Friday, May 31, 2013

Review of "Norwegian by Night" [41]

Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-0547934877
May 21, 2013, 304 pages

"A luminous novel, a police thriller, and the funniest book about war crimes and dementia you are likely to read."

Well, that sounds like something interesting, a bit different..and it is.

Sheldon Horowitz might not be quite like any character you have ever met. Jewish, a New Yorker his entire life, a Korean War veteran, a watch repair man, a widower, a father, a grandfather, he is a man lost in his new world. At the insistence of his beloved granddaughter, he has moved to Norway to live with her and her Norwegian husband. He does not know the city, he does not speak the language, but he does know that something bad is going on with their upstairs neighbor when he hears the terrible fighting.

Soon, he finds himself the witness to a murder and the lone protector of a little boy, the son of the murdered woman. And so starts the great Huck Finn like adventure to rescue the boy and find who Sheldon can trust to protect him. But of course, it will not be that simple

Sheldon is a man with issues. Is he mad, is he suffering from dementia...or is he just haunted by his past, his duty as a sniper in the war, his guilt about his son joining the army and getting killed in Vietnam? That is left up to the reader, but whatever you decide, he is a pip, believing he is being chased by Chinese soldiers, assisted by his long dead comrades.

For once, this is a book that does not take too long to tell the story. It is tight and to the point, not a scene wasted. The book moves along at a snappy pace, covering a lot of ground, by stolen boat and stolen tractor, as a Serbian madman hunts him and the boy down. But I will warn you, it is a very crooked path they are on, literally and figuratively. some of it is real and some of it is real only in the old mans mind. It jumps back to the past, way lays into discussions of religion and theology, morality and mortality along the way. Sounds too heavy? Well, no, because at times it is also laugh out loud funny and for a bit, so sad that I dare you not to cry. But sad in a very uplifting, dare i say redemptive way.

Is it a mystery, a thriller?
A book about a road trip?
A character study of an elderly man looking back on the perceived failings of his life?
Is it a story about guilt and attempted redemption?
It it a shout out at God by an angry man?
Is it a story of true good and evil?
Is it a police procedural?
Is it funny?
Is it sad?
Is it a book that will make you think?

Why, yes it is!
It is all these things and more, a very enjoyable book, a charming book, with a great character, Sheldon, who will remain with you after you have read that last page and flipped the book close.
I think you will enjoy it.

My thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review of "Crime of Privilege" [40]

Crime of Privilege by Walter Walker
ISBN 978-0345541536, Ballantine Books
June 18, 2013, 432 pages

George Becket is such a solid sounding name.
Sadly, George is not just a solid young man. Unlike some of the people in his circle, he was not rich, certainly not rich and powerful like the bad boy cousins of one of Cape Cod most famous families. Yes, think Kennedy. So when two of the cousin's take advantage of a very drunk young woman at a Palm Beach party..still getting the Kennedy thing?..sexually assaulting her, at first George does nothing. He steps in only to keep the assault from continuing, but too late to make a difference.
George kept his mouth shut, as he was expected to, even when the girl ended up killing herself. And he got his reward, admission to a good law school, a job, even if not a very good job, at a Cape Cod DA office.

Sure, it bothers George. But not that much.
Then an elderly man comes to see George. His daughter was murdered years ago, her body found on a nearby golf course and the murderer never found. He has hounded everyone he can find to bring justice to her, but no one will listen to him, being told all leads on the case went nowhere. But George is intrigued and starts to follow up. And he finds some seeming ignored facts..which all lead, once again, back to the town's, the state's most promoinate family, a family that will go very far to see some things remained covered up.

Well, what did I think of this one?
The fact that it has taken me months to write the review is a clue.
It is not bad...but it could be better.
The prominate "Kennedy-esk" family is a little heavy handed, and they certainly come across as a very sleazy bunch, which depending on your feelings about the Kennedys, you might like or hate. I admit, I rather liked
And George is a fairly likable fellow. A bit morally challenged and a bit of a slacker but a pretty good character. Even if sometimes you just want to give dear George a bit of a kick. Open your eyes George! Still, since everyone else in the book is so sleasy, George stands out as the White, or maybe Gray, Knight of the book.

As is so often true, the book is just too long for the story. Bring out the Big Red Pen and cut 75-100 pages. Really, totally doable, and would make for a much tighter book. Sadly, it was one of those books where I was checking how many more pages I had to go until the end, not a great sign. And the jumping back and forth from the present day story to the past, not as smooth and clear as it could be, with an ending that I found more than a bit of a letdown.

Did I hate it? No.
Did I love it? No.
A nice middle of the road book, maybe a nice beach read, but not one I would run out and grab.
Or recommend that you do.

 My thanks to Library Thing and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wordless Wednesday...Black and White

If there are no more colors, 
we will try NO COLOR..

 always, for more Wordless Wednesday, 
check these out.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Musing Monday...I Am in Desperate Need of These Books!


 Let's start the week
 by picking a bookist question at Should Be Reading...

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!

• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

I think I will go with #3 this week...What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on?
Tell us about it!
Book, as in singular? I think not! No, I have a few.

