October 31, 2011

Triple Threats

So the furniture market got in the way of my posting last week. I was so busy I didn't even notice that my reviews of spooky books didn't post. Since today is Halloween, it's the perfect day to finish up my list of the best horror books with a triple threat of fear. Don't plan to sleep tonight.

Ghost Story
by Peter Straub
You can't reference the horror genre without talking about Stephen King and Peter Straub. This was actually one of the first books I read that gave me nightmares, and it still spooks me today.
First published in 1979, the story does have a few references that date it, but Ghost Story will pull you in with its twisty tale.
Milburn, NY, seems like a sleepy little town; the kind of place where people play bridge, where kids still walk home from school, and where a group of elderly friends meet to relive memories in their Chowder Club.
This idyllic setting hides darker truths, and a spook (literally) has returned to reveal them. Gregory Bate haunts the town, and the Chowder Club, offering retribution and revenge. As the winter sets in, there is more than a chill in the air as evil takes over. (1979 - Pocket Books)

Helter Skelter
by Vincent Bugliosi
Moving from fantasy to reality, Helter Skelter proves that nightmares can come true. Written by the prosecutor who originally tried the Manson Family, the book has become a classic in the true crime category.
Familiar to so many today, it's a tale that is still impossible to comprehend. Charles Manson, an outcast and a loner, creates his own "family" by manipulating young and disenfranchised runaways in the '60s. Using a lethal mix of drugs and psychology, Manson convinces his followers that an apocalyptic class and race war is about to begin, it just needs a catalyst. He meticulously plans a mass murder, but asks his family to carry it out. The rest is, of course, infamous. But Bugliosi does his best to explain what is really unexplainable, offering in-depth interviews and an insider look at the investigation and bizarre trials. (1970 - Bantam Doubleday) 

Dracula
by Bram Stoker
A 100-year novel still has the the ability to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. In fact, this book scared me so badly when I first read it that I slept with the sheets around my neck until I was in college (okay, maybe for a little longer after).
This was not the first story about vampires, but it is the book that defined the idea of the vampire for a solid century after its publication.
Originally penned with the title The Dead Un-Dead, Dracula tells its story through a series of letters and diary entries, detailing the story of a young lawyer who travels to a remote castle to provide advice to a Count Dracula. Jonathan Harker finds himself a prisoner of the count, and begins to suspect that evil deeds are being done. When Harker finally escapes back to England, he finds that Dracula has followed him and is targeting Harker's fiance Mina and her lovely young friend Lucy. (new edition - 2011 - Platinum Editions)

October 30, 2011

Who Ya Gonna Call?

The Exorcist
by William Blatty
There is no scarier book in the world than The Exorcist, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with a new edition. When I first read this book, it frightened me so much that I have still not seen the movie to this day. The book gave me enough awful images for a lifetime...I didn't need to see it on the screen too.
Author William Blatty has revamped his infamous storyline, adding new characters and passages. But the core remains the same: Young Regan begins to hear voices and suffer from nightmares after her parents' divorce, which seems at first to be related to the stress of the change. She claims, and others begin to believe, that she is possessed by the devil himself.
Blatty says this new edition is the version he always wanted to write, and the one he wants to be remembered for. He says he never really set out to terrify anyone, but really saw the book as a supernatural detective story. See his interview on the 40th anniversary book by clicking here. (Reissue in 2011 - Harper)

October 24, 2011

A Real Fright

Last week we reviewed spooky books, but this week it's all about the real frights, my list of five of the scariest books I've ever read.
Fear is a very personal thing. One person may hate spiders, when another can pick them up without a problem. My fears tend toward the real, rather than fantasy. So you may agree with some, but not with others.
Be sure to note the skulls at the bottom. They indicate the fright level, with one skull for a book that is slightly scary to four skulls for a book that should come with a warning for those with heart conditions.

