I thought it was time for me to once again share a video/song from my writing playlist. This time, “Hold Onto My Heart’ by Graham Colton. :)
Missed my interview on BlogTalkRadio? Here’s the podcast. :)
Joe Cafe - by JD Mader
The murder at Joe Café is an abomination. It stops the entire universe. For Michael, it tarnishes everything, including his badge. For Chet and his hostage, it is the beginning of a chase that will lead them through dingy motels and the darkest corridors of their minds. Dogan just wants Sara back. Jimmy the Cat wants to make up for all the time he has wasted. Frankie wants to live a ‘moral’ life, erasing everyone in his path who does not live up to his standards. Conventional notions of good and evil quickly blur as they are all forced to look into the mirrors they have avoided for so long. Chilling and horrifying, whimsical and wretched, Joe Café’s cast of broken characters try to find their way in a world they never understood to begin with…for the Chens, it is easy. They are dead.
Joe Cafe is unlike any other book I’ve ever read. Other reviews have classified it as a crime thriller, suspense novel, or psychological thriller, but it’s both all and none of those things. It is a dark, complex, thought-provoking look at the complexities of human nature and the perceptions and social inequities that often-times contort it, paired with a crime-oriented plot.
Joe Cafe draws the reader in from word one. The style is simple and straight-forward, with evocative descriptions and creative turns of phrase. The characters are richly-drawn and complex, the sort that you want to know more about. The plot takes a backseat in this book, not because of neglect on the author’s part, but because the characters and the emotions they bring out in the reader are highly compelling.
I felt the ending was a bit abrupt, but it suits the story and its reflection on society and human nature. I believe I only found it jarring because it is so different from what I’m used to reading or seeing in movies.
All in all, a wonderfully-woven noir tale that kept me flipping pages long after I should have put the Kindle down and gone to bed. I’m looking forward to reading more from JD Mader.
Rating: 4 stars
One of my friends recently made hundreds of cake balls for her friend’s wedding reception. When she told me that they are simple - if time-consuming - to make, I decided I had to try my hand at creating these scrumptious sweets.
I decided to try three flavor combinations my first time out: chocolate cake with chocolate-peanut butter coating, chocolate cake with peanut butter coating, and Kahlua-infused chocolate cake with chocolate coating.
I started with a milk chocolate cake mix. Instead of making it according to the box directions, I used the ‘can of soda’ method to reduce calories and fat. The can of soda method goes like this: mix one can of regular or diet soda with a cake mix and bake as directed. Easy, peasy.
Once the cake had been baked and cooled down, I divided it in half. I crumbled the first half into a large bowl, making sure there were no chunks of cake. Then I tasted the cake. It wasn’t very chocolaty. Since I wasn’t mixing frosting into the crumbled cake, as most cake ball recipes suggest, I needed to do something to up the flavor. I opted to use a combination of chocolate syrup and vanilla coffee syrup as the ‘binder’ - the agent that allows the cake to form balls. I’m not sure how much I used. Perhaps a tablespoon of chocolate syrup and a half a teaspoon of the vanilla. I mixed it up, rolled it into balls (approximately one-inch in diameter or the size of a giant gumball), and placed the balls on a wax-paper-covered cookie sheet. I popped the cookie sheet in the freezer for fifteen minute, and then the balls were ready to coat.
I made my coating in two batches. The first was straight peanut butter and the second was a mixture of peanut butter and chocolate. I used peanut butter chips and semi-sweet chocolate chips and melted them in the microwave (one minute on 50% power, then about 10 seconds on high). The peanut butter was really thick, so I thinned it down with a little cooking oil. I used the two-toothpick method to coat the balls: stab a toothpick into a ball, dunk the ball in the coating using the toothpick as a handle, then use the second toothpick to push the ball off the first toothpick. Once I’d coated all the cake balls, all I had left to do was let them set.
Then it was taste-testing time. My chocoholic roommate loved both kinds, but the peanut butter coated chocolate was by far my favorite.
I went back to square one, then, crumbling the other half of the cake into the bowl. This time I used Kahlua as the binder. Again, I’m not sure how much I used. Perhaps a quarter of a cup. I let the cake and Kahlua set overnight, allowing the alcohol fumes to dissipate.
The next day, I formed the Kahlua-infused cake into balls and popped them in the freezer. Again I coated them in semi-sweet chocolate. I might have added a bit much Kahlua, because even after the allotted time in the freezer, the cake balls tried to fall apart. I also ran out of chips about 2/3 of the way through the dipping process, but managed to scrounge some white chips from my freezer. I figured they would do okay, so I stuck them in the microwave. I have no idea what I did wrong, but they scorched instead of melting. Oops. With no bright ideas left, I decided the last 6 Kahlua balls could just stay uncoated. I had a feeling my roommate would like them just fine as is (and I would, too, for that matter).
The Kahlua cake balls are amazing, too. I’m hard-pressed to decide if I like them or the peanut butter coated chocolate ones best.
And already my brain is skipping ahead to the next family holiday, devising new and different variations for cake balls. The possibilities might not be endless, but they are many and varied. So much cake, so little time. :)
Ritesh Kala’s Book Reviews is hosting a major giveaway now through February 19th. Many romance ebooks are up for grabs, including book three in my Jukebox Heroes series (Everything You Are) which will be released just in time for Valentine’s Day! Hop on over to the blog and check out this generous event.
