Thursday, April 16, 2015

Deadline by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers #8)

Deadline (Virgil Flowers, #8)Deadline by John Sandford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Jacket Blurb: In Southeast Minnesota, down on the Mississippi, a school board meeting is coming to an end. The board chairman announces that the rest of the meeting will be closed, due to personnel issues. “Issues” is correct. The proposal up for a vote before them is whether to authorize the killing of a local reporter. The vote is four to one in favor.

Meanwhile, not far away, Virgil Flowers is helping out a friend by looking into a dognapping, which seems to be turning into something much bigger and uglier—a team of dognappers supplying medical labs—when he gets a call from Lucas Davenport. A murdered body has been found—and the victim is a local reporter. . . .


Read as an audiobook. Loved every minute of it.

Premise of the book is Virgil Flowers is back from vacation and a bit at loose ends.  He gets a call from Johnson Johnson asking for help solving a dog napping problem in Tripton.  While investigating the dog thefts, he stumbles across a meth lab, and the town reporter is found shot to death in a ditch which leads to a rather dark secret. 

This book just rolled right along with Virgil stomping hard on a veritable hornets nest.  There was a plethora of people making bad judgements and compounding their problems, angry dog owners who just want their canines back, and an odd kid wandering around the woods with a rifle.  The wit was dry, the humor subtle and not so subtle, and emotions all over the place.  Sandford even managed to include a slow motor boat race across the Mississippi, a golf cart chase, a riot in an alflafa field, and lots of doggie happiness. 

Like I said, I loved every minute of Deadline.  I think this just became my favorite Sandford book. 

Highly recommended, especially if you've read the first seven Flowers books.



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Monday, April 13, 2015

Recipe Review from 4/6/15 and Remodel Update

This week found us settling into a new routine now that the Folks are back from Arizona.  The Husband and I are up and moving well before them - 5am the pups get their morning walk, breakfast made, and I'm out the door shortly after 7a.  Evenings we all have dinner together, clean up, and it's either another walk for pups or some quiet reading time while they watch TV. 

The Meal Plan
Sun - Dr. Pepper BBQ Shredded Pork
Mon (yoga)  leftovers
Tues - leftovers
Wed (AM yoga) Maple and Honey Glazed Chicken with roasted vegetables
Thurs  (Yoga) - leftovers
Fri - Slow cooked ham and bean soup
Sat - leftovers
Sun - leftovers

Lunches:  sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, luna bars chips, the usual. 


Dr. Pepper BBQ Shredded Pork (Facebook)
The Husband found this on Facebook and it was the perfect dish to have ready for The Parents pending return from southern climes.  3lbs of pork steak (meat store didn't have a pork roast or boneless country ribs) cooked up shredding tender in a mixture of Dr. Pepper, onions, and seasonings in a slow cooker for about 6 hours.  Liquid mixture is drained off and the now tender shredded pork is tossed with a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce.  We used a bottle of Kraft original because it was already open and handy.

I don't have the recipe handy, but there are a slew of similar recipes online. 

This made enough for four people for three meals when served with cornbread and potato salad.


Mustard Glazed Chicken with Roasted Veggies (Ckng Lght, March 2015)  gluten free
For starters,  I halved the veggie part of the recipe.  It was my intent to make the Roasted Vegetable Soup as noted below, but I had to juggle meals around a bit and I dropped the soup.  Which is a bit of a bummer because I think it would have been very tasty. 

This comes together so quickly even with the 30 minute roasting time.  Veggies are chopped and popped into the oven.  A bit of quick cleaning, set the table, and then the chicken thighs were seasoned, seared and sauced.  Everyone agreed this was very tasty.  Not quite enough chicken leftovers for four people the second night - plenty of veggies. 
 

Note! Recipe below makes enough to also doRoasted Vegetable Soup
photo from cookinglight.com


6 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (about 3 pounds)
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 small red onions, cut into 1-inch wedges
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon pepper, divided
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves  (I used 1 pkg chicken thighs)
1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1. Place 2 baking sheets in oven. Preheat oven to 425° (leave pans in oven).
2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons oil, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; toss. Arrange vegetable mixture on preheated baking sheets. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes. Cool slightly; reserve 6 cups vegetable mixture.
3. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook 5 minutes on each side or until done. Remove chicken from pan. Add stock and wine to pan; cook 2 minutes. Stir in mustard and honey. Add chicken, turning to coat. Serve with remaining 2 cups vegetable mixture.



