Saturday, January 30, 2010

A review of "Tamales" [8]

Tamales by Daniel Hoyer
(Gibbs Smith, ISBN 978-1-4236-0319-1)

I love tamales. Take me to a Mexican restaurant and I am scanning the menu, looking for my tamales. But if your only tamale experience is the offerings of the local eating place, well then I think you experience is very limited. A pork..maybe a chicken...tamale, but that is it. Delicious...but sometimes we want more. Different fillings...different sauces, all wrapped in a delicious masa corn filling, steamed to lovely doneness. So I realize, to find that variety, I must strike out on my own and how happy was I to have receive a book for Christmas that will become my guide!

Every tamale has three basic parts. First, there is the corn exterior, made with a thick corn batter, the masa, and Mr. Hoyer thoroughly explains a couple of different techniques in making it. He explains what equipment you will need and what ingredients, all very well illustrated with beautiful photographs. We then go on to fillings and the variety offered in this book is impressive. Yes, a spicy pork is included but there are also beef, chicken, shrimp and a very nice variety of vegetarian options like Sweet Corn, Poblano Chile and Cheese, Black Eyed Peas and Mushroom, Roasted Peppers and Poblano Chile Tamales. Included in the book is also a whole chapter of sauces for your tamales from a quick Salsa Verde to a rather complicated but doable Oaxaca Style Black Mole.

Finally, there is a chapter on sweet tamales, made with a sweet masa and with fillings like Mexican Chocolate and Almond and Pineapple and Coconut. On my, that sounds tasty. Who knew?

Now, I have not made any of the recipes in this book yet but it looks like a very good tamale guide from what I can see. It is very clearly written and very informative about the whole subject. It is full of great photographs, not only of the finished product but of some techniques as well, helpful for we novices in things like tamale folding. And the variety of recipes is impressive.

I am off in search of a few chiles and some corn husk wrappers and I will soon be steaming me some tamales!

Any experienced tamales makers out there?
Any favorite recipes, any helpful hints?
Don't be shy, speak up before I screw them up and break my heart in disappointment. ;-)

This is my contribution this week to Weekend Cooking. Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D.Salinger 1919-2010

No doubt you may have read the news. Another one of the cultural icons of my youth, J.D Salinger, has died, having passed away this Wednesday at his New Hampshire home. He was 91.

Some of you may have been surprised that he was still alive. He had not published anything in many, many years, was rarely seen in public and had become quite the recluse. And, if any number of the stories about his personal life are true, was a rather strange man. A man that wanted his publisher to remove his photograph from the book jacket of his very famous novel because he was sick of looking at himself. A writer who had not published anything since 1965, having told a reporter once that "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I love to write for myself and my own pleasure." Still, I think fans can be forgiven for almost being overcome with the thought that the rumor that he has been writing all these years and has stacks of unpublished material that his estate may someday now let see the light of day may, in fact, be true.

Of course, Salinger is most famous for his novel, the coming of age story of Holden Caulfield, 'Catcher in the Rye'. And while I read it and most likely enjoyed it, it will not be for Catcher that I remember Salinger. No, I was all about the Glass family, the major subject of his writing, explored in 'Franny and Zooey' and 'Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters' and in several of the stories in 'Nine Stories'. Which along with his one novel, 'Catcher in the Rye" is pretty much the total sum of everything he published. To quote an article today in the L.A.Times,
"For all that "The Catcher in the Rye" made him famous, "Franny and Zooey" is Salinger's masterpiece, an evocation of loss and longing within the bonds of family. Composed of two novellas, it introduces the youngest members of the Glass family, about whom Salinger would devote more than half of his published work.

The Glasses are a New York creation, theatrical but also intellectual, middle class but bohemian at the same time. They talk and fight like immigrants, but they pursue esoteric pursuits, most notably Eastern philosophy and Buddhism, like members of the leisured elite.

In a sense, this was reflective of Salinger's experience; growing up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the son of a Scotch-Irish mother and a wealthy Jewish father, he had a foot in several worlds. Yet more to the point, the Glasses offered Salinger a wide lens through which to look at the intersection of mystical and secular culture, at the satisfactions of the spirit and of the flesh."
If you aspire to be a serial killer, of course, you must have your copy of 'Catcher in the Rye' on hand, but I think if you really want to understand Salinger and read his best work, get your hands on a copy of 'Franny and Zooey'. If you have never read it, I think you have a great pleasure ahead of you.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

a review of "The Various Haunts of Men" [7]

The Various Haunts of Men- A Simon Serrailler Mystery
(The Overlook Press, ISBN 978-1-58567-876-1)

Angela Randall, a solitary, middle-aged woman, disappears one day while on her morning run and largely go unmissed. Her boss goes to the police after several days, to report that she has not shown up for work, but there is no sign of anything criminal, so the police do not seem to think it is worthy of much investigation. There is one oddly, that it appears she had purchased a number of very expensive gifts for some unknown man, but that too prove a dead in and the police shortly move on to more important matters. Except there is something about the case that DS Freya Graffham can not let go.

