19 March 2019

Today's Read: The Man with No Face by Peter May

review of The Man with No Face by Peter MayImagine that you're a Scottish journalist on assignment to investigate the political climate in Brussels as the UK is on the verge of joining the European Union. What would you do if the journalist you're supposed to meet up with is found dead alongside a high-ranking British government official? You would likely stick around to figure out what happened. That's what protagonist Neil Bannerman does.

Here's how the book starts:

Kale watched the train through the rain-spattered glass and thought, this time will be the last. But even as the thought formed in his mind it clotted and he knew he would kill again.
The Man with No Face by Peter May (Quercus, March 5, 2019., p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Brussels, 1979
  • Circumstances: Neil Bannerman, a journalist for an Edinburgh newspaper, is sent to Brussels to cover the discussion surrounding the entry of the UK into the European Union. When a fellow journalist and a British Cabinet minister are found dead, presumably having shot each other, Bannerman's plans for a routine article are abandoned, especially when he discovers the journalist's autistic daughter was a witness to the crime. The only clue she can provide is a drawing of a faceless killer. The more Bannerman looks into the crime, the more he suspects deep and dirty politics, but worse, how can he be sure the killer won't strike again. What will happen once he learns about the child witness?
  • Genre: murder mystery
  • Things to know: May wrote this book early in his career (in 1981) when he himself was still a journalist in Scotland. The novel is, as the author's note reminds us, set in a pre-internet world, where journalists still used typewriters and had to find a library, witnesses, or archives to conduct research. May was involved with this re-issue of the novel.
  • Why I want to read it: I've read several of May's books (all set in Scotland) and love how he can set a mood and create characters that evoke an emotional response. I really like Belgium, so the setting is a draw for me.
  • What's holding me back: First, I'm kind of hoping this will be available on audio. Second, although May himself still stands behind this early novel, I'm worried that it won't be as polished as more recent books. Regardless, I'm really pretty sure I'll read this in one form or another. Note that the review rating is 4.1 stars on Goodreads and 4.2 on Amazon
  • Acknowledgments: thanks to Quercus for a finished review copy of Peter May's The Man with No Face.

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16 March 2019

Weekend Cooking: Skinnytaste One & Done

review of Skinnytaste One & Done by Gina HomolkaI'm probably the last person in the universe to jump on the Skinnytaste bandwagon. I know, I know, especially because you all have had only wonderful things to say about the cookbooks and about Gina Homolka's website.

When her newest cookbook Skinnytaste One & Done came out last fall (Clarkson Potter, October 2018), I zipped over to my library's site, only to see that I was on a long, long wait list. My turn finally came about 10 days ago.

I was so afraid that the ebook would expire before I had a chance to explore it, I decided that all our dinners this past week would come from that cookbook.

You want the fast answer? Buy, buy, buy! That's what I did, and my very own copy is on its way to me right now.

First off, I really liked the premise of this book: All dinners require exactly one pot, pan, or appliance. Can you say "fast cleanup"? The traditional cooking methods use a skillet, Dutch oven, or sheet pan, and the appliances are the electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, and air fryer. I can already hear you saying, "Wait! What if I don't have one of those machines?" Homolka is a step ahead of you, and offers alternative cooking methods that don't require a gadget.

Second, I so appreciate that each recipe is clearly marked for quick (under 30 minutes), vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free, and freezer friendly. That's such a help when I'm cooking for friends or family with dietary restrictions. And if you happen to be on Weight Watchers, the Skinnytaste website lists up-to-date points for each recipe in the book. Nice.

review of Skinnytaste One & Done by Gina HomolkaAll the recipes we tried from Skinnytaste One & Done were very good (truly) and full of flavor. So often cookbook recipes are too bland for us, but each meal we tried was perfectly seasoned. I was also impressed that the number of servings seemed fairly accurate, at least for the way we eat.

I made a chicken soup (recipe below) in the pressure cooker, which had just the right level of heat. The curry-flavored roasted vegetables, a sheet pan dinner (shown at the right), was delicious as is but would also be good over rice or couscous. Note that I didn't make the green chutney but used my own homemade fruit chutney instead.

Finally, I made the lamb stew in the pressure cooker. This too was delicious and perfectly seasoned. In full disclosure, I need to say that I made two changes. First, I cut the cooking time from 35 minutes to 25 minutes. Why? Because I've been using a pressure cooker since the 1990s and I've never cooked lamb stew that long. Second, I didn't add the canned beans until after I released the pressure, stirring them in at the end. I was afraid they'd turn to mush.