The first is the latest S.J. Bolton book, Lost. I have reviewed a couple of the book in this series and after reading a small preview of this new one in her last book, I to get my hand on it.
Like everyone reading the newspapers these days, 10-year-old Barney Roberts knows the killer will strike again soon. The victim will be another boy, just like him.
The body will be drained of blood, and left somewhere on a Thames beach. There will be no clues for London detectives Dana Tulloch and Mark Joesbury to find. There will be no warning about who will be next. There will be no real reason for Barney’s friend and neighbor, Lacey Flint, on leave from her job as a London police detective, to become involved…and no chance that she can stay away.
With the clock ticking, the violence escalating, and young lives at stake, Lacey and Barney both know they can’t afford a single wrong step if they hope to make it through alive.
It will be out June 4th, so the wait is short now. For fan of the series, those who want to see what Lacey is up to, let me tell you the opening of this book is excellent!

Next, is the latest book in Ann Cleeves Shetland Quartet. Now the problem is, this is the 5th Shetland book in the Shetland quartet. Hmmm....but I loves these books so much, I will forgive Ms. Cleeves. Especially when I read on her website that the new book, Dead Water, is the first in a new quartet. Hopefully full of my Inspector Jimmy Perez!
When the body of journalist Jerry Markham is found in a traditional Shetland boat, outside the house of the Fiscal, down at the Marina, young Detective Inspector Willow Reeves is drafted in to head up the investigation.
Since the death of his fiancée, Inspector Jimmy Perez has been out of the loop, but his interest in this new case is stirred and he decides to help the inquiry. Markham – originally a Shetlander but who had made a name for himself in London – had left the islands years before. In his wake, he left a scandal involving a young girl, Evie Watt, who is now engaged to a seaman. He had few friends in Shetland, so why was he back? Willow and Jimmy are led to Sullum Voe, the heart of Shetland’s North Sea oil and gas industry.
It soon emerges from their investigation that Markham was chasing a story in his final days. One that must have been significant enough to warrant his death . . .
But there is a problem. While it was published in the UK in January, I can not find out when it will be publish in the USA. What is going on here? So I did what any desperate fan would do and ordered it from Canada. Big shipping fee, but what can I do? Watching the mailbox...

And then last, I have to get my hand on the soon the be released latest book by Karin Slaughter, one of all time favorite authors. I have read every one of her 14 Grant County/Atlanta/Georgia series and I must, must I tell you, get the next one, Unseen, do out in July.
Will Trent is a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent whose latest case has him posing as Bill Black, a scary ex-con who rides a motorcycle around Macon, Georgia, and trails an air of violence wherever he goes. The cover has worked and he has caught the eye of a wiry little drug dealer who thinks he might be a useful ally. But undercover and cut off from the support of the woman he loves, Sara Linton, Will finds his demons catching up with him.
Although she has no idea where Will has gone, or why, Sara herself has come to Macon because of a cop shooting: Her stepson, Jared, has been gunned down in his own home. Sara holds Lena, Jared’s wife, responsible: Lena, a detective, has been a magnet for trouble all her life, and Jared’s shooting is not the first time someone Sara loved got caught in the crossfire. Furious, Sara finds herself involved in the same case that Will is working without even knowing it, and soon danger is swirling around both of them. In a novel of fierce intensity, shifting allegiances, and shocking twists, two investigations collide with a conspiracy straddling both sides of the law.
Karin Slaughter’s latest is both an electrifying thriller and a piercing study of human nature: what happens when good people face the unseen evils in their lives.
Imagine my delight when I saw it was available on Amazon Vine this month. As I clicked on it, I was sure all the copies would be gone, but no, I got it! And any day it should be here!

I am not good about keeping track of what books by my favorite authors are coming out. I tend just to trip on them, not very effective. But I know many of you are much better at it, have a system, some websites you use. If so, would you share? I need more books to obsess over, don't you know!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Weekend Cooking...Ra Ra Ramen!

"Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish. It consists of Chinese style wheat noodle served in a meat- or (occasionally) fish-based broth often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork , dried seaweed, green onions, and occasionally corn." (Wikipedia)
I love ramen noodles. You know, the kind in those packs at the supermarkets, add to boiling water, add 'flavoring' pack.
They are quick and cheap and tasty and filling.
But, are some ramen better than others?
Is there a top quality ramen out there?

I can't say I ever really considered it until I saw an article picking the author's top ten ramen noodles. This guy has tested over 670 different ramen noodles!
OK, I never ever knew there were 670 different ramen noodles.
Actually, I am not sure I knew there were 10.
But there are!
And his number one pick is...drum roll...Indomie Special Fried Curly Noodles!

So, off I went to the internet to see if I could buy a pack. I could not find it, but I found a bunch of different flavors from the same company.
Soon I was the owner of a case.
A case of Indonesian ramen noodle packs.
But there are 6 different varieties in the case! And they have a very long expiration date.
Indomie BBQ Chicken, Onion Chicken, Regular, Spicy Beef, Satay, Rasa Soto Mie (Beef and Lime).
And they are all mine!

But what if you want to take it another step. Jazz them up a bit.
So I Googled ramen recipes and there are many. Many. There is a guy on YouTube who makes Ramen with peanut butter and BBQ sauce. Which is many not so odd since one flavor I now own is BBQ Chicken. But I have not tries that yet. I started with the Satay flavor.

