Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Traditions & My Favorite Cookbooks

The holiday season starts soon!

At Thanksgiving and Christmastime, tradition takes over from the chaos of everyday. My family and I plan get-togethers and parties, and we all have our favorite foods to bring and enjoy. Thanksgiving is low-key and homey; I bake a cheesecake for Thanksgiving, then muffins and scones and cake for family gatherings the following weekend. When Christmas hits, everything just gets more sparkly. I bring out the sparkly pins, sparkly sweaters and cover my home in decorations. My cooking gets in on the sparkles, too, as I plan and execute my yearly cookie spread.

The grandmother of all baking books is the Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking. It's out of print and hard to find, and my copy is all cracked and falling apart, but it's still the one I turn to for the basics and even the not-so-basics. You'll get all your classic cookies here plus fun things like a Christmas-tree-shaped cinnamon bread and more. I don't know what I would do without it.

For Thanksgiving, my family loves for me to make the scone recipe from this book; for Christmas, the Mexican wedding cake cookies and gingersnaps, peanut kiss cookies and coconut macaroons are standbys.
These "Cranberry-Orange Pinwheels" are a beloved staple of my Christmas cookie table, always made with Nantucket cranberries straight from the bogs.

The Gourmet Cookie Book is a collection of recipes from the storied magazine, and not just any recipes. This volume collects the "single best recipe" from 1941-2009. It's not just a cookbook but a little bit of social and culinary history. Each cookie has a story, and the cookies range from the easy to the difficult, the classic to the exotic.

I've made black and whites, strawberry tarts and discovered a new family favorite in the "Mocha Cookie," a rich chocolate cookie with an espresso-powder kick. And it's a really fun book to read to boot.
When I worked in synagogues I came across Marcy Goldman's A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking and it's become one of my favorites. For post-Thanksgiving brunch my family loves the "Delicatessen-Style Classic Sour Cream Coffee Cake," a rich, buttery bundt cake laced with nuts and spices and topped with an almond-flavored glaze. It's amazing! And this is another can't-go-wrong cookbook.

This photo shows the coffee cake on the left and the scones from the Pillsbury book on the right, on our Thanksgiving buffet table a few years ago. The cranberry corn bread in the center is from a book  I no longer own and whose title I don't remember.

Now that we've moved, I'm not sure what's going to happen to our holiday traditions. This will be the first year either my husband or I have had to travel for holidays and I've already decided not to bake and transport a cheesecake. Instead, I  ordered a chocolate babka from a New York baker and had it shipped home.

And my cookie spread? I don't know. It would be nice to think I could round up enough New York friends for a holiday party, but it's hard enough to get together every day. So we'll see. I definitely want to bake- I just need to make sure there will be people who will eat! 

Monday, November 24, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished a couple of books last week. A Spy Among Friends is going to be one of my favorites for the year, and then I read the very short but fascinating Widow Basquiat, a biography/memoir by Jennifer Clement of Suzanne Mallouk, a Canadian woman who became the muse and lover of painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and remained his friend to the end of his life. The book is a great portrait of New York and the art scene in the 80s. Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Madonna and others make appearances too.

This week I'm very nearly done with Augustus, by John Williams, an epistolary novel about the Roman emperor who brought 200 years of peace to the empire. It's fascinating and wonderful.

I'm loving The Narrow Road to the Deep North, this year's Booker Prize winner by Richard Flanagan. It's a hard read- think Unbroken only fictional- but beautifully, almost impossibly beautifully, written. It even has a tragic love story at its core.

My friend gave me an ARC of Zac Bissonnette's new book, The Great Beanie Baby Bubble, a history of the ubiquitous plush that charts the rise and fall of the crazy craze of the late nineties when people flipped them for hundreds of dollars and lined up at Hallmark stores and ate Happy Meals till they puked to get the teenies. I never did any of that, but I did collect them and I'm finding the book to be fascinating and a really good time. It comes out in January.

