May 30, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Hanalei, Kauai

This beachfront house is just down the road from the lot that I featured last Wednesday. It's all about location!

May 27, 2012

Weeknight Bolognese

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I love pasta and was looking for something quick and easy to throw together after a long day at work. Tyler Florence has a delicious recipe for bolognese, but it's fairly involved and one that I'd rather make on a cold, rainy weekend. However, Ina Garten's recipe from Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That? was just what I had in mind.

She writes:

Everyone needs a quick dinner they can throw together during the week. Bolognese is a thick meat sauce that is a staple of northern Italy. It's always made with beef, tomatoes, and cream and I've added oregano, red pepper flakes, and basil to give it lots of flavor. It's the perfect stick-to-your-ribs dinner on a cold night.

I say it's perfect for any night. Even a hot summer night!

Weeknight Bolognese 

2 Tbsp. good olive oil, plus extra to cook the pasta
1 lb. lean ground sirloin
4 tsp. minced garlic (4 cloves)
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups dry red wine, divided
1-28 oz.  can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 lb. dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box. 

While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.

Serves 4 to 5

My Notes:

Since I used ground chuck instead of lean sirloin, it wasn't necessary to use the olive oil to brown the meat. After it finished cooking, I drained the fat before adding the spices.

I used a medium-sized stockpot rather than a skillet.

Rather than open a can of tomato paste for just a couple of tablespoons, I use this:

Even though it's double concentrated, I still use the specified amount.

I reduced the amount of salt and pepper by half and red pepper flakes.

I forgot to toss the sauce with the Parmesan and pasta before serving, but it didn't matter. My husband and I both loved the flavor of this bolognese, so I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunities to try it Ina's way.

May 19, 2012

Gone Girl

2012 Crown Publishers
Finished 5/6/2012
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)
ARC - Due for release on June 5, 2012

I waited for the police first in the kitchen, but the acrid smell of the burnt teakettle was curling up in the back of my throat, underscoring my need to retch, so I drifted out on the front porch, sat on the top stair, and willed myself to be calm. I kept trying Amy’s cell, and it kept going to voice mail, that quick-clip cadence swearing she’d phone right back. Amy always phoned right back. It had been three hours, and I’d left five messages, and Amy had not phoned back.

I didn’t expect her to. I’d tell the police: Amy would never have left the house with the teakettle on. Or the door open. Or anything waiting to be ironed. The woman got shit done, and she was not one to abandon a project (say, her fixer-upper husband, for instance), even if she decided she didn’t like it. She’d made a grim figure on the Fiji beach during our two-week honeymoon, battling her way through a million mystical pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, casting pissy glances at me as I devoured thriller after thriller. Since our move back to Missouri, the loss of her job, her life had revolved (devolved?) around the completion of endless tiny, inconsequential projects. The dress would have been ironed.

Publisher’s Blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Gillian Flynn’s terrifying masterpiece of a marriage gone wrong will leave you breathless. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife, Amy, disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi. Under pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy serves up an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. But even though Nick might be weak and he might be bitter—is he really a killer?

With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that proves she is not only at the peak of her powers but also one of the hottest writers around.

“The real deal; a sharp, acerbic, and compelling storyteller with a knack for the macabre.” ~ Stephen King

Wow!! I could not put this book down! 415 pages (uncorrected ARC) of riveting dialogue and masterful plotting and it simply wasn’t long enough. I had just finished Mo Hayder’s amazing thriller, Gone, and decided to keep the momentum going and dove straight back into another gripping mystery. As I read, I kept telling my husband, “You have to read this as soon as I finish! It’s so good!”

I’ve been aware of Gillian Flynn’s novels, but until the ARC landed in my lap (and given Joy’s high praise to nudge me to read it sooner than later), I’d never felt compelled to give her books a try. Apparently, I’ve been missing out on an amazing writer. Stephen King wrote the following praise for Flynn’s earlier thriller, Sharp Objects:

To say this is a terrific debut novel is really too mild. I haven’t read such a relentlessly creepy family saga since John Farris’s All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By, and that was thirty years ago, give or take. Sharp Objects isn’t one of those scare-and-retreat books; its effect is cumulative. I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them. Then, after the lights were out, the story just stayed there in my head, coiled and hissing, like a snake in a cave. An admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights.

