Sunday, February 28, 2016

Review: The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Laurel Nicolson is 16, she witnesses her mother Dorothy stab and kill a strange man who shows up at their home. For years, Laurel has wondered why, and when her mother lays dying, she and her baby brother Gerry decide to investigate. The story flashes backwards and forwards in time, from the 1930's to the present, and explores the relationship between Dorothy, her friend Vivien, and her boyfriend Jimmy. At the same time, Laurel's memories are unleashed, and many puzzling conversations finally are explained. And finally, her mother's shocking action is explained. At first I found the book slow-going, but I was eventually drawn into the story. The final twist was quite satisfying.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 26, 2016

Review: Cocaine Blues

Cocaine Blues Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in a long series of adventures with Miss Phrynne Fisher, an Australian private eye. It's set in the 1920's and Miss Fisher is a wealthy, fashionable young woman, considered "fast" by many, who has headed to Melbourne to investigate the odd illness of a family friend's wife. She befriends a young woman, Dorothy, who becomes her lady's maid as well as two taxi drivers who pull her into a secondary investigation. One investigation involves the cocaine trade while the other involves an illegal abortionist. This series is the basis for a PBS series, Miss Fisher's Mysteries, which I've watched for quite a while. I am quite pleased to report that while there are some plot point differences between the televised version of this novel and the book, they are minor, and the TV characterizations are spot on with the book. I enjoyed the original and really appreciated the sly observations and comments about society at the time, which aren't as apparent in the televised version.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Review: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a gripping story! Even though the reader knows the outcome before reading, the story of the journey to gold is fascinating, and compelling. It's a testament to the power of persistence and resilience. The book centers primarily on one oarsman, Joe Rantz. His quest for security and trust is part and parcel of the quest for gold. Abandoned by his father as a young boy, in the middle of the Depression, Joe survived by depending only on himself. He worked back-breaking jobs to earn his keep, and later to earn money for college. As a member of the University of Washington's rowing team, it wasn't until he learned to trust his colleagues that the crew began to "swing" and win important races. The book is well-researched, and despite the fact that I know nothing about rowing, I was fascinated by the way the grueling sport is described. I'm thinking that this story is something many of today's "entitled" youth should be reading.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

One of my Faves

There are just some dishes that are almost perfect, and it doesn't matter if it doesn't come out exactly the same every time you make it.  Tonight's supper was one of these - Thai Curry.  The first time I made it, 8 or 9 years ago, I slavishly followed a recipe. But it's become an internalized recipe -- like meat loaf, or pot roast, or arroz con pollo--- so I just go with what's in my pantry.  Of course, there are some ingredients I have to have:  coconut milk, basil, curry paste, etc.  But I can use whatever veggies I have on hand, and I can use shrimp or chicken.  Tonight's  dish was a basic Thai Curry with Shrimp.

Ingredients Used:

1 tbs canola oil
1 tbs red curry paste (can use green curry paste)
1 onion, sliced vertically
2 small cloves garlic crushed
1 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs grated fresh ginger (can substitute dried, or even ginger juice)
1 red bell pepper sliced thinly
1 small summer squash sliced
2 cans unsweetened low fat coconut milk
1 thinly sliced Thai chili
5-6 thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves (I buy them on line -- they keep forever in the freezer)
fresh (frozen) basil, roughly chopped - about 1/4 cup
2-3 tbs lime juice  (if I don't have fresh lime, I used the juice in the plastic lime)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen cut green beans
1/2 lb thawed frozen shrimp (I buy 2 lb bags of shrimp that's already peeled and cooked)
Fresh cilantro - 1/4-1/2 cup chopped

Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add sliced onion and curry paste.   Cook for about 3 minutes, until onions start to soften.  Add garlic, fish sauce, and ginger.  Cook for about a minute.  Add fresh veggies, coconut milk, chili,  lime leaves, basil, and lime juice.  Cook for about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.  You may need to add more lime juice or chili paste.  Cook until veggies have softened a bit, and then add peas, beans, and shrimp.  When it's heated, add cilantro, reserving some for the top of individual servings.

Serve over rice (I like sticky rice, but you can use any kind you like!).

