Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween


In My Mailbox Monday

Halloween mailbox
In October, Mailbox Monday is hosted by Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit. In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.  These are the places where we brag about share the books that arrived in our mailboxes each week.  As always, I try to find a mailbox that is somehow associated with what I'm reading right now.  I'm reading The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok.  However, since the sense of place in this memoir is very interior and since today is Halloween, I found a Halloween mailbox!

I didn't post last week so I have some catching up to do.

From the author:

Heavy Duty People by Iain Parke.  When loyalty to his bike club and his brothers has been Damage's life and route to wealth, what happens when business becomes serious and brother starts killing brother?

The Wicked Wives by Gus PelagattiWicked Wives is based on the true story of the 1938 Philadelphia murder scandals in which seventeen wives were arrested for murdering their husbands. Mastermind conspirator Giorgio DiSipio, a stunning lothario and local tailor who preys upon disenchanted and unfaithful wives, convinces twelve of them to kill their spouses for insurance money. The murder conspiracy is very successful until one lone assistant D.A., Tom Rossi, uncovers the plot and brings the perpetrators to justice.

Via Amazon Vine:

The Time in Between by Maria Duenas.  This sweeping novel, which combines the storytelling power of The Shadow of the Wind with the irresistible romance of Casablanca, moves at an unstoppable pace. Suddenly left abandoned and penniless in Algiers by her lover, Sira Quiroga forges a new identity. Against all odds she becomes the most sought-after couture designer for the socialite wives of German Nazi officers. But she is soon embroiled in a dangerous political conspiracy as she passes information to the British Secret Service through a code stitched into the hems of her dresses.

Narrows Gate by Jim Fusilli.  Jim Fusilli’s new novel takes place in the years surrounding World War II in the dangerous immigrant neighborhood of Narrows Gate, overlooking the Hudson River, where anything can happen—and it usually does. Sal Benno is a neighborhood kid who doesn’t take to school but is able to provide the favors the Mafia needs, a skill that brings him into their inner circle and closer to ultimate danger. His lifelong friend Leo Bell sticks by Sal through thick and thin, but harbors a dangerous secret that could either keep Sal alive—or bring his life to an abrupt end. In the middle of it is Billy “Bebe” Marsala, a hugely popular and handsome crooner who becomes a pawn in a mob war that could destroy them all.

From the publisher:

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory.  Loory's collection of wry and witty, dark and perilous contemporary fables is populated by people–and monsters and trees and jocular octopi–who are united by twin motivations: fear and desire. In his singular universe, televisions talk (and sometimes sing), animals live in small apartments where their nephews visit from the sea, and men and women and boys and girls fall down wells and fly through space and find love on Ferris wheels.

Boo!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Let's Talk about Green Chile Stew

Green chile pods
I've mentioned before that I lived in New Mexico for ten years.  Albuquerque, precisely, when I was in college and graduate school.  I miss it sometimes, even though I know it's not really the same place it was when I lived there.

Zimmerman Library (a place I more or less lived in)
University of New Mexico

The thing I miss most about it is green chile.  Nothing like Hatch green chiles roasted in autumn to make your endorphins rush and to give you a happy contented feeling.  Eating green chile will cure any cold you've ever had, too.  Really.  They're very high in vitamin C and make your nose run from the heat.  These chiles are very hot, but have a beautiful and unique taste and smell that is out of this world.

Roasting green chile

When I first moved there to go to school at the University of New Mexico, I remember calling home and telling my folks that the only green vegetable that seemed to be available there was green chile.  I thought the whole thing was really weird until I tried them.  Then, I understood.

The Frontier Restaurant - Albuquerque, NM
 Right across from UNM is a restaurant called The Frontier.  It takes up an entire block and when I lived there was 24/7.  The food was cheap and good and they didn't mind it if people studied there. I miss this restaurant just about every day.  Proximity to it makes me think retirement in NM might be a great idea.