What are you reading this week? I hope everyone who celebrates it has a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review: A SPY AMONG FRIENDS, by Ben Macintyre

A Spy Among Friends, by Ben Macintyre. Published 2014 by Crown. Nonfiction, History, Cold War.

Here's another great page-turner by one of my favorite writers of nonfiction. Actually I think Ben Macintyre may be the only writer of nonfiction whose books I will pick up and read without hesitation. A Spy Among Friends tells the story of Harold "Kim" Philby, one of the most notorious spies in the history of espionage- his rise and fall, and the friendships that helped him all along the way.

A scion of the upper class, Philby fit right in the gentlemens' club that was MI6. He became a Soviet agent early on and as he rose through ranks of MI6 he handed over an unknowable amount of intelligence to the Soviets, intelligence gleaned from both his official duties and his lively and often alcohol-fueled social life. For Philby, as for much of MI6 the way Macintyre portays it, work and play were one and the same. But Philby always had the upper hand as operations were ruined, plans went afoul and people went to their deaths while he bantered and partied his way through countless lunches, dinners and soirees with his friends.

Macintyre tells Philby's story, which has been told before many times, through the lens of the most important of those friendships, which he shared with fellow MI6 operative and gentleman Nicholas Elliott. Elliott was, like Philby, a product of the British upper class and lived much the way Philby lived- traveling the world, drinking heavily and giving his all to his work while also maintaining a conventional home life. Problem was, while Philby's work, not to mention his marriage, wasn't what anyone thought it was, Elliott remained Philby's staunchest defender until proof of Philby's treachery became incontrovertible.

Along with friendship, Macintyre emphasizes both the role of the British class system in helping Philby maintain his position within MI6, and the role of alcohol in making his treachery possible on a personal level. Philby seemed to have always been drunk, and alcohol seemed to lubricate the relationships he depended on to keep him from detection. He would probably have drawn attention to himself if he hadn't drunk as much as he did.  And it's not surprising that someone emotionally detached enough to do what he did, would need to use a drug to maintain that detachment. Alcohol abuse and mental illness lead to the sad fate of his second wife Aileen and ruined the life of Guy Burgess, Philby's fellow traitor. And being a "member of the club" was what helped Philby hide in plain sight in the first place.

It's a sad story when you get right down to it. Lives ruined, lives destroyed, and all for nothing. I found the book almost impossible to put down, even though a quick browse of Wikipedia told me the end of Philby's story. But I wanted to know the why and the how, and see what happened to Elliott and how he felt as a result. It's easy to imagine at least some of how he must have felt. Macintyre portrays him as stalwart to the end, not defending his former friend but moving on and keeping his upper lip stiff. The story is  the product of a specific time and place in history, yet what makes it universal is the unwavering commitment that Philby had to Communism, the same kind of political devotion we still see all the time. Philby's story is the cost of that devotion, in many kinds of coin. Nothing could make him feel remorse or regret or even make him waver in his commitment, right to the end of his life.

If you've enjoyed any of Macintyre's previous books (I've read Double Cross and Agent Zigzag; Operation Mincemeat is still on my shelf to read, and he's got a bunch of others) you definitely need to pick this one up. Otherwise I'd recommend it to readers interested in the Cold War and espionage generally. It's a really engaging, terrific fun bit of history, and history that's actually quite tragic when you get down to it. Philby was a bad man whose actions hurt a lot of people and really amounted to nothing in the end. What a waste.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kew Gardens Pop-Up Bookstore

Last Thursday, local writers, publishers and artists got together in the Queens neighborhood of Kew Gardens to hold the first-ever "pop up bookstore." The event was held at ThinkingCAP (82-66 Austin Street), a tutoring center. Teaching rooms were remade into salons where small-press publishers, authors and other creative people displayed their work and chatted with curious booklovers. Authors were drawn from around Queens and some have double lives as artisans; the event included a local potter and several visual artists.

