Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill

The Summer of Dead Toys
by Antonio Hill

Trade Paperback, 368 pages

Under a hot Barcelona sun, 
a killer is feeling the heat.

When the death of a vulnerable young witness in a case of human trafficking and voodoo causes the normally calm Police Inspector Hector Salgado to beat someone up, he is moved off the project and sent instead to investigate a teenager's fall to his death in one of Barcelona's uptown areas. As Salgado begins to uncover the inconvenient truths behind the city's most powerful families, two seemingly unsolvable cases are set to implode under the hot Barcelona sun.

This is a hot and sultry and fascinating and passionate novel set in an exotic locale. Antonio Hill had me at hello.

There is something about a mystery novel being set in a foreign country that adds so much to my experience. The setting becomes as much a character as any others in the book.

And these characters are deep, fully faceted and intense. Inspector Salgado immediately grabs your interest as he works this case. Expect to see more of this less than perfect hero in the future. This is going to be a great series.

Photo credit: Jaime Recoder
Antonio Hill

ANTONIO HILL lives in Barcelona. He is a professional translator of English-language fiction into Spanish and speaks fluent English.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Heist: A Novel by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Heist
A Novel
by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Hardcover, 320 pages

From Janet Evanovich, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum novels, and Lee Goldberg, bestselling author and television writer for Monk, comes the first adventure in an electrifying new series featuring an FBI agent who always gets her man, and a fearless con artist who lives for the chase.

I can see a tv show or movie coming out of  this new series already. Think early Castle meets Mission Impossible. This unlikely team shares witty, flirty hot banter while attempting a take-down that no other organization dares to do. Off the books of course, if they get caught they will be charged and prisoned like common criminals. Okay. One of the team is a criminal, but the other is a cop who - until given this assignment - had spent her career chasing the very man she is now paired up with.

Sexy and exciting, The Heist is a great beach blanket read!

The hardcover edition of The Heist contains stickers—“I ‘Heart’ Plum” and “The Con Is On”—and a sneak peek from the next Stephanie Plum novel!

Photo credit: Roland Scarpa
Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the Lizzy and Diesel series, twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Trouble Maker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author.

Lee Goldberg is a screenwriter, TV producer, and the author of several books, including King City, The Walk, and the bestselling Monk series of mysteries. He has earned two Edgar Award nominations and was the 2012 recipient of the Poirot Award from Malice Domestic.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

Bad Monkey
by Carl Hiaasen

Hardcover, 336 pages

Carl Hiaasen is gloriously insane. I mean this in the best possible way. His careening, breakneck novels twist and turn and flip upside-down with oddballs and bad guys galore. Oh. And a monkey.

Andrew Yancy has been demoted to Roach Inspector after sodomizing girlfriend's husband with a small vacuum attachment, in a decidedly less than private setting.

You can't keep a cop down though, and Yancy begins his own investigation into the death of  a big-time swindler and the family he left behind. One things lead to a million and we are brought along for a hurkey-jerky ride through Florida to the Bahamas and back. The cast of characters also includes a Voodoo Queen, a lover running from the law, and a frozen arm. Kinda reminds me of the sketch comedies in which they are given a few random words and have to do a scene incorporating them all.

And he pulls it off. The book is gripping and a riot. You'll love it.

Here is Hiaasen doing what he does better than anyone else: spinning a tale at once fiercely pointed and wickedly funny in which the greedy, the corrupt, and the degraders of what’s left of pristine Florida—now, of the Bahamas as well—get their comeuppance in mordantly ingenious, diabolically entertaining fashion.

Photo credit: Tim Chapman
Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen was born and raised in Florida. He is the author of eleven previous novels, including the best-selling Nature Girl, Skinny Dip, Sick Puppy, and Lucky You, and three best-selling children’s books, Hoot, Flush, and Scat. His most recent work of nonfiction is The Downhill Lie: A Hacker’s Return to a Ruinous Sport. He also writes a weekly column for The Miami Herald.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Bread Baking Babes bake Nan e Barbari! (Persian Flatbread)

The Bread Baking Babes bake Nan e Barbari! (Persian Flatbread)

Bread Baking Babe Elizabeth has been doing her favourite thing - kneading dough by hand and baking on her BBQ for a an exciting summer bread. This would go perfectly with some kebabs, salads, sauces and salty cheese. 
Perhaps the most famous and widely used bread in Iran, Barbari is a part of Iranian culture. A piece of Barbari with some feta cheese and a cup of tea form the traditional breakfast in Iran. The secret behind the golden color of Barbari and its unique smell is in the small amount of baking soda mixed with some water and used to brush Barbari before baking. This mix is called Romal.

