Source: purchased

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The Language of Secrets

January 24, 2017 Book Review, reviews 6

The Language of SecretsThe Language of Secrets (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak #2) by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 329
Source: complimentary review copy, purchased
AmazonBarnes & Noble
Goodreads

This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using the link, I will receive a small commission from the sale at no cost to you.

The Language of Secrets is the 2nd book in the Esa Khattak mystery series. Inspector Esa Khattak is the Community Policing Detective liaison for minority groups in Canada. Mohsin Dar, Khattak’s childhood friend, is found murdered. Esa is called in to give the ‘appearance of investigating.’ Mohsin works for the federal agency, INSET, by infiltrating a possible terrorist cell.

Between Esa’s integrity and his personal relationship with the victim, he is unable to stick to appearances. Esa is not without faults – prickly, with more secrets than the Vatican. But he is honorable. Great at his job. Open-minded with anyone different from himself. And he is Muslim. His sidekick, Detective Rachel Getty, is just as flawed, though she is paired with Khattak to temper his prickliness. Have you ever watched NCIS? I’d compare Detective Esa Khattak to a Muslim Jethro Gibbs and Detective Getty to the lovable, but smart, Special Agent Eleanor Bishop.

Between the politics of the multiple agencies involved, the family dynamics of Khattak’s sister engaged to the prime suspect, and the emergence of Getty into her new life out from under her parents, The Language of Secrets is fraught with human relationships and issues. I was somewhat disappointed that the prime suspect’s motives were not more fleshed out. He’s charismatic but what made him so? How did he get to be such an influence on the group of young people following him to the point of planning mass murder? I understood the primary motivation – losing his entire family – but how did he go from point A to point B so completely? Where Esa and Rachel are fully fleshed characters, the suspect fully fleshed would have made the novel that much stronger. I still enjoyed it and learned about the culture of the Muslim community. The addition of Esa’s sisters into the plot allowed for a better understanding of the Muslim female psyche.

Murder mystery, terrorism, and family relationships in #thelanguageofsecrets Click To Tweet

I read The Unquiet Dead, Ausma’s debut novel in 2015 and have been a champion of hers ever since. She gracefully interweaves cultural aspects of Muslim tradition and religion throughout her gripping mysteries. It’s a great way to peek behind the curtain and into the life of a Muslim, albeit a fictional one. The nuances of solving a case, dealing with racist beliefs, while navigating tricky family relationships are where Ausma thrives with her novels. And why I will continue to read everything she writes! Recommended, but read The Unquiet Dead first. There are nuances from the first book that overlap into the second you’d miss if you skip reading the first.

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Questionable Women, Dirty Cops and Murder in The Kept Woman

November 18, 2016 Book Review, reviews 1

Questionable Women, Dirty Cops and Murder in The Kept WomanThe Kept Woman (Will Trent, #8) by Karin Slaughter
Published by William Morrow on September 20th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 461
Source: purchased
AmazonBarnes & Noble
Goodreads
four-half-stars

A couple of days ago I took Karin Slaughter’s latest book, The Kept Woman, outside to read for just a bit. I only planned to read for an hour or so, but three hours later I had to finally move inside because the sun was going down so fast I couldn’t see the words to read!

Karin Slaughter is brilliant when it comes to pacing and plot. The Kept Woman is #8 in her Will Trent series based in Atlanta, Georgia. Normally I prefer to read the all the books in the series, in order. But with Karin Slaughter I will make an exception! Believe it or not, I did not start reading her books until the standalone Coptown came out. This is only my third novel by Slaughter and she’s become one of those authors I will automatically buy.

Back to Will Trent ~ oh my goodness what a flawed man he is! He grew up in the foster care system, married his teenage sweetheart, Angie Polaski, who also happened to be in foster care with him. The novel begins with a gruesome murder of a cop no one liked or respected in an abandoned club being built by a basketball star who got off on a rape charge. While investigating the crime scene they figure out Angie was involved and is critically injured. Will loses it in front of his ME girlfriend and goes on a frantic search for Angie.

[Tweet “Brilliant pacing and plot in this thriller! “]

I plan to go back and read the previous seven books in this series. If those are half as good as The Kept Woman, I may come up for air in a few weeks! Learning the background of how and why Will and Angie became the people they are is sad and realistic. Their childhood is in stark contrast with that of Sara, the Medical Examiner. I’ve noticed in the three books of Slaughter’s I’ve read so far, crimes against women and children are the focus. She does a fantastic job of bringing awareness to the pitfalls of the foster care system; the hard-to-explain cycle of abuse in domestic violence situations; the flawed police who investigate crimes and finally, the resilience of some children after surviving horrific circumstances.

