Friday, December 30, 2011

Eggsecutive Orders

Eggsecutive Orders
Author: Julie Hyzy
Berkley, 2010
352 pages

In this third book in the White House Chef Mystery series, top chef Olivia "Ollie" Paras is doing more than cooking. One early morning as she's getting ready for work, Ollie learns that a guest at last night's White House dinner has died of mysterious causes, and all eyes are on the kitchen staff. Ollie knows that none of her team would ever poison anyone, and she's fairly confident in the safety of her kitchen's ingredients. Unfortunately, the Secret Service (including Ollie's boyfriend Tom, who's assigned to the President) isn't letting her or her team back into the kitchen just yet.

As the Secret Service awaits the medical examiner's report, Ollie gets some unexpected time off -- just as her mother and grandma ("nana") are in town for a visit to Our Nation's Capital. But Ollie doesn't want to be off work. She wants to be in the White House kitchen, doing her job, along with the other chefs, Bucky and Cyan. She also wants to take her visitors on a tour of the White House, but now it looks like that won't be possible.

Turns out, the man who died was the head of the National Security Agency. He wasn't exactly well-liked, so there are lots of suspects, including his second-in-command, and a mysterious older gentleman who begins paying amorous attention to Ollie's mom. And then Ollie remembers that there were guests in the kitchen that night: Two of her friends who host a TV cooking show - along with their crew - had taped a segment in the White House kitchen for an upcoming episode . . . and one of the hosts had a history with the dead man. Yet the Secret Service doesn't want Ollie helping in their investigation!

Of all the times for something like this to happen . . . the big Easter Egg Roll is only days away, and Ollie and her crew need to boil something like 15,000 eggs and prepare other food for one of the White House's biggest events of the year. Will they be able to pull it off? That's one of many questions to be answered in Eggsecutive Orders.

Author Julie Hyzy has a knack for writing believable (and interesting) dialogue, so you feel like you're  in the same room as the characters, eavesdropping on their conversations. Ollie is growing as a character, and having her mom and hilarious nana in town was a great idea (I'd like to see more of them - especially nana). I'd still like to punch the "sensitivity director" character in the face, but since I can't, maybe someone will in a future book.

Eggsecutive Orders, like the other books in this series, is a light and quick read. I read it in two nights. As with the others, there are some yummy-sounding recipes in the back. I'm particularly looking forward to trying the Eggs Benedict and the Scotch Eggs recipes some upcoming weekend. I already have the fourth book, Buffalo West Wing, and have pre-ordered the fifth, Affairs of Steak, which will be released next Tuesday (January 3). So as you can tell, I like the White House Chef Mysteries a lot! :)

Previously read books in this series:

Hail To The Chef
State Of The Onion

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Traitor's Emblem

The Traitor's Emblem
Author: Juan Gómez-Jurado
Atria Books, 2011 (reprint)
336 pages

I bought this book a while ago and started reading it, but couldn't get through the first chapter. But I kept seeing good reviews about it online, so I decided to give it another shot. Fortunately, the results were different this time, and I was pulled right into the middle of a storm off the coast of Spain in 1940. A Spanish ship rescues a small group of Germans crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. As payment for rescuing them and taking them to Portugal (not Spain), the leader of the German group gives the Spanish captain an emblem made of gold with a diamond. Fast forward some sixty years, when the Spanish captain's son is offered a lot of money for the emblem. The potential buyer tells the tale of the emblem, and things really start to get interesting.

The tale starts in Munich, Germany just after the end of the first World War. Things are bad. The economy's in shambles, Germany's in major debt, and there's a shortage of jobs. Fifteen-year-old Paul Reiner and his mother, Ilse, live in the home of Ilse's sister, Brunhilda, who's married to a baron. The baron has a gambling problem and is quickly losing his assets, so there's a lot of stress in the household. The Reiners are treated more like servants than family. Paul's father disappeared when Paul was just a baby. The story is that the elder Reiner was captain of a ship that sunk off the coast of German South-West Africa (now Namibia). Paul wants to know more, but the subject seems to be taboo.

The baron and baroness have two sons: Eduard, a recently-returned war veteran with no legs and plenty of post-traumatic stress; and Jürgen, a big bully just a few months older than Paul. At a party in his honor, Jürgen tries to impress his mates by disrespecting young guest Alys Tannenbaum, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Paul steps in to defend Alys, and thus begins a rivalry between the two cousins that will just get nastier as time passes. An event later that same evening puts Paul and Ilse out on the streets, no longer welcome in the baron's mansion -- but not before Paul hears a different story about is father's death.

