I recently heard about John Marrs’ novel The One on the Currently Reading podcast, in an episode about “Books to Blow Your Socks Off.” (The episode was also amazing because it included an interview with Delia Owens, who wrote a wonderful recent favorite of mine, Where the Crawdads Sing.) The description was brief but intriguing, and I immediately rushed to get a copy from the library.
It takes place in a “near future,” one in which it has been discovered that people can be matched to their soulmates through their DNA. It’s 10 years after that discovery, and those who have been lucky enough to find “the one” are considered Matched and those who are still waiting are Unmatched. Because you can be matched to literally anyone, racism, homophobia, and religious and other prejudices no longer exist.
I read Koren Zailckas’ memoir Smashed about her “drunken girlhood” over a decade ago, and I absolutely loved it. It was a sober (and sobering) look at her past that also touched on the societal and social pressures that cause many young women to drink so heavily in the first place. Not only was her story powerful, her writing was as well. So, when I came across her novel Mother, Mother at a used book sale a little while back, I didn’t hesitate to scoop it up.
In the Hurst family, no one is perfect. The oldest daughter, Rose, has seemingly had enough and run off with her mysterious boyfriend, leaving her sister Violet struggling to cope with an ever-changing home life. Will, the youngest, clings most closely to his mom who has been homeschooling him since his recent diagnoses with Asperger’s and epilepsy. Meanwhile, their father, Douglas, is mostly absent and, when he is home, distracted and taking phone calls in whispers. In the center of it all is Josephine, the Hurst matriarch, a narcissist and master manipulator. Hiding behind her facade of caring homemaker, she may just be the worst mother ever.
I was unexpectedly captivated by Gin Phillips’ novel Fierce Kingdom, which I read as part of the Book Challenge by Erin earlier this month. Joan and her four-year-old son are ending an otherwise ordinary day at the zoo, when suddenly, just before they reach the exit, something goes very wrong. Joan hurries to hide with her son Lincoln, and for the rest of the novel – a period of just four hours – she must keep them out of danger.
For the most part, the novel follows Joan, but on occasion it dips into other points-of-view, including that of the mass shooter who is terrorizing the zoo’s guests and animals without remorse. As you can guess, Phillips weaves a harrowing tale. Unfortunately, it’s one that is all too realistic today. I was deeply invested in the well-being of Joan and her son, and though there were times I felt as though I could’ve used a mental break, I didn’t want to stop reading until it was over.
In Charles Soule’s first novel The Oracle Year, the comic book writer explores a clever concept about the power of prediction. The main character, Will Dando, is a twenty-something musician who wakes up one morning with 108 predictions about the future. The predictions range from seemingly innocuous to world-changing and extremely specific to frustratingly vague.
While man behind The Oracle is a mystery, his predictions are practically front page news around the globe. As more and more of them come true, he is forced to go to great lengths to remain anonymous for his own safety. It’s a delicate balance between sitting on what he knows and sharing it with the world as he learns whether he has control over their source, or it has control over him.
I don’t always read “happy” books, but I typically do avoid scary ones. My imagination is too active for me to be able to read them without freaking myself out. For Josh Malerman’s novel Bird Box, however, I made an exception. Why? Because a few good friends insisted it wasn’t scary-scary, but also it was so good I had to. When one of these friends let me borrow her copy, I wasted no time jumping in. It was now or never!
Truthfully, Bird Box isn’t a horror novel. If anything, it’s more like a thriller/suspense dystopia. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t creepy, uncomfortable moments. In a world where something unknown is out there causing people to turn violent, creepy moments are bound to happen.
I love being a part of the Book of the Month Club for many reasons, including that I love getting mail and I love when that mail is books. I love BOTM even more when it introduces me to a wonderful novel I haven’t heard of before. (Some of my recent favorites from BOTM have been The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and The Heart’s Invisible Furies.) Clarissa Goenawan’s debut novel Rainbirds caught my eye because of the beautiful cover, and I ultimate chose it for the description.
It takes place in a small town in Japan, where Ren Ishida goes to get his older sister’s affairs in order after her murder. They shared a special bond, taking care of each other when their parents were otherwise occupied. He struggles to make sense of her sudden death, wondering if he could’ve done anything differently. Ren seeks solace in answers and soon finds himself slipping into her life, accepting her teaching job and moving into her old rented bedroom.