The Kept Woman is one of those thrillers that you can’t put down. Every page is another revelation. There are underlying plot points that surprised me even though I figured out who the killer was early on. Karin Slaughter knows Atlanta well, writing about Buckhead and downtown with equal aplomb. Highly recommended with one caveat:

Trigger warning ~ The Kept Woman addresses crimes against women and children. Please be aware before going into this book if these types of triggers are detrimental to your well-being.

If you like The Kept Woman, you may also enjoy One Kick by Chelsea Cain or The Fixer by T.E. Woods

four-half-stars

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CookBook Review: 100 Days of Real Food Fast and Fabulous

October 24, 2016 Book Review, reviews 4

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

CookBook Review: 100 Days of Real Food Fast and Fabulous100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous: The Easy and Delicious Way to Cut Out Processed Food by Lisa Leake
Published by William Morrow Cookbooks on October 25th 2016
Genres: Non-Fiction, Wellness
Pages: 320
Source: complimentary review copy, purchased
Amazon
Goodreads
five-stars

 

It was a blustery December afternoon on my grandparent’s farm in Tennessee. The cows had to be herded into the barn and the never-ending farm chores had to be done before the snow set in.  Herding slow-moving cows in freezing temperatures is not the most relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Especially if you’re nine years old and have the latest Trixie Belden waiting for you. Let’s just say I was not my happiest.

Trudging back to the farmhouse after falling in the creek, all I could think of was standing by the wood stove to thaw out, a hot shower, and something warm to fill my belly. My mom told me we were having chili for supper, and I’m sure she could tell by my expression I was not thrilled at the prospect. At least it wasn’t greens ~ my Granny made me sit at the kitchen table til I finished a giant helping of greens. I’m still traumatized by that event!

Once I had my shower and found a spot amongst all the relatives in the living room, my mom brought me a small bowl of my uncle’s famous chili. Whenever we had a major holiday, like Christmas, relatives came out of the woodwork to hunt and help on the farm.

I took my first hesitant bite after blowing and blowing to be sure the chili was cool enough. Then I took a second bite. Nine bowls later I became a family legend. Guess what my favorite food is, still, to this day?

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When I found out Lisa Leake, of 100 Days of Real Food blog fame, had a new cookbook coming out focused on meals 30 minutes or less, I pre-ordered immediately. Then my food idol put a call out for cookbook ambassadors, and I was over-the-moon ecstatic to be selected. The day I opened the package with the book I went through every mouth-watering recipe making lists. My goal was to spend a week cooking out of the one cookbook – both as a healthy challenge and as a way to see if I really like the recipes.

The first recipe I made was the sausage and mushroom frittata. I planned to pair it with the hash brown casserole but changed my mind at the last minute. It’s only me eating this week, my sweetheart is out of town, so making a big huge meal just didn’t make sense. As this was my first frittata ever I think I did pretty darn good….or maybe it was the recipe was so good? Either way, it didn’t feel like I was denying myself anything by having a home-made/non-processed meal. In fact, I didn’t feel weighted down or bloated after eating. Oh, and the frittata? Scrumptious! I ate it for dinner and then again for breakfast two mornings in a row.

My next recipe to try was the black bean protein bowl. Oh my goodness y’all! There’s a southwest restaurant near our apartment in Scottsdale that makes the most delicious protein bowl. One week, between lunch and supper, I had that bowl five times! Now before you go thinking me an absolute pig – three of those times was the leftovers. Suffice it to say, I am a glutton for protein bowls. So when I saw the recipe for my favorite bowl in the 100 Days of Real Food Fast and Fabulous it was meal number 2 to attempt. Yes. It was also fantastic. The only thing missing was the chipotle ranch dressing that Locos Patron doles out with their protein bowls. I haven’t had a chance to scan the 100 Days of Real Food website to see if Lisa has a dressing to experiment with but regardless, her recipe was pretty darn close to the real thing {and probably a lot less on processed food}!

[Tweet “‘Fast and Fabulous’ is understatement for new cookbook by @100daysofrealfood blogger/author!”]