I ordered my copy of Gina Homolka's Skinnytaste One & Done before the week was over. I can't wait to cook my way through this book. Note: if you have a pressure cooker and are still not sure what to make in it, buy this book. I promise you will find plenty to try.

Scans and recipe come from the cookbook and are used here for review purposes. All rights remain with the original copyright holders. The review copy of the book came from the library, but I've already added the book to my personal collection.

Click image to enlarge recipe. Enjoy!

review of Skinnytaste One & Done by Gina Homolka
NOTE: This recipe is a perfect addition to Deb's (from Kahakai Kitchen) Souper Sunday link-up. Follow the link for full information. The short take: it's a place to share soup, sandwich, and salad recipes. Join in or just check out the great recipes!
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 March 2019

6 Books in Translation to Read in March

It's the ides of March, and the only thing I have to beware is letting time get away from me and missing some of this month's books in translation. As you well know, I make an effort to read authors who are outside the English-speaking world. It's a great way to gain a different perspective and to learn about life around the globe.

Here are six books in translation on my March reading list. They cover a range of genres, and I hope at least one catches your eye.

review of All Happy Families: A Memoir by Hervé Le TellierAll Happy Families: A Memoir by Hervé Le Tellier, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter (Other Press, March 26). In this moving memoir, Le Tellier recalls his childhood, spent mostly with his grandparents or troubled mother, and the years in which he seemed unable to feel normal human emotions, such as grief and love. Although he wasn't abused, his relationships with the people who were meant to protect him were often beyond dysfunctional. His mother in fact suffered from a disconnection to reality and often lied to him. Other people he was close to died early, including a girlfriend, which is another form of abandonment. In this memoir, Le Tellier comes to terms with these difficult relationships as he views them through the lens of maturity and success as a writer. A testament to the fact that children can indeed survive messed-up families.

review of Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna by Mario GiordanoAuntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna by Mario Giordano, translated from the German by John Brownjohn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 5). I don't know how I missed the first book in this series, but I'm happy to jump on the Auntie Poldi bandwagon with the second book. When Isolde Oberreiter, better known as Poldi, left Germany to spend her retirement in Sicily, she had no idea that there'd be more to life than walks on the beach, copious glasses of wine, occasional sex, and new friends. Poldi can't help but get involved when it's a matter of dead body or two. In this outing, the unstoppable Poldi is determined to figure out who poisoned her neighbor's dog. After a little pillow talk with her current lover (a police inspector), she's onto bigger things--like linking the murder of a man to the demise of the dog. An adult cozy mystery brimming with the flavors and colors of Sicily.

review of Homeland: A Novel by Fernando Aramburu,Homeland: A Novel by Fernando Aramburu, translated from the Spanish by Alfred Macadam (Pantheon, March 5). This timely novel is set in Basque country, and although a murder is at its center, this is not crime fiction. Instead, it's an examination of how ordinary people can get caught up in the wider political events of their country and how it isn't always easy to figure out who is hero and who is villain. When a businessman is killed by separatists, the repercussions are felt by more than just the grieving family. Friendships and everyday life in the town are forever changed. Who is brave enough or sure enough to take a stand on the future of Basque? Is it easier just to leave your home and start over? Set after the ETA separatists declare an end to their fight for independence, this story looks at the violent past and uneasy present. The novel has won multiple international honors.

review of The Little Girl on the Ice Floe by Adélaïde BonThe Little Girl on the Ice Floe by Adélaïde Bon, translated from the French by Tina Kover (Europa, March 19). This is a tough memoir about surviving a childhood rape. When she was just nine years old, Bon was raped by a stranger, and though she was unable to provide many details, her parents reported it to the authorities. As a way to cope, Bon compartmentalized her life--seemingly stable and friendly on the outside, while dealing with guilt, shame, fear, and more on the inside. Despite years of therapy and various self-soothing activities (such as eating and drinking too much), there were parts of her that remained numb and details of her attack that she could not remember. Two decades later, the Paris police inform her that they've caught a serial sexual offender, who is charged with dozens of assaults on minors. Only nineteen now-grown women confront the man in court, Bon among them. The aftermath of the trial brings some unexpected reactions. Can there ever be true healing after rape? Especially in a society that still blames the victim.