Every November, my Good Reads & Good Eats book club reads a spooky book. Since we meet on the first Tuesday of each month, this allows us to read it during October and our meeting usually ends up being right around Halloween. This year’s selection was Sarah Pinborough’s novel Behind Her Eyes. The thriller was released in January but it made for an excellent read this month, just creepy enough throughout with a twist at the end I didn’t see coming.
Thanks to the success of Gone Girl, the oft-called domestic thriller has become more and more popular, and generally, I try to avoid them. Gone Girl was so well-written and its twist both genuinely surprising and believable (which is harder to achieve than it may seem) that I’m usually disappointed in those that follow.
That being said, Behind Her Eyes was an intriguing read. I did get caught up in the story and it kept me wondering what exactly was going on and who to be skeptical of, but the devices it used (particularly toward the end) seemed over-the-top and unbelievable. Overall, Sarah Dickinson does a great job summing up how I feel on her blog, but beware of spoilers if you haven’t read the book and still want to.
Pinborough’s novel begins in the middle of David and Adele’s troubled marriage. After a recent move to London, David almost immediately begins an affair with Louise, who turns out to be his new receptionist. It’s not clear how Adele discovers his transgression, but she makes it a point to befriend Louise and tension begins to build. As more about Adele’s backstory is revealed, more questions arise. In the present day narrative, we’re left wondering who we can trust. I’ll stop here to avoid spoilers, but I think it achieved what it needed to for our book club in that it was mostly riveting and twisty and will certainly make for interesting discussion. I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say about it.
In an attempt to create some domestic bliss (or at least throw David off her scent), Adele continues to make impressive home-cooked meals almost every evening. On one such evening, she whips up the deceptively easy Spaghetti Carbonara and serves it with a simple arugula salad. I grabbed a recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Damn Delicious, for the pasta and found one for the salad from Everyday Maven. The whole meal took about twenty minutes and only requires a minimum number of ingredients for one so impressive; it makes a perfect weeknight meal.
First, I set a large pot of water to bowl and then prepped the salad. I chopped a half cup of cherry tomatoes in half and tossed them in a large bowl with arugula and the lemon zest. I love Trader Joe’s arugula because it’s the perfect amount for a dinner salad and it’s already pre-washed. In a separate small bowl, I combined the ingredients for the dressing – olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. With the salad mostly set, I turned to the pasta.
Once the water was boiling, I salted it and added the spaghetti to the pot. In a small bowl, I whisked together the eggs and Parmesan and set it aside. I added my diced pancetta (or bacon, if that’s what you’re using) to a heated skillet and allowed it to crisp up for several minutes, before adding my minced garlic.
You’re going to want to make sure your pasta is cooked and drained before you add the garlic. Here is where you need to begin working quickly. Even though this recipe is easy, the eggs leave some room for error. You don’t want them to scramble; they should become a part of the creamy sauce, indistinguishable from the pasta itself.
To my pancetta and garlic, I added my pasta and the egg-Parmesan mixture, using a pair of tongs to toss and combine everything. I seasoned with salt and pepper, before adding a bit of pasta water, tossing and checking the consistency.
With that all set, I re-whisked my dressing, poured it on the arugula and tossed my salad. Best dishes are both served immediately.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions; reserve 1/2 cup water and drain well.
In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and Parmesan; set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add bacon and cook until brown and crispy, about 6-8 minutes; reserve excess fat.
Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to low.
Working quickly, stir in pasta and egg mixture, and gently toss to combine; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add reserved pasta water, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.
Serve immediately, garnished with parsley, if desired.
Usually when I finish a novel that I really enjoyed and think Scott would like it, I recommend he read it too. He tends to be more of a non-fiction reader, so I choose pretty carefully. Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter is one of those rare novels that Scott read first and then recommended to me.
I love science fiction that grabs you from the start and has you rooting for something bigger (and usually stranger) than you ever imagined. This novel certainly fits the bill, and it’s one that everyone can relate to because, at its heart, it’s all about going home. After Jason Dessen is abducted, he finds himself in a situation he never would’ve imagined – one that calls into question all of the choices he has ever made.
Since it’s a book that’s all about the plot, it’s hard to say too much without giving it away, so I won’t. It starts out simple but quickly gets complicated, pulling Jason into a twisty universe that will have you anxious to get to the end. If you loved The Martian (and I absolutely did!), you’ll love this.
