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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Weekend Cooking- A Whirlwind Weekend's Worth of Cooking

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

I'm not entirely sure what came over me last weekend, but I started cooking and couldn't stop. My husband had a long week, he was out Monday through Thursday for work events and didn't get a home cooked meal all week.

So Friday night I made an old standby- Rachael Ray's Italian Mac and Cheese. This is the one dish I make to bring to friends or for a potluck dinner. It has Italian sausage in it (hence the name), and it goes a long way so you have leftovers for at least another meal. I added a baguette from Maison Kayser (voted best baguette in NYC) and The Pioneer Woman's Salad Bar Salad with Creamy Dressing and we had a delightful meal.

My husband likes something sweet for breakfast and I found this recipe for Pumpkin Poppers from hwescott.blogspot.com on Pinterest, which worked for Trish's Pin It & Do It Challenge. They are really more like pumpkin muffins, but they were so easy to make and my husband loved them, as did my younger son. I didn't have ground cloves, so I used pumpkin pie spice in place of all of the spices. I'd like to try this next time using the spices described in the original pin to taste the difference.
Pumpkin Poppers

I had half of a can of pumpkin left over, so it was another batch of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies that I made. My younger son brought them to work to share with his coworkers and he said they went quickly and got lots of praise.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

For dinner on Saturday, I made Giada's Tomato and Pancetta Soup to go with the leftover mac and cheese. I do not like tomato soup at all, but my husband does, so I made it. To my surprise, I loved this soup! I used a can of crushed tomatoes instead of the diced tomatoes because we prefer a smoother rather than chunky soup.

I saw Giada make this on The Today Show, and I'm glad I did. The smoky flavor of the pancetta and adding rye bread croutons really took the soup to another level. I even made a misstep in the cooking process (forgetting to crisp up the rye bread before adding the liquid), but I managed to recover. Next time I make it, I will do it correctly and can't wait to taste it then. The pin came from kahakaikitchen.blogpsot.com

For Sunday football, I made Better Than Taco Bell Pizza, which I had first made a few weeks back. The recipe called for too much chili powder, which overwhelmed the dish. I cut it back from 2 tablespoons to 1/2 teaspoon and it was still too much. I have to tinker with this one, but it is worth it because other than the chili powder, it is so tasty.

Dinner was a new favorite, Slow Cooker Balsamic Shredded Beef, served over mashed potatoes. I made Roasted Garlic Mushrooms to go with it, and this time the mushrooms tasted a little soggy; I was not happy with this batch. For dessert, my husband asked for Apple Crisp, so I went back to our old family standby from Betty Crocker.

I posted my whirlwind weekend cooking on Facebook, and all my friends asked for recipes, so I put together a Pinterest board and shared them. That is one of the great things about Pinterest; I can share one link for all of these with anyone who wants them.

By Sunday evening my feet hurt, my back hurt and I was exhausted. But, I did add two new pins for Pin It & Do It, bringing me up to eight pins and making me officially Pin Obsessed. This was a fun challenge, I hope to participate again in the next one.

Here is the link to the October Food Board pin with my weekend's cooking.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mind Without a Home by Kristina Morgan

Mind Without A Home by Kristina Morgan
Published by Hazelden ISBN 978-1-61649-460-5
Trade paperback, $14.95, 260 pages

Kristina Morgan opens the prologue of her memoir Mind Without a Home in September of 1993 when she is twenty-nine years old. She has been sober for eleven years, has overdosed seven times in three months and hears the voices of men and women urging to hurt herself and others. She gets drunk and tries to kill herself again but doesn't succeed.

From there we meet Kristina's family- Jeremy and Hannah, her parents, and sisters Rose and Hunter. Her parents married because Hannah was pregnant with Kristina. Over the years, Hannah became an alcoholic, Rose became a sleepwalker and occasionally used drugs, Hunter was a heavy drug user and Kristina had schizophrenia and was an alcoholic.

