First Paragraph: Career of Evil

firstparagraphEvery Tuesday I join Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea to share the first paragraph (or two) of a book I’m reading or about to read. Feel free to join the fun.

I’m featuring the third book in Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling’s detective series. I really like these novels,  primarily because of the two main characters and each book tells a unique story.  Here’s the opening paragraph from Career of Evil:

Career of Evil

Chapter 1

2011

This Ain’t the Summer of Love

He had not managed to scrub off all her blood. A dark line like a parenthesis lay under the middle fingernail of his left hand. He set to digging it out, although he quite liked seeing it there: a memento of the previous day’s pleasures. After a minute’s fruitless scraping, he put the bloody nail in his mouth and sucked. The ferrous tang recalled the smell of the torrent that had splashed wildly onto the tiled floor, spattering the walls, drenching his jeans and turning the peach-colored bath towels—fluffy, dry and neatly folded—into blood soaked rags.


What do you think?

Would you keep reading?

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Weekend Cooking: Using Maple Syrup In New Ways

Maple Syrup is something I have always taken for granted. It’s what I buy to put on pancakes and waffles. Sometimes I buy Mrs. Butterworths and sometimes I buy a brand that says “Real” Maple Syrup. I recently became aware of the difference between the two products and I learned how the “real” stuff is so versatile. I owe it all to this book:

Maple Syrup CookbookMaple Syrup Cookbook:
Over 100 Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
by Ken Haedrich

The book is written by someone with deep knowledge of maple syrup from the point of gathering the sap from the tree, the boiling process and on to a wide variety of uses for the final product.

I caught the author’s enthusiasm immediately in the first chapter when he talked about the history. I liked how he linked us back to the Native Americans who taught the early settlers how to harvest the tree. The author covered innovations made by the colonists, and then on to a look at the current process for gathering maple syrup, including a nice chart on the various grades of syrup and good photos of the process.

The recipe section was, to my ignorant of maple brain, amazing! I could not believe how many different ways I can now use maple syrup. There are some breakfast recipes but this goes way beyond that. I made a list of some of the recipes I want to try. Here they are. What do you think:

  • Maple Bran Muffins (page 25)
  • Maple Cream Scones (page 29)
  • Peach Pineapple Butter (page 54)
  • Curried Pumpkin Apple Soup (page 66)
  • Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Meatballs Yankee Style (page 68)
  • Green Bean Salad (page 72)
  • Jicama, Orange and Grape Salad (page 74)
  • Braised Onions With Bacon (page 88)
  • Maple Roasted Root Vegetables (page 94)
  • Maple Glazed Brussel Sprouts (page 100)
  • Roast Breast of Chicken with Red Wine-Blueberry Glaze (page 103
  • Maple Beef Teriyaki (page 111)

I stopped before I got to the “Sweets.” I hope looking at the list above gives you an idea of the versatility of maple syrup. All the recipes were in an easy-to-read style. Every recipe did not have it’s own picture, but many did. I liked the little sidebars with each recipe that gave a little background. It’s like having a friend comment on a personal recipe he/she is sharing with you.

As you can see, there are so many recipes I’d like to tell you about, but there isn’t time or room. (I recommend you find a copy of this book.) I will share one of the recipes today. My husband and I resolved last Fall that we would eat at least one fish meal a week.

We’ve kept our resolution, but it’s caused us to move out of our comfort zone and to experiment with different fish and different ways of cooking and eating it. Below is one of the new ways. Trust me, mango is not one of those foods we normally eat, nor is trying maple syrup on fish normal. However, the experiment was successful.

Salmon With Mango SalsaSalmon with Mango Salsa

Ingredients:

Mango Salsa:

  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and chopped
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, green part only, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 small lime (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

Salmon and Glaze:

  • 4 salmon fillets (about 6 ounces each)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon (peeled) minced fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Directions:

1. For the Salsa: Combine everything in a small bowl. Refrigerate, covered, to allow the flavors to blend. The salsa will actually keep up to 2 days in the refrigerator.

2. For the Glaze: Whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup, mustard, lime juice, ginger, and garlic. Set aside.