Quite nice really, all by themselves, with a much more interesting pack of flavorings that the ordinary sort available at the supermarket, with that salty "chicken" or "beef" powder. But lets see what we can do with them as an easy, economical ingredient.  As usual, I took a bit from this recipe, a bit from that. I had bought these cute little bok choy, so in they went. Except for the mushroom and the ginger, I think I had everything else on hand. Love that bag of frozen shrimp, bought whenever they are on sale for a good price.
One pot..10 minutes..and you can have...several serving of...

    Thai Shrimp Noodle Soup
cute baby bok choy..
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced 
  • 1 tablespoons peeled and very thinly slivered fresh ginger
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 green onions, minced
  • 1 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoons fish sauce 
  • 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon Thai hot chili sauce
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 2 packages oriental- or chicken-flavor ramen noodles (I use 1 Satay  and 1 chicken onion flavor)
  • 6 ounces medium-size shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach 
  • 1 cup chopped bok choy
  • Juice and grated zest from 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1. Heat oil in a soup pot. Add garlic and ginger, saute a minute, then add mushrooms, green onions, carrots and stir for another minute. 

2. Add three cups boiling water, ramen noodle seasoning packets, fish sauce and chili sauce to pot. Boil 4 minutes.

3. Add shrimp, spinach, boy choy and ramen noodles. Cook 3-5 more minutes, until noodles are done. Add lime juice, lime zest and basil. Stir well and serve.
I sprinkled my wee pack of included peanuts of top!

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Review of "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" [39]

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Back Bay Books, ISBN  978-0316204262
April 2, 2013, 352 pages

Once again, it seems I am the last person in Blogland to read a book.
I read the reviews, and they were all good.
Maybe that is what scared me.
If everyone loves it, I just know I will hate it.
Ok, I was wrong about that, yet once again.
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.
When they say a book is funny, I get nervous.
Humor rarely translates to the written word for me.
But honestly, this book is laugh out loud funny. And sad and touching and sweet and satire at it's best.

Hey, Bernadette has problems, an issue or two, but don't we all? She doesn't really do well with people..I totally get it. The helicopter parents at her daughter school drive her mad...maybe literally, according to their version. Her husband is so obsessed with his job at Microsoft that she appears not to see that their house is falling down around their ears and his wife is dealing with daily life in some rather odd ways.
Like getting a virtual India. Less than $1 an hours! Wow, I wanted one of those, at least until things turned a little bad. Suggestion- do not give your virtual assistant power of attorney.

Most of the book is written as a series of e-mails, letters, faxes, emergency room bills, police reports, FBI investigations, petitions of commitment to a mental institution, which might seem like a bit of a stunt at first, but Semple totally makes it work. One character is better than the next, good and 'bad', they are all so wonderfully and believably painted. The book is fast paced, will garb your attention as we race from rainy Seattle to the frigid land of icebergs and penguins, Antarctica.
Really, how can you not love a book that makes fun of the Microsoft, McMansion culture, has penguins and a sweet story about the love and strength of a pretty quirky family?

If you are the one person out there that has not read this one, I really recommend you grab yourself a copy and get ready for a great read.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wordless Wednesday...Orange

Or close enough. 

 always, for more Wordless Wednesday, 
check these out.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Musing Monday..Not an Open Book


 Another Monday, so let's Muse!! Here are the questions from  Should Be Reading...

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

Since we were talking about libraries...

We were last week, and it seems that many of us have fond memories of the local library as a child and probably as an adult as well. Most likely we are thinking about our local branch. However, if you live in a city or a large community, how about your central library. You know, like the place in NYC with the lions outside. Whatever the future of our local outlet in this digital age, what about those places with stack after stack of 'real' books? Are they needed in the modern world, the digital information world?
Well, according to another article from the WSJ, The Library's Future Is Not an Open Book....what can I say, they have good articles!...that future is not as clear.
Branch libraries have long served as community hubs offering book clubs and after-school story times. But central libraries, dedicated to the care and maintenance of weighty collections within ornately crafted and lofty spaces, are having to recast themselves. Thanks to the shift of emphasis to online resources over hard copies, the prevalence of mobile technologies and changing approaches to studying and learning, libraries have a different social purpose.
These day, these central libraries are not about books, those stacks often being moved to other places. No, now it is about 'information', it is about being 'relevant'! The problem is no one is really sure what that means. And if they can determine what it means now, today, and shape the library for that use, what will it mean in a year or 5 years. Timeless this is not.
Librarians themselves don't talk about "books" much anymore. The library today, said Michael Colford, the director of library services in Boston, "is more of a platform launching you in all different directions."
Launching you in different directions...
Is that how people learn? Personally, I know I need guidance, direction. If not, why just not give everyone a laptop and launch them out there. In fact, lets close the schools altogether and let kids just decide what is revelant themselves.

