The Woman in the Window

shopping   Although I had sworn off all books with a girl or woman in the title  and anything recommended by Gillian Flynn, I read The Woman in the Window in one sitting after a fellow reader insisted, giving me the real name for the A.J. Finn pseudonym.  If you are a Hitchcock fan, you will see traces of favorites like Gaslight and Vertigo in the plot, with Rear Window playing a leading role.   If you are an astute problem solver, you might figure out who the real villain is – I didn’t.  If you want a thrilling psychological drama, with an unbalanced Ph.D. (psychologist) as the lead character, The Woman in the Window will keep you turning pages to the finish.

Anna is an agoraphobic psychologist, who drinks her day away with red wine while keeping tabs on her neighbors in her stylish and expensive neighborhood, through the lens of her camera.  Although Finn offers hints for the cause of her disability, the reason is revealed much later, after Anna has befriended the new neighbor, psychoanalyzed the frail son, and thinks she has witnessed a murder.  The author maintains the suspense by exaggerating Anna’s helplessness while, at the same time, teasing with references to the old black and white horror/mystery movies she continually watches during the day – when she is not watching her neighbors.  The actor James Stewart plays in the background while Anna tries to decipher what has happened – has she tipped over into insanity or witnessed a crime.  No spoilers here – have your own good time reading it, maybe with a glass of red wine – and all the lights on.

Tequila Mockingbird – Cocktails with a Literary Twist

9780762448654_p0_v3_s260x420Tim Federle has a recipe for both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks and each has a reference to a literary classic in Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist.  The ingredients are simple and the recipes easy.  The labels are conveniently linked to the book title and date of publication.   Some of my favorites, in addition to the book title:

  • Rye and Prejudice
  • The Cooler Purple
  • A Rum of One’s Own
  • The Malted Falcon
  • Gone with the Wine
  • Cherry Poppins

A chapter titled “Bar Bites for Book Hounds” includes snacks for the reader with the disclaimer – “…caution: this section may contain nuts…and that’s just the protagonists.”

If you plan to go to bed early this New Year’s Eve, or toast in the new year with a beverage as uncreative as ginger ale, you might still enjoy leafing through this slim volume for a few laughs or some ideas for the next time you host the book club – and a list of books creatively transformed.


Peter Mayle – Food and Mystery

9780307962874_p0_v1_s260x420Having first met Peter Mayle’s detective Sam Levitt in The Vintage Caper, I was caught by Emily Brennan’s interview featuring Mayle’s newest crime mystery – The Corsican Caper – in the New York Times travel section.  Reminiscing about his “Year in Provence,” Mayle offers a glimpse into Marseilles,  the scene of Levitt’s latest escapades:

“he {Levitt} outsmarts a rapacious Russian oligarch who plans to seize his friend’s chateau…”

Mayle’s mysteries are more about the food and the wine than the action, and Mayle’s interview affirms he is more interested in the drama of his surroundings – using the story as a vehicle to introduce readers to his favorite dishes.  No wonder the article appears in the travel section, not the book review.  Nevertheless, I’ve downloaded the book for my next long flight – probably not to Marseilles, but I agree with Mayle’s statement:

“I only wish I had 50 million euros to have a go at it.”

Read my review of The Vintage Caper here


Charles (Caroline) Todd at Left Coast Crime

Mystery authors are materializing out of the Monterey mist here at the Left Coast Crime conference. New authors each had a minute to summarize and promote their stories over breakfast, but my favorite close encounter came last night at the opening reception. As I munched my hummus cucumbers and sipped some California wine, I noticed the solicitations of a younger man to a well-dressed elderly woman seated at my table. I wondered if he was her publisher? her escort? her lover, plying her with food and drink? When introduced, all my assumptions were dismissed: he was her son, and the duo – Charles and Caroline Todd- write the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series, set in Scotland Yard after World War I.

I’ve downloaded “A Test of Wills” -the first Inspector Ian Rutledge book, and hope to start a relationship with a new author(s) and a compelling character. I’m told that as a fan of Downton Abbey, I will immediately connect to Inspector Ian Rutledge—a British World War I veteran who suffers from shell shock as he returns to investigating London crimes.

