Sunday, September 28, 2014

RIP IX - A Little Something Different

I have discovered, through a fellow blogger, a new graphic novelist/artist - Emily Carroll has done some truly interesting stuff with the horror genre. Here is a taste of her work, no pun intended. The piece is called Out of Skin and appears on here website. Check it out!

Her first book is called Through the Woods and is a collection of short horror stories that are made incredibly powerful because of her imagery.  I believe Out of Skin is included in the book. Really. Check it out! The book is intended for young adults and older. You'll see why when you get a look. It would be far too scary for youngsters.

This book and the website are the perfect addition to my reading and looking challenge at Carl's literary event called RIP IX. This is horror of the first order - spare words, strong images, and a lasting creepy impression. Good work, Emily Carroll!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - Vermont

Late in August, we vacationed for a week up along the shores of Lake Champlain.

We spent our days riding our bikes along farm roads that wended through fields and pastures.

Sunsets at the little cottage we rented were really lovely.

We loved finding fields of sunflowers that are becoming a popular crop for farmers.

... and barns, did I mention barns?  So many different kinds and colors !

On our last afternoon at the cottage, I stopped and picked a bouquet of Queen Anne's Lace to have for a dinner table centerpiece. It was so pretty!

We have pledged to go back next summer ... I can't wait.

posted to Saturday Snapshot ... click the link to visit other folks' offerings

Friday, September 26, 2014

Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane

I can honestly say that this book creeped me out in a very big way. It's 9 AM in the morning and I have spent the last three hours turning pages because I just HAD to get Terry Daniels, US Marshal off that evil rock of an island safe and sound. UH OH ... government conspiracy theory may go out the window. Wait, what? WHAT?

This is a book so horrifying because it hits you right where you are the most vulnerable - your fear of losing control and your grip on reality.  Loss of control is the scariest of scary situations for most people. It's what causes the panic for anyone who has a phobia. It's the premise behind strapping you into hellish amusement park rides, It's the dirty little secret behind why we inwardly squirm and steer clear from people who are obviously delusional. Being out of control or being in a situation where we have given control over to others who don't honor our vulnerability is terrifying. What's equally terrifying is being with someone who you think is solid, only to find that they are a quivering mass of psychoses. What seems real turns out to be unreal. What's unreal is the comforting way you wish things would continue. BUT ... if things go bad with the unreal situation , then what? THEN WHAT ?

US Marshal, Terry Daniels is a rock of a guy - smart, strong, always thinking. He's had his hard knocks in life. He's seen the worst of fighting and liberation activities during WWII. He's slowly bounced back from a drinking problem that he hangs on a case battle fatigue and become an esteemed US Marshal. He's slowly recovered from the tragic death of his wife in a horrid apartment fire. But he misses her and remains obsessed with finding the worthless dirtbag that set the building on fire. On top of it all, he's sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance/escape of a deranged inmate. This, while actually doing undercover investigating for a US Senator into the top-secret psychiatric experiments that the staff are performing on inmates at the facility. This is a recipe for a classic cop thriller, but readers get more than they bargained for here ... and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Lehane has given his fans a story that will haunt them and make them return to the book to ponder Daniels, his partner, the doctors, the inmates, the events on Shutter Island and ultimately, the nature of reality and how we perceive it, deal with it, and live with it.

Shutter Island certainly fits with a current literary challenge that I've hooked up with ... RIP IX and I'll be sharing this reaction with the others at the review site.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

RIP IX - Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill

" Horror is rooted in sympathy, after all, in understanding what it would be like to suffer the worst."

                                                                                                                        - Joe Hill

Judas Coyne has seen his share of  'the road'. He's spent years running from a horrible childhood in a podunk region of Louisiana. He's become a hardened, jaded, heavy metal rocker with a following of Goth groupies who he identifies by the states from which they've run. He's toured extensively and spent years on the road with his band, his groupies, his hangers-on, and his team of lackeys. He's a hardened man with a penchant for all things dark and creepy, so when his assistant suggests that he buy a ghost as a gimmick, well, what the Hell. And Hell is just what arrives at the door via UPS.

When a dark suit arrives in a large box, Jude thinks he's been taken for a sucker. Poor guy. Within hours, a presence establishes itself and it means no good for any involved with Jude. As for Jude? The elderly man making his presence known means to take Jude for a ride on 'the night road' - a ride that will take him straight to Hell.