Paul and Ilse struggle to survive in a world where inflation is rampant and the political winds are beginning to shift. Gómez-Jurado masterfully weaves historical facts into the story, while creating a believable and very interesting story around the characters of Paul, Jürgen, and Alys. And that's really all I want to say, because otherwise I'm going to write all night and give way too much away.

Bottom line: GREAT book. Loved it. Glad I gave it a second chance.

Next up will be something light -- not sure what yet. I'm also reading a "healthy" book for a work initiative, so a nonfiction review is coming soon!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Boy In The Suitcase

The Boy In The Suitcase
Authors: Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis
Soho Crime, 2011
323 pages

This amazing thriller comes from Denmark. It was actually published a few years ago, and was a finalist for the Scandinavian Glass Key, an award given annually to a crime thriller written by an author from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway or Sweden. I've read online that it's part of a bestselling Danish series, and I really hope that others will be translated into English soon.

Main character Nina Borg is a Red Cross nurse who works primarily with refugees. She has a family of her own, but is passionate about her job to the point where she occasionally leaves her family to work in another country. When her old friend Karin asks for a favor, Nina reluctantly complies, even though she hasn't seen Karin in a while. In doing so, she comes across a suitcase with an unconscious little boy inside.

Other characters are introduced, and each chapter focuses on a different character. There's Jan, a wealthy Danish businessman who's stuck on an airplane and in a hurry to get back to Copenhagen, and Jucas, a temperamental Lithuanian thug who's in Denmark to do some sort of a job. Back in Lithuania, a young single mother named Sigrita is dealing with the disappearance of her three-year-old son, Miklas.

Of course, the characters are all interconnected, and it doesn't take long for us to know how. But we have to wait until the final pages of the book to find out why. Fortunately, you won't have to wait long to get to the final pages, because this is a fast read. So if you're thinking about reading The Boy In The Suitcase (and I think you should), plan a weekend or a day off where you can sit back for several hours and get it all done in one fell swoop. You will not want to put this one down. Not to eat, not to answer the phone/check email/Facebook/Twitter, and certainly not to sleep. When you do finally turn the last page, you'll finally be able to breathe again.

It's a fantastic story, and also a sort of mini-treatise on some of the social problems endemic to a "free" society. So in addition to entertaining you for several hours, The Boy In The Suitcase might also make you think about these issues. Who knows? Maybe you'll want to do something about them as a result of reading this book.

*****

This was Book #52 for 2011, and I'm well into Book #53 already. So I've broken the record I set last year, and I haven't slowed down yet. :)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Grind

Holiday Grind
Author: Cleo Coyle
Berkley, 2009
384 pages

Ah, the holiday season! This eighth installment in the amazing Coffeehouse Mystery series finds Village Blend manager Clare Cosi trying to create the perfect holiday coffee drink. When Santa (Village Blend customer Alf Glockner) fails to show up at the tasting party, Clare goes out to look for him. Unfortunately, he's in a back alley . . . dead.

By now Clare's family (ex-husband Matt Allegro, the globetrotting coffee broker and reformed [?] playboy now married to publishing magnate Breanne Summour; Clare & Matt's daughter Joy, a young chef currently living in Paris; and Matt's mother Madame, who owns the Village Blend) and her boyfriend Mike Quinn (of the NYPD) are getting used to her propensity for crime-solving. And that's a good thing, because despite what anyone else may think, it's obvious to Clare that Alf was murdered.

Who could have murdered such a nice guy? -- In a Santa outfit, no less. Perhaps the shady businessman who lent Alf $200k. Or the businessman's son, who seems to have his own shady side business. Or perhaps Alf's bitter, plastic-surgeried ex-wife. Perhaps it was a professional hit? Just before Alf died, he was hanging out in a fire escape and looking through the window of the residence of a television producer . . . why?

Holiday Grind is a nice cozy mystery, and the Coffeehouse Mystery series just keeps getting better. As usual, Clare gets herself into some interesting . . . shall we say get-ups? There's still a sort of sexual tension between Clare and Matt, and in this book, the former Mrs. Quinn shows up, and it ain't pretty.

But the thing I appreciate most about Holiday Grind is the section in the back. There's a substantial section on coffee basics and terminology; detailed instructions on using a Moka Express Stovetop Espresso maker; and plenty of recipes for different types of holiday-themed coffee beverages, syrups for lattes, and other goodies. I'm keeping my copy of Holiday Grind, so I can refer to it whenever I want to make something really special for future holiday seasons.