The Frontier has your basic hamburgers and fries, but the best stuff was a) the Western-style hashbrowns (hashbrowns with a thick layer of diced green chiles and then covered with cheese), and b) breakfast burritos (with eggs, potatoes, onions, bacon, green chile, and cheese wrapped up in a fresh flour tortilla).  With the breakfast burritos it is essential to also order a side of green chile stew to pour over them.  Plus they have cinnamon rolls.  Great big plate-sized cinnamon rolls that they pour butter over.  Just don't tell anyone you're eating it and the calories won't count, right?

Frontier Roll
What, you wonder, is green chile stew?  It's a stew that is very popular throughout Northern New Mexico.  You can get it just about anywhere, everyone makes it (I even made it when I lived in the dorms), and everyone eats it.  It's one of those feel good stews that warms you to the bone.  People make it with different kinds of meat - traditionally it's made with pork butt, but others make it with ground hamburger.  I make it with ground turkey.  When you add hominy to the recipe it becomes New Mexican-style posole - a Christmas eve dinner staple.

Get your kicks
on Route 66
Albuquerque, NM  1969

 In a perfect world, I would always have green chile in my freezer.  Unfortunately, at roughly $75 for shipping (if frozen or canned) and the necessity of buying at least 10 pounds fresh if you want to roast it (not an amount my freezer can accommodate), it just isn't a perfect world.  When I feel particularly flush I order some, but I most often substitute canned diced green chiles - not perfect, but will do the job.

My recipe is pretty basic and built from combining different recipes to get the flavor I like.  I'm making green chile stew this afternoon, actually, and really looking forward to the beautiful smell of the stew cooking and the happy eating once it's done.


Green chile stew
Caitlin’s Green Chile Stew

2-4 lbs ground turkey
1 large onion, peeled & quartered
1 celery stalk, cut into 2-inch chunks
½ tsp black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
2 clove garlic, minced
3 cups green chile (canned or frozen)
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 cans diced tomatoes
2 tbs flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. ground cumin

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic,oregano, salt, pepper, and cumin, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the flour and cook, stirring, without allowing to color, for 2 minutes. Add the green chiles and diced tomatoes (with their liquid), and stir well to combine. Add the browned turkey and the chicken stock, stir well, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Some additions if you like:  carrots, corn, hominy.

You can serve with tortillas, but I always make biscuits.
 
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. Please link to your specific post,  not your   blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Movie Review - Last House on the Left (1972) vs. (2009)


As a part of the RIP VI, I signed up for the Peril of the Screen involving watching and reviewing two horror/suspense/thrillers.  As a big fan of old school horror directed by Wes Craven and John Carpenter, I decided to watch both versions of The Last House on the Left - the original 1972 version , and the remake in 2009.
Last House on the Left (19720
 Each version has a very similar plot.  It pretty much goes like this:  two teenaged girls get mixed up with a family of sociopaths (two of whom are prison escapees).  In a classic word of warning to teenagers, the girls get drawn into disaster when they befriend the son of the family in an attempt to score weed.  Both girls are raped and murdered in some very sick ways and the body of one washes up on the lake shore near the vacation house her parents rent every summer.  As it happens, the family of sadistic evil has turned up at the house where the parents have offered them shelter on a terrible rainy night.  Once they figure out that the "family" are the people who killed their daughter, all hell breaks loose.
Last House on the Left - 2009

Interestingly the 1972 version is a remake of Ingmar Bergman's earlier film, The Virgin Spring, which covers the same territory, but set in medieval times and, well, directed by Ingmar Bergman who makes everything he touches serious and beautiful and compelling.