- Lida, 1001 Recipes, Barberi Bread
Nan e Barbari (Persian flatbread)
based on Lida's recipe for Barbari Bread at 1001recipe.com
Notes and adaptation by Elizabeth.


    5 gm (~1.5 tsp) active dry yeast
    360 gm (1.5 c) water, at 90F (32C) ¹
    60 gm (~0.5 c) 100% whole wheat flour
    360 gm (~2.75 c) unbleached all purpose flour
    2 gm (~0.5 tsp) baking powder ²
    6 gm (1 tsp) salt
    nigella seeds (or black sesame, poppy, sesame seeds)


    1 tsp 1/2 tsp flour
    1 tsp 1/2 tsp baking soda ²
    160 gm (2/3 c) 80 gm (1/3 c) water

*My version of the bread - I love my stand mixer and used it. There are as many ways to bake bread as there are people in this world and my stand mixer and I are good buddies. 
Also - I do oil my bowl. I find you need less flour and get a more tender crumb this way. Also - the dough is easier to handle. Plus, I love olive oil. 
I made 4 breads, the smaller ones being easier to store in a cake dome. 
For the glaze I used 1/2 cup of water, splitting the difference. 
I shaped my breads after the long rise, right on to the parchment paper. This way I had a fluffy, tender bread. 
I topped mine with za'atar and nigella seeds and baked for 15 minutes on 375°, on a pizza stone. Yum! 

  • Mixing the dough: Pour the water into a largish bowl. Whisk in the yeast.
  •     Add the flours, baking powder and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  •     Kneading: ³ Turn the dough out onto an UNfloured board. Wash and dry the mixing bowl. Please do not be tempted to skip this step.
  •     Using both hands on either side of the dough and thumbs resting on the top in the center, lift it up and flip it over in the air before plopping it back down on the board. Fold the dough in half away from you as you plop the dough down. Keep repeating until the dough is smooth. Every so often, use the dough scraper to clean the board. Stretching the dough is desired on the turns. But this won't start happening right away. (Please look at this video for clarification.)
  •     When the dough is smooth, place it in the clean mixing bowl (there is no need to oil the bowl). Cover the bowl with a plate and leave in a draft-free area to rise to double.
  •     Prepare the sauce: Whisk flour, baking soda and water in a small pot. Bring it to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  •     Pre-shaping: Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Scatter a light dusting of flour on the board and gently remove the risen dough onto it. Don't worry that the dough is quite slack. Cut the dough in half. Form each piece into a ball and place well apart on the cookie sheet. Cover with a clean tea towel followed by a plastic grocery bag and allow to rise to double in a draft-free area. (about an hour)
  •     Final Shaping: Brush each round with the sauce. Really slather the sauce on. It will keep your hands from sticking to the dough.
  •     Dip your fingers in the sauce and dimple the rounds down to form two ovals with lengthwise furrows. (Please see photos below; also see photos on the right side of the page at http://www.1001recipe.com/recipes/food/barbari_bread/)
  •     Liberally brush ovals with the sauce once more and sprinkle with nigella seeds. Allow the ovals to stand for about 30 min.
  •     Baking: 4 Put a stone into the barbecue and preheat it to high. Before putting them onto the stone, pull each oval with your hands to lengthen it. Wet your hands so they won't stick to the ovals and pull the dough from the bottom with your palms facing downwards. (Please see photos below; also see photos on the right side of the page at http://www.1001recipe.com/recipes/food/barbari_bread/)
  •     Put the lengthened ovals onto the hot stone. Move the stone over to cook the bread on indirect heat. Close the barbecue lid. Every so often turn the bread around to account for uneven heat in the barbecue. Cook the bread until it is golden (about 15 minutes).

The Bread Baking Babes

A note from BBB Elizabeth on baking along with us this month - 
To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: clean off your board, wash your hands to make Nan e Barbari (Persian Flatbread) in the next couple of weeks and post about it – we love to see how your bread turned out AND hear what you think about it: what you didn’t like and/or what you liked – before the 28 June 2013. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to contact the Kitchen of the Month (hey! that’s me!!) to say that your post is up.
Here’s how to let us know:

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

Trains and Lovers
by Alexander McCall Smith

Hardcover, 256 pages

This is by far Alexander McCall Smith's most wonderful book. Usually we love him for his candid and quirky character sketches and humourous insight into human emotion and interaction, but in Trains and Lovers he takes his talent so much deeper to offer us a poetic and romantic look at the private lives of four strangers who meet on a train.

Trains, trainrides, missed trains and train stations feature in every tale, some spoken aloud and some quietly remembered, as this small group opens up their lives to one another and in return receive deeper understanding themselves.

An absolutely wonderful small volume, destined to my treasure shelf with:
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach 
Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Books that I shall read again and again throughout my life.

