Monday, January 31, 2011

Musing Monday...I Am So Sleepy...

This week’s musing (again, thanks to Squidoo), asks…

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?

When was the last time I was up all night reading? Well, actually, I am up a few nights every week, reading into the wee hours. But it does not actually answer the question because I am not reading at 3 a.m. because the book is so good. No, if you remember my odd work schedule you will know that I am up reading at those hours because I am working, and reading is what I do in between my duties. At 1, 2, 3 a.m., when other things have settled down and before they start up again at 5 a.m. or so, I do a fair bit of reading to pass the time and stay alert. As least as alert as is possible when the body is say "Hey, we should be in dreamland Caite!"
I work a twelve hour shift, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a couple of days..then off for a couple...then 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. for a couple...then off a couple again...repeat!
So the fact that I am awake and reading when most of the USA is asleep does not mean I have found a book that I can not put down.

Because, to tell you the truth, that has not been my experience in the last month or two. I am not sure if it is the books...or me...but I have hit a few duds recently. I have started and put down maybe 6-7 books, 40 or 50 pages into it, just not caught up. But I do certainly know what it is to be so caught up in a book that you can't put it down, knowing that there are other things you should be doing, including going to sleep. It has just been so long that I can't remember what the title was.
Ok, looking back on recent reviews, I see that is not really totally true. Safe From The Sea is a book that I really liked as I remember it, I spent the good part of a day, when I had many other things I should have been doing, reading it. True it was day time, sun out and everything...but same idea

Yes, I am so sleepy right now, but not because I was up half the night reading, but because it is 4:30 a.m., a time that one way or the other, I am almost always awake at.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Weekend Cooking- A Review of "The Veselka Cookbook" [7]

The Veselka Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Landmark Restaurant in New York's East Villageby Tom Birchard, Natalie Danford
Thomas Dunne Books, ISBN 978-0312385682
October 27, 2009, 272 pages

If you are a very observant, and very regular, reader here, you may have noticed that I have a fondness for all things Ukrainian.
Ok, maybe not all things, but a few.
Now, there is not one drop of  Ukrainian blood in my veins. 100% Irish there. So where did this interest come from?
Well, as I remember it...and the older I get the more I doubt the veracity of my memory...there was a girl in high school who was actually of Ukrainian hertiage. Maybe her parents, maybe her grandparents were from the Ukraine, and she had a great interest in the culture. They were Ukrainian Catholics, with icons and a sung Liturgy, that all looked very exotic next to our Roman rite. Then one day she bought in a pysanky, a Ukrainian Easter egg and she really had my attention.
I used to go to the lower East Side of NYC, to a Ukrainian store called Surma to buy pysanky supplies, dyes and kistkas and such, and I was totally sold. Now I have not been there in a few years, and the ethnic neighborhoods of NYC ebb and flow and constantly change, but at least when I was in high school that area was very Ukrainian. Stores, butcher shops, bakeries..and restaurants. I could buy my supplies, get some fabulous kielbasa to take home and eat some pierogi...a perfect day.

One restaurant at the heart of that area, a New York unique combination of diner and ethnic restaurant, is a place called Veselka. I have never been there, something I hope to correct in the future, but a gift that I received for Christmas, The Veselka Cookbook, warmed my heart in the meantime. If you have an interest in the food of Eastern Europe...or just great food...this is certainly a cookbook you should check out.
The book is divided into a number of enticing chapters...Soups, Stuffed Delights: Pierogi, Blintzes and More, Meat and Poultry, Salads and Sides, Desserts, Christmas Eve: A Special Ukrainian Tradition, Sandwiches and Breakfast Any Time.
Now, I am sure the more 'diner'ish recipes, burgers and muffins and blueberry pancakes are just fine, but it is the more tradition recipes that get my attention.

My mother used to make stuffed cabbage and since I never got her recipe, I am always interested in finding a good one..and maybe the one in this cookbook is the winner. Goulash and stroganoff, blintzes and pierogi, so many delicious sounding recipes. I will tell you that the photo of a bowl of borscht, the photo that is also on the cover, was enough to make me whimper. I love borscht, a hot beet soup, and as soon as I get a few pounds of whole beets and a pork butt, I am making a pot! A number of black and white photos showing the history of the restaurant, some lovely color photos of some of their most popular dishes, make this a very attractive book, but it is all about the recipes..and I will leave you with one, a pork stew called Bigos. Ok, as the book explains, bigos is actually a Polish dish but I love pork...I love kielbasa...I love sauerkraut.

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 pounds boneless pork roast, cut into cubes
  • 1 large onion
  • 6 whole allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 links kielbasa smoked sausage, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups sauerkraut with juices fresh ground black pepper
In a medium pot, combine the stock with 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and keep warm until you are ready to sue it. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot and add the pork. Working in batches if necessary, cooking, turning with tongs, until the pieces are browned on al side, about 5 minutes.
Pour the hot stock mixture over the meat. Add the diced onion, allspice, paprika and bay leaves. Simmer until the meat is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
Place the kielbasa links in a single layer in a roasting pan and roast in the preheated oven, turning once, until they are brown and a little crispy, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove and set aside.
While the pork is cooking, prepare the sauerkraut. Place the sauerkraut in a medium pot with its juices. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the sauerkraut, but do not rinse it. Set aside.
When the pork is fully cooked and very tender, stir in the cooked kielbasa and the blanched sauerkraut. Simmer for 10 minutes to combined the flavors. Season to taste with pepper and serve hot.

