Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Pandora Device, Book Review

Joyce McPherson’s debut middle grade novel, The Pandora Device, is a delight and the perfect read for fans of the Percy Jackson series and The Mysterious Benedict Society books!

As the story begins, Stella discovers that her deceased parents attended Camp Hawthorne when they were young. Eager to know more about them, she applies and is accepted to what she thinks is an ordinary summer camp. But it’s not.

When Stella arrives, she discovers that the camp is for students with paranormal gifts. And when the camp comes under mysterious attack from within and without, it needs all the students’ gifts, especially Stella’s, to survive.


The plot is tightly crafted, the writing is very clean, and the characters are multi-faceted and sympathetic. A truly enjoyable, five-star story!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Flight Before Dawn, book review


Because my mother lived in occupied Holland and because my grandfather was part of the Dutch Resistance, novels about World War II and the resisters have always been a favorite of mine. So I was eager to read Ms. Easley-Walsh’s debut novel, Flight Before Dawn.

Flight Before Dawn The novel tells the story of several members of the French Resistance through the darkest days of the war until their liberation and does a lovely job of evoking the French countryside, the ’40s ethos and the tension of living in an occupied country.


In the midst of a complex plot, filled with spies, lies, and a double agent, the author deals with the nuances of the war and those involved in it, exploring what it means to be ready to sacrifice your life for your country and strength to do so. The novel is a poignant reminder that freedom has a tremendous cost.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A New Watercolor

If you're a reader of my blog, you know my husband Calvin is an artist. Here is his latest work.



Here is the painting in process. He paints from photographs. This photo was taken by our soon-to-be daughter-in-law Lydia in the Great Smokey Mountains.
Here are Calvin's palettes. He prefers to use fine china because the water blends better and clings to the china finish.




Here is the final painting. (Sorry, I don't have the best camera.) But it gives you a sense of his work. Click on the photo if you want to see it enlarged.

If you'd like to see a few of his other paintings, click here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Wolf Road, book review



Imagine for a moment, you are among the treetops in a dystopian wilderness, hiding from the foster father you loved, who saved your life. But he’s also the devil who corrupted your soul and is out for revenge. Now imagine you have a knife in your hand, and you can throw it very well.

In The Wolf Road, debut novel of Beth Lewis, the main character Elka finds herself in exactly this situation. After this heart-rending opening scene, the novel traces how Elka ended up as both the hunter and the hunted. It’s dangerous for an author to give the reader a glimpse of the climax at the beginning of a novel. Often, it steals from the impact of the ending, or it slows the action and lessens the tension when the story goes back to an earlier time in the life of the characters. Thankfully, Lewis avoids this by writing a tightly paced novel with well-developed characters.

I loved the growth of Elka from a frightened child to a mature woman who comes to terms not only with the horrors committed against her, but the ones she has committed. Ultimately, this makes the novel a story of redemption. But its ending is not without pain and suffering, and I couldn’t help but imagine the characters’ haunted lives long after the pages of the novel had ceased. The fact that I was so invested in the characters is the main reason I’m giving this novel 4.5 stars out of 5.


One caveat, this is a novel for adults. The story has violence and adult situations, though the author handles them well and avoids wallowing in graphic detail.

I received this novel from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Cummins Falls!

My husband and I love hiking. So we're game to go anywhere and try anything.

And when I mentioned a place called Cummins Falls, my husband was eager, even though it was a two-hour drive, each way, down back roads with no names. And even though it was in the 80s and we had to take the vehicle affectionately known as the "sweat mobile." (It has no air conditioning.)

But Cummins Falls was worth it!

To the left, is a photo I took from the top of the gorge before we hiked down.


It was a long way down. Thankfully, there were steps on some steep sections. Because of foreshortening, you can't tell how steep this is--the rises between the steps were often well over 18 inches. I felt like I was on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. Especially on the return when everything was uphill.



On our way hiking up the gorge to the falls.
Here is my husband putting his boots back on. We had to ford the river a couple of times.







 Once we reached the gorge, we climbed up part of the waterfalls. And an another adventurous climber took our photo.