review of The Secret Wisdom of Nature by Peter WohllebenThe Secret Wisdom of Nature by Peter Wohlleben, translated from the German by Jane Billinghurst (Greystone Books, March 5). I loved Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees (though I can't believe I never wrote about it on my blog), and in his latest, the German forester returns to tell us (as the subtitle says) about "Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things" through "Stories from Science and Observation." Wohlleben has spent most of his life in the woods, both professionally and privately, observing nature up close and in a way few of us have an opportunity to do. Here he takes a big-picture view of the environment, from the largest forest fires to the smallest insects and discusses in everyday language and using a personable style how the ecosystem works. There are many sides to every problem in a system as complex as Earth's natural world, and Wohlleben takes some surprising stands on conservation and preservation. If you haven't yet read any of his work, you should.

review of Waiting for Bojangles by Olivier BourdeautWaiting for Bojangles by Olivier Bourdeaut, translated from the French by Regan Kramer (Simon & Schuster, March 19). This debut novel, which has already won much critical acclaim, tells the story of an unnamed boy and his unconventional parents who live in happy chaos in Paris. Told mostly from the boy's point of view, with sections from his father's diary, the book follows the mother's journey from quirky to the can-no-longer-deny-it mentally unstable. After the pesky business of taxes and the outside world invade their space, the family removes to a vacation home in Spain, where son and husband hope to protect the ailing woman, showering her with love. Mental illness, however, cannot always be cured with the peace of the countryside, fancy cocktails, and dancing to the record player. The ministrations of well-intentioned family are often not the answer. This coming-of-age story is told partly in verse.

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13 March 2019

Wordless Wednesday 536

Small Barn, 2019

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

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11 March 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 4 Good Books and a Story

book reviews for mid-March 2019Good morning. If you're in the United States, I hope you're adjusting to the time change. I actually do better with the spring forward than I do with the fall back. Maybe that's because I love the idea that I can now take an outdoor walk after work. Yay for evening daylight.

I had a decent reading week, but that might be because most of the books I read were short and didn't require a lot of thought. Always a good choice after editing all day.

We haven't watched anything in particular on television. We're not huge basketball fans, so we're escaping March Madness. The most interesting show that comes to mind is the new season of True Detective on HBO. At first I didn't like the multiple time periods, but after I got to know the characters, I really liked the set up and the mystery.

review of The Tornado Scientist by Mary Kay Carson with photography by Tom UhlmanThe Tornado Scientist by Mary Kay Carson with photography by Tom Uhlman (HMH Books for Young Readers, March 19). You've heard it from me before, but it's true: I can't say enough good things about HMH's Scientists in the Field series. In this installment (out next week), we meet Robin Tanamachi, who is not only a research meteorologist but a storm chaser who is interested in learning as much as she can about tornadoes in an effort to help protect people who live in areas prone to these destructive winds. I grew up in tornado country in northern Ohio long before we had the sophisticated technology that weather scientists now depend on. It was really interesting to see how Robin's van was set up as a mini research and weather station and to learn how a storm transforms from a bout of heavy rain and winds into a twister. The amazing photographs of funnel clouds and the mind-numbing scenes of the after-storm destruction drives home the power of tornadoes; easy-to-interpret graphics illustrate the physics. Robin's stories of chasing storms and collecting data give young readers (and adults) a clear picture of what it's really like to be a tornado specialist. The book ends with an overview of how the field data are used and a look at the newest weather probes and other equipment. Recommended for readers of all ages. (review copy provided by the publisher)

review of Death in Provence by Serena KentDeath in Provence by Serena Kent (Harper, Feb. 19). I always love it when I can get into a series on the ground floor. This cozy mystery is set in St. Merlot, France, and features a middle-aged woman who is looking for a new start after a divorce and early retirement. Penelope Kite isn't your ordinary British ex-pat who buys a house in Provence and then gets embroiled in a murder mystery, though. She used to work in the forensics lab of the Home Office. Although she doesn't have a professional degree, she has much experience interpreting crime scene data, so when she doubts the local police chief's assessment that the man floating in her swimming pool died of accidental drowning, she knows what she's talking about. The only problem is that she's not sure whom she can trust in her new town. This first in series was a lot of fun. Penny isn't stupid, but she makes classic outsider mistakes, is unaware of long-term family feuds, and is no where near as stylish as her real estate agent cum new BFF. Among the locals are a cute mayor, a cranky neighbor, a wonderful baker, and a charming electrician. It's France, so expect good wine and lots of good food. The mystery itself was well set up and kept me guessing all the way to the end. I may have had an extra glass or two of wine along the way. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio, 10 hr, 17 min) read by Antonia Beamish, whose accents and characterizations were delightful. For more, see AudioFile magazine. (review copy provided by the publisher; audio for assignment)

