Monthly Archives

March 2015


A couple weeks ago, I received a cookbook for review. Since me in the kitchen is the equivalent of a child running with scissors while chased by wild dogs across a freeway, I might seem like the last person who should be reviewing a cookbook.

MWA cookbookBut this one is different. Edited by Kate White, The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook (out March 24) has recipes from some of today’s most popular crime fiction writers, including Mary Higgins Clark, Meg Gardiner, Harlan Coben, Charlaine Harris, Peter James, and Lee Child (who contributed recipes for “A Delicious Best Seller” and “Coffee, Pot of One”).

Even a person with limited culinary skills like me can handle a pot of coffee, “Kinsey Millhone’s Famous Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich,” and Lisa Scottoline’s “A Tomato Sauce for All Seasons.” Many of the recipes are accompanied by mouth-watering color photos—why wasn’t I sent the actual dishes to review?!—making the book a handsome gift for crime-loving cooks.

Want a taste? Check out this recipe from Gillian Flynn.

Beef Skillet Fiesta

Photo: Steve Legato

Be warned: I am no gourmet. I come from a long, proud Midwestern tradition of meals made from snack chips and canned soup. My characters tend to follow suit: They like their food simple and tasty. So here’s my favorite stove-top recipe, Beef Skillet Fiesta, which my mom cooked for her family and I now cook for mine.

Yield: 4 servings

1 pound ground beef

1/4 cup diced onion

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon chili powder

1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper

1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 12-ounce can corn

11⁄4 cups beef bouillon

1⁄2 cup thin strips of green pepper

11⁄3 cups Minute rice

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet and drain. Add onion and cook until tender.

2. Add salt, chili powder, pepper, tomatoes, corn, and bouillon and bring to a boil. Stir in green pepper. Bring to a boil again.

3. Stir in rice, remove from heat, and cover. Let stand for 5 minutes.

4. Fluff with a fork.

5. Serve with cottage cheese. (The cottage cheese part isn’t strictly required, but highly recommended—cottage cheese makes everything better.)

Note: If you prefer regular rice to Minute rice, cook the rice separately and spoon the Skillet Fiesta over it.

GILLIAN FLYNN is the author of the #1 New York Times best seller Gone Girl, the New York Times best seller Dark Places, and the Dagger Award–winning Sharp Objects. She is also the screenwriter for the film adaptation of Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck.

Excerpted from The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook edited by Kate White. Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books.

If you’d like to get a hand on a copy, you’re in luck. I’m giving away two copies, thanks to Saichek Publicity. To enter, leave a comment telling me what recipe you’d like to have from one of your favorite fictional characters. It doesn’t have to be something they’ve actually made in the book(s) they’ve appeared in, just something you think they’d be good at making.

Giveaway ends next Friday, March 27 at midnight PST. US addresses only, please. Winners will have 48 hours after notification to reply before alternate winners are chosen.



Book Review: A TOUCH OF STARDUST by Kate Alcott

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

touch of stardustLast year was the 75th anniversary of the movie Gone with the Wind, and now Kate Alcott’s novel A Touch of Stardust takes readers behind the scenes during the filming of that landmark production.

In 1938, bright-eyed Julie Crawford from Fort Wayne, Ind., comes to Los Angeles with dreams of writing for the silver screen, inspired after hearing trailblazing screenwriter Frances Marion speak at Smith College, her alma mater. Julie gets a job in the publicity office at Selznick International Pictures, the production company of famed producer David O. Selznick, who has just started filming the movie adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel.

Julie quickly gets fired by the mercurial Selznick, but not before meeting the actress Carole Lombard, who is also from Fort Wayne and makes Julie her personal assistant. Julie gets an intimate glimpse of the love affair between her employer and Clark Gable, as she tries to juggle her own romance with Selznick’s assistant producer and navigate the treacherous terrains of Tinseltown.

Fans of old-Hollywood glamour will be captivated by the shimmery details Alcott serves up about life on movie sets and in movie stars’ homes, in a blend of fact and fiction. The most entrancing character is the sassy, blunt-spoken Lombard, whom the author brings so vividly to life that the actress’s tragic death at a young age (mentioned only in the epilogue) feels like a huge loss all over again. Julie and her boyfriend, Andy, are a bit flat compared to Lombard and Gable, but Alcott’s novel should be a breezy read for those with stardust in their eyes.

Nerd verdict: Shimmery Stardust


Nerdy Special List March 2015

Though we’ve been enjoying gorgeous weather in Southern California, my family and friends on the East Coast are soooo over all the snow and freezing temps. But they’ve had lots of snow days, which means plenty of time to read.

Here are some March releases my blogger pals and I recommend.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted by Ian Millhiser (Nation Books, March 24)

injusticesInjustices is an engaging and frightening look at the history of the highest court in the United States. Ian Millhiser uses legal precedents and definitions, as well as anecdotes and historical evidence, to show how the vast majority of the court’s significant decisions have been in favor of conservative ideals, defending big business and further repressing those with little to no power—almost entirely without viable foundation in the Constitution.