Even though we are in the midst of a severe drought in Eastern Tennessee, the falls were gorgeous.
The water was freezing cold. I had the shivers despite the heat.
My husband swimming in one of the top swimming holes in Tennessee.


Couldn't close the post without a shot of my hiking boots. These shoes have given me more than twenty years of hiking pleasure. And have seen their share of bears and stepped on more than one rattlesnake--though those are other stories.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pumpkin Nirvana

As mentioned in the last blog post, I like to eat wonderful food. Three years ago, to celebrate our 25th anniversary, my husband Calvin took me to Paris. It was an indulgence in art, architecture, and food. 

Les Papilles was one of the restaurants we visited. And a few years ago, I found a recipe that they'd posted online. It was for cream of pumpkin soup. Not something I’d normally be interested in. But I had cream of squash soup in their restaurant. I hate squash, but the soup was gastronomic bliss. I printed the pumpkin recipe.

 After all three years, I finally made the soup.

My husband is on sabbatical, so I had a sous chef/dishwasher available. Very handy, because whenever I make anything “weird,” my sons need an “alternative food opportunity.” Tonight, it was andouille sausage.

The recipe called for garnishes that included: crumbled bacon,
chives, shaved almonds, bits of fresh pumpkin, croutons, and
a sprinkle of cocoa.
What I didn’t notice three years ago is that Google had put the recipe through Google translate. I could have cooked from the French recipe. The "Franglais" recipe—that was harder.

For example, I’m not sure what “have harmoniously” was supposed to mean. And then there were the words that were neither French nor English...

In the end, the soup was pumpkin nirvana. Instead of andouille sausages, my sons had second helpings of cream of pumpkin soup.



Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Come Edit Me, My Darling

Two blog posts ago, I mentioned that I signed with literary Chris Bucci of the McDermid Agency. (Still so amazing to be able to say it.) And then, I got down to revisions. At minimum, I worked 5 hours a day on them. Or at least, until my brain got foggy and I began confusing plot elements. Then, it was “back away from the computer slowly, hands above your head.” (I’ve made the mistake of editing with muddled brain before—it’s not a pretty picture.)

In any case, I got the revisions sent off. And it was time to wait. Here’s what I did while I tried not to think “what if my revisions suck?”

1. I cleaned house. According to my sons, that meant instead of spraying every surface with bleach and wiping it down, I scrubbed every surface with bleach. Okay, they aren’t wrong. Just sarcastic. I love bleach. Nothing is as calming to me as the scent of bleach, especially bleached bed sheets. Yeah, I know, my kids tell me I need therapy.

2. I did yard work. (And listened to podcasts on my phone. I love Writing Excuses.) Weeding was one of the first things, I did. So, when my husband asked me at breakfast what I was going to do that day and I said “edit the garden,” he didn’t bat an eyelid—he’s awesome like that. I’d post a photo of the garden editing, but suffice it to say, I was wearing painted-stained shorts, a tank top, gardening gloves, and earbuds while wielding a big shovel and spray tank of Round-up. Not the coolest photo op.

3. I found my thoughts straying to my revisions. And redoubled my efforts to think about something—anything—else.

4. I studied some Dutch. My mother is from the Netherlands, so I grew up speaking the language. But I’ve never had a good command of Dutch spelling or reading. Plus, I speak a nearly archaic version of the language—think, King James/Shakespeare version of Dutch. When native speakers hear me, they always think/say, “Oh, you’re so cute.” Cute is never what I’m going for.

Here are the ingredients for Muhamarra: dill garlic,
roasted red pepper, carrots, sumac, roasted almonds,
 pomegranate molasses (which I made), etc.
5. Cooking. I don’t love to cook. But I love weird food and exotic flavors. (As does my husband. Though our youngest boys scowl at my culinary forays, convinced that one day I’m going to serve them toasted baguette with cocoa-cockroach spread or lemon-thyme braised goat testicles.) Anyway, I’ve been dying to make muhamarra, which is of Turkish/Levantine origins. It took me a while to collect all the ingredients—some were weird, like sumac, which is a beautiful deep purple and tastes a bit like lemons, only more sophisticated. So, you know, lemons from SoHo.