THE REMODEL

On the remodel front, stuff continues to come down and layers are being pulled off of walls.  Guts of the house are starting to emerge!   The contractor did end up renting a dumpster - I guess it was getting too putzy to try and load up his truck with debris and make a daily dump run. 

Foyer looking into kitchen - a bit dark san's lights

What's left of the kitchen (black stuff you can see from foyer)
What it looks like without black stuff.  Look!  There used to be a door on the left hand side!

Yes, that is a very old wasps nest...

Kitchen ceiling exposed.  We're having some of the bathroom plumbing fixed while it's open.
Temporary supports under beam. 

Chimney exposed, looking toward front door.

Where the stove will eventually go; with new cabinets.

Three layers of linoleum!  Oldest is on left (very cool pattern) newest on right.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pretender by CJ Cherry (Foreigner #8)

Pretender (Foreigner, #8)Pretender by C.J. Cherryh

My rating: 2 of 5 stars





Jacket Blurb - Exhausted from a two-year rescue mission in space, the crew of the starship Phoenix return home to find disaster: civil war has broken out, the powerful Western Association has been overthrown, and Tabini-aiji, its forceful leader, is missing. In a desperate move, paidhi Bren Cameron and Tabini's grandmother Ilisidi, the aiji-dowager, along with with Cajeiri, Tabini's eight-year-old heir, make planetfall and succeed in reaching the mainland. The brilliant and forceful Ilisidi seeks refuge at the estate of an old ally, and Tabini-aiji arrives at the door.

As word of Tabini's whereabouts circulates, clans allied with Tabini descend upon the estate, providing a huge civilian presence that everyone involved hopes will deter impending attacks by the usurpers. But as more and more supporting clans arrive, Bren finds himself increasingly isolated, and it becomes clear that both his extremely important report of alien contact in space, and even his life, rest on the shoulders of only two allies: Ilisidi and Cajeiri.

Can one elderly ateva and and eight-year-old boy—himself a prime target for assassination—protect Bren, a lone human involved in a civil war that most atevi believe he caused?


I found this book a struggle.  Purely a transition book, intended to get the characters from point A, through point B, to final destination of Point C.  There is a fair amount of travel involved, lots of personal angst from Bren as he decides the whole Atevi muck-up is his fault, and concerns well out of Bren's control or realm of human comprehension.

It is well understood there was a political upheaval that ousted the current regime and forced them into hiding.  No, not everything was the paidhi's fault.  Other people made decisions as well.  Bren, get over yourself.  The young heir was perhaps the most interesting aspect of this as it was a look at a young atevi, how they are raised, and how the "next generation" will be interacting more with humans.

So ultimately, I became bored.  I don't care for books where the sole purpose is to move characters around to prepare for the next book.  Yes, I count the Two Towers by Tolkien in with this, and pretty much the entire Wheel of Time series.

I'm not implying that Cherryh's writing is in anyway lacking, the world building, the look at an Atevi Civil war, and - as I noted above - the young gentleman himself, is fascinating.  The plot...not so much.  However, this won't stop me from reading the next one.

Recommended with slight reservations if you've been reading the the Foreigner series.  Not a stand alone book.





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Monday, April 6, 2015

Recipe Review from 3/30/15, Minicon 50, Remodel Update

Busy busy week last week!   If you are just tuning in and/or catching up, the Husband and I have temporarily packed up and moved out of our little (and I do mean little) farmhouse for a kitchen remodel.  It was the contractor's first week - carpeting has been removed (yay! grossness out!), a half wall dis-mantled, counter tops gone, cabinets gone, first layer of wall exposed (between whatever was on top and whatever is underneath.  I might be missing a couple things, but that's the gist of it.  (Pictures are posted at the bottom). 


