Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

After hunting high and low for the perfect home, Helen and Nate are determined now to build their own. They've found a plot of land that fits their needs exactly and have laid the foundation for their future house, but soon find that their dreams could end in nightmares.

The land they've chosen has a bad reputation to begin with but when someone starts stealing items and leaving behind strange and even threatening messages, Helen and Nate have to wonder if it's all worth it.

It turns out, their land was once home to the notorious Hattie Breckenridge, a woman hanged for being a witch after she was blamed for a fire that claimed the lives of several of the town's children. Decades later, her legend still haunts the people of the tiny town where Helen and Nate have chosen to build their home. What's more, Hattie was rumored to have buried treasure somewhere on her property and local treasure hunters are none too pleased with the idea that outsiders might stumble across it.

Helen and Nate spend ample time house hunting but nothing fits the bill. In fact, the only home Helen fell in love with would have required so much work that Nate convinces her it's easier for the two of them to build their own home.

Modeled after the house Helen fell for, their home-to-be isn't overly complicated and they have the funds to build and outfit it exactly how they want, even after buying the land they've chosen to build it on. And the land came at a bit of a steal considering the previous owner lost his wife (literally) there.

But the property has more of a history than that and Helen, a history buff and former teacher, decides to dig into the story just as soon as she hears the first whispers about Hattie Breckenridge.

Helen is drawn to Hattie's story in no small part thanks to the fact that she believes she's seen Hattie herself. And she finds herself mysteriously drawn to items that have a tie to Hattie's story. Which increases her sightings of Hattie exponentially. Much to Nate's displeasure.

There's a pretty big subplot involving a local girl whose mother has left. The girl in question spends her time treasure hunting on Helen's property, convinced if she can find Hattie's treasure then her mother will return.

Jennifer McMahon has been a go to for me since her debut, Promise Not to Tell. Her plots are always intriguing and her writing deliciously creepy as well as clever and suspenseful. And so each new release goes on my must have list just as soon as it's announced and I gobble it up as fast as I can get my book junkie hands on it.

The Invited has all the hallmarks of a great McMahon outing: a questionably paranormal setting, a mystery at the center of the plot, and average folks facing a potential danger that could cost them everything. And yet, something was missing from this latest.

Simply put, the book wasn't as strong as McMahon's previous titles. It's a good read but not a wow one.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher

Griz's world isn't like our own. There are fewer people now, thanks to the Gelding, a sharp and sudden decline in the ability to have children. Griz lives on an island with family and dogs and they rarely venture beyond their own shores. But when a stranger arrives offering trade, Griz's guard is dropped. Which is why the visitor is able to steal one of Griz's dogs. 

Griz will do anything to get Jess back, including traveling beyond the furthest reaches and into a world that's completely foreign. 

Oh, how I loved this book! I'll admit, a story about a search for a missing dog was maybe not completely in my wheelhouse. But it is a post apocalyptic setting, which is. And after receiving both a physical copy and an audio copy for review, I figured the world was trying to tell me something.

And boy was it! This is hands down one of my favorite books this year!

So the Gelding is, as I mentioned, a sharp (dramatic, drastic, devastating) decline in babies being born. Obviously this isn't an issue for Griz's family as there are a total of four children, one lost in a tragic accident. And the family keeps to themselves. Beyond a trip to the mainland years ago, the family doesn't go far. They subsist off of the resources their island provides and that's about it.

Then Brand arrives. With red sails, which immediately sets everyone at ease. As Griz notes, no one sneaking around would sail with red sails! And yet, Brand makes off with one of Griz's dogs in the middle of the night.

What comes next is a journey of survival and an attempt to save Jess, one of Griz's dogs. Because, as Griz notes, "If we're not loyal to the things we love, what's the point?"

Griz is a fabulous narrator and the time that's passed between Griz's present and our own is quite significant. Griz is a reader so there's no bizarre imaginings of what any remains of our world were used for or mean, but Griz's exploration of that world is fascinating nonetheless. In part because of the lack of people. For much of the book, beyond Brand, the only people Griz comes into contact with are already dead. Which would make this a bit of a lonely book were it not for Jip, Griz's other dog, who is also part and party to the quest to save Jess.

Fletcher's debut is a story about friendship, loyalty, and adventure and it's enormously wonderful. If you're a fan of dog books, post apocalyptic books, adventure books, or any books at all, you should read this one!

And, if you are a fan of audio books, you should absolutely read this one in that format. It's narrated by the author himself who has such a fabulously theatrical voice! Here's a link to the book on Libro.fm.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Indian-Ish: Recipes and Antics From a Modern American Family by Priya Krishna

Hi, readers! I have a new cookbook for you to get excited about! If you’re a foodie, then you should know that Priya Krishna is not a new face in the food world. She’s a food writer whose writing has been featured in Bon Appetit and The New York Times. She was also part of Lucky Peach. And now she’s released a cookbook featuring a bevy of Indian/American blended recipes that perfectly illustrate how easy cooking Indian food in your own home kitchen can be!