Throughout Dark Matter, Jason is a bit untethered, guided only by his desperation to reunite with his family. His wife, Daniela, makes him a traditional Spanish dish once or twice a year that serves as a reminder of everything he’s missing. I didn’t have much to go on outside of “a bean stew made with an assortment of native legumes and meats. Chorizo, pancetta, black sausage.” So, I did some googling and found this recipe for a Hearty Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo.
With some minor tweaks (but still no black/blood sausage, thank you very much), Scott and I were ready to enjoy some of Daniela’s stew. First, I heated some olive oil in a medium pot and add the chopped pancetta, cooking until just crisp. Then I added the onion and minced garlic, cooking for a few more minutes until lightly browned.
I stirred in the spices before adding the browned andouille chunks, white beans with their liquid and chicken broth. The whole stew got a few generous stirs and then I let it come up to a simmer.
Once it simmered for about 25 minutes, I added the browned (slightly crispy) chorizo and cooked the stew for another 5 minutes or so. I didn’t need any additional salt and pepper, but check here and season as needed. I served it as The Dessens prefer it, with grated cheddar, chopped cilantro and a generous dollop of sour cream. A nice glass of Spanish red wine completed the meal.
I read Tana French’s first Dublin Murder Squad novel, In the Woods, about a year and a half ago. It reminded me of all the hours I had spent as a young girl reading Nancy Drew books and then, when I was little bit older, devouring Mary Higgins Clark mysteries. I read the second book about a month later, but until The Trespasser, I hadn’t picked up one of the series since then.
This time, the detectives are trying to hunt down the person responsible for killing a woman in her apartment. With a boyfriend who insists he’s innocent, the spotless crime scene doesn’t help, but Antoinette and her partner are seemingly being pushed into charging him. They have to follow their guts without raising any flags.
Unless it pertains to the crime, this genre of novels aren’t usually rich with descriptions of food. In this case, the victim’s table was all set and ready for a romantic dinner when she was murdered, but the dinner itself hadn’t yet made it to the table and it was ruined by the time anyone found it.
That wasn’t exactly appetizing, but with all of the late nights on the case, there was ample opportunity to make something for an after-hours snack. I seized the opportunity and made pizza. Having once made an unexpectedly delicious strawberry balsamic bacon pizza, I was interested in trying out one that similarly unique. In honor of Ireland, where the novel takes place, I scouted out a recipe using classic St. Patrick’s Day fare – corned beef and cabbage (and potatoes).
I used store-bought dough, but otherwise I followed this recipe from the Food Network.
First, I sliced my potato, covered the slices with olive oil, salt and pepper and placed them in the pre-heated oven on a sheet pan.
While those baked, I chopped up the cabbage, so it could begin to cook down on the stove with the pickling spices (below, before I wrapped them in the cheesecloth).
Once the potatoes were done, I put the pizza dough into the oven to pre-bake for 8 minutes, as directed on the package. I also roughly chopped my corned beef and shredded my parmesan and combined the cheeses.
With the dough and toppings all ready, it was time to assemble the pizza. I sprinkled the dough with olive oil and covered it with the cheese. I then layered on the remaining toppings – the cabbage, the corned beef, and last, the potatoes. A sprinkle of salt and pepper and it was all set for the oven. After about 12 minutes, it came out all gooey and smelled amazing. We couldn’t wait to dive in!
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
3 cups sliced green cabbage
1 teaspoon pickling spices, tied securely in cheesecloth
1 large potato, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
¾ cup shredded monterey jack cheese
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
6 ounces sliced corned beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Prep/prepare your dough according to directions or your own recipe.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage, season with salt and cook until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add the pickling spices and just enough water to cover. Simmer over low heat, covered, until the cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the cabbage and set aside (discard spices).
3. Place a pizza stone in the oven, if you have one, and preheat to 500 degrees. Toss the potato with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a single layer on a baking sheet until golden, about 15 minutes.
4. Place one round on a floured pizza peel (if baking on a stone) or a large oiled pizza pan (if using two regular pans, you can prep both pizzas together].
5. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Scatter half of each of the cheeses, corned beef, cabbage and potatoes on top. Season with salt and pepper. Carefully slip the pizza onto the hot stone, if using, or place the pan(s) in the oven. Cook until golden and crispy, 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough and toppings, if needed.