Freya is new to the force in Lafferton, a rather charmingly portrayed cathedral town, having moved there from London after her divorce, looking for a new start in her personal life and in her career in the police department. She has a sense that there is something more going on with the disappearance, but she is not successful in convincing her superiors, including Inspector Simon Serrailler, until a second...and then a third...woman disappears. Then it is impossible to ignore the fact that there is some terrible evil going on in their quiet town.

This is the first in what is now a four book series, and while it is called a "Simon Serrailler Mystery", in fact Simon plays a rather minor role in this book. Freya, and the charming DC Nathan Coates, are at the center of this story. In fact, Simon's sister, Dr. Cat Deerborn plays a larger role than he does, since several of the missing people have ties to her medical practice. Most of what we come to know about Simon in this first installment in the series comes from what his sister and brother in law and parents reveal rather than directly from Simon's role. This is a very character heavy book...which is just up my I can only assume that the smaller role of Simon in this book is intentional. An intention that becomes clearer, I think, with the surprising ending to the story. What happens in this story will not end with the last page of the book but will continue to form our view of the interesting, and not totally likable, character of Simon Serrailler.

We see the events play out from several points of views, through the eyes of the victims, the police and even the killer. There are a number of storylines going on, and even though my sister-in-law though a few loose ends were left hanging, I thought the author did a fine job of tying it all together. The identity and motive of the killer, when finally revealed, may not be a total surprise, but without question the ending is truly shocking. And in my opinion, quite excellent.

This is an intelligent, very well written, police procedural and I know that, without question, I will be checking out the other three books in the series. An engrossing, very entertaining read that I would give a strong recommendation to.

My thanks to the free county library system for this one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wordless Wednesday...Foggy Tree

...for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bandit is a Traveling Fool.

Of course, I mean fool in the nicest way, 'cause Bandy is nobody's fool.

Here he is in his little travel bag, ready to go wherever you want to take him.

If You Think Your Library is Small....

...check out this one in the village of Westbury-sub-Mendip in England. Seems the village was going to lose both it's public phone box and it's library around the same time, so someone got the fine idea to combine the two. Take a book...leave a book.
Villagers... can use the library around the clock, selecting books, DVDs and CDs.

Users simply stock it with a book they have read, swapping it for one they have not.

"It's really taken off. The books are constantly changing," said parish councillor Bob Dolby.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Musing Monday...Climbing Back on The Blogland Horse.

Perhaps a few of you notice my absence on my blog this week....perhaps not. :-)
Afraid I was under the weather, yes again, and not really up to writing a review or reading yours. Or actually turning on my computer, which accounts for the hundreds of unread e-mails and the almost countless Google Reader entries. I may have to clear my Reader and start from scratch. But today the fury has calmed down, so let's see if we can get back in the blogland swing....sounds like a country dance!...and check out this weeks question from Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Where do you keep any books borrowed from friends or the library? Do they live with your own collection, or do you keep them separate? Do you monitor them in anyway.

I am not as organized person as I wish I was. I try, usually for about a week at New Years to bring order to my pile of confusion, with little success. So in my dreams, I would have my books all organized. A neat stack here of reading or next to be read. A neat stack of library books, in order due back. In reality, you have seen the pictures of the piles. But books from the library, a resource I have have only started using again in recent months, I try to keep better control of. Because I am cheap and hate to pay the fines.

For me the key is limit the number. I actually try to keep the number of books I have out at any one time to two, maybe three max. Then, even I can remember where they are and pretty much when they are due. Right now, I have two by the front door and one, not yet finished, on my bedside table. This question was, in fact, very helpful, because it reminded me to renew online the one due tomorrow so I can finish the other and return them all together.

The problem is many of the books I want, I find have to be placed on hold and received from other branches. Then there is no way of knowing when the book will come in. I might have several on hold and get none...then they all arrive the same day and I am above my anti-confusion level of three. In that case I find it safest, fine wise, to leave the pile on the dining room table, where they can't be missed or lost. Read one, replace it there. A grand plan...unless you actually want to use the table to eat it.
Do I monitor them in any way? Oh, I wish that I could. Some sort of implant or electronic device. It would have saved me from several terrible library book incidents in my checked past.

Borrowing from others is another matter. I don't do it often...and I don't really like to do it. I take the responsibility of having another's book too seriously. I am afraid of damaging it or losing it. I have to read it at once and return it as soon as possible.

Oddly, it seems not everyone has such issues with books they might borrow. :-)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

If it's Tuesday...It's Bandit.

Wee Bandit looks very contemplative here I think.

...and here he is all about the smile!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Musing Monday...Don't Get Between Me and My Book!

I am a bit late today with my musing, but the niece was home for a surprise holiday weekend visit, she and Bandit, and I had to see them off at the airport. But now, let's check out this weeks questions from Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about reading around people.

When is it inappropriate to read in front of others? Is it ever appropriate?

