22 February 2019

5 Thrillers for Late Winter Nights

February's blue skies can't fool me; I know there are plenty of cold and snowy days ahead. I'm not complaining (too much) though, because indoor living means more time for reading. A blustery late-winter night provides just the right atmosphere for a spine-chilling thriller or mystery. Here are five of this month's thrillers that might have escaped your attention. It's never too late to give them try.

all about The Winter Sister by Megan CollinsThe Winter Sister by Megan Collins (Atria, Feb. 5): When Sylvie moves back home to tend to her sick mother, she is confronted with the past she's tried to forget. About 16 years earlier her sister went out on a forbidden date and was never seen alive again. The killer remains identified, but as Sylvie settles back into her childhood house, she discovers secrets and unearths new information. Among the suspects is the male nurse who is currently working at the cancer center where Sylvie's mother is being treated. Opening line: When they found my sister's body, the flyers we'd hung around town were still crisp against the telephone poles.

all about In the Dark by Cara HunterIn the Dark by Cara Hunter (Penguin Books, Feb. 19): Detective Inspector Adam Fawley is called to an Oxford house where a woman and child are found locked in the basement and near death. The woman is too traumatized to offer any help. Fawley must figure out if the bad-tempered owner of the house, suffering from dementia, is responsible or if there was another way the victims could have been imprisoned. The case reopens an older missing persons investigation, a body is found buried in the back garden, and Fawley is dealing with his own family issues. Opening line: She opens her eyes to a darkness as close as a blindfold.

all about Blood Orange by Harriet TyceBlood Orange by Harriet Tyce (Grand Central, Feb. 19): Allison, a lawyer on the rise, is finally given a murder case. She is to defend a woman who is accused of killing her husband. One problem: the woman says she did it. Allison, though, thinks there's more the case than meets the eye. Another problem or two: Allison is drinking too much, is unfaithful to her husband, and is neglecting her young daughter. What's worse, someone is threatening to reveal all her secrets, which would dismantle her family and her career. Which of these women will be saved, and who will do the saving? Opening line: The October sky lies gray above me and my wheelie bag's heavy but I wait for the bus and count my blessings.

all about The Hunting Party by Lucy FoleyThe Hunting Party by Lucy Foley (William Morrow, Feb. 19): A group of nine college friends, now in their 30s, continue their tradition of getting together and staying close. This year, they agree to a New Year's Eve trip to a cabin in the Scottish Highlands. After all have arrived, winter descends with a vengeance, snowing them in for the duration. With plenty of food and drink, they're unconcerned, until one of the friends goes missing. This is a classic closed-room mystery in which all the suspects claim to like each other. But, wait! What about the gamekeeper and other locals, who may be very comfortable wandering outside despite the storm? Opening line: I see a man coming through the falling snow.

all about The Syndicate by Guy BoltonThe Syndicate by Guy Bolton (Oneworld, Feb. 7): Erstwhile Hollywood fixer Jonathan Craine has given up big-city life, living peacefully with his son in rural California until he's given an offer he can't refuse from the LA mafia. In the summer of 1947, mob leader Bugsy Siegel is found murdered in his Beverly Hills home. Craine has five days to identify the killer or both he and his son will be swimming with the fishes. Without access to police records or crime scene data, Craine scrounges to find help, coming up with an elderly hit man and a dubious female reporter. Period details and the Mafia vibe add flavor to this thriller. Opening line: He parked the car half-way down Linden Drive and went the rest of the way on foot.

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20 February 2019

Wordless Wednesday 535

February Field

Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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18 February 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: A Great Reading Week

recommended audiobooksI've reached that point where cabin fever is starting to set in. The sleet or ice or cold or snow has kept me cooped up inside and made me miss way too many outdoor walks. It's driving me crazy!

We finally started the new season of True Detective. I like it but need to see a few more episodes before commenting. We finished the Netflix series You, which started out strong, but I was less enamored by the end. We also finally watched the movie Room, which I liked. It's been too long since I read the book to make detailed comparisons, but the young actor who played Jack did an excellent job.

