Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

The blurb:
Atlanta, 1974: As a brutal murder and a furious manhunt rock the city’s police department, Kate Murphy wonders if her first day on the job will also be her last. She’s determined to defy her privileged background by making her own way—wearing a badge and carrying a gun. But for a beautiful young woman, life will be anything but easy in the macho world of the Atlanta PD, where even the female cops have little mercy for rookies. It’s also the worst day possible to start given that a beloved cop has been gunned down, his brothers in blue are out for blood, and the city is on the edge of war.
Kate isn’t the only woman on the force who’s feeling the heat. Maggie Lawson followed her uncle and brother into the ranks to prove her worth in their cynical eyes. When she and Kate, her new partner, are pushed out of the citywide search for a cop killer, their fury, pain, and pride finally reach the boiling point. With a killer poised to strike again, they will pursue their own line of investigation, risking everything as they venture into the city’s darkest heart.

I've followed Karin Slaughter's Will Trent series and was excited to read her latest detective thriller, Cop Town.  This standalone novel is set in Atlanta in the mid-1970s, just as women officers are new to the Atlanta PD.  

It's a particularly bad summer for cops - five officers have been murdered and there is no clear suspect for the killings.  So, Kate Murphy's first day at the Atlanta PD is particularly bad as it comes hours after another cop is killed. She's made to feel unwelcome by everyone that she meets - the men on the force who don't think that women should be on the force, by the women who don't expect her to last the week, by the African American cops who have it tough themselves.  

Kate does have her own reasons for having signed up and it's fortunate that her wealthy parents support her decision.  Living as they do in one of the most exclusive and expensive suburbs, their world is limited to their privileged worlds - her mother owns one of the best art galleries in Atlanta and her father has a solid private practice as a psychiatrist.  But their wealth hasn't always sheltered them from the world and it's this empathy that makes them sympathetic to Kate and her goals. 

Kate finds herself partnered with Maggie Lawson, a young officer from a family of police officers.  While the brass want to keep Kate and Maggie away from the investigation, the women are determined to find their own leads and follow them no matter the danger.  Their intelligence and perseverance bring the young officers to some of the most dangerous areas in Atlanta and against an unexpected enemy.  

In Cop Town, Karin Slaughter introduces us to a very different world.  The prejudices and hate can be difficult to get through but it is all part of the larger story.  If you overcome the initial dislike of the characters' tough talk, then like Kate Murphy, you'll find yourself warming to them and caring.  Karin Slaughter has the unique gift of giving us both an exciting complicated detective story and complex and vulnerable characters.  I very much enjoyed Cop Town.

  • ISBN-10: 0345547497 - Hardcover $27
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press (June 24, 2014), 416 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

About the Author:
Karin Slaughter is a New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author. She is a native of Georgia.

Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen by Leela Punyaratabandhu

The blurb:
Thai takeout meets authentic, regional flavors in this collection of 100 recipes for easy, economical, and accessible Thai classics--from the rising star behind the blog She Simmers.

Who can say no to a delicious plate of Pad Thai with Shrimp; a fresh, tangy Green Papaya Salad; golden Fried Spring Rolls; or a rich, savory Pork Toast with Cucumber Relish? Thai food is not only one of the most vibrant, wonderfully varied cuisines in the world, it also happens to be one of the tastiest, and a favorite among American eaters.

The good news is, with the right ingredients and a few basic tools and techniques, authentic Thai food is easily within reach of home cooks. Take it from Leela Punyaratabandhu, a Bangkok native and author of the popular Thai cooking blog She Simmers. In her much-anticipated debut cookbook, Leela shares her favorite recipes for classic Thai fare, including beloved family recipes, popular street food specialties, and iconic dishes from Thai restaurant menus around the world.

All of Leela’s recipes have been tested and tweaked to ensure that even the busiest cook can prepare them at home. With chapters on key ingredients and tools, base recipes, one-plate meals, classic rice accompaniments, and even Thai sweets, Simple Thai Food is a complete primer for anyone who wants to give Thai cooking a try. By the end of the book, you’ll be whipping up tom yam soup and duck red curry that will put your local takeout joint to shame. But perhaps more importantly, you’ll discover an exciting new world of Thai flavors and dishes—including Stir-Fried Chicken with Chile Jam, Leaf-Wrapped Salad Bites, and Crispy Wings with Three-Flavored Sauce—that will open your eyes to all the wonderful possibilities that real Thai cooking has to offer.

Like many people that I know, I've always enjoyed Thai food.  I grew up partly in New England and partly in Southeast Asia and Thai food has never seemed exotic to me.  It has just the right mix of spice and freshness and something new.