Is it inappropriate to read in front of others? What? I think it is inappropriate for other people to be around when I am trying to read! Ok, may be that is a bit extreme. But it is inappropriate for them, strangers especially, to disturb me!
"Are you reading?"
"What are you reading?"
"Is it a good book? I don't reading many books."
Oh really? What a surprise. ;-)
Yes, there might be a few situations where it is not appropriate to bring a book. A wedding, especially you own...your prom....a funeral, certainly your own...high tea with the Queen.

But there are so many when it is appropriate, even a necessity, especially for ones mental sanity. In other answers, the issue of waiting rooms came up. Now of course, if you are alone, a book is a requirement. Unless something really entertaining is happen in the waiting room, perhaps some other interpersonal interactions you might not be able to avoid hearing. Not that you are Actually, a book is still needed then, so you can pretend to be reading and not listening. I find that makes people more talkative.
Now if you are with someone else, unless some sort of emotional support is required, you should each have a book. If emotional support is required, ok, put the book away for now. Sometimes that is the price to pay to appear to be a civilized person.

But how about a social gathering of some sort? Well, I guess it depends. If everyone is a party sort of thing, I guess some people might be offended if you take out a book. Even if they are dull or boring.
But say it is a more relaxed gathering. Maybe in a situation where others, even if 'with you' are doing their own think too. For example, I was at my bro and sil's yesterday. The bro was on the computer, the sil and niece watching football. If I had thought to bring a book, I think that would be totally appropriate. If everyone was sitting there talking, yes, I guess you could not get away with that.
Like maybe it is not appropriate to take out a book when we were actually eating dinner.

Bottom line, I can't think of a time when you are alone when it is not appropriate to be reading. Certainly any situation that requires waiting. And, in fact, it is darn rude of other people to interrupt your reading at such times. If someone else starts talking to you I find it best to pretend you are so engrossed in your book that you don't hear them. They usually stop after a little while. When with others, the degree of appropriateness is determined by how much you can get away with.
Maybe by how small the book is. If you had a tiny book you could fit in your palm the possibilities would be endless...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Weekend Cooking...How's Yours Drink? [6]

How's Your Drink? Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well by Eric Felten
(Agate Publishing, ISBN 978-1-57284-101-7)

Now let me just say right up front, I am not a big drinker. Really!
Yes, I have been known to enjoy a nice dark beer (oh, do not get me started on the vile, watery liquid sold by Budweiser) or a glass of wine with dinner or even a fruity cocktail on a summer day. Maybe two. And I always thought it would be nice to have a signature drink, a classic cocktail you could fall back and order when the opportunity calls.

But more than the actual alcohol, I find the whole culture of alcohol fascinating. Maybe it was growing up in a bar, probably being in the bar that my parents own every day from the time they bought it when I was 6, until the time I graduated from college and my mom sold it. All the variety of bottles behind the beautiful mahogany bar, different colors, different shapes- a variety of different glasses, shakers, strainers..that long skinny spoon used to get an olive or cherry out of the jar. I have toured beer breweries (Budweiser...beautiful, historic brewery...watery beer made with RICE!) and whiskey distilleries in several countries, and I find them very interesting. The history, the technique, the whole interplay of our culture and alcohol is intriguing, and now I have found the perfect book to feed that interest!

In How's Your Drink, Mr. Felten takes us on a charming tour of the history of the cocktail, from the questionable origin of that name, up to the present day, and my personal pet peeve, the misuse of the term martini to name every mess poured into a martini glass. Gin, arguably vodka, and vermouth, historically a dash of bitters, shake with ice...martini.
"Thus we have Martinis and Vodka Martinis, but what of the dizzying variety of pretenders that have usurped hat cocktail honorific in recent years? The distinguishing characteristics of the modern bar has been the surfeit of "Martini" that aren't Martinis-those candy-colored cocktails with labels like "Raspberry Martini" or Apple-tini" that fill out the the inevitable "Martini List. For the purist, it's bad enough that a drink of vodka and vermouth is referred to as a Martini. But one doesn't have to be a stickler to realize that a drink of vodka, sweet liqueur, and fruit juice is not a Martini."
Oh, Mr. Felten, you are my hero! Let's start a petition, pass a law!!

But the joy does not end there. Felten takes us on a tour through the history of the last several hundred years, tracking the origins of any number of classic drinks and the role those cocktails have played in our culture, in politics, in the military, in film and, very interestingly, in literature. Any number of people make an appearance in the stories he shares, from Teddy Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth, James Bond (and let it be known, he drank many more interesting things than that always mentioned stirred martini), John Updike (who he claims killed the Old Fashioned), to Dickens and my personal favorite, Lucy the chimp.
"You don't have to be a nuclear scientist to enjoy a G&T (gin and tonic). When Lucy the chimpanzee was famously learning sign language, she picked up a few other human habits as well. Jane Goodall recounted her experience meeting Lucy in the book ; 'I watched, amazed, as she opened the refrigerator and various cupboards, found bottles and a glass, then poured herself a gin and tonic' Lucy 'took the drink to the TV' and after a little channel surfing, turned off the set, 'as though in disgust.' Lucy had taste in drinks and entertainment."
There are many recipes of classic cocktails, along with their often fascinating histories, and other related stories, like the story of a New England merchant who made his fortune shipping ice in ships from the frozen ponds of his home to ports as far away as Calcutta...really.