The Stand 
by Stephen King
Ah, the master of frights, Mr. Stephen King. You knew he had to be on this list somewhere. To me, this is the scariest of his stories, because it could be only too real.
If your only idea about The Stand is from the Molly Ringwald and Gary Sinise miniseries, do yourself a favor and read the book instead.
The story begins with a very sick man escaping from a bio-lab. He crashes his car and dies, but not before infecting everyone near him with a horrible flu-like bug (think bird flu or the film Contagion).
In an very short time, just a few thousand people are left alive in the entire country. And, as with most extreme situations, some people handle it better than others, and two distinct groups emerge.
One is comprised of people who want to make the best of what they have left as they gather under the leadership of a mystical woman named Mother Abigail.The second group...well you can see where this is going. They find themselves under the spell of a sinister Randall Flagg in the almost-too-obvious Sin City.
Yes, it can be a bit over the top with the good vs. evil powerplays, but the core fear in this story is the very real chance that a superbug could be the end of the world as we know it. Do you feel fine? (1980 - Penguin Group)
 

October 21, 2011

The Story of a Haunting

Eva Moves the Furniture
by Margot Livesey
There is an old bit of Scottish folklore that says if you see a magpie on the windowsill it means imminent death. The myth became truth for Eva McEwen who was born in 1920 while a magpie perched outside the window. Soon after, Eva's mother dies and she is left to be raised by her father and her aunt Lily in the small Scottish town of Troon.
When she is six, Eva is visited by a woman and a young girl, and she soon discovers that no one else can see them. They become her boon "companions," as Eva calls them, only occasionally making themselves known to others when they move the furniture around her home or finish her chores in record time for her. Those odd occurrences only make Eva seem that much more fragile and strange to her real-life companions.
As Eva grows up, her relationship with the woman and child seems is no longer as easy for her to accept with childlike innocence. Are they guardian angels? After all, they saved her life twice. But sometimes they seem more like evil spirits, like when they cause her to lose her job and her boyfriend. As she explores the questions about her companions, she delves into the connection between death and life, religion and myth, and mother and child. (2002 - Picador)

October 20, 2011

Spooky Lives - and Deaths

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is a master of creating new realities out of fantasy, finding magic in the most mundane of worlds. My favorite of his many books, The Graveyard Book takes Kipling's Jungle Book and gives it an artful twist. In Gaiman's version, a young orphan named Nobody Owens is raised in a graveyard by a man who lives between the living world and the realm of the dead, with ghosts as his playmates, nurses, teachers, and companions.
As long as Bod (as he's known) stays within the walls of the graveyard, all is well. Because outside those walls, the sinister man who killed Bod's family is waiting to finish the job he started. This is a dark world, where one should be more afraid of the living than the dead, but Gaiman also adds his own lighthearted touch and humor.
This book is promoted as being a children's book, but like so many in that genre, the writing is rich and strong enough for any adult interested in good storytelling. (2010 - HarperCollins)

October 19, 2011

The Mysterious Circus

The Night Circus 
by Erin Morgenstern
Writing is a sleight of hand, a trick meant to captivate the reader. For some writers, the trick is just that, perhaps clever but not quite convincing.
In Erin Morgenstern's expert hands, however, the writing is true magic, transporting readers to a world where reality and fantasy live side by side.
Two young people are trained as magicians, knowing that they will have to duel against a formidable opponent. Celia's magic is tactile, using her mind to change and construct the physical realm. Marco's gift is the ability to manipulate others' perceptions and memories.
Together they are part of Le Cirque des Reves a gorgeous traveling show that arrives in cities and towns without warning. With a gorgeous backdrop of black and white, each tent offers wonders and magic that astound the guests. It is also the game board for the magicians' duel, every element constructed by Celia and Marco as individual steps toward an ultimate goal. The two young conjurers fall in love, even as they discover that they are in competition against each other in a game they cannot completely control.
Lyrical and lovely, The Night Circus had me spellbound from the first page, caught up in the stunning sights and sounds of the circus and its performers. (2011 - Knopf Doubleday)