The Virgin Spring - 1960 (Ingmar Bergman)
 The Virgin Spring won the following awards:
It was also nominated for the following categories:
The 1972 version was censored in various ways and was considered very shocking in its brutality at the time of its release.  Of course, those of us who live in the world of torture porn, such as Saw or Hostel, will find it disturbing, but a bit quaint.  Despite this, the amount of horror that happens just off-screen or that you hear in the complete dark is very effective.  Combine that with an outstanding performance by David Hess, as Krug, the evil mastermind, and you get some great horror moments.  The movie hasn't really aged all that well - in particular it moves at a snail's pace, the Keystone Cops routine of the local sheriff and his deputy feel very out of place, and the soundtrack has to be heard to be believed.  It reminded me a lot of the song, Listen (To the Flower People), played by Spinal Tap early in its imaginary career.  The juxtaposition is really weird in a very laughable way.



The 2009 version's strengths are mostly technological.  The special effects are better.  The cinematography is very cleanly shot.  The locations are beautiful.  Garrett Dillahunt stars as Krug in the version and steals the show.  He's a very interesting actor and this is a good role for him.  He plays it soft - just a reasonable guy who has to do unreasonable things because the world just won't leave him alone.  The character is well fleshed out and the screen lights up when he is in the frame.



Both movies do a great job of filming the woods.  In most ways these movies mirror plot elements in Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood, but rather than creating an ominous wood that it would be difficult to expect any kid to walk around it, they create the woods we all grew up around - big, green, places with limbs and broken limbs and all the detritus and plant life that grown beneath the canopy.  They are sun-dappled and peaceful and the things that happen within them are more horrible against their backdrop.



I like a good scary movie, but I'm not sure I found either movie scary or even horror inducing.  Everything's so pat and predictable that I couldn't find much in them to terrify me.

FTC Disclosure:  1972 version from Netflix, 2009 version rented from amazon.com

RatingGreen for both

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review - Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson

SynopsisWyoming's favorite sheriff braves a frozen inferno as he races to capture an escaped murderer.

Well-read and world-weary, Sheriff Walt Longmire has been maintaing order in Wyoming's Absaroka County for more than thirty years, but in this riveting seventh outing, he is pushed to his limits. Raynaud Shade, an adopted Crow Indian, has just confessed to murdering a boy ten years ago and burying him deep within the Big Horn Mountains. After transporting Shade and a group of other convicted murderers through a snowstorm, Walt is informed by the FBI that the body is buried in his jurisdiction-and the victim's name is White Buffalo. Guided only by Indian mysticism and a battered paperback of Dante's Inferno, Walt pursues Shade and his fellow escapees into the icy hell of the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, cheating death to ensure that justice-both civil and spiritual-is served.

First Line:  ""Didn't your mother ever tell you not to talk with your mouth full?"

Random Quote:  "I turned and gave my attention to Hector as I buttoned my sheepskin coat and slapped the mag back in the grip.  "I'm not sure how they do things down Texas way, but we try to keep guns out of the hands of convicted killers up here in Wyoming."

ReviewHell is Empty is the seventh book in the Walt Longmire series and the second that I've read.  I'll be going back for the rest throughout this winter - these are just that good.

With a title that quotes Shakespeare and an obsession with Dante, in general, and The Inferno, in particular, this book is less of a mystery and more of a thriller, less of a Western cop procedural and more of a classic hero's journey.  I think all great heroes need one of these and Walt Longmire is definitely a great hero.

With a psychopathic prison escapee and his cohorts loose with hostages in the Big Horn Mountains in an ice storm, Longmire must trek into the mountain wilderness.  There just isn't anyone else on the mountain who can get there in time to save the hostages.  Whether or not Longmire will get there in time is up for grabs.


Big Horn Mountains in winter - Wyoming
Johnson writes the landscape and the winter as if they are characters central to the story and in most ways they are.  Longmire's guides are a Native American shaman with an axe to grind against the worst of the prisoners and a paperback copy of The Inferno that makes its way through many different hands and provides a literary backdrop to what would otherwise be a fairly standard thriller.


Johnson develops the suspense and the tension from the very beginning of the book with shackled prisoners who still manage to make you uncomfortable.  The many chances for disaster are writ large across the first few chapters.

