Thursday, April 28, 2016

When Selling Real Estate Becomes Deadly

Sam Turner, a newly minted real estate agent, is glad to get any chance to show houses. The derelict old Victorian at 13 Aster Lane doesn't seem like a great prospect since renovation would be extremely expensive, and the house is rumored to be haunted. Sam is surprised when shortly after viewing the property she gets requests for three showings and one potential buyer places a contract without even seeing the house. The problem shows up when she goes to the house for the showings and discovers the body of one of the prospective buyers.

The plot in this mystery is unique, but too much time is lost getting to the murder. The first twenty percent of the book is taken up with Sam's life. She lives in a dingy apartment with her son, Max, who plans to take part in a race unique to Arlinda, the town they live in in Northern California. I became bored with Sam's commentary on her life and the people she meets. I'm sure the author thought she was being cute and sarcastic, but it became tedious.

The pace is slow. If you enjoy hearing about the race and Sam's love interests, including her ex-husband who shows up unexpectedly, you may enjoy this novel. However, if you're looking for a fast paced mystery give this isn't your book.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Cookbook with a Path to Healthy Eating

My favorite idea from this cookbook is to plan your meals thinking about nutrition rather than calories. The authors give good suggestions for how to implement that strategy. They start the book with their philosophy for eating well and eating healthy. If you think of eating healthy as lots of tasteless dishes with no sugar and little salt, you'll be surprised at how delicious these recipes are.

In addition to the philosophy of eating, the book gives you a one-week reboot program complete with menus and a shopping list. The menus contain snack items as well as main meals. I particularly like the snack recipes. Avocado Boats are one of my favorites.

We eat a lot of soup so I was delighted to try some of the soup recipes. Roasted Squash Soup is a favorite. I also like their suggestions for using leftovers in snacks and lunches. Many of the recipes call for Bone Broth. The authors provide a recipe, but it doesn't work well for people who eat little meat since it calls for six pounds of bones. If you typically shop at a supermarket instead of a butcher shop, it may not be easy to get bones, even if you're buying them separately from the meat.

The recipes are easy to follow and most of them don't take a great deal of time. The authors include tips that are useful in guiding you away from the more obvious mistakes, and the pictures are excellent. My dishes never look as delicious as the pictures, but I keep trying.

I highly recommend this book as a path to healthy eating.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Unique WWII Story

Bryan and James, two Brits on a reconnaissance mission over Nazi Germany, are shot down. They manage to board a train carrying high level SS officers. To keep from being captured and shot, they throw two of the patients off the train and take their place. Impersonating the officers, they pretend to be too shell shocked to speak and are taken to a mental hospital. The competing problems for the two men are how to avoid detection and how to maintain their sanity with the shock treatments and pills they are given.

Even as fiction, this book is not convincing. The plot is full of fantastical adventures starting with the two airmen being able to clamber aboard the hospital train. Part of the reason the plot didn't work for me is that the characters are not well developed. It's hard to differentiate them and as a result it's difficult to become emotionally involved.

The research is good. It adds another dimension to the horrors of the Nazi medical establishment, but the pace is inconsistent. In the first half, harrowing action scenes are followed by scenes with little action. In the second half the pace is more consistent and faster, but still it didn't draw me in.

The book was written in 1997 and is very different from Adler-Olsen's other novels and not as well done. The writing in the first half is particularly choppy, but perhaps this is due to the translation.

I can't recommend this book unless you're interested in unusual stories of WWII.

I received this book from Penguin-Random House for this review.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Moving Story of Crime and Forgiveness

Misty, out for the evening with her long time boyfriend, Scott, expected to have a wonderful time. Scott was home from the Navy. Misty hadn't seen him for awhile, but she was hoping that he would soon propose. The evening didn't go as planned. They ended up arguing and uncomfortable with each other. Misty drove away, expecting to spend the night with a girlfriend. Then, realizing that Scott might call and wake her parents, she stopped at a payphone to call him.

Keith, hopped up on drugs and alcohol, planned a robbery with a friend. They needed a getaway car and decided to steal one. Misty, standing by the phone booth near her car was a prime target. He approached and spoke to her. Unlike his usual method of operation, he didn't cover his face and she got a good look at him before he shot her in the head, the bullet penetrating the carotid artery. He left her for dead.

After a trial where Misty was the main witness, Keith went to jail. Misty, however, was tormented by PTSD symptoms and thoughts of vengeance. Eighteen years later, Misty forgave him. They met and have been working together in the Bridges to Life ministry telling their story.

The book is a series of first person accounts by Misty and Keith each telling their side of the story. The toggling from one account to the other breaks the narrative flow, but it's not difficult to follow. The good part is that you get to meet both Keith and Misty and understand what drove the events of that night and the subsequent forgiveness.

