Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hop-along Git-along Read-along: Outlaw - Warren Kiefer

When James announced he was going to be hosting the Hop-along, Git-along, Read-along for May, I knew I had to do it.  Not only do have an extreme fondness for James because he has been my longest-standing follower, but I knew exactly what I was going to read..."Outlaw" by Warren Kiefer.  This is the only western I've ever read in my life (originally read before I started blogging), but ranks in my top ten reads ever.

I convinced James to read this little (well, no so little...518 pages little) treasure with me.  Because we love doing little joint projects together, we posed questions to each other to answer in our reviews.  I will use these questions to help me express my thoughts about this book the second time around.

Synopsis:  In a narrative format similar to hanging out on the front porch and shooting the shit, 89-year-old Lee Garland reminisces about his life, his pearls of wisdom, his dreams and defeats.  Something all old men love to do.  This is no ordinary life though.  Lee's adventures represent the definition of the establishment of the West and of this country from the late 1800's until the present day of 1968.  If there was something exciting going on anywhere in this time frame, Lee Garland was in the middle of it.

Orphaned at a young age, Lee was raised by a hard-working Mexican family in New Mexico.  He begins his young adult life smuggling cattle, rubs elbows with Pancho Villa, fights in the Spanish-American War as a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, becomes a banker, gets into the oil business, making and losing millions, becomes an ambassador to Mexico.  He has fought in WWI and WWII, has friends in high places and has made bitter enemies.  He has buried children, friends and wives.

In a gregarious, honest-to-a-fault, addictive voice, we are given an insight to the West from a man that was a born leader, a risk-taker, and endearing despite his bull-headed lawlessness.

James:  How did you come across Outlaw in the first place?

Sandy:  This book was recommended to me by two men that my husband works with.  Both men are avid readers, but are more inclined to read books that I would call "man-fiction" (a genre I am drawn to...love all that testosterone).  They both told me, with wide wide eyes and huge smiles on their faces, that it was one of the best books they'd ever read.  They glowed and they gushed.  Accepting this book to read was a huge leap of faith for me.  I didn't "do" Westerns.  I learned a very valuable lesson here.

James:  How was the experience of re-reading Outlaw different from reading it the first time?There is so much going on in this book, that re-reading it was just as good the second time around as the first (which was about six years ago).  As with this go-around, I could focus on nothing but getting through it.  The tone is easy and conversational, and there is never NEVER a dull moment.  The opposite in fact - it is a whirlwind. 

Not to be pompous, but I believe I am more discerning with literature now than I was six years ago.  So I was scared I would find flaws.  I needn't have worried though.  I WAS more aware of a great deal of prejudice expressed by Lee and his friends towards women, Indians, Mexicans and gays.  I was concerned that this could offend other readers, but it never dawned on me to worry about this when I was reading only for myself six years ago.

James:  I think Mr. Kiefer, or maybe his narrator Lee Garland, has a woman problem. I honestly couldn't buy the scenes with Lee and Caroline, the great love of his life. While the men in the novel all came to life for me, most of them anyway, the women never really did. There aren't many women in the novel and I don't think the narrator is reliable, so I'm willing to cut Mr. Kiefer some slack but I didn't find the women of Outlaw to as memorable characters they the women in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove though the women in both novels are the same sort of characters. What did you think about the portrayal of women in Outlaw?Sandy:  I'm going to have to slightly disagree with you here James.  Just slightly.  Generally, the opinions of the male protagonists about women in this book were derogatory...that they tie you down, that a little nooky from local prostitute is totally acceptable, and that they aren't that smart.  I didn't like it, but I figured this was how things worked back then.  However, I did buy into Lee's great love for Caroline.  I think initially it was based on her beauty and her unattainable status, but he wouldn't be the first guy.  He never wavered from his love for her though, even when he married someone else.  Kiefer also had a couple of other strong female characters in the book, ones with cunning, money and power.  Overall, though, this was a story about strong white men, period. 

James:  You asked me about the prejudice in Outlaw. My reaction was that Lee Garland, the main character, was pretty forward thinking for his day. If anything, the novel contains much less prejudicial language and attitudes than existed at the time. What took me by surprise were Lee's tirades against Democrats. But all of this is historically accurate. If you're going to read material dealing with American history, you're going to need a thick skin. Many westerns deal with the conflict between the heroic "cowboy myth" and the reality of their lives. Heroic gunslinger, men of action, types in westerns are often portrayed as relics or soon to be relics of a by gone era. At the end of the day, many westerns leave us asking if men like Lee Garland are heroic characters and if they are men America can take pride in. Lee Garland mentions this conflict towards the end of the novel after seeing a discussion about himself between William Buckly who admires him and another man who calls him a robber baron. (page 551) What do you think of Lee Garland and his generation? Heroes or scoundrels?Sandy:  Yes, the prejudice just hit me over the head when I read it this time around.  But I've never read any other Westerns, so I had no basis of comparison.  It didn't necessarily bother me - I consider myself to have very thick skin.  But it did cause me some concern that others might take offense.

I loved Lee Garland and his homies.  I loved Lee's friendly, humble and self-deprecating voice, which made this book so totally unique.  These guys were deadly loyal to each other, with lifelong friendships solidified by camaraderie in the hard times of war, business and general survival in a wild and woolly country.  They were full of piss and vinegar, and didn't always follow the rules.  They killed people!  They stole money and cattle!  But I think at this time in history, it was survival of the fittest.  They wouldn't have made it had they stayed purely honorable.  So to answer your question, I think they were both.  I think it is possible to be both.  Nobody got to the top back then without being just a tad bit of a scoundrel.  Sure we can have pride in them.  I mean, really.  Are their actions any worse than what we see in our political leaders now?       

James: Finally, will this lead you to more westerns?

Sandy:  Oh without a doubt!  I'm a little concerned they won't measure up to "Outlaw", my first Western love, but I'm willing to try.  Everyone says "Lonesome Dove" is amazing (although it's girth scares me to death).  But I no longer have the pre-conceived notion that Westerns are for men, or old-fashioned. This is cutting edge stuff here!

