Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review - Blue Monday by Nicci French

SynopsisMonday, the lowest point of the week. A day of dark impulses. A day to snatch a child from the streets . . .

The abduction of five-year-old Matthew Farraday provokes a national outcry and a desperate police hunt. And when a picture of his face is splashed over the newspapers, psychotherapist Frieda Klein is left troubled: one of her patients has been relating dreams in which he has a hunger for a child. A child he can describe in perfect detail, a child the spitting image of Matthew.

Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson doesn't take Frieda's concerns seriously until a link emerges with an unsolved child abduction twenty years ago and he summons Frieda to interview the victim's sister, hoping she can stir hidden memories. Before long, Frieda is at the center of the race to track the kidnapper.

But her race isn't physical. She must chase down the darkest paths of a psychopath's mind to find the answers to Matthew Farraday's whereabouts.

And sometimes the mind is the deadliest place to lose yourself.

First LineIn this city there were many ghosts.

Random QuoteOlivia believed that order was a king of prison that prevented you experiencing things, and that recklessness and chaos were expressions of freedom, but for Frieda, it was order that allowed you the freedom to think, to let thoughts into the space you had created for them, to find a proper name and shape for the ideas and feelings that were lifted up during the days like silt and weeds, and that by naming them, in some sense lay them to rest.  Some thing wouldn't rest.  They were like muddy clouds in the water, stirring beneath the surface and filling her with unease.

Review:  Nicci French is actually a married couple who write as a team - Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.  I haven't read them before, but the plot description grabbed me and I dug in.

I keep reading British thrillers that blow me away and are often by writers who are new to me - Sister by Rosamund Lupon and Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton come to mind.  Blue Monday just  joined that category.  There is something very delicate about the way this book is written and the way its story unfolds.

Against the backdrop of a child abduction, we are introduced to Frieda Klein, a psychoanalyst living very much inside of her head - a woman after my own heart because she walks all over London (just as I do all over Berkeley).  The story of the child abduction and the various ways it comes to be connected to another abduction and, sort of, solved is the context that Frieda inhabits.  In many ways the strength of the telling lies with the focus on character and relationship and inner voices, rather than the actual (very disturbing) set of crimes.

London, Thames Embankment, 1890 (image source)
 When one of Frieda's patients tells her of a dream that mirrors the recent abduction, she is forced out of her solitary chair and walks and out into the world, reluctantly joining the police in trying to find out what happened to this child.  There are many twists and turns and a surprise at the end that I should have seen coming, but somehow didn't (very rare for me - good job, authors).

There are wonderful secondary characters, my favorite being Josef, the Ukrainian builder who appears in the book quite suddenly.  I don't want to give too much away, but his appearance and subsequent involvement with events in the book is a highlight.  Josef brings the real, practical world of maintaining the structures the making living in the world possible in a way that is real, interesting, and much needed.  He is not living in his head, but in the world.

Add the starring role that London plays, a disturbing and effective mystery and you have a great read.  I'll definitely look for the second in this series.

See below for a chance to win a copy of this book and stay tuned tomorrow for an author Q&A.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for review

Publishing Information:   Pamela Dorman Books - March 1, 2011

Format:  E-galley on Kindle

Rating:  ★★★★

Reading Challenges:  Mystery and Suspense Challenge

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

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! 

Happiness is the most natural thing in the world when you have it, and the slowest, strangest, most impossible thing when you don't. ... It's like learning a foreign language:  You can think about the words all you want, but you'll never be able to speak it until you suck up your courage and say them out loud.

     - Partials by Dan Wells

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mailbox Monday

Apartment call buttons and mailboxes - New Orleans, LA
(image source)
In February, Mailbox Monday is hosted by DCMetroreader at Metroreader. 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 or mailish thing that is somehow associated with what I'm reading right now.  I'm reading The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke.  His books are set on Bayou Teche in the southeast part of Louisiana.  Since I couldn't find any mailboxes along the Bayou Teche, I found a cool picture of some New Orleans mailboxes.

Here are the books I received this past week:

Printed Matter (all from publishers)

Glow by Jessica Marie Tuccelli.  In the autumn of 1941, Amelia J. McGee, a young woman of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish descent, and an outspoken pamphleteer for the NAACP, hastily sends her daughter, Ella, alone on a bus home to Georgia in the middle of the night-a desperate action that is met with dire consequences when the child encounters two drifters and is left for dead on the side of the road.  Ella awakens to find herself in the homestead of Willie Mae Cotton, a wise hoodoo practitioner and former slave, and her partner, Mary-Mary Freeborn, tucked deep in the Takatoka forest. As Ella begins to heal, the legacies of her lineage are revealed.

The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney.   “Every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days. In kind fashion. A loving way. But there’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own. So if we’re to live good lives, we have to tell ourselves our own story. In a good way.” So says James Clare, Ben MacCarthy’s beloved mentor, and it is this fateful advice that will guide Ben through the tumultuous events of Ireland in 1956.