Joe Hill's story might just have gone all gory and ghoulish, like so many other schlocky horror reads and don't get me wrong, it does have its moments of gore and disgust. Hill redeemed himself in my eyes, though, because he spent so much time exploring Jude's relationship with his girlfriend. Marybeth, otherwise known as Georgia, might go the way of all Jude's other 'lovers', but for the ghostly presence of 'Old Man Craddock'.  Marybeth and Jude are bonded when they are faced with defending themselves from the hatred of a ghostly father of one of Jude's previous 'girls'. What they face forces them to look at each other, the past life of the girl that Jude 'sent home' to Craddock, their own individual pasts, and the horrid future they face if they can't help right wrongs that must be reconciled. Jude's character undergoes an awakening that leads him to recognize just how flawed his life has been when it comes to women. He re-evaluates how he treated 'Florida', Craddock's daughter and in so doing, he recognizes a dark secret that Anna had - a secret that destroyed their relationship and brought on a tragic sequence of events. Jude, with Marybeth's love and support, finally does the right thing.

This was a pretty good audio book. I listened to it on a road trip out to New York and during meal prep time at home ... Stephen Lang did the reading and was fine in the character of Jude Coyne. The producers provided these edgy, sawing guitar riffs that began each CD ... it always put me on edge and served to get me a bit tetchy before beginning to listen to the story - a good trick. 

No spoilers, here. All I'll say is that it ends well.

shared at the review site for RIP IX - check it out and join the reading!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Apples- Frank Browning

This is the time of year for apples. There's no disputing it. I went to the orchard the other day with my daughter and there were college kids, young mothers and tykes and the first foliage tourists all enjoying the views from the top of the hill at Alyson's Orchard. The farm stand was loaded up with the first 'early apples' - Macintosh and Golden Crisps, all sorts of squashes and gourds, the last plums, and of course, pumpkins. We were there for bags of apples,though. I had just finished Frank Browning's book on apples, timely to say the least.

Theories and mythology abound regarding the origins of the apple and Mr Browning has given us a rich exploration of the origins of apples from the mountain sides of Kazakhstan along the exploration routes between Asia and Europe. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are the pages that discuss theories about how apple seeds traveled thousands of miles with nomadic peoples and explorers and wild animals to drop and grow in isolation for hundreds of years, creating apple varieties that vary widely. His book tells of breeding programs across the ages that have created the most known varieties of apples, the use of apples within the cider industry, the politics of apple propagation, and the history and myth of the apple as a sacred image. The genetic aspects of the apple are explored also. Some of that knowledge went a bit over my head, but I got most of it if I read closely and really thought about everything Browning was putting forth. The book was really interesting and to boot, it ended with a chapter that included some great recipes. Of course, I have made a couple - a terrific pork shoulder braised in cider, apples, and mushrooms and an apple cake that is lovely to look at and even better to tuck into! Seasonal reading and seasonal eating - it doesn't get much better than that!

This is not a long book, but it is chock full of information. Browning is an NPR reporter and his writing style reflects a newsman's short, bulleted style of presenting information. He doesn't waste words, but is clear and direct in presenting the story of apples. His chapters are well organized and flow logically. He mixes the human interest aspects of apple propagation and botany really well with the technical information so that one is drawn on further into the book and not turned off by 'dry presentation of minutae'. He even includes a recipe for apple stack cake that comes from the area of Kentucky where he and his family have lived and tended an apple orchard for years. It's obvious he has great love for the orchard life, as he's given the world a great read that's all about the apple!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - Welcome to Fall !!!

Sitting on the terrace wall are a row of pretty little pumpkins! Volunteers, all, they sprung from seeds that were pitched in the compost last fall ... delicata squash seeds, butternut squash seeds, pumpkin seeds, acorn squash seeds that made their way through the winter in the soil and came up in the lower garden when SB spread the composted soil in the spring. Some look to be lovely sugar pumpkins and some look to be delicata/pumpkin hybrids! Interesting, to say the least!

They are destined to be 'vases' for a church supper ... carved out, filled with small plastic cups of water and filled with chrysanthemum blossoms, they will be lovely little harvest home bouquets ... and then, I plan to cook the orange ones up to pulp for pies and stuffed raviolis, and roast the delicata pumpkins with a pork roast! Double duty for these pumpkins! It's the Yankee way!

shared with others at Saturday Snapshot

20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill

I have discovered Joe Hill. During the day, I listen to Heart-Shaped Box on audio as I putter about in the kitchen, but at night, I have been enjoying his collection of short stories called 20th Century Ghosts.

I've curled deep in the covers before bedtime and read about a young girl whose spirit haunts a movie theater and who inspires the people who have seen and spoken to her to keep the theater open at all costs. Do spirits sometimes require us to maintain their earthly dwelling place? After living in a house in Rowley, Massachusetts that was haunted by an elderly man who became quite disturbed at some renovations that we were making, I related to this story.