October 18, 2011

Kooky Inventions

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick
It is a rare thing to find a book that refashions storytelling itself, but that's exactly what Brian Selznick did with Hugo Cabret.
Equal parts graphic novel, art book, mystery, fantasy, and even flip-book movie, the book tells the story of Hugo, an orphaned boy living in the walls of a Paris train station. His behind-the-scenes existence involves clock maintenance and the occasional swiped bit of food until he meets an unusual girl and a cantankerous shop owner. Then Hugo's world is turned upside down as secrets are revealed, toys come to life, and all is not as it seems (a perfect Halloween tale).
The bewitching book entices you with its drawings more than its words ― and there are very few words. Those simple, but compelling, pieces of art actually tell the story, pulling the reader (or should that be viewer?) very quickly through 500 pages.
A film version of the book is set for release on Nov. 23. The book must have been a boon to the movie's director, because the author practically storyboarded the entire thing from start to finish. This kooky and fabulous tale is an incredible work of art. (2007 - Scholastic)

October 17, 2011

Creepy Peculiar Children

I love autumn ― the fall leaves, the crisp air, and the witching hours. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, not because of the candy and the costumes, but for the anticipation of shivers up the spine.
This week, I will list five of my favorite spooky books. They aren't scary (we'll get to those next week), but are more like the Addams Family theme song ― creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky. First up a fabulously creepy book.
Be sure to note the skulls at the bottom. They indicate the fright level, with one skull for a book that is slightly scary to four skulls for a book that should come with a warning for those with heart conditions.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs
There is something inherently disturbing about Victorian photos, particularly those of children. Often dressed as adults, posed stiffly in all their black-and-white glory, they look both knowing and frightened. 
Given that photography was such a new medium, it was only a matter of time before someone started experimenting with it. Think of those famous forged fairy photos (wow, serious alliteration). 
Ransom Riggs took a stash of those old photos, many of them obviously staged but all of them quirky, and decided to tell a story built around them. And what a frightening tale it is.
When Jacob Portman's grandfather is horribly murdered, Jacob is the only witness to the crime...but he claims that monsters committed the murder. To help him recover from the tragedy, his family agrees to let him go to Wales, where Jacob hopes to find out more about his grandfather's strange childhood on a mysterious island at Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Be prepared for the hair to stand up on the back of your neck. (2011 - Quirk Books)

 (2 skulls for the photos alone ― they are truly scary)

October 14, 2011

Review and an Author's Recipe

My thanks to Mary Alice Monroe for providing me with a recipe to accompany this book review; and for giving me the inside scoop that her new novel Beach House Memories will be published in May! Scroll to the bottom of the post for more photos.

Review: The Butterfly's Daughter
by Mary Alice Monroe
From ancient Greek and Aztec myths to Christian and pagan beliefs, the butterfly has been an enduring symbol of transition, resurrection, the passage of time, and the soul. Anyone who has ever seen a migration of butterflies, with hundreds of them in flight, has felt that sense of awe and an appreciation of the journey they are undertaking.
The Butterfly's Daughter uses those very themes and even a journey to illustrate a story of love, loss, and family.
When Luz Avila's grandmother is inspired to buy an old VW bug, Luz wonders if the older woman has lost her mind.
Things seem even more out of kilter when her grandmother insists that the two of them must journey to Mexico, following the path of the migrating monarch butterflies, and that they must arrive by Nov. 1, the Day of the Dead. Luz refuses to give in to what she considers a crazy scheme, but after her grandmother's death Luz's guilt forces her to take the trip so she can spread her grandmother's ashes at the very place where generations of Avila women, and the butterflies, have gathered in the Mexican sun. Luz is also compelled by the thought that her mother Mariposa, who the family believed died years ago, might be alive.
Along the way, Luz is joined by other women who have their own journeys to make, both emotionally and physically. Each of them is in search of a transformation of sorts, and each stop on their trip offers its own hidden lessons.
Mary Alice Monroe's work is often described as environmental fiction, but I think that almost does it a disservice. The Butterfly's Daughter is about the migration of monarchs, yes, but the true heart of the book is an examination of the spirit that ties us all, whether through friendship or family. (2011 - Gallery Books)