3. For the Salmon: Preheat a grill to medium-high or preheat a broiler.

4. Put it together:
Spoon the glaze heavily over the fleshy side of the salmon fillets. Set aside 5 to 10 minutes. Grill fillets skin side down for 4 to 5 minutes, carefully turn over and grill another 4 to 5 minutes. To oven broil, line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with a little oil or non-stick cooking spray. Place salmon fillets on the foil, skin side down — 4 to 5 inches from heat. It should take 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer salmon to a platter or divide onto plates. Spoon the salsa over the salmon.

5. Enjoy.

I’m linking this post to Weekend CookingWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. Visit Beth Fish Reads for more information.

weekendckng2

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Two Books By JoJo Moyes: Me Before You and After You

Me Before YouMe Before You is the story of how Louisa Clark, a twenty-something single woman still living at home in small-town England. Her life changes when she is hired by a wealthy family to be a companion/care-giver to a quadriplegic man, Will Traynor, intent on ending his life.

Will Traynor, prior to his accident, was a very successful man, both professionally and in private. He enjoyed travel, sports and all sorts of physical activities and challenges. Now confined to a wheelchair, there is nearly nothing he can do. He doesn’t want to live this way and has arranged to go to a place in Europe where assisted suicide is legal. His parents have agreed to take him in six months if he still wants to go. Louisa is hired with the hope that she can change his mind.j

Spoiler Alert!: Don’t read any further if you are planning to read this book and want to be surprised by the story.

At first Louisa finds it very difficult to care for Will. He’s rude, belligerent, and just plain difficult to get along with. Louisa persists in a variety of ways and pushes herself to try new things in order to help Will. Louisa succeeds in making his life better. She falls in love with him and he in turn loves her. But — it’s not enough to change his mind about his suicide.

I didn’t know the complete plot of the story before I read it. I was hoping for “happy-ever-after” so I was sad at the end. But the book gave me a lot to think about long after I finished it. Yes, there’s the whole subject of assisted suicide, but there’s also the question of After Youwhat does it mean to truly be alive? Are you really alive if only your brain and internal organs are working? But what I really thought about the most was Louisa. What happened to her after that intense six months and Will’s death? I must not have been the only one because the author, JoJo Moyes, gave us a follow-up story: After You.

After You picks up right where Me Before You left off. Will had left Louisa with a nice inheritance with instructions to move on and make something of herself. He wanted her to get out of their small town and see something of the world. He left her a note with specific instructions to read it only at a certain cafe in Paris. Here’s what the note said:

“You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”

It’s wonderful advice although one might find it hypocritical. After all, he chose not to live. Louisa struggles for quite some time. She travels around Europe, but eventually comes back to London and takes a job. She finds herself talked into joining a grief-counseling group where she meets other people and gradually begins to care about others again. She is really pushed over the top when a wild teenager shows up at her door claiming to be Will’s daughter.

Both books deal with some difficult topic, but overall these books are wonderful character studies. It’s told primarily in first-person from Louisa’s perspective so I found it easy to know Louise quite well. I loved seeing how she didn’t change who she really was at her core, while at the same time gradually began moving into living a life that suited her.

I also loved Louisa’s quirky family. Her mom, dad, grandad, sister and young nephew offered so many humorous moments to both books. I often asked myself how I could laugh so much in these books about tragedy? But I was reminded that laughter is great medicine.

I strongly recommend reading both books together, unless of course you’ve already read the first one. You’ll find laugh-out-loud humor, wonderful characters, and a plot that moves at a good pace. After You had a satisfying conclusion, but I think the author left a little room for a return visit if she chooses. I hope she does.

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Wondrous Words #331

WWWEvery week word-lovers post new words they’ve discovered while reading. It’s called Wondrous Words Wednesday and was created by Kathy at Bermuda Onion’s Weblog.

While reading the publisher’s blurb for After You by JoJo Moyes, I found this word:

factotum:   “Lou has a pretty horrible job as a bartender and factotum at a faux Irish pub at the airport.”

I’ve heard the word before, but when I read it this time I realized I really couldn’t define it. Factotum is actually an employee who does all kinds of work. This is true about Lou, the main character, as she cleans restrooms as well as mixes drinks.

________________________________________________________

My second new-to-me word I found on my word-of-the-day calendar.

stultify: “Without continuing support for higher education, we will stultify our national progress.”

I see this word occasionally and my mind usually gives it a simple definition of stop or delay. My word-of-the-day calendar said stultify means to appear foolish or absurd.

Okay, that’s it for me this week. I hope you found some words worth celebrating. Feel free to join Wondrous Words Wednesday. Be sure to visit Kathy for the details.