Kindle Books (from publishers via NetGalley or Edelweiss/Above the Treeline or the author):

I downloaded (for free) an omnibus edition of three books by Scott Nicholson.  It contains the following books:

Crime Beat by Scott Nicholson.  When John Moretz takes a job as a reporter in the Appalachian town of Sycamore Shade, a crime wave erupts that boosts circulation and leaves people uneasy. Then a murder victim is discovered, and Moretz is first on the scene.  As more bodies are discovered, Moretz comes under police suspicion, but the newspaper's sales are booming due to his coverage of sensational crime. His editor is torn between calling off his newshound and cashing in on the attention, plus the editor is romancing the big-city reporter assigned to cover the suspected serial killer.  And Moretz seems to be one step ahead of the other reporters, the police, and even the killer himself.

Disintegration by Scott Nicholson.  Identical twins vie for a family empire built on deceit, cruelty, and dark secrets--and one woman stands between them while another waits in the shadows.

The Skull Ring by Scott Nicholson.  Julia Stone will remember, even if it kills her.  Dr. Pamela Forrest is determined to bring Julia's memories to the surface, hoping to heal Julia's panic disorder. The therapist keeps returning Julia to a night twenty-three years ago when Julia was four. A night of hooded figures, strange chants, pain, and blood. The night her father disappeared from the face of the earth.

Here's the rest of what I got:

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

The Great Silence:  Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age by Juliet Nicolson.  Two years after the Armistice of 1918, an unidentified soldier was given a state funeral and buried in Westminister Abbey. He represented the loved ones of all those who had been denied the comfort of the basic rituals of mourning.  The Great Silence is the story of the period leading up to this moment: two years of celebration, anger, denial and hope. Juliet Nicolson evokes what England was like for those who had danced through settled Edwardian times and whose lives were now so altered. Against a background of social upheaval, even shorter skirts, the movies and the sound of jazz, a spirit of resilience and survival began to triumph

Buried in the Sky:  The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2's Deadliest Day by Peter Zuckerman, Amanda Padoan.  When Edmund Hillary first conquered Mt. Everest, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was at his side. Indeed, for as long as Westerners have been climbing the Himalayas, Sherpa porters have been the anonymous experts in the background. In August 2008, when eleven climbers died on the world s most dangerous peak, Chhiring Dorje Sherpa and Pasang Lama survived. More than mere porters, these men had emerged from poverty and political turmoil to become two of the best mountaineers on earth. Based on unprecedented access and interviews in rare and dying languages, Buried in the Sky reveals the Sherpas story for the first time. The book travels back to Chhiring and Pasang s home villages, exploring their customs and culture, and then follows them to Base Camp and their dramatic encounter in the Death Zone. This thrilling book reveals a world in which climbing represents not only the most lucrative career for impoverished young men but also a terrible sin against the mountain.

Happy reading!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Book Review - French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David

SynopsisElizabeth David's books belong in the libraries of everyone who loves to read and prepare food and this one is generally regarded as her best; her passion and knowledge comes through on every page. She was one of the foremost writers on food in the latter half of the 20th century and this book has her most celebrated writing. French Provincial Cooking should be approached and read as a series of short stories, as well written and evocative as the best literature.

First LineWhen Curnonsky, the famous French gastronome and writer, who died in 1956 at the age of 83, describes the four distinct types of Freanch cookery 'La Haute Cuisine, la cuisine Bourgeoise, la cuisite Régionale, et la cuisine Improvisée' he might perhaps also have mentioned that other well-known branch of French cooking, la cuisine  Á LA française, or French food as understood by foreigners all over the world.

Random QuoteThe feeling of our time is for simpler food, simply presented; not that this is necessarily easier to achieve than haute cuisine; it demands less time and expense, but if anything a more genuine feeling for cookery and a truer taste.  It is the kind of cooking which, once more, was meant by Curnonsky when he repeated, over and over again, that good cooking was achieved when 'ingredients taste of what they are.' 

Review:  I grew up reading through cookbooks as if they were novels.  I spent a lot of time in my Seattle grandmother's kitchen, or my family's kitchen, sitting on the floor and reading cookbooks and looking at pictures (when I wasn't doing sous chef duties).  Cooking or baking occurred throughout these times, as did conversation on many topics, but the cookbook in my lap always had a lot of my attention.  I still read them like novels.

I learned to cook and bake through osmosis - watching and helping and eating and talking about all kinds of good food, what made it good, and why certain choices were made.  Once I was on my own I really started cooking.  My primary tools were The Joy of Cooking and Escoffier along with others that I picked up on my own.