Author Recipe: Refritos
from Mary Alice Monroe
In a first for Read.Eat.Think., I asked the author of today's featured book to send me one of her favorite recipes, one that would fit The Butterfly's Daughter. I was so pleased that Mary Alice Monroe agreed, and sent me a recipe that she makes often for her family, friends, and her own book club in South Carolina. My test kitchen (aka my mom) reports that this is particularly delicious served in tortillas. Can't wait to make it myself!
Mary Alice Monroe
2 cups raw pinto beans
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
3 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 cup minced green pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon coriander (optional)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Cook beans (over-cooking is desirable). Reduce liquid. Mash beans with a potato masher. Heat oil in skillet. Add onions, garlic, and peppers and cook till translucent. Add cumin, salt, and pepper at the beginning of cooking. Add mashed beans to veggies and seasoning, and mix well. If too soupy, may be reduced over low heat at this point. Serve hot. Feeds 4-6 people.
Mary Alice Monroe releasing a butterfly in her yard.

October 13, 2011

A Slip of the Lip

The National Book Award finalists were announced yesterday (I told you it was award season). But for the first time in 62 years, there will be 21 nominees instead of 20.
In a live broadcast, the announcer said that the book Shine by Laura Myracle would be a nominee in the Young People's Literature category. However, the book that was supposed to be announced was Chime by Franny Billingsley. Oops.
In a classy move by the the National Book Foundation, however, both books are going to included as finalists in that category. Good choice.
There are some terrific books in each of the four categories, but there is no way I'll be able to read them all before the Nov. 16 awards dinner in New York. At the very least, I'm going to get Radioactive by Lauren Redniss. It's the story of Marie and Pierre Curie (and yes, Aana, you will get a copy).
Here is the full list of nominees in case you want to read them all in the next month:

Fiction
The Sojourn, by Andrew Krivak
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka
Binocular Vision, by Edith Pearlman
Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward

Non-Fiction
The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, by Deborah Baker
Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution, by Mary Gabriel
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable
Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, by Lauren Redniss

Poetry
Head Off & Split, Nikky Finney
The Chameleon Couch, Yusef Komunyakaa
Double Shadow, by Carl Phillips
Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, by Adrienne Rich
Devotions, by Bruce Smith

Young People's Literature
Chime, by Franny Billingsley
My Name Is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
Flesh and Blood So Cheap, by Albert Marrin
Shine, by Lauren Myracle
Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt

October 12, 2011

My Pick for the Man Booker Prize

Pigeon English
by Stephen Kelman
When adults write in the voice of a child, it can come across as either patronizing or precious. Pigeon English, my pick for the Man Booker Prize, avoids either pitfall and instead captures all the innocence and cleverness of a young boy named Harrison, an 11-year-old Ghanaian refugee who lives in a housing estate in England (what we would call public housing).
Harri's voice is compelling and infectious as he tells his story with the patois of Africa mixed with the street slang of south London. After emigrating to his new home, Harri tries to decipher the strange surroundings. Some things are unfamiliar, like bullies, gangs, very tall buildings, and ultra-cool cell phones. Other things are only too familiar, like the bloodshed he witnesses after a teenager in his council estate is killed, which reminds him of the war at home.
Just like any other boy, Harri is a little frightened by the killing, but is also fascinated. He and his best friend decide that they will investigate and discover the killer, just like the TV show CSI.
Along the way, Harri talks to his guardian angel of sorts, a pigeon that lives in his neighborhood and watches him as he runs through the estate, dreams of being a superhero, and argues with his friends about "dope fine" trainers.
Kelman's writing often comes close to poetic, particularly when he describes Harri in the rain, or his complicated relationship with God. It's the type of writing that literally moved me to tears more than once.
But there is also a lot of gross-out humor, of the type that appeals to young boys, and many adults too. I will warn you that there also are some very adult subjects addressed, just as there are for too many children today, and the language can be rough-and-tumble, just like Harri's neighborhood.
But more than anything, this is the story of a young man right on the precipice of boyhood and manhood, of right and wrong, of home and away. (2011 - Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