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First Paragraph: After You

firstparagraphEvery Tuesday I join Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea to share the first paragraph (or two) of a book I’m reading or about to read. Feel free to join the fun.

I’m reading After You by JoJo Moyes, the follow-up story to the author’s wildly popular Me Before You. Both novels feature one of the most fascinating fictional characters I have met in a long time. Unfortunately, the opening paragraphs don’t, in my opinion, grab the reader – unless you read the first book. Here it is:

“The big man at the end of the bar is sweating. He holds his head low over his double scotch and every few minutes he glances up After Youand out behind him toward the door, and a fine sheen of perspiration glistens under the strip lights. He lets out a long, shaky breath disguised as a sigh and turns back to his drink.

“Hey. Excuse me?”

I look up from polishing glasses.

“Can I get another one here?”

I want to tell hin that it’s really not a good idea, that it won’t help. That it might even put him over the limit. But he’s a big guy and it’s fifteen minutes till closing time and according to company guidelines, I have no reason to tell him no. So I walk over and take his glass and hold it up to the optic. He nods at the bottle.

What do you think?

Would you keep reading?

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Sidewalk Art

Park Bench (1)

California’s Sonoma County is known for its sidewalk art featuring all the Charlie Brown characters. I see them all over the place. Imagine my surprise as I sat inside a Panera Bread restaurant and looked out the window to see this fun piece of art! I couldn’t find out any information about it, but I suspect students. Santa Rosa Junior College is a few blocks away. I hope it makes you smile.

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I’m also sharing this post with others who participate at Saturday Snapshot located at West Metro Mommy Reads. For more information, visit her website.

Saturday Snapshot

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Book Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Samsion

Rosie ProjectThis book has been on my to-read list for a long time. Actually, I had it in hardcover from the library and only got a few chapters in before I took it back. Then I saw that it was available in audio and decided to try it again. That format worked for me.

Really, this book should be listened to. Seriously. Let the narrator, Dan O’Grady, read it to you. The main character, Don Tillman is an Austrailian scientist and he tells the story first person. You are inside his fascinating head the whole time. This guy is so charming, although he would be horrified if he knew I called him that. After all, he’s a highly respected genetisist and a professor in Melbourne University.

I call him charming because he tries so hard to please everyone while being blatantly honest. Don really can’t help himself. He has Asperger’s Synodrome (a developmental disorder related to autism and characterized by higher than average intellectual ability coupled with impaired social skills and restrictive, repetitive patterns of interest and activities.) One of his repetitive patterns I found charming was how he categorized every person he met by their approximate age and body mass index, in other words, how old and how fat they were. In spite of what most people think of Asperger’s, Don functions quite well in most situations.

As the story opens Don has decided that his life would be complete if he had a wife. He goes about searching for a wife the same way he does everything else – in a precise scientific manner. He determined all the qualities and attributes necessary in a wife and then he created a questionnaire to be given to all prospective wives. That should do it, he determines.

And then something unexpected happens. Through a little mix-up, a young woman shows up in his office. Don assumes she is one of the successful prospects from his questionnaire. What Rosie wants is someone who can analyze DNA to help her search for her real father. After a few funny and clumsy incidents, Don sets aside his “wife-project” to help Rosie. Thus the “Rosie-project” puts Don and Rosie together in some hilarious events that even include a time in New York City.

The Rosie EffectAfter decades of reading romances and romantic comedy from a female perspective, I loved this story from the male point of view. How Don was able to fall in love in the midst of his precise, analytical and scientific way of looking at the world was pure enjoyment. I also liked how Don gradually added friendships and handled, what was for him one awkward social situation after another. As I said before, he was charming.

I liked The Rosie Project so much that I downloaded the audio version of The Rosie Effect. It features narrator Dan O’Grady as Don Tillman telling me the continued story of he and Rosie. I don’t want tell you the summary of that story as it will definitely be full of spoilers for The Rosie Project. The two books were a wonderful, lighthearted way to begin my 2016 reading year. I hightly recommend them to you.

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Wondrous Words #330

WWWEvery week word-lovers post new words they’ve discovered while reading. It’s called Wondrous Words Wednesday and was created by Kathy at Bermuda Onion’s Weblog.

This week I found two new S words. This first one came from a blurb about a book I was considering reading – How Fiction Works by James Wood.