Elizabeth David
 Still I often think of Elizabeth David, especially reading A Taste of the Sun on a rainy winter evening, or even a bright summer day.  She's up there with Julia Child and James Beard as my favorite writers of what we call food porn in my family.  There's something so lovely and conversational about Ms. David, always writing in clear precise prose with sketches of recipes rather than the precise lists that we're used to - Ingredients/Serves/Recipe.  I realized when reading this book again that that's the way recipes are shared over the table.  "How'd you make that?"  "Oh, I took the chicken and did this with it with these herbs and oils and cooking techniqued it for however long."

My father and grandmother were very fond of this kind of recipe exchange and for a long time I had sketches like this on the back of envelopes or on notebook pages or whatever else came to hand - these lay around in various places until I wanted them.  Once I committed them to memory (by cooking them over and over again) they went the way of all things on the backs of envelopes.

If you haven't read David, you must.  She's probably more familiar in England than here (although that may have changed).  Her style is anecdotal, but exacting - full of details that may seem picky, but that prove their worth when you use them.  Honestly, I think Nigella Lawson wishes she was Elizabeth David - not to criticize Lawson, but David is obviously the template for much of what she does.

I can't complete a review of a cookbook without providing a receipe.  This is for an utterly simple roasted chicken.

Butter Roasted Chicken (image source)
Poulet Rôti au Beurre - Chicken Roasted in Butter

Stuff a plump 5 lb. roasting chicken (dressed and drawn weight) with a large lump of butter, about 2 oz., into which salt, freshly-milled pepper and, if possible, a little chopped fresh or dried tarragon have been incorporated.  Place the chicken on its side in a baking tin and rub more butter plentifully over the exposed surface.  Put in a fairly hot over, Gas No. 6, 400 deg. F., and, after 20 minutes, turn the bird over.  Add more butter.

After 20 minutes more turn the bird again, and baste with the juices in the pan.  In 1 hour altogether the chicken should be cooked, and will be a most beautiful golden brown all over.  The only sauce needed is supplied by the butter and the juices in the pan, which are poured off into a sauce-boat and served separately.

What a wonderful read and a great book for building technique and ideas.  One word about format - I bought this for my Kindle for the ease of novel reading, but may buy a printed copy depending on how well cooking from this goes.  I'm not sure the e-book format has the right feel for cookbooks which should be hefty, well-used, and covered in places with sauce stains.

FTC Disclosure:  Purchased for my Kindle by me

Publishing Information:  Grub Street - Febuary 1, 2009

Rating:  ★★★★★★

Reading Challenges:  European Reading Challenge, Foodies Read 2 Challenge, Mammoth Book Challenge

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, February 25, 2012

Abandonment Issues

Abandoned toys and doll (image source)
This is a semi-regular feature where I talk about the books I just couldn't get into.  In every reader's life there will be books that just don't work for you.  Since I read for pleasure, I abandon those books shamelessly.  Here's the most recent list - for these I'm not writing snarky comments - just giving a list.  Most of these just didn't grab my attention from the get-go so I really don't have an informed opinion:

Quiet by Susan Cain
The Silent Oligarch by Christopher Morgan Jones
The Lost Goddess by Tom Knox
The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy
Wicked Wives by Gus Pelagatti
Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman

I will note that in all cases many readers loved these books, but for me (even after several tries), they just didn't work.  Don't let that stop you from exploring them.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review - Skirmish by Michelle Sagara West

Synopsis:  At long last, Jewel is preparing to announce her candidacy to become the next Terafin and claim the House Seat. But it is a decision that has her targeted by demons who will stop at nothing to destroy Jewel and her allies as the House War begins...

First Line:  Hannerle loved windows.

Random Quote:  It is what the young forget:  one failure does not render all past success - or future success - meaningless.  It is only if we surrender to despair that we faill in perpetuity, because we cease to try at all.

Review:  I'm tough on fantasy series - so many of them start well and then sort of peter out and become uninteresting.  For whatever reason I don't typically read a single fantasy novel (with some exceptions) because I like series, but it's hard to find series, and on and on in an endless self-imposed do loop.  I do adore two series, however: George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and all of Michelle Sagara West's Averalaan books.  I like them equally and continually recommend them every time I get a chance.

West's books are different than Martin's - more magic, for one thing, but just as many varied characters making lots of choices and trying to survive in preparation for the final onslaught of demons.  Yes, demons.

Skirmish is the latest in House Wars series and I do not recommend starting here if you haven't read these books.  I'll give you a list later on so you can start at the beginning.  I swear you won't regret it.

Winged Cats - in the book and I want at least 3 - must talk
(image source)
 I loved Skirmish even though it actually only takes place across about 3 days.  There's plenty going on in that 3 days and there are very, very many difficult choices to be made by many people - especially Jay (Jewel) the protagonist.  At some points I wanted to yell at her to grow a spine, but the decision to go to war for leadership of an important House with everyone you love backing you and in danger is not a light one.  It's the only one, though - it just takes awhile for Jay to come around to it.