6. And last but not least, I found myself daydreaming about my new novel. The completed rough draft that now calls to me. Begging and whispering sweet promises, like “My darling Connie, please edit me—we will make beautiful music together” in a sexy Middle Eastern accent. Of course, the novel is set in the American South, so the accent doesn’t quite work. But hey, my daydreams are my daydreams. ;)

Here's the finished muhumarra along with a loaf of bread I made.
Sadly, the flavor of the bread overwhelmed the spread, so we got out crackers. :)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Book Review, The Gap of Time

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, which explores themes of jealousy, love, betrayal, and forgiveness.

I eagerly began reading this novel because I thoroughly enjoyed a previous book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series (Vinegar Girl, a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew). However, it would have been wise if I’d considered whether I’d want to read a retelling of A Winter’s Tale.

Given that the play revolves around Leontes’s misguided belief that his wife is having an affair and pregnant with a child that isn’t his, I should have considered how that might be handled by a modern writer. And the truth is that the novel is much more sexually explicit than I am comfortable with, particularly in the first third. I would have set the book aside, except that I received the novel in exchange for a review and felt obligated to finish it.


Aside from the graphic nature of the novel, it was beautifully written. At times, even lyrical. Though there were some occasions when the novel felt disjointed (the play has the same nature), the pacing is quite good and propels the reader through the text. 

I received this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Offer of Representation!


Signing the contract! Woot!

In the past couple of years, I've begun writing adult upmarket fiction. And I am thrilled to announce that I've signed with a literary agent and am now represented by Chris Bucci of the McDermid Agency! (Here's a link to the "agents page" of the agency website.)

Signed contract!
For those who aren't familiar with the term upmarket fiction, it's the "sweet spot" between literary and commercial fiction. The idea being that it's both plot-driven and has beautiful language. If you're a bit more interested in what "upmarket" means, here's a short article from Writer's Digest.

My novel is an adult Southern noir with elements of magical realism. In other words, it's a suspenseful novel set in the South with a character who's not quite of this world. I'm very excited about the book and hopefully it will find just the right publisher and editor.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Because Chemists Have a Sense of Humor


Yep, the James Bond figure is holding a beaker.
  My son Matthew did undergraduate research this summer in quantitative analysis, a branch of chemistry. (Yep, another Keller chemist. We love our chemists.) One research students came up with a design to celebrate their summer research and the university gave each student a shirt. It's so cool, I wish I had majored in chemistry.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book Review, Vinegar Girl

Because Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I’m so glad I picked it up because the novel is a delightful literary romantic-comedy. It tells the story of Kate, a feisty young woman, who’s too comfortable in her stalled life. So Fate intervenes in the form of Pyotr, a handsome, brilliant Russian biologist, who desperately needs a green card. (I nearly rolled my eyes at this trope, but it works.) Thankfully, Tyler does not take the easy way out with insta-love or a laissez-faire sure-I’ll-marry-him-faux-compassion. Instead, the characters grow. Kate realizes that her life has frozen and she desperately needs to change. And Pyotr is not a two-dimensional, alpha male archetype. Instead, the reader discovers he is a lonely, vulnerable man—albeit one with a tongue and temper as sharp as Kate’s. But like all rom-coms, they fall in love and get married. Or rather, vice versa.

The story is well told, and the pacing is excellent. In fact, I read the book in two days because I couldn’t put it down. The writing itself is clean, and Tyler’s prose is very witty—I read sentences aloud to whomever happened to be around me at the time (even to my 21 year old son, who’s an electrical engineer and not the most sympathetic audience). Further, Tyler nails the Russian accent and immigrant mindset, making Pyotr even more endearing.

I do need to add that I can’t really discuss how faithfully or innovatively this novel retells Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew because I haven’t read that play. But I can say that you don’t need to be familiar with the play to enjoy this book.

I heartily recommended Vinegar Girl. It’s a perfect summer beach read!