Another story tells of a boy who has agonized over a childhood prank that had dire consequences and the haunting disappearance of the friend that urged him to commit the dangerous act. The fact that the boy's brother may have caused the friend's disappearance compounds the enormity of the boy's fearful guilt. Yes, guilt is a haunting emotion that can poison one's life.

I've read about a deranged father whose superstition regarding vampires destroys his family and ultimately leads to a darker deed. Are there really vampires hunting us? Hmmm ...

I've squirmed through a story about a murderous kidnapper who has the tables turned on him by one of his many victims. That particular story was the creepiest to me, for what mother doesn't have heart palpitations at the thought of one of her children being taken by a stranger with evil intent?

There seems no end to the dark imagination of Joe Hill and this time of year is the perfect time to light some candles, soften the other lights and enjoy a spooky read. Horror and mystery are not my usual chosen genres. Putting myself in an uncomfortable place as a reader is all for a purpose, though! It's time to participate in Carl's annual literary challenge called RIP IX, a book/story/movie share of all things mystical, horrific, Gothic, murderous, and fantastical. 20th Century Ghosts is the first of my offerings, not a new book or a new author, but new to me and my tender sensibilities! Next up, Heart-Shaped Box !

To join in the reading fun, hit the link for Carl's RIP IX post that I created above and check out all the options for participating ... there's a lot of good creepy reading out there! September and October are ripe for a jaunt through the genres of horror, mystery, crime series, Gothic horror, psychological thrillers, et cetera! Come on ... double dog dare you!

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Sometimes the late summer sunsets seem like true peeks into heaven ... or a portal to some greater part of the universe, depending on your belief system.

shared with others at Saturday Snapshot photoshare, Melinda Ott's blog called West Metro Mommy Reads

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Delicious! - Ruth Reichl

Let me just say that I love Ruth Reichl. She knows food and she knows New York City. She's not one to languish over her storyline in that she moves things right along, but still holds back certain details that intrigue. It's exactly what she's done with her latest novel. It's obvious from the start that young Billie Breslin has a strange 'something' in her past, but what it is remains a mystery until far into the book. Instead, Billie's  refusal to work in the kitchen after the first few pages of the book tease the reader. Her letters home to her sister reveal a tight family on the west coast, even as she makes her way as a young administrative assistant at Delicious!, a prominent foodie magazine based in NYC. She meets a host of interesting folks as she settles into her job and is introduced to life in the city - everyone from the editor-in-chief with his darling mutt to the cantankerous chef in the magazine's test kitchen. Especially endearing is the lovable Italian family that runs a popular neighborhood cheese shop and hires Billie for a weekend gig at the shop. Then, of course, there's the handsome Complainer who stops into the shop every weekend to mix it up with the shop sales folk. It's a fun blend of people that all come together to tell a story of a magazine that is closed abruptly and the mystery that surrounds its headquarters and a room full of correspondence between James Beard (a past employee of Delicious!) and a young fan during the WWII era.

This is a rich novel, full of small details about foodie trends, past and present. Reichl drops names of famous chefs and restaurants, also current and past. There are scenes where dinners and their menus get top treatment, all while moving the story line along. It's a fun read that will no doubt, inspire a few recipes in tribute to the book! Oh, and the girl gets the guy at  the end ... equally satisfying too when you've been reading chick lit. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Spooky Reading Challenge - R.I.P. IX

Okay, I'm up for this! Fall is here and before you know it Halloween will be knocking on our doors and rattling the window latches. Leave it to Carl to spur me to dig a bit into the murky, muddy, malevolent depths of the genres of fantasy, horror, mystery, Gothic romance, suspense, and real-life non-fiction mayhem. His seasonal literary challenge is called R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril and it runs through September and October. Visit his site called Stainless Steel Droppings  (cursor over blog title = link to site) to read about all the options for participating in this literary blogshare!

I am always impressed by Carl's level of preparation for his literary events. The badges are clever and really beautiful. He is always diligent in catching up with his participants. His themes are always fun and wide open to different readers' interpretations. To boot, he always promotes good dialogue between his various participants.

I'm opting to participate on a few levels. Thus far, I have an audio version of Joe Hill's haunting thriller called Heart-Shaped Box, Dennis Lehane's creepy psychological cop story called Shutter Island, a collection of spooky short stories by Joe Hill called 20th Century Ghosts, and finally a movie edition of Susan Hill's novel called The Woman in Black that stars Daniel Radcliffe. These titles and the movie should give me a few creeps ... I'm also looking for a real-life story that will creep me out. Suggestions anyone? I've already read Helter Skelter, In Cold Blood, and The Devil in the White City ...