Be sure to hop-along over to Ready When You Are, C.B. to get James' opinion on "Outlaw" and answer my questions!

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Salon: I hope there are no appointments in heaven

 Good morning, friendlings.  So by that title, you know immediately that I'm OVER appointments right this minute.  In order to wrap things up before our travel, I experienced the third circle of hell...appointments.  Good Lord.  I had them every day this week. Some of them doctors, others to work on my beauty.  All of you book lovers would then say "well, at least while you were sitting and waiting, you could read" but that only carries me so far.  While I was sitting and waiting, I was actually making my lists.  But it's all cool.  It had to be done.  The compensation was a business dinner last night at a lovely Italian restaurant here in town.  Wine, food, and friends made the boo boos go away.   

I feel really really good about where I am right now.  I have persisted and have managed to get reviews done for all of my finished books right now, which should take me through early July.  I got my Monday Movie Memes written.  Jen at Devourer of Books sneaked a peek of the topics for Audiobook Week 2011 and I've done a couple of those.  I believe I am leaving unencumbered.

Very exciting moment late this week when I received not one but SIX copies of the audiobook "Fallen", Karin Slaughter's latest.  AudioGo, I love you.  It will be next up in the listening queue, and when I get home, I'm going to have me a killer giveaway!

Another highlight...although Uncle Stevie has officially retired from his writing gig at Entertainment Weekly, he stopped in this week to offer his Summer Reading List.  I was thrilled to see that "Buried Prey" was on there, which I just gave five stars.  Also included were "The Sentry" by Robert Crais, "The Cypress House" by Michael Koryta, and "Case Histories" by Kate Atkinson (a pre-blogging read for me).  There are some other great ones on his list, so you really need to check it out.  I was so geeked out, I even had a dream Friday night that Stevie and I hung out and talked about Jack Reacher.

So, speaking of Jack Reacher.  As you may or may not know, he is the dude-ish protagonist in the Lee Childs crime series, and I just finished the latest on audio this week, "Worth Dying For".  Yeah baby!  I then started "Anansi Boys" by Neil Gaiman, something I've had loaded on the iPod for over a year.  I'm totally digging the British and Caribbean accents of the narrator.  Wow.

As far as print reading, I don't even know why I bother.  I'm so scattered, I can't manage to sit for more than five minutes, but I have gotten about halfway through Jo Nesbo's "The Redbreast".  This is a really really worthy crime thriller, more literary than most, but I think it will have to be finished on the airplane.  We'll see.  (I'm slightly mad at the fact that our flight leaves in the evening, and therefore I will be tempted to *gasp* sleep, instead of read.  When else do I get undisturbed reading?  Sleep is not in the Master Plan people.  I've got my e-book light and I'm going for it.)

I hope all of you lucky ducks at BEA this week had fun.  I got update e-mails from my stand-in representative, Rhapsody Jill. I think she hugged everyone for me, and gathered all relative gossip and tips and stuff.  Now please be sure and get those recaps and photos posted before Wednesday evening!

I hope you all have a wonderful three-day weekend.  The rest of ours will be spent packing and organizing; kids will be preparing for their finals.  Maybe I can get a few more pages of Nesbo in.  This Sunday Salon will be back in business on June 26th! 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Slow Cooker Revolution (Redux)

No, you're not seeing things.  No, I haven't screwed up my posts again.  I did just publish a post on this cookbook two weeks ago.  But as Dawn says, I've been drinking the Slow Cooker Revolution Kool Aid and I had to report back to you with more good stuff.

With most cookbooks, I can pick one or two great recipes and have success.  But this collection here is the REAL DEAL.  I've now made nine recipes, and every one of them have been incredible.  Obviously I can't give all of them to you, so I'm going to have to decide which one.  Here are my choices:

1.  Aloha Pork Chops - as you might guess, these pork chops are smothered in a sauce that contains pineapple juice, cider vinegar, soy sauce, curry powder, red pepper flakes and ginger.  The sauce is then thickened at the end to make a wonderful sweet and spicy glaze.

2.  Huli Huli Chicken - another Hawaiian recipe that slow cooks the chicken in a type of sweet barbecue sauce made from pineapple juice, soy sauce, ketchup, lime juice and brown sugar.  Then topped off with a little high temp baking for crispness.  Moans of happy mouths with this one.

3.  Jerk Chicken - the jerk rub in this recipe is as authentic as it can get, with scallions, habanero chiles, ginger, molasses, garlic and spices all blended in the food processor.  They also finish off the recipe with broiling for crisp skin.  This one might be too spicy for tender mouths.

4.  Sausage Lasagne - I've never made lasagne in the slow cooker before, but this was fantastic.  To make it, you line the crock with aluminum foil and cook it on low.  Who knew?

5.  Sweet and Sour Braised Red Cabbage - I'm not a fan of the cabbage, but my Polish husband is, and with all his experience in eating it, he claimed it was the best he'd had.  I think the secret ingredients here are the apple cider, cider vinegar and brown sugar.  I'm sure the onion and the bacon didn't hurt either.

After mulling over these last dishes, I think I'll give you the Huli Huli Chicken:

2/3 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 TBL minced or grated ginger
4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces

1.  Simmer pineapple juice, sugar, ketchup, lime juice, soy sauce, garlic and ginger in medium saucepan until thickened and measures 1 1/2 cups, about 10 minutes.  Season with salt & pepper.

2.  Coat slow cooker with cooking spray.  Transfer 1/2 cup sauce to slow cooker, reserve remaining.  Season chicken with salt & pepper, add to slow cooker and coat evenly with sauce.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.

3.  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.  Place wire rack in aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and coat with cooking spray.  Transfer chicken, skin side up, to sheet.

4.  Brush chicken with reserved sauce and bake, brushing with more sauce every few minutes, until it has a deep, mahogany lacquer, 20 to 30 minutes.



Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads, and 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. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Buried Prey - John Sandford

Last year, I participated in a TLC Tour that celebrated John Sandford's 20th mystery in the Prey series.  Not only did we read his latest "Storm Prey", but we also got to choose another one of his books to highlight as well (mine was "Broken Prey").  This tour was a no-brainer for me.  I have read EVERY SINGLE Prey book, starting with "Rules of Prey" which was published in 1990.  I cut my crime thriller teeth on Mr. Sandford, and for that I thank him. 

So of course when I received an unsolicited copy of Sandford's 21st installment "Buried Prey" from the lovely Lydia Hirt at Putnam, that became my very next read.  All other commitments be damned.  Lucas Davenport is as close to a drug fix as it gets for me.

Synopsis:  On the edge of the Minneapolis loop, two young girls are found wrapped in plastic, and hidden under a slab of cement in a building that was being torn down for development.  A small group of police officers who had been working back in 1985 know exactly who these two girls are.  Nobody is more haunted by this case than Lucas Davenport, who, at the time, was just a young rookie cop.  Lucas will always wonder if he did everything he possibly could have to solve these two girls' disappearances.  A schizophrenic homeless man was accused of the crime, but Lucas never believed he was responsible.  In fact, Lucas always suspected he was on the trail of the real culprit.

In the equivalent of a literary lottery for any Davenport fan, we go back to 1985 to understand the intricacies of this case.  This is before Lucas married his surgeon wife Weather, before the kids, before becoming a political fixer in the BCA.  Lucas has a woman in every corner of the city, he is just starting to form his life-long friendships with Del and Sloan, and is starting to make some extra cash writing computer role-playing games.  Lucas has been working as a street cop and is like an eager puppy when he gets to work the case of the missing girls.  Lucas has his spider sense, even back then, and this case was never solved to his satisfaction.  Now in the present day, he gets his second chance.

My thoughts:  I don't think it took more than two or three days for me to knock out this latest (and greatest, in my opinion) installment of Lucas-ness.  I'm not sure if there is any way you can understand the euphoria I experienced in reading this book unless you love Lucas the way I do.  Let's do this.  Imagine a loved one...a spouse, a significant other, a best friend, or even a parent...someone you love.  And you get to travel back in time, before you knew them, to experience them in their earlier years.  THAT is what this was like, and it was crazy fun.

The mystery is a heart-breaking one, because it involves missing children whom you know did not get out of their abduction alive.  It involves a particularly despicable villain, foul in every way, who narrates a few chapters, but whose name isn't revealed to you until the end, at the same time Lucas makes the connection.  The pace is quick, the detecting is smart, and the suits are Italian.  You can't want for anything more from a Prey novel.

And Sandford throws a MAJOR character under the bus.  I was shocked.  I was distressed, because this particular character had been in the mix from the days of yore, but I was also impressed.  Not every author has the guts to do it.  I don't like to be coddled.  I don't like it when 30 people die at the hands of a serial murderer, but the daughter of the protagonist (or the wife, or the mother, or the sister) makes it, just because it's cleaner.  John Sandford, you ripped out my heart, but I love you for it.

Of all 21 Prey novels I have read, this one takes the prize by far.  I'm a little nervous at this point, because I'm not sure if Sandford can top it.  It won't stop me from reading book #22 though.

5 out of 5 stars 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wants and Needs

It has been awhile since I've done an accounting of my wants and needs.  These are driven by about a hundred different sources (primarily YOU), but deserve an official post when they come from my Bookmarks magazine.  Every time one of these beauties arrive in the mail, my brain explodes, and the May/June issue is no different.  I had to share a few with you, because it makes me feel better.  So here we go.  Descriptions provided come from Bookmarks:


The Midnight Palace - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
In Zafon's international-best-seller "The Shadow of the Wind", a Barcelona boy's discovery and subsequent love of a mystery novel embroils him in a mystery of his own.  "The Midnight Palace" switches time, place and characters to 1930's Calcutta and a set of twins saved by an English lieutenant.  As the twins come of age, they must deal with the terror that claimed their savior's life.  (May)

The Ridge - Michael Koryta
Koryta is best known for his crime fiction (until recently, he was a private investigator by profession), including "Tonight I Said Goodbye", the first of four Lincoln Perry books, "Envy the Night", and "So Cold the River", a supernatural thriller.  In "The Ridge", another supernatural thriller, evil forces haunt a troubled lighthouse in Kentucky.  (June)

Note:  Did someone say lighthouse?  I am putting out the smoke signal to anyone in a position of influence...I would give the left appendage of your choice for an ARC of this one.

The Snowman - Jo Nesbo
The acclaimed Norwegian author has penned eight novels in the series starring police investigator Harry Hole, including "Redbreast", "Nemesis", and "The Devil's Star".  In "The Snowman", Hole must investigate the disappearance of a dozen women gone missing during a first snowfall.  (May)


Candyfreak:  A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America - Steve Almond
How often I've listened to my parents reminisce about those long-lost sweet treats from their childhoods.  I now know that they are not alone in their mourning, as Almond embarks on a truly epic journey to discover what caused the demise of his favorite candies.  The ultimate reward comes, however, when he finds that perhaps they are not extinct after all.  Quite the patriotic read!

Ghost Soldiers:  The Epic Account of WWII's Greatest Rescue Mission - Hampton Sides
A harrowing tale, not only of the POW survivors of the Bataan Death March but also of the men who were part of the mission sent to rescue their fellow soldiers in the Philippines.  Riveting in its horrific detail and punctuated with personal accounts of the Ghost Soldiers, this book is undeniably a homage to a generation that valued freedom, valor, and brotherhood above all else.

The Girl in the Blue Beret - Ann Mason
Mason's "Atomic Romance" was not well received by critics; here's hoping that reviewers will respond more favorably to this novel - about an American World War II pilot shot down in Europe, who goes in search of his rescuers years later.  (June)

Kate Atkinson - In this issue of Bookmarks, there is a special feature on this amazing author.  And it reminded me that I am a blumbering fool to have read (and loved) "Case Histories" when I read it years before blogging, and have never read another of her novels.  I have no good excuse for myself, except that I am easily distracted.   