October 11, 2011

Take It or Leave It

The Man Booker Prize will be awarded one week from today in England. It is presented to "the best novel of the year by a citizen of the United Kingdom." Well that's just a recipe for a fight.
Every literary prize, and prize winner, seems to spark fierce debate. Use the news about the Nobel Prize for literature this year as the perfect example.
But what was different about the announcement of this year's shortlist (aka nominees), was the quote from the judging panel's chair Stella Rimington. In true no-nonsense Brit fashion, she told the world to "take it or leave it." I love that. She followed that up with the comment that "there have been weirder judges than me." Oh Dame Stella, I am now a fan.
There are six books on the Man Booker Prize shortlist:
  • The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
  • Jamrach's Menagerie, by Carol Birch
  • The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt
  • Half Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan
  • Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman
  • Snowdrops, by A.D. Miller (see my review here)
The money seems to be on Barnes, who has been nominated for the Man Booker Prize three times before and is one of Britain's most beloved writers. At the very least, being on the shortlist has definitely been beneficial to all of the nominees. According to Bookseller, the books on the list have broken sales records since the announcement (click here for the story).
I do have a favorite on the list. Tune in tomorrow for a review of the book that gets my vote  take it or leave it.

October 10, 2011

Diamond (Dagger) Davis

With a book blog, the inevitable question I get is "Who is your favorite author?" That's an impossible question to answer of course, but I do have my own shortlist of favorites, including this year's CWA Diamond Dagger award winner, Lindsey Davis.
The prolific British writer has penned 20 books in her famous Falco series of mysteries. Marcus Didius Falco is a former Roman soldier who is makes his living as an informer for the emperor Vespasian. He is in love with senator's daughter Helena, which is frowned upon in good Roman society, he has a very extended and exasperating family, and he often finds himself on the wrong side of a fist.
Lindsey Davis has a knack for mixing humor, mystery, and history into the perfect storytelling recipe. Her characters are real enough that I am half in love with Falco myself, and I am sure Helena and I could be best friends. I'm so protective of my relationship with the characters that I feel a sense of ownership. Here's an example ― on a flight from China, I was astonished to see an absolutely awful film made in Australia, featuring a mish-mash of Falco storylines, and showcasing some of the worst acting in the history of acting. I was appalled that anyone would treat Falco that way. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I shot off an email to Lindsey Davis, telling her how horrified I was on her behalf. Her response told me that she had no control over that particular film, but that she appreciated my outrage. HA!
And that's the key, really, of a good author. Anyone can tell a story, but not everyone can convince you that it's all real. To sustain that through 20 books, with each character growing in depth and each story better than the last, is an almost unbelievable feat.
I was lucky enough to hear Lindsey Davis speak at the 2008 Malice Domestic event in Maryland, and to meet her afterward. Luckily, she was just as I expected ― funny, wry, smart, and interesting. I had her sign my favorite of the Falco mysteries, The Iron Hand of Mars, which is also ranked #5 on her own website by her fans.
She asked me why I chose to have her sign that particular book, and I told her it was the scene with the bull that made it one of my favorites, which caused us both to giggle. "Ah, yes, the bull. A good character all around," she said. No, I won't tell you what exactly the bull is all about ― you need to read the book. But trust me, you will laugh out loud.
If you do decide to read the Falco series (and you must), begin with Silver Pigs, the first in the series. I want you to meet Falco, Helena, Petronius, Junilla Tacita, and all the rest at the very beginning so you can watch them as they themselves meet, argue, laugh, grow, love, and live through the entire series.
For more, go to Lindsey Davis's official website by clicking here.
Other Recommended Books by Lindsey Davis: Course of Honor (fantastic), and the entire Falco series.