Bottom line, Mr. Felten believes that how we drink and what we drink speaks to who we are and how we want to be seen by the world. And he offers himself as a guide through this world, with great trivia, great stories, definitive recipes and any number of amusing and serious anecdotes.
"Let's resolve to avoid tedium at the cocktail hour and recognize that in some ways, drink choices are like that of wardrobe...To know the what, the when, and the where of cocktails, we need to know more than just what's tasty- the culture, the business, and even the politics of liquor. The more we know about drinks, heir origins, their literature, and their lore, the better equipped we are to clothe ourselves in the right cocktail. How's Your Drink? is devoted to enjoying these social lubricants, and enjoying them with style."
Mr. Felten, who also writes a column in the Wall Street Journal, has written a delightful, entertaining guide to this important aspect of our culture, maybe best enjoyed with a Dark and Stormy or a Dubonnet Cocktail, straight up or on the rocks. Because you know we Americans love our ice.

This is my contribution this week to Weekend Cooking. Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

a review of "Trial by Fire" [5]

Trial by Fire- A Novel of Suspense by J.A.Jance
(Simon and Schuster, ISBN 978-1-4165-6380-8)

"She awakened to the sound of roaring flames and to searing heat and lung-chocking smoke. Maybe she was already dead and this was hell, but why would she go to hell? What had she done to deserve that? Just then a scorched beam fell across her leg nad she felt the horrifying pain of burning flesh- her burning flesh. That's when she knew she wasn't dead. She was still alive. And on fire."
Ali Reynolds, a well to do widow, has returned to her hometown of Sedona, Arizona to be near her parents and her grown son and his wife. She has no need to take a job, but when the sheriff asks her, based on her background as a journalist, to temporarily take on the media coordinator job for his department, she accepts. And very soon is wondering why. She finds herself resented on all side, in the middle of a department shakeup. Then things really heat up, quite literally. She is called to the scene of an ongoing fire involving two houses under construction. Because it is a suspected case of eco-terrorism, the feds are called in, and when a very badly burned woman is rescued from one of the houses, it also become a case of attempted murder. If they only had some idea who the woman is, if she herself had any idea who she was, why she was in that house and who wants her dead.

Because of the federal involvement, the sheriff assigns Ali to the hospital where the burn victims was taken, to handle the press and see if she can uncover any information to help identify the woman. There she meets Sister Anselm, an elderly nun who is a nurse and patient advocate for very serious cases, earning her the media name of the Angel of Death....and someone with an interesting story of her own. Someone wants her patient dead, but Sister Anselm and Ali are going to do their best to discover what is really going on.

There are a number of things I liked about this book...and a few I did not. Let's take the negative first. Some aspects of the plot required some suspension of disbelief. As an example, a lengthy stake out in the visitors waiting room involving a red wig and pink pants suit...not so believable for me. The ending just a bit too easy and pat. But on the positive side, there is a lot to recommend this book. The book is well written, the story entertaining if not extremely memorable. And there are a number of very good and likable characters, including Ali's houseman/assistant/majordomo Leland Brooks, her injured Iraq veteran daughter-in-law and the very smart and capable Ali herself. This is the fifth in this series, a series which is only one of several Jance has written, and if these characters are going to make a reappearance, I would be interested in checking out any future installments.

Some good characters and an entertaining story overcome some issues I have with this book and would have me give it a slightly qualified recommendation.

My thanks to the Amazon Vine program for this book.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Sunset over Galway Bay

Sunset over Galway Bay, Cashel, Co. Galway, Ireland

...for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bandit Tuesday! And a Very Special Day!

Yes Bandit, I know. Every Bandit Tuesday is a very special day.

But today is also, I humbly admit, my birthday. Yes, several decades ago, in a raging snowstorm, a wee caite made her appearance on planet earth.

And thank you Bandit. I got your card. Cute puppy on the cover, but not as cute as another doggie I know...a delightful doggie named BANDIT!

Wake up Bandit! You need to bake me a cake.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Musing Monday...Books, Books, Drowning in a Sea of Books.

Let's check out today's Monday Musing question from Just One More Page

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about tidy bookshelves.
Are your bookshelves strictly books only? Or have knick-knacks invaded? Do your shelves also shelve DVDs? Photos? Why not snap a photo – I’m sure we all like to spy on other’s shelves!

In my dreams, my shelves are neat and tidy, decorated with a few decorative items. This picture above, taken awhile ago and posted here before, comes closest to what I mean. But of course, time does not stand still. Which means, it went downhill from here. But first, yes, I have a few items on my bookshelves, besides books.

There are CD, in their own tidy little cubbyholes. Actually, since they are all on my iPod, I should just box them away, but nothing else will fit so nicely in those shelves. So they stay.

Then there are the wee lighthouses. I try to get one of each lighthouse I have visited. But I am starting to realize this might get out of hand too, so we will see about that. Maybe they need their own spot. Where that would be, I know not. A bigger house?