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

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Review of "The Girl In the Green Raincoat" [6]

The Girl in the Green Raincoat: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman
William Morrow, ISBN 978-0061938368
176 Pages, January 18, 2011

"I am being held hostage," Tess Monaghan whispered into her iPhone. "By a terrorist. The agenda is unclear, the demands remain vague, but she's prepared to hold me here for at least two months. Twelve weeks or eighteen years, depending on how look on it."
Yes, she is being held hostage, but there is nothing sinister going on, because the 'terrorist' in question is Tess's unborn child. In her third trimester, medical issues have confined her to her bed and Tess is about ready to go out of her mind. Yes, her boyfriend Crow, father of said unborn child, is waiting on her hand and foot, trying to keep her calm, her PI business is running along quite well with her employee Mrs. Blossom at the helm temporarily, her friend Whitney is helping out in several capacities, but the inactivity and a good deal of fear about her pregnancy and impending motherhood...and an overdose of daytime TV... has Tess itching for an escape. In a move to appease her, Crow brings Tess a pair of binoculars, so that she can keep a better eye on the world passing by the windows of her enclosed sunroom. She finds some amusement in watching the people walking their dogs in the park across the road, and can't help but notice the woman in the green raincoat, walking a tiny greyhound, in it's matching coat and leash...and she can't help but notice a few days later when the dog is running loose in the park, his green lease dragging unattended, his owner nowhere to be seen.
What happen to the owner, the Girl in the Green Raincoat? Could she have abandoned her dog, or did something most sinister happen. She may be confined to her bed, but Tess is determined to solve the mystery..not realizing that in doing so she may be putting the lives of others in danger, including her own life and that of her child.

With a tip of her hat to Hitchcock's Rear Window, in this novella Lippman has turned out  a very entertaining, very readable and very enjoyable little story. The mystery at the heart of the book, the disappearance of the green clad woman is interesting and, with a few good twists and turns, hold the reader's interest to the end of the book. As in all of the book in this series, the setting in Baltimore is always fun. But just as appealing in this book, certainly for me, was the series of interlaced stories that give us a bit of a glimpse into the lives of the characters that we may have met in the previous books in the series. If this is your first taste of the series, no fear, because I think it can act as a great introduction.

I have read a few of the Monaghan books before and I can't say that I remember Mrs. Blossom, but I will certainly be looking forward to seeing more of her in the future. The term "a pistol" comes to mind. And Tess's friend Whitney has appeared before but this time we really seem to get some new insights and we certainly learn some more about Tess's boyfriend Crow, including where that name comes from. In what is, I think, the most charming interaction in the story, with her father, Tess comes to see her parents, and especially her dad, in a whole new light. I thought that whole section was rather sweet, especially as Tess laid there, considering her own looming chance at parenthood. It was all about popcorn...and a monkey!

But perhaps most interestingly, we get a rather different view of Tess from the dashing, rather fearless PI we have met in some of the previous books. She is worried about her pregnancy, she is worried about her relationship with Crow, she is worried about being a mother...she is worried about what the future will bring. But don't you worry, because whether you are a long time fan, sharing this new chapter in her life, or have just been introduced to Tess and her merry band of friends, you will soon realize she is up to the challenge.
Strongly recommended to Tess Monaghan fans, fans of Laura Lippman's other books or any reader just  looking for an entertaining, fun read.

My thanks to William Morrow for providing me with a copy of this book.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wordless Wednesday..Still Life in the Pinelands always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

A Review of "Before I Fall" [5]

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Harper Collins, ISBN 006172680X
March 2, 2010, 480 pages

It is suppose to be a big day for Samantha Kingston. And it turns out to be just that, but just in a very different way than she anticipates.
It is Cupid Day at her school, where the lower class girls run around, delivering roses and messages, gifts from one student to another. Of course, the aim is to get more roses than anyone else and be proven most popular. Yes, some kids won't get any. So sad. Not that Sam has anything to worry about that, because she and her friends are the Popular Girls. It is also the day she will lose her virginity to her oh-so-crush-worthy boyfriend. So cool. Throw in some pot, a lot of alcohol, some drunk driving, any number of cruel remarks to those deemed the 'weird kids' and you have a full day for Sam!
Oh, except the part where she gets killed.

Don't worry. I am not giving anything away. Her getting killed is just the beginning of the story, because no sooner does she die than she finds herself back in her bed, the alarm going off..and it is Cupid Day. Again. And again. And again...It seems there are some things she has to get right before she moves on, and we get to go along as she tries to figure it out.
Have you seen Groundhog Day. Well, as others have said, this is Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls.

I read this book awhile ago and I have put off reviewing it. Actually it was yesterdays Musing Monday that got me to finally put pen to paper, so to speak. Why? Because it reminded me that we don't all like the same books. And, unlike the vast majority of bloggers..and reviewers on Amazon...and reviewers on Library Thing..and on Goodreads, I surely did not like this book.
Most people seem to LOVE this book.
I did not like it.
Not at all.