It can be difficult to write a character who is interesting enough to carry most of a book.  How many people are really that interesting, have interior lives we care about, can battle the elements and live?  In Walt Longmire, Craig Johnson has written a character that is worth knowing.  A modern Western Sheriff in an ever-changing world.  Read these books.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for review

RatingPurple

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review - Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson

SynopsisA missing thumb and dead developers are only the beginning for Sheriff Walt Longmire.

It's a volatile new economy in Durant, Wyoming, where the owners of a multi-million dollar development of ranchettes want to get rid of the adjacent junk-yard. When a severed thumb is discovered in the yard, conflicts erupt, and Walt Longmire, his trusty companion Dog, life-long friend Henry Standing Bear, and deputies Santiago Saizarbitoria and Victoria Moretti find themselves in a small town that feels more and more like a high plains pressure cooker.

First Line:  "I tried to get a straight answer from his grandson and granddaughter-in-law as to why their grandfather had been tied with a hundred feet of nylon rope to the rear bumper of the 1968 Oldsmobile Toronado."

Random Quote:  "I was looking forward to my burrito and figured I could rummage a couple of extra blankets from the linen closet at the jail, since on seriously cold nights it sometimes got a little nippy in the concrete holding cells.  I wondered if I was getting to be like those old cons who couldn't sleep unless there were bars on the doors and windows - now that was a really depressing thought.

ReviewJunkyard Dogs is the sixth book in Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series and I have no idea how I missed these books before now.  Craig Johnson is funny - not in a trying-to-hard-forced kind of way, but in a certain twist of phrase and mind that sees and shares the humor in life kind of way. 

Walt Longmire is a widowed sheriff who's not getting any younger.  His territory is a small town in Wyoming and he knows it like you know your childhood home.  Joined by his deputies, most notably his on-again/off-again girlfriend Vic, Longmire is tasked with the day-to-day law enforcement of a small town where occasionally someone gets murdered.

Grand Teton National Park in Autumn - Wyoming
 This is a Western, in the sense that it's set in Wyoming and has a Sheriff and even real live Native Americans, but its Western flavor is the least important thing about the book.  Rather it's the storytelling, the sense of place, the dry humor, great characters, and plain old good storytelling.

In Junkyard Dogs there is a complicated set of interconnected events having to do with an eccentric old man who runs a junkyard, a developer, and the developer's mother (who just might be in love).  I really enjoyed how all the plot elements had pieces of history to them - the characters share a place and context within their small town and these play out across the broader plot line of the crimes.

Mr. Johnson almost makes me want to move to Wyoming - except for that whole snow over the roofline thing.  I hate to be cold.  This series has been optioned for a series on A&E called Longmire.  The series has great casting:

Walt Longmire - Robert Taylor (from The Matrix)
Victoria Moretti - Katee Sackhoff (from Battlestar Galactica)
Henry - Lou Diamond Phillips

If the writing on the series is as good as the writing in this book, I'll be a regular viewer.

FTC Disclosure:  Copy received from publisher for review

RatingBlue


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) random teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS (make sure that what you share doesn't give too much away! You don't want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! 

    "Her gaze moved in the direction of her girlfriends.  He wanted to smack the relishing smirk off her face but instead took a step to the left to block the line of sight."

         - Long Gone by Alafair Burke

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    We Have a Winner - Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson

    The Gods of Randomness have spoken and a winner of Holy Ghost Girl has been chosen ...

    Gwendolyn Bruno!  Your copy of the book will be sent via the publisher.

    Thanks to everyone who entered - stay tuned for more reviews and giveaways (and happy Monday).

    In My Mailbox Monday

    East Village mailbox
    In October, Mailbox Monday is hosted by Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit. In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.  These are the places where we brag about share the books that arrived in our mailboxes each week.  As always, I try to find a mailbox that is somehow associated with what I'm reading right now.  I'm reading Long Gone by Alafair Burke.  Much of the book is set in the East Village, so I found a cool mailbox from there.

