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Book Reviews: What’s In a Book

Some Things to Think About

By Gini Rainey

“The Isle of Gold” by Seven Jane

If you like to read adventure books that have everything from swashbuckling pirates to mystical lands beneath the sea, then this is the book for you. Set in 1716 – the golden age of pirates – this book follows the adventures of Merrin Smith, an orphaned waif who was raised in the kitchen of a quayside brothel. Written by Seven Jane, a “dark fantasy and speculative fiction,” this book is filled with more pirates and fantasy than you can shake a stick at.

When Merrin, at the tender of age of probably fourteen or so, decides to join the crew of the pirate ship Riptide in order to discover who her parents were, she disguises herself as a pirate and falls under the watchful eye of the notorious Captain Winter, whose madman antics and behavior keep everyone on board in line, lest they get run through by one of the many daggers he has hanging from his belt. When she meets the handsome boatswain, Tom Birch, a bit of unrequited love begins to weave itself into the story. Fortunately, or perhaps not so fortunately, as time passes on the Captain’s quest to find the mythical island of Bracile (a place hidden between air and sea and that exists only for a moment every two years – and which has never returned any man who has sailed for its shores) Merrin’s body begins to mature and she must now bind herself to prevent anyone on board from discovering that she is a woman.

This book is a delightful romp and an easy read filled with the things that will keep the reader engrossed to the very end. Pour yourself a glass of wine, curl up in your comfy chair and let Seven Jane take you a mystical place filled with adventure and romance.

Rating: 4 of 5 – Copyright 2018, Black Spot Books

“Gracie’s Secret” by Jill Childs

This book is one long emotional rollercoaster.

Beginning when Jen’s 3-year old daughter Gracie is involved in a car accident and nearly dies, the emotions of everyone involved are raw and aching. While the character development was good, as was the premise, there were many things about this book that left me wondering “why?”

Following the accident, Gracie had a near death experience and met angels who asked her if she wanted to stay or go home. She chooses to go home and shares with her non-religious mother that she met a man in heaven who is later identified as the archangel, Saint Michael after spotting a statue in a parish church. There could be a spoiler alert here, but I won’t tell anymore, so no need for one.

It was too far into the book that the plotline began getting convoluted and twisted. Lots of accusations and insidious mysteries are uncovered, and suffice it to say, the intrigue became deeper and deeper. I, for one, had no idea where this was all heading, but when everything started falling apart and coming together, I had a hard time moving through to the end of the book.

I will say that I kept turning the pages and finished the book, but there were many things that I had to question. For one, if Gracie’s mom, Jen, was so completely devastated by her recent divorce, it amazes me how quickly she falls for the doctor she met while Gracie was in a coma. Doctor Matthew steps into their life and begins to fill all of the voids they had both been experiencing since the divorce. He steps in way too easily.

All of that being said though, this is a pretty intriguing book and well worth the read.

Rating: 4 of 5 – Copyright 2018, Bookouture

Books

Sea Side Reading

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By Gini Rainey

“BETWEEN WIND & WATER: 1898 GALVESTON” by Rosa Morgan

Set in late 19th century Galveston, Ms. Morgan successfully brings together Abigail Bauer and Captain Sebastian Lyons and weaves an engaging romantic tale filled with Galveston’s elite all the way down to the lowest of the lows in the city that inhabit Tin Can Alley and the docks.

Both unhappily married, sheer luck brought Abigail and her perverted husband Otto from their sod house on the Texas prairie to live in a lovely Galveston home in a decent neighborhood. While across the same street, Sebastian, having given up his life at sea, nursed his dying wife.

Written by one of Galveston’s own, this book is filled with the flavor of turn of the century Galveston and recalls names and places that are an integral part of the past of this historical town.  Definitely an intriguing story, I was hard-pressed to put it down and found myself wrapped up in the lives and adventures of the characters.

With a skill for character development, Ms. Morgan has created a book that is well worth the read.  In my opinion, however, the only flaw was her use of script for the letters exchanged between Abigail and Sebastian.  I understand her reasoning, but should this book go to reprint, I would suggest selecting a more readable font.  It really slowed down my page-turning and I struggled to read the text.

