snapshot 1.21

just finished: A Boy Made of Blocks. I mentioned it last week, and I think I called it a memoir. It's actually fiction. I had no idea until I finished the book and read the notes after. But it is based (loosely) on the author's experiences. He does have a son on the autistic spectrum, and they were able to connect more through computer games like Minecraft. But this novel is fantastic, and I'm so grateful to St. Martins for nudging me in that direction. 

currently reading: Just started a couple of novels that are coming out this week, Anatomy of a Scandal (doesn't that sound fantastic?) and This Love Story Will Self-Destruct. I have heard lots of good things about both of them, so it should be a good reading week. I'm also restarting a cozy I started reading several weeks ago but had to put aside because of work chaos. It's Seeds of Revenge, and I can't wait to dive back in. 

up next: Not too sure. I'm still digging out from last year, so between all those fantastic books and all the amazing books coming out this month, I have too many to read. It makes my head spin to think of what's next, so I'll just have to let you know next week. 

diner food from everywhere

You've been told that when you travel, you should eat like a local. But if you don't get the chance to travel, then you don't get to eat like a local. So Canadian food bloggers and cookbook authors Randy and Darcy Shore did it for us, and they brought back recipes from diners, bistros, and cafes from around the world and made them workable in the home kitchen. 

Home and Away is filled with over 100 recipes for comfort food from all corners of the world. With the recipes are tons of helpful tips and tricks, from where to find some of the more obscure ingredients to possible substitutions or ideas on what to freeze or change up in the recipe. There are also several moments with well-known chefs, where food personalities such as Anito Lo, Edward Lee, and Brad Miller talk about their inspirations [Note: most of these chefs are from Canada, as are the Shores, and they also have a blurb from Mario Batali, who has fallen out of favor lately. I thought I'd mention in case that matters to anyone]. 

Home and Away starts with East Asia and Australia. Recipes include Easy Asian Spring Rolls, White Miso Ramen, Lemongrass Chicken Curry, Pad Thai with Prawns, Soy and Honey Braised Chicken, and Beef Chow Fun. From there, it's off to Africa, India, and West Asia. These recipes encourage you to make classics such as Lahmacun, Haloumi Salad, Red Pepper Chicken Wings, Turkish White Beans, Moroccan Lamb Breast with Lemon Couscous, Sweet Potato Tagine, and Spatchcocked Chicken with Chickpeas. They eve include a recipe for the spice blend Ras el Hanout. 

Next is a tour of Europe, where the recipes include Crispy Potato Latkes with Caviar, Gazpacho, Smoked Tomato and Sausage Ragu, Fish en Papillote, Paella, Chicken Provencal, Irish Boiled Dinner (Corned Beef and Cabbage, of course), Venison and Stout Stew, Spaetzle, and a Cinnamon Apple Dutch Baby. And then it's off to the Americas. These diner classics include Hot Chicken and Waffles, Southern Fried Chicken with Gravy, West Coast Smoked Salmon, Jerk Chicken with Grilled Romaine Salad, Duck Poutine, Peruvian Hen Soup, Chicago-Style Beef Brisket Sandwich with Giardiniera, Pork Tomatillo Tacos with Onion Pico, Pulled Pork Sandwiches, New Orleans Fried Fish Po'Boy with Smoky Remoulade, and Mexican Chocolate Flan. 

Home and Away is the perfect introduction to world cuisine for those who can't afford to travel (like me) or who want to try out some new food before heading out to the airport. It's a great way to build a bridge to other cultures. And all the beautiful photos and stories of the authors' travel experiences offer a lot of insight into traveling and eating in countries where you don't know the language or the customs. It's a great cookbook for those who get around and for those of us who are mostly stuck at home, as it gives us a glimpse of the rest of the world to try at home and share with friends and family. 

 

Galleys for Home and Away were provided by Arsenal Pulp Press through Edelweiss, with many thanks. 

a book with a peel

Seventh graders Noah and Dash are on the fast track to careers in comedy. They spend every extra moment studying comedy, trying out new comedy routines, listening to Dash's dad's old comedy records, and looking up old and new comedy clips on the internet. Noah looks forward to the time he gets to spend with Dash and his dad on the weekends. 

But during the week, Noah has a lot on his plate. First of all, there's his nemesis, Noa. While they have the same name, Noa is a girl, and not just any kind of girl, but the kind who is smart and who is universally good at everything and loved by adults. And she is his bar mitzvah partner. 