    Two books this week one from an author:

    Chasing the Red Car by Ellen Ruderman.  Transplanted from her home in the Bronx to the burgeoning San Fernando Valley of 1947, Kim LeBow is faced with trouble on every side. Her home life is rocky and emotionally unpredictable, and the McCarthy-era communist witch hunts strike all around, threatening Kim's father and even reaching into her high school.  The political struggles and personal cataclysms that follow change Kim from an open and caring young girl into a political activist and educator, while leaving emotional scars that only time-and the return of the great love of her life-are able to heal.  Drawing parallels between the political repression of the 1950s and the abuses of executive power after 9/11, Chasing the Red Car reminds us that all politics is personal and that the truth of George Santayana's maxim about history repeating itself can be seen all around us every day.

    And one from the publisher:

    The Night Eternal by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.  From the authors of the instant New York Times bestsellers The Strain and The Fall comes the final volume in one of the most electrifying thriller series in years.  It’s been two years since the vampiric virus was unleashed in The Strain, and the entire world now lies on the brink of annihilation. There is only night as nuclear winter blankets the land, the sun filtering through the poisoned atmosphere for two hours each day—the perfect environment for the propagation of vampires.  There has been a mass extermination of humans, the best and the brightest, the wealthy and the influential, orchestrated by the Master—an ancient vampire possessed of unparalleled powers—who selects survivors based on compliance. Those humans who remain are entirely subjugated, interred in camps, and separated by status: those who breed more humans, and those who are bled for the sustenance of the Master’s vast army.  The future of humankind lies in the hands of a ragtag band of freedom fighters—Dr. Eph Goodweather, former head of the Centers for Disease Control’s biological threats team; Dr. Nora Martinez, a fellow doctor with a talent for dispatching the undead; Vasiliy Fet, the colorful Russian exterminator; and Mr. Quinlan, the half-breed offspring of the Master who is bent on revenge. It’s their job to rescue Eph’s son, Zack, and overturn this devastating new world order. But good and evil are malleable terms now, and the Master is most skilled at preying on the weaknesses of humans.

    Be sure to check out what came in other mailboxes.  Yeah, it'll grow your TBR pile, but it's so much fun!

    Sunday, October 16, 2011

    Let's Talk About Persimmons

    American persimmon tree
    I didn't have a lot of experience with persimmons until I moved to California.  I'd seen them, but never tried on or cooked with them.  One of my co-workers has a tree and brings in the fruit to share.  I'm a sucker for anything that anyone brings in that they grew in their yard, so I usually take three or four of them.

    Persimmons come from China and were brought to the United States in the 1880's.  These trees were planted in Washington D.C. and are still growing there.  The fruit grows all over California and there are many varieties, although there are two that are typically available commercially.  You can tell which kind is which from their shape.

    Hachiya: This type of persimmon makes up approximately 90 percent of the available fruit. It is identifiable by its acorn like shape. This persimmon is tart until it becomes soft and ripe.

    Hachiya Persimmons
    Fuyu: This persimmon is gaining popularity here as it is in Japan. Similar in color, but looking like a squashed tomato, this variety is smaller, sweeter, and is edible while still firm.

    Fuyu persimmons
     My co-worker grows the Hachiya variety and that's the one I have experience with - I've seen the Fuyu type in the store, but haven't bought any yet.  It's hard to get excited about buying something you can get for free, eh?

    Hachiya persimmon blossom

    Persimmons are readily available from September to December with a peak growing season in November.  They're high in vitamins A and C with one persimmon providing 20% of the daily requirement in each vitamin.  Plus, they're really yummy.

    Look for persimmons that are round, plump, and have glossy and smooth skin with deep red undertones. Avoid fruits with blemishes, bruises or cracked skin and missing the green leaves at the top. Select ripe persimmons only if you plan to eat them immediately. Otherwise, buy firmer fruits and allow them to ripen.