This book begins to have a lot more intrigue and behind-the-scenes double-dealing than the others and I like that, too.  A House War is logically different than a more typical war and the English proved long ago that having good intelligence is crucial to maintaining power.  Honestly, this just feels like the preview to the next book where the action will really start rolling, but it was also intensely pleasing.

Ms. West is able to develop in the reader a true sense of emotional connection to the characters.  These are people who've been in my life since the late '90's and, like George R.R. Martin's characters, they feel like family.  I'm much closer to Sagara's characters, but that's not surprising since that emotional attachment and the growth and development of the characters is central to the story of struggle.  It's harder to get attached to Martin's characters - he's just so brutal with them it makes you want to keep a safe distance (even though I often can't).

There's a lot of beauty in the this book and the thick sense of grief that hangs over it all due to the death of the former House leader - much loved by the entire house.  Jay clings to the idea that a funeral will somehow bring closure and this delays much of her necessary decision-making.  Anyone who's been through a great loss knows that closure is a great word and that the living matter more, but it's hard to accept - you just have to walk the path and see where it leads.

I loved this book, as I've loved all of her books.  If you're new to this kind of writing and have read George R.R. Martin's series and enjoyed it, I highly recommend these books.  If you've read neither - what are waiting for?!

Averalaan Universe Books:

The Sacred Hunt 
(as Michelle West, DAW Books)

The Kingdom of Breodanir is facing a threat unlike any seen for centuries. An orphan boy and his adopted brother struggle against the ties that bind them together (and to their land) as they complete an impossible journey to save the world - at the risk of their own destruction. These are the first books set in the Essalieyan universe to be published.

    Hunter's Oath (October 1995)
    Hunter's Death (June 1996)

The Sun Sword
(as Michelle West, DAW Books)

Sixteen years after the events of The Sacred Hunt, the Empire of Essalieyan and the Dominion of Annagar are at war due to machinations of the Kialli. The resulting struggle for power will define the lives of those who would bring an end to the Kialli threat. Events laid out in The Sacred Hunt are referenced, but are not necessary to follow the story.

    The Broken Crown (July 1997)
    The Uncrowned King (September 1998)
    The Shining Court (August 1999)
    Sea of Sorrows (May 2001)
    The Riven Shield (July 2003)
    The Sun Sword (January 2004)

The House War
(as Michelle West, DAW Books)

Set in the Essalieyan universe, The House War chronicles the story of Jewel and her rise in House Terafin. The first three novels return to the origin of Jewel and the discovery of her den. They also revisit some of the narrative from Hunter's Death, though told from different (and complementary) character perspectives. The concluding two volumes, beginning with Skirmish, take place after events of The Sun Sword. Because of this timeline juxtaposition, the author recommends reading The Sun Sword series before Skirmish to maintain character consistency.

    The Hidden City: A Novel of the House War, Book 1 (March 2008)
    City of Night: A Novel of the House War, Book 2 (February 2010)
    House Name: A Novel of the House War, Book 3 (January 2011)
    Skirmish: A Novel of the House War, Book 4 (January 2012)
    War: A Novel of the House War, Book 5 (tentative title)

FTC Disclosure:  I bought for my Kindle all by myself

Publishing Information:  Kindle Edition - January 3, 2012

Format:  Kindle

Rating:  ★★★★★★

Reading Challenges:  Eclectic Reading Challenge, Mammoth Book Challenge

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book Review - The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen by Thomas Caplan

Synopsis:  At the center of The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen is Ty Hunter, a former covert operative turned international movie star. He is pulled back into his former life when the President asks him to thwart the transfer of nuclear arms into rogue hands. Hunter must infiltrate the world of billionaire Ian Santal and his protégé Philip Frost. Complicating the operation is Isabella Cavill, Santal’s niece and Frost’s girlfriend. Hunter’s involvement in the operation is complicated by his feelings for Cavill.

First Line:  Wilhelm Claussen had taken possession of his Bentley Continental Flying Spur six days before, but this afternoon was the first time it had left Mission Hills.

Random Quote:  That was the nature of things.  Gatherers of power led rapacious, messy lives, but lives that were remembered and important.  The dual aspects of his character had long been clear to him, and when the thought suddenly struck him that he resembled that figure of adolescent fantasy, the vampire who yearned not to be undeard, he laughed silently.

ReviewThe Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen isn't the kind of spy thriller I normally read.  I'm much more John Le Carré than James Bond, but when it was offered to me for review by the publisher it was easy to accept.  She had me at "former covert operative turned international movie star."  How could I resist that?!

Also appealing was the focus on loose nukes - something I don't think enough people take nearly as seriously as they should.  There's a lot of nuclear material floating around out there and the possibilities are ugly and endless if you have any level of imagination.