I fondly remember my days in my local branch library, but I also fondly remember my trips downtown to the central Newark Public Library, an impressive old building, to work on some school project. Yes it was full of stacks of books, and microfiche for newspapers article and rooms full of cabinets with illustrations and prints. There were librarians to help me and guide me and get me to pull my scattered ideas for a project into some sort of order, to guide me to where and for what I might need to look.
But maybe most of all, the building, the atmosphere, convinced me that learning was an important thing. Look at this beautiful building built to its honor, in honor of knowledge. There was a timeless quality to it, something way bigger than me, Big Things and Big Ideas. These beautiful buildings, these..
structures still serves the function for which it was created—to hold books—and inspires awe through the ideals expressed in its architecture and the intellectual resources housed within.
Inspire awe..what a nice idea!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Weekend Cooking...A Happy Birthday Two-Fer

Step right up folks!
Two Recipes for the Price of One!

The Niece had a birthday this week, and since I was off work for the big day, I volunteered to make dinner for the Sil and Bro and Niece and Niece's Fiancee.
Am I not the nicest Aunt ever??
This and a present! Wow!

On the birthday, the Birthday Boy or Girl gets to choose the menu and the Niece picked Shrimp Scampi. So Shrimp Scampi it was, with a nice salad of red leaf lettuce and arugula, with pecans and chopped dried cherries and a nice vinaigrette and some Italian bread.
Off to the cookbooks I went, taking an idea here, an idea there.

Actually, they are all pretty similar, but each..and I think I looked at a dozen online..had a little something different.
My beloved American Test kitchen had no wine in theirs..what is with that?! They think it adds too much acid, so I used a slightly sweeter Riesling. But the idea they have of cooking at a lower heat, sort of poaching rather than browning, seemed like a good idea, creating more shrimpy liquid for the sauce.
Pioneer Woman adds onion..I don't see the need really, but you could. And I like red pepper flakes better than the hot sauce she uses, if just for looks. A little red, a little green. And speaking of green, I do like her addition of both basil and parsley. And lemon zest. Don't waste that zest!
I would suggest getting all the ingredients measured and prepped before you start, because once you start cooking, it goes fast. No time to stop and chop.
Have everyone ready to eat, waiting with forks in hand, because once that water boils it is 10 minutes until dinner.
If I do say so myself, it was delicious. Easy, quick and delicious.

 Shrimp Scampi
  • 3 tbs butter 
  • 3 tbs olive oil 
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes 
  • zest of 1 lemon 
  • 1/2 cup white wine 
  • 2 pound  peeled, deveined, tail-on shrimp 
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste 
  • 2 tbs finely chopped parsley 
  • 2 tbs shredded basil 
  • 2 tbs fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 pound of a long pasta 
Boil the water for the pasta.
As the pasta cooks, start cooking the shrimp.

Heat butter and olive oil in a skillet over high heat until butter foams. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until garlic starts to color. Be careful not to burn.
Add the shrimp, zest and the white wine, tossing everything and spread shrimp into one layer, reducing heat to medium, stirring to cook all evenly, until pink and opaque, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, toss in parsley, basil, lemon juice, pepper and salt to taste.

Put cooked, drained pasta into pot with shrimp and toss, adding a little of the pasta water if needed to loosen up the sauce.
Top with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

So, it was a birthday, right, so there must be a cake!
A Happy Birthday Cake!

The Birthday Girl requested Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Icing, so Chocolate it would be!
Off to find a recipe, again. Consulted America Test Kitchen...consulted King Arthur Flour...took something from one and something from the other and came up with...

Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Raspberry Cream and Chocolate Cream Icing 

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee or expresso powder
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour 3 8" cake pans (can also use one 9" x 13" pan, two 9" round pans or the wells of two muffin tins.)
    Mix cocoa and coffee in a small bowl and add the boiling water, mixing well. When cool, add vanilla and milk and mix well and set aside.

    Beat butter with electric mixer about 30 seconds, until smooth and shiny. Add sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Then add eggs, one at a time, and beat 1 minute.

    Place a strainer over a large mixing bowl. Measure in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift/shake the dry ingredients through the strainer into a mixing bowl, to eliminate any lumps. 

    Add 1/3 of the dry mix to butter mixture, followed by 1/3 of the chocolate. Continue until done. Stop mixer, scrape down bowl and mix another 30 seconds, until batter looks satiny. 

    Divide between the three pans and bake for 23-25 minutes, until cake springs back to touch, cake is pulling back from pans and skewer comes out clean. Cool pans on wire rack 10 minutes, then remove from pans and COOL TOTALLY before you frost. 

    Chocolate Cream Frosting 

    1 cup heavy cream
    12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine (Do not use chips, use bar chocolate)
    1/3 cup corn syrup
    1 teaspoon vanilla

    Bring cream to boil. Pour over chocolate and stir until chocolate melts. Add corn syrup and whisk until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Refrigerate 1- 1 1/2 hours, stirring several times until reaches spreading consistency.

    Chocolate Raspberry Cream Filling 

    Whip 1/2 cup heavy cream to stiff peaks. 
    Add in 1/2 cup of the chocolate cream frosting. 

    To assemble cake, spread 1/4 cup raspberry jam on one layer cake, topping with half of the cream filling. Top with another layer, spread on the rest of the jam and the rest of the filling and top with last layer.
    Ice sides and top with remaining frosting.