So ... that's my scary reading list for the next couple months. What are you planning to check out as Halloween approaches? Check out Carl's blog to see about this neat reading share!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Devil in the Kitchen - Marco Pierre White

Interesting to hear the chef's side of the story ... well, kinda. White's rise within the world of top British restaurants may have seemed meteoric, but he banged around many a kitchen on his rise to 'rock star chef'' status. My impression of him, as I read his life story, is that he is a hard working Brit with a constant urge to be the best and prove himself a top notch chef, entrepreneur, restauranteur, whatever. He was certainly a 'sponge' that soaked up technique, food sensibilities of French haute cuisine, kitchen organization, food presentation technique, cost management, et cetera, as he worked the kitchens of great restaurants such as La Gavroche and La Tante Claire ... all this from a kid who never attended cooking school, but learned from his father, a career restaurant chef from Leeds, in the north of England.

Coming of age during the 80's, White worked hard during restaurant hours and hung out during off hours with a young party set. His tale recounts run ins with celebrities and prominent social personalities. The irony is that he tends to observe the scene and not actively participate and that's probably a good thing, as that era was rife with raves, cocaine, punk culture, and AIDS. Chef White spent his time dancing around the perimeter of major parties and saving his energy for honing his skills in the restaurant kitchens of his employers.

White's rise as a chef was meteoric and his reputation for being explosive and downright rude when it came to demanding (or equally rude) customers became a side show to his culinary genius. I was turned off at the descriptions of his confrontations with various celebrities and rude restaurant parties and I must admit some of the food he describes cooking holds no fascination for me. Pig trotters, lamb sweetbreads, most offal, and truffles are not high on my list of 'must haves', so the sophistication of his cuisine escapes me, but it is certainly eye-opening to know just the amount of quiet obedience one must pay to the chef when one is an underling in the kitchen and it appears that Marco Pierre White paid his dues.

After reading this autobiography, I went back looking for a signature dish that I might try my hand at. I'll contemplate the asparagus mousse ... and see what the addition of chicken will do for it . On second thought, perhaps I'll look through some regional cookbooks from England and pick a simple country dish from the north of England to honor his humble beginnings for unlike, MPW, I have no desire to have three Michelin stars, prove myself to any world class foodie culture, or perfect kitchen craft. I just want a comforting plate of food on the table when I sit down to my supper.

Still, I have great respect for one so driven.  And he sure was a looker, back in the day!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Fault In Our Stars

From the moment I began reading this novel, I knew why it became so wildly popular with teen readers. John Green has a wonderful way with inner dialogue. He uses it so well in developing the character of Hazel Grace, the book's protagonist. She is sassy and sarcastic, intelligent and full of emotion - wise beyond her years. At the same time, she has all the typical characteristics of a typical teen, right down to her TV watching habits, her dress, her sometimes 'attitude' toward her parents, and her classic teen attitude toward bureaucracy and authority.  Her observations on life and the vagaries of living with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis are at turns funny and wrenching. She bursts off the page of the book and right into the heart of the reader. I mean, really, who wouldn't feel for a young, smart teenager who is waiting for the shoe of Death to drop, but still manages to yank her O2 tank around and build a romance that will last the ages from an encounter at a cancer support group? Pop in some funny and supportive friends and relations, a 'make-a-wish' trip to Amsterdam, and a turn-about ending that yanks out your heart and squishes it flat on the driveway and I'd say you've got an equation for a teen literary phenomenon.

That being said, this book that John Green has written deals with some age-old issues that everyone will grapple with before their time on Earth is done. Wondering if we will ever be truly and deeply loved, whether we will be remembered when we're gone, and just what meaning our life has had will creep into all our brains at some point. Hazel and her friend Gus are forced to deal with these questions sooner than normal. Having teen characters face them with such honesty and angst is what makes this book so powerful. Of course, when a loved one is lost, there is no happy ending, but when deep life issues are confronted and dealt with effectively, there is a satisfaction that comes with the ending of one's life and the moving on that comes afterward by one's loved ones.

There is an equally popular movie adaptation to the book that I will see at some point, but I find it hard to think that it will equal the book. There were so many well-written passages that were thought-provoking and 'quotable', passages that a reader will find sticking in the back of the mind; for me, it was the following  quote. I have pondered it at different points since reading the book - when I contemplate God, when I see some knock-down beautiful view out there in the world, when I felt the unborn kittens in my cat's belly squirm, when I watched friends marry over the weekend and saw that look pass between them while they danced. Yes, the universe demands to be noticed in so many ways.

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?” 
                                                                                                                               - John Green

Good book. Not surprised that it has stuck so long on the best-seller lists.