This is one of those books that is almost impossible to discuss without giving away any spoilers. Remember when you watched The Sixth Sense, but couldn’t discuss it with anyone who hadn’t seen the film? Or when you’d read Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island and wanted to find someone, anyone, to talk to, comparing notes about its amazing dénouement? Well, this is another story with which I’ll struggle when I attempt to hand-sell copies when it hits the shelves on June 5th. (And, no, I do not believe I’ve given anything away by citing those two examples.)

Since I can’t really discuss the plot in depth, how about I share a few passages?

Do not blame me for this particular grievance, Amy. The Missouri Grievance. Blame the economy, blame bad luck, blame my parents, blame your parents, blame the Internet, blame people who use the Internet. I used to be a writer. I was a writer who wrote about TV and movies and books. Back when people read things on paper, back when anyone cared about what I thought. I’d arrived in New York in the late ‘90s, the last gasp of the glory days, although no one knew it then. New York was packed with writers, real writers, because there were magazines, real magazines, loads of them. This was back when the Internet was still some exotic pet kept in the corner of the publishing world—throw some kibble at it, watch it dance on its little leash, oh quite cute, it definitely won’t kill us in the night. Think about it: a time when newly graduated college kids could come to New York and get paid to write. We had no clue that we were embarking on careers that would vanish within a decade.

I had a job for eleven years and then I didn’t, it was that fast. All around the country, magazines began shuttering, succumbing to a sudden infection brought on by the busted economy. Writers (my kind of writers: aspiring novelists, ruminative thinkers, people whose brains didn’t work quick enough to blog or link or tweet, basically old, stubborn blowhards) were through. We were like women’s hat makers or buggy-whip manufacturers: Our time was done.


And then suddenly there was a date [for a housewarming], and the date was yesterday, and Dunne family and friends were shaking off the October drizzle from umbrellas and carefully, conscientiously wiping their feet on the floor mat Maureen had brought for us that morning. The rug says: All Are Friends Who Enter Here. It is from Costco. I have learned about bulk shopping in my four weeks as a Mississippi River resident. Republicans go to Sam’s Club, Democrats go to Costco. But everyone buys bulk because—unlike Manhattanites—they all have space to store twenty-four jars of sweet pickles. And—unlike Manhattanites—they all have uses for twenty-four jars of sweet pickles. (No gathering is complete without a lazy Susan full of pickles and Spanish olives right from the jar. And a salt lick.)

I set the scene: It is one of those big-smelling days, when people bring the outdoors in with them, the scent of rain on their sleeves, in their hair. The older women—Maureen’s friends—present tinfoiled food items in plastic, dishwasher-safe containers they will ask to be returned. And ask and ask. I know, now that I am supposed to wash out the containers and drop each of them back by their proper homes—a Ziploc carpool—but when I first came here, I was unaware of the protocol. I dutifully recycled all the plastic containers, and so I had to go buy all new ones. Maureen’s best friend, Vicky, immediately noticed her container was brand-new, store-bought, an imposter, and when I explained my confusion, she widened her eyes in amazement: So that’s how they do it in New York.

Joy (of Thoughts of Joy) wrote:

WOO HOO! This is my first "best read" of the year!...

Starting from the beginning, I was very intrigued. I wanted to know more and more and more. Once I reached close to the middle of the book, I couldn't put it down. Oh that was absolute heaven for me, as I don't get that feeling as often as I would like. The suspense and twists that were shared through the entries of Nick and Amy were so captivating that I had to keep reading. I loved discovering more about their warped, abnormal thoughts. That sounds a bit odd on my part, but their distorted views really kept me glued to their story.

You can be sure that Sharp Objects and Dark Places have been added to my summer reading list. As a matter of fact, I have a trip coming up in a couple of weeks and need something that will hold my attention on a few flights. Any recommendations as to which of these two to read first?

Final Thoughts: This was so entertaining that I’m actually considering the audio version sometime in the not so distant future. I’m adding Gillian Flynn to my list of favorite authors. Thank goodness she has a backlist!

The following interview was posted on Shelf Awareness, May 2012:

Gillian Flynn: Disturbing in a Most Unladylike Way

Gillian Flynn is the author of the bestselling Dark Places, which was a New Yorker Reviewers' Favorite, a Weekend Today Top Summer Read, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009 and a Chicago Tribune Favorite Fiction choice; and the Dagger Award-winning Sharp Objects, which was an Edgar nominee for Best First novel, a BookSense pick and a Barnes & Noble Discover selection. Her work has been published in 28 countries. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.