I received this book for Blogging for Book in exchange for a review.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Guest Post by Laurel Garver, Building Story Tension

Displaying AlmostThere_cover_midsize.jpgDisplaying AlmostThere_cover_midsize.jpgToday I'd like to welcome author Laurel Garver to the blog. Laurel is the author of several books
I had the privilege of reading this novel
early. It was wonderful!
including: Never Gone, Almost There, Muddy-fingered Midnights, and Emotions in the Wild.

How Fragile We Are: Building Story Tension through Illness and Injury


By Laurel Garver


If you want tension in your fiction that’s truly organic, you can’t go wrong with a character experiencing bodily weakness, whether due to illness or injury. It’s something every reader can relate to, at least to some degree. We’ve all had a stubbed toe or minor cut or bruise, fallen ill with a head cold or stomach ache.


Suffering a more serious injury is something we all deeply fear. The mere implied threat of it will naturally cause a self-protective fight-or-flight response. Illnesses provoke a similar fear—and often disgust as well, sure to create tension in any relationship.


No matter the time or setting, human characters are vulnerable to forces that can steal their health. This applies to every character in your story. Illness or injury can incapacitate or simply hobble your protagonist, and it can also remove his or her usual sources of help. It can threaten the protagonist’s one true love, or family, or other favorite people. It can also knock your antagonist down a few notches when you need to buy your protagonist time.


The illness or injury might also become a rallying point for your heroes, such as cancer or a sudden loss of sight that requires a team to help the affected person.
In my novel Almost There, I explore the way illnesses and injury can become a family’s rallying point. Illness also directly challenges my protagonist Dani’s core flaw—wanting to be in control—by first removing a source of help and then hobbling her. The medical components of this story took the most significant research and planning. Here are some lessons I learned from that process.

Do your homework before selecting your means of bringing on a fictional illness or injury. Some injuries heal more quickly than others, some are more dangerous in certain environments, some gradually drain a person of strength, and some will lead quickly to more serious issues. Not all illnesses are created equal either. Many vary in how they spread, how quickly or slowly they incubate before causing symptoms, and how easily they can be treated.


Some key things you want to know before picking your “poison”


Injuries
What commonly causes this?
What’s the typical range of severity?
How much and what kind of pain and discomfort accompany it?
What is the typical treatment for this injury?
How much professional care is usually called for?
What is the typical healing time?
What are the stages of healing?
What are common complications that prevent healing?
Under what circumstances might this injury prove permanently disabling or even fatal?
(For non-contemporary stories—how advanced is care for this kind of injury in my world?)


Illnesses
How is the illness contracted?
What is the incubation period?
Is there a vaccine? How effective is it?
What parts of the body does it effect and how?
How much and what kind of pain and discomfort accompany it?
What are early interventions? How effective are they?
What is the typical treatment?
How much professional care is typically called for?
How long is the typical recovery time?
What are the stages of recovery?
What complications can arise?
Under what circumstances could it cause permanent disability or prove fatal?
(For non-contemporary writers: how well is this disease understood in my world? How would it be treated? Could it be cured?)


Read as much as you can from established, evidence-based medical sites to begin with. The CDC and Medline Plus are government-run health agency sites; The Mayo Clinic and Web MD are two other comprehensive, well-regarded sites worth exploring.


You might discover that your cool medical plot twist requires some additional planning. I make use of a common contagious illness with a very long incubation period—10 to 14 days, most of which the person has no symptoms. I found I had to create a calendar in which I tracked not only the incubation but also the progression of symptoms and recovery for each affected person.


Once you’ve done some initial research, you absolutely must fact check it with a health professional. Chatting with several nurses and doctors in my life has helped me tremendously—not only in having the most accurate information, but also in getting real-life details about how real people experience the condition. Chances are you are no more than one degree of separation (friend of a friend) from a healthcare provider who’d be happy to answer your questions. (For additional advice on interviewing, see my posts “Expertise is Everywhere: Why and How to Use Interviews to Research Fiction” and “Channel Your Inner Reporter: Using Interviews to Strengthen Your Fiction.”)