Here's what I read last week.

review of The Raven Tower by Ann LeckieThe Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (Orbit, Feb. 26): I really liked this epic fantasy--told in a mix of first and second person--about gods and humans, sons and fathers, how power travels through the world. As other reviewers have noted, some of the plot lines are similar to Hamlet (a young man returns from war to find his father dead and his uncle on the throne), but much is unique. The god Strength and Patience of the Hill has witnessed eons of the world's history and the rise of humans. Through Strength's narration we learn about the ancient gods, how they gain (and lose) power, where that power lies, what they can (and cannot do), their relationships with each other, and their complex connections with people. At the same time, we are following the political and religious goings on in the kingdom of Iraden. I was intrigued by Leckie's take on the world of the gods, which is different from that of Roman and Greek mythology. In The Raven Tower universe, gods must think carefully before they speak, because their words have the power to change the world and to change their own fate. I was also caught up in the court politics and how the paths of the gods and the humans were intertwined. Don't miss this one. I listened to the unabridged auidobook (Hachette Audio; 12 hr, 2 min) read by Adjoa Andoh, who does a brilliant job conveying the emotional depth of Strength and Patience of the Hill and the god's reactions to all it witnesses throughout the millennia. (audiobook provided by the publisher)

Review of Good Riddance by Elinor LipmanGood Riddance by Elinor Lipman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Feb. 5): In a fit of Kondo-inspired tidying up, Daphne Maritch throws her late-mother's annotated high school yearbook into the recycling bin. In 1968 in a small New Hampshire town, Daphne's mom, June, was a teacher and the yearbook adviser; from that time on, she never missed a reunion of that class, updating her copy of the yearbook with the juicy tidbits of gossip and facts she learned each year. After Daphne's documentary-filmmaker-wantabe neighbor retrieves the yearbook, Maritch family secrets begin to leak out. This is a light, fun contemporary story of a young woman trying to find her place in the world and in New York. Her widowed father, snobby older sister, and various apartment building neighbors have parts to play as Daphne learns that her mother may not have been perfect and that her parents' loving marriage may have had some cracks. Pop culture, humor, and desperate acts keep the plot moving. Unfortunately one of the principal motivators for the entire novel is based on genetics, and the author got those genetics wrong. If I hadn't been listening to this book for a freelance assignment, I would have quit right there. The non-geneticists among you will enjoy this lighthearted novel. The unabridged audiobook (Dreamscape; 8 hr, 7 min) was very nicely read by Mia Barron, whose expressive performance brought out the humor and tapped into the characters' emotional journeys. (audiobook provided for a freelance assignment).

Review of The River by Peter HellerThe River by Peter Heller (Knopf, March 5): I love Peter Heller, and this novel was one of my most anticipated books of the year. I was not disappointed, and The River is now sitting pretty as the best book I've read in a long while. This is the story of Wynn and Jack, both outdoorsy and from rural backgrounds, who meet at college and become best friends. They spend as much time as possible canoeing rivers, fly-fishing, and camping. They have a natural and respectful interpersonal rhythm, and easily travel and work together. While on a canoe trip in Canada, they notice the signs of a not-so-distance forest fire and thus decide to make haste to their take-out point. On that foggy morning they pass two other sets of campers: a pair of drunken older men who mock the boys and a couple camped on an island who can be heard arguing. From that point on the trip takes a dark turn as the boys' safety seems to be jeopardized along more than one front. I love how Heller conveys what it's like to be on a wilderness river--the sights, sounds, work, conditions--and his obvious passion for and knowledge of fly fishing shines. Heller is a master at creating a creeping buildup of danger, holding it just out of sight so you never quite know where and when or if it will manifest. I was completely connected to Wynn and Jack and understood what moved them, what made them who they were. Do not miss this one. (copy provided for a freelance assignment)