Previously read books in this series:

On What Grounds (December 2009)
Through The Grinder (January 2010)
Latté Trouble (June 2010)
Murder Most Frothy (January 2011)
Decaffeinated Corpse (April 2011)
French Pressed (August 2011)
Espresso Shot (November 2011)


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Special NoteHoliday Grind is the 51st book I've read and blogged about in 2011. This ties the 51 books I read/blogged about in 2010. With eight days remaining in 2011, it's possible for me to break the 2010 record. Will I do it? Come back again soon to find out! :)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Dirty Parts Of The Bible

The Dirty Parts Of The Bible
Author: Sam Torode
CreateSpace, 2010
276 pages

Let me start out by saying that I bought the Kindle edition of this book for 0.96 cents on Amazon. From the very first sentence I was laughing, and there were many instances when I had to stop and read a section out loud to whomever was around (Dad, Mom, Sandy, the dogs) just to share my amusement.

It's 1936, during the period that would eventually be known as the Great Depression. Main character Tobias is the son (and only child -- you'll know why in the first couple of paragraphs) of a Baptist preacher in a small Michigan town. Tobias only thinks about two things: girls and religion (mostly girls) . . . and he has a wonderful imagination.

When a series of ironic events leads to the Reverend losing his job, Tobias sets out to save the family by returning to his father's home in Texas to retrieve some money his father secretly hid there many years ago. But first he has to get to Texas, and the journey is a huge part of this coming-of-age story.

Things start out well enough as Tobias rides the train to Chicago. But when he gets to the Windy City, he realizes his own unsophistication. I don't want to give away too much, but there are encounters with all sorts of people. When an innocent split-second decision leaves him broke, he decides to continue his journey anyway. Meeting up with some hobos, he hops a southbound train and yet another journey begins as one of the hobos, Craw, teaches him what it's like to live as a "free" man.

Craw ends up becoming a mentor and friend, despite their age and other differences. Eventually they make it to the family farm in Texas, where they both get jobs as farm hands. Tobias finds that he blends in better with his uncle's family than with his own. There's a funny family reunion scene involving Grandma and Craw, and there's this really cute girl named Sarah. That's really all I want to say in terms of plot.

In short, The Dirty Parts of the Bible -- aside from having one of the coolest titles ever -- is one of my favorite books of the year. It's definitely the best 0.96 cents I've spent in a long, long time.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct
Author: Zoë Sharp
Murderati Ink, 2011 (previously published)
509KB

I've read lots of mysteries & thrillers with female protagonists. But Zoë Sharp's Charlie Fox is . . . different. She lives in Lancaster, England, a small city situated along a river in the northwest of England, not far from the Lake District. This is a new setting for me, and it's always refreshing to read about a new place.

A motorcycle-riding, ex-member of the British military, the woman formerly known as Charlotte Foxcroft teaches self defense courses to women. One evening she tags along with her best friend Clare to a new club. There's an altercation, and Charlie's skills are observed by the club's owner, the mysterious Marc Quinn. Soon after, Marc asks her to work for him as part of the club's security detail. Charlie can use the extra money, so she agrees to work a few evenings a week. However, on her first night working at the club, she immediately feels unwelcome by the all-male security team . . . and it just goes downhill from there.

First, one of the women at the club that night is assaulted and murdered. This is followed by a string of other incidents, including more murders -- and threats to Charlie. As things become more personal, we learn that Charlie was attacked during her time in the military and suffered all sorts of losses as a result. The reason she teaches self-defense to women is so they won't have to be a victim, like she was so long ago. Charlie no longer defines herself as a victim. But does that give her the killer instinct? Her underlying struggle with this question is one of the things that makes her a unique female protagonist.

There are lots of red herrings and false leads, and things don't always turn out like you think they're going to. The last pages are so filled with action, I couldn't stop reading although it was way past my bedtime.

But my favorite thing about Killer Instinct was . . . Charlie. She's a tough cookie, with bit of marshmallow in the inside. She makes me want to get a motorcycle and a pair of leather pants, and to take up martial arts. And I'd definitely want her to have my back, if I was ever in any kind of trouble.

I'll be reading more of this series!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Start-Up

The Start-Up
Author: Sadie Hayes
Backlit Fiction, LLC, 2011
635KB

They say the Internet is the great equalizer, and more and more this seems especially true in the publishing world. The Start-Up is one of many books I've seen lately that are only available in digital form. I came across it while looking at a list of top-selling Young Adult books on Amazon.com. The description sounded interesting, and at 99 cents, I just couldn't pass it up.