Schooling Carmen by Kathleen Cross
Blurb (from the product description on Amazon):
Desperate to stand out in a family of overachievers, beautiful, bigoted, and bitchy Carmen DuPrè will do anything to leave the “hellhole” high school she works in—even if it means getting groped by a geezer who’s promised her a promotion. She’s not worried about things getting out of hand though—if there’s one thing Carmen knows, it’s how use her looks to get what she wants—including courtside Lakers seats and diamond jewelry—from attentive men she cares nothing about.
But when a devastating medical diagnosis threatens to permanently knock her off her pedestal, Carmen might have to trade her looks for her life—and she’s not sure a life without beauty is worth living—which is why she’s risking hers by ignoring her doctor’s advice.
Is it coincidence or divine intervention when a sexy stranger walks into her world insisting there’s a whole lot more to Carmen DuPrè than what’s on the surface? If it’s not too late for her to turn things around, her mysterious guardian angel wants to dish out some serious schooling in a few subjects Carmen knows little about—like faith, hope…and love.
While somewhat predictable, Schooling Carmen was an interesting, compelling, and ultimately heart-warming story. The characters, dialog, and storyline were believable, and Cross managed to get the theme across without being heavy-handed or preachy. This was a very enjoyable book, a relatively light read that actually packed a good bit of an emotional wallop.
Rating: 4 stars
Hippie Boy: a Girl’s Story by Ingrid Ricks
Blurb (from the product description on Amazon):
What would you do if your Mormon stepfather pinned you down and tried to cast Satan out of you? For thirteen-year-old Ingrid, the answer is simple: RUN.
For years Ingrid has begged her free-wheeling dad to let her join him on the road as a tool-selling vagabond to escape the suffocating poverty and religion at home. When her devout Mormon mother marries Earl―a homeless Vietnam vet who exploits the religion’s male-dominated culture to oppress and abuse her family―she finally gets her wish. Ingrid spends the next few summers living on the margins while hustling tools with her dad and his slimy, revolving sales crew. He becomes her lifeline and escape from Earl. But when her dad is arrested, she learns the lesson that will change her life: she can’t look to others to save her; she has to save herself.
Hippie Boy is the autobiography of a girl who grew up in a dysfunctional Morman family. It is essentially a coming of age story. The story ends with the girl’s graduation from high school; I would have liked to have learned what became of the woman and her family without having to resort to a Google search, so that was a bit of a ‘minus’. Other than that, the book was well-written and enjoyable. The author’s style as much as the story she was recounting made me keep reading, even when I probably should have been sleeping.
Aside from the fact that there is not even an epilogue to tell the reader what became of Ingrid and her family, I can’t think of anything negative about this book. I’m not sure that it’s one I’ll reflect on or want to read again, but I would recommend it to anyone who likes biographies.
Rating: 4 stars
I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle
Synopsis: (from the book jacket):
Doc Ebersole lives with the ghost of Hank Williams - not just in the figurative sense, not just because he was one of the last people to see him alive, and not just because he is rumored to have given Hank the final morphine dose that killed him.
In 1963, ten years after Hank’s death, Doc himself is wracked by addiction. Having lost his license to practice medicine, his morphine habit isn’t as easy to support as it used to be. So he lives in a rented room in the red-light district on the south side of San Antonio, performing abortions and patching up the odd knife or gunshot wound. But when Graciela, a young Mexican immigrant, appears in the neighborhood in search of Doc’s services, miraculous things begin to happen. Graciela sustains a wound on her wrist that never heals, yet she heals others with the touch of her hand. Everyone she meets is transformed for the better, except, maybe, for Hank’s angry ghost - who isn’t at all pleased to see Doc doing well.
When I first stumbled upon a book with Steve Earle listed as author, I assumed that it was an autobiography. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that it was the singer/songwriter’s first novel. I was intrigued. As a songwriter, Earle is an outstanding storyteller. I simply had to know if that storytelling talent would translate. The short answer is yes, yes it does.
I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive is a simple story at it’s core. The plot isn’t convoluted or intricate, but it’s interesting and compelling. The characters, both the MCs and the secondary cast, are multi-dimensional and captivating. On top of that, Earle does an amazing job of painting pictures with words - and not just physical descriptions, though he does that well. He uses creative language to evoke emotions, scents, sounds, and sights. You can almost taste the dust and feel the heat of a San Antonio summer.
The short of it is this: I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive held my attention from word one, and it’s a book that I would highly recommend to most readers (The book does contain somewhat sensitive subject matter, so I wouldn’t recommend it to people that might be bothered by that). It’s the sort of book that you don’t forget five minutes after you finish reading it, and that you’re likely to find yourself picking up again in the future.
Rating: 5 of 6 stars (lightning review policy), 4 of 5 stars (mainstream sight review policies)
Beginning on Jan. 1 of this year, I started two reading challenges. One of those challenges involves reading books by authors I’ve never read before. I decided to start there, diving into a promising paranormal mystery book.
I’m afraid I’m going to have to shelf it, possibly permanently.
What started out as an interesting premise and intriguing backstory soon devolved into an overwritten, confusing mess. Half the time I can’t tell what the author is trying to say, and the tangents keep distracting from the main storyline.
I decided to give this book the ‘page 99’ treatment, just for kicks. As it’s a Kindle book that doesn’t have page numbers, I looked up the number of pages in the print version (394) and figured out the approximate area where page 99 would fall (25% of the book or location 1365). It passed. The writing was just as clean and the story just as interesting as the first few pages were. Guess the page 99 test isn’t all that useful after all.