Although Misty's situation was much more traumatic then that faced by most people, her desire to finally find peace by forgiving her assailant is very moving. I recommend this book for anyone who has been hurt and is struggling with the question of whether and how to forgive.

I received this book from PR by the Book for this review.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Naval JAG Officers Caught in a Mystery that Could Have Come from the Pages of the Newspaper

Lieutenant Commander Caroline McCormick, a Navy JAG attorney, is up for transfer to another post. She's missing Lieutenant Commander P. J. McDonald. They were almost engaged, but when P. J. moved on to DC to work in the prestigious Code 13 section at the Pentagon, he didn't suggest that they make things permanent. Now it's Caroline's turn for a new post. She's hoping for a European assignment, but instead she unexpectedly gets assigned to Code 13.

P. J. is assigned to work on an opinion for the Secretary of Defense on a billion dollar contract setting up a Navy drone command, but the catch is that half the drones will be assigned to Homeland Security. The mob isn't excited about having drones monitor the coastline, and the contractor is pushing hard to get the contract approved by Congress. Using the drone project as background could have come from the pages of current newspapers.

Caroline steps into the controversy when P. j. is shot and killed. When another Code 13 officer is also killed, the Navy needs to solve the mystery fast. Caroline volunteers to take P. J.'s place writing the opinion. Now she's in the sights of the killer.

This is a fast paced murder mystery with a romantic element. I enjoyed the settings in Washington DC and San Diego. They are very realistic. The military background was also very realistic. These were the best parts of the novel. I found the romance rather strained. It adds to the tension and gives a reason for the involvement of senior Navy personnel, but it didn't ring true for the character's motivations.

The mystery pits Caroline and her associates against two ruthless groups, the mob and the contractor. Having two groups interested in either stopping the contract or getting it signed immediately keeps you guessing about who is responsible for the murders.

If you enjoy fast paced mysteries with a military flavor this is a book you shouldn't miss.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for this review.  

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Rediscover Your Creativity

So you've retired and the plan was to do all the things you never had time for. Many of these things involved reawakening your creativity, but where do you start. Sometimes it's easier to give up thinking I just don't have it anymore. This book will change your mind.

Julia Cameron is the author of many books on creativity. Perhaps the most familiar is “The Artist's Way.” Building on her initial finding that Morning Pages, writing three stream of consciousness pages every morning, can clear your mind and help you focus on what you want to do, Julia has broadened her program to include memoir writing, solo walks, and artist dates.

This book lays out a twelve week program employing all her tools to help people restart their creativity. Although the books is aimed at people who are retired or shortly retiring, the book can be helpful to anyone at any age. The book does focus the examples on older people, but the problems of seniors hold true across the age spectrum.

I highly recommend this book. I discovered the "Artist's Way" over 10 years ago and have been writing Morning Pages ever since. I had always wanted to write. Writing Morning Pages helped my focus on how to get started. I have now written seven mystery novels. This program can work for you, too.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lives Fractured by the Hit-and-Run Death of a Child

A mother walks her five-year-old son home from school. It's raining and he's eager for his snack. She raises her hand to push the wet hair out of her eyes. He drops her hand, runs into the street, and is struck by a car. The driver doesn't stop leaving the mother huddled over the body of her son.

Detective Ray Stevens gets the case. His young assistant, Kate, is pulled into the case, and it becomes an obsession to find the hit-and run-driver. Working intensely on the case, Ray and Kate become close, perhaps closer than they should. Ray loves his wife, but the stresses of growing children and long hours are taking their toll on the closeness they used to have.

The first half of the book is primarily about the investigation and the frustration of being unable to solve the case. In the second half, the story shifts to the characters affected by the tragedy and how they cope. It's quite a twist. In one way, I like it, but in another it felt a little too much like slight of hand.

This is a well done psychological thriller. The author gets us into the heads of the good characters and the bad and draws you into their world. I also enjoyed the police procedural narrative in the early part of the book. It's not easy to pull together a police procedural with a serious psychological mystery, but the author did an good job.

I recommend this book. It will draw you in and force you to look at loss and abuse in a very personal way.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hungarian Wines, A Cruise on the Danube. and Murder

At first Benjamin and Elizabeth Cooker are excited about being invited to accompany Claude Nithard, his publisher. and Claude's girlfriend on a trip to Hungry. Even before they leave, things go awry. Alexandrine, Benjamin's lab assistant, is attacked and badly injured. Benjamin hates to leave her, but Elizabeth convinces him to let Virgile, his assistant, handle it.

