Tour’s Books Blog

September 2, 2012

Perfect Pairs

Some things just go together.   Chocolate and fruit.  Mac and cheese.  Rib roast and potatoes.  Lobster and butter.  Pasta and tomato sauce. Gin and tonic.  Reading and travel.  And is anything better than peanut butter and chocolate??????  Combinations so fundamental, they’re ubiquitous.  You can’t find a burger place, regardless of how snooty and high end, that doesn’t serve potatoes.  And most lobster lovers will stab you with their fork if try and steal their butter.  Some other pairings need a bit more ……………. ummmmm, developed tastes.

I confess, I like peanut butter (Skippy All Natural Super Chunk) and crispy bacon (Schaller and Weber hand cut thick slice) on toast – or a toasted roll.  It really is good.  No, REALLY!  OK, not ……… normal perhaps, but amazing.  I know Elvis liked fried peanut butter, banana sandwiches, but I’m not a big fan of bananas.  Bacon, GOOD bacon, that I love and it goes so well many things, including peanut butter.  I also love creamy peanut butter stuffed dates rolled in sugar – the very first food I ever learned to make in kindergarten – and perfect for my brother’s cooking skill level – nil.  My brother and I make them every year at Christmas.  Even his wife likes them.  (She’s Polish and eats stuffed cabbage, so keep that in mind.)  You’ll notice the peanut butter trend.  Yes, it is my safety net food.

One thing any business traveler will tell you is to have some non-perishable food handy – and bring a book, print, ebook, even a game.  For me, the food is cheese and peanut butter crackers and maybe some Nutter Butter or Oreo’s in those small packs.   The hours wasted in airports is mind numbing – and often ass numbing as well.  And occasionally, when stuck somewhere in a small airport, there’s nowhere to eat – or worse, sitting on the tarmac waiting for your flight to be released due to weather, flights attendants are unable to serve food even in first class.  Those packages of crackers have saved more than just me from starvation.

Books are what will keep you entertained – or maybe video games.  I like having both new books and rereads when on long flights.  I read fast, so thick books can easily be finished by the time we touchdown if I fly to the west coast.  I read Point of Impact on a trip to Arizona.  A friend needed a book, so I passed it on to him.  He still remembers that nearly 20 years later.  Like me, he read the other Bob Lee Swagger books and when he called in my office, I made sure to have a pile of books for him to pick from.  Every once in awhile, you start a book and hate it, well, go to the back-up reread.  It’s not like you can stop the plane and go look for something better – unless you have a wi-fi Kindle or other ereader.  Frankly, I cannot imagine any business traveler without one these days, even if its a Smartphone.   I kind of hate watching movies on planes, even on those personal screens, (It has to do with seeing Godzilla too many times on Asia flights.  As aversion therapy, it works.), but you can watch them if you hate reading.

Fall was always a favorite travel time for me, especially for vacations.  Kids are back in school, so the mad summer rush is over, the weather cooled off, and I can extend summer by heading down to the islands or enjoy a long fall by going up to New England and following the changing leaves south.  I read on a plane, but NEVER in a car.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been prone to car sickness.  The smell of leather will forever be associated with memories of being sick as a dog for me.  Mom had a Chrysler Imperial Highlander with red and blue plaid wool upholstery insets in maroon leather, a black exterior, and the approximate curb weight of a tank.  It also could not be easily killed, so we had that thing a LONG time.  I now have a car with leather interior, but it took me decades to reach the point where I didn’t get the instant urge to vomit the moment I smelled leather.  Now I can wear leather coats and own a car with leather seats – not by choice, it’s the way it came.  They’ve worn like iron and I’m ALWAYS getting leather from now on.  Too bad buying cars is only slightly less desirable that root canal without Novocaine.