Kristina's family had a lot of issues, but luckily she had two sets of grandparents who, at various times in her adult life when she needed them most, took her in. I really felt for them, trying their best to help their granddaughter through the many hospitalizations.

The book shows what it is like to live with mental illness, a topic that we have seen in the news recently and really needs to be addressed by society. Kristina hid her illness for a long time, but finally, like many who suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, it comes to surface in her late twenties.

She describes mental illness as a "Stephen King novel. I knew it was there, I knew something was happening, but the first 300 pages it had to yet to reveal itself. I was on page 150. I still had time before my heart was cut out and my mind completely poisoned."

The reader is dropped into her world, where she hears the constant hum of voices, is heavily medicated, sleeps for long hours at a time, can't get or hold a job, moves from place to place when roommates can no longer put up with her behavior, deals with frequent hospitalizations, and tries desperately to find and hold onto a mate.

Kristina gets a job as a high school English teacher, which she loves, but loses it when the principal discovers her history. It devastates Kristina, for teaching gives her structure and joy. She falls in love with men and women, but can't sustain a permanent relationship, although she does have long on-again-and-off-again relationships with a few people until they can't take it anymore.

Living in a big city, one sees many people sleeping on church steps, wandering the city during the day, and the assumption is that they have some sort of mental illness. The most important thing I got from this memoir is the feeling of empathy for those with mental illness. We are put into their shoes in this shattering memoir.

Morgan is a poet, and the language here is poetic. She uses imagery a great deal of the time, and anyone who enjoys poetry will probably get more from this book than others.  Near the end of the book, she writes a note titled "Dear Self" that beautifully sums up where she is. If I have a criticism, it is that it can be repetitive towards the end of the book.

rating 3.5 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours for allowing me to paticipate. The rest of Kristin'a tour is here:

Kristina Morgan’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, September 30th: Book Hooked Blog
Thursday, October 3rd:  My Bookshelf
Monday, October 7th:  Books in the Burbs
Wednesday, October 9th:  Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, October 10th:  Book-a-licious Mama
Monday, October 14th:  Love at First Book
Wednesday, October 16th:  A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Thursday, October 17th:  Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Monday, October 21st:  Justice Jennifer
Wednesday, October 23rd:  Bookchickdi
Thursday, October 24th:  Sara’s Organized Chaos
Monday, October 28th:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Wednesday, October 30th:  A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, November 1st:  Bibliophiliac
Date TBD:  Peppermint Ph.D.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Everyday Food cookbooks

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

Every once in awhile, I will catch the Today Show segment called "Steals and Deals", where Jill Martin highlights great deals from manufacturers at huge discounts, good for 24 hours only. In the past, I have gotten some terrific bargains on Christmas gifts for family members on jewelry and health and beauty items.

A few weeks ago Random House had a fantastic deal on several sets of three cookbooks from celebrity chefs. They had sets from Lidia Bastianich, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence and Martha Stewart. The deal was three books for just $21, which really is a steal.

I chose the Martha Stewart Living Everyday cookbook set, which had Everyday Food Light, Everyday Food Great Food Fast, and Everyday Food Fresh Flavor Fast. I used to pick up the Everyday Food magazine once in a while because the recipes were usually pretty easy to make and used fresh ingredients that I generally had on hand.

Everyday Food Light features recipes all under 500 calories, and I like how the book starts with tips on poaching, steaming, and stir-frying, along with lists of what herbs work best for each style of cooking. The calorie counts are printed in big numbers right on the photo page for each recipe. The recipes are separated by season, which I always find helpful. I turned right to the Fall section and found several recipes to try, including:

  • Butternut Bisque (117 calories)
  • Roast Chicken with Pears (421 calories)
  • Chicken Cacciatore (212 calories)
Everyday Food Great Food Fast is perfect for those weeknights when it you only have a short window of time to get a healthy dinner on the table. On each photo page, the prep time is helpfully printed in big numbers, making it easy to see at a glance how long it will take you to get dinner ready to go into the oven. Some of the recipes, though, can take an hour to cook, so that must be factored into the equation. I am confused as to why the nutritional information for the recipes is listed in an index at the back of the book; it would have been so easy to place on the recipe page itself. It is also divided by season, and the fall recipes I am looking at are:

  • Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Oven-Baked Polenta (30 minutes prep time)
  • Steak and Onion Sandwiches (20 minutes prep time)
  • Pork Chops with Apples and Shallots (30 minutes prep time)
Everyday Food Fresh Flavor Fast has 250 recipes in the book, which divides the book into categories like Breakfast, Appetizers, Pasta, Desserts. The end of the book has helpful tips with lots of photos on Chopping Onions, Peeling Ginger, and Softening Brown Sugar. Again, the nutritional information is indexed instead of with the recipe. I'm going to try:
  • Roast Beef with Peppers, Onions, and Potatoes
  • Warm Spinach Salad with Poached Eggs
  • Mexican Ice Cream Sundaes with Cinnamon-Chocolate Sauce
All of these recipes are pretty basic, they don't require a lot of technical skill, making these books great gifts for people just starting out on their own. I also like that each recipe has a glossy photo so you know what your final dish should (sort of) look like.

The Steals and Deals website is here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Broadway- The Glass Menagerie

The current revival of Tennesee Williams' classic play The Glass Menagerie has been called one the best revivals ever by more than one theatre critic and after seeing it this past week, I can concur.

I went to see the amazing Cherry Jones, who I have been dying to see, playing the role of Amanda Wingfield, single mother to two young adult children- Tom, brilliantly played by Zachary Quinto in his Broadway debut, and delicate, insecure Laura, gorgeously portrayed by Celia Keenan-Bolger.

Amanda has been abandoned by her husband, whose presence is still felt even though he has been gone six years. The play takes place in Depression-era St. Louis, and Amanda is panicked about who will take care of Laura. Laura has a severe limp, and because of this, avoids any social interactions.

Her mother discovers that Laura dropped out of secretarial school because she was paralyzed by fear on the first day. The scene where Amanda confronts Laura over this is just so heart-stopping, Jones berating Keenan-Bolger, who looks trapped as an small animal. It gave me chills.

Tom wants to be a writer, but he is stuck working a dead-end job at a warehouse to provide for his mother and sister. He spends his nights out drinking and carousing, and Amanda is panicked that he will lose his job and then what will happen to them all?

Amanda convinces Tom to invite a friend from work to dinner to meet Laura. The gentlemen caller is played by Brian J. Smith, whom I have never seen before, and he stands out as well, not easy to do with these powerhouse performers surrounding him.  I look forward to seeing him in other roles. His scene with Laura is lovely and then so terribly sad.

The Glass Menagerie is frequently called "ethereal", but the performances in this play are anything but. Jones is a strong Amanda, concerned about her family's future and willing to find a way to protect it, no matter what, even while recalling her glory days as a debutante who "had 17 gentleman callers in one day!" It is unclear if this is true, an exaggeration or a complete figment of her imagination.

She imbues Amanda with a steely resolve, a different take on Amanda than others have done. Jones is electric, and when she is on stage, she owns it. Her performance has been called "one for the ages", and is simply not to be missed.

Quinto is like a caged animal, angry at being tethered to his family and looking for a way out, like his father. He is a ticking time-bomb and his performance is ferocious. You wait for him to explode at any moment.

I had seen Keenan-Bolger in Peter and the Starcatcher, where she played Wendy in the fantastic play about Peter Pan's origins, and she was wonderful in that active role. This role is so different from Wendy, she makes you feel Laura's panic when confronted by her mother and her blossoming when she talks with the Gentleman Caller. She is going to be a big star.

John Tiffany, who directed the Tony-winning musical Once, directs here and he uses his staging in a similar manner as in Once. The setting is sparse, but as Tom explains in the beginning, this play is from his memory, and the setting creates that dreamlike feeling.