Remember how I shared that chili is my favorite food ever? That’s any kind of chili – including white bean chicken chili. If you could have smelled the combination of spices with the onion and jalapeno as I cooked – absolutely divine. I cheated just a little and used a rotisserie chicken instead of cooking the chicken breasts. Lisa’s definition of real food is either whole food like fruit or vegetables, dairy products and packaged food ‘with no more than five unrefined ingredients.’  I used jalapenos out of a jar – six ingredients – all were real food except the calcium chloride.  Aargh! Aside from that, this ‘real food’ chili was delicious. Not quite spicy enough to set my mouth on fire but savory enough to have all my taste buds singing. Definitely a new favorite recipe! I’m so glad Lisa suggested we make a double-batch to freeze!

A few extras that make the cookbook even better

  • The real-food supermarket product lists: a top 10 list of real food to buy from Target, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, even Walmart!
  • The Look For/Avoid charts: Includes what to look for in added sweeteners, cooking fats, meats and more.
  • The seasonal 7-day meal plans + shopping lists
  • Recommendations for work-week/school-week meals

What I like even better about the second cookbook

In the first cookbook Lisa goes in-depth explaining how and why the 100 Days of Real Food blog and subsequent cookbook came about. I think there’s about the same number of recipes in the 1st cookbook as there are in the second one, but I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the first cookbook. Maybe just adding ‘fast and fabulous’ to the title made it more doable for me, less intimidating. All I know is as much as I liked the first cookbook, this second one is my new favorite.

While this is not my uncle’s famous chili recipe, it’s pretty darn close to 9-bowls-worthy! Try it and let me know if it’s your new favorite chicken chili!

white bean chicken chili
5 from 1 vote
white bean chicken chili
Print
White Chicken Chili
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
40 mins
 

GLUTEN-FREE

NUT-FREE

FREEZER-FRIENDLY

Servings: 4 people
Author: Lisa Leake
Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion diced
  • 1/2 jalapeño minced
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels no need to thaw
  • 2 15 oz cans of white beans, (such as Great Northern or cannellini) drained and rinsed
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
Instructions
  1. In a medium soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeño and cook, stirring, until the onion has softened, 2 to 3 minutes. 

  2. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is lightly browned on the outside and no longer pink on the inside (add more olive oil if the pot starts to dry out), 4 to 5 minutes.

  3. Toss the minced garlic and spices into the pot and turn a few times to coat the chicken evenly. Add the corn, beans, and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, about 20 minutes.

  4. Break up some of the beans with the back of a wooden spoon to help thicken the chili. Stir in the cream, garnish with the desired toppings, and serve! 

Recipe Notes
TOPPINGS: Chopped cilantro, sour cream, grated Monterey Jack cheese, diced avocado, and/or corn tortilla strips
 
LISA'S TIP: This dish is also great with leftover cooked chicken. Just skip
step 2 and add the cooked chicken with the garlic and spices in step 3
 
 

[Tweet “Best white chicken chili recipe ever!”]

five-stars

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A Story of Hope with The Feathered Bone

September 21, 2016 Book Review, reviews 1

A Story of Hope with The Feathered BoneThe Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell
Published by Thomas Nelson on January 26th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Inspirational
Pages: 384
Source: purchased
AmazonIndieBound
Goodreads
four-half-stars

So maybe a miracle is anything that gets us through another day when life gets too hard.

The Feathered Bone begins with a class field trip to the Big Easy: New Orleans on Halloween. Two best friends, Sarah and Ellie are twelve, best friends and middle schoolers. Since their moms are best friends they’ve grown up to be almost inseparable. When Ellie’s mom, Amanda, is left to chaperone the two girls so Beth, Sarah’s mom can return to her work as a pastor’s wife, the unspeakable happens. Sarah goes to the restroom but never returns to the group. With Sarah’s disappearance, Amanda and Ellie both fight the guilt demons plaguing them. The Feathered Bone is a look at how do you have faith and hope in the face of unspeakable horror? How do you survive the guilt? and as a victim, how do you get through each day, each awful happening and still remain true to yourself and your faith?

That’s what we have to remember. Light defeats darkness. Never the other way around.

The Feathered Bone is also a story of trusting our instincts and valuing our own worth. It’s a testament to *feminism, a story of hope and the power of God to carry us through. Julie Cantrell’s books tackle the worst of mankind yet reveals the hope of mankind as well. Depression, domestic violence and trafficking are all tackled with equal voracity. Honestly, I started crying half-way through and didn’t stop until I closed the book. It’s the story of your neighbor, a friend, a relative, or even one in which you see parts of yourself.