They say your strongest memories are triggered by smells, and that’s why you bake bread or pie when selling a house.  It smells like home.  Oh course, our house generally smelled like wet dog, but oddly, that’s not a selling point.  Fall smells differently that other seasons.  No, I honestly don’t remember the smell of burning leaves, but fall always smelled like apples to me.  Trees get dressed if the fanciest colors, the air turns dry and cool, pumpkins start showing up everywhere along with pots of mums in colors that match the trees, and produce stands smell like fresh apples.  As I said before, mom wasn’t a cook, so if we had fresh baked apple pie it was thanks to Mrs Smith, but she could manage things like chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin bread – a quick bread made with Bisquick.  To this day I make a version of that, only mine is modified from a recipe from Madia Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, and a perfect fall cake – all moist and rich with pumpkin, spice, raisins, and nuts.  If Spring is rhubarb and strawberries, fall is pumpkin and apples – and cranberries.

The Halloween candy hit the food stores in August.  (Talk about rushing the season!)  And it’s that time of the year when books, especially mysteries and thrillers, get a surge of new releases.  The summer doldrums are over and the beach reads mostly gone, the scare new releases of mysteries during July and August suddenly burst out in full bloom.  In just the past 2 weeks, I’ve gotten about 10 new ones, cozies mostly, but a Brett Battles book came and the new Jack Reacher book arrives tomorrow – something I face with some trepidation as Lee Child hasn’t been all that reliable with one of my favorite fictional characters.  I have piles for new releases sitting on Mt TBR, but I also tried to clear out some of the older books and added a few ebooks to list.  So here we go ………….

Paradise By the Rifle Sights by Leslie Langtry is one of her Bombay Assassin Greatest Hits novellas and ebook only that I bought for my Kindle.  Now understand, this series was a true original, funny romantic assassin stories not exactly being thick on the ground.  While not the best in the series, Stand By Your Hitman is one of my favorite rereads.  I didn’t even hesitate to buy Paradise By the Rifle Sights.  Good thing it only cost $2.99 or I’d be foaming at mouth right now.

Like Stand by Your HitmanParadise By the Rifle Sights puts a Bombay on a reality show – only instead of being a rip-off of Survivor, it’s one of those Bachelor romance shows and it’s Paris Bombay stuck with it when his sister, who was assigned the hit, convinced him him to cover for her because of her kids.  Seems the producer of the show is a human trafficker and all around sleazeball.  What the heck, Paris has nothing to do, is longing to find someone like his cousins have, and frankly, he’s a bit bored.  So even though exchanging assignments is against the rules, Paris fills out the bachelor application online and ends up getting called for the audition.  On the flight out to LA, his seatmate is an attractive woman that he manages to insult then ignore.  He has a job to do.

At the studio, Paris finds himself whisked into the interview room and is madly thinking about how he can get into the control booth where his vic is sitting behind a one way glass , while giving the worst interview in history.  In the end, the killing is both loud and messy, not the usual Bombay style, but it gets done.  That should fold the show too, since the vic was the only moneyman funding production.  He manages to fake two additional interviews from the booth then leaves like nothing happened, fully expecting news of his vic’s death to be all over the next day’s news.  Nothing.  Except one thing ………….. he’s the new star of Bachelor.  And by the way, read the fine print on those applications.  The contract is BINDING.

He’s whisked off to the overdone mansion where the filming will take place and since his contract also requires the production company make him happy and comfortable, he fills out the form for his ‘requests’, asking for things like mud baths, Mongolian goat meat, and F Troop to be on all TV’s all day.  And a yoga instructor that only speaks Hindi.  Oh, the things we regret.

To this point, the story was similar to Stand By Your Hitman, but suddenly the plots started getting too much alike as production schedules where pushed up and things got weird.  In the last 70 pages, it all fell apart.  The ending was lame, the ‘romance’ never developed, he marries a barely there bit player in the story, and it all just seemed dumb.  A huge disappointment for a book that had me laughing out loud at times.  It read like a book that was 2/3’s done then just wrapped up as quickly as possible and sold as an ebook because the author had written herself into a corner that only a complete re-write could fix.  Kind of like a straight to video movie.

Paradise By the Rifle Sights had a good beginning, funny first quarter, good second quarter, then started a decline that accelerated to and ending that is best summed up with “WHERE THE HELL DID THE PLOT GO?”  My grade, D+ to C- (2.5*) and even at $2.99 NOT a recommended read.