Brian J. Smith
This is a play that you should see in an orchestra seat so you see the actors' faces close up, as there is so much going on in each actor's look. It is also one that if you paid full-price for a ticket, you got more than your money's worth. I hope it is rewarded come Tony time next year.

I waited outside to get my program signed, and Brian J. Smith and Celia Keenan-Bolger obliged us, even taking photos with many people. Quinto and Jones did not come out to greet fans, which disappointed many theatergoers.
Celia Keenan-Bolger

rating 5 of 5

The show's website is here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gracious Living Without Servants by Brenda Cronin

Gracious Living Without Servants  by Brenda Cronin
Published by Stoneslide Books ISBN 9780985233839
Trade paperback, $14.95, 376 pages

We meet Julia, a thirty-year-old widow who has spent the past six months living back with her parents in New Haven grieving her lost husband. Her parents think it would be good for her to get out, see people, and think about what she will do next.

What she does next is begin an affair with Seth, her parents' sixty-five-year old neighbor, a law professor married to a wealthy heiress. I confess that I found this puzzling. Was Julia looking for security after her world was turned upside down? Was she just looking for a fling?

As the story progresses, we see that Seth and Julia seem to be falling in love. Julia wonders about a future with Seth, and he seems very smitten with her, unlike other women with whom he has had affairs. They meet in his office, have assignations at a local run-down hotel, and Seth makes elaborate preparations with food, wine and flowers.

Seth's wife Naomi arranges for Julia to interview for a job at a local arts newspaper. She runs a foundation that annually bestows a prestigious dance award. She also teaches dance locally, and many of the winners of the foundation's award were her students.

Julia gets the newspaper job, and starts out compiling events calendars. Naomi pushes Julia to write a story about her and the prestigious awards, and when Julia gets the assignment to write the story, it is not the fawning puff piece Naomi hopes for, but an investigative piece about financial irregularities at the foundation.

While investigating the financial irregularities, Julia meets with someone who has more damning information about Naomi and an improper relationship she had in the past. Julia continues to delve further, without telling Seth what she has uncovered.

And this is where I have an issue. Julia is a thirty-year-old woman, not a young girl starting out, and she should know better about conflict of interest. She is writing a story about the wife of a man she is sleeping with and she doesn't seem to ever question her own ethics.

At the very least she should tell her editor she has a conflict. She wouldn't need to get into the specifics, but she is jeopardizing any career she thinks she may have if the truth comes out. I don't think the author (who is a journalist herself) hit on this hard enough; there should have been more about how Julia's ethics were compromised.

The story is interesting, and the author gives us an insider's look at a small newspaper. Julia is a smart woman who makes bad choices, and seems to be a little out of touch with the reality of her situation.  The fact that she thinks she could get a job at a bigger newspaper and keep Seth shows her complete lack of  understanding the consequences of her actions.

I would have liked this novel better if Julia was more contemplative, but maybe after the last six months of her isolation and grief, this made her feel alive, and perhaps that is what the author intended all along.

rating 3.5 of 5

You can read the first chapter of Gracious Living Without Servants here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for including me on this tour. The rest of Brenda Cronin's tour is here.

Brenda’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 15th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, October 22nd: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Wednesday, October 23rd: Bibliotica
Monday, October 28th: Book-alicious Mama
Wednesday, October 30th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, October 31st: A Simple Life, Really?
Tuesday, November 5th: Anita Loves Books
Thursday, November 7th: Brooklyn Berry Designs
Monday, November 11th: Amy’s Book-et List
Tuesday, November 12th: A Book Geek
Thursday, November 14th: Obsessed Italian Brat

Monday, October 14, 2013

Leaving Haven by Kathleen McCleary

Leaving Haven by Kathleen McCleary
Published by William Morrow ISBN 979-0-06-210625-4
Trade paperback, $14.99, 352 pages

Leaving Haven is a wonderful novel about friendship, family and marriage. Georgia is married to John, a sexy, hardworking chef, and they have teenage daughter Liza. Georgia has been trying for years to have a second child, but she has suffered many miscarriages and has just about given up all hope when her best friend Alice offers to donate a egg.