The evening was the first of its kind and hopefully not the last, as Queens booklovers rally to promote the idea of an independent bookstore in Kew Gardens or Forest Hills.

Right now, there is only a Barnes and Noble outlet in Forest Hills to supply local readers; the closest independent bookstore is in the neighborhood of Astoria. It would be great to see the borough be able to support a second indie, and one focused on this area of Queens with its particular strengths and diversity.

Today I have an interview with Deborah Emin, publisher at Sullivan Street Press, who organized the event. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us about the event.

Sullivan Street Press Publisher Deborah Emin
1. How did you come up with the idea for the pop up bookstore? Has there been an event like this before in the neighborhood? What goals do you have for it?

No one, as far as I know, has done a Pop-Up Bookstore in Kew Gardens. I wanted the community to know how many great writers we had here and that we all need their support and I wanted a potential bookstore owner to know that there were people interested in having such a venture here.

Author Robert K. Blechman holding his Twitter mystery Executive Severance. You can find him on Twitter @RKBs_Twitstery.

2. Can you tell me about the reading series you started in 2008? What authors have you had?

I started the REZ Reading Series in Kew Gardens because we have no bookstores and there was a large reading community but no place for them to experience the benefits of a bookstore--authors with new books to read and sell their work.  Vivian Gornick, Laura Miller, Max Blumenthal, Jay Neugeboren, Justin Martin, Nancy Kline, we had the Poverty Initiative show up during a blizzard to talk about their new book and to help with a food drive--basically we counted on good will as there was no money to offer anyone. Plus this area is filled with writers and we tapped on them to participate. I know lots of poets and people trying out new work and on and on, it has been a long and fruitful time.

Handmade Bookmarks and Poetry by Carol L. Lustgarten

3. What's your vision for an independent bookstore in Kew Gardens? 

I am not a bookseller, I am a publisher. I would love to have a place here where not only books were sold but also music, we have lots of musicians here too, and where artists can also sell their work.

A Selection of Books from Sullivan Street Press

4. What's the next step after the event is over? What can the community do to help? What kinds of challenges does the project face and how can we get involved?

 Last night as we all sat and talked about the fun we were having, we decided to do it again and again and to involve more Queens writers and booksellers in the mix. More artists too. A couple of people suggested spaces they thought they could get for free. And we talked about sitting in the parks, of which we are blessed with some of the most gorgeous spaces, to sell when the weather turns warm again. Making it a weekly event on the weekends and showing up, whoever wants to for a couple of hours.

The challenges are that none of us have any money. But we love bookstores. I think if more people come to the events, support the ones trying to draw attention to the needs for a bookstore and joining in by writing as you do about these things, we can find someone at some point who will take this venture seriously. We do have plenty of empty store fronts in both Kew Gardens and Forest Hills but the problem as always all over Queens is parking too.

Thank you so much for your time. It was a really fun evening and I for one look forward to more literary events in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens!

For more information on Sullivan Street Press, visit the website here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished J and Stone Mattress last week; I don't know quite what to make of J and I really want to talk to others who've read it. Have you? What did you think? I really admire Howard Jacobson for being different and doing unusual things, and I want to like it but I'm not sure if I liked it or not. It's very bleak. Opinions? Stone Mattress was a terrific and often terrifying collection of short stories. Read it!

This week I'm reading three books that I'm enjoying without ambivalence.

A Spy Among Friends is the book I'm reading at the gym- I finally figured out how to make a paperback stay still on the ARC Trainer and the stationery bike, and I need something since the gym doesn't have a magazine rack. I'm hoping I can get through more nonfiction the same way. But I'm reading it only on days that I work out and that's only four days a week, so it's a little slow going, but I do love it.

Augustus, by John Williams, is an epistolary novel about the life of Augustus Caesar. My husband is a big classics guy and loves Augustus (we have a bust in our living room) and we've been having fun talking about this book which I hope he'll read as well. When we went to Rome two years ago a highlight was visiting the Ara Pacis, Augustus's tomb. Also, it's a wonderful book that rewards a nice slow read.