Review of Enchantee by Gita TreleaseEnchantee by Gita Trelease (Flatiron, Feb. 5): I already wrote about this nicely done alternate history look at pre-revolutionary France and the intrigues of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's court. Camille has inherited the gift of magic from her mother and the printer's trade from her father, but her apprenticeships are cut off when both parents die from smallpox in the late 1780s. Her older brother fails to offer Camille and their younger sister protection, leaving the girls on their own in a Paris that isn't kind to the poor or to girls. Realizing she must use whatever power she has, Camille dons her mother's enchanted dress and infiltrates Versailles, hoping her magic will help her win at cards and rise from poverty. The only trouble is that the magic of the dress lasts only so long, life at court is much more complicated than Camille is prepared for, and she is not the only magician in the palace. In some ways Enchantee is a Cinderella retelling: through magic, a poor girl is transformed, goes to court, and turns heads; but she must leave before her disguise falls apart. I always like a fairy tale retelling and enjoyed those aspects of Enchantee. I also liked the historical facts and period details of Paris: the rumblings of revolution, the storming of the Bastille, the attitudes of the rich, the fashions of court, and the new technology of hot-air ballooning. There were few surprises in Enchantee, but the ending was both exciting and satisfying. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Macmillian Audio, 12 hr, 56 min) read by Justine Erye, who is one of my go-to narrators. She did an excellent job with the various accents and distinguishing among the characters. (print copy provided by the publisher; audio copy provided for a freelance assignment)

Mercy by Mandeliene Smith, from Rutting Season"Mercy" by Mandeliene Smith from Rutting Season (Scribner, Feb. 12). This week's short story comes from a debut collection. "Mercy" is set on a small family farm, where May is coping with sudden widowhood and the stresses of being a single mother solely in charge of keeping everything on track. The farm was her idea; her husband was a lawyer who gamely agreed to keeping animals, especially Pam's beloved horses. The emotional and dramatic aspects of the story were strong but realistic, and I could sense just how hard it was for Pam to move through her new reality while trying to present a strong and upbeat front for her young children. I will be reading more from this collection; the stories are billed as being about women and families on the brink of transformation. (digital copy provided by the publisher)

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16 February 2019

Weekend Cooking: The Good Food by Daniel Halpern and Julie Strand

Review of The Good Food by Daniel Halpern and Julie StrandI'm one of those cooks who remembers the pre-internet days of trying to hunt down recipes with global flavors. If you didn't start putting together a massive cookbook collection, you simply wouldn't have access to Persian stews or Asian soups or Mideastern salads.

In the mid-1980s, Daniel Halpern and Julie Strand's The Good Food: A Cookbook of Soups, Stews, and Pastas (reissued by Ecco in January 2019) was a godsend, even if you had to go to a specialty market (or grow your own) to find fresh cilantro. In the 21st century, every imaginable recipe is available with the click of mouse or a tap on a screen, and even small towns like mine carry international ingredients at the general supermarket.

Despite the wonders of Pinterest, I found The Good Food to be full of appealing recipes for the kinds of meals I love--soups, stews, pastas, salads, and spreads. This book celebrates foods from around the world that say, Come into my kitchen. Sit at my table. Stay a while. It's just the kind of cookbook I bought in the 80s, and it's likely I even owned a copy (before my big cookbook purge of several years ago).

The recipes range from basic stocks to the more complex, and I'm truly drawn to many of the comforting dishes. The cookbook includes cold soups (curried zucchini) and hot soups (corn chowder), familiar stews (jambalaya) and new ones (saag gosht), and simple pastas (olive oil, garlic, and parsley) and fancy ones (poached salmon and creamy vinaigrette). Plus there's a chapter on accompaniments (chutneys, salads).

