Saturday, March 3, 2018

Drawing ConclusionsDrawing Conclusions by Deirdre Verne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve gotten a little tired lately of the typical “themed” cozy mystery. At first blush, this book appears to be a cozy, but I wouldn’t classify it as such. There is no gore, but there is some language and some sexy times (nothing over the top, but it’s there). The main character is also a Freegan - we meet CeCe when she and friend Charlie are dumpster diving. They live in what amounts to a commune, established by CeCe, along with three other people - Jonathon and Trina, who are dating, and Becky, who is involved with Charlie.

The book opens with CeCe of the death of her twin brother, Teddy. It turns out to be murder. I’m sad that we never really get to meet Teddy as I think he was a cool guy. CeCe becomes a target, but it’s anyone’s guess as to why. Enter Frank DeRosa, detective. He’s been requested by CeCe’s father, Dr. William Prentice, to solve Teddy’s murder and winds up guarding CeCe, along with two other officers. I like that there isn’t friction between the house and the cops - they all wind up working together. The big catch to all of this is that Teddy was a scientist, working on decoding the human genome, and he worked at a lab basically run by CeCe’s father.

One of the best things about this book is CeCe’s involvement in finding out who killed Teddy is organic. She doesn’t look to get involved, but after she becomes a target, her involvement (and her roommates involvement), just seems natural. It doesn’t hurt that she’s an artist with a gift for faces.

The thing I struggled with in this book was the Freegan lifestyle. I get organic farming. I get communal living. I get not wanting a 9-5 job (CeCe’s an artist and her sketches did help solve the case). I get going with a used car, though I’m not sure why it had to be so ancient as a Gremlin - the gas mileage and pollution from that thing have to not be in line with Freeganism. Why not a used hybrid or even an electric car? I don’t get not using a washer and dryer. I don’t really get dumpster diving for food.

Despite the Freeganism angle, I very much enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the next one in the series. I liked the Detective. I liked how CeCe’s skills contributed to the investigation. I liked how the other cops got along with the housemates. I liked that this was definitely not the run of the mill mystery. Odd main character, but in a way I like that she challenges me a bit. Recommended if you like a good mystery and/or are looking for a change from the “themed” cozy mysteries.


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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Recipe Review: Banoffee Scones

It's been awhile since I've posted a recipe review. I have been baking, but not blogging my efforts. Some are go to recipes, like this Peach Vanilla Muffin recipe, from Inspired Taste.  I can't believe I haven't reviewed this recipe on the blog. It is one of my favorite muffin recipes (and I'm a connoisseur of muffins). I love peaches and this recipe uses a fresh peach. Next time I bake them, the review will be done.   

Banoffee Scone (w/ chocolate chips rather than toffee)
Recently, I've been visiting a bakery next to my office (there's not much in the way of food near my office). I only get their poppyseed scone and they've not had them on a regular basis lately. Then, I realized, I love to bake so why not make my own? Which was my goal today. But, I had bananas, so I set out to find a banana scone recipe.  I did not find any in my cookbooks, but the good folks at King Arthur had this recipe. So today, I'm reviewing scones - Banoffee Scones, only mine are not really Banoffee - banana and toffee.  I'm not a huge fan of toffee, hence I don't have any. So, I used chocolate chips instead (Enjoy Life Dairy Free mini chocolate chips). I also used Hemp milk, and half margarine/half butter and two small bananas.  I did brush with milk (hemp) and sprinkle turbinado sugar on the top before baking. I have to say, I'm happy with the results and am glad to have another banana recipe. I'll be doing these again.  If you've looking for something different to bake with your bananas, give this recipe a try.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews

The WeekendersThe Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d say this is more like 3.5 stars, but not quite 4. I wouldn’t say it’s the best book by this author, but in the end it wasn’t too bad. Just starting out, though, woo, some highly unlikable characters. The book focuses on Riley, who’s marriage is at an end, and her 12 year old daughter, Maggy. There is her best friend, Parrish, and her husband, Ed, mother, Evelyn, brother Billy, and his partner, Scott, her aunt, Roo, and lastly Nate Milas and his mother, Annie. At the beginning of the book, Riley and Maggy and Parrish and Ed are headed to Belle Isle for the summer. Riley’s family owns a chunk of the island and did most of the initial development. She’s trying to decide how to tell her family, especially her daughter, that her marriage is at an end. And, it’s not like she didn’t try to save it. Things start going wrong and they just keep going wrong. The big disaster is the murder of Riley’s husband, Wendell. Riley comes to learn that there is a LOT she did not know about Wendell. To make matters worse, she winds up having to stay with her mother, who is more in to social niceties and what is “right,” than supporting her daughter.

Turns out her husband stole all of Riley’s money, but it wasn’t really stolen because her father gave him control over Riley’s trust fund! Yes, this woman, among other things was raised by parents who basically felt like men were to be in charge and women were to maintain their place. It didn’t help any that Billy is gay, so basically Wendell became the son they wanted, so he got carte blanche of the family business and everyone pays in the end.

This is not all fluffy, though, it’s still chick-lit. It just addresses things not seen often in these kinds of books - alcoholism, rebellious and ugly tweens, truly awful people. Because, make no mistake -- Wendell was not a good person.