Be sure to let them know this information is for a fiction project, not a real person who could hold them legally liable for health outcomes. For this reason, some folks will prefer to fact check something you’ve already written—so give that as an option. You might find that the healthcare pro will steer you toward even cooler ideas than you could have come up with on your own.


How might illness or injury add tension to one of your stories?



About the Author
Laurel Garver is a writer, editor, professor’s wife and mom to an arty teenager. An indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she enjoys geeking out about Harry Potter and Dr. Who, playing word games, singing in church choir, and taking long walks in Philly's Fairmount Park. You can follow her on her blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook.


About Almost There
Seventeen-year-old Dani Deane is certain a magical trip to Paris will cure her widowed mother's depression. But when Dani’s tyrannical grandfather falls ill, they must go to rural Pennsylvania to deal with his hoarder horror of a house. In the midst of crisis, can Dani trust God to bring hope and healing?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Book Review, Losing Gabriel

Set in the rolling hills of Tennessee, Losing Gabriel by Lurlene McDaniel tells the story of three young adults whose choices as teens force them to become adults before their time. Sloane, escaping her past through music, tries to find the love she’s never experienced with Dawson. In turn, Dawson hopes to salve the grief of his mother’s death through Sloane and her music. And, finally, Lani, a student studying nursing after the death of her cousin Arie (in The Year of Luminous Love), becomes intertwined with their lives as the three of them care for an ailing child.
After reading this book, I have to say there’s a reason Ms. McDaniel has been writing well-loved novels for so many years—she is an author who carries her readers into a story and wrings their emotions. Sloane is not what I expected. (McDaniel never takes the clich├ęd route with her characters or storylines.) And despite Sloane’s choices, I found myself rooting for her the entire novel. Even while I was rooting for Lani.

While this novel explores difficult life choices and their aftermath, it does it with grace and compassion.

As always, McDaniel’s writing is polished and clean. There’s never a moment where the text draws attention to itself and away from the story. The plot is well-paced and engrossing. When I began reading I thought, “Oh, I’ll just read the first few chapters.” I ended up finishing the novel in a couple of sittings because I couldn’t let go of the characters.

Five stars. Highly recommended.

I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Never-Open Desert Diner, Book Review


Often I approach a literary novel with a bit of trepidation because literary writers frequently intrude on their stories, using language as an end in itself instead of as a slave to the story. But as I read The Never-Open Desert Diner, I was pleased to discover that James Anderson wrote the novel always choosing the good of the story over showmanship.

Besides the restrained skill of the writing, I was impressed by Anderson’s setting. Choosing to place a novel in the desert was bold. Most readers view the desert as arid nothingness, populated by oddities both creaturely and human, and aren’t apt to pick up a novel set there. But any who read this book find that Anderson painted the truth of the desert’s quixotic beauty with its dazzling sunsets and dangerous storms. Furthermore, he imbued the characters with sensitive humanity, and, having lived in the high desert myself, I was delighted with the way he explored the fascinating people who live there.

Aside from the literary aspects of the novel, the story is an entertaining and engaging read. The pace of the story is consistent, and there are enough story questions to drive the narrative and the reader forward. Finally, the ending is excellent—a wistful, satisfying conclusion to a well-written novel book.

I can’t wait to read Mr. Anderson’s next novel.

I received this book for Blogging for Book in exchange for a review.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Writing Excuses

In my last blog post, I mentioned I’d had surgery. I’m now in the midst of recovering. The doctor had warned me the recovery would take six weeks. I nodded my head. After the surgery, I discovered he was really serious. (Yeah, go figure. Maybe some hubris in my thinking beforehand.)

Writing Excuses
Writing Excuses logo
I spend a lot of my day, laying on the couch. Doing nothing. Or rather, healing. And for the first two weeks, the hours drifted by. Ah, it’s three o’clock. I thought it was just one.

But now, though the flesh is weak, my spirit wants to do something. I decided to work on my new novel. And discovered exhaustion sucks creativity completely dry.

Thankfully, a few months ago, a friend (thank you, Joanne Wasdin) had recommended a podcast. And I’d listened to several episodes even before the surgery—I’d stream them from my phone while I worked in the yard.