Things didn’t improve with Ms Langtry’s supposedly humorous look at a marriage falling apart in The Adulterer’s Unofficial Guide to Family.  Nearly as I could see, the amusement was all in the title and then on it was boring to downright insulting.  Molly Harper’s One Last Thing was funny and sad and rang true.  This was just a first person over-indulgence in revisiting a first love under implausible circumstances.  Amazon called Adulterer’s Guide ’emotional and spicy’ and they got the spicy part right.  Emotional, not so much.  Just hypocritical and self indulgent.

The story, told in the first person by a narrator who doesn’t even have a name, just Mike’s wife and , for pages till we finally meet Laura Smith, part time professor, mom of twins, and wife of an ad exec who is married to his job – with a few side benefits.  Of course, it’s not like she has room to complain having had a fling of her own.  Her life is dull, dead, and predictable.  Her PhD dissertation on adultery in literature (another irony that pushed the boundaries of credibility) is going nowhere fast.  Perhaps the story was meant to be as dull and lifeless as Laura feels.  In that it succeeded.  It was as exciting as watching paint dry.

Anyway, the big family vacation to ‘the happiest place on Earth’ – though Disney is NEVER mentioned directly – is the big family event that will save everything – and at the last minute Mike backs out pleading work commitments and a big account.  Laura and twins head down alone, and she ends up moving rooms so they don’t have the endless walks to the resort bus.  (ever been to Disney World?  Those walks ain’t for the tired.)  She ends up in a room next door to her first love, now a successful play write in NYC, Alan.  His wife Susan, a successful lawyer, also backed out at the last minute leaving him with his 4 and 5 years olds.  What are the odds?  (Eye roll)

The tedious story drags on thru predictable events, choppy memories of Laura’s past affair, the unhappy life she allowed herself to fall into, and then allowing herself to fall for the fantasy of first love returned.

I suppose this is a romance, albeit an angsty, improbable, and cliched one.  The HEA is about as likely as winning the lottery and lot less exciting.  Dull, kids marginalized to non-entities, spouses barely there, this self-adsorbed story managed to be annoying, boring, and brainless all rolled into one – despite the sex scenes, including the one in the limo.

Avoiding all the ethical and moral issues here, the story was just lifeless, stupid and pushed the reader into trying to believe in something that was fairy tale bull.  Mostly, I just felt my intelligence had been insulted and all of the characters were pretty much morally questionable at best.  Mike actually came off as the most mature and reasonable.  The epilogue HEA was slightly less believable than the Easter Bunny.

The Kindle edition was $4.99 and not worth it.  In print it’s an insane $11.99.   The Adulterer’s Unofficial Guide to Family is a sleeping pill in print.  Miss this book.  My score is D- (1.8*) and a strong recommendation to avoid it at all costs.

OK, moving along to stories that have no pretense of ‘slice of life’ reality – Elizabeth Lapthorne’s Desperate Fantasies a book that had a short novella, Desperate and Dateless followed by first of the Montague Vampire stories, Heated Fantasies, a short novel.

Like most novellas, especially the short ones, the plot was simple, Vlad, a Vampire Prince, is coming into heat, something vamps do infrequently, and it’s the only time a male vampire is fertile.  It also sends them searching for their mates.  Vlad finds his at the Desperate and Dateless Ball in the from of a security guard named Vicci.  Since this was written for Ellora’s Cave, you can cue the hot sex and HEA in 60 pages.  Only a writer with Lapthorne’s skill could make it readable and modestly interesting.

Heated Fantasies was the highlight here as Lapthorne had 200 pages to develop a futuristic type novel introducing the Montague Vampires some 200 years from now.  Clare Rooney is a present day librarian avoiding an oily come on from an unwanted admirer when she starts shelving books, only to find a very old book she’s never seen before – a book on vampire anatomy.  Tracing the odd inset, she reads the even stranger words – and finds herself on a whole different world hundreds of years from her time and no way home.