Alice is married to Duncan, a practical, hardworking lawyer who provided a safe haven for Alice, the only child of a single woman who would frequently leave young Alice on her own while she worked and socialized. Their daughter Wren is best friends with Liza.

The novel opens with Georgia, having just given birth to her son, abandoning him at the hospital. John is frantic and calls Alice to help him with the baby, who won't stop crying. Why has Georgia left the baby and her family behind? She had postpartum depression when Liza was born, but what would make her leave this baby whom she so desperately wanted?

The chapters alternate between Alice and Georgia, as well as back in time, as we learn the story behind Georgia's disappearance. Alice and Georgia have two very different personalities. Alice describes Georgia as " open, honest, direct." She was "the quintessential earth mother, with her rambling old Victorian house and the bright colored skirts she wore (which she sewed herself) and her tendency to call everyone "darling" or "sweetie".  She even bakes cakes for a living, a nurturing profession.

Georgia lost her mom when she was twelve and became a mother figure to her younger sisters Polly and Chessy. Polly is mom to four youngsters and Chessy is the youngest, still trying to find herself, and the relationship among the sisters was my favorite part of the book; it was the one relationship that rang most true to me. I would love to see more of the sisters, maybe in a later book.

Alice was, according to Georgia, "all the things that Georgia wasn't- confident, organized, practical. Georgia felt reassured by Alice's steadiness, her unflappable common-sense approach to everything." Alice taught economics part-time at a local college, matching her personality.

While Georgia is on bedrest for the baby and going stir crazy, a problem arises between Liza and Wren. Alice would normally go to Georgia with this, but Georgia can't be upset right now. Duncan quit his job and took a much lower paying one without talking it over with Alice, and Alice's unreliable mother is moving to Argentina. All these things combine to make Alice feel unmoored and she makes a bad decision.

I have to admit to having a hard time understanding Alice and what she does, but this paragraph helped.
"I've never done anything out of passion in my whole life." Alice said. "I've been mature and responsible since I was four. And the bullying with Wren- it made me so angry; I didn't know what to do with all that feeling."
After reading that, I had a better handle on Alice and I'm sure that there will be more than a few people who read that and understand where she is coming from.

I enjoyed the locales that appeared in the book- the Amtrak train to Albany, Rehoboth Beach in Delaware and Kramerbooks in Washington D.C. are all places I am familiar with, and I got a kick out of seeing them here.

The book could have become a little nighttime soap-opera-y, but McCleary makes the reader feel for the people and root for them to work it all out. I liked that the ending is open, as this is a situation that can't be resolved overnight or in a month or a year.

rating 4 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours  for including me on Kathleen McCleary's tour. The rest of the tour can be found here.

Kathleen’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 1st: Sweet Southern Home
Wednesday, October 2nd: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Thursday, October 3rd: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, October 7th: Book-alicious Mama
Wednesday, October 9th: BookNAround
Monday, October 14th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, October 16th:  A Novel Review
Tuesday, October 22nd: Reading Lark

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Weekend Cooking- October 2013 Pin and Do It Part Two

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

Trish from Love Laughter and a Touch of Insanity is hosting an October Pin It and Do It Challenge and while I have always enjoyed checking these out, this time I decided to participate. People can participate at three levels- Timid Pinner (up to 3 pins), Pinterested (4-7 pins) and Pin Obsessed (8+ pins). Last week's Weekend Cooking post listed three recipes I made from my Crock Pot board, in honor of the fact that I got a new crock pot.