Then, Thursday through Friday I was at Minicon 50! This was my 21st Minicon (consecutive).  Wow...where has the time gone?  Guests of Honor included Larry Niven, Brandon Sanderson, Jane Yolen, Michael Whelan, Tom Doherty, and Adam Stemple.  A full line-up of veritable celebrities!   Overall, it was a fairly quiet convention for me.  I had a hard time finding panels that engaged me or kept my interest. The exception being  Michael Whelan's slide show - I could have listened to him for another hour beyond what he was able to give the group.  LOVE his work. 

And, recipes, yes.  I had some...maybe just one?

The Meal Plan:
Mon (yoga) leftover shredded pork
Tues - Quick Chicken Curry
Wed (AM yoga) Quick Chicken Curry
Thurs - Friday (MINICON!) slow cooked "Hunter's Stew"

Quick Chicken Curry (Ckng Lght March, 2015)  gluten free
This was indeed quick.  I did two substitutions - one because I had no idea where the cornstarch was - used flour instead - and I subbed chicken tenders instead of breasts.  Smaller and didn't have to cut up.   I did lose my fresh garlic in the move, so I added some powdered ginger to the flour mixture instead.  Not the same, but more of a flavor bump than anything.  I also added a yellow pepper to the snowpeas and onion mixture for a bit of color and flavor. 

I did not think this was a spicy dish, more flavorful than anything.  Serving saucy mix over rice was perfect - a great way to catch all the yummy goodness. 

This made 2 meals for two of us.  Recommended.

1 tablespoon cornstarch
photo from cookinglight.com
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
5 teaspoons canola oil, divided
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup vertically sliced yellow onion 
1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced 
1 1/2 cups snow peas, trimmed
1/4 cup water
1 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cups cooked brown rice  
1 hot red chile (such as jalapeƱo or Fresno), stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1. Combine cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, and chicken in a medium bowl; toss to coat.
2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet or wok over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring after 2 minutes. Add ginger and garlic; stir-fry 30 seconds. Place mixture on a plate; keep warm. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; stir-fry 3 minutes. Add snow peas and 1/4 cup water; stir-fry 1 minute or until water evaporates. Stir in milk and curry paste. Return chicken to pan; cook 2 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat; stir in juice and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Serve curry over rice; top evenly with chile and cilantro.


END OF WEEK 1 DEMOLITION PICS

Debris in the living room. It's coming apart!

Half wall is gone!  Nozzle was where stove sat.

Starting to expose some interior walls in the kitchen

Just another view of interior walls in the kitchen

View from entryway looking at kitchen wall.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Poet by Michael Connelly (Jack McEvoy #1)

The Poet (Jack McEvoy, #1)The Poet by Michael Connelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  Denver crime-beat reporter Jack McEvoy specializes in violent death. So when his homicide detective brother kills himself, McEvoy copes in the only way he knows how--he decides to write the story. But his research leads him to suspect a serial killer is at work--a devious murderer who's killing cops and leaving a trail of poetic clues. It's the news story of a lifetime, if he can get the story without losing his life.

"Read" as an audiobook and I really enjoyed this narrator. Wonderful voice, great intonation, good job at distinguishing characters through voice.

Premise of the book is reporter Jack McEvoy starts investigating the death of his twin, a cop who to all outward appearances committed suicide.  Jack discovers otherwise and in the course of his research and interviews, attracts the attention of the FBI.  Soon it's revealed that they are looking for someone who has quietly killed upwards of seven cops over a decade or more.  The trail leads from Denver, to Chicago, Washington DC, Florida, Phoenix and eventually Los Angeles.

This story had a similar feel to John Sandford's Davenport series, where not infrequently we know what the antagonist - usually a very despicable person - is thinking, planning and doing.  Personally, I don't care for that writing style so I skipped over the bits with the antagonist.  I don't feel I missed anything (other than confirming he was a very despicable man).

I also found aspects of this rather predictable - the romance was a given.  Where the romance went was a bit like watching a train wreck.  I saw it coming and not much to be done about other than step back and watch it unfold. 

The culmination of events was also predictable to some degree - while I didn't know the exact way things were going to unfold during the climatic reveal, I strongly suspected.  I suspected correctly.  A bit disappointing.