I saw this quote from an interview with the author, I believe on the B&N website..
"I have two hopes for you as you begin to read Before I Fall. The first is simply this: I hope that in the beginning, you do not like the main character, Samantha, or her three best friends. I hope you find them mean, petty, self-absorbed, and superficial." ... "My second hope is more conventional. I hope that by the end of the book you will love Sam, and that you will have come to a deeper understanding of her friends, with all of their faults and frailties."
I am sorry to say she succeeded in only one for me. I hated Sam and her friends at the beginning...and I did not like Sam and certainly not her unchanged friends any better at the end. Did I understand them? I think I do. They are spoiled, mean, amoral kids, allowed to run wild.

I get what the author was trying for, to show us how Sam came to some level of self realization and changed. For me it was too little, too late ...and it took way too long to get there. What does she get..7...8 re-dos, crawling along at a glacial pace? My heavens, is she an idiot as she wanders aimlessly through most of them. Look around girl. You were killed...dead!! You are a mean and cruel person, your friends are mean and cruel, your boyfriend is a total sleaze. Add in parents and adults that are either absent, ineffectual, or nuts, a teacher who should be in jail. And it takes 7 or 8 tries to figure something out?
And the 'there', the ending, was certainly questionable for me. That's it? Really? So what happen to the people there at 'the end'. Let's just say that the person who was 'saved' better watch out a drunken mob doesn't kill her.

Ok, you may have gotten the idea I did not like this book.
But it is more than that.

Is this really what we want young people to be reading? The target audience for this book is grade 9 and up....and I think that is sad. This books is negative and dark, as are, for some reason, many of the Young Adult books I have read. Sex, drugs, alcohol, suicide, bullying...yes, I am not naive enough to not known these things touch young people today. Sadly, that is all too true. Yes, they even touched people my age when I was in high school. Really. But what do we, the adults now, the parents, the teachers, the librarians, the authors, the community, want to do about it? Do we have to wallow in it? Do we have to put it out there, in books and movies and music and TV, as the norm, the ordinary? I am beginning to wonder about the whole idea of YA fiction....

Should reading , like so much popular media, aim for the lowest common denominator. Or should it try to raise us up, make us better, show us endless possibilities, show that the world is a good place that we can make even better, that we, and all those around us, are basically good people, but called to be even better?
Let me suggest it can be done. A book that I think succeeded at this is a book that I loved, I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This. Yes, bad, dark things happen, as they do in Real Life, but ultimately, friendship and love and good people turn a terrible situation around. That is a book I could, in good conscience, give a 9th grader to read.
Before I Fall is not.

Borrowed this book from the Young Adult section of my local library.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Musing Monday...It's Mine...Mine I Tell You...and You Can Not Have It!

An interesting question this week from MizB at Should Be Reading ...

This week’s musing (courtesy of Squidoo) asks…
Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all?

Ok, this may sound odd, but in Real Life, as oppose to the fantasy world of BlogLand, I don't often recommend books to read. No, I don't have a problem here telling you I think this is a great book and this is one you should avoid like the plague. But in RL, I am a lot more hesitant. My SIL is one exception to that. She and I have very similar tastes in books, mysteries...violent, scary serial killers (as opposed to the peaceful, non-scary serial killers ;-)..) and if I read a book or she reads a book that they think the other will like, we will recommend it. And until she got that Evil Kindle, we would often loan each other books...but we won't go there.

But that is fine for common, everyday books we enjoyed. Even those that might be our favorites of the year. If I didn't like one she recommended or she hated one I liked, no big deal. In fact, it is interesting to talk about why.
But then there is, for many of us, another category of books that we love. All time lifetime favorites. Maybe ones we read again and again...the ones we would grab off our bookshelves if we had 3 minutes to grab a few to save for the rest of our lives. Books that we have such a connection to that to have them rejected is more personal.
Maybe I have learned my lesson now, but in the past I have recommended them to friends...usually with disappointing results.

One such book, that I will mention to you, because of that whole BlogLand thing is the The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. If you don't know it, it is a 'spiritual autobiography' about a young man, in the 1940, who moves from an amoral, dissolute life to become a Trappist monk...and a rather famous writer. Now, I read this when I was in high school, and a few times since, and it had a huge effect on me at the time. I think it is a great book, a classic and recommended it to a friend..only to be told she really did not 'get it' and found it sexist. Ok, maybe by the standards today it is a bit, since we are talking about the world as it was 70 years ago. I can't say I ever noticed. Ok, maybe Trappist monks are not everyone's cup of tea...
But golly, I am not sure I will be handing copies out anytime soon.
Even if it is a fabulous book.

Another is Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather. I love that book, totally love that book, another one of my all time favorites. A friend was going to the area in the Southwest in which it is set, so I recommended she read it first.
I am not sure she finished it....

I think I may keep the rest of my All Time Favorite List a bit close to the vest from now on.
I understand the desire to share a book we really love.
We think that people we like will love them as much as we do. Which is great when it happens, but way too often may just end up not happening.
Books are a very personal thing. Sometimes, I think, we love a book that just says the right thing to us at the right time in our lives and wins a place in our heart forever because of it. But we can't expect that to be someone else's experience.