5 of 5 – Copyright 2018 – Closer Look Publishing

“SOUL REMAINS: TERRIBLY SERIOUS DARKNESS, BOOK TWO” by Sam Hooker

This book came to me from the publisher for review, and while not necessarily a book I would personally choose to read, I know there would be a huge following for this type of literature.   If you are interested in witches, goblins, ghosts, demons, and the walking dead, you will totally love this book.

Sam Hooker has quite a way with words and puts a whole new twist on the meaning of life after death.  A lot of the time, his tongue-in-cheek humor kept me reading, but I had a difficult time with the whole premise.  His characters are interestingly engaging and, prior to their meeting up in the afterlife, interacted with one another before the fall of the fictional Salzstadt.

This book is a must-read for people who enjoy fantasy to the extreme and would like to enjoy some very clever turns of phrases.

4 of 5 – Copyright 2019 – Black Spot Publishing

“LOOK FOR ME” by Lisa Gardener

True to form, Lisa Gardener does not disappoint in this book filled with psychological mystery.  Another in her series of D. D. Warren and Flora Dane novels, the story surrounds the mass murder of a family of five – but one member survived and is missing.

Taking a look, not only at the murder investigation, but also the foster care system, alcohol/drug abuse and recovery, and family dynamics, Gardener did a good job of building an excellent storyline that kept me turning pages until the surprising end.

A master of character-building, Gardener created believable folks who were able to bring to life the plot in a realistic manner.  Typical of her books, Lisa kept me guessing till the end who the perpetrator was and with all the twists and turns, I was not disappointed in this book. It is defeinitely worth the read.

5 of 5 – Copyright 2018 – Dutton

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Books

Artists in the Kitchen

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By Gini Rainey

I have many passions in my life, mostly leaning toward my right brain, but after working for over 25 years as a business manager/owner, my left brain seems to have shoved a lot of those passions to the side, but trust me – they’re still there!  So, when I come across a cookbook that has wonderful recipes that are paired up with amazing works of art from the National Gallery of Art, you can be sure this is one book I had to have. 

With notable chefs such as Julia Child, Jeremiah Tower and Alice Waters creating dishes and menus to compliment the art of Matisse, Pissaro, and Gauguin, to name a few, you can only imagine what a lovely and creative book this must be. 

While using paintings of the obvious subjects, such as Vollon’s Mound of Butter and Jean Simeon Chardin’s Still Life with Game for inspiration, I think the recipes that truly intrigue me are from the chefs who viewed such paintings as Raoul Dufy’s The Basket and Mary Cassatt’s Afternoon Tea Party, let their imaginations run wild and came up with what might have been in the basket or what Cassatt might served at her Tea Party. 

Pablo Picasso’s Le Gourmet was the inspiration for Nancy Silverton’s Butterscotch Sauce that would make a delicious topping for a bread pudding or a dish of Blue Bell’s Homemade Vanilla ice cream. To make the sauce, combine 1 cup granulated sugar, 2 ½ tablespoons light corn syrup, and 2 ½ tablespoons Scotch whisky in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the mixture just begins to smoke and turns an amber color.  Meanwhile, place 1 ¼ cup heavy (whipping) cream in another large saucepan, split a vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape its seeds into the and then add the pod.  Add 1 cup of butter and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and set aside until needed.

When the sugar mixture reaches the proper color, immediately stop its cooking by whisking in the cream mixture in small amounts, waiting a few seconds between additions to prevent it from boiling over.  Once all the cream mixture is incorporated, simmer the sauce for 5 minutes.  Whisk in ½ cup of butter until combined.  The sauce will keep for several weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  To reheat, place the sauce in a bowl over simmering water.  If desired, add some toasted pecans or add a dash of sea salt to taste, and wow, you have got something really yummy going on there. 

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Blogs

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

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By Gini Rainey

Today’s blog entry was written by my “Guest Writer”  who, every so often, sends something along to me that is press worthy.  Today’s blog is pretty darn good!

Why did the chicken cross the road?  So he could be a part of today’s feature dish, Capellini with Sausage, Lemon and Basil.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself; I’ll deal with that bird in a moment.