I have been a roll with Pinterest recipes and this week I made three more recipes that I found there. The first was a Greek Marinated Chicken that my husband and son enjoyed more than I did. It comes from budgetbytes.com and this is a good healthy, low cost recipe that was so easy to make, and I used Greek yogurt in the marinade.
Greek Marinated Chicken from Budgetbytes
This side dish, Brazilian Rice from food.com pairs well with the Greek Marinated Chicken.This one is a little more effort, as you use long grain, not instant, rice. The first time I made it, I did not follow the directions exactly. It is very important to bring the rice to a boil and boil it until the bubbles stop. When that happens, cover the rice and simmer for 20 minutes. The next time I made it, it was sensational.
Brazilian Rice from food.com
The last dish I made was another crock pot dish- Crock Pot Creamy Italian Chicken, again from food.com. I don't normally like to use recipes that include a can of cream of anything soup, but I relented and used cream of chicken soup and this one was another hit for the guys. I served it over egg noodles, but rice or any pasta would work too. I used fresh sliced mushrooms instead of canned.
Crock Pot Creamy Italian Chicken from food.com

So I am up to six pins, just two more to go to make my goal of Pin Obsessed. Have you made anything new this week? Let me know in comments below.
My first post for Pin It and Do It is here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tom Perrotta at Barnes & Noble

I remember reading author Tom Perrotta's novel Little Children in one sitting, totally enthralled by his story of a suburban mom who has an affair with a dad she meets at the playground. It is a stunning work, and was turned into a terrific movie.

Perrotta has written a short story collection, Nine Inches, and he appeared at Barnes & Noble on 86th Street in NYC to read from and discuss the new collection. I read the first story, Backrub, while waiting for the reading. It tells the story of a young, intelligent senior in high school who for some strange reason didn't get into any of the colleges where he applied.
Tom Perrotta
All of his friends have left for college and he is working as a pizza delivery man. His parents want him to volunteer for an organization in Africa, but he just can't bring himself to do it. He gets pulled over by a local cop, an odd man, and his life is going nowhere quickly.

Perrotta read a story, The Test Taker, about a high school senior who is involved in a scheme to take the SAT test for other students for money. Perrotta said that his daughter was at this stage in her life, getting ready to go to college and all that entails, and that informed many of the stories in this book.

During the Q&A, I asked him if he was anxious about this as both of these stories, and few more in the collection, seemed to indicate that. He laughed a little and said that in the town where he lives, he has seen the stress that this time of life has placed on people.

One thing he said that really intrigued me is that this generation of parents (my generation) identifies more with their children than with their parents, and that is something that has changed. I totally agree with him, and wonder if this is why some parents are so unwilling to discipline their children or believe that their children could possibly do anything wrong.

A good writer is an observer and judging from the two stories I read and having gone through this period a few years ago with my two sons, I can say that Perrotta's observations are keen indeed. He just puts you right into his characters' lives, and to be able to do that so well in short story format is a talent he well possesses.

Tom Perrotta's website is here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

John Searles and Wally Lamb Discuss Help For The Haunted

John Searles' first book in nine years is Help For The Haunted, a spooky coming of age story with a murder mystery as its catalyst. To celebrate the publication of this terrific novel, author Wally Lamb and Searles discussed the book at the Cherry Lane Theatre last month.
Photo by Joe Noga, Cleveland.com
Lamb opened by joking that they are "both obviously good looking, slim, fit and have a full head of hair." Then he removed his hat to reveal his bald head. He told a story about the first time he met Searles, offering him a ride in a blizzard to Searles' first ever book reading for his novel Boy Still Missing. (Because of the blizzard there were four people at the reading- Searles, his mother, the bookstore manager and Lamb.)

Wally Lamb
Searles quipped from the audience that "I put my hand on his leg", with Lamb piping in "And I liked it!", leading to guffaws from the sold out crowd. Then Lamb clicked on a graphic that opened up onscreen above the stage; instead of the book cover, a cover for the book The Haunted Vagina popped up and Searles yelled "I will explain!", with Lamb stating "You'd better explain!" Again the audience exploded with laughter.  A friend of Searles sent him a link to the book, which has as its tagline- "It's hard to love a woman whose private parts are a gateway to hell."