Another wonderful book to read slowly is the very different The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan, which is this year's Booker Prize winner. It's incredible. It's dark and bleak too, about a survivor of Japanese POW camps, kind of a fictional Unbroken. It's also filled with beautiful language and quotable moments like this one, when the protagonist is visiting a bookshop: "At such times he had the sensation that that there was only one book in the universe, and that all books were simply portals into this greater ongoing work — an inexhaustible, beautiful world that was not imaginary but the world as it truly was, a book without beginning or end." I'm reading it slowly, because it demands that, and because I don't really want it to end.

What about you? What are you reading? It's rainy and raw where I am today and I plan to spend a lot of time with my books. What's your plan? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Friday, November 14, 2014

If You Loved GONE GIRL...

Loved Gone Girl? Loved the movie, too? I've seen a few of these lists circulating but nobody's mentioned my favorite Gone Girl read-alikes. So without further ado...

Drowned, by Therese Bowman. Released around the same time as Gone Girl, this small-press gem from Other Press is not to be missed if you want to read a twisty tale of sexual obsession, about a woman fascinated by her sister's lover. It'll send shivers to the end.

The Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante. A paean to female rage, Ferrante tells the story of a woman whose husband has left her for another woman, the destruction he left behind and how it festers. Unmissable.
The Dinner, by Herman Koch. Twisty, twisty, sick and twisty tale of two families, murder and deception. I can't even bring myself to read Koch's latest since this one shook me up so much. Amy and Nick have nothing on these folks!

I'll mention this book in a later post on Halloween reads, but for now, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by horror master Shirley Jackson, gives us another preturnaturally messed up family in all its dysfunctional glory. Amy and Merricat have a lot in common!

Finally we have Hygiene and the Assassin, about a verbal duel between a reporter and a reclusive writer. Secrets, murder and crazy sh*t abounds in a book that is either unreadable or unputdownable. Give it a shot! It's an edgy, difficult, crazy-good read.

Have you read any of these? I'd love to know what you think.

I did an informal poll of my Facebook friends who offered some of their own suggestions:

Jeanne of Necromancy Never Pays loves Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos, specifically the translation by Constantine.

Men and Angels by Mary Gordon came highly recommended by Robin Abrahams, AKA Miss Conduct of the Boston Globe.

Bury This, by Andrea Portes, came recommended by my friend Kalen.

Librarian Chava Pinchuk seconds The Dinner and adds Flynn's Sharp Objects. Fellow librarian Sarah Wenzel likes Jeffrey Deaver's October List.

I think we've got a lot of good suspenseful reading to choose from!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Boston Bibliophile Interviews: Andrea Lynn, author of QUEENS: A CULINARY PASSPORT

Today I have an interview with Andrea Lynn, food writer, guru of Queens food and author of Queens: A Culinary Passport. She has been a food writer, cook, recipe developer and food enthusiast for many years. Currently she is a freelance lifestyle writer and recipe developer. Her webpage can be found at AndreaLynnFoodWriter.com and you can follow her on Twitter @andrealynn27.

I'm a huge fan of her new book and delighted to share some Q&As.

1. How long have you been interested in the Queens food scene? What first piqued your interest? 

I've lived in Astoria for 7 years; at some point, a few years ago, I was getting a little jealous/ annoyed at all the attention that the Brooklyn food scene gets. I thought, "Why not Queens?" While specific restaurants in Queens do get highlighted, I think the borough as a whole doesn't get much respect for its wonderfully diverses ethnic food scene. So I wanted to show-off Queens.

2. It can be a little intimidating for the newcomer to broach some of these communities and threshholds. How can New Yorkers, or anyone in a big city with diverse populations, get started? 

Start small. Spend half a day in a certain section of NYC (or another city) and just start exploring. Ask strangers for their food recs. It's surprising how happy people are to share that info, when asked. Also, I think if you're particularly interested in certain cuisines, go straight to the areas that have them: Polish food in Greenpoint, Greek in Astoria, etc.