    OK, this was delicious too! I am on a roll!
    I put sliced almonds on the side of the makes it look pretty and is so easy. Then I used a fork to make some swirls on top. Very nice. Personally, I loved the filling, a nice contrast to the frosting and a great raspberry taste.

    Winner, Winner, Birthday Dinner!

    This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
    "Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
    Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

    Friday, May 17, 2013

    Review of "Sacrifice" [38]

    Sacrifice by S.J. Bolton
    Minotaur, ISBN  978-0312381134
    May 27, 2008, 384 pages

    "Moving to remote Shetland has been unsettling enough for consultant surgeon Tora Hamilton, even before the gruesome discovery she makes one rain-drenched Sunday afternoon... Deep in the peat soil of her field she's shocked to find the perfectly preserved body of a young woman, a gaping hole in her chest where her heart has been brutally removed. 

    Three rune marks etched into the woman's skin bear an eerie resemblance to carvings Tora has seen all over the islands: in homes she has visited, even around a fireplace in her own cellar. But, as she uncovers disturbing links to an ancient Shetland legend, the police, her smooth-talking boss and even her own husband are at pains to persuade her to leave well alone. Is their concern genuine? Perhaps, for when terrifying threats start rolling in like the cold island mists, it seems someone wants Tora out of the picture, once and for all...

    Sacrifice will grip readers from start to finish. It is a bone-chilling, spellbinding debut set on a deceptively beautiful island."

    I am a fan of S.J. Bolton's books, especially her DC Lacey Flint series. Lacey Flint is one excellent character, certainly not your average London copper. But in addition to the Flint series, Bolton has also written a great standalone or two. Somehow it seems I missed her first book, Sacrifice. Happily, a recently corrected that and I am very happy I did, because I think it is a great book, one I totally enjoyed.

    Yes, it is set in the Shetland Islands, a setting I have been very partial to since reading Anne Cleeves excellent Shetland Island quartet. It is a wild and rugged place with a mysterious, legend filled past, perfect for a rather creepy plot. And this book has a very good and not a little creepy plot.

    This book is also full of great characters, first among them a great, strong female protagonist in Dr. Tora Hamilton. She is smart and brave, lonely and very bad with people, totally in love with her husband but not beyond believing he may be part of something very evil going on in the Shetlands. In short, she is very believable. But she is not the only great characters..this books is full of them, including a great policewoman who will reappear in some of Bolton's future books.

    OK, yes, the plot is maybe a bit over the top, something that usually bothers me. Just read my review from yesterday if you don't believes me. But here, it seems totally right and believable somehow. Part of that may be because of the setting, with tales of gray men living under the bridges and a violent and nasty past..and maybe a rather nasty present as well. It seems reasonable and I was totally happy to go along for what is an exciting ride, just like Tora dashing ride on her horse, across the moors in the dead of night to escape those who would do her in. Hold on to those reins!

    A very good debut, from an author with several more very entertaining books to her name since then. So, when you finish this one, you have four more novels, a novella and a new book coming out in June in the US to await you. Let me tell you, I read a brief preview of the beginning of the new book, Lost, and all I can say is "Wow!"

    Thursday, May 16, 2013

    Review of "If You Were Here" [37]

    If You Were Here by Alafair Burke
    Harper, ISBN 978-0062208354
    June 4, 2013, 384 pages

    Ex-prosecutor McKenna Wright was forced to resign as an assistant DA years ago over an accusation she made against a cop. She tried to get him indicted for shooting a young man, dropping a gun and claiming self defense. But someone else came forward and said he had sold the dead man the gun he was found with, so the cop went free and McKenna looked like she had failed to do her homework before she accused the cop. Her name is mud with the police department these days.

    Now she has moved on, is in a happy marriage, wrote a not very successful book, and is working as a rather successful magazine journalist, always on the search for an exciting story. And she thinks she has found one. A teenage boy falls on to the subways track and is rescued by an attractive, blond woman, who grabbed the boys hand and lifted him up by herself to the platform...and then disappears in the crowd. Who is this mysterious..and quite athletic..lady?
    When McKenna gets a hold of someones iPhone video of what happened..the only video, since the camera in the station was not working...she wants to see if she can track the rescuer down. What she never except to find is that the woman in the video is her friend Susan, who disappeared 10 years ago and was presumed dead.

    When she starts to look into the possibility that Susan is still alive, things start to go very bad. The video disappears, computers are hacked, false e-mails planted, another scandal blows up that gets McKenna fired. Again. And how is this all related to a house explosion where someone died and a mysterious group of Eco-terrorists?
    It seems that if Susan is really still alive, someone very much wants her not to be found.

    There is much I liked about this book...and a couple of things I did not.
    McKenna is a good character, although I wish she would learn her lesson and not jump to conclusions so often. It got her fired once, but still she does it, again..and again. And again.
    But don't jump to conclusions yourself. In fact, that was not one of the things I disliked about the book. No, McKenna is smart and, by in large, thinks things out before she acts, trying to solve this mystery. That jumping part just makes her seem a bit less perfect and a bit more realistic. I also like the character of her husband Patrick, and how their relationship is depicted. Sadly, he is drawn right into the middle of a very dangerous situation... or was he already a part of it from the start? Is he good or is he bad? The book keeps you guessing and that is good too.