John Searles
More pictures were shown, including a short video of Searles as a child holding a tiny notebook and pen, proving that he always wanted to be a writer. We saw a photo of his first childhood short story collection from 1976; the first story was titled "Over the Rainbow", the second one "Behind the Rainbow". He joked that even after this, his parents were shocked to discover he was gay.

Things got serious when Searles talked about being bullied as a child; he wasn't athletic and spent a lot of time in the library. He began to pursue writing as a career after his younger sister died, knowing that life is too short not to try.

There were many friends and family in the audience, including his parents and brother, co-workers from Cosmopolitan magazine, his editor and others from his publisher William Morrow, fellow writers from Yaddo, bloggers he has met, and perhaps most telling about what kind of guy he is, two friends who worked with him at a restaurant when he was in high school were there. If you still have friends from high school willing to drive a few hours on a Monday night to hear you speak, you are a good guy.

While working at the restaurant, Searles would write notes on napkins, and he recently found them in a box of his stuff packed away. They came up onscreen, and they were hilarious and sad all at the same time, showing his frustration and talent. (One note described a rude woman who insisted on discussing the crouton count of her salad with Searles, claiming that "six croutons on a salad is a ripoff." Anyone who has worked in the service industry knows this woman.)

This was one of the most entertaining, enlightening evenings I have been to in a long time. Lamb (everyone's idea of the perfect high school English teacher- I'm seriously jealous of any student who had him as a teacher) asked great questions about where Searles dark stuff comes from, how long it took him to write this book, his process and where his wicked sense of humor comes from.

Lamb closed the evening by telling us to go read Help For The Haunted because "I f*#king loved it!" I read it too and totally agree with Lamb's assessment. It has everything you want in a good read- suspense, a murder mystery, a coming of age story, interesting characters and brilliant writing.

My review of Help For The Haunted is here.
Wally Lamb has a new book, We Are Water, publishing this month and you can get more info here.

Lamb and Searles

Help For The Haunted by John Searles

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

Help For The Haunted by John Searles
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-077963-4
Hardcover, $26.99
 368 pages

The recent movie The Conjuring recounts the story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a Connecticut couple who specialized in ridding homes of demons and ghosts. Author John Searles grew up in the same town as the Warrens and recalled seeing them at church and in the grocery store.

His new novel, Help For The Haunted features a fictionalized version of the Warrens, Sylvester and Rose Mason. The Masons have made a living helping people who feel there are demons or ghosts in their home, or have family members possessed by some evil force.

The Masons have two daughters; Rose, an angry young woman at war with her parents, and teenage Sylvie, who tries always to be the good daughter. A local reporter wrote an unflattering book about the Masons, questioning whether the Masons actually helped people or it was all a ruse.

The book opens with the Masons getting a late-night phone call, which happened often. This time, though, it was young Rose who had been sent away to boarding school. She wanted her parents to come meet her at an abandoned church to talk over their problems.

Sylvie goes along and waits in the car with her mother while Sylvester goes to talk to young Rose. A long time passes and the older Rose goes inside the church to see what is happening. Sylvie falls asleep and is awakened by two gunshots. She rushes inside and finds her parents dead.

The rest of this terrific novel mixes a murder mystery with a coming-of-age story, adding a dash of the supernatural and generally scaring the heck out of the reader. Sylvie ends up living with her sister, who is still angry and barely cares for herself, let alone her young sister.

Sylvie had named the man whom she believed she saw in the church after her parents’ murder and he was now in prison. But Sylvie was having doubts. Did she really see this man or was this something she had been led to believe? She must discover the truth.

We see Sylvie’s life with her parents told in flashback. Her parents were devoutly religious, and they traveled the country speaking about their work, as well as helping people who send for them.

One young girl is particularly troubled. Her father sends for the Masons, and as a last resort, the Masons bring the girl to live with them. The girl stays in their basement, where Sylvester has set up his “office”.