3. Do you have a personal favorite cuisine? 

I do love Asian food (Thai, Chinese, Szechuan.. all of it). When other people get sick, they might crave chicken soup. For me, it's hot and sour soup. One of my favorite things to do (even since I was a kid) is go to dim sum on the weekends. And now I especially think that Flushing has the best dim sum there is.

4. Do you have a food guru? Where else can a hungry person find great information on ethnic foods?  
Joe DiStefano is pretty great and thorough as far as Queens food. I'm amazed how he constantly finds new, interesting food picks on a daily basis practically. We Heart Astoria and We Heart LIC is always on top of new restaurant opening in the area. Jeff Orlick knows everything going on in Jackson Heights.

Andrea, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Queens: A Culinary Passport: Exploring Ethnic Cuisine in New York City's Most Diverse Borough, by Andrea Lynn. Published 2014 by St. Martin's Griffin. Nonfiction. Food Writing. Tourism and Travel.

I've visited New York City many times before I moved here this fall, but nothing prepared me for living in Queens, a crazy hodgepodge of neighborhoods, main drags, side streets and nooks and crannies, a borough populated by folks from all over the world, each with their own little piece of it and each bringing with them their own culture and food. As I learned on my recent walking tour of Jackson Heights, you can cross the street and go from the Philippines to Nepal, Bangladesh to Tibet, and Colombia to Mexico and Ecuador and back again. And that's just in one neighborhood of this eclectic and electric corner of NYC.

I heard about Andrea Lynn's book through a mutual friend of ours and it's become an essential companion on my travels as I explore my new home. It's not the kind of book you necessarily read cover to cover though. It's a guide, and she takes you neighborhood by neighborhood from the Greek and Italian treats in Astoria, to the Jewish and Russian delicacies of Forest Hills and Rego Park,  and more through Woodside, Corona, Sunnyside, Flushing, Elmhurst and that little bit of everything that is Jackson Heights. I've already used it to revisit some of those walking tour experiences, and find new things too.

Along the way she includes interviews with local foodies, recipes and personal anecdotes and advice along with descriptions of each neighborhood. It's a really fascinating and illuminating book and a must-have for every New Yorker as well as visitors who want to know more about this underappreciated and vibrant part of the city. Queens may not be as trendy as Brooklyn or as flashy as Manhattan but it has a lot to offer to those willing to take the time to visit.

Click here for my interview with Andrea Lynn!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, November 10, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This past week was a slowish reading week for me; I finished The Proof of the Honey. But I've been reading several other books which I will probably finish more or less at the same time, as I tend to do.

I started Howard Jacobson's new Booker-shortlisted book, J, and I like it. This is a book that's met with wildly different reactions. Someone liked it enough to short list it for one of the world's most prestigious literary awards, and Ron Charles even gave it a good review, but then SFX Magazine called it "atrocious." I like that he engenders such vastly different reactions. Once I ran a book club meeting at a synagogue for The Finkler Question and that book also provoked strong reactions. I like a writer who's willing to step off the sidewalk so to speak and really get people thinking.

I'm still working my way through Stone Mattress, which I have now realized is not a collection of interrelated short stories (only the first three are connected) but which I am still really enjoying. It pretty much takes Margaret Atwood to get me to read short stories these days.

And finally still on A Spy Among Friends, Ben Macintyre's latest, and loving it. This one will probably be with me for a little while longer but I'll probably finish up the Atwood in the next day or two, then it's on to something else.

What are you reading this week? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What's New On the Shelf

It's been awhile since I've done an installment of What's New on the Shelf but moving to New York and exploring my favorite bookstores- and some new ones- has given me lots of opportunities to add to my growing TBR shelf. The only difference is my TBR space is much more limited, so I really do have to slow down! But that's OK. I don't mind having to be extra-choosy!