Benjamin agrees to go to please Elizabeth and because he wants to taste the wines from the Tokay region. However, things become more difficult when Claude arrives with a much younger woman. Consuela is more interested in shopping than wine tasting and not a good match for the Cookers.

Even the cruise on the Danube is not as romantic as envisioned, but Benjamin tries not to be discouraged. His main objective is to taste the Tokay wines.

This addition to the Winemaker series has several positives. Alexandrine and Elizabeth play larger roles in this novel. I particularly enjoyed seeing Elizabeth come out of the kitchen and take charge. As usual the food, wine, and scenery are beautifully described. In spite of the difficulties, a cruise on the Danube sounds like a great adventure and the descriptions of Budapest were fantastic.

However, this is still not a serious mystery. The book moves slowly through the Cooker's travels. The action begins about halfway through the book and concludes very quickly. As usual, Benjamin doesn't do much traditional detecting. Explanations seem to fall into his lap.

If you want a fast paced detective story, this is not for you, but if you enjoy fine wine, delicious food, and exotic settings, you'll love this book.

I received this book from Le French Book for this review.  

Saturday, April 9, 2016

When Jule's Best Friend is Arrested for Murder, She has to Play Detective

It's the holiday season. Jules is working hard to make Java Jive profitable, which includes getting in early every morning to bake dozens of cookies. Pete, her best friend and owner of Java Jive, is supportive. Theirs is a platonic relationship but sexual interest is just under the surface.

The only blot on the horizon is trying to work with Cecelia Hollingsworth, Pete's snobbish girlfriend, to get Java Jive's booth ready for the annual 5K run. Things seem to be well organized until the evening before the race. Jules is taking cookies to their tent where she trips over Cecelia's body. The police cordon off the tent and arrest Pete. Jules can't let that happen. She'll do anything to free him. Although she promised to stay out of police business after her last brush with murder, she's back into sleuthing.

This is the second book in the Java Jive series. The characters are just as likable. Jules is trying to control her temper and make a success of her job, but it's difficult when staff don't cooperate and her old friction with Cecelia builds up. Pete is a great character. It's obvious that he's very taken with Jules, but they've agreed on a platonic relationship, and he's trying hard to live with it.

The setting moves from the coffeehouse to high society homes and the country club where Jules feels she doesn't fit in. The plot is full of twists, and the ending is a surprise. If you enjoy cozy mysteries, this is a good one.

I received the book from Alibi for this review.  

A Cross-Cultural Romance, Delicious Food, and Naples

Following a family tradition, Katherine Wilson spends three months in Naples as an unpaid intern at the US Consulate. Katherine is overweight and unsure of herself. When the Avalones, a wealthy Italian family, make her part of the family it changes her life.

The two members of the Avalone family who have the most impact on her are Salvatore, the son, and his mother Rafaella. Salvatore is studying law and still living at home. Katherine finds this unusual coming from the US where college students usually try to get away from their families. As Katherine spends more time at the Avalone apartment, she and Salvatore become romantically involved. Again she finds the unusual, but delightful. American boys typically don't bring their girlfriends to hang out with their families.

Raffaella, Salvatore's energetic mother, is the strongest influence in the book. Slender and stylish, her domain is the kitchen. Here Katherine learns about food and the love that holds a family together. 

The author does an excellent job of bringing us into the world of the Avalones and Naples. I felt as though I was visiting a very special family in a city I would love to explore. Food is at the center of the story because this is Rafaella's focus. As Katherine learns to make Italian dishes, we do, too. The best recipes are included at the end of the book so you can try them.

I recommend this memoir. You meet people you'd like to see more of and get to know a foreign culture.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Friendship, Sorrow and Forgiveness

Carrigan thinks her husband is having an affair, and it's making her do crazy things like starting her own affair with a man she calls Cell Phone Romeo. She's not really interested in this man, she just wants to get back at her husband, Jack, and make herself feel better. The feel better part isn't working. She's drinking too much and regretting it later.

Her lifelong friends, Ella Rae and Laine, want to help. Ella Rae, like Carrigan, is on the vindictive side, but Laine argues for forgiveness. She's convinced that Jack loves Carrigan and refuses to believe he's having an affair. All this seems terribly important until one of life's curveballs arrives and changes life for the friends.

This is a very Southern novel set in Louisiana. I thought the characters were well done. I loved Carrigan. She's impetuous and willing to tackle life's problems. Laine is reserved and has the strongest faith. Ella Rae is just lovable. She's a staunch friend willing to do anything for Laine and Carrigan.

These women, although they have quite different personalities are devoted to each other. They help each other through hard times, tragedy and fun. It was heartwarming to read about them and see hem grow through the story.