Why, yes - I AM saying that Matt Damon would be great in the movie
(image source)
What a fun read this was - as improbable and sometimes silly as it should have been.  Even though I'm not fond of reading about the privileged and their possessions (both material and human), I loved this book.  It's well-written, doesn't take itself seriously, and keeps you turning the pages.  Great entertainment.  I couldn't stop thinking of the Harrison Ford and Denzel Washington action movies that I love to escape into.  Someone should definitely make this into a movie.

I'm not the only fan, by the way.  President Bill Clinton likes it, too - enough that he wrote an introduction (which I haven't read because it isn't in the galley).  If you've read his memoir you know that he's a big reader and has probably read something that you've read.  He's got good taste in books and continues to prove it by liking this one.

If you're looking for a consistently fun and entertaining read with just enough meat to keep you hooked, look no further.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for review

Publishing InformationViking Books - January 10, 2012

Format - Kindle e-Galley

Rating:  ☆☆☆☆

Reading Challenges:  European Reading Challenge, Mystery and Suspense Challenge

Related Links:  Thomas Caplan was interviewed on NPR’s ”Morning Edition”- have a listen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Author Interview - Aric Davis - A Good and Useful Hurt

Aric Davis
Aric Davis is the author of A Good and Useful Hurt, a book I very much enjoyed (and recommend).  I was fortunate to be allowed to interview him and this is what I found out:

Where did you grow up?
I was born in Ithaca, New York, but have spent the vast majority of my life in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Grand Rapids is bittersweet at the moment, I love my city, but winter is not the best here.

How did tattooing and piercing become such an important part of your life?
I'm not sure at what age I decided I was going to make body modification such a large part of my life. I knew that I wanted to be tattooed since a very young age, and can vividly remember being fascinated by National Geographic photo shoots of the Masai tribe in Kenya, but I'm not sure that there was ever a moment where I chose to be so involved with body modification. I truly think it was a situation where the more I was involved with it, the more I came to love it.
What tattoo and piercing artists most inspire you?
For tattooing, Guy Aitchison, without question. He has done more with a simple medium than I think most people would have ever considered possible, and to top it off, he has put forth a tremendous effort through his own writing to share his wealth of knowledge as much as humanly possible. Piercing is a harder nut to crack. Jon Cobb, retired now, was a genius when it came to piercing. Blair of Toronto, mostly retired at this point, is another man far ahead of his time. Elayne Angel would be another also retired but incredibly influential and talented person. Mike T., now retired as well, was a local influence. Perhaps my heroes are telling me something...

Hands - Tattooed by Guy Aitchison (image source)

How does your relationship with body art translate into your relationship with fiction?
Normally, it doesn't, at least not intentionally. When working on A Good and Useful Hurt, that was obviously not the case. When writing for that one I found myself mining half a lifetime of knowledge, and still trying to keep the story more important than the mods. I think little bits of body modification are always going to show up in my writing, but I don't know that I would consciously try and tackle another book that sees so much of its story related to my other job. All that said, working on a novel in the back of a tattoo shop allows one certain liberties. When I can literally go from hurting someone to writing in just a few minutes, some of that mess is going to spill onto the page.

There is another side to that though, I have long been a curmudgeon of other writers getting aspects about body modification wrong. It's an industry just like anything else, and if you want your character to be modified, the onus is on the writer to get these aspects correct. Regrettably, most do not. Joe Hill is a good example of an author who has largely done right by modification.

What were your favorite books growing up?
I loved, and still love, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, and Catcher in the Rye. As I got older I deviated into the adult section of the library, and found much love for the works of Stephen King and Andrew Vachss, among many other heavy hitters of horror and crime fiction, such as Ed McBain, Clive Barker, and Richard Stark.

What are you reading right now?
Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell, Crimes in Indiana by Frank Bill, and The Boar by Joe R. Lansdale. Thus far, they are all fantastic.

Elayne Angel - Piercing Artist - Author of The Piercing Bible

What book would you like to read again for the very first time?
After much deliberation, the field has been narrowed to two. The Shining by Stephen King is one of the best modern horror novels ever written, and I would love to relive the growing sense of dread that comes from the first reading. I can easily recall my first time, long after bedtime and using the red light from a clock to make the words appear from the darkness, the awful bleakness of the story permeating the piled blankets and forgotten safety of my bedroom. The other pick is To Kill a Mockingbird, it is in my opinion, probably the best book ever written, and utterly timeless thus far.

Is there are book or author you like to convince people to read?
A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin. I have never been much of a fantasy reader, but these books are amazing, and if you've held off on reading them so far, there's no time like the present.

Cats or Dogs?
Cats, though as our family has recently been dealing with a cat named Stanley who has an aversion to litter boxes, I think I prefer pets I can visit.