Books I like...sure, I will give you a list.
Books I love...I am not sure I want to share.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Cooking...Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

Sunday evening I was at my brother's house, watching the Golden Globes with the SIL and The Niece. We had great fun ripping apart their outfits..
But when that movie about the start of Facebook started to win a number of awards, a discussion started about the new technologies and the new social medias. The SIL is quite concerned that we are losing our ability to really communicate, face to face, talking, what with all the texting and e-mails and Twitter/Facebook posts. Well, she may have a point but...I must say, sometimes texting can be a lot of fun. What does this have to do with food you might ask. Well...

On my last trip to Disney World a couple of months ago, I was all alone. Now, I have been there many times, most times with other people and a couple of times alone and each way has it's own pluses and minuses. One minus for me of being there alone is that I am not really a fan of eating alone in a 'nice' restaurant. I spend too much time staring at other diners and eavesdropping on their conversation while trying to look like I am not. :-)  With no one to talk to, the whole experience just goes too quick..or something. But, when I have been there with my family before, we always eat at least once at the Brown Derby in Hollywood Studio and it is one of my favorite Disney Restaurants. Very attractive, great service, cool and quiet and a nice relaxing pace...and great food.

So there I was having a nice lunch, duck I think, after a scallop appetizer, when as I remember it, the Niece texted me. Or maybe I texted her. But either way, there we were having a little 'conversation' as I ate lunch. Did I mention that they have the best rolls in the world? Oh my heavens...

Anyhoo, the duck was consumed and I was going to skip dessert and get ready to go find a good place to watch the afternoon parade, until the Niece texted me that I had to try the famous Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake! I had never had it before, but I took her recommendation and ordered a slice, with some excellent coffee, and it was delightful. Sweet and tart, light and luscious.

So, while I have not tried the recipe, it is from the Disney site, so I assume it is the same as the one they sell. And if it is, it is delicious. And pretty , as the picture from that ever handy phone camera shows.

Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs (separated)
3 tbsp. grapefruit juice
1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add water, oil, egg yolks, grapefruit juice and lemon rind. Beat until smooth. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar separately until whites are stiff but not dry. Gradually fold the whites into the cake batter, folding gently with a rubber spatula until just blended. Do not stir the mixture. Pour into an ungreased 10-inch cake pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake springs back in the center when touched lightly. Place the pan on cake rack until cool. Run spatula around edge of cake. Carefully remove from pan. With a serrated knife, gently cut into two layers. After cutting the cake in two, slide a flat cookie sheet between the layers to lift the top one off; after frosting the bottom layer, simply slide the top back on.

Grapefruit Cream Cheese Icing

2 6-oz. pkgs. cream cheese
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
3/4 cup powdered sugar (sifted)
6 to 8 drops yellow food coloring (optional)
1 1-lb. can grapefruit sections, well-drained, reserving 2 tbsp. of juice; or 3 fresh grapefruits, peeled, sectioned, and drained, reserving 2 tbsp. of fresh juice.

Let cream cheese soften at room temperature, then beat until fluffy. Add lemon juice and rind. Gradually blend in sugar and beat until well-blended. Add food coloring, if desired. Add reserved 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice and blend. Divide the frosting evenly into two bowls. Roughly chop 2/3 of the grapefruit sections and add them to half the frosting. Spread this mixture on the bottom layer of the cake. Top with the second layer of cake, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Garnish each portion with a grapefruit slice. Serves six.

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

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Shadow Men

Posted by Picasa always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

A Review of "Deeper Than the Dead" [4]

Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag
Signet, ISBN 978-0451230539
October 26, 2010, 560 pages

Nothing in her training prepared fifth-grade teacher Anne Navarre for how to help her students deal with what happened that day. Tommy Crane and his friend Wendy Morgan were running through the park to escape the class bully when Tom tripped and fell down a small hill, landing on top of a dead body. It is the body of a missing young woman, buried up to her neck, her eyes and mouth sealed shut with super glue. In 1985, it does seem that quiet Oak Knoll, California is the sort of place where this kind of thing happens. But when you look a little deeper it seems that everything in Oak Knoll may not be quite as placid as it first seems. Even in the families of the children involved.

The sheriff's department does not want to believe that a serial killer may be loose in their community but they can't deny it when it is found that this may be his third victim. When another woman is discovered to be missing, the urgency only increases and Detective Tony Mendez is a new breed of cop, willing to take advantage of all the cutting edge technology he can to solve the crime. Help comes in the person of FBI agent Vince Leone, one of the government's new criminal profilers. Leone, barely back to active duty after his own near death attack, may not be firing on all cylinders but he is still the best hope they have of discovering what fine, upstanding citizen may be a murderous psychopath. And maybe save the next victim in the killer's sights, a victim whose identity will touch very close to home.

Ok, I guessed who the killer was, even with the many red herrings thrown in the reader's path. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, because the ride there was a good one. Good characters, several of whom appear in Hoag's next book, a good setting, a good story, good writing and a grisly serial killer, all concluding with an exciting climax and a sad, disturbing twist...what's not to like?

Ok, there may be a thing or two.

The books takes place a few decades ago, before the advent of national databases of fingerprints and before DNA identification was available. But really, it becomes a bit disconcerting to be told that again and again. I really do not think police departmentals sit around thinking, "golly, if we only had...." whatever technology the future may bring...because it does not exist yet.  Odd, unnecessary and rather annoying.