October 7, 2011

CWA Dagger Award Winners

The latest news out of London from the Crime Writers Association's Dagger Awards:
  • Winner of the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award for best new author is S.J. Watson for Before I Go to Sleep.
  • Winner of the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller is Steve Hamilton for The Lock Artist (see my review by clicking here).
  • And finally....the winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award is Tom Franklin for Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Absolutely the right choice in my opinion! See my review by clicking here.

October 6, 2011

CWA Nominee - End of the Wasp Season

How in the world have I not heard about Denise Mina?
Her book, The End of the Wasp Season is the final nominee on the CWA Gold Dagger shortlist that I'm reviewing this week, and it also happens to end a male-dominated list since it offers both a female writer and a female protagonist.
And what a protagonist  Detective Inspector Alex Morrow is based in Glasgow and is five months pregnant with twins. She's battling an overbearing boss, a resentful staff, her crook of a brother, and her past.
Oh, and there's also the crime at the heart of the book.
A young woman is beaten beyond recognition at her home, and there are plenty of clues left behind for Morrow and her team to investigate, meaning that the job probably wasn't a professional one. When the squad finds stacks of money under the kitchen table as well, things don't seem quite as clear-cut as they first did.
This isn't one of those mysteries where you are kept guessing about "whodunnit," however; it's more of a why-did-they-do-it. Morrow's hunt is intertwined with the story of the killers, wealthy teens who have their own battle scars.
The End of the Wasp Season was just published last week here in the U.S., and I plan to search out Denise Mina's previous books as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, I'll wish her and the other CWA Gold Dagger nominees the best of luck! The winner will be announced tomorrow in London, so stay tuned. (2011 - Little Brown & Company)

Scottish Scones
Given the setting, these easy scones are a perfect combination with The End of the Wasp Season, preferably served with butter and jam.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
8 Tablespoons cold butter, chopped into bits
1/2 Tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Work butter into the flour with your fingers until the dough looks like coarse pellets. Stir in cranberries and zest. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix together the sour cream and egg, then pour into the flour mixture. Mix with a fork until the dough starts to clump together. Then use your hands to press the dough into a sticky ball. Place into a round cake pan that has been lined with parchment paper and sprayed lightly with baking spray. Press the dough to the edges of the pan so that it forms an even height and shape. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and cut into triangles to serve.

October 5, 2011

CWA Nominee - Crooked Letter

The third shortlisted book for the CWA Gold Dagger Awards is Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, which was also an Edgar Award nominee.
Franklin weaves a mesmerising tale of two childhood friends who take very different paths in rural Mississippi (hence the Crooked Letter title if you don't know what I mean, Google it).
Silas Jones leaves his impoverished youth behind thanks to his skill at sports, returning to his hometown as the local constable. Larry Ott isn't so lucky. On his one date in high school, the girl he took to the movies disappeared, never to be seen again. Without any proof that he was involved a crime, Larry is never charged, but he becomes an outcast and the person the town loves to hate. Now another girl has disappeared. When Larry is shot by an unknown attacker, Silas finds himself dredging up the past while sifting through the present evidence.
In Crooked Letter, Franklin steeps an intoxicating brew of friendship and menace, capturing the small-town rural South, where a mirage of shimmering heat and the drone of insects lulls you into a a false sense of security so you don't see the snake in the grass (or the mailbox).
The true heart of this fantastic book, though, resides in the characters, who are so vibrant that I find myself thinking about them weeks after finishing the book. (2011 - HarperCollins)

Honey Popcorn
When thinking of a snack to enjoy with Crooked Letter, I kept coming back to something with honey. Franklin's characters are right out of the rural South, where a honeyed drawl can hide the sting of painful words.
3/4 cup popcorn
2/3 cup honey
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 quarts popped popcorn
1 1/2 cups peanuts
Melt butter in large saucepan. Stir in honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and let boil for 5 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and soda. Place popcorn in a large bowl, then pour syrup over popcorn. Add peanuts and stir thoroughly. Turn onto 2 greased baking sheets. Bake at 250 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes with a spatula. Remove from oven and cool before serving. (Recipe from the National Honey Board)