If anyone had told me when I was first starting out as the meal provider for my family, that Thai curry would become a staple, I would have thought they were nuts.  I hadn't even had Thai food.  Now Thai cuisine is one of my favorites. In fact, if I had to choose one cuisine to eat, it would be southeast Asian.  It certainly helps that the ingredients necessary can mostly be found in my rural grocery store nowadays.  Though I'd really like access to fresh lemongrass.  I sometimes put lemongrass paste in my curry, but I didn't have any tonight!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review: The Tapestry In The Attic

The Tapestry In The Attic The Tapestry In The Attic by Mary O'Donnell
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I picked this up at the library last week, knowing that it was part of a series. However, there was no indication that it was #18 in the series! I found out later only by checking it out at Amazon. Anyway. This is a simple story: The members of local needlework club agree to participate in staging a play at the newly opened town cultural center. Annie, who lives in an old house she inherited from her grandmother, finds a gorgeous tapestry in her attic which she agrees can be part of the stage set for the play. The tapestry is stolen, and a mysterious accident injures one of the participants in the play. Since this is a "cozy" mystery, all's well that ends well.

The plot was overly simple, and it was pretty clear from the start, who the bad guy was. I also found the frequent Christian messages distracting. Some authors (Jan Karon, for example) do it well because it's woven seamlessly into the story. In this book, I felt that the narrative was interrupted by the "Christian message" break, just like a commercial break on TV. I doubt I'll be reading others in the series.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 22, 2016

Review: Summer Island

Summer Island Summer Island by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Update: I re-read this book and had absolutely no recollection of every having read it before! That hasn't ever happened before. Usually something in the first few chapters nags at me, and then I go check my Goodreads account to see if it's because I've read it before. Not even a twinge this time. My previous review stands - no new insights.

I like relationship books, especially when the plots revolve around mending broken ones. Norah Bridges is a radio/newsprint relationship advisor who's estranged from her younger daughter Ruby, and has a fragile relationship with her older daughter. When a career-destroying crisis occurs, Norah and Ruby are forced to confront each other and themselves. As in most Kristin Hannah books I've read, there's a happy ending. I think the appeal of her books is that the characters she develops seem to be real people, and their situations are realistic.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review: The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure why this is compared to The Guernsey
Literary and Potato Peel Pie because there is nothing at all similar. This is an enjoyable, predictable cozy romance, perfect for a lazy afternoon. When her grandmother dies, Ellen goes to a small coastal Maine town to deliver a letter from her grandmother to her former boyfriend. Ellen is engaged to be married to a high powered lawyer, but events in the small village interrupt those plans. After I finished reading the book I had a hankering for clam chowder and blueberry muffins, so that's proof the writer was successful in describing the meals the heroine enjoyed!

View all my reviews

Friday, February 19, 2016

Review: Off Season

Off Season Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been quite a while since I've read Anne Rivers Siddons. I haven't read a book of hers that I haven't liked, and this was no exception. And like the others I've read, I couldn't put it down today, and didn't get any work done! Lilly's beloved husband of almost 40 years, Cam, has died suddenly. Despite the objections of her children, Lilly decides to spend the summer alone at Edgewater, the family cottage on the coast of Maine. Lilly's almost idyllic summer childhood was spent at Edgewater, until a tragedy changed her family's life. She didn't return until she met Cam, and then their family spent their summers there. While at Edgewater, Lily relives her past and as she reflects on her life, she comes to terms with her grief, and makes some startling discoveries. Lily often calls Edgewater's setting luminous and numinous, and that's how I would describe Siddons' writing in this novel. The ending was fitting, with a bit of twist I hadn't expected. A very satisfying book!

View all my reviews

Review: Dead In The Water

Dead In The Water Dead In The Water by Ann Granger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The only reason it took so long to read this book is that when I started it, I realized that it was book 4 in the series and I hadn't read #2 and #3 yet. So I took it back to the library. Then I had to wait until it was available again.

Courtney Higson's body is found in a flooding river. Once it's determined that she was murdered, Jess Campbell and Ian Carter investigate. The pool of suspects is a local writing club, but none of the evidence supports that. Meanwhile Carter is dealing with his ex-wife and his inability to see as much of his daughter Millie as he'd like.