Gone Girl has at its heart a very dark portrait of a marriage. Where did you get the inspiration for this novel?

Hmm... Is it strange to say my husband? Probably, but I will anyway. My lovely, charming, sweet husband and I have been married for almost five years, and I was interested in delving into what an insane enterprise the whole thing can be. How potentially fraught. Because in some ways, marriage is a bit of a con. You present your best self, or even your third or fifth best self, to this person you love during those early years of courtship, but that's not actually the genuine you. It's the you that you'd really, really like to be but aren't. So you basically trick the person you love into marrying you, and then, after a while, the real you--the flawed, strange person you had hoped was perhaps "fixed" by this love--begins to surface. The potential for disaster is great. In the best case, you two are both revealed to be frauds at about the same level, and you love each other even more because of your "idiosyncrasies." (Isn't that the marital euphemism for "Holy smokes, my spouse is crazy"?) But the best-case scenario doesn't hold for every couple. What happens if the real people underneath the golden facades are really, really not meant to be together? What happens if they complete each other in the nastiest possible way?

What were the particular challenges you faced writing such a psychologically twisty story with so many curves and switchbacks? Did you ever find yourself caught up in the deceits of your characters?

Who was telling what lie when, and to whom, and why? I'm a big fan of unreliable narrators, because we are all unreliable narrators of our own self-mythologies. I liked playing with that idea here, and then adding intentional deceits and twists and turns. So it got complicated. I'm an obsessive maker of lists, notes, queries, timelines, all of which I write out longhand in a rather spidery, cramped style of handwriting. Then, because I am a slob and have no filing system, I tape all those random note cards and scraps of legal paper willy-nilly to the wall of my office: reminders of where I am in the story, or scenes I want to revisit, or facts I need to check, or inconsistencies I need to correct. By the end of writing Gone Girl, I had dozens of scraps of paper fluttering from my walls with scrawled notes that said things like: "But what about the Festival?! Boney MORONIE??? Where was Nick at 9 AM then? Mom dead? Crepes!" My office looked like the lair of a serial killer. A really weird serial killer.

Your characters, especially your female characters, are interesting, complicated, and richly three-dimensional, but they aren't always likeable. Do you consider it risky in some sense to present these characters to your readers?

I think likeability is overrated. You want your roommate to be likeable, you want your coworker to be likeable, you want your dog to be likeable. I don't necessarily want characters to be likeable. Likeable doesn't necessarily mean interesting. In fact, I'd argue that we spend more time obsessing over people we don't like (Why did she say that? Why would he act that way? What is wrong with her?) than people we do like, and for me that's what makes a novel work: you want to figure out the characters. A character who acts appropriately, fairly and kindly? I'm probably not going to spend that much time trying to figure that person out: he or she is good. Done. A character that is conniving, vindictive, cowardly, argumentative, selfish? I want to figure out what happened to that person, and what will happen. I suppose it goes back to one's basic motive for reading. I don't read in order to root for a character--personally, I'm not big on the hero narrative. I read because I like to poke around in human psyches. So that's what drives my writing. I should also add that I have a serious soft spot for underdogs, malcontents, freaks, jackasses and psychos, so I find all my unlikeable characters perversely likeable.

Do you feel your work fits into a genre or subgenre? If so, which one?

I'm sure it must fit somewhere but I always struggle with an actual label. Midwest gothic noir? Midwest because I'm obsessed with the midsection of the country. I grew up in Missouri, within walking distance of Kansas, and I truly think they are two of the most interesting places around, historically. Gothic, because my novels have that sense of slightly skewed reality, and are littered with desolate set pieces (Sharp Objects' deadly fairytale of a forest; Dark Places' ruined bank, underground home to the Kill Club; Gone Girl's abandoned mega-mall, overtaken by tribes of squatters). Noir because my books are always peopled with troubled, dangerously striving souls.

On a related note, do you find there are different expectations of and responses to women writing dark, edgy fiction than there are for men?