Have you read any of the Todd mysteries?


Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

What inspires a famous chef to prepare those meals that satisfy us – both visually and gastronomically?
What training, background, and mentoring meld together to make the creative provocateur of food?  In the case of Gabrielle Hamilton, it’s not what you think.  In her memoir, Blood, Bones, and Butter, Hamilton reveals her unconventional path to becoming the chef and owner of the renowned New York restaurant, Prune – referred to by the New York Times as “the small restaurant with a large footprint.”

Divided into three sections, “Blood” introduces Hamilton’s bohemian family and wild youthful days.  Before her French mother, ballet queen of the kitchen in heels, apron, and cigarettes, divorces her artist father, Hamilton describes a bucolic life in Pennsylvania with her parents’ giving parties with Spring lamb roasted on spits.  Afterwards, life is difficult but free for a thirteen year old left to take care of herself.  She stumbles through lonely years in a haze of drugs – dropping out of schools, smoking cigarettes, stealing cars, and working in kitchens as a dish-washer or waitress to survive.

Life gets better as she “jumps ahead” in the second section, “Bones.”  By now, she has graduated from college, backpacked through Europe, finished her Master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Michigan, is working as a freelance caterer for upscale events during the season, and a cook at a children’s camp in the summer.  At each phase of her life, Hamilton finds someone who can cook well, and she learns something different from each.  She stores it all away until later; when she opens her restaurant all her experiences seem to converge.  As she converts a deserted rat-infested hovel into the best place to have brunch on Sundays in New York City, she recalls the influence of her mother’s cooking and later, her Italian mother-in-law, who does not speak English and cooks by feel rather than recipe.

When she leaves her lesbian lover, and marries an Italian doctor to save him from the INS; her bridesmaids are her restaurant workers…

“If you want to feel like the most glamorous woman in the world on your wedding day, just be the only one dressed in a good heel and a vintage couture dress…my lesbian friends wore suits…to cover their tattoos…”

It’s easy to like Gabrielle Hamilton; she is frank, unaffected, and clearly loves food, cooking, and most people.  It’s easy to laugh with her as she recalls the day her father taught her to kill a chicken (note the book’s cover art):

“There are two things you should never learn to do with your father: learn how to drive and learn how to kill a chicken.”

and the night the drunk camp counselors who felt sorry for the lobsters she had planned to cook for the end of the season party, placed them all in a tank full of fresh water, effectively torturing and killing them…

After burying thirty dead lobsters…I shut down the kitchen for the season…I bought ten boxes of Kentucky Fried Chicken, left it at the fire pit, and drove off campus for good…I hoped the bear would find the KFC and the counselors and eat them both.

and her husband asking her which silk tie he should wear, as she is in labor, waiting to get to the hospital to give birth to their first son.

In her last section, “Butter,” Hamilton describes her annual summer visits to her Italian in-laws in Rome, followed by three weeks in their villa by the sea.  Cooking becomes the universal language, as she connects with Alda, her old-school mother-in-law.  Her mouth-watering descriptions of food will have you salivating.

I’m not usually a fan of memoirs, but Blood, Bones, and Butter does not pretend to be an accurate accounting; Hamilton weaves her personality into her story and fictionalizes when it’s better than what really happened, but, at least she is honest about it – and she applies her degree in fiction to share her readable and amusing memories.   In her author’s note, Gabrielle Hamilton assures the reader…

…{I} have made up the names when I couldn’t remember them.  I have airbrushed a couple of people right out of scenes…I have compressed, contracted, and subtly rearranged time…and I have conflated several recurring, similar events into one for clarity, drive, and momentum…

It doesn’t matter.  Gabrielle Hamilton gets it right, using self-deprecating humor mixed with introspection – focusing on the important pieces of her life, while sending a message not only to aspiring chefs but to bright women trying to juggle family and career.   My favorite line in the book has her responding to being introduced as “the top, one of the best female chefs in New York”  with

“Now, if we could only get that word ‘female’ out of the sentence.”

Savor the book slowly, with a glass of “an excellent Bandol” and some nutty Gouda. Gabrielle Hamilton is a chef worth getting to know.