Any plans for a future book?
My most recent manuscript was finished in late October, and the working title is Blood Caked Bones.  It is quite a bit different than anything else that I have written, and I have very high hopes for it.

Thanks to Aric for writing a great book and sharing his thoughts with me and, to echo him, if you haven't read the George R.R. Martin books there's no time like the present.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review - A Good and Useful Hurt by Aric Davis

Synopsis:  Mike is a tattoo artist running his own shop, and Deb is the piercing artist he hires to round out his studio's motley crew of four. The last either expects is romance, but that's what they get as they follow their off-kilter careers and love lives into complete and total disaster. When Mike follows a growing trend and tattoos the ashes of deceased loved ones into several customers' tattoos, he has no idea that it will one day provide the solution and solace he will sorely need.

And when the life of a serial killer tragically collides with the lives in the tattoo shop, Mike and Deb will stop at nothing in their quest for revenge, even if it means stepping outside the known boundaries of life and death. Ink that is full of crematory ashes, a sociopathic killer, and pain in its rawest form - this is going to hurt.

When the hope of redemption runs headlong into the dark side of life's chaos, we are left with one of the most haunting thrillers in recent memory. A Good and Useful Hurt delivers the bittersweet essence of life with the sting of a needle in skin.

First LineFuck art, this is war.

Random QuoteDeb left the table for the bathroom.  She left the door open, and on the bathroom floor Mike could see Sid's ruined corpse grinning at him through broken teeth and two eyes pushed almost out of their sockets.  He could smell the gunpowder as Deb stepped into view, naked, turned on the show, stepped inside, and rotated toward him on the other side of the glass door.  On the floor, that body was shifting slightly as he relaxed muscles let her head and torso slide to the floor.  The sat limp in Sid's right hand.

Review:  One of the best things about being an established blogger is that you get to read new books from authors you might not have known about otherwise.  A Good and Useful Hurt was one of those kinds of books for me.

Honestly, it kind of blew me away and I didn't expect that.  I accepted the book for review because Aric Davis is a body piercer and is covered with tattoos.  Since I have many piercings and tattoos, I wanted to read what he'd written, particularly because of the body modification element.  I wondered if he could write about what that's all about because it's not necessarily about getting a tattoo of a butterfly on your ass to make your boyfriend happy.

Magnun Tattooing, Grand Rapids, MI (image source)
This is the tattoo shop in my head
Happily, Mr. Davis does his best writing as he talks about the spiritual side of body modification - the memorial tattoos with ashes in them, the extreme piercings with a significance to the wearer and sometimes to a relationship, the energy exchange that occurs between client and artist, and the sharp difference between tattoos and art that happens to be on your body.  For someone who's never been into these kinds of spiritual practices it should be an eyeopener.

Turns out the story is great, too!  It manages to combine all sorts of unusual elements into a great story that I could not stop reading.  I was very attached to the characters and I wanted to know how things turned out for them.

Mr. Davis has a great imagination and writes clear and honest prose, placing a tattoo shop at the center of his mystery.  Best of all, the tattoo shop is a place you'd like to be filled with people you'd like to hang out with even though they might look weird and scary to you.  For me it was a place I'd like to get tattooed.

Wonderful book and well worth reading even if (especially if) some of the subject matter is foreign to you.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a great interview with the author!

Publishing Information:  47North - February 12, 2010

Format:  Paperback

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy received from the author's literary publicity agency for review

Rating:  ☆☆☆☆

Reading Challenges:  Mystery and Suspense Challenge

Monday, February 20, 2012

In My Mailbox Monday

Sheet of Stamps, Exhibition Souvenir, London Festival of Stamps 2010
(image source)
In February, Mailbox Monday is hosted by DCMetroreader at Metroreader. 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 Blue Monday by Nicci French, set in London so rather than yet another mailbox, I thought I'd look for another British stamp.

It's been a couple of weeks since I participated so I have some things to share:

Printed Matter
All from publishing sources

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye.  1845. New York City forms its first police force. The great potato famine hits Ireland. These two seemingly disparate events will change New York City. Forever. Timothy Wilde tends bar near the Exchange, fantasizing about the day he has enough money to win the girl of his dreams. But when his dreams literally incinerate in a fire devastating downtown Manhattan, he finds himself disfigured, unemployed, and homeless. His older brother obtains Timothy a job in the newly minted NYPD, but he is highly skeptical of this new "police force." And he is less than thrilled that his new beat is the notoriously down-and-out Sixth Ward-at the border of Five Points, the world's most notorious slum.

The Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner.  In West Akron, there lived a reclusive elderly man who always wore mittens, even in July. He had no friends and no family; all over town, he was known only as the Man from Primrose Lane. And on a summer day in 2008, someone murdered him. Four years later, David Neff is a broken man. The bestselling author of a true-crime book about an Ohio serial killer, Neff went into exile after his wife’s inexplicable suicide. That is, until an unexpected visit from an old friend introduces him to the strange mystery of “the man with a thousand mittens.” Soon Neff finds himself drawn back into a world he thought he had left behind forever. But the closer he gets to uncovering the true identity of the Man from Primrose Lane, the more he begins to understand the dangerous power of his own obsessions and how they may be connected to the deaths of both his beloved wife and the old hermit.

Kindle Books
I bought for myself

The Westies:  Inside New York's Irish Mob by T.J. English.  Even among the Mob, the Westies were feared. Out of a partnership between two sadistic thugs, James Coonan and Mickey Featherstone, the gang rose out of the inferno of Hell's Kitchen, a decaying tenderloin slice of New York City's West Side. They became the most notorious gang in the history of organized crime, excelling in extortion, numbers running, loansharking, and drug peddling. Upping the ante on depravity, their specialty was execution by dismemberment. Though never numbering more than a dozen members, their reign lasted for almost twenty years-until their own violent natures got the best of them, precipitating a downfall that would become as infamous as their notorious ascension into the annals of crime.

Kindle Books
From publishing sources, including NetGalley

Last Call for the Living by Peter Farris.  For bank teller Charlie Colquitt it was just another Saturday. For Hobe Hicklin, an ex-con with nothing to lose, it was just another score. For Hobe's drug-addled, sex-crazed girlfriend, it was just more lust, violence, and drugs. But in this gripping narrative, nothing is as it seems.  Hicklin's first mistake was double-crossing his partners in the Aryan Brotherhood. His second mistake was taking a hostage. But he and Charlie can hide out for only so long in the mountains of north Georgia before the sins of Hicklin's past catch up to them.  Hot on Hicklin's trail are a pair of ruthless Brotherhood soldiers, ready to burn a path of murder and mayhem to get their evenge. GBI Special Agent Sallie Crews and Sheriff Tommy Lang catch the case, themselves no strangers to the evil men are capable of. Soon Crews is making some dangerous connections, while for the hard-drinking, despondent Lang, rescuing Charlie Colquitt might be the key to personal salvation.

Blue Monday by Nicci French.  Frieda Klein is a solitary, incisive psychotherapist who spends her sleepless nights walking along the ancient rivers that have been forced underground in modern London. She believes that the world is a messy, uncontrollable place, but what we can control is what is inside our heads. This attitude is reflected in her own life, which is an austere one of refuge, personal integrity, and order. The abduction of five-year-old Matthew Farraday provokes a national outcry and a desperate police hunt. And when his face is splashed over the newspapers, Frieda cannot ignore the coincidence: one of her patients has been having dreams in which he has a hunger for a child. A red-haired child he can describe in perfect detail, a child the spitting image of Matthew. She finds herself in the center of the investigation, serving as the reluctant sidekick of the chief inspector.

The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long.  The trees swallowed her brother whole. And Jenny was there to see it. Years later, when she returns to the woods where Tom was taken to say good-bye at last, she finds herself lured into a world where stunning beauty masks the most treacherous of evils, and strange and dangerous creatures await—creatures who seem to consider her the threat. Among them is Jack, mercurial and magnetic, with allegiances that shift as much as his moods. Determined to find her brother, with or without Jack’s help, Jenny struggles to navigate a faerie world where nothing is what it seems, no one is who they say, and she’s faced with a choice between salvation or sacrifice—and not just her own.

Dark Magic by James Swain.  Peter Warlock is a magician with a dark secret. Every night, he amazes audiences at his private theater in New York, where he performs feats that boggle the imagination. But his day job is just a cover for his otherworldly pursuits: Peter is a member of an underground group of psychics who gaze into the future to help prevent crimes.  No one, not even his live-in girlfriend, knows the truth about Peter—until the séance when he foresees an unspeakable act of violence that will devastate the city. As Peter and his friends rush to prevent tragedy, Peter discovers that a shadowy cult of evil psychics, the Order of Astrum, know all about his abilities. They are hunting him and his fellow psychics down, one by one, determined to silence them forever.

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner.  Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an English-as-a-second-language class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale, or the perfect illusion from his treasured Magician’s Almanac, but among the many truths to be discovered in Haley Tanner’s wondrous debut is that happily ever after is never a foregone conclusion.  One day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav and his family’s lives as if by a cruel magic trick. For the next seven years, Vaclav says goodnight to Lena without fail, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena’s seventeenth birthday he finds out

What Dies in Summer by Tom Wright.  “I did what I did, and that’s on me.” From that tantalizing first sentence, Tom Wright sweeps us up in a tale of lost innocence. Jim has a touch of the Sight. It’s nothing too spooky and generally useless, at least until the summer his cousin L.A. moves in with him and their grandmother. When Jim and L.A. discover the body of a girl, brutally raped and murdered in a field, an investigation begins that will put both their lives in danger.