The basement plays a big role in the novel, almost a character unto itself. Also involved in the mix is an oversized Raggedy Ann doll, which ends up locked in a cage. (Searles got the idea for the Raggedy Ann doll from one his own mother had.)

The genius of Help For The Haunted is that Searles successfully combines so many genres. He gives you a heroine to care about and empathize with, some scares and chills along the way, a dysfunctional family with a secret, all the while trying to solve a murder mystery. The solution to the mystery is surprising, and I doubt that many people will have figured it out before the big reveal.

Sylvie is an intriguing young heroine; she belongs up there with Stephen King’s Carrie, Roald Dahl’s Matilda and even Harper Lee’s Scout Finch. Searles has written such a real, honest, believable character. Her outsider status is one that many readers can identify with.

All of the characters are richly developed here. Even a minor character, like Dereck, an old high school boyfriend of Rose, is so fully realized and I admit to a little bit of a crush on him. Uncle Howie is an interesting character as well; we don’t really know what the deal is with him. Does he love his brother or despise him?

With Halloween on the way, this is the perfect time to read Help For The Haunted. If you like a brilliantly written scary book, one with interesting characters and a puzzle of a mystery, pick this one up. Just be sure to leave all the lights on while you read. And lock the basement door.

rating 5 of 5 stars

Diane LaRue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and blogs about books at http://bookchickdi.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @bookchickdi and she can be emailed at laruediane2000@yahoo.com.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Weekend Cooking- I Got a New Crockpot

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.
I'm also joining Trish's Pin It and Do It Challenge this month. I'm going for Pin Obsessed, since I have already tried three pins that I describe in this post. Trish's link to the challenge is here.

When we moved to NYC five years ago, our apartment kitchen was much smaller than the roomy one back home. In order to use my crockpot, I had to keep it on top of the stove because there was no counter space.

One day, I had the crockpot on top of the stove and mistakenly turned on the burner next to it. The flame burned the front of the crockpot, and the control panel kinda, sorta melted a little bit. As it turns out, I could still use the crockpot, but it was tricky trying to turn on the different settings.

Finally after four years, I decided this was ridiculous and maybe a wee bit dangerous, so I bought a new All-Clad Slow Cooker because it was on sale at my local Sur La Table and I had a coupon. So now I had to use the crockpot to break it in.

I turned to Pinterest to find some new recipes to go onto the crockpot and lucky me, I hit on three good ones right off the bat. The first one I tried was Slow Cooker Balsamic Beef from ShugarySweet.com. I made it for our Sunday dinner and it made such a tasty gravy, we really liked the balsamic flavor. I served it over mashed potatoes and all four guys enjoyed it. I was a little disappointed that the next day's leftovers, which I served over egg noodles, was not as tasty. It was much better over the potatoes.
Slow Cooker Balsamic Beef

Next up I made Chicken Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches from foodfamilyfinds.com, which were so easy. Two tablespoons of butter, add sliced onions and green peppers, top with sliced chicken breasts and let it cook. I worried that there was not enough liquid, but it wasn't a problem. Toss them on a hoagie roll, add provolone cheese and melt under the broiler. (Pay attention to this, I burned my first two ones because I forgot they were under the broiler.) I don't like peppers and onions, but I loved this dish.
Philly Chicken Cheesesteaks

The third recipe I made was Crockpot Brown Sugar Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin from laurassweetspot.com. Again, I am not a big pork tenderloin fan, I always seem to over cook it and dry it out, but this turned out so juicy and had so much flavor. Maybe it's the balsamic vinegar that is the big winner here as I used it in two recipes and they were both wonderful. With the leftovers, I made pork sliders with Trader Joe's Carolina Gold BBQ sauce and topped them with cole slaw. They were yummy.
Crockpot Brown Sugar Balsamic Glazed Tenderloin

What are your favorite crockpot recipes? Let me know in comments.