1,  scintillating:  “How Fiction Works is a scintillating study of the magic of fiction–an analysis of its main elements and a celebration of its lasting power.

Scintillate means emit flashes of light; sparkle.

___________________________________________________________

I found this word while reading an editorial by David Brooks in the NY Times. He was talking about picking a candidate for president.

2.  satisfice: “You probably want to satisfice, pick the person who’s good enough, who seems reasonably responsible.”

Satisfice is a verb meaning to accept an available option as satisfactory: it talks about telling you not to just satisfice but to always look for the best. Mr. Brooks went on to caution readers not to just satisfice, but to always look for the best.

Okay, that’s it for me this week. I hope you found some words worth celebrating. Feel free to join Wondrous Words Wednesday. Be sure to visit Kathy for the details.

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First Paragraph: The Rosie Project

firstparagraphEvery Tuesday I join Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea to share the first paragraph (or two) of a book I’m reading or about to read. Feel free to join the fun.

This week I’m featuring The Rosioe Project by Graeme X. This is such a fun book to experience. The main character narrates the story and I couldn’t help but love him. Here’s how the story begins:

Rosie ProjectOne
I may have found a solution to the Wife Problem. As with so many scientific breakthroughs, the answer was obvious in retrospect. But had it not been or a series of unscheduled events, it is unlikely I would have discovered it.

The sequence was initiated by Gene’s insisting I give a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome that he had previously agreed to deliver himself. The timing was extremely annoying. The preparation could be time-shared with lunch consumption, but on the designated evening I had scheduled ninety-four minutes to clean my bathroom. I faced with a choice of three options, none of them satisfactory.


What do you think?

Would you keep reading?

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The Year Ahead in Reading

I hope you had a warm and wonderful holiday season. I certainly did. The entire family was together. We haven’t been able to do that since we all met at the Grand Tetons last year. We are all back home now, although still feeling the warmth of being surrounded by those we love. It’s time, however, to move on into the new year and think about what’s next.

I have this “thing” that the first book of the new year has to be special. Special isn’t always defined the same way from year to year. I looked back at all my “first books” since I’ve been blogging — the only years in my life when I’ve been neurotic about keeping track of what I’ve read. (Probably the biggest regret of my life.)

When I looked back, what I found was interesting, at least to me. Only two books were by familiar and favorite author — Amy Tan and Shannon Hale. The others were authors I took a chance on. I’m glad I did, as the books were real winners such as Kathyrn Stockett and Christina Baker Kline. In some cases, the books themselves were unique to me such as the first Amish literature (Plain Perfect), or a first graphic novel (French Milk) or the first in a series of new historical mysteries (All That Glitters). Here’s my list from the past eight years starting with the most recent:

  • All that Glitters by Michel Murphy
  • The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
  • Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  • Audition by Barbara Walters and Dream More by Dolly Parton
  • Austenland by Shannon Hale
  • The Help by Kathryn Stocked
  • French Milk by Lucy Knisley (a graphic novel)
  • Plain Perfect by Beth Wiseman

For 2016 I have a huge list of books I want to read. To tell you the truth, at this point they all seem pretty special. Here are some of the books I’m most excited about:
4 Books for 2016After You by Jojo Moyes,
The Crossing by Michael Connelly,
The Secret Chord, the latest boos by Geraldine Brooks and
Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham.

I belong to two book clubs and we have already chosen our books for the year ahead. Of course, you know how it is with a book club — some books you’re more excited about reading than others. As it happens, there are several books on each list that I’ve already read. That’s okay, though. There are plenty I’m excited about. Here are four books I’m really looking forward to:

Book Club Choices 2016The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman,
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain,
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (my suggestion), and
The Arsonist by Sue Miller.

I have so many books on my shelves just waiting for me. I don’t want to abandon them, so I’ve created a mixed to-read list. I’ll read some older books along with the newer ones. I’ve joined the Triple Dog Dare You Challenge so, until April 1st, my goal is to read only the books that were on my shelves on December 31st.

With that in mind, I’m ready to tell you the “special books” that will start off the new year. (drum roll, please) I chose two books to start off 2016. One has been on my list a couple of years, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. The other has been with me for only a couple of months, The Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradl. I think it’s going to be another great reading year for me. That’s my hope for you as well.

Kitchens od the Great MidwestRosie Project

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