review of The Time Museum by Matthew LouxThe Time Museum by Matthew Loux (First Second, Feb. 2017). I picked up this middle grade speculative fiction (science fiction?) graphic novel because I noticed that the second book in the series is coming out in a couple of months. A small group of young teens are given a chance to win a prestigious internship at a natural history museum, but these aren't just any kids and this isn't your ordinary museum. The Time Museum is in fact a portal to all of earth's history, from its earliest habitable days and into the distant future; within its walls are exhibits representing the plants and animals of all these times. The kids are smart and capable, each with unique skills and each from a different time period--Ice Age to the 5000s. Delia (from our time) is given a chance to win the internship because her uncle helps runs the museum, but she must still earn her place by passing three time-traveling tests. This was a fun graphic novel about curious, smart kids who learn to balance friendship and cooperation with competition. The story has plenty of action, including a time-traveling bad guy, mixed with some laugh-out-loud humor and a twist at the end. All the children have white skin, but despite the lack of diversity, I really liked the book and am looking forward to the second installment. The artwork was colorful and the scenery and creatures from the past and future gave me a lot to look at. The action and emotions were well rendered. (copy borrowed from the library)

review of Tin Heart by Shivaun PlozzaTin Heart by Shivaun Plozza (Flatiron, March 12). Marlowe Jensen was born with a congenital heart defect that guaranteed her a short life unless she received a heart transplant. When she's about 16 and on death's door, Marlowe's life is saved: the heart of a teenage boy is suddenly available, and she spends the next year (which would have been her senior year in high school), in and out the hospital in rehabilitation, regaining her strength, building her immunity system, and getting used to the anti-rejection drugs. Her mother, owner of a vegan, organic wellness store, is naturally a little overprotective of Marlowe but supports her daughter's decision to return to high school instead being home schooled. Meanwhile, her mother opens a new store right next to an established family butcher shop and immediately goes into ultra-liberal protesting against meat eaters, and her younger brother dresses up in a new creative (gender-bending and genre-mashing) costume every day. So this is Marlowe's outward reality: zany but lovable family, medical issues, and a return to school where she's not only older than everyone else but is thought of as the Heart Transplant Girl. This book explores a slice of contemporary life that we rarely read about: life after an organ transplant. Marlowe contends with bullying, trying to make friends, and her first true crush all while trying to find the confidence to live outside her mother's careful control and coming to terms with having someone else's heart in her chest. I was quickly caught up in Marlowe's story, cheering her on as she tried to find some sort of normality. She makes blunders and is a little socially awkward, but she's also smart and holds her own when pushed. Keep the tissues handy, Marlowe's journey isn't always easy. (finished copy provided by the publisher)

Other Books and a Story

  • 2 books to skipSoulkeeper by David Dalglish (Orbit, March 19). I have mixed feelings about this first in a new epic fantasy series. The basic premise is that creatures and magic from the world's earliest days are reawakening and human life is forever altered. While I liked the action and interesting world-building, there was way too much going on in this book (zombies, talking mountains, assassins, soulless beings, fairies, fire spirits, wizards, healers . . .) and the plot lines didn't really coalesce until the end. The unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 19 hr) was read by Nicholas Tecosky. His performance was only okay. I would have liked to have heard a little more drama or emotion in his delivery. (audio review copy provided by the publisher)
  • The Size of Truth by Andrew Smith (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 26). I was interested in this middle grade book because it featured a boy who wanted to be a chef even though his parents thought he should be a scientist. The story fluctuates between Sam in eighth grade and Sam at four years old when he was trapped in a well for three days before rescuers dug him out. Smith's writing style was a mismatch for me and the well sections were too much like The Girl in the Well Is Me (which I loved). I ended up skimming the eighth grade sections just to see what happened. There are some good lessons, but you could safely skip this. (digital copy provided by the publisher)
  • "Crocodile Shoes" by Jo Jo Moyes from Paris for One and Other Stories (Pamela Dorman, Oct. 2016). I really liked this story about a woman who picks up the wrong bag at the gym and is forced to wear someone else's high heels for the day with unexpected consequences. A fun contemporary story. (finished copy provided by the publisher)

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