To be honest, if you're all about up-to-the-minute trends and a zillion fashion photos, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you're interested in classic, solid, stood-the-test-of-time recipes for the types of dinners that welcome home family and friends, then The Good Food is your cookbook. Be aware that Halpern and Strand do not shy away from cream and butter and have a heavy bent for meats, fish, and fowl.

None of that bothers me, and I'm glad to have a digital copy (thanks to Ecco) in my collection. The following simple pasta dish is on deck for this coming week.

Baked Fusilli with Cheese Parsley, and Scallions
Serves 8
A variation on the classic American macaroni and cheese, this make a fine Sunday night supper when followed by a green salad. We prefer the texture of the fusilli, and it catches the bits of parsley, scallion, and cheese.

  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound fusilli
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup minced scallions, with 1 inch of the green
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 1 1/2 pounds white cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon butter
In a kettle, bring 5 quarts water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt and the vegetable oil. Add the fusilli, stir, and cook until not quite al dente. Drain thoroughly.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly and then stir in the milk. Add the parsley, scallions, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the fusilli and toss. Fold in the cheddar.

With 1/2 tablespoon of the butter, coat a shallow rectangular baking dish, about 14 x 9 x 2 inches. Spoon the fusilli mixture into the baking dish. Sprinkle the Parmesan and the bread crumbs over the top and dot with the remaining butter.

Bake in a preheated 350F oven until the top is browned and the fusilli is bubbling, about 30 minutes.

International Freebie!

If you'd like a PDF copy of the cookbook that accompanies Crystal King's The Chef's Secret (see my post from Monday), either comment on this post or link up your own foodie post and then fill out this form. Everyone who provides his or her email after commenting or participating will get a copy. Fun fact: I adapted one of my grandmother's recipes for the book!

I'll delete your email from the Google form after I send you your cookbook.
Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.

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15 February 2019

4 New Books for YA Readers (Not a Fantasy in Sight)

Do you think all young adult fiction is fantasy? Sometimes it can feel that way, but in truth young readers are very much interested in contemporary issues, mystery, and even some romance. Today's round-up offers suggestions to please more down-to-earth readers, of any age. Don't be put off by the audience; you just might find a beloved book or author among the titles originally written for youthful readers. Harry Potter, anyone?

Give Me Thrills and Chills

  • A Danger to Herself and Others; FollowingA Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa Sheinmel (Sourcebooks Fire, Feb. 5): Hannah doesn't want to spend her senior year under psychological observation and confinement. She insists she had nothing to do with her BFF's accidental fall from a high window. No one believes Hannah, until she gets a roommate at the mental institution. At first Hannah's circumstances improve, but soon her perception of reality seems to unravel, and she wonders who she can trust. Themes: friendship, mental health.
  • Following by Jeffry W. Johnston (Sourcebooks Fire, Feb. 5): Alden wants to be an investigator and often practices by tailing his classmates and making observations. Alden thinks what he's doing is harmless, until he witnesses a boy murder his girlfriend--but then the girl shows up again a few days later. What did Alden really see and who will believe him? Themes: telling the truth, loss, parenting, friendship.
Contemporary Life
  • Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee; No One Here Is LonelyRayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner (Crown BYR, Feb. 26): Best friends Josie and Delia make the most of their out-of-school hours by hosting a Friday-night local cable TV show that features horror movies and fright-night fun. As graduation from high schools nears, Josie is hoping to pursue a career in television, while Delia is left with many fewer choices. When they see a chance to take their show to a wider audience, they jump on it, but will the end of their road trip fulfill their dreams? Themes: friendship, family, depression, socioeconomic issues, dreams.
  • No One Here Is Lonely by Sarah Everett (Knopf BYR, Feb. 5): Summer after senior year, Eden finds herself at loose ends. Her best friend has drifted onto her own path, the boy she was crushing on died in a car accident a few weeks earlier, and her siblings seem so self-assured. Eden withdraws into herself, pretending life hasn't changed, but as summer progresses will she be able to resist the call of new possibilities? Themes: friendship, grief, finding one's self, maturing

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