Things aren't all bad for Noah. He has two moms who love him and an older sister who, despite being a devout vegan, is okay at being an older sister when he needs one. And she makes good cookies. Usually. Plus, when they asked for ideas for a project at Hebrew school, he suggested they study Jewish comedians, and his idea was picked. Now, he and Dash can do their presentation on The Three Stooges, even if they do have to include Noa on their team. 

And then something happens. The worst happens. Dash's dad dies. 

As Noah tries to find out what happened and to be there for his best friend, he finds that he just keeps saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing and making both Dash and himself feel worse. And then when he finds out that Dash's dad killed himself, he is shocked and has no idea how to be a good friend to Dash. A series of mistakes and bad choices create a rift between the two boys that Noah may not be able to fix, even with a classic slip on a banana peel. 

Erica S. Perl's All Three Stooges is a challenging but warm look at friendship and grief. Noah is far from a smart character, but his bad choices show his humanity in a very difficult situation. As Noah tries to repair his relationship with Dash, and just to understand a little bit of what Dash is going through, we as readers follow along step by step. It's a journey of grief, healing, and compassion, and Perl has expertly lead us through from the beginning to the end. 

I highly recommended this one for young readers, for those who have found themselves in one of life's painful situations as well as for those who haven't yet tasted grief. It's funny and well written, smart and interesting. An excellent middle grade book (for all ages). 

 

Galleys for All Three Stooges were provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers through NetGalley.com, with many thanks. 

snapshot 1.14

just finished: a powerful and heartbreaking middle grade book about a boy who has to deal with the death of his best friend's father by suicide. And another book on how to live lagom, titled Live Lagom. Because balance is good. 

currently reading: A Boy Made of Blocks, a memoir of a father whose son has autism and who struggles to understand or to connect with his son. I'm not very far in yet, so it's still pretty hard to read (emotionally; it's very well written). I'm assuming that since he wrote a book and got it published by St. Martins that he learns how to find a way into his son's comfort zone and they find a deep and powerful connection. If not, I'm going to be very angry with this book. I've also started reading Alan Cohen's Relax into Wealth, hoping I can make that happen this year. 

up next: There are a lot of good thrillers that just came out, but after The Vanishing Season I'm struggling to pick them up. But they're waiting for me, The Chalk Man, Grist Mill Road, The Perfect Nanny, The Woman in the Window, Two Girls Down. So many good books out in January!! 

skeletons in the closet

Police Officer Ellery Hathaway has an instinct for investigation. She has what you could call an insider's perspective. When she was just a teenager, she was kidnapped by a serial killer and held in his closet while he tortured her. She thought she was dead, but an observant FBI agent figured out who her kidnapper was and rescued Ellie before she became the seventeenth victim of Francis Michael Coben. She was the only one of his victims who survived.

Now it's years later, and she's an officer in a sleepy Massachusetts town. Not much happens there. But there have been several disappearances that Ellie find disturbing. Two women and a man have all gone missing around the same time of year. And Ellie believes that they're related. But it's more than instinct that is telling her that. The year of the first disappearance, Ellie received a birthday card, unsigned, with only a message that let her know that there was someone out there who knew of her past. She had been meticulous about reinventing herself, but somehow, someone found out her secret. 

She takes her suspicions to her police chief (but not the cards or her secret past), but he refuses to investigate or even to believe that the disappearances are related. So Ellie calls in an old friend, FBI agent and hero Reed Markham. While Markham had been a household name after Ellie's rescue and the book he wrote about Coben, the investigation, and Ellie, now he's struggling. His marriage is falling apart, and his boss at the FBI suggests he take some time off. But when Ellie calls, he has to help her, and he finds himself once again sucked into a case of a potential serial killer. 

The investigation takes them both back to the original case, to all the places that Ellie has been running from and that almost destroyed Reed. Are they strong enough to walk away from another serial killer, or will they just disappear as well? 

The Vanishing Season is the debut novel from Joanna Schaffhausen that reads like any of the best serial killer novels on the shelf. With an eye to detail and emotion, Schaffhausen creates a story that could happen tomorrow almost anywhere in America. It's so prescient it's disturbing, and by that I do mean that I'm a little afraid to go to sleep tonight. But I'm sure that will pass. Eventually. 