While she has had three stand-alone novels early in her career, it is the Jackson Brodie series that I am particularly interested in.  "Case Histories" was first (and what a debut for a series!!! holy cow), followed by "One Good Turn", "When Will There Be Good News", and "Started Early, Took My Dog".  Her works are the definition of "literary thriller".  I dare not compare her to Tana French, but she is pretty darned good.  I envision a project in my near future.   


So.  Whatcha think?  Any of these excite you?  Have you read any of them?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Napa #7

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mercy Creek - Matt Matthews

Who out there knows Erin Haire, Manager of the Hub City Bookshop?  I met her at SIBA last year and she is one of those people you will never forget.  She is vivacious and funny, and you can be sure that if you are within ten feet of her, you are going to have fun.  (And if you ever get locked in a bathroom, all you need is a hairpin and some tape and Erin McGyver to get you out.)

Associated with the bookstore is Hub City Press, who is "a non-profit independent press that publishes well-crafted, high-quality works by new and established authors, with an emphasis on the Southern experience."  They were the ones to publish "My Only Sunshine" by Lou Dischler, for example.

Long story long, Erin sent me a copy of "Mercy Creek" by Matt Matthews (published by Hub City) for review, knowing I love me a Southern yarn.  It came with the added perk that it won the South Carolina First Novel Prize.  Say no more Erin. 

Synopsis:  Sixteen-year old Isaac is more than a little depressed at the idea of spending his summer working at Chum's Hardware while all of his friends, and particularly his girlfriend, scatter to more exciting adventures.  Adding to his malaise is the fact that his mother recently passed, and he is having trouble connecting with his father.  Some things are just left unsaid these days.

When a rash of break-ins occur in town, without anything stolen but with heavy damage, Isaac takes on the case to add a little thrill to his summer.  It doesn't hurt that a $5,000 reward is on the line for whoever aids in the conviction of the responsible party.  But when Isaac starts digging, he uncovers a sinister history in his hometown that involves just about every respectable elder, and learns a lesson or two about bigotry and hate and secrets that everyone would rather stay hidden.

My thoughts:  Although this book started out a bit slow for me, it developed into a sobering but charming story about race relations in the South.  It had all the elements you need for a touching plot...quirky, fussy townspeople, a mystery, young love, and healing from the loss of a loved one.  The characters were unique and memorable, and leading the pack was a noble and likable 16-year-old who has the drive to do the right thing. 

The mystery that inspires Isaac is not a real difficult one to figure out, and I initially was frustrated by this.  Maybe I read too many crime thrillers, but my first thought was "it shouldn't be THAT easy!".  But after some time to ponder, I wondered if maybe that wasn't really the point of the thing.  It was more about coming-of-age, and about how hatred can grow over the years like a cancer, and how important it is to understand where we've been and where we're going when it comes to accepting all races as equals.

I'm not sure how this book will be marketed to the general public.  Adult fiction?  Young adult fiction?  It could go either way.  This is a book I'd let my 13-year-old daughter read.  It is free of anything graphically inappropriate and has some great messages.  Likewise, I was entertained as an adult.

Thanks again to Erin for the opportunity to read another little slice of the South!  (See you at SIBA in Charleston!)

3.5 out of 5 stars 


Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - Author, Author

Our beloved Bumbles are such well-rounded folks.  Not only are they all about movies, travel, baseball, photography and gardening, but they are avid book lovers too.  And this week, with many book bloggers attending BEA in New York, Molly and Andy are quick to remind those of us left behind that we can always participate in Armchair BEA.

So with all those bookish thoughts, Molly and Andy turned their attention to movies about authors and writers.  Of course, the Bumbles mentioned my favorite movie about an author, "Misery".  But there are so many other choices!  I definitely had to whittle down my list on this one.  From my original list of a dozen films, here are my favorites:

1.  The Shining - of course.  You think I'd forget this one?  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

2.  Sideways - I realize this movie is really all about wine, but part of the mid-life crisis experienced by Miles is caused by not being able to get his book published.  I suspect after his wino road trip, he had plenty to write about. 

3.  Adaptation - This movie really touched my heart despite the fact that I really can't stand Nicholas Cage (but Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper are in rare form).  There is alot going on with this plot, but at its core, it is about a passionless screenwriter attempting to write an adaptation of a non-fiction book.  Just talking about it makes me want to watch it again...

4.  Funny Farm - I was pissed that I forgot to mention this book last week when we were talking about farms, so here we go.  Andy and Elizabeth pack up their life and move to Vermont so Andy can write the Great American Novel.  But then all hell breaks loose.  Absolutely hilarious movie, and one I refer to in my daily life. 

5.  Capote -  Like Adaptation, this movie grabbed me by the hair, and I had to watch it multiple times.  Capote was really an amazing guy (and wrote one of the best true crime novels of all time), and Phillip Seymour Hoffman did him justice.       

Alright my bookish friends, this is right up our alley so let's have it!  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Salon: The Countdown

 Happy Sunday morning friends!  So we are all still here after warnings of Armageddon?  I felt reconciled with God, so I wasn't worried much.  I'd like to thank that wacko, though, for freaking out my kids.  Priorities in place though, as we were at my buddy's wine store at 6:00pm, sipping Cabernet. 

So a little busier this week.  We start the parade of the "lasts".  Last walk with my friend Susan for the summer.  Last day (ever) of gifted class for my son.  The spring "Glee" concert.  The last day of play for my golf league (thank God, since I don't particularly like sweat dripping off my nose when I putt). 

We had Books, Babes and Bordeaux book club this week, and not only discussed Lori Roy's "Bent Road", but also had the privilege of talking to her via Skype (and phone after some technical difficulties).  We all found this to be a very dark read, definitely character-driven, some loving it more than others.  This was definitely one instance of a narrator mucking up an otherwise respectable book.  We all appreciated Lori's explanation of certain aspects of the plot though, and look forward to her next book.