But a small matter in what is otherwise a good solid thriller, with a bit of romance and a sometimes disturbing look at what may reside just below the surface of that seeming nice, quiet, successful family living just next door.
Certainly good enough to make me look forward to check out the sequel, Secrets to the Grave that was released in December.

My thanks to Library Things Early Reviewers for my copy of this book.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Musing Monday...I Think, Therefore I...hmmmm...I Forget.

I enjoy a nice bit of musing, not too deep but not too shallow. Which is good because it ties in nicely to this week question from MizB at Should Be Reading

This week’s musing asks…
Do you prefer deep, intellectual, “meaty” books… or light, “fluffy” books? Why? Give us an example of your preferred type of book.

Once upon a time, in the way distant past, I could think pretty well, fairly deeply. I read and studied deep theological and philosophical works and since I had, I believe, a 4.0 grade point in my major, I guess I understood, at ;east to the professor's satisfaction. Plato and Aristotle, Maimonides and Aquinas, Kant and Hegel, yes, I read them all. I would consider them 'meaty'.
But do I read them now, curling up with a nice cozy copy of Kierkegaard?
Could I? Maybe.
I don't know, and it is unlikely I will find out.

Because meaty reading is work! Sometime hard work. It can make your brain spin.
And I don't really want to work too hard when I read.
To tell you the truth, I don't want too work to hard at anything.

I know the brain is not a muscle, but to a degree it acts sort of like one. If you exercise it, it gets sharper, easier to focus, stronger. My brain has not been to the gym in quite awhile and I don't want to hurt it by running over and trying to lift the big barbells.

But, I don't enjoy fluff either. I refer not to the marshmallow product you can make sandwiches of, and about which I make no judgment, but to the lighter end of the reading spectrum. I hesitate to even define what qualifies as "fluffy", because one person's fluffy is another person's meaty.
I would just say that usually I like to read books that are a bit challenging and make me think..a bit. Not to dwell on the subject, but I think that it is one reason that I like mysteries. They are like little puzzles..but they give you the answer at the end. Usually.

I can't name any particularly meaty books I have read recently, or fluffy ones for that matter. Because I only read books right in the middle. OK, after a little thought, I think The Snow Globe, that I read recently , might be considered fluff, but it was a Christmas book and there is a Christmas fluff exception.
Everyone knows that. :-)
The fluff element is one reason that I have given up on a number of series. The stories don't grow, the characters don't grow, there is no challenge but a lot of fluffy repetition. I am not usually a fan of 'cozy' mysteries but like things a bit darker, more complicated. I like some humor in a book, but humor alone is not enough. I want some witty banter, some depth.

I want to think...just not too much please.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Cooking...A Shiny New Toy Tool!

My grandfather was a tinkerer. By the time I came along he was quite old and had some physical limitations, but still he liked nothing better than to get out his tool boxes and fool around with something, often his shortwave radio. He would have the thing in pieces, tubes all over the place, and wee caite would sit there for hours, "assisting" him. Which pretty much meant handing him a specific screwdriver or wire cutter.

Now, I don't have a shortwave radio, but I did learn one thing from him.
Always buy the best tool you can afford.
Cheap tools are junk, will not last and can make the job harder.
A good tool will pay you back by lasting and can make you job easier.
In fact it can make it a pleasure.
A fine tool is a fine thing.

And I think this is most certainly true when it comes to kitchen tools. I don't want junky tools, manual or electric. I love my fine KitchenAid Mixer and it is a pleasure to use. A good knife, newly sharpened, is a pleasure to use. I have been known to spend hours online studying the pluses and minuses of various garlic presses before making a decision.

Which is in part why I am so excited about the swell gift I got for Christmas.
It is the Cuisinart Elite Collection 16 cup food Processor.

Isn't it pretty?
The base is solid cast metal, so it is quite heavy.
It comes with two discs and three blades and all neatly fit in a nice storage box, safe and sound. I say safe because based on all the warnings in BIG CAPITAL LETTERS, they are very sharp.
It has three interlocking bowls, small, medium and large, that only took me 1/2 hour to figure out how to fit together and use.

Now, I wish I could post a recipe that I made with my new processor. But I have not gotten that far yet. I had to read the instructions of how to unpack it, which had 13 steps. 13 steps.
And while I read through the instruction book there is also an instructional DVD that I have not watched yet and I am afraid to turn it on before I do. This thing looks very serious. Shiny and pretty and serious. I need a head of cabbage to shred, some pie dough to take for a spin.

Good tools are a wonderful thing.
And they are even more fun when you get them as a gift!

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

Friday, January 14, 2011

So Who the Heck Reads All These Mystery Books?

I do, that's who!

Yes, as I have admitted before my number one, go-to genre is mysteries, so I found the recent Sisters in Crime survey about the readers of mysteries particularly interesting.
So, what did they find? Well,

• 68% of mystery buyers are female.
• 48% of mystery buyers are over the age of 55.
• 48% of mystery buyers live in suburban areas.
• 35% of mystery buyers live in the South.
• 77% of mystery buyers live in households with no children living at home.
• Mystery buyers are similar to other genre buyers in terms of income.
• Mystery buyers are less likely than general fiction buyers to participate in social media such as Facebook and more likely to consume traditional media such as print newspapers and magazines.
• 94% of mystery buyers use the computer for email and 83% use the computer for random web surfing, but only 34% read blogs.