The Vanishing Season, even with its disturbing plot, is well-written, beautifully paced story, and I won't be at all surprised when it shows up at my local movie theater. But don't wait until then, You know the book is always better. So read it now. Just leave lots of lights on. 

 

Galleys for The Vanishing Season were provided by Minotaur Books through NetGalley.com, with many thanks. 

a little bit of balance

It's a new year, and that means it's time to look back over the last year and see what worked for us and what didn't. I know that something I struggled with last year was balance. My work/life balance was not at all, and I'm determined in 2018 to bring more life and less work to the balance. So while I'm still all over last year's obsession with Danish hygge (I love comfort!), this year I'm adding lagom. 

Lagom is the Swedish idea of trying to find balance in life. It's about living simply and with intention, while leaving behind overshopping, overspending, overcrowding, and over-everything else. And the best quick introduction to lagom I've found so far is The Little Book of Lagom by Jonny Jackson and Elias Larsen. It is small, like the title says, only about seven inches square (or whatever size your tablet is, if you're an ereader like me), and under 150 pages. And if that sounds like a lot of pages to you, realize that there are many pages with only photos or illustrations, so it's very fast to zip through and get introduced to the concept of lagom. 

Divided into four sections, The Little Book of Lagom give advice on creating a balanced home, a balanced sense of health, that work/life balance that eluded me last year, and balance in your legacy in the world. There are lots of quick tips, a few recipes, and numerous ideas for reducing stress, decluttering, eliminating waste, and living a life that makes you happy. None of the advice is overly deep or difficult; mostly, it's quick tips and ideas to help you get focused again and make smarter choices. It's not about fixing everything that's wrong in your life or living so piously that your friends no longer want to know you. It's about finding what's right for you, what works for you, what makes you happy and gets you closer to your goals. Lagom is that simple. And The Little Book of Lagom keeps things that simple. It makes a fantastic gift, for yourself or for anyone you know who is struggling to find balance in their life. 

And now that you know all that, you still have one questions. I know what it is. It's pronounced lah-gom. 

You're welcome. 

 

Galleys for The Little Book of Lagom were provided by Andrews McMeel Publishing through NetGalley.com, with many thanks. 

not what you think it is

Gnomon is Nick Harkaway's latest masterpiece, a monstrosity of science fiction and history and humanity and the near future and the distant past. It is layers of stories, of questions, of faith and fiction, and of mysteries, starting in the UK in a utopian-like future that could happen sooner than we think. 

Inspector Mielikki Neith is called in to investigate the death of Diana Hunter. Hunter was resistant to the state, hiding from all the technology that is being used to monitor every individual, to prevent crime, and to unite the citizenry in a fairly happy and democratic system. But Hunter, a 60-year-old divorced woman, living on her own in near-Luddite fashion, a writer and dissident, believes that any such system is bad for humanity and refused to comply. So she was called in for an investigation (basically, a mechanical mind-reading to scan for physical abnormalities or uncivil ideas), and the worst happens. She dies in the middle of the procedure. Normally the procedure is benevolent, leaving the witness feeling happier and more focused. But this time, it all went wrong. And now Inspector Neith has been called in to investigate what happened. 

Neith's investigation starts with a download of Hunter's scan into her own brain. It's a thing that happens in this future. You can download another person's consciousness into your own. It's not the first time Neith has done this. She likes to explore the new consciousness slowly, unraveling it thread by thread over time. 

And this is where the story takes a sharp sideways turn. 

Hunter's story is not just her own. It takes Neith (and us) through time, through layers of stories and mystery upon mystery. But you can only find the true answer when you get to the very end. It's the strangest, most fascinating, mind-bending trip, and it's not for the feint of heart, or the feint of book. Gnomon is just under 700 pages, so it's not a journey to take lightly. You have to be hard-core to go on this ride. It's kind of like riding a roller coaster, but one where you aren't strapped in. You just have to hang on for dear life and hope you can hold on until the end. 

I had not read any Nick Haraway before this, but I'd heard people I respect rave about his books, so he was on my radar. And I see why. The language of his story is beautiful, and I'm still trying to wrap my head about his plotting. I look forward to reading more of his books. Eventually. It will take awhile to recover from this one. 

