Sunday, December 20, 2009

Seven - Best American Mystery Stories - 2004

Yes - I know - 2004 was 5 years ago - but taking the time to actually read the books on my shelf at home versus library books or the latest thriller - that's a challenge for me. A few weeks ago, when stating that I needed to hit the library for more books, my boyfriend kindly reminded me that I had an overflowing shelf of books at home waiting for me to pick from. After that reminder, I pulled out some books that became my next stack to tackle. This book was the first on the stack.

I only recognized two (Stephen King & Joyce Carol Oates) of the 20 or so authors listed in the table of contents. That can either be a good or bad thing. The first story of the book - "Bet on Red" by Jeff Abbott - was honestly the best story of the whole book. It captured my attention from the first paragraph and had an awesome twist at the end. The dialogue was witty and engaging. Set in Las Vegas, Sean ,an enforcer for the mob, takes a bet that his victim - Bobby- can't pick up the red head at the bar. Bobby actually wins the bet - but then cannot be found the next morning when Sean is ready to whack him. Sean is approached by the same red head in the bar with an exchange - $20 million dollars to lie to his boss and tell him that Bobby is dead. Sean hesitates, but then takes the deal with a twist. The red head will entice his boss and kill him so that Sean can take over the Las Vegas business.

The second story that I enjoyed was "All Though the House" by Christopher Coake. This story is told backwards chronologically. The first section - Now - sets the scene: a house in the woods where some bad memories happen; a lone policeman constantly patrols the area. The next section set in 1987 describes that lone policeman - Sheriff Larry Thompkins - setting fire to that same house in order to erase his grief and guilt. The next section finds an author - Patricia Pike - being taken through the crime scene by Larry Thompkins and the details of the murders that occurred within the house are explained. Skipping backwards to December 25, 1975 - we see the crime scene the day after the murders from the Sheriff's eyes. He finds a note he gave to the one murder victim - Jenny - whom he was having an affair with. On that note his name is crossed out and her husband - Wayne - put his name there instead. The next section describes the mood in the house prior to murders by the killer's wife - Jenny. Jenny continues her reflection - but back in 1970 - when Wayne - her husband and the murderer - first told her that he wanted to build a house for them on his family's property in the woods. The last section - Then - focuses on Larry & Wayne as kids playing the field. Wayne tells Larry that he wants to build a house there in the field one day.

Three other stories captured my interest throughout the book. "Smash & Grab" by Michael Knight about a young girl who "falls in love" with the burglar who enters her house on New Years Eve. "Low Tide" by Dick Lochte about a bank teller who helps rob banks across the country - but falls in love with the security guard and ends up paying for it with her life. And finally "Best Man Wins" by Frederick Waterman - which details how a husband gets back at his wife and her lover with just implying the food he cooked was poisonous.

Overall there were some mediocre stories within the collection - but I wouldn't say that 2004 was the best year for short story mysteries.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Six - A Bad Day for Sorry - Sophie Littlefield

After killing her abusive husband, Ollie, with a wrench Stella Hardesty became a new woman. During the day she owns a sewing shop, but after hours she helps other women get out of abusive relationships through creative methods outside of the law.

One of her clients, Chrissy Shaw, shows up on her door step one morning and tells Stella that her son, Tucker, is missing. Chrissy thinks her husband Roy Dean took him. As Stella "investigates" the kidnapping she must sidestep the local sheriff, Goat, whom she has a crush on.

Stella finds out from Roy's brother- Arthur Junior - that Roy had gotten involved with a mob from Kansas City. Arthur Junior shows her where that mob hangs out in the local community. Stella ends up meeting up with an anonymous caller who claimed they had information on Roy Dean and Tucker. Instead, Stella ends up being beaten up by the local mob. From that moment on Chrissy vows to help Stella with the "investigation". Stella hesitates because she's lost a client before by letting them help.

Chrissy and Stella end up going to visit the mob outfit and find out where Tucker is. At the mob house they start a fire and lure them outside. Both heroines run into some trouble, but in the end all is worked out and Tucker is returned to Chrissy.

Sophie Littlefield is very resourceful with the plot and highlights the nuances of small town living. There is never a dull moment. This book is truly a page turner.

Five - Food Matters - Mark Bittman

We all struggle to eat better and keep those pounds off. Methods for improving your diet and decreasing your risk for diseases seem to be popping up all over the place. For Mark Bittman, a report from the UN Food & Agriculture Organization about livestock being raised caused him to stop and pay attention to his diet. Bittman's hypothesis states that eating less meat and junk food while eating more vegetables and whole grains will not only increase the nutrition in your diet but also help reduce greenhouse gases.

Bittman explores rethinking consumption and our dependence on factory farming of livestock as well as the history of how our culture has developed around overconsumption. Marketing of food also impacts which items we eat versus don't eat. Government legislation doesn't always help and often confuses us into what is considered "healthy".

Bittman suggests not cutting calories or fat, but simply eat less of certain foods - specifically animal products, refined carbohydrates and junk food - and eat more plants. His main principles are to deny nothing, enjoy everything , but eat plants first and most.

The second half of this book includes a monthly meal plan and over 70 recipes that focus on Bittman's principles.

I had a hard time agreeing with Bittman's overall hypothesis - eating less meat will help with global warming. There were some interesting facts within the history of food consumption, but overall this book was a snoozer.