    Fuyu persimmon blossom
    Ripen persimmons at room temperature in a paper bag and store the ripe ones in the refrigerator. You need to eat ripe persimmons fairly quickly or they become too mushy and slimey.

    Ripe Fuyu persimmons, which look kind of like flattened tomatoes are crisp, while the acorn-shaped Hachiyas will be very soft and juicy.

    Unripe Hachiya persimmons taste very bitter and will suck all the moisture from your mouth — pretty icky. The astringency goes away as the fruit ripens. The ripe ones taste like a combination of mango and apricot and are very fragrant.

    There are lots of things to do with persimmons.  Many people combine them with apples in various ways.  They're great in salads, baked in breads and cookies, or steamed in puddings.  I like to mash them and add the puree to homemade rice pudding that I make in my rice cooker.  It's really easy and adds a beautiful flavor to the oh so comforting taste of rice pudding.

    The recipe for the rice pudding made in the rice cooker is from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.  If you have a rice cooker and wonder what kinds of things you can make in it (with or without rice, this is a great resource).

    Old Fashioned Rice Pudding with Persimmons

    Machine:  Medium (6-cup) rice cooker (fuzzy logic type - these usually have a digital interface in front and various cycles available)
    Cycle:  Porridge
    Yield:  Serves 6

    2/3 cup medium-grain white rice
    2-3 very ripe Hachiya persimmons (these should be squishy)
    4 cups milk
    1 large egg
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1.  Place the rice and milk in the rice cooker bowl; stir to combine.  Close the cover and set for the Porridge cycle.

    2.  Remove the stems and skins from the persimmons (it's easiest just to slit them down the middle and scoop out the pulp).  Mash the pulp.

    3.  When the machine reaches the Keep Warm cycle, combine the persimmon mash, eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl and beat with a whisk.  Open the rice cooker, spoon a few tablespoons of the rice milk into the egg mixture and beat with a wooden spoon.  Beating the rice milk constantly, pour the egg mixture into the rice cooker bowl.  Stir for a minute to combine.  Close the cover and reset for a second Porridge cycle.  Stir every 15-20 minutes until the desired thickness is reached.

    4.  Pour the pudding into 6 custard cups or ramekins (pouring it into a bowl works just as well and that's what I always do).  Serve warm or let cool slightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  When cold, cover with plastic wrap and store for up to 4 days.

    This is a great addition to the usual rice pudding and very easy to make.  It also comes out a gorgeous pale orange color making it pretty to look at.  You can, of course, add frills of various kinds (like a flavored whipped cream), or dried cranberries, but I love it cold and plain and simple - straight from the bowl in the fridge.

    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. Please link to your specific post,  not your   blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

    We Have a Winner - The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn


    Thank you to everyone who visited my blog and entered the giveaway of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn.  It's a really fun book and I'm glad I could give a copy away.

    The winner is:  Susan Bosco!

    Congratulations, Susan!  The book will be shipped from the publisher within the next week or so.

    Stay tuned to chaotic compendiums for more reviews and giveaways!

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Book Review - In Malice, Quite Close by Brandi Lynn Ryder

    Synopsis:  French ex-pat Tristan Mourault is the wealthy, urbane heir to a world- renowned collection of art-and an insatiable voyeur enamored with Karen Miller, a fifteen-year-old girl from a working-class family in San Francisco. Deciding he must "rescue" Karen from her unhappy circumstances, Tristan kidnaps her and stages her death to mask his true crime.

    Years later, Karen is now "Gisele" and the pair lead an opulent life in idyllic and rarefied Devon, Washington. But when Nicola, Gisele's young daughter, stumbles upon a secret cache of paintings-all nudes of Gisele-Tristan's carefully constructed world begins to crumble. As Nicola grapples with the tragedy that follows, she crosses paths with Amanda Miller, who comes to Devon to investigate the portraits' uncanny resemblance to her long-lost sister.

    First Line:  "This is my apology."