Well, it appears that I am fairly typical. Over 50, female, suburban...
But I don't live in the south. If you read the survey, it seems that the Northeast, where I live, lags in mystery readers. And then there is that whole blog issue. Seems mystery readers are not necessarily big blog readers or at least do not get a lot of recommendations from online sites like blogs. So where do they find their new books and authors? Well...

• Recommendations from librarians and booksellers seem to have more impact on mystery readers than readers of other genres.
• Libraries appear to provide a way for readers to try new authors without shelling out money, mitigating their risk. Other readers note they simply don’t have the space to buy and store all the books they read. This means the library is a place that authors, especially new authors, should not overlook when attempting to connect with their readers.

No room for more books? Gosh, that sounds familiar!
Certainly good news for libraries. As the report says later, author of mysteries might be well served from not forgetting that library events may be a good place to connect with new readers.
In other ways, it seems mystery readers, especially we older ones, may be influences by more traditional methods than the newer ones like social media sites or any online vehicles. Cover art rates high in what attracts their attention, as do in-store displays and very, very important in making their choices are personal recommendations from friends and family.

• Of only “moderate influence” among buyers are bookstore newsletters, bookseller recommendations, librarian recommendations, mystery catalogs, newspaper and magazine advertisements, author webpages, posters in stores and libraries and billboards and hearing the author has won an award.
• “Low influence” factors include author blogs, author mailings, publisher websites, Facebook, banner ads on websites, online communities such as DorothyL and following an author on Twitter.
• The majority of mystery buyers over 45 are not influenced by online marketing.
We like good characters, we like series, we like to follow a favorite author and will continue to buy their books. Personal recommendations are very important to choosing the books that we buy and price is an important issue. We over 50 readers buy and read a lot more books than younger readers and those in the business might do well to acknowledge that many of us may not be as cutting edge as some of our younger friends. For this audience, the majority of the mystery readers, a lot of the online attempts at book and author promotions may be a waste.
"Authors and publishers should dig deep in the develop strategies for successful promotional efforts. For example, many currently popular methods of promotion — blogs, author mailings and publisher websites — appear to yield poor results"
What?! Blog are a waste?
Now you tell me.
Certainly, this survey is aimed at booksellers and authors but it is all very interesting I think,  for we mystery fans. 
It sometimes seems that the future of book sales and book promotions are increasing aimed online. We hear more and more about e-books and e-readers, authors, publishers all have their web pages, are active on Facebook and Twitter.
But this survey would suggest, I think, that those in the mystery book field at least, should not be too, too fast to leave behind more traditional methods and jump on the online bandwagon. Yes, it may be the future and it may be more and more attractive to future younger readers, but for the present, we older fans, by far the larger mystery audience in terms of numbers, are found in the older, duty, corners of our bookstore and libraries, reading book reviews in newspapers and magazines, asking our friends for a good new book.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A review of "The Darkest Room" [3]

The Darkest Room: A Novel by Johan Theorin
Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
Delta, ISBN 978-0385342223
September 29, 2009, 448 pages

Joakim and Katrine Westin are a young couple who are in the process of moving, with their two children, from Stockholm to Eel Point, on the island of Öland off the coast of Sweden, to their newly purchased house. The impressive manor house, in the shadow of two lighthouses, was built from the wood of a shipwrecked boat and some feel that over the centuries it has been cursed. By the use of short flashbacks, which are in fact excerpts from a book written by Katrine's mother, we learn some of the tragic things that have taken place there in the past. So when a horrible tragedy overtakes the Westin family there, we are not terrible surprised, and as the story plays out, we will see how it ties into the troubled history that drove them to the island in the first place. It seems that it may be impossible to escape the past.

We also have the storyline of police officer Tilda Davidsson, newly assigned to the community and with her own past to deal with. She is also dealing with the investigation into a rash of recent break ins on the island and on a personal level, with becoming re-acquainted with her grand-uncle, the former sea captain Gerlof Davidsson, perhaps my favorite character in the book.  Wise and insightful, I found him a charmer and a key character in the book.
And then we have the character of the island itself. In the summer, Öland is a bright and sunny vacation resort but when the winter winds and brutal storms start to blow in off the Baltic Sea, it is a very different place. It is  a place full that gives off a bleak and stark atmosphere that is a perfect setting for a mystery, especailly a mystery with more than a few ghosts thrown in.