Millhiser goes on to illustrate how this has been to the detriment of the country as a whole, while rarer decisions in favor of individuals, minorities, and those without the money to sway opinion have not only a stronger foothold in the Constitution itself, but have made significant improvement in the well-being of the United States.

Thoroughly researched and delivered with a passion for the law and the people it’s intended to protect, Injustices is an eye-opening examination of how the most powerful individuals in the American government have shaped the country.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Mosquitoland by David Arnold (Viking Books for Young Readers, March 3)

mosquitolandMim is not okay. In fact, she is 947 miles from okay.

Beginning in Mississippi and ending in Ohio, Mosquitoland is a brilliant young adult road trip novel featuring the memorable Mary Iris Malone, a teenager as maddening as she is charming. Suffering from a partially blind eye (solar eclipse damage) and a displaced epiglottis (that causes random, sometimes fortuitous vomiting), Mim is a collection of oddities. Because of this, you can’t help but love her and her travel companions, as they use wit, humor, and determination to deal with topics of substance and despair.

While I’d love to pretend I don’t judge young adult novels, I am guilty of this more often than not. However, I am very pleased to have been surprised by Arnold’s debut novel. Sardonic, charming, quirky, and memorable, Mosquitoland is a novel for anyone who has ever realized that getting from here to there is not as easy as it seems.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton (William Morrow, March 3)

past crimesWhen Army Ranger Van Shaw receives an out-of-character request from his estranged grandfather, Donovan, to come home, he returns to Seattle for the first time since enlisting ten years ago at eighteen. What he finds at the house is an open door and Dono lying on the floor with a gunshot wound to the head.

Using his military smarts along with some criminal talents he learned from Dono, a career thief, Van is determined to find out who shot Dono and why before his leave is up. This debut from Glen Erik Hamilton has a lot going for it, including a cast of characters (many Dono’s interesting former criminal associates) I hope to see more of in the next installment. (For Lauren’s full review, click here.)

From Erin at In Real Life:

Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes (Harper Paperbacks, March 31)

behind closed doorsBehind Closed Doors is Elizabeth Haynes’s second entry in her Briarstone police procedural series. She has truly hit her stride with a ripped-from-the-headlines story that would be tiresome in the hands of a less skilled author but in hers is nothing short of compelling.

DI Louisa Smith revisits a ten-year-old case, one she worked early in her career, that involved the disappearance of a teenage girl, Scarlett, while on vacation with her family in Greece. When the girl turns up in Briarstone, Lou is keen to speak with her for many reasons—not least of which is Lou’s curiosity about where Scarlett’s been for the last decade.

The “police” aspects are interesting enough on their own, but Haynes’s insight into the “procedural” aspects (she was a police intelligence analyst before becoming a full-time novelist) gives the story a level of believable detail that provides texture and depth.

It would also be fair to call this book a psychological thriller; there are enough tense scenes to make even the most languid heart race. Scarlett has secrets, and it’s unclear exactly what they are or the extent of their impact until the final pages.

From PCN:

Life or Death by Michael Robotham (Mulholland Books, March 10)

life or deathAfter serving a 10-year sentence, Audie Palmer breaks out of prison one day before his release. Why would he turn himself into a fugitive instead of walking out a free man? He has his reason, and it’s a heart-gripping one.

Psychologist Joe O’Loughlin–Robotham’s popular series character–doesn’t appear in this one, but the author has written another fine novel that’s more of a love story than any of his previous work, with all the usual suspense and mystery. (My full review and interview with Robotham will run in Shelf Awareness for Readers later this month.)

Which books are on your reading list this month?


Book Review: CANARY by Duane Swierczynski

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

canary coverSarie Holland, the protagonist in Duane Swierczynski’s Canary, is a 17-year-old college student who’s busted after unwittingly helping another student on a drug run. But Philadelphia narcotics cop Ben Wildey doesn’t want to arrest her. He promises not to ruin her future if she gives up the name of her drug-dealing friend, mostly referred to only as D., hoping the guy would lead Wildey to the supplier at the top of the drug chain.

Sarie refuses to rat out D., so she reluctantly agrees to be a CI–confidential informant–and is plunged into increasingly harrowing situations as she tries to give Wildey the info and dealers he wants without betraying D. Along the way, Sarie gets a brutal crash course in the drug underworld, one she might not pass.

For an honors student, Sarie repeatedly makes foolish choices that strain credulity for any sane person with a basic survival instinct. And she does it all to protect a guy she barely knows, who got her into trouble in the first place and doesn’t deserve her loyalty.

But, as in Swierczynski’s Charlie Hardie series, the action just doesn’t stop, with Sarie bumping into big and bigger trouble around every corner. Even as readers internally scream at her to smarten up and do the right thing, they’ll keep reading to see just how she extricates herself from these bad situations–and resourceful she is. The author’s skillful handling of suspense and multiple points of view, as well as a sardonic wit, keeps Canary in flight.

Nerd verdict: Fast-paced but frustrating