 

Galleys for Gnomon were provided by Random House through Firsttoread.com, with many thanks. 

saying the unsaid

Julia Walsh is about to get married. If she can manage to take a few hours off work, that is. She is young, ferociously passionate about her work, and in love. But when her father suddenly dies and the funeral is planned for her wedding day, all her wedding plans are set aside.

She didn't have a great relationship with her father, and when he die so close to her wedding, her feelings exploded with resentment and anger. His coldness to her as she grew up, especially after her mother died, is something she'd never forgiven him for. But his death brings into her life a whole new chance to revisit that relationship and make her peace with her past. 

All Those Things We Never Said has a huge twist to it that I certainly didn't see coming, and I'm not going to give away what that is. I encourage you to check the story out yourself and see what you think.

Author Marc Levy is a bestselling author in France, and this is not his first book to make it to America, where his popularity has continued to grow. I can understand why. His writing is engrossing, his characters strong and interesting, and his story inventive. This was my first chance to read anything by Levy, but I will make sure to read more of his books in the future. All Those Things We Never Said is an engaging look at family relationships, at how secrets can divide, and how the truth can heal. 

 

Galleys for All Those Things We Never Said were provided by AmazonCrossing through Netgalley.com, with many thanks. 

snapshot 1.7

just finished: nothing. Still working on all the things. As well as the laundry. It was one of those weekends. 

currently reading: Live Lagom, to help me try to find some much needed balance in 2018.

up next: There are a lot of good thrillers coming out this month, so I am looking forward to jumping in to Grist Mill Road, The Woman in the Window, The Chalk Man, Two Girls Down, and some good cozies that are coming out soon too. Also, ABC News' Dan Harris' new Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. It's a "10% Happier" book. I'd heard of 10% Happier and how good it was, as I am always on the lookout for a genuinely helpful self-help book. I haven't read it yet, but it wasn't until Saturday morning that I realized that it was written by the Dan Harris that I really like on Good Morning, America and other ABC news shows. So I am very much looking forward to reading his new meditation book. And when I looked up Dan Harris on Amazon Saturday, I saw the 10% Happier ebook on sale, so I snagged that one too. Good reading to come! 

that book was poison

Cass and Ryan Connor have a happy life. Three kids, good jobs, a beautiful house. They have achieved the American dream. At least, that's how it appears on the surface . . .

After Cass's first husband died, she wasn't sure she could go on. She had two kids and wondered how she would get by. But time went on, and she found herself healing, and then she met Ryan. She worried that he wouldn't accept her kids, but instead he jumped in to their lives, filling it with love and laughter. He adored her kids just as if they were his, and when Cass got pregnant again, Ryan was absolutely over the moon. They created a happy, loving family and moved from New York City to the West Coast, where they could buy a big house and embrace the suburban family lifestyle in Washington state. 

Ryan's job as an architect and Cass's leap from journalist to college professor offered them a good lifestyle. While they are far from millionaires, they can afford a comfortable life. But Ryan's late nights start to take their toll, and Cass's study of how to turn an accuser into a victim feed her anxiety about accusing Ryan of having the affair that she thinks he's having. Through the secrets and lies, the insinuations and arguments, the "proof" that he so easily explains away, Cass finds herself wondering just who it is that she married, and what she should do about her doubts. 

Poison by Galt Niederhoffer is a confounding look at modern marriage and at how and why we trust those close to us. 

I will be honest--I struggled with this book. Some days I loved it and some days it just felt awkward. The book is told in third person, and as an admitted first-person narrator junkie, I felt a little put off by the narration. But there is another layer of distance that I felt with this particular narrator, like it was being told by a psychologist or academic describing what happened as a clinical post-mortem on this marriage. At times that was off-putting and at other times it was mesmerizing. Like I said, I struggled. I felt like I alternatively got sucked into the story and then pushed away, which (now that I think about it) mirrors what happens in a relationship, particularly a marriage like this. I think that's why I stuck with the novel through my feelings of discomfort. 

Poison is not a light read. It's not a simple thriller or just a tale of a marriage in trouble. It's complex and complicated and filled with deep psychological insights and difficult questions about how humans behave in extreme circumstances. Daring and mind-bending, Poison is a powerful novel if you think you've got what it takes to ride it out. 