The book appeared to be an ancient text on the anatomy and anthropology of vampires – and she lands on a world where they are very real. Taken in by two scholars, she finds herself slowly acclimating to this strange place and working in what passes for an antique bookshop – until the day Simeon Montague comes in looking Graveel, the vampire that rescued her and went looking for answers to her problem, leaving her with his kindly, though absent minded friend.

Simeon was expecting many things when he went hunting for Graveel, but finding his mate was not among them.  Now Simeon has to convince Clare she really is his mate, beat off his interfering brothers who nearly botch everything for him, and try and figure out where Graveel went with this mysterious book.

Amusing, good characters, decent world building, this is what a good erotic romance should be.  Largely ignoring the novella up front, I’ll give this a B- (3.6*) and suggested read for erotic romance lovers.  Both stories can be purchased as ebooks from Ellora’s Cave website.  The print book containing both, I got thru a book swapping site, but can be found used on sites like Half.com

Powdered Peril by Jessica Beck is the latest in the Donut Shop mystery series – and first one I actually liked.  Where I usually find the plots silly and the characters annoying, this time, the plot actually worked and characters stayed within sane limits to very near the end, and that didn’t spoil it, just annoyed me a bit.

Suzanne Hart is a classic divorced woman finding her second life and a lot of fulfillment owing a donut shop in her small hometown of Alice Springs.  Her best friend Grace has caught her boyfriend cheating on her – and apparently everyone else.  Seems Peter Morgan was kind of a small time con artist that skirted the very edge of the law, cheerfully screwing over business partners, friends and family.  Anything for a buck.  And with the attitude that his victims ‘deserved it’ for trusting him, he’s not a likable fellow.

Well Grace trusted him and until she caught him out, by of all things, his cell phone.  A phone with all his OTHER girl friends on it.  Grace, kicks him out and then goes and cries on Suzanne’s shoulder.  But Suzanne keeps very early hours, so Grace leaves for home and Ben and Jerry’s therapy.  Suzanne’s mornings start in the middle of everyone’s night, so she’s off to make the donuts – except the police are everywhere behind her shop.  A man had been murdered – Peter Morgan.

Grace is one of many suspects, but pretty much top of the list.  Plus she feels guilty.  After she went home, Peter came back, drunk and repentant, wanting get a second chance.  Grace sent him away.  Now she feels like her actions might have contributed to his death.

But Peter’s life turns out to be a lot more complex than anyone thought.  To help her friend find peace and also to try and find the killer, Grace and Suzanne start asking questions – and the answers leave Grace even more disillusioned and wins the women no friends.  It’s when their car is run off the road that they realize just how serious someone is about finding Peter’s secret.  The secret that would let him blackmail someone with a lot of money and a lot to lose.

Though the killer does toss out the clue you need, the story of Peter is really the core and overall, I found this entry a lot more satisfying than the previous books.  I think it’s because this tie, there was a very real personal link to the victim, and the story worked on several levels at once, rather than just a question to be solved.  Powdered Peril gets a solid B (4*) from me a suggested read for cozy lovers.  Under Amazon’s 4-for3 program, I bought this for $5.99.  Try and get it at one of the big discounters, like Walmart, for a good price.  At the $7.99, it’s a bit high.

Brett Battles hit the action thriller scene a few years back with a terrific first book, The Cleaner – the start of his Quinn series.  While the series has had its ups and downs, Battles has branched out and with his Logan Harper series he opted to do as several well known authors have lately and use Create Space, Amazon’s self publishing platform.  The first book, Little Girl Gone I bought in print.  Unlike his complex Quinn books, Little Girl Gone is a basic, straightforward thriller of limited complexity and very fast moving.

Logan Harper is a man with a past he’d just as soon forget.  Now he works at his dad’s garage fixing cars and living quietly in central California.   But his simple life is destroyed when he interrupts the assault and attempted murder of ‘Tooney”, the local Burmese immigrant who has run the coffee shops for decades.   A man his father and his father’s cronies, 70 to 80 something Viet Nam vets, have called ‘friend’ his whole life.  Logan saves Tooney, but the old man begs him not to call police, just call his father instead.