Today, I’m reviewing Flying Sausages, Flying Sausages, written by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly and published in 1995 by Chronical Books, is  a very interesting cookbook about how to make fresh poultry sausages and all the things that you can do with them.  “Wait a second,” I can hear you now – “my Uncle Frank used to make sausage; it was a messy affair with lots of grinding and stuffing and meat hanging in a cooler for months.”  Nope, that was your Uncle Frank and his cured pork – this is completely different.  For one thing, Frank’s sausages required the use of nitrate curing salts, then stuffing into casing and drying for weeks or months.  The chicken and turkey sausages described here are fresh; you’ll just mix uncooked ground chicken (buy it pre-ground or you can do it in your food processor) with fresh herbs.  These can be used as-is (made into patties or balls) or stuffed into sausage casings.  Your fresh sausages can be frozen or used immediately.  Either fresh turkey or chicken can be used in any of these recipes; turkey give a slightly deeper flavor.

Flying Sausages leads off with descriptions and directions to make seven basic styles of poultry sausages that are used in the ensuing recipes.   These include Southwest Green Chile (ground chicken seasoned with cumin, chili powder, cayenne, cilantro, onions and jalepeño – woudn’t that be good with migas or in tacos?), Italian style (sun dried tomatoes, fennel, wine and garlic), a North Mediterranean Arabic style (with lots of garlic, turmeric, paprika, lemon zest, and mint) and a highly seasoned Chinese Black Mushroom style (an abundance of hot pepper, mushrooms, sesame oil, soy, garlic and green onion).

One of these is the Italian Sun-Dried Tomato Sausage.  Chicken sausages have been made in Italy for generations, and the variety of cooking styles and foods available along the length of the country mean that their sausages, too, take on different flavors. There’s no absolute recipe for this; feel free to experiment and add ingredients that your family prefers.  In the north of Italy, aromatic spices, garlic and white wine flavor a more delicate sausage than is found in the south, where tomatoes, red pepper, red wine and a tablespoon of Romano cheese make a perfect accompaniment for a heavy red sauce and pasta.  We’re going to make a style from North Italy, then show how it’s used in a light, Springtime lemony pasta dish.  When you read through this recipe, you’ll realize how easy it is to put together:

Northern Italian-Style Sausage With Sun-Dried Tomatoes

3 ½ lbs raw ground chicken or turkey (preferably thigh meat, ground with skin)

½ cup white wine

½ cup chopped sun dried tomatoes packed in olive oil

3 Tablespoons chopped garlic

2 Tablespoons fennel seed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 Tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoons sugar

If you’re grinding your own meat, pulse chunks in a food processor until roughly chopped.  Add remaining ingredients to the chopped poultry in a large tub or bowl and thoroughly mix with your hands.  Form golf ball sized meatballs or patties, freeze or use immediately.

Here’s another recipe that uses the delicious fresh sausage mixture.  This is a light, Spring or Summer-inspired dish, where the fennel and tomato flavors in the sausage perfectly match the delicate lemon and basil of the sauce.  Use any type of light pasta – capellini (Italian for “little hairs”) as here, or its slightly thinner version, “capelli d’angelo,” which is – you guessed it, ‘angel hair.’  Pair this with a crisp, chilled white wine for classic Northern Italian lunch.  Also – any type of “store-bought” chicken sausage can be substituted for the home-made recipe above, but I encourage you to try your hand at the sausage-making, too and take ownership of the entire dish!

Capellini with Sausage, Lemon and Basil:

1 lb dried pasta

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ lb Italian Turkey and Sun-Dried Tomato Sausage

Zest of two lemons

5 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 fresh basil leaves, shredded

5 Tablespoons fresh parsley

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

 

In a large skillet, sauté the sausage balls in olive oil for 4-6 minutes, breaking them up as they cook.  Add lemon zest, lemon juice, basil and parsley, and allow to cook for one minute to release the flavors.  Cook the pasta according to package directions to the al dente stage (about 5 minutes) and drain.  Then toss the sausage mixture into the pasta until well coated.  Season with salt and pepper and serve with Parmesan cheese.  After a bite of this and a chilled white wine, you’ll almost be able to see the Italian Alps.

So, try your hand at making fresh poultry sausage!  I’m going to make the Arabic Mediterranean ones next and enjoy with pita bread, hummus, and thick yogurt.   I thought that Flying Sausages is an interesting read and an excellent introduction to an inexpensive and easy way to add some different spices to your cooking routine.   Who knows?  Perhaps you’ll develop some favorites of your own!

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