Kindle Books
From the author

The Summer Set by Jay Province.  In the summer of 1956 two teenagers rescue a drowning woman from the Susquehanna’s turbulent waters, and their predictable lives suddenly veer towards a deadly detour. Shadowy men in black cars start tracking their every movement. A tall foreboding man clutching a snake-headed staff and chain-smoking through a hole in his throat seeks their names. Fourteen year-old catcher Peter 'Chumbucket' Miller and his best friend pitcher Mike DeSorcier begin the summer on a mission to capture the World Series championship of their youth baseball league. Spying on a league meeting from a sweltering attic perch they uncover a group of extra-dimensional beings infiltrating the league. During their breathless escape, the boys discover two things: they are in mountains of trouble and they need help. Assistance (and more trouble) arrives in the form of two daring and mystifying girls – the unusual Karen Croft and the beautiful Jo Munro. Together, the teens must solve the mystery of the Noqumiut before a fateful August lunar eclipse.

Kindle Books
Bought for myself

The Burning Soul by John Connolly.  Randall Haight has a secret: when he was a teenager, he and his friend killed a 14-year-old girl. Randall did his time and built a new life in the small Maine town of Pastor's Bay, but somebody has discovered the truth about Randall. He is being tormented by anonymous messages, haunting reminders of his past crime, and he wants private detective Charlie Parker to make it stop. But another 14-year-old girl has gone missing, this time from Pastor's Bay, and the missing girl's family has its own secrets to protect. Now Parker must unravel a web of deceit involving the police, the FBI, a doomed mobster named Tommy Morris, and Randall Haight himself. Because Randall Haight is telling lies ...

The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke.  James Lee Burke's eagerly awaited new novel finds Detective Dave Robicheaux back in New Iberia, Louisiana, and embroiled in the most harrowing and dangerous case of his career. Seven young women in neighboring Jefferson Davis Parish have been brutally murdered. While the crimes have all the telltale signs of a serial killer, the death of Bernadette Latiolais, a high school honor student, doesn't fit: she is not the kind of hapless and marginalized victim psychopaths usually prey upon. Robicheaux and his best friend, Clete Purcel, confront Herman Stanga, a notorious pimp and crack dealer whom both men despise. When Stanga turns up dead shortly after a fierce beating by Purcel, in front of numerous witnesses, the case takes a nasty turn, and Clete's career and life are hanging by threads over the abyss. Adding to Robicheaux's troubles is the matter of his daughter, Alafair, on leave from Stanford Law to put the finishing touches on her novel. Her literary pursuit has led her into the arms of Kermit Abelard, celebrated novelist and scion of a once prominent Louisiana family whose fortunes are slowly sinking into the corruption of Louisiana's subculture. Abelard's association with bestselling ex-convict author Robert Weingart, a man who uses and discards people like Kleenex, causes Robicheaux to fear that Alafair might be destroyed by the man she loves. As his daughter seems to drift away from him, he wonders if he has become a victim of his own paranoia. But as usual, Robicheaux's instincts are proven correct and he finds himself dealing with a level of evil that is greater than any enemy he has confronted in the past.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Let's Talk about Chocolate and Orange Mousse

Elizabeth David (image source)
I'm currently winding my way through French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David.  Although I'm definitely reading it like a novel/food porn, there's some great stuff to cook in it.  Since it's Sunday and for us (my husband and I), Sunday means breakfast out somewhere - either a diner where we read the paper and get refills on coffee, or somewhere nicer with a fancier brunch (I'm fond of the lemon-ricotta pancakes with lemon curd).

With so many tasty oranges out there, I thought I'd share Ms. David's thoughts on Mousse au Chocolat a L'Orange (Chocolate and Orange Mousse):

Chocolate Mousse (image source)
Nearly everyone knows and appreciates the old and reliable formula for a chocolate mousse - 4 yolks beaten in 4 oz. of melted bitter chocolate, and the 4 whipped white folded in.  Here is a slightly different version, its faint orange flavour giving it originality.

Break 4 oz. of good quality bitter chocolate into squares and put in a fireproof dish in a low oven.  When the chocolate is soft, after a few minutes, take it from the oven, stir in 4 well-beaten yolks, then 1 oz. of softened butter, then the juice of 1 orange.  Use a Seville orange when in season; its aromatic flavour comes through better than that of the sweet orange.

Beat the 4 egg whites as for a soufflè and fold them into the chocolate mixture.  Pour into little posts, glasses or coffee-cups.  This quantity will fill 6.  Put in the refrigerator or a cool larder until ready to serve.

Should you have some orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Curaçao, add a spoonful in place of the same amount of the orange juice.

One note, this is an older recipe when people didn't need/want as much sweet.  Substitute semi-sweet chocolate for the bittersweet if you're looking for a sweeter mousse.

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