I enjoyed this cozy-ish mystery, although I felt that the ending was rather rushed.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Review: Speaking in Bones

Speaking in Bones Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think the series has run out of steam. I had a hard time staying interested in this installment, mostly because I am tired of Temperance Brennan's indecision about Ryan, and her continuing penchant for running off into danger on her own. In this book, a young woman named Cora Teague appears to have gone missing, although no one has officially reported her as such. A websleuth has approached Brennan about the cold case, and convinces her to nose around. When Brennan takes another look at some unidentified bones, and then some additional bones are found, the investigation intensifies. As usual Brennan's life is threatened, but eventually the case is solved in an unexpected fashion.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Review: A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't think I've ever read Ann Tyler before, and I don't know why. I thoroughly enjoyed this story about the Whitshank family. Red and Abby Whitshank have raised their family in a home built by Red's father for a wealthy client. When the home gets too big for the original family, his father, Junior Whiteshank, purchases the home which becomes a focal point for the story. The Whitshanks consider themselves a loving, perfect family, and from the outside that's what they look like. In reality, it's not perfect, and there is a great deal of anger and jealously carefully compartmentalized. From Junior's feeling of entrapment to his grandson's nonconformity with family expectations, each member of the family struggles to balance reality with their family myths. The plot isn't linear, and time jump reveals new insight into why the characters behave as they do. I don't usually like nonlinear narratives, but this time it really works. The book is sad and funny at the same time, and captures the reality of family relationships quite well.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: All the Stars in the Heavens

All the Stars in the Heavens All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The book had an interesting premise - a historical fiction depicting the love affair between Loretta Young and Clark Gable. But that's about all it had. The story was never given any depth. It read as a summary of events, and it was unclear who the focus character was meant to be. The book began with Alda, a young postulant in a San Francisco convent, who is released back into the world to become Gretchen "Loretta" Young's assistant. Had the author continued the story with Alda as the core character, I think it would have been a vastly more engaging story. Instead, the narration bounced around, and it was very hard to stay engaged with the recitation of facts presented by the author.

View all my reviews

Review: Thin Air

Thin Air Thin Air by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ann Cleeves has convinced me that I need to go visit the Shetland Islands. Her depiction of the environment and lifestyle make this area come alive. As far as the plot of this installment in her series, it was as interesting as usual. A English visitor to the area disappears, and her body is later discovered posed on a beach under a cliff. As Jimmy Perez and his team investigate, they discover that local folklore is involved with the murder. Jimmy is finally beginning to emerge from his grief over Fran's murder, and members of team worry that some of the case details may cast him back into the depths. I also really like how Cleeves has developed the characters, adding realistic depth and growth.

View all my reviews

Review: A Siege of Bitterns: A Birder Murder Mystery

A Siege of Bitterns: A Birder Murder Mystery A Siege of Bitterns: A Birder Murder Mystery by Steve Burrows
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dominic Jejeune is the new DCI at the Saltmarsh constabulary. He comes with an unwanted reputation as a boy wonder, which makes his new colleagues very suspicious of him. He's immediately confronted with the suspicious death of a nationally known environmentalist who lives in the area which is renowned internationally as prime birding territory. Jejeune is a birdwatcher, and he believes that the victim's murder is tied to birding life list. Apparently the victim has spotted the first sighting ever of an American bittern in the Norfolk saltmarshes. His investigation leads to more death, and involves him in local politics, much to his dismay.

I enjoyed this first book in the series, and look forward to reading more. I especially liked the birding information.

View all my reviews

Review: The Handsome Man's Deluxe Café

The Handsome Man's Deluxe Café The Handsome Man's Deluxe Café by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish Mma Ramotswe was a real person! I'd love to have a cup of red bush tea with her. Once again her wisdom and generous heart are shared with those she meets, resulting in good outcomes for all.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Review: The Maestro Wore Mohair

The Maestro Wore Mohair The Maestro Wore Mohair by Mark Schweizer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A perfect afternoon on the beach read! I even attracted some attention with my hearty guffaws in a couple of places. Just imagine, a new St Barnabas ministry, Sarah's Snuggery led by the intrepid Kimberly Walnut who has now earned her doctorate in Christian formation. Then add in Helen Pigeon's valuable Fainting Goats, a candidate for rector of the church who not only plays the trumpet badly, but wears latex gloves while serving Communion, a newly discovered 30 year old skeleton, and a few other goodies, and you're all set for an enjoyable read.

View all my reviews