I recommend this book if you enjoy Christian Fiction. Even if you just like women's fiction, this book is well worth reading.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for this review.  

Want to Eat Less Sugar? This Cookbook is for You

The I Quit Sugar Cookbook is colorful, filled with good information and tasty recipes. The pictures of food in the cookbook make you hungry just looking at them, and the best part is they're good for you.

In addition to recipes, the cookbook contains valuable information on setting up your kitchen, getting the best pots and pans, and baking dishes. From there the author goes into buying in bulk, how to store food, freezing, using leftovers and more. I found the ideas for using up your sugar very helpful since you won't be cooking with it. I hate to waste food so the section on leftovers was particularly helpful.

In the appendix, the author includes a suggested shopping list, ideas for substitutions, and a guide to sugar and sweeteners. You should probably turn to this appendix right away to get a good idea of just how dangerous sugar and sweeteners can be.

The bulk of the cookbook is filled with recipes. I love the section of leftovers. Last Night's Dinner with and Egg Stuck in it, is creative and it tastes great. There is also an excellent section on fermenting and other gut healing foods. This is a helpful section if you want to keep you gut healthy and try to avoid chronic diseases.

I highly recommend this cookbook. It's cheerful, packed with useful information, and the recipes and great.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Recipe from Dining at the Ravens

If you enjoyed my review of Dining at the Ravens, you may enjoy this special dessert from the cookbook.

Chocolate Ganache Tart

Makes two 9-inch tarts

This dessert has undergone a variety of transformations over the years. It is now a rich mint chocolate ganache. The mint was added in 2010. It is our single-most popular dessert.

We knew we had a “winner” when our diners would challenge us, “You gotta be kidding. It has to have dairy in it!” It doesn’t.

For the Crust:
2 1/2 cups raw, unsalted almonds
2 1/2 cups raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup cane sugar
⅓ cup cacao powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
3/4 cup coconut oil, at room
temperature or softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup water (or more as needed)

For the Ganache Filling and Assembly:
1 (14-ounce) package Wildwood Sprouted Silken Tofu (if unavailable, use a firm silken tofu, about 13 ounces if not water packed)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached cane sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons mint extract
1 cup semisweet vegan
chocolate chips

For the Crust:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Finely grind almonds and hazelnuts in a food processor until they form a relatively smooth powder with some small chunks.
  3. Add sugar, cacao powder, and salt. Using the pulse button, mix the ingredients.
  4. Pour processed dry ingredients into a bowl and add coconut oil and vanilla. Toss, adding water incrementally until mixture sticks together.
  5. Press into two 9-inch tart/quiche pans.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, until brown. Let cool completely.

For the Ganache Filling and Assembly:
  1. Place tofu, sugar, salt, water, vanilla extract, and mint extract into a large saucepan.
  2. Mash tofu lightly into smaller pieces with potato masher or whisk.
  3. Bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until liquid reduces and tofu turns light brown, 15–20 minutes.
  4. Turn off heat, add chocolate chips, and mix until melted.
  5. Place mixture in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth.
  6. Pour into prebaked chocolate nut crust.
  7. Refrigerate before serving.

Note: If leftover filling is refrigerated, it will stiffen. If so, you can melt it down over low heat or over a double boiler and pour into prebaked tart shell. It can be used as a treat or dessert on its own in a parfait glass, or warmed and poured over broken-up leftover chocolate cake.

French Wine, Gourmet Meals, and Mysteries

Benjamin Cooker, famous vintner and author of the Cooker Guide, which describes the wines of various regions in France, is also an amateur detective. Mysteries just seem to fall in his path as he pursues his work of wine tasting and consulting with the estates about problems with wine. His young assistant, Vergile, participates in solving the mysteries and tasting wine, His wife, although in the background, adds a domestic touch to the series.

The Winemaker Detective consists of three novellas. In the first, Benjamin is faced with a yeast infection that threatens to ruin a friends vintage. In the second, the theft of a most of an available vintage leads to murder and a more typical mystery. In the third, Benjamin has been inducted into a famous wine society, the Tulips. While there he finds the townsfolk upset by passages written on buildings and again murder crops up.

The best part of these books is the description of wine and gourmet meals. The wine growing regions of France form the background for the series and are lovingly described. It makes you want to visit and taste the delicacies of each area. The mysteries are interesting, particularly when, like the first novella, the focus is on wine-making.

The mysteries themselves, particularly the first one, rely heavily on coincidence for a solution. This makes it difficult to identify the culprit until the very end. Although not typical mysteries, the books have enough interesting detail about French wine and the regions where the grapes are grown that I didn't miss the search for clues. 

If you enjoy wine and food and aren't too anxious for a traditional detective story, you'll enjoy these books.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.