The podcast is called Writing Excuses. Their “logline” is “fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” J (Brandon Sanderson of Mistborn fame is one of the contributors.) Even though I don’t write fantasy/sci fi (I’ve been writing Southern noir), their discussions have been profoundly inspiring. Because fiction writing is fiction writing whether you’re describing an alien world or the buzz of cicadas in late summer.

After listening to the podcasts, I found some of my mojo. Granted, writing is still hard—but when has it ever been easy? And I’m 12,000 words into a new novel, which is much better than watching reruns of Downton Abbey or watching the clock tick the seconds.

So if you’re facing writer’s block or post-surgery-creativity-empty-tank syndrome, give Writing Excuses a shot. Because they've been doing this for ten seasons, there's something for everyone. And if you’re struggling with rejection, listen to "Perseverence"—hearing Sherrilyn Kenyon’s story choked me up.

Monday, May 2, 2016

A New Painting

I haven't been doing much blogging lately--or much of anything else. I had surgery. Yes, two cardiothoracic surgeries in the family weren't enough (see here and here), so I had major surgery too.

My husband Calvin took a week off from work to take care of me--my doctor's directions for home care were "stay in bed." That meant running the house was up to Calvin because our sons are in the middle of finals and their contributions to housework were putting their midnight snack dishes in the kitchen and throwing dirty clothes in the laundry room.

In the midst of playing nurse and maid (Calvin didn't need to cook much because our church brought us meals--thank you, Sally, Rachael, Laura, Karen, and Mom), Cal finished painting a watercolor. The photo isn't great quality, but you can see it on the left.

The painting almost makes my down time seem worthwhile. Almost, not quite.

For those that like to see what the painting looks like as Calvin works on it. Here are some "in-progress" photos.

This is early in the painting. 

Nearing the end.












N.B. The painting is from a photo I took on our Smoky Mountain vacation--the one where we saw a bear up close and personal--click here.

And if you'd like to see more of Calvin's watercolors, here are links to a few of the paintings I've shared on my blog: here, here, here.

Friday, April 29, 2016

But What Are They Eating?

Today, I'm at the blog But What Are They Eating?, discussing the role food plays in the Screwing Up Time novels. Click here to check it out!

And be sure to read some of the other great posts and follow the blog to learn more about food and how authors use it in their novels.

And a big thanks to Shelley for hosting me!! Check out her novels here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

City of Blades Book Review

City of BladesCity of Blades is the sequel to Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs, and while I did not read the first book in this series, it did not keep me from enjoying this well-crafted novel.

The plot has a brisk pace and number of twists, whose groundwork is well-laid and yet still feels surprising. One of the best qualities of this book is the character development. In particular, Turyin is a fascinating general. Scarred by battle, she learns to accept her past while atoning for it by preventing an apocalypse. Also, Signe and Sigrud grow through struggle as their relationship is redeemed.

Like many fantasy novels, City of Blades has philosophical overtones. Notably, the novel deals with issues such as the nature of war and the afterlife. In some instances, I found the characters’ musings prosaic; other times I found them short-sighted and wished I could engage the characters in discussion. But this isn’t necessarily a flaw, more a compliment since I cared enough to want to do so.

My final thought is on the world-building in the novel. Mr. Bennett has built a world with hints of India and Hinduism while at the same time crafting a unique place. However, as interesting as Voortyashtan and the City of Blades are, I didn’t quite connect with them. However, in spite of this, I would give the novel four stars because even though I didn’t connect with the world, I had to keep reading and find out what happened to Turyin and Signe.

N.B. Because this novel deals with the evils of war and though it does so in a restrained manner, it is not a fantasy for children.

I received this book for Blogging for Book in exchange for a review.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Wonderful News!

A little over twenty-five years ago, our oldest child, Luke, was born. We have enjoyed watching him pass the many milestones of life. Learning to walk. Learn to read. Graduating from high school. Graduating from college. Moving out and going to graduate school.


A few days ago, we were able to share in another milestone in his life. He asked the woman he loves to marry him. And she said, "Yes."