I pretty much have tunnel vision at this point, as we are ten days and counting before our trip.  Thus my focus has been on the preparation for our leaving.  My husband and I have made the trip to Poland something like seven times, so you'd think I'd have this down cold.  But there is always a ton of things to line up.  Appropriate clothes, gifts for the family, packing strategy, arrangement of house sitter, payment of bills, wrapping up end-of-school stuff, blah blah blah.  But between you and me?  My big focus is making sure I've got my blog where it needs to be.  I'd like to get all my reviews done.  I came up with three weeks worth of Monday Movie Meme themes for Molly and Andy so I could pre-post.  The week of June 6th is Audiobook Week, and of course I want to participate so I have those posts to do.  I'm getting there, slowly.  So.  I will try to be my sociable self for the next ten days, but no promises. 

As a result of my distractions, my reading has been off.  I did finish "The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott" by Kelly O'Connor McNees on audio, and I am just besotted.  I LOVED that audio.  Prepare for gushing when that review comes your way.  I am now almost through "The House Of Tomorrow" by Peter Bognanni, and again, I am overwhelmed with love for this story.  Definitely a good week for audio.

In print, I finished "Skinny" by Diana Spechler and enjoyed it.  I had some issue niggles, but I'm still working through them before I write my review.  Rhapsody Jill and I will be posting our thoughts on the same day for this one.  After hearing thirty million times how awesome Jo Nesbo is, I did start "The Redbreast", but am only about 50 pages in.  I'm hoping I can finish it this week, but with the way things are going, I'm not holding my breath.

We have no big plans today, except for church.  My goal is to get another review or two written, maybe get a pedicure, do a little reading, and possibly finish "The House of Tomorrow".  What is on your agenda?     


Friday, May 20, 2011

The Fifth Floor - Michael Harvey (Audio)

In my recent but pre-blogging days, I read a review of Michael Harvey's "The Chicago Way" and quickly snapped up the audio.  I enjoyed it from what I remember.  Interesting protagonist.  Based in Chicago (a much beloved city).  Gritty.  Fast-paced.  Details, however, are fuzzy.  Crime series are like that for me. Then I wandered off in other directions, being my unfocused self.

Then Swapna started raving about the second (The Fifth Floor) and third (The Third Rail) novels in the series, and it brought my attention back onto the matter of Michael Harvey and his business of murder and wickedness.

Synopsis:  Michael Kelly, ex-police officer and private investigator to the downtrodden, is working on a case to help an old flame who is being abused by her husband.  Who just happens to work for the Mayor of Chicago (aka The Fifth Floor).  While tailing this nasty waste of space, he stumbles upon a murder that has roots going back to 1871, and the Great Chicago Fire.  Michael discovers that it most certainly wasn't O'Leary's cow, nor lightning, that precipitated the night Chicago burned to the ground.  When he follows the trail of crumbs, however, they all lead back to the fifth floor.

My thoughts:  Score another one for Michael Harvey.  This is what crime thrillers are all about.  Granted, these are not books that you will remember in thirty years, but they are entertaining as hell.  Here are some of the highlights, something I always need to hear when we are talking crime series.

Michael Kelly is a little rough around the edges.  Can't seem to maintain a relationship (not for the lack of trying).  But he is a good guy.  He is true to his word, he has a conscience, he is cool under pressure.  He isn't afraid to go up against Goliath if it is the right thing to do.  It is easy to get in his corner and give him a fist pump or two.  Plus I think he might be hot. 

If you like Chicago, and want a back door tour of the city, look no further.  The tried and true establishments, not the ones on Michigan Avenue but down back alleys and side streets, the ones open 24 hours or have a particular infamous reputation...that is where Michael Kelly goes.  And I was taking notes.  These places exist...I Googled them.  Don't think I won't hunt them down next August when I'm there.

And the Great Chicago Fire.  Is there anyone out there that isn't interested in this bit of American history?  Even though I think the premise is sketchy, there is still alot of great facts here that you can use at a dinner party to impress your friends.

There is certainly enough here to grab onto, and keep your interest in installments to come.  Speaking of which..."The Third Rail" is on my listening list in the very near future.

A word about the audio production:  Our narrator for this book, and all of Harvey's audiobooks is Stephen Hoye.  If I were in the business of casting a narrator for this series, I might not have picked Hoye.  His voice is lacking an edge, in fact it is melodic and playful.  But after two audiobooks, I'm OK with him.  He does a great job in distinguishing between characters, and is easy with an accent. 

4 out of 5 stars            

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Recovery - Alexandrea Weis

Over two years ago, I read and reviewed "To My Senses" by Alexandrea Weis.  It was a lovely book about Nicci Beauvoir, a New Orleans old-money debutante with an attitude whose life was dismantled by bad boy David Alexander.  The book was atmospheric, humorous, sexy, and devastating.  The ending of the book pulled the rug out from under me, and I was totally despondent for a few days.  Then.  I found out Ms. Weis was writing a SEQUEL.  OMG, you mean this isn't the end?  There is hope?  Do I really want to know the "after"?  There is no more apt title for what came next than "Recovery". 

Warning:  If you have not yet read "To My Senses" and think you'll be doing it soon, be advised that the entire premise of "Recovery" spoils the ending of its prequel.  Just so you know.

Synopsis:  After the tragic murder of David Alexander, the love of Nicci's life, she has gone on to achieve her dreams of writing a successful novel about their relationship.  Nicci has not only used this effort to survive the debilitation of losing David, but also to help her survive Hurricane Katrina and it's after-effects on the city of New Orleans.  It has been a hellish two years, and her wounds are still raw.