    Then what was my problem?
    Well, it is a complex plot, which is fine, but in the last quarter of the book or so, it just get out of hand. Twists are fine, but when you get one slight unbelievable event on top of another improbable event, the whole house threatens to collapse. It doesn't, but it is too close for comfort.
    My greatest issue with the plot however is a decision Susan made before her disappearance, a decision that is key to the entire story. When it comes out at the close of the book..well, I just could not buy it. Susan is presented as a very smart woman, a West Point graduate, someone who served in the army as an officer with success and made the transition to private life with equal success. This key point of the plot, something she bought into, is just beyond belief. Which is a shame because it rather spoiled the ending for me of a book that, up until then, I was rather enjoying.

    All in all, for me it was a good book, flawed by an overly complex, rather unbelievable ending. But still I enjoyed it and am glad I got the chance to read it...

    ...So my thanks to Amazon Vine and the publisher for providing a review copy.

    Tuesday, May 14, 2013

    Wordless Wednesday....Green

    I am running out of colors...but fear not, this week we have GREEN!

    Isola di San Michele, the cemetery island

    always, for more Wordless Wednesday, 
    check these out.

    Monday, May 13, 2013

    Musing Monday...Beg, Steal or Borrow

    I think it was on Shelf Awareness that I saw this link to a cute article, How to Shop at a Bookstore: An Easy 20-Step Guide for Authors.
    Even though I have never seen a bookstore through the eyes of an author, as a reader, bookstores are certainly places I  enjoy going to. So I enjoyed reading this list...until I got to number 18... and it gave me occasion to pause.
    18) As you cross the street with your bag of new books, remember the first time your mother took you to a bookstore and told you to pick something out. To keep, not borrow. You were overwhelmed by choice and wonder. Remember how you pulled things off the shelf at random because every book was equally unknown and fresh and promising.
    Mother...bookstore...why does that not ring a bell?
    In fact, why to I have no memory of bookstores when I was a kid.
    Actually, what was the first time I ever went to a bookstore?
    Gosh, I have no idea!

    I have written before, perhaps ad nausem, about my happy memories of wee caite going to the library with my mom, a great book lover and a great reader. My memory of going upstairs to the kids floor, picking out the books I would take out. My memory of how happy I was to finally be old enough to get my own library card. Happy days...
    Ok, I will stop. But still, libraries, yes, bookstores, no.

    There were many stores in our neighborhood in Newark, NJ at the time. Jewelry stores, and shoe stores and two supermarkets and drug stores and a florist and an ice cream and candy store and several banks..but no bookstore that I remember. And even in downtown Newark, then the home of a great big Bamberger, later Macy's, department store and lots of other stores, I remember no bookstores. Was there a bookstore?
    How odd is it that I have no memory of going to a bookstore until maybe I got a drivers license and could drive to the then new mall maybe a half hour away. Honestly, I do not remember going to a bookstore there either, but I must have. Right? Maybe the Bro will remember and post a comment.

    Libraries were always the center of my book reading world when i was a kid. And oddly, now that our local Borders shut down and there are no independent bookstores nearby, libraries are once again playing a big part. That, and the Evil Amazon and Nookbooks from Barnes and Noble for the Evil E-reader and of course, that towering pile of review copies.

    Do you have fond childhood memories of bookstores..maybe your first trip to a bookstore?
    I would love to hear them!
    Because it seems I don't!

    Saturday, May 11, 2013

    Weekend Cooking..Doce de Mayo

    You might remember..ok, you don't...but for Christmas we had a Mexican dinner that included some Mexican Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas. Well, when I bought that pork shoulder at my local Sam's Club there were actually two in the package. So before it turned to a big hunk of ice in the freezer and I had to toss it, it was time to cook it! Last Sunday, being Cinco de Mayo, it was time for some more Carnitas. A lot of carnitas...then I had the leftovers for a few days, perfect for some toasty, cheesy quesadillas. Some pork, some salsa, some cheese, some cilantro...

    fold you up and...into the frying pan with you!

    We had rice and black beans as well that evening, and of course some delicious guacamole. But when I bought the avocados, one was not quite ripe, so I put it aside.
    Yesterday it was ripe.
    Very ripe, so what to do with one lone avocado? A wee bit of guacamole...or how about this deconstructed guacamole from this weeks America's Test Kitchen newsletter. Yes, indeed, I made a half batch, with one avocado and one it went very well with that pork quesadilla! Fresh and just a little spicy and a great way to celebrate the 12th of May!

    Avocado Salad
    from America's Test Kitchen

    Why this recipe works: Tasters liked the consistently sweet taste of grape tomatoes compared with other varieties. Tasters also liked the flavor of minced garlic present in many guacamole salad recipes, but thought raw onions were just too harsh, so we used scallions instead. Steeping the garlic and scallions in lime juice for a few minutes before combining them with the avocados mellowed their flavor. We wanted plenty of peppers for crunch and bulk, but a large quantity of jalapeños made the salad too hot to eat. Milder poblanos, with just a hint of heat, were a better choice. If you can't find poblano peppers, substitute an equal number of Anaheim chiles, or a large green bell pepper mixed with up to 2 tablespoons of minced jalapeño chile.