I'm always looking for good Thai recipes and was excited at the chance to review Simple Thai Food.  The author grew up in Bangkok but had developed her cooking skills while living in the US, trying to replicate her mother's recipes. As such, the book is geared towards those of us who are learning about Thai food and have to hunt for the right ingredients in American stores and Asian stores in the US.  There is a helpful section that describes the basic ingredients and sauces used in Thai cooking and a quick description of the Thai approach to eating (called "Noshes and Nibbles") which is heavy on snacking. 

Due to an unfortunate accident while I was trying to bake our Easter ham, my oven is out of commission.  I'm limited to trying to replicate the dishes on my stovetop.  I'm trying to lose weight so I didn't attempt to make the particularly fattening and delicious items - I'm thinking of the "Gold Purses"  recipe of scallions, mushrooms, ground chicken, water chestnuts, sweet chile, sugar, special sauces, all fried in a wonton wrapper.   Instead, the Kung Chae Nam Pla (Fish Sauce-Marinated Fresh Shrimp with Spicy Lime Dressing) sounds like a tasty, healthy meal.  Similarly, the Grilled Steaks with Roasted Tomato Dipping Sauce (Crying Tiger) also looks like something that will go over well with both dieters and foodies.  

The salad recipes are particularly good. Leela gives us an introduction to the best tools (hand grater or mandoline) for shredding the green papaya and green mango and the basic ingredients for the proper yam dressing (lime, salted fish sauce, and some palm sugar) and her own approach to testing and tasting the salad and dressing.  Very straightforward and sensible, Leela makes preparing a Thai salad a little less intimidating. 

I'm preparing the Kai Phat Khing (Chicken Ginger Stir Fry), which is one of my takeout staples.  The recipe is straightforward and the ingredients easy to find.  The dish was a hit in my home!

ISBN 9781607745235 $ 24.99
Ten Speed Press, May 13, 2014.
Review copy courtesy of the Publisher and NetGalley.

About the Author, courtesy of SheSimmers:
Longing for the taste of home, Leela Punyaratabandhu has spent the past several years testing and refining her favorite Thai recipes using the ingredients which she can find in the United States. This site is a place where she shares with her readers those recipes. SheSimmers was created in November 2008 in the memory of Leela’s mother, the cookbook addict, who inspired her love for cooking.
Leela’s interests include linguistics, philology, intercultural communications, and history (especially the culinary history of Thailand). She’s also a freelance writer and recipe developer.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Lincoln Myth: A Cotton Malone novel by Steve Berry

Steve Berry's is famous for incorporating a larger historical puzzle in his plots.  In this latest Cotton Malone thriller Berry raises the question, "What if the Founding Fathers had executed a separate agreement at the time of the drafting of the US Constitution?  What if this unanimous agreement spoke of a fundamental right that is in direct conflict with the rights as we currently understand them to be?"

The blurb:
September 1861: All is not as it seems. With these cryptic words, a shocking secret passed down from president to president comes to rest in the hands of Abraham Lincoln. And as the first bloody clashes of the Civil War unfold, Lincoln alone must decide how best to use this volatile knowledge: save thousands of American lives, or keep the young nation from being torn apart forever?

The present: In Utah, the fabled remains of Mormon pioneers whose nineteenth-century expedition across the desert met with a murderous end have been uncovered. In Washington, D.C., the official investigation of an international entrepreneur, an elder in the Mormon church, has sparked a political battle between the White House and a powerful United States senator. In Denmark, a Justice Department agent, missing in action, has fallen into the hands of a dangerous zealot—a man driven by divine visions to make a prophet’s words reality. And in a matter of a few short hours, Cotton Malone has gone from quietly selling books at his shop in Denmark to dodging bullets in a high-speed boat chase.

All it takes is a phone call from his former boss in Washington, and suddenly the ex-agent is racing to rescue an informant carrying critical intelligence. It’s just the kind of perilous business that Malone has been trying to leave behind, ever since he retired from the Justice Department. But once he draws enemy blood, Malone is plunged into a deadly conflict—a constitutional war secretly set in motion more than two hundred years ago by America’s Founding Fathers.

From the streets of Copenhagen to the catacombs of Salzburg to the rugged mountains of Utah, the grim specter of the Civil War looms as a dangerous conspiracy gathers power. Malone risks life, liberty, and his greatest love in a race for the truth about Abraham Lincoln—while the fate of the United States of America hangs in the balance.