Amelia and Adam Dory are twins who grew up in a series of foster homes in Indiana. Through their own hard work, they landed scholarships to Stanford University. It's not easy living in rich Silicon Valley when you don't have much money, but somehow they get by. Adam takes on temporary jobs, and Amelia has special talents with computers and coding. Adam longs for the lifestyle of the rich and famous and would like to see his sister 'do something' with her skills, but Amelia believes money's the root of all evil.  But when she hacks into a company to check out something Adam overheard at a party where he was tending bar, a frightening scam behind a multi-billion dollar investment is revealed. When the media breaks the story based on Amelia's tip, heads start to roll.

This little book is jam-packed with despicable characters, from the venture capitalist whose financial return is ruined by Amelia's discovery, to Amelia's scheming two-faced rich-chick roommate, Patty. But those are just two of many. The Start-Up (and apparently Silicon Valley) is replete with selfish, shallow characters who care about little else but making money, driving fancy cars, and partying. In that regard, it's a lot like a TV soap opera: You want to pull away and stop watching, you know it's wrong . . . but you just can't help yourself.

And sure enough, The Start-Up ends with a cliffhanger that makes you want to dive right in to the second book (called The Anti-Social Network). There's a third coming soon, and my guess is, there'll be several more.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tempest Rising

Tempest Rising
Author: Nicole Peeler
Orbit, 2009
368 pages

Quick Quiz: You're headed out of town for a three-day weekend in sunny Florida with your friends, and you need something to read on your brand-new Kindle Fire. Do you choose: A) a work-related business book; B) historical fiction about the place where you're going; or C) a breezy chick-lit fantasy to take your mind off the Real World? For me, the obvious choice in this type of situation is always  C. Based on a recommendation from someone I follow on Twitter, I snagged Tempest Rising, the first book in a series featuring twenty-something Jane True. 
Jane lives in Rockabill, Maine, once a fishing village but now a tourist town thanks in part to its proximity to The Old Sow, the largest whirlpool in North America. Mysteriously abandoned by her mother as a child, Jane lives with her father and works in a book shop. A few years back, her boyfriend Jason died, and Jane still deals with the after-effects of that and her mother's disappearance. Actually, she feels like the Town Freak, and there are lots of people in Rockabill who reinforce her perception.

You'd think she'd just skip town and try to start over somewhere else. But she can't leave her Dad. Nor can she leave the water - at least not for very long. For some reason, Jane feels compelled to secretly swim in the cold ocean near The Old Sow every night. There's something about the experience that strengthens her and helps her forget about the stark realities of her life. When she emerges from her swim and finds a dead body, things start to get really weird . . . and they'll get even weirder as Jane becomes aware of her true heritage. Turns out she's a halfling: half human and (in Jane's case) half selkie. That's why her mother had to leave all those years ago. 

And those other so-called mythological creatures? Gnomes, vampires, goblins, succubae, and several you've never heard of? They exist, too. In fact, the detective who comes to Rockabill to investigate the murder is a vampire (actually, in the book he calls himself a baobhan sith) named Ryu (pronounced "Roo"). Wouldn't you know, one thing leads to another, and Jane find herself with a vampire boyfriend. Their romance happens quickly - no waiting three or four books for this couple to get beyond the, um, dance.  

Turns out there have been other halfling murders, and when their goblin investigators are also whacked, it's pretty obvious that there's a supernatural murderer on the loose. Jane and Ryu head up to Quebec, where there's a royal court that no full-blooded human knows about, complete with king (Odin) and queen (Morrigan) and some rather nasty supes. Things get really wild here . . . the water in the grotto has a crack-like effect on Jane and, well, let's just say we learned to never rub a genie's lamp. Of course, the truth will be revealed, and the ending isn't really an ending . . . in fact Tempest Rising is the first of five (almost six) books in this series.

Jane has a wonderful sense of humor, and most of the time, I really like her. I don't really get the attraction to Ryu -- he's just not all that to me. His baobhan sith isn't like any other similar character I've ever read about -- which doesn't make it wrong, just different. (I believe in literary license. After all, it's fiction.)

Although I didn't mention him until now, my favorite supe character in Tempest Rising is Anyan, the barghest. He takes on a sort of protector role for Jane, and I get the feeling their relationship will evolve over the series. I certainly hope it will, because to be honest, I like Anyan a lot more than Ryu. So if I continue to read the series, it'll be because I have a sort of literary crush on The Big Dog. :)

Tempest Rising turned out to be an excellent choice for my weekend getaway. But I really do want to read that historical novel about the place I visited, and there's that book I have to read for work . . . guess I need to get busy, huh?