Then there is my favorite orange bowl and Book Clock.

From there, it is all downhill, neatness, organization wise. There is the top of the stairs pile.

There is the next to the bookcase pile. Which is next to the double shelved shelves, as you might notice.
There is the "I used to be somewhere else and now I am here" pile.

...and, of course, my favorite...the next to my chair pile.

There are, in fact, some other shelves, some other piles. But I think I have exposed enough for today. I am beyond the tidiness I desire. When I build that new bookcase upstairs, maybe I will share.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Weekend Cooking...The Best International Recipe [4]

The Best International Recipe- A Home Cook's Guide to the Best Recipes in the World by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated
(America's Test Kitchen, ISBN 978-1-933615-17-2)

After I started my blog, and tried to become more organized about my reading, I found I did not have time to read the many periodicals I once subscribed to. So as their renew dates came, many fell by the wayside. But never one, my favorite, Cook's Illustrated magazine. You may be familiar with it or with the companion America's Test Kitchen TV show that is aired on PBS. And as if that were not enough, the folks at Cook's Illustrated are also the publishers of a great series of cookbooks, the "Best Recipe Classics" series which includes such titles as The Best Recipe,which included some 700 classic recipes, The Best Light Recipe, The Guide to Grilling and Barbecue (oh, I love the recipe for grilled shrimp..hmmmm) and my newest acquisition, The Best International Recipe, as well as several others.
"Want to cook global favorites like paella, pad thai, and cassoulet but feel stymied by unusual ingredients or think that you need to invest in special equipment- or that the end result won't justify the trouble or expense? Whatever your fears, America's Test Kitchen is here to help. In the Best International Recipe, our cooks guide through the worlds signature dishes, giving you the confidence and know-how to cook recipes you've always wanted to make at home."
The aim of this book, as with all the publications of the America's Test Kitchen folks, is to try to examine a dish, come up with, by testing and tastings, the best possible recipe and techniques to recreate it and then present it in a clear and logical way. These are very much the thinking person cookbooks. But do not be mistaken, they are also very attractive books. "International" has only about 15 lovely fill page color photographs in the center of the book, but there are also countless black and white photos and very, very well done and clear drawn illustration.

The book is broken down into 14 chapters by region, including Japan and Korea, India, Russia and Eastern Europe, Greece and Turkey, Africa and the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central Europe and Scandinavia as well as more familiar like Italy, France, Mexico, China. Even Ireland, my ancestral home, and the British Isles, who some may argue are not best know for their cuisine, have a chapter. I checked out their brown bread recipe, a staple Irish food, and it is very close to my own, a good sign.

But what I love most about their show and their magazine and their books is that these are not just a series of recipes, even very well tested recipes. Every recipe is preceded by a discussion of the dish, problems and short fallings and how they went about working those out. Then you have the clear recipe, often followed by several variations. There will often be a little box in which is discussed some key ingredient. For example in the recipe for Torta alle Venture, they include a half page about parmesan cheese and then give their recommendations for best readily available. If you need some help picking a fish sauce, have no fear. If you are not really sure what fish sauce is, they will explain that too. There are also equipment guides peppered throughout- how to buy a good paella pan or the best non-stick saucepan or the best food processor, all recommentations the result of their very stringent testing. There are guides to specific techniques, all illustrated with those excellent drawings, like how to de-beard a mussel or how to mince lemon grass. Or what lemon grass even looks like. ;-)

At 580 pages, packed full of information and entertaining reading for those interested in cooking or just eating,
"The Best International Recipe is a globe-trotting compendium of 350 recipes spanning more than 30 highly varied cuisines- all tested and approved for the home cook."

With this book you may set off into some new territory but you will never feel that you set off alone.

This is my contribution this week to Weekend Cooking. Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, January 8, 2010

a review of "The Crossing Places" [3]

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-0-547-22989-8)

Ten years ago, a young girl disappeared from her family's garden, a disappearance that has haunted Detective Chief Inspector Henry Nelson. Whether she is dead or possibly still alive, is a question her family must live with every day. So when some bones are found in the nearby marsh, bones that appear to be those of a child, Nelson hopes part of the mystery may now be solved and turns to a local professor, archeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway for help. She discovers they do not belong to the missing child but rather to an Iron Age girl, partially preserved in the bog, who died over two thousand years ago. This is an exciting discovery for her and her work but thinks that it will be the end to her involvement with helping the police. Nothing could be less true.

Galloway is a bit of an odd sort, herself living in a cottage on the edge of the marsh, a place she fell in love with after a dig on a discovered henge there a decade ago. Just about 40, overweight, not in a relationship since her last boyfriend ran off and married someone else, no one, even her friends understand her lifestyle.
"Everything is pale and washed out, grey-green merging to grey-white as the marsh meets the sky. Far off is the sea, a line of darker grey, seagulls riding in on the waves. It is utterly desolate and Ruth has absolutely no idea why she loves it so much..