Steve Berry's thrillers come with a historical puzzle, a larger "what if" that develops just as his hero faces a more life sized crisis.  In The Lincoln Myth, the puzzle is rooted in US history from the time of the Founding Fathers and the Civil War.  There is a historical document which was given to George Washington to guard and which has subsequently been passed down by the US Presidents to their successor at the start of their terms.  This mysterious document can cause a fundamental and legal change to the US - but what it contains and how it might be used today are uncertain.

When retired bookseller Cotton Malone is once again drawn into assist his former boss, Stephanie Nell, he finds that this particular crisis hits him personally. We learn more about his love interest and her backstory.  

I did find the portrayal of the Church of the Latter Day Saints a little disturbing and uncomfortable and this kept me from fully enjoying The Lincoln Myth.   I was left with the same discomfort that I had with Dan Brown's portrayal of  the Roman Catholic Church and the Opus Dei in the Da Vinci Code.   

ISBN-10: 0345526570 - Hardcover $27
Publisher: Ballantine Books (May 20, 2014), 448 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

About the Author:
Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of The Lincoln Myth, The King’s Deception, The Columbus Affair, The Jefferson Key, The Emperor’s Tomb, The Paris Vendetta, The Charlemagne Pursuit, The Venetian Betrayal, The Alexandria Link, The Templar Legacy, The Third Secret, The Romanov Prophecy, and The Amber Room. His books have been translated into 40 languages with more than 17,000,000 copies in 51 countries.

History lies at the heart of every Steve Berry novel. It’s this passion, one he shares with his wife, Elizabeth, that led them to create History Matters, a foundation dedicated to historic preservation. Since 2009 Steve and Elizabeth have traveled across the country to save endangered historic treasures, raising money via lectures, receptions, galas, luncheons, dinners, and their popular writers’ workshops. To date, nearly 2,500 students have attended those workshops. In 2012 their work was recognized by the American Library Association, which named Steve the first spokesman for National Preservation Week. He was also appointed by the Smithsonian Board of Regents to serve on the Smithsonian Libraries Advisory Board to help promote and support the libraries in their mission to provide information in all forms to scientists, curators, scholars, students, and the public at large. He has received the Royden B. Davis Distinguished Author Award and the 2013 Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers. His novel The Columbus Affair earned him the Anne Frank Human Writes Award, and his historic preservation work merited the 2013 Silver Bullet from International Thriller Writers.

Steve Berry was born and raised in Georgia, graduating from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. He was a trial lawyer for 30 years and held elective office for 14 of those years. He is a founding member of International Thriller Writers—a group of more than 2,600 thriller writers from around the world—and served three years as its co-president.   For more information, visit

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank

The blurb:
Leslie Anne Greene Carter is The Last Original Wife among her husband Wesley's wildly successful Atlanta social set.  But if losing her friends to tanned and toned young Barbie brides isn't painful enough, a series of setbacks shake Les's world and push her to the edge.  She's had enough of playing the good wife to a husband who thinks he's doing her a favor by keeping her around.  She's going to take some time for herself -- in the familiar comforts and stunning beauty of Charleston, her beloved hometown.  And she's going to reclaim the carefree girl who spent lazy summers with her first love on Sullivans Island.  Daring to listen to her inner voice, she will realize what she wants. . .  and find the life of which she's always dreamed.

I'd picked up The Last Original Wife on one of those weeks busy with travel and dealing with tenants.  It was so much fun escaping reality with this middle aged, caring, and still lovely woman. 

Les (married to Wes) raised two children  and often babysits her lovely granddaughter.  Her daughter  Charlotte is a real estate broker but doesn't take her career seriously and relies on her parents for childcare and money.  Her son Bertie left graduate school and is spending time in Nepal.  Wes, her husband is very successful and quite selfish. Over the years her social life has revolved around her husband, his friends and their family.  She's reached the age where her husbands' best friends replaced their wives with women nearly twenty years younger and Les found herself surrounded by people that she didn't like or respect.   

Instead of putting up with the same treatment without complaining, Les decides to step back. Fortunately, she comes across hidden bank statements and discovers that while she's been scrimping for years, Wes has plenty of hidden assets.  Les is fundamentally honest and she doesn't go off and transfer the money to her own hidden account.  Instead, she leaves her home and returns to her hometown. Les starts living for herself and finds herself well appreciated and entertained.  As Les spends her time reading, exploring historic houses, and rediscovering things that she used to love.  

Full of humor and likable characters, The Last Original Wife is a fun, summer read.  I thoroughly enjoyed it!

ISBN-10: 0062132474 - Paperback $14.99
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 1, 2014), 368 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Dorothea Benton Frank
was born and raised on Sullivans Island, South Carolina.   She and her husband divide their time between South Carolina and New Jersey.  Learn more about her at