While in New York on a publicity tour, she is summoned to the home of a mysterious, wealthy man who claims to have been David's previous boss, before David left it all behind to become an artist.  David's death was bad for business, and he is bent on solving the case of his murder.  Because David's previous clients could be a tad shady, it was assumed that one of them had been the one to pull the trigger.  After two years of investigation, however, it appears that David was killed by one of Nicci's acquaintances.  Enter the rakish, distant (and of course handsome) Dallas August, who will accompany Nicci back to New Orleans, under the guise of her new boyfriend, to nail the bastard that took David's life.

How on earth could someone from Nicci's circle be a cold-blooded killer?  And how will Nicci be able to convince her closest friends and family that she is in love with Dallas, when she is still grieving over David?  On all counts, she gets more than she bargained for.

My thoughts:  In many ways, this story falls into some very predictable, Harlequin Romance-ish ruts.  Handsome but cold-hearted man, beautiful girl with baggage and moxie, both forced together under less than perfect circumstances.  Add some sexual tension, some common goals, and POW.  You can see it coming from a mile away, right?  I rolled my eyes.  But I knew better than to discount Alexandrea Weis's literary arsenal, so I kept reading.  In honor of David.

This is more than a typical romance novel.  Weis's post-Katrina New Orleans is damaged and broken, and we see it through the eyes of a local.  Friends who died in the storm, entire neighborhoods wiped from the planet, businesses struggling to stay open but without power or inventory.  The entire city is in a state of recovery.

Then there is the mission of finding David's killer.  The options are limited, but it was anybody's guess on who and with what motivation.  The climax in the book, where the identity is revealed, was intense.  I wanted revenge.  I felt like a blood-thirsty villager with a pitchfork and a shotgun. 

But that Alexandrea!  *shakes fist*  What are you trying to do to me?  Give me heart failure?  She throws in a subtle question that is never answered, and plants tiny little threads of doubt (which to me were like big flashing lights), and leaves us at the end going "What. The. Hell."  Can I just come down to your house, Alexandrea, and help you write the next one?  I see the plot laid out in front of me as clear as day.  Pray I don't have to wait another two years for it?

4 out of 5 stars     


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Napa #6

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson

I pretty much knew what I was in for when I selected this book for my Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon.  Horror.  A sick stomach.  Sadness.  But I also knew it was compulsively readable, and less than 200 pages.  Then I remembered Gillian. 

A couple of years ago, I recommended this book to a colleague of mind that helped me run the Book Fair at our school.  She bought it, took it home and read it, and the next day came back and told me she was going to use the book to do bodily harm to my person.  She said it made her want to hang herself.  Oops.  Well, dare I read something like this when I need to stay focused and awake?  Yes I did.

Synopsis:  Melinda Sordino has just started high-school, and even though she has lived in the Syracuse area her entire life, she is an outcast.  Her friends have abandoned her, and upperclassmen hate her.  You see, over the summer, she called 911 while at a party, bringing down the full extent of the law on her peers.  Nobody bothered to ask Melinda WHY she had called 911, and the effects of what happened that night have pushed Melinda into a dark corner in her mind.  She stops talking, withdrawing from her parents, her teachers, her potential as a top student. 

Melinda does find some escape in her art classes though.  Her teacher is a bohemian and is non-judgemental to her unwashed hair and her silence.  Her year-long project, to experiment with different art mediums in the form of a tree, frames a perfect analogy for her life in the 9th grade.  From the starting point of a blackened, burned tree stump, to learning to form limbs and leaves and life, Melinda begins to find her place within her school.  She also learns to find her voice, in order to speak up for herself and who she is inside.

My thoughts:  Now I understand why my friend wanted to hit me.  This was one tough read.  Don't get me wrong, the pages turned quickly - the prose incredibly conversational - but it left me feeling sickened.  The girl in this book is only one year older than my daughter.  It struck terror in my heart that made me want to go burrow in the back of my closet.

My daughter was actually hanging out with me during most of the readathon, and at one point, she asked me what the book was about because she kept seeing me make faces.  She knows it is a YA novel.  So, with a squeaky constricted voice, I told her.  And we actually had a good conversation about dangerous situations that she could find herself in, the sign of a true friend, and figuring out who has your back.  We talked about the importance of speaking up when something goes wrong, and having someone to confide in.  These days, talks like these are few and far between so I was grateful.

I didn't have the same experience in high school that Melinda did, but I knew people in her shoes.  Anderson certainly knows her subjects, and I think that is what made this book all the more terrifying. These kids were real.  The jocks, the goths, the cliques, the brains, the Casanova boys who made the rounds.  And the outcasts. 

This is an important book for kids (and parents of kids) to read.  A thank you to JoAnn at Lakeside Musing for sending it to me!

4.5 out of 5 


Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - The Farmer in the Dell

How long have y'all known the Bumbles?  Well, if you have been around them for awhile, you will know that they have forever been thinking and planning on The Shed Project, which is close to being complete.  God bless Molly and Andy.  They've also been toiling away on their garden and landscaping, and they are feeling like downright farmers.  So they decided that should be the topic of the week.

As some of you may or may not know, I am a farmer's daughter, born and raised on a working farm (corn, beans, cattle) in Indiana.  So movies that remind me of home?  That is easy peasy for me.  Except that Molly and Andy took some good ones (Field of Dreams, Witness, Places in the Heart) and I was forced to dig deep.  Here is what I came up with:

1.  The Straight Story - I have yakked about this movie no less than a dozen times, so people, rent it already.  It is not a fast-paced movie, but is dear.  It is about an old man, no longer able to drive, who jumps on his John Deere and travels across multiple states to see his brother and resolve an old feud.  But as they say, the it is all about journey, and on this one, he meets all specimens of mankind, and makes a difference in their lives. 

2.  Food Inc. - Both my father and my husband (who is also in the grain industry) had lots to say about this documentary that exposes the underbelly of the agricultural industry.

3.  Charlotte's Web - Just shoot an arrow into my heart.  People, I raised pigs (and cattle) for my 4-H projects, and yes you do get attached.  This is exactly why I will grieve my guinea pig for years...I have always loved animals.  When I saw this movie for the first time at the theaters, I sobbed for days.  I named my very first kitten Charlotte.  My fate was sealed at this point.