I got my hands on an early copy of this one and have been happily testing out recipes since February, and I have honestly loved every dish that I’ve made so far!

First thing to mention is that yes, you do have to buy some specialty ingredients. But, and this is a big bonus, one trip for the essentials is plenty to make a ton of dishes right off the bat! I know because that’s exactly what I did. I hit up our Indian market to buy a few specialty spices like fenugreek, asafetida, and chat masala as well as some fresh curry leaves (this is one of my favorite ingredients - they smell amazing!). I also bought some already made roti (and she does note where you can sub out some of the harder to find things including using tortillas in place of roti). Then I hit up the regular grocery store for a boat load of veggies (tomatoes, cauliflower, chiles, limes, and a ton of spinach) and I was set! 

That weekend I started with the Malaysian Ramen for supper. Oh, man. Some sautéed veggies and a little bit of sauce turned out to be a super tasty and easy way to amp up a packet of ramen. Almost as easy as just eating regular ramen, folks!

We started off the next morning with the Indian-Ish English Breakfast Baked Beans and served them, per her suggestion, with eggs on toast. Holy cow, if you’ve ever turned your nose up at beans on toast, you need to try this dish! But you have to use the Heinz baked beans - they’re tomato based and awesome, especially with Krishna’s twist on them. 

Of course I’m back on caffeine now so I had to try her chai varieties: Cardamom Chai and Ginger-Pepper Chai. These milky tea concoctions are comforting to the max. A perfect way to warm up a cold and nasty day. I also made a batch of the Sun-Dried Tomato, Chile and Garlic Dip, which pairs great with a funky cheese and crackers. And we continued the comfort food trend that evening with Spinach and Feta Cooked Like Saag Paneer (hence the ton of spinach!). I’m actually surprised that I’ve never heard anyone else suggest using feta in place of paneer for this recipe. It works beyond perfectly!

The only unfortunate thing about this cookbook is that there are really only so many dishes you can make in one day! My regular MO when I get a new cookbook is to flag recipes that I want to try and I had a hard time prioritizing which recipes to make - they all look so good and they’re all fairly easy. 

Garlic-Ginger Chicken with Cilantro and Mint with Tomato Rice with Crispy Cheddar are in my plans for this weekend. We’ll also be snacking on the Spicy Chickpea Dip and another batch of the Sun Dried tomato dip too. 

I’m still dying to try the Dosa Potatoes with Lime and Ketchup, which I can then use leftovers of to make the Bombay Toast. Caramelized Onion Dal and Rice Noodle Poha are high on my list to make asap as are the Achari Fish and the Pav Bhaji on Potato Rolls. And that’s just a few! My copy is a flag heaven just waiting for time in the kitchen to play.

So yeah, in reality I have zero complaints about this book!

Krishna says her goal with this book is to prove that Indian food is everyday food and I think she certainly accomplishes this goal. The use of Indian flavors in twists on traditional dishes or as twists on dishes from other traditions, is a great way to introduce people to flavors and ingredients they may not be familiar with!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Last by Hanna Jameson

Jon was attending an academic conference in Switzerland when the news hit. Nuclear weapons had been deployed in multiple countries. Washington is no more. Scotland has been obliterated. His fellow conference attendees decided to try and get out, find a plane or some other way back home. He stayed. 

As a historian, he feels it's his duty to chronicle the happenings for future reference. Even if there won't be any future reference, he prefers to be prepared. He and the fellow survivors holed up in his hotel are stretching their resources, rationing their food, and doing their best to stay alive until help comes. But when a body is discovered in one of the water tanks on the roof, Jon turns his eye from simple record keeping to investigating. 

As time passes, not only does it seem someone might not want Jon to solve what is clearly a murder but their careful semblance of order begins to turn into chaos. Resources are dwindling and there's danger outside the hotel's walls. Not only that, they've come to realize help is probably not coming at all. 

I enjoyed The Last as much as I enjoy any other post-apocalyptic read. And I do still quite enjoy post-apocalyptic reads! 

This one differed just a bit in that it tied current events into the book, making it all that much more unsettling. One of the things with this kind of read is that you can't help but calculate the feasibility of the particular apocalypse chosen by the author and, in this case, that feasibility is definitely high. It's one of the points of tension throughout the book as well as the characters, spread in nationality, turn their eyes to those they think are responsible for this event due to political views. Something I also find quite feasible. 

The addition of the murder is what set this book a bit apart. But the balance seemed somewhat off, as though the story wasn't quite sure what it wanted to be. Is it a post apocalyptic story with a mystery intertwined within it? Or is it a post apocalyptic story showing how quickly the breakdown in humanity occurs? More the latter than the former and yet the focus still wasn't quite as sharp in that regard as I thought it should have been either. 

All that's to say The Last is an entertaining and dark read but not a particularly intellectually deep one. Which is completely fine with me as I'm not sure I could have handled too much deep though with something that hits so close to home politically.