Ruth's cottage is one in a line of three on the edge of the Saltmarsh...The road is frequently flooded in spring and autumn and often impassable by midwinter. 'Why don't you live somewhere more convenient?' her colleagues ask. Ruth can't explain, even to herself, how a girl born and brought up in South London can feel such a pull to these inhospitable marshlands, these desolate mudflats, these lonely, unrelenting views. It was research that first brought her to the Saltmarsh but she doesn't know herself what it is that makes her stay, in the face of so much opposition. 'I'm used to it,' is all she says."
But Nelson see her differently than most people and is quick to ask her help in the investigation. It seems that he has been receiving taunting letters from the supposed kidnapper, letters full of literary allusions and archeological information. He shows then to her in hopes that she will see some clue he has missed.
"But she interests him. Like all forceful people (he calls it forceful rather than bullying), he prefers people who stand up to him, but in his job that doesn't happen often. People either despise him or kowtow to him. Ruth had done neither. She had looked him in the face, coolly, as an equal. He thinks he's never met anyone, any woman quite as sure of themselves as Ruth Galloway."
When a second girl disappears, and Ruth personal life is effected, seemingly as a warning about her involvement, she finds herself thick into the investigation and into an odd friendship with the Detective Chief Inspector.

This book has a great deal to recommend it. This dangerous, mysterious marsh is a wonderful setting for a mystery and one that particularly appeals to me, which may come as no surprise to my regular readers. Also Ruth is a great character and a nice chance from most mystery heroines. Middle aged, more concerned for her work than her appearance, smart, independent....and yet still having those issues living up to her parents expectations for her. The plot is quite good..even though I must say I correctly guessed the outcome, it in no way lessened the book's enjoyment for me. It is a well written, page-turning read, full of twists and turns not a few of which might cause you to drown in the marsh.
This is the first mystery book by the author, using the name Elly Griffiths, but as the author Domenica de Rosa, she has written a number of other novels, set in Italy, and I most certainly hope this will not be the last we see of Dr. Galloway.

My thanks to the Amazon Vine program for this copy.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

a review of "Home Repair" [2]

Home Repair- A Novel by Liz Rosenberg
(Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-173456-4)

In a short "Inspiration for Home Repair" question and answer section at the end of this edition of the book, the author is asked if the novel is a sad one or a comic one. She answers that it is both, "Laughter and tears are such close companions, sometimes you hardly know where one ends and the other begins." And that is certainly true of story told in this charming, enjoyable novel.

Eve has had to face tragedy in the past, when thirteen years ago, when she was just 33, her beloved first husband Ivan was killed in a car accident, leaving her to raise their son Marcus, now a high school student. When her second husband, Chuck, disappears, leaving his wife, stepson and their 9 year old daughter Noni, not to mention his mother in law waiting for her drive to the airport, the cause is rather different. He packs his car up and sneaks off in the middle of a yard sale.
"Her husband had walked out in the middle of a rare Binghamton summers's day. She knew as surely as if he had bent over her, lanky as her was, and whispered it into her ear, his blond hair brushing her skin. He was simply-gone."
And at first Eve does not react terrible well to this event. She stops eating, is losing weight, showing up for her job as an administrator in the art department of the local NY State University in layers of wrinkled clothes. Afraid that her fix-me-up house is going to crash down around her ears, blue smoke pouring out of her aged car, concerned about the constant cut backs at work, two children at home, each with their own issues, from high school dances and first loves to the disappearance of their father, she is overwhelmed with facing this all alone.

But she is not alone. Little does she know a whole cast of characters will become part of her life and take it in directions she could never have foreseen. And it is maybe that cast that I found the most delightful aspect of this book. We have Charlotte Dunrea, her mother, a real "character", who moves up from Tennessee to "help out", Jonah, the African American parks department worker, Korean graduate student Sook-yun and perhaps my favorite character, his Korean wife Mia, a woman with hidden talents and strengths, just to name a few.
There are tragedies...heartbreaking deaths and funerals.
There is high when Eve acts as the driver for her mother and her new boyfriend, a fellow nursing home resident, when they go out on a date...and almost get thrown out of Applebee's.
There is a life threatening act of bravery, there is love to be found in unexpected places. There is the support of family, the help of friends and all ending with a surprising and totally charming wedding.
"Why does anyone bother to become friends with anyone, or adopt a child, or own a pet, for that matter. We're all going to die sooner or later, if that's what you're thinking," Charlotte said. "That's life. Nothing we can do to change that. We're all going to someday say good-bye. We're all going to have to cry, little girl," she said, putting one hand out to touch Eve's hair. The touch did not quite happen, but hovered, and then settled back down, like a butterfly, still quivering. "We might as well be happy while we can."
Rosenberg is a beautiful writer, her work as a poet often evident in her descriptions, telling a nice story with some charming characters. That's a lot to be happy about.

My thanks to the author for this copy of the book. If I had hated it, I would has said so, but I was very happy to have enjoyed it a great deal and to be able to share that with my readers instead.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- The End of Christmas

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, and so Christmas is over for this year.
One last picture, a snowy day in New York City, with the Rockefeller Center tree in the background, to close us out.