4.  The Wizard of Oz - We didn't have any flying monkeys in Central Indiana, but we did have our share of tornadoes, which was my single biggest fear growing up.

5.  Babe - Maybe I have a thing with pigs?  I have watched this movie at least two dozen times, and would never turn it down if I saw it on the tube.  It is absolutely precious.  It is about a charming, talking pig who really would prefer not to end up on the dining room table for Easter, and intends to prove himself as a top notch sheep-herding pig.

What are your favorite farm movies?  Have any of you had any experience on a farm?


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Salon: The Calm Before the Storm?

A fair morning to you all.  I feel like the past week was probably the closest thing to calm or normal as it could ever get.  Not enough of those these days!  And looking forward over the next couple of weeks, which will be filled with end-of-year tests, concerts, parties, and preparation for a summer of travel, blah blah blah, I am languishing in this brief moment of peace.

Some of the stress-free activities were lunch with an old friend, walking with my buddy Susan, some closet purging (where do all these clothes come from?), and year-end party for my golf league, and some meetings at school.  I've signed on to be the Treasurer for the Home & School Association next year, so wish me luck with that!  I took the kids to Universal on Saturday morning just for a couple of hours of roller coasters, then we went to see 3D IMAX Thor (woo doggy that Chris Hemsworth is some serious eye candy - I think I drooled a little).  Saturday night my husband and I went to a dinner party, and today I shall participate in my first Skype book club discussion of "Amaryllis in Blueberry".

Things feel a little slow in the reading department, but I'm feeling pretty good about my blogging schedule.  Right now I have read enough books to get me through the end of June (Ha!  Now I just need to write the reviews!) which takes the pressure off when I'm away in June.  In print this week, I did finish "Sue Ellen's Girl Ain't Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy" by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, which tickled my funny bone.  I am about a hundred pages into "Skinny" by Diana Spechler, which the author kindly sent me after I called her "cool" in a comment on Heather's blog

On audio I finished "The Girl Who Stopped Swimming" by Joshilyn Jackson, an author that I love and wish I could be friends with.  She is so darned cool (there's that adjective again). I also finished "Unfamiliar Fishes" by Sarah Vowell, who is cool too.  I did find that this audio was short on funny and long on fact, but I'll never stop loving her.  Now I am about halfway through "The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott" by Kelly O'Connor McNees, and I'm so totally charmed. It is narrated by Emily Janice Card, who also narrated "Revolution", and is the main reason why I picked up this audio.  She is wonderful.

For all of you preparing to attend BEA in New York, I will be there in spirit my friends!  My hope is that someday I will be there with you.  I'm putting it on my calendar for May 2018, when my kids no longer require my services (or sooner if we strike it rich and I hire a nanny).

Hope you all have a wonderful Sunday.  What are you up to today? 


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Slow Cooker Revolution

I know I've mentioned this only about two million times, but I like to hear myself whine (wine!) so I'll say it again.  Once football season starts on August 1st, and there is practice five days a week, and this simultaneously conflicts with basketball, and all I do is drive around like a nut, the slow cooker is my savior.  Otherwise my family would get nothing hot for dinner unless it came from a drive-through.

I have one massive slow cooker cookbook, and that is the "Crock-Pot Original Slow Cooker Recipe Collection".  Plus I google recipes.  But I felt I needed one more source.  When I won an Amazon gift card from the lovely Dar, I barely blinked between the time I wrote down my code and went shopping for "Slow Cooker Revolution" from America's Test Kitchen.

I know several bloggers have already reviewed this cookbook.  Dawn at She is Too Fond of Books. Kathy at Bermudaonion.  Caite at A Lovely Shore Breeze.  I trust these women when it comes to books and especially to food.

For a couple of weeks now, we have been putting this cookbook through the paces, and will continue to build my repertoire until we "go live" on August 1st.  One unique thing I noticed about these slow cooker recipes is the use of fresh ingredients (no cream of mushroom soups, thank God!) and partial microwaving.  I assume that microwaving some of the food before slow cooking makes for a better final product, but I've never been required to do it before.  It does add to the preparation time, but wasn't a big deal for me.

So far, I've made Asian-Style Beef Stew, Chicken Vesuvio, and Easy Pesto Meatballs.  Everything was excellent, but I think the Asian Beef drew the most groans of pleasure at dinner from my meat-eating boys.  Here is the recipe:

Easy Asian-Style Beef Stew
2 cups frozen chopped onions or 2 onions minced
3 TBL tomato paste
2 TBL vegetable oil
1 TBL ground ginger or TBL minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder or 6 minced cloves fresh garlic
1 cup beef broth
3/4 cup chicken broth
8 ounce baby carrots
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 TBL Minute tapioca
2 bay leaves
3 pounds beef steak tips
6 ounces snow peas
1 8 ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained and patted dry
4 scallions sliced thin
1 TBL brown sugar

1.  Microwave onions, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon oil, ginger, and garlic in bowl, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to slow cooker.

2. Stir beef broth, chicken broth, carrots, soy sauce, sherry, tapioca, and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Season beef with salt and pepper and nestle into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until beef is tender, 9 to 11 hours on low or 5 to 7 hours on high.

3.  Transfer beef to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces.  Let stew settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface.  Discard bay leaves.

4.  Microwave snow peas with remaining oil in bowl, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir shredded beef, peas, and water chestnuts into stew and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes.  Stir in scallions and brown sugar, season with salt and pepper, and serve with additional soy sauce.


Just so you know, I did not include the peas or water chestnuts in my recipe, else there would have been trouble.  The males in the house proclaimed it to be the best stew I'd ever served them.

There are 200 recipes included here, many with big beautiful pictures.  The chapters are in 13 categories, ranging from the expected like stews and soups, but also branch out into desserts, eggs and brunch, chilis, enchiladas and tacos, and even basics such as jam, gravy, caramelized onions and applesauce.  This is one stop slow cooker shopping.  I don't think you need anything else.