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, and of the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served with many national and international organizations concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and he was a law professor at the University of Botswana.

Trains and Lovers


“I think that’s a fishing boat.”

It was. He saw it from the train, but not for more than a minute or two, as the line followed that bit of coastline only for a short time before it suddenly swerved off, as railway lines will do. The view of the North Sea was lost, and trees closed in; there was the blue of the sea one moment and then the blurred green of foliage rapidly passing the window; there was slanting morning sun, like an intermittent signal flashed through the trees.

This is the story of four people, all strangers to one another, who met on that train, and of how love touched their lives, in very different ways. Love is nothing out of the ordinary, even if we think it is; even if we idealise it, celebrate it in poetry, sentimentalise it in coy valentines. Love happens to just about everyone; it is like measles or the diseases of childhood; it is as predictable as the losing of milk teeth, or the breaking of a boy’s voice. It may visit us at any time, in our youth but also when we are much older and believe we are beyond its reach; but we are not. It has been described as a toothache, a madness, a divine intoxication—metaphors that reflect the disturbing effect it has on our lives. It may bring surprise, joy, despair and, occasionally, perfect happiness.

But for each person who is made happy by love, there will be many for whom it turns out to be a cause of regret. That is because it can be so fleeting; one moment it may take our breath away, the next it may leave us bereft. When it does that, love can be like a haunting, staying with us for year after year; we know that it is gone, but somehow we persuade ourselves that it is still there. The heart has more than its fair share of ghosts, and these ghosts may be love, in any of its many forms. I knew one who fell deeply in love at nineteen—smitten, overwhelmed; astonished to find that all he wanted to think about was the other; unbelieving, at first, that this had happened to him. Thirty years later, he found the person he had loved, to whom timidity, if not shame itself, had prevented him from declaring his feelings, regularly coming to him in his dreams. So much had happened in those intervening years, but none of it had been shared, as life had taken them in very different directions. Nobody would choose to be in love like that, to hold on so strongly to something that was no longer there. Yet we admire such instances of tenacity, finding nobility in loss and in the way in which some people bear it.

If it were not for the train journey on that day, these four would never have met. Journeys may be like that, may bring together people who would otherwise never have known of each other’s existence. In that respect, long journeys have something in common with military service or boarding school, or even the shared experience of some natural disaster. Such things bring us into contact with people we would never have encountered but for the sharing of danger or unhappiness.

Journeys are not only about places, they are also about people, and it may be the people, rather than the places, that we remember. Those with whom one shares a carriage on the Trans-Siberian Railway may well be remembered, even if the names of the places in which the train stops are soon lost. Of Kirov, Perm, Omsk and Ussuriysk, all of them stops on that long journey, most travellers, other than the locals, will probably remember only Omsk—for its sheer, prosaic finality, and for the fact that of all possible railway stations in the world, we are here in one called Omsk. I know nothing of Omsk, but it seems to me that its name is redolent of ending, a full stop; not a place for honeymoons or rhapsodies. Omsk.

Or Adelstrop. Yes, I remember Adelstrop, for the train stopped there in the heat—that is Edward Thomas. The poet was on a train journey into rural Oxfordshire, at a time when there was still an England of quiet villages and hedge-bound fields, and when a train might unexpectedly draw to a halt at a small place and there might be birdsong audible behind the hissing of steam. Nothing happens there, other than the stopping of a train and the escape of pent-up steam, but it brings home how suddenly and surprisingly we may be struck by the beauty of a particular place and moment.

Edward Thomas was not alone in sensing the poetic possibilities of the train. Auden’s “Night Mail” is entirely concerned with a rail journey: This is the Night Mail crossing the border / Bringing the cheque and the postal order. You can hear the train in those lines; you can feel its rocking motion.

And then there is the poet Kenneth Koch, who while travelling in Kenya came to a railroad crossing at which this sign was posted: One train may hide another. This was meant, of course, as a warning to drivers of the fact that the train you see may not be the only train to reckon with, but it also meant, as Koch points out in his poem, that there are many things in this life that conceal other things. One letter may mean another is on the way; one hitch-hiker may deliberately hide another one by the side of the road; offer to carry one bag and you may find there is another one hidden behind it, with the result that you must carry two. And so on through life. Do not count on things coming in ones.

Trains may hide one another, but they may also hide from us what they have in store—the meetings, the disclosures, the exchanged glances, the decisions we make or the insights that strike us on a journey. Trains are everyday, prosaic things, but they can be involved in, be the agents of, so much else, including that part of our human life that for so many far outweighs any other—our need for love—to give it and to receive it in that familiar battle that all of us fight with loneliness.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013