October 4, 2011

CWA Nominee - The Lock Artist

The second in my series of CWA Gold Dagger Award reviews is for The Lock Artist, a book that is also shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, which is specifically for thriller/adventure novels. The book also has won The Edgar Award for Best Novel of the Year. Accolades like that give a book a lot to live up to, but that isn't a problem for author Steve Hamilton.
Michael Smith is a young man with a past, a very traumatic past. At the age of 8, he became an unwilling celebrity, alternately named in the press as the Miracle Boy, the Boy Wonder, or the Terror Tyke.
The event that gave him those monikers also left him speechless...literally. Though he no longer speaks, Michael has developed his senses of touch and hearing to such a fine point that they provide him with a career path no high school counselor would recommend.
Now a freelance lock picker and safe cracker, he finds love, money, and a group of people that are as close to friends as he's ever had. As Michael's story unfolds, the tumblers begin to tick over on the locks that hold the secrets to his past.
Hamilton gives The Lock Artist a fast pace, heightening the suspense by dropping back a few years to offer clues to Michael's childhood, and then shooting forward again to his nerve-wracking present. It's a wild ride with a damaged young man that wants desperately to escape. (2011 - St. Martin's Press)

Quick Crackers
These aren't necessarily the healthiest snack, but then Michael's life in The Lock Artist isn't all that healthy, either. But the crackers are really good and can be eaten on the run, which fits the book perfectly.
1 12-oz. package of oyster crackers
1 1-oz. package of Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Whisk together the seasonings with the dressing packet and the oil. Add the crackers and then toss until the crackers are evenly coated. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven, stir them and then bake another 10 minutes. (Recipe from Hidden Valley dressing packet)

October 3, 2011

CWA Nominee - Snowdrops

This week I'm reviewing the four nominees for the Crime Writers Association's Gold Dagger Award, which will be announced on Oct. 7. First up is a book that is also nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the UK's award for the best novel of the year. That award will be announced on Oct. 18.
And don't think I've forgotten the food...a suggested recipe for Snowdrops is listed below.

Nominee: Snowdrops
by A.D. Miller
We all have times in our lives when we convince ourselves that things are exactly as they appear, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. When Nick Platt meets two gorgeous young women in the Moscow metro, he finds himself in just that situation.
A British lawyer trying to untangle the strange Russian mix of corporate law and disorder, Nick is drawn into the lives of the two sisters. Masha and Katya are vulnerable, lovely, and almost naive...or so they seem. Nick begins to fall hard for Masha and believes that she loves him, too. So when she asks him for a small favor he is quick to oblige.
The true key to this novel (and it's best quality as well) is the evocative description of modern-day Moscow, bringing the city to life on the page. The winter snows deepen the mystery, blanketing the city in velvety pure white, hiding the ugliness of Russian life while covering a few truths. Miller does such a good job of describing the bitter cold of a Moscow winter that I felt the same shiver up the spine that I get when I watch Dr. Zhivago.
As spring approaches, the snows melt and many things are revealed, giving Nick a jolt of reality he doesn't necessarily want. Moscow and the girls begin to give up their secrets, some of which are the "snowdrops" from the title. That's the Russian term for bodies that are uncovered in the spring melt every year.
My only quibble with this book is that I don't like the trick of having the narrator speak to a supposed fiancee. It's distracting and the only false note in Snowdrops. (2011 - Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

Hot Spiced Wine
There are a lot of variations on mulled wine recipes. I received this one years ago from my aunt, and modified it to fit my taste. It is perfect for sipping while reading Snowdrops. When I say this book really captures the feeling of a Moscow winter, I'm not kidding.
2 bottles of red wine
2 cups orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
12 cloves
5 whole allspice
3/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
Combine all in a pot. Bring to a boil and then lower to simmer. Strain to serve.