...for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bandit Tuesday! And the 12th Day of Christmas.

The sorrow is almost overwhelming. Yesterday, Bandit and his mom flew back to Florida. Not to be seen least in person...until the Great Trip South that I am going to undertake in March.
Second, Christmas is coming to a close. Soon, I will have to shut my outside lights off (I try to be the last in the town to do so) and take down my tree.
There is NOTHING fun about taking down a Christmas tree!

But still, it is Bandit Tuesday and that is always a happy time!

This photographic outing was at Sonic.
Now, we here in southern NJ have been late to get this drive-in fast food chain and I had never been to one. Happily, Bandit was only too pleased to go along and show me the ropes, so long as he was paid with his beloved Tater Tots!

First, you must carefully study the menu...yes...tots...

Then push the button and tell them your choice. Now if only Bandit could find his credit card...My treat Bandit!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Musing Monday...On The 11th Day of Christmas!

Oh joy! Yes, it is sad that the Christmas season is almost over, it being the 11th Day of Christmas. But on a happy note, Musing Monday, as ever hosted by Just one more page, is back with the new year. So let's check out this week's question.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about New Year reading.

With the New Year here already, do you have any reading resolutions or goals (challenges aside) for 2010? Perhaps a new author? Genre? Want to read more non-fiction? Write more reviews?

I don't do goals, I don't do resolutions, I don't do challenges.
I know I am in the minority in the book blogging world with that opinion, but for me, none of those work. If I made a goal and met it, I would say "Ok, that's nice". But if I didn't, I would be upset with myself. And really for what? An arbitrary goal I set. Some people like them, they work for them and that is great. I even enjoy reading about them. But I won't be setting any. In fact...and I am a bit ashamed to say this, I have no idea how many books I read last year or how many I reviewed. I am sure there is some easy way i could figure it out, but honestly, it is of no interest to me.

I read when I can. I read when I want to. I tend to go on spurts when I read a lot and then slack off a bit. Maybe catch up with some Netflix movies or DVR'ed TV shows. Some of it has to do with my work schedule, some of it is just a matter of interest. I don't understand wanting to reach a certain number of books. I might take weeks to read say..Gone With The Wind or War and Peace...or in the same period read 6 YA books or my favorite cozy mysteries. What difference does it make, so long as I am having a great time my dear friends, the books?

Ok Kitty, my dear imaginary kitty, help me down off my soapbox now! ;-)

So have I no goals, reading wise? Well, I do have a few issues.
I have been happy this year to have read a lot of new, to me, authors and genres I might not have chosen before. That I hope to continue.
I would like to catch up on some ARC's I have not yet read from last year. Bad Caite. I will, and hopefully shortly, but ya know, sometimes a girl just has to read what she wants to read.
I also hope to do a better job keeping up on reviewing books that I have read. I have a pile here, read and almost forgotten, that I must get too. I will try not to fall behind so much again. But then I have found I enjoy reading more than writing a review. I try hard to really express my opinion clearly and honestly...maybe I should not try to hard and just write something sometimes. We will see...

But here is the problem. It is the 4th and I have already read three books that are laying here un-reviewed, from this year. I have been home sick the last few days and the TV in my family room has died for the moment, so large amounts of reading have been done now that I am well enough to hold a book and focus on the words. Bad start to the year, review wise. But I loved the books, so it can't be bad.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Weekend Cooking...On the Ninth Day of Christmas, the Yule Log

When I was just a wee caite, my mother bought a set of cookbooks, the Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery. It was a set of 12 volumes, with very 60's illustrations and nice photographs. I believe that she bought them at the local supermarket, a new volume being available every week. I still have them, a bit worse for wear, but they are a treasure. This was 1966 and these books opened a new world of food, far from our everyday menu of pot roast and chicken and dumplings...not that there is anything wrong with

My mother liked to cook and often paged through these books looking for something new. Looking at vol. 12 Ton-Z you can find everything from how to make white sauce to how to cook a turtle. Yes, a turtle.
But this was my favorite volume because it contained the recipe for the Yule Log, a Christmas dessert I first made as a teenager. A dessert that will always make an impression.
Oh, the Yule Log page is in very bad shape, but still readable, and I will share this nice recipe with you. It may seem a bit daunting but, if taken step by step, it is not really hard.

The first part to make is the cake, a classic sponge cake...

Sponge Cake
5 eggs, separated
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tbs. grated orange rind
2 tbs. sherry
1 c. sifted cake flour
¼ tsp. salt

Beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until stiff. gradually beat in ½ c. sugar. In another bowl, beat egg yolks until thick and lemon colored. Into the eggs yolks beat remaining ½ cup of sugar, sherry, orange rind and and salt.
Fold egg yolks mixture into egg whites and then gradually fold in flour and fold very gently, just until mixed. Pour into foil lined jelly roll pan (15x10x1) and bake in preheated 375 deg. oven for 20 minutes.
When done, turn out of pan, on to a tea towel dusted with confectioners sugar, carefully remove foil and roll up with the towel along short end.
While it cools, make the filling.