Favorite Passage

He said that the day he tried to kill himself, he sat in front of Walmart for three hours trying to talk himself out of it. He sat right there on the bench, almost in tears, and thought, If one person smiles at me, I won’t do it. That’ll be a good enough reason to live. But in those three hours, nobody did. You know how many people go in and out of Walmart in the span of three hours? But everybody walked right past him, looking down at their phones or off in the distance, pretending he wasn’t there at all. He felt invisible. As if he were already dead. So he figured, what’s the point? And he went home and he did it. And only by the grace of God did he live to tell us that story. So from that moment on, I decided I never want to be the one who walks by and doesn’t smile. I want to be the one who makes everybody feel glad to be alive. To let them know they matter.

Final Thoughts

It’s difficult to beat Julie Cantrell’s debut novel Into the Free. I fell in love with Millie’s character and strength and the Depression-era setting. When  Mountains Move carries forward Millie’s life into adulthood. Both books are historical fiction {one of my favorite genres}. The Feathered Bone is straight from the headlines of today. I could taste the gumbo, smell the wet, swampy marsh and feel the sweltering humid heat during Hurricane Katrina. The characters ring true: Amanda’s guilt, Ellie’s depression, and Beth’s faith. Once you close the pages you’ll have been rung out, but you will know the tremendous power of faith, hope and love.

*my definition: feminism is equality for men and women rather than a continued patriarchal society 

Julie CantrellAbout the Author

Julie Cantrell has got to be one of the nicest authors around! Here she is sharing a favorite recent read for the 30Authors annual event. To learn more about this lovely lady and her books visit her website | Twitter | Facebook.  If you’re a foodie like me, definitely check out some of these recipes for gumbo and jambalaya! AND, if you saw my recent post on authors who create playlists to accompany or inspire their books and characters then you may have seen The Feathered Bone and Julie Cantrell featured there as well!

[Tweet “A story of hope and faith in times of unspeakable horror with @juliecantrell”]

four-half-stars

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Book Review: Into the Free

September 3, 2016 Book Review 5

Book Review: Into the FreeInto the Free by Julie Cantrell
Published by David C. Cook on February 1st 2012
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Inspirational
Pages: 329
Source: purchased
AmazonIndieBound
Goodreads

 

Into the Free begins with 9-year old Millie wishing for a way to escape her life, her abusive father and a mother who gets so blue she forgets to care for Millie.  The family lives in a tiny shack, former slaves quarters, which have since been remodeled into tenant housing for the farm hands. Millie’s dad, Jack, is a rodeo cowboy and helps with the horses on the farm. Millie’s mom takes in ironing and sewing when she’s not gone away to the dark place Millie calls ‘the valley.’

What is remarkable with Into the Free is the seemingly ease of interweaving hope and a realistic faith throughout the threads of the novel. Not all Christians portrayed in the book are “good” just as in real life some proclaimed Christians are bad…very bad. Had the novel been set in most recent times, Millie would have been removed from her parent’s home due to the abuse suffered at the hands of her father and the neglect of her mother. When Millie is around a regular family we can see how hard it is for an abused child to accept kindness, gentleness and love. Having worked with abused children I can attest to the absolute accuracy of Cantrell’s portrayal of Millie.

[Tweet “Beautiful coming-of-age story set in Depression-era Mississippi”]

It would have been easy for Cantrell to fall into the use of stereotypes and yet such is not the case with Into the Free. If anything, stereotypical characters are turned on their head. The gypsy is not dirty nor illiterate and the grandparents who shun Millie are supposed to be of good Christian stock. That’s not to say there’s not a few characters who happen to fall into a stereotype, but they make it so easy! For instance, the ladies who cluck about everything Millie is and does. Although the ladies did offer a little bit of comic relief, even if it was because we’ve all known those types of busy-bodies with an opinion on everything without knowing anything.

Julie Cantrell does a magnificent job of tackling diversity, child abuse, the gross hypocrisy of a few so-called Christians and the resilience of children, to not only survive a horrific childhood, but to then thrive. Believing God has forgotten about her, Millie slowly comes to realize God was with her all along, even in the deepest pits of despair.

I do two things,” she told me. “I remind myself that it’s not all about me. And I focus on the good. There’s always a way to find some good.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough. If you enjoy Joshilyn Jackson or Susan Gregg Gilmore then you’ll most likely fall in love with Julie Cantrell and her band of characters.

Just a note When Mountains Move is the follow-up to Millie’s story taking us into her adulthood. Review coming soon!

In a few words: Emotional, heart-felt coming-of-age story. Inspirational, though not overtly preachy.  Southern, yet diverse with gypsies and Indians playing vital roles. Set in a small train town during the Depression-era Mississippi. Highly Recommended.

Connect with author Julie Cantrell on website | Facebook | Twitter

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