 The Hilltop is Israeli writer Assaf Gavron's latest and it's already being called "the great Israeli novel." I really enjoyed his last book, Almost Dead, and I'm looking forward to this one.

Last Days, by Laurent Seksik, is a novel about the novelist Stefan Zweig. I picked it up Albertine last week. Click here for my post on Albertine and a giveaway.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan, is this year's Man Booker Prize winner. A local book club is reading it for December and I plan to join them!

Widow Basquiat is a biography of Suzanne Mallouk, lover and muse of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a street artist and painter who achieved renown in the New York City of the 1980s. I love the cover photo of her and I want to learn more about their story. It comes out this month from Broadway Books.
Of Things Gone Astray, by Janna Matthewson, is a much-anticipated novel about a London family, coming from HarperCollins in February. I'll let you know what I think!

What have you added to your shelves lately?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Boston Bibliophile Interviews: Stav Sherez

Stav Sherez is a British novelist and music critic whose first novel, The Devil's Playground, was published in 2004. That book was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Best First Novel Award and his two most recent books, A Dark Redemption and Eleven Days were both shortlisted for the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award.

I've been a fan of his since A Dark Redemption hit the U.S. in 2013 and I'm so excited to share this Q&A with you today.

1. You started out as a music critic. What brought you to crime writing? Whom in the crime world do you like to read? Who are your influences?
The stories I wanted to tell brought me to crime fiction. I've always been interested in questions of morality, in those places where right and wrong are not so clear-cut and in the choices people make when they think they have no choice at all, so it was natural that crime fiction would be the best way to explore that. I also love the deductive side of crime fiction – the seductions of logic, puzzle and mystery. There's something very elegant and satisfying about the best crime novels that is hard to find anywhere else.
I still read: James Crumley. Kem Nunn. Jim Thompson. James Sallis. James Ellroy. Ross Macdonald. Those are the ones I keep coming back to.
Outside of crime it would be: Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Denis Johnson.

2. Do you write with music playing? Do you ever envision a playlist for your novels? Does ELEVEN DAYS have a playlist, even unofficially?

I can't write to music. I need to hear the rhythm of the sentences in my head. But I can't plot without it playing in the background! It seems to turn the tap on my subconscious. My first novel, The Devil's Playground, was written while I was still a music journalist and music features on almost every page. But I hate to do the same thing twice, so there's very little music in the next three books. However, it's started to creep back, and in The Intrusions, my next book, Geneva's listening habits would indeed constitute a playlist.

3. Your two crime novels that are available in the US, A DARK REDEMPTION and ELEVEN DAYS, are both really concerned with global social issues and their impact in England. How do you choose which issues to focus on in each book?

It's sounds like a clich̩ but the stories choose me. I begin to get obsessed and find myself thinking about little else. I read what I can about the subject and then I have to write about it, so I can stop thinking about it all the time! But, often, it's a single situation that sparks off the book and I then start to feel my way into it. It's only looking back with hindsight that I can see the same theme running throughout all four novels Рthat of idealism turning to fanaticism which, by its very nature, takes me to far-flung places. I'm very obsessed by the idea of Tourist Noir Рhow we behave when bad things happen to us abroad, when we no longer have the crutches of friends, family or even language. I guess all my books could be considered tourist noir.

4. I love the relationship between Carrigan and Miller. How do you see it evolving over the course of the series?

Why, thank you! I'm so glad you like it. You never know if something's going to work for a reader and it's always lovely when it does. I don't plan that much ahead – I think if a character surprises me, they're more likely to surprise the reader too – but I can say that things are going to get a little more fractious between Carrigan and Miller in the next book. Things sometimes have to get worse before they get better...

5. In the first two books the focus has been very much on Carrigan although we got some hints of Miller's problems in ELEVEN DAYS. Her ex seems like a real piece of work- are we going to see more of him? Does he wind up dead?