 

Galleys for Poison were provided by St. Martin's Press through NetGalley.com, with many thanks. 

politics can be sour grapes

Lucie Montgomery was heading home one night when an SUV blew past her and plowed into one of the stone pillars outside of her vineyard, crashing at a high speed. Lucie tried to get to the driver, former presidential candidate Jamison Vaughn, but the engine was already on fire. She grabbed onto his door handle and pulled, trying to get him out anyway, but her neighbor (who was also passing by and saw the accident) yanked her away to safety before the car exploded in flames. 

Lucie was in shock. Vaughn's crash was at the same spot as her own crash--when she was young and in a relationship with the wrong guy, they fought and he ended up driving into that pillar, causing irreparable damage to her leg. But despite Lucie's shock at the memory, she knew what she saw and heard. While she was trying to get Vaughn out of the car, he was determined to stay where he was. But he gave her a message to pass on, a mysterious apology that made no sense to Lucie. But she knew what she witnessed--a man who was not trying to save his own life. 

As Lucie tries to figure out what Vaughn's last words meant and who he was talking about, she is also struggling with her own history. Politics, personal pain, relationships, lies, betrayal, and wine all collide in The Vineyard Victims, a mystery where the past and present bleed together into a story where Lucie has to figure out the ending in order to bring Vaughn some peace and to make sure her own story gets to have another chapter. 

Ellen Crosby has written yet another fantastic mystery in her Wine County Mystery series (this is the eighth in the series). I have heard Crosby's mysteries described as cozies, and I guess you could make a case for that (amateur detective, "busybody" female protagonist, small community, amateur killer). But I have always felt like Crosby's mysteries were a step higher. I mean no disrespect here because I love a good cozy, but I think of the Wine County Mysteries as having a depth of feeling and of character that elevates them. The Vineyard Victims is no different. It is beautifully written, with complex characters and the texture of a well-drawn setting that creates a deep and moving story of human emotion, betrayal, love, desperation, and revenge. 

I highly recommend The Vineyard Victims, as I recommend all the books in this beautiful series. Read it with a good bottle of wine, or (like me) a warm blanket and cup of cocoa. 

 

Galleys for The Vineyard Victims were provided by Minotaur Books through NetGalley.com, with many thanks. 

the magic shop

I have been struggling with my reading for awhile. First, I just kept grinding away, hoping to find what I needed in a quantity of books. Then I slowed way down, hoping I could find what I needed in the silence. Neither worked, and I wondered if I needed to stop reading completely for awhile. 

Than I read Rachel Joyce's The Music Shop. 

Frank owns a music shop, where he sells vinyl. He struggles, yet he refuses to sell the cassettes or CDs that other stores can hardly keep on their shelves. Only vinyl. But Frank has a secret. When a customer comes in, he can tell from what they say and what they don't say exactly what music they need to be listening to. He can use these musical choices to open closed hearts, to repair what is broken in people, to bring people together, to build confidence, to inspire action. 

So when the woman shows up at the store and faints, and Frank (and all his best friends in the neighborhood who happened to witness this) brings her inside his shop, he knows that his life will never be the same. Because he has met a person who he can't look at and hear music. He hears only silence. All he knows is that his life has been changed by this stranger in a green coat. 

The Music Shop is about the connection between people. Between a man and his mother. Between a community of people who are struggling to survive in a neighborhood where smaller specialty stores and family businesses are being depleted by of the bigger chains. Between a man and himself. Between a man and a woman. And between us and the artists who inspire us to live larger, dream bigger, and listen more carefully to the world around us. 

In the novel, music is the art that heals and inspires. But in my real life, it's writing. Rachel Joyce's prose is music in its own way, weaving its way into my soul and reminding me of exactly what kind of magic it is that keeps me putting one foot in front of the other. Just like Frank giving his customers the music they need, Joyce gave me the words I needed to remember what it is I love about reading, about living, about loving. Clearly, this is the book I needed to start this new year. I highly recommend it to everyone else who is needing a boost of heart and humanity to move into 2018. 

And for those who want the music along with the words, Joyce has created a playlist on Spotify of Frank's music. Or you can just jot down all this suggestions and make your own playlist based on what speaks to you of his recommendations (warning: it will be a long list; Frank has a way of talking about music that makes you want to stop the world and listen to it all). 

The Music Shop is a beautiful novel of love and music, and I think everyone who is searching for something more will find warmth, beauty, and connection in its pages. Read it soon and reread it often. 

 

Galleys for The Music Shop were provided by Penguin Random House through their First to Read program.