The Darkest Room is the winner of the 2010 Crime Writers Association's International Dagger Award and a very fitting winner it is. Now, I will admit that I have a particular fondness for Scandinavian mysteries, and yes, this one has not one, but two lighthouses, but that is certainly not the only reasons that I liked this book so much. It is a complex story, with several interweaving plotlines, yet it is always clear and engaging. I am often not a fan of supernatural elements in my mysteries, but Theorin does it so subtly, so naturally, that you can not help but see it as an integral element of the book.
Great characters, a great story, very well told, highly recommended to mystery fans.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Snow, Lovely Snow
 always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

A Review of "A Lonely Death" [2]

A Lonely Death: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd
William Morrow, ISBN 978-0061726194
January 4, 2011, 352 pages

So many came back from the battlefields of WWI with terrible wounds, limbs missing, lungs burned from the gas attacks. Others came back with wounds that are harder to see, but no less serious. Their minds are damaged by what they had seen, by what they had done, seemingly damaged beyond repair by shell shock.
Some can not deal with it and, like Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge's friend, kill themselves, leaving behind devastated family and friends. Others, like Rutledge himself, are pretty successful at keeping their torment a secret. No one knows about Hamish, the voice of a dead fellow soldier, that he hears constantly in his head. The voice of a man that, as an officer, he had executed for refusing to follow orders and who yet, in a way, was responsible for saving Rutledge's life.
Now if he can just keep Hamish from driving him over the edge, mad, while he investigates a series of murders in a small Sussex village that seem to have their own connection to the war.

A number of men, all veterans of the battlefields of Europe, have been found murdered by a garrote, a military ID disk found in the mouths of their dead bodies. When the son of a very prominent local businessman becomes one of those killed, Scotland Yard, in the person of Rutledge, is called in to take over the investigation from the local police. What ties these men together? Is it something that happened far away on the battlefields or is the motivation a lot closer to home? And can Rutledge race against time and find out the answer before yet another man dies, while dealing with his own hostile police superior, some jealous local law enforcement and some in the community that may have their own secrets to hide?

My feelings about this book are a bit mixed.
Rutledge, in this, the 13th book in the series, is a good character, if a trifle gloomy. I must admit, when I started this book, I had no idea there were so many books in the series, written by the son/mother team of Charles Todd, because this book easily stands alone. But as much as I like Rutledge, I am not sure I am at all up for 12 more books of him dealing with Hamish and his shell shock. I was a wee bit tired of it after one book.
And the setting is quite good too. I admit I am a bit of an Anglophile when it comes to murder mysteries and love the Sussex setting and to set it just after WWI in England, a country still recovering from the war, is an excellent idea. A lot of emotions, a lot of life and death issues around to add background interest to the story. And then there is the story itself, who and why these men were killed. Interesting, as it turned out, not quite what I expected.

But...there is something rather flat and drawn out about this story. No, I am not an editor, but I would suggest that this is another book that might have benefited from use of the Big Red Pen. Good beginning, good ending...and a rather boring, wandering center section that seemed to lose focus. There is a second story, the story of a cold case murder committed long ago, that really added little to the book in my mind and the tie together of the stories at the end of the book seemed forced and a bit gimmicky. And as much as I liked the good inspector, at points I wanted to just shake him and yell "Get over it man!" The third element in the book, some glimpses into the inspector's personal life, past and present, is one area I actually want to see a bit more of, but it was not to be in this installment. Maybe if you have read the whole series, and were better versed in Rutledge's background, this one might have been more enjoyable, but honestly I am not too sure.

Good enough, interesting enough that I finished the book, but maybe not enough that I want to go back and read previous books in the series.

My thanks to Harper Collins/William Morrow for an ARC of this book.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Musing Monday...When You are Drowning, Just Swim Harder

Another Monday, another Musing...thanks to MizB at Should Be Reading -

Where is your favorite place to find new books to read? Blogs? The library? Newspapers? Magazines? In the backs of other books? Suggestions from friends/family? Online bookstores? On the shelves of the local bookstores? (I don’t necessarily mean, ‘where do you find books to buy’ — I mean, ‘where do you discover new titles that you add to your to-be-read lists’?).

I suspect that a number of you are in the same boat that I am.
You really do not need any more books at the moment.
And by moment, I mean the next few years.

Yes, I have several hundred books in my possession that I have not yet read. Yes, I read about 100 books a year. So I am good for several years.
And no, that does not stop me from still looking for new books.
Because I have a sickness.;-)

Where do I find these new books?
I must admit that while I like to wander around a bookstore, I rarely find new books there. Actually, all those books, all those covers...I find it a bit overwhelming. And my library branch tends to be a bit behind in acquiring new books. If they got a copy or two, it will not be on the shelf for quite awhile. So where do I find them?

Well, I read the book reviews in the Philadelphia Inquirer and NY Times most weeks and that is always good for a few to add to the wishlist. I check out their Bestsellers list to see what is popular among the folks. I read Shelf Awareness every day which always shows me a few new books that look interesting.
But the greatest amount, no doubt, comes from my fellow bloggers. You read a positive review and it sounds so good. Something I would like, right up my alley. Or maybe something on a subject that I might not have considered before but piques my interest. Then you read another positive review, or two, and the little voice kicks in "...oh, you should get that. right now...hurry..."
My little voice never uses Upper Case letters BTW.

I must admit, in the past couple of years, I did not show a lot of restraint when the Little Voice spoke to me. I would go to Amazon, see if maybe there was a used copy available if it had been out for awhile. If not, that nice new copy, available for delivery in just 2 days with Amazon Prime, tempted me. And I would give in.
Which explains the several hundred unread books.

These days, running out of places to pile the unread books, I try to be a bit more cautious. Now, I always check the library web site first and see if it is available to borrow. That is good for several reasons. It is free. There is a time deadline to read it. You give it back.