Early on in the book, I couldn’t decide what I thought and read some of the reviews, mostly the bad ones as the good ones were over the top. I now wonder if some of those reviewers even read the whole book. If it’s not for you and you stop, that’s fine. Most who do that, own that in their review. However, the ending of the book and revelation of the killer were not as stated in some reviews. Let me just say, the murder of Wendell doesn’t disappear -- it’s just never front and center, but the Sheriff circles back around throughout the book. Also, I’d like to note that the Sheriff is not the one who reveals the killer to Riley. The story is really about Riley trying to figure out how she’s going to get on with her life after she learns that her husband has literally squandered all of her money. And, deal with a 12 year old who is definitely pushing all her buttons. As much as Maggy annoyed me, this is probably par for the course for a 12 year old, especially one dealing with a new diagnosis of diabetes (what 12 year old wants to be different) and the death of her father, who she adored and who, it seems, adored her. His one redeeming feature.

I liked the characters of Riley and Parrish. I enjoyed their friendship. I liked Riley’s closeness with her brother and Scott. The mom is the mom. Many of us have dealt with mother’s like that and nothing will change them. They are who they are. Aunt Roo was a hoot. We should all have a Roo. I enjoyed the setting of Belle Isle as well. I’ve encountered small towns and have fond memories of one, but it’s like living in a fish bowl. Some reviewers thought the ending was all tied up with a bow. I felt like Riley worked to get her ending. Best scene in the book was Riley quitting her new job and liberating Maggy from her new school. To me, it showed her finally getting back on an even keel and taking charge instead of being dragged in the wake of Wendell’s poor decisions. Maggy redeemed herself a bit; Evelyn, not so much. There is more to Billy than meets the eye and Scott as well.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book. Some things come out of the blue (like who killed Wendell), but life is like that. If you are a review reader, I’d recommend ignoring the reviews and giving it a go. But, read all of it. Don’t quit 100 pages in -- finish it. And, not just to find out who killed Wendell, but to see how Riley rebuilds her life.


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Monday, January 15, 2018

Book Review: Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I very much enjoyed the The Other Side of Midnight, which was the first book I read by this author. That led to this book, which can now be listed among my favorites. I can’t really put it in a category, but in the end I’d go ahead and say mystery/historical mystery, with some paranormal elements and bit of gothicness.

Beware -- there be spoilers ahead -- marked when you get there. Several reviewers thought is was a poorly done ghost story. It’s not a ghost story. A ghost plays a role in the story, but it is essentially Jo’s story and somewhat Alex’s story and shows how some people can wind up living in limbo.

We meet Jo Manders after she has been in the employ of Dottie Forsyth, her aunt by marriage, for several months, accompanying Dottie on a trip across the continent to collect artwork to sell. Dottie is a shrewd, if somewhat cold, woman. She takes advantage of the disasters wrought by the war to make a little money. Jo’s husband, Dottie’s nephew, is missing in action, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. This leaves Jo in a limbo of sorts -- not really a wife, but not a widow and with no government pension. She takes the job with Dottie out of necessity, since she is also supporting her mother, who is in an insane asylum.

Upon arrival at Dottie’s home, we learn it has been closed for several years following the suicide of her daughter, Frances, who was 15 at the time. They are anticipating the return of son Martin, who has been away at hospitals trying to recover from grievous injuries received in the war. Dottie’s goal is to marry Martin off -- to Jo. This is something neither wants and as Jo points out, something that can’t happen due to her murky legal status as a not quite widow (she’s still married in the eyes of the law). Fortunately, neither participant wants to marry and suitable arrangements are made by Dottie (they seem odd at first, but in the end it works for everyone). From here, though, a friendship develops between Martin and Jo and is one of the many things I liked about this book.

Upon arrival at Wych Elm House, Jo sees the ghost of Frances and from there odd things happen. Jo realizes these happenings are Frances and that Frances is trying to tell her something. She comes to realize that all is not what it seems with Frances’ death and sets out to find what really happened to Frances. Along the way, she discovers photography, thanks to Alex’s camera - the one thing of his she could not give away.

**Spoilers if you continue** Alex, it turns out, is not dead. This comes as somewhat of shock to the family and to Jo. There were clues hinting at this in the book, but everyone believes since he was missing in action he must be dead. It takes Jo a bit to come to terms with this. Not surprising - what she has learned during her time at Wych Elm House and in her talks with Martin and a Colonel Mabry, her husband had not be totally honest with her about his wartime activities. His three year disappearance cost her everything and forced her to work for Dottie, who was never kind. And, she’s not sure if he came back for her or to finish the one mission he couldn’t. Most women would hesitate under these circumstances, however, she loves him, so eventually she listens. And, it turns out their goal is the same -- find out who killed Frances.

There’s much more to this book -- too much to touch on in a review. Many little undercurrents that all connect. Several threads run this story, but nothing seems extraneous. It's as much about getting on with living as it is about finding out what happened to Frances. The “reveal” is a bit dramatic, but I appreciated the fact that it was not the end. We got a bit more -- not quite total closure, but close. Jo and Alex have two options for the future (well - two options for Alex’s future job), but we don’t know which one they picked. I know which one I hope they pick, but there’s a small part of me that says it’s the other one, with a twist. The person responsible for Frances’ death was not who I expected, but it made sense and wasn't at all farfetched.

One thing I was left to wonder about and will for a while: If Frances was mad because of what she saw, are Jo and Alex mad because they saw what Frances saw? Frances, I think, was schizophrenic, but I think maybe she saw what others couldn’t (i.e. spirtis/ghosts) and had no way to make sense of what she saw. So, she was mad. Jo felt like everything was being erased on her last visit to Wych Elm House, which made me wonder if the strange occurrences really happened or if it was imagined by Jo. The ending seems to says yes, it happened, so I’m going with that.