I like to think that's becoming less and less of an issue, now that so many authors of great, dark stories happen to be women. I can't change my gender--female-- and I can't change the way I look, which is decidedly unthreatening (Comment I most often hear at any book event: "But you look so sweeeet!"). However, I can promise you, if you pick up one of my books, I will disturb you in a most unladylike way. --Debra Ginsberg

Go here to read Debra Ginsberg’s excellent review of Gone Girl

May 15, 2012

Never Knowing

2011 Brilliance Audio
Reader: Carrington MacDuffie
Finished 4/27/12
Rating: 1/5 (Poor)

From the author’s website:

All her life, Sara Gallagher has wondered about her birth parents. As an adopted child with two sisters who were born naturally to her parents, Sara’s home life was not ideal. The question of why she was given up for adoption has always haunted her. Finally, she is ready to take steps and find closure.

But some questions are better left unanswered.

After months of research, Sara locates her birth mother—only to be met with horror and rejection. Then she discovers the devastating truth: her mother was the only victim ever to escape a killer who has been hunting women every summer for decades. But Sara soon realizes the only thing worse than finding out about her father is him finding out about her.

What if murder is in your blood?

Never Knowing is a complex and compelling portrayal of one woman’s quest to understand herself, her origins, and her family. That is, if she can survive…

I read Stevens’ debut thriller Still Missing in December 2010. I thought it was quite compelling, so I was pretty excited when I got the ARC of Never Knowing. As usual, it languished on my TBR stack for quite some time, but when the audio version became available through my local library, I decided it was time to give the book a try. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t. It was awful. Flat characters, ridiculous dialogue, a predictable plot and a dreadful reader had me shaking my head with annoyance. Why in the world I stuck with this audio presentation for 12 hours (!!) is beyond me.

Final Thoughts: Don’t waste your money or time.

May 12, 2012

Edgar Awards 2012

Gone has won the category of best novel for the 2012 Mystery Writers of America, Edgar Allan Poe Awards.

Each spring, Mystery Writers of America present the Edgar® Awards, widely acknowledged to be the most prestigious awards in the genre. More details can be found here.

My review can be found here.

May 10, 2012

Life is Good - April

It's important to recognize and remember the good things in life, so I've decided to make a point of jotting down my monthly blessings.

So what made me smile (or laugh) last month?

  • 5 years as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble.
  • 5 years in a smoke-free house. (Congratulations to my husband!)
  • Discovering a delicious recipe for lasagna. (Thank you, Trisha!)
  • Easter brunch with good friends. (Thanks, Shirley!)
  • Two superb thrillers. (Gone by Mo Hayder and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn)
  • Early tornado warnings.
  • Onguard Weather Alerts for Android. (see above)
  • 94 miles on my bike. (Thanks, Katie!)
  • Ice cream before dinner!
  • Gentle spring rain.
  • Covered porch with rocking chairs.
  • Tulips, columbine, bleeding heart

May 9, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Bird in Flight
Kauai, 2012

May 7, 2012

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Reader: Carrington MacDuffie
Finished on 4/18/12
Rating: 3/5 (OK)

Publisher’s Blurb:

When Truly Plaice's mother was pregnant, the whole town of Aberdeen lined up to bet on the weight of the baby that could stretch a woman to such epic proportions. Young Truly would pay the price of her enormity. Her father blamed her for her mother’s death in childbirth, and was totally ill equipped to raise either this giant child or her older sister and polar opposite, Serena Jane, the epitome of feminine perfection. His subsequent death left Serena Jane to live a life of privilege as the town’s prodigal May Queen and Truly to eke out an existence with a rattle trap, outcast family on its rundown farm.

While Truly’s remarkable size makes her the subject of constant curiosity and humiliation by her peers, Serena Jane’s beauty proves to be both her biggest blessing and her worst curse, for it targets her as the obsession of Bob Bob Morgan, the youngest in a line of Robert Morgans, Aberdeen’s family doctors for generations. When Bob Bob does the unthinkable to claim the prize that is Serena Jane, his actions change the destiny of all Aberdeen County.

As Truly grows older—and even larger—Bob Bob forces her to become mistress of a house she did not choose and mother to her eight-year-old nephew, Bobbie. It isn’t long, however, before Truly discovers her brother-in-law’s real reason for wanting her at his house: his hungry fascination with her physical anomalies. But when she uncovers the Morgan family secret, a centuries old shadow book penned by the first doctor’s witch-wife, Tabitha, she may have found the key to surviving Bob Bob’s cruelties.

