallowed Ground: The Fourth Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon is written in first person. The story unfolds in a chronicle written by Master Hugh. Hugh's writing exposes his thoughts as he searches for the murderer and does some soul searching. Author Mel Starr provides the reader with a fun puzzle and a fascinating look at medieval village life and medical practices.
This is an enjoyable, quick read that is perfect for the weekend. While it is the fourth book in the series, it can be read as a stand alone. However, I have enjoyed reading the series in order and watching Master Hugh grow in character and struggle with his faith. The book includes both a map and a glossary. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, cozies, and medieval mysteries. I'm looking forward the fifth installment of the series, The Tainted Coin.

Details: Unhallowed Ground: The Fourth Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon by Mel Starr. Paperback published by Monarch Books in 2011. 240 p. ISBN: 978-0857210586 Note: I received a copy of the book from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cookbook Review: A Little Irish Cookbook by John Murphy

✰✰✰½ I found this little gem of a cookbook tucked away on the shelves of my local library. Don't let the tiny size fool you; it contains 50 classic Irish recipes including: Soda Bread, Boxty, Mutton Broth, Champ, and Corned Beef & Cabbage.

All recipes are very short and relatively simple to follow. However, a few of the recipes do assume some previous cooking and baking experience. Recipe instructions are in paragraph form rather than outline form. It also includes charming colored pencil drawings throughout and an index.

This book is part of the International Little Cookbooks series. If you like this one, check out the other titles including: A Little Caribbean Cookbook by Jill Hamilton, A Little Greek Cookbook by Rena Salaman & many more.

The Bottom Line: This is a fun little book to add to any cookbook collection (if you can still find a copy). While it is not a "comprehensive collection" of recipes, it does include an assortment of traditional Irish cuisine. Plus, it's perfect for choosing a dish to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Recommended for everyone interested in cooking up a little taste of Ireland.

Details: A Little Irish Cookbook written by John Murphy & illustrated by Karen Bailey. Hardcover published by Chronicle Books in 1986. 60 p. ISBN: 0-87701-400-0

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Review: The Leprechaun's Gold by Pamela Duncan Edwards

✰✰✰✰½ A long time ago in a faraway Irish village, there lived a harpist known as Old Pat. Another harpist, Young Tom, was given to bragging and charging great fees for his talents while humble Old Pat freely shared his gift with all. One day a royal harping contest was announced. Both Old Pat and Young Tom set off for the Royal Palace. That night while resting in the forest, wicked Young Tom sabotages Old Pat's harp.

As luck would have it Old Pat happens upon a leprechaun in distress. Now everyone knows the reputation leprechauns have for creating trouble by promising gold to unsuspecting people. Young Tom quickly flees, but Old Pat follows his heart and lends a helping hand. Old Pat soon falls into a deep slumber. Will the old man ever make it to the contest on time or will he succumb to the tricks of the leprechaun? Read The Leprechaun's Gold to find out.

The Bottom Line: A heartwarming tale for the young and young at heart, The Leprechaun's Gold teaches children the values of kindness and generosity. Filled with charming and colorful illustrations by Henry Cole, this book is perfect for St. Patrick's Day reading. Highly recommended for kids in grades K - 3.

Details: The Leprechaun's Gold written by Pamela Duncan Edwards & illustrated by Henry Cole. Hardcover picture book published by Katherine Tegan Books in 2004. 32 p. ISBN: 0-06-623974-5