What I did like about this was Jack wasn't a cop.  He's a reporter.  He does research and he writes about it.  He doesn't go in with guns blazing (he has no gun), he knows when he's being brushed aside and can use his experience as a reporter to get what he needs/wants to know. He's also not dumb - no contacting the killer and meeting them in a dark abandoned house at midnight. I really like those features in a protagonist in a mystery-thriller.  

So, ultimately, a somewhat predictable plot with an enjoyable narrator.  Recommended with some reservations (predictability).



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Lost Light by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #9)

Lost Light (Harry Bosch, #9)Lost Light by Michael Connelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb: The vision has haunted him for four years--a young woman lying crumpled in death, her hand outstretched in silent supplication. Harry Bosch was taken off the Angella Benton murder case when the production assistant's death was linked with the violent theft of two million dollars from a movie set. Both files were never closed. Now retired from the L.A.P.D., Bosch is determined to find justice for Angella. Without a badge to open doors and strike fear into the guilty, he's on his own. And even in the face of an opponent more powerful and ruthless than any he's ever encountered, Bosch is not backing down.

Read as an audiobook.   Narrator changed yet again.  

In this book, our protagonist has been 'retired' for almost a year, and decides to work on a cold case that he was briefly assigned while on the force.  The image of the dead woman deeply affected him, and it was for her sake he wanted to resolve the case.  His investigation brought him in conflict with a paralyzed cop,  the FBI, homeland security, the LAPD, and his ex-wife Elenor.   Only Harry Bosch could rile a hornets nest with so much gusto.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and have only a modicum of criticism.  The case uncovered a missing female FBI agent, which is what got the FBI involved when Harry started pulling at threads.  She was described as being tall, in excellent shape, with zero percent body fat....  which immediately kicked me out of the story.  Totally implausible.  I know body builders and it is physically impossible for a woman to maintain zero percent body fat without some very extreme dieting and be able to function normally. A small thing perhaps, but I don't like being kicked out of the plot.

The other item was the way Harry decided to kick the proverbial hornets nest toward the end.  Without giving anything away, deciding to confront the antagonists was just...dumb.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  It's like in cozy mysteries where the female protagonist decides to walk into the dark house, in a thunderstorm, by herself, with no weapon, and the killer on the inside.  I decided this was the male version of stupidity.  "Let's go confront the bad guys by myself, without back up, and make them mad!"  Smacking myself on the head here... for a cop, he was frikin' stupid. 

Other than that, as I noted, I did enjoy this.  I think I almost prefer a "private inspector" Harry to a Homicide Detective.  Since he seems incapable of working with other people, this role seems to suit his personality better, and I think makes for a better character.

Recommended.





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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Remodel Update

Pre-Demolition and Day 1 of Deconstruction

After the chaos of moving out this past weekend, misplacing two computer cords (both for my computers), losing the camera, forgetting the Husbands dress shoes, dogs totally confused because their routine has been disrupted, and the exhaustion that accompanies all, things are settling into a new routine.

Good news is I found the camera and can post pics!


Kitchen

Kitchen looking into "dining room"

Looking at foyer from kitchen (basement door on the right)

Kitchen (basement door on the left), kitchen table used to sit in the corner

Living room

Living room forefront, "dining room" in back left

Foyer looking at kitchen

Foyer

Looking at kitchen from "dining room"



The Husband ran out to the house after work on Monday to retrieve a few forgotten items and to let the dogs run around.  I have country dogs, they are not used to being so restrained in our temporary location.  The Contractor had a busy day!  

Living room carpet gone!  YAY!  Old birch flooring - it's in really really rough shape.

The "dining room" with fridge and stove.  Old 1950's 'linoleum' was under the carpeting.

Kitchen - half wall has started to disappear.  This will be where the kitchen table will go.

Kitchen - counter tops are starting to disappear!


Due to the drive, we will most likely NOT be out here on a daily basis to start with.  However, come the beginning of May, the Husband will be since we have baby chickens on order and a chicken coop to be completed.

Lots of stuff happening this spring!  Stay tuned!