Armed with dangerous secrets from Aberdeen’s past, Truly soon confronts life-altering moral decisions about whether or how she should use her newfound knowledge. As she practices her herbal healing, she is drawn even more tightly into the circle of the town until she learns of a betrayal so huge, even she is dwarfed by it. In the end, Truly is forced to face her own larger-than-life demons, redefine mercy, and consider the possibility that love cannot be ordered to size.

I had the ARC for this debut novel for over three years, but it wasn’t until I saw that the audio version was available through my library that I finally got around to reading (or, as my husband would correct, “listening to”) it.

I almost gave up on the novel, not really caring for the plot or characters, but something clicked around Part Two (when Truly and Serena reached adulthood) and I began to care about Truly, curious to see where the author was leading me. I wound up enjoying the second half of the novel, but it’s not one that I’m raving about, nor am I terribly anxious to read Baker’s latest release, The Gilly Salt Sisters (yes, another novel about sisters…. Hmmm).

I wonder if I would have had a great appreciation for this novel had I read it rather than listened to the audio. I didn’t care too much for the reader and now see that she’s also the reader for The Paris Wife and The Buddha in the Attic (the latter of which I have on my Nano). I’ve been anxious to read The Paris Wife, so I’ll play it safe and stick with the printed format.

Final Thoughts: Taking the ARC back to work. Maybe someone else will enjoy it better than I did.

May 4, 2012


Happy Birthday to my favorite 60-year-old! I love you!!

May 2, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Mighty hunter

Geranium sanguineum, Cranesbill geranium

Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant'


May 1, 2012

Explosive Eighteen

2011 Books on Tape
Reader: Lorelei King
Finished 4/8/12
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum’s life is set to blow sky high when international murder hits dangerously close to home, in this dynamite novel by Janet Evanovich.

Before Stephanie can even step foot off Flight 127 Hawaii to Newark, she’s knee deep in trouble. Her dream vacation turned into a nightmare, and she’s flying back to New Jersey solo. Worse still, her seatmate never returned to the plane after the L.A. layover. Now he’s dead, in a garbage can, waiting for curbside pickup. His killer could be anyone. And a ragtag collection of thugs and psychos, not to mention the FBI, are all looking for a photograph the dead man was supposed to be carrying.

Only one other person has seen the missing photo—Stephanie Plum. Now she’s the target, and she doesn’t intend to end up in a garbage can. With the help of an FBI sketch artist Stephanie re-creates the person in the photo. Unfortunately the first sketch turns out to look like Tom Cruise, and the second sketch like Ashton Kutcher. Until Stephanie can improve her descriptive skills, she’ll need to watch her back.

Over at the bail bonds agency things are going from bad to worse. The bonds bus serving as Vinnie’s temporary HQ goes up in smoke. Stephanie’s wheelman, Lula, falls in love with their largest skip yet. Lifetime arch nemesis Joyce Barnhardt moves into Stephanie’s apartment. And everyone wants to know what happened in Hawaii?

Morelli, Trenton’s hottest cop, isn’t talking about Hawaii. Ranger, the man of mystery, isn’t talking about Hawaii. And all Stephanie is willing to say about her Hawaiian vacation is . . . It’s complicated.

It’s been almost a decade (!!) since I’ve read a Stephanie Plum mystery. I believe To the Nines, which I read in 2003, was the very last, although that was pre-blogging days, so I’m not certain. I do know that I gave it a rating similar to what I gave to this one, but noted that although it was entertaining, it was also forgettable and time to take a break from Evanovich… which apparently I did.

I used to be very particular about reading a series in order, never jumping ahead or skipping a book simply because it wasn’t available. However, I was in the mood for something light and entertaining and started perusing my library’s downloadable audio selection. I came across Explosive Eighteen and thought, "What the heck?!" So I skipped eight books, which turned out to be no big deal at all. Stephanie is still vacillating between Morelli and Ranger, Grandma Mazur is still hanging out at wakes, and Lula, well Lula is still “helping” Stephanie hunt down the bad guys… between meals.

Explosive Eighteen lived up to my expectations, which were fairly low. I know the series is not great literature. It’s rather formulaic and after 18 books, quite a bit tired. I wouldn’t have had the patience to read the printed format, but the audio version was quick and fun. I laughed out loud on several occasions, thanks to the hilarious antics and dialogue involving Lula. Without her, I doubt I would have bothered.

And now the question remains, do I go back and listen to any others?

Final Thoughts: Same old, same old. But with the right frame of mind, Explosive Eighteen is a fun beach read.