After pushing his dad, Harp, and the still silent Tooney, he can’t get them to budge on calling the cops.  But Harp asks Logan to drive to LA and check on Tooney’s granddaughter, Elyse, who was due at her grandfather’s house that afternoon but never showed up.  Not really understanding, but seeing how upset all the men are, Logan agrees.  A simple call at her apartment leads to her neighbors who claim she spent the night before with her boyfriend.  This leads to a house – one that is now empty and smelling of disinfectant and bleach.  Next day the house burns down, the apartment where the neighborhood boys were hanging out with Elyse’s roommates  is empty and as clean as the house – even the trash is burned.  And one of Eylse’s roommates is lying.

Stories begin unraveling and using his one contact at Forbus, the ‘security’ company that fired him, he finds the flight that’s taking Elyse out of the country.  The story moves to Thailand and the politics of Burmese military government meets the greed of oil companies.

Satisfying, believable, but without the complexity of plotting usual for this genre and no weird twists at the end.  But is it worth nearly $14.00 in print?  Not really.  AT $3.99 for the ebook, it’s a bargain.  By rating B (4*) and recommended for ebook (you can get an app for your computer, ipad, or Smartphone if you don’t own a Kindle) only or used in print.

Finally, I grabbed a book that had been sitting in mt TBR pile for nearly a year.  Burning Down the Spouse by Dakota Cassaidy was yet another look at marriage gone bad, closer to Molly Harper’s One Last Thing than Leslie Langtry’s fiasco.  Despite the snarky dialogue and some good characters, it was as predictable as sunrise in the east.

As with One Last Thing, Burning Down the Spouse opens with a very public meltdown of a wife who learns her husband is unfaithful and has her meltdown on live TV at the beginning of a national cooking show.  Walking away from 18 years of marriage with little more than the clothes on her back and dog she rescued from a dumpster, Frankie Bennet indulges in an extended bout of depression, sleeping her days away in her Aunt’s spare bedroom in her senior community in NJ.

Her Aunt Gail gets a friend, Maxine, another former Trophy wife who had to remake her life, to drag Frankie out and back into life.  In this case, a job as a prep chef in a diner kitchen.   Nikos Antonakas is the stuff of Greek legend – tall, dark, handsome and with a loud, boisterous family that seem determined to pull Frankie back to land of the living – and those who bathe regularly.

It quickly apparently that Chloe, a waitress, is none to pleased to see Frankie.  Gradually with the job and going to group therapy, and making a friend of stunning blond Jasmine Archway, another ex-wife who has a knack for numbers and keeps the books at an exotic dance club, Frankie slowly starts living again.  Nikos’ friend, a gorgeous blond ex-quarterback who was blinded in a freak accident, originally goes for Jasmine for revenge, but changes his mind and just chases her for himself.  And Nikos finds himself chasing Frankie.  But both men are hiding things – things that will come back and bite them.

Meanwhile, Frankie’s ex, the would be Emeril, is back and asking her to come back to his show.  Wait a minute, since when do you get asked back to a show that you – quite literally – set fire to?  Turns out, his audience was largely female and his cheating and subsequent round of talk shows where he painted Frankie as a nut, caused a huge drop in ratings.  He needs her back, but this new, still fragile Frankie, knows a line when she hears it and refuses.

Then we have a missing family recipe, the expected accusations, lies about cancer, and all kinds of ‘truth will out’ before we hit the sort of HEA.  As I said, predictable.  Entertaining after the first 60 pages or so, but I guess as someone who always worked for a living, the whole ‘trophy wife’ thing is a bit beyond my understanding.  Anyway, it was OK for what it was.

Amazon and PBS diverge on ratings for this book and I can see why.  It isn’t as entertaining as say, Suzanne Enoch’s Samantha Jellico series, or some of Rachel Gibson’s books, or even her own Accidentally paranormal series, but it was good.  My rating is C+ to B- (3.5*) and buy it used used of as a remainder for about $4 and get your money’s worth.