Beat 2 c. of very cold heavy cream with ¼ cup confectioners sugar. Add a flavoring of your choice...1 tbs. of coffee power or almond extract and slivered almonds, grated orange rind and orange extract, or whatever you like. Whip until thick enough to spread.

When cake is cool, carefully unroll, remove towel, spread with filling and re-roll. Place in frig to chill and set.

Chocolate frosting
Melt 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate with 3 tbs butter. Mix 4 c. confectioners sugar, 1/8 tsp salt, 7 tbs. milk, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Add chocolate mixture and blend well. Yet stand, stirring occasionally, until of spreading consistent.

To finish Yule Log, cut off two small sections of the cake at a sharp angle, one very short, the other a little longer, to be the two branches. Place on either side of the cake and ice the entire surface. Use a fork, pulled through the icing, to make the bark. Dust with ground nuts, powered sugar and decorate with marzipan leaves and/or meringue mushrooms, my personal favorite.

This is my contribution this week to Weekend Cooking and and be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, January 1, 2010

a review of "The Snow Goose" [1]

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico
Illustrated by Angela Barrett
(Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 978-0375-84978-7)

Recently, the BBC held a poll on the Open Book radio show, asking people to vote for the novel that they felt was most deserving of being rediscovered. After much talk and lobbying from several authors, a clear winner emerged, the novella The Snow Goose, that was written in 1940 and first published in the Saturday Evening Post. Since it was not a book I had ever read, of course, I had to get my hands on a copy at once and I am very glad that I did.
“At low water the blackened and ruptured stones of the ruins of an abandoned lighthouse show above the surface, with here and there, like buoy markers, the top of a sagging fence-post. Once this lighthouse abutted on the sea and was a beacon on the Essex coast. Time shifted land and water, and its usefulness came to an end.
Lately it served again as a human habitation. In it there lived a lonely man. His body was warped, but his heart was filled with love for wild and hunted things. He was ugly to look upon, but he created great beauty. It is about him, and a child who came to know him and see beyond the grotesque form that housed him to what lay within, that this story is told.”
It is the coast of Essex, England in the late 1930's and a young man, Philip Rhayader, a hunchback with a crippled hand, has bought an abandoned lighthouse, and moved into it to pursue his work as an artist, a painter. He keeps to himself, rarely venturing into town, and when he is not working, uses his time to sail his small boat along the coast, searching for birds that have been wounded by hunters. He takes the birds back to the lighthouse, patches them up and nurses them back to health, releasing them back to the wild when they are strong enough.
“In his retreat he had his birds, his painting, and his boat. He owned a sixteen-footer, which he sailed with wonderful skill...

“Physical deformity often breeds hatred of humanity in men.
Rhayader did not hate; he loved very greatly, man, the animal kingdom, and all nature. His heart was filled with pity and understanding. He had mastered his handicap, but he could not master the rebuffs he suffered, due to his appearance.”
One day, a young girl named Fritha brings an injured bird to him, knowing of his skill.
“She was no more than twelve, slender, dirty, nervous and timid as a bird, but beneath the grime as eerily beautiful as a marsh faerie. She was pure Saxon, large-boned, fair, with a head to which her body was yet to grow, and deep-set, violet-colored eyes.”
The bird is a snow goose, a bird that Paul thinks most likely was caught up in a huge storm while heading south for the winter in his North America home, first blown off course and then shot as well.
“The bird was a young one, no more than a year old. She was born in a northern land far, far across the seas, a land belonging to England. Flying to the south to escape the snow and ice and bitter cold, a great storm had seized her and whirled and buffeted her about. It was a truly terrible storm, stronger than her great wings, stronger than anything.”

He takes the bird in, nurses it and finally releases it back to the wild. But he finds that every year the bird returns to the marsh and his lighthouse, as does Fritha to visit the bird. But as their friendship develops, across the water, a terrible storm of another sort is brewing.

It is 1940 and thousands of British and French soldiers are caught on the coast of France at Dunkirk and will surly perish. The troop carriers can not get close enough to the shallow coast to rescue them and the Germans are killing them by air and land. A call goes out for any sort of small boats, tugs, fishing boats, pleasure craft, to head across the channel and assist, and Paul and his small sailboat are one of many that heed the call.
While it is an historic fact that those small boast saved more than 300,000 soldiers in the Dunkirk evacuation, the role that Paul plays and what become of him and the snow goose, and what becomes of Fritha, I will allow you to discover for yourself.
A tissue or two may be needed.

In addition to the beautiful writing of the author Gallico, the particular edition that I read is also greatly enhanced by the beautiful illustrations of Angela Barrett. I can't say that I love the one used on the cover, but the others, especially those of the Great March, are lovely. So I would not only recommend this book but this particular edition as well.

For some reason, this book is often referred to as a children's book but for the life of me I don't really know why. I don't think that either the story or the style of writing is suited to children or at least not those younger than mature teenagers. But a children's book or not, it certainly is a haunting, beautiful story, a story of friendship and love and healing and redemption that adults will certainly enjoy.