5 out of 5 stars

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, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Ingram Interview - K. B. Dixon

Just about a year ago, I read and reviewed K.B. Dixon's "A Painter's Life", a curious little collection of thoughts about a fairly accomplished artist and his life of struggles.  This book, by the way, has gone on to earn a number of accolades and awards. 

So I was pleased when Mr. Dixon contacted me about his newest endeavor, "The Ingram Interview".  I warned him of my three-month TBR Dare, but that I would pick it up come April.  And at 120 pages, it was a pleasant way to start back into my crack habit of chasing the newest, the latest and greatest releases. 

Synopsis:  Daniel Ingram is a retired, slightly curmudgeon-ish fellow in his early 60's who has recently had a heart attack.  He resides in an assisted-care facility (as he is divorced and not speaking with his only child) while he rehabilitates.  He soon is asked to leave because his dour attitude is bringing everyone else down, so he moves in with a former student and indie film-maker. 

Things are happening around Daniel...a thief on the loose in the assisted-care home, a movie being made, his friends struggling through their lives.  Daniel ambles through an attempt at a memoir, he hopes to reunite with his ex-wife, he contemplates his personality and its effect on those around him.

Not real complicated plot, is it?  But the uniqueness is in its structure.  Some unknown entity (a friend, a nurse, Daniel's conscience) asks prompting questions of Daniel, and through Daniel's responses we get the story of his life, from important highlights to the mundane. 
The memoir? 

Exactly.  Back to scribbling - this time about my days working in a bookstore.  I thought I knew books pretty well, but I was there six weeks before anyone came in and asked for anything I had even heard of.  It was six more weeks before anyone showed up looking for something worthwhile.  I don't know what I expected give the nature of the store and its location in the middle of a middling middle-class suburb, but it was something other than that.
What is going on out there?
A brouhaha.  Roger Booth has attacked Karl Moody with a croquet mallet.  The incident is being investigated.  A committee is being formed.

My thoughts:  This book made me laugh.  Daniel Ingram is quite a character, almost to the point where I feel that I know him.  He is feeling his age, he is grumpy, he is judgemental, but there is still life and humor left in him, buried deep under his malaise.  I know people like this!

What I really wanted to do is jump into the book and shake the guy.  He's only in his early '60's!!!  Goodness, I know people that age who run marathons and work 80 hour weeks.  Some of my dearest friends are that age!  Daniel was acting like he was 80, and it was maddening, in an endearing way.

I honestly can say that I've never read anything quite like Dixon's books.  In the cases of both this book and "A Painter's Life", you have quick and sudden access into someone's life.  Not a high-profile person, just some person from the street almost.  You have access to thoughts, emotions, their surrounding community and friends, on an intimate level.  Then you're done.  120 pages, in and out.  There is a certain level of cleverness in this.  I couldn't stop thinking about Daniel and his daily minutia because it was yanked away from me, almost mid-thought.  Hey wait!  Did he finish his memoir?  Did he get anywhere with the ex?  How did his friend's movie fare?  Did he lighten up or did he work his way up to another heart attack?

Quick, quirky, fun and clever.  That would be this book.  I'd like to thank K.B. Dixon for another opportunity to experience his work, and wish him luck on the next round of awards coming his way!

4 out of 5 stars 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick

 My children have had this book on their shelves for years (a gift from the most literary Uncle Kevin) and I've been hearing about the book since I started blogging.  Part storybook, part graphic novel, even part flip-book maybe.  Why on earth I've never read it baffles me.  Maybe it was the size of the book, which is about four inches thick?  The kids both told me I could read it in two hours, so I grabbed it for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon awhile back, and was exactly what I needed...a charming escape into a world of magic, movies and the innocence of youth.

Synopsis:  Hugo Cabret is an orphan who lives secretly in a train station's clock tower in France.  His mother and father are dead, and his uncle, the clock keeper, disappeared months ago.  Hugo understands that he must keep up appearances and maintain the clocks so the authorities don't discover his lack of parental supervision and send him to an orphanage.  This is no problem, though, because he has a gift with mechanical things.

Hugo's primary obsession is with an old automaton, which is father rescued from an old museum years ago.  The automaton, once fixed, should be able to draw something, and once Hugo figures out what that something is, he thinks it might just change his life.

And it does, in ways he never suspects.  Suddenly he is involved with a cranky old shopkeeper, a strange young girl, a mysterious drawing, a secret key, and the legacy of Georges Milies, a magician and famous filmmaker at the turn of the century.

Writer, illustrator and Caldecott winner Selznick was inspired to create the story of Hugo Cabret by two influences.  First was the true story of Georges Milies.  Milies was a visionary when it came to making wonderful and strange movies, like "A Trip to the Moon" (shown below), made in 1902 and was the first science fiction movie ever produced.

Selznick was also fascinated with automata, which were constructed by using thousands of tiny clockwork parts to make a figure move automatically, performing any number of complicated maneuvers like dancing or drawing pictures.  Watching an automaton in action is mind-blowing. No wonder Selznick's imagination went wild:

My thoughts:  Do I REALLY need to tell you what I thought?  Selznick has created what I could consider the perfect book.  It incorporates over three hundred gorgeous illustrations, and a magical story.  Then there is the history!  There is the birth of film with the works of Georges Milies and the love of old movies in general.  There is the magic of automata.  My brain was buzzing while I was reading this.  I decided that if I get rich someday, I'm buying myself an automaton.  I sat and watched video after video of them on Youtube.  To heck with the moving and talking Presidents over at Disney's Epcot, I want one of these guys. 

And it gets better.  On November 23, 2011, there will be a movie directed by Martin Scorcese and starring Johnny Depp, Ben Kingsley and Christopher Lee.  My heart is coming out of my chest.  I could cry I'm so excited.   

So set aside a couple of hours for yourself, and read this now.  You will not be disappointed.

5 out of 5 stars