But sometimes, I still just hit the "Buy" button. I can not help it.
I have found that those 21 gallon plastic totes can hold a lot of books.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Snowy Sammy Sunday

If it wasn't for my nose and eyes, you would never see me! 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Weekend Cooking...Yes, Christmas Cookies.

Ok, talk about being late to the party! Today I am going to write about Christmas cookies!

I do bake on occasion, but my Christmas baking tends toward my Christmas cake (it was wonderful, the best ever, thanks for asking) and an ocassional Yule log, when I feel up to a challenge.

I am not a big cookie baker. However, when the niece wanted to have a Christmas cookie baking day, I was up for it. I would make my favorite gingerbread men and try out a new recipe, for ricotta cookies.

The niece arrived with a number of recipes in hand..none of which she had ever made before. Which we discovered may not be the best idea, especially when you plan to give the resulting cookies as gifts. We had a couple of failures...(the doggies boys, Bandit and Sammy loved them)... but a couple of great successes! One of them was for Russian Tea Cakes, the powered sugar ones pictured in the box above. So good.

Russian Tea Cakes 
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar for decoration

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2.In a medium bowl, cream butter and vanilla until smooth. Combine the 6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar and flour; stir into the butter mixture until just blended. Mix in the chopped walnuts. Roll dough into 1 inch balls, and place them 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
3.Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. When cool, roll in remaining confectioners' sugar. 

My other favorite cookie was the Lemon Ricotta Cookie, based on a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis from the Food Network.
I never made a ricotta cookie before but a Christmas does not go by when someone does not bring some of these cookies, which seem to be an Italian Christmas staple,  into work. But Giada's, with the  lemon addition, is by far the best I have tasted. Light, cakelike and oh so lemony.
The picture is not mine, so you have to take my word on it that I added multi-colored sprinkles on top, as many of the Ricotta Cookies I have had in the past did. It makes them look quite festive!

photo from
Giada's Lemon Ricotta Cookies
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zested


  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zested
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the large bowl combine the butter and the sugar. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough (about 2 tablespoons for each cookie) onto the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours.

Hey, better late than never!
And who says cookies are just for Christmas!
Let's make January Cookies! Did I mention my birthday is just around the corner?

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

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Review of "Safe from the Sea" [1]

Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye
Unbridled Press, ISBN 978-1609530082
September 28, 2010, 256 pages

Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
from "Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald"

It has been years since Noah had heard from him. And they had not parted that time on the best of terms, maybe because, on that occasion, Olaf was drunk for most of Noah's wedding. Maybe because of the anger that simmered deep in Noah for the years of Olaf never being there when he was most needed, the years of spending more times in the bars than in his home, the blame Noah laid on his shoulders for the failure of his parent's marriage.
But still, when his father Olaf called, saying that he was dying and needed Noah's help, Noah left his Boston home, his business, his less than happy wife and made the long journey to the isolated Minnesota lakeside cabin where his father now lived, to help him.

Noah arrives at the cabin, shocked at how bad his father looks. Yes, it seems that they will not have a lot of time to come to some sort of final understanding. In fact, the present days happening in the book takes place in less than two weeks and most of the story does not wander far from the lakeside. But the full story reaches back decades, to 1967, to a terrible November storm on Lake Superior, when Olaf was one of only three survivors of the wreck of the ore ship Ragnarøk.
It was an experience that had changed his life and not for the better.
After a few minutes Olaf looked at Noah again. “For most of your life I’ve used that night as an excuse. Not because I wanted or needed one but because I had no control over what it did to me. I should have. Hard as it would’ve been, I should have beaten it.”
To make it simple, let me just say that I loved this book. 
I picked it up yesterday afternoon and did not put it down until I finished it last night. 
Looking back at it, there is nothing I did not like about it, nothing lacking, nothing I would change, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. The characters, the setting, and the story are all excellent. 

In part, it is a tale about the estrangement of a father and son and their attempt at a reconciliation. But it is also the story of a man, now grown, coming to see that life is a lot more complex, a lot more nuanced, than how he saw things as a hurt child. The story of the sinking of the Ragnarok is fascinating and tragic and heartbreaking. But as Olaf tells his son, it is his survival that is perhaps the most difficult part of the tale. And it is that part, never talked about before by Olaf, that makes Noah reconsider the view of his father that he created. It challenges him to see the relationship as an adult, in light of his relationship with his sister and in light of his own marriage, with it's own difficulties.   

The author, a Minnesota native, creates a wonderful setting for the story, from the city of Duluth, to stormy and dangerous Lake Superior in the midst of a terrible storm, to the rustic, cold and snowy lakeside cabin where the two men play out their last days together as winter approaches. It is a story about guilt and regret and failure, but ultimately about forgiveness and understanding and the strength of love, even an imperfectly expressed love. The characters are real and believable, and even with their flaws, very likable. The ending is sad (yes, it brought a tear to my eye) yet sweet and hopeful.

Peter Geye, in this, his first novel, has created a moving, beautiful and haunting story, one that I totally recommend for your reading.

My thanks to Unbridled Books for making a copy of this book available for me to read on NetGalley.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Put Your Feet Up..

Did I say we were done with Disney? Well, I lied.
Are you in need of a rest after the holidays? Did you spend Christmas digging out of 2 or 3 feet of snow?

Well, I have the answer for you. always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.