Oh yes, we're definitely going to see more of him in The Intrusions! I'm glad you asked about that because in the next book the focus is much more on Geneva. It's nice to be able to switch between them and hopefully, it'll be one of things keeping the series fresh.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!  I can't wait for the next book.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Book Review: ELEVEN DAYS, by Stav Sherez

Eleven Days, by Stav Sherez. Published 2014 by Europa Editions. Crime Fiction/Mystery.

When it comes to series, I rarely read past volume one. It's not that I'm anti-series; I just usually don't get hooked enough to continue, and in the case of crime fiction, I'd rather sample lots of series than delve too deeply into one. It's a way for me to get to know a little about a lot of authors and stories, so that I can recommend books approrpriately to my customers and friends.

Eleven Days is book two of British writer Stav Sherez's Carrigan/Miller series, so you can tell right away I'm a fan. The first book in the series, A Dark Redemption, was a favorite of mine in 2013, one of the best books I read that year of any genre and Eleven Days is a worthy successor. After finishing the second installment, I'm confident this series has a bright, dark future.

Set again in London and featuring his detectives Jack Carrigan and Geneva Miller, we start out with ten dead nuns and one other dead person in a London convent. Police find their charred bodies after fire tears through the building and little by little clues emerge.  The nuns have connections to bad guys in South America and Eastern Europe- lots of people who'd like to see them dead, for different reasons.  Several of the bodies bear the marks of torture. Financial records point towards work in South America and ties to the leftist liberation theology movement. The nuns also had run-ins with Albanian drug lords and sex traffickers next door. And the church itself is not being particularly cooperative with our investigators. We also see more developments in Carrigan and Miller's ongoing rapport and hints that there are serious problems in Miller's personal life as well as Carrigan's. We see them pursuing different tracks of the investigation and coming to conflict with each other over theories and execution, so to speak.

Just like A Dark Redemption, Eleven Days is a great page-turner. It's grisly and gory and delves into not one but two troubling aspects of modern geopolitics, as well as the more prosaic, and tragic,  story of a girl who thought she could make a difference in the world. There's enough here for three books, and Sherez weaves it all together into a cohesive and absorbing tale. I like that we got some hints about Miller's troubles, and I hope to read more about that lousy ex of hers in a future installment. I'm also glad that there doesn't seem to be any romance in the offing for Carrigan and Miller, at least in the short term. Romance plots are a distraction from the far more interesting questions of how to simply get along with other troubled human beings.

Anyway as you can tell I enjoyed Eleven Days quite a bit. I'm definitely hooked as far as following the rest of the books, however many Sherez has planned. I'm still kicking myself a little for waiting for the US release and not buying it when I was in London last year. Oh well. If he's got a new one when I go back, I won't wait!

Tomorrow come back from my interview with author Stav Sherez!

This is my 12th book for the 2014 Europa Challenge.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.

Monday, November 3, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished all three books I was reading last Monday- Missing Person, Just Call Me Superhero and Praisesong for the Widow. All were good in different ways. I can't really name a favorite among the three.

This week I've started some nonfiction and two new novels.

A Spy Among Friends is Ben Macintyre's latest. He's the author of Double Cross and Agent Zigzag (and another book I haven't read yet, Operation Mincemeat). This one is about the friendship between a British intelligence officer named Nicholas Elliott and Soviet mole Kim Philby. It's fascinating and great reading, as is always the case with Macintyre. This guy could write about a turtle race and you wouldn't be able to put it down.

I finally picked up Margaret Atwood's latest, The Stone Mattress, a novel-in-stories about a fantasy writer and the people in her life. It reminds me a lot of Lady Oracle and some of her other, earlier work, which is the reason I love her books. So I'm enjoying it a lot.

Finally there's The Proof of the Honey, a novel about a Muslim woman researching Arabic erotica and the effect on her life. It's an older Europa Editions book and very short. And very good! This book garnered some controversy when iTunes refused to use the cover on its site.

What are you reading this week? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com. Have a great week!