    Random Quote:  "Though Amanda had been unable to find out anything substantive about the artist Luke Farrell or his muse, Gisele, there was plenty to be learned about the Dresden galleries.  The local consensus was that Dresden himself was a "genius.""

    ReviewRimbaud was one of the heroes of my late adolescence - Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley - what bookish teenager wouldn't love their decadent romanticism.  I mention this because the title of In Malice, Quite Close is taken from a poem by Rimbaud and the book itself absolutely delivers on the promise of its title in elegance, perversity, and decadent suspense.

    Ms. Ryder has a talent for writing characters that you believe in and root for, even when somewhere a tiny voice in your head is shouting denials.  The utter logical simplicity of Karen's capture (or escape, depending on your point of view) is relentless and terrifying.  It all seems so predictable and so right - what other choice might there have been?  Fortunately for the reader, this is only the beginning of a novel rich with detail and suspense. 

    Illustration from "Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe
    Aubrey Beardsley

    Fast forward to "now" and the reality of Karen/Gisele's life with her captor - her child, her masks, her inability to connect - and things start to get really ugly.  Layered throughout with intelligent musing on art and the artist and the place of both in society and you get a surprisingly intelligent and vivid thriller.

    Filled with believable, complex characters and a plot that will keep you guessing, this is one of the best new thrillers I've read this year.  I couldn't put it down (even when I wanted to).  I'll never read a newspaper article about a missing teenager in the same way again.

    FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for review

    RatingPurple

    Reading Challenges:  RIP VI

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Book Review - Half a Life by Darin Strauss

    Synopsis:  “Half my life ago, I killed a girl.”

    So begins Darin StraussHalf a Life, the true story of how one outing in his father’s Oldsmobile resulted in the death of a classmate and the beginning of a different, darker life for the author. We follow Strauss as he explores his startling past—collision, funeral, the queasy drama of a high-stakes court case—and what starts as a personal tale of a tragic event opens into the story of how to live with a very hard fact: we can try our human best in the crucial moment, and it might not be good enough.

    First Line:  "Half my life ago, I killed a girl."

    Random Quote:  "I'd imagined this deposition would take place in a judge's cozy chambers - polished wooden desk; a sort of brass-boxed, green, LA Law-ish lamp.  Instead we'd all sidled one-by-one into this chalky and hideously lit sub-basement place.  A long plastic table commandeered most of the room."

    Review:  Cars and the things that happen in them tend to play starring roles in adolescence.  Learning to drive (or choosing not to), sex in the back seat, cruising town with a crowd of kids - these are all features of being an American teenager.  Less talked about yet just as prominent are the other things that happen in cars - the accidents - fatal or not - these too are clear in many memories.  Teenaged drivers account for about ten percent of the US population, but for twelve percent of all accidents.  Each year over 5,000 teens will die in fatal car accidents - another 400,000 will be seriously injured.  This is the flip side of the American fascination with the automobile and the "freedom" it represents.

    Darin Strauss writes honestly of the car accident that changed his life in Half a Life.  While driving with friends, he hit a classmate on a bicycle and in an instant marked by the sound and sight of her bicycle and head shattering the front of his windshield, everything changed.

    In cars (see also Gary Numan's song)
     Anyone who has a history with the unpleasant side of teenaged driving knows that these are events that change us and our relationship to the world forever.  In Darin's case it is all about learning to live in the aftermath of something unlooked for and so very permanent.  Strauss is at his best in the early parts of the book as he describes what happened - both in the moment of impact and in the moments after.  He manages to be unflinching and honest in ways that make this an uncomfortable, but illuminating read.  Less successful are the later parts of the book as he describes the effect on his adult life - who to tell, whether to tell.  It is very difficult to describe these feelings without some hint of self-indulgence and Strauss' unwillingness to spare the reader even this detail is both a strength and a weakness.

    I would not have written this book and I'm not sure I enjoyed reading it, but I learned from it and from the careful craft of it and it's worth a long, hard, uncomfortable look.

    FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers

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