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OK, so I said Fall smelled like apples, but not many of us have time to make things from scratch these days.  One shortcut I use is frozen puff pastry.  Have you ever SEEN the recipe for puff pastry?  The famous one that opens with, “On a cool, clear, dry day ……” and estimates prep time at 36 hours?  It’s all that refrigeration between roll outs and folding of the dough.  While I have spent 3 days doing a few desserts, making puff pastry is beyond my skill level and I’m a better than average cook.  Thankfully, Pepperidge Farms sells it premade in your freezer case.  No, not as buttery as the real thing, but if it were, you couldn’t afford it.  Just go buy the stuff.  You’ll need 1 box for 2 people, so buy as many boxes as you need.

Now go to your produce department – or better still a local farm stand.  Buy 1 large FIRM red delicious apple for each person.  Put the puff pastry in the fridge for an hour or so to defrost.  Meanwhile, peel and core the apples and put in cold water with lemon juice.  In a small bowl mix (for 4 apples) about 1/3-1/2  cup light brown sugar, dash of salt, some chopped walnuts, chopped white and dark raisins (roll them in extra fine sugar and they’re easier to chop), some fresh nutmeg to taste, a dash or true cinnamon (not that cassia crap), some lemon and orange zest and mix it together with your fingers.  I do this by sight, but figure a couple of tablespoons each of nuts and raisins – and chopping them if really optional, they just fit better – and you can substitute cranraisins for nice change.  Some people use chopped dates, but I find them too sweet for me.)

Take a sheet of the dough and carefully unfold on a LIGHTY floured surface using a lightly floured rolling pin.  Take one of the apples and DRY IT INSIDE AND OUT completely!  Place in the middle of the pastry sheet.  Pull up the opposing corners to make sure it fits.  Now stuff the core with sugar, nut raisin mix and cover with a generous pat of sweet butter (the real stuff, please).  Using a pizza cutter, square off any excess pastry, but save the bits in the fridg in plastic container or covered bowl – and DO NOT mash them together.  Using a pastry brush, ‘paint’ the edges of the pastry square with ice water.  Press the edges of the sides as they meet and if you can, add a decorative twist at the top.  Place the bundle on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining apples.  If making more than 4, keep them in the fridg so the pastry stays cold.

Bake at 400F for 30-40 minutes, or until the apples are tender.  Smaller apples take less time and Yellow Delicious take less time as well.  DO NOT try and use Cortland or Macintosh apples.  They turn mushy.  Rome Beauties look great, but have low flavor levels.  If you can find them, Pippin and Northern Spy are my favorites, but they are smaller than Delicious, but might be more suitable for portion control and honestly, they have a terrific flavor.  Great for pies, too.

Now, about the leftover strips of dough – grate some good sharp white cheddar, and GOOD parmesan from Italy in about equal amounts.  Sprinkle lightly with Kosher salt, and McCormick Italian Herb blend, or use some sweet marjoram, dry basil. and a LITTLE GREEK (not Mexican) oregano, and some fresh ground pepper.  Blend with your fingers till everything is mixed.

Lay out the dough strips, brush with melted SWEET butter, cover generously with the cheese and herb mix, lift the ends and twist.  Some cheese will fall off, jut put it on the exposed sided.  Bake at 400-425F till browned.  These keep well in airtight containers, but better still, serve them hot with your favorite Italian meal and some extra sauce or with appetizers.

The baked apples make a perfect dessert plain, with whipped cream (not the canned or frozen crap, beat heavy heavy with powdered sugar and skip the damn vanilla, that a French thing and technically cream Chantilly) or good quality vanilla ice cream.   They go with nearly any kind of food.  If serving plain, mix about a cup of Confectioners sugar with 1-2 tbls of milk add gradually as the sugar thins) and a dash (1/8-1/4 tps) of vanilla.  when thin enough to drizzle, use a spoon to carefully drizzle on each apple package while still warm – but not hot.

Easy to make, tasty, and low skill levels – but high points for a special treat for the family.

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