Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Books & Treats: Book Reviews of Four Fun Mystery / Thrillers & "Brass Bound Trunk Candy" from "The Nancy Drew Cookbook"

In addition to the stack of review cookbooks in my living room, I have a large stack of non-cookbook review books by my bedside that is also a little out of control. Not a terrible problem to have for a book lover like me--other than the fact that I would really love to blow off all of my responsibilities and just shut myself away and read for a week or two solid. But since I can't I have been trying to get through them all, a little at a time each night--which is a bit challenging on the sleep front when one gets caught up in a good suspense novel. I just worked my way through a quartet of mystery/thrillers--each book a little bit different but all with a strong female protagonist, be she a police lieutenant, private investigator, assistant US attorney, or even a warehouse shipping manager.

Since this is a food blog, I like to accompany all book reviews with a recipe and where better to find one than by going to the original female sleuth, Nancy Drew, and "The Nancy Drew Cookbook: Clues to Good Cooking" by Carolyn Keene. A fun little cookbook holding space in the vintage/retro section of my cookbook collection.

Since that brilliant idea struck on a Sunday afternoon when I didn't want to run to the store, I chose a recipe that I had all the ingredients for (including a sad little can of sweetened condensed milk that has been in my pantry for quite some time). Brass Bound Trunk Candy (named for #17 in the Nancy Drew series, "The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk"), is a super-sweet, retro-style confection that is simple to make. Cut it small--it is so sweet that just a little piece will do you, and pull up a chair while we review a few good books.

Brass Bound Trunk Candy
"The Nancy Drew Cookbook" by Carolyn Keene
(Makes about 24-30 pieces depending on size you cut)

16 oz semi-sweet chocolate pieces
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla flavoring
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup dry oatmeal
1/3 cup any kind of chopped nuts, unsalted (less than a 3 oz package)
1/4 cup flaked coconut

Put water in the bottom of a double boiler and bring to a slow boil. In the top of the boiler melt chocolate pieces. Then add the condensed milk, vanilla, salt, oatmeal, chopped nuts, and coconut to the melted chocolate. Stir until well blended.

Grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan. Spread the candy mixture in the greased pan. Put in the refrigerator to chill. When the candy is firm, cut into squares.

A fun little candy to add to a holiday candy tray, and one you can adapt (different nuts, dried, fruit, no coconut, etc.) to your tastes.

And now on to the book reviews...

"The Immortals" by J.T. Ellison is the fifth book in her Taylor Jackson series and a creepy thriller that keeps the reader engrossed, even if like me, you haven't read the first four books. On Halloween (called Samhain--the Blood Harvest by believers in the occult), eight teenagers are found dead, with symbols of pentacles carved into their chests. Homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson and her team have to solve the crime quickly to calm a terrified city and have to delve into the murky world of witchcraft to find the killers. There are lots of twists and turns in this book and it was hard to put down--even at night. So much so that I ordered the first four books to read more from this author and to get more in-depth on the back stories of Taylor and her team. If you like fast-paced crime fiction, you will like this book.

Keeping with a paranormal theme but moving it to romantic suspense is Darynda Jones debut, "First Grave on the Right." Charley Davidson sees dead people, something that helps her in her part-time investigator role and helps her solve murders for her uncle, a detective with the Albuquerque police department. Charley's full-time calling however, is a Grim Reaper, helping the dead cross over into the light. Her latest case involves three lawyers from the same firm that are murdered and want Charlie to find their killer. It's been a tough week for Charlie and it isn't helping that she is distracted by and having some pretty hot and sexy dreams involving a mysterious Entity that has been following her all of her life. This book is very well-written, it's funny, sexy, full of a cast of memorable characters, and since it is the first book kicking off a new series, I am eagerly awaiting the next one--I want to read more about Charley and her friends--those living, dead and supernatural. ;-)

We leave the paranormal world and enter a equally scary one--the justice system in Washington DC. Another debut novel, "The Law of Attraction" by Allison Leotta, follows Anna Curtis, a newly assigned Assistant US Attorney in the domestic violence division. As a new AUSA, Anna is assigned to "papering" duty--turning arrests into criminal case files, when she meets Laprea Jones, badly beaten yet again by her boyfriend. At trial, Laprea lies on the stand to free her boyfriend and ends up dead shortly after and Anna works to bring the murderer to justice--struggling with her own guilt abut the case, her past and her current relationship which happens to be with Laprea's boyfriend's attorney. This book gives a inside look at the criminal justice system (the author is a federal prosecutor in DC), and is a good suspenseful whodunit with lots of twists and turns.

Finally, we move to an unlikely setting for a thriller, a shipping company in Oregon, and an unlikely heroine warehouse shipping manager Deborah Strickland. In "Shipping and Deceiving" by Tina deCoux, Deb has made her work her life, not letting many people into her confidence and her wold. The stress and pace of her job only gets worse during the holidays and Deb hires a new employee as extra help, finding herself caught in an escalating series of strange situations that culminate in the murder of a truck driver at the warehouse. Deb has to find the killer before she or one of her employees becomes the net victim. I received this book in a giveaway at GoodReads and wasn't sure I would really like it at first, but I ended up getting involved in the characters and story and ended up enjoying it. There are good characters and good twists and turns in the plot that kept me involved. This book is the second in a trilogy of warehouse mysteries, but stands on its own just fine.

So, a little candy and a few great reads. If the weather is yucky where you are or you need a break from the holiday prepping, consider curling up with one of these books. We all need a little "girl power" and a little mystery and suspense in our lives. ;-)

Obligatory Disclosure Statement: As mentioned, I received all of these books free, either as giveaways or to read and possibly review, but there was no monetary compensation and of course the opinions in the reviews are my own as a reader and lover of the written word.


  1. I never knew that nancy drew had her own cookbook! I love the sound of this candy. I'm always amazed when people make candy at home...just seems like something only a machine could do. But that's obviously a severe misconception.

  2. That Nancy Drew sure can do it all! Solves mysteries, manages to look fabulous while doing so (and after all these years), and makes candy too. What a girl!

    I think I'd like The Immortals--love intense hard to put down crime/mysteries.

  3. I hear you about curling up with books for a couple weeks. I could read and read and read. Those are my kind of books too! Love a good thriller or law mystery.

  4. I'd love to curl up with a piece of candy and the First Grave on the Right! They all sound like good reads but that one especially called out to me.

  5. Kat--thanks! ;-)

    Joanne--This is a particularly easy candy to make--just melt, stir and spread into a pan. Easy peasy! ;-)

    Michelle--Yep, Nancy is amazing and multi-talented.

    Lori--I think you would like some of these books then.

    Reeni--I think it was the most fun read for sure!

  6. So many fun stuff packed into one post! The books are all being added to my list...do you read the "Alphabet" Mystery series by Sue Grafton? Great strong female (Kinsey Milhone)...and very fun to read. But if you've never read any, I recommend starting with A is for Alibi...it's so easy to get hooked ;) Thanks for the fun post, Deb! Oh. And YUM!

  7. Heather--I have not read any of that series--although I have heard very good things so I should give it a try. ;-)


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