    Serves 4 to 6
    • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
    • Salt and pepper 
    • 4 scallions, sliced thin 
    • 1 garlic clove, minced 
    • 1 tablespoon grated lime zest 
    • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice 
    • 1/4 cup olive oil 
    • 2 poblano chiles, seeded and sliced into 2-inch matchsticks 
    • 2 ripe avocados, pitted, skinned, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro 


    1. SALT TOMATOES Toss tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Transfer to paper towel-lined baking sheet and let drain 15 minutes.

    2. MAKE DRESSING Combine scallions, garlic, lime zest, lime juice, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Let sit 5 minutes, then slowly whisk in oil.

    3. TOSS SALAD Add chiles, avocados, cilantro, and drained tomatoes to bowl with dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

    This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
    "Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
    Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

    Friday, May 10, 2013

    Review of "Matinicus" [36]

    Matinicus by Darcy Scott
    Maine Author Publishing, ISBN  1936447231
    May 10, 2012, 252 pages

    "Steeped in Maine island lore, this century-spanning double mystery pits a renegade fishing community against an unhappy child-bride of the 1820s, a defiant twenty-first-century teen, and a hard-drinking botanist—Dr. Gil Hodges—who escapes to the island of Matinicus to avoid a crazed ex-lover and verify a rumored 22 species of wild orchid, only to find himself hounded by the ghost of a child some two-hundred years dead.

    If Gil’s hoping for peace and quiet, he’s clearly come to the wrong place. Generations of infighting among loose-knit lobstering clans have left them openly hostile to outsiders. When a beautiful, bed-hopping stranger sails into the harbor, old resentments re-ignite and people begin to die—murders linked, through centuries of violence, to a diary whose secrets threaten to tear the island apart."

    When I received a chance to review the author's second book in her Island Mystery series, I though I should go back and read the first, Matinicus. Turns out it is not really necessary, since the second, Reese's Leap, easily stands alone. But I am happy I did, because I very much enjoyed this book.

    Yes, I admit it, I have a weakness for books set in Maine, especially along that rocky coast. But that is only part of why I liked this book. It is very well written, the dialogue always believable to my ear. And yes, the setting is great. Gil is a botanist, and the parts about all the different sorts of trees and wild berries and wild flowers as he explores the island, is great. But Scott does not paint an all pretty, idealized picture of these islands. The residents are hard living, with maybe a bit too much alcohol and not a few drugs and certainly not beyond taking the law into their own hands. What happens on Matinicus, stays on Matinicus..and believe me, a lot of things are going to be happening on Matinicus!

    I will admit I did not totally buy into the ghost thing at first, but Gil's reaction, made it totally acceptable. No silly Woo Hoo here! Also the jumps back and forth, from the doing generations ago that Gill is reading about in an old diary, and then back to the present, and a few switches from first to third person is a tiny bit confusing. Really, the different time periods need to be labels a bit more clearly, but yes, it is only a minor issue.

    Gil is a great character, very likable, but also far from perfect, as he well knows. Sometimes he just needs to keep it zipped up and I do not mean his mouth. And it might be easier to see what is really going on if he was not so often hung over from his beloved single malt. But he is not the only good character in this book. It is full of them,  and so very well described that you will think you know them in real life and you will care when they are in danger. But unlike Gil, I was not drunk and, to tell you the truth, I had it all pretty wrong. The present day mystery and the ones reaching back centuries. You might think you have it all figured out and then your read those last few pages No, a dare say, you did not see it coming..and neither did Gil, poor fellow.

    I have already read the second book in the series, Reese's Leap, but the review will not be out until the book's blog tour in August. Still, I will let you in on a was quite good as well, and it was a pleasure to see the charming, unlucky in love Gil back again. A beautiful island with a mysterious past and a violent present, great characters and a twisty-turny plot with tons of red herrings and an ending that will leave you surprised, certainly makes Matinicus a book I would recommend.

    Thursday, May 9, 2013

    Review of "The Burgess Boys" [35]

    The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
    Random House, ISBN 978-1400067688
    March 26, 2013, 336 pages

    Bob Burgess has little interest in returning home to his small Maine town from NYC, where he now works as a legal aid lawyer. Neither he nor his brother, who he idolizes, could get out of there fast enough when they were younger. But his sister, who still lives in their hometown, has called that her son is in trouble and needs some help, so Bob goes. She would really have preferred that her much more successful brother Jim, also a lawyer, would have come, but he is too 'busy', about to set off on a vacation, so she will have to make do with second best.
    Bob, it seems, is always second best.

    Her son Zack has committed a nasty prank, throwing a bloody pig's head into a mosque attended by the town's immigrant Somalis. And now, instead of a common misdemeanor, it is being considered a hate crime and he could be in very serious trouble. But when these three come together, all still haunted by some degree by their father's death in a tragic, horrible accident when they were just young children, things are not going to be a bed of roses.

    Although I have not yet read it, I heard wonderful things about the author's previous book, Olive Kitteridge, so when I got a chance to read this one, I happily grabbed it.
    I am sorry to say, that while I did not hate this book, I certainly did not love it.