We are thrilled! Lydia is a wonderful young woman and the perfect companion for Luke. We are so thankful to God and are looking forward to a wedding later this year.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Book Review: The Travelers

 Having read Mr. Pavone’s other novels, I was eager to read The Travelers. After finishing the novel, I have to say it’s a thriller that lives up to the genre. The plot is complex and well-paced. The writing is very clean, which I really appreciate in a thriller—there’s nothing worse than awkward writing to slow the reading and take the reader out of the story.

That said, I did have a few caveats. At the beginning of the novel, the point of view changed frequently, as did the setting. While I was able to keep the characters straight, without knowing for certain who they were, I was disappointed that the setting changed so quickly I didn’t get to experience the locales. After all, one of the things a reader looks forward to in books with exotic locations is the chance to live in them vicariously—to smell the sea breeze in St-Jean-de-Luz and feel the heat of Capri. That said, by the end of the novel, I did get a wonderful sense of Iceland. But I would have loved to experience the same sensory texture at some of the other locales.

I did appreciate the way the relationship between the main character and his wife grew over the course of the story. While the ending may not be completely realistic, I did love how the couple overcame their struggles and were able to forgive one another. In modern novels, it is rare to find married couples who truly care for one another and are able to let love be the gateway for forgiveness. For that, and the enthralling thrill ride, I will give The Travelers four stars.

One final caveat. This novel does have many adult scenes. Many of which are crude. I understand their function in the novel, but I do want to warn readers that the scenes are a bit gratuitous.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for a review.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Book Review: The Homemade Kitchen

Book Review: The Homemade Kitchen by Alana Chernila (4.5 stars, which means I'll round to 5.)



This cookbook attracted me because several years ago, by necessity of my son’s health, I had to become a from-scratch cook. I couldn’t pop a frozen meal in the oven any more. So began my food journey. And along the way, I fell in love not so much with cooking, but with food. I learned that cooking from scratch changes your palate, you can taste the fillers and the thickeners and the sweeteners in processed foods—and they don’t taste good. And I learned to taste the nuances of foods. In short, I became a foodie.

So Chernila’s cookbook with its emphasis on courageous cooking and making things from scratch intrigued me. And I’m delighted to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

One of the best things I made from this cookbook was feta cheese. Wow! It was easier than I thought, affordable, and delicious. Creamy and salty without a hint of bitterness.

This is what it takes to make feta. Milk, salt, rennet, starter,
cheesecloth, and water.
Separating the curds from the whey.













The shakshuka recipe was great. I love shakshuka and this recipe had a perfect blend of fresh spices with the tomatoes and eggs. It’s my favorite go-to recipe when making lunch or dinner just for myself with a side of feta or goat cheese. (Sorry, there isn't a photo. Can't believe I didn't take one.)

And the whole family loved the Butter Lettuce with Dates and Ricotta. (Though I used goat cheese instead of ricotta—I’m not fond of ricotta’s texture.)


I also made the preserved lemons, which have uses in many Middle Eastern and North African dishes.

The preserved lemons were made with water, lots of kosher salt, bay leaves, and cardamon pods. And I'll admit, I've eaten the preserved lemons on their own. Yummy marriage of salt and sour.




On the downside, no one would eat Ricotta Mousse. But if you’re a ricotta-lover, it might be perfect for you. And the Coq Au Vin with Buttermilk Spaetzel was a lot of work, and not worth the effort. If I were going to remake this dish, I’d make it with dumplings. And I’d allow a much longer, slower cooking time to give the flavors more time to blend and penetrate the meat. (The meal was better when we had the leftovers for lunch the second day.)


Here I am making the spaetzel.


There are several
recipes I can’t wait to try. Radish butter. And Muhammara (a Turkish red pepper spread)—but my sumac supplier ran out. So I’ll have to order from Penzey’s.

And while I was doing a lot of cooking during our vacation, my husband was doing a watercolor. (And he helped with the cooking, especially the spaetzel--that dough was stiff.)

(I received this cookbook from Blogging for Books for a review.)