    The plot, what there was of it, just sort of meandered pointlessly along for me.
    But the real problem, the deal breaker, was the characters, not a good thing in what is certainly a character driven novel.
    On the one hand, I did not really feel like I was given enough to really know them, to really get a handle on them, but on the other hand, what I did get to know, I didn't like. It is an issue that comes up from time to time when reading a book, but I will ask it is possible to like a book when you do not like any of people in it, do not feel any empathy for them, ultimately do not care much what happens to them? Maybe, but not for me.

    The siblings, the Burgess boys and their sister....well, one is worse than the other. Successful, high flying attorney Jim is a nasty piece of work, just so full of himself and someone who treats his younger brother like dirt. Which is particularly reprehensible when we find out, near the end of the book, a particular fact about their history when they were children. The sister Susan, hanging around in this town, Shirley Falls, Maine, which she hates, is annoying and angry. We have Bob, maybe the most likable of the group but he is just so pitiful, such a punching bag, that I want to yell at him to stand up for himself.
    And finally, we have Susan's son Zach, the teenager who committed the very stupid act that got this all started, and caused his uncles to come and help him. Well, we see little of him and never get any real idea of way he did what he did, which seems like an important issue to me. In fact, everything we are told about him makes it seem unlikely that he would do such a thing. So way did he? We are just suppose to accept it I guess.

    The book touches upon a number of topics...the complexities of rural, small town life, issues of immigrants assimilating in a new and often hostile community, tension between siblings, hate crimes, marriage and divorce...perhaps too many topics, because I finished the book not feeling I had a better handle on any of them.
    Maybe I am just not up for another rambling, rather depressing story of yet another dysfunctional family.

    My thanks to Amazon Vine and the publisher for providing a review copy.

    Wednesday, May 8, 2013

    Wordless Wednesday...Blue

    Someone requested blue, so blue it is this week.






    always, for more Wordless Wednesday, 
    check these out.

    Monday, May 6, 2013

    Musing Monday..."Con Te Partirò"


     It's Monday and which question should we answer from Should Be Reading...

    Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
    • Describe one of your reading habits.
    • Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
    • What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!
    • Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
    • Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
    • Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

    What does the title of this post say? Well, it is the name of a song that is translated into English as Time To Say Goodbye. And that is what I want to take about. The issue is, when should an author say goodbye to a series?

    Now I like series, and my favorite genre, mysteries, thriller, suspense and police procedurals..which in my mind are all part of one Big Genre...has many, many series. You create a great character, a great cop or a great detective and a good setting and you are off to the races. But if the series is a success and people are buying the books, publishers and authors are making money and fans are happy, is it possible at some point to call it quits? My answer would be, not only is it possible, but sometimes it is necessary, both for the reader and for the author.

    The reason this issue came to mind was an article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago called How To Kill A Vampire (Series). I hope that link was locked except to subscribers only but this seemed OK, because I though it was an interesting article..
    But bottom line, it seems that after 13 books, and inspiring the HBO show True Blood, the author Charlaine Harris has decided to end her very popular Sookie Stackhouse vampire series.
    To say the least, fans are not happy.
    She has received thousands and thousands of negative posts and e-mails, there are people who have threatened to kill themselves if she ends the series.
    She has received death threats.

    Ok, can we all say some people needs to get a life.
    Some people need to get a grip on reality.
    Some people are just a little too vested.
    Folks, it is only a book.
    If you don't like the series ending, just make up your own and pretend that is how the book ended.
    Because this stuff is all made is all pretend.

    This from someone who LOVES books.

    Personally, I admire Ms. Harris's decision. She said she was getting bored, wanted to do some other things. Another series, a project with another author, are in the works. And she felt the whole thing was getting out of hand, having to deal with too many new characters and creatures to keep it fresh. Blow them all up I say!! A massive explosion of vampires and werepeople and shape-shifters! Or they could all be sucked into a Black Hole, never ever to reappear. Woo Hoo!!

    I am sure it is not easy.
    First, let's just be practical. I am sure these books made her a great deal of money, more as the series became more popular and she could easily dragged it out for book after books. There is certainly no guarantee she will be able to have such success again.

    But I am a great believer that almost every series has some sort of natural life. Then it should die. To be replaced, by the talented author I have liked all along, by a fresh, new idea, fresh, new characters, fresh, new stories and fresh, new situations. Or honestly, you are most likely going to lose me as a reader anyhoo. Because I, as a reader, seem to have a limit. I am not sure there is a magic number but I think at about 10 books you should be giving it some serious thought.

    I am sure all of us can think of an author or two that we once loved but who lost us when the series just went on long after the great ideas ended. Patricia Cornwell and her Dr. Kay Scarpetta series is one that comes to mind. I checked Wikipedia..seems there are 21 books in the series including a new one this year.
    Yes, I loved the first few. They were well written, different, great plots, good books..and then things went quickly downhill. 7 or 8 would have been a great place to stop Patricia.

    Do you have a favorite series that comes to mind, one that should soon, or long ago, died?
    Or do you have one that you love and hopes goes on forever and ever..and you think I am just full of hot air?
    I am pretty sure I am right! At some point it is just Time To Say Goodbye.

    Now, if you like, you can hear Bocelli and Sarah Brightman sing it.